Looking across to the snow capped alpine mountains seen from the back seat of a motorcycle

Home Travel StoriesScotland In Winter 2015

Epilogue - Scotland In Winter

By Ren Withnell

What, no coverage of the final day? Ok, here goes. Get up, pack up, hope bike starts, bike starts, get on motorway, ride home. It really is no more inspiring than that. I avoid the snow no problem but later that day the snow does come in to Scotland and Northern England. Thank goodness for technology and modern communications.  

a scottish hillside covered in a thin layer of snow on a grey day
Brrrrrrr! The snow chills the wind as it blows over.

This trip has been a disaster. Or...or has it? It sure has felt like a disaster at times. 

I set off not filled with excitement but fear and trepidation. I'm supposed to enjoy the notion of new adventures not fear them. I kept on asking "Why am I doing this?" and it is a perfectly valid question to ask. Why? A few days after my return I watched a documentary featuring Richard Park's solo 715 mile, 30 day walk across Antarctica to the South Pole. He had setbacks, he had so many doubts, he had disasters and there's quite a bit of footage of him close to tears asking exactly the same thing, "Why am I doing this?" 

rannoch moor in the mists all covered in snow
Am I a glutton for punishment?

Ego? Did Richard need to prove he's the big man, do I need to prove I'm a big roughty toughty biker and a hardy traveller? Maybe. I sometimes think it is very true of me. And if it is my ego then my trip was doomed to failure from the start. I'll let Robert Pirsig explain far better. I quote from Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Up ahead all of Chris's movements seem tired and angry. He stumbles on things, lets branches tear at him, instead of pulling them to one side.

I'm sorry to see this. Some blame can be put on the YMCA camp he attended for two weeks just before we started. From what he's told me, they made a big ego thing out of the whole outdoor experience. A proof-of-manhood thing. He began in a lowly class they were careful to point out was rather disgraceful to be in -- original sin. Then he was allowed to prove himself with a long series of accomplishments...swimming, rope tying -- he mentioned a dozen of them, but I've forgotten them.

It made the kids at camp much more enthusiastic and cooperative when they had ego goals to fulfill, I'm sure, but ultimately that kind of motivation is destructive. Any effort that has self-glorification as its final endpoint is bound to end in disaster. Now we're paying the price. When you try to climb a mountain to prove how big you are, you almost never make it. And even if you do it's a hollow victory. In order to sustain the victory you have to prove yourself again and again in some other way, and again and again and again, driven forever to fill a false image, haunted by the fear that the image is not true and someone will find out. That's never the way.

Phædrus wrote a letter from India about a pilgrimage to holy Mount Kailas, the source of the Ganges and the abode of Shiva, high in the Himalayas, in the company of a holy man and his adherents.

He never reached the mountain. After the third day he gave up, exhausted, and the pilgrimage went on without him. He said he had the physical strength but that physical strength wasn't enough. He had the intellectual motivation but that wasn't enough either. He didn't think he had been arrogant but thought that he was undertaking the pilgrimage to broaden his experience, to gain understanding for himself. He was trying to use the mountain for his own purposes and the pilgrimage too. He regarded himself as the fixed entity, not the pilgrimage or the mountain, and thus wasn't ready for it. He speculated that the other pilgrims, the ones who reached the mountain, probably sensed the holiness of the mountain so intensely that each footstep was an act of devotion, an act of submission to this holiness. The holiness of the mountain infused into their own spirits enabled them to endure far more than anything he, with his greater physical strength, could take.

To the untrained eye ego-climbing and selfless climbing may appear identical. Both kinds of climbers place one foot in front of the other. Both breathe in and out at the same rate. Both stop when tired. Both go forward when rested. But what a difference! The ego-climber is like an instrument that's out of adjustment. He puts his foot down an instant too soon or too late. He's likely to miss a beautiful passage of sunlight through the trees. He goes on when the sloppiness of his step shows he's tired. He rests at odd times. He looks up the trail trying to see what's ahead even when he knows what's ahead because he just looked a second before. He goes too fast or too slow for the conditions and when he talks his talk is forever about somewhere else, something else. He's here but he's not here. He rejects the here, is unhappy with it, wants to be farther up the trail but when he gets there will be just as unhappy because then it will be "here." What he's looking for, what he wants, is all around him, but he doesn't want that because it is all around him. Every step's an effort, both physically and spiritually, because he imagines his goal to be external and distant.

That seems to be Chris's problem now.

Fabulous, absolutely amazing words. 

My thoughts on the trip, and all too often in everyday life, are about being there and not here. "I'll be fine when I reach the campsite." "I'm looking forward to the rest at the next cafe." "I can relax when this work is all done and dusted." And so on and so on. I only felt comfortable, capable, happy and like I could take on this trip when I was relishing the beauty of The Highlands, talking happily to the locals or sitting peacefully in a cafe. 

I shouldn't need to prove myself yet even the most enlightened must have some kind of ego. It is only looking back now I'm thankful I never got involved with arguing or even fighting with the chav on the crosser before my trip started. His problems I guess far outweigh mine, I'm thankful I'm not in his headspace. I hope to learn to enjoy the journey more and to learn to cope with issues like the poorly motorcycle, leaking airbeds and broken tent poles with a calm, positive and constructive mindset. The world is not out to get me, the world is simply filled with things that happen. Things happen, it's how I deal with them that makes the difference. I am improving. Practice makes perfect and I'm a far more "easy" traveller than I used to be. My only frustration is how slow my improvement is.

camping cooking with stove, pans and pots in the shelter at lagnaha
Oh the joys of cooking on the road.

Why oh why oh why can I not find the perfect sleeping arrangement? Big comfy airbeds take up too much space, take an age to blow up or require the carrying of a pump and that all weighs too much. Self inflating mattresses, unless they're heavy and massive, are almost like sleeping on the ground anyhow. The cheap lilos are in fact almost comfortable and incredibly small and light, but seem prone to letting their air out just when you need it least! When I see American cowboy movies where they just spread a blanket out and sleep on that it makes me wonder if it's just me, do I need to man up?

And as for the bike! Damn it to hell! Hang on hang on. A small CBF 125 with 32,000 miles on the clock already carried me and my many kilos of luggage all the way up to Fort William. It did this through all day long cold and very wet conditions. It got covered in layer upon layer of salt. It got blown around. It survived all this and still got me home safely. And the problem? IF, IF it is what I believe it is then the bike is not at fault at all. You want to know? I've a little more testing to do to ensure my theory is in fact a fact then I shall report my findings on the blog sometime in the near future. Honda's most popular bike by present sales in the UK is in fact a sturdy hardy little beast suitable for travelling.

honda cbf 125 engine covered in a thick layer of road salt
Salty! You wouldn't put your expensive top-of-the-range bike through this would you?

The trip was not a total failure. I have achieved something I've wanted to do for quite some time. I saw Scotland In Winter. I saw mountains covered in snow and ice. I rode over Rannoch Moor and saw the snow and ice up close. It was a resplendent thing to see for myself. It has put into sharp focus, made real the hardship and potential danger for anyone who once or still does venture into such a harsh place. To witness for myself the force and majesty of nature was worth the effort. To then also meet folks like the various campsite owners, to talk with the lady at the Corran Ferry and to have taken on this challenge are the icing on the cake. It was hard and I did not achieve every goal but it was still all worthwhile.

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

John Deville said :-
Well, what can I say, Another great adventure and well put together Ren.

I have so many questions but I dont know where to start really.
One thing I would like to ask though is why didnt you use the 250?

Regards.

John.
01/01/2000 00:00:00 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Hi John.

3 reasons I didn't use the 250.

Firstly the 125 is more economical. Although when being thrashed down the motorway with all the gear on the economy dropped to about 110mpg but that's still better than the 250's 85mpg.

Secondly, it's more of a challenge. I wanted to see if the little 125 was up to the task, and it was except for it's blooming tickover issues.

Thirdly because I can't have Sharon claiming to be the only one who's been around Scotland on a 125!
01/01/2000 00:00:00 UTC
Mark said :-
Hi Ren,

Thoroughly enjoyed reading your latest entries - have been visiting the site and reading both yours and Sharon's blogs over the last few months as I looked forward to buying my first bike.

That day came last week - a 2009 CBf125 - this individual example being very much a fixer upper! I seem to be suffering from the same issue you are describing - I plan on adjusting the valve clearances and hope that might be the cause...but in my experience my first solutions are very rarely the right ones(!) - so look forward to hearing your findings!

Keep up the great work in the site - I really enjoy it whilst I daydream about my own first tent+125 adventures...once I get the thing running right...
01/01/2000 00:00:00 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Hi Mark. Big thanks and I'm glad you like reading what takes an age for me to write. As for your CBF 125 - valve clearance, definitely, drain out the fuel pump (you can leave the high pressure pipe in place as they're fiddly to get off), spark pug and or spark plug cap. I believe this was my problem all along...nothing more technical than goddam salt and dirt in the cap!!

Please let us know how you get on. Send some pics too (renwithnell@hotmail.com)
01/01/2000 00:00:00 UTC
Mike Taylor said :-
Hi Ren.

I really enjoyed your write up. Hats off to you for camping up here in winter time. That's pretty hardcore. I do some camping trips on the bike, the best thing I've found for sleeping on is an Exped Synmat. They're really expensive but as comfy as my bed at home. If you're interested I've left a link to my own blog for you to check out.

All the best.

Mike
www.wintonmassif.co.uk...
20/08/2019 14:19:40 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
Cheers Mike. I've come across your blog before once or twice :).

I can find various Exped Synmats on Ebay for around the £70 make which is a bit ouch! But as long as it's reliable and lasts then it may be worth the investment. One for consideration
20/08/2019 15:05:54 UTC

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