14th August 2013
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End 2 End Slowly, Part 3
Phil Speakman and his 38 year old MZ complete a charity ride aboard small capacity, low powered motorcycles from one end of the UK to the other. The final stage was frankly scary...
At New Lanark, I enjoyed the peace and quiet of my own room and a 7:30am breakfast. This meant that I'd be playing catch-up with the rest of the group, who preferred yet another an early start. The weather that morning was wild with the possibility of copious wetness at any moment. As I rode north along the A706 through Forth and Whitburn, the wind increased to gale force levels and at times it was hitting my flank with such violence that I found myself forced to slow down below 30mph. For such a lightweight little machine, the ES150/1 carries ahead of it a disproportionately large sail area, due to the deeply valanced front mudguard and the rectangular fixed headlamp unit.
Ahead of me lay one of the great treats of the trip, the ride across the Forth Road Bridge. With a 40mph speed limit, I was looking forward to enjoying the views eastwards towards the cantilevered majesty of the Forth Rail Bridge and beyond towards Edinburgh. It was a ride which I'd long wanted to undertake and to say it was an experience of a lifetime would be no understatement. In fact, at many times on that crossing a thought did cross my mind that it could conceivably be the final experience of my lifetime…
Battered relentlessly by terrifyingly powerful crosswinds, I found myself struggling to keep the bike upright and on track even when crawling along at 15mph! At times it felt like some great hand was picking up the entire machine from the surface of the road, before casually discarding it a yard to the left or right, according to whichever whim had flitted across its capricious mind. The only sight-seeing I managed for the entire length of that wondrous bridge was of a small patch of ethereal Tarmac floating ten yards in front of me. It was all I could concentrate on, whilst clenching the handlebars in vice-like grips and trying to crush the fuel tank with my knees, willing the turmoil to cease.
Almost immediately upon leaving the bridge's infrastructure, I was welcomed into the reassuring cleavage between two great walls of a rock cutting, instantly banishing my howling tormentor and allowing me to relax and breathe a sigh of blessed relief.
Relief, tinged with the bitter disappointment of a hero recently met. What is it they say about heroes?
Soon tiring of the 55mph monotony of the M90 and its buffeting side winds, I opted for the less exposed A-Road route northwards to Perth. I was also on a quest and my brief search came to an end on the southern outskirts of Kinross. There I spotted just what I was looking for: an agricultural and motor engineers occupying a large shed, located immediately adjacent to a farm. Within 10 minutes a deal was struck and I removed both pannier frames for welding for the princely sum of £10. The left one required repairing, whilst the right one needed a preventative weld to stabilise an advancing crack.
Since then, I've fitted a luggage strap to the panniers, reaching from top handle to top handle, pulling the panniers towards each other and transferring the down force which is encountered on uneven road surfaces away from the pannier frames and onto the passenger seat. This strap completely stops the pannier 'flap', which is the cause of the metal fatigue failure of the front mounting point and is a solution which Roger has successfully employed for many years on his BMW R80.
Repairs completed, I set off in earnest back towards the M90 with the intention of catching the others despite them having a good two or three hours head start on me. North of Perth, I joined the A9 via Pitlochry, traversing the western edge of the Cairngorm National Park past Aviemore. Stopping in a lay-by at the first sign of rain, I attempted to put on my waterproof leggings, struggling to stay upright on one leg as the wind screamed around me. I had to put my armoured gloves in my panniers, otherwise risk losing them forever to the bleak moorland. Even my helmet had to be placed behind the rear wheel of the bike as it simply wouldn't stay on the seat without being blown off. This was another indication of just how much the wind speed had increased during the day.
On one particularly bleak section of moorland, the traffic was backing up behind an articulated lorry bearing the livery of Rammages, a Stoke based removals firm. Standing much higher than a normal HGV, it was obviously struggling with the side winds. Eventually it was my turn to overtake, dropping down a cog I pulled out from behind the trailer, nosing past the tractor unit at 50mph. As I prepared to moved back into the left hand lane, conscious of both the proximity of car which had followed me during the manoeuvre as well as the articulated lorry immediately behind me, a massive blow in the form of a blast of wind me hit from the right, sending the bike veering to the nearside verge.
I returned the machine to the centre of the lane but not before a nasty headshake had started. I braced my arms and shoulders, assuming it would soon fade as it always had before, but this time it was not to be. Another gust of wind hit the front end turning the headshake into a violent uncontrollable tank-slapper. It was all I could do to hold on, closing the throttle and applying the rear brake, desperately trying to influence the direction of the bike towards the verge.
I had long since given up on steering it and what surprised me the most was that the tank-slapper was as uncontrollable at 5mph with my feet trailing on the ground as it had been at 50mph. The bars only returned to my control as I came to a stop on the grass border to the left of the road and the car and the HGV sped past.
After a short break, I completed the rest of the leg to Inverness at a much slower pace, keeping to the left, allowing anyone and everyone to overtake as they saw fit. As I dropped down to sea level, the wind dropped and the crossing of the Moray Firth was mercifully calm. Needing fuel, I followed the signs for the services at Tore and as I pulled onto the garage forecourt, there were the rear ends of ENVoy, MOBster, KENT and BumRY parked in a line outside a cafe. I'd finally caught up with them, for a little while at least.
Having already fuelled both man and machine, Roger and the others were preparing to leave when I entered the cafe. That wasn't a problem and I let them go, knowing that I'd be barely 30 minutes behind them when I set off again, with my MZ having a much faster cruising speed than the leading Fuji Robin diesel-powered Enfield. After a ham and cheese toastie, the skies cleared, the wind dropped, the sun shone and riding became an absolute pleasure as I worked my way up the east coast. What a complete contrast to earlier that same day.
I glimpsed my first sight of Jack and BumRY well before Wick and nestled into my usual position at the rear of the column. At Wick we passed a Norton waiting on the side of the road, two-up. This was our welcoming party, in the guise of VMCC Chairperson Kim Allen and his wife, Steph, who'd popped over on the ferry from Orkney in order to wish us well. Not only that, Kim also presented Roger with a cheque towards the Red Cross Week funds which had been the reason for Roger organising the trip.
After topping up the tanks in Wick, we rode into John O'Groats as a group and it being past 7pm we had ample space to line up the bikes for the victory photographs.
But before we did, Roger fished around inside his tank bag, producing one medal for each of us, with which to commemorate our achievement. And sure enough, inscribed on each one was the motto from the headstock of Roger's BMW. 'Festina Lente.'
Yes I think we'd achieved that...
The following morning after a huge breakfast and some of the finest porridge I've ever tasted, we gathered in the car park before heading home again, each taking our separate ways. The 'lads', Jack and Kieran planned to camp locally and visit a selection of hostelries before touring through Scotland on the way home. Roger, Peter and I shared the road for a little while, before we gradually parted company. Roger and I kept leapfrogging each other during the course of that day, until we reached the River Spey.
There, heading northwards across the bridge, we spotted Hume and his anonymous little C90 Honda, who'd obviously taken 'Festina Lente' far more seriously than the rest of us. In recognition of this outstanding achievement, there on the north bank of the Spey and with yet another overnight stop planned before John O'Groats, Roger presented Hume with his medal as a fitting reward for his exemplary due diligence in the face of wanton, reckless and feckless haste.
If you've enjoyed this tale of daring do and would like to make a donation for Red Cross week, you can donate via the End 2 End Slowly website: www.e2eslowly.org/#!donate/c1vnr
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