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What it's Like to Crash a Motorcycle

“Damn it. John Burns thinks I’m a dick.”
That was one of the predominant thoughts going through my head as I slid down a Florida highway at 60 mph back in March.
It’s weird how the mind works. Time slows in a crash. Every tiny image burns into memory, so your brain can replay it over and over and over at night for the next who knows how many weeks.
In the moments before I crashed, I was riding the Harley-Davidson Street Rod along County Road 34 in central Florida. I’m not sure which county. The accident report simply records it as “County Code 61,” but the internet can’t agree on which county that is. Maybe I was in Indian River County; maybe I was in Suwannee County; maybe I was in Flagler County; I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t matter; I was somewhere. The road passing through that somewhere was long and straight – not the sort of place where one usually crashes – and the weather was perfect.

“My God, I am so happy,” I was thinking. “I am so incredibly lucky to be here – to live t…

A thousand-mile ride to John Muir's native land: Part I

My route
I suppose the best thing to do is to split my adventure into four posts, commenting on the days I actually spent riding to and from Scotland, rather than talking too much about the space in between. This is a motorcycle-related blog, after all. 

Though, of course, it is usually the stuff in between that is most important. Motorcycles, as much as we may love them, as much as I may obsess over them, are essentially just vehicles -- hunks of dirty metal, rubber and plastic to get us to those places where life happens.

I suppose that's not entirely true. One of the real joys of motorcycling is that you experience so much more in getting from place to place. You feel the sun's warmth, taste the acrid pollution of Manchester/Liverpool, hear the rush of wind, smell the earthy damp of Scottish rain, and see it all with much less hindered view. 

And there is, too, the time to think. Riding roughly from the bottom to the top of Britain and back afforded me several hours of mobile solace in which to consider all those important things that get lost in the day to day: what I want from my life, who I want to be and how I want to go about achieving that, and, of course, that most important of all questions: What are the lyrics to the "Mystery Science Theater 3000" theme song? (I spent a number of days trying to draw them back from the part of my brain that stores memories of the 1990s)

In total, I covered a little more than 1,000 miles on this trip. It was my first true long-distance, multi-day adventure, which meant more planning and more packing. And that's a facet I could definitely stand to work on for future trips; getting everything ready to go consistently took too long.

Borrowdale or bust

The first day of riding took me 300 miles from Penarth to Borrowdale -- an interminably wet valley within Lake District National Park that instantly leads one to thoughts of Hobbits and Dungeons & Dragons and countless other mythical adventure tropes. The Lake District is easily one of Britain's prettier places but it is also an example of really good marketing. An estimated 15 million people visit the national park each year -- more than visit all three of Wales' national parks annually -- despite the fact that it is the wettest place in England. Borrowdale, in particular. It receives roughly 140 inches of rain a year, or 11.6 feet.

So, I knew there was no way I could avoid getting wet. Inside my Viking Bags AXE Saddlebags I had placed my clothes in dry sacks and my shoes in plastic grocery store bags, then wrapped both in large garbage bags. I'll get to this in detail when I review the saddlebags, but the rain covers that come with them aren't actually all that useful when attempting to place them on the saddlebags. However, I was able to make use of the covers to help protect a backpack and small case that I strapped to the seat and rack. Leaving nothing to chance, I also lined my backpack with a garbage bag and important items (e.g., laptop) were additionally wrapped in their own plastic bags.

Throughout the trip, packing all my bags generally took an hour. Meticulously strapping everything to the bike took another hour. In Scotland, my annoyance with this level of time consumption would boil over and I'd end up detouring into a bit of quiet countryside so I could throw a full-on yelling-and-jumping-up-and-down tantrum by the roadside. But it should be noted that the result of such meticulous packing was that nothing ever came loose; no bits came undone, none of my possessions were sacrificed to the gods of British roads.

Entering Lake District National Park
And (most of) my stuff stayed dry despite the laudable efforts of Mother Nature. The forecast in the days before had called for particularly awful weather, so I started off in full rain gear. This included a cheap waterproof over jacket I had bought just for the trip. Within minutes of hitting the road I was kicking myself for not having bought one sooner; it turns out that over jacket is the best £8 that I have ever spent.

Up until then, I had simply relied on the waterproof-esque qualities of my leather riding jacket, as assisted by regular treatments of Nikwax. I figured it was good enough. And generally it is for situations where I'm riding and get caught in an unexpected bit of rain. But what I didn't realise was that a simple over jacket also provides additional wind protection. Had I invested that £8 sooner I suspect this past winter would have been more tolerable, allowing me to hold warmth better.

So, despite cold rain and powerful gusts of wind, I was comfy and happy as I hit the road to Northern England. I was able to make it to Strensham (80 miles from home) before feeling the need to take a break, and I found that the additional weight from the bags actually seemed to improve how my motorcycle handled. This makes me think I may want to invest some time playing around with suspension settings when it's just me on the bike.

The ride north was mostly motorway, so nothing really notable. Traffic got heavy as I ran the gauntlet between Liverpool and Manchester and the air was so thick with pollution that both cities have fallen dramatically down my Places I Want To Visit list. As I neared the 180-mile mark on my journey I started to develop pain in my right shoulder and numbness in my right hand. A little further on, a tension headache started in. I knew the problem: the wind was gale force (30+ mph) in sections and I was being kicked around. I tried to loosen up, to not clench my jaw, but couldn't really shake it off. So, the final 100 miles came slow because of multiple stops.

Eventually, I made it to the Lake District. For those of you playing along at home, national parks in Her Majesty's United Kingdom would probably not be recognisable as such to Americans. The best comparison I can come up with is that of the Lake Tahoe basin, on the Nevada-California border. People live and work there, and there is a sense of delicate environmental balance. Planning decisions are made by an overarching body that magically makes everyone angry by being too stringent or not stringent enough (depending on what side you're on).

There is a whole ridiculous six-tier system of categorizing protected areas around the world. I won't bore you with details except to say that most U.S. National Parks are Category II. Denali, in Alaska, is Category I. The lower the number, the more "wild" and untouched by man the place is. There are no Category I sites in the UK. Or Category II. Or Category III. The national parks here are, in fact, Category V. All of which gives each visit to a UK national park a sense of urgency to me. Very little is holding back the tide of progress. Things that I find inspiring and beautiful can, and in many cases definitely will, disappear before I have children to show them to.

So, once I got to my guest house in Borrowdale, I threw my things into my room as quickly as possible and ran outdoors to explore.

A few pictures from the Lake District
The view from my guest house in the Borrowdale valley.

Starting the 5-hour hike to Scafell Pike. It's up there in the clouds somewhere.

A river runs down from Scafell Pike full of heavy rain and snow melt.

Atop Scafell Pike. I'm on the far right, top row, wearing a red jacket and grey scarf. All of us were completely soaked through by fog, mist, rain and snow. My smile is an utter lie; I really disliked this hike.

Looking down on the Borrowdale valley.

Comments

  1. Sounds like a fantastic trip, and wow, I'm marveling at how green it is there. Fantastic photos!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey, when a place gets 11 feet of rain a year you expect it to be green.

      Delete

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