Pontifications over, it was down to business and with the sound of the Claxon, we were off. It's not a race. It's not a race. It is not a race. None of us are really warmed up and it is not a race.
The relief to be going was immense. My mind soon cleared and was able to concentrate on the job in hand- not having a crash! Like a GSXR owners club ride-out, this was hairy! Nobody was looking further ahead than the guy in front of them. Any attempt to maintain a good stopping distance just saw ten guys come flying past only to panic brake behind the next rider as everyone slowed for a bend. Anyway, I didn't see a crash and we wound our way through the lanes behind our police escort.
The pace was fairly brisk as it was flat or downhill for a couple of miles. Then we started to hit the odd climb or two. Still only tarmac back lanes but more than enough to get the lungs going. At this point I started to realise that actually, I had no need to feel inferior to a lot of the field as I flew past them uphill. At least as many people of course were passing me at twice my speed but it was still good enough for a bit of confidence.
The first bottle neck was a turning off of the lanes onto a couple of miles of farmland ridining across silaged grass fields. This was to lead us to the first set of proper off road trials and meant people were able to string out a bit. It also became clear who was doing the 100k (actually closer to 82 I believe) option. These lean, muscly legged whippets were becoming a spec in the distance already.
We hit our first byway and I got a glimpse of how effective full suspension can be even on climbs.
I'd left Lewis behind as I did on every smooth climb or descent. However, there was enough variety over any given say 8k, that actually, our average speeds wouldn't have been far off and we always ended up back together after not too long.
Back on a short lane section, I was able to regain a few places over people that had passed me on the rough byway as I just outclimbed them up every dip and hollow. It is not a race!
Now, just as I trumphantly blasted past five guys pogoing up a short tarmac hill on their downhill bikes, we hit another bottle neck. The badly cattle-erroded and washed out track we were joining was causing people to get off and push the short, muddy climb. I don't care what the nay-sayers were shouting out (one of the few negative incidents all day) I reckon less than 1% of the entire entry could have physically made it up there. Anyway, after another 50 yard climb on to the heathery hillside, up which most people were still pushing their bikes, the trial turned into a lush bit of welsh single track.
It was one of the wetter parts of the course with a few muddy washouts that I found impossible to ride through (although others managed with ease).
This was one of the rare gnarlier parts of the course that I gelled with. Mostly because of the lack of stones and rocks. I picked up a nice pace, was picking good lines, flowing really nicely and certainly not holding anyone up. I really enjoyed that bit. Gradually, the track wound up over the hill and soon became steep and technical. I pushed as hard as I could but ended up walking the last 20 yards through lack of ability rather than fitness. Lewis did really well here and caught me up through his superior bike handling skills.
The top of this hill was really good with some cracking views (as they were all day to be fair) and reminded me of Exmoor. It was one of those peaty bog tracks with 100 yards of firm easy riding followed by a 10 yard bog where line was critical. We rode together here and had a blast wheelying into puddles and taking the piss out of each other. We passed the odd person but it felt like a steady stream were passing us (as it did all day!)
Eventually, the hill top began to roll into a downhill and Lew left me for dead as he always does on the off-road downhills. I just haven't got the skill, balls or flow to crack these bits so I did my best to let fast people past whilst trying not to die! It started off shallow and fun with loads of different lines and the chance to catch a bit of air. It quickly became steeper and more dangerous with deeper ruts to catch your wheels and I frequently found myself with my body weight lined up on one route and the wheels in another! Each time this happened I got the pit-of-stomach-sick feeling that I used to get whilst trying to off-road my xt660z and I also knew I was doing the exact opposite to what I should be doing by tensing up.
These personal arguements continued all the way down until we reached a new sign. Three downhill facing arrows, obviously implying a significant hazard. The last hill was a seriously steep, very rocky (actually, perhaps I should save 'very rocky' for later !) and very slippery drop which had an underground spring in it. I actually rode it well and slithered my way out onto the lane and the location of the 25k rest-stop.
This was fun!