Like every year the entry is camped around The Lakeside in the park at Llandrindod Wells - most riders simply call the place ‘Dod Wells’ or ‘Dod’, which is much easier for the non-Welsh to pronounce.
The day before had been signing on, scrutineering and placing of bikes in parc ferme. It had also been something of a wallet-emptying experience (always unnerving for journo types). £30 went to ‘Jock’ for his refuelling service - he’d take your jerry cans to every service plus offer some tea, sandwiches and cake at the second (lunchtime) stop for both days. Ideal for those of us with no pit crew.
Then a couple of quid to the team who’d pre-prepared our timecards saving hours of mental arithmetic. Then £18 for a special two-day insurance to make legal the dirt biking on the highway (poor Carlo got stung for £50 as he was French - though it would have been more if they’d seen his driving). And that was before we filled our jerry cans. Carlo asked, ‘does everyone here need paying?’ No, it just felt that way. A few more quid for tea and a bacon rolls once we’d finished.
The morning of day one we were met by a cheery rider who clocked the French number plate on our van.
‘Bonjour’ He said.
‘Bonjour’, I replied.
‘Comment ca va?’
Ca va bien, merci’
‘Ahh, that’s the end of my French.’ He said looking slightly sheepish.
‘Mine too as it happens.’ I replied.
‘I thought you were French.’
‘No, the smoking furball over there is the Frenchman. Can’t you tell?’
Pushing Yamaha WR250F number 227 out of parc ferme I realised I hadn’t actually looked at, let alone ridden the bike yet (save for sticking the numbers on). But I wasn’t worried as it had been expertly prepped by John Begley at the Yamaha Off Road Experience (better known as Geraint Jones’s place), so I knew it was tip top. New Dunlop tyres plus a pair of ‘soft’ mousses and with plenty of hours on the motor - despite looking brand spanking new - it promised a trouble free ride. And bike wise it would be.
For this, my first Welsh I was riding notionally as a competitor, but the intention was never to compete, but rather to travel the entire course and shoot pictures along the way. So I had three cameras on me. A Go Pro shooting stills mounted under my helmet peak, a wee super-compact in my pocket and a heavy old 1D pro-SLR in a rucksack. I wanted to shoot in every manner possible, but from the point of view of a competitor.
Of course this meant I was one of the more heavily laden riders. Not helped by a suspect weather forecast which meant I was wearing an enduro jacket and carrying waterproofs for myself and the cameras. Plus a two-litre hydration pack. Oh, and a tool belt, just in case.
Our start time was 9:03 and sure enough the furball couldn’t start his KTM Freeride. Being so Gallic (although of Italian parentage), Carlo had opted to wear an open face helmet with mirror lens goggles, and as race faces go they don’t come much stranger. Eager helpers didn’t know whether to call a mechanic… or the zoo.