- The company: Last year I went on my own, to prove I could. This year I brought a friend and was happy to defer route planning and share navigation. It's more fun and less scary with two, despite the potential for violent disagreement.
- The bike: My scooter is still out of action, but my lovely local dealer kindly lent me a 250cc Piaggio X9 for the duration. I felt the loss of power on overtakes, going uphill and trying to accelerate out of corners, but I'm terribly grateful for the loan.
- The distance: We travelled the maximum permissible miles, 540.
On Saturday, with my steed and Howard's Triumph Daytona 955i all prepped and packed, we set off for the first control at Shaftesbury to sign in and wait for the 2 o'clock off.
I allowed the rider with local knowledge to lead for the first few controls and took the opportunity to sit back and enjoy the scenery on this lovely afternoon. The dual carriageway was crowded but we could overtake or filter past most of it while enjoying fields of poppies and views of Stonehenge away to the left.
We were fortunate enough to do the busiest roads - Newbury, Reading, Slough - during the England v. Portugal match, so good progress was made. It takes longer than you'd think to cover the miles when you have to get off the bikes at every control; the temptation to stop for a chat/breather/snack is great. The volunteers manning the controls were lovely, leaping forward with cold drinks and offers to clean our visors. Special mention to the BMW Club at Aylesbury, who remembered me from last year!
It began to get dark as we did the northernmost leg of our route: Leicester, Buxton, Congleton. The road from Buxton to Congleton must be glorious in daylight but was a nightmare in the dark; I was overtaken by so many other bikes as I inched round corners braking in all the wrong places that I felt I should disguise my tail light before venturing into the next control.
When we stopped at Uttoxeter it was starting to get light again, and we could hear birdsong. I thought the last stages of the rally would be pure slog, but in fact after this the ride became pleasurable again. It was sunny and pleasantly warm, and the roads were empty. We had a rest at Sutton Maddock, well-signed control with free tea and a friendly dog, and then we were nearly there.
My favourite journey of all was from Cleobury Mortimer to Worcester: gentle curves, the satisfying certainty of being on the right road with plenty of time in hand, finishing with an impressive shortcut I'd cribbed from streetmap.co.uk. Then there was a straightforward leg to Bromsgrove, a final fuel stop, and a blast down the motorway to finish at the National Motorcycle Museum in Birmingham.
It'll be a while before we receive confirmation of the award. But even without the official word, I feel I can look back on the hours and the miles and be justified in stating that WE DID IT.