JOHN o’GROATS TO LAND’S END 2015 CHARITY RIDE 

IN AID OF PROSTATE CANCER UK

 

Once again, I am undertaking this pilgrimage, starting at Squires Café on the 1st August. 

If you feel that you would like to join me at any stage of the journey, I will be pleased to ride with you.

Tracker Number  (07424 917405)

Full details, route/dates of the journey posted on this BLOG page.

www.pccharityride2014.co.uk

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 Your contributions are of course welcomed and feel free to donate via

 Just Giving

Thanks for your ongoing support

marathon

 Advance Notice

CHARITY EVENT 

2015

SQUIRES CAFÉ, SHERBURN-IN-ELMET

IN AID OF PROSTATE CANCER UK

12 HOUR CYCLE MARATHON

19TH JULY 2015

(Subject confirmation)

Start: 09.00 HRS <> Finish: 21.00 HRS

Main Sponsor

Mr LOCK AND KEYS, NORMANTON

(Provider of bike and ancillary equipment)

We will be using a stationary road bike to avoid external safety concerns.

We are looking for volunteers and need a minimum of 12 participants (at the cycling rate of 1hr / person) to keep the pedals working continuously for the duration of the marathon. The more cyclists we can recruit, the less time spent on the bike. The more the merrier. The idea is to take part.

40,000 men affected a year in the UK alone.

GET INVOLVED <> JOIN THE FIGHT

If you wish to participate in this event, please Contact Roger Raymond

Email

roger.This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Text/Telelephone

Mobile: 0788 642 4029

  

 

Prostate Cancer Code is cracked - Extending lives of thousands.

Analysis:-

Breakthrough brings hope in "incurable cases"
by Steve Connor - Science Editor - The Independent
About 40,000 men, enough to fill a medium -sized football stadium, are diagnosed each year in Britain with Prostate Cancer. For many of them, the treatment will effectively be a cure.
Unfortunately, some of them will go on to develop the most dangerous form of the disease. This occurs when the tumour cells from the prostate gland "escape" to other parts of the body, such as the bone, liver or other vital organs.
Until now, the study of the genetic mutations that occur in prostate cancer have concentrated on those that arise within the prostate gland, the "primary" tumour.
Getting biopsies from other parts of the body of living patients has not been easy.
Now a landmark study has done just that on 150 men with advanced, metastatic prostate disease.
The results are being widely touted by experts in the field as a potential game-changer in the treatment of this lethal condition.
The findings have shown, for example, that advanced prostate cancer should no longer be treated as a single disease.
Each patient should in the future be viewed as a candidate for more personalised treatment targeted at their specific mutations.
It could start something really big for the treatment of the most deadly form of the most common cancer of men.
Further reading:-
"Rosetta Stone"
Dr Iain Frame, Director of Research at Prostate Cancer UK, called the work "incredibly exciting and ground breaking".
Professor de Bono of The Royal Marsden Hospital and the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) London compared the research to Rosetta Stone which allowed historians to translate ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.
Professor Paul Workman, President of ICR, said the findings from a "wealth of genetic information" could make a real difference to large numbers of patients.

Extract from The Independent (Friday 22 May 2015) Number 1400

WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?
GET INVOLVED
JOIN THE FIGHT

JOIN ME AND MANY OTHER LIKE ME WHO ARE TRYING TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.
PROSTATE CANCER UK NEEDS YOU.

You can still donate through my website at Just Giving.
www.pccharityride2014.co.uk

Kind Regards
Roger

BACK IN THE SADDLE 

The Story of My Charity Ride

(Land’s End - John O’Groats 2014)

 

The Wilderness Years 

(2004 - 2012)

Riding a motorbike, you have to concentrate so hard to avoid getting killed and to stay upright that you have no time to think about anything else. The sheer physicality and the pleasure of taking a corner right, getting down as low as possible and scratch the tarmac without losing control and winning the gravity fight between the bike trying to pull you one way, when you want to go the other. The concentration level required is such that once the ride is over, your whole body is cleansed and your mind is cleared of all crap.

Dusky early evenings are also when I enjoyed riding my bike. Occasionally when finishing a particularly ball breaking shift and however late in the night, I went for a bike ride to expunge all the tension and stress from my mind and body. It’s probably the most selfish and single-minded form of pleasure anyone can ever experience.

When I worked in Texas, I used to go horse riding across the vast prairies of wilderness and I felt like I owned the world. I was John Ford, John Wayne and The Man with No Name, all rolled into one. The bullets would bounce off. I was totally invincible and untouchable. I’ve always felt that same sense of invincibility when I put on my leather biking gear. 

It was about 06.00 hrs on a Sunday morning. I was leaving for France via Dover, to spend some quality time with a female friend. The dawn air was fresh, the roads were empty and unpolluted by commuter traffic. It was good to be alive. It’s very difficult to explain the ‘oneness with nature’ that one feels and only another biker will know this sensation when starting out on a bike ride so early in the morning. 

I sensed the gentle vibrations of the bike through my seat and the unique sound of the throaty Triumph engine urged me to open up. I must admit that my mind was also distracted by thoughts of love and warm embraces. I was only about ten minutes into my ride when I suffered from a momentary lapse of concentration and before I realised what had happened, I had overshot my approach line at a left bend. 

‘Okey dokey’ I thought. ‘Don’t panic’

This kind of mis-judgement happens to all bikers at some point in their riding life and all we do is hang our arses off the seat, lean forward, look at the exit point and power our way out. A simple, tried and tested method of correcting a mistake. 

Unfortunately and in this case, it failed.

The turn was too tight and too short. The mini-roundabout ahead was only about ten yards or so away. Where did that car come from? And, as it got closer and closer, the look of panic and fear in the driver’s eyes was poignant. 

‘Ok, I am going to crash’ I surmised, accept the inevitable, relax or die. I did not wish to get my legs crushed between the bike and the car, so I opted to steer straight at it. I dropped my shoulders, exhaled and planned my imminent enforced flying lesson. 

Ramming into the front bumper of the car, I think it's called T-Boning! through the grille and ploughing deep into the radiator, I let go of the handlebars, flipped over, slammed onto the bonnet, rolled over and smashed onto the pavement. 

Sprawled out on my back, wondering if I was going to walk again, I noticed that the sky was clear and crisp. Nice day for a picnic, I thought. It’s funny, what crosses one’s mind in moments of crisis. I lay still. 

Assess damage to bodywork. Movement in arms, legs and neck. What was that pain in my crotch? It felt a bit numb, but a quick and gentle jerk of my pelvis established that nothing was broken. My balls ached, but I had been hit a lot harder when playing rugby and once, by an over enthusiastic adversary when I was a practicing martial arts student. 

What I saw next, was the face of my co-victim perched over me crying her heart out. I hate crying women. Nonsense to that. I was alive and she was obviously worried that she might have killed me, so I got up pronto. I could not bear the thought of a total stranger crying over me and her weeping had to stop. I removed my helmet and smiled. ‘I am fine, no worries, all is in order’

Allow me to deviate here for a moment and give other riders a very valuable piece of advice. If you ever fly off the handlebars and I fervently hope that you do not, but if you do and find yourself still alive, do not try to get up. Forget all that masculine bravado bullshit. Do not move, lay still and wait for the ambulance to arrive. The ‘MUST NOT DO’ thing is to remove your helmet.

Because I had not broken any bones, my initial assessment was that I was OK, but a physician I am not and neither are you. Allow the ambulance rescue team to strap you up and, if deemed necessary, remove your helmet and whizz you off to hospital. Let the A&E team check you over, x-ray etc and pronounce you fit before you even think of going on about your daily duties. Otherwise, you could be walking about with a broken neck or worse. 

Lastly, always carry a mobile phone on you in case of any emergency.

It turned out the driver had owned her car for only about two weeks and lived just half a mile up the road. It’s a peculiar thing, but I know of so many bikers who’ve had accidents not far from their home base. My good mate Darren, for example. God bless you and R.I.P mate. You ride thousands of miles to Europe and back, to have an accident just a half hour or so from home. You need to keep a high level of concentration at all times and all the way to your front door. I was traveling back from Bristol to Leeds one rainy day and dropped my bike just a mile from home. I had stopped to refuel and just relaxed at the comforting thought of being so close to home. I forgot all the usual precautions and slipped on a patch of spilled diesel.

Anyway, back to my accident. Someone rang the Kent police. Within five minutes or so, three squad cars arrived. That’s six coppers! When you want them, they are nowhere to be found, but at 06.00 hrs in the morning, I get six burly strapping uniformed policemen swarming all over my bike. 

I must say that they were very courteous and concerned for my health. I was worried that they might have copped me for reckless riding, but given the circumstances, that was not the case. My bike was eventually recovered by the RAC, whom I must also praise for their professionalism and efficiency. They carted it off to a local Triumph dealership in Maidstone and I was given a lift back to my brother’s house. I did not want to be taken to the hospital.

That was when the pain started. Despite putting on a front, I was in bloody agony. My knees, elbows, neck, back, pelvis and bollocks hurt like buggery. I had the intelligence to get myself off to the local A&E unit for a checkup. Fortunately, nothing broken, but I had severe bruising and I would suffer from severe whiplash for some weeks. To this day I suffer from lower back pain and a twisted and crumbling spine. Until I bought my Honda in 2012, I didn’t realise what impact my accident in 2004 had on my psyche. 

During my period of exile from the biking world, I envied all the bikers I saw on the road and spent many hours gloating at the bikes I came across and chatting to their indulgent owners. I still felt that I was a biker, but my life as I wished it to be, was now incomplete.

In 2012, the hotel I managed was sold and with what golden package I was entitled to, I decided to rejoin the biking fraternity. My mate Steve, who worked in the motorbiking world helped me identify and buy this particular Honda CBR600FN. He was the one who actually sold me my original Triumph ST and was aware of my accident, although, not necessarily the thoughts that were in my head. Another mate of mine, coincidentally, also named Steve (there’s a lot of them about!) drove me to Tamworth to collect the bike. On arrival home and at my instigation, we rolled it in my rather large kitchen. The bike was ready to be ridden and I should have jumped on the thing and taken to the tarmac, but I chose not to.

Mental Block

I personally find right handed turns the most difficult exercise to execute.

A quarter of a mile or so from where I live, the road ends at a T-junction. Turning left, the road is level and is easy peasy to access. However, on the opposite side, it slopes dangerously downhill and when approaching it in reverse, you have to negotiate around a bollard and up a wicked downward camber. It therefore scared me to death thinking about having to make this particular right turn on my return journey.

When it rains and especially in winter, I’ve many times lost grip in my car (thank goodness for traction control) and I’ve witnessed countless others struggle to make that particular turn.

I knew that I could have negotiated it differently. I could have ridden past the turning, do a u-turn further down the road and approached it from the left, which would be easier, but the whole manoeuvre had turned into a visual nightmare. 

Until 2004, I thought of myself a competent rider and feared nothing. I had ridden almost all over Europe, Scotland, the UK, crossed over the Alps, the Snake Pass. I relished hills, tunnels, bends and double chicanes, although I missed out on riding the TT course on The Isle of Man.

So, what was my problem? I had allowed the whole process of having to make that right turn home to get into my head and imagined having another accident and making a fool of myself. 

Maybe, my mate Steve knew that this would happen and that was why he recommended me not hopping straight back on to a 1000 c.c Superbike. All I knew was that the time was not yet right for me to ride my Honda and I missed the first summer’s outings in the UK. I had to conquer my fear of right turns before going out on longer rides and that was why I decided to store the bike and didn’t ride it for 6 months! It really pissed me off and I had to think of a way of getting over my tarmac paranoia. 

I travel to Oz regularly and I therefore decided to fly out there to sort out my head.

Oz

G’day Mates.

Over the many years of visiting that wonderful country, I made many biker friends and I hoped that I would find some inspiration, rediscover my passion and conquer my fears.

A mate of mine in Sydney owns a 2008 Hayabusa (standard 194bhp) which had been modified to deliver a few more scary horse power and I wanted to ride it unimpaired by congestion, interminable roadworks and unforgiving UK motorists.

Most bikers and car owners alike are very proprietorial about their kit. Go on, how many people, including your friends, who would hand you the keys to their precious metal? 

My mate had no such inhibitions. After an initial chat about my biking experiences, he just gave me his key and told me to go and enjoy a ride around Sydney. Yo! Yo! Yo! My brother! 

I was unprepared for such an act of unselfishness. It was one of those do or die moments. I’d talked the talk and now it was time to walk the walk. I didn’t have any protective gear and it provided me with the perfect excuse for not accepting his offer. I’d never ridden with him nor his bike before and I’m sure he wanted to see how genuine a biker I really was. Macho pride is a wonderful thing if harnessed in the right manner. His challenge was further extended by offering me the loan of his helmet. 

I’d suckered myself too far into the groove to back out. I was committed and considered a refusal on my part to have been a cowardly way out. I therefore accepted his offer. I got on the bike wearing just my jeans, T-shirt, pumps, no gloves and rode off towards the city. Stupid boy! 

I scared myself silly for the first ten minutes or so. I eventually got the measure of the beast (thanks to the ABS and to the excellent Brembos) and I started to enjoy my ride. This was helped by the fact that one drives on the left hand side in Oz too. I stalled a few times at a few T-junctions and I over-revved on a few occasions, which sent the bike into small wheelies. It was pure testosterone on wheels. I managed to get to Bondai Beach to check out the chicks and then remembered something that Marc had said to me before I left. 

“Listen mate. If you see a copper, don’t stop. Just scarper!” I realised then that something wasn’t quite kosher. I rode back to his house and handed him back his keys. It turned out that the bike wasn’t insured, nor taxed and that he’d twice been pulled for traffic violations. He’d also done time and was a marked man. 

It was a weird and satisfying outing and I considered myself a very lucky “Pommie”. Had I been stopped, I would have had suffered the full might of the Australian Police Force.

After this incident, I regained some semblance of confidence back into my psyche. If I could handle the Hayabusa, my lighter bike would be a much easier proposition and on my return to England, I wasted no time in taking out the CBR. That’s when the idea of the charity ride was born.

Day 1

Stanley - Bristol

(M62/ M1 / A42 / M42 / M5 / M32)

243 miles

Leaving Yorkshire

Having twice postponed my departure, due to lack of sponsorships and my meagre finances, the thought of undertaking the journey on my own had turned my head into a shed. 

Could I afford to fund myself? Where would I stay? Was I in good enough physical shape to complete the journey? I felt that I needed a bike with a bit more mid-range torque to carry both itself, myself and luggage, especially uphill. I wasn’t 100% sure that the bike would survive the trip. More importantly, was my mental preparation sufficiently tuned up? 

I had squandered most of the summer and by the end of September, I knew that I had reached a shit or bust impasse. No more excuses. I had regained an 80% level of riding proficiency and the time was now. 

It was always my intention to stick to my original route and avoid motorways at all costs, but such was my mental health that in the end I could not face the many twists and turns that the more scenic routes would have put me through. For the sake of expediency and my own personal safety, I therefore decided to stick to the expressways. They presented their own sets of hazards, but the escape routes were better defined.

I left Yorkshire for Land’s End via Bristol and followed the M1/M42/M5 route. It was boring, especially along the 50mph, 21 mile stretch past the Tibshelf Service Station on the M1. 

Listen, we are now well into Feb 2015 and the roadworks are still ongoing. I’m beginning to wonder whether or not the Highways Agency will ever finish the bloody thing and I still don’t understand why they’ve only resurfaced the outside lane. The UK road system is fast turning into a third world highway hazard.

Anyway, I settled into a rhythm and used this first part of the trip to listen to the sound of the engine, adjust myself to the feel of my tyres, get used to the extra weight of my luggage, deal with the crosswinds and listen to my own heartbeat. 

This would be the easiest first stage. I stayed at my brother’s house in Bristol and got a good night’s rest before carrying on to Land’s End the next day. No incidents to report. 

It was always in my mind to do the camping thing. Firstly, it would save money and secondly, I convinced myself that it would separate me from those who chose to stay in posh hotels. 

I like and follow the adventures Henry Cole of “The Greatest Motorcycle Rides” but I think he’s got it easy. I mean, he doesn’t have to cart his luggage about and put up his own tent. Ok, as an older biker he is entitled to reap the rewards of his job. I’m sorry, but he’s not really the greatest adventurer, is he? More like a journalist, living out his hobby. And, I wish he’d stop pretending that he’s having such a hard time riding all those bikes around the world, solo. If he really wants to experience the hardships of solo riding, he should load up and dispense of his crew. I’ll take Charlie Boorman and Ewan McGregor anytime. 

Anyway, on the way to Bristol, I stopped in Chippenham to collect a one-man tent and a sleeping mat, which I had bought on ebay. Thank you Alison and for the lovely cup of tea. 

As it turned out, because of the foul weather and my own vulnerabilities, I never unpacked.   

Day 2

Bristol - Land’s End 

(M5/ A30)

124 miles

Where I stayed - The Seaview Holiday Park, Sennen, Cornwall

www.seaview.org

Fake Fish & Chips

I left Bristol by way of the Clifton Suspension Bridge, simply because it’s my favourite structure in the world and I think that every biker should ride across it.

When we travel to the South West, my girlfriend and I always stay at the Avon Gorge Hotel which overlooks the bridge and we have made it our special romantic mini-break away from home.

When I rejoined the M5 South, after Portishead, the only issues were the wind and rain which were particularly severe. I just wanted that leg of the journey to finish quickly and looked forward to reaching the A30 when my journey eastward became more enjoyable and the tarmac in Cornwall was faultless. 

I love the names of the nearby towns, Whitestone, Sticklepath, Bodmin, Blackwater. I deviated from the A30 to take in Penzance Harbour which was amazing. 

I hadn’t booked anywhere and on arrival at Land’s End, I eventually found available space at The Seaview Holiday Park in Sennen and stayed in one of their Eco Pods. It will sleep 4 adults, so if there’s a group of you traveling, I can absolutely recommend it. It’s run by a no-nonsense, but charming Yorkshire lady from Leeds. 

In the evening, dinner was at the First & Last Pub in England. I decided to heed the Chef’s recommendation and ordered his interpretation of Fish & Chips. Not his best dish. Should have stuck by my own mantra of only having Fish & Chips in Yorkshire. 

Listen here, because I shall say this only once. Allo, Allo. Southerners can’t make fish & chips. Never mind some Cornish Pub Chef. My poor culinary experience apart, was compensated by meeting a most gentleman’s gentleman from Chesterfield who’d decided to retire in Sennen and we shared a few interesting stories about the Yorkshire Dales and the Peak District.

Thank you to Mr & Mrs Williams from the Isle of Wight for their donation.

Day 3

Land’s End - Bristol 

(A30 / M5)

130 miles

White Van Man

Don’t leave Land’s End without seeing the Minack Theatre, which is well worth a visit. As you come out of the campsite, follow the B3315 and follow the signs to Porthcurno and you’ll get there. The Minack Theatre is an open-air theatre, which I can best describe as being carved out of granite. It is certainly the most spectacular natural cultural site I have ever seen. The entrance fee is not cheap mind. However, I would ask you to pay up and enter. The onsite coffee shop serves the most delightful sandwiches, hot chocolate drinks with marshmallows and cakes.

My ride could have ended in Cornwall, but by the grace of God, my quick presence of mind and my right hand.

I got back on the B3315 and B3283 before rejoining the A30 to Penzance. Somewhere along the way, I came to a blind 90 degree left handed bend. This was made even more difficult by the high hedges which obscured my sight of the road. As I approached it, I slowed down, positioned myself in the middle of the road to get a more open view of my exit point.

A quick word about White Van Man. 

A long time ago, I did some courier work for a mate and regularly drove a white transit van from Leeds to London and back overnight. Although I was a very considerate and courteous driver, I nevertheless suffered from the stereotypical description of the white van man. I didn’t care for it, but understood the reasons why white van drivers had such a poor reputation. Most of those I met on the road were reckless, rude and inconsiderate, especially of pedestrians, cyclists, bikers and smaller vehicles.

On this day, I was to meet such a driver. 

As I prepared myself for the left uphill turn, I saw a white van drifting downhill in the middle of the road and heading straight for me. The driver had already committed himself to the right turn. He saw me late and realising his error, he braked and attempted to veer slightly to the left to give me some space, but the van was already engaged in a dangerous skid. The driver had lost control. 

I expected the worse, but I wasn’t ready to die. My instincts told me to brake and jump off the bike, but then, I spotted a gap, which I calculated was wide enough for me to squeeze through, between the van and the nearside kerb. Instead of abandoning the bike, I opened up the throttle and aimed at the narrow opening. I just kept looking at the exit point and figured that, even if I were to scrape the side of the van, I would at least avoid a head-on collision. 

I exited safely through the limited passageway and when I deemed it safe to do so, I pulled up after five hundred yards or so to gather up my nerves. I was indeed a lucky bunny. This incident shook me to the core and I decided to stay overnight in Bristol again and left travelling North for another day.

Day 4

Bristol - Carlisle

(M5 / M6)

273 miles 

Where I stayed - The Warren Guest House, Warwick Road.

www.warrenguesthouse.co.uk

Asylum Seeker

My journey further North would turn into a mental battle. It was windy and it pissed it down all the way to Carlisle. When I reached Warrington and saw the M62 sign to Leeds, I was sorely tempted to veer off and return  home. The only reason I did not do so, was that I was in the outside lane and it would have been too dangerous for me to cut across. So, I ploughed on and stopped for a well earned brunch at the next service station. I was freezing. I was wet and was wearing the wrong type of gloves. Water had penetrated through the leather and when I took them off, the inner lining came out and I couldn’t get the bastards back on again, until I dried them out under the Dyson drier.

Again, I thought about bailing out when I reached Preston and saw the A59 sign to the Dales, but decided that it would have been cowardly. Too many people had put their trust and faith in me, for me to let them down. No matter what, I had to get to Carlisle.

I lived in Northumberland a while back and I know Carlisle quite well. I figured that I would be able to stay with friends, but they were away. It was the same old story of not having pre-booked anywhere. I got there late and rode around in the dark in search of a place to stay and finally found a great B&B on the A69.

I hesitantly knocked on the door of the Warren Guest House and was welcomed with open arms by the Proprietor. I must have looked desperate and appeared like some sort of refugee in search of asylum. He took pity on me and offered me a very comfortable bed for the night. I was shaking all over, my knees and hands were hurting and I accepted his hospitality with good grace. The long soak in a hot bath restored my circulation.  

Day 5 

Carlisle - Aviemore 

(A74M / M74 / M73 / M80 / M9 /A9)

224 miles

Where I stayed - High Range Holiday Complex, Grampian Road, Cairngorms.

www.highrange.co.uk

Far From Home

I left Carlisle in the early hours of the morning after a hearty breakfast. I stopped to refuel and enjoyed a juicy roast chicken, chips and gravy in Stirling. By the time I got to Pitlochry, I thought I would die of hypothermia. I got off my bike, stomped about to dissipate the numbness that threatened to incapacitate my body, recorded a video of myself sneezing, dripping nose and speech impaired. 

Off the A9 and onto the B9152, I pulled into the High Range Holiday Complex to be unexpectedly greeted by a little Indian receptionist who although he was far from home, was more than willing to do me a deal on a room for the night. I really did not fancy setting up my tent. Same old story. My knees and entire frame hurt and I was shaking like a leaf. So, I gladly paid my £45 and walked into a warm and luxurious double bedroom with all the mod cons (even WiFi). 

Later that evening, I dined at the on-site Italian restaurant and wasn’t too surprised when the food had absolutely bugger all to do with Italy. Anyway, I was starving and ate all the crap pseudo-Italian food I could eat for £13, served by wannabe Italians and returned to my room to relax and watch a bit of television. If you stay intend to stay there, take a sandwich with you. I don’t know when I fell asleep and woke up the next morning with the tv still on.   

Day 6

Aviemore - John O’Groats

A9

148 miles

Where I stayed -The Seaview Hotel

www.seaviewjohnogroats.co.uk

The Helmsdale Experience

I will say this, the A9 is a bloody long road! And, don’t be fooled by the distance. It takes longer than you think. However long Google Maps says it will take you, double it. 

I pit stopped in Inverness. Crossed over the Kessock Bridge towards North Kessock and the Cromarty Firth Bridge. I went off the A9 into Alness for fuel and a sandwich and proceeded onwards to Dornoch. I just loved all the bridges I crossed over, including the Dornoch Firth Bridge.

Helmsdale is a charming little village on the East coast of Scotland. 

Crossing the River Helmsdale into the town itself reminded me of Helmsley in North Yorkshire, where my girlfriend and I have a caravan. My mind started to think about the similarity in names and the good times we have when we stay at our caravan site. I was also admiring the sea view to my right and despite the weather, which was foul, I thought how lovely it would be to live there. I rode through without stopping, which was a mistake. I wish I had stayed over to see its famous Ice House, but because I was fatigued and fed up, I was hell bent on reaching Wick. I rode pass the Helmsdale Hostel and powered through.

Coming out of Helmsdale and past the Hostel, is a rather large roundabout. I noticed it from about five hundred yards or so, but I was too busy admiring the sea view to my right, that I was on it before I realised that my mental aberration was going to land me in hospital or get me killed.

I was already anticipating that this would be the end of my journey and thoughts of abject failure were paramount in my mind. I was riding straight for the bloody thing and was only a couple of feet from hitting the kerb, when I instinctively applied the front brakes and looked at my exit. I really don’t know what happened after that! It’s as if the bike decided to make its own choice not to crash. Somehow it righted itself and I found myself riding into the second exit and still on my bike. I carried on for another 20 yards or so and when my legs started shaking uncontrollably, I stopped, jumped off and pissed in my leathers.

This was the second close call I had experienced on my journey so far and it taught me a salutary reminder of the most essential rule of biking. Do not deviate. Do not take your eyes off the road ahead. Always pay attention and concentrate. If you wish to admire, STOP. If you’re tired, STOP.

Had it been summer, I would have pitched my tent in the nearby woods and camped out the day. I was sorely tempted to knock on someone’s door and ask for their homely hospitality, but that thought quickly dissipated. Undeterred, I got back on the bike and hastened on my way to John o’Groats. I was wet and the warm feel of my own urine had turned into a cold and unwelcomed ice pack down my pants. 

The Hill

When I thought that my terrain problems were over, I was destined to have another brush with the elements after leaving Helmsdale. Still on the A9, I came to a place called Ord Burn. It’s uphill and you need to negotiate a 180 degree U-bend which cambers at the entry point before veering off to the right, then a long and winding left turn through the Langwell Forest. Remember it was wet and windy. 

Approaching Ord Burn, I noticed that repairs were being carried out to the road surface and temporary traffic lights had been set up. I slowed down and desperately hoped that by the time I reached the lights they would change. No such bloody luck. I had to stop, hold the bike in first gear, both feet down, the wind threatening to shove me over and water cascading underfoot. Bloody nightmare! There was also a car behind me revving its engine up with growing impatience. 

When the lights changed, I couldn’t make up my mind what gear to change into. I was experiencing a complete melt down. I pushed off and missed 2nd, went straight into 3rd, realized that it wasn’t going to get me over the hill, tried to down shift into 2nd, skipped past neutral and hit 1st again, jerked back into 2nd, which I eventually held all the way up and over the hill. I blindly held on to the 2nd gear, until I regained my senses and finally changed up the gear shift. 

To make matters worse, the car behind me and the wanker driving it kept revving up and honking at me to get a move on and out of his way. When I eventually pulled over to let him overtake, he stuck his middle finger at me. Yes, he was a wanker! He was driving an Audi. I don’t know what that says about Audi drivers, but as it happens, during my ride in Scotland, I was overtaken many times by other Audi drivers who were the most discourteous of all the drivers I have had the privilege to meet. 

I was totally exhausted and should have known better than to push on beyond my endurance. How I reached John O’Groats was purely down to luck and stubborn perseverance. 

The Seaview Hotel was a welcome relief. They found me a comfortable, warm and modest double bed for the night and a couple of shots of their local malt whisky restored life into my veins. 

Mutton stew. What? I had mutton stew for supper. Never had it before. Curry Goat which uses mutton, yes, but mutton stew in Scotland? It was lovely.

What a desolate place John o’Groats is. I wouldn’t care to live there, but the people are extraordinarily friendly. I can’t wait for my next visit and meet them again.

A word of caution regarding the A9. Once past Inverness, there are stretches of it that are absolutely horrendous, where the tarmac has very deep trench-like fissures. Do not get your front tyre caught in them. If you do, slow down and ride through them, instead of attempting to steer your way out, which is a sure way of losing your front end.

Day 7

John O’Groats - Carlisle

A9 / M9 / M80 / M73 / M74

(370 miles)

Where I stayed - The Warren Guest House

www.warrenguesthouse.co.uk

The Good People of Brora

On my return journey, I decided to ditch the tent and sleeping mat. I hadn’t used them and they proved to have been a liability on the way up. I opted to follow the same route home which was familiar to me and I reckoned that the hazards that had befallen me on the way up would be easier to renegotiate. 

It was with some mild trepidation that I left John O’Groats and I did worry a little bit about the drop into Ord Burn, but decided that the best way to tackle it was not to dwell too long over it and deal with it when I got there. It was pissing it down, windy and slippery. When I saw the right hander and the sharp left turn into the horse shoe corner towards Helmsdale again, I was confident enough to slow down, change down into 2nd gear, go in at the right speed, point the front, relax and allow the bike carry itself into the apex and exit.

I chose not to stop in Helmsdale. 

Instead, I parked up in Brora which is a small industrial village, east of Sutherland. I was freezing my bollocks off. This seems to have been a recurring theme along my travels. My chosen underwear were not up to scratch. Don’t just wear cotton, but get a proper thermal fabric to keep you warm and dry. Hey Ho. I was really craving for a full English breakfast and a hot mug of coffee. 

It was purely by chance that I stumbled upon on this particular cafe on the High Street. I must apologise straightaway for not remembering its name, but as I stepped in, I was instantly welcomed by the good local folks. I knew that I was in for a treat as almost everything being served was sourced locally. The young lass serving was pretty and the lady owner was a most charming person. I soon got involved with conversations and collected £40 towards the charity. Thank you all for your delightful contributions and sending me on my way with God’s blessings.

I turned up unannounced at the same B&B that I had stayed on the way up and was greeted by the owners, James & Anita, who gave me a double room for the price of a single. I was treated to a local take away curry and slept like a baby.

Day 8

Carlisle - Helmsley (M6/A66/A1)

115 Miles

Where I stayed - Golden Square Caravan Park, Helmsley, North Yorkshire

www.goldensquarecaravanpark.com 

Homeward Bound

This was my final stretch home. I was at the end of my tether and had almost reached the limits of my endurance. I was going to get there by hook or by crook. 

It started to drizzle when I left and by the time I got to Helmsley, it was pouring buckets and the wind had also picked up. The weather sent nasty chills through my bones and I couldn’t wait to get to the caravan in Helmsley, where my girlfriend was waiting for me and the bed would be nice and warm.

I piled on the miles. I stopped a couple of times for a pee and to refuel. I was totally oblivious of my surroundings, except when I reached the peak of the A66 at Bowes heading towards Scotch Corner and had to contend with furious crosswinds across the moors. 

Taking care of your bike

Sound and simple logic, but some bikers don’t, until something goes wrong.

Remember that my bike is a 1998 model, not one of those jazzed up models with a computer. No ABS. No gear assist pro quickshifter etc etc etc. My apprehension stemmed from the fact that I had never owned a Honda before and although I had heard of its utter dependability, I was not absolutely confident in its ability to cover the mileage (around 2000 miles round trip).

Prior to setting off, I asked Castle Motorcycles in Castleford to cast an expert view over the bike. They said all seemed well. They fitted my tracker, but other than self changing the oil, filter, brakes and replacing the exhaust with a HAWK stainless, there were no other major changes. It was as I bought it, untainted by additional servicing. I just rode it by the feel of my arse. Regular roadside checks of the tyre pressures and watching over the oil and coolant was all that was needed. I therefore got to know and trust it. 

It got me through my journey without missing a beat. What an engine! It lived up to its “tough to kill” reputation. I don’t think it excelled in any particular area, but it got the job done. It tackled every challenge head on and saved me from dire death a few times. I just love it. I’ve since upgraded the downpipes for a stainless issue and changed the standard screen to a double bubble version. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to own the new Triumph and the BMW S1000RR, but until I can save up for one, my CBR600FN will do nicely.

Lessons Learned

Riding in the rain is the pits. I'll say it again. Riding in the rain and wind is the fucking pits, especially on ill maintained road surfaces.

I also learned how to de-stress and apply the mantra of smoothness and relaxation. I found that the tenser I was, the more jerky I got, afraid to touch the brakes and throttle, which did not make for a happy experience. After completing this trip, I gained so much in confidence. I came to terms with my own limitations and learnt a lot more about the art of reading the road. 

Would I recommend this trip? Absolutely yes. 

Conclusion

I’m already psyched up about this year’s pilgrimage and look forward to perhaps being joined by a few fellow bikers which will make the journey more enjoyable.

The official route, where to stay, costings etc will be posted on my BLOG page. I’m provisionally looking at the 1st - 9th August.

Despite my mishaps and the barren solitary journey I experienced, I never failed to be impressed by the breathtaking views that awaited me, especially in Scotland, but don’t do it on your own. Go with a biker friend or be part of a small group.

LLAP

justgiving