They were looking for volunteers to marshal at the K2 rally around Kielder forest at the weekend, I decided after having enjoyed the enduro last year I helped with last year, I’d give it a go.
Even the trip up to Bellingham that morning turned out to have its interesting moments. The A68 is a very straight Roman road with lots of steep dips with blind summits. I had the bike on a bike rack on the back of the vehicle and naively set the cruise control. I soon found that it would plummet down the dips like a stone, then come to the other side, realise the incline needed throttle and that the speed was rapidly decreasing so it would open the engine right up. It would do this up to the summit of the hill with an effect like applying rocket boosters. The only way to describe the result is “big air”. Thankfully the air suspension does appear to be able to cope with this, much more gently and gracefully than I expected.
I’d not actually been able to get much information other than what time to turn up, even where was a little bit vague. The rally was two 80 mile loops of mostly forest fire road. The day was looking to get rather warm and the fire roads would be extremely dusty.
Firstly, I found out there were two refuelling points and the fuel trailer was leaving ASAP so I put 5L on each and hoped for the best since I had no idea where I’d be. At this point I didn’t even know what the organiser looked like. I figured out who he was and was assigned to the group manning the first section. We set off and followed the course around getting a feel for where we were supposed to be although the section with two way traffic where it loops back on itself confused us.
We shortcut some of the section and reached the first refuelling point. We decided to split up with some going to do traffic management on the two way section and some of us figuring out our shortcut to loop back to the start and the enduro loop we were responsible for.
I found the GPS invaluable at this point. We had a paper map of the route and comparing the trace on screen with that gave some idea of where we were, even if the scale seemed incorrect and the route had changed a bit from the one marked.
The final part of the course has some horrible bends covered in large rocks which I really hated, our enduro loop was good fun, starting off with brash, a drop and hill climb, then a nice green lane forest track.
I did have one interesting moment where both wheels lost traction and I was travelling along the track semi sideways doing a lowside in slow motion. I remember thinking that it felt like I could just tweak it back into line however there was a significant risk of turning it into a highside. I gently tried anyway and much to my surprise the front wheel started working properly again, even if the rear was fishtailing like crazy which was a much less serious issue. I think that stands as the single best recovery I’ve ever made on a motorcycle, I just wish I had it on camera.
So we made it back to the start and waited around a bit for the bulk of the riders to head through, then set off ourselves. We soon came to a fallen rider who was in a bad way. The fractured wrist was clear, the back pain worrying but they were conscious and alert which was a big plus. We had a few marshals around and some riders had summoned emergency services having been unable to get the satellite phone link to the organisers to work properly. I went back to the start and escorted paramedic to the scene who decided to call for air support. At this point there were too many people around the scene so I moved further down the course. The marshalls there were going to flush the first section so I skipped to the first refuel and refuelled, watching the air ambulance come in from a distance. We realised no marshal had been over the section to the first test so agreed I’d change plans and head over that way.
I rode for what seemed like hours without seeing another person, eventually reaching the special test. Great, except there was no safe route back to the start that I could see, so I did the only thing I could and continued onwards. I stopped and checked a couple of people dealing with punctures were ok. I also found someone who’d had an off and damaged their wrist, I advised just following the course since there was no shortcut out that section of forest I knew of. Eventually I came to the second refuel point and refuelled. I waited there for a bit and was able to direct the injured rider on a bit of a shortcut back.
The course was due to close at 2pm and I was supposed to be helping close it so I didn’t look at the enduro loops and headed back to the start, meeting up with another start marshal who’d had to find fuel point two since his fuel was there. We made it there slightly late but were the first there. Two others left to close the course, I was left manning the tape. I spent the next four hours there since I’d been told that I was not to move on account of anything, or let any rider onto the course. I was pleased when the closing marshals finally appeared.
Sunday started an hour earlier and for us, had the added fun of demarking. The riders would only do the first section on the first lap, then it was getting closed and demarked. The course would close at 1pm and then we’d sweep through and close/demark the remaining parts to the start of the special test.
The day started with ensuring the first section was clear and all the correct gates were open. It had rained overnight which meant there was more grip and less dust. There was a nasty bog in the first section which was interesting. I picked a line and took some reasonable speed into it. The bike threatened to stop half way but I really wasn’t keen on that, opened the throttle and put the weight on the back. Much to my surprise the front lifted to head height and the YZ did what it does best and powered onwards. I was in a deep rut at this point and using the front wheel for steering is overrated anyway :). I was mildly concerned that there might be something in front but there wasn’t and I was able to land safely on the other side. Another of the marshals hadn’t faired quite as well but we all got through in the end.
Some of us went to figure out who the last man was so we could start the demarking, I went on with another to check the rest of the course to the first test. With riders setting off behind us, we were needing to get a move on but I was finally starting to remember how to ride fire roads (inside line on corners instead of road riding stick to the left for example). We were able to back track from the special test a little and short cut back to the start where we refueled.
When we got back, demarking had started but the gates needed locking. No problem, I can do that so I set off. This meant I was off by myself and reached that bog. This time around I tried a different line and managed to ground the bike out. I therefore spent quite a while extracting it and ended up rather muddy. Moments like that where the bike is on its side and your foot is trapped under the front wheel are always good fun. With the gates shut we went to the start for course closing. On the way there I found someone struggling with a stuck throttle after an off. I pointed out the cable was jammed by the barkbuster and helped them free it. A short while later I also loaned out an allen key to stop the guard catching their brake lever.
With the course closed, we set off, demarking as we went. I got the awkward signs to do since I had the sidestand. Obviously getting off the bike for each one is a pain so you attempt to ride the bike through some interesting obstacles. Occasionally you’d ride into what looked like a nice safe area, only to find for example it was full 1ft sized lumps of rock covered in moss. All good fun though. We demarked all the way to the special test, then passed on the batten to the team there. We’d passed a broken down rider so we went back with a tow rope for them and took some short cuts to pull them out the forest. I then manned the tape for half an hour before calling things done and headed back to camp and then home.
The bike is going to need some TLC now, the rear tyre was worn at the start, now its totally knackered. My number plate is also disintegrating and the sidestand spring gave out when I was unloading the bike. My hands now have blisters on the blisters and muscles I’ve never felt pains from before are aching. All things considered it was a good weekend :).