Unfortunately neither Mark or Craig could make this one, but I wasn't alone as Gareth came to do his first rally on his 950 Adventure. I decided I deserved a bit of a break and left the 990 Adventure at home and used my 250 EXC Racing instead - the first time I've used it in over a year.
Instead of camping, we decided that a B&B was a better option this time, and we found a very comfortable room at the Castle Coaching Inn in Trecastle. After checking in on Friday evening we headed in to Llandovery to meet with our fellow forum riders, Team Bravo Two-Zero - AKA Rob, Gav & Shep in the chippy. And then in the pub - lovely beer, shame I had to drive!
Saturday morning dawned cold: there was ice on the seats of the bikes. The road up to the reservoir was narrow, twisty, and it took a lot longer than we expected - even once we'd arrived at the grid reference supplied, it was another twenty minutes to the start!
Taking advantage of the Land Rover we parked on a handy piece of verge, unloaded, and went to get scrutineered and signed-on. Our start time wasn't until almost 11.30 so we had plenty of time to drink coffee, chat and generally get organised.
Once on the start-line, the clock ticked over to our set time and off we went, Gareth leading. There were two special tests, and we were to complete two laps on Saturday, with the first one an untimed sighting lap.
The first liaison was along some sweeping forest fire-roads, through a timber yard and down on to the famous Strata Florida. The water level was fairly low, but there were still some deep puddles to ford (up to the front mud-guard on the 250), not to mention some tricky sections with loose rocks and a couple of rocky steps.
From there it was a short road-ride up a 25% gradient to Test One - where were arrived over half an hour early because they'd allowed too much time for the first liaison. While we were waiting we chatted to our fellow riders, I drained large volumes of water from my boots, and we gradually shuffled forwards to the start-line.
Rallies work to a timetable, and you are given a time for your start, stage one, stage two, refuel etc. but the time allowed to the first section was far too generous - and the pedantic marshals wouldn't let anyone start until the allotted time.
Despite it being untimed there's always the urge to keep going, and the first test was a fairly fast mix of fire tracks with a few more technical sections of bog and narrow rutted tracks. There were better ruts to pick, and I didn't get them right by any means!
From the first stage there was a longer road ride to the second test, which was not dissimilar to the first, but on generally tighter, steeper trails making it a bit slower. I did better on the second than the first, possibly due to having a smaller bike.
by Michael Davies
The two section tests were more technical than the liaisons, but not especially difficult, so I'd have been fine on the 990 after all.
On the second lap I was rattling along when I spotted a bike off the side of the track, a good twelve foot down the embankment. A black bike. A KTM 950. Gareth.
With the help of another rider, and a couple of marshals when they arrived, we got the bike back on to the track with no harm done. Gareth had over-cooked the corner and gone a bit wide, kept it on the edge, got on the straight, through he'd gotten away with it, then went over the edge...
Next day the route was reversed, with an earlier start time.
Gareth and I rode up to the start line where we switched off and awaited the nod. When it duly came, Gareth roared off down the road, and I didn't. The 250 refused to fire despite having carried me to the start. After a while the battery was flat, so I tried using the kick-start. That didn't work either, and my leg felt like it was going to fall off. Thankfully a bystander, with a fresh leg, stepped in and I was off.
This way round there was a lengthy road-ride to start with before the two timed stages, which were exactly the same as the day before albeit in reverse. And with less waiting.
Gareth and I managed to stay together most of the day - Gareth was a bit quicker on one stage, I was quicker on the other. The only real excitement was a chap who got a bit out of shape on a bend, almost caught it before veering off the track in to the hillside - and amazing managed to find a storm culvert, probably a metre cubed, which stopped him dead. We got a thumbs up, and left him to it - there were marshals close behind us.
At one point on the third and final lap I nipped past Gareth on a 'technical' section where his 950 needed more care, and thought he was behind me as I trundled along. Some time later, I looked over my shoulder and there was nobody there... So I stopped and waited. No Gareth.
I stopped at the next radio check-point and asked if he'd been seen recently. While I was there, a call went out for an ambulance, and I started to worry a bit...
It turns out he'd had a puncture shortly after I'd passed him, and he'd stopped to fix it - I knew nothing about it, and obviously couldn't go back.
By mid-afternoon we'd all finished, packed away and set off for home - I'd finished! And not last either. Shame they decided not to give finisher awards this year :-\
So next year I'll be taking the 250 to the Beacons and the 990 to the Cambrian. Who knows, I might do some of the others too.