It's not everyday you jump on your bike and ride from the South of one country to the South of another, not in our house anyway.
When Russ at Shand suggested we did just that and ride from Edinburgh to Bristol I immediately trotted out the usual excuses; no time, dead busy at work mate sorry, err no, the kids/dog/wife would miss me etc.. But a bit like that song from Les Miserables - you know the one - that get's under your skin and you can't get out of your head, the idea slowly crept further up the ranks of my subconscious and after a few days of brewing I agreed to do it if I could take in Bespoked Bristol 2015, the hand made bike show.
Plans were hatched, kind of. Routes were plotted, kind of. We got permission from loved ones colleagues and dogs, kind of - my dog is still sulking.
We hit the road aboard our super Shand Stoaters on Wednesday eve, adorned with Wildcat gear soft luggage that we had stuffed to the gunnels with sleeping kit; bivvie, pad and bag, a warm jacket, spares, grub and our passports (i'll come back to this). The ride through the borders to Moffat was glorious, perfect temperature and sunshine. We stopped for a fish supper in Moffat where Russ somehow managed to fire up a conversation with the guy who was responsible for the Gates belt drive as he smoked a fag outside the chippy.
Fed and watered - tea'd - we decided to crack on a bit to lessen the load of what was going to be close to 200 miles the next day if we stopped at Moffat.
When the gritter passed us at around 11pm for a second time we realised it was getting a tad chilly and that we should maybe try and grab some kip somewhere. This proved more difficult than I had envisaged as the M6 was so close to the road we were on which left really only one side of the road to find a quiet bit. We eventually found a spot behind some hay bales just south of Ecclefechan. When we emerged from our frost covered bivvies at 5am the next morning, it was baltic and the ride to Gretna services was a hand and foot numbing experience despite spring gloves and over shoes, thank god I packed a down jacket as a precaution.
Russ offered to pay for the first round of coffee, silly bugger, £18 in StarF*cks for 2 coffees a bacon roll and danish. Oh well, we soldiered on with Russ's wallet a lot lighter and our bottles filled, down to the Lakes, over Shap summit, through Preston, Lancaster, Wigan, Warrington and we made it to my brothers house in Northwich by about 8pm by which time we were ready for the shower, some hot grub and a sleep. Thanks bruvv.
5am came around too quickly and it was time to hit the road again, dogs and therefore all house occupants were woken, kettle boiled, butties made and we got going again at about 5:45, South again, this time on the A49.
Shrewsbury, Leominster and other places came and went, the day got hotter and I was running out of space for my warm kit, things were stuffed and attached all about me and the bike but we made good time, but perhaps not good enough. We had to make a hard decision to cut the ride short by about 40 miles at Gloucester.
Despite the ride being for fun there was a more serious part to it and that was to stick our bikes on the Shand stand at Bespoked and that opened to the public Friday at 2:30, we knew we would never make that but 5 O'clock was our cut off to arrive and be there for a few hours before the visiting public left at 7. In no way did it have anything to do with the party we 'had' to go to with free beer and food courtesy of Chris King, nope, nothing at all, honest.
Train tickets were purchased at Gloucester and we rode the last 40 miles via British Rail. It would have been great to have finished the whole route but I don't think we did too bad anyway, we averaged 15mph for the riding and covered 350 miles in under 46 hours. Not bad at all for a pair of 40+'ers who had never ridden anything approaching that distance before.
Bespoked greeted us with open arms, hand shakes, back slaps, head shakes and a nice cold cider courtesy of Euan and Look Mum No Hands. Not too shabby.
Chris King put on a great evening over at Mud Dock with loads of food, coffee made by the man himself and buckets and buckets of ice cold Cielo beer, I think I managed 3 plates of food & 2 beers before it was time for bed. Beth from Wildcat took over the beer supping for us.
The rest of the weekend was great, I spent all my time on the Shand stand answering questions as best I could and generally enthusing about all things Stoater, I saw some amazing feats of engineering, some lovely paint and met loads of great people from around the world. I discussed, bikes, dogs, Norwegian cabin plumbing, Vincent motorbikes, saddle choice, Transcontinental racing and domestic travel without a passport or photo ID. Guess who forgot his?! Nope. Want a clue? It was Russ. At least we were only in Bristol and not Istanbul.
Lessons were learned, nothing broke and I had a brilliant time, thanks to Russ, Steven, Euan, Fraser & Matt at Shand, Beth and Ian at Wildcat, Endura - Convert jacket and merino arm warmers are without doubt the best bits of riding kit ever-, Supernova lights form the guys at Amba, ShaggyJohn, Chris King, Phil at Bespoked, Look Mum No Hands, Mud Dock, The blokes from Norway and their dodgy plumbing, The Festka guys, Saffron, Condor, the guys who gave me loads of positive advice about the TCR and shed loads of others.
See you next year.