Looking along a long straight road amidst lush green farmland

Home Travel StoriesScotland In Winter 2015

Thinking Too Much

By Ren Withnell

I'm going. The weatherman says I'll get at least a few manageable if cold and wet days. I'm going. I'm scared and I'm worried but I'm going. I'm going in spite of the bike, although it seems fine now. I'm going in spite of drug crazed thugs although it's probably a lot safer in the Highlands from that point of view. I'm going. 

I'm not stupid though. I'm not going to ride my 125 up to the Scottish Highlands in one go, at least 280 miles. Not on a cold and potentially wet Saturday in January. No, my first target is Peebles, there's a campsite there that I've already contacted so I know it's open. I load up the bike and hit the road at 0845. I've got about 145 miles of motorway then another 35 miles of A roads to cover. I have to be there before 1630 as I don't fancy trying to put the tent up in the dark. 

Ren's CBF 125 complete with saddle bags, large bag and top box, ready to camp
The diminutive CBF 125 buckling under the load.

I feel sick in my stomach. This is ridiculous. Why? I've done over 200 miles in a day before on the 125, I've done a hell of a lot more on bigger bikes too. I've been camping many times before even in bad weather. I think the problem is is doing them all together, at this time of year. I'm reaching far outside of my comfort zone and there's a lot of unknowns and uncertainties. Much as I wish I was a wild, happy go lucky kind of adventurous guy I'm not. I like predictable and safe and being ready and prepared. I feel as though my dreams of having motorcycle adventures around the world are as far away as they could ever be right now. I feel about as adventurous as a businessman trying on a new tie for the week. Yeah, go me.

Do all real adventurers feel like this? Is it all a matter of scale? There are illegal crane climbers, base jumpers, sky divers and bungee jumpers. These folks have something peculiar in their systems which means to achieve any kind of thrill they must go to extremes. Most of us are quite scared enough with a spooky movie or a roller coaster ride. Some folks have to go all out to feel like they've achieved something. Perhaps real adventurers like Sir Ranulph Fiennes or Ellen MacArthur have to bounce to the North Pole on pogo sticks to get the same sense of accomplishment as I do from beating the computer at level 1 chess. 

The problem with this is these people make the rest of us feel tame. "Oh, you've been for a little ride on your motorcycle huh? Been to Scotland in winter huh? Me? Oh I've just ridden to Siberia and crossed the Gobi Desert on a 50cc scooter with one wheel missing and 2 broken arms. Yah, I mean I had a laugh and all that but it's just a warm up for my next trip, I'm circumnavigating Antarctica on a pedalo in June, Yah." 

The miles roll beneath my wheels as my thoughts roll around inside my head. It's cold enough. I've got so many layers on I daresay I feel as though if I do crash I'll just bounce. My fingers and thumbs are a little sore but that's fine, I can live with this. To be honest apart from my thoughts and my fears it's all rather boring. This takes me down another thought route.

When I read other traveller's tales they are filled with beautiful vistas, delightful locals and comedic events. There's little mention of long dull uninspiring motorways or homogeneous cities and farmlands. Even I am certain for once that their books, their blogs and their picture libraries are filled with just the highlights. They gloss over the work, for that is what it is, the work of moving their body and their machine from ordinary point A to interesting point B. 

I've not found that adventure tale that also covers the endless years working and scrimping to save for their trip or the endless hours of travel. Remember Ren, remember that they're selling you the dream, the highlights. No-one is interested in work or motorways now are they.

a typical motorway services with concessions, tables, chairs and shiny floors
Motorway services. This could be anywhere, they're all much the same.

Services all look the same too. I'm cold and in need of a stretch and a toilet break. I park my sorry ass into a chair. Actually right now I'm feeling a bit more positive. Yeah, this ain't the Russian Steppe but it's MY adventure and I'm just a tiny bit proud of myself that I've at least set off. 2 guys are sat at a table nearby, one of them asks "Ya come in fer a warm?" I'm always happy to talk to strangers, that's the best part of travelling for me, I pick up the conversation.

One chap is quiet but seems happy to smile and nod while the other is intrigued. He seems impressed by my foolhardy notion of riding such a small bike to Scotland and camping around for a week. I deduce that he's a biker when he shows himself and some friends on their exotic machines at the Ayrshire coast. They're truckers, returning home from Liverpool. Damn, if I'd have known that I could have met up with them, put the bike in the back and had a nice warm truck ride. Better than freezing my fingers off on this tiresome tarmac slab. It's good to talk but we must all be away. I give him a "Bikes And Travels" business card but he'll probably just toss it in the bin on the way out I reckon.

As I start the bike it doesn't just jump into life. It takes a couple of prods on the button and bit of throttle. That's not right, that's not right at all. I leave it to tickover, it does for a while then stalls. Oh no. I've espoused the amazing, reliable, simple, efficient fuel injection on the CBF 125 many times. What is the matter with it now? I get it going and get going. Back on the motorway I put it down to just a hiccup. 

After what seems like a lifetime of dull tarmac, occasional but cold rain and spray from the lorries I reach Moffat, cold and weary. As I pull off the motorway I can see the hills in the distance, covered in snow. Great! This is what I wanted. Oh poop, maybe the road is icy? Maybe the campsite is covered in snow and I won't be able to get my bike down the snowy road and I fall off and break my arm and there'll be ambulances and pain and a big fuss and my mother will be cross and I won't be able to work and and and...shut up! Just shut up! Even I have to accept I'm thinking too much again. 

Moffat town centre. A broad street with parked cars and various shops
Moffat seems like a perfectly pleasant place to live.

I pull into a petrol station and as I stop the tickover is still not right. It seems to be too low, it seems to be struggling. It is usually perfect, smooth and it "feels" solid. Now it's up and down, missing the odd stroke and about to stall. I fill up the tank and push the bike to the edge of the forecourt to look at my phone map and have a vape. Ooooh, the edge of the forecourt is slushy and we're low down here and and and STOP! Enough already head, enough. The A701 should run for about 15 miles North then the B712 cuts East and drops me into Peebles. B road, that might not have been gritted and and and whoa! Stop it. If the B road looks dodgy there is an A road alternative which isn't too much of a detour. Grow some balls Ren.

Moffat is a pleasant market town, I'm reminded of Callander further North. Out of town the road climbs, twists and wendles it's way up into the snow covered hills. While all around the fields and hills are covered in an inch or so of snow the road is wet but perfectly clear and all things considered quite grippy. I, dare I say this, I'm quite liking this. While the conditions, the bike and the load are not suitable for scratching pegs I can still roll the bends and curve the corners in a satisfying manner. It is colder though, the snow drains any remaining warmth from the thin air.

a thin layer of snow covers the hills around the A701 north of moffat
Snow, yes, but the road is clear and the riding is fine.

I decide to try and enjoy this. I slow just a little but it makes all the difference. I take in the moors, the way the tufts of grass poke through the thin layer of snow, the sense of remoteness and the lack of traffic. Oh yes, the lack of traffic. Over the 15 miles I let one car pass so I can continue to loiter along and a few cars pass in the opposite direction. Imagine that back home. Ha! I bet it's not this quiet in summer when all the other tourists and bikers are out. Maybe this winter thing isn't so bad after all.

The B road proves snow free, twisty and grippy too. This is even quieter, I can really take my time now. What kind of biker prefers going slowly to going fast? This one I guess. Trees, farms, clumps of houses too small to even be called a hamlet, the snow thins out until there's just little white patches here and there, the temperature rises just a touch. Blimey, my fingers are cold now though. Not far to go but I must admit I'm ready for another pee break. On the A72 I spot a small castle, more of a fortified home really, and a layby. The bike stalls when I stop, damn. I make use of tree cover to relieve myself and take a few snaps while I'm at it. I later learn this is Neidpath Castle in case you're interested. The bike is difficult to start again. Maybe this whole trip was never meant to be. 

Neidpath castle just outside peebles. A tall stone building with minor fortifications
Neidpath Castle. There's no snow at all here.

Peebles is another small and comfortable market town, though I don't stop as the campsite can't be far away. I know the campsite is part of a mountain biking and forest complex, the Glentress Forest. I'm expecting a shed with a couple of rusty mountain bikes for hire and perhaps a brew machine. What I find is a plethora of mountain bikers and 2 large buildings. Families, groups of muddy blokes, some very professional looking bikes and some wobbly novices all mill around as I pass between them in search of the site. I find it, there's wooden "wigwams", a wooden toilet come reception block and a steep but firm gravel drive to get there. I'm here. I'm here in good time, in one piece and there's no snow here. Phew.

glentress mountain bike centre, 2 large buildings made of wood that fit into the surroundings
The mountain bike centre. Quite impressive.
the engine on my 125 covered in road salt from the trip north
At least the roads have been salted, can you tell?

I climb the short steep slope and park the bike, it stalls. That, this is really going to bother me now. What is up with it? What the hell is the matter with it? Not now. Not here. Not 180 miles from home. Not after only 9 days ago being taken home by the RAC. Not after spending £300 on a new stator, regulator rectifier, tyre, air filter, oil, chain, sprockets and spark plug. Not now you complete and utter selfish ungrateful rusty piece of Japanese pile of steaming septic discharge. Damn you to hell you rotten sod.

Inside the reception is devoid of life, but there is at least some good news. A note on the billboard suggests I pitch up and sort myself out and someone will be along to take some money off me. Not only that but there's a TV here and leather 2 settees It's warm and although there's no explicit permission to use the room there's no explicit notice to not use the room. I, I shall be using this room thank you very much indeed. That cheers me up. Not enough to take my mind of my stinking bike but it definitely helps. 

a room with a tv and leather settees for the use of at glentress
It's better than hanging out in the cold tent, that's for sure.

I pitch up and make myself a brew. Life is always better with a brew in my hand, that is a fact. I take my brew and my tablet PC into the room and settle down to catch up. There's wireless but I can't see any passwords so I connect up through my phone, ain't technology great! Unless it's the bitter resentful technology of a rueful CBF 125 tickover circuit. Facebook is full of nonsense, my email is full of spam and my data package doesn't have enough data to watch TV. TV, oh yeah. The TV works but there's no signal and the remote for the DVD produces no discernible affect on operation.

Soon tenough a large happy gentleman pokes his head through the door. It's the owner. After payment and talk of the weather he says I can use the kitchen, there's a kitchen? I can use the room and, well, it's not unheard of for the odd camper to end up sleeping in the room too. Oooh, if it gets too cold I can stop in here! Great. As he walks out he places a box in my hand and says "If you can work this out then please do." It's a new DVD player. 

It's not rocket science. Soon I'm watching Blackadder the Third on DVD in a warm room on a settee with a pan full of rice and ravioli (no, really, it's quite nice) and checking out random Facebook and twitter posts. Hot tea from a kettle and my feet up. What's not to like?

My head. That's what not to like. The bike thing is really gripping my imagination. I see breakdowns in remote places, I see RAC trucks, I see no phone signal and no RAC truck. I see failure. I see expense. I also see snow. At one point I start to drift off then I envisage a snow plough and awake with a start. What am I doing here when I could be at home with all my toys and my comforts and my warm comfy bed? What am I trying to prove? What is the point of all this? I'm fretting and yet here I am, warm, dry, safe and comfortable.

I have a shower. Feeling refreshed I trap my thumb in the slide lock and nick my skin. There's blood everywhere. Oh no, now I'm going to get septicaemia in my thumb, they'll have to take my thumb off and replace it with one of my big toes. Or I'll die from the infection. Holy cow Ren, this is insane! I've had far worse slices that have been filled with oil and road dirt and survived without issue. SHUT UP!

I talk myself around. This is AD-venture. Things are meant to go wrong. You're here to learn to cope with things going wrong. You're here to push yourself. You're here to get OUT of the comfort zone. Yeah but maybe it's not for me? Well you'll never know unless you try. Look Ren, look. Look where you are and everything is OK. Yeah but the bike is playing silly games and it's going to let you down. Stop, you don't know that. You can figure it out. You, you Ren are the most resourceful person you know. No I'm not, there's and there's and there's. Shut up and watch Blackadder.

I climb into my cold tent and my cold sleeping bag. I play a bit of chess on the tablet, losing every time, then settle in for the night. I wonder if I'll sleep.

Prologue - Scotland In Winter The build up to Scotland In Winter doesn't go anywhere near as well as Ren might hope.
Thinking Too Much As Ren rides north his bike takes a turn for the worse and his over-active mind starts to fret and worry. Is it all really worth it?
Hanging On In There Ren is suffering at the hand of the weather, his bike troubles, his sleeping arrangements and the wind. Will he make it?
A Better Day The weather improves, there's hope for the 125 and there's hope for a better night's rest too.
A Long Ride Ren makes the long journey south to avoid the forthcoming snows. But what does he find in Kirkby Stephen?
Epilogue - Scotland In Winter Ren contemplates the Scotland In Winter trip. Was it really worth the effort?

Reader's Comments

Kath Brooks said :-
Good read Ren
01/01/2000 00:00:00 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Thanks Kath. It's hard to write these things at times because they don't always portray the image I'd like people to have of me.
01/01/2000 00:00:00 UTC
pascale France said :-
Hello I have the same motorbike and I'm planning to the same go out there and camp. I live in the Alps. I would like to buy the same saddle bags for the back . Could you tell me what brand is it ? Was it easy to put them on ?
I really love your adventure for I have already been touring up scotaland but on a bus and after hiking all around Callendder. It was great and I would like to ride my 125 in scotland one day
My best
17/02/2016 15:31:44 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Thank you so very much Pascale!

I often get asked about my saddle bags. They are "Hein Gericke" brand but unfortunately I do not believe they are made any more. As for fitting they simply throw over the rear seat with 2 velcro adjustable straps.

And you live in the Alps! I am so jealous. Sharon and I travelled through a tiny corner there a couple of years ago and we were both stunned at the sheer beauty and majesty of the place. We hope to get back one day and take a proper look around. I'll put a link below to that story.
17/02/2016 16:43:52 UTC
Edmund said :-
Hi, Ren I enjoyed your story, very well written it kept me on the edge of my seat, I am from Ireland and have been traveling the wild atlantic way this summer and I hope to travel through Scotland next year myself. I have a CBF 250 so this is how I found your story :)
15/11/2016 01:42:24 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Hi Edmund. Thanks, I'm glad you liked the story. I've touched on the southern part of the Wild Atlantic Way and the southern coast of Ireland too, you can read that tale in the link I'll add.

If you liked the Atlantic way you're going to adore Scotland. I've been many times and if you look through the other travel stories you can read all about them. Sharon and I will be up there next year too all things being equal.

Where abouts in Ireland are you?

15/11/2016 11:04:53 UTC

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