There were a number of us from the KTM Forum competing, and three of us from the east were going so we used Mark's horsebox to transport the three bikes: my 990 Adventure, Craig's 950 Superenduro and Mark's 690 Enduro.
My plan was simple: go through to Wales Friday afternoon, settle in B&B, have a meal, couple of beers and an early night.
Unfortunately Mark was arranging the accommodation as well as the transport, so we ended up camping at Llandovery Rugby Club.
Now I don't mind camping, but when there's a severe weather warning in force for heavy rain, and you're going to be out in it all day, the appeal of camping does tend to wane a bit.
Still, we got through to Llandovery about 19.00, set up camp (in the rain), chatted to our neighbours (who were also competing), then headed in to the Kings Head for some food and a Cwrw or two.
I slept surprisingly well, and next morning we headed off in to the forest to set up shop in the paddock. The start time was fairly civilised, and it had even stopped raining. Mark, Craig and I signed in promptly at 09.00 after our bikes having been given a fairly cursory examination. I was 107, and with the bike duly adorned with race numbers it was time for breakfast from the burger van.
I was a bit nervous, but not as much as I thought I would be - although this photo, taken just after someone described a "technical" section of the route, might suggest otherwise
Photo by John Mullen
My start time was 11.36 with Mark, and Craig was a minute later. I didn't get off to the best start: you have to wait with the engine off, then when you get the signal you can start your engine and ride away. Of course I had to turn off the ABS after starting the engine, and then I stalled it and had to repeat it all again - all in all, I made a right pigs ear of it.
Picture by Mark (Dibdob on the the KTM Forum)
The rally was to be three laps, each of 30 miles and containing two special stages which were timed. The liaison sections aren't timed, but you have a reporting time at each stage, plus the refuelling point between laps. Get behind by an hour and you're eliminated.
To break us in gently, the first couple of miles were gravel fire-roads, and we kept a reasonable pace. The 990 is a heavy beast, and the gentle weave from the back-end reminded me not to push it too hard!
Before we started we'd been trying to decide on the best attire for the event. When it rains, I normally wear a jacket but knowing it was going to be hard work I opted for just a MX shirt (over my armour and the rest, of course). Within a matter of moments we were soaked through, but not cold!
The course wound its way through the forest with plenty of fire-roads, narrow muddy tracks, steep descents through woods (so wooded that headlights were essential - unfortunately Craig had stuck his race-number over the headlight...!), puddles, climbs, sheep-tracks through bracken and gorse... you get the idea.
Photo by Keith Davies
Each of the special stages had a set of traffic lights at the beginning, and you lined up and set off one at a time when the light went green - although a few people seemed to have trouble with this concept much to the annoyance of the marshal :)
Being the timed section most people were keen to make progress, despite the first lap being a sighting lap and therefore untimed. The first section was fairly straightforward with more of the same that we'd already ridden through with a couple of steep embankments to negotiate, and a narrow plank bridge just before the end of it.
Leaving the section there were two possible routes: one via a very boggy, narrow section with a couple of rock-steps, and the other a short fire-track to the beginning of the stage two. The marshal suggested that, being on a big bike, I might like to take the alternative route - and from the reports received later I'm very glad I did.
Stage two was to be my undoing. After an intimidating looking bog, which wasn't really a problem, there was a narrow rutted-climb with gravel over slate. Slate is slippery when wet, and with the not-all-that-knobbly tyres on the 990 I made heavy weather of it. A ridge in the rut stopped me dead halfway up, and the gravel and wet slate meant I couldn't get started again.
Thankfully people behind me helped me out (they had to - I was blocking the course!) and after what seemed like an age I made it to the top. Exhausted.
The rest of the lap was fairly uneventful, although one stretch had some very deep puddles and one in particular was taped off so we had to go around it through a very soft, tree-rooted section where everyone was getting stuck and falling off; me included. One chap decided to "cheat" and go through the puddle - he came to an abrupt halt with just his handlebars above water.
Photo by Claire Newland
Back in the paddock I was exhausted, with another two laps to go! Red Bull, cereal bar, banana, go!
Lap two started much the same as the first, although the trails were a bit more churned up and on one particularly greasy climb I slithered sideways in to the undergrowth and fell off. If I dropped the bike once I must have dropped it a dozen times and by the time I got to the second stage I was fit to drop.
My plan was to be more committed and hopefully get up in one go. No, didn't happen despite help from other riders. After picking the bike up four or five times on the hill I threw in the towel and tucked myself out of harms way to let the fast riders (who were about to lap me) come through.
I was pretty much trapped, unable to get up the hill and of course I couldn't go against the direction of travel. After half an hour or so a marshal rode past and stopped to help - he rode out of the section and back to the start of it, waited for a break in the flow and stop the stage so that I could ride out backwards. All I had to do was turn the bike around to be ready for him - easy in theory, but I barely had the strength to hold the bike up never mind turn it around!
Between us we got the bike round and then I attempted to steer back through the bog and out on to the fire-track. He then offered to lead me back to the start of stage one so I could get in a third lap...!
Somehow I made it back to the paddock and pretty much collapsed in to a chair. Craig had run out of steam after the first lap and was on had with a much needed bottle of Lucozade!
That left Mark in the running, and by the time I was back he was on his third lap.
With the rain still pouring down, we packed up ready for Mark's return, then headed back to the rugby club for a hot shower and the hog roast provided by the organisers (rather a meagre affair, sadly). After sampling the 'beer' in the clubhouse we headed once more to the Kings Head for food and proper beer.
I was in two minds about riding on Sunday, Craig wasn't going to and Mark was still in the running. I decided to wait until I got to the paddock before making a decision - one that was made very quickly when I failed to hold up my own bike in the trailer while we were unloading. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was very weak...
At least the weather was smiling on us, and the course started to dry out as the riders set off in the opposite direction. The marshal who rescued me said I should give it a go because the climb I got stuck on was now a descent - but I knew how slippery some of the descents had been the day before which were now climbs!
Most people in the paddock are friendly, so I kept myself busy taking photos (once my camera dried out) and chatting with our neighbours as well as acting as pit crew for the other forum guys still riding and, of course, Mark.
By late afternoon all the riders were in, Mark had collected his finisher's trophy, I had sunburn, we loaded up the trailer and headed home - all of us tired, aching but happy, and vowing to have a go at the Cambrian Rally later in the year. In my case, probably on the 250 instead of the 990!
Mark celebrating with a cup of coffee
For a rally billed as being suitable for the bigger bikes it was a lot tougher than expected. Many were saying it was harder than the Hafren, although that was no doubt in part due to the weather. If it had been dry it would have been a different matter and I'm sure I would have been able to complete the two days.
Now to start cleaning and repairing the 990...
...and there's the Cambrian in October!