0815 hours - I shut and locked the pannier, patted it, and bolted the door behind me, thinking "all packed up, ready to go". This was my first, and fortunately last serious mistake of my first ever motorcycle tour. I had been expecting more flack from friends and the bikers at work; stuff like "Touring on a 125? You must be bonkers!" - but there was none of that, at least beforehand. I suspect that people were shocked enough at the bike that I rode, to stop them passing comment.
I'd passed my CBT almost a year ago, failed my DAS-test, thought "sod it, I'm not proud" and bought a learner-legal bike. My training had been on CG125's and a battered GS500E, but being 6'4", 18st, and long-limbed, at the end of training I had felt rather, er, cramped, and believed this also be a contributory factor to my DAS failure. Taking advice from some totally tonto bikers at work, I'd been investigating trailies for a few months, decided I liked the generally rugged - and generally large - styling of the genre, and had been eyeing up a a Honda XL650V Transalp as a first bike.
Hence when I suddenly decided to scale back my ambition, reading an announcement of the learner-legal Honda XL125V Varadero in the Dec'2000 RiDE left me bouncing with glee for almost all of the following six bloody months that it took Honda UK to actually come out with the bike - deeply frustrating, especially when I could browse dozens of European websites discussing the bike's pros and cons, by people who already owned them.
That said, the delay meant that I could do my research, and so I knew more about the bike than any dealer when it eventually arrived - little tips like "you can mount any pannier that is designed for the XL650V because the rear carrier is identical", proper running-in intervals, max speeds, and so forth.
Stuff that gets you ahead, during price negotiations.
I stocked-up on kit - mostly "RiDE Recommended" or "Best-Buy" - and eventually May 2001 swung round, when I took delivery of the bike. At first blush, without L-plates, almost nobody will think that the bike is less than a 600cc bike. It has presence - a weird, perverse trailie-presence - but presence nonetheless. At work, I make a point of parking it next to the racebikes owned by co-workers just so that I can see it loom ominously over them, L-plates and all. The first ride home from the dealer was a bit wobbly, especially the hairpin into my village lane, but it was promising.
Anyway: Got Bike? Yes. Got Kit? Yes. Need A Holiday? Hell Yes!
The 600 mile run-in to first service could not pass fast enough as I started to gain confidence and teach myself weight transfer, countersteering, proper speeds and gearing for sharper and sharper turns, etc; I won't say that I am anywhere near expert even now, but I was/am a hell of a lot better than I had been on the test.
Finally, four months later and with 993 miles on the clock, I set off.
The first day's run would be from Reading to Preston, stopping-off at M&P in Dorchester to buy a tank-bag; my pannier (Nonfango 852) was packed to the gills and the bike definitely didn't like having excess weight over the rear tyre; that was sorted a mere hour later by buying a Nelson-Rigg tank-bag, ostensibly designed for cruisers, but with exactly the right sort of tall with small footprint shape needed for a trailie tank.
It was in the process of decanting my clothing into the tank-bag that I discovered my first mistake: I'd left my winter gloves at home, and only had the pair I was wearing. Did I mention that I wear XXL gloves and find it hard to get alternatives? No? Bugger! - but more of that anon; it doesn't become a real story for several days yet.
Up through Long Compton - past the most charming lychgate I've ever seen, a sort of brick confection suspended up on oak beams - and NW to Shipston, Warwick, Sutton Coldfield and Rugeley. The bike had settled into the new load distribution, the steering was easy again, and there was none of the rear-wheel wallow that came during cornering with weight on the back. NW of Rugeley, I came to the village of Salt, and NBS (Numb Bum Syndrome) was setting in, so I decided to stop for lunch.
Actually, NBS to this extent was a new experience for me: a sensation of "pins & needles" so strong that it feels like your arse cheeks have suddenly ceased to be bound by the laws of physics, and are floating independently in zero-gravity. It's surreal, but it is temporary and it becomes less of a problem over time, especially if you take proper breaks.
A pub-sign directed me to The Holly-Bush Inn which claimed to be one of the most award-winningest pubs in Staffordshire, and who am I to argue? The food was excellent, and the beer looked tempting, but alas I was resigned by that time to spending most of the fortnight sans-booze. After consuming an enormous Greek Lamb & Chips with a wistful Coke, and listening to The News Quiz on Radio4 through headphones on my tranny, I felt quite refreshed.
I'd only been on the road for 4.5 hours but felt I was doing quite well. Remember: this is all A-road and B-road stuff - no motorways allowed with L-plates.
The rest of the day's riding was uneventful, perhaps even mundane; the houses, shopfronts and motorway junctions all seem as one whilst riding up through Stoke and aiming for Wigan. Refuelling on reserve at Wigan took 14 litres and a little over 10 quid. Exactly 200 miles, at a mediocre 67mpg - not brilliant, but not bad if compared to my car in the same urban environment.
I arrived in Preston at 1630h; orbited the town centre once, got lost, asked directions for Fulworth Barracks, and parked at Nick & Helen's 15m later. Decamped, dekitted, deplugged, and we chatted for a few hours before doing dinner at Bella Roma.
Dinner was a sardine starter, sea-bass in prawn sauce, and profiteroles, washed down by a lovely Montepulciano Di Arbruzzi and a house Cab Sav. This therefore explains why we spent...
Well, maybe not hungover, but certainly not fit to ride.
sms to mandy: overshot carlisle and am now in moffat via gretna and dumfries. more later. love.
sms to mandy: oddly enough am in arden house. dinner recommendation? need to find a laundrette.
sms to jd: aha, looked up number in pilot [in response to unnamed SMS query]; am in glasgow staying with kaz
sms to rack: ignore prev, map found; would have thought it not poss to lose on an mbike. sigh.
sms to mand: v.wet in Sligachan hotel middle of skye. fun!
sms: cool! nite nite and tickle corky for me.
rain, soaking gloves, bad fit anyway?
sms to mand: am safe in linlithgow near edinburgh [most you can say for linlithgow?]
sms to rachel: no malt - v.little booze when riding as cause late start. will yha in edin 2nite 2 try slow toofast travel. may b home early neway. prob berwick 2moro, or whitby [response, re: coastline on honeymoon]
sms to mandy: am in ediburgh yha, doing town. recommendations?
sms to jd: not sore [in response to saddlesore question] - am in edinburgh. suggestions?
rolled over 2000 miles at north berwick law sms to mand: whitby: 225 miles in one day!
roadsigns re: 10 bazillion motorcyclists killes this season. sms to mand: skegness dire, am in b&b nr boston
sms to mandy: cambs. home 2moro.
common incredulity at having achieved it. bike: review in MCN panning it. kit: waterprrof, excellent. gloves waxing. info: RiDE. MCN. AA-website. what i learned - good kit - spare gloves - waterproof is king
unknown sms to mandy: excellent gammon and chips; whyfore london [re: her trip there]