Ah yes,the 2013 Dragon Rally could have been named after at least a couple of bands....if not Wet,Wet,Wet then maybe MUD !!
But first,a trip back in time to October 2012 and I`m there,trying to relearn the near lost art of handwriting on paper with a pen in order to send my application for this year`s Dragon Rally....along with searching for and dusting off my possibly time expired chequebook to pay for the event.
Do you remember chequebooks ???
The last time mine was used was for the previous Dragon !
A month or so later I received confirmation that I 'was in' and the excitement started (sad I know but it`s kind of fun not knowing for sure if you`ll get a ticket).
A month or so after that,usually only a couple of weeks before the actual event,I received the directions for the Rally Control where my pre-rally ticket was to be validated and where the final directions to the site are normally given (although this year they announced in advance that it was the same site as last year).
Zooming nicely back to the present day......I ride every day so I`m no stranger to riding in the wet,and quite enjoy it,now that I`ve finally sussed a clothing system that actually keeps me dry throughout.....but it`s always nice and comforting to know that at the end of the ride there`s a warm house or hotel and a comfy dry bed at the end of it.
But it`s not so nice and enjoyable when you`ve got to unpack a tent and get set up in pouring rain then share your sleeping space with wet riding gear is it?
I don`t mind riding in the rain but I HATE camping in it.
So here I was,Saturday morning,looking out of my bedroom window at clouds down to ground level and a solid wall of heavy rain.
Any other rally than the Dragon and I`d have stayed at home but the allure of 'The Badge' and 'The Sticker' was too much......so I enjoyed a leisurely extended brekky then loaded up my trusty and beloved 650 Ural 'Skaya' which is now my famed 'Dragon Wagon'.
As the photo above shows,the great thing about going away on a combo is that you just stash all your gear in the sidecar and pull the cover over it.
Camping gear in the sidecar and cooking gear/food in the sidecar boot.
No faffing with luggage straps or bungees and no panic about waterproof bags,luggage weight or distribution and the like.
For the scenery buffs and route gazers,my route was mostly the same as last year`s ride report,and due to the weather there`s no en route photos.
The only route change was once over the bridge in Llanwrst and past the 'Fluffy Hotel' I picked up a single track forest road that goes right across to Capel Curig and apart from being a fantastic ride it avoids Betws y Coed and the loathesome A5.
Talking of en route,due to conditions like riding through a carwash,Skaya started popping and banging after only a couple of miles.
Urals act similar if there`s water in the carbs or if the HT leads are tracking,so it was time for 'WWID' (What Would Ivan Do) and to reach down to each HT cap in turn.....
A sledgehammer blow down my left arm revealed the left cap to be tracking so I stopped the engine,wiped the cap dry,gave it a load of WD40 and away we went.
A couple of miles later the same again....and again...I entered Willaston Village sounding like a Wild West cowboy posse firing all their guns and felt guilty as numerous old boy World War veterans ducked for cover.
This time,totally pissed off,I just reached into the sidecar for the can and sprayed WD40 all over the HT cap while keeping the engine running with my right hand.
BOOM !! A roaring fireball leaped up,then there was the sight of the whole left cylinder enveloped in flames which licked their way up the HT lead... towards the petrol tap.
I was so pissed off with the weather and this fecking about that I felt like pulling the fuel line off and ending it all there and then but sanity prevailed and I beat the flames out.
My train of thought must have frightened Skaya into behaving because she didn`t miss a beat after this!
I stopped halfway to the Rally Control for a mega cooked brekky in the Denbigh Morrissons...this also helped me come out of my mind funk about the wet and miserable weather and stop wondering if I could be arsed continuing.
As if by magic,just as the last drop of cappuccino was drained,the rain stopped and the clouds lifted...so I had a fantastic ride along my new found forest track to the Rally Control.
The famed decrepit Rally Control caravan is no more....finally condemned as unsafe to even be sat inside never mind to tow on the highway....so the Control point was a cafe building (selling 'Dragon Burgers'....makes a change from horse!).
The man with the sense of humour said to put a small Dragon sticker on my headlight but the rain had returned and nothing was going to stick to wet glass.
A short run through Capel Curig then turn left on the Beddgelert road...eight miles further and the site is down on your right.....Llyn Gwynant camp site.
I say camp site but the ground was closer to sloppy fudge than grass.
I`d hoped to camp in the same spot as last year, where I`d arranged to meet my friend Rod Young but due to my later than normal arrival and the scarcity of decent pitches this area was full.
I wheelspun and opposite locked around the site for a while then found a pretty good spot.
Then cue the art of wrestling with an eight foot diameter spider with rigor mortis (in the pissing rain) because my Khyam 'quick erect' knuckle jointed tent had somehow got various pole sections twisted inside each other.
A bit of assistance from a bemused onlooker and finally Chateau Tarka was established.
Then followed the contortionist trick of sorting out and installing my tent floor fleecy blankets,Thermarest and sleeping bag while wearing all my riding gear and kneeling in sloppy fudgey mud....in the pissing rain.
It may not have been snowing but it was time for SNOWBALLS !!!
You may mock but I thought it time to introduce some class and distinction to drinking times....in as much as drinking four of them from a tin Ural mug allows,of course.
A quick view from my front door before I did another contortionist trick of getting out of all my riding gear and 'slipping into something more comfortable'....I can`t stand spending the day and evening in my riding kit.
A yelled "YOU`RE LATE !!" revealed my friend Rod Young ('Agent Wayward')of Motopodd sidecar fame in full sartorial elegance.
It was great to see him again...we met many years ago about 8,000ft up the Stella Alpina pass while each dithering about how to tackle an awkward section,and we meet up at each Dragon Rally and several shows a year.
Talking of shows,as if it was needed,in the next photo Rod shows how lovely and appealing the ground was.
How we laughed at the thought of people voluntarily leaving a centrally heated house and spending £20 to ride through pissing rain to sleep on this...
Llyn Gwynant is in a beautiful location with stunning scenery....when you can see it,that is....some rally goers decided on following a distant track to take some elevated photos and didn`t realise until the cloud lifted a bit that there`s a blooming big mountain on one side.
Rod occasionally scribbles for some monthly picture books...sorry,Rod is a freelance bike journalist ... and sometimes gets loan bikes to report on or even prototypes to gauge opinions or find improvements.
For this Dragon Rally he was riding an AJP 200cc enduro/trail bike.
A Portuguese prototype
For a 500 mile round trip.
In the pissing rain.
Known for reasons of a long story as 'The Bike With No Key' (guess why), it is also referred to as 'The Incinerator'.
I`ll tell you why...
The rear rack is more of a plain metal plate ('griddle' as Rod calls it).
It shares mountings with the exhaust.....and gets hot...very hot.
In fact,once a person decides to fit a wooden board over it to carry a sleeping bag on a 500 mile round trip,the lack of airflow means that it starts to GLOW.
Glowing metal tends to make wood burn.
Burning wood with an attached sleeping bag makes Skaya`s left hand cylinder fireball pail into insignificance compared to the resulting conflagration.
Oh...and did I tell you that the petrol filler is reached through a hole in the seat?
And the seat is a kind of sorbo rubber?
And that the petrol overflow/breather is set down in the recessed hole in the seat?
The seat which absorbes any spilled or overflowed petrol?
The seat which has a burning sleeping bag and a glowing metal plate at the back of it....and which Rod is sat on??
How we laughed....in the pissing rain.
Despite these minor niggles...and the floppy,bouncy spotlights...and the unlit speedo unit (which blocks access to the the ignition switch,if you had a key)...and the lack of fuel light or reserve tap (which made Rod run out of fuel 2 miles from any service stations...in the pissing rain)...it seems quite a cool little bike.
Naturally Rod had to bling it up with all kinds of absolutely,totally necessary 'Overlander' gubbins for a ride to Wales...in the pissing rain.
Next cover pic for ABR perhaps ???
We went for a walk up the hill to the main site buildings for me to get my rally pin badge and 'freebie' bag....rally sticker,slate coaster,mini whiskey,Mars bar and Snickers.
The Snickers isn`t shown because I`ve scoffed it.
The rally pin badge isn`t shown because I forgot to photograph it.
On the way up the hill I saw a rather cool looking Morris Minor.
A Morris Minor pickup with big chunky tyres??
Turns out to be a Jeep CJ 7 chassis with a Morris Minor cab and pickup rear.
The weather had gone from pissing down to a constant,miserable drizzle, and it made some of the Welsh scenery look mean and moody with it.
The campsite wasn`t looking too jolly either!
Still,we`re all Happy Campers and we`re all in it together.
Being a Ural addict and a sidecar fan in general,one great thing about the Dragon Rally is the number of and variety of sidecar outfits.
From big,expensive and serious German and Dutch combos to home brewed rats.
I loved this one....really had the 'rally spirit' about it.
At the other end of the spectrum there was this BMW GS outfit....
And this sadly blurred V-Max outfit...madness!!
Somewhere in between was this Triumph Tiger outfit.
So...where were we?
Oh yes,in the pissing rain again.....looking at various sidecar outfits.
And here`s another expensive and serious looking German one.
Quite tasty though.
You`d never have known by the light levels...or lack of them through the day..but before long it was evening then night.
We found shelter from the wind and rain by standing under the balcony of the Warden`s 'Hut' (with roof trusses to rival the Forth Bridge)...there was even electric light.
We were both getting peckish and had brought food with us rather than try any Castrol chips or eColi burgers from the death van.
Rod tried to impress me with his JetBoil and a tub of beef stew and mash that he produced from his Tardis backpack from which a can of cider appeared about every 30 minutes (Gawd knows how many he had brought...or how heavy the pack was! ).
He was less than pleased when I commented that the small diameter of the tall JetBoil can combined with the 10,000 Degree heat would successfully incinerate the tub contents that he`d stuffed in it,heh heh.
So I smugly chomped my Ginsters Tikka pasty while watching him spoon some gloop out and try to stir it.
And chuckled mercilessly at how his morning brew would taste of carbonised beef stew from the deposits he couldn`t wash off it afterwards.
How we laughed...in the pissing rain.
I suggested a post prandial stroll up the hill for no particularly good reason and it was immediately followed by a stroll back down once we`d sampled the aural disaster of the traditional Dragon Rally 'Massacre Band'.
Apologies to those who through excessive alcohol or easily pleased natures have enjoyed them,but every band I`ve heard at Dragon Rallies has MURDERED whatever they`ve convinced themselves that they`re playing and this one was no better.
Add that to the funk inside the building from a thousand damp and sweaty Weirdy Beardies in steaming 1980s Rukka jackets,yellow builders waterproofs and mildewed leathers.....no thank you.
Rod looked at the water running down the steamed up windows and asked me to imagine how many exotic diseases were crawling about on the glass and the walls.....
So back to the Warden`s Hut it was......for most of the night`s bullshitting and bollox. Mucho tall stories and funny tales from assorted folk and we all had a laugh.
I also discovered the source of the mysterious double pulsing red glow which lit up the whole site and part of the valley for a few seconds.
Rod`s friend Adge and his son had emptied the cordite residue and 'some German wormy stuff' from numerous ammo boxes into one empty one.
And decided to put a lit taper to it at the side of the lake.
It was like a weird SciFi movie effect !
So,the night passed with much merriment.
And Sunday didn`t dawn.....the dark rain became dull grey rain.
Ho hum....here we go again.
Contortionist packing inside the tent.
Contortionist dressing in bike gear inside the tent.
Packing everything and loading Skaya in the pissing rain.
Beep...beep...a feeble bike horn heralded Rod about to set off on his just less than 250 mile ride home (remember,he ran out of petrol,heh heh).
I took a couple of photos of him and wished him a safe ride home.
While taking these photos,a small BSA trundled up and stopped next to me.
It was ridden by Shaggy ... a forum and sidecar friend of mine and part of the crazy gang formed by him,Buckles,Kev,Laughing Gas,Martin,Mickey and other reprobates.
I`d briefly seen and chatted to Buckles just after I`d arrived on Saturday but didn`t see any of the gang until this morning.
Here`s Shaggy on the Beezer.
A deep rumbling roar could only mean one thing.....Buckles rode into view on his homebuilt mean and green diesel engined Ural special.
Late Saturday night,a sidecar outfit and small tent had appeared next to mine...must have arrived about 10pm.
Didn`t fancy their task of unpacking and setting up in the dark and rain but they did it and fell straight asleep.
This morning I saw the guy....the last Dragon he`d done was 34 years ago,and he decided to do this one on a whim.
He rode eight hours from Hampshire in the rain....just to pitch a tent in the dark and rain....then to have to ride at least another eight hours of rain homewards!
Never mind the rally badge....he deserved a medal !
A curious and crazy thing about the Dragon Rally in particular is the number of people who I only see there (or maybe at an odd show or two)....and who without any prearranging are within a tent or two of mine.
Here`s an example...at the 2010 Dragon two guys next to my tent were talking to me about combos and while talking I ended up suggesting a cross country route home for them.
I next saw them at the Uttoxeter Show that Summer....camped ten feet away!
Then at the following Dragon......and each one since....and always very close to my pitch by chance.
This year they were the next tents to mine!!!
My evil influence led Adrian to fit a chair to his XS650 and he had brought his son.
Sorry to his friend on the Enfield but I missed his name.
All that remained was to fully kit up and ride the same route home.
In the pissing rain.
Stopping again at Denbigh for a Moggsey`s brekky,of course.
Rod has vowed to never do another Dragon again.
I admitted that the miserable weather spoiled the weekend for me,and even snow and ice would have been better....but the spirit of it is really to meet and overcome hardship....which we all did.
But I do hate rain and mud.
Apart from missing out on my badge and sticker if I had stayed at home on Saturday,one compelling reason to get out and go (if maybe not the only true and over riding reason) was the thought of the merciless ribbing I`d have received off Rod for a 'no show'.
I said to him on Sunday that if he wants a Gentleman`s Agreement where we each accept the other`s no showing then we won`t do another.
We discussed alternating a 500 mile round trip to each other`s house where we can still drink all night and talk bullshit and bollox.
Although he the mingebag still proposes to charge me twenty quid for it!
BUT.....that badge does mean something to me.
And I did take a photo of it after all.
Oh bollox......never say never again.....better get a fresh chequebook.
Hope you enjoyed our suffering.