Riding my blue and white F800R BMW, who I have aptly named Kayleigh, or ‘Ceilagh’ (I like to think of her as a fiery Celtic) from London to Edinburgh I ate up the miles on the empty highway For me riding a motorbike creates a sense of freedom like no other form of transport can create. It is for me how travel was always intended to be. Full of excitement and trepidation. Looking forward to the destination, but not wishing away the travel time. If a car is purely to get from A to B, then a bike is for the thrill in between of A and B.
The feeling of being a little more vulnerable amongst those I am sharing the road with. My eyes constantly roving between the constantly changing scene ahead of me and the receding picture in my left and right rear view mirrors whilst my peripheral vision at the same time working in overdrive as the green fields, cattle and sheep which are such an integral part of rural Britain flashed past me.
I somehow also have the time to take in the long, hand built granite walls snaking away into the distance either side of me as they separate various gently undulating fields whilst cattle and sheep chew on the cud next to babbling brooks.
However I will think of these things as I take my next roadside break with coffee in hand and helmet and gloves resting on my handlebars… then my mind will have the luxury of wandering a little bit.
I remember the first moment I truly felt comfortable riding Ceilagh – as though we were one entity. Taking corners as though we were joined as one machine, speeding up to make a manoeuvre ahead of traffic or slowing down quickly to evade a possible situation as the changing picture ahead unfolded itself.
Everything up until then had been a little like kissing on your first date.
My movements a little bit clumsy and unable to really think about my next move as the anxiousness and nervousness turned up the heat inside of me. Psyching myself out as a sense of a sense of awkwardness slowly manifested itself within me. Then after time I learnt what the responses to my actions meant and how to either tone down or increase my to match… then suddenly it all came together.
How her engine responded to my subtle opening of the throttle, the slight movement of my hips and altering my balance to subtly alter her direction or the increased growl of her and sudden breaking of her engine as the gears dropped quickly.
I started out my journey as the sun broke over the horizon on an open road, dry and devoid of other motorists, anxious to make the most of the early morning solitude as heavy rains had been forecast later on in the day. My eye brows blowing in the wind with wild abandon (I have a strategically shaved head) until mid morning. Then the rains came… traffic suddenly appeared all around me and the sense of freedom was over.
My visor was so full of water as it cascaded over my helmet like Victoria Falls in full flood that it was difficult to make out what was happening a hundred metres ahead of me while I hurtled along at 70 miles an hour (110kph). One of the things about riding a bike in inclement weather is the feeling of being in a slight hostage situation as I am acutely aware of the danger I create for myself and other road users if I am not moving at the same speed of the traffic and so there is nothing else to do but maintain speed. My eyes were focussed on a white van behaving erratically at the limit of my sight picture who’s driver was filled with obvious road rage that inspired by the fact that the vehicle in front did not immediately change lanes. Tailgating and then overtaking on the inside and then returning to the outside lane and slamming on brakes I was waiting for the inevitable pile up which would have put me into a very precarious position and so my mind was starting to calculate the options I could take and what the possible ramifications would be for each decision.
One of the many calamities which has afflicted Zimbabwean society is the splintering of families and friends as they have scattered to the ends of the earth in pursuit of a normal life.
And so it is always a great moment when the opportunity to visit friends who I have not seen in many years whilst I am on my travels. I was looking forward to staying a couple of nights in Perth, just north of Edinburgh with my friends Dan and Rachel.
There was quite an interesting moment as I was coming into the town of Perth, a small town and where I was at that moment, very rural…. A lot of farms, some green, some adorned with flowers, some wild and some not and the usual healthy cattle or sheep scattered about as they chew the cud. All surround with the kind of stone walls which adorn the British landscape which always leaves me wondering how long it tool to collect the individual stones to build the walls.
My GPS settings had not been set correctly and so I found myself at a farm house which showed was about 500 metres from my friend Dan’s but clearly across some impassable terrain through a farm, over walls and across a river. Hmmm…
As I attempted to find another route a smart land rover suddenly arrived at the adjacent farmhouse from what I suspected was the afternoon school run. I dismounted, both thanking my lucky stars and furiously thinking how to explain where I was going – no post code and no idea of how to explain the person I was going to see… Turns out it was easier than I had thought….
Lady; ‘Do you know the post code’. Me: ‘No, it doesn’t have a post code. Dan is a Zimbabwean…I added feeling a little foolish… as though that little piece of information would suddenly ignite comprehension and he would suddenly be known.
Lady: ‘Aaaah… yes he lives at the end of the little street in the next little town.’ To say I was left feeling a little incredulous would be a massive understatement.
Her directions were like those you would get when you drive to a farm in Bikita (small rural town in Zimbabwe)… Follow the main road, when you get to the first turning to the left take that and follow the road until you get to the bridge, go past the power station on your left and then when you get to the large tree on the left take the next right. If you go until the big rock you have gone too far. I followed along in my head, trying not to think of anything else… Taking note of her warning to adhere to the changing speed limits as I passed through town.
I enjoyed the slow pace as I cruised through the small town, over the cobbled streets and granite hewn pavements below the splashes of colour in the form of hanging pot plants, as I ground slowly to my final destination.
Six hours in the saddle is not my longest ride, but with wet gloves from that driving rain storm I was looking forward to the inevitable cup of coffee to wrap my wrinkled fingers around and change into something a little more comfortable and warm.