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This year's Welsh Rally was something of a disaster for yours truly, but hey they are all learning experiences, and I was glad some of the following happened on this rally, what I view as a practice event, than a competitive one!
I had left work on the Friday afternoon and headed towards Newtown, where I had booked a bed and breakfast just outside the town. I had planned a couple of stops at Round Britain Rally landmarks on the way. I should have known the weekend was ill fated after I stopped at the first in south Shropshire. Twenty minutes after leaving the landmark I realised that in taking my photograph of my bike in front of the required location, I had used the wrong placard - putting the Grim Riders' Battlefields one in the picture instead of the RBR one! (Luckily I was able to remedy this while passing it again on the BBR a few weeks later). After getting the second one in Newtown I headed for the b&b. Here I met up with Trevor and Chris Fairbanks who had already arrived from Dorset and we spent a very pleasant evening walking down to the town for a very good Chinese meal.
The next morning dawned wet and cloudy but we fortified ourselves with an excellent breakfast and set off the 10 miles to the start at Castle Caereinion. There were quite a few riders already there and I promptly lost Trevor and Chris as someone called me over to speak to me. Entering the hall I saw it was full of queues for registration and stopped to talk to the guy running the Satnav Challenge - I had spoken to him at length after the previous year's event and wanted to know if anyone had completed it. Now I had already spent a fair bit of time planning the optimum route to get my usual Platinum and Dragon, plus a couple of RBR landmarks and two Grim Riders' landmarks, but I decided there and then to change all my plans and do soemthing different. The location of the manned controls on the routes had meant choice was rather limited and I reckoned most riders would be covering a similar route across mid-Wales so this would at least be an alternative challenge, covering as it did most of North Wales and Anglesey.
The Satnav Challenge provided you with a series of sixteen controls you could visit - each worth a number of points from 1 to 5. You also had to visit two manned controls and answer the questions there. For the unmanned controls you had a question sheet with an answer to find at each location, the main difference being that you had no details of the location other than the longitude/latitude, hence the need for a GPS. Having signed up I realised my first problem - I did not know how to enter long/lat details straight into my Garmin 2610, or if it was possible. Luckily I had my notebook in the bike's pannier so I got it out and sat amongst all the riders getting ready while I entered the long/lat details of each location and then transferred them to my satnav. A quick look over the overview map gave me a route across to the coast, down the Lleyn Peninsula, around Anglesey, over to Wrexham and then back to the finish. It felt strange to be setting out without knowing exactly where I was going or what I was looking for but at the same time interesting to be doing something different.
While inputting my data a guy came and stood over me pulling his jacket on - I recognised him and tod him so - he asked me where from and I reminded him of the fact that he had berated me for going past him on the rally two years before - "Oh, yes, you're the one riding like an idiot" he remarked - I just smiled at him, for he was probably right (although I preferred to think of it as making progress, albeit spirited) and wouldn't be interested in my paltry reasons for having the temerity to overtake him (he seemed to be either a policeman or an IAM observer - in my experience nobody gets that pompous and opinionated about other people's riding without being one or the other) but I did think I would rather ride like an idiot sometimes than sound like one most of the time....
I set off and headed towards my first control - halfway there I saw another control appear on my GPS as D6 - a Dragon rally control. I had planned to visit four dragon controls, which this year were all quarries or mines of some sort. I realised I didn't know whether I needed to collect these with the satnav challenge (it turned out I didn't) but thought I might as well, but then couldn't find the quarry, which wasn't on my original list, anyway when I got to the village of Cefn Coch. Taking a few turns at random i headed off towards my first satnav control, only to suddenly ride through the quarry and find out the speed limit was 15 mph (the answer needed to the dragon question).
Over the next couple of hours I criss crossed the country visiting some quite remote spots to collect the answers to another six questions. The great thing about planning this challenge was that the organiser had been able to use some very out if the way locations away from the usual villages and towns, and they were linked up by some beautiful scenery and some of the smallest roads in Wales - I don't think I got into top gear once in about three hours. I also had a problem when I came round a corner to find a 4x4 hurtling at me on a very narrow road - avoiding him I ended up in a ditch and spent 20 minutes unpacking the bike, taking panniers and auxiliary tank off before I could haul it out, pack it back up and carry on my way.
After visiting a second dragon rally control, a silver mine just outside Beddgelert where I had to find the name of the person who had opened the visitors centre, I headed west down the Lleyn Peninsula, one place in Wales I had never been. It had turned into a beautiful day from which all the clouds had gone and I felt really good as I got to the end of the peninsula and the first of my manned controls at Aberdaron. I even took the time to take a photograph. The control was manned by several guys wearing leather waistcoats emblazoned with Christian Riders or something similar and I had a good chat with a couple of them (although not about religion!)
After answering the ten questions at the control (for once I was fairly sure I knew them all) I continued north heading toward the mountains of Snowdonia. I was aiming for a control at Llanberis when I stopped and checked my control list - this control was only worth 1 point and I worked out I could pick up a more valuable control instead further east so I changed course and over the A55 bridge on to Anglesey. I had a tour of the island planned, with one manned control, an unmanned control, an RBR landmark, and a windmill and circuit for Grim Riders' rides. But this is when things went wrong. I stopped near Newborough to nip into the public toilets there, got back on the bike, looked down at my tankbag, and realised my control card was missing - it had been in the clear pocket on the top of the bag. I looked all around the bike but there was no sign of that, not the control list which was inside the card. I had kept it there so I could always see it and couldn't believe it could have fallen out as I would have noticed that before. There was nothing for it but to ride back the way I had come from where I knew I had last definitely had it, near Lanrug. I rode all the way back steadily, scanning the roadside but of course there was no sign of it. I felt very cross with myself but there it was, I could not continue the rally and couldn't be bothered to head back to Anglesey so decided I would just ride back to the finish 75 miles away so I could let the organisers know I was retiring.
When I got back there I told the guy organising the satnav challenge my sorry tale - I felt quite bad as he had told me nobody had finished the raally last year and I had been determined to make sure someone did this year! Since I could tell him where I had been and remembered the answers to nearly all of the questions he generously allowed me to claim a Bronze finish (it seems he was the chairman of Clive MCC who run the event) so I did not leave empty handed! I had a meal at the finish - it was strange being there in the middle of the afternoon with very few people about, and headed home, getting back at around 5pm. Next year I shall do better!
When the results came out they did not include any results for the satnav challenge so I don't know if anyone else finished it, but if you have done the Welsh Rally for a few years and fancy a change, I would recommend it - just remember to keep your control card safe!