London Calling

May 28, 2016

I arrived in London a day before the bike. I flew through Addis Ababa, Ethiopia while the bike went via Istanbul, Turkey.

I spent Thursday working on clearing the bike through Customs. I ended up having to hire a Customs broker to process the paperwork. Finally, around 7pm Thursday evening I received a call saying I could pick the bike up. I caught a taxi (about $30 for the 4 mile ride; I had walked there in the morning).

When the crate came out of the warehouse on the forklift, I was shocked: it didn’t look anything like it did when I delivered it to the shipper. They had wrapped the parts that protruded beyond the crate in foam sheeting, then placed cardboard over the entire crate, and finally shrink-wrapped the whole thing. As a result, nothing was damaged. It took me about an hour and a half to uncrate and reassemble everything, and I was back at the hotel by around 11pm.

The crate arrived in better condition than when I last saw it.

The next morning I loaded up and set out for the Lake District in the North. I had been to London before, so sightseeing wasn’t a priority, but getting out of London was. I can’t afford to spend $40 a day for food and $100 a night for a hotel for long. Before heading north, though, I went south briefly, stopping at Yamaha UK for a quick visit. The guys there were incredibly nice, even offering to change my oil before I left.

Richard, Bill (shown here) and the other guys at Yamaha UK were very welcoming, giving me the tour of their offices and even helping me out with an oil change before leaving London. Compared to the US offices, it’s a small place (they are a subsidiary of Yamaha Europe) but they definitely run a smooth operation.

The traffic leaving London was horrendous. I spent about 50 miles between London and Birmingham splitting lanes, and again for another 20 miles or so after Birmingham. I later found out that it was the beginning of a 3-day weekend, so a lot of the traffic was likely people headed out of town for the holiday.

I made it to the Lake District early evening, and found a camp just outside of Windermere. This area reminded me somewhat of the movie “The Way” and the Camino de Santiago de Compostelo, the long trail that people use to make a pilgrimage from France into Spain. There are many trails through the Lake District, and people were here to hike between towns, staying in hostels or hotels.

Camp for the evening, overlooking the lake just outside of Windermere.


The road to Penrith.


A wee village on the way to Penrith.


Different wildlife here than in Africa…


Along the way I passed this old church and cemetery in Patterdale.


This seemed a bit creepy at first….what kind of music comes from a cemetery?


But this explained it…”Battle of the Organs”. I wonder if they’re “donor” organs…


The next morning I rode from Windermere to Penrith on a beautiful small road along a lake, and then back onto the M6 and in to Scotland before exiting at Moffat to take another great small road through the countryside, eventually arriving in West Linton, and the home of Ian and Tricia. 

Tricia, Jasmine, and Ian.

The last time I saw Ian, we just happened to randomly pass each other at a border crossing between Argentina and Chile; he was headed north to Buenos Aires to ship home, and I was headed south to Ushuaia. 

It was great to seem him again, and to finally meet Tricia. They have a gorgeous home in an absolutely beautiful and peaceful place.

The weather is a bit different than Africa; it’s chilly and damp, and a bit foggy this morning, but it looks like I’ve picked a good time to be here weather-wise. Ian gave me a list of gps coordinates for places to camp along the western coast of Scotland, and I plan to spend the next week visiting as many of them as possible.

Hop Scotch: Hopping the West Coast of Scotland

May 31, 2016

“D’ya speak English?”, one of the two bikers in line behind me at the ferry asks in a heavy Irish brogue. 

“Not your English, but yes”, I reply, wondering why he asked after seeing the Texas license plate. Then I realize he probably saw the “Montando en todo el mundo” (“I’m riding around the world”) written in Spanish on the back of my spare gas can.

“We’ve got a bit of a problem, and we were hoping you might be willing to help us out” he says. “See, there’s only room for two bikes on the next ferry, and there’s three of us here.” 

“What time’s the next ferry?” I ask.

“Twenty past six.”

“No problem”, I say. “I don’t mind waiting. I’m only going about twelve miles to my campsite after I get off the ferry, and it doesn’t get dark here til almost eleven o’clock.”

“Are ya sure? I’ll pay for your ferry ticket.”

“Nah. No need. Go ahead.”

They board the ferry, while I wait. It’s a nice day, and I’m in no hurry at all. 

Near the end of boarding, the ferry worker directing traffic walks up and tells me there is room for me after all. I ride on, they strap my bike down, and I walk upstairs to find the other two guys. 

I tap one of them on the shoulder and he turns around, surprised to see me. “I should’ve taken your money” I say, grinning. They buy me a coffee and we talk until the ferry docks and it’s time to ride off.

I had left Ian & Tricia’s mid-morning and headed west, with several nights planned camping along the west coast of Scotland. 

First stop: Falkirk, just west of Edinburgh. I had two reasons to stop here. First up, the Kelpies.

The Kelpies.

This 100-foot tall metal sculpture of two horses is a monument to horse-powered heritage across Scotland.

Second stop in Falkirk: The Falkirk Wheel. This might be the wildest thing I’ve ever seen, yet it’s a simple concept and very functional.

The Falkirk Wheel in its’ “at-rest” position. This is a replacement for the traditional system of locks to raise and lower boats to different water levels. Note the canal extension that juts out to the wheel at the top.


The wheel in action: there is a boat in each of those two containers and it is rotating counter-clockwise, lowering the boat on the left while raising the boat on the right.


Getting closer. The whole thing takes very little time at all, and I’m sure is much more efficient than pumping water in and out of locks.


After Falkirk I continued west to Oban, where I bought a standby ferry ticket to Craignure. 

Ian’s recommendation for a place to wild camp on Mull was fantastic. There was a long stretch of one-lane road (turns out this is the norm here), following the coastline. Between the road and the water was beautiful green grass, and lots of sheep. I passed a number of other people camping before I found a spot, but the opportunities were plentiful and stretched out for several miles.

I pitched my tent near the water, pulled out my chair and watched the sunset. At 10:45pm. It finally got dark about midnight.

And the sun came up at 4:30am. Brightly. By 6am the tent was dry and ready to pack, but it was so quiet and calm that I enjoyed a lazy morning.

Sheep, sheep everywhere and nary a wool blanket to be found. It was cold at night, but when the sun came up it warmed up quickly.

Eventually I rode further north on Mull to Tobermory, where I found an old church that was now a coffee and pastry shop. I had a bacon roll and a coffee at a sidewalk table in the sun, then walked next door to the grocery store and stocked up on food for several nights of camping in the wild. 



This old church in Tobermory had been turned into a local version of Starbucks (but with better food).


No scaffolding? No problem. Just get a bunch of extension ladders and tie them together.

I hopped the ferry from Tobermory to Kilchoane and continued north through beautiful scenery until I finally arrived at Applecross Pass. Not since Huascaran National Park in Peru have I seen such a stunning road through dramatic landscape.

I got off the ferry at Kilchoan and saw this sign. I figured since I already had the “Furthest point south in South America” and “Furthest point south in Africa”, I might as well take a photo.


This was going to be my next camp spot, but the gate was locked.




Heading to Applecross. I’ve seen sidewalks in the States wider than the roads here, and these are two-way.




Looking east from the top of the pass.



Looking north from the top of the pass at the clouds pouring over the mountain.

The pass eventually drops down into the small village of Applecross. There was a campground here, and it was full of motorcycles and a gathering of VW combi vans. I decided to spend the night at the campground even though there were several opportunities to wild camp, in order to chat with the other motorcyclists. There were several motorcyclists from England and Scotland. The group camped next to me were from Ireland; another couple I met were from Germany. Several invited me to visit them if or when I came through their towns. 

The next morning I took the coastal route — another unbelievable ride — north towards Durness. I hadn’t intended to venture this far north, but the scenery begged me to keep going, and who was I to refuse? 

I stopped for a break and was sitting on this bench when soon after these guys from France pulled up. They spoke very little English, but my bike caused them to try. They were touring Scotland before heading to the Isle of Man.



These yellow flowers are everywhere and are extremely fragrant. Incredible smells mixed with incredible scenery.

I’m camped again tonight on the coast overlooking the beach in Durness.  Tomorrow it’s off to John o’Groats, the northern-most point on the Mainland UK. 

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.