Friday, 25 August 2017

Race report: Sweet Lamb Sprint round 2

Where to begin with this one…chronologically is the best way I suppose! Rather than the expected single day, this race report spans 11 days of activity.

I got back to Mid Wales on Friday night, excited about the race and keen to get started on sorting everything out. I shared a beer with Mum & Dad and then started getting my kit together. When it was a regular routine for me a couple of years ago, the race prep process seemed to fly by in no time, but now that I had to think about things twice to make sure I’d done everything, it seemed like there was loads to do!

I got up nice and early on Saturday morning, knowing I had a lot to do. I wanted to start by making sure the bike was perfect, so from 9am to 1pm, I tinkered with the bike, going through all of the following in the process:
  • Gave her a quick clean
  • Replaced the brushguards with aluminium Barkbusters
  • Put some donuts on the throttle grips
  • Checked every single nut and bolt on the bike to make sure none were loose
  • Checked chain and sprockets for wear, including split link and tension
  • Checked brake pads
  • Checked bearings
  • Bled the front brake
  • Bled the front forks
  • Put my watch back on the bars
  • Checked the spokes and rim locks
  • Checked the footpegs
  • Refuelled
  • Checked the spark plug cap
  • Checked the air filter
After all that was done, I took her out for a test ride and although she dutifully fired up on the second kick, I was having trouble shifting up a gear when going flat out. This being a product of replacing the gear lever with an aftermarket one (note to self – only OEM gear levers seem to fit properly, I won’t be buying any more aftermarket levers).

I took the bike back, moved the gear lever up a tooth and then went out again. This time, I couldn’t even select 2nd gear! It was totally un-rideable at that point, so I had no choice but to move it back to where it was. On the final test, I had a quick spin to make sure it was rideable, and vowed to make do the following day, hoping it wouldn’t cost me any time on the specials. I pulled a few wheelies and made some pivot turns (to prove to myself I still could), and then got the bike loaded in the trailer, ready for the morning.

I prepared the rest of my kit, gathering all my tools, oils and servicing equipment, spares etc and mixed my fuel. The last thing then was to sort out my riding gear and my camera. I washed and specially prepared (with my secret recipe) my race goggles x6 and all my riding gear, then charged my camera and installed the auxiliary microphone inside the helmet for much improved audio quality.

After a hearty lunch, I headed over to Sweet Lamb to see some familiar faces in the paddock and get signed on. It was great to catch up with some of my riding buddies and make some new ones. I got my race number (4) sticker and then got back in time for dinner.

A good night’s sleep followed, cut short by the shrill sound of my alarm clock at 7am. Not as early as some will have awoken, admittedly, so I mustn’t grumble! Breakfast forced down, I got my kit on and we jumped in the car to head over to Sweet Lamb.

We got going after a short delay, and I took it very steadily on the sighting lap, getting a feel for the level of grip, but mostly just trying not to get lost! The layout of the track was very different to the last time I’d ridden there, with quite a few open sections across the grass and off-piste bits. Nonetheless, I got round ok, and other than trying to remember all the bits of the track I wasn’t familiar with, I was happy.

There was a large contingent of adventure bikes in attendance (naturally, being a Sweet Lamb Adventure Rally Bike Academy event). Some of the bigger bikes struggled on the grassy sections and the course was subsequently adjusted after the first lap.

That meant another sighting lap was in order after the adjustment. This time I rode it at about 80% to get a better feel for the timed lap. I rode well and was happy with how the course had been altered.
Back into the pits we came, and after a bottle of Lucozade, I was ready for the first timed lap. I watched my mates Lee “Stretch” Green and Danny Allen fire off the line and then it was my turn.

57, 58, 59, GO! I fed the clutch in, taking off in second gear and I was straight in the zone. I flew over the little jump in the paddock and carefully negotiated the bridge before attacking the first climb. I was riding well in the first part of the course, before getting onto the first grass section. I carried good speed down the hill, and started to brake early for the drop onto the road. However, the grass was still wet in places and I felt the rear start to go from under me. I leaned forward and held on, hoping I could ride it out, but she kept sliding and then bit into the drier mud towards the bottom and dispatched me onto the gravel track at the bottom. It was a bit of a flat landing, but I jumped back on and sped away, losing around 10 seconds in the process. My front brake lever was slightly out of place (lower than it should be) following my little faux-pas, but I managed just fine and continued with the lap at a good speed.

I dropped out of the rocky quarry and onto the tarmac lane, negotiated the chicanes and switchbacks, then found myself on the long straight. The grip wasn’t great on the tarmac, my tyres admittedly weren’t fresh, but it was greasy on there. I fed the power in gently and stayed smooth. Just before the first chicane on the straight, I had a very close encounter with a pheasant, locking the front and narrowly avoiding both it and a slide down the road. I kept going, still bemoaning the errant bird under my breath, then rode down the side of the tarmac towards the quarry. Another rider had clipped a tyre which lay dangerously close to my line, but I just about got my pegs over it and got over the quarry and back on the tarmac for a short stint before getting back on the fire roads.

The next few corners led to the next 10 days.

One right hander, a long left hander, then a tight right hander, and then seemingly a straight towards the shale section. What I’d failed to notice earlier, was that the tight line I took didn’t account for a small kink in the tarmac on the left hand side after the lay-by. I took a straight line, surely hitting 40-50mph by then. When it was far too late, I realised my front wheel was aiming into the grass, off the tarmac. My rear wheel followed, and before I knew what was happening, my momentum was taking me one way, and the tarmac ledge guiding the bike another. I had no time to react and I went down hard. I bounced and rolled two or three times on the shale, taking a knock on my head in the process. When I came to a stop, I lay still for a second, enough to realise I was still conscious, and could try to get myself off the track ASAP to avoid being hit by the next rider coming through at speed. When I raised my head, I realised I was actually on the grass, off the track, a good 30ft from where I'd come off the bike.

My legs were fine, so I got up and walked towards the track. Then I realised my bike was revving out. At this point I was cradling both arms against my chest, fearing I’d broken them both. I worried about seizing the engine, so I tried to head up to the track to kill the engine. As I got there, the next rider (Aled) came round the corner, taking exactly the same line, and slid along the road to a stop near the shale. My bike spluttered to a stop around the same time.

I sat back down on my knees and called out to Aled. I could see he was relatively ok, so I let him know I needed help. I couldn’t move any of my fingers on my left arm, so I already knew I’d broken something. My right arm was just as painful, but I could move my fingers and just about support my other arm.

I could feel blood dripping from my nose, my goggles were smashed to bits, and I had cuts everywhere. I sat patiently, staying calm, knowing my mate Rob was about to come around the corner too. Sure enough, he arrived, passed the message on for the organisation, managed the traffic, and got our bikes out of the way safely.

We waited together until the field had passed through, and after some 15 minutes, I was being attended to by the medic. He assessed my injuries and then drove me back to the paddock in the van so he could look at me properly.

When we got back, I had gas & air and cut away some of my gear to have a look at the damage on both arms. At the time it was suspected I’d broken both, with both a broken wrist and open fracture of the elbow on the left arm. We’d know more when I got to hospital.

We then waited for the ambulance to arrive which took over an hour. Let me tell you I was in a lot of pain, and as the gas & air was making me sick, I was on Oxygen only during that time. The time dragged on like you wouldn’t believe. The adrenaline had long since worn off and I was feeling the full effects.

My parents were understandably very worried but I did my best to put a brave face on and reassure them as best I could.

The ambulance arrived, and the paramedics proceeded to remove all my gear, having to cut off my body armour, base layer, race top and gloves. I was then strapped into an inflatable brace and carted off to Aberystwyth.

While all this was going on, my friends back at the paddock had fetched my bike, washed it, and even put some bits back on for me - thank you very much, guys.

As soon as I got to the hospital, I was scanned and all the rest of it, to determine the extent of my injuries. It was concluded that I had only one fracture, but a bad one. I had “smashed” my left wrist, resulting in a comminuted fracture (several pieces) at the joint. They took me back into Resus, where the consultant let me know he’d need to manipulate my wrist.

The pain was horrible. He took hold of my broken wrist, and pulled and pushed and wriggled it while I shouted in agony, trying to inhale the gas & air at the same time. After what seemed like forever, it stopped. And I could feel some sensation coming back to my fingers. They had to take action to ensure I didn’t cut off circulation to my hand.

I was placed in a cast, given a good dose of painkillers, and then taken up to the ward to rest. I got through the night, only to wake up the next morning and realise I had pain in my abdomen. I had several more scans done, which resulted in finding an internal bleed. I had a tear in my liver and was taken to intensive care overnight.

The next week or so, I had a few ups and downs, feeling very sick at times, failing to sleep and other issues. I began to ache all over. My arm had swelled a lot, and since I had multiple abrasions and an internal bleed, so there was no chance of surgery immediately.

Once I’d settled, I was given a date for surgery for the following Monday. I was given general anaesthetic and the surgeons re-aligned my wrist again, then decided there and then on the best course of action. They made the call to use metal wires rather than a plate, and I ended up with 3 “K-wires” pinning my wrist together.

When I woke up from surgery, I was in a lot of pain, almost as much as when I’d first broken it. My arm was in a cast and the swelling meant it was pretty uncomfortable. I struggled with the pain, not getting any relief from the strongest of painkillers, and didn’t sleep a wink that night.

The following day, the pain was still going strong, so I had a new cast made, which ended up being split again later that afternoon because I was struggling with the pain again.

Since then, the pain has eased every day, and I’ve been able to move my fingers more and more, albeit with great discomfort.

From now on it will be the long road to recovery. I’ll need to take good care of myself, be patient, and diligently stick to my physio exercises to regain the full function of my wrist, elbow and fingers.

What about the bike? I hear you ask! Well believe it or not, it’s in far better shape than I am. The throttle had been ripped off the bars as well as the aluminium handguard, so both of those need replacing. Other than that, I haven’t really been able to identify any damage as yet! They build them solidly, these KTMs.

I’d like to thank everyone who helped me, not only on the day (Rob in particular), but those who sorted my bike out, my parents who visited me every day in hospital, my family and friends who also went to great lengths to visit me, and of course all the messages I’ve received. They all made a big difference to how I was feeling. Lastly, but most importantly, thank you to all the doctors, nurses and staff that took such good care of me at Bronglais.

Now, time to concentrate on getting better!

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