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Old 03-13-2010, 11:18 PM   #1
BadWHooper OP
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Joined: Feb 2008
Location: Silver Spring, MD
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History Ride: My nOOb Tour of Scotland

Call me Hooper.

Though I don’t post much, I’m a huge fan of ADV; but as a Buell Ulysses rider, I spend most of my time on BadWeb. Before there was Buell in my life, there were other bikes and other adventures…adventures that I believe might enjoy some publicity on a site that is mostly brand-agnostic. The greatest adventure of my life thus far took place on a BMW in Scotland, and so I think ADV is the place to post it (though I’ll definitely cross-post it on BadWeb).

I was a newbie rider…barely over a year in the saddle. When a serious personal impasse in my life coincided with the urge to travel, I whole hog, rented a bike in Glasgow, booked some hotels and B&Bs, flew to Scotland, got on the bike, and rode around the country. This is sort of how it went. I didn’t die.

“The point of the journey is not to arrive – anything can happen” -Neil Peart

Day One-ish: Thursday/Friday October 6/7, 2005 – Silver Spring, USA to Inveraray, Scotland, 133 Miles Ridden


I was in the second such city called “Manchester” to serve as a gateway to a motorcycle adventure for me, the first being Manchester, New Hampshire, USA, just about a month prior. There in America’s biggest Manchester, I rented a Harley-Davidson Road King and rolled north through the sunny pines to and all around my family’s vacation home in Maine. This time, the weather wasn’t as good. In Britain’s Manchester, it was cloudy and everything in the airport smelled vaguely of old cigarette smoke. I was beat.

A horrible flight, and, added to that, I was up too late drinking the night before, so I was going in with a crushing hangover. I did talk to Liz for the first time, at great length, so that was good. Liz is a girl I met on an online dating website with whom I’d hit it off with pretty well. We would talk for hours on instant message practically every night, and, when I take the initiative, on the phone. It’s just been great to finally have a woman I can unload on and just yammer on and on to – I’ve needed that. Karin, surprisingly still, has not been that woman for me since she went to the Yale University School of Management (AKA “SOM”, which always made me think of “Son of a …”) in August 2004, even though we dated for almost two-and-a-half years before she left. While at school, she believed speaking twice a week was adequate for a long-distance couple, and verified that service level agreement (SLA – jeez, I’ve brought work into my private life!) with her fellow Yale MBA friends who also were dealing with long-distance relationships, including her roommate who was engaged to a guy in DC. Unfortunately, I didn’t sign onto that SLA. Someone you say you LOVE and someone you were monogamous with for almost three years before the breakup, and you can only spare 30 minutes per week for them?! Yeah. This goes to show how B-school can F with the minds of unsuspecting former yuppies.

I made it to Dulles Airport with plenty of time, had a bit of trouble finding little BMI’s check-in desk, but eventually was able to unload the heavy ski boot bag that I was using as my motorcycle touring flight luggage. It’s a rotund bag that can subsume my full-face helmet, surrounded by random clothing as protection. Few suitcases or roller bags can fit a big helmet and allow enough space around it for padding. You can also pack the helmet full of socks, boxers, and t-shirts, imparting whatever odor to the interior of your helmet that you choose (hopefully the essence of laundry detergent). It was very exciting to get into the international departure line and finally onto a plane that would be taking me to the United Kingdom, a place I’d never been.

Why, I asked myself, did I give myself a five hour layover here in Manchester, England? I hoped it was for substantial cost savings. I landed at about 5:45am GMT (Greenwich Mean Time – Britain and Scotland are five hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time, so I thought it was almost 1am), but didn’t have a departure for Glasgow until 11:30am. I couldn’t decide if I should have gotten breakfast right then or to wait until I was hungry. But I was in England! A new country to add to my list (even though I’d only be seeing the inside of an airport and some landscape from the window of a plane – it was cold and grey outside…seemed appropriate). I found a classical radio station to listen to while I waited. “It’s just gone 8.” That's how the DJs said that it was 8am. The news talked about a threat to the NYC Subway and a rumor (they really did report it as a rumor) that President Bush had quietly informed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (aka Abu Mazin) two years ago that God “told him to invade Iraq”, and to create a Palestinian state. That’s just super, I thought.

So why was I there? I always wanted to come to Scotland or Ireland, but never pulled the trigger until I let myself realize (or was forced to realize by various life events) that these big trips really make life interesting and give you memories. So much of life is about thinking about things that you’ve done (good and bad) or things that have been done to you (good and bad). However, one of my favorite new bands, “IY” from Ithaca, New York, sings “Memories are fine but they won’t ever bring you a future.” They’ve got a point. I worry about that a bit. Regardless, I’d somehow figured it out that our short lives are about filling our minds with experiences, sensory input, memories, and emotional interactions with people, simply put. “Interactions with people” can be interpreted in many ways, from having and caring for a child to managing a project team at work. So, I did it – I bought the ticket over two months out, and then decided to really push the adventure – to do it by motorcycle instead of a rental car reeking of industrial cleaners.

More to come...
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'06 Buell XB12X Ulysses; '07 H-D FXDB Dyna Street Bob

Solo Around Scotland (BMW R850R); AZ and UT (H-D Road King): http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=744536l; Death Valley & Vegas (BMW R1200GS): http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=926499; NW Colorado (BMW K1200GT): http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=955168

BadWHooper screwed with this post 11-09-2011 at 11:10 AM Reason: Corrected the spelling of "nOOb".
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Old 03-14-2010, 07:58 AM   #2
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Good to read you finally realized a dream.... and you're going to take us along with you... don't forget to post some pics

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Old 03-14-2010, 10:34 AM   #3
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Old 03-14-2010, 04:18 PM   #4
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I had been riding motorcycles for a little over a year by the time that I made these plans – pretty ballsy (or crazy) now that I think of it. I LOVE motorcycling, just like I knew I would when I finally decided to take the safety course (after years of putting motorcycle posters on my walls as a kid). Ironically, Karin was supposed to take the course with me, and was sitting there with me on the floor of the county office building as we waited for our number to be called on the day we were set to register, but she felt that she needed to get back to work that morning. I’m sort of glad we didn’t take riding lessons together, especially in light of the fact that she was getting ready to leave me for her MBA in Connecticut If I was going to be alone, I might as well have a new, solo hobby to occupy me between visits with her. Motorcycling definitely took on a life of its own. I passed the course in July 2004 (barely…most people – including experienced riders – failed), picked up my license the next weekend, and a few days after that, was making my first legal ride home on a 2000 Yamaha V-Star Classic 650. I’ll never forget that ride. No one ever forgets their first ride home from the dealer. Karin even dropped me off at the dealer that day. She seemed incredulous that I was doing it, and almost seemed impressed by me as I started that big little Yamaha, revved the engine, and threw my leg over. Looking back, it was the beginning of the end.

I had no idea if this trip would be a mistake or not – the weather up there in the Scottish north looked dodgy. But I knew that this would be a vital solo journey for me, especially after dealing with my feelings for Karin for all of that year. On the Monday of this trip, it would have been seven weeks since the last time she made any kind of attempt to contact me…I feared that it was obviously(?) to end the frustration, distraction, and (perhaps) futility, and to just rip the Band-Aid off. Of course, I didn’t know if she was doing that. We didn’t talk much, and definitely not about our disappointingly fizzled relationship.

I wanted to go over and find some real breakfast to add to the BMI Airline fruit, muffin, and yogurt, but instead I stayed with my Outward Bound method of rationing myself GORP and granola bars. It works. I’d end up doing it all week. In fact, I think I might try to market the “Motorcycle Diet”. I swear, when you’re riding, you don’t get hungry! Maybe it’s the fact that you’re sitting in a certain position, or that you’re concentrating on the road, but I never seem to get hungry on long rides, even after only having a tiny snack for breakfast. Plus, the breakfasts in Scotland either filled me up so well or made me so queasy that I didn’t want to eat. It was both, actually, but more on that later.

The next flight was a small plane, mostly empty, with a superhot blonde Scottish flight attendant. After we took off, it was great to see the first view of Scottish turf about 40 minutes later – it really looked Scottish. Fields – green fields divided by stone walls, and my first in-person view of a Scottish golf course. The weather in Glasgow was cloudy and iffy.

At the cab stand, a cop asked me where I was going. The Scottish address made no sense to me. The bike rental place was at 4 Flemington Industrial Estates, Hamilton Road, Cambuslang. I said “Flemington” to the cop, because that’s what showed up on the map from the Rentabike website. He looked confused, briefly. Glasgow looked small enough to make it a relatively short drive. The cop ignored my destination and waved a cab over. One pulled up, the driver popped the trunk, and I was in business. I attempted to tell the cabbie where I was going as he put my big bag in the trunk, but he seemed confused – probably by my inability to speak English. I showed him the address on the map printout. “Hm. Hmmm? Cambuslang?! Bloody ‘ell!” He muttered to himself (but loud enough for me to hear). That wasn’t a good sign, but he did start driving.

He drove, but he didn’t say a word. Around circles, strange turnoffs, circles, more circles, and eventually onto the highway (an “M-something”) – I followed along on my MapQuest printouts for awhile. I expected someone more talkative. I didn’t realize the true distance until we drove it. I guess a lot of short trips are more profitable than one long one. We met eyes in the rear-view mirror now and then, but no words. Eventually, as we drove down the final road for awhile, he asked me to show him my maps again. At that point I thanked him for taking me so far, and we finally chuckled and got into what I was doing in his country: I was flying in to go to a place that would rent me a motorcycle that would allow me to tour the country by myself, and there was no such thing as a close-to-the-airport motorcycle rental shop.

Soon enough, we found the “Hamilton Industrial Estates”, a group of sad, old roll-up door buildings. A BMW motorcycle was parked outside one of the units. I wondered if that was mine, but no, it wasn’t at the right address. I instructed the driver to go around to the correct address, past other tenants such as upholsterers, car repair shops, metal benders, etc. At the right number, I got out and asked the guys standing outside the other units for Mel Robinson. They replied that he had moved to a different “suite” in the neighboring building. “Oh”, I thought, “the one with the BMW R850R parked out in front of it.” Duh. I didn’t even think of getting back into the cab, and instead paid the driver 30 quid, walked around the building and pushed through a door with a small paper printout taped onto it: “Rentamotorcycle” – the door next to the bike.

Mel came out from a back office to meet me there in a surprisingly neat and professional waiting room. He reminded me of “Guthrie”, the gritty sword-for-hire Highlander from the film “Rob Roy”, but less violent and with shorter hair (but the same thick accent, gruff face, and questionable teeth). Through a glass pane to my right, I saw a shop area with a few nondescript cars and a pair of new-looking 650cc BMW bikes with interesting trenches cut through their tanks(?) where some sort of high-tech BMW luggage would fit. Sleek bikes, but not as gnarly as the one sitting outside. No, these 650s looked like his-n-hers. That 850 looked like mine-n-mine.

Mel ran an auto mechanic shop in addition to his little BMW rental business, which was in stark contrast to the Eagle Rider Harley rental shops I knew from The States. Those were retail businesses riding on the back (so to speak) of the Harley-Davidson brand and image – TONS of merchandise: helmets, shirts, do-rags, etc. This shop was just Mel, his crappy industrial estate, the cars he was working on, and his rental bikes. He brought out the luggage for me, explained how they open, close, and lock (making sure to emphasize not to: a) lose the keys, and b) break the little plastic tabs in the locking mechanism, both of which looked easy to do.

After some paperwork, Mel was back with me, helping me take the luggage out to the bike. “Bloody heavy!” He said about the top box. That worried me – it did have the heavy chain lock in it, but would that throw off my balance?




“So, how do you drive one of these things?” I asked.

I’d been planning that joke all day. He thought that was funny. Or was it an uneasy laugh? Aside from the speedometer and tachometer, the BMW R850R has about 50 indicator lights on the dash – I couldn’t think of enough things to notify a rider of to match them. He started it up for me. It was a quiet bike, with a low burble that would turn into a pronounced growl at higher RPM. This BMW actually had a headlight and running light on/off switch. The Germans trust their riders a little more, I guess. “Just leave them all on”, he recommended. Mel then asked if I was familiar with BMW turn signal controls. I thought I was, as he described that each grip had its turn signal on it.

“Ah, just like a Harley.” I noted.

Aha, but to cancel them, you have a separate button on the right grip. Just push that up to cancel.” He replied. This would prove to be a very annoying and unjustifiable feature that I remembered reading about in a motorcycle magazine. Some bike reviewer in that magazine also thought it was pretty stupid. In fact, others that I’ve read say that having one turn signal switch on the left side, like most Japanese bikes, is sufficient and probably safer. It took me awhile to get used to it, and, more than once, I ended up honking the horn.

I tested the turn signals, per my training. The right rear signal didn’t blink. I looked at Mel. He smacked it. It started blinking. Yeah, this was not an Eagle Rider motorcycle rental. This was a guy in blue collar Scotland with a website. I mean, he had taped a printout of his company name and put it on the front door of his industrial unit. Of course, I’m no stranger to smacking a motorcycle turn signal to make it work. My sled back home might have had that issue from time to time. As I am trying to sell it right now, I will not say one way or the other.

On the highest point of the console was a clock, with real hands. I constantly forgot it was there, and would instead spend the week struggling to pull my left sleeve layers aside (gauntlet, rain jacket, leather jacket, fleece shirt, long sleeve shirt, and polypropylene shirt) so I could tell what time it was. A really nice touch, that clock, like in Infinitis. I didn’t know if the bike had a reserve tank, though. Later in my trip, this would become paramount, but yet I would never remember to climb off the saddle, hunch down, and look around for a switch that might give me another 40 miles of riding after my main tank ran dry. Of course, this WAS Europe, and I could see it being in the vein of “personal responsibility” – “we TOLD you how long you had, and you pushed it!” When I asked what the range of the bike was, Mel explained the how the gas cap opened, and, oh yeah, the low fuel indicator light may or may not work. According to Mel, some previous renters said it wasn’t making any sense, so he urged that I fill up before the odometer hits 160 miles. Not encouraging. He did say that I shouldn’t have any problem finding petrol stations on my route.

Ha.

So, I was ready to go, and eager. I pulled on my leather jacket and rain jacket, then noticed that I had a bit of an audience – some workmen from a couple shops across the driveway. Before helmet and gloves, I thought to ask what the easiest way to Stirling was. In his half-unintelligible accent, Mel gave me what sounded like very easy directions to the A73 north. “Jest turin right ouwt o the industrial estete, go thrrooo a rundaboot or tooo – yor furust test!” He laughed, “and follow the synes to A73. Ye can’t mess et.” I secured my helmet (or, in Mel’s paperwork, my “crash helmet” – I recalled a Jose Jimenez TV bit from the 60’s when Jose was posing as an astronaut on the Ed Sullivan Show. Ed asked about his “crash helmet” – Jose replied, “Oh I hope not!”). I thanked Mel, shook his hand, put on my clear glasses, and pulled on my gauntlets. Gentlemen always know it’s more respectful and meaningful to shake without a glove on.

I threw a leg over thehigh seat, remembering Neil Peart’s books about how tall his BMW was – my feet definitely stretched to stand flat-footed on the ground, a big change from my Yamaha cruiser back home). Almost as a test, I set the choke and restarted the bike – a nice little victory. I must have looked like I was about to ride away because Mel gestured at my left foot, flipped up the side stand with his toe, and reminded me to make sure I kicked it back before starting off (it was eventually to become the most forgotten side stand in the history of motorcycles – I’m surprised I didn’t break it off.). I pulled the bike upright and, with a flash of panic and embarrassment, nearly tipped the thing right over on its side – the top box and luggage caught me by surprise. It felt like the back end was about 2,000 pounds and four feet above my head. That only happened once, but the embarrassment was real. It was the first display that probably gave Mel his first impression of my skills. Almost as an afterthought, he mentioned that it was a 5-speed transmission – one down, four up. I could have figured that out. Mel said that it wasn’t like a sport bike transmission with their fast-flicking shifts – “tick tick tick” he flicked his hand up up up – it would take a little more effort. After my experiences on a Harley, I was sure I could handle it. I garbled something to that effect through my helmet, that “it’s like a Harley” – a big, clunky transmission.

At this point, I was in my own world, thoughts constricting into my silver helmet from the United States of America. I had no sooner saluted Mel than heard his fantastic Scottish voice say…

“Cheersneil.”


No pause between the two words, It was said in both a barroom way, but also in a heartfelt human way. I wish I could say it like Mel “Guthrie” Robinson did, or like ALL Scots do…like they MEAN it, like it was “welcome to my country, be safe, enjoy, and come back for a pint on me”. Excited and overwhelmingly eager, I twisted a bit of the throttle, released a bit of the clutch, and pulled slowly away from Mel and his building, toward the street. I was finally doing it, and I couldn’t have been more nervous and unsure of what I was getting myself into. In that ten yard stretch from the building to the road, thoughts of whether I would suffer culture shock like I did in Germany flashed through my head. Would I get lost? Would I have to ride in the dark tonight? Could I keep this heavy bike upright? A week is a long time!

As I pulled to the parking lot’s exit, I was mindful of riding cleanly to make a good impression on the very informal rental company I had just left (as well as the random workers watching me from other shops in the “industrial estate”). As I started the process of looking both ways and waiting for a perfectly open moment to pull out and begin the greatest solo journey of my post-college life, I felt a swell of excitement. It was time. I released the clutch and waited for the big BMW to move. It didn’t.

I had stalled the bike.

Second good impression. The eyes of my audience were palpably upon me: Mel, his coworker (a voice I heard but never put a body to), the guys in coveralls at the furniture shop across the lot, the motorcycle instructor with the gray handlebar mustache who taught me how to ride at the motorcycle safety course over a year earlier, his fellow instructor and county cop who drilled into me the concept of keeping my head up and looking through the turns, and my parents, who probably wanted me to come home in one piece someday (if they only knew).

It was time.

My mind, safely and predictably, went absolutely BLANK instinct took over. I pulled out and skillfully curved the heavy bike into the right lane. Time stood still in my eyes and mind. In those moments I felt the rush of pride in myself for getting the strange, unwieldy vehicle onto the road and into what I thought was the heart of Scotland.

Understand now, this is all happening within a split second of my leaving the curb. Unfortunately, I was about to pull an “L.A. Story”.

I only caught a fleeting glimpse of the oncoming car barreling toward me in that right lane, but I (and, I mean to say, the memory in my muscles) deftly and subconsciously veered the bike left and into the CORRECT lane. My muscles knew how to do what needed to be done and were calm. My mind, however, when it caught up to what my muscles had done, set off alarms that felt like I’d been plugged into a socket:

“DUDE!!! DUDE!!! YOU PULLED INTO THE WRONG LANE!!! YOU’RE IN ENGLAND!!! NO, SCOTLAND!!! THEY DRIVE ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ROAD OVER HERE!!!! CAR!!! CAR!! GET OVER!! GET OVER, YOU IDIOT!!! WE’RE GOING TO DIE!!! AUUGGGHHHHH!!!”

No car horns, no cursing. All was well. I was in the left lane where I belonged, but, I had nearly crapped my pants and I hadn’t even gone ten yards into my journey. In those first seconds in a Scottish left lane, I envisioned Mel throwing his hands over his head and running to the street, the other coverall-clad workers cringing with their arms pulled up over their faces, looking away as I pulled the classic American-tourist-driver-in-the-UK screwup. I could almost hear them. “That bloody tosser isn’t going to make it.

My first ride in a foreign country. I’d dreamed about it for months. At the moment of truth, I had looked left, which is what you do if you’re driving in The States (or most non-British countries). I had not looked right, the direction from which traffic comes directly at you. And I was nearly killed, or, more likely, violently injured. Not only would it have been “Vacation Over” before it had really even started, but I would have had the ignominy of being head-on’ed…by some sort of Opel or Peugeot or Vauxhall on some common road in the rough, southwestern suburbs of Glasgow instead of beefing it off a cliff in the mountains of the Highlands (or into a rogue flock of sheep). No, no deathwish, but again, in the split second that it takes your brain to realize the danger you’re in, your much-faster inner mind feels regret that your demise wasn’t in a poetic place or under more epic circumstances. All the while, your muscles and their training and experience are saving your ass. It would have been an interesting, if painful, adventure to a Glaswegian hospital and putting the cost of a BMW bike on a credit card.

But it wasn’t to be. I was rolling in Scotland, and relishing my first big shot of adrenaline of the trip.

Fear not, haggis fans, the pictures (and haggis) is right around the corner! I'll try to keep this more succinct.
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Solo Around Scotland (BMW R850R); AZ and UT (H-D Road King): http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=744536l; Death Valley & Vegas (BMW R1200GS): http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=926499; NW Colorado (BMW K1200GT): http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=955168
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Old 03-16-2010, 10:07 PM   #5
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Finally, the first city! Stirling!

I spent the next 30 minutes recalling the scene from one of my favorite movies, “L.A. Story”, when Steve Martin gets into Victoria Tenant’s (playing a British journalist) rental car in L.A. She roars away from the curb and over into the left lane, causing Steve to scream “Right side! RIGHT SIDE! RIGHT SIDE!!!!”, and causing oncoming cars to veer wildly around her. “I don’t think they can hear you.” She calmy and cluelessly replies in a wonderful British accent. I kept telling myself throughout the trip “left side, left side, left side.” It really helped.

So, here came that first roundabout. I needed to get to the road that went off to my right, so I found myself in traffic trying to figure it out. There are dotted lines across the lane at the entrance to the circle for the drivers who need to yield, or “give way” as they say over there. I was always a little hesitant to just get out there, not trusting that the other drivers would actually give way, but they always did. It was absolutely counterintuitive to head clockwise around a traffic circle. I made it onto that next road and started seeing signs for the A73 to Stirling, which gave me the greatest feeling of euphoria and excitement. I started feeling at home in that saddle – and it did feel kind of like a saddle.

I was rolling through roundabouts confidently now, getting used to the clutch and shifter, feeling better about driving on the left, and happy that I was on the correct road. Or was I? I was cruising through residential neighborhoods and questioning myself – did I see a sign for the A73 at an earlier circle? The signage is okay over there, but you could never be quite sure you were on the right road if you didn’t make the right “exit” out of a circle. There were NO street signs along roads that tell you which thoroughfare you’re currently on. None. I found that to be the same throughout Scotland. Only in the big city could you rely on the street signs stuck up high on the corners of buildings at intersections, but if you weren’t near a corner you didn’t know what road you were on. Businesses didn’t display their addresses prominently either. It nearly drove me insane later in the trip. Is it that they’re trying to protect the aesthetics of their country and reduce the number of signs? Maybe. I would also notice that there aren’t signs on the highways notifying you that there are gas stations, hotels, or restaurants at upcoming exits. That was really annoying too, and nearly screwed me as I started running low on gas later in the trip.

The A73 was a two-lane highway that led me out of Glasgow, but right into solid traffic caused by road work. I was getting antsy to get the miles behind me. With heavy, gray skies above me, I was worried about having enough time to see a bit of Stirling and get to the first hotel in Inveraray before dark. Eventually, the traffic opened up, but there was a little bit of drizzle from time to time, so I knew it was time to get off that bike for the first time since I’d started and EAT SOME LUNCH. Here it was probably around 2pm and I hadn’t eaten anything of substance since the breakfast on the plane into Manchester, some 6-7 hours earlier. I had rationed myself to a granola bar and some GORP since then. So, I found an exit and a service area, pulled in, dismounted, yanked off my helmet, and took a DEEP breath. I had just driven only 20-30 minutes or so, but it felt like I’d been through the ringer. With people lounging and sleeping in their cars around me, I scarfed the pathetic, plastic-wrapped chicken salad sandwich that I bought at the airport that morning (I know, I know – a little risky), some overseasoned chips (crisps), and some delicious and reassuring Diet Coke. I nearly choked myself with a craw full of sandwich and soda…the bubbles came into my nose, and I started to feel like I had gotten myself into something way over my head (the trip, not the lunch), but just for a split second. The bubbles passed, the food got down into my stomach, the rain pants went on, the BMW got fired up, and I rolled down to the roundabout to get back on the highway.

Stirling approached quickly, and luckily I found that there were plenty of brown signs that gave direction to major sights. I followed the ones to Stirling Castle, right into town, through roundabouts and crazy intersections. I pulled up behind an old bearded guy on a cruiser – A CRUISER! Not a BMW or a sport bike! Yeah, it was a creaky Japanese cruiser, but I learned later that there actually ARE Harleys in Europe and they even have rallies from time to time on the Continent. I got right in behind him and ended up following him into the rather attractive old part of Stirling. This was the first look at a “European-looking” city that I’d had since 1992. It felt very familiar and gave me that excitement of not being anywhere near your own home and culture – being somewhere OLD, where OLD history was made. The rain had been holding off during this portion of the ride. The old guy on the bike in front of me had a ¾ helmet with a full face shield, but his beard must get absolutely soaked when he rides – it hung out from beneath the clear Plexiglas faceshield a good three or four inches. I was wearing my full rain suit and full-face helmet, but that guy was only wearing leather, and had leather saddlebags. I didn’t get the feeling he was doing a weeklong tour around the country. Anyway, as we pulled into downtown, he turned off. I made my way off the main drag when it was clear that I was headed right for the central pedestrian zone. I wondered if motorcycles might be allowed, but it wasn’t worth checking it out.

I headed up Dumbarton Road, then veered right up the steep hill of Corn Exchange Street and curved around into area that looked like it might be close to Stirling Castle. I was a fool. Castles are rarely “in town”. I was also naive in the ways of Scottish parking customs, so I was constantly looking for spaces that seemed legal. I found one on the crest of the hill there on Corn Exchange next to the Youth Hostel, and wheeled around to back the sucker up, conscious of onlookers, passersby, and kids. Why weren’t they in school? I put on my best “badass motorcycle tour stud” attitude (thinking that the full suit, helmet, boots, and bitchin’ BMW bike had some sort of instant caché in Scotland and all European countries), and parked it. I took some time to get out my camera, pull out my day pack and tour book, and shot a picture of the bike – the very first picture of the trip. It was 3:36pm, according to the clock tower/church spire behind me. I needed to get moving, but this was my first sightseeing stop, so I was excited.

BMW in Stirling ate w:st="on" ls="trans" Month="10" Day="7" Year="05">10-7-05ate>”: it seemed like I was in some sort of school area. I was parked next to the Youth Hostel on Corn Exchange Street. The gas tank is not painted black – that is a faux-leather hood that protects the paint on the tank, but, more specifically, allows a tank bag to be clipped on.
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Old 03-26-2010, 10:37 PM   #6
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Stirling into Rob Roy Country

I threw my rain jacket into my backpack and starting walking to Stirling Castle. The hill up to the castle wasn’t backbreaking, but it was very steep and a bit long, and I was concerned about my schedule. Plus, I was wearing long underwear, another layer on top of that, and my leather jacket. It was probably 60 degrees or so. Perfectly fine weather for one layer, but not for three and walking up a hill in a hurry. But, I felt great! This was the first moment of true European tourism that I’d had since 1992 (yeah, I was in Iceland in 2002, but I was with three others and it felt like I was part of a tour group – plus, Iceland either feels like you’re on the surface of the moon or you’re in Ikea shopping for bookshelves). This time I felt like I was really breathing the air that the Scots breathe (rather than being in a bubble), blending in, and sensing the culture – plus, it had the cobblestones and medieval wonder that I love and that Americans just don’t get enough of. The name of the road changed block by block, from Spittal Street to St. John Street, to the Castle Wynd. This was the point at which I started using my little digital voice recorder to capture the details of my trip. You can hear me huffing and puffing up the street and recounting the hilarious and shocking impressions of the experiences, straight from the horse’s mouth. I couldn’t wait to hear the bits later on in the trip that secretly recorded Scottish people in fish and chips joints or the sounds of a Glaswegian pub. It’s especially funny to hear me suddenly stop talking because I’m passing some other people and don’t want them to think I’m: a) talking to myself; or b) some sort of terrorist or journalist casing the places I was seeing, describing the weaknesses and areas I can exploit.


This was the approach to the Church of the Holy Rude (the entrance on the left) on Castle Wynd and the driveway to the castle. The façade with the stone towers on the left is Mar’s Wark. On my way back down, I took the road off to the right (Broad Street) in order to see a bit more of the city.

On the Castle Wynd, I walked past a huge gate and driveway up to what I soon realized was the Church of the Holy Rude. I knew I should have gone in there, but I also knew that I had a long ride ahead of me – it was already mid-afternoon (approximately 3:45pm), and I needed to see the castle. Next door and uphill from the Church entrance was Mar’s Wark, which is the ruined façade of an opulent, well-located house thatthe First Earl of Mar started building in 1569, but abandoned two years later upon his death (he had no choice but to stop). It may be the oldest abandoned house I think I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a few, usually along US highways. The driveway led up to the highest point in the city.


The church can be seen in the distance past the cemetery. It was the site of James IV’s crowning in 1567 – he was, at the time, an infant. The large pyramid on the right is probably some monument or noble gravesite.

I then crossed over the parking lot to the wall that formed the edge of the castle bulwark. It overlooked the huge valley below and stretched far to the Ochil Mountains in the distance. Close-in was a charming scene of Scottish residential life: homesteads, row houses, open green fields, stone terraces, a cemetery, and trees changing their colors for fall – all following the curve of the River Forth. Far in the distance, well beyond the river and before a row of imposing dark mountains, were flat green fields and a sudden, jutting, sugarloaf that I quickly realized hosted the Wallace Monument.



Switching to my 300mm zoom lens, I could get a ghostly, misty image of the striking tower in memory of William Wallace, inaccurately, ironically, disrespectfully, and horrendously portrayed by Mel Gibson in “Braveheart” (I hesitate to even mention that schmaltzy movie, but at least it gives people some context). Wallace was knighted (by whom?) for defeating the British at Stirling Bridge, but was later defeated at Falkirk (which the dumb movie does not portray). He caught a redeye to Europe to find supporters for Scotland’s cause (which the dumb movie does not portray), but while he was gone, he was betrayed by the Scottish nobles (which were portrayed in the movie) and, upon his return in 1305, he was captured, drawn, and quartered for treason (clearly part of the dumb movie). His 5’4” sword (about as tall as Mel Gibson) is on display at the monument.



I walked over to the castle entrance and realized I could walk around the outer defenses for free. Like most castles I visited in Scotland, there was an admission charge – not small, either – probably 8-10 Pounds, which could be $13-18. That’s a lot, especially when you start realizing the total number of castles you’d be coming across and would want to tour. You could duplicate your hotel fare in castle tours in one day! I didn’t have time for it, expensive or not. I didn’t want to ride in the dark on this trip, and definitely not on the first day in the country. On the first ramparts, I enjoyed a different view of the countryside, including a shot of the Wallace Monument with the statue of Robert the Bruce. King Robert the Bruce, who knighted William Wallace, ended up leading Scotland through some victory and a period of independence, most famously at the victory at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. He, too, was poorly rendered in “Braveheart”.



I also got some shots of the castle from that first rampart, and tried to wait out an all-too-cute American couple so I could do an armstretch self-portrait of myself without shame. That chick would just not go back down the stone stairs, so I just took the shot. I look determined, a little bit resigned, and not really excited. I have to tell people who see this picture that I really was excited. I really felt like I had begun a true European voyage – I was at my first castle! I probably hadn’t seen a real castle since Nuremberg, again, in 1992. I was feeling very good. And it wasn’t raining. At the time.



Stirling Castle (http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.u...le/index.html), like the one in Edinburgh, was built on the plug of an extinct volcano (it must have given them some sort of ego trip knowing that way back then – either that, or they had no idea there were volcanoes in Scotland). It is especially famous for being the childhood home of Mary Queen of Scots, before she escaped to temporary safety in Europe. Later in my trip, I’d end up seeing where she was born, as well as a few of the many places she’d crashed for the night. If you aren’t a student of British history, you may not know that she was actually French, not Scottish.



Speaking of Mary, one of the things that kept me entertained and relatively sane inside my helmet was quoting Monty Python’s reenactment of “The Death of Mary, Queen of Scots”:

Proper British Host: “And now, a reenactment of ‘The Death of Mary, Queen of Scots’.

Heavily Exaggerated Scottish-Accented Man: “Ahr yeu Merdy Queen uh Scuhts?”

Male person doing stereotypical old British lady’s high-pitched voice: “Eye ahm.”

(Sounds of beatings and violence)

Heavily Accented Man’s voice, “Ah thenk sheh’s deed.

Man doing a woman’s voice, feebly: “Noo I’m not.

(More sounds of violent struggle)

I recited that over and over in my helmet that week, among other Scottish “things”, like lines from “So I Married an Axe Murderer”. It helped keep me focused.

From the castle ramparts, I walked back down to snap a shot or two of the statue of ol’ King Robert the Bruce. Some kids were intent on staying on the statue, so I left them in my shot. It gives some perspective.



I then walked down a different street (Broad, Bow, and Baker Streets – again, all the same street, but named differently within three or four blocks) into Stirling so I could get a feel for the town. It was about 4:00pm, and I was eager to get on the road before the sun went down – I had quite a bit of ground to cover.



One of the drawbacks of pre-planning a trip meant that I had reservations for hotels every night. It made financial sense for me to move on.

Back at the bike, I saw no ticket, so I suited up, saddled up, pulled the rain pants cuffs down over my boots (they rode up over my boots incessantly, which made life very unpleasant by the end of the week), and roared back the way I came to find the road west to Inveraray.

I was so proud of myself for making it out of Stirling, backtracking the way I came, carefully winding my way on the left side of all the roads I’d taken in on the right side before (well, it was the right side as I departed town on the left side…you know what I mean), using my memory for places I’ve been and the convenient and brilliant Scottish system of painting the name of the road or town directly onto the pavement of the lane in which you needed to be. I was eager to get to Inveraray after seeing Stirling, having thoughts of a warm hotel, a cozy bar for dinner, my first whisky in Scotland, and some locals to talk to.

Eventually, I was out of the city and into the country, and it felt good. The roads narrowed, I was confident about my route, and I was in the true countryside that really meant “Scotland” to me. I was feeling very strong about the bike and my riding abilities, even in wet conditions. There on the 84 west, I passed through cute little towns where the speed limit dropped suddenly and significantly. I occasionally passed municipal signs that depicted an image of an old-school boxy camera on it. Through most of my trip, I wondered if they meant that there was a scenic photo-worthy tourist stop ahead, or if there was a police speed camera imminent. I always slowed down and looked back and forth and side to side for something that looked like a camera, but never saw anything. Of course, I also noticed that there was really never any photo-worthy scenic tourist stops either. Later in the trip, over dinner at the Minmore House Hotel on the Glenlivet Estate, I asked some locals about the signs. Those folks confirmed that the signs meant that there could be a hidden police speed camera in the area. When I asked what percentage of cameras were actually functioning, taking pictures, and mailing them, they estimated 10-15%. I tried to stay cool with the speed limits, not knowing what the cops would be like, but truth be told, I Never saw one. Never. Not one. I got a ticket later in the trip, but not from a cop (not a real one, anyway). I mean, in Iceland I got a speeding ticket, a country that had just over 300,000 people. What were the odds!? In Scotland, a country of well over five million people, I never saw a cop. Of course, I never actually SAW the cop in Iceland until it was too late, and I guess that’s the point.

There were roads in Scotland that had squiggly lines on either side. What did that mean? Did it mean you needed to swerve back and forth on that strip? And another interesting thing – stoplights in Scotland work in reverse. The yellow lights come on right before the GREEN light comes on, essentially warning you when to f’ing floor it, just like at a drag strip. I thought it was cool, except that the locals were already revving and moving at the yellow.

I guess it might not be the TOTAL opposite of America – in both countries we stomp on it when the light turns yellow.

My first stopping point after Stirling was the village of Doune, home of Doune castle, which served as the “French” castle in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. You can’t NOT stop there. Doune (http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/doune/doune/index.html) is also known for its historic firearm industry, including the Highland Pistol. Riding into Doune was wonderful, despite a slight drizzle and some traffic issues due to construction and lane closure. Scotland is big on the automated stop lights at their lane closure sites – very few flaggers standing out there. Instead, they have temporary, timed traffic lights. All too often, a fact of life when most of the roads in the country are two-lane.

The countryside leading into Doune was gorgeous and romantic – rolling hills and farms. Exactly what I was expecting.The road wound into Doune through dark, mysterious, and romantic woods. Signs for the castle directed me down a street into the one-road town – it almost seemed like a way to funnel tourists in and out, but when I finally got into town, I realized it was where people lived…it just so happened that their main street – their ONLY street – was one-way. At the center of the village, near an old stone church, I saw a sign for public restroom and followed it up a tiny lane. I saw no such restroom, so I turned around. I then noticed a soccer field with a handful of adults getting ready for practice. Next to it was a building that housed the restrooms in question and served as clubhouse for sports teams. I pulled over, being carefully watched by the footballers, dismounted without removing my helmet (no time – I was in a hurry), and walked up to the men’s room door. No go – it was locked. With a confused and ticked-off look on my face, visible to no one because I was wearing a helmet, I walked back to the street side to see the sign that explained that the public restrooms were closed from October through March. I would find this trend throughout Scotland, and not just for restrooms. Very annoying. So, I saddled up again, pulled back onto the main drag through the charming stone town, past the church again, and down through the woods to the castle. This was my first wilderness castle in Scotland, so I felt really energized. I parked the bike, took a picture of myself next to it, and headed for the plastic, sanitary-looking port-o-let that was parked next to the site. Damn thing was locked. I was beginning to wonder about this country.


My first self-portrait with the bike. Notice my old leather jacket underneath the highly reflective rain suit. It was misting lightly in this picture.

I began my hike around the imposing castle by finding a good vantage point on a little hill for a photo, and then noticed that there was a thick, discrete copse of trees behind me. That’s where I finally relieved myself for the first time since I was in Mel Robinson’s putrid office bathroom, over three hours before. I hiked all the way around Doune Castle (http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.u...le/index.html), admiring the thick, high walls, lovely surroundings: the crashing River Teith, a Watership Down-like field of bunny burrows, the sounds of lowing cattle, and dense groups of trees – out of which trudged a bearded hiker – and an overall spooky nature. A crow cawed overhead. Around back, I could see that much of the core of the castle was empty, open, and gutted, but the tour book said some of the interior was still preserved. The caretaker/owner (the Earl of Moray – not sure of his relation to the eels) still lives at Doune in a pleasant stone house next to the parking lot. After another photo, I got back on the road. I couldn’t get the image of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” out of my head: “I fahhhrt in your general die-rection!” That’s where those immortal words were uttered, and I was there. And don’t get me started about the flinging of the cow over the wall. “You and your king and his keniggittes!” Yeah, I might have recorded myself on the portable recorder saying “Have fun storming the castle!” knowing full well that they’re not the same movie. It just seemed appropriate.



The weather was to improve slightly as I continued from Doune. That sign in the picture is the price of admission and hours/dates of operation.

Though, while in Doune, it seemed like it would be dark and dreary for the rest of the day, I eventually rolled through some amazing countryside and into the charming town of Callander. It’s a touristy city with plenty of B&Bs and hotels and tea shops, but that’s for a reason. It sits surrounded by mountains, crags, and forests. This seemed like the ideal Highland town to me (little did I know…). It was in a popular mountainous area called The Trossachs. The sun had come out too, providing a shocking glow to the mountains and clouds and mists, and shining brightly off the wet pavement. I nearly killed myself pulling over to take a picture down the street, and then again, trying to cross the street to get back to the bike. I kept looking LEFT as I was headed across when I should have been looking RIGHT.

This was Rob Roy country. When I come back, I’ll stop at his gravesite in the churchyard (I’ll have read Sir Walter Scott’s novel by that time) and hit the museum. There was apparently a short hike to Bracklinn Falls that I wished I had time for.



So, many of you might be wondering, “Hooper! What about the wave? Do they do the wave in Scotland?” This refers to the tradition among bikers of waving at each other upon passing. This is not flapping one’s hand wildly like a kindergartener at a bus stop, but coolly extending a couple fingers of the left hand or hanging low the open left hand as you pass the other biker. There are many ways to do it. Some just extend the hand a couple inches off the left grip (frankly, my most common wave – because, since you never know who will wave back at you, this offers the least humiliation if you’re hanging out there by yourself – you can snap back to the grip as if nothing happened). Some drop their open left hand down to their side as if they were doing a rolling low-five with the oncoming rider (one of my favorites – I should switch to this one, even though it requires more effort and really leaves you exposed for being left hanging). Some don’t even lift their hands off the grip and simply lift a couple fingers (certainly the safest method). Some don’t do it all. I got the feeling that the very impressive, helmetless, long-haired Harley riders in New Hampshire and Maine could see, as I approached them on my rented Harley Road King, that I was wearing a full-face helmet and an armored nylon riding jacket, and therefore decided to withhold their wave from what was clearly a non-biker. Nah, I’m a rider.

One afternoon on a ride east on Route 55 through northern Virginia (it is a gorgeous road that parallels Route 66 from Front Royal into the greater DC area and provides a much more enjoyable ride back home from wine country than the 66 freeway does), two guys on Harleys approached. The lead man with wild hair and a goatee practically stood up on his pegs and stuck his left hand way up in the air. With a grand flourish, he dipped it like a swan would dip its neck into a pond to snag some sort of underwater root, way down to the side of his bike, fingers together like he was dunking a strawberry into warm melted chocolate. He had an insane smile on his face, and I felt great after they passed. I need to do that from time to time.

Personally, I’d been doing more of the side flick, but I’d like to get back to the low-five method. I found, up in New Hampshire and Maine, that the more serious recreational riders are the more eager wavers. They’re similar to me, but they have more money, full riding suits, massive/expensive bikes, wives on the back, and 20+ years to mine. Almost all of them wear full-face helmets even though the weather is perfect for an open-faced model. They don’t screw around. They’re probably lawyers, accountants, managers, retirees, responsible parents, cool grandparents, and other types who have a belief that they have responsibilities for which they must stay alive. They don’t wear the beanie helmets. They keep both hands on the grips at all times. They usually wear full armored suits. These folks always and enthusiastically give “the wave”, including the chick on the back. My guess is that they’re just so happy to be touring on a bike and to see other people enjoying themselves – it gives them a sense of belonging to a club, which is what it’s really all about. They’re not riding as part of their attitude – they’re riding for the fun of it, so they don’t have to front one bit.

Cruiser riders almost always wave at each other. Sport bike riders almost always wave at each other. Cruiser riders and sport bike riders don’t always wave at each other. There might be a bit of disdain for the other’s choice of ride and/or style of expression, but it usually only lasts a second or two until they remember that they’re both on two wheels and loving it, and have a vested interest in supporting each other. And then there are people like I, who have a cruiser AND a sport-oriented bike. When I’m on one, I’m wishing the riders of the other type knew that I DO own that other type, and vice versa. Both are a blast and have their different uses and provide their different inspirations.

Recently, my friend Kent and I were talking about riding. He had moved to San Francisco a few years ago and had bought an old Honda to learn on. San Francisco is a great two-wheel town…there is so much free parking for motorcycles and scooters (no such thing as a “moped” anymore, is there?) around that city. As compact and overpopulated as it is, it makes sense. So, Kent learned to ride a low-power Japanese bike. Later, he moved back to DC so we then had bikes to talk about. In his usual way, Kent told our mutual friend Chris about what he deemed was a bizarre, silly, and potentially “gay” thing that he noticed other riders doing. They waved at him when he passed! I mean, what’s up with that?!?! I let him know that, indeed, “the wave” is a biker thing nationwide (and now I knew it to be worldwide). Kent, a noted scoffer, scoffed at the concept, thinking it “stupid” or “gay” or something like that. I told him that it has been going on for as long I as I knew. Drivers of old Jeep CJs do it. I understand vintage Corvette owners might do it as well. It’s a good thing.

Long story long: yes, they do “the wave” in Scotland. Not all of them, but most do. In Scotland, the wave is basically what you’d find in The States, but because the weather is so challenging so often, riders need to keep both hands on the grips, hence the two-finger-lift style. Or, there’s the always reliable head nod (the cool and detached upward flick, or the traditional, austere, downward nod) – not as gratifying and a little cold, but certainly does the job and conveys the needed information. I might start the salute next weekend.

Regardless, you’re riding on the left side of the road – it has to be different than an in North America. You have to reach up and across a little bit to be noticed.

Anyway, as the trip progressed, I learned a whole new way of “the wave” that really connected with the very serious style of riding that Europeans do, what with all the bad weather and preponderance of sport, BMW, or dual-purpose bikes that tend to squelch the cruiser style of riding attitude (laid back, louder, a fair amount of attitude, and a bit frontiersmanlike). I noticed it particularly in bad weather, especially on large roads and highways. I would zip past a fellow rider in impressive leather, a dark visor (in the rain?!), and an aggressive image. He was across the divider in the other lane of the highway. It was neither safe nor practical to lift a hand to wave. He unmistakably tilted his head sideways toward me and then back straight. Very slick. I noticed it a lot as I went on in those last days. It makes a lot of sense. If you’re going to use your head, the downward nod is certainly the preferred acknowledgment – the upward head flick is cool but a little too cold. The sideways nod is special. It’s not a normal physical function – it feels a little awkward and unnatural. But when you see it, you know that it’s meant for you. A head nod could be misconstrued as “I’m checking my fuel gauge.” or “Am I f’ing speeding?” The head flick could be seen as “Whatever, beyotch – I can definitely kick your ass, and I have a faster bike!” The sideways nod is “Hail, brother! Ride safely and perhaps our paths shall cross again! Good luck on that job interview next week! Definitely go with the braised lamb shank at the Mash Tun Restaurant in the quaint town of Aberlour, just ahead on your right!

Or something like that.

It took some practice to get the sideways nod down (over), and now that I’m back in The States, I have to learn to do it on the right side. I don’t think anyone would know what I was doing. Plus, I avoid riding in any kind of foul weather over here, when I can help it.

I read a column by an old-school biker who lamented that The Wave was dying out, so I always get a little bit indignant if I’m the only one waving, but with ridership at record levels in the US, that’s a lot of waving to do. I love the fact that more people are on motorcycles, but pretty soon, when gas prices are at $4.50 a gallon and one out of three people are on a bike to save money, the wave could get a little tedious. Imagine being a Honda car driver and feeling compelled to wave at the other Honda car drivers. At that rate, you might as well just attach a fake left arm to your sled in the “wave” position of your choice. Bike makers could include options for electronic wave machines. And so on.
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Old 03-27-2010, 12:58 AM   #7
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Old 03-27-2010, 08:30 AM   #8
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From Rob Roy to the Night in Inveraray

Once I left Callander, I really felt like I was getting into the Highlands – the true, wild, mountainous, striking areas that I envisioned when I dreamed up the trip. After a couple winding turns outside the town, I put myself on Route 821 and a straightway that provided an unspeakable shock to my eyes – the beauty of the western highlands was opening up. I pulled over for some photos next to a farm of grazing sheep, a shabby but epic farmhouse, a mountain flanked by Loch Venachar, and the narrow country road under my bike. On my right, more moors and hills. I was always on the lookout for a level post or flat rock that would support my big camera for shots like this. The sun was highlighting the tops of the clouds stretching over the mountains in the distance. The sheer lack of trees – only a handful – was just not obvious until I looked back at the pictures. This was a trend in Scotland, a country sadly denuded over the centuries and only currently being reforested in some parts thanks to some conscientious and wealthy land owners. It helped that it wasn’t raining at this point.



I was absolutely beside myself with wonder and self-congratulation. At every beautiful and evocatively Scottish sight I saw I told myself, “That (castle, vista, cloud, loch, moor, heather, etc.) was worth the airfare by itself. No doubt.” I also found myself shouting “Sheep shagger!” at every sheep I saw (so I was doing it often), in respect to the movie “Rob Roy”. At this point in the trip, I was definitely practicing my Scottish accent with very specific phrases, such as the standby “Sheep shagger!”, but also variations on movie quotes like “Mary! Ohhhhh Mary! What have they done to ye!?”, or replace “Mary” with other names: “Nessie! Ohhhh Nessie! What have ye done!?”, more movie quotes: “Aye, you’re a right wee sexy bastard, aren’t ye!?!” And other quotes from “Rob Roy” and “So I Married an Axe Murderer”. It was brilliant. I was having the time of my life. And it wasn’t presently raining.

From Lendrick (which you could have missed easily – I honestly can’t remember what it looked like, or if it was just a hotel and a tea room and a few houses next to the loch), I turned south on Route 81, then southwest on 811 and north on 82 alongside the west bank of famous Loch Lomond. I had the route planned out, but on a motorcycle you have to memorize the route and burn an image of the map in your brain so you can envision the landmarks, turns, distances, and intersections as you ride. Believe me, over the course of the trip I pulled over many times to yank the Ziploc (or, “ZipLoch”? Sorry…) bag that contained my cheat sheet out of my jacket pocket to remind me of which roads I needed. For this stretch from Stirling to Inveraray, I repeated the sequence of road numbers in my head: “84-821-81-811-82-83”. You can see the pattern, can’t you? Almost? It worked, except I was unclear on the distances between the intersections (that’s when the mental map comes in handy), so I was always second-guessing myself on my navigation and whether or not I’d missed a turn miles back. I almost never “missed that turn miles back” out in the countryside, but it didn’t stop me from wondering after I’d been riding for awhile with no recognizable landmarks.

It was getting noticeably darker, which made me want to be at the hotel all the more. The rain was generally holding off to a manageable drizzle, but the countryside was wonderful. As I rolled down 811, I started wondering if I’d be able to see the great Loch Lomond – I should have been close to it.

I was, but I didn’t know it. Loch Lomond is the largest freshwater loch in Scotland and the subject of the classic “you take the high road and I’ll take the low, and I’ll be in Scotland before ye” song that so many know from some drunk Saturday morning cartoon character singing it on Bugs Bunny. It might as well be Scotland’s anthem. Hell, one of my favorite bands, Marillion, tacked it onto their first ‘80s hit, “Market Street Heroes”. Their singer at the time, Fish (AKA Derek Dick, who received his nickname from his penchant for enthusiastic imbibing), is a proud Scot. That chorus ends with “on the bonny, bonny shores of Loch Lomond”. And there I was, very, very near those bonny, bonny shores. I couldn’t see much of them until I rounded the southern tip of it by the little town (meaning a couple places to pull off at a hotel or B&B) of Balloch. Balloch, meaning “end of the Loch” because its location, did offer a number of lodging options from the very prehistoric (there were plenty of trails, which means camping) to the luxurious – I passed a freaking incredible castle/manor that was a hotel which provided a great photo as I rounded the southern tip of the Loch and rolled on into the wilderness.

This was a grand, gray hotel that I am unable to identify without more Google work. I would stay there.

From there, I have no photographic record to display the shockingly beautiful and fearful landscapes I rocketed through. This has to be from memory.

I think I was worried about the soon-to-be-setting sun, the increasingly harsh weather, and the possibility that I might start feeling the effects of my jet lag, lack of eating, and the many hours that I had been more or less awake. As I approached Balloch, it was probably 5:30pm GMT or later on Friday. That means, to me it felt like 12:30pm, except I’d been up for a LONG TIME. I had woken up at 8:00am EST on Thursday, worked a half day, went to the airport and took off around 6:00pm EST (of COURSE we didn’t take off on time, but bear with me). I tried to sleep on the plane (never fun as a 6’3” male), but didn’t have much success. It was a six-plus-hour flight, so we landed in Manchester, England around midnight EST (that would be around 5:00am local time Greenwich Mean Time). From there, I had to deal with customs, luggage, taxi rides, motorcycle rental, repacking and re-dressing for riding, then riding. I didn’t get on the road until around 2:30pm GMT on Friday, which would be 9:30am EST on Friday – I’d been awake and going since 8:00am EST on Thursday – that’s almost 26 hours of rockin’ and rollin’ without any real sleep. If it was 5:30pm GMT or so as I started up the western shore of Loch Lomond, that means it felt like about 12:30pm EST on Friday – I’d been up since 8:00am EST on Thursday. That’s 28 and-a-half hours of more-or-less awake time. I didn’t actually pack it in that night and put my head down on a pillow until around midnight GMT Saturday, which means it was 7:00pm EST Friday, meaning I’d been up and about, flying on planes, taking cabs, repacking my stuff, riding motorcycles through the Scottish countryside, touring castles and towns, and eating nothing since the airlines except for the weird pre-prepared sandwich and chips and my steadfast bag of Dulles Airport GORP, for 35 hours. That’s never good. Makes me feel like a badass, though.

However, I still felt okay. I credit it to my nightowl tendencies, which actually go beyond nightowl-ness and can essentially be described as “don’t-want-to-go-to-sleep-yet” tendencies.

So, I left Balloch and cruised up and up into the mountains on the wonderfully curvy Route 82. I pulled off into some sort of park area and carefully picked my way along dirt roads, but it didn’t yield any views, though it did challenge my off-road riding skills and made me wonder if there was a “no dirt roads” clause in my contract with Mel, like there was with the Harley renters in America. Well, this was mud, not dirt, so I was clear. I was disappointed by these pull-offs – it felt like they were eating up my daylight for no payoff, and instead added to my stress – the riding on the dirt and gravel was very treacherous and took serious concentration. I used my training and shifted my body to the center of the bike, sat up straight in the saddle, and forewent all auspices of looking cool (I was the only person within miles of that God-forsaken part of the world, so I’m not sure who I was trying to impress).

The rain picked up and the sun headed down, both quickly. And then the winds came. These were PUMMELING winds that would move my bike sideways across the lane and push my head back so my neck would get sore. It went beyond blustery and became an additional form of gravity, but coming from the sides instead. I’m no stranger to night riding (cue the theme song), but add the devastating winds, wet roads, and intermittent rains, and it was a life-or-death challenge that I could sense beyond just an “adventurous ride” – every move needed to be the right move, or I would deal with damaged rental bike, personal injury, or croaking. Three options if I chose not to focus on my riding through these horrendous conditions in Scotland. BUT I DID NOT CARE.

After awhile, I could FEEL my hotel in Inveraray getting closer, so I started to push it. I was riding more or less “safely”, but I was riding fast. I was bombing through dusky canyons, towering fjords, gray lochs, and heavily wooded areas that seem like a dream to me now. There would have been no point photographing them to prove the shocking beauty of what I could barely see in this last 40-60 mile sprint to my hotel, because the photos wouldn’t have come out – it was dark and rainy – and I don’t think anyone would have believed it. I wished that I could have seen in the daytime what I was experiencing in the dusk. I couldn’t believe how dark it had become. I could see the stars over the lake I was descending toward, which further added to the disbelief of my existence there in Scotland.

At this point, I was starting to feel very solid about my biking skills, especially as I found myself flying down country roads with very fast BMW cars, Mercedes, or other autos on my tail. They were apparently driven by impatient folks who would ultimately pass me. I was definitely pushing my own speed safety threshold, but the dudes in the M3s had different ideas. I was passed on a number of occasions on that last stretch of curvy, forest road.

I found myself coming down a coastal road alongside the wide and stark Loch Fyne, whose waters I could still see with its dark slate reflection of the dusk sky. The mountains to the east were a dark, looming frame to the wide waters. I was absolutely transfixed, until I snapped myself back to the reality that I needed to keep the two wheels on the road, between the lines, and on the left side. As I rolled into this watery region (until now, I had been on a long stretch through dark forests and had passed through the town of Caringow), the winds kicked up into an amazingly potent and blustery impact to my ability to keep that bike straight on the road. I felt the muscles in the back of my neck become sore and painful. My head and helmet had been straining against – and being pressed back by – the wind for hours now.

Yes, the wind hurt my neck, but also my velocity. I was flying down those roads at the highest speeds safely attainable, generally around 60-70 mph until the curves through the woods occurred. Until then, I was regularly agape at the water next to me, the mountains looming over, and the dark, dark blue skies framing it all – I shook my helmeted head at how unbelievable the whole situation was. I didn’t know how I was going to explain the scenery – or the situation – to people. I’m unable to do it in words here in this journal.

It was more than I’d ever experienced with my visual senses, at least in this type of adventure in this part of the world on this type of transport, but I had to add-in the visceral danger, physical challenge, and overwhelming sensory input that I was receiving (not to mention the fact that it was dark, which narrowed my visual senses down through the visor and safety glasses to a very narrow scope).

It’s shocking to think back, review a map, and admit it, but all of this emotion and reflection was happening in only a 60-70 mile section. It seemed like so much more of an epic journey. Yeah, it was night, it was an unknown, twisty road, and it was after a long flight from The States, a period of not eating, a section of confused directions to get away from Glasgow, and a time to get comfortable riding on the left side of the road, but I can’t recall a more consequential stretch of road in my life. I also thought about staying alive. It crossed my mind from time to time, especially if I accidentally crossed the center line.

It was hard not to look at the mountains and Loch as I flew ever closer to my dinner, drink, and bed. I saw twinkling lights along the water…I blasted through a tiny town or two, paying no attention to the 30-40 mph limits, but being shocked by the quaintness of it all, until I was engulfed in a forest road and had to then focus on the dark road. Were there stags that would leap? Haggis that would try to cross the road in front of me?


From out of the woods, I saw some lights ahead, and a sign that warned of a narrow bridge – “SLOW”. I slowed – I had a good feeling. I rounded a corner out of the forest and saw a well-lit little town at the other end of an old, arched, stone bridge. The town really sparkled in the pitch-blackness.

This was the bridge (this photo was taken the morning after I arrived).

It was a pleasure to cross that bridge into Inveraray (http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/inveraray/inveraray/info.html) and realize that the Argyll Hotel Best Western was right there as I entered town, just as the book said it would be. I pulled into a primo spot in front, put on my badass motorcycle tourer stud persona, strained and audibly winced as I swung my right leg over the saddle, tugged my right gauntlet off, pulled my helmet strap loose, slipped the clear glasses off, heaved an audible sigh for the benefit of the fetching women waiting at the nearby bus stop and the Scottish chickies coming out of the hotel, and – the moment all onlookers wait for – lifted the helmet off my head. Oh yeah, they wanted to see what kind of stud was on the back of that badass sled. Or it was all in my imagination. It was a 133 mile day. Only 133 miles.

I quickly moved around to the back of the BMW, opened the top box, and slapped my Dickinson hat on. I prepped the bike for parking, puffed myself up, and into the hotel to check in.

It was good to be there. I found the hotel to be a bit rough around the edges, especially for a Best Western, but it would be fine, especially for a historical property. I checked in and had my first major financial negotiation with a Scot (not counting ol’ Mel) – this time it was a nice looking 40-something blonde female. I then started the three-trip move-in. The saddlebags and top box were heavy and awkward and all couldn’t be carried in one go. The second-floor room was small and not what I was expecting – sort of a couple notches up from a hostel. I don’t know, the building was old, but it had a homey kitchen/bar and was in a great location, but, I can’t remember how much I paid for it. Hopefully not too much because, later that night, I paid the equivalent of $67 for a multicourse dinner and three drinks. The bed was a twin, like the mattresses from my youth. It was mashed up against the wall, just like the old days (well, again, since five years ago). In fact, it really looked like a dorm room. There was a small TV, which made me happy. The bathroom was huge – at least half the size of the bedroom – and there was a nice new shower that appeared to have normal controls, so I was in good shape.

I took over the space and stripped off my layers, laying out my jeans and socks and polypropylene underwear to ensure they were dry for the next day’s ride. My three boxes opened up like clams all over the limited amount of floor space. I had wondered if water would get into them as I rode, especially as I examined the lack of rubber seals where the two halves came together, but saw no sign of moisture in my clothes. I never had a problem with water getting into my luggage. The explosion of clothes all over the room made it seem like I brought a ton of stuff, but I didn’t – there just wasn’t space for it. Those panniers got pretty nasty from all the road crud after a day of riding, so I would eventually start placing them on the white kitchen garbage bags I’d brought from home.

The explosion of crap that belies how little stuff I had and how little space I had into which to cram it.

I showered quickly and with no problem (believe me, operating showers in Scotland can be a challenge, as I would soon find out), changed into my “nice pants” (wrinkly green slacks) and my fleece shirt, and flew down the stairs to the restaurant. Walking in regular shoes after a day of being in boots was strange – I almost stumbled down the steps. I was just plain psyched to be at my first dinner in Scotland, especially after a long, hard day of flying and riding.

I sat down at a two-person table by the wall in line with the bar, so I could see exactly what the bartender was doing. There were a few couples scattered throughout the small room. Through a door near the bar, I heard some upbeat music and exuberant young voices. The older-lady bartender said hello and gave me some silverware. I then realized that I would be sitting there staring directly into the bar and wouldn’t be able to see or hear the people in the dining area – and that was the point. So I shifted over to a larger table near the left side of the room. Behind me on a raised floor area was a Scottish couple talking quietly. In the corner on the other side of the room was another couple. I whipped out The Source (the gigantic James Michener novel I was reading) and dug in. I was starting to learn about the non-service-oriented service industry of Scotland. It took forever to catch the waitress/bartender’s eye and order my first Scotch in Scotland. I was near Oban, so I asked: “Do you have O-bahhn?”

Ah, Ō-bin? Yes, we doo.” She replied.

“Great, I’ll have one of those.” I said with an embarrassed smile.

Ō-bin! Ō-bin! Ō-bin!! I’ll get you Dawson! My friend Craig’s favorite whisky and he’s been mispronouncing it all these years! And here I am, probably 50 miles from its home and I screw it up too! No harm done. She brought it – or what was left of it! It looked like there was a bit of whisky residue in my glass – just a little brown swish of liquid at the bottom. Was this a Scottish pour? I knew it shouldn’t have any ice in it – only Americans put ice in their Scotch (after my trip, I rarely did again). I’d been in countries like Iceland where they meticulously measure their pours with jiggers to ensure the exact amount of booze being dispensed, but this was RIDICULOUS! This amount fell in between a sip and a slurp. A sip of fine whisky in the land where it’s made is not enough, and a slurp is usually about the top level you want to imbibe if you want to enjoy your drink and the longevity of your evening! It was frustrating after such a buildup. Later, I learned that you could order a double, “but it will cost you twice as much” warned a local. “Naturally.” I intoned sarcastically. Do any Americans remember the days of “the double”? I had images of a guy in a trench coat and a fedora coming in out of the rain into a bar, hailing the bartender by his first name – “Lou”, “Frank”, “Jimmy”, or something like that – and ordering a whiskey. “It’s been a hell of a day, Jimmy. Better make it a double.” The doubles would come much later in the trip.

But there was whisky – the “water of life” in Gaelic – and it was good. Really good. It tasted different…I ordered no ice or water because that’s generally not the way it’s drunk over there, and I was trying to do as the Scottish do. I ordered an appetizer of smoked salmon (famous in Scotland, and definitely one of my favorite foods, especially from my week in British Columbia back in 2004 with Karin) that was served with some sort of mini-shrimp stuff (“prawn mousse”?). It was okay, but the shrimp stuff was far too mayonnaise-y (or something). Oh well, it was my first night. My first dinner in Scotland, the first dinner that felt “abroad” since 2002 in Iceland, therefore the first dinner I’d truly remember. For my entrée, I ordered the braised lamb shank – again, lamb being a regional specialty, I thought it wise. And yes, it was good, but the meat was almost TOO tender. Frankly, it was too rare. And the brown sauce it sat in was too salty and rich. But who the hell cared?! I was in Scotland! I’d just ridden through the hardest and most striking conditions I’d ever seen on a bike. I was tired, stunned, and blissful. The food was hearty! I had a Syrah with the lamb, which went down like velvet, and then another whisky to top it off – a Famous Grouse, which, admittedly, is sort of the cheap stuff – they hang giant bottles of the cheaper whiskies upside down as “whisky taps” at many bars).

A little after 9:00pm, as I listened to the young Scots in the rowdier bar area and the adults behind me in the restaurant, I decided that I definitely wanted a Scottish accent. I would need to start using it with friends and family, and then move it into the workplace. It’s awesome, and no one hates it (except the British, maybe – the Irish might…I don’t know).

As I enjoyed a well-crafted dessert of chocolate mousse in chocolate cups (quite impressive, actually, for this little backwoods town), I listened into the group behind me. The couple had grown to two couples, one of which featured a guy who had a deep Scottish voice and maybe a cold. I also learned that the secret door led into some sort of streetside barroom. Earlier in the evening, a couple came into the restaurant, tried the seating in that room, and quickly came back to the quieter dining room. I definitely heard young voices in that room and was debating whether or not I should get a nightcap in there and get into the local culture. Frankly, I was leaning toward heading back up to my room.

I wrapped up the dinner and asked for my check. When it came, there was no “tip” line. I asked the waitress/bartender where I was to add my tip. She was confused and played along. “Yes, I don’t know where. Hmm, perhaps…no, I don’t know.” And she walked away. I read in my guidebook that you don’t tip at the bar, but I thought you’d tip at the restaurant. So, I left a couple Pounds on the table. I went back up to my room.

Back in the crib, my first home in Scotland, I threw myself down on the bed, happily. It was about 10pm. The rain had picked up outside, so I bagged my plan to go outside with a cigar (brought from home) and my flask (six ounces of Bourbon) and instead settled into the bed and turned on the TV. Not long after I’d started watching, around 10:15pm, there came a strange rumbling, scratching, static sound through the wall. At first, I really thought it was muffled rock music from a next room, but no, it was heavy snoring coming from my neighbor, emanating from the wall at the foot end of my bed. Not good. I think it was one of the adults sitting behind me at the restaurant, probably the one with the cold. While down there earlier, I recalled that one of them had used the word “shyte” in part of their discussion. That almost made my trip – a real Scotsman saying “shyte”! I think the “shyte man” was lying next door to me, snoring like a freight train.

This was going to be an earplug night. It was pouring rain outside. I hoped it would rain itself out by morning. As I watched TV, I also pulled out my map and guidebook to plan my day. This became a nightly routine: I review the region ahead, identify the sights that I definitely wanted to hit, finalize the actual roads I’d take, and write the itinerary on the back of the MapQuest printouts I’d brought from home. Those sheets would go into a large Ziploc bag which I would fold up and stick in my rain jacket pocket for quick roadside access. I also tried to memorize the image of the map section that I’d be riding in order to be able to visualize the curves, distances, landmarks, and turns. It was a decent system, at least out in the simple countryside with predictable roads. So, for tomorrow, I decided to take a detour to pass through the seaside town of Oban. Not only was it the home of my friend Craig’s favorite whisky, but the guidebook said it was a lovely place.

It was about then that I realized that I’d screwed up my travel planning with one significant mistake. As I reviewed my documents, I noticed that my plane back to The States would be taking off around 10:00am on Thursday, but ol’ Mel wouldn’t open up his shop until 9:00am that morning! Unless he came in at 8:00am or earlier, there would be no way for me to get from my hotel in Edinburgh to Mel’s in Glasgow, and then in a cab to the airport. I really smacked my head when I realized this. I was so intent on having two nights in Edinburgh that I just didn’t put it all together for that last day. Costly. So, I would have to call Mel and let him know that I’d be bringing the bike back on Wednesday night instead of Thursday, and would need to find a hotel in Glasgow. Procrastinate, Neil. Do it when you’re in Speyside. So I did.

After what seemed like many hours, I woke up and became very worried that it was time to get up and go. I couldn’t see what time it was, but I definitely noticed a break from the snoring (for about five minutes, anyway). I finally found a clock and saw that it was only 3:00am. I had somehow turned my MP3 player off earlier – either that or it shut itself off. I can’t remember if I put ear plugs in at that point (which I had originally brought to drown out the roar of airliner and motorcycle engines – turns out, the motorcycle was quieter than the guy in the next room) and tried to get back to sleep. It was difficult. I heard rain on the window and cursed the Scottish weather, praying that the ride later that morning would be dry.

The snoring restarted with a vengeance, and my mind began a cycle of thinking it was much earlier in the night than it actually was. On and on, I went in and out of sleep, random thoughts flooding my brain…but I don’t remember what they were now. I had the feeling of hotel sheets on my back – that dry, stiff, bleachy-clean feeling that tells you you’re not at home. And the sound of the rain on the window – not heavy, but a periodic and noticeable rapping on the panes, like a subtle, incessant reminder of something. Something like obligation, mission, or even a bit of dread.
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Old 03-27-2010, 08:34 AM   #9
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One hellova newbie ride!
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Presione dos para español.
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Old 03-27-2010, 08:49 AM   #10
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Anyone else seeing this as white text (mostly) on white ????
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Old 03-27-2010, 12:31 PM   #11
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Nice trip report

I enjoyed your report, wish you had more time/opportunity to take pictures. Will you be posting more of the trip?
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Old 03-27-2010, 02:07 PM   #12
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Thanks man...it is a bit wordy, isn't it - I'm trying to edit it down. I wish there was time for more photography. Especially later when the weather turned bad. I took about 150 shots on the trip (pre-digital), so there will be plenty more.

TwilightZone...there's a dropdown at the very bottom of the ADV website screens, in the same box as "Yo", "Donate", "Wisdom", etc. Your dropdown may be set to "Waxy". If you try another setting, such as "fish", I think you'll see the text. The website's background will become grey. Hope that works.

More on the way...
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BadWHooper screwed with this post 03-27-2010 at 02:16 PM
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Old 03-27-2010, 03:32 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BadWHooper

This was a grand, gray hotel that I am unable to identify without more Google work. I would stay there.


Hi there .... That's - 'Tigh Mor Trossachs' ..self catering holiday apartments on the banks of Loch Achray on the A821 road to the Dukes Pass ..a favourite riding route for us.

Snap - same photo location! Lol!

http://www.hpb-trossachs.co.uk/
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Old 03-27-2010, 08:30 PM   #14
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Holy crap...this is why I love ADV!

And uh oh...real Scots are reading this...I better do some more editing!
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Old 03-27-2010, 11:24 PM   #15
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Day Two: Saturday October 8, 2005 – Inveraray to Plockton, 157 Miles Ridden

“I turn my back to the wind
To catch my breath, before I start off again
Driven on, without a moment to spend
To pass an evening with a drink and a friend

I let my skin get too thin
I’d like to pause, no matter what I pretend
Like some pilgrim, who learns to transcend
Learns to live as if each step was the end”
-Neil Peart

I woke up again for real at 6:00am, which wasn’t ideal, but it told me that the jet lag wasn’t affecting me too much. I dozed a bit for another hour or so before getting up when the alarm went off, around 7am. I groaned and heaved myself sideways out of bed in a 101st Airborne-style roll that I have perfected over the years of getting up to go to work just about every morning since I was 23. Though I wasn’t happy to be woken up at what was probably 8:00am or so (or 3:00am in my brain), I remembered where I was and felt a growing excitement about being in Scotland and what I would be doing that day. Though it looked a bit gloomy outside my little window, I felt the urge and the anxiousness to get on that bike and hit the road again. I hate to use a cliché, but the road really was calling me.

I gargled with the last of my Diet Coke and threw on my jeans and fleece shirt. I packed as much of my clothing as I could into the panniers and sauntered downstairs, leaving a “do not disturb” sign on the door knob. It was time for my first, famed, Scottish breakfast. At the entry area of the dining room where the buffet items were arrayed, I didn’t see any host, so just walked right in, grabbed a plate, and started digging in.

I had read about the Scottish Breakfast, and kind of knew what to expect. There was some sort of ham, some sort of undercooked bacon (just the way I like it), some mushy white sausage, some sort of baked beans, some sort of hash brown, some sort of triangular, black, rather tasty material (for awhile, I thought it was either some sort of sausage or the turnip dish known as neeps, but soon learned it was the notoriously-named black pudding), and highly recognizable fried eggs, over-well. There was also some sort of fried flat bread that resembled thin pita wedges. The eggs weren’t ready, so said the dining room manager, a man who turned out to be the only person of African descent that I saw in Scotland during the entire week. As an American, that’s just different. So, no eggs that morning. I did have some yogurt and a couple slices of toast that came served in a funky little tin rack that holds them upright, like the sacrifices in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”.

I sat down at a table in the pleasant dining room, and was quickly asked if I wanted coffee or tea. As some of my friends know, coffee is not my friend in the morning since I burned off my stomach’s protective lining in college. I like coffee in the afternoon and evening, but in the morning it’s a hot recipe for gastric disaster. So, since he didn’t offer Diet Coke, I asked for tea. My mom had certainly set the example for me with her all-day tea habit, but tempering it with 50% skim milk, and leaving it sitting around the house all day until she found it again and reheated it with the old teabag from the day before. Dad was a little harder-core with his coffee drinking. He’d brew a big pot in the morning and pour it all into an insulated pitcher, which would sit in the kitchen for six to eight hours – or until it was gone (which it almost always was, unless it was transferred to the cup holder in his car), and then another pot would be brewed and archived for the rest of the day.


There was another couple in the room who arrived just after I did. The chick was wearing a “Duquesne” sweatshirt, and the guy looked VERY American (sort of tubby, football fan-ish, and dressed like probably dresses every morning in Pittsburgh (a yinser, for sure – I came across this funny definition of a “yinser” on the blog http://2gd4nb.blogspot.com: “kinda like a redneck but Pittsburgh style. A yinser is any person who was born and raised in the Burgh, has family that use to work in the steel mills, has Steelers everything, smokes a pack of ciggies a day, drinks Iron City beer only and has either a mullet and/or 80s waterfall bangs”), so I pegged them early. I had seen them the night before in the restaurant, I think. There were definitely Americans traveling in Scotland, but most of the tourists I encountered were Scots from another part of Scotland, and that could mean 500 miles away or five miles away. Scots have a great reputation for getting out into their country’s nature and walking around in it, especially the mountains and peaks. There’s even a name for the more adventurous part of it: “Munro Bagging”, which means climbing a Scottish peak of 3,000 feet or more. The process is named after Sir High Munro (1856-1919), who was the first to assemble a listing of the mountains. At last tally, there were 284 “Munros” (lower peaks have their own designations too, like Corbetts, Grahams, and Donalds). 3,000-foot peaks seem easy prey for anyone with a day off, decent health, and a good pair of boots, and often you’d be right, but the unpredictable and seemingly illogical weather of Scotland can be extremely dangerous: wind, fog, cold, rain, and snow can sneak up on anyone during any season. Anyway, many Scots make it their life goal to “bag” as many “Munros” as they can. Not bad. Imagine if a nationalized hiking culture like that grew up in the States, especially in the areas around the Appalachians, Rockies, etc.?

Back in my room, I suited up with long underwear (bottoms and tops), polypropylene sock liners (ca. 1989), long socks, jeans, a long-sleeve t-shirt, boots, and the leather jacket. I packed all the rest of my stuff – camera, book, bathroom kit, flask, MP3 player, travel guide, map, etc. – into the boxes and sealed them up. Traveling on a bike, like backpack touring, forces you to pack light, only bringing the essentials, particularly the ones that you can easily reuse, or things that are directly related to your well-being. You have to think strategically and frugally. You have to be able to project your life out eight days and make the decision if you’re really going to use a particular thing, because if you don’t, you’ll hate yourself for bringing it later. It could have been space for a souvenir, or another bottle of Scotch, or another pound less to lug up hotel stairs. Yeah, I was staying in nice hotels every night, but I was also wearing the same clothes every night.

I took one awkward load of BMW panniers down the stairs, through the old, wooden double doors, and into the crisp, moist, cold, post-rain Scottish air. It was really nice air, actually – visceral…you could FEEL it as you breathed it, but not in that August-in-Cincinnati humidity way. It wasn’t sunny, but it wasn’t threatening either. I walked over to my bike at the end of the parking row in front of the hotel, re-admiring my parking luck, and attached the boxes to the sides of the bike. The roads were damp, but drier than I thought after such a heavy rain the night before. I then walked across the street to take a picture of the monument to the solders from the area who died in the Great War (WWI). There weren’t many, but there are always enough, and always too many, aren’t there? These were all sights I was only able to see now, since the night before I had arrived in the pitch dark. Wispy clouds clung to the tops of the mountains around me. I noticed that the trees were starting to change for Autumn. The town was very quiet.




These were shot just in front of the hotel at the entrance to town. Notice that the tide is out. The hotel is the largest building in the photo. The archway between the hotel and the building to its right (Inveraray Woolen Mill) is the road out of town to the north, which I would eventually take after touring Inveraray Castle.

I walked over lochside (Loch Fyne, and a fine loch it was) to get a photo of a couple boats at the pier – part of the Inveraray Maritime Museum (http://www.inveraraypier.com/index.html) – high and dry in the low tide. One of them, a three-masted schooner, was the Arctic Penguin, one of the last iron sailing ships in the world. Built in 1911, it was a working vessel (a “lightship”) until 1966, when it became a training ship named “Hallowe’en” (yeah, I’ll learn to sail on that). In 1982, it spent six years as a cruise boat, and was eventually installed as part of the museum in 1995. The cute little cargo ship – a “Clyde Puffer” – astern of the Penguin, named the Eilean Eisdeal. It was built in 1944 as a “VIC 72” (“Victualing Inshore Craft”) merchant ship, originally called Eldesa and toted cargo all around western Scotland until 2001 when it became part of the museum and began its renovation. In 2006, after I was there, it was renamed the Vital Spark (I thought it was bad luck to rename a boat). VICs like this were designed specifically to be able to fit into local canals.



The mountains across Loch Fyne were also picturesque and worthy of shots – the clouds were low. I strolled up the waterside toward the pier, examining the rocks, moss, and other life forms exposed by the tidal loch, then turned back through the wet grass to the hotel for my last luggage. I scanned my room for any left items, grabbed the Givi topbox, pulled the “do not disturb” sign off the outside doorknob, and headed back downstairs. My big-booted feet nearly tripped every time I went up and down those narrow old steps. I checked out of the Argyll with no problem, thanked the woman, and walked outside to be greeted by glorious sunlight and blue skies. Three minutes before, it was gloomy and grey!

Sunlight and blue skies! I couldn’t believe it! I clicked the top box into place and stowed my rain gear. I also realized that all my previous photos of the area were completely worthless compared to the same things shot in beautiful sunlight. My heart started jumping…this was exactly what I was hoping for when I planned the trip. I walked the same walk over to the lochside and took duplicate photos of the area – much more attractive photos (but with bad backlighting). I got a great shot of the bridge I entered the town on the night before, with a mysterious tower on the top of the bluff that loomed over the road. What was it? Whatever it was, it symbolized the wonder and age of Europe, and the reason that so many people want to go there.



It was only about ten minutes since my last photos, and the tide was clearly moving in fast. And with the sun filling the sky, I became naturally resplendent and superpowerful in my jeans and black leather jacket – the iconic riding uniform. High above the Inveraray bridge loomed a large hill with a mysterious tower atop it. My tour book called it a “folly”, which seemed to be a common term for a hilltop structure (see Oban). I wish I had the time and directions to get up to it – what kid can resist a hilltop castle?


I was about to jump on the BMW and head up the street to Inveraray Castle. This photo was taken by my “on-board” camera, a small disposable camera with a flash.

I saddled up with an audience of more tourists streaming out of the hotel and into their rental cars, with more heads turning to see the tall man putting on his silver helmet, slipping on his blue-tinted sunglasses, pulling on his black gauntlets, and throwing his long leg over the saddle of a rather dramatic, aggressive, luggage-laden, and solitary BMW motorcycle. When my girlfriend-at-the-time, Karin, had dropped me off at the bike shop in July 2004, to drive home the bike that I’d bought the day before, she was visibly impressed and maybe a bit nervous for me. I revved the engine for her. “It’s loud!” She said over the popping and rumbling pipes.

“Yeah!” I grinned mischievously. She actually seemed impressed, which made me think hard about our past. I could see it in her eyes – she was, at some level, impressed by something I had done. I thought she might be impressed by my trip to Scotland. We’d see, when I got together with her next to tell her all about it. I couldn’t wait – it was like a flood waiting to break the dam.

I was ecstatic – no rain, plenty of sun, dry roads. I thought the whole trip might be like this. I felt limber, manly, alive. I pulled out of the hotel parking lot, twisted that throttle, and blasted toward the bridge that brought me into town and served as a pleasant backdrop to my morning photos. I took a quick left turn onto the grounds of Inveraray Castle. Cruising down a long driveway and passing a number of tourists on foot, I finally arrived at the beautiful Schloss. The parking lot was a layer of deep gravel, the arch enemy of bikers. You have to sit up straight in the saddle, shuffle your steering to adjust for the shifting rocks, jump between first and second gear in order to keep the back tire from launching you out of control and onto your side [“I MUST NOT CRASH THIS BIKE OVER HERE. I MUST NOT CRASH THIS BIKE OVER HERE.” I immediately followed my safety class training and straightened up in my seat, centered the gravity, and steered much more conservatively. I parked the bike near the castle just as a truly deliberate rain started to fall. The sun was shining, and the rain was falling. It was the cruelest irony that could have been played upon me that morning. You can see it in the photo: blue skies and heavy raindrops. I was so angry…livid!

After quickly parking by a black chain-link fence in the parking lot, I jumped off the bike and got into the top box to find my rain gear. That’s when I noticed the full-arc rainbow behind me, framing the western Highland mountains. It was shocking, and I immediately scrambled to get my camera. I was running around that gravel parking lot like an idiot, my boots flinging rocks like a 4x4, searching for the ultimate snapshot (ideally featuring the bike). The walkers who had just arrived to the lot saw me scurrying around like a squirrel and must have wondered what was wrong with me. What was wrong with them? A rainbow is a photographer’s DREAM!I had the fear that it – this perfect rainbow, a rainbow in Scotland – would disappear, so I did run around like there was a nuclear drill going on. I must have looked like a fool, until the other people realized that I was shooting a full rainbow…that’s when THEY started freaking out and snapping photos. Yeah, I took one that made it look like the end of the rainbow ended at my rental BMW. Pot of gold and all. Cheesy.


Damn gravel. The original castle site is just to the right of the photo. I was blessed with great luck, despite the rain.

The castle (www.inveraray-castle.com) was a classic – four towers, one on each corner. It dates from the mid-1800s and is still occupied by the family of the Duke of Argyll (paging a Mr. Roy? Rob Roy? A Mr. Rob Roy?). However, the site of the original castle is carefully marked north of the parking lot, on a green sloping lawn, with stones and signs – it dates from hundreds of years prior to the existing structure.



Yes, that’s my bike next to that old Volvo and late model Ford, and YES that’s rain coming down. And, of course, that’s me with the arm-stretch photo, proving I was there in the rain, bitchin’ shades and bad hair and all. If you don’t believe that it was raining, check out my jacket sleeve.
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'06 Buell XB12X Ulysses; '07 H-D FXDB Dyna Street Bob

Solo Around Scotland (BMW R850R); AZ and UT (H-D Road King): http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=744536l; Death Valley & Vegas (BMW R1200GS): http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=926499; NW Colorado (BMW K1200GT): http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=955168
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