It was very foggy on Sunday morning when I awoke.
I was looking forward to joining the Chelsea and Fulham Harley Owners Group on their 'Last Gasp' ride out to the south coast. There might not be many other days this year for a long-ish ride, so I wanted to go if possible.
Hmmmnn, the thermometer showed just 4 degrees C (39F) but the forecast showed it would brighten up later. I thought of the song by The Clash, ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go?’
If I went, I would need to wrap up to keep warm in the first part of the ride, but that would mean being too hot later. I am going on a long trip next year on my red custom bike so I wanted to take that on this days HOG ride in order to get used to riding it long distances once again, but that meant I wouldn't have anywhere to stow my gear later if I took off my cold weather riding clothes.
My decision was to go, so I tucked into a bowl of porridge, brushed my teeth, threw an extra tee shirt on and got the red bike out of the garage.
Starting the bike was a bit of an issue due to the amount of moisture in the air which meant the two huge carbs were sucking fog into the engine. It was still early and I am sure my sleeping neighbours didn't appreciate me having to crank the engine a number of times before it burst into life, with the full force of the big twin cutting through the still cold air and shattering the morning silence. I tried to ride away as quickly and as quietly as possible, but of course, those things are not mutually compatible.
I nursed a spluttering bike through the country lanes, avoiding those stupid geese from the big house that are allowed to wander freely on the road. George and Mildred as I call them, really do not like the sound of my red bike and as they often do, they charged towards me in a frantic attack to try to scare away this noisy beast that dares to come near them.
I turned onto the motorway which resulted in two things, one good and one bad. To my relief, the spluttering stopped as the engine of the bike got hotter. To my frustration, I realised the jeans I was wearing, the thin gloves and the lightweight jacket were in no way going to stop Jack Frost from attacking me. Shit, it was cold and as ever in those conditions, it was a toss-up whether to ride fast to get there quicker but definitely colder, or slow down for a longer but slightly warmer journey. I looked at my watch and realised I was late and didn't have a choice. I opened the throttle more and the 110 inch / 1800cc engine blasted me forward faster as Jack did his work.
Thirty-three cold miles later, and after stopping to fill up with fuel, I rolled late into the London based Harley-Davidson dealer, Warrs. I was greeted by a grinning Rob Warr, who repeated the often-heard mantra "No brief, no ride". I know Rob well and have ridden with him plenty of times, including in more than one country. Knowing he was joking, I ignored his comment and sought out a warming cup of coffee instead. "Too late Gary, the coffee has all gone and we are leaving in a minute". I turned around and saw about fifty bikes, their riders pulling on helmets and gloves. I groaned inwardly with the realisation I would set off with the group on a seventy mile ride without a customary warming drink first.
I enjoy these Sunday morning ride-outs. They happen about once a month and other commitments mean that I usually manage to join about two or three a year. When I go on my own rides that I plan myself, that planning is done in a lot of detail although I acknowledge this is it as a trait that some find peculiar. I think I enjoy these Warrs ride outs because I don't have to do any planning at all. As we set out and fifty Harley's were thundering through the streets of west London, it occurred to me that I wasn't even sure where we were going! I was pretty sure we were going to be heading south towards the coast somewhere, but I was happy just to tag along.
The route was mainly on back roads, little travelled by many others on a Sunday morning. We took in Box Hill, the A272, Bluebell Railway country and we crested the South Downs to be treated with glorious views of the English Channel, glistening in the October sunshine.
Box Hill is different today than when I used to go there as a young boy on a family outing. I remember my Father driving us up the hill and admiring the splendid views of the English countryside from the top. Today, we rode into the car park at the bottom of the hill which is one of southern England's most popular biker meeting places. Our fifty Harley's created quite an entrance.
When surrounded by so many bikes in a car park, I usually spend time walking around to see what is there. Today was different as I had one important mission to accomplish - getting a coffee plus a bacon and egg sandwich. Yum.
Our ride leader for the day, Andrew Papas, guided us with ease along his pre-planned route and we arrived at our destination of the Roedean Cafe overlooking the sea. The sun had burned the fog away and it had warmed up significantly by the time we were drinking our afternoon tea as we watched boats slipping in and out of the marina below us at the bottom of the cliffs.
I did chuckle at a patch I saw on a fellow rider. It sort of sums up how I feel about me motorcycling at this point in my life. Whilst I hopefully have some time to go before this particular syndrome might strike, the slogan on the patch fits well with my current frame of mind. "Adventure Before Dementia" reflects the fact that my motorcycling is an adventure I want to enjoy while I can. Who knows what the future might hold and so being in my early fifties now, I want to make the most of whatever opportunities I can. Travelling on my bike is a big part of that.
At the Roedean Cafe, many including myself didn't want to hang around for too long though. A long 100 mile ride home faced many of us and we wanted to get back before the temperature plummeted. There was just time to ride into Brighton and to snap a picture of its pier.
Back roads were mainly abandoned for the homeward ride, which I regretted. Fast roads get you there quicker but are boring and on my custom bike, make my back ache. By the time I got home, it was quite sore from sitting in the same leaning-slightly-forward position for so long.
Overall, a really enjoyable ride of just over 200 miles. It didn't take me long to fall asleep on the sofa!