That black dog…

It has been a while…

The trip to the Isle of Man was obviously cancelled. The trip to France obviously cancelled. The work on the CB500 has come to a halt. Too busy and no motivation.

Work is like a long drawn out disaster movie most days. Glimmers of a plot twist and a happy ending are fleeting at best. A very unhealthy environment to be in.

My mind has been really struggling to find anything positive in anything. There have been some very very dark days.

It is so very hard to explain. So many good things, so much to be grateful for. It could be so much worse. The black dog does not care. He will steal those happy moments from you, rich or poor, healthy or sick.

The stresses of a global pandemic, working for company that is being drip fed money, difficult home life and a being on the receiving end of a corrupt government, just got too much. So is it even depression or a culmination of circumstances?

Having people to talk to and a much needed hug is a massive thing that some do not have. I you are offered a hand of support take it. Do not be too proud or embarrassed. Those that offer the hand often understand more than you think.

Earlier this week I learned of the death of someone who I didn’t know well but knew enough to know she had a heart of gold. She truly did. Her legacy, besides some very famous songs with her vocals on them was an outpouring of sheer love from her friends and fans. What a fabulous impression she made on so many people.

This is what life is about? The bonds you make with people, how you make others feel through acts of kindness and support.

You cannot possibly be the best version of yourself for others unless your inner core is happy and content. This often relies on others to an extent (reciprocating of support to fellow humans), however typically the buck stops with you. Self care is not selfish, it is imperative.

If riding a bike, being creative, having some chill out time, exercise etc. are vital ingredients to a more content you, then unselfishly they have to be a priority. It is difficult to justify such things when we are so busy with work etc. yet that is the time when it is most important.

So, forget all the social media ‘living your best life’ facade. Life is tough sometimes. When it is, look after yourself and do not feel like you have suppress unhappy feelings. If people are upset by you feeling the strain then that is a clear signal that they are not who you need at that time.

If you need to prioritise yourself and say No to others do not feel guilty. Get out and give your mind the hugs that it needs in whatever way works.

A different route

74 days. 74 days without booze if I exclude one night a few weeks ago. I didn’t see that as a fail. There are no rules. It was confirmation that when things get a bit too much alcohol is not the solution.

Real people, family and genuine friends are the comfort you need. They make time regardless of their own shit. Their support is what will see you through a rough patch not Gin. Hold them close, they are a rare.

Never say never however; I am quite enjoying not drinking. It was a compulsive thing. Habitual. I am more relaxed in my thoughts, generally. Less anxiety. More positive. I am not committing to any future. Just appreciating now.

Don’t get me wrong, I am still stressing about stuff but my reaction is less frantic (apart from one stand out anomaly, which was atypical in circumstance). The whole corona virus is distorting reality however so I have no idea what is normal currently.

My thoughts are rarely about booze anymore, although they sometimes were a constant distraction e.g. “A what point can I be sure I don’t need to drive anywhere so I can have a drink”. I was not drinking heavily on a daily basis, but too much regularly and to excess on nights out and weekends. Any excuse. I did not feel hungover, however now I feel more awake. I guess, it is similar to someone realising they are becoming overweight before the seemingly inevitable morbid obesity is reached.

WTF has this got to do with bikes? The decision to find sobriety came half way through a bike trip. Would it have happened anyway ? May be at some point, but definitely not that point in time otherwise. I have also found the motivation since to start a project bike.

The dangers of motorbikes are often discussed (rightly so, they are dangerous), however, the benefits rarely get a mention.

Stir Crazy…

The lockdown, although essential, is a strain. It is a strain listening to lying politicians, watching idiots flout the rules and just living in a surreal environment.

Worried about your family, vulnerable loved ones, your sanity, your income. This is on top of all the other things that sometimes cause a traffic jam on your motorway of thoughts. On occasion, multiple vehicle pile ups. Mental health issues were rife before covid, now they are ubiquitous.

To cope with anything stressful and consuming I have learnt that I need a distraction. Luckily I am still working, however that is stressful and something that I need actually need distracting from. Besides much needed family time I have started turning a knackered old cb500s into something different.

I got it well over 12 months ago. It was cheap, however I didn’t realize how knackered it actually is. A winter rat bike was the obvious use.

Let’s be honest they are a cracking bike for commuting etc. however they have the looks and character of an ugly thing that lacks character.

Not dissimilar to the one below, albeit with level of ‘patina’ typically found on motorcycle salvaged from a sunken car ferry. I never thought, or felt the desire, to take photos of the actual bike before I started dismantling it.

Pretty much everything is shot. Does it even run? The carbs needed a clean. Rebuilt them and put a car battery on it. It started on the spray can and then ran under its own steam before revving to 5000rpm of its own accord and getting very hot (exhaust header glowing). Air leak.

After convincingly myself it is salvageable, and I can sell a lot of the bits that I don’t use, I started the strip down.

Lots of looking at other bikes for inspiration. The answer is some kind of a flat tracker type thing. Budget is tight so a bit of creativity required.

Engine is out. Swing arm next.

I am looking forward to seeing all the project bikes that people have been working on during lock down. I am hoping lots of apocalyptic Mad Max style bikes.

However, the time is now! The sun is shining and my commute is definitely a 2 wheel one today! Another activity, albeit now restricted to purely commuting, that helps to keep the darkness out. Just need to drag an old Honda engine out of the way to get my other bike out.

Take care and keep each other safe. “Back to normal” may be a way off yet, and ‘normal’ was not necessarily that great. One positive is that I hope many will realise that the future is never certain and life is very short.

The Apocalypse

Just less than 3 weeks since my return from Spain and the world has changed (forever). To think that I almost went to Northern Italy. I could have been at the epicenter of Europe’s Corona outbreak. Flights to Bergamo were looked into. Another blessings counted!

There is so much suffering and fear of the future. People are losing everything, loved ones, mentors, jobs, businesses. Vulnerable people frightened of the ‘rona’.

Plans, holidays, events, dreams shattered. World’s turned upside down in a way we have never known before.

How is society reacting? Some amazing acts of kindness. Real heroes, my wife being one. Working tirelessly to keep vulnerable people safe, with complete disregard to her own well-being. She is not alone. Many key workers are doing amazing things. Humbling.

People (including me) are struggling to accept that you may not be able to properly visit your parents for maybe 9 months or more. No hugs to try and comfort them. I have cried thinking about this.

The Ying and Yang of every situation also highlights the vulgarities and selfishness of humanity. People making no attempt to protect themselves, and hence others, from infection. Hoarding of essential items, supermarket shelves empty of necessities. Denying very needy people and key workers basic supplies. The plastic population whining about trivial things.

The world leaders struggling to cope with the enormity. The masses struggling to cope with world leaders. Trump failing miserably, lying to support stock prices so he can benefit, racist comments with significant knock-on affects. The UK having similar issues. Boris bumbling along, looking way out of his depth. Farage finger pointing to insight hatred. Yes the virus originated from China (apparently). BSE originated from the UK. Many Brits will see them very differently however.

My daughter has got upset about her best friend, of Chinese descent, getting bullied by the truly ignorant.

Seemingly intelligent people misreading advice, creating facts based on their opinions or to suit their stories. Lying about symptoms. Trivialising it as ‘only flu’ or it has killed way less than xyz (if a serial killer of 10 a month in your neighborhood was joined by one who was only killing 3 a month would you not worry about the latter?)

Let’s not forget, some people don’t have the capacity, common sense emotional intelligence or are scared, in denial or whatever it may be. Be kind to them. We all have huge issues and difficulties currently. Let’s not make it harder for each other.

It all feels very surreal and the future uncertain. I was enjoying self isolation in my own crash helmet 3 weeks ago and now the whole world is now dreading a very different time of solitude.

I have no magic wand, no words of advice. One thing is for certain you never know what’s around the corner. Carpe Diem

Published …

A very popular motorcycle publication often asks for content so like the fame hungry wannabe that I am, I obliged …

The route map is completely wrong. They even moved Santiago 300 miles east!

For the record …

Day 1 – Santander – (N621) Potes
Day 2 – Potes -(N621) Riano – Astorga
Day 3 – Astorga – Santiago de Compostella
Day 4 – Santiago de Compostella – Vigo – (N304-1)Lindoso – (N308-1)Braga
Day 5 – Braga – (N222) Freixo de Espada à Cinta
Day 6 – Freixo de Espada à Cinta – Salamanca
Day 7 – Salamanca – Burgos – (N623) Santander

It’s all good. I get a free t-shirt too!!

Adiós

With about 7 hours left on the ferry I am pondering, reflecting, thinking.

Have I enjoyed my mini adventure? Immensely! Memories made.

29 years ago I traveled across Europe by rail with two close friends. One of which is sadly no longer with us in person. I wish I had kept a journal. The memories are fantastic, however the details fade. Hence my notes now.

We are here for an indeterminate amount of time. You cannot live everyday like it’s your last but we can make better use of our time here. Like Mick Extance, the most successful British Dakar rider ever, competes in the event again at 57 to show the world a ‘touch and go’ 15 hour brain operation should not stop you doing what you love doing.

Riding is better in the sunshine. So are most things. Don’t let a bit of torrential rain stop you. A fair analogy to life?

Traveling, seeing new things, observing cultural differences is good for you I believe. Traveling alone is a mixed bag. Ultimately you can do what you like, however a lack of companionship can sometimes affect your mood. To ride at your own pace, slowing to appreciate eagles and vultures overhead and not hanging off someone else’s brake lights is how it should be.

In a group, typically, you do the most popular option. Group dynamics could get annoying too I’d imagine.

On the ferry out there was a group of about 9 BMW GS riders. 40-60 years old. A BMW GS, with GS pants and socks I would imagine. Nothing wrong with that. However, one of the bunch, was an arrogant gobshite. Drunk, swearing and talking at a volume significantly higher than necessary. Slagging off foreigners, when you’re on a French boat, traveling to Spain is embarrassing. A ‘Gammon’ is the word now used to describe such people. If I had to spend a day in his company I would not have enjoyed it. Thankfully I didn’t. Twat.

My route, although very slightly influenced by someone who had experience of the area (gratefully received), was my decision. It worked out perfectly all things considered. I could have done things differently, but I wouldn’t have changed it. Madrid, Seville, Valencia etc. are for another time. A road trip (on 4 wheels), with Mrs B (and all or some of the little Bs too) to see such places would be marvelous. Maybe one day even a Camino adventure.

The preparation, route planning, anticipation, anxiety, panic, excitement, visualisation of what was coming etc. were all part of the experience. Time on your own is difficult but necessary, for me anyway. No TV, radio, little internet. Just your own thoughts.

We all have our demons and fears. They are real, even if irrationalal. Others may not be aware or appreciate them. We are all different. We need to be kind to each other and ourselves.

Mr Extance was telling me that prior to boarding the Ferry from Morocco to Spain he was set-up. A fake van inspection and a young lad jumped in the back and hid amongst his stuff. He suspected something was not right. He got to the police check and had a scan prior, to discover a 16yr old boy in one of his large holdalls. He closed the van and informed the police. The police got the boy out. The boy expressed a sincere apology to Mick and his partner. He was frightened. He had nothing to his name. He wanted a better life. To maybe pick fruit or wash cars at an exploitative rate of pay. Desperate.

Many people risk their lives in search of a better existence. How bad must their situation be? A significant proportion of the UK see such desperate souls (well educated, multilingual folk too) as an invasion of their precious island. Vitriolic hate spread across newspapers and social media, blaming various issues on immigration with little evidence or blatant lies. Racism dressed up as something more acceptable. The attention the likes of Katie Hopkins and Tommy Robinson get is very sad. What is also sad is that they make a decent income from their blinkered followers.

A slight political tangent, however my point is, we must have understanding and empathy. Regardless of skin colour, country of birth, religious beliefs. Be nicer to people. We have no idea what issues they have. Make them feel welcome. Statistically people who are kinder to others are in general happier. We all want to be happier don’t we?

As corny inspirational sentences go, one I can confirm to be true – Four wheels may move the body, but 2 wheels definitely move the soul!

Adiós por ahora damas y caballeros

Some bullet points …

General

  • Always check your passport!!
  • Learn the road signs of the country you are traveling in
  • It is safer to ride on the correct side of the road
  • You really don’t need many clothes or much else to be honest
  • Travel lighter. Books – use a kindle instead (I have read 10 pages of my books so far and they are not small)
  • Either have a satnav and a phone or a phone and camera, not just a phone – stopping to take photos when your phone is in the tank bag viewing pouch thing is a pain (satnav + phone probably best imo)
  • If possible position your satnav so you can see it without moving too much
  • In helmet speakers/headphones would be a brilliant addition I imagine (satnav instructions, music)
  • Being “vegetariano” in Spain and Portugal is like being one in the UK 40 years ago. They also confuse it with being a vegan too (some assume you won’t eat eggs and dairy)
  • A 110V travel kettle and lots of uht milk sachets wouldn’t have been a bad idea (with tea bags obviously)
  • Anything that you cannot leave securely on your bike make sure you can carry it along with everything else – A top box is a must in my opinion
  • Writing a blog is time consuming, but worth it (primarily this is blog is for me, my journal. If others read it and benefit then great)
  • The police in the UK are generally much friendlier and more helpful than in EU countries – appreciate that fact (they have a tough job. Say thank you, buy them a coffee if they are in the queue at Starbucks for instance)
  • You can never have enough fridge magnets

Wellness

  • Don’t rush. Take breaks – stretch your legs, give your head time.
  • Don’t do too much
  • Stay fed and hydrated
  • Try and sleep as much as possible
  • Relax and enjoy the moment (Constantly remind myself to relax when riding; drop the shoulders and chill)
  • Don’t stay couped up in a hotel room. Walk. Look around
  • Focus, zone out of anything that is not the job in hand – riding is mediation
  • Disconnect as much as possible. News, social media, email.
  • Let loved ones know you are ok. They worry
  • Never underestimate the kindness of strangers
  • Be a kind stranger
  • If riding into a small town doing the stated 30kph, navigating speed humps etc. whilst locals gawp at you, makes you feel like a Clint Eastwood character in a Western, riding into town, brilliant, that was exactly where my head was at 😁
  • The Gallagher brothers should have bought motorbikes or looked further than the local off license (work it out)

National/Cultural differences

  • Black tea should never be drank with hot milk, ask for frio leche
  • Learn some of the language, 10 words can help a lot (hello, goodbye, thank you, please, cold milk etc.)
  • Have a loose understaning of road signs, speed limits, road etiquette etc.

Google maps

  • Time estimation is just a wild guess
  • It does not differentiate in road types. Single width dirt tracks are perfectly adequate routes it believes
  • I would have been lost without it

Gatos y perros (cats and dogs)

The predicted rain started about 20 minutes into my journey. Basically a straight line along motorways through Valladolid to Santander. Now with lashing rain.

With little to focus on, the rain, wind, cold, thoughts of work, tax bills and corrupt, disenguinous government all start to darken the mood. I can feel the black dog nipping at my heels. Been here many times. Hopefully temporary. Time to gently guide him back to the kennel.

The cross winds are buffeting. You have to relax otherwise the wind hitting your body transfers to the handle bars.

What am going to do in Santander? I see a sign for Burgos (I imagine it’s pronounced how a Glaswegian would say a plural of beef burger?).

The rain and wind continue. I get to Burgos and it is coming heavier. My fingers are numb (right hand in particular, the grip on throttle restricts the circulation – I wiggle my fingers). I am bursting for pee. Fuel on empty. A petrol station (repsol sponsor honda so it’s fitting) assists on 2 of the 3 issues. On to the ‘centro’

I eventually park up unload everything and lock it. It seems a lovely place. On the Camino route if memory serves.

I find a pizza place. Order a 4 cheese pizza and order a coffee. They don’t do hot drinks! My coat and gloves are soaked. They only do one size of pizza. 14 euro. Enough for 2. I finish it. The guy cooking the pizzas has a chat and wishes me luck getting to Santander. He recommends a stop. I tell him I will call in. If the weather was better I would.

I wander around and then decide to head off. The rain has subsided. There is a mountain road N623. It might be better than the dual carriageway, it’s mostly in the valley so sheltered from the wind (it is also an attempt to change focus from dark thoughts that niggle away). To get to the 623 I have to use a dual carriageway.

The side winds are frightening. I am leaning to go in a straight line. This is horrible. Luckily the roads are empty so being blown into another lane has less chance of consequences.

I turn off onto the N623. Initially the wind calms and then a few sections and it is back to being a matter of survival. I can see mountains up in front. The road carves through the huge lumps of rock. It is much more enjoyable. The winds are still an issue.

It is like a small scale grand canyon. The road changes again. Climbs higher. The mist soaks me again. I am torn between getting the hammer down and getting to the port before the weather turns for the worse or taking my time and accepting whatever comes.

I reach Santander. My worse fears, as per typical didn’t come to fruition, it was not a pleasant journey however.

I call in at a small cafe for a coffee (don’t even bother with tea anymore) and then on to find the port.

I manage to get on early and find my room. 8 x 8 ft with no window. Marvelous. I take a walk. I sit talking to couple but catch the eye of a familiar face. I have no idea who it is. So I ask. “Mate, I am sorry to interrupt but I know you …”

It’s Mick Extance!. He has just done the Dakar Rally (8th time?). He is 57 and recovered from a brain tumor 3 years ago. I sit and talk with him for a good hour. I read about him only a few weeks ago.

The Dakar is a race that people die trying to complete. The off-road equivalent of the TT maybe.

I met Mick maybe 5 or 6 years ago doing his off road course in Wales. One of the many brilliant gifts that my wife has got me over the years. I need to go again.

The ferry is currently full of people complaining of how bad the crossing is … compared to last week mate … Lilley pond. It’s the sea. It has waves.

Oh By The Way, that Michael Dunlop inside information I mentioned last week… Revealed today. He’ll be riding the V4 Duke at the IoM TT. I had no intention of going, now I have every reason to go. Hicky, Mickey, Deano and McPint on competitive bikes. What a TT that will be. Better than 92′ ? I will not miss that!

The road to Salamanca and the close shave

I am not proud. I strolled into breakfast with a sandwich bag full of English tea bags asking for agua caliente. I was desperate. Two brews down and I was ready for the day.

Before leaving I asked the proprietor where she was born. Portugal she said. I followed up by saying that she sounds maybe Russian when she speaks English. I was not fooled. Let’s not forget, I have watched Killing Eve. The lady was Russian. Either KGB or confused.

I head over the Duoro River. Then climb very steeply up a twisting mountain road, with fabulous views, and on to Saucelle. Another ghost town. Where is everyone? Every small town the same.

The road straightens. I think the Romans did this bit. It is desserted. Nothing for miles. A very rare sight for me recently. What can you do?

The speedo says 180 and still accelerating (it’s kph not mph) … A car from nowhere with something on the roof. Police?. I back off to 90 (which is the actual speed limit. The Spanish sit at 120 typically). It’s a taxi thankfully. Joining more major roads I head on to Salamanca.

After a few loops around the block I find the hotel underground parking. Every time, always well hidden. Like the bat cave.

Check-in, drop my stuff and check out the “Centro”. Holy moly. What a stunningly beautiful city. I won’t lie, I have no idea what these places are, however I appreciate the craftsman. Built in a time with no power tools, big plant machinery, CAD tools etc.

No idea who this guy is, however check the fingers. He’s da Man!!! Spanish Gangster.
A Monestry by all accounts

I even find vegetarian food without too much searching. What’s not to like. I get a few souvenirs sorted too. It means rearranging my packing and loading ritual but nothing major. Alternatively I just dump my dirty underwear. That could start a war however.

During the lull in the afternoon I happen across a barbers that is almost empty. They are very slow, all 3 of the snippers. I wait 40 mins maybe. One guy is in the chair best part of an hour. He did have his beard very neatly trimmed and a cut-throat neck shave, however the man is bald!!! Meticulous.

By the time it’s my turn it is full. “No hablos Espanol” I mumble. Those waiting look up from their phones. The barber speaks no Inglés. I Google to find a picture. We agree the beard needs some love too. Between us we do a good job. By the end I look just like the guy in the picture, Zack Efron. Amazing.

I wander around again. By early evening it is heaving. The historic plaza full of people and joyful sounds. It is Friday night after all.

I Google vegetarian restaurants. A veggie cafe within 200m. Off I trot (limp; I have walked over 10,000 steps my hip is good for maybe half that). The place is 75% full. All are 20 something girls in pairs chatting or singles doing laptop stuff. I guess maybe being a vegetarian isn’t the macho thing in Spain. I just point at three random things behind glass counters as there is no menu. Starving. By the time I leave they are queuing for tables.

I meander back to the hotel. Twice I am stopped and asked questions by Spanish people. I explain the predicament, they smile. No problemo. Flattered that I don’t look out of place. It’s the new hair cut.

Back at room 538 I look at the news. It has been a few days. The stock market has crashed due to the Corona virus (dare not check my pension or ISA – buy when others are fearful … All well and good if you have money). Apparently 38% of Americans are avoiding Corona beer for this reason. Sadly I am hardly amazed at how stupid people can be. My hotel for the night, the Corona Sol has a distinct lack of American accents – draw your own conclusions.

Tomorrow involves heading north to Santander, in the rain, in time for the 8.30pm ferry. I will decide the details in the morning.

The pull of home is very strong.

Three little ducks …

Braga was cool and damp as I left. Better watch out for slippy roads. As today’s mission was to ride the infamous N-222 (one of the worlds best roads apparently), I head straight for it just east of Porto via the toll motorway.

Approaching the toll barriers there are cars on my left. They are not slowing and are just going straight through. I think it must be one of those number plate systems and they will charge accordingly the chosen exit point. I too carry on at speed. As I get closer I see a barrier. Holy cow!! At least my ABS seems to work. It transpires the cars of the left have a ‘season ticket’ while I was going via the pay on the day toll booth. Close!! I press the button and grab the barcoded ticket.

“There are few things as thrilling as accelerating past breathtaking countryside views, and now we know where to find the most thrilling stretch of tarmac possible.

The N-222 road from Peso de Regua to Pinhao in Portugal has been awarded the prestigious honour “

I start on the ‘222’ at Castelo de Paiva, and go 166km to Vila Nova de Foz Cao. Not just the 17 miles reported above. It is quite varied with the only consistent thing being literally hundreds of corners. None of it boring. A few break points going through towns etc. which are a most welcome rest. It is tough. Very tough. Basically it is like riding the best corners of the cat and fiddle road, joined to together with very few straight stretches between for 100 miles.

The run from Regua to Pinhao was good, although, to be honest I cannot actually remember seeing the turn off to Pinhao. Although it changed in style the whole thing to Vila Nova de Foz was just brilliant. Not sure why the article narrowed it to that particular section. Maybe because it is that section that is full of wine makers which you can visit, hence the journalist responsible had additional motivations to visit?

After stopping for a drink, food or fuel , within 30 minutes of riding again and my mouth is dry. I was not riding particularly fast either. I can’t. I am not a brave / good enough rider.

The views are stunning. If I stopped to take a picture of all the amazing views I would still be there now.

I will not bore myself with details of particular sections of corners etc., And to be honest I have no idea where I was half the time. The angle through which the corners take me makes it impossible to maintain any sense of direction.

Looking down at the satnav app is not possible either as there are so few straight parts to have the chance to take your eye off the road for a second.

It is difficult to comprehend that this road just evolved over time to become what it is without the creators being petrol heads.

I get to the end, pullover and put my hotel address in to Google maps. Time a for a rest for an hour. A nice relaxing ride. Until the last half hour or so it seems. The N-221 to Freixo de Espada à Cinta is an amazing road in places, particularly the last 10km or so. Silky smooth, tight but fast corners. I cannot relax.

I arrive at my hotel. A beautiful guest house type place. I think the owner is Russian. Her accent is not Portuguese for sure. I will ask at before I leave. (Do people with Russian accents immediately fill you with a sneaking suspicion that they are a trained assassin for the KGB, or is that just me?)

The town is dead. After trying to find somewhere to eat I concede and buy crisps from the small supermarket.

I am exhausted. My mood, for the first time this week turns negative. Tired, missing home and in need of a proper cuppa tea. I start thinking about my many stresses. I should have scheduled a day of rest. Tomorrow should be more relaxed. 2 hours to Salamanca. Hoping they have a bath in the hotel room.

It is only 7.30pm. I lie on the bed (a beautiful 4 poster with a firm mattress) to exercise my aching hip. I am gone. Next thing, I wake up and it’s 11.30pm. It is deadly quiet.

I become aware of a low level tinnitus like noise in my ears. I have worn ear plugs all day to try and alleviate such issues.

No idea why Google thought that I had teleported from Braga to the n222