Day 7
May 19th, 2005
Exeter, England

I could hear Uncle Phil stirring about, and getting dressed.  He was always up early and did a pretty good job of letting me sleep late.  Like I said, I don't have any bad habits to support to cause me to wake up early, so I use the time snoozing.  All good things must come to an end however, and eventually Uncle Phil would return to the room to get me going.  "Alright buddy, gotta get goin, they will be here soon."

A few minutes of packing clothes had me ready for some toast.  I went downstairs to the coffee shop and found Julian Pike sipping tea.  The Brits like their tea.  I briefly met Jules the night before, and got the full story on last years Britstoc, a couple of guys gave me the details of Jules unfortunate get off.

Julian Pike.  Note how close the shop is to the road.  Common
in UK villages.  You HAVE to pay attention to what you are
doing.  More than once I met pedestrians in the same spot as
Julian, the left mirror of the VFR passing inches away.

Poor old Julian crashed, and although not seriously hurt, was air lifted out.  His buddies went back to his camp site, ransacked his stuff, found his muffins, and ATE them.  "Well he ain't gonna need em where he's goin."  I shot back, "man y'all are hardcore."

It was hard not to smile while I listened to Jules talk about it.  I mean I keep picturing in my mind several guys crawling through his tent, scouring his bags until one bolts up, "HEY!!  LOOK WHAT I FOUND!  Quick divvy em up, I'm hungry."

Big Jules is a great guy and has a nice sense a humor about the whole incident.

I went back to the room and gathered my stuff  to load the VFR.  I was glad today was going to be a low mileage day.  Unlike back home, you don't just jump on your bike and ride 60 miles in the UK.  You have 2 choices- narrow, sometimes congested farm lanes, or crowded high speed motorways.  In between you might have things called A Roads.  These can be a combination of both.   Roundabouts, small villages, big towns, and bumpy unmarked roads are thrown in just to keep it fun.

In Alabama I have 3 different 60 mile loops I like to ride.  I ride one whenever I'm bored of just sitting around the house, or just want to get away.  They are quiet, deserted,  and aside from a few stop signs, I don't have to touch the brakes.  They are wide with a good surface through farm and timberland, they have a few curves but nothing I'd call twisty.  I've ridden them so much I can do it without thinking.  I'm free to sing, day dream, or just enjoy the scenery.   I can do any of the loops in 60 minutes, 45 if I push it.  They are great therapy, and been mine since I was a boy on the Honda 70.

In England, I don't think such a ride is possible.  A Long Rider has to always be aware when riding English roads, no matter what kind, a local or major thoroughfare.  You have to know what's going on around you at all times.  Day dream too long and you become a hood ornament.  Too many dangerous lanes, with lots of fast moving traffic.  Villages come and go too frequently to allow any long stretches of uninterrupted riding. 
The Brit riders are born and bred in this environment.  After riding with and observing them for almost a week, I was beginning to see what it took to survive in such conditions.  At first glance you would call their style of riding aggressive, but I later learned you have to use your speed and agility to your advantage, especially around London.  

You can't get all pissed off if someone cuts you off, let it go, if you get emotional it only reduces your awareness for the next guy coming at you.  They are disciplined and organized, you have to be, or you won't last long.
Bring the average American rider to England, (a RUB or squid riding a few thousand miles a year in his home territory) put him on the opposite side of what he is use to, with strange signs and traffic patterns, he will also likely encounter less than ideal weather, and he might last 4 hours.  If you fall into that category think long and hard before coming over here for a tour.

Make sure you know the rules and follow them, if you break one you might mess up more then yourself.  Do something wrong in a busy roundabout and it could start a chain of events.  If your flasher is on-TURN, anyone seeing it is going assume that is what YOU are going to do.  Don't hog the fast lane, and DON'T pass on the underside, NO ONE will be expecting you down there, and you might get cut off, I never saw a motorist check his low side, because he KNOWS no one is suppose to be there.

Motorcycles are greater per capita here than the U.S.  They are use to bikes, and do a better job of watching out then the average American feeling untouchable in his huge SUV.  Not to say you won't get cut off though.

With all the miles and experience Uncle Phil and I have, we would have had a tough time getting out of London without Tim, and having Peter and the others in South England to look after us was also important.

In light of those facts, we gathered in the motel parking lot for today's briefing about the upcoming ride.  Peter Mallon and Fiona did most of the planning for Britstoc.  It was well organized and fun.
​Peter Mallon and Fiona.  They did most of the work for 
Britstoc and did a great job.  No crashes etc,  the rally
was good with an outstanding safety record.  

Peter's instructions were pretty straight forward.  Leave your egos behind.  If you just HAVE To be the fastest, or you have this need to try to make folks oh and ah (when no one really cares) then you better go on your own ride.  But, its been my experience with no one around to show off for, they ride more sensibly.  That was me in my dumb days.  Alone I was a good rider, but put me in a group and I'd get on the edge thinking "he ain't got nuttin on me, or by damn when we get back to the motel I want them talking about how fast I AM and not HIM."

Our group consisted of 15 or so bikes.  Peter told us we would use the "sweep method," and each rider  had a job to do, which was look out for your brother, and not race him.

"The lead bike and tail gunner will never change.  Anytime we arrive at a point where a decision has to made, I will drop off the number 2 bike.  I will signal and expect you to find a safe place to the side, where everyone coming past will know what direction we went.  Remain posted at the turn until the gunner comes into view, when you see Moff you know everyone is accounted for, and take the spot directly in front of him, he will let you in.  At NO time pass the rider ahead of you.  Everyone will have a turn near the front.  This way you always know who the guy is in front and behind you.  If one of them comes up missing, let someone know."

The system was excellent, and reminded me of the accountability method fire departments use on the fireground to make sure everyone comes home safe.  Our group made its way through twisting busy villages with multiple turns, conquered wet, challenging roads, and successfully managed traffic laden towns, without one mishap, lost rider, or missed turn.  Many times we were in city traffic and lines of cars interrupted our formation, but we handled it with no problem.  I'm sure there were a few instances Peter was exiting a village at the same time Moff was entering.  Amazing, and testimony to the discipline of the Brit riders.

In America these rides quickly turn into a race, with crashes and riders left hung out to dry when the group fails to mark a turn off.  I've seen groups blister through a town 10-15 over the speed limit, with total disregard for the towns laws and pedestrian safety.  By our second day, passers by would stop and look as we worked our way through a village with fighter squadron precision.  Because we looked like we knew what we're doing, and trying to safely get our group through the village, motorists would yield to us.

With the briefing taken care off we were off to explore South England.  We topped off the night prior and was able to skip that chore this morning. 

I grabbed a spot mid pack, with Uncle Phil in front of me, the familiar yellow river bag making me feel at home.
Skies were cloudy and cool with rain off in the distance.

Our group paddled down the narrow English roads.  Roads were mostly wet and no leaning was possible.  A light drizzle fell off and on.  I'm not sure of the routes we followed, I was following the guys in front.  

Hedgerows and walls were common sights near the roadway.  It was not unusual to be on a skinny strip of road with a stone wall inches from your left mirror.  One thing I never could get use to was traffic on my right, while leaning in that direction.  It made me flinch every time.  I'd be in a twisty, meet a car, and snatch the Viffer up, because my first thought was this joker is on the wrong side of the road, and might want to cut back in the "proper" lane, it put me on the defensive. 

I saw the closest thing I could relate to a SUV, just outside a small village.  It was not a full size Durango, but pretty big for this part of the world.  I remember it because it was so rare.

About an hour after leaving Exeter, we arrived at the ferry to take us into Dartmouth.  The Royal Navy has a school for officers located there. 

It only took a few minutes and the boat returned from the far side and dropped the ramp.  I fired up the VFR and followed the others.  I was about to park my bike when one of the crewmen shouted something at me, the accent was too much for me, and I hollered over to Tim Granville, "what'd that joker just say?"  "He said to pull your bike to that empty spot in the front."  "Oh, guess I messed that up."
​The ferry brought us into a fog shrouded Dartmouth
The skies looked dark over Dartmouth as we chugged over on the ferry.  This little ride saves about 60 miles, and given the English geography and traffic, about 2.5 hours of travel time.

With Peter leading, and the Moff sweeping the rear, we made it through the city without incident, and back into the English country side.  

I spotted 2 cyclists and envied them at moving so much air, getting all that good exercise, they made me wish I had my Trek.

A fog bank rolled in off the Channel and reduced visibility as we moved up a series of hills.  Eventually it broke off when we dropped down on the shoreline.  A few miles later we took a break at a WWII memorial.  England is rife with memorials and tributes to American sacrifice during the war.  Markers such as this are common.  
Because I take poor notes on group rides, ( I'm socializing at breaks, not working on my PDA) I sometines need help, like the name of the locale below. (thanks Keith) The area in question is Slapton Sands, in Devon on the south coast.  A U.S. tank, pulled from the water years later, is on display.  

​A reminder of American sacrifice
A contingent of US soldiers were off shore practicing for the D Day landings (the beach favors those of Utah in Normandy) when they ran across several German patrol boats.  The landing crafts did not have much for protection, and were easy targets, they were virtually defenseless.  How the Germans slipped through the Royal and American Navy pickets is unknown, but it was a turkey shoot for the Axis crafts.  At least 3 of the boats, filled to capacity were sunk, killing hundreds of Americans.  
​​Allied soldiers practiced D Day landings on this shoreline
 looked across the waters and beaches where my countrymen gave their lives.  In a war there will be setbacks, but you keep going.  No one thought for a minute about coming home after the above incident.  Everyone knew the best way to honor those lost would be to forge ahead and win the war, in the words of FDR "no matter how long it may take us, so help us God."

We stepped in the small cafe on the shoreline, and I took my morning snack of muffins and diet Coke.
It was still cloudy and cool when we went back to the bikes.  A light mist was falling, and I was still feeling kind of sad, but touched the English have not forgotten my countrymen that died here.  

Morning was fading into afternoon, as we motored through the countryside, but unlike yesterday the clouds remained.  We were near the coast now and the wind picked up considerably, but the VFR seemed not to mind, it was calm in the steady crosswind.  

About an hour later, we arrived in the busy sea port of Plymouth.  What a fascinating place, rich in history and color.  Our motorcycles were well suited for the busy, cobblestone streets.  We threaded through the bustling community of shops, storefronts and lighthouses till we came to Pilgrim's Point.
Thankfully, we were able to park our bikes right on the harbor docks.  I strolled around trying to take it all in.  It was here a handful pilgrims, left everything they'd ever known for a strange land, and in the processes helped settle a new nation.  I walked out to the point where they actually loaded onto the Mayflower.   American history books are packed with such stories, but seeing and touching these places in the flesh, brings new meaning to the tale. 
​The pilgrims boarded the Mayflower through this portal
Fiona took me down the street where a plague hangs on the store with the names of the people who left on the Mayflower.  It was fascinating.  

I now have a new item on the to do list.  Ride to Massachusetts to take a picture of Plymouth Rock, the place where they landed.  Then I would have pictures of both ends, I bet not many can say that.

A nearby man was barking out, "1 hour cruise harbor and war ships," he finished with a few more lines I was not able to decode.  He kept saying it over and over, till he had a few folks lined up, but he kept looking for more.  Finally, I asked-  " So how long is the cruise?

School children on field trips were scampering about the old streets, their buses would pull in disembark, and leave.  I overheard a teen age girl tell her friend, "ohhhhhhh that man in the blue suit is AMERICAN, I heard him speaking."

Our time in Plymouth was over and we got back on the road for more riding.  I was behind Uncle Phil as we passed through a village with very narrow streets.  He met a delivery truck that failed to yield any ground, so he went to the sidewalk, picking up his right leg to give him room.  

Later on we got stuck behind a caravan (rv) he dragged ass for MILES, locking us down.  He was oblivious to all the traffic behind him, some things are the same no matter what country you're in.

In Looe we stopped for lunch.  Our group was large so we split up so as not to overwhelm the servers in any one place.  I went to Kelly's and had the fish and chips.  It was good.  After lunch I took a short walk down the street and found the pastry store I saw on the way in.  I bought TWO lemon muffins for later.  UK coins confused me, so I just held out my hand to the nice lady behind the counter, and said, "just take what ya need, I trust ya."  She smiled and took a couple of pounds and pence.
         The village of Looe
In a case of weakness, I ate one of the muffins on the way back to the VFR, so I only had one for later.

The afternoon was a blur as we worked our way along the coast on the way to Pendeen.  We were going to try for Land's End but it was getting late, so the decision was made to way anchor.  We pulled into the parking lot of the North Inn in the late afternoon completing a 175 mile day.   It was getting very windy and cold, and several of the guys were camping out.  I was glad it was them and not me.  

I love hot baths after a chilly ride, and after checking in I drew the tub with hot water and climbed in.  It felt good.  After cleaning up I went to the pub for something to eat and enjoyed a long conversation with Colin and Keith.  I mostly fielded questions about life in America.  It seemed everyone in the UK wanted to know that.
 I told the folks gathered, "Look here, if I crash tomorrow don't be going through my stuff.  I won't have any muffins, gonna eat the last one in just a few minutes."  

Uncle Phil and I retired shortly after that.  We were getting in bed when I asked him-"didja tell those boys camping out if it got too bad they could come in here and get on the floor?"  "Yeah, but I dunno if any will take us up on it, but gonna leave the sliding glass door unlocked for em."  I turned out the lights and rolled over.

Next: visit to Lands End and on to South Molton.