Once again the crows gave their wakening call and to my delight the rain had stopped, although the ground around the tent was somewhat wetter than it was when I got in my tent 7 or 8 hours ago.
There was no long wait this morning as the first bike was off the start line at 8:00am and my start time was just 30 minutes later. Once again it was a very short ride to the first skills area with just a few changes from the previous days setup. I got a nice clear round and was off on my way for the ten hour plus ride of the 470km route that laid ahead of me, but I was feeling good with the thought of yesterday’s results and rode on with a smile on my face.
It was less than two hours before we got to ride in the first forest stage and it was not long before I came across a collection of bikes that had stopped to debate whether they go down the steep slippery mud hill, or pay the price of the longer distance continuing on the forest track. The marshal at the top of the stage said with my more road biased tyres that I may be better off going the easier but longer route but with the thought of my position as of yesterday, I cautiously decided to attempt the hill in order to keep my overall distance to a minimum.
Remembering Patsy’s words of advice, keep in 1st gear to use maximum engine braking and with just enough front brake to help slow the bike down off I went on my one way ticket to victory or bust. Well, all I can say it was steeper than I thought and longer too, making the ride down somewhat interesting and it was not long before that smile had gone replaced by wide eyes and the odd muttering of words like holy shit. When the surface got looser and relaxed the front brake and just went with the ride applying it again when I thought I had some better grip beneath the tyres. It all lasted far longer than I had imagined when standing at the top talking myself into it but thankfully I made it in one piece and rode on with that smile back on my face. Of course, it was not too long before some of the faster, more experienced riders came past me but that was just fine as I wanted to go at a pace I was comfortable with as there was a long way to the finish line.
Despite the damp conditions, riding the forest tracks was great fun, and as we rode higher the mist got thicker giving it even more of an adventure feeling and this is what these bikes are all about.
Out of the forest and back onto the narrow country lanes the grey clouds decided to test us further and it soon got to a point where I stopped to put on my waterproof jacket and gloves.
30 minutes or so into the second forest stage of the day and I came across the second skills test. This started out by what was described as a ride around the blue cone in the rock garden, followed by riding over the logs of doom and into the first of four gates where we make a right turn to come back over the to second gate before the third and fourth gates then 360 degrees around another cone and finally coming into a box where you need to stop with putting your feet down before riding off. Unfortunately I only made it as far as gate three before testing the suitability of my engine protection bars. At this point I had picked up maximum penalty points, no damage to the bike but my pride was shattered so I rode off somewhat deflated. It was only two miles on when I came across the third skills section which I studied for a while, but then looking at other people struggling, plus the slushy conditions and my tyres I said I would save the fall and take the points and ride on. I had not got down the track 1 mile before cursing about that decision but what was done was done and I now struggled to find that smile as my hopes for retaining my standings were way gone now.
Back to local by ways we came to the water crossing that was also spoken about the night before. I watched the three riders in front of me all taking different approaches to the water but although they all made it through, it didn’t look graceful so I decided to park my bike and take a closer look. The marshal said, ‘at last, the first sensible person of the day’ as I walked over to him. I was apparently the first to get off my bike to take a look and he kindly pointed out a sub-merged rock on the right and said the left side may be easier as there was just small rocks and stones. I walked through the water first and was happy with the left side although ti did feel a bit soft and squidgy in places, presumably by some silt, but thought so long as I keep a steady momentum going I should be fine. Then I also remembered what Kevin from Adventure Bike Training once told me, and that was not to go too fast through the water as the air intake on the GS was just behind the panel on the right side of the engine and that you don’t want the water going up that. So with this all in mind, I proceeded through to successful water crossing bringing back the smile again.
After more county roads we headed back to the last forest stage and it was here where we had to face the same tow skills sections again. So the first one I came across was the one that I had skipped entirely and I wasn’t going to make that mistake again. I watched closely the route as another rider went through, listened to the marshal as he explained it as well and proceeded to line up at the start point for me to tackle it. It was a little drier now the rain had stopped but still quite slippery so I cautiously went through and completed the section with just one dab of the foot, so I was happy with that result. And two more miles I came across the next one where I said to the marshal, ‘are you ready to pick up my bike again as I lined up to take my turn. He replied, no problem, I have been picking GS’s all day.’ It soon came time for me to go and off I went through the rock garden, over the logs and this time through all the gates just fine, then the 360 before coming to a stop whilst standing in the box where another marshal/scorer said, good you can go, and with that I stalled the bike and dabbed a foot down, doh! But at least I didn’t drop it this time and the other marshal gave me some words of encouragement saying how much better I had done this time round. I rode off with half a smile this time, pleased that the skills sections had gone better, but still slightly disappointed that I hadn’t cleared them completely.