Monster/No Monster

June 2, 2016

John o’ Groats is not a town. It is simply a tourist attraction. There is a signpost here, a couple of gift shops, a tourist information center and a few other buildings. Having watched “Long Way Down” a long time ago, I knew of John o’ Groats from that show, but had somehow missed the fact that there is nothing actually here.  It also turns out that it isn’t the northern-most point on the mainland UK; nearby Dunnet Head holds that claim. However, it is apparently the longest distance from Land’s End, which is the southern-most tip of the mainland UK. Seems to me they had to stretch to come up with something to draw the tourists.

View from my campsite outside Durness.


Further north of Durness on the way to John o’ Groats.


John o’ Groats.

I would have liked to go further north into the Orkney Islands, but I’m limited on time due to my booked ferry crossing to Isle of Man on June 7. 

The weather in the far North is severely overcast but not raining, and very cold. I’ve had the heated grips on 75% heat for a couple of days now, so I continue south down the east coast of Scotland to Dornoch Firth, where I make my first truly bad camping decision.

On occasion I’ve been staying in Caravan Parks rather than wild camping. Usually this is because there is hot water, showers, flush toilets, and sometimes a camp kitchen which allows me to cook without using my stove, saving gas. 

“Caravan Parks” here are typically a large lawn, with nothing else, save for possibly electrical hookups. Not a tree. Or a BBQ grill. Or a fire pit. Or anything else. Most visitors are in cars pulling travel trailers (“caravans”), or motorhomes, or VW vans. This week, there’s been a number of motorcyclists as well.

Tonight, I am introduced to a new term: “static caravan”, which is known in the U.S. as a mobile home. Thus, the “caravan park” I chose to camp at is primarily a mobile home park, with a large lawn full of electrical connections for the people who show up in trailers, motorhomes, and tents. For those of us who don’t need an electrical hookup — correction, for me, since I am the only one apparently who doesn’t want to pay for an electrical connection — there’s a separate area against the dunes with no facilities. In fact, the nearest showers and toilet are on the other side of the Great Lawn. For this I am charged fifteen pounds, a bit more than $21.  I could have driven outside of the caravan park, and camped in the dunes for free, and had a better experience.

The next morning I head towards Loch Ness, and the Loch Ness Exhibition Centre. Just before I get a good view of the lake, Dunrobin Castle comes into view.

Dunrobin Castle

Just down the road, I get my first good view of Loch Ness. I had no idea it was so huge. I had always pictured a small quiet lake in my mind. This thing is huge. The signs at the roadside park give a couple of interesting facts:

  1. There is more fresh water in Loch Ness than in all the lakes in England and Wales combined.
  2. You could fit every single living person on earth in Loch Ness fully submerged and have room left over. (Kind of a creepy statistic if you ask me.)

The lake is 23 miles long, and very deep, reaching 230 meters (755 feet) in depth. As I stand looking at the lake, I notice a single “wake”, which looks kind of like a large, long rope of water, even though there is no boat anywhere in sight. The reflection of sunlight off this single rolling wake gives it a dark, odd look. I can understand why people see things in this lake. 

A bit too long for a serpent, and kinda flat, but oddly interesting considering there was nothing around to make it.



It’s a big lake, er, Loch.

At the Loch Ness Exhibition Centre, I am surprised at the theme. The center is in a former castle/hotel. and is well done. The presentations are in a chronological order, moving room to room and showing a video presentation in each room. But it’s the “disproving” approach that surprises me. The exhibition takes the claims, photos, and other information about the lake monster, and systematically aims to disprove each one, concluding that there is no monster and everyone is mistaken in what they have seen. 

I personally don’t tend to take a stance one way or the other, and it surprises me that a place famous for its’ monster has put so much effort into proving it doesn’t exist. Still, I enjoyed the hall, and the information presented, including the WW II plane that was discovered in the lake while using sonar to search for large marine life, and the attempt at the world speed record on the water that ended badly when the then-world land speed record holder was killed after reaching 200mph on Loch Ness. 

Chasing Harry & Downton Abbey

June 4B, 2016

The Pirelli MT21 tires that I mounted in Cape Town, South Africa still had about 1,500 to 2,000 miles of life in them, but these tires have worked so well on this bike that I decided to mount a fresh set here in Scotland where I knew I could find them, rather than wait until I might not be able to find them in stock in Europe. Ian was nice enough to order a set and have them waiting for me when I arrived. 

After mounting a new set of tires, I left Ian & Tricia’s and headed east to Alnwick, jumping back and forth across the England-Scotland border via more beautiful backroads. Today would be a short day of only around 135 miles. 

On the way to Alnwick Castle, I passed The Blue Bell Inn. Out front was a large group of gents in their antique racing cars, including an Alfa Romeo, a Lagonda, a Riley, a Bentley, an Aston Martin, and more. 

On to Alnwick, and the castle, which is the second largest inhabited castle in England, behind only Windsor Castle. The 12th Duke of Northumberland and his family live in the castle, which has been in his family since the 1300’s. Parts of the castle are open for tours. 

Alnwick Castle




Alnwick Castle has appeared in many films and television shows, most recently including as the interior and exterior of Hogwarts in the first two Harry Potter films, as well as  appearing as “Brancaster Castle” Downton Abbey.

And if you look back into the past, there was a Disney film called “The Spaceman and King Arthur”, which was shot in 1979, and among the extras in that movie was Ian Willcox (yep, same Ian I rode with in Ecuador and visited here in Scotland). Ian’s parents were employed at the castle at the time.

I’m heading southwest towards the Lake District again. I have two more days before I have to be in Liverpool for the ferry to Douglas. 

May Expense Report

June 5, 2016

May was the most expensive month of my trip so far, and not surprisingly as I once again had air shipping of the bike included. Bike crating & airfreight, my plane ticket to London, and broker fees to clear customs accounted for 60% of my total monthly expenses. I also had another safari tour in May, which was a big bite of the budget, though nothing compared to shipping the bike.

For the Africa portion of May, my gas, food and lodging averaged $29.68 per day. For the UK portion of May, my gas, food and lodging averaged $83.67 per day. While fuel, food, and lodging are all more expensive in the UK than Africa, the biggest difference was the three days I spent in a hotel near London Heathrow waiting for the bike to arrive. Those three nights lodging were equal to the entire rest of the month’s lodging expense. A shining example of why I planned early on to spend very little time in Europe, Australia, and the U.S. 

May Expenses:

Gas: $164.15 ($49.95 first 23 days of May — pre-UK)

Food: $547.96 ($361.42 first 23 days of May)

Lodging: $653.84 ($265.20 first 23 days of May)

Daily Average Gas/Food/Lodging: $44.07

Shipping, Airfare, Crating, Brokerage: $2929.53

Major Mechanical Failure

June 4, 2016

It was just a matter of time. If you spend as much time as I have in the past 11 months riding a small motorcycle through all of the places I’ve been, something is bound to fail eventually.

Let’s face it: these bikes were never designed for this type of use/abuse. It’s small, it’s underpowered for a long-distance tourer, it’s air-cooled, it’s intended to carry a smaller, lighter load for shorter distances and shorter durations at slower speeds. 

At the end of the day, all of this stuff is still mechanical. Parts wear. Especially after ten months of continuous use. 

I knew before I ever left home that sooner or later something would have to give. 

And this morning it happened.

At least it happened in a good place, and not in the middle of Africa, or Patagonia.

So, to recount my experience, here’s what happened: As I was preparing to leave Ian’s, I went to zip up my ultra-expensive Klim riding pants, and the zipper broke. Complete failure. I took them back off, and sat on the couch for about thirty minutes trying to reattach the zipper before giving up. 

At around $500 for a pair of pants, I expected them to last longer than 10 months. I suppose a bit more maintenance on the gear might have prevented it, or maybe I would have caught it earlier before it failed. 

Broke down, but still going….

So I consider this a major mechanical failure.

Fortunately, there is a rain flap behind the zipper, so I’m not creating a huge wind scoop while riding. And if it starts to rain, I’ll put a piece of duct tape over the fly for additional waterproofing. 

I intend to look around on the Isle of Man next week and see if I can find anyone that is doing leather repairs, but in reality I need a new waterproof zipper first, so I’ll probably just wait until I get the pants repaired properly. 

Meanwhile, the little XT250 continues to purr along, far exceeding my expectations of reliability. 

Suffering from Poor Scenery on Your Ride? Try a Little Vitamin B-6357!

June 5, 2016

Today’s 135 miles was nothing short of just incredible fun. I took backroads from Alnwick toward the Lake District, and much of it was spent on road B6357. What a blast. Twisty, drops & climbs, through little villages, past lakes and forests. Parts of it demanded attention due to blind, decreasing-radius turns and narrow lanes, but the whole thing was, as they say here, bloody brilliant. In fact, I had so much fun I never stopped to take a photo. Not that there was any place to pull out, mind you.

The past week in Scotland has been the best scenery and roads I’ve ridden in the past eleven months. This whole area is at the top of my list to return and spend more time exploring in the future. With proper planning, including wild camping and staying in the cheaper caravan parks, as well as cooking rather than eating in restaurants, it doesn’t have to be expensive. Fuel is the one thing that I can’t reduce the cost of, other than to ride less. And this place definitely begs you to ride more, not less.

And while I will head directly for the Lake District and the west coast of Scotland again when I visit, I will not pass up the opportunity to ride B6357 again…both directions!

No Short Routes

June 6, 2016

The distance between last night’s campsite and tonight’s campsite was 13.2 miles, if I took the most direct route. But why would you do that in a place like this, where the roads are just too good to not go the long way?

So I turned my 13 mile ride into a little over 100 miles today, and I would have been happy to have done triple that here in the Lake District. I’ll just let the photos do the talking…

Coming down from Honister Pass. While only about 900 feet elevation, the climb up had 25% grades.




Just love the roads. Very little traffic, very little obstructions, other than rock walls lining the roads in places.


How can you not turn right onto a road called “The Struggle”??



Cattle sporting the Kurt Cobain Seattle Grunge look.


Motorcycle heaven.



I wanted to ask to see the alternative bin full of hopes and dreams. Perhaps there are some in there that I might be interested in….

Coniston to Isle of Man

June 7, 2016

Before leaving the Lake District, I stopped in Coniston at a great motor museum that had a nice display of British cars, bikes, and a separate Malcolm and Donald Campbell exhibit.

After leaving the museum, I stopped in Burnsley and left my Klim pants at a repair center that had the correct rubberized waterproof zipper and could properly replace it. For the first time in 11 months, I was on the bike without my riding pants, but just North Face convertible pants. I felt like I was wearing shorts. Odd feeling after all this time. 

Another couple of hours and I arrived at the ferry terminal in Liverpool. I was four hours early, but bikes were already lined up. I checked in and parked in line, then found a spot for a nap. 

The Steam Packet ferry Mannanan is a large catamaran. When it arrived from Douglas, I counted 340 motorcycles getting off, along with about 50 cars. About the same then loaded onto the ferry for the trip back to Douglas. 

Waiting to board the ferry.


Inside the ferry.

It was nearly midnight by the time I got to my campsite near Ballaugh, which is about half way around the TT course. Riding the course for the first time at night was a bit of an eye-opening experience — more on that in the next post. 

Isle of Man TT Races

June 8, 2016

It’s my first visit to the Isle of Man, and I’ve been very lucky again. Not only has the weather continued to be unusually fantastic, with sunny skies and temperatures around 70F, but the campsite I chose randomly has several major benefits:

  1. It is about 100 yards from Ballaugh Bridge, one of the famous places you immediate recognize from the TT because the bikes get airborne over the bridge.
  2. It is on the inside of the track, and the road in front of the campsite goes up and over the mountain, splitting off in several different directions. This allows me to ride to several different viewing places and even to Douglas, even though the main road is closed for racing. 
  3. The campsite is well equipped, with a nice kitchen & showers, and well organized. 

On my first morning, I walk down to Ballaugh Bridge to watch the Superstock race. There I meet Kenny, a course marshal. Kenny is 74 years old, and he’s been a marshal for every TT race since 1958. He lives about three doors down from Ballaugh Bridge, so he walks home for tea between races. 

Kenny is a legend here. Hasn’t missed working a TT since 1958.

The morning races are delayed due to mist and fog on the mountain. As I walk back to camp to wait out the delay, I walk past a guy on a Honda CRF with the rear wheel off of it. I ask him if he needs anything.

“I’ve got a flat. My dad had to ride up to Ramsey to find a tube, and now the roads are closed.”

“I have a tube, tire levers, and an air compressor on my bike about 100 yards from here. Bring your wheel down and I’ll change it for you.”

“No freaking way. You’ve got to be kidding”, he says. 


So while he waits for his dad to find a way back, we change the tube. He’s thrilled, and can’t believe his luck. 

Brett couldn’t believe his luck: stuck with a flat tire on a closed road, and a guy with a new tube, tire levers, and air happens to walk by.

Eventually the weather improves and the Superstock race gets off. Fun to watch these guys launch 1000cc bikes over a bridge while transitioning from a left to right turn. At times it looks a bit like cross-rutting up the face of a jump on a large sport bike and landing twisted. But everyone pulls it off. 

Cresting the Ballaugh Bridge



Different styles


In the afternoon the TT Zero race runs. There are very few electric bikes (maybe 8 or 9) and only the top two Mugen bikes ridden by John McGuiness and Bruce Anstey are competitive. 

John McGuinness on the Mugen TT Zero electric bike.


Bruce Anstey on the other Mugen electric bike.

I’ve watched the TT on video and television for years, but it’s hard to understand this place until you’ve ridden around it. 

As a former racer, I’m used to things like race tracks, choosing lines, establishing braking points, turn-in points, etc. Nothing I’ve raced is quite like this. When you walk out and stand in the middle of the racing surface at a place like Daytona, or Willow Springs, etc, the track looks like an airport runway. It’s very wide, and there is little or nothing in the way of obstacles near the track. Of course, the faster you go, the more you get tunnel vision, and the narrower the track seems. 

I can’t imagine that effect here. You are starting with a narrow two-lane road with no shoulders, just curbs. And buildings, and trees, and signposts, and stone walls. At 160mph through these places, it has to be like threading a needle. Mistakes are very, very costly here.

On a racetrack, you establish reference points for shifting, braking, turning, accelerating. Sometimes there are brake marker reference signs (“3-2-1”) as you approach a slow corner from a fast straight. Here, your reference points are fixed objects near the track’s edge. And the track is over 37 miles long. That’s a lot of reference points to remember. There are no signs telling you which direction the next blind corner goes. 

On the racetrack, a moment’s distraction or inattention typically means a missed line, or running wide in a turn or off the track. Here, a moment’s inattention can mean slamming into a wall. This place is brutally unfriendly. 

Also, race tracks are usually very smooth surfaces. These are country roads. Yes, the pavement is in decent condition, for the most part, but it’s rarely not rolling or wavy or bumpy. Suspension setup on a large sport bike, factoring in rough roads, jumps, and fast transitions, has to be a nightmare. 

Months of riding the course, and the week of practice prior to race week, repeated year after year, is the only way to excel here. 

I had a lot of respect for these guys before coming here. Now I’m totally in awe of them. This is a unique place that has to be experienced to be understood. I’ll be back. I need more experience.

Random Photos from Isle of Man

June 9, 2016

Thursday was a day off from racing, and I took a ride around the TT course as well as a stop in Douglas to walk through the paddock area, and a visit to a few other places.

Before heading out, Brett and his dad and friend stopped by to repay me with a new inner tube for the one I put in his CRF the day before. I insisted he keep the new tube as a backup. During the fix-a-flat the day before, Brett had commented on my portable air compressor I was carrying with me, and I had mentioned that I didn’t have a backup plan if the compressor failed (originally I had packed a few CO2 cartridges in my fender bag with a spare tube and tire levers, but I had lost the bag on the Paso Roballos crossing in between Chile and Argentina). Unbelievably, Brett handed me a new bicycle hand pump as thanks for helping him out. Totally unexpected. Continuing my interaction with great people along my trip.

Totally unexpected gift from Brett after fixing his flat the day before.


“2RideTheGlobe” is now riding along on the Isle of Man trails as well.

After fixing his tire, they had headed back up the mountain and while riding the trails, met up with David Knight’s brother (for those unaware, David is a former World Enduro Champion and all-around expert racer). They had a great afternoon riding some challenging trail, but eventually got separated and had a bit of an extra challenge getting themselves out of a precarious situation they had ridden into. As usual, these make for great stories after you’re finally back home safe.

There are at least four motorcycle museums on the Isle of Man, but perhaps the most interesting one, in an odd, eccentric kind of way, is Murray’s.

Nice collection of racers at Murray’s.





Organization? This IS organized…


Racks of antique fuel tanks.


After Murray’s, I headed a half mile down the road to the Fairy Bridge. This place has always been a place to pay tribute to the “little people”, but it has become a series of memorial tributes to people (mostly riders) lost in the past year.


The Fairy Bridge


Next I headed to the paddock area. Even though it was a day off, the paddock was mostly open and it was interesting to see a very similar setup to US roadracing, with the large transporters and pit area.

Factory Norton race effort.


The Mugen TT Zero electric bike of John McGuinness.


Nice tribute to Michael Czysz on the Mugen electric bike.


I hadn’t seen one of these before: passenger handhold. Odd, but I suppose it makes sense if you’re going to ride like a total idiot on the street with a passenger.


Beautiful vintage Honda CB750 sitting in the parking area.


A matched set of Yamaha RD350LC two-strokes. Lots of two-strokes on the street here.


Yes, I am a geek: I find these little Hondas cool. Nicely modified version.


As I walked back to my bike, these guys were parked near me and preparing to leave: two on 250 two-stroke dirt bikes (but street legal here), and their riding buddy on an off-road version of a BMW K-bike. I know which one I’d pick…


Later in the day, my friend Alfred from Georgia showed up. This is his third trip to the IoM TT races, and it was great to see him and talk about future TT plans.

Alfred: retired American Honda technical guru and all-around great guy.


Alfred took me to dinner at the Sulby Glen Hotel and Pub, where they pour draught beer from a Honda 4-cylinder engine. Very cool.


Goodbye IoM

June 12, 2016

I’m standing near the 31-mile marker on the 37.7 mile TT course, on the mountain, near the Joey Dunlop memorial. The TT races have been over for two days, but the mountain is still one-way traffic only, and there are still lots of motorcycles going by, nearly all in excess of 100 mph; many in excess of 140 mph.

Looking toward the 31-mile marker on the mountain course.

I turn to the policeman standing next to me and ask, “So, is it pretty much just a free-for-all up here?”

He replies, “We prefer not to call it a free-for-all, but there is no speed limit.”

When was the last time a cop told you that? He continues: “We’re not here for enforcement. We’re just here to close the road when the accidents happen. Which is several times a day.” He explains that during the Manx GP in August, the mountain road is open both ways, because apparently there aren’t nearly as many idiots that show up for that.

The Joey Dunlop memorial is quite impressive, and includes stones engraved with each of his 26 TT wins.

A moment with the King of the Mountain.


The building behind Joey’s memorial… 2RideTheGlobe sticker in the bottom right.


The Snaefell Mountain Railway crosses the TT course on its’ way to the top of Snaefell Mountain. Hopefully not during the races…


Friday’s Sidecar race and Senior TT were great viewing, especially with William Dunlop setting a new lap record.




“Hutchy” on the BMW approaching Ballaugh Bridge during the Senior TT.


This morning I went for a ride up the mountain behind the campground, and onto some of the trails (“Green Lanes”).

Nice two-track…


First time in a long, long time that I’ve ridden the little 250 without the panniers and tank bag. It was definitely more fun without the added weight.


Looking out toward Ballaugh and the campground from the hill above.


This is 10 o’clock in the morning. Very thick forest makes it suddenly very dark. And this photo doesn’t show how steep this downhill section is. Lots of braking going on.

I was reminded of several things as I descended the rutted, root-strewn, loamy, dark, steep downhill:

  1. As Sandy and Alfred mentioned earlier, the ISDE has been run on the Isle of Man in the past, and for good reason. Nice trails!
  2. I’m alone.
  3. I have no idea if there’s a way out at the bottom of this hill.
  4. I’m on a very underpowered motorcycle.

Keeping all of that in mind, I eventually managed to get turned around and back up the way I came down. It was another reminder of why I need to come back here, and spend at least a week between the TT races and the off-road riding.

I’m on the very late ferry back to Liverpool, then a few more days roaming England and Wales.