Thursday, 3 September 2009

Christmas 2007 - The idea for a Motorcycle Tour

There are many great things about Christmas; seeing family, spending time relaxing from work, giving and receiving of gifts; seeing or telephoning those relatives you don’t see very often and of course the timeless repeats on the television. This is quickly followed by the New Year celebrations. Out with the old, in with the new and then as quick as a flash, it is back to work and another year in our lives has started and we generally don’t give it another thought – we just carry on as normal, trudging back to work on those cold Monday mornings. Ho hum.

It wasn’t as simple as that for me at Christmas 2007 though. Something was different. I had passed my fiftieth birthday earlier in the year and I felt I needed a change. I needed to do something different and the Christmas break away from work that year gave me time to reflect. Time to think about what I wanted to do.

I have a great family with Jackie my wife and my three sons, Charles, Jeremy and Richard, plus my step-daughter Mish and her family. My lovely wife Jackie and I live a comfortable life in rural England, plus we have recently bought a house in Spain which was then being modernised to our tastes as a future place to spend time in. The boys are now in their late teens and early twenties and have all reached the stage where they are beginning to want to shape their own lives. They are making their own decisions. That christmas, it seemed like time was nearly right for a change.

My career has been successful and I am very lucky that I could soon retire. I had worked very hard since leaving school at sixteen and my work had given me a huge amount of satisfaction, but being honest with myself, I was tired. I had been in the same line of work for over thirty years. I had spent so many years of getting up early, so many years of the hectic pace of work, so many years of my life had centred largely around work, that it really was time for a change.

My work life had been about working out how to construct large construction projects – how the construction would be undertaken from a very practical point of view. I had worked on some fantastic projects including the preparations for the London 2012 Olympic Games. Looking ahead and setting out how things would be done was what I did and I was very good at it.

Christmas 2007 however had given me time to think. I am not sure if it was a mid-life crisis, but I felt I needed to do something else, but I wasn’t sure what. Then it struck me – since leaving school at a young age I had plunged headlong into work. Sure, I had enjoyed holidays every year and I had seen some great places in the world, but this was as a regular tourist. What was missing was I had never had any sort of an adventure that so many of my contemporaries had; no trekking around the world; no gap year excitement; no years of enjoying growing up as a young man in college environment, not even the school trip to China that one of my sons was about to enjoy. I needed an adventure!

With the potential for retirement in the near future, I spent that Christmas trying to decide what would fulfil that need for adventure. It surely had to involve travel of some sort, but what?

In my teens, I had loved motorbikes. I loved the sense of freedom, the independence, the mechanical side of the way motorbikes were built and to be honest, they were just damned great fun. From a Honda C70 to a 350cc two-stroke Yamaha through to a watercooled GT750 Suzuki, my teen years and early twenties had been about speed and having a lot of fun going fast, popping wheelies and doing all those things a young man takes a lot of pleasure from. However, lifestyles have to change and like many others before me, the early years of marriage and children meant that for me, the motorbike had to go – traded in for a series of bland but very practical cars.

That was until one day about a quarter of a century later, I was driving down the Kings Road in Chelsea, when being early for a business meeting, I decided to pop into Warrs, the Harley-Davidson dealer, just to have a look at what big motorbikes were like these days. I liked what I saw and I just had to try one of these huge shiny machines.

A few days later I was back at Warrs. I liked the look of the touring bikes, but these were much heavier bike than I had ridden many years earlier. Would I still like to ride? Could I actually ride such a big bike? I had to find out, so with some degree of trepidation, I rented a Road King for a few days and headed out onto the busy London streets to see if I still had the passion that I had once enjoyed.

It only took about an hour.

I loved the Harley. I loved its noise, its comfort, its image, the way people gave it admiring glances. I even loved the way the huge V-twin engine vibrated. I loved just about everything about it.

A day or so later saw me returning the rental bike to Warrs and ordering my own, brand new Harley-Davidson Road King. Black. Lots of extra chrome. Loud pipes. New leather jacket. New crash helmet. I was a born-again biker!

For the next year or so, I rode the bike a lot. I took it to France, Germany, Lichtenstein, Austria and just into Italy. I loved riding it!

So, Christmas 2007 had arrived and after the turkey had mostly been consumed, presents given and received, early episodes of the Two Ronnies and that ever-lasting duo, Morecombe and Wise had been watched for heaven knows how many times, thoughts turned to adventures. That first adventure had to be on a motorbike, but where to and for how long?

Two main locations became obvious front-runners – Europe or the USA. The USA pretty soon became the favourite. My initial idea was to ride in all of the 50 States, but after map consultations, a quick bit of route planning and a rapid mileage calculation, it became obvious that this was a tour that would take in the order of 6 months! Fifty States at, say, just half a week per State is 25 weeks! Half a week per State would hardly be an adventure, more an endurance race and not really what I had in mind. Time to think again.

I would need to visit less places over say three months and this was far more realistic. Where would I choose? How would I choose? Would I take my own bike or rent? Should I do this on my own, or in a group? So many questions, but I was determined to do this, so I called upon some of the skills and experiences I had been doing in my career for many years – time for some planning!

This blog sets out how I achieved my adventure, what route I planned, what I took with me, what I saw, what worked well, what didn’t work and records some of the highs and lows of the tour. I have written it for two reasons – firstly to record my own adventure and secondly, to help anyone else planning to do the same sort of tour. I hope that you enjoy reading at least some of it.


Anonymous said...

That is some tour route!

bettermotorcycling said...

This is very exciting. You will be doing what many can only dream of. I look forward to your tales as I for one will vicariously come along for the ride.

Thanks for writing.

Gary France said...

BMC - I am glad you like what I am planning to do. I am going to try to post updates everyday when I am on the tour, including details and photos of where I have been. I too dreamed of an adventure like this for a long time and I consider myself fortunate that I am able to be able to do it.