Thursday 29 June 2017

Keeping busy

Looks like being a lean year on the rallying front; the next event is the Ryedale Rally but as I’m already committed to a cycling trip in Devon, that won’t be happening for me. The next event was due to be the Baja GB in June, the only combined car/bike event in the UK and a road book event too. Unfortunately Natural Resources Wales (aka The Forestry Commission) imposed a load of extra costs and restrictions on the car side, which of course impacted on us as they provide a lot of the infrastructure, marshals etc. It was then hoped to run a bike only event as an alternative but this too fell foul of the restrictions imposed by “The Forestry”. So at the moment no confirmed navigation rallies in the UK this year.

On the good news front, I have already booked my slot on the 2018 Tour of Portugal, although the news of the forest fires and resulting fatalities only 60km from Pampilhosa da Sera was a shock. We have heard from Rui the Portuguese organiser and all concerned with the event are safe and well, it would appear that the affected area includes part of the course from day one of the 2006 Tour so a bit close for comfort.

In the meanwhile I’ve been keeping my hand in my doing survey work for the Trail Riders Fellowship (TRF) specifically surveying the green roads of the Peak District. A couple of weeks ago I drove to the Peaks, parking up near Ilam in Dove Dale only for the bike to be reluctant to start so I ended up having to jump start it off the van. It then ran fine for the next five, very wet hours and I was able to ride and survey ten green roads, until it died on me completely! 

A long wait for the RAC ensued in a cold, wet and exposed lay by in the middle of nowhere. When a patrol eventually turned up he agreed it needed recovery and when he discovered I only needed to be recovered about ten miles to my van, he offered to drive me there so I could return and recover the bike myself… a far more practical solution than another long wait for a recovery vehicle. Upon arriving back home it quickly became evident that the left hand kill switch was shorting on the handlebar. I had been concerned about this as the back of the switchgear is exposed, so had specifically covered the bar with insulating tape. I expected to find the tape damaged but no, for reasons I still can’t explain it had decided to short out through the plastic tape?

 In any case a quick fix and the following Saturday I was back in the same lay-by a few miles outside Buxton as I had identified it as a good parking spot. This time the bike ran faultlessly and the sun shone! I was able to stay out for seven and a half hours and rode thirty five green roads in total and completed surveys of thirty. This was because two I had done before and they just happened to be on my route and three that fall just outside the Park Boundary but again they were conveniently on route.

Next on the agenda was a road book training event in the Cotswolds, a chance to keep the navigation skills sharp. Seven of us turned up at Seven Springs near Cheltenham and enjoyed a fantastic day out. The road book was excellent; the trails good to ride (if a little overgrown in places) and the weather was mostly kind to us! We had the odd shower during the day and the last few miles on the road to the start/finish were a bit wet but nothing too serious. Everyone had a good time and nobody got (too) lost, a big thanks to Burt and Jonny for putting on a great day.

It also inspired me to get planning on my own road book training routes and my Hertfordshire route is in the final stages of preparation having secured help from the KTM Centre in Hemel Hempstead to act as the start/finish and provide the coffee! Here's a shot of work in progress....

Friday 9 June 2017

Tour of Portugal - Day Three

Day three was a much shorter affair at just over 100km with a single special stage, this started after a twenty kilometre road section and as the day seemed bright and warm many riders were eschewing jackets for MX shirts. I thought better of it and layered up. This turned out to be a wise decision as much of the road liaison was along a high ridge and it was certainly a bit on the chilly side!

Arriving at the special stage start, I had time to remove my extra gear and stash it in my rucksack before starting. The special dropped off the ridgeline and then contoured the edge of the valley twisting in an out of stream cut defiles in the slope, which soon meant that rounding a headland to cut back into the next, I spotted the rider who started one minute ahead of me, on the opposite side of the defile passing a distinctive tree. When I reached the same tree I looked back across to see the rider one minute behind was just rounding the headland, so it would seem we were maintaining the time gaps.

A short while later the same happened, as I rounded the slope, I spotted my “minute man” passing a pile of boulders beside the track. When I reached them I looked back across but could see no sign of the rider behind! So it would seem I was either gaining on the rider ahead or at least getting away from the rider behind (or hopefully both).

My question was soon answered when I again spotted the rider ahead, now a lot closer as we climbed back onto the ridgeline, I caught him at a confusing five way junction where he was clearly hesitating and studying the road book. I had already worked out where I was going so swept past him, turned right and followed the ridge upwards. This was significant for me as although I have been passed many times in special stages, I’m not sure I’ve ever passed anyone before. Soon after the track switch-backed up onto the very top of the ridge on a wind turbine access track and then turned sharp right to descend again…. And I overshot the turn!

Luckily I had spotted the turn so only lost a few seconds whilst turning round; on the descent I passed another rider, so was feeling good. After this there followed a long section, through scrubland, open country and then into a more populated valley and through a few tiny villages. The navigation was tricky and I had to concentrate hard but was definitely in the grove and making good progress. The route climbed again to another ridge where I spotted three riders ahead of me, two together and one slightly ahead. I started to reel them in as we topped the ridge and climbed alongside the ubiquitous wind turbines on the ridge line. The track was very rocky and I was unable to catch them before we again dropped steeply off the ridge to descend again. The descent was steep, rocky and twisty and I got caught behind the two riders who were descending a fair bit slower than I wanted too! I eventually got past one by the old expedient of stuffing him up the inside on a bend and then the second rider on the next bend. Now for the third, whilst I had been momentarily held up he had got away, however I didn’t catch him as the finish of the stage was at the bottom of the slope, where I pulled up a few seconds behind him!

A long liaison followed, with some tricky sections, especially a nasty bend on a sharp climb over rock steps and loose rocks, I was now riding with Tony Whitehead again and he shot round the bend and over the steps with no problems on his 300 smoker, I got round the bend OK but had selected too low a gear so managed to pull a wheelie over the steps and chucked it away on the exit. Tony walked back down and helped me get the bike up and going again, “to reclaim a small bit of karma for my assistance the day before” I hung around for a while to get my breath back, admire the view and attempt to help a fellow rider try and get round on a KTM 990 Adventure… but it simply wasn’t going to happen! He eventually decided to go back down and head back on the road, I walked back up to my bike that I had left at the top of the slope and had to stop for another rest to get back my breath again, it was very steep and very hot!!!

After that I joined three other riders and we descended down until we reached the road and then headed back to Pampilhosa, a ritual jet wash at the garage and then it was a rush to get everything packed up and the bike prepared for loading on the truck.

The results were duly published and I had managed to claw my way up to 17th Place, not quite as good as last year (13th) but top twenty will do me OK.

Wednesday 7 June 2017

Tour of Portugal - Day Two

Day two was another long stage with only two special tests. The first was a short ride out of town and started on a ridge, we had left the start on one minute intervals but the special was started at two minute gaps. Inevitably there was some bunching up and a bit of a wait ensued, now the warm sunny day didn’t seem so warm or sunny having gained a bit of altitude!

It wasn’t too long until I got to start and the stage started as a fairly smooth dirt twin track descending the other side of the ridge to the one we’d climbed. A very tight right hand hairpin bend soon appeared and scrubbing off sufficient speed wasn’t the easiest job, judging by the skids marks running to the edge of a substantial drop, I wasn’t the only one to find this out.

The track continued steeply downhill to the next bend, another sharp hairpin this time to the left. As I approached I spotted a figure sitting on the side of the track with his head in his hands but no sign anywhere of his bike, seeing it was my friend Tony Whitehead, I stopped to assist knowing that I could get my time back (as it would be recorded by the GPS tracker) but this wasn’t my first priority at the time. It turned out Tony had overshot the bend and cartwheeled off down the slope. He was unhurt but simply exhausted by his efforts to try and drag the bike back up to the track.

Now a KTM 300EXC two stroke isn’t the heaviest of bikes but trying to drag it, push it and even pull it with the aid if a tow rope back up the slope was a mammoth task. We were eventually helped by another rider and to be honest I’m not sure we’d have managed without his assistance. I eventually got underway again and the special went pretty well with no navigation issues. The second special stage of the day was less successful, after a good start when a slightly ambiguous “tulip” on the road book meant many riders missed a turning off the main track during a climb up to a ridge. The diagram seemed to imply that you stayed on the main track and there was a fork off to the left, whereas on the ground the main track carried on with a slight bend to the left whilst the correct route forked off right. The road book did helpfully include the information that the turning was “difficult to see”  and that it was “downhill” (the main track was climbing steadily) and the track was “mauvais” (bad); it was certainly all three of those and to my mind there was no doubt I had taken the correct route. It did give me a bit of pleasure to see loads of tyre tracks heading up the hill and only a couple turning off.

What followed was a very long, winding and very rocky track contouring along the side of the ridge to eventually reaching a cross roads in the track that was marked on the road book and confirmed my route choice. It transpired that those who missed the turning took a much faster track over the ridge to meet up again at this point, so all received a ten minute penalty for their error!

After my good start I did have a moment of doubt later in the stage which cost me a few minutes to check the route but otherwise I was going well until approximately 2km from the end of the stage, when my road book stopped working and refused to scroll forwards even manually. It transpired that the rubber drive belts had come off and got tangled, jamming the top roller. I had the choice of stopping and trying to fix it (but didn’t know what the problem was at that time) or chancing to luck and following tyre tracks. I chose the latter and it worked OK for another kilometre until I arrived at a cross roads with tyre tracks going in three different directions!!! I chose to go left but this turned out to be wrong, so I back tracked and took the right hand route but that too turned out to be wrong, so went back again and took the third option, straight on and soon arrived at the stage finish! In the event it hadn’t made a great difference to my position as so many people got penalties but could have been a chance to significantly improve my placing… c’est la vie!

A stop at the nearby “Cock CafĂ©” and I met up again with Tony who bought me lunch for my assistance earlier in the day! We then rode together for the remainder of the liaison stage until shortly before the descent into Pampilhosa da Sera, when I took the wrong turn at a slightly complicated junction. After a couple of turns I realised Tony hadn’t followed me so stopped and killed the engine to listen but could hear nothing. I then decided to head back to the junction but the bike wouldn’t start! Repeated attempts had the battery starting to struggle until I suddenly realised….  It was petrol! After 150km I had obviously run onto reserve, a quick turn of the tap and it fired up straight away. I headed back, found the right track and headed back to the finish at the hotel via the petrol station for a refuel and a jet wash.

Evening maintenance was again straightforward, a top up of the engine oil, some oil on the chain and I was going to change the air filter again but realised the remaining “clean” air filter I had brought in my spares box was in fact a dirty one. The filter on the bike looked cleaner, so it stayed on there. I changed the front brake pads as they were getting a bit worn, they most probably would have been OK but I decided better safe than sorry.