Archive for Scotland

With this short poem, the 12th century Persian poet Hafez perfectly summed up the final days of our ride. Here it is in his own words:

ورغم ان الطريق قد يكون خطيرا والوجهه النهائية الآن بعيدة عن النظر ليس هناك أي الخط الذي لا ينتهي. لا اليأس

Which, if the free Arabic-English translation website got it right, translates into English as:

Although the road may be dangerous and the final destination far out of sight,
there is no route which does not come to an end.
Do not despair.

I despaired a little anyway, but despair was inevitable. The day arrived for the price for all this fun to be paid. It was time to leave my new found paradise and start heading back to dreary reality. Sad, really.

Starting off at the crack of late morning, the race to the end began. For an unprecedented third day in a row, the rain held off. Where was all this famous Scottish misty, drizzly, lousy weather everyone’s always bitching about? Wherever it was, it wasn’t in Lochcarron. The Secret Cloud Factory, possibly on strike, must have shut down for the weekend.

Looking at my map once again, sans helpful stranger, we decided to keep delaying the inevitable southbound slog as long as possible, which was a good thing for our morale, as well as material for one final ride report. We set off for our last fun ride – the Isle of Skye.

Over the bridge and on the Isle, more incredible scenery streaked past my eyes. You’d think by this point we’d be on scenic overload, and that would be pretty much true. Sounds strange, but apparently it’s possible to overdose on this place, on too much of a good thing; and become almost numb to the never-ending display of Rhode Scotland’s finest surroundings. Rather than fail with more words, here are a few more pictures of the Isle of Skye’s ocular assault:

Abi’s Zen-like assessment succicently summed up everything we’d experienced in the Highlands. “This place doesn’t suck.”

We’ve delayed it just about as long as possible. Time has pretty much run out, it’s time to stop all this fun sightseeing and get down to the serious business of heading home. In two days time we needed to return these fine machines to their stable so some other slobs could abuse and misuse them. In three days time we’d be once again confined to a metal tube, somehow defying gravity and floating five miles over the ocean, snacking on peanuts and hoping the wings don’t fall off.

But first, one more minor detour. Why not? This wasn’t some other lighthouse. This was serious business. I wanted to stop and check out a place I’d heard about to possibly purchase and spend the remainder of my still-in-the-distant-future retirement days. Never hurts to plan ahead.

Eilean Donan Castle, perched majestically on the shore of Loch Long. Yep, I suppose that’ll do nicely. I’ll take it.

The A87 was the beginning of the end, the road that would lead to the M6 which would lead to London, and we knew it. We figured we had all the beauty of the Highlands safely behind us, and could once again point at the horizon and twist the throttle, brains safely on pause, Ipod safely on shuffle.

Once again, I was wrong. Rhode Scotland had one final surprise in store for us.

The road that led from my future retirement cottage to Fort Williams was probably the best yet. (Yeah, yeah… I know. ‘Best yet’ once again. By now it’s an overused cliché. Thanks for noticing…) More impressive mountains screamed toward the sky, and the road snaked through a mostly barren valley. It didn’t suck either. With little traffic and no side roads, this would be the perfect place for a scenery overloaded scofflaw to really put a rental motorbike through its paces, maybe even flog it a little if one was so inclined.

But I would never do something like that. Never. Especially if John from Raceway Rentals happens to be reading this.

I will say one thing though. Man, that FJR goes FAAST when it wants to!!

That night was spent in another non-descript hotel. The only thing remarkable about the place was the fact that when we checked in around 8 PM, every parking spot was taken, but when we checked out at 7AM , every spot was empty except ours. I wonder exactly what kind of hotel we’d found…

The M6 was the same long slog it was on the way up, with the additional bonus of warmth. The sun was out in force, and as the day wore on, it actually got hot enough to shed one or two of my fourteen layers. Sometime around lunch, we once again had the same idea at the same time.

“Ugh. Let’s get the fuck off this highway.”

A small yellow ribbon called the A684 seemed to cut directly east, connecting the M6 to the M1 (See? Road names make for a confusing story, don’t they? Don’t lie. You glazed right over that part, didn’t you?) While it wouldn’t help us get closer to London in any real sense, it might be fun. A sign at the start of the road confirmed my suspicions: ‘Warning. Twenty-four motorcyclists injured on the road in the past five years. Please ride safe.’ This road has to be good. I wondered if we stacked it up on this fine racetrack… err, I mean road, if they would change the sign to read ‘Twenty Four motorcyclists and Two Septic Yanks.‘ Probably not.

The stone wall lined road was infinitely better than the highway, and unraveling it was sheer pleasure. No, the A684 was not the best road ever, but definitely ranks somewhere in the top ten. The miles slid behind us with ease. Thirty miles into the ride we came upon a small outdoor festival in the tiny town of Leyburn. It was amazing to me the amount of people -including about fifty of our motorcycling brethren – all gathered together playing hooky from work. I imagine in a cloud covered country, the sunshine must increase the amount of sick calls exponentially. Scientists should look into this phenomenon – but not too carefully.

These pictures doesn’t really fit in with anything, I just snapped ’em because they made me giggle. Yes, I am five years old.

OK, hang in there. We’re almost finished here. Since every good movie has a montage, I thought I would include my random highway-inspired train of thought montage that helped me get though the boring bits of the M1 back to London. Here it is, in no particular order:

  • For inventing beer, monks rule. Good job, guys!
  • Does every person see the color red the same way I see it?
  • There are no billboards anywhere in the UK.
  • Even without billboards, I still hate highways.
  • Why are there so many sheep here?
  • Are peanuts vegetables?
  • Random restroom graffiti – ‘i like turtles and werewolf movies
  • What possesses someone to write that on a bathroom wall?
  • I don’t think I saw any sheep roadkill anywhere.
  • Can a human bladder explode?
  • Oh look! More sheep!
  • Thank you World Wrestling Entertainment for giving me this backstage pass to the world.
  • Knowing me, knowing you. There is nothing we can’t do. (The entire ABBA song, or at least all the words I know)
  • What are sunspots?
  • What do they do with all the sheep?
  • I really really really hope a human bladder can’t explode!
  • Get me off this fucking highway!

And finally, the one that recurred the most –

  • Pillowfighting cheerleaders.

After negotiating the labyrinth that is London with it’s confusing traffic signals and tearfully relinquishing our well-used motorbikes, all that was left to do was smoke a fine cigar and offer up a final, heartfelt ‘Slangevar’ to what, so far, has been the best ride ever.

The Entire 1842.8 Mile Route

Next month – We take our own motorcycles north to Newfoundland and Nova Scotland.

The Great Unsponsored Nova Scotia Expedition Ride Report can be found here.

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It’s cold.

The stinging numbness in my fingers stopped hours ago, a fact that would be alarming if my brain wasn’t also slowly freezing up. The BBC weatherwench got it exactly right when she forecast, “Dreadful cold for the next several days, with a frightful easterly wind in the northern parts of the UK. Edinburgh and north are the coldest they’ve ever been for this time of year. A miserable few days is ahead.” I doubted her at the time, but pulling into the rest area after riding two hundred miles, I knew she was right. Ride a motorcycle from London to Scotland and back in April? Who’s great idea was this anyway?

At least my rental, a Yamaha FJR 1300 offered reasonable protection from the wind, with a full fairing, a windshield, and I had all my cold weather gear. Abi, the poor bastard that always ends up roped into the greatest of my grand plans (or dumb ideas, depending on how you look at them) had it much worse than I did. His rented bike, a Suzuki SV 650 had no such comforts, not even a tiny windshield to help deflect the wind. And even worse, he’d managed to forget his bag with all his riding gear at home, forcing him to cope with these ‘dreadful’ cold temperatures using brand new, untested gear. As we slowed down to park, I could see his face in my mirror, and it wasn’t a happy one.

“Dude, seriously, fuck this,” my friend – the Punjabi Popsicle – said with a grimace. “Dude, I’m fucking COOLLLD. I can’t feel my fingers, the fucking wind is brutal, and for the last ten miles, I wasn’t even happy to be alive.” At least his arms weren’t folded over his chest, because when that happens, he’s all done. Past the point of no return. Game over.

Great. This is only the beginning. Day one. Our return flights are booked seven days from now. The bikes are paid for, and thanks to the crappy exchange rate, for what we paid to rent them, we could have almost bought the damn things. The rental policy? No refund. Period. We’re two hundred miles into what, if my wild guesses are close, will be about eighteen hundred miles touring some of the world’s best roads and scenery. But that would mean we’d have to survive the first day, and the prospects of that were looking grim at the moment.

“Let’s go inside, sit down, get a coffee, and warm up a bit. On the bright side, it has warmed up a little since we left London, don’t you think?” I tried to sound positive, though I was lying through my chattering teeth. The temperature hovered around 45 degrees, where it had sat for the past few days. Abi met my cheerleading with a scowl and a middle finger salute as we trudged into the rest area from some much needed warmth.

With a gigantic steaming mug of Costa coffee in hand, I tried to make sense of this idea, which sounded so reasonable when I had it several months ago. Twice a year, the WWE makes a trip ‘across the pond,’ this April’s trip took the show to London, providing us both with flights to the UK, conveniently near Raceway Rentals. All we had to do was work, then stay an extra week, rent motorcycles, figure out how to ride on the opposite side of the road more or less immediately, negotiate confusing roundabouts, relentless traffic and mysteriously named highways leading in misleading directions, follow a folded map in a tankbag while riding, and decide whether or not to trust a GPS with a devious sense of direction, and go enjoy Scotland.

Simple.

I was actually surprised pulling out of Raceway Rentals on my FJR that I didn’t turn directly into oncoming traffic. When planning this trip, my one real concern was riding on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. So far, I hadn’t been smashed into bits by one of those omnipresent red double-decker buses. Things were going just swell! Of course I had a little help. I made cheat notes in my helmet. I drew an arrow pointing to where the center of the road should be, and another where the side of the road should be.

This way I could hopefully line myself up at every intersection. It was scary, but it worked. When I wasn’t screaming like a little girl in terror at the traffic surprises, I was marveling that cold or not, I was at this moment actually riding a motorcycle in England! Those trees? English trees! That tunnel is a British tunnel! Those motorists trying to squash me? All from the United Kingdom! Brilliant!

I came back to reality and looked up from my coffee. Abi’s arms were folded. Uh-oh. It’s negotiation time.

“Let’s get a little further up, not all the way to Scotland or even Carslile, just another hundred miles or so, like say to Kendall, then we’ll stop for the night. Maybe tomorrow will be warmer.”

After booking into the world’s lamest Travelodge, conveniently located next to a petrol station and nothing much else, we took a cab into town. ‘Town’ consisted of an Indian restaurant and a pub. Everything else was locked up tight.

Indian food and I do not agree. I try to like it, and though I try, it doesn’t last very long in me. My record from ingestion to forceful ejection is ten minutes. Literally. But this meal wasn’t quite that bad, and at least Abi was happier than before. However, that night I was awakened by – sorry, but there is no way to put this delicately – myself puking. There I was, sound asleep, then the next thing I knew – BOOM! – I was awake, reverse engineering my papri chat and chicken tiki masala. Nobody was more surprised than me. Damn you, Indian food! Never again.

By morning, my stomach had quieted down, my fingers regained sensation, and we were ready to roll. The BBC weatherwench wasn’t much more encouraging than the day before, but a schedule is a schedule, and the best parts of the ride were still two days away, with miles of highway between us. The day is crisp and cold, but at least it’s clear. Rain would be the kiss of death for the trip. I lent Abi my winter riding gloves, since I thought it might make him happier, and if he’s happier, then I’ll be happier too. I’m just that kind of guy. Plus, the first time I wore those gloves, I found they’re too thick for me. I can’t ride while wearing them anyway.

Both our bikes were equipped with ridiculous theft alarms. Every time the bike is shut off, the alarm arms itself. Then if the motorcycle is moved or touched at all, for instance if you want to put gas in or remove luggage, the loud alarm goes off. Pure comedy at a petrol station. But the best part? After deactivating the alarm to take the luggage off, the alarm stays off until reset, which I never remember to do. So, my useless alarm didn’t protect my bike at all, unless we stopped for gas.

Just before the Scotland border, we pulled off the main highway. I was slowly getting used to riding in Opposite World, but it was still a challenge. Abi had no problem with it. With my helmet cheat notes, intersections got a little easier, but the roundabouts were still tricky, because once in the Circle of Doom, traffic always attacked me from unexpected directions. Each roundabout successfully negotiated felt like a little victory.

And then, we saw it. The Sign. Welcome to Scotland! Hoooray! We quickly pulled off to get the obligatory picture.

Once that task was accomplished, I did something I’d been dreaming of doing for years. I claimed the Kingdom of Scotland for the Kingdom of Rhode Island by placing a Rhode Island state flag sticker on the welcome sign.

Now officially in Rhode Scotland, the road improves greatly, distracting us from the cold.

We wound our way through sheep pasture after sheep pasture, banking and weaving through some incredible eye candy. As we rolled through this idyllic paradise, the clouds begin to roll in, the already low temps dropped, and my fingers lost feeling again. This is FUN! On the way to Edinburgh (pronounced Edin-burrrrrrrrrhhhh!) we passed the Official Cloud Factory of the Scottish East Coast.

We ask them to shut the machine off for us, but it’s doubtful they will. They have work to do!

The Scottish have it pretty easy when it comes to finding accommodations. Just stop into the nearest Tourist Information center, tell them what you’re looking for, and for a wee fee they’ll find a place, call to make sure the price is acceptable, and book it for you. Our agent called a place in Edinburrrrrrr for us, saying, “I have two gentlemen on motorbikes that will arrive around six. Do you have secure parking for their motorbikes?” I love it! We found the place with the no more than the usual amount of U-turns, and were comfortably seated down at the pub prepared for some single malt thawing therapy.

Tomorrow, Edinburgh, up close and personal….

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