Monday, 12 July 2010

Chasing the Dragon ( Rally ) Feb 2010

‘O.K., let’s split into two groups, fast lads meet at Rainbow Motorcycles around nine a.m., Micky will lead that group, slow lot be at mine around eight, for a steady run over.’
Simple instructions or so I thought. The problems started when Martyn (one of Micky’s lads) and Jan arrived at my house at seven, seven the previous evening!!.
Jan had come over on the back of Martyn’s BMW 1150 Adv. He had planned to ride over to Wales on his Suzuki 125 Van Van, but this plan had struck the rocks when he had fitted heated grips earlier in the week to find that they caused the bike to cut out unexpectedly on occasions. As Jan couldn’t bare the thought of riding without heated grips he had chosen the ridiculous option of joining ‘Laughing Gas’ , the next morning, as sidecar monkey in the Yamaha Merlin unit. I’d have just put up with cold hands rather than stare death in the face with such regular monotony.
By eight on Friday night we hit the town, by eleven we were eating kebabs ( this is Rotherham ), by midnight Jan had passed out, at six thirty my alarm went off !!!!, bugger.
With the bikes out of the garage and loaded with a nights camping gear,
I left Martyn and Jan heating a pan of port??,

and headed off leading Christine on her Ducati Monster S4R, John on his Kawumph ( Kawasaki W650 ) and Kevin on his well used BSA B33S, once through Sheffield we picked up the Ringinglow Road , passed Burbage Edge and on into Hathersage, in the Peak District, well I think we did, as the fog came down the moment we left the city, then it started to freeze to my visor as we began to gain a little altitude.
I could see nothing of the scenery except to notice the still thick piles of snow forming a white wall along the side of the road, left from the passage of the plough last week. It was only thanks to a lucky wipe, at the right time, that I managed to avoid the two sheep that had decided to wander across the road at ‘The Fiddlers Elbow’ hairpin bend, a quick blip of the Starfire’s throttle dispersed them as well as causing Kevin to drop back another few hundred meters, shaking his head and banging a hand to the side of his helmet. Loud pipe not me officer.
Winnets Pass, saw Kevin drop even further back as the BSA’s bark reverberated off the walls of the valley and through the lead miners caves, with first gear and plenty of throttle needed to crest the last rise, I could just imagine the tourists in the adjacent Blue John mines at Speedwell Cavern thinking their time had come.
Buxton led to the Cat and Fiddle then we forked left onto Wild Boar Clough, thick fog and snow banks returned but soon the sun began to penetrate the gloom and as we plodded along shafts of light hit on the haw frost and then suddenly valleys began to fall away to the left and hills rose to the right, in a hundred metres the fog dispersed, leaving blue sky and a warming feeling inside. Crossing the River Dane we passed the spot where I had thrown my GS down the road returning from the Dragon Rally in 2005, let’s just put those thoughts to one side and concentrate on enjoying the ride. A couple of miles later and at 9.45am we arrive at Congleton Bus Station cafe and a fine breakfast. Manny has been there since 9 am, having ridden down from Hyde on his BSA B40, quite a surprise to see him really, those of you who read my ‘Rallyman’s Rally’ report will know about his previous ignition problems. As usual he’s well prepared for the worst a Welsh winter can throw at him, in his World War 2 despatch coat and open face helmet, minus goggles.

By 11.15am there is still no sign of the ‘fast’ lads and we decide to push on, riding again in patchy fog, through Sandbach and Crewe we stop at Nantwich for fuel and running repairs to the BSA’s, Manny’s has developed a slight misfire and a new condenser is fitted in a matter of minutes. Kevin just tinkers with his so as not to feel left out.

Just past Whitchurch, I turn onto the A595, I check behind only to see an empty road, so I quickly retrace my route, only a hundred metres prior to the turn off I see a group of bikes huddled on the hard shoulder.
‘Misfire again, Manny? ’, I ask
‘Mmm, not so sure, felt more like it was nipping up a bit’ he replies.
A quick check over the B40 reveals a red hot engine and a stone cold oil tank, not good. We push the bike across the road to the services and try and turn the engine over, now it really has locked up solid.

One cup of coffee later and we have repacked the bikes, I take Manny’s luggage,

Christine takes Kevin’s luggage and Manny gets the luxury of the pillion seat on a B33S. Twenty minutes later were off again, I see Manny with a tear in his eye ( that what you get with no goggles ! ) as we leave the little Beeza, unlocked, propped against the window of the petrol station. Will we, won’t we see her again?

Back on route and we cross the Welsh boarder a few minutes later, I always forget that Wales is a foreign country and I love it when it reminds me so vigorously with its road signs, road markings and of course nervous sheep ( you didn’t think I’d miss the opportunity to slip that in, did you ? ). We pass through Penley, on to Overton and then Ruabon, on the A539, before joining the A5 at Llangollen. A few miles down the road we pass a gaggle of GS’ers parked at the farm shop cafe. The Merlin outfit stands out, it’s our ’fast group’ having a pit stop, we push on with a quick wave. A few miles later we see the A5 road closed sign and follow the A494 to Y Bala, where, whilst having a fag stop and whilst Manny tries to bring his numb pillion bum back to life, the ‘fast lads’ catch us up and stop. For the rest of the journey I lead a convoy of the ‘slow group’ plus Micky F800GS, Buckles R1200Adv, Martyn silver R1150Adv, Chris black R1150Adv, Tex Yamaha Fazer 1000 and Pete and Jan on the outfit, the little 250cc Starfire looks a little out of place as it heads the pack for the next 25 miles or so, again climbing through thick fog before descending to Betws-Y-Coed and on to the rally check in caravan at Tal-y-Bont.

We had our tickets validated and took down directions to the rally site, only a further 3 miles down the road, but after a long ride and few stops, problems soon arose as eleven people could not decide whether the field or the woodland area would be the most suitable camp. Not so much they couldn’t decide just no one was prepared to make a decision! I led the charge up the shale slope, the little B25 thought she had mistakenly found her way onto a Pre 65 trials section, whilst the extra weight of Manny’s luggage and the ‘gentle’ incline ensured the front wheel seldom touched the ground.
‘Please don’t stall, please don’t stall, people are watching, some are taking photos, please don’t stall’
I don’t know if I was just tired or what but I must admit that whilst liking the feel and location of the new site I was beginning to get pis*ed off with the lack of space for us to get our few small tents together.

A guy with a Triumph Rocket 3 and large sidecar moved it a few feet to give us more space, a decision he was to come to regret! A quick glance round reveals a red ‘hammer and sickle’ flag, who else could it be but Tarka camped only a few metres away.
Tents up and Martyn gets out a flask of hot port ,last seen warming in my wife’s best Le Creuset pan this morning, he tells me he has left it soaking in my sink, sh*t that something to look forward to when I get home.
I can’t tell you much about the rest of the evening but I can summarise it as, Hobgoblin ale, more port, Bushmill’s, Bells, more port, bottle of calvados, more port and more port, then it’s time to have a wander to the beer tent.

We meet up with plenty of old friends, talk bikes, trips, rallies and of course discuss oil with Tarka. Looks like a trip to the Elephant Rally is in the planning for next year and with a growth in the number of Ural and other sidecar machines, it could be a long and interesting journey. In some moment of the growing insanity, Tarka assures me he won’t go to the Elephant but will send his female alter ego, the beautiful Tarkette, a Russian porn star. Micky couldn’t wait!

A few more beers and it’s back to the tent where Manny’s bottle of ‘ Insanity ‘ sauce, the hottest chilli sauce in the world finds its way into all the food we prepare.

I watch the amazing Chinese lanterns take to the sky then it’s time for one more port and early night for me, Buckles tries to rouse me to join him and a few others back down at the beer tent but by 10.30pm, I press the ‘kill’ switch and fall asleep.
The next morning I’m up at 7am, the tent door is heavy with frost and as I look out, I see the Triumph has suffered some damage during the previous night, now I know it wasn’t me, I did hear a large crack as someone fell over my guy line at some point in the previous nights proceedings,

I have my ideas who it may have been but the Triumphs owner seemed a little upset and I think it was best to keep quiet. I may have been wrong anyway.
A quick walk round the top field site to check out the machines in daylight

and then it is tents down and pack up.

I take Manny’s luggage again, minus the tent which seems quite at home in the field.
By 9.30am I’m ready to hit the road but as Christine loads her Ducati she notices a flat back tyre, just the same had happened to her last year and actually prevented her getting to the Dragon, at least this time it was on the way home. A guy came to her rescue with a compressor and it appears it was a slow puncture, a few minutes later it appears to be holding pressure. Manny agrees to ride the Duke down the hill as Chris wasn’t too happy about facing the shale again. I admit now to being poor to average on anything other than tarmac but I was amazed at the number of people descending the slope, feet down and with loads of front brake, the results were as expected.
Manny hops on to the back of Bucks GS, despatch coat flapping and rucksack under his arm, I can tell from Bucks demeanour, this isn’t going to be a slow trip home for them.
The ’slow’ group retrace our steps, the day is much colder and the fog still lurks on the high roads, my visor ices up again and then as we follow the River Dee I see a number of kayaks, paddling the white water of the river, must be out of their tiny minds, out doing something like that on a day like this!.
We stop at the ‘Bookshop cafe’ in Llangollen for a late breakfast, nice but no black pudding, before we stop to put more air in the Dukes tyre. Not only have we little air but Kevin’s BSA has run out of electricity, ( he only brought a small box with him ), so he has a choice of ride up close and personal with me and go deaf, or drop back into aural comfort and not be seen by anything over 20 metres away. He juggles between the two options.
As we pass Whitchurch I keep my fingers crossed that the little BSA is still there, it is, propped against the shop window, I give it a wave and carry on home.

It’s been another great weekend, my ninth Dragon Rally, many people have done many more of the 49 there have been to date but I’m not addicted to ‘chasing the dragon’, I just do it for fun, I’m fine now, I don’t need to go again, no really I don’t need it, but next year it’s the 50th so I guess I ought to go and maybe just call in at the Elephant Rally in Bavaria on the way. But those canoeists I saw, I mean that’s just silly.

P.S. 7.30pm Monday 8th February 2010, Manny’s got a van to Whitchurch and the BSA’s still there !!!.

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