Happiness Hurts – Part 2

A story about finding out that the frame of my KTM 690 had fractured in the middle of Siberia, riding the BAM with a welded motorbike, rebuilding the 690 from scratch and finally testing my work at a local rally.
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The Rebuilt

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By the end of September I had rebuilt my 690. After waiting and playing cat and mouse with various entities for many months, the wounds of Siberia healed. I had a blast basically spending every waking hour in the garage, fitting every bit back on a brand new Trellis frame painted in my favourite shade of orange. Read my uber-geeky rebuilt report on advrider.com

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The Test

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So I figured: how else to test my work than rally it? The opportunity came the next weekend: the 9th edition of the Trans Carpatic Rally 2014. It was to be a 435 km long rally, with 330 km off road: alpine trails, forests, river crossings and rocky sectors. This was the buzz on social media on the eve of the competition (meanwhile I was baking some carbon finer in my oven, planing to fabricate a mounting system for my road-book holder):

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Romania, Brasov, 3-5 October 2014
On Friday afternoon I was in the parking lot of Stop Hotel in Brasov. We were greeted by one of the organisers and one of the reasons motors-sport is not yet dead in Romania. The rally was said to have 21 auto teams, 2 quads and 8 riders. Minutes before the briefing, each of them – and the organisers – was busy with the final touches.

In the moto area, I was fitting my knobblies – Dunlop Geomax. The air was already heavy with exhaust fumes and testosterone.

I was quite aware that I’ve got a lot to learn. The first lesson being that passion counts, but cannot replace practice. So I listened well.

With road books mounted and understood, we revved to where we were meant to complete the super special stage.

We regrouped. This 15 km stage was designed to establish tomorrow’s grid.

The first tour we followed an official car and stopped in a couple of spots for extra guidelines. I have attached a simplified map of the stage.

Then we got back to start point and the auto teams were briefed. Which proved that drivers master sign language.

Any tensions got released either thru smiles, or the old fashioned way…

The stage proper immediately stated who the favourites were.

There was not shortage of incidents. A flat tyre, a broken handlebar, a tip-over merely 50 m from the finish line. And many moments when the cars ventured dangerously close to the photographers.

The star of the show was a simpleton who almost crashed his horse carriage into the stage, with his consort in tow. Somebody stopped them and when the time was right, yelled: now go! Luckily the horse was able to manifest superb racing abilities.

The end of the stage found us in great mood.

At bivuac we got the new road books for day 2, and I found out that I had finished first the stage. That was rewarded with the un-eviable pole position. By late evening our party has a very different vibe from earlier. Now we were all absorbed with cutting and folding and taping pieces of paper. This may have looked like an origami workshop for school boys, but our paper was printed in pictograms designed to be read while torturing a throttle.

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day 2

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At 7 a.m. we scraped the frost from our road book holders and got ready to race.

I left at exactly one minute after 8 a.m. The special stage was about to lead us in the Codlea Maierus area, on a track of 83,09 km.

The morning was brisk and soon enough I left the tarmac and headed into the woods. The road book promised a succesion of hard packed and a loop that we had to ride twice. Meanwhile Ana was waiting to take photos along with other media people. The place was photogenic indeed, but Ana noticed that those arriving had left the grid behind me.

Beyond the hills there was a little drama. I had been lost three times, which was to be quite costly. First I was outridden by Vlad on his 450 EXC (he hosted us in Moscow last year after the BAM). The next mark – a closed barrier – reminded me that at last night’s briefing we were told to ignore a certain barrier. So I ignored it by erroneously turning a right turn. Then I met Somo (Husaberg FE 450) and Mihai (Yamaha Raptor quad) who were rushing from the opposite direction. As I was on the loop, I thought that they were one lap ahead, and I pushed further away from the tract. When I finally arrived at the river crossing where Ana was, I had lost a lot of precious time. And to make matters worse, I could not speed up, as I was stopped and told to proceed with caution, as there was an accident ahead.

Right after the bridge there was a car that had fallen victim to a hidden declivity in the river bed.

Finally the car was towed by a support vehicle. During all this time other racers drove by and a small audience assembled.

Special stage no. 2 took place in the vicinity of Mercheasa village, on a 25,49 km track. A hilly and pleasurable ride, ending with the superb silhouette of Rupea fortress in the background. A local hunt cut short the special stage no. 3, originally designed for 58,68 km; therefore we picked it up at kilometre 26,55. The final 38,31 km run of the day took us to Dumbravita Halchiu, retracing sections of SS1. A couple of hundred meters shy of the finish, a car made the audience’s adrenaline bubble. A shepherd was just ending his yearly transhumance arriving at the junction and look bedazzled that his flock had been spared. While the metal beast went sliding and drifting and roaring, the sheep stayed supremely unfazed.

There were few witnesses to the moment. As autumn is ending, the villagers were busy leaning over the potato fields, their horses parked at the fringes of some sugar beet. The only motorised vehicle around was just as indifferent to the show of its pimped up peers.

The finalists’ convoy continued with a couple of four wheelers, then the bikes showed up, and lastly the remaining cars. The stage claimed a new victim – the second quad.

At bivouac the concusions and the imprint of googles into excited faces were proof of a day of mud, sweat and tears. Officially I was 7th out of 10.

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Day 3

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A brief night’s rest later, we were waking up again at the crack of day on a frisky zero degrees. I prepared for the final ride with two objectives: maintain my rankings or upgrade to a higher spot and avoid any navigational error.

This special stage was 63 km long, mostly on hard packed. The last section visited sections of SS1 from day 2. This time the photo squad and Ana were waiting along a straight line and at a small bridge that was followed by the junction with the tarmac and by more hard packed.

Some pics show what a sport journalist is willing to do in order to get his photo. Dan from Autostiri.ro and his protégée appeared to relish choking with dust and being caked in mud. You may have noticed that we borrowed a few pics from them to illustrate what Ana’s lens missed.

At bivouac I learned that I had landed a cool 4th place. The mood was “tired but hyped”. The rally had attracted a number of experienced drivers, like the Bulgarian Todor Hristov, who is organising the Balkan Marathon Rally and who raced the Dakar for three times.

After lunch the data had been collected and the rankings finalised. In the parking lot there was a frenzy of people and enthusiasts.

Mr. Victor Pop had started handing the bling to the winners:

The moto rally was won by Somo aka #666, with Catalin #1 in second (on 450 EXC) and Vlad #17 on third (also on EXC). The auto Open was claimed by the Italian team Roberto Camporese / Catherine Lefebvre # 223. Romanians Dan Berger / Goran Gabriel #117 and Domide Ovidiu / Ilea Radu #110 came in second and third. Even the youngest navigator took home a trophy – this little dude is only 12, which means there is hope for continuation. Congratulations to all!

And finally a few group shots with many happy faces on top of bruised, burnt and fatigued bodies. Cause y’all know: happiness hurts!