The Wednesday of the Rally weekend came way sooner than I was prepared for. My office was swamped with work left over from a crazy end of August. At some point I had to call it a day to give me ample time to make the Digby ferry to Saint John, so I bid my long-suffering Assistant goodbye and hit the road. It was a gorgeous day for riding and the curvy road across the province to Digby was just the tonic needed to remove the office stress causing the stiffness in my neck. I was also using a GPS for the first time, which fellow ‘FARista’ Shereef (aka Reef) was kind enough to set up and walk me through the downloading of this year’s FAR routes. It seemed to work well as I arrived at the hotel outside of Saint John without one wrong turn. And that says something for me. After a ‘refreshing’ swim in the chemical and bacteria infested bath, commonly referred to as the hotel pool, I got to bed early for the day ahead.
The ride to Adairs was uneventful. Fittingly, Courtney was the first person I saw upon arrival allowing me a moment to share my condolences with her. To her credit, she wasn’t turning the Rally into a wake, but a celebration of Rob’s work, with a subtle but heartfelt tribute to him in the corner of the main hall. After signing in and picking up my package, I was given the Spot tracker since our team captain EastCoastAl had injured himself a week before the Rally, no doubt trying to lift his house or something similar (no half measure for Aggressive Al). This left me as the sole representative of Fundy Adventure Crew and unable to run the Rally (Captain Shawn had a wedding in the family and couldn’t come – whaaaat, who the hell schedules a wedding on the day of the Rally!?!). No matter, I’d offered my services to the Rally Organizers with the only caveat being I wanted to be on my bike as much as possible. All sorted then, pressure off.
Next up was ogling the Africa Twins parked outside, and man, were they sweet! I think they’re the best looking adventure bike on the market, but that’s just my opinion. I have to admit that taking one for a ride was what excited me most about this year’s Rally. I rode the standard transmission model first and was impressed at its beautiful sound, power and handling. Once we went off pavement things were a little different though. In my haste to ride it, I neglected to ask about the settings and unbeknownst to me the traction control was maxed out. Not exactly conducive to off-roading. Every time I hit the throttle on the gravel road hill climb the bike shuddered and naturally, hesitated. No spinning in the gravel for me. Once back, I immediately lined up the DCT version and begged Harley, the Honda rep (I know, great name for a Honda rep!), to run me through all the settings. I felt like I was distinctly lacking a degree in something, but I simplified it by sticking to the more basic off-road settings. G in particular was the most fun as the bike snapped the back wheel and truth be told, I preferred it on the pavement as well. I liked the AT, but just not as much as I thought I would. This was more than likely down to the bars being set lower then I prefer (making for an uncomfortable standing position) and the incorrect traction control setting. My fault on both counts as I’m sure one of the reps would have adjusted the bars and given me a quick tutorial on settings had I thought to ask the first time around. However, the AT was in such demand I didn’t dare attempt to get out a third time for fear of being lynched by the drooling FARistas waiting their turn.
Besides, it was time for Clinton Smouts’ advanced rider training. Now I’m certainly not ‘advanced’, but had taken the beginner course last year and was hoping to pass myself off as having some skills. Didn’t matter, the course was similar but more intense, faster paced and had us riding on trails more than the parking lot. The trail riding included embankments, rock gardens and a particularly deep puddle. Yup, I’ve got some serious work to do before the next Rally. By the end of it I was exhausted, but feeling more confident with the new skills we’d practiced. As always, Clinton’s one-liners keep you entertained throughout. Best advice? “Send your buddy first”. Love that one.
That evening I attended Lawrence Hacking’s presentation based on his extensive experience in the Dakar and Mongolian rallies (to name a few). He had great advice for riding a rally, with one in particular which I neglected to follow come Rally day. But more on that later. One of Lawrence’s stories was interrupted by my friend Derryl arriving in the dark. Derryl had last owned a bike over 25 years ago and I relentlessly pressured him into returning to the light. He showed interest in adventure touring, with the emphasis on touring, so I suggested the Weestrom. It’s bulletproof, practical and fun, and capable on gravel as long as it’s not too extreme, kinda A route stuff, with some B thrown in when you’re feeling frisky. Unfortunately, he had punched in ‘alternate route’ in his phone, thinking it would take him on some lovely twisty paved roads instead of the highway. Well, it didn’t, and he and his new Weestrom (on decidedly street’ish tires) ended up on a C route as it was getting dark (according to him anyway – but I suspect it was just a B looking scarier in the dark). Luckily, a passing 4×4 guided him out and he arrived safe and sound, albeit pale and wide-eyed. My plan of gently introducing him to adventure riding was out the window, so I plied him with alcohol the rest of the evening while we set up camp. Due to Absent Al’s…….well……absence, there would be no comfy tent trailer for me. I’d be roughing it with Derryl in a tent on cold hard terra firma.
The next morning I rushed over to the BMW area for my scheduled demo on the 800 Adventure. I had ridden the standard 800 last year and was curious how its heavier big brother performed. I was surprised how ‘fit’ something so overweight could be. The low centre of gravity made it an extremely balanced bike for the weight. This is BMW’s third year as a sponsor and they have got their demos right. The ride lasts close to an hour and is entirely off-road outside of a brief section leaving Adairs. There are even brief sections that could be considered C‘ish. Not to mention, their bars are set to accommodate a comfortable standing position on the pegs. I actually liked the 800Adv a little bit more than the AT, but can’t help thinking it may have been different if Honda had taken the same route and set the ergos to my liking (sometimes it’s just the little things). That said, I certainly want another crack at the AT in a more off-road environment. Since the AT was so popular all the BMWs were available for rides, so I jumped on both the 1200GS and 1200Adv. I had never ridden a big GS, but they are so legendary how could I not? When you first get on you notice the size, but as soon as the wheels turn it’s a ‘behemoth in ballet slippers’, there is no other description. The ergos are perfect standing or sitting, and it soaks up the bumps like they don’t exist. It’s like you’re on a hovercraft where the terrain is irrelevant. You just feel like nothing, and I mean nothing, can stop you. Well, until you drop it, then having a crew in support vehicles comes in handy. One fellow FARista who followed behind me on the ride told me she knew I was having fun by how my butt was behaving. Thereafter she referred to me as ‘happy bum’, which I suppose was a better nickname than ‘Demo Whore’, as I was affectionately called by the BMW reps (at least I think it was meant ‘affectionately’). Fact is, all these bikes are simply amazing machines and I’m thankful for both BMW and Honda’s sponsorship of the Rally. Where else are you able to ride these bikes on the terrain you would actually want to ride them on?
The afternoon was spent following the self-guided tour of Fundy with Derryl and enjoying the wonderful scenery this neck of the woods has to offer. Then it was off to the rider meeting and the rundown of the different legs.
It was clear the most difficult C route was just before lunch, but I wasn’t too concerned seeing as I’d be having a relaxing day sweeping the routes. I was already planning my cigarillo and coffee breaks by lining up Derryl’s jet-boil coffeemaker when ‘Effervescent’ Eric let me know that a gaggle of moto journos and some Aussie (who works for Kijiji I think) had shown up and my services weren’t required, so I should find a team. Apparently, moto journos flock like locusts to these events to take advantage of the perks their exalted status allows them to enjoy – bastards!
I was torn as to what to do with my day, find a team or ask Derryl to join me and I’d stick to A’s and B’s for the day. That’s when ‘Ever-helpful’ Eric introduced me to Phillip who was looking for a team. Phillip’s first words were “we’re gonna do all the C routes, right?”. I hesitated, as a cold chill ran down my spine. I wasn’t worried about the C routes, since that was our teams plan before things went sideways. But it was the excited , but decidedly unhinged look in his eye that only motocross riders seem to possess. You see Phillip rode a KTM 350 EX-something or other, which is effectively a motocross bike that somehow passes for street legal in New Brunswick (only in NB!). I remember remarking to Derryl when he pulled into the campsite the day before, “Hate to be the poor bastard who has to follow that rocket powered mountain bike through the trails –ha-ha!” (hence my trepidation). I feebly answered as non-committal as possible, but somehow it was all set for tomorrow, the Scotia Adventure Crew was Phillip on his missile and me on my pig trying not to soil myself keeping up – great. Derryl, still traumatized from the night of his arrival, stared at me wide-eyed saying “Boy, I hope you don’t get hurt!” Geez thanks buddy, nothing like jinxing me before I start. I didn’t sleep well that night (although that may have been due to the excessive scotch courtesy of our neighbor Doctor Rob).
Day 4 – The Rally
After an extremely early breakfast I got suited up to ride, with no sign of my new teammate. Maybe he slept in and I’d have a relaxing day after all, but no such luck. We were the last team to depart so we set a brisk pace and nearly completed the first C route with no issues. I had managed to keep the KTM in view, although I’m sure he was holding back. On the main road between routes Phillip suddenly lost his throttle and had start some roadside repairs. Instead of secretly hoping this would put an end to our day, I was bummed. It’s amazing how a perceived ordeal becomes such a fun challenge when you’re on a bike. That’s why I love this Rally and adventure riding in general, it pushes you out of your comfort zone in a good way. Luckily, Phillip discovered he had incorrectly installed his cable the night before and we were back in business.
We then continued our assault on the C routes with renewed aggression, me pushing it to keep up with the KTM rocket I could vaguely make out in the distance. Phillip would be waiting for me at various intervals and just as I pulled up anticipating a break to catch my breath, he would yell “You’re doing great!” and blast off again. The main thing I remember from the morning was “the Hill’, an extremely long and rocky hill climb, but what made it worse was the fact one edge of it was a steep drop for a long ways down, just to mess with your mind as you climbed. I had a minor tip-over once, but managed the rest without incident. I was quite pleased with myself until we were on the last leg before the mandatory lunch stop. The challenging terrain seemed unending and I was convinced we were going in circles. ‘Saint’ Charles (otherwise known as the Rallymaster’s ‘mini-me’), in his wisdom, had kindly planned it so the toughest route was just prior to the lunch break.
After some rehydration and gassing up, we left the Salisbury lunch break prepared to finish all the remaining C routes. All was going well, until it wasn’t. I was barreling along an open stretch of fairly smooth dirt road at the end of the third to last leg, when my front tire suddenly decided it didn’t like air anymore. The front end started to go crazy as I tried to let off my speed and keep myself upright. At a certain point I knew I couldn’t hold it and let the bike go down as I pushed off and rolled to the edge of the road. Derryl’s words went through my head and I immediately checked myself for damage. After confirming all was in order and I was just shaken up, I checked the bike for damage. Not too bad considering. Just a few scrapes, but my handlebar was significantly bent inward. I heaved the bike up and waited for my teammate to return. Reef and Nagia showed up as well and as I held the bike steady on some rocks we had piled up, Phillip and Reef kindly patched the tube and had it back on in no time (that Reef is everywhere when help is needed – perfect riding buddy).
Phillip was set to continue the C routes for the last two legs, but I was done. It was A or B’s for me. He relented, I think he sensed I was finished. In my defense, coming off a bike doing close to 80k has a way of taking the wind out of your sails. I was thankful there wasn’t any more damage to myself or the bike. It could have been a lot worse. We arrived at Adairs without further incident and some wonderful riding with gorgeous views. My slower pace had allowed me to enjoy this aspect of the Rally. As I rode back it occurred to me that I had neglected Lawrence Hackings sage advice to ‘ride your own rally’. I realized I was more worried about keeping up with Phillip, than riding within my own limits – lesson learned. We arrived well before dark and feeling triumphant that we made a good run of it. I was looking forward to a shower, beer and food, and not necessarily in that order.
The evening meal was a noisy affair where all of us recounted the day’s events to fellow FARistas. Phillip told me he couldn’t believe I took my bike through some of the places we had gone through, “I’m not sure I would have taken your bike through there!” Oh… thanks buddy, now ya tell me. Derryl had met some fellow adventure bikers to complete the Scavenger hunt and was excitedly talking about buying more dirt-friendly tires for his Weestrom – hah, mission accomplished! After a great evening of camaraderie by the bonfire, I went to bed exhausted.
You could sense the contented atmosphere for the post-Rally morning brunch. Awards were given out, prizes were won, and the Certificates were distributed among the teams. I was particularly thrilled for Nagia for her ‘Adventure Spirit’ award – totally deserved! Our team had achieved a solid Silver level for coming close to completing all the C routes. ‘Saint’ Charles let on that the last two C routes, which I avoided, happened to be the easiest of the day and I felt a hint of regret for only a brief moment. It just wouldn’t have felt right to do it without the rest of the Scotia Adventure Crew. Besides, I need something to shoot for next year. Hopefully, we’ve convinced Phillip to sell his Harley and buy an adventure bike. That way, if I ever have to follow him again during the Rally, I’ll have a better chance of keeping up.
I had the pleasure of meeting CMG’s new Editor Mark Richardson (not nearly as tall as Rob, but seems to share his sense of humour – I believe CMG is in good hands), and we discussed the Rally and Rob’s impact. We theorized as to whether the FAR was just all Rob or that he was simply that special personality bringing us all together. I like to think it is the latter. And judging from the response at the brunch to the question ‘should the Rally continue next year?’ I’d say the future looks good. I would love to see the Rally renamed in Rob’s honour. My vote is for the ‘Arris Adventure Rally’ (the AARrrr!, somehow fitting).
The ride home Sunday was tiring, since my right handlebar was close to my hip, but pleasant given the good weather and wonderful scenery. Once home, Medicated Al was happy to hear from me and began incoherently planning for next year. Speedy recovery my friend, we have plenty of time before next year’s Rally!