9 circuits, 5 countries, 1988 miles, 3 days and a wealth of smiles. Although intended to be just a warm up ride and PR exercise for the main event in October, this wee trip proved to be an adventure in itself! Read on to find out more…
Thursday 5th April 2012
After finishing night duty I had to ride home, pack all my kit, then dash down to my GP to become his human dartboard once again as I received the first batch of vacinations for October. An hour later I’m back at my flat finishing the packing, loading up the bike, making final phone calls and emails, and then it happened…….. I’m on the road.
Riding down the M20 heading to Folkestone, the old familiar feelings began to flood my system. Those feelings you get when you’re about to begin something new, something exciting and special. I’ve ridden on the continent many times before but I never fail to get excited each time I roll off the ferry or tunnel into Calais. To be honest I get that feeling every single time I sit on the bike, but it’s altogether more potent when you know you’re heading on an adventure.
After arriving at Folkestone and boarding the first available train, 25 mins later and I was in France heading East away from Calais, destination Assen in the Netheralnds. Guided by my newly acquired Zumo 660 sat nav, with bluetooth Scala Headset, provided by sponsors ‘Garmin‘, I was directed effortlessly through Northern France, across Belgium, and finally into the Netherlands.
The ride to Assen is a weird one and deceptively long. I was in the Netherlands in what felt like no time, but the last section heading north seems to take forever. I wasn’t hanging about and stuck only to motorways, carving my way through each country with ease, yet it still took almost 6 hours!
I arrived at the Assen circuit at about 9:30pm foreign time (1hr ahead of UK), it was dark and bitterly cold. I found out the next day that the temp had dropped to -6oC at the circuit and I was freezing. The R&G heated grips did their job keeping my hands warm, and the Spada head over and Shoei helmet kept my neck and head cosy. The problems lay in the body as I only have Spada’s summer under suit clothing and my own leather 2-piece suit at the moment. Perfect for the sunshine and track days, but drop the temp below freezing and add prolonged periods exposed to the wet, and it becomes pretty apparent that warmer kit could be needed.
The next challenge was finding somewhere to camp and setting the tent up. Now I’m a bloke, and like any bloke I don’t feel the need to read instructions or do a ‘dry run’ with something as simple as putting up a tent. I’ve used a Vango tent before, it was very straight forward and quick to erect. So why then, when I arrived at the Assen circuit in the pitch black, freezing driving rain, and in the light of my headlight, did I find myself just staring at 3 poles and a selection of covers? I just couldn’t figure it out, where did this bit go, how did that stay up, what the hell is this for? Just as I was thinking, “Bugger it, I’ll just sleep in the sleeping bag wrapped up in the tent”, I heard a woman’s voice in the distance and turned to find Jenny coming towards me. She wouldn’t take no for an answer and insisted I joined her and her friend in their caravan as it was too cold to camp outside. I wasn’t going to argue at the prospect of freezing to death, so quickly bundled together all my kit and followed Jenny into the darkness. 2 minutes later I was snug as a bug in a rug, sitting in a toasty caravan being mothered by two 50yr old dutch woman, who thought I was a British ‘Superbiker’! Sorry Tommy and the lads, if they think a 6’3″ 18 stone fat lad is what Britiain has to offer the world of superbikes, they’re going to get one hell of a shock in September when you boys turn up!!!
As it turned out Jenny and Wilma were marshalls at Assen and lived there for the duration of the season. They were incredibly knowledgable of everything to do with motorsport and made me feel a tad inadequate to be honest! But they fed and watered me, hospitality and kindness I hope to return one day to anyone else I find in such a position. We all had a great night, and most importantly I could sleep for the first time in about 36hrs.
Friday 6th April 2012
I awoke bright and early, but as soon as I got out the sleeping bag I practically froze in-situ. It was baltic. Not just cold, not bitter, not even bloody freezing, but a type of cold I’ve only felt a few times before, almost ‘dry’ cold. Thankfully Assen has great shower blocks with hot water all year round so I thawed out in there, got dressed, then rode to rider control to meet Marieke who was going to sort out the lap for me. Once the paperwork was done I was directed out to the pit lane and met by Wilma (who took the pic above).
I’ll get my excuses out the way now. It was cold and wet, as were my tyres, and this was the 1st circuit of 9 so I couldn’t afford to stack it. To say I won’t be challenging Tommy or Shakey in the future is an understatement and these couple of laps are proof of that. But I had a blast and didn’t stop smiling for hours afterwards. Assen is a fantastic circuit, full of fast corners, cracking straights, and a chicane at the end of the lap which completely took me by surprise! I survived it and was met by laughs and smiles off the marshalls who called me, “Crazy Englishman!” Sitting on the start finish line I had a quick chance to soak it all up. The names who’d been here before, the action this place had witnessed. With the stands around you, it was almost colosseum-like and made me feel alive just being there.
But all too soon it was over, and the long ride back to Calais was upon me. Once again the Netherlands leg is deceptively long, but once you are in Belgium it’s not long before you pick up signs for Calais and you’re there. Almost.
I had to be at Thruxton in the South West of Blighty for about 1630hrs to make my lap, so pushed on from Assen making considerable progress. Arriving at the Euro Tunnel port in Calais I had plenty of time, or so I thought.
As luck would have it a train had ‘stopped’ in the tunnel earlier in the day, and caused knock-on delays to the rest of the schedule. I got to the port at about 1340hrs (1240hrs UK time) but as you can see from the pic opposite, come 1434hrs (foreign time) I was still there! Beginning to nervously sweat, I had a word with the steward governing the queue of traffic and explained my situation. Thankfully he was a biker and loved what I was doing. Within about 20 mins he waved me over and slotted me in at the end of a procession of traffic heading to a train.
Once loaded, 25 minutes later I was rolling off the train back in Blighty. It’s a mixed feeling that one, coming ‘home’. Although gutted to have left the continent, my journey was by no means over, in fact it was just beginning! My Zumo 660 told me it would take about 2hrs 20 mins to get to Thruxton, it was now about 1500hrs. You do the math!
Alas, the laws of physics won and I rocked up to Thruxton just before 1700hrs, the chance of my lap evaporated into the cold South West evening air. “Rollox’s”, I muttered, but at least I was here. I got the pic and took some vid footage, much to the bewilderment of the local cattle!
Oh well, these things happen and I still have 7 more circuits to get to. After a brief stop at Thruxton I was back on the beast and heading North to Silverstone. The garmin was directing me along roads I’d probably never have used before, especially as I was trying to get places as quickly as possible. I had it set to take me the fastest route and was fully prepared for hours of laborious motorway slogging, but now I was finding myself hurtling along gorgeous twisty country roads. These quickly became dual carriageway and fast open A roads, but the chance to move about the bike and work the throttle wrist and fingers was a welcome relief.
Within no time I was pulling up at the impressive Silverstone circuit. This place is awesome and has a really special feel to it as soon as you arrive. A quick chat with the security staff confirmed they were expecting me, thanks Carol, and I was directed over some bridges and told to set up camp around the corner. I soon found myself bang between ‘Farm’ and ‘Village’ in a nice secluded spot to set up camp, AND it was still daylight, AND it wasn’t raining!!
Slightly nervous from the previous night’s efforts at tent construction, I got the tent unpacked and laid out before me.. Would you believe it, instructions! Right there attached to the bag, impossible to miss and plain as day, instructions. How’d I miss them then? Anyway, it turns out the three poles are colour coded and it’s impossible to put the tent up wrongly. Within 5 minutes the outer waterproof shell of the Vango tent was up and pegged in. Next the inner ‘compartment’, which simply hung from the outer shell and clipped over the outer pegs, that was that. This tent had an enclosed porch area with removable floor, ideal for storing wet and dirty kit. Unfortunately I’d not learned about preparation completely and not looked at what fuel the stove required. Thinking I could simply use some bike fuel, it became apparent that tonight’s meal would consist of a bottle of watter, some pringles, and a bar of chocolate. I love camping
Saturday 7th April 2012
After a cracking nights kip I awoke bright and early to a rather overcast and threateningly dark sky. I quickly packed up all the kit and got the bike loaded, before heading to race control to meet Carol who had organised my lap. It wasn’t going to be the full GP Silverstone circuit but the smaller National one. But this didn’t matter, I was soon on the treasured Silverstone tarmac, beaming into my lid and shaking like a relieving canine.
Once again it was absolutely tipping it down. Another great combination with the stone cold tyres and virgin track, but I wouldn’t be breaking any records anyway so who cares. I absolutely loved it and Carol let me do two laps of this amazing circuit.
After quickly pulling on my Spada waterproof 1-piece suit, it was back on the road heading up to Donington. Again I couldn’t do a lap of the full circuit due to racing taking place. But my contact at the circuit, Kirk, had very kindly arranged for me to lap the original Donington Heritage Loop. Now this place is incredible and not for the faint hearted.
Imagine some old black and white footage of car racers of old, hurling themselves around a concrete track in nothing more than a horizontal dustbin attached to an enormous engine, with trees and walls for run off. Crash, and you’ve had it. That’s pretty much the heritage loop. But it’s incredible to ride, with a slight incline that leads to a blind summit. Over the top of this you’re greeted by a sudden drop off that narrows dramatically from the right before diving away to a long straight with a tight right handed hairpin, before rising sharply back into a tree surrounded sweeping left. Getting on the gas here and you emerge out the woods to another lovely right, then open sweeping left before another sweeping right over the start/finish blind summit. I loved it, possibly too much for my own good. I’m glad Kirk was there to supervise and tell me it was time to go, as unfettled I’d have gone quicker and quicker until the inevitable would have happened! Watching the onboard footage back, it’s a pathetically slow attempt, but at the time I felt like Barry Sheene!
It was North again to Oulton Park where I was supposed to get a lap at the end of the racing day. Unfortunately there’d been a few changes since I first began planning this enduro ride before Xmas, and my contact for this track had changed. Despite their best efforts they still hadn’t been able to secure a time for the lap and I arrived just after lunch at about 1400hrs. I could see, and hear, that there was major car racing going on here so didn’t fancy my chances with this one. As it was I couldn’t raise my contact, Ben, so got the obligatory pic, did a quick piece to camera for the vid, then moved on.
Now my plan here had been to head straight up to Scotland and camp overnight at Knockhill in preparation for a lap first thing Sunday morning. But I’d recently become an uncle once again and my brother only lived a pinch East of the circuit in a wee place called Comrie. Due to my lack of preparation, all my gadgets were running low on juice so I stopped at Westmoreland services for an hour or so and borrowed their ‘leccy supply!
Whilst there I gave my bro a call and duly arranged to stop over that night, catch up with the family, see my God-daughter and nephews, charge up the goodies, then get a nice early start with beautiful Scottish twisties to warm up the tyres for the Knockhill lap.
Now when I left Oulton Park earlier that day, the Northern horizon had looked uncharacteristically golden, beautiful sun filled skies that teezed me into stripping off the waterproofs. Here’s where I learned yet another golden rule to biking. Check your kit and stowe it away!
For whatever reason, I couldn’t be bothered to undo my tail bag and put the waterproofs securely away in there. Instead I simply clipped it around the bag and trapped it in place with the cargo net. “It’ll be fine”, I persuaded myself as I shot off up the M6 enroute to God’s country. I shouldn’t have been surprised then when I was merrily making progress up the fast lane and my engine suddenly cut out, there was an alarming plume of blue smoke in the mirrors and my rear end started to slide about!
My guardian angel doesn’t half fly quick and a quick glance over my left shoulder revealed a lovely gap to the hard shoulder. With a deftly lean I managed to guide my stricken beast across the carriageway straight to the safety of the hard shoulder, wel allmost. My fat arse was still about a foot into the slow lane, and with an incoming heavy to deal with I didn’t fancy my chances. With a final heave whilst still on the bike, I managed to drag the rigid back wheel fully onto the hard shoulder and quickly dismount, now shaking uncontrollably from what had just occurred! Taking stock of it all, the source was all too clear. My waterproof suit had slipped down the side of the back wheel and got caught in the chain mechanism. This inturn dragged it up under the rear mudguard and locked the back wheel. All it took was a short backwards push of the bike and the suit popped out, freeing up the rear! How lucky was that, and how lucky was I! Had I now used up my guardian tokens for the rest of my life? I bloody hope not, I’ve got a 100,000 mile, 72 country trip to go yet!
After stopping at the services to gather my thoughts, and repack some kit, I was soon at the gates to God’s country at Gretna. I love this part of a trip North, if only to satisfy my homesick and patriotic heart. I know this land, it’s people and it’s customs. It sounds funny, but you notice the difference between people as you travel, even in this small country of ours. Don’t get me wrong, everyone is friendly and welcoming, just to differing degrees. Living and working in London the last 10 years, especially in the line of work I do, you quickly learn not to trust strangers. Somebody always seems to have something to hide, something they’re not telling you, someone always has a conflicting story and rivalled allegation.
Obviously I’m not saying everyone is like that, but as a copper, you rapidly realise that the only way to not be had over is not to trust a stranger at face value. You need evidence and proof, and even then you go with your gut feeling.
But as a traveller, you MUST trust the people you meet. You NEED the people you meet, if only for directions or a helping hand. That’s something I’m really looking forward to with the big TeapotOne trip, actually learning to trust people again. I know it sounds dramatic and stupid, but I’m looking forward to meeting people from different cultures in THEIR surroundings and countries, not in my normal environment. Only time will tell how this turns out, but I can’t wait to discover what’ll happen.
A few hours after crossing the border I was in the comfort of my family’s loving arms. The sound of my booming Pipewerx can had woken my God daughter and nephew (sorry Doug and Laura!) so, as their front door opened, I was attacked by a 4 and 3 year old, eager to know why I was covered in flies, why did I smell and why was my motorbike panting!
With questions answered and several enquisitive fingers poked at my sliders, boots, lid and shoulder armour, it was off to the shower for me and a welcomed freshen up. Once de-flied I could finally meet my new nephew, young Hector Douglas Smart. What a wee diamond laddie he is, a real character already with plenty to say with just a simple glance! He’s a bull of a lad and certainly a future No.8 or, if he doesn’t grow upwards, a Scottish Michael Dunlop!! (Don’t hurt me Michael!)
After some good home cooked grub and some great craic with the family, it was off to bed for another early start the next day.
Sunday 8th April 2012
Well you see, it was such a cosy bed, and warm, and cosy, and warm, did I mention it was warm? Having meant to be up and out at 0600hrs, imagine my surpirse when I opened one eye and saw 0705hrs on the clock! Cartoon-like, I was up, in the shower, dried, dressed and on the bike in under ten minutes flat. Pushing the bike out towards the main street so as not to upset the locals, I was sweating already. After firing her up and letting her warm up, I had under forty minutes now to get to Knockhill from Comrie, pushing it but it could be done. I devoured the beautifully twisty B827 as I headed towards the A9.
I got to Knockhill at 0810hrs, slowed by the horrendous condition of some of the road surfaces along the back roads. Having asked me to get there as close to 0800hrs as possible I thought I’d be ok. But as I was taken to the circuit, a voice came over the stewards radio saying I was too late, the marshalls were now out on track and the cars would be out in the next 20 minutes. No ifs, buts or pleadings, I’d missed my chance. Gutted.
I was really annoyed with myself at this point, all this way, all this effort, and I couldn’t drag my fat arse out of bed to go and ride around a track? What a pleb. I know it’s not a clever thing to do but we’ve all done it. I rode that bike in anger from Knockhill to pretty much the border with England at Gretna, and she flaming loved it! These bikes come alive when you step it up a gear, thrashing them high in the rev range, ripping through the power bands. The engine on the gixxer is superb, a complete puppy in the lower revs, but get her up into the power band and she becomes a wailing banshee, eating up everything in her way. The tyres were epic giving grip, confidence and feel no matter what the weather or surface. These new BATTLAX BT-023′s are truly superb giving the bike razor sharp handling I’ve not experienced with any other tyre before. It’ll be interesting to see how they cope with the variety of terrains and conditions I’ll expose them too on the big trip, but then I suppose that’s why Bridgestone are backing it.
After a few hours of boredom sitting on various motorways, I was soon directed off the M62 onto some A roads then twisty backroads, enroute to Cadwell Park. It was a welcomed relief from the pain of static tarmac munching miles, to be moving about the bike again, working the gears, feeding the brakes and feeling the grip through the forks. I was enjoying it so much that it was alomst disappointing to see the entrance to Cadwell Park appear out of a field as I came around a corner.
If you’ve never been to Cadwell, as I hadn’t before this, you could easily miss it. Stuck out in the middle of nowhere and recessed in a dip in the fields, it reminded me of the rolling hills in ‘teletubby’ land? I know it sounds stupid, but that’s what popped into my head when I saw it? The infamous ‘mountain’ is an incredible spectacle to see in the flesh, the TV simply does not do it justice. I will DEFINITELY be back here to do a track day, it is simply epic.
But alas, this was the one circuit that I could not get permission to do a lap right from the get-go. They were hosting a memorial rally at the circuit so there was no way they could pause proceedings to let me trundle around the track. No problem, I just got the obligatory photo, did a quick piece to camera, did a Rossi-esque stretch next to the bike, mounted and headed off to Snetterton.
If I thought the roads coming from the motorway to Cadwell were good, I hadn’t seen anything when compared to the run from Cadwell to Snetterton. Loads of rapid A roads mixed with twisty A and B sections, some dual carriageway, technical country roads, and plenty to keep the mind and body moving. I loved it, even taking the time to stop and enjoy just being out there on the bike. This is something I’ll do plenty of when off on the big trip in October. I just didn’t have the time with this 3 day enduro to actually take time off the bike during the day. I had trains to catch, deadlines to meet, places to be. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed myself doing the BSB Enduro, but I often thought to myself, “I wish I could spend some time here”, or wished I could have spent more time meeting and talking with people I met along the way. But that’s what the big trip will be all about, that’s what travelling is all about. Apart from the odd ferry, flight or border constraint, the world is truly my lobster, to be devoured as I see fit and at what pace I feel like munching!
So it wasn’t long before I was back at Snetterton where I’d completed a track day in late February this year. (There’s a wee vid I made of it here if you fancy watching it.) Now I was supposed to get a lap here at the end of the day when the racing had finished. But when I reported to security at the gate I was met with the typical, “Sorry mate your name’s not down here”? I’d been a bouncer/doorman/ejection engineer in Glasgow for many years before coming to London, and used that line many times myself. Summary justice I suppose, so as the heavens opened up I rode back to the main entrance, got the pic, did a quick video blog piece, got back on the bike and rode to Brands.
I know this stretch of road well and after the initial almost ‘French’-like stretch of A11, it soon gives way to plain old motorway boredom. Boring and painful when you’ve been on the go for four solid days and nights, but I was on the final leg and spirits were high. I was running from the heavens as the rain clouds would disappear behind me as I stretched the bikes legs, but then catch me up and drench me when I stopped for fuel and stretched my legs! Within a few hours I pulled up at the main entrance to Brands Hatch, parked the bike up on the pavement and dismounted my stede. I’ve got to admit, I felt a bit of a sense of achievement having just rode 1988 miles through 5 countries in 3 days. I’d been to all of the circuits used in the 2012 BSB calendar and got to lap Assen, Silverstone, Donington, and would soon lap Brands the following morning. As I stood there in the rain, talking to myself whilst holding a video camera out on a metal pole, clothed in a white leather suit and matching bike, branded in corporate sponsor logos, I began to draw a bit of a crowd. I’m not sure what they expected, nobody spoke to me, nobody even made eye contact really, and when I said “Hello”, they’d just nervously smile and walk away? Maybe I smelled? Maybe it was the smoke and steam rising off the bike and tyres, God I love that bike and tyres!!
Monday 9th April 2012
I had planned on camping at Brands that final night, but the GoPro and phone needed juice and I only live 20mins away. So after a night at home recharging the gizmos, I was up early doors on Bank Holiday Monday and off to Brands Hatch for a lap or two before the start of the 2012 BSB Championship.
It was tipping it down and really cold, but the adrenaline rushing through my being was keeping me snug as a bug in a rug. Arriving at the circuit there was a ticket and band waiting for me as I was escorted to the track entrance. Within minutes I was sitting astride my baby on the hallowed Brand’s tarmac, sandwiched between two Nissan safety cars, red lights beaconing away around me. I felt like a celeb, and with a crowd of around a thousand or so there already, I even got some waving and cheering as I rode around. I’ve got to thank @DamoZX6R who has been following @teapotone on twitter since the start. A brilliant bloke who has had some hard times himself, yet is always there for others. He works tirelessly to support those in need and is the very epitome of what it should be to be a biker. He’s also an active member of The Royal British Legion’s Riders Branch, and now a serving BSB marshall! As I rode passed Coopers Straight I was greeted by the sight of a hulking great orange bear dancing like a madman at the side of the track! Cheers Damo, that was worth the whole trip in itself )
With a couple of laps done, that was the 2012 BSB Enduro complete. After parking the bike up outside the circuit I came back in to watch the days events. All of a sudden I was just another spectator, just another body in the crowd. After watching the first couple of races I was baltic and soaked through. Maybe I should head home now, there was plenty to be done there. Hmm, maybe, but I’ll just have a wee blat first
I’ve got to thank a few people for their efforts in making the BSB Enduro ride a reality. Firstly the BSB series director, Stuart Higgs, who made the laps of Brands and Assen happen. Then there’s Mike Groves and Marieke Woldhuis who were the people on the ground at Brands and Assen when I got there. Tom Jones at Thruxton, Kirk Rothwell at Donington, Carol Watts at Silverstone, Gemma Hobbs at Knockhill, and Ian Berry who acted as a go-between for the other tracks. I also want to thank Paul at Hill4Leather for pulling out the stops and getting the latest sponsor logos on the leathers before I headed off.
Thanks very much to you all for your help, and a huge thanks to my Mrs Nikki who keeps the home fires burning whilst I bugger off on my bike. X
I’m currently editing the short video blog to accompany the BSB Enduro and this’ll be available to watch soon, so keep an eye on the site, facebook & twitter accounts, and the TeapotOneVids YouTube channel.
Cheers for now,