The Journey

Test rides

It looks the part…

Almost exactly five years ago, I set out on a Great American Road Trip that took me across both the width and length of the United States. That adventure lasted nigh 3 months and saw me travelling close to 20,000 miles. The amount of planning I did for that trip, however, was minimal. I rented a car from Avis, I told a few friends I might be around, and that was about it.

Tomorrow, I set off on my first true Great British Road Trip. It will last only 8 days and consist of just a little more than 1,000 miles of travel. Britain, after all, is a very small country. But in contrast to my U.S. road trip, for this adventure I have invested weeks of planning and fretting and downright panicking. The big difference, of course, is that it is also the longest road trip I will have ever taken on my bike.
I’ve done overnights to mid Wales and the English Midlands but this is something different. This journey will demand that I go further and that I carry more stuff. Both of which are aspects I’ve been working on especially in the past week or so.
Powis Castle, near Welshpool

Stage 1 of preparation for the Great British Road Trip has involved working on my riding stamina, something I’ve been focusing on for quite a while now. My very first day of riding will demand that I take on roughly 300 miles — the space between Cardiff and the Lake District region of Borrowdale, where I’ll spend the weekend before continuing on to Scotland. The goal is to cover this distance within 8-10 hours. So, last week I decided to make a run of equal distance — up to North Wales and back — to make sure I could handle the physical toll.

The good news is: I can make it. Probably. The route I took last week actually worked out to be closer to 260 miles, and it took almost exactly 10 hours. That route took me up to the frustratingly misspelled Powis Castle in Welshpool (it should be “Powys”) then back to The ‘Diff via Shropshire, which meant slower roads.

On the side of arguing that I’ll be able to cover 300 miles in the same time (or, preferably, less) is the fact that much of my journey to the Lake District will be via motorway. That means a higher official speed limit, a much higher unofficial speed limit, and no stop lights/roundabouts/etc. Additionally, on my test run last week I did a fair amount of lingering at Powis Castle and fellow National Trust property Berrington Hall, taking a leisurely walk and cream tea at the former, and lunch at the latter (a).

On the side of arguing that I may still struggle with time/distance are much of the same facts: I was riding on slower, less-stressful roads and taking very long breaks.

Berrington Hall, near Leominster

One thing I know for certain, though, is that my new Pilot Road 4 tires are up to the task. The weather on the day was perfect until the very last hour or so when suddenly heavy cloud moved in and started dumping rain. My tank bag soaked through. Parts of the M4 flooded. But the tires held perfectly. I mean, I don’t want to sound like a shill for Michelin here, but, damn, them is some good tires.

Meanwhile, Stage 2 of preparation has centred on all the things I need to bring and how to bring them. This is a business trip, which will see me attending three different conferences, so I’m going to need to rock the smart-casual look on several occasions, as well as the hiking-up-a-mountain look, and the having-dinner-with-people-whom-I’d-like-as-my-employer look.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog (thank you!), you’ll know that the nice folks at sent me a set of AXE saddlebags not too long ago (crikey, are they getting their money’s worth with the number of times I mention them), which will serve as the foundation of my luggage system, along with my trusty tank bag and a lagniappe backpack my Michelin homies gave me when they were winning my heart through free tires and fun stuff.

I’ll get into this more when I write an eventual review of the saddlebags, but when first inspecting them they raised a few questions in terms of suitability to purpose. Indeed, for a while there I was spending quite a bit of time on eBay trying to score a good deal on Kriega bags that I could use instead, but without success. Finally, a combination of knowing my tendency to be over-anxious, the state of my finances, and that old thing they say about gift horses made me decide to just stick with what I’ve got.

Luggage full of towels for a test run.

Because Britain loves Mexico (b), Monday was a holiday here on the Island of Rain and that gave me an opportunity to fully pack up my bike and make a quick luggage test run. I did 37 miles of riding at unofficial motorway speeds and am very happy to report that it was without incident. I still plan on being armed with great quantities of spare bungee cords and duct tape, but I am now much more confident in my luggage system.

Since Monday I have moved aggressively into Stage 3 of preparation: mapping, planning routes, researching places to eat, working out contingencies, and waking up two or three times a night in an anxiety-fuelled sweat. I have written a list of every single thing I need to take with me. I have made a list of nearby Honda dealerships. I have put together a folder of routes to various locales, with optional routes if it is raining heavily or if I am tired. I have waxed boots, gloves and my jacket. I have counted pairs of underwear. Quite frankly, I need to go on this trip just so I can stop thinking about it.

It will be an adventure. At present, the weather forecast is calling for heavy rain the whole way up. There is supposed to be an hour or two of dry right when I’ll be loading everything on the bike; if I can have just that I promise not to complain (much) about whatever gets thrown at me thereafter. Which may be a lot; the forecast for Borrowdale is thunderstorms.

I’ve got a few blog posts lined up to auto publish while I’m away, and, of course, I’ll be yammering about this trip endlessly once I return, but if you’d like to follow my adventure in real time I’ll be posting updates on my Twitter as signal allows.

See you later, mis amigos!


(a) If you live in the UK, I strongly advise getting a National Trust membership. Their properties are almost always located in places you want to ride and they treat motorcyclists really well, always offering me a place to store my helmet and gear rather than my having to carry it around.

(b) Not really. In truth, we had the day off because we are socialist scum. Sadly, no one here celebrated Cinco de Mayo.