Travel StoriesNorth Coast 500 2017
Failure and Reality
By Ren Withnell
Sleeperzzz is a great choice to end our adventure with the rest of the group. Last night brought quite a bit of wind and rain yet we were all snug in our cabins with the heaters on. This morning is still wet although the worst of it seems to have passed. The bikes are loaded once again and it's time to say farewell to our travelling companions. There's handshakes and hugs all around until eventually we drift away in ones and twos. It's been a blast ladies and gentlemen, we thank you.
Thanks to these old carriages last night's tempest was not traumatic.
On my mind now is the task of going home. There's nothing left to look forward to now save for over 400 miles of tarmac and the depressing return to reality. There's a big, huge part of me that just wants to get it over and done with and just get blooming well home, back to that which I'm at least familiar with. The thing is I know I could probably do 400 miles in one day on this 500 but it's going to be hard work, really hard work. What about Sharon? Can she do 400 miles on her 250? It could be an interesting experiment to find out. Hmmm, it could also be quite dangerous.
Having been out in the sticks for the last 5 days coming into Inverness is something of a shock. It's not too busy at all, flowing well and the like but where have all these other road users come from? Ooooh traffic lights, remember those sweetie? Ahh, roundabouts, give way to the right if I remember correctly. It's all coming back to me and making me wish I was back in The Highlands.
Coming along the A9 and into the Cairngorm mountains offers a reprise for my eyes but the dullness of the A9's tarmac does nothing to ease by already aching backside. Hell's teeth if my ass is sore after the 80 miles into Aviemore for fuel and a bite then I've got no chance of making it back to Bolton have I.
Butty stop at Aviemore.
We grab a Tesco meal deal and fill up near Aviemore. 80 miles. In Perth we stop at a McDonalds for a brew and a pee break. 160 miles. I don't tell Sharon where we're stopping next, it's a surprise. At 210 miles I pull into "The Kelpies" near Falkirk. She's told me several times how much she'd like to see these so I'm spoiling her. Thing is while I can see she's appreciative of my efforts she's too knackered to really appreciate the art installation.
I fear Sharon may fall asleep as she walks.
We sit and discuss. We've still got around 200 to 220 miles to cover. I'm tired but I could probably press on due to my stubborness. Sharon's tired and I can see she doesn't fancy the task of repeating what we've already just done. Langholm is 105 miles from here, there's a good campsite there with a cafe for breakfast in the morning. Or Peebles, that campsite has a pleasant room and is only 45 miles away. We're tired, Peebles.
We're trudging now. Trudging through the traffic of Wednesday rush hour. Trudging through the endless lights and roundabouts and lanes and crossings. Trudging between cars and trucks and taxis and buses. This is work, this is transport, this is not pleasure. This is reality. This is tiredness.
We need milk and a few things for tea and breakfast when I spot an Asda. I take the wrong turning and have to spin around in a service entrance. As I watch Sharon do the same she makes the fatal mistake of grabbing the front brake and down she goes like a sack of spuds. Dammit.
The girl that safely negotiated the switchbacks of Bealach Na Ba, the girl that's just covered 500 miles of single track and high speed twin track, the girl that's kept up with riders who've been around the world and covered half a million miles, the girl that's been through wind and rain as well as glorious sunshine. That girl, that same girl, has been defeated by a service entrance. Dammit!
She's tired, she's cross, she's upset. She's also changing as a rider and as a person. She's understandably angry with herself but today despite all that's against her she can put on a more philosophical face and put the event into its correct context much quicker than she once did. This is no longer a disaster and the end of her motorcycling career, this is an annoying mistake. Only the tip of her brake lever is broken and her ego is a little dented, both can be fixed. We take a rest inside Asda.
The campsite at Peebles is both a godsend and a pain in the ass. Glentress Forest Lodges' primary business appears to be those wooden hut things that are so popular nowadays. I think the terms "lodges" is rather overselling them. As such the tent pitches are at the far end of the field away from the toilets. As such the tent pitches are but a thin veneer of grass over what the tent pegs suggest is solid granite. Why oh why oh why oh why...
The tent is actually up. Well done me.
To counter the poor pitching and pitches there's a splendid kitchen for the use of as well as a sitting room - with wifi too! Once I've finished cursing at the tent pegs while trying to hammer them in with my big shoe we settle in to the sitting room and veg out. We are tired. I don't know where I got the notion we could actually ride home in one go came from, we've barely made it half way home and we're ruined.
After catching up online and watching a few youtube videos we retire to bed, sleep comes quickly. There never was a chance of getting home in one go today was there.
Could you write a review of your motorcycle? A real world review about important things like service costs, what it's like to ride in the rain or how comfy it is over a 300 mile day? We'd be delighted to publish your review here on Bikes And Travels. Drop Ren a line - firstname.lastname@example.org
North Coast 500 2017 Prologue
Ren looks at the wheres, whys and hows of this year's trip to the North of Scotland. This time they're with a group, kind of, sort of, maybe.
Panicking, Boredom and Pleasure
After the pre-departure concerns and a dull stretch of motorway things improve as Sharon and Ren head north on the first leg of their adventure.
Letting Sleeping Sad Sacks Lie
It's Sharon's turn to tell her version of the first day's events for this trip. After recently having surgery to remove a tumour is she even fit enough for the forthcoming journey?
The Best Of The Worst
Heading into the Highlands brings forth both rain and midges for our travellers. Fear not though as they are both prepared and fortuitous (ready and lucky).
Twisty roads and Twisted Friends
Sharon discovers the joy of riding Highland roads is more than enough to blow away the blues even in the rain. Nothing can stop her now.
Muggles at Bealach Na Ba
With improving weather and impressive surroundings Sharon has to make a major life changing decision. Will she...won't she...can she...should she...?
A Day Full Of Mystery And Magic
Sharon's journey into The Highlands is a mixture of magic, fear, delight, beauty and sheer survival. Can she remain shiny side up over The Applecross Pass?
While the weather takes a turn for the worst it's not nearly enough to put the dampeners on a group ride. Follow our trekkers along the Highland coastline and into Ren's favourite town, Ullapool.
There's a lot of emotions flowing through Sharon today but they all lead to one conclusion. Life is for living because tomorrow is not a certainty. The Highlands is an excellent space to make the most of life today.
Priceless Scenery And Pies
The next part of the NC500 adventure is arguably the most beautiful part. Will the weather hold out and just how expensive can 2 pies be? All this and more besides.
Friends Come In All Shades Of Blue
Fabulous scenery along fabulous road put a big smile on Sharon's face. There's friends old and new and some of the new friends are wearing blue. But why?
Riding across the very top of the country is always a pleasure even if it's raining. However Ren's day is ruined due to Sharon's fame.
Envy Attracts Envy And Fame
Sharon is revelling in the wonders of The Highlands, the delights of meeting fellow travellers and in upsetting Ren by being famous.
Sleeperzzz In The Rain
It's a soaking wet day riding from John O'Groats back south. There's the promise of a hearty meal and a proper bed at the end of the day to keep the riders going.
Fairly Dry And Rather Bracing
In spite of the awful weather Sharon's making the most of the last day riding the North Coast 500. At least she gets spoiled at the end of the day.
Failure and Reality
There is nothing left any more, nothing to look forward to now the adventure is complete. Ren just wants to get home but is that just a little too much to expect?
Thrills And Spills
There's a whole heap of miles to be covered for Sharon on her way home. How many can she cover, can she enjoy or endure them and will she survive?
North Coast 500 2017 Epilogue
Ren sums up the experience of riding the NC500. It's all about the people, the route just speaks for itself.
The End Of The Story Leaves Me Speechless
Sharon rounds off the NC500 adventure with the wrong breakfast, the wrong weather and the wrong traffic. Luckily these are just tiny hiccups on what was a most excellent adventure.
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Travel StoriesNorth Coast 500 2017