Alice Dryden (huskyteer) wrote,
Alice Dryden

Begins With A Single Footstep

I woke up on Saturday morning with swine flu. Definitely. There could be no other explanation for my shaking legs and churning stomach. I wasn't up to riding a mile down the road from my B&B to Squires Café, let alone 1000 miles around the country. The whole idea was insanity. I should just go home.

Yet somehow there I was at the start line, waiting my turn to set off among almost 200 bikes. There were BMWs and Africa Twins looking all ready for the expedition; Gold Wings like big comfy sofas; cruisers, sportsbikes and hacks - but mine was the only scooter, and I was gratified by the attention the GP800 received.

My start time was logged at 08:37, my odometer reading recorded, and I was off amidst waves and good wishes from the volunteer marshals.

There were four routes to choose from: a northern circuit around Scotland and a southern one down to Cornwall, across to Dover and back up, either of which could be done clockwise or anticlockwise. I plumped for southern anticlockwise, which would place me for the most part on roads I knew. (You can see my route as a Google Map here.)

On each route there were five mandatory stops, requiring a receipt from either a specific petrol station or any shop in the same town - as long as the town name appeared on the receipt, along with the date and time. At these compulsory stops and everywhere else we fuelled up, we had to save the receipt and record the stop on a fuel log along with the time and odometer reading.

The dark grey sky in the distance warned of heavy rain ahead on the M62 - a bad start. At the first stop, Birch Services, a dozen damp bikers huddled under the awning filling in their fuel logs. I turned south for the next target, Telford, outran the rain, and travelled cheerfully onward in the knowledge that I was making good time. A hundred miles clocked - that was one-tenth of the way. Two hundred miles - a fifth!

I was riding alone, but on the motorway I passed and was passed by plenty of other bikes whose bungeed luggage and determined-looking riders told me they were on the same mission. I kept bumping into the same group of people at the petrol stations, which made for relaxing stops as we chatted, commiserated and compared notes.

Progress was smooth and steady down the west side of England, following the M5 to its end then taking the A30 down to Cornwall. I put the distances out of my head, since to think about it too much was madness, and enjoyed the moment. I had sunshine, I had glorious views of the moors, I had the Eagles on my iPod. This was the life!

Soon after I pulled into the petrol station in Redruth, other riders began to arrive - mostly familiar faces from previous stops. There was no way out of Cornwall except the way we had come in, so three of us decided to travel together to break up the daunting dullness. I retraced my steps sandwiched between an FJR and a cruiser, enjoying the company and the moments when we all changed lane in unison to pass a car.

I had been cheered to discover that my route passed within a mile of Howard's house near Dorchester. At just over halfway, it seemed an obvious place to take a break for a couple of hours. Howard hadn't fancied the thousand-mile ride but lay in wait in a layby near Honiton so I could follow him home for a much-needed bath and pizza. I'd been on the road for just under twelve hours.

("Have a bath? I thought it was supposed to be an endurance rally!" he said when I outlined my plans. I pointed out that there was nothing in the rules to say you couldn't.)

After this welcome pit stop I started to struggle, my mood dipping with the darkening sky. I was moving away from warmth, rest and companionship. My stop had put me out of synch with the rest of the ride, so I was all alone. I couldn't find the Southampton petrol station; panicked; rang Howard at a quarter past midnight and made him fire up Google Maps; lost nearly an hour.

Fortunately I had planned my route and timings so that I did the roads I knew best during the blackest hours of the short night. Up the M3, round the M25 and slingshot back down to Dover on the M20, empty but for the occasional lorry and a few daredevil rabbits. I could do it in my sleep, and on this occasion I practically did. Fuel up at the deserted BP station by the port, my last designated waypoint, up the dark and silent M2 and through the Dartford tunnel. I'd made up a lot of time, the sky was growing lighter, and I was on the home stretch. But it's still a long way from London to Leeds.

Slog, slog, slog up the endless A1. (Google Maps had recommended the M11/A14, but I feared getting lost.) The cheery red dawn had been replaced by the kind of chilly grey cloud that means you're up far too early in an uninviting world. I had seen no other riders for nine hours and the idea that I must be running terribly late was eating away at me. Or had I, in fact, hallucinated the entire rally? Was this a dream?

I hadn't taken my earplugs out since leaving Dorchester, nor stopped for longer than it took to fill the tank/have a wee/slug down a few mouthfuls of water. The minutes were racing and the miles were crawling. I'd been up for twenty hours, twelve hours previously I'd been in Cornwall, and everything felt utterly unreal. All I had to do to make it stop was ring Paddy, the ride organiser, and pull out - but what would I do with myself then, somewhere near Peterborough at six in the morning?

At last Doncaster started appearing on roadsigns, and I knew Leeds could not lie much beyond. Perked up by this thought, I arrived at a blessed stretch of motorway and pressed on. The sun rose higher and the sky turned blue. Far sooner than I'd hoped, I was at the junction with the A63 - then taking the turning for Sherburn-in-Elmet, then indicating right to pull into Squires. The waiting marshals gave me a round of applause as I stepped off my bike, careful not to drop it at the last moment, and a huge grin cracked the grime on my face.

I'd been dreaming for hours of the comfy bed that awaited me back at the B&B, but there was so much adrenaline sloshing around my system that I only managed a brief nap before I wanted to be up and doing again. So I had lunch and headed for home - a mere couple of hundred miles.

My trip meter stood at 1121 miles. Even allowing for odometer fibbing, that's comfortably over the requirement. I am anxiously awaiting confirmation from the Iron Butt Association; I'll be upset if I'm denied my place due to a cockup with my receipts, or suspiciously high average speed on the last leg, but even if I don't enter the hallowed ranks: I did it.

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