Karpenisi and/or bust... Three complete amateurs take on the Hellas Rally without assistance.

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by russatkinson, Jul 10, 2019.

  1. russatkinson

    russatkinson Crashing my way through rally stages since 2019

    Joined:
    Jan 7, 2019
    Oddometer:
    24
    Location:
    49.2144° N, 2.1312° W
    Some of the best, albeit often the most absurd ideas are dreamt up in a pub, and that's exactly where I found myself in February this year. In a pub, with three strangers, discussing the logistics of getting down to Greece and back to compete in the 2019 Hellas Rally.

    I'd already been planning on putting an entry in, but a mate of mine works with a guy who eats, sleeps and breathes bikes who was intrigued, and he knew a bloke from a part-time job of his who might be keen and had actually raced in a few rallies before, and his ex-girlfriend worked with a girl whose other half was also into bikes (we live in Jersey - it's a small place, so this kind of thing is absolutely normal) and next thing I knew we were three pints in and the others were talking about things like sponsorship, charitable causes, ferry timetables and not p****ing blood. I can't lie; as I sat there fairly quietly taking it all in, secretly I knew I was probably in too deep - but there was no turning back. So I finished my pint, went home and wired a shedload of Euros to a Greek bank account.

    What could possibly go wrong? Loads, actually - but we managed to make it there and back. Eventually.

    So if you're up for seeing a bit of this:
    [​IMG]

    Crying vicarious tears of laughter or pain as you read about things like this:
    [​IMG]

    With a bit of this thrown in:
    [​IMG]

    And a load of these:
    [​IMG]

    Just let me know and I'll tell you all about it...

    Cheers,
    Russ
    #1
  2. fnckr

    fnckr Do you wanna play too?

    Joined:
    Dec 16, 2004
    Oddometer:
    84
    Location:
    Parsippany, NJ
    Bring it on! Nothing in Greece goes as planned, and that is the adventure.
    #2
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  3. russatkinson

    russatkinson Crashing my way through rally stages since 2019

    Joined:
    Jan 7, 2019
    Oddometer:
    24
    Location:
    49.2144° N, 2.1312° W
    That's good enough for me @fnckr - here goes nothing...

    With only a few months to get our heads around, well, everything, and the team headcount being reduced to just three of us, we managed to hatch a plan. Loosely speaking, that involved shoehorning everything into a van to drive down to Greece, seeing if any businesses fancied helping us out in return for a bit of social media exposure and raising money for a local charity at the same time. A far cry from my original plan of sending my bike and a box of kit to the UK to be shipped, then flying down and hiring a car to get to the bivouac in a very low-key style, but well worth the effort in the end as we managed to get some really helpful sponsors on-board and raise a bit of cash too (click here if you're interested in stuff like that - I don't want to mention any of it directly here).

    The thing was, while the other lads had both done a bit of enduro, motocross, trials and sand-racing amongst other bike racing disciplines between them, I had a total of four days of off-road experience to my name at this point. Yes, four. And I'd signed up to compete in a seven day rally-raid in the full-fat rally class, rather than rally-lite or adventure rally. You see, we live on a small island and there are no tracks where motorbikes are permitted - it's even a nightmare trying to ride on private land without noise complaints landing on your doorstep before you've even washed the bikes off, so travelling to the UK or France are the only options, neither of which are time or wallet friendly. I'd already booked myself in for a bit of tuition and a two-day roadbook event at Sweet Lamb in Wales and mentioned it to the others, who drove up in James' van. Not only was the weather uncharacteristically stunning for March, but it was a decent opportunity for the three of us to get to know each other and ride some bikes together. Nobody killed anyone in their sleep, which was a positive sign.

    Loaded and half way to Wales on the 701:
    [​IMG]

    Teamwork makes the dream work:
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Matt spins some spanners on his CRF 450RX ahead of day one:
    [​IMG]

    I rectify the mess I've made of my handlebar alignment after a small altercation with the ground:
    [​IMG]

    And with day one complete, you'll find our bikes here and us at the pub:
    [​IMG]

    Fast-forward to the end of April and while James is kicking back a bit having spent a couple of weekends in the workshop making sure his WR450 is ready and sorting a few wiring issues on Matt's CRF, I discover that my fork stanchions are pitted and ready to eat some fork seals (thankfully replaced under warranty by Husky via my local dealer) and Matt discovers that his rear shock is completely knackered. Eventually, I get some shiny new forks just in time (I removed and re-fitted them myself to speed things up) but Matt's shock doesn't arrive in time so the plan is to have it couriered to Karpenisi and fit it before the prologue - you know, just to add a bit of suspense to the whole affair.

    No more blowing fuses once James was on the case:
    [​IMG]

    Taking no chances, I checked everything over and installed an Oberon slave cylinder because dumping all of the fluid onto the side of a mountain in Greece would be crap for both my chances of crossing the finish line and the local tortoise population:
    [​IMG]

    Matt and I wrestle on some mousses. How hard could it possibly be, after all?! The answer is 'harder than expected'.
    [​IMG]

    Forks re-fitted, new liveries designed, printed and applied using a light spray of soapy water, loads of swearing, a bit of cloth and a scalpel:
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Ready to roll. Cheers for the helmets... Plug, plug, plug...
    [​IMG]

    BRB, just off for a few cheesy photos with our matching stickers to fulfil our sponsorship / charitable causes obligations (before the bikes get dragged through the Greek countryside for a week):
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    We were all set, or at least we thought we were. The plan was for Matt and I to set off on Monday night and share the driving down through France, Italy and then onwards to Greece by sea with James flying out to Athens on Friday and hiring a car to get to Karpenisi. That way, we wouldn't all do each other's heads in cooped three-up in the front of a Transit for a few days and we'd also have transport handy for when we had to venture further than the bivouac. With a fully-loaded van, a full tank of diesel and a couple of smiling faces, the adventure began a little earlier than expected.

    Just as those clickbait ads at the bottom of almost every website these days say...

    You'll never believe what happened next...
    #3
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  4. russatkinson

    russatkinson Crashing my way through rally stages since 2019

    Joined:
    Jan 7, 2019
    Oddometer:
    24
    Location:
    49.2144° N, 2.1312° W
    A short ferry crossing later we were on the dual carriageway heading southeast out of St Malo toward the salubrious accommodation I'd booked us in Le Mans at one of France's finest super-budget F1 hotels. The irony of staying somewhere that lacks ensuite facilities when the word to describe them is French in the first place is never lost on me, but it's best to distance yourself from the toilets on a lads trip in any case. Anyway, I digress... With the sun behind us and the miles steadily counting down (all twenty of them, at this point) I thought the jolt we'd just felt was Matt's foot slipping off the accelerator, but a few seconds later the van was misfiring a bit. After a quick discussion about whether it had a DPF or not (you never go fast enough in Jersey to get them to regenerate) it just cut out. Showing no interest in firing up again from 60mph we rolled to a stop on the hard shoulder. B******s.

    These things happen, and the van's insurance included roadside assistance so, much to Matt's bewilderment at the time, I wasn't too fussed about peering under the bonnet and digging through the intricately packed van to find tools. We donned our gilets-jaune, hoped the CRS wouldn't take us down in a case of mistaken identity and duly put out the warning triangles. Soon enough after the call had been made, I spotted a truck with a set of high-mounted lights driving along the road parallel to the dual carriageway and had a feeling it might be our recovery truck. Sprinting down the on-ramp, I flagged down the driver and jumped in to re-join Matt and the stricken Transit. Forty minutes of flexing my French vocabulary and bumbling through whether it might be la pompe à haute-pression, ou les injecteurs and amid a small amount of confusion when he cracked out the Google translate to try and ask if there were any warning lights on (presenting me with a phone saying 'no witness?') later, and our gallic knight in high-visibility armour took a deep breath and began to speak his first, and possibly only sentence in English. The suspense was huge. With bated breath, we listened intently over the noise of vehicles rushing past to hear the words...

    'Zere iz un probleme, wiz your engine'

    I nearly died, but held back the laughter just enough to avoid offending him. It was a good effort, to be fair, and he seemed to know what he was doing. There clearly was a problem with the engine, after all. By then, it was nearing midnight so we loaded the van onto the flatbed, climbed into the truck and I began to explain to him that we were off to Greece with three bikes and a load of kit to compete in a seven-day off-road race and so we were fairly keen to try and get it fixed. He seemed sympathetic, but typically nonchalant about it all. Back at his yard, I explained that until a few weeks ago Matt's van was a Citröen Relay, to which he exclaimed 'ooof, le Citröen Relay c'est très bien!'. We had absolutely no idea where we were, so he booked us a taxi back to Dinan where the roadside assistance people had kindly arranged a hotel for the night, and with nowhere to be in the morning we decided that the hotel bar would be a good place to stay for a while.

    The following day was expectedly relaxing, save for the parts where Matt stayed on the case of the roadside assistance people and I called the garage for updates, of which there were invariably none. Bienvenue en France! I was keen to play the replacement van card at this point, but we were trying to remain optimistic about not having to unload the van and opted for another night in Dinan. The following day things got a bit more desperate. Not only was James asking how the drive was going, none the wiser about our lack of progress, but we were running out of time to make the ferry in Venice and there was no availability on any of the later sailings. Applying a bit more pressure, we were eventually told that they weren't able to supply us with a van but would cover up to €750 for us to hire one. Not ideal, but good enough - and I knew there was a Europcar just up the road. Peering through the window, a beautiful sight awaited us; a gleaming white Iveco Daily hi-top. Naturally, it was five minutes past midday so they were on lunch for a couple of hours, but with high spirits we ordered a couple of coffees at the cafe next door and waited patiently.

    You didn't think this was the end of the story though, did you?! Relaying our woeful tale in French to monsieur (I was pretty well versed at this point), he had good news - the van was available and we could take it to Greece! Ready for collection on Saturday morning, he said. The only small issue being that it was now Wednesday afternoon and we had about 17 hours to get to Venice, which was a 17.5 hour drive according to Google maps. We even asked if we could hire a car from him to drive to another Europcar to pick up a van but there were none available in the whole of Brittany. I thought it was game-over. Out of nowhere, and after a couple of calls, Matt announced that he'd booked us a van with Hertz. Result! Hertz in St Malo though, where the ferry had docked a couple of days earlier. One €60 taxi ride later we were back where we'd started and, no word of a lie, there was a note on the door saying that they'd had to rush out for an emergency but would be back later. We had to laugh, but we knew we'd be on our way even if we were almost guaranteed to miss the ferry at this stage. There was always a chance we could sail from Ancona, a little further south, or at the very worst drive all the way around via Slovenia, Croatia Bosnia, Macedonia and Albania. As long as we were there by Sunday we'd still just about scrape the technical inspection cutoff time.

    Roughly an hour later our man returns, and while casually asking if there was a limited mileage on the van, on account of us going to Greece, he informed me that our plans were impossible. 'Matt, we can't take the van to Greece - the insurance doesn't cover it', I relayed in English. At this point, we both needed a bit of fresh air to try and regain some sanity. We had less than sixteen hours to find a van, move all of our stuff into it from the stricken van and drive 1,483km to catch the ferry to Greece. Basically, we were f*****.

    It was time to fess-up to James, so we did. In an almost unbelievable sequence of events, he managed to call the ferry company to book he and his almost identical white hi-top Ford Transit a space on the boat leaving in just two and a half hours' time, explained to his boss that he'd need to take the rest of the day off, cycled home at a record pace, frisbee'd everything out of his van, chucked some bits in a holdall to save taking it by air, called his girlfriend to not-quite-explain that he wouldn't be home later and sped off toward the harbour. On the way, he even intercepted Matt's replacement rear shock absorber that hadn't arrived before we'd set off from DHL, where it was supposed to be couriered to the bivouac in Karpenisi, and in no time at all he was calling me to explain that everything was sorted, he was on the boat and would be with us in less than an hour. What an absolute bloody hero.

    As we waited for reinforcements to arrive, I called the garage to ask if they could push the broken van outside so that we could swap everything over given they were just about to call it a day, and within no time we were speeding to Pleugeneuc to make the switch. Dropping James back in St Malo for the night so that he could get the first ferry home in the morning and make it back into work on time, we were finally back in business and drove through the night to Chartres, calling it a night at 3:30am to get some rest before hitting the road again at 7am.

    Things were looking up. We had no chance of making the sailing from Venice, but at least we were making decent progress on our way to Greece at last.

    -

    Disaster strikes:
    [​IMG]

    You've got to have a sense of humour about these things, even if it's nearly ridiculous o'clock in the morning:
    [​IMG]

    Reinforcements have arrived!
    [​IMG]

    Making the switch:
    [​IMG]

    (Sorry about the portrait images, they were taken for our story and I didn't have much chance to grab the proper camera in the panic to get back on track)
    #4
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  5. russatkinson

    russatkinson Crashing my way through rally stages since 2019

    Joined:
    Jan 7, 2019
    Oddometer:
    24
    Location:
    49.2144° N, 2.1312° W
    The next two days involved us systematically managing to not quite make every available ferry sailing from Italy to Greece until we'd driven almost the entire length of the country to Bari, where we successfully arrived with two whole hours to spare before the boat left the harbour.

    Filling ourselves with beer and dinner (the chef was overwhelmed with excitement when I asked for the moussaka, or GREEK, moussaka complete with a pause where the comma is for dramatic effect, and a dessert that resembled Dougal from the Magic Roundabout drenched in sugar syrup) was our first priority after two days on the road eating exclusively in motorway service stations and pushing through on our involuntary mission to drive as far and as fast as physically possible in a van that was definitely on the limits of its weight capacity with a gearbox that sounded like it was on the limit of its operating capacity when choosing third or second gear. We'd made it this far so the remaining 3,000 or so kilometres of the trip would probably be fine, or at least that's what I kept telling myself whenever the van was in third or second gear. Thankfully, fifth was our weapon of choice for 95% of the time. However, before that, we filled ourselves with dread eyeing up the completely torched Anek Lines ship moored up across from the Anek Lines ship we'd just driven onto. More dread came in the form of trying to get the ship's wifi to connect so that we could inform James that we'd had to put some more money into the kitty. Shocked as he was to know that we'd burnt £900 in diesel, tolls and budget hotels in just 48 hours, it all made sense when we explained that we'd travelled an extra 800km on account of our streak of not arriving at any town with a port in good time along the way.

    A blissful eleven or so hours in an actual bed on the ferry later, we'd arrived in Greece at the crack of dawn and proceeded to be shafted by the GPS as the sun rose over the hills in Igoumenitsa, note the abundance of petrol stations on the only road out of there and also realise that people generally stop on roundabouts to give priority to those joining them in Greece. Which was, interesting. Anyway, owing to the huge amount of petrol stations we waited until there were absolutely none to be seen before thinking about filling up, then proceeded across the vast, stunning hills towards Karpenisi.

    Arriving in the town, we quickly realised that we had absolutely no ******* idea how to find the bivouac, so with Matt blocking the road with James' trusty Tranny, I strolled down past a line of rally bikes and spotted a bloke walking back to one with an English registration plate. Confident that communication would be unlikely to cause any issues, he offered to take us to the bivouac and it eventually turned out that Matt knew him in any case. Result! As we rolled through the gates and under the banners, who did we see but James! Not only had he caught the boat back home on foot a few days earlier, spent another couple of days at work, flown to London, then to Athens, then rented a car and driven five and a half hours to Karpenisi, but he'd also managed to succeed in all of that in sixteen hours less than it'd taken us to drive there. This wouldn't have been so bad, had he not arrived in the dead of night to discover a locked gate in a Fiat Panda with nothing but the clothes he was wearing, his wallet, phone, and a crate of bottled beer called 'XXX Triple Filtered Black Vergina'. Oh, and it was two-degrees celsius outside. None of us had fully considered the ramifications of camping at relatively high altitude, but after all the rush to get there we suddenly found ourselves with a shedload of time to kill before we actually had to do anything. In light of this, we put up some marquees, doused ourselves in malty Vergina and waited for tech inspection to open.

    After a few concerns over paperwork (including the paperwork for the van that James hadn't had time to actually put in the van before he left, leaving us without registration or insurance documents and just a note scrawled on the back of a leaflet saying that we were good to go when it came to borrowing his van) and minor things like not having an e-marked exhaust, all three bikes sailed through tech inspection, we were handed our race numbers and a promotional t-shirt and off we went to find dinner and some more alcohol to help us forget that we had absolutely no idea what we were supposed to be doing. It was all fine though, because the bivouac was filling up with both old friends and ones we hadn't made yet to share the complete lack of comprehension with.

    -

    We were fairly relieved to behere:
    [​IMG]

    But even more relieved to be here, even though we didn't have the faintest idea of what we were supposed to do next:
    [​IMG]

    And now, we wait:
    [​IMG]
    #5
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  6. russatkinson

    russatkinson Crashing my way through rally stages since 2019

    Joined:
    Jan 7, 2019
    Oddometer:
    24
    Location:
    49.2144° N, 2.1312° W
    The following day or so, which in practise actually felt like an eternity in comparison the last-minute nature of our progress towards Greece over the preceding week, consisted of a large amount of waiting around, which in turn allowed us to consume more alcohol than we might've otherwise done as well as provide the opportunity to visit some of the local restaurants and acclimatise our bodies to the obscene volume of souvlaki that'd be consumed over the next eight days. We'd expected the prologue stage to happen on the Sunday for some reason, and the news that it would in fact begin on Monday afternoon only led to one thing; more time for socialising. We soon realised that everybody we knew also had very little idea of what was going on - a comforting revelation.

    After the slight issue of having a front tyre whose bead wasn't seated on the rim and being told that the mousses I'd bought were probably knackered despite being brand new, I emptied my wallet in an attempt to not completely **** my rallying experience up by buying a smaller rear tyre that the mousse would actually fill and decided to press on with the slightly wobbly front for the prologue at least to see how it goes, before inevitably finishing what I'd started and emptying the remains of my wallet in return for a new front mousse one day later. Then a new rear tyre a couple more days later, because apparently the new rear was quite soft. Brilliant.

    On Monday morning, Matt very excitedly announced that we'd be able to collect our roadbooks for the next couple of days and rapidly found his way to the all-purpose catering / race briefing / boozing / entertainment / awards ceremony tent at the other side of the bivouac. I'd like to note at this point that the Hellas Rally was a professionally organised event, and any reference to the availability of beer is purely down to our own lack of professionalism, but also that none was consumed at a time that'd negatively impact our ability to operate our bikes for competitive purposes. James and I sauntered over, cuppa in hand, to join the lengthy queue that you might associate with nearly 300 competitors all trying to get hold of a thick roll of paper at the same time, before realising that there were in fact also corrections to be made to them.

    Corrections? Corrections? Nobody mentioned this. In fact, it transpired that somebody had mentioned this while we were in Wales but only Matt had been listening, so we took a few photos of the corrections noted on the noticeboard and returned to our camp to partake in an arts and crafts session, expertly slicing and taping in additional paper to make space for additional notes to be scrawled onto the route. Lesson learnt: it isn't just a case of scribbling over the roadbook with your favourite highlighters (if you can be arsed - I know people who generally don't even do this), loading it up and hitting the trails as it is when you're practising, oh no. This would come to add an extra layer of stress-related fatigue as the days passed, but one that I eventually learnt to love. Even on the day that I was up until half three in the morning with an alarm set for just two and a half hours later, half way through the event.

    At last, the waiting was over and it was time for the prologue. Let's do this! The only slight question being at what time 'this' began. You see, we had our starting times from the noticeboard, but were they from the bivouac or the start of the stage? Nobody seemed to know, so the plan was to rock up a bit early by the inflatable bridge in the bivouac and just see what happened.

    What actually happened was a total blur. Aside from nearly binning it on the second corner in full view of far, far more people than I'd have liked to, the 40 or so kilometre prologue stage was over in no time and I'd learnt a few lessons. The start time is from the actual starting line. Not falling off is easier than expected, but going fast isn't. The finish line is at the bit with the chequered flag logo, not the warning before it or the CP itself. Riding through the small churchyard wasn't the correct way after the CP. People on really trick bikes who look like they know what they're doing also probably don't know what they're doing.

    So as I turned off towards Karpenisi centre on the post-prologue liaison, leaving the guy in front of my to go completely the wrong way, I said a few words to the race director and then, without being able to see Matt or James, whose starting times were well ahead of mine, decided I should probably head back to the bivouac. Thankfully, as I rode back to a fairly empty bivouac someone shouted my name, I spotted my teammates' bikes parked up and they were enjoying a beer. Go on then, why not? We'd all just begun our first ever rally raid. And things were about to get a lot busier.

    -

    'Tyred' of the non-stop flow of cash leaving my bank account, but I already knew that motorsport was expensive:
    [​IMG]

    I did get to see some interesting bikes and chat with their owners while I waited for that to be sorted though, including this awesome Frankenstein-devised airhead where the frame was the airbox - what a machine!
    [​IMG]

    Prologue: DONE. Plus we managed to park the bikes as if we knew what we were doing. Bring on SS1!
    [​IMG]
    #6
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  7. russatkinson

    russatkinson Crashing my way through rally stages since 2019

    Joined:
    Jan 7, 2019
    Oddometer:
    24
    Location:
    49.2144° N, 2.1312° W
    The following morning we were ready. This was it! The first proper special stage! Plus we were armed with important information such as your start time being the actual time you're expected to cross the start line (as obvious as that sounds) and that there was no chance in hell that the timecard would fit inside the timecard holder on my fancy Husqvarna bar pad. Which was a bit of a pain when you've not got any pockets either. Waiting to be waved forward at the entrance to the bivouac, it wasn't long before I was away on the short liaison to the start of the first stage, and, I'll be honest, pretty nervous with 260km over two stages to chalk off over the next few hours. When I arrived at the start line, however, there was a massive queue. Plenty of time to water the vegetation and become a bit calmer - all was well with the world.

    Soon though, it was carnage. Riders battling through to the front to make their start time even though they were seeded way behind the riders already there, desperately trying to avoid penalties. I could even see James towards the front of the queue waiting to start and he'd set off easily 40 minutes before me. Reminding myself that it's a marathon and not a sprint, my turn eventually arrived and so, folding and shoehorning the timecard into the pocket on the back of that fancy bar pad, I set off into the unknown. With accurate printed details of what the unknown entailed, obviously.

    It didn't take too long to get into a bit of a rhythm and I was feeling pretty good. Slowing as I approached a rider stopped at the side of the track, I realised that their bike and kit looked familiar - no surprise really, given it was my teammate James, but it's easy to zone out when you're focussing on reading the trail and the roadbook at the same time while checking that the numbers all add up. Disastrously, his WR450-specific 3D printed roadbook holder that'd taken an absolute pounding over the three days of training we'd done in Wales had snapped, and there wasn't much that could be done about it, so he insisted I kept going and left him to figure out where to apply vast quantities of duct tape and cable ties to at least make the situation a little more bearable. Onwards and, downwards?

    About 60km into the stage I noticed a sign that I'd not seen on any notes before, and that's because it was warning the competitors to look super-badass because there was a photographer ahead. Not wanting to look like too much of a dick, I took it fairly easy and concentrated on pretending to know what I was doing (mostly because our bikes all looked the part). Successfully managing to avoid death or injury, I noticed another, similar sign a little further down the piste and thought I'd give it a little more gas. Every cloud has a silver lining though, and as I pulled off a spectacular low-side at a fair pace and tanked the bike into the gravel there were no photographers to be seen. I just had the minor matter of a missing rear brake pedal, bent front brake lever and a throttle tube that was jammed open. What a dick. A bit of MacGuyver'ing later and with tools all over the place I thought I'd solved every problem bar the missing brake pedal and carried on, but managed a whole 10km before one of the hand-guards dropped off. The spacer to stop it clamping the throttle down was now gone, so the only solution was to stuff it into my backpack and, well, not crash on that side again.

    Relieved to reach the end of the stage, yet with no idea whether or not I'd make the liaison in time, there were some friendly faces at the designated petrol station on the route and so plenty of people to share the confusion, pain, excitement and pre-packaged chocolate-filled croissants sold there with. A couple of minutes in, and with a roadbook to change, bike to fuel and as much water and chocolate-filled croissants as possible to be consumed, and to my surprise, James arrives. I could've sworn he'd passed me, but it turns out he'd suffered a puncture not long after he'd managed to get going again and had now decided that UHD tubes weren't going to cut it. It was time for him to switch to mousses like Matt and I, as much as it pained him financially. And also mentally, because he only had a normal tube in the rear and another 160km or so to get back to the bivouac. It's great, this rallying lark, isn't it?!

    Thankfully the rest of the day was a lot more straightforward, possibly owing to our baptisms of fire, and before we knew it we were back at the bivouac with some tales to tell ahead of the next day's briefing. I didn't know it yet, but by the time we'd been to the briefing, troughed down a 5,000 calorie, much-needed €12 meal served on what can only be described as a prison tray (an experience much more pleasant than it sounds) washed down with a coffee and possibly a small beer, collected, marked-up and amended the next day's roadbooks, queued up at the jet wash forever to clean the bike, fixed everything that I'd broken on the bike and had a shower, it'd be 0330hrs. And my alarm was set for 0600hrs. Just to think, this was only the beginning...

    -

    I'll take a macchiato and 10mg of morphine, please...
    [​IMG]

    Xzhibit heard you liked corrections, dawg:
    [​IMG]

    James and I do a quick piece to camera about how much fun we're having during the liaison between SS1 and SS2:
    [​IMG]

    Yep, that's ******. The bendy original one that I broke the first time the bike went off-road will have to do instead:
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    Thermals and flip-flops at gone 2am in the shower block when it's not much above 2 Celsius outside. You saw it here first:
    [​IMG]
    #7
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  8. TheBoogeyman

    TheBoogeyman Cheap Millenial Dad

    Joined:
    Aug 4, 2017
    Oddometer:
    64
    Location:
    Philippines
    Okay. Now, I want more of it.
    #8
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  9. russatkinson

    russatkinson Crashing my way through rally stages since 2019

    Joined:
    Jan 7, 2019
    Oddometer:
    24
    Location:
    49.2144° N, 2.1312° W
    #9
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  10. russatkinson

    russatkinson Crashing my way through rally stages since 2019

    Joined:
    Jan 7, 2019
    Oddometer:
    24
    Location:
    49.2144° N, 2.1312° W
    This is the part of the story where things get a little blurry and I realise that there's a bit of a deficiency of accompanying photos, mostly on account of being tired and preoccupied riding dirt bikes and colouring in roadbooks on a daily basis, but if nothing else it's inspired me to finish putting together a little video edit as two of us had cameras on the bikes and I did manage to shoot a bit of b-roll on a proper camera rather than just the phone stuff we shot for social media while we were there. So hopefully you lot are enjoying reading it all and not just looking at the photos, or you're going to be a bit disappointed with this post until the photos come back into play next time.

    -

    Over the next few days we slowly fell into the routine of rally life; waking with just enough time to finish up anything from the night before (something that I avoided if at all possible - not finishing things the night before, that is, rather than not waking up, which would've been a waste), eat something to tide you over until after the first stage, where the opportunity to shovel down a load of chocolate and cereal bars and - if you're lucky - a coffee at a petrol station might present itself, make yourself a little more lightweight in the toilet block, kit up and leave the bivouac ahead of your start time. The post-racing routine was a combination of sharing a few tales around the bivouac, handing over a more-and-more-reasonable-by-the-day €12 for a tray of much needed grub, listening to the next day's briefing, collecting roadbooks, making amendments to them, marking them up, fixing anything you've broken, queuing up for the nearest jet-wash to clean the bike and fuel it up, sorting out your bag for the next day (filling hydration packs, stocking up on cereal bars and treats to keep morale high and share with people who are having a worse day than you are, making sure the next stage's roadbook is in there along with a bit of tape and, if the weather looks crap, a jacket of some sort). Oh, and washing. All in no particular order, of course - it all just has to fit in around the briefing.

    The highlight (albeit with a strong chance of becoming a lowlight) of the week was always going to be the marathon day, with 450km split over two stages and a 45 minute neutralisation in the middle of nowhere. Neutralisation is one of those terms that, if you've watched the Dakar, you'll know, but probably have little idea of what it's all about. In basic terms, our route didn't involve enough conveniently-positioned service stations along the route and with a fuel autonomy of 150km set out by the organisation, the longer, first stage of the day would need somewhere for the competitors to refuel. That's where neutralisation comes in. You enter the neutralisation zone, which forms part of the timed stage, but the time spent there is deducted from your stage time. However, there's a catch: you must remain there for a minimum of 45 minutes to avoid anybody using it to their advantage - there's always going to be a queue when everyone's waiting to be filled by just one bowser. If you leave early, your tracker will snitch and the time penalty will be doubled. Leave five minutes early; that's a ten minute penalty. Forty minutes? That'll be eighty minutes added to your stage time. You get the gist.

    Knowing that it was going to be a very long day, and very hard to complete if I managed to completely **** the bike up in a crash, I was always going to take it fairly easy. It's a marathon and not a sprint, after all. The navigation was just my cup of tea, with riders around me making questionable moves (including one heading down the piste in the opposite direction who was convinced I'd been travelling in the wrong direction but eventually asked if he could tag on for a bit before roaring off) I was feeling pretty damned good. A couple of tricky notes and trying to avoid the perils of a particularly muddy ditch, given I was riding alone, I fell into a trap and confused one building for another, which threw me off a bit. Lo and behold, the same chap from before rocks up again (from the other direction) and confesses that he's well and truly lost. After a little chat, it's clear that he's missed out a section but is convinced that the route is behind us on account of a lot of tyre tracks going in what I was convinced was the wrong direction. Power in numbers and all that jazz though, so we went to the top of a well-travelled hill, picking up another rider on the way, only to discover that the tyre tacks all came right back down the hill again. At this point, we all wanted to exercise the golden rule: go back to the last place where you know you definitely weren't lost, which in this case was a crossing over a track with three tyres on it. Yes, tyres. The others hadn't seen the tyres, but they were definitely on the roadbook notes, so we set off back toward them, retracing my steps. Things were looking back on track, but just as we'd all synchronised ICOs the sound of a big single that was definitely stuck rang across the plains, and I knew exactly where it'd be coming from because I'd had one of those 'this probably isn't going to work but I'm going to hold the throttle open and hold on tight for as long as possible' moments there but managed to get through it, somehow. Three became four with the once stricken rider now among our ranks and we set off again, at which point I was kicking myself for writing off the cattle shed as the 'house' marked on the roadbook earlier.

    Long story short-ish, the four of us arrived at the neutralisation, fuelled up the bikes and I wandered off to grab a coffee - we still had a solid 35 minutes to kill, after all. When I returned, the bowser was heading off and the official was nowhere to be seen, which I found odd until one of the others delivered the news; we'd been told to head back to the bivouac as the stage cut-off would be reached by the time we got to the start of the next special. I was gutted, and considered taking the time penalty and riding as fast as I could to try and make it, before realising that we were legitimately in the absolute middle of nowhere and I didn't have any data on my phone (one of the joys of living outside of the EU), let alone the maps for Greece to find my way back alone if it came to it. Between the four of us, we had one flat GPS with the maps, and one charged GPS without the correct maps, and were four and a half hours by road away from the bivouac. One of the guys suggested we all have a beer, and so that's what we did. There were worse places to be at least, I was sure of that. I was still gutted though. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise however, as people were getting turned away at the beginning of the next special in any case, and I know of at least one person who was redirected during the stage itself a mere 20km from the finish line. There was also a pretty inconvenient weather system heading across the mountains, which we only caught the end of, luckily. So that was it, a bigger time penalty than skipping the neutralisation, but it would've been inevitable anyway so I was still in a better position than I would've been for carrying on against the advice of the official and picking up two penalties for the price of one. Nobody said it was going to be easy.

    The ride back was far less deflating than expected - with some great twisty roads to rip down (after a bit of GPS juggling between the others to set us on the right track) and some breathtaking and surreal views, including a couple of incredible black horses galloping along the road in front of us that were like something straight out of a Lloyds ad (for those outside of the UK, see here - you're welcome, Lloyds bank). At home, riding a noisy, stickered-up and kitted out rally bike would be greeted with nothing but scowls, yet in Greece the locals both young and old would smile, wave and clap as you rode through, making you feel like an absolute rock star even though, in reality, you're a nobody. The human element is the part of my first Hellas Rally experience that will stay with me forever, but I'll touch on that more in a later post. Eventually we hit the dual carriageway, and even though I was running mousses I was beyond dragging my heels and opened up the throttle to make it back to the bivouac and take advantage of being back before the others for once.

    But what of the others? We'd joked the evening before that the fuel range of 150km didn't match up with the second stage's route distance of something around 163km, which had caused Matt a bit of worry as he'd tested his range in Wales and discovered that it was just over 150km, which should've been enough, and as (bad) luck would have it he ran out of fuel just 3km from the end. Three kilometres! With no intention of being defeated after 13 hours on the bike he dug deep and pushed (yes, pushed) his bike the last 3km to cross the finish line and scrounge a drop of fuel to get him to the closest petrol station. James made it into the forest around 20km from the end only for his headlight to fail, flagging down another rider and asking if he could follow them to at least give him half a chance of seeing where he was supposed to be going - promising his best to try and keep up - as it was now long after dark. As he sped towards our gazebos, clutch in and bike on the limiter to express his relief that the ordeal was now mostly over (bar actually fixing the broken headlamp assembly) I seem to remember him announcing his arrival by exclaiming *f*** me', which summed things up perfectly. What a day. Delirious, we all had plenty to share before calling it a night - and we were barely half way.
    #10
  11. TheBoogeyman

    TheBoogeyman Cheap Millenial Dad

    Joined:
    Aug 4, 2017
    Oddometer:
    64
    Location:
    Philippines
    On the contrary, I loved this one a lot. Keep em coming. Photos or no photos. Love it. :raabia
    #11
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  12. GezwindeSpoed

    GezwindeSpoed Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2009
    Oddometer:
    985
    Location:
    The land of the Dutchmen
    You are a great writer! The story reminds me of my first rally experience (Alto Turia, Spain), all the hectic and stressful moments flushed away by beer and wine after the 6th day.
    #12
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  13. russatkinson

    russatkinson Crashing my way through rally stages since 2019

    Joined:
    Jan 7, 2019
    Oddometer:
    24
    Location:
    49.2144° N, 2.1312° W
    Thanks @TheBoogeyman and @GezwindeSpoed for your positive comments and also to anyone else following along - it's nice to know that our tale is evoking old memories as well as hopefully convincing anyone who's been considering giving rallying a crack a bit of a nudge. Because let's face it, if I can do it and end up with an alright result I'm sure pretty much anyone can! I'll try to write up the next instalment tomorrow... Cheers!
    #13
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  14. willibauer

    willibauer Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jul 19, 2016
    Oddometer:
    129
    Location:
    Germany, wild western woods
    thanks for the write-up ,it's a great read!
    Love those rally stories even though I'll probably never get to do one myself
    #14
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  15. russatkinson

    russatkinson Crashing my way through rally stages since 2019

    Joined:
    Jan 7, 2019
    Oddometer:
    24
    Location:
    49.2144° N, 2.1312° W
    Cheers @willibauer - watch this space for more! If you've been dreaming of taking on a rally and can somehow make it happen I can't recommend it enough, so if it's just committing to it that's holding you back rather than something logistical you should definitely just go for it. The experience as a whole is hard to do justice to using words and pictures, it's a strange experience that's both challenging and rewarding - and that's coming from someone who'll never be competing at the front of the pack but still fancies going back for more. I'm sure it isn't for everybody, but you'll never know if you don't give it a go!
    #15
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  16. russatkinson

    russatkinson Crashing my way through rally stages since 2019

    Joined:
    Jan 7, 2019
    Oddometer:
    24
    Location:
    49.2144° N, 2.1312° W
    With epic scenery came lofty heights, and to everyone's relief a lot less snow than we'd all seen in race director Meletis' social media streams a fortnight before as he stood within what could only be described as a blizzard and introduced everyone to his 'new friend called Komatsu', the yellow behemoth that'd been attempting to clear the sizeable snow drifts from the higher-altitude mountain trails. I'd chucked a pair of winter gloves in my kit box and stuffed a couple of pairs of nitrile gloves in my backpack just in case the weather hadn't cleared by the time we reached the Pindus mountains. Thankfully though, the sun was blazing and while there was a bit of water and a few snow drifts about neither of these things were of any concern. Unless, of course, you happen to be one of an elite few who decided to attempt to ride straight through the middle of a great big ****-off patch of snow that was bang on the CAP heading you were following at the time. In my defence, there were already tyre tracks going through it when I arrived and I was feeling on top of the world (both figuratively and metaphorically, given we were pretty much above the clouds) so I held the throttle open, leaned back and cracked on. It wasn't until I was about half way through and shifting down from third to second as the bike began to struggle that I realised I'd made an error. Yes, the heading was bang on, straight through the middle of the only deep patch of snow for miles, but no, that doesn't mean you absolutely must ride straight through it when there's a perfectly acceptable grassy hill either side. Balls.

    With the bike now up to the swingarm in snow, adopting a sort of chopper-style stance I had to laugh, but I also panicked slightly as other riders rode on by over that really appealing looking grassy hill surrounding my predicament. Oh, how I'd love to be over there right now, just twenty feet laterally from where the bike stood. On its own. Buried. In snow. I later learned that I'd managed to get off lightly compared to another British chap who'd gone over the bars attempting the same stunt and ended up with bruised ribs and internal bleeding, eventually putting an end to his rally. Well, once he'd jumped up, dusted the snow off, climbed back on the bike and completed the rest of the stage, that is. With time passing, heart-rate rising and the bike still standing up in the snow I was hoping that things were going to start looking up, as which point I physically looked up and saw a drone hovering overhead. Great! As I contemplated my next move, which was inevitably going to involve a bit of digging, some chucking the bike onto the white, frozen surface below and a large serving of humble pie as I dragged it out by whatever means possible another 701 pulled up and Dave, who is by all accounts an absolute legend and all-round top bloke who never failed to stop and help another competitor in need throughout the entire event, hopped off to lend a hand with the last stage. That's the dragging the bike across the snow and back onto solid ground part, rather than feeding me humble pie. For my fifteen nanoseconds of fame captured after we'd lugged the bike out and to see other people also inexplicably riding through the snow, click here.

    I started the second stage alongside a mate of mine from the UK, completely unprepared after the liaison, which had taken longer than expected for some reason. We were all learning that there's no time for hanging around during the liaisons and it was always a good idea to get them done as quickly as you could get away with, which isn't always easy if there's a queue at the petrol station. With no hope of making our rapidly approaching start times as we queued up, following the advice of one of the officials we elected to start the stage without the next roadbook loaded and then pull up somewhere safe just into the stage to swap them over rather than taking a hit by accruing a penalty. So if you ever find yourself in a similar situation don't forget that's always an option!

    By day five, the cumulative fatigue made me start cutting corners in an effort to get some decent sleep, which was becoming easier to achieve despite the near-freezing overnight temperatures in the bivouac in comparison to the daytime heat, as well as the local wildlife population staying up late on account of the unusual 24/7 lighting situation which was enabling at least one person per evening to stay up late and noisily work through the night on repairing their vehicle. The evening before, I'd been busy being 'that guy' after James - who'd been sceptical of my choice to fit a steering damper to try and compensate for my lack of experience on the loose stuff and an outstanding ability to drop the bike into any body of water with rocks beneath it, as expertly demonstrated a couple of times in Wales earlier in the year - asked how the steering damper affair was working out for me. Obviously I told him that it was working a treat, given I'd employed a fair bit of man-logic to justify the expense, at which point he pointed out that the locating pin wasn't, well, located properly. I must've been riding without it ever since my handlebar bolts tried to make their escape earlier in the day (during a stage, when I - of course - didn't have the requisite allen key and a 17mm ring spanner with me so huge thanks go to Dave, again, who stopped to offer tools that could be re-appropriated to bodge it all back together before I topped it all off with eight gigantic cable ties, just in case). I suddenly wished that I'd have invested the money in all of the extra tyres and mousses I didn't know I'd even need at that point. Speaking of which, instead of spending my time replacing the bald tyre on the rear wheel I set about fixing the damaged pin, staying up late to do so and not leaving enough time to replace said tyre come the morning. It was the tyre or breakfast. Breakfast seemed like the sensible choice. I'd live to regret this, but on the plus side I did manage to expand my French vocabulary even further by using a bit of mime and eventually some sound effects to describe an angle grinder, eventually learning the word meleuse. That might come in handy again one day, you never know...

    The next day, it rained. Not wanting to get cold and ruin my day more than the absurdly slippery mud formed by the water lashing down from above mixing with the fine dust below was already doing a solid job of, I stopped to put a jacket on, only to get hotter and hotter as I struggled through the mud, and as the stage went on and I plodded through the SSVs started catching me. At one point, I could hear one almost on top of me and there were three deep, fairly evenly spaced ruts to choose from - wide enough for an SSV, for sure. I took the left one, and for some unknown reason they also ended up with one side in the left one - which was also bordering on full of sludge that the very bald rear tyre that it'd neglected to change before the stage began was struggling to contend with - before proceeding to hold down the horn, as if I wasn't already aware of their presence and that putting the pressure on was going to make me less likely to cock things up and stop them, quite literally, in their depp, muddy tracks. It was around this point that I really just wanted the day to be over. Demoralised, but not broken, I pushed on and eventually caught up with a couple of other British riders whose paths I'd crossed a few times and as mad as it seems, just the sight of a couple of friendly faces was enough to lift my spirits and inspire me to have a word with myself. By the time I'd finished the stage and reached the bivouac I felt a little flat, yet when the standings were published I'd climbed something unfathomable like fifteen places. Fifteen! This put me comfortably inside the top 100. The attrition rates in these events can be huge, and it just goes to show that you can never tell exactly where you are until the final classification for the day has been published so it's not worth beating yourself up about it when you're out on the stage - even if you're just aiming to finish, as I was.

    A few conversations in after that evening's race briefing, a bit of running around, riding around, asking around and going back and forth later I'd managed to bag a brand new Anlas rear tyre and a lightly used GoldenTyre mousse from a bike that'd been mechanically retired that morning fitted for the price of one brand new GoldenTyre mousse alone. I chalked that up as a success, even if it was now gone 11pm and I'd still not marked up the roadbooks for the following day's stages. As the human inhabitants of the bivouac steadily retired for the evening, I was left among the birds, handful of friendly-enough stray dogs and a lone security guard to mark my roadbooks in relative peace. It was just me, so I pulled up a table and chair right in front of the noticeboard and sat down to sleep-write my way through the final task of the day. It was nice to be making the corrections from an actual piece of paper rather than a photo on my phone of someone else's phone showing the photo they'd taken of those yellow sheets of A4 taped to the noticeboard that were becoming ever more familiar by the day, for a change.

    At one point, I even mused over whether or not I'd entered some kind of purgatory and this strange routine was just life now, destined to repeat for eternity.

    -

    Here are a few shots courtesy of Actiongraphers to balance out the text a little - these guys are incredibly talented and can make almost anyone look like they actually know what they're doing. If you're competing in a rally and they're there, make sure you buy the photos afterwards - they're worth every penny.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
    #16
  17. yokesman

    yokesman Long timer

    Joined:
    Sep 12, 2008
    Oddometer:
    2,159
    Location:
    SW. Idaho
    Thanks for the lively report.
    #17
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  18. TheBoogeyman

    TheBoogeyman Cheap Millenial Dad

    Joined:
    Aug 4, 2017
    Oddometer:
    64
    Location:
    Philippines
    I love your down-to-earth writing. Makes us noobs feel we're also there and picturing it out. Keep em coming.
    #18
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  19. russatkinson

    russatkinson Crashing my way through rally stages since 2019

    Joined:
    Jan 7, 2019
    Oddometer:
    24
    Location:
    49.2144° N, 2.1312° W
    Thanks for the positive feedback everyone - it's great to have you all vicariously riding along with me, even if it is a few months after it's all happened and a bit broken up. I'm going to aim to get the last few instalments wrapped up this week... He says. They could very possibly be famous last words but I'll do my best to find the time. Starting... Now!
    #19
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  20. tag3

    tag3 Doofus

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2014
    Oddometer:
    13,839
    Location:
    Inland from the coast of Santa Cruz and Trona.
    thumb up thingy

    Like reading this.
    #20
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