As I sit here in my plush M&S dressing gown, red wine in one hand, laptop in the other and Northanger Abbey on the TV, I’m hardly the picture of a motorbike adventurer; facing the world with only 600cc and a toothbrush.
Friday night saw me gripping the sides of my toilet in horror as my tummy and I had a severe disagreement over kipper, thinking about it the underdone scrambled eggs may also have been a factor. The upshot of this personal time my toilet and I shared was that the very first Journey To Russia training run was off. I was supposed to meet Patrick and Stace at a Little Chef just north of Guildford at 9am the following morning. Yeah right. My wife Catherine made the dutiful call to announce my illness and subsequent no-show.
By 6am the following morning I was feeling much better, there was nothing else to, well I’ll spare you the details but I was on, I was going on the trip and that was that damn it. I gingerly ate a piece of bread and drank a glass of warm water, only to end up running for the loo yet again.
9am came and went and I sat dejected in my bed, warn out and irritable. Then the phone rang and the wonderful Patrick let me know that Stace was going to be an hour late, he’d tried packing his 2 second tent on the back of his VFR only to find it acted rather like a wing – a 2 foot round tent will do that. So I had a chance – running to the shower I shouted at Catherine to make me some toast and warm Ribena – I was going to Dartmoor whether my tummy liked it or not.
3 hours later we pulled out from the Guildford Little Chef, ready for the day and fighting to prove we could do this thing. I forgot to fill my bike with petrol, this wasn’t going well, but after filling up at the next available station (evil Esso – I shall never forgive myself) we really were off. The plan – stop every 100 miles, not before, we must make up some time! 50 miles later we gently pulled into another garage on another a-road and had a frank discussion about 50 miles being much more realistic – and this way we could stop and enjoy the journey, take photos, have a chat and cup of tea – who’s idea was the 100 miles anyway?
After yet another long stop at more services (Exeter this time) we got our heads down and arrived in Dartmoor National Park around 6pm, wonderful! We just needed a campsite, or at least somewhere to pitch our freshly bought and untested tents. It was still light, just, so we blasted though the winding roads, slowing to admire the views and take photos, and to try and work out where we could pitch. There were quite a few spots indicated on the map, but obviously they were closed this side of Easter, we decided that we should stop at the next shop or pub and ask for help, the light was fading fast and none of us wanted to be building camp in the dark.
We stopped a further two times, both at pubs and both times none of us could be bothered to get off our bikes and go ask for help, we really are a lazy lot. But as luck would have it, a little further down the road we found a farm who offered a field, a standpipe, and a cold outside loo. Bliss. Tents were erected in record time (2 seconds for Stace, 10 mins for Patrick and I) and the camp kitchen brought together. We were cold, hungry and the last thing we needed was to have to wait 30 minutes for water to boil for tea and to get the potatoes, onions, carrots and gammon on the go. Our Trangia stoves, the stalwart of the Swedish army are fantastic, if you have time to wait. Stace saved the day with his gas stove and we ate a fine meal with plenty of energy and warmth, all in the pitch dark and all by the light of Patrick’s headlamp.
The evening wasn’t a total disaster but it was cold, uncomfortable and we learnt a lot of lessons. Firstly we needed more than one stove, we also needed stoves that could boil water quicker and cook more than one thing at a time. We also need a little bit of camp discipline, we spread ourselves out a little far and had to stand to pass things to each other, not helpful when all you’re interested in is eating.
The morning dawned after and eventful night of Park Rangers with piercing spot lights, farmers with shotguns and foxes hunting lambs. The rain was moving in and none of us wanted to get the tents wet, camp was broken quickly without the aid of tea and a warm breakfast, we jumped on the bikes and pulled out from the farm. What a mistake. With no warm food or drink inside us we really struggled to pull the bikes up the steep inclines and shallow valleys, every corner was complicated and long, every car an evil star fighter trying to take us out. This was definitely not a good idea. Little Chef once again called and we answered with grateful arms (and worried wallets).
Once warm and fed the rest of the journey home was very pleasant, the weather brightened up, Staces constant supply of Cadburys Fruit and Nut, and the smooth running of our bikes saw us hit Guildford in only 4 ½ hours.
Quick good byes and a debrief delayed our separation but I was glad to get out on my own. It was only when I got home that I realised that even though I’d only spent 48hrs with the boys, I already missed them and it felt wrong that evening to be at home on my own with only the TV for company.
The dressing gown and red wine are a comfort, but no substitution for a cold night with friends on Dartmoor.