Black Beauty

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Wrap-Up

This is my wrap-up of the trip.  I usually write my final post after being home for at least a few days, sorta like letting the stuff settle out to see what remains after a week or so.

The trip exceeded my expectations.  While not everything was spectacular and wonderful, there were enough terrific sights to overcome any not-so-wonderful, plus some terrific parts.

I enjoyed riding the course at the Isle of Man, particularly the section that had no speed limit and two lanes of one-way traffic.  I didn't have the fastest machine, by a big margin, but it was fast enough to do a lot of passing for those riding at moderate speeds.  It's probably good that my scooter wasn't all that fast; I might have gotten into trouble with a faster machine.  Because the scooter handled so well (better than my RT), and because it was stable as a rock, I felt comfortable riding at 96mph.  That part was such fun.  I wish I could have done it over and over!

The races themselves were a bit of a downer, from a viewing standpoint.  I've been to many motorcycle races, so I know they're very fast and the space in which you can actually see the bikes is small.  But at the Isle, those spaces were generally smaller, and actual bike-to-bike competition was fairly rare.
Sidecars Racing


The quality of the racing, and the skills of the riders, on the other hand, was superb.  THE best I've ever seen.  As mentioned earlier, these guys are not riding on a smooth track with plenty of safety for when they go down, as you find at Daytona, Birmingham, VIR and other road racing tracks across the nation.  No, these guys are running almost 200 mph on city streets and country roads, with very little safety to protect the riders.  The riders are all crazy to do what they do, but they are extremely talented in the way they do it.

Food was excellent.  Beer was good to excellent.  The Yorkshire Dales in northern England are fabulous.  I love their one-track roads and all of the rock fences and walls across the countryside.  I think the Dales were the second-best part of the biking portion of the trip.
Stone Fences and Walls Across the Dales


The general public was fairly tolerant of motorcycles, but not as much as they are in the Alps region of Europe.  In the Alps, the motorcycle has priority over everything else, and drivers of other vehicles go out of their way to give the motorcycles a break.  In the UK, it was a mixture of USA and the Alps, with a few car drivers helping motorcyclist by giving space and making room for passing.  But there were also some car drivers who were not tolerant of motorcycles and made it a bit harder than it needed to be.
Single Track Roads in the Dales

Our hotels on the tour part of the trip were very good; excellent.  While I had trouble figuring out how to get the shower water right, the buildings were well maintained and everything was neat and tidy.  Service was also excellent at all of the hotels.

The scooter was a great choice for the tour.
Scooter
 While I am sure some of the other riders looked at it as a toy, it rode great, was reasonably economical, and handled great.  I liked the fact that I could flat-foot the bike when stopped.  I liked the fact that it felt very light (even though it weighs as much as my RT).  I liked not shifting in traffic. I liked the heated seats, the heated grips, and the power windshield.  I liked the excellent handling and confidence it gave me.  I didn't like it's noise. I didn't like the short, busy suspension.  That's about all I didn't like about the bike.  If it had cruise control and a less busy ride, I'd consider one as my next two-wheeled vehicle.  But with my style of riding, with long days in the saddle, it would not give me the comfort of my RT.  We'll see...

I enjoyed all three roommates I had on the tour.
Roomate #1, Rod
 Rod (from Australia) was a neat guy, a surveyor by trade.  Young (I'd guess 35) and smart.  I'm sure I was more of a problem to him than he was to me; I stayed up later than he did every night, blogging usually.  He also slept later than I did, so I'm sure he was a better roommate to me than I was to him.  My second roommate, Chuck (from New Mexico) was a good one, too. He is about 10 years younger than me, so we had a lot in common.  I enjoyed talking with him about life and his touring.  Last year he did a 9 month, 40,000 mile world tour and is planning an even longer one next year!  I enjoyed the time we spent together.  My final roommate was Gary (from Southern California).  He is a little older than me and is very sharp and articulate.  He and I struck up a quick friendship when I learned that he occasionally tests bikes and other motorcycle things for Consumer Motorcycle News, my favorite motorcycle magazine.  He was a neat guy who traveled with more electronic stuff than I do!  As with the others, I'm sure I was more of a problem to each roommate than they were to me.  My late-night blogging was probably a hassle for them.

Rob, Gretchen and Al were great.
Our Fearless Leader, Rob Beach
Rob's First Lady, Gretchen

First Mate, Al
  I enjoyed being around each of them; they made me feel at ease and were helpful when needed.  I inadvertently left my three-fingered gloves on the bike at the end of the tour, and they are going to send them back when they return from their current tour.  I wish the tours weren't so expensive; I'd like to do more because they make it so easy.

The UK is not a big country.  When I got on the scooter, it had 2km on the odometer.  When I turned it in on the last day, the odometer read 2,669km.  So, I rode it 2,667km, or 1,657 miles.  Actually, Gary rode it part of one day, so I rode it a little less than that, but I was on his bike when he was on mine.  The fact that we spent a considerable amount of time dealing with ferries and watching races reduced the number of miles we rode.  And, we drove the car about 1,100 miles while we had it.  So, we covered about 2,700 miles in the UK. It is a beautiful, diverse country.

The trip was a once in a lifetime trip, a bucket-list item now marked off my list.  The Isle of Man was magical. I'm glad I went but happy to be back home!
The Truth Hurts!

Until next time....


Saturday, June 22, 2013

Miscellaneous Stuff

There's some stuff I've been wanting to say, but time has not allowed it until now.  I'm home now, but started this post on the ferry ride over to the Isle of Man.  I added to it several times along the way as I thought of stuff.

Sweets Break at a Tea Room
Hotels-- We stayed in great hotels on the tour. Each has been very different, but all very nice. The hotel in Morecame was a modernistic hotel with very eclectic furnishings. Walk-in shower. Commode behind a move able teak wooden wall. Lights that work only when you insert and leave your room key in a key reader. No upper sheet; duvets on each bed in England. Great if the room is cool, but way too hot if not. Twice I've woken up with a soaked pillow.
Railway Trestle Along the Way

Bathroom fixtures and water controls are different in each hotel. I could not figure out what turned on the shower in one place and had to ask Rod. In another, the controls were so finicky that I took one shower in way too hot water because I could not regulate it. And they provide huge bath towels. They are wider than my beach towels and about 5 feet long. Never seen such huge bath towels. No washrags here. Shower curtains in every hotel so far except here. Very different over here in the UK.  Very little bar soap; they use a lot of liquid shower soaps instead.

Meals have been very good. Only a couple of  meals that were so so. What they call bacon is what we call country ham. Lots of little things they put on the plate that are unidentifiable and not too good. I've learned not to taste some of them.

An elevator is a lift. A truck is a lorrie. Lots of little things like that. It seems that there are only two words understood universally-toilet and beer. I haven't been anywhere in Europe that those words were not understood.
Eggs and Salmon (Raw???)

The group is from all over the place. My roommate was from Sydney Australia. Other locations for other members include: Ontario, Saskatoon, British Columbia, New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, California, Calgary, and New Zealand. Quite a mix of nationalities with a common love of touring exciting places on motorcycles. The tour company owner, Rob Beach is from Grand Island NY. He is a second generation tour operator, following his father's path and tradition.
Great Fish Stew and Onion Rings

There was one death from the races. A Japanese racer was killed in practice during the early practice sessions. They average about 2 deaths a year at the TT races. Course is 37 miles long on city streets and country roads, with very little in safety amenities. It's wild, the oldest organized racing in the world, and the TT (Tourist Trophy).  In addition, there were at least 4 deaths of spectators (not sitting near the track, but riding the course beyond their skills).
Typica Breakfast

Most pubs served the same general foods; fish and chips (almost all with green peas or mashed green peas), steak and ale pie, hamburgers, and other items I can't remember now.  Each pub usually had at least one beer unique to that location, along with other beers from the region.  The taps for beer were of two types; some were like we're used to here--under pressure and dispensing cold beer.  The others were large pumps pulled by the bartender in several strokes, and the beer was somewhat cool (not too cool).  We didn't observe any "warm" beer as we'd been warned.  I think what others called "warm" was actually beer that was not cold.  Most of the beer was very good.

I'll post some pics of the food I had on the trip, without specifying when or where.  I enjoyed the food.

Bread Bowl full of Fish Stew and Salad
It seemed that each time we'd get the hang of something new (trains, subways, car, or whatever was different), we'd change locations and there would be new customs or new things to learn.

St Andrews, Isle of Skye, and Back to Manchester

Well, I'm actually home now and writing to finish the last three days of the trip.  This post will cover all three days and hit some of the highlights of those days.

We left Edinburg and headed northwest towards the Isle of Skye.  We had been told that the Isle of Skye was a "must see" place, so we had to go there.  By the maps, it was an easy day's drive there.  However, although it's only about 250 miles, it seemed to be a lot more than that, and we didn't make it all the way to the Isle that day!  Too much to see on the way, and the roads are windy, narrow, and slow for a rookie driver on the wrong side of the car and road.

The big stop "on the way" was the St Andrews golfing area.  I think all of us wanted to see this golfing mecca, where one of the  oldest golf courses in the world is located.  It was started in the early 1400s and has been in use, more or less, since then.  There are 7 courses, but the most famous is "The Old Course".  So, we went to the Old Course.
Practice Green Near the Ocean

My brother, Jeff, had been to St Andrews many years , and I remember him talking about the rough, just how rough it was.  Well, he was right!  The rough is grass that hasn't been mowed in quite some time--maybe months if not more.  If I were playing there, I'd need a bushel-basket of golf balls to make it 18 holes!  The rough would be filled with balls I lost.

Gary on Bridge on 18th Fairway
The Old Course is located right on the ocean, so it's a very picturesque place.  We walked out onto the course and took some pics from a spot where a pretty bridge crossed a small creek, with shops and buildings in the background.  Gary is a golfer, so he had to pick up some souvenirs for himself and some golfing buddies.  We both found a lost golf ball to carry back home!

After a couple of hours of meandering around the shops and the course, we loaded up and started our trek towards the Isle of Skye off to the northwest of St Andrews.

The ride from St Andrews towards Skye was longer and slower than we anticipated; we realized mid-afternoon that we'd not be able to get that far today.  So, we started looking for a place to stay for the night.  We stopped at several small hotels along the way to find lodging, but they either did not have rooms available, or they didn't have accommodations to fit our needs.  Finding a room for 3 people is not an easy task in strange countries!
Shops at Old Course

Finally, Ft William, a town larger than most we had seen along the way, was in our sights.  We stopped at two locations there (both full) and decided to try one of the small hotels on the main street.  Ms. Smith  at the Ben View Guest House had exactly what we were looking for!  She was a delightful lady, and enjoyed talking with us about our heritage (there were 3 King Malcolms in Scotland).  It was a welcome place, and a very enjoyable place for the night.  On top of that, her rate was the lowest of all we used, and her breakfast (included) was very good.
Ms. Smith's Hotel, the Ben View

After breakfast, we headed north to the Isle of Skye.  It was a cloudy, overcast day, with low-hanging gray skies hiding the mountains in the region.  We rode by a bunch of Lochs (Lakes) and even touched the very southernmost tip of Loch Ness, the home of Nessie just before arriving at the bridge taking us to Skye.

Beautiful, High Cliffs at Skye
In truth, while the Isle of Skye was beautiful, it was not nearly as spectacular as I was expecting it to be.  I'm sure part of that was due to high expectations I had, and part due to having already spent three weeks looking at some of the most beautiful places on earth.  Again, it was pretty, and nice, but not as special as I wanted it to be.

There were some spectacular cliffs up on the northernmost part of the island, where the land dropped several hundred feet to the ocean below.  We had not seen those types of cliffs before.

One neat thing there, as well as other parts of Scotland, some of the road signs had the English name posted as well as the Gaelic name.  They are trying to maintain the native language for future generations.  That's good, IMO.
English and Gaelic

We had lunch at a place down close to the water.  Lots of people were standing out on the sidewalk,
Fish and Chips, Anyone
eating what appeared to be fish and chips.  Not in
newspaper (as depicted in pics and stories), but in white freezer paper.  They seemed to be enjoying the fish, so we went inside and had a good meal.  I think they got fish and chips, and I got a hamburger!  I'd had enough fish and chips to hold me a while.  The burger was pretty good. The beer was excellent!

So, it was time to leave the Isle and start heading back towards Manchester, where we'd catch a plane back home in two days. It was a bit of a bittersweet moment when we were leaving Skye; bitter because the trip was pretty much done, and sweet because home was coming in a very short while.

Snow in the Crevaces
We rode south, through the mountains on curvy, mostly good roads.  A few peaks (which were around 1,500 feet high) still had small patches of white snow laying in grooves in the terrain on the top.  Gray clouds shrouded the tops of many of the taller mountains, so we'll not know if they had snow or not.  B
ut it was a scenic ride south.

I don't remember what town we spent our last night on the road.  It was a small village near a railroad (rail station nearby), and we stayed in a Best Western hotel, the first chain hotel since London.  It was okay; nothing special, and not bad either, except the shower.  The shower was a walk-in (as a number had been), but the slope on the tile floor towards the shower drain was very slight.  This resulted in a flooded bathroom floor!  We finally resorted to piling towels just outside the shower as a way of keeping the rest of the bathroom floor somewhat dry.  Not a good arrangement...
Towel Dam on Floor
 We had dinner and breakfast there as well.

The following morning, our last full day in the UK, brought sun and blue skies.  Temps were comfortable, so it was a nice day for the ride back to Manchester.  Most of the ride was fine; we spent much of it on the Motorway, except for one side trip.

Gary wanted to do a distillery tour, to visit a true Scotch distillery.  We had passed several that did tours up in the more northern regions, but didn't stop to do a tour.  We had time to do a tour, so we started searching for one open to do tours.  After two false-starts, including one disappointing trip to a distribution point for Scotch whiskey, we gave up.  It seems that almost all of the distilleries that do tours are in the more remote areas.  Had we known that earlier, we'd have done a tour then.  Alas...

Back to England
We had our final lunch in a pub very close to the England/Scotland boundary.  It was very typical of many of the ones we'd been dining in for the past three weeks.  We all had our final fish and chips meal and a beer.  I can say that I enjoyed the food for the entire trip.  None was BAD; a couple were ok, and most were very good.  The Gretna Inn in Gretna brought the last of the pubs for the trip.

We rolled into Manchester with no problems.  Drove to the Etrop Grand Hotel near the airport and checked in.  Th
Our Last Road Meal
e trip was now essentially over.  We still needed to return the rental car to the airport, so we got the shuttle driver to guide us to a gas station near the rental agency.  We filled the tank (since I'm home and the bill has arrived, it cost $106.00 for that last tank of gas.  And this was a small car!) and drove to the agency and turned the car in.  The shuttle driver delivered us back to the hotel, where we had a quiet evening and packed for the flight home the next morning.

Packing was a bit of a chore.  I had things strewn in several bags, and they all needed to go into the big duffle, the backpack, and one small bag.  After about an hour of shuttling things back and forth between bags, weighing the big bag with a borrowed scale (which proved to give a falsely-high reading), I decided I had done all I could do in packing.

The following morning started at 7am with a quick shower, breakfast, and getting the bags downstairs.  The shuttle driver delivered us to the airport, and the trip was over.

It was a good one!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Edinburgh


June 10th brought another day of sunny skies. From what the locals say, we've had extraordinarily great weather on this trip. Most have said that the best weather of the year has been in the last couple of weeks. We've had only two days of rain, and the only day that rained all day we were in London, and the other day it rained only part of the day. Sunny skies make the sights so much better.

We drove to the village of Carmichael again, this time to walk to the Carmichael house ruins. At the welcome center, they gave us a map to the old house. We walked down paths, across fields, and down drives. It was about 3/4 mile to the house. It was very large, in the thousands of square feet, and three levels plus a partial basement. No roof at all (more on this later), but many walls were still standing. Gary was excited!
Carmichael Ruins

The roof was removed some years ago as a way of avoiding paying taxes on a home. While it cuts the tax rate, it sure makes a mess of a house when it's open to the elements. Penny wise...
Some of Edinburgh Castle

After a bit, we walked back, had a light lunch at the cafe at the welcome center. Gary and Linda bought some memorabilia to carry home. Then on to Edinburgh Castle. The drive there was not too far, but with me driving, it was exciting. Hit a couple of curbs, and had trouble finding the right gear several times. No damage yet.

the GPS led us to the castle. Parking was challenging; we had to use a very expensive e parking deck (£18) for 4 hours. The castle was fabulous. Big, up high on rock outcroppings, overlooking the impressive city. I enjoyed the castle very much. It's pretty old, with parts dating back to the 800s. That's 1,500 years old!

It got to be time to leave the castle, so we walked a short way and had a drink. Then walked to the Hard Rock Cafe to get a tee shirt for one of Gary's daughters.
Edinburgh Castle over City

Then to eat dinner and walk back to the car. We looked for and found a hotel, the Salisbury, where they had room for us. It was nice. Then to bed. A long, but tiring day.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Rental Car

Well, all of the tour members scattered towards home or other adventures. The big truck with 16 bikes left for Munich last night, to be used on the next tour week after next. Most members were heading home, but a few went to other places in the UK for a few days.
Our Car

Gary and I left with the hotel van to pick up our car for the next few days. We got to the rental car place at the airport after winding around many circles for a while. I had no idea where we were or how to get back to the hotel.

Gary had reserved a compact car for 4 days. When he checked rental rates with his phone a couple of days ago, he found that we could get it cheaper for a whole week if reserved for a week. So, last night we decided to change the reservation for the cheaper rate. Alas, when he went back into the website, the rate shown was much higher!

So, I checked with my tablet and got an even lower rate. So, I reserved it and Gary canceled his.

Realizing how bad our sense of direction was in getting to the rental agency, I asked about the cost to rent a GPS to help us find our way. The agent checked and offered a larger car with a built-in GPS for £8 a day more. We took it.

After a cursory demo on how to use the GPS, we took off for the hotel. No problem now in getting back to the hotel.

We picked up Linda and the luggage, found a way to set the GPS for Edinburgh, Scotland. And off we went! With me driving!!!
Speed at Which I was a Safe Driver

Boy, what a shock it was to sit on the wrong side of the car, shift the 5 speed with my left hand, and work the controls otherwise normal. The car feels about 10 feet wide! With the small, narrow roads, it's truly an ordeal for this old man to keep it in my lane. It's a lot harder than I thought. I keep the car too far to the left, resulting in hitting rumble straps frequently, brushing against vegetation on the left side, and hitting an occasional curb! I think Gary and Linda are scared of my driving, but don't want to fuss. Fussing too much might result in me boycotting the driving and making one of them drive! And neither of them wants to drive.

So, I drove the about 200 miles to Manchester to Biggers, Scotland without hitting anything important. It was wild.

The car is a Nissan, mid-sized with a backup camera and a HUGE moonroof. It's a good value and runs ok. Slower is better, and it's pretty slow.

We're in a little village named Biggers. It's a quaint little place near Carmichael, where were returning tomorrow.
First Hotel After the Tour
We're staying in a hotel/tavern right in the middle of the village. Our room has a double bed for them and a twin for me. Getting to the room is an adventure. You enter the tavern, climb up a set of stairs to a landing. Then up another flight. Then a right turn through one door, down a hall to another turn at another door. Then up a flight of stairs to a small hallway and down a flight of stairs. Finally, through an unmarked door to the end of a short hallway to our door. It's a workout to get to the room.

We were told of a horse parade with a bagpipe group that was going to walk through the
village. We had a drink and then walked outside to watch the parade. Very unique indeed!
I Think She Caught a Whiff of Horse Droppings!

So, this was our first day on our third adventure of this trip. A good day.

Parade
video
Stay tuned....

Tour Finale

II guess it's true that all good things must come to an end... The tour is done. Not the trip or the adventures, but the tour itself.

The final day brought another day of bright, sunny skies and perfect riding conditions. It could not have been any better. We were very fortunate to have an almost unprecedented 12 consecutive days that were dry, with most being sunny or at least partially sunny.
At Ferry Landing

We did the usual morning drill. Big breakfast, get packed and on the bikes. We stayed in the nicest hotel I've ever stayed in. Right on the waterfront of one of the lakes in
Wonderful Accommodations
the lakes region of England. I checked rates on their website, and for a room for two, with breakfast and dinner (which we had), the nightly rate was £509 Pounds! With the exchange rate, that's $750!! It was very nice...

We got on the bikes and took the meandering roads to a ferry that crossed the lake. After about 10 minutes, the ferry pulled into the landing and we loaded. We started to pay the £1.60 fare, and they asked if we were part of the "American Contingency". Not knowing who they were, but knowing we were American, we responded "yes", to which they said the fare was already taken care of. I have no idea who actually paid for us!
Small Ferry

The ride was good, but with some frustration trying to follow the route. The power plug broke on my bike on the second day of the tour, so I had to swap batteries with anyone else I could find several times a day. Mostly that was Gary. If mine ran low, and we kept riding, I'd turn it off to conserve, saving some for an emergency. However, Gary's would intermittently charge the battery or not. We couldn't figure out the problem as to why it would charge and sometimes not.

The GPS routed us to two places we couldn't deal with. One was a VERY steep dirt road that we skipped, and the other was up a very narrow paved
Rob, Where in the World are We?
drive a few hundred yards to a metal gate blocking the road. We declined to go through the gate, not sure what to do. So, that messed up the routing.

After wandering around a while, we backtracked to a larger road and rode south towards Manchester.

After lunch, we decided we had ridden enough of the small roads in the dales and headed towards home for the night.

We made one small side trip, to the hotel we used for the first two nights on the tour. They had my replacement phone.

Then on to our hotel for he night near the airport in Manchester. One note about the last leg of the ride--we got on the interstate equivalent, and it was amazing how fast the miles count down at 70mph. We were flying, compared to most of the riding.
Pretty....

The final group dinner was great. Rob did his usual closing talk and handed out certificates to each participants on the tour. It was a bittersweet ending for a great two weeks. I am so glad I did the trip. More on this later.

Next few days will be riding in a car in Scotland. Until later....

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Riding...

This is another threefer . It was late when I got to the room, and I was tired. So, I'll combine the days into one post. Today is Saturday , June 8th . It's our last day of riding their wonderful roads.

I'll try to describe some of the highlights without saying which day it happened.
Words Say it All

Gary and Linda and I rode together alone during these days. One interesting sight started with passing a wagon with a teenaged-looking girl walking the wagon and holding the reins.
Irish Travellers
Within a mile, we spotted a connestoga type wagon being pulled by two horses. The wagon was about 3/4 as large as a Conestoga wagon and was very ornate. It was obvious that it was set up to live in. Then we went by more and more of them, some on the road and moving, but many more stopped on the side of the road, camping. The horses were tethered on the side of the road, feeding on the lush grass. There were hundreds of them.

Later, we asked Rob about them, and he told us that they were Irish Travellers and were having a get together, and that there would be maybe 10 thousand of them. Sounds like a big party brewing...

We also stopped at a Birds of Prey center along he way. They do daily feedings and allow the visitors to view and participate. Owls, hawks, eagles, and other varieties were there. I'd guess maybe 30 birds. They feed them bits of raw meat, mostly venison. The two handlers
Gary and Owl
would stand a few yards apart and the birds would fly back and forth to eat the meat scraps. They also let the viewers participate by wearing the heavy leather glove and letting the bird fly to your hand. Pretty neat. The bird I fed was a large owl that actually weighed almost nothing. The main handler narrated as it was happening, telling the small crowd about the birds. One interesting fact--they buy all the birds because it is not legal to breed them. It was a good stop.

Along the way, we stopped for bathroom stops and lunch. Most of the time we'd stop at a tavern and have local fare, usually very good. The food on this trip has been very good with only a couple exceptions. Much better than my earlier tour. I will have to work on my weight gain when I get home. It has been very good.

Think I'll stop for now but try to add more when I have more time.
Linda and Gretchen Showing their Ass
These tours, the way we do them, allow very little down time. It's a blur of getting out of bed, getting cleaned up, going to breakfast, packing up our mess, riding, lunch, riding, stopping for the night, checking into the hotel, rushing down for a beer before dinner, eating, and then trying to blog if it's not too late. Very busy..

Not Much Room to Spare...
Check in later for more meat as I have time.

Most of this time period was spent in Scotland. It didn't seem to be much different from England, but the brough in their accents. I couldn't understand them most of the time. Linda served well as our interpreter.

We went to Carmichael home of Gary's ancestors, for a brief stop. It was neat to be in a place where his family had roots. We're going back during the car tour later.