I was greeted at 8.30 by my comrades knocking on the door to call me to breakfast, and sprang out of bed feeling completely refreshed and looking forward to the day ahead. The itinerary was simple; Breakfast, leather up, ride to Matlock, meet the others, ride back to the Manifold Inn, natter, eat, natter more, ride back to Hartington to drink more.
Breakfast was lovely – Tinned grapefruit and peaches, toast, more fruit, gentle chatter and looking forward to the day ahead. A few more of the forum had checked in on Skype as being on their way, but a few more had cancelled for the weather.
We unlocked the bikes – My borrowed VanVan, a 1400 Intruder and a Kawasaki ZZR, and set out towards Matlock. By the time we’d got more than a few miles, I knew I wouldn’t make it out there, the wind was just far too strong, knocking me all over the road. I pulled over, explained the problem, and returned to the hostel as they headed on to Matlock, twenty-odd miles away to meet the rest, planning to meet them later at the Manifold.
I got back to Hartington, stopping once on the way to offer my phone to a stranded motorist (“A Geordie biker? Of course you stopped. Geordies are helpful, bikers are helpful, you must practically have had to take an oath…”) and settled in for a couple of hours of lacemaking in the lounge before going back out. The weather seemed to ease, so when one o clock rolled around I got back into my full kit and set off.
Here the problems began.
Firstly, I went the wrong way which was the start of my problems. I got a long way up the a515 before I realised, so pulled into the gate of a camping and caravan site in Pomeroy. Wherein my battery died. Remember that dead battery? I knew it would come back to haunt me. The wind was picking up a little, so I ventured across the cattle grid where I was met by a border collie, who insistently herded me down to the farmhouse, where a woman was both unsurprised to see me and knew right away what to do. “My husband is around. He’s a biker. He’ll help.” Minutes later he came out with a baler and a 10mm spanner, we took the saddle off, jumped the battery off the baler’s enormous industrial battery, and got it running.
“I’ve always liked these.” he said thoughtfully – he rode a BMW touring machine – “What’re they like?”
The only sensible response was to step down and offer to let him spin it around the yard. He did so, and upon his return I think I saw his smile before I saw the headlamp. The VanVan really is a bike that loves mud, and puddles, and fields, and just generally it makes people smile. He was very happy, and very helpful – Blocked the traffic with the baler to let me out onto the main road, where I set off back towards Hartington.
Here, the problems got worse. The a515 is a high, exposed road, with the winds of what became Storm Doris howling across it west-to-east. I was on a bike which, with me on it, still weighed less than 150kg, and was running flat-out, carefully picking a tacked line to stay upright and leaning hard in a hell of a wind, on a downhill. Clearly, nobody sane would get within spitting distance of this vehicle, understanding that I was currently a very vulnerable road user through no fault of my own, and I had no way to stop to fix this problem.
Unfortunately, Silver Fiesta Driver did not think this. Silver Fiesta Cunt was so important that, even though I was already at the speed limit for this road, he would wait until I was sufficiently tucked-in to the side of the road, then race to overtake me. He overtook me so close, in fact, that he just slammed hard into my rear right indicator.
I consider it a testament of my skill and machine sympathy that I managed to arrange a soft landing for both myself and the bike in the ditch at the side of the road, but this is how me, and the VanVan ended up upside-down in six inches of water in a ditch. I extracted myself from under it, and that’s where things get blurry.
I remember taking my gloves off and flinging them at the bike and screaming.
I remember a woman in a blue estate stopping on the far side of the road for a second, asking “Are you all right?” and when I shakily answered an honest, concussed “I don’t know. I got hit.” replied with “Oh you’re fine, you look fine” and driving off at high speed.
I remember a car stopping, an arm around my shoulders to hold me up, and someone saying very slowly “Have you been hit?” and then “Sit in my car whilst I run this up to the pub for you.”
I remember sitting in a car and wanting to get out to apologise to the man who was now pushing my bike up the road to the pub, since the dead battery meant that it wouldn’t restart.
I remember him returning, driving me up to the pub, and saying that he’d put money behind the bar so that I could get a coffee, and that he’d be back after picking his son up to check that I was all right.
I remember the landlady getting me the phone so that I could phone the Manifold to see where the bikers were, and the landlord of the Manifold saying that the bikers had just left to find one of their wives who was in some trouble up on the a-road.
I remember staring at my coffee and not being sure how much sugar to put in it, and thinking that this was a very nice medieval pub.
I remember Intruder-rider checking me over for obvious head injuries, whilst one of his friends checked my helmet for cracks.
And then time seemed to return to its normal flow, and the five of us were sat at a table eating a whole Sunday dinner by a crackling fire, surrounded by suits of armour and ageing taxidermy. And, you know, it was a really nice afternoon.
Getting the bike back to Hartington was a nightmare. The same winds that had basically unhorsed and unmanned me earlier were still howling. I did not want to get on the bike. The bike refused to start, repeatedly, until three of the others gave it a good old hoick around the car park to bump it. And then I was back on. Triumph America rode in front, then Intruder, then ZZR, Bonneville having had to get home to get his kids to bed.
We had to stop a good few times, with pep talks and wailing at every step, but eventually I just went visor-down, timed it between the gusts, and ripped out ahead of the pack to get back as fast as I could. Having the trail of four friendly vehicles behind me made it a thousand times easier.
Back at Hartington I dropped the bike in its spot, got inside, and immediately got a gin gimlet, the first of many. Using the dead battery as a figleaf, I phoned for breakdown recovery, and arranged it for 10am the next day. The rest of the night, the three of us sat and chatted, unbothered by incomers, I still working on and off on my lace, the others uploading photos of the day, all of us having a couple of quiet, calming pints. We said our goodbyes that evening, knowing that in the morning we all had different schedules to keep.
The next morning, they were both gone long before I woke up, but my bike had been un-bent and was spotless. The courier arrived at 10 exactly – A fellow biker, who’d toured the Sahara, Canada, the States and most of Europe and Asia, ridden the length and breadth of the UK on a push bike, and who was cheerfully un-patronising as we sat in the van listening to Black Sabbath and getting the bike home safely.
The VanVan was returned to its rightful place next to its brother, I flopped into the house completely exhausted, but overall despite all the bad luck, it was still a really good weekend full of scenery and bikes and good people. Two successes so far!