History Ride: My Newbie Tour of Scotland

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by BadWHooper, Mar 13, 2010.

  1. BadWHooper

    BadWHooper Quick, rather than Dead.

    Joined:
    Feb 29, 2008
    Oddometer:
    224
    Location:
    Silver Spring, MD
    Call me Hooper.

    Though I don’t post much, I’m a huge fan of ADV; but as a Buell Ulysses rider, I spend most of my time on BadWeb. Before there was Buell in my life, there were other bikes and other adventures…adventures that I believe might enjoy some publicity on a site that is mostly brand-agnostic. The greatest adventure of my life thus far took place on a BMW in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:smarttags" /><st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region>, and so I think ADV is the place to post it (though I’ll definitely cross-post it on BadWeb).
    <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:eek:ffice" /><o:p></o:p>
    I was a newbie rider…barely over a year in the saddle. When a serious personal impasse in my life coincided with the urge to travel, I whole hog, rented a bike in <st1:City w:st="on">Glasgow</st1:City>, booked some hotels and B&Bs, flew to <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region>, got on the bike, and rode around the country. This is sort of how it went. I didn’t die.
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    “The point of the journey is not to arrive – anything can happen” -Neil Peart<o:p></o:p>
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    Day One-ish: Thursday/Friday October 6/7, 2005 – <st1:City w:st="on">Silver Spring</st1:City>, <st1:country-region w:st="on">USA</st1:country-region> to <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Inveraray</st1:City>, <st1:country-region w:st="on">Scotland</st1:country-region></st1:place>, 133 Miles Ridden<o:p></o:p>

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    I was in the second such city called “Manchester” to serve as a gateway to a motorcycle adventure for me, the first being Manchester, New Hampshire, USA, just about a month prior. There in <st1:country-region w:st="on">America</st1:country-region>’s biggest <st1:City w:st="on">Manchester</st1:City>, I rented a Harley-Davidson Road King and rolled north through the sunny pines to and all around my family’s vacation home in <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:State w:st="on">Maine</st1:State></st1:place>. This time, the weather wasn’t as good. In <st1:country-region w:st="on">Britain</st1:country-region>’s <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Manchester</st1:City></st1:place>, it was cloudy and everything in the airport smelled vaguely of old cigarette smoke. I was beat.<o:p></o:p>
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    A horrible flight, and, added to that, I was up too late drinking the night before, so I was going in with a crushing hangover. I did talk to Liz for the first time, at great length, so that was good. Liz is a girl I met on an online dating website with whom I’d hit it off with pretty well. We would talk for hours on instant message practically every night, and, when I take the initiative, on the phone. It’s just been great to finally have a woman I can unload on and just yammer on and on to – I’ve needed that. Karin, surprisingly still, has not been that woman for me since she went to the Yale University School of Management (AKA “SOM”, which always made me think of “Son of a …”) in August 2004, even though we dated for almost two-and-a-half years before she left. While at school, she believed speaking twice a week was adequate for a long-distance couple, and verified that service level agreement (SLA – jeez, I’ve brought work into my private life!) with her fellow Yale MBA friends who also were dealing with long-distance relationships, including her roommate who was engaged to a guy in DC. Unfortunately, I didn’t sign onto that <st1:place w:st="on">SLA</st1:place>. Someone you say you LOVE and someone you were monogamous with for almost three years before the breakup, and you can only spare 30 minutes per week for them?! Yeah. This goes to show how B-school can F with the minds of unsuspecting former yuppies.<o:p></o:p>
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    I made it to <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:placeName w:st="on">Dulles</st1:placeName> <st1:placeType w:st="on">Airport</st1:placeType></st1:place> with plenty of time, had a bit of trouble finding little BMI’s check-in desk, but eventually was able to unload the heavy ski boot bag that I was using as my motorcycle touring flight luggage. It’s a rotund bag that can subsume my full-face helmet, surrounded by random clothing as protection. Few suitcases or roller bags can fit a big helmet and allow enough space around it for padding. You can also pack the helmet full of socks, boxers, and t-shirts, imparting whatever odor to the interior of your helmet that you choose (hopefully the essence of laundry detergent). It was very exciting to get into the international departure line and finally onto a plane that would be taking me to the <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">United Kingdom</st1:country-region></st1:place>, a place I’d never been.<o:p></o:p>
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    Why, I asked myself, did I give myself a five hour layover here in <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Manchester</st1:City>, <st1:country-region w:st="on">England</st1:country-region></st1:place>? I hoped it was for substantial cost savings. I landed at about <st1:time w:st="on" Hour="5" Minute="45">5:45am</st1:time> GMT (Greenwich Mean Time – Britain and Scotland are five hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time, so I thought it was almost <st1:time w:st="on" Hour="1" Minute="00">1am</st1:time>), but didn’t have a departure for Glasgow until <st1:time w:st="on" Hour="11" Minute="30">11:30am</st1:time>. I couldn’t decide if I should have gotten breakfast right then or to wait until I was hungry. But I was in <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">England</st1:country-region></st1:place>! A new country to add to my list (even though I’d only be seeing the inside of an airport and some landscape from the window of a plane – it was cold and grey outside…seemed appropriate). I found a classical radio station to listen to while I waited. “It’s just gone 8.” That's how the DJs said that it was <st1:time w:st="on" Hour="8" Minute="00">8am</st1:time>. The news talked about a threat to the NYC Subway and a rumor (they really did report it as a rumor) that President Bush had quietly informed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (aka Abu Mazin) two years ago that God “told him to invade Iraq”, and to create a Palestinian state. That’s just super, I thought.<o:p></o:p>
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    So why was I there? I always wanted to come to <st1:country-region w:st="on">Scotland</st1:country-region> or <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">Ireland</st1:country-region></st1:place>, but never pulled the trigger until I let myself realize (or was forced to realize by various life events) that these big trips really make life interesting and give you memories. So much of life is about thinking about things that you’ve done (good and bad) or things that have been done to you (good and bad). However, one of my favorite new bands, “IY” from <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Ithaca</st1:City>, <st1:State w:st="on">New York</st1:State></st1:place>, sings “Memories are fine but they won’t ever bring you a future.” They’ve got a point. I worry about that a bit. Regardless, I’d somehow figured it out that our short lives are about filling our minds with experiences, sensory input, memories, and emotional interactions with people, simply put. “Interactions with people” can be interpreted in many ways, from having and caring for a child to managing a project team at work. So, I did it – I bought the ticket over two months out, and then decided to really push the adventure – to do it by motorcycle instead of a rental car reeking of industrial cleaners.

    More to come...
    #1
  2. GB

    GB . Administrator

    Joined:
    Aug 16, 2002
    Oddometer:
    61,030
    Good to read you finally realized a dream.... and you're going to take us along with you... don't forget to post some pics :thumb

    :lurk
    #2
  3. Thorne

    Thorne Sherpa-ing around

    Joined:
    Oct 13, 2008
    Oddometer:
    1,206
    Location:
    Lone Pine, ON, Canada
    :lurk
    #3
  4. BadWHooper

    BadWHooper Quick, rather than Dead.

    Joined:
    Feb 29, 2008
    Oddometer:
    224
    Location:
    Silver Spring, MD
    I had been riding motorcycles for a little over a year by the time that I made these plans &#8211; pretty ballsy (or crazy) now that I think of it. I LOVE motorcycling, just like I knew I would when I finally decided to take the safety course (after years of putting motorcycle posters on my walls as a kid). Ironically, Karin was supposed to take the course with me, and was sitting there with me on the floor of the county office building as we waited for our number to be called on the day we were set to register, but she felt that she needed to get back to work that morning. I&#8217;m sort of glad we didn&#8217;t take riding lessons together, especially in light of the fact that she was getting ready to leave me for her MBA in Connecticut If I was going to be alone, I might as well have a new, solo hobby to occupy me between visits with her. Motorcycling definitely took on a life of its own. I passed the course in July 2004 (barely&#8230;most people &#8211; including experienced riders &#8211; failed), picked up my license the next weekend, and a few days after that, was making my first legal ride home on a 2000 Yamaha V-Star Classic 650. I&#8217;ll never forget that ride. No one ever forgets their first ride home from the dealer. Karin even dropped me off at the dealer that day. She seemed incredulous that I was doing it, and almost seemed impressed by me as I started that big little Yamaha, revved the engine, and threw my leg over. Looking back, it was the beginning of the end.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:eek:ffice" /><o:p></o:p>
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    I had no idea if this trip would be a mistake or not &#8211; the weather up there in the Scottish north looked dodgy. But I knew that this would be a vital solo journey for me, especially after dealing with my feelings for Karin for all of that year. On the Monday of this trip, it would have been seven weeks since the last time she made any kind of attempt to contact me&#8230;I feared that it was obviously(?) to end the frustration, distraction, and (perhaps) futility, and to just rip the Band-Aid off. Of course, I didn&#8217;t know if she was doing that. We didn&#8217;t talk much, and definitely not about our disappointingly fizzled relationship.<o:p></o:p>
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    I wanted to go over and find some real breakfast to add to the BMI Airline fruit, muffin, and yogurt, but instead I stayed with my Outward Bound method of rationing myself GORP and granola bars. It works. I&#8217;d end up doing it all week. In fact, I think I might try to market the &#8220;Motorcycle Diet&#8221;. I swear, when you&#8217;re riding, you don&#8217;t get hungry! Maybe it&#8217;s the fact that you&#8217;re sitting in a certain position, or that you&#8217;re concentrating on the road, but I never seem to get hungry on long rides, even after only having a tiny snack for breakfast. Plus, the breakfasts in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:smarttags" /><st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region> either filled me up so well or made me so queasy that I didn&#8217;t want to eat. It was both, actually, but more on that later.<o:p></o:p>
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    The next flight was a small plane, mostly empty, with a superhot blonde Scottish flight attendant. After we took off, it was great to see the first view of Scottish turf about 40 minutes later &#8211; it really looked Scottish. Fields &#8211; green fields divided by stone walls, and my first in-person view of a Scottish golf course. The weather in <st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Glasgow</st1:place></st1:City> was cloudy and iffy.<o:p></o:p>
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    At the cab stand, a cop asked me where I was going. The Scottish address made no sense to me. The bike rental place was at 4 Flemington Industrial Estates, Hamilton Road, Cambuslang. I said &#8220;Flemington&#8221; to the cop, because that&#8217;s what showed up on the map from the Rentabike website. He looked confused, briefly. <st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Glasgow</st1:place></st1:City> looked small enough to make it a relatively short drive. The cop ignored my destination and waved a cab over. One pulled up, the driver popped the trunk, and I was in business. I attempted to tell the cabbie where I was going as he put my big bag in the trunk, but he seemed confused &#8211; probably by my inability to speak English. I showed him the address on the map printout. &#8220;Hm. Hmmm? Cambuslang?! Bloody &#8216;ell!&#8221; He muttered to himself (but loud enough for me to hear). That wasn&#8217;t a good sign, but he did start driving.<o:p></o:p>
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    He drove, but he didn&#8217;t say a word. Around circles, strange turnoffs, circles, more circles, and eventually onto the highway (an &#8220;M-something&#8221;) &#8211; I followed along on my MapQuest printouts for awhile. I expected someone more talkative. I didn&#8217;t realize the true distance until we drove it. I guess a lot of short trips are more profitable than one long one. We met eyes in the rear-view mirror now and then, but no words. Eventually, as we drove down the final road for awhile, he asked me to show him my maps again. At that point I thanked him for taking me so far, and we finally chuckled and got into what I was doing in his country: I was flying in to go to a place that would rent me a motorcycle that would allow me to tour the country by myself, and there was no such thing as a close-to-the-airport motorcycle rental shop.<o:p></o:p>
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    Soon enough, we found the &#8220;Hamilton Industrial Estates&#8221;, a group of sad, old roll-up door buildings. A BMW motorcycle was parked outside one of the units. I wondered if that was mine, but no, it wasn&#8217;t at the right address. I instructed the driver to go around to the correct address, past other tenants such as upholsterers, car repair shops, metal benders, etc. At the right number, I got out and asked the guys standing outside the other units for Mel Robinson. They replied that he had moved to a different &#8220;suite&#8221; in the neighboring building. &#8220;Oh&#8221;, I thought, &#8220;the one with the BMW R850R parked out in front of it.&#8221; Duh. I didn&#8217;t even think of getting back into the cab, and instead paid the driver 30 quid, walked around the building and pushed through a door with a small paper printout taped onto it: &#8220;Rentamotorcycle&#8221; &#8211; the door next to the bike.<o:p></o:p>
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    Mel came out from a back office to meet me there in a surprisingly neat and professional waiting room. He reminded me of &#8220;Guthrie&#8221;, the gritty sword-for-hire Highlander from the film &#8220;Rob Roy&#8221;, but less violent and with shorter hair (but the same thick accent, gruff face, and questionable teeth). Through a glass pane to my right, I saw a shop area with a few nondescript cars and a pair of new-looking 650cc BMW bikes with interesting trenches cut through their tanks(?) where some sort of high-tech BMW luggage would fit. Sleek bikes, but not as gnarly as the one sitting outside. No, these 650s looked like his-n-hers. That 850 looked like mine-n-mine. <o:p></o:p>
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    Mel ran an auto mechanic shop in addition to his little BMW rental business, which was in stark contrast to the Eagle Rider Harley rental shops I knew from The States. Those were retail businesses riding on the back (so to speak) of the Harley-Davidson brand and image &#8211; TONS of merchandise: helmets, shirts, do-rags, etc. This shop was just Mel, his crappy industrial estate, the cars he was working on, and his rental bikes. He brought out the luggage for me, explained how they open, close, and lock (making sure to emphasize not to: a) lose the keys, and b) break the little plastic tabs in the locking mechanism, both of which looked easy to do.<o:p></o:p>
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    After some paperwork, Mel was back with me, helping me take the luggage out to the bike. &#8220;Bloody heavy!&#8221; He said about the top box. That worried me &#8211; it did have the heavy chain lock in it, but would that throw off my balance?<o:p></o:p>
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    <o:p>[​IMG]</o:p>
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    &#8220;So, how do you drive one of these things?&#8221; I asked.<o:p></o:p>
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    I&#8217;d been planning that joke all day. He thought that was funny. Or was it an uneasy laugh? Aside from the speedometer and tachometer, the BMW R850R has about 50 indicator lights on the dash &#8211; I couldn&#8217;t think of enough things to notify a rider of to match them. He started it up for me. It was a quiet bike, with a low burble that would turn into a pronounced growl at higher RPM. This BMW actually had a headlight and running light on/off switch. The Germans trust their riders a little more, I guess. &#8220;Just leave them all on&#8221;, he recommended. Mel then asked if I was familiar with BMW turn signal controls. I thought I was, as he described that each grip had its turn signal on it.<o:p></o:p>
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    &#8220;Ah, just like a Harley.&#8221; I noted.<o:p></o:p>
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    &#8220;Aha, but to cancel them, you have a separate button on the right grip. Just push that up to cancel.&#8221; He replied. This would prove to be a very annoying and unjustifiable feature that I remembered reading about in a motorcycle magazine. Some bike reviewer in that magazine also thought it was pretty stupid. In fact, others that I&#8217;ve read say that having one turn signal switch on the left side, like most Japanese bikes, is sufficient and probably safer. It took me awhile to get used to it, and, more than once, I ended up honking the horn.<o:p></o:p>
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    I tested the turn signals, per my training. The right rear signal didn&#8217;t blink. I looked at Mel. He smacked it. It started blinking. Yeah, this was not an Eagle Rider motorcycle rental. This was a guy in blue collar <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region> with a website. I mean, he had taped a printout of his company name and put it on the front door of his industrial unit. Of course, I&#8217;m no stranger to smacking a motorcycle turn signal to make it work. My sled back home might have had that issue from time to time. As I am trying to sell it right now, I will not say one way or the other.<o:p></o:p>
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    On the highest point of the console was a clock, with real hands. I constantly forgot it was there, and would instead spend the week struggling to pull my left sleeve layers aside (gauntlet, rain jacket, leather jacket, fleece shirt, long sleeve shirt, and polypropylene shirt) so I could tell what time it was. A really nice touch, that clock, like in Infinitis. I didn&#8217;t know if the bike had a reserve tank, though. Later in my trip, this would become paramount, but yet I would never remember to climb off the saddle, hunch down, and look around for a switch that might give me another 40 miles of riding after my main tank ran dry. Of course, this WAS <st1:place w:st="on">Europe</st1:place>, and I could see it being in the vein of &#8220;personal responsibility&#8221; &#8211; &#8220;we TOLD you how long you had, and you pushed it!&#8221; When I asked what the range of the bike was, Mel explained the how the gas cap opened, and, oh yeah, the low fuel indicator light may or may not work. According to Mel, some previous renters said it wasn&#8217;t making any sense, so he urged that I fill up before the odometer hits 160 miles. Not encouraging. He did say that I shouldn&#8217;t have any problem finding petrol stations on my route.<o:p></o:p>
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    Ha.<o:p></o:p>
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    So, I was ready to go, and eager. I pulled on my leather jacket and rain jacket, then noticed that I had a bit of an audience &#8211; some workmen from a couple shops across the driveway. Before helmet and gloves, I thought to ask what the easiest way to <st1:place w:st="on">Stirling</st1:place> was. In his half-unintelligible accent, Mel gave me what sounded like very easy directions to the A73 north. &#8220;Jest <st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">turin</st1:place></st1:City> right ouwt o the industrial estete, go thrrooo a rundaboot or tooo &#8211; yor furust test!&#8221; He laughed, &#8220;and follow the synes to A73. Ye can&#8217;t mess et.&#8221; I secured my helmet (or, in Mel&#8217;s paperwork, my &#8220;crash helmet&#8221; &#8211; I recalled a Jose Jimenez TV bit from the 60&#8217;s when Jose was posing as an astronaut on the Ed Sullivan Show. Ed asked about his &#8220;crash helmet&#8221; &#8211; Jose replied, &#8220;Oh I hope not!&#8221;). I thanked Mel, shook his hand, put on my clear glasses, and pulled on my gauntlets. Gentlemen always know it&#8217;s more respectful and meaningful to shake without a glove on.<o:p></o:p>
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    I threw a leg over thehigh seat, remembering Neil Peart&#8217;s books about how tall his BMW was &#8211; my feet definitely stretched to stand flat-footed on the ground, a big change from my Yamaha cruiser back home). Almost as a test, I set the choke and restarted the bike &#8211; a nice little victory. I must have looked like I was about to ride away because Mel gestured at my left foot, flipped up the side stand with his toe, and reminded me to make sure I kicked it back before starting off (it was eventually to become the most forgotten side stand in the history of motorcycles &#8211; I&#8217;m surprised I didn&#8217;t break it off.). I pulled the bike upright and, with a flash of panic and embarrassment, nearly tipped the thing right over on its side &#8211; the top box and luggage caught me by surprise. It felt like the back end was about 2,000 pounds and four feet above my head. That only happened once, but the embarrassment was real. It was the first display that probably gave Mel his first impression of my skills. Almost as an afterthought, he mentioned that it was a 5-speed transmission &#8211; one down, four up. I could have figured that out. Mel said that it wasn&#8217;t like a sport bike transmission with their fast-flicking shifts &#8211; &#8220;tick tick tick&#8221; he flicked his hand up up up &#8211; it would take a little more effort. After my experiences on a Harley, I was sure I could handle it. I garbled something to that effect through my helmet, that &#8220;it&#8217;s like a Harley&#8221; &#8211; a big, clunky transmission.<o:p></o:p>
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    At this point, I was in my own world, thoughts constricting into my silver helmet from the <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">United States of America</st1:place></st1:country-region>. I had no sooner saluted Mel than heard his fantastic Scottish voice say&#8230;<o:p></o:p>
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    &#8220;Cheersneil.&#8221;<o:p></o:p>
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    No pause between the two words, It was said in both a barroom way, but also in a heartfelt human way. I wish I could say it like Mel &#8220;Guthrie&#8221; Robinson did, or like ALL Scots do&#8230;like they MEAN it, like it was &#8220;welcome to my country, be safe, enjoy, and come back for a pint on me&#8221;. Excited and overwhelmingly eager, I twisted a bit of the throttle, released a bit of the clutch, and pulled slowly away from Mel and his building, toward the street. I was finally doing it, and I couldn&#8217;t have been more nervous and unsure of what I was getting myself into. In that ten yard stretch from the building to the road, thoughts of whether I would suffer culture shock like I did in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Germany</st1:place></st1:country-region> flashed through my head. Would I get lost? Would I have to ride in the dark tonight? Could I keep this heavy bike upright? A week is a long time!<o:p></o:p>
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    As I pulled to the parking lot&#8217;s exit, I was mindful of riding cleanly to make a good impression on the very informal rental company I had just left (as well as the random workers watching me from other shops in the &#8220;industrial estate&#8221;). As I started the process of looking both ways and waiting for a perfectly open moment to pull out and begin the greatest solo journey of my post-college life, I felt a swell of excitement. It was time. I released the clutch and waited for the big BMW to move. It didn&#8217;t.<o:p></o:p>
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    I had stalled the bike.<o:p></o:p>
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    Second good impression. The eyes of my audience were palpably upon me: Mel, his coworker (a voice I heard but never put a body to), the guys in coveralls at the furniture shop across the lot, the motorcycle instructor with the gray handlebar mustache who taught me how to ride at the motorcycle safety course over a year earlier, his fellow instructor and county cop who drilled into me the concept of keeping my head up and looking through the turns, and my parents, who probably wanted me to come home in one piece someday (if they only knew).<o:p></o:p>
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    It was time.<o:p></o:p>
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    My mind, safely and predictably, went absolutely BLANK &#8211; instinct took over. I pulled out and skillfully curved the heavy bike into the right lane. Time stood still in my eyes and mind. In those moments I felt the rush of pride in myself for getting the strange, unwieldy vehicle onto the road and into what I thought was the heart of <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region>.<o:p></o:p>
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    Understand now, this is all happening within a split second of my leaving the curb. Unfortunately, I was about to pull an &#8220;L.A. Story&#8221;.<o:p></o:p>
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    I only caught a fleeting glimpse of the oncoming car barreling toward me in that right lane, but I (and, I mean to say, the memory in my muscles) deftly and subconsciously veered the bike left and into the CORRECT lane. My muscles knew how to do what needed to be done and were calm. My mind, however, when it caught up to what my muscles had done, set off alarms that felt like I&#8217;d been plugged into a socket:<o:p></o:p>
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    &#8220;DUDE!!! DUDE!!! YOU PULLED INTO THE WRONG LANE!!! YOU&#8217;RE IN <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">ENGLAND</st1:place></st1:country-region>!!! NO, <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">SCOTLAND</st1:place></st1:country-region>!!! THEY DRIVE ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ROAD OVER HERE!!!! CAR!!! CAR!! GET OVER!! GET OVER, YOU IDIOT!!! WE&#8217;RE GOING TO DIE!!! AUUGGGHHHHH!!!&#8221;<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    No car horns, no cursing. All was well. I was in the left lane where I belonged, but, I had nearly crapped my pants and I hadn&#8217;t even gone ten yards into my journey. In those first seconds in a Scottish left lane, I envisioned Mel throwing his hands over his head and running to the street, the other coverall-clad workers cringing with their arms pulled up over their faces, looking away as I pulled the classic American-tourist-driver-in-the-UK screwup. I could almost hear them. &#8220;That bloody tosser isn&#8217;t going to make it.&#8221;<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    My first ride in a foreign country. I&#8217;d dreamed about it for months. At the moment of truth, I had looked left, which is what you do if you&#8217;re driving in The States (or most non-British countries). I had not looked right, the direction from which traffic comes directly at you. And I was nearly killed, or, more likely, violently injured. Not only would it have been &#8220;Vacation Over&#8221; before it had really even started, but I would have had the ignominy of being head-on&#8217;ed&#8230;by some sort of Opel or Peugeot or Vauxhall on some common road in the rough, southwestern suburbs of Glasgow instead of beefing it off a cliff in the mountains of the Highlands (or into a rogue flock of sheep). No, no deathwish, but again, in the split second that it takes your brain to realize the danger you&#8217;re in, your much-faster inner mind feels regret that your demise wasn&#8217;t in a poetic place or under more epic circumstances. All the while, your muscles and their training and experience are saving your ass. It would have been an interesting, if painful, adventure to a Glaswegian hospital and putting the cost of a BMW bike on a credit card.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    But it wasn&#8217;t to be. I was rolling in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region>, and relishing my first big shot of adrenaline of the trip.

    Fear not, haggis fans, the pictures (and haggis) is right around the corner! I'll try to keep this more succinct.

    Attached Files:

    #4
  5. BadWHooper

    BadWHooper Quick, rather than Dead.

    Joined:
    Feb 29, 2008
    Oddometer:
    224
    Location:
    Silver Spring, MD
    I spent the next 30 minutes recalling the scene from one of my favorite movies, &#8220;L.A. Story&#8221;, when Steve Martin gets into Victoria Tenant&#8217;s (playing a British journalist) rental car in L.A. She roars away from the curb and over into the left lane, causing Steve to scream &#8220;Right side! RIGHT SIDE! RIGHT SIDE!!!!&#8221;, and causing oncoming cars to veer wildly around her. &#8220;I don&#8217;t think they can hear you.&#8221; She calmy and cluelessly replies in a wonderful British accent. I kept telling myself throughout the trip &#8220;left side, left side, left side.&#8221; It really helped.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:eek:ffice" /><o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    So, here came that first roundabout. I needed to get to the road that went off to my right, so I found myself in traffic trying to figure it out. There are dotted lines across the lane at the entrance to the circle for the drivers who need to yield, or &#8220;give way&#8221; as they say over there. I was always a little hesitant to just get out there, not trusting that the other drivers would actually give way, but they always did. It was absolutely counterintuitive to head clockwise around a traffic circle. I made it onto that next road and started seeing signs for the A73 to <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:smarttags" /><st1:place w:st="on">Stirling</st1:place>, which gave me the greatest feeling of euphoria and excitement. I started feeling at home in that saddle &#8211; and it did feel kind of like a saddle.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    I was rolling through roundabouts confidently now, getting used to the clutch and shifter, feeling better about driving on the left, and happy that I was on the correct road. Or was I? I was cruising through residential neighborhoods and questioning myself &#8211; did I see a sign for the A73 at an earlier circle? The signage is okay over there, but you could never be quite sure you were on the right road if you didn&#8217;t make the right &#8220;exit&#8221; out of a circle. There were NO street signs along roads that tell you which thoroughfare you&#8217;re currently on. None. I found that to be the same throughout <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region>. Only in the big city could you rely on the street signs stuck up high on the corners of buildings at intersections, but if you weren&#8217;t near a corner you didn&#8217;t know what road you were on. Businesses didn&#8217;t display their addresses prominently either. It nearly drove me insane later in the trip. Is it that they&#8217;re trying to protect the aesthetics of their country and reduce the number of signs? Maybe. I would also notice that there aren&#8217;t signs on the highways notifying you that there are gas stations, hotels, or restaurants at upcoming exits. That was really annoying too, and nearly screwed me as I started running low on gas later in the trip.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    The A73 was a two-lane highway that led me out of Glasgow, but right into solid traffic caused by road work. I was getting antsy to get the miles behind me. With heavy, gray skies above me, I was worried about having enough time to see a bit of <st1:place w:st="on">Stirling</st1:place> and get to the first hotel in Inveraray before dark. Eventually, the traffic opened up, but there was a little bit of drizzle from time to time, so I knew it was time to get off that bike for the first time since I&#8217;d started and EAT SOME LUNCH. Here it was probably around <st1:time w:st="on" Hour="14" Minute="00">2pm</st1:time> and I hadn&#8217;t eaten anything of substance since the breakfast on the plane into <st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Manchester</st1:place></st1:City>, some 6-7 hours earlier. I had rationed myself to a granola bar and some GORP since then. So, I found an exit and a service area, pulled in, dismounted, yanked off my helmet, and took a DEEP breath. I had just driven only 20-30 minutes or so, but it felt like I&#8217;d been through the ringer. With people lounging and sleeping in their cars around me, I scarfed the pathetic, plastic-wrapped chicken salad sandwich that I bought at the airport that morning (I know, I know &#8211; a little risky), some overseasoned chips (crisps), and some delicious and reassuring Diet Coke. I nearly choked myself with a craw full of sandwich and soda&#8230;the bubbles came into my nose, and I started to feel like I had gotten myself into something way over my head (the trip, not the lunch), but just for a split second. The bubbles passed, the food got down into my stomach, the rain pants went on, the BMW got fired up, and I rolled down to the roundabout to get back on the highway.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    <st1:place w:st="on">Stirling</st1:place> approached quickly, and luckily I found that there were plenty of brown signs that gave direction to major sights. I followed the ones to <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:placeName w:st="on">Stirling</st1:placeName> <st1:placeType w:st="on">Castle</st1:placeType></st1:place>, right into town, through roundabouts and crazy intersections. I pulled up behind an old bearded guy on a cruiser &#8211; A CRUISER! Not a BMW or a sport bike! Yeah, it was a creaky Japanese cruiser, but I learned later that there actually ARE Harleys in <st1:place w:st="on">Europe</st1:place> and they even have rallies from time to time on the Continent. I got right in behind him and ended up following him into the rather attractive old part of <st1:place w:st="on">Stirling</st1:place>. This was the first look at a &#8220;European-looking&#8221; city that I&#8217;d had since 1992. It felt very familiar and gave me that excitement of not being anywhere near your own home and culture &#8211; being somewhere OLD, where OLD history was made. The rain had been holding off during this portion of the ride. The old guy on the bike in front of me had a ¾ helmet with a full face shield, but his beard must get absolutely soaked when he rides &#8211; it hung out from beneath the clear Plexiglas faceshield a good three or four inches. I was wearing my full rain suit and full-face helmet, but that guy was only wearing leather, and had leather saddlebags. I didn&#8217;t get the feeling he was doing a weeklong tour around the country. Anyway, as we pulled into downtown, he turned off. I made my way off the main drag when it was clear that I was headed right for the central pedestrian zone. I wondered if motorcycles might be allowed, but it wasn&#8217;t worth checking it out.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    I headed up Dumbarton Road, then veered right up the steep hill of Corn Exchange Street and curved around into area that looked like it might be close to <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:placeName w:st="on">Stirling</st1:placeName> <st1:placeType w:st="on">Castle</st1:placeType></st1:place>. I was a fool. Castles are rarely &#8220;in town&#8221;. I was also naive in the ways of Scottish parking customs, so I was constantly looking for spaces that seemed legal. I found one on the crest of the hill there on Corn Exchange next to the Youth Hostel, and wheeled around to back the sucker up, conscious of onlookers, passersby, and kids. Why weren&#8217;t they in school? I put on my best &#8220;badass motorcycle tour stud&#8221; attitude (thinking that the full suit, helmet, boots, and bitchin&#8217; BMW bike had some sort of instant caché in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region> and all European countries), and parked it. I took some time to get out my camera, pull out my day pack and tour book, and shot a picture of the bike &#8211; the very first picture of the trip. It was <st1:time w:st="on" Hour="15" Minute="36">3:36pm</st1:time>, according to the clock tower/church spire behind me. I needed to get moving, but this was my first sightseeing stop, so I was excited.

    BMW in <st1:place w:st="on">Stirling</st1:place> <st1:date w:st="on" ls="trans" Month="10" Day="7" Year="05">10-7-05</st1:date>&#8221;: it seemed like I was in some sort of school area. I was parked next to the Youth Hostel on Corn Exchange Street. The gas tank is not painted black &#8211; that is a faux-leather hood that protects the paint on the tank, but, more specifically, allows a tank bag to be clipped on.

    Attached Files:

    #5
  6. BadWHooper

    BadWHooper Quick, rather than Dead.

    Joined:
    Feb 29, 2008
    Oddometer:
    224
    Location:
    Silver Spring, MD
    I threw my rain jacket into my backpack and starting walking to <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:smarttags" /><st1:place w:st="on"><st1:placeName w:st="on">Stirling</st1:placeName> <st1:placeType w:st="on">Castle</st1:placeType></st1:place>. The hill up to the castle wasn’t backbreaking, but it was very steep and a bit long, and I was concerned about my schedule. Plus, I was wearing long underwear, another layer on top of that, and my leather jacket. It was probably 60 degrees or so. Perfectly fine weather for one layer, but not for three and walking up a hill in a hurry. But, I felt great! This was the first moment of true European tourism that I’d had since 1992 (yeah, I was in Iceland in 2002, but I was with three others and it felt like I was part of a tour group – plus, Iceland either feels like you’re on the surface of the moon or you’re in Ikea shopping for bookshelves). This time I felt like I was really breathing the air that the Scots breathe (rather than being in a bubble), blending in, and sensing the culture – plus, it had the cobblestones and medieval wonder that I love and that Americans just don’t get enough of. The name of the road changed block by block, from Spittal Street to St. John Street, to the Castle Wynd. This was the point at which I started using my little digital voice recorder to capture the details of my trip. You can hear me huffing and puffing up the street and recounting the hilarious and shocking impressions of the experiences, straight from the horse’s mouth. I couldn’t wait to hear the bits later on in the trip that secretly recorded Scottish people in fish and chips joints or the sounds of a Glaswegian pub. It’s especially funny to hear me suddenly stop talking because I’m passing some other people and don’t want them to think I’m: a) talking to myself; or b) some sort of terrorist or journalist casing the places I was seeing, describing the weaknesses and areas I can exploit.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:eek:ffice" /><o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    [​IMG]
    This was the approach to the Church of the Holy Rude (the entrance on the left) on Castle Wynd and the driveway to the castle. The façade with the stone towers on the left is Mar’s Wark. On my way back down, I took the road off to the right (Broad Street) in order to see a bit more of the city.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    On the Castle Wynd, I walked past a huge gate and driveway up to what I soon realized was the Church of the Holy Rude. I knew I should have gone in there, but I also knew that I had a long ride ahead of me – it was already mid-afternoon (approximately <st1:time w:st="on" Hour="15" Minute="45">3:45pm</st1:time>), and I needed to see the castle. Next door and uphill from the Church entrance was Mar’s Wark, which is the ruined façade of an opulent, well-located house thatthe First Earl of Mar started building in 1569, but abandoned two years later upon his death (he had no choice but to stop). It may be the oldest abandoned house I think I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a few, usually along US highways. The driveway led up to the highest point in the city.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    <o:p>[​IMG] </o:p>
    The church can be seen in the distance past the cemetery. It was the site of James IV’s crowning in 1567 – he was, at the time, an infant. The large pyramid on the right is probably some monument or noble gravesite.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    I then crossed over the parking lot to the wall that formed the edge of the castle bulwark. It overlooked the huge valley below and stretched far to the <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:placeName w:st="on">Ochil</st1:placeName> <st1:placeType w:st="on">Mountains</st1:placeType></st1:place> in the distance. Close-in was a charming scene of Scottish residential life: homesteads, row houses, open green fields, stone terraces, a cemetery, and trees changing their colors for fall – all following the curve of the River Forth. Far in the distance, well beyond the river and before a row of imposing dark mountains, were flat green fields and a sudden, jutting, sugarloaf that I quickly realized hosted the <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:placeName w:st="on">Wallace</st1:placeName> <st1:placeName w:st="on">Monument</st1:placeName></st1:place>.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    <o:p>[​IMG]</o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    Switching to my 300mm zoom lens, I could get a ghostly, misty image of the striking tower in memory of William Wallace, inaccurately, ironically, disrespectfully, and horrendously portrayed by Mel Gibson in “Braveheart” (I hesitate to even mention that schmaltzy movie, but at least it gives people some context). Wallace was knighted (by whom?) for defeating the British at <st1:placeName w:st="on">Stirling</st1:placeName> <st1:placeType w:st="on">Bridge</st1:placeType>, but was later defeated at <st1:place w:st="on">Falkirk</st1:place> (which the dumb movie does not portray). He caught a redeye to Europe to find supporters for <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region>’s cause (which the dumb movie does not portray), but while he was gone, he was betrayed by the Scottish nobles (which were portrayed in the movie) and, upon his return in 1305, he was captured, drawn, and quartered for treason (clearly part of the dumb movie). His 5’4” sword (about as tall as Mel Gibson) is on display at the monument.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    <o:p>[​IMG]</o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    I walked over to the castle entrance and realized I could walk around the outer defenses for free. Like most castles I visited in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region>, there was an admission charge – not small, either – probably 8-10 Pounds, which could be $13-18. That’s a lot, especially when you start realizing the total number of castles you’d be coming across and would want to tour. You could duplicate your hotel fare in castle tours in one day! I didn’t have time for it, expensive or not. I didn’t want to ride in the dark on this trip, and definitely not on the first day in the country. On the first ramparts, I enjoyed a different view of the countryside, including a shot of the <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:placeName w:st="on">Wallace</st1:placeName> <st1:placeName w:st="on">Monument</st1:placeName></st1:place> with the statue of Robert the Bruce. King Robert the Bruce, who knighted William Wallace, ended up leading <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region> through some victory and a period of independence, most famously at the victory at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. He, too, was poorly rendered in “Braveheart”.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    [​IMG]
    <o:p></o:p>
    I also got some shots of the castle from that first rampart, and tried to wait out an all-too-cute American couple so I could do an armstretch self-portrait of myself without shame. That chick would just not go back down the stone stairs, so I just took the shot. I look determined, a little bit resigned, and not really excited. I have to tell people who see this picture that I really was excited. I really felt like I had begun a true European voyage – I was at my first castle! I probably hadn’t seen a real castle since <st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Nuremberg</st1:place></st1:City>, again, in 1992. I was feeling very good. And it wasn’t raining. At the time.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    <o:p>[​IMG] </o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    Stirling Castle (http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/stirling/stirlingcastle/index.html), like the one in Edinburgh, was built on the plug of an extinct volcano (it must have given them some sort of ego trip knowing that way back then – either that, or they had no idea there were volcanoes in Scotland). It is especially famous for being the childhood home of Mary Queen of Scots, before she escaped to temporary safety in <st1:place w:st="on">Europe</st1:place>. Later in my trip, I’d end up seeing where she was born, as well as a few of the many places she’d crashed for the night. If you aren’t a student of British history, you may not know that she was actually French, not Scottish.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    <o:p>[​IMG]</o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    Speaking of Mary, one of the things that kept me entertained and relatively sane inside my helmet was quoting Monty Python’s reenactment of “The Death of Mary, Queen of Scots”:<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    Proper British Host: “And now, a reenactment of ‘The Death of Mary, Queen of Scots’. <o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    Heavily Exaggerated Scottish-Accented Man: “Ahr yeu Merdy Queen uh Scuhts?”<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    Male person doing stereotypical old British lady’s high-pitched voice: “Eye ahm.”<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    (Sounds of beatings and violence)<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    Heavily Accented Man’s voice, “Ah thenk sheh’s deed.”<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    Man doing a woman’s voice, feebly: “Noo I’m not.”<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    (More sounds of violent struggle)<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    I recited that over and over in my helmet that week, among other Scottish “things”, like lines from “So I Married an Axe Murderer”. It helped keep me focused.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    From the castle ramparts, I walked back down to snap a shot or two of the statue of ol’ King Robert the Bruce. Some kids were intent on staying on the statue, so I left them in my shot. It gives some perspective.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    <o:p>[​IMG] </o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    I then walked down a different street (Broad, Bow, and Baker Streets – again, all the same street, but named differently within three or four blocks) into <st1:place w:st="on">Stirling</st1:place> so I could get a feel for the town. It was about 4:00pm, and I was eager to get on the road before the sun went down – I had quite a bit of ground to cover.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    <o:p>[​IMG]</o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    One of the drawbacks of pre-planning a trip meant that I had reservations for hotels every night. It made financial sense for me to move on.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    Back at the bike, I saw no ticket, so I suited up, saddled up, pulled the rain pants cuffs down over my boots (they rode up over my boots incessantly, which made life very unpleasant by the end of the week), and roared back the way I came to find the road west to Inveraray.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    I was so proud of myself for making it out of Stirling, backtracking the way I came, carefully winding my way on the left side of all the roads I’d taken in on the right side before (well, it was the right side as I departed town on the left side…you know what I mean), using my memory for places I’ve been and the convenient and brilliant Scottish system of painting the name of the road or town directly onto the pavement of the lane in which you needed to be. I was eager to get to Inveraray after seeing Stirling, having thoughts of a warm hotel, a cozy bar for dinner, my first whisky in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region>, and some locals to talk to.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    Eventually, I was out of the city and into the country, and it felt good. The roads narrowed, I was confident about my route, and I was in the true countryside that really meant “<st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region>” to me. I was feeling very strong about the bike and my riding abilities, even in wet conditions. There on the 84 west, I passed through cute little towns where the speed limit dropped suddenly and significantly. I occasionally passed municipal signs that depicted an image of an old-school boxy camera on it. Through most of my trip, I wondered if they meant that there was a scenic photo-worthy tourist stop ahead, or if there was a police speed camera imminent. I always slowed down and looked back and forth and side to side for something that looked like a camera, but never saw anything. Of course, I also noticed that there was really never any photo-worthy scenic tourist stops either. Later in the trip, over dinner at the Minmore House Hotel on the Glenlivet Estate, I asked some locals about the signs. Those folks confirmed that the signs meant that there could be a hidden police speed camera in the area. When I asked what percentage of cameras were actually functioning, taking pictures, and mailing them, they estimated 10-15%. I tried to stay cool with the speed limits, not knowing what the cops would be like, but truth be told, I Never saw one. Never. Not one. I got a ticket later in the trip, but not from a cop (not a real one, anyway). I mean, in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Iceland</st1:place></st1:country-region> I got a speeding ticket, a country that had just over 300,000 people. What were the odds!? In <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region>, a country of well over five million people, I never saw a cop. Of course, I never actually SAW the cop in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Iceland</st1:place></st1:country-region> until it was too late, and I guess that’s the point.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    There were roads in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region> that had squiggly lines on either side. What did that mean? Did it mean you needed to swerve back and forth on that strip? And another interesting thing – stoplights in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region> work in reverse. The yellow lights come on right before the GREEN light comes on, essentially warning you when to f’ing floor it, just like at a drag strip. I thought it was cool, except that the locals were already revving and moving at the yellow.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    I guess it might not be the TOTAL opposite of <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">America</st1:place></st1:country-region> – in both countries we stomp on it when the light turns yellow.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    My first stopping point after Stirling was the <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:placeType w:st="on">village</st1:placeType> of <st1:placeName w:st="on">Doune</st1:placeName></st1:place>, home of Doune castle, which served as the “French” castle in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. You can’t NOT stop there. Doune (http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/doune/doune/index.html) is also known for its historic firearm industry, including the Highland Pistol. Riding into Doune was wonderful, despite a slight drizzle and some traffic issues due to construction and lane closure. <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region> is big on the automated stop lights at their lane closure sites – very few flaggers standing out there. Instead, they have temporary, timed traffic lights. All too often, a fact of life when most of the roads in the country are two-lane.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    The countryside leading into Doune was gorgeous and romantic – rolling hills and farms. Exactly what I was expecting.The road wound into Doune through dark, mysterious, and romantic woods. Signs for the castle directed me down a street into the one-road town – it almost seemed like a way to funnel tourists in and out, but when I finally got into town, I realized it was where people lived…it just so happened that their main street – their ONLY street – was one-way. At the center of the village, near an old stone church, I saw a sign for public restroom and followed it up a tiny lane. I saw no such restroom, so I turned around. I then noticed a soccer field with a handful of adults getting ready for practice. Next to it was a building that housed the restrooms in question and served as clubhouse for sports teams. I pulled over, being carefully watched by the footballers, dismounted without removing my helmet (no time – I was in a hurry), and walked up to the men’s room door. No go – it was locked. With a confused and ticked-off look on my face, visible to no one because I was wearing a helmet, I walked back to the street side to see the sign that explained that the public restrooms were closed from October through March. I would find this trend throughout <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region>, and not just for restrooms. Very annoying. So, I saddled up again, pulled back onto the main drag through the charming stone town, past the church again, and down through the woods to the castle. This was my first wilderness castle in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region>, so I felt really energized. I parked the bike, took a picture of myself next to it, and headed for the plastic, sanitary-looking port-o-let that was parked next to the site. Damn thing was locked. I was beginning to wonder about this country.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    [​IMG]
    My first self-portrait with the bike. Notice my old leather jacket underneath the highly reflective rain suit. It was misting lightly in this picture.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    I began my hike around the imposing castle by finding a good vantage point on a little hill for a photo, and then noticed that there was a thick, discrete copse of trees behind me. That’s where I finally relieved myself for the first time since I was in Mel Robinson’s putrid office bathroom, over three hours before. I hiked all the way around Doune Castle (http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/doune/dounecastle/index.html), admiring the thick, high walls, lovely surroundings: the crashing River Teith, a Watership Down-like field of bunny burrows, the sounds of lowing cattle, and dense groups of trees – out of which trudged a bearded hiker – and an overall spooky nature. A crow cawed overhead. Around back, I could see that much of the core of the castle was empty, open, and gutted, but the tour book said some of the interior was still preserved. The caretaker/owner (the Earl of Moray – not sure of his relation to the eels) still lives at Doune in a pleasant stone house next to the parking lot. After another photo, I got back on the road. I couldn’t get the image of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” out of my head: “I fahhhrt in your general die-rection!” That’s where those immortal words were uttered, and I was there. And don’t get me started about the flinging of the cow over the wall. “You and your king and his keniggittes!” Yeah, I might have recorded myself on the portable recorder saying “Have fun storming the castle!” knowing full well that they’re not the same movie. It just seemed appropriate.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    <o:p>[​IMG] </o:p>
    [​IMG]
    The weather was to improve slightly as I continued from Doune. That sign in the picture is the price of admission and hours/dates of operation.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    Though, while in Doune, it seemed like it would be dark and dreary for the rest of the day, I eventually rolled through some amazing countryside and into the charming town of <st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Callander</st1:place></st1:City>. It’s a touristy city with plenty of B&Bs and hotels and tea shops, but that’s for a reason. It sits surrounded by mountains, crags, and forests. This seemed like the ideal <st1:place w:st="on">Highland</st1:place> town to me (little did I know…). It was in a popular mountainous area called The Trossachs. The sun had come out too, providing a shocking glow to the mountains and clouds and mists, and shining brightly off the wet pavement. I nearly killed myself pulling over to take a picture down the street, and then again, trying to cross the street to get back to the bike. I kept looking LEFT as I was headed across when I should have been looking RIGHT.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    This was Rob Roy country. When I come back, I’ll stop at his gravesite in the churchyard (I’ll have read Sir Walter Scott’s novel by that time) and hit the museum. There was apparently a short hike to <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:placeName w:st="on">Bracklinn</st1:placeName> <st1:placeType w:st="on">Falls</st1:placeType></st1:place> that I wished I had time for.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    <o:p>[​IMG]</o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    So, many of you might be wondering, “Hooper! What about the wave? Do they do the wave in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region>?” This refers to the tradition among bikers of waving at each other upon passing. This is not flapping one’s hand wildly like a kindergartener at a bus stop, but coolly extending a couple fingers of the left hand or hanging low the open left hand as you pass the other biker. There are many ways to do it. Some just extend the hand a couple inches off the left grip (frankly, my most common wave – because, since you never know who will wave back at you, this offers the least humiliation if you’re hanging out there by yourself – you can snap back to the grip as if nothing happened). Some drop their open left hand down to their side as if they were doing a rolling low-five with the oncoming rider (one of my favorites – I should switch to this one, even though it requires more effort and really leaves you exposed for being left hanging). Some don’t even lift their hands off the grip and simply lift a couple fingers (certainly the safest method). Some don’t do it all. I got the feeling that the very impressive, helmetless, long-haired Harley riders in New Hampshire and Maine could see, as I approached them on my rented Harley Road King, that I was wearing a full-face helmet and an armored nylon riding jacket, and therefore decided to withhold their wave from what was clearly a non-biker. Nah, I’m a rider.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    One afternoon on a ride east on Route 55 through northern Virginia (it is a gorgeous road that parallels Route 66 from Front Royal into the greater DC area and provides a much more enjoyable ride back home from wine country than the 66 freeway does), two guys on Harleys approached. The lead man with wild hair and a goatee practically stood up on his pegs and stuck his left hand way up in the air. With a grand flourish, he dipped it like a swan would dip its neck into a pond to snag some sort of underwater root, way down to the side of his bike, fingers together like he was dunking a strawberry into warm melted chocolate. He had an insane smile on his face, and I felt great after they passed. I need to do that from time to time.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    Personally, I’d been doing more of the side flick, but I’d like to get back to the low-five method. I found, up in New Hampshire and Maine, that the more serious recreational riders are the more eager wavers. They’re similar to me, but they have more money, full riding suits, massive/expensive bikes, wives on the back, and 20+ years to mine. Almost all of them wear full-face helmets even though the weather is perfect for an open-faced model. They don’t screw around. They’re probably lawyers, accountants, managers, retirees, responsible parents, cool grandparents, and other types who have a belief that they have responsibilities for which they must stay alive. They don’t wear the beanie helmets. They keep both hands on the grips at all times. They usually wear full armored suits. These folks always and enthusiastically give “the wave”, including the chick on the back. My guess is that they’re just so happy to be touring on a bike and to see other people enjoying themselves – it gives them a sense of belonging to a club, which is what it’s really all about. They’re not riding as part of their attitude – they’re riding for the fun of it, so they don’t have to front one bit.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    Cruiser riders almost always wave at each other. Sport bike riders almost always wave at each other. Cruiser riders and sport bike riders don’t always wave at each other. There might be a bit of disdain for the other’s choice of ride and/or style of expression, but it usually only lasts a second or two until they remember that they’re both on two wheels and loving it, and have a vested interest in supporting each other. And then there are people like I, who have a cruiser AND a sport-oriented bike. When I’m on one, I’m wishing the riders of the other type knew that I DO own that other type, and vice versa. Both are a blast and have their different uses and provide their different inspirations.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    Recently, my friend Kent and I were talking about riding. He had moved to San Francisco a few years ago and had bought an old Honda to learn on. San Francisco is a great two-wheel town…there is so much free parking for motorcycles and scooters (no such thing as a “moped” anymore, is there?) around that city. As compact and overpopulated as it is, it makes sense. So, Kent learned to ride a low-power Japanese bike. Later, he moved back to DC so we then had bikes to talk about. In his usual way, Kent told our mutual friend Chris about what he deemed was a bizarre, silly, and potentially “gay” thing that he noticed other riders doing. They waved at him when he passed! I mean, what’s up with that?!?! I let him know that, indeed, “the wave” is a biker thing nationwide (and now I knew it to be worldwide). Kent, a noted scoffer, scoffed at the concept, thinking it “stupid” or “gay” or something like that. I told him that it has been going on for as long I as I knew. Drivers of old Jeep CJs do it. I understand vintage Corvette owners might do it as well. It’s a good thing.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    Long story long: yes, they do “the wave” in Scotland. Not all of them, but most do. In Scotland, the wave is basically what you’d find in The States, but because the weather is so challenging so often, riders need to keep both hands on the grips, hence the two-finger-lift style. Or, there’s the always reliable head nod (the cool and detached upward flick, or the traditional, austere, downward nod) – not as gratifying and a little cold, but certainly does the job and conveys the needed information. I might start the salute next weekend.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    Regardless, you’re riding on the left side of the road – it has to be different than an in North America. You have to reach up and across a little bit to be noticed.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    Anyway, as the trip progressed, I learned a whole new way of “the wave” that really connected with the very serious style of riding that Europeans do, what with all the bad weather and preponderance of sport, BMW, or dual-purpose bikes that tend to squelch the cruiser style of riding attitude (laid back, louder, a fair amount of attitude, and a bit frontiersmanlike). I noticed it particularly in bad weather, especially on large roads and highways. I would zip past a fellow rider in impressive leather, a dark visor (in the rain?!), and an aggressive image. He was across the divider in the other lane of the highway. It was neither safe nor practical to lift a hand to wave. He unmistakably tilted his head sideways toward me and then back straight. Very slick. I noticed it a lot as I went on in those last days. It makes a lot of sense. If you’re going to use your head, the downward nod is certainly the preferred acknowledgment – the upward head flick is cool but a little too cold. The sideways nod is special. It’s not a normal physical function – it feels a little awkward and unnatural. But when you see it, you know that it’s meant for you. A head nod could be misconstrued as “I’m checking my fuel gauge.” or “Am I f’ing speeding?” The head flick could be seen as “Whatever, beyotch – I can definitely kick your ass, and I have a faster bike!” The sideways nod is “Hail, brother! Ride safely and perhaps our paths shall cross again! Good luck on that job interview next week! Definitely go with the braised lamb shank at the Mash Tun Restaurant in the quaint town of Aberlour, just ahead on your right!”<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    Or something like that.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    It took some practice to get the sideways nod down (over), and now that I’m back in The States, I have to learn to do it on the right side. I don’t think anyone would know what I was doing. Plus, I avoid riding in any kind of foul weather over here, when I can help it.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    I read a column by an old-school biker who lamented that The Wave was dying out, so I always get a little bit indignant if I’m the only one waving, but with ridership at record levels in the US, that’s a lot of waving to do. I love the fact that more people are on motorcycles, but pretty soon, when gas prices are at $4.50 a gallon and one out of three people are on a bike to save money, the wave could get a little tedious. Imagine being a Honda car driver and feeling compelled to wave at the other Honda car drivers. At that rate, you might as well just attach a fake left arm to your sled in the “wave” position of your choice. Bike makers could include options for electronic wave machines. And so on.<o:p></o:p>
    #6
  7. BusyWeb

    BusyWeb Adventurer

    Joined:
    Apr 6, 2009
    Oddometer:
    99
    :clap
    ...
    ..
    .
    #7
  8. BadWHooper

    BadWHooper Quick, rather than Dead.

    Joined:
    Feb 29, 2008
    Oddometer:
    224
    Location:
    Silver Spring, MD
    Once I left Callander, I really felt like I was getting into the <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:smarttags" /><st1:place w:st="on">Highlands</st1:place> &#8211; the true, wild, mountainous, striking areas that I envisioned when I dreamed up the trip. After a couple winding turns outside the town, I put myself on Route 821 and a straightway that provided an unspeakable shock to my eyes &#8211; the beauty of the western highlands was opening up. I pulled over for some photos next to a farm of grazing sheep, a shabby but epic farmhouse, a mountain flanked by Loch Venachar, and the narrow country road under my bike. On my right, more moors and hills. I was always on the lookout for a level post or flat rock that would support my big camera for shots like this. The sun was highlighting the tops of the clouds stretching over the mountains in the distance. The sheer lack of trees &#8211; only a handful &#8211; was just not obvious until I looked back at the pictures. This was a trend in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region>, a country sadly denuded over the centuries and only currently being reforested in some parts thanks to some conscientious and wealthy land owners. It helped that it wasn&#8217;t raining at this point.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:eek:ffice" /><o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    <o:p>[​IMG]</o:p>
    <o:p>[​IMG]</o:p>
    I was absolutely beside myself with wonder and self-congratulation. At every beautiful and evocatively Scottish sight I saw I told myself, &#8220;That (castle, vista, cloud, loch, moor, heather, etc.) was worth the airfare by itself. No doubt.&#8221; I also found myself shouting &#8220;Sheep shagger!&#8221; at every sheep I saw (so I was doing it often), in respect to the movie &#8220;Rob Roy&#8221;. At this point in the trip, I was definitely practicing my Scottish accent with very specific phrases, such as the standby &#8220;Sheep shagger!&#8221;, but also variations on movie quotes like &#8220;Mary! Ohhhhh Mary! What have they done to ye!?&#8221;, or replace &#8220;Mary&#8221; with other names: &#8220;Nessie! Ohhhh Nessie! What have ye done!?&#8221;, more movie quotes: &#8220;Aye, you&#8217;re a right wee sexy bastard, aren&#8217;t ye!?!&#8221; And other quotes from &#8220;Rob Roy&#8221; and &#8220;So I Married an Axe Murderer&#8221;. It was brilliant. I was having the time of my life. And it wasn&#8217;t presently raining.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    From Lendrick (which you could have missed easily &#8211; I honestly can&#8217;t remember what it looked like, or if it was just a hotel and a tea room and a few houses next to the loch), I turned south on Route 81, then southwest on 811 and north on 82 alongside the west bank of famous Loch Lomond. I had the route planned out, but on a motorcycle you have to memorize the route and burn an image of the map in your brain so you can envision the landmarks, turns, distances, and intersections as you ride. Believe me, over the course of the trip I pulled over many times to yank the Ziploc (or, &#8220;ZipLoch&#8221;? Sorry&#8230;) bag that contained my cheat sheet out of my jacket pocket to remind me of which roads I needed. For this stretch from <st1:place w:st="on">Stirling</st1:place> to Inveraray, I repeated the sequence of road numbers in my head: &#8220;84-821-81-811-82-83&#8221;. You can see the pattern, can&#8217;t you? Almost? It worked, except I was unclear on the distances between the intersections (that&#8217;s when the mental map comes in handy), so I was always second-guessing myself on my navigation and whether or not I&#8217;d missed a turn miles back. I almost never &#8220;missed that turn miles back&#8221; out in the countryside, but it didn&#8217;t stop me from wondering after I&#8217;d been riding for awhile with no recognizable landmarks.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    It was getting noticeably darker, which made me want to be at the hotel all the more. The rain was generally holding off to a manageable drizzle, but the countryside was wonderful. As I rolled down 811, I started wondering if I&#8217;d be able to see the great <st1:place w:st="on">Loch Lomond</st1:place> &#8211; I should have been close to it.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    I was, but I didn&#8217;t know it. Loch Lomond is the largest freshwater loch in Scotland and the subject of the classic &#8220;you take the high road and I&#8217;ll take the low, and I&#8217;ll be in Scotland before ye&#8221; song that so many know from some drunk Saturday morning cartoon character singing it on Bugs Bunny. It might as well be <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region>&#8217;s anthem. Hell, one of my favorite bands, Marillion, tacked it onto their first &#8216;80s hit, &#8220;Market Street Heroes&#8221;. Their singer at the time, Fish (AKA Derek Dick, who received his nickname from his penchant for enthusiastic imbibing), is a proud Scot. That chorus ends with &#8220;on the bonny, bonny shores of <st1:place w:st="on">Loch Lomond</st1:place>&#8221;. And there I was, very, very near those bonny, bonny shores. I couldn&#8217;t see much of them until I rounded the southern tip of it by the little town (meaning a couple places to pull off at a hotel or B&B) of Balloch. Balloch, meaning &#8220;end of the Loch&#8221; because its location, did offer a number of lodging options from the very prehistoric (there were plenty of trails, which means camping) to the luxurious &#8211; I passed a freaking incredible castle/manor that was a hotel which provided a great photo as I rounded the southern tip of the Loch and rolled on into the wilderness.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    [​IMG] This was a grand, gray hotel that I am unable to identify without more Google work. I would stay there.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    From there, I have no photographic record to display the shockingly beautiful and fearful landscapes I rocketed through. This has to be from memory.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    I think I was worried about the soon-to-be-setting sun, the increasingly harsh weather, and the possibility that I might start feeling the effects of my jet lag, lack of eating, and the many hours that I had been more or less awake. As I approached Balloch, it was probably <st1:time w:st="on" Hour="17" Minute="30">5:30pm</st1:time> GMT or later on Friday. That means, to me it felt like <st1:time w:st="on" Hour="12" Minute="30">12:30pm</st1:time>, except I&#8217;d been up for a LONG TIME. I had woken up at <st1:time w:st="on" Hour="8" Minute="00">8:00am</st1:time> EST on Thursday, worked a half day, went to the airport and took off around <st1:time w:st="on" Hour="18" Minute="00">6:00pm</st1:time> EST (of COURSE we didn&#8217;t take off on time, but bear with me). I tried to sleep on the plane (never fun as a 6&#8217;3&#8221; male), but didn&#8217;t have much success. It was a six-plus-hour flight, so we landed in <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Manchester</st1:City>, <st1:country-region w:st="on">England</st1:country-region></st1:place> around <st1:time w:st="on" Hour="0" Minute="00">midnight</st1:time> EST (that would be around <st1:time w:st="on" Hour="5" Minute="00">5:00am</st1:time> local time Greenwich Mean Time). From there, I had to deal with customs, luggage, taxi rides, motorcycle rental, repacking and re-dressing for riding, then riding. I didn&#8217;t get on the road until around <st1:time w:st="on" Hour="14" Minute="30">2:30pm</st1:time> GMT on Friday, which would be <st1:time w:st="on" Hour="9" Minute="30">9:30am</st1:time> EST on Friday &#8211; I&#8217;d been awake and going since <st1:time w:st="on" Hour="8" Minute="00">8:00am</st1:time> EST on Thursday &#8211; that&#8217;s almost 26 hours of rockin&#8217; and rollin&#8217; without any real sleep. If it was <st1:time w:st="on" Hour="17" Minute="30">5:30pm</st1:time> GMT or so as I started up the western <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:placeType w:st="on">shore</st1:placeType> of <st1:placeName w:st="on">Loch Lomond</st1:placeName></st1:place>, that means it felt like about <st1:time w:st="on" Hour="12" Minute="30">12:30pm</st1:time> EST on Friday &#8211; I&#8217;d been up since <st1:time w:st="on" Hour="8" Minute="00">8:00am</st1:time> EST on Thursday. That&#8217;s 28 and-a-half hours of more-or-less awake time. I didn&#8217;t actually pack it in that night and put my head down on a pillow until around <st1:time w:st="on" Hour="0" Minute="00">midnight</st1:time> GMT Saturday, which means it was <st1:time w:st="on" Hour="19" Minute="00">7:00pm</st1:time> EST Friday, meaning I&#8217;d been up and about, flying on planes, taking cabs, repacking my stuff, riding motorcycles through the Scottish countryside, touring castles and towns, and eating nothing since the airlines except for the weird pre-prepared sandwich and chips and my steadfast bag of Dulles Airport GORP, for 35 hours. That&#8217;s never good. Makes me feel like a badass, though.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    However, I still felt okay. I credit it to my nightowl tendencies, which actually go beyond nightowl-ness and can essentially be described as &#8220;don&#8217;t-want-to-go-to-sleep-yet&#8221; tendencies.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    So, I left Balloch and cruised up and up into the mountains on the wonderfully curvy Route 82. I pulled off into some sort of park area and carefully picked my way along dirt roads, but it didn&#8217;t yield any views, though it did challenge my off-road riding skills and made me wonder if there was a &#8220;no dirt roads&#8221; clause in my contract with Mel, like there was with the Harley renters in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">America</st1:place></st1:country-region>. Well, this was mud, not dirt, so I was clear. I was disappointed by these pull-offs &#8211; it felt like they were eating up my daylight for no payoff, and instead added to my stress &#8211; the riding on the dirt and gravel was very treacherous and took serious concentration. I used my training and shifted my body to the center of the bike, sat up straight in the saddle, and forewent all auspices of looking cool (I was the only person within miles of that God-forsaken part of the world, so I&#8217;m not sure who I was trying to impress).<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    The rain picked up and the sun headed down, both quickly. And then the winds came. These were PUMMELING winds that would move my bike sideways across the lane and push my head back so my neck would get sore. It went beyond blustery and became an additional form of gravity, but coming from the sides instead. I&#8217;m no stranger to night riding (cue the theme song), but add the devastating winds, wet roads, and intermittent rains, and it was a life-or-death challenge that I could sense beyond just an &#8220;adventurous ride&#8221; &#8211; every move needed to be the right move, or I would deal with damaged rental bike, personal injury, or croaking. Three options if I chose not to focus on my riding through these horrendous conditions in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region>. BUT I DID NOT CARE.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    After awhile, I could FEEL my hotel in Inveraray getting closer, so I started to push it. I was riding more or less &#8220;safely&#8221;, but I was riding fast. I was bombing through dusky canyons, towering fjords, gray lochs, and heavily wooded areas that seem like a dream to me now. There would have been no point photographing them to prove the shocking beauty of what I could barely see in this last 40-60 mile sprint to my hotel, because the photos wouldn&#8217;t have come out &#8211; it was dark and rainy &#8211; and I don&#8217;t think anyone would have believed it. I wished that I could have seen in the daytime what I was experiencing in the dusk. I couldn&#8217;t believe how dark it had become. I could see the stars over the lake I was descending toward, which further added to the disbelief of my existence there in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region>.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    At this point, I was starting to feel very solid about my biking skills, especially as I found myself flying down country roads with very fast BMW cars, Mercedes, or other autos on my tail. They were apparently driven by impatient folks who would ultimately pass me. I was definitely pushing my own speed safety threshold, but the dudes in the M3s had different ideas. I was passed on a number of occasions on that last stretch of curvy, forest road.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    I found myself coming down a coastal road alongside the wide and stark Loch Fyne, whose waters I could still see with its dark slate reflection of the dusk sky. The mountains to the east were a dark, looming frame to the wide waters. I was absolutely transfixed, until I snapped myself back to the reality that I needed to keep the two wheels on the road, between the lines, and on the left side. As I rolled into this watery region (until now, I had been on a long stretch through dark forests and had passed through the town of <st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Caringow</st1:place></st1:City>), the winds kicked up into an amazingly potent and blustery impact to my ability to keep that bike straight on the road. I felt the muscles in the back of my neck become sore and painful. My head and helmet had been straining against &#8211; and being pressed back by &#8211; the wind for hours now.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    Yes, the wind hurt my neck, but also my velocity. I was flying down those roads at the highest speeds safely attainable, generally around 60-70 mph until the curves through the woods occurred. Until then, I was regularly agape at the water next to me, the mountains looming over, and the dark, dark blue skies framing it all &#8211; I shook my helmeted head at how unbelievable the whole situation was. I didn&#8217;t know how I was going to explain the scenery &#8211; or the situation &#8211; to people. I&#8217;m unable to do it in words here in this journal.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    It was more than I&#8217;d ever experienced with my visual senses, at least in this type of adventure in this part of the world on this type of transport, but I had to add-in the visceral danger, physical challenge, and overwhelming sensory input that I was receiving (not to mention the fact that it was dark, which narrowed my visual senses down through the visor and safety glasses to a very narrow scope).<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    It&#8217;s shocking to think back, review a map, and admit it, but all of this emotion and reflection was happening in only a 60-70 mile section. It seemed like so much more of an epic journey. Yeah, it was night, it was an unknown, twisty road, and it was after a long flight from The States, a period of not eating, a section of confused directions to get away from Glasgow, and a time to get comfortable riding on the left side of the road, but I can&#8217;t recall a more consequential stretch of road in my life. I also thought about staying alive. It crossed my mind from time to time, especially if I accidentally crossed the center line.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    It was hard not to look at the mountains and <st1:place w:st="on">Loch</st1:place> as I flew ever closer to my dinner, drink, and bed. I saw twinkling lights along the water&#8230;I blasted through a tiny town or two, paying no attention to the 30-40 mph limits, but being shocked by the quaintness of it all, until I was engulfed in a forest road and had to then focus on the dark road. Were there stags that would leap? Haggis that would try to cross the road in front of me?

    <o:p></o:p>

    From out of the woods, I saw some lights ahead, and a sign that warned of a narrow bridge &#8211; &#8220;SLOW&#8221;. I slowed &#8211; I had a good feeling. I rounded a corner out of the forest and saw a well-lit little town at the other end of an old, arched, stone bridge. The town really sparkled in the pitch-blackness.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    [​IMG] This was the bridge (this photo was taken the morning after I arrived).<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    It was a pleasure to cross that bridge into Inveraray (http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/inveraray/inveraray/info.html) and realize that the Argyll Hotel Best Western was right there as I entered town, just as the book said it would be. I pulled into a primo spot in front, put on my badass motorcycle tourer stud persona, strained and audibly winced as I swung my right leg over the saddle, tugged my right gauntlet off, pulled my helmet strap loose, slipped the clear glasses off, heaved an audible sigh for the benefit of the fetching women waiting at the nearby bus stop and the Scottish chickies coming out of the hotel, and &#8211; the moment all onlookers wait for &#8211; lifted the helmet off my head. Oh yeah, they wanted to see what kind of stud was on the back of that badass sled. Or it was all in my imagination. It was a 133 mile day. Only 133 miles.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    I quickly moved around to the back of the BMW, opened the top box, and slapped my <st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Dickinson</st1:place></st1:City> hat on. I prepped the bike for parking, puffed myself up, and into the hotel to check in.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    It was good to be there. I found the hotel to be a bit rough around the edges, especially for a Best Western, but it would be fine, especially for a historical property. I checked in and had my first major financial negotiation with a Scot (not counting ol&#8217; Mel) &#8211; this time it was a nice looking 40-something blonde female. I then started the three-trip move-in. The saddlebags and top box were heavy and awkward and all couldn&#8217;t be carried in one go. The second-floor room was small and not what I was expecting &#8211; sort of a couple notches up from a hostel. I don&#8217;t know, the building was old, but it had a homey kitchen/bar and was in a great location, but, I can&#8217;t remember how much I paid for it. Hopefully not too much because, later that night, I paid the equivalent of $67 for a multicourse dinner and three drinks. The bed was a twin, like the mattresses from my youth. It was mashed up against the wall, just like the old days (well, again, since five years ago). In fact, it really looked like a dorm room. There was a small TV, which made me happy. The bathroom was huge &#8211; at least half the size of the bedroom &#8211; and there was a nice new shower that appeared to have normal controls, so I was in good shape.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    I took over the space and stripped off my layers, laying out my jeans and socks and polypropylene underwear to ensure they were dry for the next day&#8217;s ride. My three boxes opened up like clams all over the limited amount of floor space. I had wondered if water would get into them as I rode, especially as I examined the lack of rubber seals where the two halves came together, but saw no sign of moisture in my clothes. I never had a problem with water getting into my luggage. The explosion of clothes all over the room made it seem like I brought a ton of stuff, but I didn&#8217;t &#8211; there just wasn&#8217;t space for it. Those panniers got pretty nasty from all the road crud after a day of riding, so I would eventually start placing them on the white kitchen garbage bags I&#8217;d brought from home.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    [​IMG] The explosion of crap that belies how little stuff I had and how little space I had into which to cram it.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    I showered quickly and with no problem (believe me, operating showers in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region> can be a challenge, as I would soon find out), changed into my &#8220;nice pants&#8221; (wrinkly green slacks) and my fleece shirt, and flew down the stairs to the restaurant. Walking in regular shoes after a day of being in boots was strange &#8211; I almost stumbled down the steps. I was just plain psyched to be at my first dinner in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region>, especially after a long, hard day of flying and riding.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    I sat down at a two-person table by the wall in line with the bar, so I could see exactly what the bartender was doing. There were a few couples scattered throughout the small room. Through a door near the bar, I heard some upbeat music and exuberant young voices. The older-lady bartender said hello and gave me some silverware. I then realized that I would be sitting there staring directly into the bar and wouldn&#8217;t be able to see or hear the people in the dining area &#8211; and that was the point. So I shifted over to a larger table near the left side of the room. Behind me on a raised floor area was a Scottish couple talking quietly. In the corner on the other side of the room was another couple. I whipped out The Source (the gigantic James Michener novel I was reading) and dug in. I was starting to learn about the non-service-oriented service industry of <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region>. It took forever to catch the waitress/bartender&#8217;s eye and order my first Scotch in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region>. I was near Oban, so I asked: &#8220;Do you have O-bahhn?&#8221;<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    &#8220;Ah, &#332;-bin? Yes, we doo.&#8221; She replied.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    &#8220;Great, I&#8217;ll have one of those.&#8221; I said with an embarrassed smile.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    &#332;-bin! &#332;-bin! &#332;-bin!! I&#8217;ll get you <st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Dawson</st1:place></st1:City>! My friend Craig&#8217;s favorite whisky and he&#8217;s been mispronouncing it all these years! And here I am, probably 50 miles from its home and I screw it up too! No harm done. She brought it &#8211; or what was left of it! It looked like there was a bit of whisky residue in my glass &#8211; just a little brown swish of liquid at the bottom. Was this a Scottish pour? I knew it shouldn&#8217;t have any ice in it &#8211; only Americans put ice in their Scotch (after my trip, I rarely did again). I&#8217;d been in countries like <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Iceland</st1:place></st1:country-region> where they meticulously measure their pours with jiggers to ensure the exact amount of booze being dispensed, but this was RIDICULOUS! This amount fell in between a sip and a slurp. A sip of fine whisky in the land where it&#8217;s made is not enough, and a slurp is usually about the top level you want to imbibe if you want to enjoy your drink and the longevity of your evening! It was frustrating after such a buildup. Later, I learned that you could order a double, &#8220;but it will cost you twice as much&#8221; warned a local. &#8220;Naturally.&#8221; I intoned sarcastically. Do any Americans remember the days of &#8220;the double&#8221;? I had images of a guy in a trench coat and a fedora coming in out of the rain into a bar, hailing the bartender by his first name &#8211; &#8220;Lou&#8221;, &#8220;Frank&#8221;, &#8220;Jimmy&#8221;, or something like that &#8211; and ordering a whiskey. &#8220;It&#8217;s been a hell of a day, Jimmy. Better make it a double.&#8221; The doubles would come much later in the trip.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    But there was whisky &#8211; the &#8220;water of life&#8221; in Gaelic &#8211; and it was good. Really good. It tasted different&#8230;I ordered no ice or water because that&#8217;s generally not the way it&#8217;s drunk over there, and I was trying to do as the Scottish do. I ordered an appetizer of smoked salmon (famous in <st1:country-region w:st="on">Scotland</st1:country-region>, and definitely one of my favorite foods, especially from my week in <st1:State w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">British Columbia</st1:place></st1:State> back in 2004 with Karin) that was served with some sort of mini-shrimp stuff (&#8220;prawn mousse&#8221;?). It was okay, but the shrimp stuff was far too mayonnaise-y (or something). Oh well, it was my first night. My first dinner in <st1:country-region w:st="on">Scotland</st1:country-region>, the first dinner that felt &#8220;abroad&#8221; since 2002 in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Iceland</st1:place></st1:country-region>, therefore the first dinner I&#8217;d truly remember. For my entrée, I ordered the braised lamb shank &#8211; again, lamb being a regional specialty, I thought it wise. And yes, it was good, but the meat was almost TOO tender. Frankly, it was too rare. And the brown sauce it sat in was too salty and rich. But who the hell cared?! I was in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region>! I&#8217;d just ridden through the hardest and most striking conditions I&#8217;d ever seen on a bike. I was tired, stunned, and blissful. The food was hearty! I had a Syrah with the lamb, which went down like velvet, and then another whisky to top it off &#8211; a Famous Grouse, which, admittedly, is sort of the cheap stuff &#8211; they hang giant bottles of the cheaper whiskies upside down as &#8220;whisky taps&#8221; at many bars).<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    A little after <st1:time w:st="on" Hour="21" Minute="00">9:00pm</st1:time>, as I listened to the young Scots in the rowdier bar area and the adults behind me in the restaurant, I decided that I definitely wanted a Scottish accent. I would need to start using it with friends and family, and then move it into the workplace. It&#8217;s awesome, and no one hates it (except the British, maybe &#8211; the Irish might&#8230;I don&#8217;t know).<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    As I enjoyed a well-crafted dessert of chocolate mousse in chocolate cups (quite impressive, actually, for this little backwoods town), I listened into the group behind me. The couple had grown to two couples, one of which featured a guy who had a deep Scottish voice and maybe a cold. I also learned that the secret door led into some sort of streetside barroom. Earlier in the evening, a couple came into the restaurant, tried the seating in that room, and quickly came back to the quieter dining room. I definitely heard young voices in that room and was debating whether or not I should get a nightcap in there and get into the local culture. Frankly, I was leaning toward heading back up to my room.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    I wrapped up the dinner and asked for my check. When it came, there was no &#8220;tip&#8221; line. I asked the waitress/bartender where I was to add my tip. She was confused and played along. &#8220;Yes, I don&#8217;t know where. Hmm, perhaps&#8230;no, I don&#8217;t know.&#8221; And she walked away. I read in my guidebook that you don&#8217;t tip at the bar, but I thought you&#8217;d tip at the restaurant. So, I left a couple Pounds on the table. I went back up to my room.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    Back in the crib, my first home in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region>, I threw myself down on the bed, happily. It was about <st1:time w:st="on" Hour="22" Minute="00">10pm</st1:time>. The rain had picked up outside, so I bagged my plan to go outside with a cigar (brought from home) and my flask (six ounces of Bourbon) and instead settled into the bed and turned on the TV. Not long after I&#8217;d started watching, around <st1:time w:st="on" Hour="22" Minute="15">10:15pm</st1:time>, there came a strange rumbling, scratching, static sound through the wall. At first, I really thought it was muffled rock music from a next room, but no, it was heavy snoring coming from my neighbor, emanating from the wall at the foot end of my bed. Not good. I think it was one of the adults sitting behind me at the restaurant, probably the one with the cold. While down there earlier, I recalled that one of them had used the word &#8220;shyte&#8221; in part of their discussion. That almost made my trip &#8211; a real Scotsman saying &#8220;shyte&#8221;! I think the &#8220;shyte man&#8221; was lying next door to me, snoring like a freight train.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    This was going to be an earplug night. It was pouring rain outside. I hoped it would rain itself out by morning. As I watched TV, I also pulled out my map and guidebook to plan my day. This became a nightly routine: I review the region ahead, identify the sights that I definitely wanted to hit, finalize the actual roads I&#8217;d take, and write the itinerary on the back of the MapQuest printouts I&#8217;d brought from home. Those sheets would go into a large Ziploc bag which I would fold up and stick in my rain jacket pocket for quick roadside access. I also tried to memorize the image of the map section that I&#8217;d be riding in order to be able to visualize the curves, distances, landmarks, and turns. It was a decent system, at least out in the simple countryside with predictable roads. So, for tomorrow, I decided to take a detour to pass through the seaside town of <st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Oban</st1:place></st1:City>. Not only was it the home of my friend Craig&#8217;s favorite whisky, but the guidebook said it was a lovely place.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    It was about then that I realized that I&#8217;d screwed up my travel planning with one significant mistake. As I reviewed my documents, I noticed that my plane back to The States would be taking off around <st1:time w:st="on" Hour="10" Minute="00">10:00am</st1:time> on Thursday, but ol&#8217; Mel wouldn&#8217;t open up his shop until <st1:time w:st="on" Hour="9" Minute="00">9:00am</st1:time> that morning! Unless he came in at <st1:time w:st="on" Hour="8" Minute="00">8:00am</st1:time> or earlier, there would be no way for me to get from my hotel in <st1:City w:st="on">Edinburgh</st1:City> to Mel&#8217;s in <st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Glasgow</st1:place></st1:City>, and then in a cab to the airport. I really smacked my head when I realized this. I was so intent on having two nights in <st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Edinburgh</st1:place></st1:City> that I just didn&#8217;t put it all together for that last day. Costly. So, I would have to call Mel and let him know that I&#8217;d be bringing the bike back on Wednesday night instead of Thursday, and would need to find a hotel in <st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Glasgow</st1:place></st1:City>. Procrastinate, Neil. Do it when you&#8217;re in Speyside. So I did.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    After what seemed like many hours, I woke up and became very worried that it was time to get up and go. I couldn&#8217;t see what time it was, but I definitely noticed a break from the snoring (for about five minutes, anyway). I finally found a clock and saw that it was only <st1:time w:st="on" Hour="3" Minute="00">3:00am</st1:time>. I had somehow turned my MP3 player off earlier &#8211; either that or it shut itself off. I can&#8217;t remember if I put ear plugs in at that point (which I had originally brought to drown out the roar of airliner and motorcycle engines &#8211; turns out, the motorcycle was quieter than the guy in the next room) and tried to get back to sleep. It was difficult. I heard rain on the window and cursed the Scottish weather, praying that the ride later that morning would be dry.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    The snoring restarted with a vengeance, and my mind began a cycle of thinking it was much earlier in the night than it actually was. On and on, I went in and out of sleep, random thoughts flooding my brain&#8230;but I don&#8217;t remember what they were now. I had the feeling of hotel sheets on my back &#8211; that dry, stiff, bleachy-clean feeling that tells you you&#8217;re not at home. And the sound of the rain on the window &#8211; not heavy, but a periodic and noticeable rapping on the panes, like a subtle, incessant reminder of something. Something like obligation, mission, or even a bit of dread.<o:p></o:p>
    #8
  9. cyberdos

    cyberdos Easy Bonus Loop

    Joined:
    Sep 2, 2005
    Oddometer:
    31,826
    Location:
    Queen Creek, AZ
    One hellova newbie ride!
    #9
  10. TwilightZone

    TwilightZone Long timer

    Joined:
    Dec 2, 2008
    Oddometer:
    4,049
    Location:
    Behind the Redwood Curtain
    Anyone else seeing this as white text (mostly) on white ????
    #10
  11. TeamReader

    TeamReader Lee

    Joined:
    Mar 15, 2009
    Oddometer:
    76
    Location:
    OC, SoCal
    I enjoyed your report, wish you had more time/opportunity to take pictures. Will you be posting more of the trip?
    #11
  12. BadWHooper

    BadWHooper Quick, rather than Dead.

    Joined:
    Feb 29, 2008
    Oddometer:
    224
    Location:
    Silver Spring, MD
    Thanks man...it is a bit wordy, isn't it - I'm trying to edit it down. I wish there was time for more photography. Especially later when the weather turned bad. I took about 150 shots on the trip (pre-digital), so there will be plenty more.

    TwilightZone...there's a dropdown at the very bottom of the ADV website screens, in the same box as "Yo", "Donate", "Wisdom", etc. Your dropdown may be set to "Waxy". If you try another setting, such as "fish", I think you'll see the text. The website's background will become grey. Hope that works.

    More on the way...
    #12
  13. Kamchat

    Kamchat Long timer

    Joined:
    Jan 9, 2010
    Oddometer:
    3,437
    Location:
    Glasgow


    Hi there .... That's - 'Tigh Mor Trossachs' ..self catering holiday apartments on the banks of Loch Achray on the A821 road to the Dukes Pass ..a favourite riding route for us.

    Snap - same photo location! Lol!
    [​IMG]
    http://www.hpb-trossachs.co.uk/
    #13
  14. BadWHooper

    BadWHooper Quick, rather than Dead.

    Joined:
    Feb 29, 2008
    Oddometer:
    224
    Location:
    Silver Spring, MD
    Holy crap...this is why I love ADV!

    And uh oh...real Scots are reading this...I better do some more editing!:rofl
    #14
  15. BadWHooper

    BadWHooper Quick, rather than Dead.

    Joined:
    Feb 29, 2008
    Oddometer:
    224
    Location:
    Silver Spring, MD
    &#8220;I turn my back to the wind<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:eek:ffice" /><o:p></o:p>
    To catch my breath, before I start off again<o:p></o:p>
    Driven on, without a moment to spend<o:p></o:p>
    To pass an evening with a drink and a friend<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    I let my skin get too thin<o:p></o:p>
    I&#8217;d like to pause, no matter what I pretend<o:p></o:p>
    Like some pilgrim, who learns to transcend<o:p></o:p>
    Learns to live as if each step was the end&#8221;<o:p></o:p>
    -Neil Peart

    I woke up again for real at <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:smarttags" /><st1:time w:st="on" Hour="6" Minute="00">6:00am</st1:time>, which wasn&#8217;t ideal, but it told me that the jet lag wasn&#8217;t affecting me too much. I dozed a bit for another hour or so before getting up when the alarm went off, around <st1:time w:st="on" Hour="7" Minute="00">7am</st1:time>. I groaned and heaved myself sideways out of bed in a 101<SUP>st</SUP> Airborne-style roll that I have perfected over the years of getting up to go to work just about every morning since I was 23. Though I wasn&#8217;t happy to be woken up at what was probably <st1:time w:st="on" Hour="8" Minute="00">8:00am</st1:time> or so (or <st1:time w:st="on" Hour="3" Minute="00">3:00am</st1:time> in my brain), I remembered where I was and felt a growing excitement about being in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region> and what I would be doing that day. Though it looked a bit gloomy outside my little window, I felt the urge and the anxiousness to get on that bike and hit the road again. I hate to use a cliché, but the road really was calling me.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    I gargled with the last of my Diet Coke and threw on my jeans and fleece shirt. I packed as much of my clothing as I could into the panniers and sauntered downstairs, leaving a &#8220;do not disturb&#8221; sign on the door knob. It was time for my first, famed, Scottish breakfast. At the entry area of the dining room where the buffet items were arrayed, I didn&#8217;t see any host, so just walked right in, grabbed a plate, and started digging in.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    I had read about the Scottish Breakfast, and kind of knew what to expect. There was some sort of ham, some sort of undercooked bacon (just the way I like it), some mushy white sausage, some sort of baked beans, some sort of hash brown, some sort of triangular, black, rather tasty material (for awhile, I thought it was either some sort of sausage or the turnip dish known as neeps, but soon learned it was the notoriously-named black pudding), and highly recognizable fried eggs, over-well. There was also some sort of fried flat bread that resembled thin pita wedges. The eggs weren&#8217;t ready, so said the dining room manager, a man who turned out to be the only person of African descent that I saw in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region> during the entire week. As an American, that&#8217;s just different. So, no eggs that morning. I did have some yogurt and a couple slices of toast that came served in a funky little tin rack that holds them upright, like the sacrifices in &#8220;Indiana Jones and the <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:placeType w:st="on">Temple</st1:placeType> of <st1:placeName w:st="on">Doom</st1:placeName></st1:place>&#8221;.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    I sat down at a table in the pleasant dining room, and was quickly asked if I wanted coffee or tea. As some of my friends know, coffee is not my friend in the morning since I burned off my stomach&#8217;s protective lining in college. I like coffee in the afternoon and evening, but in the morning it&#8217;s a hot recipe for gastric disaster. So, since he didn&#8217;t offer Diet Coke, I asked for tea. My mom had certainly set the example for me with her all-day tea habit, but tempering it with 50% skim milk, and leaving it sitting around the house all day until she found it again and reheated it with the old teabag from the day before. Dad was a little harder-core with his coffee drinking. He&#8217;d brew a big pot in the morning and pour it all into an insulated pitcher, which would sit in the kitchen for six to eight hours &#8211; or until it was gone (which it almost always was, unless it was transferred to the cup holder in his car), and then another pot would be brewed and archived for the rest of the day.

    <o:p></o:p>

    There was another couple in the room who arrived just after I did. The chick was wearing a &#8220;Duquesne&#8221; sweatshirt, and the guy looked VERY American (sort of tubby, football fan-ish, and dressed like probably dresses every morning in <st1:City w:st="on">Pittsburgh</st1:City> (a yinser, for sure &#8211; I came across this funny definition of a &#8220;yinser&#8221; on the blog http://2gd4nb.blogspot.com: &#8220;kinda like a redneck but <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Pittsburgh</st1:City></st1:place> style. A yinser is any person who was born and raised in the Burgh, has family that use to work in the steel mills, has Steelers everything, smokes a pack of ciggies a day, drinks Iron City beer only and has either a mullet and/or 80s waterfall bangs&#8221;), so I pegged them early. I had seen them the night before in the restaurant, I think. There were definitely Americans traveling in <st1:country-region w:st="on">Scotland</st1:country-region>, but most of the tourists I encountered were Scots from another part of <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region>, and that could mean 500 miles away or five miles away. Scots have a great reputation for getting out into their country&#8217;s nature and walking around in it, especially the mountains and peaks. There&#8217;s even a name for the more adventurous part of it: &#8220;Munro Bagging&#8221;, which means climbing a Scottish peak of 3,000 feet or more. The process is named after Sir High Munro (1856-1919), who was the first to assemble a listing of the mountains. At last tally, there were 284 &#8220;Munros&#8221; (lower peaks have their own designations too, like Corbetts, Grahams, and Donalds). 3,000-foot peaks seem easy prey for anyone with a day off, decent health, and a good pair of boots, and often you&#8217;d be right, but the unpredictable and seemingly illogical weather of <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region> can be extremely dangerous: wind, fog, cold, rain, and snow can sneak up on anyone during any season. Anyway, many Scots make it their life goal to &#8220;bag&#8221; as many &#8220;Munros&#8221; as they can. Not bad. Imagine if a nationalized hiking culture like that grew up in the States, especially in the areas around the Appalachians, <st1:place w:st="on">Rockies</st1:place>, etc.?<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    Back in my room, I suited up with long underwear (bottoms and tops), polypropylene sock liners (ca. 1989), long socks, jeans, a long-sleeve t-shirt, boots, and the leather jacket. I packed all the rest of my stuff &#8211; camera, book, bathroom kit, flask, MP3 player, travel guide, map, etc. &#8211; into the boxes and sealed them up. Traveling on a bike, like backpack touring, forces you to pack light, only bringing the essentials, particularly the ones that you can easily reuse, or things that are directly related to your well-being. You have to think strategically and frugally. You have to be able to project your life out eight days and make the decision if you&#8217;re really going to use a particular thing, because if you don&#8217;t, you&#8217;ll hate yourself for bringing it later. It could have been space for a souvenir, or another bottle of Scotch, or another pound less to lug up hotel stairs. Yeah, I was staying in nice hotels every night, but I was also wearing the same clothes every night.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    I took one awkward load of BMW panniers down the stairs, through the old, wooden double doors, and into the crisp, moist, cold, post-rain Scottish air. It was really nice air, actually &#8211; visceral&#8230;you could FEEL it as you breathed it, but not in that August-in-Cincinnati humidity way. It wasn&#8217;t sunny, but it wasn&#8217;t threatening either. I walked over to my bike at the end of the parking row in front of the hotel, re-admiring my parking luck, and attached the boxes to the sides of the bike. The roads were damp, but drier than I thought after such a heavy rain the night before. I then walked across the street to take a picture of the monument to the solders from the area who died in the Great War (WWI). There weren&#8217;t many, but there are always enough, and always too many, aren&#8217;t there? These were all sights I was only able to see now, since the night before I had arrived in the pitch dark. Wispy clouds clung to the tops of the mountains around me. I noticed that the trees were starting to change for Autumn. The town was very quiet.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    These were shot just in front of the hotel at the entrance to town. Notice that the tide is out. The hotel is the largest building in the photo. The archway between the hotel and the building to its right (Inveraray Woolen Mill) is the road out of town to the north, which I would eventually take after touring <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:placeName w:st="on">Inveraray</st1:placeName> <st1:placeType w:st="on">Castle</st1:placeType></st1:place>.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    I walked over lochside (Loch Fyne, and a fine loch it was) to get a photo of a couple boats at the pier &#8211; part of the Inveraray Maritime Museum (http://www.inveraraypier.com/index.html) &#8211; high and dry in the low tide. One of them, a three-masted schooner, was the Arctic Penguin, one of the last iron sailing ships in the world. Built in 1911, it was a working vessel (a &#8220;lightship&#8221;) until 1966, when it became a training ship named &#8220;Hallowe&#8217;en&#8221; (yeah, I&#8217;ll learn to sail on that). In 1982, it spent six years as a cruise boat, and was eventually installed as part of the museum in 1995. The cute little cargo ship &#8211; a &#8220;Clyde Puffer&#8221; &#8211; astern of the Penguin, named the Eilean Eisdeal. It was built in 1944 as a &#8220;VIC 72&#8221; (&#8220;Victualing Inshore Craft&#8221;) merchant ship, originally called Eldesa and toted cargo all around western <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region> until 2001 when it became part of the museum and began its renovation. In 2006, after I was there, it was renamed the Vital Spark (I thought it was bad luck to rename a boat). VICs like this were designed specifically to be able to fit into local canals.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>

    <o:p>[​IMG] </o:p>
    The mountains across Loch Fyne were also picturesque and worthy of shots &#8211; the clouds were low. I strolled up the waterside toward the pier, examining the rocks, moss, and other life forms exposed by the tidal loch, then turned back through the wet grass to the hotel for my last luggage. I scanned my room for any left items, grabbed the Givi topbox, pulled the &#8220;do not disturb&#8221; sign off the outside doorknob, and headed back downstairs. My big-booted feet nearly tripped every time I went up and down those narrow old steps. I checked out of the Argyll with no problem, thanked the woman, and walked outside to be greeted by glorious sunlight and blue skies. Three minutes before, it was gloomy and grey!<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    Sunlight and blue skies! I couldn&#8217;t believe it! I clicked the top box into place and stowed my rain gear. I also realized that all my previous photos of the area were completely worthless compared to the same things shot in beautiful sunlight. My heart started jumping&#8230;this was exactly what I was hoping for when I planned the trip. I walked the same walk over to the lochside and took duplicate photos of the area &#8211; much more attractive photos (but with bad backlighting). I got a great shot of the bridge I entered the town on the night before, with a mysterious tower on the top of the bluff that loomed over the road. What was it? Whatever it was, it symbolized the wonder and age of <st1:place w:st="on">Europe</st1:place>, and the reason that so many people want to go there.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    <o:p>[​IMG]</o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    It was only about ten minutes since my last photos, and the tide was clearly moving in fast. And with the sun filling the sky, I became naturally resplendent and superpowerful in my jeans and black leather jacket &#8211; the iconic riding uniform. High above the Inveraray bridge loomed a large hill with a mysterious tower atop it. My tour book called it a &#8220;folly&#8221;, which seemed to be a common term for a hilltop structure (see Oban). I wish I had the time and directions to get up to it &#8211; what kid can resist a hilltop castle?<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    [​IMG]
    I was about to jump on the BMW and head up the street to <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:placeName w:st="on">Inveraray</st1:placeName> <st1:placeType w:st="on">Castle</st1:placeType></st1:place>. This photo was taken by my &#8220;on-board&#8221; camera, a small disposable camera with a flash.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    I saddled up with an audience of more tourists streaming out of the hotel and into their rental cars, with more heads turning to see the tall man putting on his silver helmet, slipping on his blue-tinted sunglasses, pulling on his black gauntlets, and throwing his long leg over the saddle of a rather dramatic, aggressive, luggage-laden, and solitary BMW motorcycle. When my girlfriend-at-the-time, Karin, had dropped me off at the bike shop in July 2004, to drive home the bike that I&#8217;d bought the day before, she was visibly impressed and maybe a bit nervous for me. I revved the engine for her. &#8220;It&#8217;s loud!&#8221; She said over the popping and rumbling pipes.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    &#8220;Yeah!&#8221; I grinned mischievously. She actually seemed impressed, which made me think hard about our past. I could see it in her eyes &#8211; she was, at some level, impressed by something I had done. I thought she might be impressed by my trip to <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region>. We&#8217;d see, when I got together with her next to tell her all about it. I couldn&#8217;t wait &#8211; it was like a flood waiting to break the dam.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    I was ecstatic &#8211; no rain, plenty of sun, dry roads. I thought the whole trip might be like this. I felt limber, manly, alive. I pulled out of the hotel parking lot, twisted that throttle, and blasted toward the bridge that brought me into town and served as a pleasant backdrop to my morning photos. I took a quick left turn onto the grounds of <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:placeName w:st="on">Inveraray</st1:placeName> <st1:placeType w:st="on">Castle</st1:placeType></st1:place>. Cruising down a long driveway and passing a number of tourists on foot, I finally arrived at the beautiful Schloss. The parking lot was a layer of deep gravel, the arch enemy of bikers. You have to sit up straight in the saddle, shuffle your steering to adjust for the shifting rocks, jump between first and second gear in order to keep the back tire from launching you out of control and onto your side [&#8220;I MUST NOT CRASH THIS BIKE OVER HERE. I MUST NOT CRASH THIS BIKE OVER HERE.&#8221; I immediately followed my safety class training and straightened up in my seat, centered the gravity, and steered much more conservatively. I parked the bike near the castle just as a truly deliberate rain started to fall. The sun was shining, and the rain was falling. It was the cruelest irony that could have been played upon me that morning. You can see it in the photo: blue skies and heavy raindrops. I was so angry&#8230;livid!<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    After quickly parking by a black chain-link fence in the parking lot, I jumped off the bike and got into the top box to find my rain gear. That&#8217;s when I noticed the full-arc rainbow behind me, framing the western <st1:place w:st="on">Highland</st1:place> mountains. It was shocking, and I immediately scrambled to get my camera. I was running around that gravel parking lot like an idiot, my boots flinging rocks like a 4x4, searching for the ultimate snapshot (ideally featuring the bike). The walkers who had just arrived to the lot saw me scurrying around like a squirrel and must have wondered what was wrong with me. What was wrong with them? A rainbow is a photographer&#8217;s DREAM!I had the fear that it &#8211; this perfect rainbow, a rainbow in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region> &#8211; would disappear, so I did run around like there was a nuclear drill going on. I must have looked like a fool, until the other people realized that I was shooting a full rainbow&#8230;that&#8217;s when THEY started freaking out and snapping photos. Yeah, I took one that made it look like the end of the rainbow ended at my rental BMW. Pot of gold and all. Cheesy.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    [​IMG]
    Damn gravel. The original castle site is just to the right of the photo. I was blessed with great luck, despite the rain.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    The castle (www.inveraray-castle.com) was a classic &#8211; four towers, one on each corner. It dates from the mid-1800s and is still occupied by the family of the Duke of Argyll (paging a Mr. Roy? Rob Roy? A Mr. Rob Roy?). However, the site of the original castle is carefully marked north of the parking lot, on a green sloping lawn, with stones and signs &#8211; it dates from hundreds of years prior to the existing structure.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    Yes, that&#8217;s my bike next to that old Volvo and late model Ford, and YES that&#8217;s rain coming down. And, of course, that&#8217;s me with the arm-stretch photo, proving I was there in the rain, bitchin&#8217; shades and bad hair and all. If you don&#8217;t believe that it was raining, check out my jacket sleeve.
    #15
  16. BadWHooper

    BadWHooper Quick, rather than Dead.

    Joined:
    Feb 29, 2008
    Oddometer:
    224
    Location:
    Silver Spring, MD
    sounded like it would have been very good to visit, with plenty of armor and weapons to see, given by the <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:smarttags" /><st1:place w:st="on"><st1:placeType w:st="on">Tower</st1:placeType> of <st1:placeName w:st="on">London</st1:placeName></st1:place> to put down Scottish uprisings. When I come back to Scotland, I might even follow the same route, but I will be stopping to tour many of the sights that I only drove up to or drove past on this trip. The scenery from this, my first “still-in-operation” castle of my Scottish experience (and, frankly my world travel experience), was simply exhilarating, even as I humiliatingly pulled on my rain pants like they were tight hosiery and I was a chick being chastised to be more modest by a boss in an office work setting. Well, maybe not, but whenever you’re in public and “putting on your pants”, you feel a little bit weird, and there were definitely onlookers. It was <st1:time w:st="on" Hour="10" Minute="15">10:15am</st1:time>.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:eek:ffice" /><o:p></o:p>
    <o:p>[​IMG]</o:p>
    I purposely shot the bike at the end of the rainbow. You can’t tell, but it’s raining. Damn gravel! The Givi top box is open, exposed to the rain. Just to the right, you can see the markers of the original castle. My next visit, I will go to the top of that hill and see that tower (or “folly”).<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    I walked to the edge of the parking lot, looked right, and saw the “private” parking area beyond a black chain barrier. There were a handful of simple and unostentatious cars in that lot, and one Jaguar sedan. Yeah, they were probably employees, tour guides, and gift shop employees, but I couldn’t help imagining that the descendants of the Duke of Argyll had a bed, bathroom, living room, and home theatre somewhere in that amazing old structure, and were parking some sort of car in that part of the lot.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    So, it was time to roll out. I was being rained on, but the sun was also shining on me. I carefully maneuvered through the gravel to the narrow driveway that led to the main road, dodged some more tourists-on-foot, and rolled back through the town of <st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Inveraray</st1:place></st1:City> so I could see where the historic jail was and some of the rest of the lochside buildings. I knew I needed petrol for the first time on the trip, but the stations on the south side of town looked deserted. I had come through the tourist center (one block) and under an arch to the “outskirts” of Inveraray. I felt like I was late, like I needed to get back on the road to my next destination, Plockton.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    [​IMG]
    A view of the other edge of town. <o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    I took a quick picture on the edge of town, rolled through the classic town center, around an interesting central building, and the back through the archway next to my hotel. Yes, an archway. I do not know why there were archways that connected the hotel and other buildings, especially the one overarching the road to Plockton (A819). Right there was a BP. I needed petrol, so I pulled up to the gas station and realized there was no “pay at the pump” (anywhere in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region>!).<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    I pulled up to the pump and unlocked the center-mounted fuel nozzle. The drag about center-mounted fuel nozzles is that you can’t fully fill your tank while the bike is on its side stand – the bike is leaned over to one side. That’s why so many bikes – American and Japanese – have their true fuel holes on the right side.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    I unlocked and opened the nozzle, but wasn’t sure if I’d need to “pay before I pumped”. Apparently not – the trust level is a bit higher in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region> than it is in The States. I gestured to the old man in the huge picture window that overlooked the filling area, and he gestured back – go ahead. I filled the tank carefully – this was my first fill – always thinking that I needed to protect my eyes lest they be splashed with petrol like Ewan McGregor’s were (on TWO occasions) during his around-the-world bike trip. A car with a young couple pulled up to the pump behind me. I puffed myself up a bit and attempted to make the act of filling my gas tank one of the studliest activities a man could perform. With a flourish (but gingerly), I topped off the five-gallon tank.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    I walked into the gas station shop and looked around at the strangely-named bags of chips (some of which were reflected ungodly flavors – “Turkey and Cranberry?”) and other snacks, but then thought of the horrendous breakfast I’d just endured, and eventually just grabbed a Diet Coke that would serve me the rest of the day. I was doing pretty well without regular caffeine and familiar tastes.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    Back at the BMW, I examined my second-day ride itinerary. I noticed the car behind me again – the woman was still in the passenger seat, watching me. My delusional badass world-biker persona came out again, and I put on a little show for her – pulling on the helmet, strapping it down, slipping on the shades, tugging on the gauntlets, dramatically swinging a leg over, starting the bike up, looking both ways (making sure that none of the elderly tourists filing into the Inveraray Wool Shop across the street would endanger me), and roared off up the curvy road and into the deep and unknown Highlands.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    It was bliss again. It was sunny, the roads were dry, I had a full tank, I had some Diet Coke in my stomach and the rest in my luggage, it was a new morning – only my second morning in a new country – and I was on my way to Plockton. It looked like it would be a piece of cake. Yeah, and then the weather changed.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    From Inveraray, I rolled uphill on the A819 to Cladich and north. Then the rain materialized. This was to be the rain that would dog me my whole trip, with just a couple breaks here and there. It ruined the crisp blue skies that I’d seen earlier in the day, but it didn’t diminish the drama of the scenery around me. It created a mist that hid distant mountains in my photos, allowing nearby hills to be the framed image. The sky was always going to be gray, but there would definitely be incredible scenery to make it explode in my eyes and camera. I had to deal with a running internal argument with myself about whether or not to pull over to take a photo. I wanted to pull over every five minutes, but the rain and clock made me realize that I needed to choose those special shots wisely and get to my next destination at a reasonable hour.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    I was following the <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:placeType w:st="on">shore</st1:placeType> of <st1:placeName w:st="on">Loch Awe</st1:placeName></st1:place>, an aptly named lake that featured a great road through the woods along the water. The roads in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region> have this amazing way of taking you around a corner and suddenly unveiling a grand vista of lochs and mountains that you couldn’t see or expect just a second before due to a thick forest or the way the road winds around the hills. It sounds like a tourism ad, but in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region>, surprise was around every corner.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    I rounded the northern tip of Loch Awe and cruised through fields of brown grass, dotted with puffs of white that were sheep. The mountains intensified and started to pile up on each other. Through the rain and mist, the various distances of mountains created different layers of grey. Friends who look at my pictures of this area say it looks like the African Serengeti, based on the shrubby trees in the foreground. Believe me, it did NOT remind me of <st1:place w:st="on">Africa</st1:place> while was ascending the hill from this view. I came around the top of the lake; the road eased past <st1:placeName w:st="on">Kilchurn</st1:placeName> <st1:placeType w:st="on">Castle</st1:placeType> and surged up a hill and over a small range of mountains, then down into another valley toward the city of <st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Oban</st1:place></st1:City>.

    <o:p>Kilchurn <st1:placeType w:st="on">Castle</st1:placeType> (www.kilchurncastle.com), which I did not stop for (hell, I never even saw a sign for it), was started by the ubiquitous <st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Campbell</st1:place></st1:City> clan in 1420 (so late!). Of course, near the end of the 1600s, the McGregors were occupying many of the castles in the area, and Kilchurn was no exception. Eventually, it was used as a garrison for “government” troops (that means non-Scottish, i.e. British-crown-loyal) through the early 1700s, struck by lightening (ironically? Some people say it might have been a McGregor who was bitter about losing the place) in 1769, and fell into its current state of disrepair. Honestly, I would have stopped, but I never saw a sign for it on my ride. Plus, the castle is on an island in Loch Awe, which may have helped to have staved off the pilfering of its stones, though some say that a few local homes’ exteriors bear a strange resemblance to the medieval castle. Apparently, it’s open to visitors during the summer, so I guess I’ll have to come back during a more civilized part of the year.<o:p></o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    <o:p>[​IMG]</o:p>
    The rain came down hard on me at that point of the ride, which, surprisingly, empowered me to get through it. Rounding a strange western-reaching arm of Loch Awe (most of the large Scottish Lochs stay narrow and worm-shaped), the rain tapered off and the skies partially cleared. Route 85 followed this odd <st1:place w:st="on">Loch</st1:place> extension, which narrowed into a body about 50 feet across. One bank was the road, the other was a shockingly steep, gorse-covered, hardscrabble cliff-edge of a table mountain, probably 300 feet high – I later came to believe that this was Ben Cruachan. I was blown away (awed, perhaps) by the expanse, the way the road hugged the narrow loch, and the way the loch hugged the rugged cliff. As I took advantage of the light skies and picked up the pace, I spied a narrow finger of water spilling from the top of the cliffs.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p>[​IMG]</o:p>
    <o:p>[​IMG]</o:p>
    <o:p>[​IMG]</o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>

    The main falls tumbled 30-some feet to a ledge, then again for another 20 before it made its way into the loch.
    #16
  17. BadWHooper

    BadWHooper Quick, rather than Dead.

    Joined:
    Feb 29, 2008
    Oddometer:
    224
    Location:
    Silver Spring, MD
    The road took me through some amazing countryside and west toward the sea. I soon passed Cruachan Power Station, a modest dam that blocks the progress of some creek into Loch Awe. The sun was out at this point &#8211; though the road was damp. I was absolutely stoked. I could almost feel the warmth working its way through my layers. I saw a sign for some historic bridge (not on my map), but felt I didn&#8217;t have time to stop. A couple minutes later, I saw the bridge off to my left. It was almost as good as seeing a castle off in the woods &#8211; it was a severely arched stone bridge making most of its way over a creek by itself, as it had since the 1600s. I enjoyed catching a good look at the old structure as I rode by &#8211; the way the historic sights were &#8220;arrayed&#8221; in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:smarttags" /><st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region> made me think that they were planned for the tourists (or were the roads arrayed for the historic sights?).<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:eek:ffice" /><o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    After leaving Loch Awe to my south, I passed Loch Etive on my right (north), rolled past little towns, and finally came to the intersection of 85 and 828. Already on 85, I rolled underneath 828, which, at that point, was a narrow but architecturally interesting bridge over the mouth of Loch Etive. I didn&#8217;t realize at that point that I&#8217;d actually take that bridge later in the afternoon &#8211; one of those really cool experiences on a bike. Riding across a bridge on a motorcycle is always pretty thrilling (try the <st1:placeType w:st="on">Bay</st1:placeType> <st1:placeType w:st="on">Bridge</st1:placeType> in <st1:State w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Maryland</st1:place></st1:State> in a rain storm!).<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    Soon, after passing that big bridge at the cute town of <st1:City w:st="on">Connel</st1:City> (my stomach was wondering if I&#8217;d be able to find a place for lunch), I&#8217;d started to skirt <st1:place w:st="on">Loch Linnhe</st1:place> and turned south on 85. I saw a couple signs for <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:placeName w:st="on">Dunstaffnage</st1:placeName> <st1:placeType w:st="on">Castle</st1:placeType></st1:place>. That&#8217;s really all it takes for me &#8211; I&#8217;d never heard of it, but I was instantly intent on seeing it. It was a CASTLE for God&#8217;s sake! I followed the signs through the modest town of <st1:City w:st="on">Dunbeg</st1:City>, past a strangely modern marine research lab complex, and into a small parking lot next to a small bay on <st1:place w:st="on">Loch Linnhe</st1:place>. Loch Linnhe connects right to the Atlantic Ocean via the <st1:place w:st="on">Firth of Lorne</st1:place>, and you could tell it was close to the ocean. Dark, heavy clouds were lumbering eastward like they&#8217;d been traveling for quite awhile, maybe from <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Canada</st1:place></st1:country-region>. The rain was fairly steady at this point, but I was excited to be checking out a <st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">new castle</st1:place></st1:City>. I pulled up next to a parked car with a couple of women inside, apparently waiting out the rain.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    Whenever I got off the bike after riding in the rain, there was always a little bit of strange, bubbly froth that would remain on the seat. It was slightly embarrassing, generated by the friction between the saddle and my rain pants. There at the castle parking lot, I wasn&#8217;t afraid of the rain, though I did find it annoying to find a way to keep the rain out of my helmet when I wasn&#8217;t wearing it. I didn&#8217;t want to set it on the ground underneath the bike for fear of water running down past the visor (though, after riding for a week in varying weights of rain, not a drop ever ran into the helmet through the visor seal &#8211; I was using a basic HJC CL-15), and because it would get wet from just sitting on the ground. I was nervous hooking it to the helmet lock on the side of the bike because it would be sitting sideways, further opening it to the wet. But I took the chance and set it up like that. The other drag is not having a hood or rain hat on my jacket, but I battened down the hatches, Velcroed up, tugged the rain pant cuffs back over my boots, and hiked briskly up the path to the castle.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    <o:p>[​IMG] </o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:placeName w:st="on">Dunstaffnage</st1:placeName><st1:placeType w:st="on">Castle</st1:placeType></st1:place> (http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/oban/dunstaffnage/index.html) is a sinister, brooding structure. I know, that&#8217;s a castle cliché, but with the heavy skies, heavy rain, and the fact that the castle was built on top of a big black rock in the middle of a green field, it really fit that description. I was in a hurry &#8211; the rain was cold, and I was just around the bend from Oban, so I felt like I could really stop, get some lunch, see a Scottish town, and get ready to roll on to my second night. The castle had an office and gift shop next to it, but again, I had no time to see the interior of the castle. There&#8217;s no way to do everything. There&#8217;s no way to ride 140 miles a day and see every castle, have lunch, and dabble in every cute town and gift shop (unless you get up early, and I&#8217;m just not good at that). I hurried over to the other side of the castle for a shot of the entrance (it was difficult to take these shots without getting raindrops on the camera lens or letting the camera itself get soaked) then headed back to the bike to get that helmet on my head &#8211; my whole body always felt drier with it on. Oh, and the heated handgrips helped too. The ladies in the car had finally started mobilizing and had wrapped the most inappropriate rainwear around them &#8211; cloth ponchos and leather jackets, with clear garbage bags over their heads. I&#8217;m not sure if they knew where they were, or, when they packed for their trip, where they were going. Of course, when I originally pulled up in the rain, hopped off, put a baseball hat on, and tromped off to the castle, they looked at me like I was crazy.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    Route 85 into Oban curved around the mountain and along the mouth of <st1:place w:st="on">Loch Linnhe</st1:place> to the crest of the hill overlooking the town, and wound through switchbacks down to the waterside. In <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region>, it&#8217;s never clear when a seaside loch ceases to be the loch and starts to be the ocean or the firth or whatever. Many of the larger lochs would be considered fjords or narrow bays in other countries. I told myself that I would only stop at the Oban Distillery if I saw it or saw a sign for it. Luckily for my schedule, I didn&#8217;t see either. I later learned that it was sitting right there in the middle of town. I rolled down the main street along the water and started scoping for a place to park and a place to eat lunch. The sun was out, but the air was chilly from being so close to the sea. There was a crisp, cold wetness that rose up from the pavement that cut through my layers, but it was great to be in a real town after so long in the countryside. I could see plenty of rain in the distance, over the water and over the mountains.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    <o:p>[​IMG]</o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    Oban (http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/areaoban/index.html) was a quaint, bustling town. The streets were narrow and curving.Who knew they had Woolworth&#8217;s in <st1:country-region w:st="on">Scotland</st1:country-region>, let alone outside the <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">US</st1:place></st1:country-region>? I&#8217;d later learn that it was a pretty common chain store. Its location near the ocean &#8211; with all manner of boats coming and going, and its old stone buildings fronting the harbor &#8211; created a very different feel from the little lower-highland towns I&#8217;d ridden through the day before. The buildings layered up the hill to a coliseum-like structure overlooking the town. This was a monument known as &#8220;McCaig&#8217;s Folly&#8221;, a building project financed by a wealthy banker to keep local masons and construction workers employed during time of depression in the late 1800s. It wasn&#8217;t finished&#8230;it&#8217;s really just a façade, but a striking one that seems to fit this town.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>

    [​IMG]

    Parking a bike in Scotland should have been pretty easy, but you never know how strict they&#8217;ll be if you stick it in some white-striped area, tag it up against some other parked car, and of course, the most worrisome situation, putting it up on a sidewalk, which I have never done. I found another bike, a Honda sportbike over along the water and stuck my BMW next to it. As I dismounted and undertook the process of removing helmets and gloves and putting on hats and getting out cameras, male passersby slowed to admire the bike. It really is a gnarly vehicle, different enough from the random sport bikes around the country, and more stripped-down than the ubiquitous BMW cruisers, giving it the look of a serious rider&#8217;s bike.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    A few steps away was Market Street Fish and Chips, just a storefront &#8220;take away&#8221; (as they call &#8220;takeout&#8221; over there) &#8220;chippie&#8221; (a fish and chips place) with no seating. No, Oban wasn&#8217;t <st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Glasgow</st1:place></st1:City> (the &#8220;heart attack capitol of the world&#8221;). I clomped in with my rain suit still on, not drawing any looks from other customers or the employees. Service was curt and frustratingly impersonal. I was let down, hoping for a quintessential Scottish experience from a curious store proprietor. I wondered if it was because I sounded American (or Canadian?), but, as I would learn later from a cabbie, it&#8217;s very possible that many Scottish people, depending on their geography, might come across as less than cordial. I ordered the deluxe haddock and a Fanta (remember when there was Fanta in the <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">US</st1:place></st1:country-region>?). While I waited, other customers came and went, so I thought it would be fun to start my little digital voice recorder and capture the great accents and everyday conversations of the Scots. Listening back to that section, you can barely hear anything &#8211; the recorder was in my shirt pocket behind layers of fleece, leather, and nylon, but the annoying whine of a handheld batter mixer sure came through. I tried to pull a &#8220;W&#8221; and do some secret wire tapping of other social occasions, like at a bar or two, but again, I couldn&#8217;t get anything to come through over the background noise.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    [​IMG]
    <o:p></o:p>
    I took my little box of fish and fries back to a bench next to my bike and looked out over the bay as I ate. The box came with a miniscule, two-pronged plastic fork, akin to the tiny pitchfork they give you at <st1:State w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Maine</st1:place></st1:State> lobster shacks, but more like a large toothpick. The fish was fine, with a decent batter that came nowhere near what you would find at Irish and Scottish pubs in The States. I&#8217;d never been to England, so I didn&#8217;t know if the bland and tasteless batter I found in Oban was standard and if what we Americans are used to eating at Murphy&#8217;s, O&#8217;Dwyers, Nanny O&#8217;Brien&#8217;s, The Four Courts, The Four Provinces, The Irish Times, Finn MacCool&#8217;s, Fado, McCormick and Schmick&#8217;s, The Royal Mile (the only Scottish pub I know of), and all the others is the fake, Americanized preparation. If it is, I&#8217;ll stick with The Royal Mile&#8217;s any day. The &#8220;chips&#8221; (fries) there in Oban were terrible and I only ate probably three or four. They were cold, soggy, bland, un-crispy, and utterly flavorless, kind of like taking a bite out of a cold, stale baked potato. A strange seabird that looked like a brown and white gull flapped down and planted its webbed feet on the railing just a couple feet from me as I ate. It squawked and cackled and whistled at me to give him something to eat. Very rude. You can hear it on one of my update recordings. Despite my first fish and chips in the <st1:place w:st="on">British Empire</st1:place> ever turning out to be a disappointment, I was happy to have something in my stomach, and happy that it wasn&#8217;t raining, The sun was peeking through, and I was in a truly foreign little town. I gave a thought to trying to find the Oban Distillery, but it was <st1:time w:st="on" Hour="13" Minute="00">1:00pm</st1:time> and I wanted to do a hike at Inchree Falls up the road, and to get into Plockton early enough to enjoy it. I asked the bird to say goodbye to my recorder, and signed off. &#8220;Albatross!&#8221;<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    <o:p>[​IMG]</o:p>
    <o:p>[​IMG] </o:p>

    I cruised around a couple more streets in Oban to get a feel for the seaside, passing little sailboats, fishing boats, and a large ferry. I backtracked out of the city and into a gas station near the intersection of 85 and 828. I checked my map here out of the newly drizzling drizzle to ensure I had the next set of directions memorized. That&#8217;s one of the mental exercises of motorcycling. I kept my handwritten directions in a Ziploc bag in my rain jacket pocket, but sometimes had to jump off to pop open the Givi box to look at the actual Berndtson folding map or the Footprint guide book. I wasn&#8217;t giving myself sufficient distances and landmarks on my personal notes. The folding map was very useful &#8211; it showed all the roads and plenty of sights and landmarks. More than once I changed my daily plans to swing by something that I noticed on it. It is also plastic-covered, so I had marked my route with a marker while planning. Unfortunately, as raindrops found their way down to me as I checked directions so many times over the week, that route became smears across <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region> and purple smudges on my fingers.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    Past the town of <st1:City w:st="on">Dunbeg</st1:City> and <st1:placeName w:st="on">Dunstaffnage</st1:placeName> <st1:placeType w:st="on">Castle</st1:placeType>, I rounded the corner into a neat little residential town of <st1:City w:st="on">Connel</st1:City>, where I crossed a long, single-lane bridge over a river that was starting its way into the western <st1:place w:st="on">Highlands</st1:place>. The drizzle had ceased a few minutes prior, but as I continued north from the bridge, real rain started to fall. No matter, because as I rounded another inlet and headed up a hill, I was rewarded with perhaps the most Scottish of all vistas on the whole trip.

    [​IMG]
    <o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    I turned around in a restaurant parking lot and parked along the road to take my shot of Castle Stalker (www.castlestalker.com). This was EXACTLY why I came. I told myself that seeing that lonely old keep on an island in rainy <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region> made the trip worth it &#8211; &#8220;That just paid for my air fare,&#8221; I would say. I was near the invisible <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:placeType w:st="on">village</st1:placeType> of <st1:placeName w:st="on">Portnacroish</st1:placeName></st1:place>. Castle Stalker, which takes its name from the Gaelic Stalcaire (meaning &#8220;hunter&#8221; or &#8220;falconer&#8221; &#8211; &#8220;Stalker&#8221; still sounds so damn cool, though.), was probably built in its present form around 1446, but a fortified building has probably occupied the same site since around 1320, as it defends the access to the city of Fort William. The castle was in the Stewarts&#8217; hands for most of history (though the <st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Campbells</st1:place></st1:City> won it in a drunken wager around 1620) and saw a battle or two between rival clans and a shocking number of murders between local enemies. It also hosted the King of Scotland on his hunting and hawking trips back in the early 1500s. After the Battle of Culloden in 1746 (stay tuned!), it was used by the government (the British government, that is) as a depot to which the Scots could turn in their weapons. The place was abandoned in 1840, upgraded in 1908, and in 1965 a Lt. Col. D.R. Stewart Allward purchased it and renovated it by himself over the following ten years, and it became habitable once more. I wished I could have gone over to Castle Stalker, but I didn&#8217;t have a boat, and you have to make reservations to visit it. In more interesting history, Castle Stalker was the foreboding &#8220;Castle Aaaaarrrrrrggghhh&#8221; at the end of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    The history that you can dig up about one single castle in Scotland can contain so much intrigue, violence, war, drunken wagering, cannonballing (not the swimming pool kind), siege, renovation, murder, and changes in ownership that there&#8217;s no way one person can get into all the stories in this wild country. No wonder the place holds such mystery. And who knows how many castles there are?! I rode on.
    #17
  18. DualSPRTfan

    DualSPRTfan Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jul 20, 2009
    Oddometer:
    106
    Location:
    Waterdown, Ontario
    fANTASTIC!!:clap :clap :clap :lurk
    #18
  19. BadWHooper

    BadWHooper Quick, rather than Dead.

    Joined:
    Feb 29, 2008
    Oddometer:
    224
    Location:
    Silver Spring, MD
    Thanks! Much more to come! And more photos, I promise.
    #19
  20. BadWHooper

    BadWHooper Quick, rather than Dead.

    Joined:
    Feb 29, 2008
    Oddometer:
    224
    Location:
    Silver Spring, MD
    <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:eek:ffice" /><o:p></o:p>
    I was in a low area, very rural, with signs for campgrounds and places for RV hookups, obviously catering to the hiking and lake-loving crowd. The rain had been heavy out of Oban and I started to feel that grim, dread sensation of cold water finding its way into my poorly sealed personal riding environment. I was enclosed by leather and denim, nylon and cotton, plastic and Plexiglas. The handgrip heaters nearly offset the cold that came in through the chin area of my helmet so that I could still ride comfortably and with much of the thrill with which I arrived, even in steady rain and wind. Well, the road from Oban may have shown me that <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:smarttags" /><st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region> still had some surprises. I started to feel wetness coming into my boots, which is only second to having cold, rain-soaked ‘nards. The cuffs of my rain pants were riding up as I rode, exposing more and more of the laces to the wind and the driven rain. Without true, sealed riding boots, there was no way I was going to avoid this. Up until now, it was only that the rain was come-and-go that I didn’t have drenched feet and drenched gloves every day (no, that would come later, in addition to the rain-soaked ‘nards). When I bought my rain suit, I wisely tried on the pants. The XL pants that came with the XL jacket were shockingly too short for a tall guy like me, and I had enough sense to know that I’d have some layers underneath the suit and would need a larger size. So, I did the ol’ switcheroo and matched a pair of XXL pants with the XL jacket. As evidenced by the Scottish rainwater seeping into my boots and my constant need to tug the cuffs down, I could have even gone with the XXXL pants. <o:p></o:p>
    <o:p> </o:p>
    The rain was even finding its way in through my collar too, which was quite unpleasant. Some trickles were getting under the helmet and past the Velcro cuff collar. If I had felt a drip go down my chest, I would have pulled over right there. I needed to be wearing a turtleneck. In addition, I was having trouble seeing through the visor, too. Thankfully, my gloves had a two-inch mini-squeegee mounted on each thumb, which might have been one of the most important things I had on the entire trip. They did a great job of clearing my view for a few key seconds at a time.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p> </o:p>
    No, this was one of the first moments that I really found the rain to be unpleasant enough to be detrimental to the enjoyment of my ride. Previously, the rain may have been light enough or vertical enough to allow me to pass through it and enjoy the scenery, but this rain was steady and heavy. I didn’t like being so honest with myself about the young trip – I had such grand dreams of seeing Scotland, I’d paid quite a bit to be there, I was risking my life on crazy roads in the rain and wind, AND I was starting to feel cold and wet! This wasn’t backpacking in the Smokies in October! This was Grownup Me on an international tour, not Boy Scout Me roughing it in the woods.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p> </o:p>
    Otherwise, I truly did feel safe on the road. Everything that I’d read about riding in the rain was true: it’s surprising how much traction a bike with good tires and a good rider can have on wet pavement. I was taking curves, riding at highway speeds when possible, yet I rarely felt like I was going to slide off the road with those two slender tires. I kept my brakes dry by using both of them regularly, and watched the road conditions like a hawk. I veered around those dark spots and looked for the trails left by the car tires in front of me. Overall, the Scottish roads were outstanding. I don’t remember any potholes on major roads, and the drainage was good.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p> </o:p>
    At this point in the ride, I did think about the balaclava that I’d brought with me. The chill had become a bit more intense and was magnified by the rain. My chin and neck were starting to feel the brunt of what I can only estimate to be temperatures in the 50s with a 50 mph wind chill and rain on top of that. The balaclava makes it hard to keep your visor and/or shades unfoggy, but when your face is cold and damp, you wonder what you can do about it. Come to think of it, another pair of long johns might have done me right as well. Those tightly-stretched parts of the rain pants get chilly: the tops of the thighs and the knees.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p> </o:p>
    About 20 miles north of Castle Stalker, near the town of North Ballachulish and the intersection of Routes 828 and 82, I pulled off the road to take one of the hikes of the sort that I had imagined I’d be doing a lot more of (but never had time for…though I guess I could have gotten up earlier each morning). I read about the short trail up to Inchree Falls in my tour book – it registered such a small mention in the book, I have trouble remembering why I ended up going there. Probably because I flagged it on my list of possible things to do, and the fact that it was listed as a 40 minute walk with “views worth the hike”. They were.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p> </o:p>
    [​IMG] Note the keys hanging off the Givi box keyhole. I lived in constant fear of losing them. [​IMG]<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p> </o:p>
    Under a bit of drizzle, I rolled off the main road past some quaint homes and into a dirt parking lot near the welcome sign showing the two trails up to the falls. One was shorter and one was longer. I relished the chance to get off the bike and stretch my legs, and noticed the opportunity to take a photo. It’s the photo of a team. It’s as if I had to remember how absolutely stoked I was to be there, and that I, for that week, was the coolest guy on the planet, even if I was the only one who knew it at the time.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p> </o:p>
    It was <st1:time w:st="on" Hour="14" Minute="30">2:30pm</st1:time> on Saturday and I had started my hike up to Inchree Falls. The trail led me past the parking lot map, up a forested hill, and to what looked like a logging road. There was only one car in the parking lot when I arrived, a Volkswagen that was full of travel gear and maps. As I hiked up the road, I approached a young couple coming down…definitely looked like a VW couple, right out of the commercials. I stopped talking into my voice recorder to ensure they didn’t think I was a nutcase (until they got down to the parking lot and saw that I was riding a motorcycle in this weather). Seeing couples out in those beautiful places bummed me out a little. I knew that if I was still dating Karin or if I was in a serious relationship I would most likely NOT be gallivanting around Scotland by myself on a two-wheeled deathtrap. I’d be on some beach somewhere, lying on my ass, listening to music, reading a book, and crisping my fair skin because all the chicks I seemed to meet online those days only seemed to want to travel to beach climes. There’s no adventure on a beach unless your plane crashes there. The couples I encountered on the trail were adventurous looking – not glamorous people. They all drove rental cars and seemed young and happy. Again, it bummed me out. These are the things I would have been doing (and have done) with Karin…minus the motorcycle – and the business school. She would have been there with me.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p> </o:p>
    Or maybe not. Maybe this was such a solo adventure that it could have only been this way – me on a bike, setting my own schedule, racing against sunset because of my own decisions, concentrating against nature, not eating lunch because my stomach didn’t feel empty, skipping the interiors of castles because my sense of easy satisfaction was okay with just seeing their outsides this time around, and a good measure of pure life-threatening danger on the road.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p> </o:p>
    Well, the things going on at home with a new potential online date with Liz were promising, so thought I might be back in business after this week. We started emailing and hit it off very quickly, then moved into epic instant messaging sessions after work – hadn’t even met her yet. She was amazed by my Scotland plans – they added a bit of tension to the relationship…I was going to disappear for a week right at the point that our conversations were becoming very comfortable and right at the point where we would have had a first date. My leaving on such a dramatic voyage made my eventual return all the more exciting. We talked on the phone for hours in the days before I left. Flirtatious, challenging, interesting, intelligent. Could she be “the one”? It certainly seemed promising. Boy, I had no idea what was in store for me with her.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p> </o:p>
    I followed the road as it wound up the hill and finally broke above the initial treeline. The views became spectacular. I was looking out over Loch Leven and the mountains that surrounded it. I saw more of those intriguing, distant, white lines of waterfalls dangling from faraway cliffs. The hiking was easy and fast. As with much of the riding, I felt an urgency to “keep things moving” and get to the final daily destination. It was lightly raining, too. This was what I imagined I’d be doing a lot of while in Scotland: hiking. Turns out, this was the only true nature hike I took.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    Damn, I look really fat, but really, it’s just a puffed out shirt with numerous layers, really.

    [​IMG]<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p> </o:p>
    At this point, I heard water rushing in the distance, which always makes a hike more interesting. It also makes you say things like “this better be spectacular, dammit.”<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p> </o:p>
    The trail left the road and headed downhill into the steep and scrubby hillside. The road continued up the mountain to who knows where. I started down and headed toward the crashing water sounds. Finally, to my left, I saw a section of water crashing over a falls. Nice, but that view was nothing too amazing, however, I was in Scotland, so I gave it the benefit of the doubt. Overall, though, the scenery was incredible…especially since I’d recently dismounted a motorcycle, gotten off the roads, and was now hiking on foot. The trees and shrubs were in the middle stages of autumn, so, despite through the grey skies, their gold and brown came through.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p> </o:p>
    Down I went – sometimes on a staircase, sometimes on a trail, but the further I walked down, the better the view of Inchree Falls became. It was a three-section falls, and the trail allowed for multiple views. Of course, I was waiting for the best shot of them all – the shot that would accommodate all the tiers of the falls into one shot. I’ve seen a lot of good waterfalls, most of them in Iceland, but pictures of them never seem to do justice to actually being there in person, unlike other types of sights. Maybe it’s because of the sound, or that a waterfall is never the same from second to second, kind of like the old saying: you can never set foot in the same river twice. I was trying to preserve film, which, I’ve learned, is just ridiculous – even though I took around 145 photos, I wish I’d taken more. Nikon recently announced that they’re discontinuing all their film cameras, but my big Nikon 33mm SLR felt right. Unloading and loading rolls of film provides chapters to my trips.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p> </o:p>
    [​IMG]The trail made its way down along the falls and provided various views. This was the best. <o:p></o:p>
    <o:p> </o:p>
    On my way away from the falls, down the trail to the parking lot, I encountered some other hikers. Some were more of those depressingly cute couples, but one group threw me for a loop. About five or six guys in wetsuits were coming up the trail – helmets and all. I wondered if they were kayaking, but based on the size of that river and the size of the drops, it didn’t make sense. It could only be one thing: those guys were going to slide down those rapids in their wetsuits. Suicide. Crazy mothers, I thought, and walked on away from the crashing water and into the woods. Turns out, these folks were “canyoning” – doing a vertical descent of 500 feet, including a 30-foot jump off, various slides, and floating through pools and rapids. Might be fun if it weren’t 50 degrees out.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p> </o:p>
    As I paused near the end of the trail to survey the falls, the valley, the loch, the mountains, and the town of Inchree, I wondered if I would ever be back there. I asked myself if I should have been sitting on one of those benches and sucking it all in, studying every detail of the landscape. Was I hurrying through it all, rushing through that country? Or was the motorcycle the point of the journey? Neil Peart, the lyricist and drummer for the band Rush, wrote: “The point of the journey is not to arrive.” In my case, I think it was both – the point of the journey WAS the journey AND to arrive. In the mornings, all I could think of was the journey, getting on that bike and looking forward to winding roads, castles, sights I’d never seen. In the afternoons, all I could think of was arriving: a haven, a comfortable rest with people, a big dinner, some Scotch, some of the local culture, and a bed. And it would restart as soon as I woke up the next morning. And then, when I would arrive in Glasgow again at the end of the trip, I would have put together a week’s worth of memories that would serve me well for the rest of my life, which is, mostly, the point. If it hadn’t been for the punishing rain at the end of the trip, I could have done this cycle (no pun intended) forever, from country to country. I need to learn Spanish. And Italian. And brush up on my French.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p> </o:p>
    So, as I hiked back to my bike, I decided that I would come back – probably. I’d see who’s able to come back with me. At this point, I’d definitely do another bike trip. At least I know what to pack now.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p> </o:p>
    The Inchree Falls trail led me back down to the valley and past a nice little country house. I noticed there were a lot of private homes abutting castle properties and park lands in Scotland. In The States, those houses would be subsumed by the park and would be turned into a storage shed. After walking back over a creek and across a meadow, I was back at the parking lot. A young family with two little boys were struggling to prepare themselves for their drizzly hike, but one little guy was intent on watching me start up the bike and roll off. The parents had made it well down the trail, but the little boy straggled, dilly-dallied, and held back as long as he possibly could, watching me get set to saddle up. I put the camera back in the top box, zipped up all the requisite zippers, stowed my damp Dickinson College hat, freed my gloves, strapped my helmet on, and fired up the BMW. That seemed to please the little dude. His parents were now trying to physically drag him down the trail. I felt the obligation to give him a bit of a show as I rolled off: rev the engine, kick up a little dirt, speed off down the dirt road, you know. He seemed pleased enough by hearing the engine and watching me back the bike up before he was pulled around the corner and into the woods.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p> </o:p>
    Unfortunately, little kids are by far the biggest fans of the motorcycle rider – not women. One cold January day, I was parking my Yamaha V-Star Classic cruiser on a Washington, DC street near the then-new Convention Center, where a big bike show was taking place. “WOW!” A little spud, probably six or seven, with a rather attractive mom, ran up to me as I was tugging off my gauntlets (it was barely above freezing that day). “A real motorcycle man!” he shouted. I had only been riding for about six months at that point, so I felt pretty good hearing that. Hot Mom asked me what kind of bike it was.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p> </o:p>
    “This is a Yamaha V-Star.” I replied, hoping she might say something like: “Say, do you know how to change a furnace filter? My husband is out of town, and I think I’m getting a little overheated at home.”<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p> </o:p>
    But no, she whipped out her son’s little toy motorcycle, examined it, and asked the tyke, “Is yours a Yamaha, sweetie? No…yours is a Suzuki. Sorry. Bye.” And that was that, and they were gone. Other than that, when I ride around town, the little kids are the ones whose heads turn, not the ladies’. The women take a little more work – you usually need to be OFF the bike, in the process of taking off your helmet or putting it on, or sitting at a bar or restaurant with the helmet hanging on the back of your chair. Fiddling with your motorcycle gloves works pretty well too. And slipping in the fact that you ride motorcycles into conversations helps. Walking around with a helmet can be good, but a lot of skinny young wankers around town these days ride Vespas and scooters and carry their helmets around with them. You gotta’ have a bitchin’ jacket, boots, and gloves, too. Now that I think about it, my gloves were really failing me. If I were to see a shop, I would buy new ones – better ones – and toss the ones I was wearing. I even sprayed them with Scotchgard twice before I left, even though I thought they were waterproof when I bought them. I mean, they had squeegees on the thumbs, leading me to believe that they’d be used in the rain. My right index finger was quite cold because I always keep it on the brake lever.<o:p></o:p>
    <o:p> </o:p>
    Back on Route 82, I sped northeast through more beautiful countryside along Loch Linnhe and into the city of Fort William. My book told me that there really wasn’t anything to stop for in Fort William, which made sense because I really couldn’t find anything beyond pleasant houses overlooking the lake as it narrowed. There was a severe dropoff on the lake side of the road, down to a stony beach. Every hundred or two hundred yards, stairways that led up to strange, pier-like ramps jutted out over the beach, probably 40 feet above the water level. The only thing I could think of is that they would serve as boat piers if the water rose, but how could it rise that high? The town would be flooded.

    Coming up: small town Scotland and great pub culture...
    #20