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You've been waiting years for this trip. Your better half has OK'd the pass. You're mates are on board. You've booked the time off work. The tickets are in your hand. You hit the road without a care in the world. And then disaster strikes. A 'game over' mechanical within spitting distance of the ferry.

This is exactly the predicament that Wiltshire TRF Chairman Derek Sadler found himself in en route to the Stella Alpina Rally this summer. Fate had conspired to ruin the trip. What do you do? Give up? Or push back...?

 

TRF:

Hi Derek. It sounds like you guys had quite a trip away. What was the original plan?

Derek:

The plan was that James Higgs, Pete Anstey, Mark Hobbs, Fraser Drake and myself would be meeting up at the monthly meeting of the Wiltshire TRF to set off on a 8 day trip taking in some of France's byways on our way to the Stella Alpina Rally in Bardoneccia in Italy

TRF:

And so things didn't quite get off to a smooth start?

Derek:

After weeks of planning and bike prep I felt everything was ready and set of to meet up with the others at our regular monthly venue in Devizes, a short run from home of about 16 miles.

 

With about 2 miles to go a strange noise followed by a bouncy rear end I knew that something was very wrong. On arriving at the pub I soon realised that the rear shock had failed with oil leaking from the unit and no damping at all.

 

TRF:

Disaster. You must have figured it was game over.

Derek:

It seemed like my trip was over and I started thinking about returning home, however the rest of the group and Wiltshire TRF had not given up just yet with several offers of loan bikes.

James Higgs CRF250L - no luggage and would be a long way for the little bike

Nick Robinson KTM 990 - too expensive and too big for my lack of experience with big bike trail riding

And then James made a call to Carla McKenzie who offered me her CCM 450 which I thought would be the perfect bike for the trip. All I had to do was collect the bike and repack my luggage. A lift from helpful Wiltshire TRF members Marcus Frankham and Nick Robinson and the bike was collected and ridden back to the Fox & Hounds. Many hands made light work of repacking the luggage and Fraser and I made haste to the ferry in Portsmouth with about 20 mins to spare.

 

Disaster number 2 struck shortly after joining the M27, the back of the CCM was skewing all over the road. I managed to pull onto the hard shoulder to find a flat rear tyre. On closer inspection it had 3 missing spokes and one snapped spoke which had punctured the rear tyre.

 
I rang ahead to James to tell him they would have to carry on without me. Next was a call to my breakdown insurance company who informed me that my bikes were covered but not me riding someone else's bike. So I sat at the side of the motorway and called my good friend and TRF member Jim Cairnduff who in no time was on his way to me.

The next example of the brotherhood of motorcyclists came from a nice chap called Joe who pulled in behind my bike with his car that had flashing emergency warning lights and waited with me for an hour and a half until Jim arrived.

 

We made it back to Wiltshire at 3am and figured that this trip was not meant to be. The next day Jim returned at 9am to my house to see if there was anything that he could do, and being the voice of reason convinced me that we must be able to get a replacement shock for my Aprilia Pegaso. After a few calls I found Hagon Shocks who did have a shock listed for my bike but had a 10 day lead-time as they were built to order. After explaining my predicament they had a chat with their production manager and created a slot for my shock in the production run and said it would be ready for 1pm.

 
Next, with Jim's help and trailer we collected my bike from Fraser's farm, hooked the trailer behind my van and I went off to Hagon Shocks and collected the new shiny shock with lovely remote preload.

Then I went on to my old home town of Ashford in Kent to meet my old friend Jez Smith who had offered to help me fit the shock to get me on the road. With the shock fitted, luggage reloaded, a full belly thanks to Mrs Smith and a new ticket booked by my wife I was back on two wheels and on route again.

 
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You wouldn't really want to ride this with a knackered shock!
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Hagon Shocks to the rescue

TRF:

And so after all that you actually still made it, only 1 day late?

Derek:

After a short ride on the Wednesday night and a good sleep in a budget hotel I rode on the motorways and toll roads on Thursday morning to meet up with the guys in Artenay, just north of Orleans. It was a great feeling to be there after so many set-backs, it felt like I had run the gauntlet to get here.

This had been a trip I had desperately wanted to do for a number of years and had always struggled to make it work around my wife's work commitments so I was determined to make it as it was either now or never!

TRF:

And the rest of the trip. Was it worth it?

Derek:

The rest of the trip went well with only a few minor issues. The French byways were stunning and in very good condition. The temperature was in the high 20s, we enjoyed good food and great company. The mountain itself was impressive with spectacular scenery. We had to stop 200 metres from the summit because of last winter's remaining snow.

The roads around lake Anncey were equally beautiful with miles of switch back corners leading up to stunning views, then back down into sweltering heat only to stumble across a great restaurant next to a swimming lake. It is a trip that I will never forget, more so because of the obstacles that I had to overcome and the tremendous efforts of all my friends.

I would like to thank Carla McKenzie, Jim Cairnduff, Marcus Frankham, Nick Robinson, Joe for waiting with flashing lights, Fraser Drake for recovering my bike from the pub, Hagon Shocks for outstanding customer service, James Higgs for putting together the route, my travel companions Pete, Mark, Fraser and James, My wife for putting up with and encouraging me, and last but not least the TRF who brings all these people together, this is the true meaning of 'fellowship'.

 

Wiltshire is home to some of the best Green Roads in the country. They are also a pretty helpful bunch. Connect with them on Facebook and find out how they can help you get out trail riding.