|04-26-2008, 11:07 AM||#1|
Work work work work work
Joined: Mar 2005
Location: Kingdom of Rhode Island
Two Gentlemen Yanks Tour Scotland by Motorbike
The stinging numbness in my fingers stopped hours ago, a fact that would probably 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. "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. No refund possible. 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.
I was actually surprised pulling out of Raceway Rentals on my FJR that I didn't turn directly into oncoming traffic. So far, I hadn't been smashed into bits by one of those omnipresent red double-decker busses. 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.
"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 in Kendall 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 some more, and my fingers lost feeling again. This is FUN! On the way to Edinburgh (pronounced Edin-burrrrrrrrrhhhh!) we passed the Official Secret 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 low price they'll find a place, call to make sure the price is acceptable, and book it for you. Our agent called a place in Edinburrrrrrrhhh 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 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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frenchy750 screwed with this post 04-30-2008 at 12:23 AM
|04-26-2008, 05:35 PM||#4|
Work work work work work
Joined: Mar 2005
Location: Kingdom of Rhode Island
Cold, windblown, miserable, pouring down rain greeted us on our first full day in Scotland. Well, it is Scotland after all, what did I expect?
ME: 'Wow. Look at that fucking rain! It's coming down sideways! Gonna be a miserable day to ride today, isn't it?'
And with that rain, the game beings. When riding conditions really suck in the middle of a ride, Abi and I like to play a fun game called 'I'm Not Going to Be the Pussy… How About You?' Here's how it usually goes:
ABI: (arms folded over chest) 'Yup.'
ME: 'And we have to do four hundred miles today to stay on schedule.'
ABI: 'That'll be a joy with no windshield. You oughta try it.'
ME: 'No thanks. I suppose we could cut out the Speyside part. Maybe just ride from here to Glasgow or something today.'
ABI: 'You're getting soft, old man. It's just a little bit of freezing rain. What's the big deal?'
ME: 'Or... I suppose we could just stay right here in Edinburrrrrrhhh…'
ABI: (arms suddenly unfolded) 'Sounds good to me!'
And with that tough decision made, we headed back to the safety of bed for some much needed post sleeping/pre breakfast napping. Breakfast at this inn consists of a runny egg, two pieces of 'bacon' which resemble pig ears more than any bacon I am familiar with, and a special delicacy - black pudding. Despite the nice-sounding name, black pudding is made with blood and other assorted nasty bits. Of course I found this out after I'd eaten it several times. And to think I believed it was some kind of spiced pumpernickel bread! But it's better than 'Spotted Dick', which was billed as everybody's favorite. Err… no thanks, I'd rather starve than have Dick for breakfast.
With steady rain and a thermometer frozen at 39 degrees, stubbornly refusing to budge, today the decision to be a dry tourist beat sitting on a cold, wet motorcycle for the entire soggy day. And, there are worse places in the world to get stuck for a day than Edinburgh – New Jersey comes to mind as one, a TV truck comes to mind as another… So, we did something unique on our long distance motorcycle rides. We stayed in a place for more than a single night, and did the full-on sightseeing thing. We bought a ticket for what was billed as 'Scotland's Third Most Popular Paid Attraction' otherwise known as the Open Top Bus Tour.
I wonder what the other two more popular paid attractions are?
It wasn't that bad. Our tour guide, a bubbly Scottish girl with the cutest accent ever greeted us by saying, "Welcome tah Scotland. Sorry 'bout the rain, but it's Scotland... Wha' di' ye expect?" Exactly. We toured the hell out of Edinburgh on our tour bus, listening to inane facts about the city we could later use to bore our friends, and snapping a ton of pictures, as good tourists are supposed to do.
When the bus got boring (actually, that happened in the first ten minutes, so in reality, this was long after the bus got boring) we jumped off at the Palace stop to try and find a choice adult beverage or three. We decided on a whim that being both tourists and single malt fans, we should take a tour of the Scotch Whisky Experience.
This tour disproved my theory that any tour that starts with alcohol must be a good one. After handing out glasses filled with a splash of blended whisky, the group was ushered into a small theater, where we endured crappy movie after crappy movie. The tour was so lame it reminded me of the Kennedy Space Center, with its 'Dare to Dream' film we were subjected to. Is there a single company that makes retarded films for all these tourist traps? If so, they should be firebombed in the name of sanity. But the capper, or I should say the crapper of the crapulent tour was its grand finale. Up on the top level was an honest to God amusement park ride. Well, it was actually an extremely lame 'History of Whisky' ride, reminiscent of Disney's 'It's a Small World', but without any of the good parts. LAAAME-OOO! Now I remember! Cheesy rip-offs like this abysmal place are why I hate doing touristy stuff. The only thing I learned worth retaining is how the Scottish propose a toast – by saying, 'Slangevar!' We did what any two self respecting gentlemen tourists not on motorbikes would do in this situation. We retired to The World's End pub for lunch and to practice saying Slangevar for the rest of the day.
Having survived my Black Pudding of Death at breakfast much better than the Indian food of the day before, I decided to try something REALLY adventurous for lunch.
When I finished, the waitress purred at me in her sexy Scottish accent, "So, what'd ye tink o' tha Haggis?"
"Umm... It was… Interesting."
"I've neiver heird it described qui' like that before…."
I asked her to repeat herself, not because I didn't understand what she'd said, but just because her accent was so damn cute. I'd have paid her thousands to just stand there and read the menu, the newspaper, hell, even some junk mail to me over and over and over…. I think she caught on after about the fourth time. That or she thought I was a bit slow and in need of a hearing aid.
Fueled with our newly gained knowledge of Scotch Whisky's Heritage, the rest of our Edinburgh rain delay day became a happy, touristy blur.
Many hours later we somehow managed to Slangevar our way back to the inn, and a merciful fade to black soon followed.
The next day I awoke to sunny skies and warm temps. I rolled over to peek out the window, and what to my wondering eyes did appear? Three giggling, topless Scottish lasses outside my window washing my bike in the dancing sunbeams! I sat back and marveled at this wonderful country's most excellent scenery for a while, just taking it all in. Then, the unthinkable happened. I really did wake up. There were no girls out there, of course, but at least the sun was shining bright. It was time to leave Edinburgh for the much anticipated Highlands.
As we loaded the bikes up, Abi and I had the same thought at the same time. By riding these rented motorbikes, are we cheating on our poor, faithful motorcycles back at home? This tells me two things. One – I really do love my lonely FJR currently stuck stateside, and Two – Abi and I spend way too much time together.
Because we lost a day, we had to amend our route. Yesterday, I'd planned to visit my second favorite place on earth where my second favorite adult beverage is lovingly created – the Macallan distillery, but that got washed out. Now, to make up for lost time we decided to skip the world famous Malt Whisky region of Speyside entirely, and get back on the boring motorway and head north for half the day. But first, we needed petrol.
Petrol, which, in American loosely translates to 'Really Expensive Gasoline', is fairly simple to find near big cities. As we would learn later in the trip, it's not so easy to secure in the more rural areas of Scotland, especially on a Sunday, but that's getting ahead of the story.
Besides both flavors being pricey, at around $8 a gallon, diesel and unleaded on these pumps are easily confused. The pump handles are the same size, and right next to each other. If you were tired, say – or maybe a little hung over from too much Slangevaring the night before, it would be a cinch to grab the black handle instead of the green one and load up with the wrong kind of fuel… not that this actually happened to me (though it was close on more than one occasion.)
We burned pricey petrol at a furious rate riding up the motorway, and before long mountains started appearing. And on those mountains? Snow. Lots of it. While the day felt warmer than the previous couple, it still wasn't what could be actually called warm. Seeing those snow covered mountains made it feel even colder than it was, and heading straight for them didn't help.
At least we weren't the only nutters out enjoying a nice brisk ride. We passed a cute older couple on an old Triumph motorbike also heading north. We both waved and shook our heads at each other, acknowledging our collective folly.
And then, just past Inverness, everything changed for the better. We turned off the A9 for the much better B9176 (yes, the route names are confusing, that's why I've mostly avoided using them – if you think the names are bad, try following them sometime!) Suddenly, without much warning, our endurance riding test was rewarded.
Ho. Lee. Shit. The scenery exploded into spectacular vista after spectacular vista. My tiny brain struggled to comprehend the astounding beauty abruptly on display. Sometimes I had to slow the bike to a crawl, because my eyes were overloaded, my synapses completely overwhelmed. I was afraid not only of missing something, but splattering my overworked synapses all over an oncoming truck while gawking and gaping at everything but the road in front of me. Pictures can't do this place justice.
Video can't either. IMAX might come close, but I doubt it.
Stunned and in complete awe, I started naming the huge mountains surrounding me. 'That's Mount Muuuuther-fucker!' Over there is 'Holy Shit Peak!' Damn, Scotland, when they find out, the people of Rhode Island will be ecstatic that I claimed such unbridled beauty for them.
Oh yeah, the road - empty of cars but full of curves - was fun too.
And it only got better. Coming over a mountain pass into the small seaside town of Ullapool, our home for the night, was like riding in a movie. Yellow flowers lined both sides of the road, and more snow capped mountains rose in the distance. Fishing boats bobbed in the waves of Loch Broom as we descended from riding paradise. I wish I was a good writer at this point, because I really can't do justice to the absolute perfection that was the second half of this day. Even Abi, who is normally hard to impressed, was smiling.
When we rode to Niagara Falls a few years ago, he took one look, turned to me and said, "Its water. It's falling. I get it. Let's go.' To impress him enough to crack a real smile, this place must be first rate, or as he later put it, "Not bad."
And though at the time it seemed impossible, the next two days would get even better, though not without their share of hardships…
78% of all statistics are made up, including this one.
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frenchy750 screwed with this post 04-30-2008 at 12:24 AM
|04-26-2008, 07:34 PM||#6|
Joined: May 2005
Location: Sydney, Australia.
Hey I'm enjoying this report...I was riding around Scotland in 94...in the summer...and it was still freezing cold and raining. (Although all the locals assured me they were having a wonderful summer?)
But Northern Ireland made Scotland feel like Florida.
It's not just a mode of transport, it's a fking adventure!
|04-26-2008, 09:46 PM||#7|
Joined: Jun 2006
|04-27-2008, 04:13 AM||#11|
Joined: Mar 2007
Location: Carried Forth
Loving this report lads
Great writing and great pics.
Next time, sling me a PM and I'll put the kettle on for you
shine on, you crazy emo diamond
|04-27-2008, 05:01 AM||#13|
Joined: Oct 2005
Location: Diamond Bar, CA.
I am enjoying this immensely!
The story telling is funny as heck, and the pictures are great.
|04-27-2008, 05:13 AM||#14|
Still stumblin along
Joined: Oct 2007
Location: San Diego, CA
Very cool, dudes...
You know, this is one of my dream vacations.... Cold or not. Besides, chicks with accents drive me nuts... Awesome trip guys!
I'm on bike bike number 20 something, I think I lost count. '77 R100/7
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