So, according to the milometer, I’ve racked up 250 miles on the bike over three days, which isn’t all that bad. Took off on Wednesday afternoon to go to the Homelands, a hundred and odd miles each way with a couple of small detours.
The way up was my first “serious” ride as I thought of it – Not just nootling around Harrogate, but going from A to B, with a great sense of purpose, taking the roads as they were presented, rather than picking my route based on which roads I wanted to go on. I did, however, carefully pick my weather – Clear, grey day, hovering at around five degrees, trees turning bright yellow and orange, with the occasional fiery red of a copper beech or a sloe tree. Perfect for a nice trip out.
The ring-road is flanked by the omnipresent sycamores, silver birches and a surprising number of apple and plum trees (which I will bet good money are the result of sticky stones and cores thrown out of car windows), and whilst the larger leaves drifted in impressively coloured piles in the gutters, the birches scattered theirs like confetti, whirling back up the hills and gusting about between the cars. It was just as I was leaving the ring-road, through a small commuter village and up a winding road onto the side of a fell, when I realised how windy it was. Not just suddenly colder – The cold wasn’t bothering me yet, I’d piled on the layers* – but suddenly the bike was being whipped side to side in the gusts. I settled down, kept a healthy distance from the few other vehicles on the road, and pressed on up the now-familiar road to Harrogate.
Coming out of the other side of Harrogate, the road subtly changed. Not only was the tarmac now a bit rougher, but the lanes were narrower, the bends were tighter and more sudden, and it seemed to be one long downhill into the Vale. I passed a handful of other bikes going in the opposite direction, and was overtaken by one. I hovered between 40 and the speed limit, being cautious in the unfamiliar corners (Was it really a smooth curve, or a sudden 90-degree bend? Oh christ, why did that sign indicate a hard left turn when it was really a hard right turn?) and starting to get use to countersteering. There was nobody behind me, so I could go as slowly or quickly as I felt that I needed to, and work out what kind of surfaces the tyres were happy with, at which speeds. All a good, healthy learning experience.
The main road deposited me in Thirsk, where I stopped for a few minutes in a disabled bay (“No bikes allowed”) to reset the dislocated jaw taht I’d not noticed before and adjust my gloves, before setting off again and slipping out onto the A19.
I assume that most of you will be familiar with the A19, and specifically the Tees Viaduct, which Wikipedia describes coolly as “A beam bridge, carrying a six-lane dual carriageway, 2.9 kilometers long, carrying 70,000 vehicles a day.” On a motorcycle, I’d describe the Tees Viaduct rather differently;
“The Tees Viaduct is a two-mile-long chance to brush up on your rosary. By the time you’re halfway through the Apostles’ Creed you’ll have been treated to an up-close view of the underside of one of Teesport’s many container lorries as they jostle to cross all three lanes at the last posible second to reach the sliproad. Once you’re free of the HGV traffic, you’ll find yourself atop the 117-metre long, 20-metre tall span crossing the Tees, where the prevailing wind will eagerly guide you towards a closer view of the river, an offer that’s taken up by canvas-sided lorries and poorly-streamlined bikes with equal alacrity. As you descend from the largest of the 68 spans, you’ll be joined by gravel tippers racing up the incoming sliproad and being caught in the sudden gale-force winds, causing them to either stop suddenly in the left-hand lane, veer into the centre, or accelerate wildly in an attempt to overtake traffic already on the bridge. Often in convoys of three, all doing different things, just to increase the zany fun. All executed at around seventy miles an hour, with a two-inch gap between vehicles.”
But, the A19 does eventually lead all souls to Hebburn, and most of it is a lovely series of smooth curves through gorgeous scenery dotted with old farmhouses and windmills ancient and modern, with (at least Northbond on a Wenesday afternoon) very little traffic.
Time in the homelands was good. As usual, I planned to do a lot more than I actually did (Stayed with my Mam and Quantum Dad, saw my Grandparents, which was lovely, but didn’t get a chance to see Algernon or Sambuca, or my cousins and their new babies) but generally it was just nice. I feel that at this point I must say that the only reason I’m not including more about family time is because it’s not my story to tell, and I’m not all that comfortable sharing even the most innocuous stuff when it’s not my story.
On the way back I made record time to Thirsk (Finally getting around to overtaking, even if it was mostly just slow-moving juggernauts), and ran into one huge and notable problem on the sliproad – I couldn’t feel or move my left arm. Steering to get around into the town centre with only one arm was a challenge, so I skewed into the first pub I saw, heated my hands up on the exhaust pipe until I could get my helmet and gloves off, then fell through the door and was carefully guided to the fire by a barmaid. It took about half an hour for my hands to go from black to grey to purple, then to flushed red, then finally back to a sensible tan-grey.
Upon leaving the pub to find somewhere to get a coffee, there was a tiny small child who ran excitedly over to the bike. After I’d carefully directed him away from any part of the bike that was oily, sharp, fragile or still hot (which, when you’re two foot tall, is basically all of the bike that you can reach) I let his Mum pick him up and put him on the saddle, which basically made his day.
A few minutes later, when I was sitting in the coffee shop with a pair of trikers whom I’d met in the town square, the same small child appeared again, and his Mum seemed embarrassed out of her mind that he was bothering the exact same biker as before. All three of us just laughed, and said the thing that every parent dreads when looking at a heavily-modified biker that’s obviously travelling perpendicular to society; “Ha, I was just the same at his age”.
It took about an hour for me to be sure that my shoulder had reattached itself and that I could safely move my hand, then I continued back onwards to Harrogate. At Harrogate I took a short stop next to the Stray (Revelling in the leaves and the beginnings of the sunset), then made it back home, wherein I immediately flopped into a hot bath, with a generous slug of morphine, a glass of sercial, and Vision Thing.
Overall, a couple of good days that I think I really needed.
*One quilted hi-vis jacket, orange. One set of Sportex winter leathers, jacket and trousers. One Norwegian navy “Norgy” shirt. One pair of thermal longjohns, British army surplus. One polo-neck longsleeved T-shirt. One fishnet top/string vest. Comfy Leeds Rhinos boxers. Wool socks. Goretex-merino undersocks. Drop boots. Silk glove liners. Kevlar gloves.