Sunday, 23 March 2008

Cambrian rally, 2004

Mr A's off on a bike rally today, so I found this amusing account that he wrote of another such occasion in 2004. Never mind if you have no idea what he's talking about half the time, neither do I, but they really seem to be having fun. In case it helps: Mr A's bike is an Elefant, PB is a motorcycling journalist and a chum, and JM and PK are other biker pals. In the picture, Mr A's on the right, going for the overtake...

Andy going for the overtake
The highlights:

It absolutely pissed down on Saturday.

It was a fantastic course.

I caught and passed PB and his mate, PK, on one of the specials.

I caught and passed JM on one of the specials.

I did two thirds of the event stuck in third gear.

For the detail, read on.

Well, shit weather or what, I'd been studying the weather forecast all week and on Thursday there was a glimpse of hope that the weekend would be sunny and fine in Llandovery, but it was not to be.

However, we are running ahead of ourselves. Friday was spent in the usual panic attaching tools, tow straps, on to the 'Fant and more to the point, attaching two spare inner tubes in a bag to the rear rack, so I could lighten the load I was carrying in my rucksack. All this despite the bike being essentially ready and prepped. So it was up at 5.30 to attach the trailer to the car and scoot off down the motorway. Despite the M42 being closed at junction 1 (so, a bit of a detour involving some country lanes), I managed to arrive at the Rugby Club, Llandovery, where scrutineering was taking place, in good time.

Great, unloaded the bike, rode round to the scrutineering queue, engine off, whip my leg over the saddle to dismount, catch it on the large bag zip-tied to the rack, and that's it, down the bike goes with resounding crash.

Bugger, nice start.

Despite this astonishing display of incompetence, the bike passes and I wheel it back to meet up with JM, who is also competing on his E900.

20 minutes later our start time clicks up, we zip out of the car park exit gates.

It was only 7½ miles to the start of the first off road liason, so it was pretty easy to find it using the road book. Once in the forest most turns were marked or arrowed so navigation was pretty easy. This first off road section runs down an easy track to a sharp right turn on to a single rut running along the bottom of a valley. It was in many ways the most exhausting bit of the whole event, requiring a fair amount of footing along, as it was wet and muddy, and the rain had started pouring down. However, there was only one tricky bit, a big puddle, just after which some twat, of course, had stopped to clean his goggles. Bit of manoeuvring got round that bunch of obstacles, and we were off and running.

The rest of the route was an easy couple of miles of forest track and we were out, on to the tarmac again.

Bit of milling about with the road book at this point, as the distances seemed a bit out, then we found the start of the first special. This was short and sweet, a series of turns on a nice, shale fire road 2.6 miles long. Loads of fun.

After the finish, it was a couple of miles to the next challenge, a short, sharp climb that got rougher towards the top. This was pretty steep, so it was second gear, throttle on and blasting, hanging on to the bars and looking for the crest, to be greeted with a bloody great board taking up half the track saying: Photo!

Oh well, you do your best, bit more wheelspin and wrestling with the bars to look good, and we were out onto the top.

From there the course ran down a single steep rut on to slimy sand littered with cut tree branches. I was getting confident by this point, cracking on a bit, sure enough one of the branches was my downfall, the front wheel sliding out on one and I was down.

This off bent the gear lever through 180 degrees, so I floundered on in whatever gear I was in to a flat bit of track and used a ring spanner to straighten it.

Must get that folding tip gear lever made up that I've been planning.

There followed a couple of miles of slippy, rutty track that was a bit of an arse and then back onto fire road.

There then followed a navigational debacle on my part, despite the super expensive all singing and dancing nav/dashboard. The Touratech ICO suffers from an incredibly loose contrast knob, so much so that as soon as you set off it vibrates round and the screen goes blank. I had temporarily fixed this some months ago with a little bit of gaffer tape. Sure enough as soon as I started the event it came loose. Now the key to the road book gig is reading the instructions while comparing your own distance travelled via the trip. I was reduced to having to reach forward now and then to check my distance travelled, which collided with my natural desire to nail on and have a good time.

The result was half an hour milling about in the forest trying to find the way out, during which I lost contact with JM.

When I finally found the exit with the aid of a marshal I happened to turn out on the road behind a KTM 950 and GS1150. 'Ah well, I'll tag along behind these two' I thought. 4 miles of tarmac took us to a long gravel/rut climb next to some trees. I must admit at one point on this climb I decided to nip past these two, I hopped into the other rut, hammered up it, and as I was starting to pass I hit a big rock, rotated 15 degrees and found myself looking at those exciting Go!!!!! graphics on the side of the KTM.

I decided to calm down then, it's all very well T-boning some bloke on his 6-year-old XR250, ah, yes, all in the spirit of the event. But an eight grand KTM might be a different matter.

More track and a bit of a detour which had some baffled riders manhandling various BMs, KTMs, and Cagivas around in a pitch black forest, over a collection of slick mud ditches, took us to the start of the second stage.

At this point I realised it was PB and PK I'd been following, and tagging along behind was a mate of theirs on an XR400. I let them all line up as a group at the start and then sat behind them.

PB was the first away, followed by PK and then XR400 man. Then I'm up waiting for the green light. The road book is telling me this is a 10 mile stage and we have already covered the worst terrain, so it should be good.

The green light goes and I'm off, giving it some but trying to be smooth while enjoying the sliding around on the corners. After half a mile I pass XR400 man, Wow, he must be cruising. Another couple of miles and I glimpse a helmet in the distance, blimey, that can't be PK? It isn't, it's a travelling marshal. The world returns to reality.

Another couple of miles though, and I see the tail of a KTM disappearing round a corner. I can't believe it, I slowly reel him in, and I can see PB ahead of him. Ah, there must have been a burger van near the start and they have detoured, that can be the only explanation.

It's at this point I make the classic mistake, instead of thinking 'well, I've been catching him so if I stick to the same pace I'll go past', I speed up, next moment PK's diving into a corner, I've left it too late, the rear wheel comes round and I'm off. Drat, drat and double drat, I jump up, heave the bike up, hop on, hit the starter, she's running again. The gear lever looks like something Uri Geller's been at, so I just dump the clutch and the bike gets going, the gear I'm in seems to allow me to go reasonably fast, but a few experimental prods at the gear lever prove fruitless. Oh well, better just get a move on.

I hack on some more miles and damn me if I don't see PK again. Right, better get it right this time. Bit of tussling and I'm past him, and I have PB in my sights. At this point the track goes 90 degrees right round a pile of logs, I swing wide to check the lines and get the bike lined up to get the power on, and....the back breaks away in a lurid slide. The bike's at that point when I'm thinking 'that's it, I'm down (again)' and it starts coming back. Of course, while I'm busy seeing how well I can fish tail, PK goes past again. Noooo.....

So, I have to battle past him again and start creeping up on PB, it's tricky at this point as the track's really slimy under some trees, but after a little wait it opens out into two ruts, and I nail it past him. Fantastic.

Then the finish is in sight. The usual muddy chicane to the finish light beam, I drop into it and sure enough, stall out 12 inches short of the beam. Frantic thumbing of the starter gets me going again, jolly annoying though, I put another 20 seconds on my time.

In the finish area there a bit joshing and photo taking with PB and PK, then I get down and check out the gear lever situation. It's rock solid. I know what's happened, as JM and I have a mutual friend who crashed an Elefant on the Dyfi and did the same damage. As the bike has a rigid gear lever a crash on that side can send a shock force down the shaft to a little collection of selector levers inside the engine casing. These then jam up and you have to take the whole lot apart to free it up. So, looks like I'm in third gear for the rest of the event.

From there it's a short trip to the lunch stop which is packed with nearly a hundred bikes, and a burger van. I catch up with JM, who has also had a good morning, the highlight being overtaken at speed by a maniac on a KTM who then found a gate closed across the track. Cue bent gate with a KTM on one side and the rider on the other. JM then trickled round the open side gate. Cheers mate, see you later.

During most of the morning excitements it's been pouring with rain, this continues during lunch, and when we set off to explore the woods again. The afternoon is essentially a bunch of fire roads in more pouring rain. By four o'clock we have got lost with a group of riders (me and my useless trip again). All this time I've been starting the 'Fant with the clutch in and it's been hammering the battery. Finally we have gone through some gates to find a farm and the group is turning round to head back, I hit the starter, dead battery. The group has gone, leaving JM and I. So we dump my bike, and JM gives me a pillion. We head out the other way, reasoning, farm, tarmac must be near, and sure enough couple of minutes later we're on the road back to Llandovery.

It's a grim journey, there are no pillion footrests and JM's getting hell from the pouring rain. Finally we are back and pick up my car and trailer. We head back, pick up my bike and retire hurt.

Everybody passes a pleasant evening, we spend it chatting to a guy who is there with his girlfriend and has been competing on a KTM 950 in his first off road event and having a real good time doing it. I hear later that PK glimpses me in the pub, obviously out of my body armour, and comments that he is shocked to see that I look like a skinny teacher. Cheeky monkey, I can see fisticuffs in the future.

Next morning dawns dry, the weather forecast is good, JM's got a spare battery so I decide to try to complete the second day. So it's lights off, heated grips off, take the bulb out of the rear light as the brake light's stuck on (as usual) and stop as little as possible to preserve the battery.

The first muddy single rut section has dried out a lot and is now really a piece of piss, though I still manage to fall off by trying to get onto the pegs at an inappropriate moment. The first special goes well, third seems to be fast enough to get a time that is not too embarrassing. The big climb is a bit of a challenge, as I have to hit the bottom faster than normal, I get up it OK, with a bit of judicious clutch slipping, only to bin it at the top.

Still, made it.

I've sorted the trip out with a new strip of gaffer tape, so navigation is now going well, in fact it's quite enjoyable. An hour or so later and we are at the start of the second special. JM gets off first, with me following.

The first part of the special is enlivened by the sight, on one of the corners, of two blokes struggling to drag a bike out of a hole. Two looks enough to me so I keep the power on. Later I find out the bike was a BM 1100, so maybe I should have stopped to lend a hand. Yeah, right.

After eight or so miles what do I see, but Mr JM, I reel him in slowly, then spend five minutes being peppered with stones until I find a way past on the same two rut section where I passed PB. That made my weekend, I've never caught him on a stage before.

The lunch stop was much more enjoyable, the whole scene lit by watery sunshine as we met up with PB, PK, Derek (a fellow Big Trail Bike Club member) and the guy with the KTM we had been chatting to the night before.

The afternoon was fairly uneventful, with a bit of wandering about and getting lost, a tricky climb and a couple of showers at the end of the day.

Finally back to the Rugby Club Parc Ferme, hand shakes all round, and pack up for the trip home. Heading back it's that warm, post event feeling, heater on and the CD playing the Alabama 3, as I watch Derek overtaking me in the pouring rain on his KTM 950, have a nice trip home mate.

A perfect weekend.


aims said...

What a great story! Even though you sometimes don't know what he's talking about - you get the drift...I like that he is so honest about his mistakes and falling off read!

Tina said...

You'd never to think, to look at it, that it's all held together with gaffer tape...

I always imagined that, I don't know, it would be a bit more, you know, technical...