Camchain and tensioner seen up close in a cutaway bike engine

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Prologue - This Time It Is Up North

Leading up to 10 September 2022

By Ren Withnell

There's only one real cure for post holiday blues and that is to start planning your next trip. As soon as we'd returned from our brave and heroic expedition to the land of eternal sunshine, streets paved with gold and people wot can't spek reet I was already planning. 

If you know me you know I like the north westerly bits of Scotland. Did you know I've been riding around on two wheels up there since... 2005! Cor blimey I'd have only been about 33 back then. On the one hand if you like something and it's working for you then why change it? On the other hand if I keep on doing the same thing time and time again at best it's going to get boring, at worst it'll make me as dull as dishwater. Keep your comments to yourselves thank you.

A young Ren sat astride an SLR650 on a small ferry to the isle of Luing
Look at that young chap! 2005, how things have changed.

I'm not done with The Highlands though, not by a long shot as there are still many unexplored corners and unridden roads. One thing I wish to do is island-hopping up the west coast and the Outer Hebrides. Having looked into it to do this properly I really need at least 3 weeks otherwise I'll end up either rushing or doing a half assed job. With work being what it is that's not going to happen yet. 

I have on Google Maps a lot of "pins" or markers of places I'd like to see. I look to the north west of Scotland and eventually settle on 2 that are close together - The Ardnamurchan Lighthouse and Tobermory. Tobermory is on the island of Mull and off the other end of Mull is the small island of Iona which also has a pin in it. I'm starting to see the fuzzy outline of a cunning and devious plan.

To fit everything in without having to flit around like flies in search of poop, ideally I'd like to get up to The Highlands area within one day. This means at least a 250 mile ride. That's fine for us both - unless it's siling down, windy and cold. To then have to pitch the tent and conjure up a meal might cause some friction after a long and soggy day's ride. Tyndrum comes to the rescue. We can have a "pod", aka a wooden tent with a heater and a kettle, for £50. Within easy walk of the pod Tyndrum has at least 2 eateries I know of as well as a shop. We won't need to pitch the tent and we can buy a meal close by. Fabulous, I book the pod.

A typical pod is a wooden thing, half shed half tent
In case you don't know - a "pod" is a glorified wood tent.

Other than this nothing is booked. I pin some campsites where I'm planning to go and check out whether or not the ferries need to be booked in advance. All the ferries are just "turn up and que" except the one from Mull to Oban. I don't want to book it this far in advance though as plans can change. I'll book it when we're on Mull. 

I figure the tent should be OK, it was the other week anyhow. The stove is checked over, the pans and cutlery are cleaned and packed, various clothes and lotions are stuffed into bags and as departure time grows closer I get nervous. We change the oil and filter on Sharon's Kwakker. I get excited. Getting excited gets me nervous. You'd think I'd be over this by now.

Sharon and Ren's bikes and their tent in a field in wales
Well things were fine the last time we went camping?

This is odd? No tyres on either bike are in that "should we shouldn't we change them" state. My rear brake pads are due to be replaced soon, but they'll be fine for this trip. Sharon never uses her brakes, her pads have over 30k on them and look like new. I guess we're all sorted then. That ought to be a relief but with nothing to worry about I choose to worry about having nothing to worry about. 

I can't really speak for any preparations that Sharon may have made. From the outside looking in it appears she's taken the Friday before departure off so she can pack. Is that it? Can people really do that? I soon find out her biggest stress is... deciding which clothes to take. Here's me freaking out about availability of petrol stations, wondering if campsites will actually be open, contemplating the complexity of breakdown recovery from Highland islands and whether or not I need a new pair of waterproof pants and she's fretting about whether she'll need that big warm jumper or just a lightweight one.

It's not fair. Well I guess I'm still coming to terms with the fact I'm not a natural traveller. My problem with Sharon is not really bounded in terms of hating her relaxed attitude to potential disaster, rather I'm envious that even with a myriad of potential pitfalls she can simply put these things aside and focus on getting on with it. Dagnammit.

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Prologue - This Time It Is Up North Ren has made this kind of trip many times and several trips of much greater magnitude. The bikes are fine and everything is under control. Don't worry dear readers, Ren is worried about having nothing to worry about.
A Successfully Dull Day The job of the day is simply moving 2 people on 2 motorcycles around 280 miles north. Is it worth the effort?
Speed, Strontian, Showers And Silliness At last! The Dynamic Muppets finally get into The Highlands properly. There's a couple of things for Ren to moan about, particularly that Sharon is far too happy.
The Ardnamurchan Peninsula - Slowly And Quickly It's not far from Strontian to The Ardnamurchan Lighthouse... or is it? The weather ain't too bad and there's a lovely bathing belle on the beach that requires Ren's attention
Dangerous Distractions, Draughts And Dapper Drivers Not all is as perfect as one would wish for today. There's a draught or two and a lairy scary moment. All in all though things seem to be going acceptably well for The Dynamic Muppets.
The Majesty And Magnificence Of Mull By keeping his expectations in check Ren finds the small island of Mull to be a delight. Apparently it's all about the journey not the destination though.
Spendthrifts And Sumptuous Scenery Ren's wallet is quivering in fear and loathing as Sharon seeks the comfort of a real bed. Maybe the scintillating scenery will be sufficient to ease Ren's pain?
From The Sublime To The Ridiculous The day starts well with a full breakfast and good weather. The day goes well too considering the dynamic muppets are back in the throngs of civilisation. Ren's choice of accommodation isn't quite to Sharon's liking though.
Favourable Freeways And A Grotty Grotto After last night's debacle this time Sharon's choosing the overnight location, making it much more amenable. Ren decides the roads hereabout have much to offer too.
Epilogue - Home And Thoughts It's the final day of this Scottish trip. With regret Sharon and Ren must return home to their regular lives. Ren reflects on the changes in Scotland and considers his next moves.

Reader's Comments

Upt'North ¹ said :-
Them wooden pods are blummin everywhere, don't ya think. And £50.00 to sleep in a shed!
Although I don't suppose it's cheap to pitch ya tent either. I think there might be a cost of living crisis?
The most westerly mainland point hey. Its a fun road out to there. In a twisty but very scenic way.
Looking forward to the rest.

27/09/2022 23:17:59 UTC
Bogger said :-
Upt, you're moaning about him sleeping in a shed, which I agree is an extravagance of the highest magnitude.

However this is only the prologue we are reading. When we actually come to read about this trip up to the grim north, he'll be staying at expensive hotels with en-suite jaccuzi's and hot tubs.

Mark my words, the mans gone soft, soft I tell you. Then he'll blame the life of luxury on Sharon.

28/09/2022 07:44:27 UTC
Upt'North ¹ said :-
Bogger, yes, I see now.
He pre-emptied our reaction by dangling his £50.00 worm. Thereby lessening our reaction to further unnecessary frivalries. He's very cunning for an ageing Manchunian with a tatty old 125.
I'm glad you've seen straight through his facade and we can all now see him at his true worth, the man's a scoundrel.
28/09/2022 08:58:13 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
Scoundrel? Yeah. Cunning? Occasionally. MANCHUNIAN?!?!? (I presume you're intentionally messing with the word Mancunian). How very very dare you sir! I demand satisfaction. While I may reside in the North-Western area of the Greater Manchester conurbation I... sir... am a YORKSHIREMAN! Born 'n bred (bored 'n bread) in Halifax where men are men and sheep are worried.

As for the luxuries. Bogger is correct I have gone soft and I will be blaming Sharon.
28/09/2022 09:09:38 UTC
Upt'North ¹ said :-
OK leader if you insist.
Scabby 125's on the backfield at dawn after bacon stotties.
Bring your own bike please and be warned, I don't fight fair.
28/09/2022 12:44:56 UTC
Ian Soady¹ said :-
He won't know what a stotty is. Anyway, I'd have thought with your background you'd be an oatcake man.
28/09/2022 16:27:48 UTC
Upt'North ¹ said :-
Ooooooo, a Staffordshire Oatcake with Cheshire cheese, Northumberland sausage and lashings of tomato ketchup. Why am I sitting in a pool of saliva.
28/09/2022 16:46:12 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
Yes I had to google "stotties".

I have a suitably scabby 125 Upt', have you? If we're seeking satisfaction based on who has the scabbiest 125 then I must warn you sir - I have 10 years of scabbiness that I shall bring to bear with all my oily might. If however we are basing this duel on performance I admit I am more than fearful.

Or shall we joust with 3 day old French baguettes?
28/09/2022 16:48:19 UTC
Upt'North ¹ said :-
You might as well joust with em, you certainly can't eat the blummin things.
Who on earth created that god awful excuse for a loaf of bread.
I have one simple rule when it comes to food, eat nowt that's designed to inflict sorrow and suffering.
I'll get the stotties in.
28/09/2022 17:31:17 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
Ooooof! Upt' you do remember that Ian is a serious Francophile? This being said even Ian Soady must admit that a genuine bona-fide French baguette of the highest quality is already "tough going" the moment it leaves the boulangerie and by the time you get it home it has achieved the status of "offensive weapon".
28/09/2022 20:58:06 UTC
Upt'North ¹ said :-
Franchophile maybe. But he knows what side his bread's buttered.
28/09/2022 23:14:11 UTC
Ian Soady¹ said :-
There is nothing better than a French baguette (I prefer the Tradition version) direct from an artisan boulangerie and slathered with unsalted Normandy butter. But it's true it becomes inedible a few hours later which is why you see French people making 3 trips a day to pick up their comestibles. It always makes me laugh when Brits on campsites say "but French bread doesn't keep". No it doesn't and isn't meant to. It's made on the premises from proper ingredients by skilled bakers (the Artisan referred to - not to be confused with the ones from supermarkets which are rubbish). It's not Mother's Pride.
29/09/2022 10:17:47 UTC
Sharon said :-
Sharon and luxury. Now that's two words that go together very well. Alas it's a rare event so if it happens be glad for this littlest hobo that she may know some warmth and comfort ?.
03/10/2022 21:41:03 UTC
Rev. Mick! said :-
Go for it Ren and Sharon.

Trips up the West Coast of Scotland are always good. I did my first when just a teen in the seventies, with a rucksack I hitched and slept rough on beaches. It was different times.
Worry I fear is a thing some of us are saddled with. My father was a known worrier called Denis. It has become a family expression that should I or anyone else start worrying about travel you are “Doing a Denis”. I have been involved in major expeditions for over 40 years and still get “The Worries” or start doing a Denis. So much so that the day before departure I could cancel quite happily. Once sat on the plane or on the bike it all melts away, if it goes wrong that is reality you then just have to what is needed.

In meditation I can often look at it and go “Oh that’s your mind doing worry” like pain it’s there just don’t attach to it.
07/10/2022 09:25:49 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
I am very glad to report Rev. Mick! that with age comes the merest hint of wisdom. I am now aware that I am worrying or "Doing a Denis". If there is a genuine reason for concern then worrying is a good motivator to get things done like fitting new tyres or checking the tent is in good order. You mention pain - pain is good when it's telling you your hand is in the flame and it's time to move it.

There is bad pain, like Sharon's back tumour. It is good the body informed her there was an issue but once this is duly noted the rest of the pain was just... a pain. Once the bikes and tent and kit is ready then my worrying is pointless and yet I shall do it. Now I'm aware I'm doing it and I am learning not to invest too much energy into doing it.
07/10/2022 11:36:50 UTC
Borsuk said :-
You can bring me some stotties anytime you are passing Upt.I lived on cheese and onion stories during my college time in Shields when I was an apprentice.I was back there for a course a few years ago and the Gregg's I used to go to didn't do them anymore as they had a standard prepared food menu company wide and cheese and onion stotties weren't on it.
As for Ren in a jacuzzi, nearest he will ever get is having a bath after a good curry.
11/10/2022 15:10:32 UTC

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