The Journey

Charlie Bravo Foxtrot part II

At the King’s Head in Blakeney, Gloucestershire.

Hang on a second, let’s back up here. I feel I’ve glossed over something, which is this: OMG, I has motorcycle! (1) In my previous post I talked about the experience of going to get the bike, and yes, I did mention that Jenn described my behaviour on that day as akin to someone high on cocaine, but I still feel I haven’t properly expressed how super-awesome happy-surprised I am at the reality of the experience.

Indeed, some random mosquito of a thought keeps flying around in my mind thinking I need to take the bike back before they charge me for an extra day — as though it were a rental car. But I don’t have to give this motorcycle back. It is mine. And with it I can go anywhere I want.

That’s a reality which is almost too much for me to handle. We structure our world with certain truths, and my not having a motorcycle has been a truth for 37 years. But then last week that reality shattered. Whereas I had previously struggled to get up the nerve to even walk into a motorcycle shop, fearing… well, I don’t really know what I was afraid of… I now found myself at Pittville Motorcycles being handed the keys to my own machine.

I realise I must sound like a rube in saying such a thing, but it was an odd experience: Here are the keys to your bike, Chris. You are free to go wherever you want to go. You don’t have to have someone following you, talking in your ear. You don’t have to stick to certain routes. It’s yours. Go. Ride.

My first-ever single ride would be a long one: 70.6 miles according to Google Maps. Tack on a few extra for getting lost whilst looking for a petrol station in Gloucester. Richard, the general manager at Pittville Motorcycles, helped me strap down my bag with a cargo net and a few bungee cords that I would only realise later I had not paid for. It was just before 3 p.m. and I had not eaten all day.

Cheltenham is loaded with good places to eat, but adrenaline was screaming through my body and the whole amazing nature of this experience seemed to have initiated a fight or flight sensation. I felt I needed to get the hell out of Cheltenham before someone told me to give the bike back. Indeed, it was only once I got to Gloucester that I even felt safe to stop for petrol.

Looking back, it occurs to me that having a large bag strapped to the back of a motorcycle is the international symbol for: “I’M ON AN ADVENTURE!” And I should have enjoyed that more. I should have gleefully imagined what other people were imagining about me and the places I might have seen and and would see. Next time..

In part because this was my first-ever ride on the CBF600 (2) and in part because I thought it would be a more interesting ride, I had chosen to go down the slower A48 rather than take the motorway home. Within a mile or so of my filling up the tank and gulping down a bottle of water I was on a simple two-lane road winding through the yellow-flowered countryside.

The road curved, lifted and dropped, running through hedgerowed corridors. The bike felt comfortable, solid. The fairing pushed some of the wind away from me and I felt comfortable enough to sit upright, relaxed. On certain rises I could look out and see the misty Severn Valley stretched out to my left. The River Severn here is Mississippi wide and gives one the sensation of riding somewhere utterly foreign.

In looking at a map the day before, I had told myself I’d stop at Newnham, roughly halfway between Cheltenham and Chepstow, where I planned to make a second stop. Yeah, putting two stops into a 70-mile trip is silly, but I wanted to make sure I arrived home safe. I am not terribly experienced, so frequent stops allow a chance to refocus.

On a different day I would have had the awareness to stop at the really nice pub I passed in Westbury-on-Severn, but I was too stressed to do anything outside The Plan. Well, until I actually got to Newnham and discovered that: A) the pub where I had planned to stop looked bleak; B) said pub was located on a precarious hill. So, onward to Blakeney, where I found a standard pub that offered standard food, which I consumed like a starved prisoner of war.

I sat outside the pub in the rare, warm sun. As I ate, a Suzuki GSXR750 rolled up and parked next to my bike. Its two passengers wore matching RST jackets, the woman groaning as she dropped down from the back. Pulling off her helmet, her neck scarf lifted up to her nose and she reminded me just slightly of Strax when he’s dressed in his Sontaran battle gear.

I smiled, nodded and wondered what to say. Sure, I had a bike now — I was part of the clan — but still felt like a fraud.

“Got far to travel?” asked the fella in thick West Country accent.

Getting lost near Llancarfan, Wales a few days later.

We talked about nothing in particular for a bit then he and his partner went inside. I looked back at my motorcycle and thought: “This is my life now. This is what you hear about: that bikes seem to initiate conversations, and now I am a part of that. This is the first of countless little conversations I will have about my bike, the road ahead, the road behind…”

Onward toward home. At Chepstow I made a sudden decision to carry on a bit further, telling myself that I’d stop for tea at the first nice little village I found. Unfortunately, there are no nice little villages on the A48 between Chepstow and Newport, so I ended up taking a rest at McDonald’s. I lie in the grass out front and felt exhaustion in my body even though my mind was still jumping. I tried to relax but couldn’t; having decided to take the motorway the rest of the home, I was too focused on the new challenges that would bring.

I took my time putting on my gear. Then slow toward the main road before allowing all the anxiety and adrenaline to focus on the M4: a too-thin six-lane strip of concrete with a 70 mph limit, in a country where people feel their one true God-given right is to drive well beyond the limit. This particular stretch of road is one I have hated from the very first time I drove to Cardiff, almost 7 years ago. It has odd turns and suddenly disappearing lanes that cause people to make really bad decisions about braking and lane changes.

On the bike, though, I felt a little more free to move around. There were no door frames to obstruct my view, and the bike had no problems helping me dodge the idiot cars all around me. At one point I was even having fun. Soon enough, I was rolling into Penarth. After a fair amount of sweat and profanity, I was able to squeeze the bike through our garden gate and lock it up.

Before this whole trip I had imagined finally coming to the end of it and sitting quietly to listen to the sound of the hot engine clicking as it cooled. But I now forgot all about that. My mind was still racing. It would take several days before I could calm down and stop feeling I had stolen the thing, fearing someone was going to come take it away from me.

Of course, if anyone were to try to do such thing they’d have a hell of a fight on their hands. That bike is mine, yo.

(1) Remember, kids: the correct way to pronounce “OMG” is “Omm-guh.”

(2) I am working my way toward simply referring to the bike as Charlie Bravo, to be said in the style of Rick James when he saw Charlie Murphy and punched him in the face.