It all started last Monday with publication of the start list and two Facebook messages from messrs Whitehead and Silence informing me of my fortune at pulling the No1 slot. I wasn’t actually that bothered, quick riders will always get by. It’s the riders who think they are quick and aren’t, that bitch and moan at you as their lack of talent prevents them from carrying speed past you or using the invisible line round you. I just planned to ride, listen out for folks behind and pray.
Saturday morning arrived to rain, lots of the ‘get you wet’ type with added winds. Signing on and scrutineering all done with usual WTRA efficiency while chatting and nodding to the usual suspects, many of them giving the “check you with the No1 plate” type of banter and their generous predictions of my impending new career as traction for others.
10.00am loomed gulping the last of my coffee and bananas, lining up with the others and hoping the bike starts. Away we go towards the numerous water filled splashes on the Cefn Llwydlo track. The rain had filled them to the brim and I decided to proceed with caution through them. The first 3 or so were deep enough to cause the engine note to change to that deeper tone, which you hope isn’t going to end in a cough and expensive bill.
Thankfully through them, but I decided to take the ruts round the next one, but Chris Foster went straight through and past me on his Sherco450 no problem. However by lap2 there were a few bikes claimed by the water and parked up. On Sunday marshals had taped off one pool completely and diverted us round.
Then onwards round Glyn Saer forest with some grassy wet going alongside fields that was very slippery. Chris had to stop as he collected an 8’ fir branch round his rear wheel from crossing a boggier hole. With a bit of yanking we had it removed. After that some bloke called Steve Ireland on a Husky 701 passed me easily on the grass ruts.
The rest of that wood was familiar forestry and then single track descending steeply past some peg deep rain water ruts into flowing grass lined single track. Crossing the tarmac into south side of Crychan, I was thinking we should have had a special by now, but this turned out to be later after some excellent flowing single track and forestry. Arriving at the special the timing marshal was not a happy bunny as Steve and Chris had gone straight through his red light.
The first few of us at the test received the brunt of his displeasure and had to wait for our minute before riding the sighting lap. Finally off it was 10metres into some rutted gloop which was firm underneath, then stepped downhill and into more single track, opening out onto forestry and back to single track again. This pattern repeated and meant it was hard to remember what was coming next on subsequent laps.
Some of the single track was very stoney and wooped out, so easy to get knocked off line or end up getting ahead of yourself in the woops. Quite a lot was fairly low and dark in the trees, so catching branches was a pain, especially as the rain was hampering visibility considerably, so getting doused in more mud and moisture didn’t help. I’d ditched the goggles at the test start in favour of safety specs which work a bit better for me. The long test finally ended with a slight descent and a sharp right then left in a bit of an old sunken lane.
Quick stop for breath and down into more single track over the permanent ‘temporary’ steel bridge crossing a small brook and only half mile further to test2. This started and finished in a quarry and featured some faster forestry track for a few miles, but then steep rocky hairpins up single track a few times, before descending on some bog grass/bracken and back into the quarry for a flying finish over a small pile of gravel. I tried to look pro and give it the beans, but probably scored ‘0’ airtime for the riders awaiting the start of their test.
The end of the lap to the finish was some of the usual tracks with rocky climbs out to the tarmac and across for an easy last few miles. My speedo read 60km, which reflected a variety of terrain all wet or very wet and if on a gradient had water running at you or past you! A great lap, but I was wondering what the course was going to look like after 164 bikes had been round.
Lap2 was a repeat with the added fun of actually having to ride the test at speed, with 163 idiots all wanting to use me for traction. At the first test our timing marshal was sticking to number order, which was a shame as I planned to let Chris and Steve go first and save my embarrassment at being passed in the first 15secs.
Ho-hum off I go first and just aimed to ride for the conditions and what I could see, not much as my front wheel was constantly roosting my face in every puddle. I took frequent glances back where terrain allowed looking for my nemesis and was pleased to get a good way through the test, until I heard the dulcet tones of a 4-banger behind towards the end of a twisty, rocky section of single track.
I rode on as it didn’t instantly rip by, there wasn’t room anyway, then on the forestry I went to the edge and blasted the 300 up through the gears. I could hear the bike just behind, but not getting by, so at the sharp left I went wide and let Chris on the Sherco through. Luckily he was the only one to pass me.
At the next test amenable time keepers allowed Steve and Chris first followed by me. It had stopped raining and I rode well enough not to be overtaken this time and counting as I went through the timing beam it was about 30secs before the next rider came through, so I was up a bit, having left at 20sec intervals.
No dramas or catastrophes for me on the final lap, just enjoying riding in the rain again. It was actually ok being warm enough under the waterproofs, despite being soaked underneath from sweat and capillary action. At the finish there were certainly a good number of vehicles having left early, a sign of the terrain and conditions getting the better of some. It was the hardest course and conditions of this season.
Just time to change rear pads (half gone in a day), filter, fuel and chain lube before driving 1 hour home to mother-out-law’s 70th birthday meal.
Sunday promised a forecast of grey clouds and reasonable temperatures. Alas in Tirabad it was still raining. But as we rode out on the reverse course on lap1, it did stop. A nice run out to the test with an extra bank to climb between some undergrowth and entering the quarry from halfway up and so a short gravel descent. The tests felt faster and more rideable with some good jumps in the second test, that I didn’t have confidence on during Saturday.
During the timed laps I was overtaken firstly by Steve Ireland after a steep rocky descent that preceded the fast flowing forestry section. After he was complimentary enough to say he couldn’t have ridden down it any faster, but he clearly had no problem disappearing into the distance shortly after. On the same test I could hear another bike catch me in single track. It was Tony Whitehead on his 350 and again I pulled wide as we turned onto the forestry and he was off.
Next lap the eventual winner Anthony Whittle came by in the test at the same place as Tony. Why does everyone catch me on single track? Oh yeah, because I don’t want to go into the trees that are 3’ either side of me! I stayed with him on the forestry proving that my 8yr old 300 matches his 8yr old 300 Gasser for power. Into the single track he was gone. Super quick. We had a bit of a chat after the test and a few other riders came though, meaning I was probably about eighth bike away at the final test. So was pleased to actually catch the rider in front towards the end of the test, but not close enough to pass.
After the last test the long run out to the finish was all that needed to be done and it would be fair to say it was maybe a third of the lap distance. Following Mike Wells who then stopped for a drink, (or was it to see my excellent skills on wet muddy grass) allowed me to go first at the wet muddy grass section at the bottom of Glyn Saer. It was like skiing by the last lap and with much paddling and riding third gear just above idle, I managed to get myself crossed up and go down. Luckily Mike didn’t see it. No harm done and my only crash of the weekend. The rain cut rutted hill descent and grassy section where Chris gained a branch of Saturday were cut on Sunday, which was a wise decision.
Getting to the finish I felt great and could have done another lap, yes really. But thankfully I’d already done 3 and it had started to rain anyway. I was feeling good having not totally embarrassed myself pretending to ride as an expert with the No1 plate, when I should be a good clubman. But with finishing overall 8th and 50% DNFers; that’ll do donkey.