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The Welsh Rally this year was something of a series of mishaps which all, thankfully, came good in the end!
Having received the final details two weeks before the rally I had spent quite a few hours working out different routes and permutaions involving Round Britain Rally landmarks and the three National Parks in Wales. I started by trying to include all the parks but found that it would not then be possible to reach three manned controls before they closed at 6pm. I ended up with two routes, one going north at 296 miles, including five LMs and Snowdonia; and one going south and then north at 418 miles, including seven LMs, Pembrokeshire and Snowdonia. I also worked out a route for the day before to include three LMs and Brecon National Park on the way to the bed & breakfast I had booked in Churchstoke.
I arrived at the b&b at Drewin Farm in the early evening and was met with a tray of tea and homemade Welsh cakes. The view from the patio as I ate them was beautiful and the room was very comfortable.
Phil, a friend from the IBA, arrived on his Fazer shortly afterwards and we repaired to the Courthouse Hotel in Churchstoke for a meal. The food was fine for basic pub grub, but when my other friends, Trevor and his wife Chris, arrived shortly after 8pm they were told that the kitchens were now closed - this despite the fact we were the only diners! Not one to return to! We returned to the b&b for more tea and cakes. Breakfast the next morning was, in comparison, excellent and set us up well for the day ahead. We had hoped to b able to get to the start early and leave for 8.30 but on arriving at ten past eight found ourselves waiting in a queue as they were not letting anyone register until the start time. I eventually got away at 8.55am and headed straight back to Churchstoke for my first control!
By the time I arrived at my fourth control, and first manned control of the day at TT Bikes in Llandrindrod Wells, a minute before they opened at 10am I had caught up 19 of the 25 minutes I had started behind - I signed in, had a chat with the staff and a cup of coffee, then got on my bike and headed off north. A couple of miles down the road I was reviewing my progress so far and thought - 'I'm sure there was something else I should have done at that control?' - uh, multi-choice questions anyone? I quickly turned around and headed back to the shop - the questions seemed easier this year, but I was now another 15 minutes behind my timings. I had calculated my time for the day using Autoroute - using the timings produced by the program with my own speed/road settings, and then adding 5 minutes for every unmanned control; 10 minutes for every RBR landmark; and 30 minutes for every manned control. Through the day I caught up some of the time and ended up finishing three minutes behind the time I had set before the start. I felt that I was going quite slowly and having to make some allowances for my leg - I had to be careful parking the bike so it was not at too much of an angle, a couple of times I found it very difficult to get the bike upright again!
One of the great things about the Welsh Rally is that you get to visit places, and especially travel on roads you would never usually encounter. After seven years of competing the Platinum course on the rally I am still discovering great riding roads in Wales. One of them this year was the road form Llanidloes up through Staylittle, with a diversion for the Dragon control at Llyn Clywedog, to find out that the lead mine there produced a record of 384 tonnes of lead in 1851! There is a ride in North America called 'The Dam Ride' which involves visiting a number of dams in the north-west.
The weather had started clear and bright but gradually clouded over and became quite windy - shortly aftr midday it started raining as I came through Blaenau Ffestiniog, grey at the best of times but even greyer in the rain! It rained for the next two hours, quit ehard at times, but it provided a good test for my Aerostich suit which I had not worn in the rain before - it passed, not leaking a drop, despite me forgetting to do up the under arm zips! At the manned control at Abergele it was getting so bad I changed the dark visor on my hellmet for a clear one - needless to say it was bright and sunny from there to the finish.
Other mishaps which nearly ruined my day included turning over my control list too soon so I missed the control at Brithdir entirely and was heading towards the following one at Barmouth - luckily I almost went past the missed control and noticed it on the GPS and stopped to check why I wasn't going there since it was so close by it.
When I got to Barmouth harbour it was really blowing a gale - as I opened my jacket pocket the wind caught my control card and whipped it out of my hand! I watchd in horror and hobbled after it as it blew into the road and stopped - of course as soon as I nearly reached it it blew away again, and then again across the road, as I dodged an oncoming car and watched it head towards the seawall and the sea beyond. And then it stopped, wedged around the wooden end of a fishing rod, and I just reached and grabbed hold of the card as the fisherman, who hadn't seen this, lifted his rod up. I immediately resolved to lock the card in my pannier until I needed it at the manned controls!
I tried to save time by not stopping at every unmanned control any longer than I needed to gain the information necessary to answer the question set for each one and then ride off. I then remembered them and only wrote them down when I reached the manned controls - to recall them I made up little stories with the answers in order - I thought if nothing else it was good memory practice! At the finish I wrote them down on the control card without looking at the question sheet I had written them on, and found I could still remember all the answers from my strange story about ducks in the nineteenth century!
I finished at 6.25pm and faced the special test - last year it had been skittles and I had done well at that, but this year it was darts - and I am rubbish at darts - a fact I confirmed by only scoring 18 with my three darts thrown so no repeat of last years's success this year! I wanted to wait and meet up with Phil and Trevor & Chris before leaving - after talking to a number of people met over the years at various rallies, I was about to leave 4 hours later when they all turned up and I was able to say hello and goodbye.
Getting on to the road to Welshpool my lights didn't seem very bright, then I noticed that neither my main beam nor the panel lights were working. I pulled over to find that only the driving lights at the front were working. Took the panniers and seats off and removed each fuse in turn until I found one blown - fitting a spare in its place gave me all the lights back, but made me realise that the fuel reserve light was on, and had probably been on for a while. The garage in Welshpool was closed, and I hoped the one halfway to Shrewsbury would be open - it was not. The next one was at the services on the A5 at Shrewsbury. I made it to just before the roundabout off to the services before the bike died, so only had to cross the dual carriageway, crawl through the undergrowth and climb over a fence to get to the garage and buy a can of petrol. I met Graham Flint in the services who had just pulled up in his Reliant on the way back from the rally. Luckily the bike started first time when I got back to it and an hour later I was tucked up in bed trying to get warm.