Day 4
May 16th, 2005
London, England

Uncle Phil as usual was up early.  I stayed in bed for another hour dozing off and on.  The bike dealer is only 2 blocks up the street from the hotel, and it didn't open to almost 10, so there was no rush.

We went downstairs, and the hotel had a nice breakfast spread.  Cereal, croissant things, fruit, and juice.  I use to skip eating in the mornings, but when I changed my lifestyle I found out you eat less during the day if you take something early.  For the last 9 months I've been fueling my morning workouts with peanut butter and jelly toast, a vastly underrated staple.  Lance Armstrong is a committed PB and J man.  It provides all you need in a relative low fat package. The peanut butter has just the right protein and good fat, the bread and jelly are pure energy.  I strongly suggest it before a long ride, it fills you up without loading you down with saturated fat, and burns clean.   But unfortunately, PB and J sandwiches are hard to get in the UK.  

I managed to talk the young lady into bringing me toast, but peanut butter was no where to be found.

After breakfast we went upstairs to finish packing.  I remarked, "Dang brother, I don't see us getting out of London till 1 or 2 pm."  "Yeah I know, gonna be a long day."  It was important for us to make it to Scotland today, to set the tone for the rest of the tour.  David Whitley of the UK STOC club is up there waiting for us.  If we can make it to Edinburgh by tonight, the rest of the tour would fall into place.  We were looking at a 400 mile plus ride, with a very late start, in a strange place, learning new traffic signs and patterns.  It was no card lock we could do it.  I was leery of riding in the dark, but I didn't see how it was going to be avoidable. 

Tim Granville, another STOC member was riding into the city.  It would be his job to get us out of London and on the A1.  He was due to meet us at the dealer when it opened.  Having an escort would relieve us from trying to follow route signs.  London is hard enough when you KNOW where you are going, for strangers trying to ride without getting nailed, would be almost hopeless.

At last it was time to make the short walk to the About Town Bike Hire Shop.  Let me say now we were treated well, and everything was professional.  Mike (the owner) is a long time rider and understands your needs.  Back in December we sent several emails out to dealers asking for info.  About Town was the only one to respond, so he got our business, just that simple.  

The close proximity of the Brewers Inn was also important.  Being able to walk to the dealer eliminates the hassle of how to get to the shop.

Mike arrived and opened the gate, and I had to make the call on which bike to rent.  I choose the VFR.  I took one look at the BMW and just felt it was too big.  It looked out of place on the London streets I would soon have to negotiate.   I also knew UK back roads were narrow, and twisty, the Beemer would be out of its element.  

Tim wasn't on the scene yet, and I grew concerned.  If he doesn't show, we fall back to an old touring axiom of mine-just play the hand you're dealt.  I was sure we could do it unescorted, but it would be more difficult.

We were finishing up the paperwork when Tim rolled in.  What a relief.  I felt like running up and kissing him.  Tim is the gentleman's gentleman.  A quiet kind of guy, and a heck of rider.  His ST 1100 is well thought out, and GPS equipped.  Just what we needed to remove us from the madhouse known as London.
​Tim Granville.  He had the task of leading us out of London.
I signed the papers for the red VFR.  We rolled out of the dealers to ride the few blocks back down to the hotel to pick up our luggage.  Right away, the VFR felt much lighter than the STs I was use to.  She felt smooth, and refined.  The bike had 2 trip meters, air temp gauge, digital speedo and analog tach.  It also had a large Givi tail trunk.

I'm currently contemplating adding another bike to the BamaRider stable, and the VFR is on the short list.  This trip will serve as a good test.

Hurriedly we loaded the bikes.  I tied the Tourmaster bag on the seat, and placed a small duffel bag in the tail trunk along with the now empty ski bag.  I grew to hate that thing because it took some stuffing to get in the tail piece.  Because I was on the Viffer, I couldn't pack much more anyway.
​Let the ride begin.  Me and the VFR at the start of our

Uncle Phil, on the 03 1300, had his yellow river bag tied to the seat.  He used the STs saddlebags, and trunk for various other items.  I'm not sure what he had in there, but a few items proved to be lifesavers later in the trip.
At last we were ready to go, and we followed Tim onto the London surface streets.  I don't know the routes we took out of the city, but they were all A something's I think.  

Traffic was congested and moving slow, and the clutch action the Viffer was way different than either of my STs.  I choked the bike down twice.  Because I didn't know the traffic patterns, I looked in all directions.  Cars, bicycles, scooters, busses, were coming at me in every direction.  I was astonished to see lorries (18 wheelers) in the mix.  How they managed on such narrow streets was beyond me.

I followed the 2 STs as best I could.  Lines dividing the road were merely suggestions.  If a motorist decided he wanted your space he put on his blinker and grabbed it.

Air temp gauge on the VFR was on 9 celsius. (all further reference to temp in this story will be in Celsius.  Convert by doubling and adding 30.  See what a quick learner I am?)

I seemed to be doing ok at having traffic shoot by on my right, but stayed away from the center stripe.  Several times I was confronted by another motorcyclist coming at me from the opposite direction.  I was going to be really pissed off if I get taken out by another RIDER in this melee.  In slow moving traffic the Brit riders split the lanes of opposite moving vehicles.  Something unheard of in America.  They call it "filtering."  British motorists accept the practice, and don't appear to mind.  In the U.S. drivers don't like ANYBODY having it better.  "If I'm stuck in this jam by damit EVERYONE else is gonna be to."

Past the brownstones and shops we went slowly, but surely, moving north to the A1 and freedom. 

My first encounter at a roundabout was a success, but I failed miserably on number 2.  Tim went in, and went straight to the inside, then Phil, so I just followed.  I glanced right nothing coming, then left, back right again, and GEEZUS! A Peugot was heading straight for me!  It came out of nowhere.  The car got on the horn big time, and I swerved left, he went by on my right and I pointed at the Stars and Stripes on my sleeve, letting him know I didn't know what I was doing, he laughed and gestured for me to come back over in front of him.

It took us 30 minutes to cover 3 miles.  Tim took us in for gas, and my first experience with the sticker shock of petrol in the UK.  Pumps in the UK don't have the on/off handle.  Just pick up the nozzle and squeeze.  A trade off because pay at the pump is rare, you have to go in to get your card swiped.

The Viffer was half full, and I topped off the tank to the tune of 5 pounds! (about 10 dollars).  I went in to swipe my card, and told the clerk " yanno back home its the CUSTOMERS that hold up the con stores."  "Well, welcome to England mate."

Tim did a heck of job getting us out of the city.  Not a single missed turn, remarkable given the fact he had two yanks in tow.  He did good.

A cool, light rain began to fall, and I was getting a little chilled.

At the intersection of A14 and the A1 we pulled into a McDonalds for a late lunch.  I came in the parking lot and promptly went in the wrong lane.  You forget how instinctive riding is at times.  I was entering by the exit lane.  I also cut a joker off coming out of the drive thru.  I've been in a thousand Mickey D's, and had NO idea they put the drive up on the opposite side of those back home.  A long rider does NOT expect Big Mac stuffed cars coming out of the drive thru on his right.  

I'm pretty sure the whole parking lot froze and watched as I came in.  "What in the hell is HE doing?"  You know how you do when you mess up?  You kind of just keep on going like it was something you meant to do?  Well, that's what I did.  I took my gear off and just walked in the store like nothing was going on.  
​It was rainy and wet when we pulled into the McDonald's
parking lot.

Been a long time since I ate fast food, so chose the lesser of the evils.  Two small hamburgers, skipping the fries.
Tim fulfilled his duty.  We were at the A1.  It was now up to Uncle Phil and I to make it to Scotland.  This was the only part of the tour we would be unescorted.

I exited the McDonalds using the proper lane, and got on the A1 north.

By now we were getting the hang of things.  We flew south in the flow of traffic, about 80 mph.  At this speed the Viffer was beating me to death with wind blast.  If my helmet had not been latched on it would have been torn off my head.  Still, I had to keep up the pace if we had any hope of reaching Edinburgh.

Speed cameras.  I didn't know to take them seriously or not.  I played it safe and slowed when their markings appeared.  At least they let you know when one is close.  If we had them back home they would be used in ambush fashion.  I'm sure the units would be mobile and moved from place to place.  So you never know where they might be next.  Gawd, I hope they never come over here.

It felt good to be at highway speed as we traveled north through the urban sprawl, but the farther we went the more the landscape changed to green farmland with bright yellow fields.  Traffic was getting thinner as we left London behind.

My hands were cold in the unlined leather sport gloves, but they were the best I had.  Uncle Phil sensed it and motioned to take the shoulder.  I followed him to the side, and he said.  "I got some warmer gloves and a vest for ya, you look cold."  "Brother I am."  Temp gauge read 8.  We were standing over a storm grate.   Phil said, " watch out, don't drop your keys."  About 30 seconds later he did just that.  I heard the click clank when they hit and tumbled down.  "Dam!! We're screwed!"  I shouted.

We could see them, luckily they drain was not very deep, about 20 inches.  With traffic whizzing by us at 80 mph while we got down on our hands and knees and went fishing with a bungee cord.  If we could just hook the ring we could pull them out.  We had no spare, this HAD to work.  I broke off a stick from a nearby shrub, but it didn't help.  Somehow Phil latched it, and pulled them up, and my small hands were able to reach through the bars and secure them.  
​Uncle Phil's keys are down there somewhere
Funny at the stuff you can accomplish when you HAVE to.

Back on the road I was much warmer.  My hands felt good in Phil's thinsulate gloves and vest.  It made all the difference.  

Because I was warmer I was better able to keep up the pace.  After the key incident we put down another 100 miles, and started looking for gas.  I wasn't sure of the Viffer's range so had to play it safe.  

The riding was better and we had more to look at.  We were beginning to see sheep farms, a sure sign Scotland couldn't be much further.  

Every 15 miles or so we had to slow to get through a roundabout.  It was painful and destroyed all our rhythm.   Sometimes there was a queue line to enter one.  But we kept pushing on.  We had to get to Edinburgh.
We stopped for gas just south of Newcastle, and called Dave from a land line. He told us the rally point, a pub called the Stagecoach just south of the Edinburgh. The VFR still had 2 bars left, and this time I was hit for 12 pounds.  It was a quick gas and go.

At last we made it to Newcastle and a route change.  I was looking forward to leaving the highway for a more relaxing route.  Traffic had been such you had to concentrate almost always.

We left the A1 for A68, a much more scenic route.  We went by small farms and cottages. The road was narrow with many blind summits, and if you were not cautious, I'd say dangerous.  It was after 8pm and getting dark as we started the last 100 miles to Edinburgh.  Our pace dropped to 60 on the more narrow and tricky highway.  
​Approaching the Scottish Border.  Rolling hills of green.
I waved at 2 farmer's children walking along the roadway, they had on sweaters and gloves, reminding me how cool it was getting.

A68 took us to A69 and into Scotland, entering in an area called the Borders.  Rolling hills and valleys were all around us.  The sun was begin to set behind the grassy slopes, it was beautiful.  Traffic was light and the riding was good.  We stopped for pictures at the border.

​Crossing into Scotland at last. 
In a village I can't remember we stopped to top of the tanks.  I knew we were getting close but didn't want to take any chances.

By now I was tired.  The VFR has a more forward lean than my STs, placing more weight on my hands and wrists.  It was not an uncomfortable position, but after 400 miles I was getting stiff.
​With the sun setting down on the Scottish hills, day 4
draws to a close.

It was dark when we arrived at the Stagecoach Inn.  David was waiting for us when we pulled in.  It was late, and the pub was closed so we followed Dave (he was in his car) into Edinburgh.  The city was closing as we worked our way around the dark streets.  His presence was much appreciated. 

It made finding the motel much easier, and saved us a lot of time.   For some reason, he reminds me of a RAF pilot.

I set the stand in the parking lot of the Premier Inn after a 430 mile day.  I was pooped.  

We changed clothes and jumped in David's car.  "Cut the heat wide open brother, its cold."  David took us down to the river where we found a place serving Indian food.  The cuisine is popular in the UK.  I had some pretty good chicken but not sure what it was called.

After supper we strolled the down the small lanes, passing the closed shops and pubs.  I stopped at a bank ATM and pulled out 50 pounds (91 in US).

Dave took some pictures of us with the bridges in the background.  It was scenic.   He delivered us back to the motel and we finalized the next day's plan.  At last I was able to get a hot bath to knock of the chill.  It felt GOOD.  

The toughest part of the tour was over.  We are now poised for some great riding, and had a escort the remainder of the tour.  That made me feel better.  These guys are great.

It was after 12am and sleep came pretty quick.