What's that smell in Brecon?
Brecon Discovery, World of BMW - an account of an off-road weekend in July 09.
I was introduced to my ride – a BWM XChallenge - and instantly realised it has been named for a reason. My first challenge was to get my leg over.
We set off at around 9.30am on Saturday morning in bright sunshine. The pace was 'tasty' right from the start. Which whilst good for blowing the cobwebs away, showed me also that the bike wasn’t going to yield easily and 'breaking in' my spritely little steed for the weekend was going to take more than a couple of ‘I’m in charge’ blasts on the throttle. The 650 XChallenge (from here on in known as No.15) is a talkative little bike and likes to have her head.
I realised that fighting for control was futile once I’d calculated how many Hail Marys I’d offered up within an hour, so I succumbed to the notion that the bike would be the boss for the weekend. This was never more noticeable than when we - No.15 and I - came to stop. I have a 31" inside leg measurement, and every time we came to a standstill, I found myself saying, not for the first time in my life, "oh, for that extra couple of inches". I was just a little too short to reach the ground comfortably with both feet. Less charitable observers might have said I was unsafe but I suspected that on the scale of things, my shortness of leg would soon pale into insignificance in the safety stakes. By the end of the weekend the bum shuffle became a forte of mine, in that each time I stopped I employed my best-in-show agility skills, backed up by some bikram yoga postures, to shift my (not inconsiderable) rear-end off the seat and to rest gently on the exhaust. A pleasant sensation at first, but like most things that are hot - you can have too much after a while.
Pointing North, we raced down single track lanes, through farmyards and worked on our tally of Border Collie's attached to our Alpinestar boots. This is where we had our first man down. It was the cattle grid that did it. The poor guy didn't stand a chance and as he approached the first gravel road with an excellent show of vim and vigour, he hit the wet iron of the cattle grid and the rest of the story, as they say, was told in the back of the ambulance. One down, and 12 trembling specimens to go.
With the pace starting out as 'tasty' it soon became ‘testy' and with a Wallace and Grommit-like grin in my helmet, I shut my eyes, forgot to look ahead and promptly fell off on my first tight bend on a farm track. Result. I'd got my first tumble out of the way, muddied my new trousers and also put into practice a good BMW Level One 'lifting the bike' drill. I was astonished how easily that part of my training came back to me, and somewhere in my sub-conscious I could hear an instructor called Zippy offering polite and helpful guidance “You’ve godda have big balls to lift a bike Liz, c’mon!”.
I commended myself on being so plucky and possessing the strength of a (lady) ox, and took off on No.15 with the effortless ease of a swallow on the wing on a balmy summers evening.
The riding continued and we were soon "green-laning" – which, I had been assured by Mr Pavey, was nothing like "dogging" or "sea-gulling". So, I decided that my life motto of 'try everything three times' would be put into practice, and I found that I am quite partial to a little green-laning.
Before lunchtime we had cracked across some open moorland, dry ditches, gritty accents and a couple more of those pesky cattle grids. Selwyn, white van man, met us at the golf course clubhouse for lunch and we proceeded to eat our combined body and bike weight in chips, baked beans, fried egg, bacon and sausage. Of course, this played havoc with my body clock as it thought it was getting a second breakfast - although given the adrenalin rush of the morning it was entirely feasible that we had travelled through a different time-zone and I’d just missed it.
The best group (my group - just in case anyone is tempted to dispute this fact - led by Gary and Evan), set off again just as 'Group B' (led by Simon and Gwyn)came into town having loaded the first of their number into an ambulance with a standard BMW-issue 'Get well and book again soon' card. Prior to our departure, we had spoken to chef and asked him to increase the portion sizes of the all day breakfast for Group B in the hope that they would be caught dozing in their "Big Bike" comfy seats in the afternoon.
A cracking bash across some moorland brought us head-on with cows, rain, sheep, farmers and their collective resultant effluent (excluding the farmer one hopes). I found one should especially watch fresh sheep pooh, as it can cause a bit of a slide if you catch one on the edge of your knobbly.
Obviously, some of our number were feeling bored and decided to 'noise it up' with a few mis-directed pointing actions that led half the group to the wrong gate in the wrong field. But it gave those who had been given a bum steer the chance to ride across a field believing they were Steve McQueen in the Great Escape – although I prefer not to think of Steve with as much sheep shit around his tyres. We were legends in our own helmets briefly. Word got out that Ian (our resident 'salt and pepper' easy rider) took a tumble, albeit gently and in keeping with his overall laid-back composure and style. No.15 accidently kicked up her heels going through a gate and showered Gazza with mud, puddle and sheep shit. Revenge was sought and achieved later in the day.
And then it was the turn of Group A to have the dark cloud of injury hover above our heads. Mel took an unassuming tumble as he navigated an excitable rut and lo - it came to pass that a second ambulance was set to make an appearance. Another collarbone snapped clean in two. Group A's recovery programme went into full swing with a military precision that even Gwyn would have been proud of, and we were soon on our way again. So, that was two collarbones a-piece for each team. The x-rays will show which was the most spectacular break and this will be added to the overall score of each group.
At the time of the incident, the gulps were audible amongst the riders of Group A and I'm not certain that those that claimed they were "going for a pee" in the bushes were being quite truthful about the specifics of their bodily functions.
Onwards, onwards - the pace was relentless. We noticed that Group B were now showing signs of a dip in confidence so we agreed to let them take the lead for the final leg up to Radnor Forest. They appreciated the head-start I think. Nobody likes to be at the back of the pack all day.
I will gloss over the part where Group A lost nearly an hour because a small number of our team decided to take a trip to Cardiff.
No rain had fallen all day and conditions in the forest were perfect for Group A, although we did wonder how Group B would fair. The only challenge was how to make up all the time lost to broken collarbones and Gary decided that flat out would be the best remedy. Unfortunately the instruction didn't pass back down the line in full detail - it's amazing how this can get lost translation at 60 mph along a fire road - and the neat 'duckling formation' soon fell apart. However, we were a group that had obviously dealt well with adversity in the field and somehow we all managed to stay together and between us had nine complete and functioning sets of collarbones between us by the end of the day.
Behind schedule, which was making Selwyn nervous, we descended on the New Radnor Hotel for sustenance, song and fine beer. Some were early (Group B) and some were late (Group A) to bed - but a single representative from Group A and Group B were still at the bar after midnight, neither giving an inch in their desire to take the title.
Day two brought forth a few early challenges - one was Welsh rain, another an unprovoked groping before breakfast and the last a wilful act of sabotage on the petrol cap of Evan's bike. A valiant dash back down the road provided us with the evidence that something smelly was going on. There, in the middle of the road was the petrol cap from Evans petrol tank. Gary was the last person to touch that cap. I was beginning to have my doubts about Gary - I suspected he may be in bed with the enemy (room No.7 of the Radnor Hotel should be checked) and I could see that I would have to keep a close eye on any exchanges between each group from now on. My senses were on full alert.
The groping was another personal best for me in that it was all over by 7am, having risen at only 6.30am - not that I was the groper. In fact, turns out I became the potential gropee when a very unassuming turn (alone) around the gardens, much as Mr Darcy would have done in his day, looked like it might turn a little too amorous with a local for my liking - especially on an empty stomach. Note to self; always save being groped til’ after I’ve eaten.
Arrival in Radnor Forest and a re-calibration of the groups took us all by surprise. Jim and Ian (salt and pepper easy rider) were snatched from Group A. It was obvious that Group B felt weak and the ‘infiltration’ of Gary the previous night (Room 7) had led to BMW’s first human trafficking incident in an attempt to take the lead again. However, I was a little hurt that Jim and Ian agreed so readily to move across to be with the boys on the “big bikes” with not even a backward glance. Shallow and easily led? Or were they part of the final push to bring Group A to its knees?
By now my 'how to pick up the bike' drill was perfected and I was beginning to share my 'top ten tips' with the Group in short road-side lectures, such was my proficiency. I had also achieved a foot-peg personal best and although Gary did point out to me that this is not something that could (or should) be taught officially, my feet left No.15's foot pegs on a number of occasions as I launched into the warm, pine-scented air of Radnor Forest a time or two. All moves were unplanned and dealt with through unofficially adapted BMW off-road moves.
Lunch on day two was a challenge for me and all the other public diners in the restaurant that we spilled in to. Unfortunately, not 30 minutes before lunch, No.15 had had a little difficultly. It was a shame that this moment of difficultly happened just as we were hurtling through Radnor Forests deepest pool of thick, black congealed radio-active pooh. No.15 lost her nerve and it was clear that we were going to go down. I was surprised at the speed with which I bailed out - there were two possible 'landing areas' within my reach. One, a grassy knoll (perfect for spectators come to think of it) and the other was the parent-bog of the bog that No.15 now lay in. I don't need to tell the reader which side I landed.
No.15 was in deep and the only sound I could hear in the silence of the forest was that of air bubbles surfacing as she was sucked under. I reached in up to my elbows to see if I could free her, but the bog wasn’t finished with her yet. At this point the first gurgle of laughter came from deep within my being, not only due to the farce of the situation but it had also just occurred to me that Evan was in for it. He was the ‘responsible adult’ bringing up the rear and as such, according BMW’s terms and conditions, would have to get me out of this fine mess, Stanley. I will be eternally grateful for the winch-like muscles and steely-set jaw which he employed to get us out of the bog. If he ever wants to hang up his spanner, there is a career waiting for Evan in the mud-wrestling world.
It took three of us to hoist No.15 to safety with only human bicep muscle. By which time she probably weighed as much as the GS 1200 due to the top-to-toe covering of bog-slime that now clung to her chassis. Of course, as if by magic, Gary appeared when all the heavy lifting had been done. With a camera.
Now, the mud made me look seasoned and possibly more experienced than reality, but unfortunately it gave off a smell reminiscent of the contents of Wandsworth Common’s 'dog pooh in here please' bin. And so, I went for lunch in the sure knowledge that everyone else could enjoy this unique smell whilst they ate.
And so, we wended our way back to base camp - through fields, ditches, farm tracks, lanes and over grassy knolls (which will now always make me think of the dreaded parent-bog and not President Kennedy). Some of us were pumped up like body-builders after a weekend of lifting heavy iron but all of us felt chuffed that we made it through.
nicely written Liz, you have a very entertaining style with the quill and the bike!
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