Thursday 11 October 2012

Hafren Rally... the return!

Once again I was bound for Mid Wales and the Hafren Rally on the last weekend of September.

This represents things coming full circle as last year the Hafren was my first ever rally, so I was hoping to improve on my 34th place in the Trail Class (no separate Rally class at the Hafren as we are all grouped together regardless of capacity) which equated to 17th in the BBRC Singles class.

The Hafren is only a one day event, so this meant a relaxed drive up on Saturday afternoon to Sweet Lamb Rally complex near Llangurig. Unlike last year where I stayed at a B&B, I decided to save some money and camp at the race venue in the Land Rover. A fair few of us were doing this and despite the rather bleak conditions we got settled in.

The Hafren Dirt Bike Club allows you to sign on the night before and was combining this with a hog roast, quiz and raffle at the Llanidloes Rugby Club. Dave gave me a lift there and we met up with a few more regulars but discovered that we had missed the signing on but took advantage of the hog roast and the bar!

I didn’t win anything on the raffle (last year I won a Terry’s Chocolate Orange) so that was one down on last year. We decided not to stay for the quiz and headed back to Sweet Lamb for a relatively early night as we had an early start in the morning as sign on was between 06.00 and 07.00. By now the wind was getting quite severe as it funnels down the valley and I went to sleep with the Land Rover gently rocking in the breeze.

At 03.00 I was woken by a loud banging noise, so stuck my head out the back door to investigate only to be greeted by the sight of Ben who was camped next to me, up a ladder on top of his van trying to secure his awning in the ever increasing wind. I decided he had the matter in hand and anyway there was only room for one up the ladder.

I stuck some ear plugs in and went back to sleep, awaking again around 07.00 and the wind was still blowing hard and had been joined by largely horizontal rain. I eventually got up and into waterproofs and made my way to sign on. Now you may remember that it ran from 06.00 to 07.00 but as I suspected they were still signing people on at 07.30 and indeed were doing so for some time to come.

Returning to the car, I stuck my race numbers on the bike, not easy in the wind and rain and then went to scrutineering, where the bike went through with no comment. It was then a matter of writing down my times for the day, getting some breakfast and getting ready although I had plenty of time as I didn’t start until 09.54.

Although the start times showed is as leaving at 20 second intervals, they were starting us three at a time each minute, so at 09.54 I left the start with Michael and Mark, both mounted on their KTM 990 Adventure R’s. We set off for the first special test, marked as only being five minutes down the trail but found nothing! OK the first lap is an untimed “sighting” lap but it would have been nice to know where the test started and finished. We could only assume that test 1 was essentially test 2 from last year? In 2011 we had crossed the river (over the foot bridge) for a short special test on the other side of the valley, returning through the ford. This year we stayed to the East of the river and given the rapidly rising water level this was most probably a good thing.

The trail took us down a short stretch of tarmac road (where we eventually discovered the test started at the other end) then up a stony climb and out onto the open hillsides on gravel fire roads. Up here the wind was much worse and the cloud low which combined with the driving rain made visibility almost non existent.

Yours truly on the "Moto Cross Track"

 After a drop back down to the “motocross track” where S4C were filming, we then headed back over the tops and then down again into the Hafren Forest, this was a combination of rocky descents, tight single track trails and a long muddy trail before finishing on more fire road. By this time my goggles had steamed up completely and despite numerous stops to clean them and borrowing Michael’s demister spray, I eventually gave up and rode the rest of the lap without goggles.

A relatively short stretch of fire road took us to the second test, this time thankfully marked and which consisted largely of narrow rocky trails winding through the forest. This was followed by a long stretch of liaison, that had just about everything, fire road, muddy trails, water splashes and muddy climbs, rocky ascents and descents but nothing so serious that it wasn’t all fun. And thankfully the mud was of the liquid variety (not difficult given the amount of rain) and not sticky.

Special test three was the same as last year and was a tricky combination of rocky climbs, rutted trails and fire road but went without incident, the last part of the 46 mile lap took us up over the high ground again, where conditions were predictably harsh, riding into the wind and rain with no goggles was particularly unpleasant.

Michael on the Moto Cross Track 

Returning to the arena, I refuelled the bike and grabbed some food and a drink and we set off again for lap two. At first we were surprised to find there was no longer a check point at the start so just headed off to the start of the first special that did turn out to be in the same place as last year’s stage two and turned out to be over 10 miles long. The lap went pretty much without incident, I had changed to my old Oakley goggles that despite being about 16 years old managed to stay mist free throughout. The weather actually improved during this lap and we finished in good order.

Another refuel and a bite to eat and we were off again, the weather starting to turn nasty again. We had determined that Mark was quickest, I was next fastest and Michael the slowest, however this was the opposite way round to our start order and the starter at stage one decided to be a jobsworth and insisted we start in number order. As a result we ended up in a procession down the single track as I had been unable to catch and pass Michael on the open fire roads and Mark had been unable to catch me. I knew there was a point where we turned right onto a muddy twin track through the forest and gambled on Michael taking the obvious right hand track as we both had on the first two laps. At the turn he obliged and I took the left hand track and passed him easily. Mark obviously had the same idea and followed me but was then able to pass as we exited onto the last fire road section.

Stage two came up quickly and this time the starter allowed us to start the other way round which was much better.

Mark getting airborne

After the test we carried on with Michael in the lead and with me following him. Just after we  finished a long descent through woods, he slid off at very slow speed and had the misfortune to have a root hit him in the eye, having just taken off his goggles as visibility was so bad under the trees. He had two nasty cuts, one on his eyelid and one across his eyebrow. To say there was a lot of blood was a bit of an understatement! After Mark and I did our best to staunch the flow (our "first aid kit" only consisted off some (thankfully) dry tissues), he was determined to carry on, no doubt still annoyed at his DNF in similar circumstances at Keilder, despite the fact we still had special number 3 to ride.

We let him ride slowly at the front so he could set the pace (not helped by the fact he had completely worn out his rear pads so had no back brake) but he had to stop as he couldn't see very well. I went in front to give him someone to follow and so he could judge the more technical sections. I was riding along a fire road when I caught sight of one of the ambulances just pulling up on a side track. We did a quick u-turn to let them have a look.

They explained they had just been redeployed because special three had been cancelled (we were rather pleased at that), so it was very good luck I spotted them, 30 seconds later and we would have been gone. They took one look at Michael's eye and declared it needed stiches and he couldn't continue. He was having none of it and asked them to dress it and he was prepared to carry on, especially as we only had a few miles of liaison left now.

They washed out the cuts and taped a dressing over them but as soon as he put his helmet on, it pulled the dressing off. So they bandaged an eyepad over the cuts by putting right round his head but of course by putting his helmet on he managed to push it right over his eye. The St John guys were rather concerned and reiterated their advice not to continue but he was adamant but agreed to go straight to the ambulance at the finish and then to go to hospital to get it stitched.

We rode the last part of the course going over the tops at about 30mph which was amusing (not!) with the rain and the wind getting really quite vicious.

Michael had his eye redressed at the finish and headed off to A&E at Shrewsbury to get it stitched. Mark and his wife Vanessa wanted to follow him there so that if necessary one of them could drive Michael's van but he was adamant he was OK and drove to the hospital. After being treated he left the hospital at 02.00 and got back home to London at 05.00!

Earlier in the day Michael had offered to give Mike H a lift home as Mike had ridden up that morning from Reading and Michael was planning to go back to London via the M4.

In addition Mike had suffered a broken chain during the race (resulting in another DNF) and which disabled his clutch as all the hydraulic fluid had leaked out so was in no position to ride home, which is how I ended up taking him back to Reading…. Again!

Dave had another bad day, after his DNF at the Beacons Rally with a collapsed wheel bearing, he once again had an early finish.... due to a collapsed wheel bearing (no not the same one)!

The results were out on the Tuesday evening and I was pleased to see I had improved from 34th to 29th place in the Trail class but sadly this was not reflected in my BBRC result, as just like last year I was 17th and scored 2 points in the series. This can be explained by there being less under 575cc singles in the Trail class this year.

Mark and Michael did well with 4th and 6th place respectively in the twins class.

This means I am now in 32nd place in the series (over 575cc singles) with 7 points, Michael is sitting in 4th place in the twins with 48 points and Mark is just behind him in 5th with 44 points. With one round left (The Cambrian Rally) this is going to be interesting.

It does make me think I could do better if I switched to a twin next year?

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