What a weekend. The wind was never less than gale force, the rain was equally perpetual. And being mid-winter, Wales was wholly underwater. A perfect time to test Husqvarna’s new adventure-travel bike, the Norden 901, and to trail-debut the RUST Yamaha Ténéré long termer. Or not.
However, winter lasts a long time here in the UK, and the desire to adventure eventually overcomes the reluctance to brave the elements, no matter how atrocious. So, despite the forecast of gale force winds, torrential rain and single-digit temperatures, adventure riding we went.
This ride was a bit different, though. Nearly all my adventure riding has been following others. Either physically or chasing their prepared route through a .gpx track or road book. This time – and this is something of a mission of mine for 2022 – I wanted to be self-sufficient. To create my own route in other words, in the spirit of going where no man has gone before (the spirit, not the actuality). This approach of course takes a bit of resourcing and plenty of planning so I now have an OS Maps subscription, TRF membership (which gives access to their excellent Green Roads mapping) plus – to convert all that info into navigational reality – a combination of a Garmin Montana 750i, Garmin Basecamp and the Garmin Explore App.
Creating a route isn’t immediately easy. After trial and error and a lot of wasted nights, I found that the OS Maps Premium subscription gave me the best maps to work from and decent enough (easy to understand) plotting capability to get started. The TRF’s Green Roads map is equally invaluable as an up-to-date locator and verifier of green road status – simply brilliant. Once I’d plotted the routes with OS Maps I then exported these as .gpx files. Because the routes are long and feature hundreds of nodes (or waypoints as I think they’re known) I then imported them into Basecamp and converted the routes into tracks and uploaded them onto an SD card to load into the Montana. Sounds simple, but without any prior experience and not calling on outside assistance this was weeks’ worth of evenings to finally make work. I’ve grown to really appreciate the strength and utility of the Garmin Montana 750i unit, but I have to say the operating system and the Basecamp application are not what you’d call intuitive. Hard work there learning the ropes – but ultimately worth the struggle (a detailed product test coming here soon).
After all the planning you’d think the ride experience would be plain sailing. Not so. Picking a weekend of winter storm fronts meant it was physically taxing. Equally, just because a green lane exists and is legal doesn’t mean it’s going to be rideable. At least not in mid-winter on a 205-kilo adventure bike on OEM low-profile road-adventure tyres. Yes, time and again we’d find ourselves spinning to a halt in slick mud. And then having to backtrack our way out. Other times we came across what I might call rock-stoppers – sections of rock, sometimes stepped, sometimes sloping slabs, sometimes loose stones, all streaming wet, that again constitute a barrier to adventure. Wingman Craig and I scaled the first serious rock barrier before deciding it wasn’t really GS-friendly (up or down). The second rock-stopper I reached after Craig had to make his dash for home and really I shouldn’t have solo’d it – one mistake and I’d have been in serious trouble.
Possibly the highlight of the whole weekend was dropping into Nick Sanders’ Expedition Centre for the night – an opportunity to dry our kit, enjoy some excellent food and (best of all) to talk about everything and nothing with Nick and Caroline. Outside of their haven the weekend was just a rush of storm-force winds, horizontal rain and trail frustrations.
Of course, now, just a few days later, I’m only remembering the good bits and the ‘takeaways’ as we now call lessons. Takeaways like 175 miles takes a long time (too long) on 10mph trails and 20mph roads. Like… well, seek local knowledge on trail conditions ahead of time. And… five hours of motorway at the end of trail ride is one long haul to get home – albeit that’s the beauty of the adventure bike, it can do that (try it on your 450 EXC-F…).
Sounds like a disaster but it wasn’t (Craig might not agree), for despite all the calamity, my god we rode through some seriously beautiful scenery – and it was still so damn good to be out on the bike enjoying the wild country. Mostly on our own.
And for me, I learnt so much that my next self-guided foray will, I’m sure, be better. In the meantime, I have a newfound appreciation for all the work Robert Hughes and the Rally Moto team put into their UK adventure road book rallies. It takes a serious amount of time and resources to find and verify their tracks, and as well there’s all the permissions (from forestry agencies and land owners) they gain so their rides extend beyond just the green lanes. Robert’s relieving us of so much donkey work, giving us the best of the best and doing so much to bring adventure riding to life in the UK. Maybe it takes trying it for yourself to fully appreciate the mountain of work they put in. If you’ve not done so already, look them up: www.rallymoto.co.uk
But hey, being out there is what counts. And one way or another, adventure is there for the taking, right now on our doorstep. Break the malaise and get riding!