Dawn to Usk
I woke early, just as the sun was trying to break through the Welsh drizzle. Soon enough we were up and ready to leave, and I had to admit feeling a little nervous seeing my huge (in comparison) Ténéré standing next to Dom’s KTM 690 Enduro, Tom’s DR-Z400S, Tamsin’s WR450 Yam, and Craig’s old Xchallenge Beemer. However the shiny new Ténéré was screaming out for an adventure.
We headed north and over the river Usk. It was a little early to get our feet wet, especially as the Usk has the second highest tidal range in the world, so we used the bridge.
We hit our first track a few miles on, a gentle climb through a golf course towards the Brecon Beacons National Park. A little known fact: The scoring system for golf was invented by a Welshman - Dr Stableford. Which begs the question, what the Scots (who invented the game itself) were doing before that - just hacking a ball around the woods with no real point? Unfortunately the Doc committed suicide just before his 90th birthday because he became blind and could no longer play…
On our first real descent of the day, negotiating a steep shaley hillside, I foolishly pulled a handful of front brake at an inopportune moment and off I came. Craig helped me right the upside-down bike, and whilst I did my best to hide my blushes he patted me on the back and said ‘it’s always best to come off early.’
As we rode on the terrain became rockier and the bike did a great job of picking its way through the steep gullies, especially considering the constantly shifting fist-sized rocks underneath its wheels. This gave me a lot more confidence in the bike; if I kept up a reasonable amount of momentum it would go pretty much anywhere I pointed it, occasionally out-riding some of the smaller lighter bikes in the group. The only consistent trouble I had was starting from a standstill on an incline. At one point a tree had fallen across our path, so we cleared it out the way except then I couldn’t get going again, the back wheel just span. I had to turn the bike sideways ride the front wheel up the side of the banked trail, pull hard right and head up the hill flat-out on one wheel.
The tracks slowly turned into open moorland with occasional deep muddy ruts, and with Swansea and Bristol Channel behind us and the Irish Sea to our left we sailed for miles and miles over the grass. The only mishap was when I chose a rather deep rut, my left foot was hit off the peg and got caught between the bike and the mud wall, causing me to twist my bars with my thumb becoming the filling in a knee ‘n’ bar sandwich. Underneath my thumbnail immediately swelled up and turned black… Ouch.
With a set routine, the few gates we came across were quickly and easily dispatched. The first rider there opened it and then rode on, whilst backmarker Craig closed it behind us.
From the moorland we dropped down into a village whose claim to fame is that it was Richard Burton’s hometown, and it was here that we stopped for lunch. The afternoon saw the Welsh weather turn with about an hour of heavy rain, and we climbed into some steep and technical mountain sections. Again the bike outdid itself, especially as I was running a pair of dual sport Continental TKC80s which found far more grip than I expected. They handled some really rough sections with aplomb, giving me the confidence to push the bike harder.
We arrived at a stretch of thigh deep water spread across the trail. I love water crossings, and with no way round I gave it a quick look before going for it. It was deep but I kept my line, aiming for a narrow gully between two sections of slippery rock on the far side. In my haste I hadn’t really thought about the rocks that lurked beneath the murk, and three-quarters of the way across my front wheel slipped sideways into a hidden crevice, putting my bars at full lock. I was catapulted over the tank, head first into the drink - it was like having my head stuck in a goldfish bowl - and gargling with laughter and spluttering the odd expletive I extracted my head from the drink to see the bike had been wedged where I left it, bolt upright, between the two hidden rock shelves. Nice parking! Several more crossings came and went without much more than the odd toe dip.
The weather cleared and we chewed up the miles on forest roads that ran near Si Pavey’s BMW school. The afternoon ended with a 30km section of track skirting around a beautiful reservoir. Craig often used this section when training for the Dakar - really nice flowing single track with hairpin turns aplenty.
Craig and I stopped to talk to some fly fishermen who were packing up for the day and somehow Craig convinced them to give us their day’s catch of two brown trout for our BBQ. With a touch of bewilderment they then unpacked their kit and carried on fishing..!
I was learning that both Craig and Tamsin are very good with people, Tamsin is always cheery and thoughtful and Craig offers advice or a few motivational words exactly when you need them.
We arrived at our campsite in Rhayader exhausted, to find all our tents erected, the BBQ lit, and a cold beer to hand. We also had a new member to the team in the form of my old travel partner and owner of Adventure Spec, Chris Colling, who had just finished the Tarrenig Rally on his Honda XR650R, relatively unscathed considering he’d had a big off a few hours earlier. Unfortunately the anticipated arrival of infamous explorer Captain Fawcett didn’t materialise -there was a rumour he was caught in bandit country whilst navigating the river Nile.