Sunday, 21 August 2011

A Curious Adventure to the Bulldog Bash

Yeah, we went to the Bulldog Bash. We loaded our bikes up, we rode to Stratford Upon Avon and we camped for three days in a field of bikers. Well field does not even come close, it was a town made up of Bikers, fifty thousand Bikers. That is more people than live and work in some towns. We camped in a field that was populated by bikers, organised by Bikers and Policed by Bikers. In some respects what happens here is a new state and the UK is left at the front gate, in there you are under Biker Law and some times you can feel it.

Loaded up and ready to go.

The twenty fifth Bulldog Bash was a fantastic event, as a complete virgin of the event I was a little apprehensive of what to expect. I had heard stories of who it was organised by and having read a little into it, I was just a bit worried when we set off. Our bikes were loaded with tents, bedding, stoves and one plastic kitchen sink. My panniers were full to literally bursting point (I am still to have that seam fixed!) and everything we could squeeze in was packed in water proof bags!

My MP3 player was playing some very nice chilled out Black Metal as we headed onto the Motorway and we made our way through heavy traffic. Sadly the other carriageway was blocked due to a nasty accident and as we drew level with it, emergency crews were helping people from crumpled vehicles. Having heard the stories of Carol’s late father, himself a Paramedic and Ambulance man, I wished all of those hurt a fast and painless recovery, but doubted that it would be the case for all of them.

Leaving the Motorway and turning onto the A46 was a time to relax, the road here is lovely and riding a fully loaded bike was a pure joy. Carol was leading the way still and we were making easy progress. The excitement was starting build, my first Bulldog Bash. Butterflies flapped in my tummy with excited apprehension. 

Seemed like a nice place to stop!
Getting there is an adventure, after some brief stops for a rest and a slight deviation we approached the main gate, from here things were to get very interesting. The first sight of the event is a broken old aeroplane on the approach to the site; a gravel road leads to the main gate and series of scary looking, but very polite bikers who issued us with our bright orange wrist bands. From here on in, we were under a new kind of freedom, I could feel it in the air and on my skin.

Carol and I bought a new tent for this trip, a Vango Orchy 400, a tent big enough to sleep a football team. Well OK, maybe that is an exaggeration. We chose the tent especially because it is big enough to fix a motorbike in the porch. Technically, we could fit both motorbikes and both of us with all of our gear in our tent. It is for this reason that we chose it, after all who wants to be sat on a rainy campsite trying to fix a broken down bike while getting cold, wet and covered in mud? Not us.

Home sweet home!
Our tent did not go with out comment, but for us it was perfect. Once pitched, out came our air bed which was inflated thanks to Sylvie’s battery. With home made and the furniture set out, we went exploring, orange wrist bands giving us freedom of the town. Some of what I saw appalled me, some of what I saw amazed me and some of what I saw was more fun than anything I have done before.

There was one aspect of the Bulldog that I found very difficult to deal with and technically it was nothing to do with the event. One of the stores who shall remain nameless had several flags flying above its tent, flags of a seriously dubious nature baring Swastikas and the double lightening strike lettering of the SS. As a member of Amnesty International, as a free thinking human being and as firm anti fascist believer, I found these flags to be very offensive to my very heart and soul. The stall itself was selling BB Guns, knives, cross bows, catapults and seriously dodgy looking porn. Maybe it was innocent, but it made me feel very uncomfortable being on a site with company that was flying eight large and different Nazi flags.

On a more positive note, there were many things that amazed me, the biggest if which was the numbers of friendly, happy people. With a campsite the size of a town, I expected some disturbances and yet we only got disturbed by the sound of the drag strip opening at Nine in the morning! I slept better at the Bulldog, in our double sleeping bag, on our soft airbed than I do at home. I don’t think that anyone said an unkind word to us at any point of the weekend. Many towns have far worse behaviour on a Friday night that I saw at the whole of the Bulldog Bash. It is interesting to reflect on why that was and at one point while stood in the early hours of the morning, outside a toilet block waiting for Carol to come out, I realised that I felt safer stood there among all of those strangers than I did in my home town on a Saturday afternoon. Everywhere I looked were big burly and friendly bikers, who were having fun, enjoying a relaxed weekend and just keeping themselves to themselves. Our towns could learn a thing or two.

The Biker Town at night, peaceful and calm.
My introduction to the drag strip was frankly brilliant. As I sat there bike after bike roared up that strip recording speeds and times that just got better and better. The track glistened like wet leather in the hot sunshine, perfect Tarmac, smooth and dark and needle straight. What made my day was watching a rider on a bike that had a wire basket on the back blast up that track, front wheel arcing through the air with the engine screaming. Eleven seconds from start to the gate and not once did that rider lose control of that bike. The dark blue Suzuki SV650S with the loud can that recorded time after time after time up the track and just kept going gave me the seed of an idea, maybe one day I could blast my precious Sylvie up that track too? Carol and I talked about her sending Noreen down the track, but we chose against it in the end preferring to sit and watch as race after race took place. Yet as I sat there on the top row of the stands, looking down through the rickety structure, stomach slightly tense due to my fear of heights, I could not help but smile as the smell of burned rubber and exhaust gasses passed by me on the breeze.

It is pretty high up there!
 Then came the serious stuff, the bikes with huge engines, burning special fuel, spinning huge rear tyres that sat in long extended frames. A sense of urgency appeared on the track for the first time as these bikes sat there rumbling like old diesel trucks, turbos occasionally blowing off unwanted pressure. Burnouts sent plumes of smoke up into the air, the smell like exotic perfume to my gentle virgin nose. Then came the noise as each bike sprinted like shooting stars along that quarter mile straight line of perfect black. Something in my heart went click and I knew that I had found something very, very special. Those bikes, the incredibly determined riders upon them hit speeds I can only dream of on my precious SV. I saw the first bike blast through the gate in a fraction over nine seconds. Then came one that scored an eight second run.
Now that is a bike for fun only!
The jet car, Fire Force, deserves a special mention here. Nothing can prepare you for that thing. Having seen that thing run I can rest easy knowing that out there some where is a man called Martin who is an absolute speed demon. Starting the engine, a former Pratt and Whitney Helicopter engine, takes a special set of kit that is held in a van. The engine starts with a whine that can be heard all over the site, then a blast as fuel in injected, the engine speed picks up, the whine increased in pitch and then another blast of more fuel. The wall behind the car was visibly shaking as the thrust from that engine blasted into it. It takes about fifteen minutes to get the car ready, they play with the smoke by dumping diesel into the combustion chamber and the cloud hides the final seconds as the car is made ready before gently creeping to the line. Then some one takes a hammer to your ear drums! It truly felt like some one had hit me in the centre of my ears as that car fled past where we sat. A speed of nearly three hundred Miles per hour, a quarter mile of track covered in five seconds. I left the stands in a daze, I had just seen something impossibly dangerous and it changed the feel of my blood in my veins. One day, I am going to ride my bike down that track as furiously fast as I am able.

The Jet car ambles past at close to 300MPH!
Coming back again.
 After that show, nothing else can compare. We chatted to other bikers, we shared stories of silliness and lonely breakdowns and we shared in a community spirit that I rarely see else where. Children were rare, but those present were polite and well behaved. The food court had more choice than we could try in one weekend and cost more than we could earn in one month. The stalls on the main shopping area had everything from Army Surplus to Exotic leather goods. Carol managed to persuade me try on a Leather waist coat and to be honest I fell in love with it. With my badges attached and two little patches sown onto the back, she looked at and approved. I was now a proper biker.

Packed and ready to head for home again.
Packing everything back down and back onto our bikes was a sad affair. If I am honest I did not wish to go home, back to the humdrum of work and paying Council Tax and washing dishes in a dish washer. I was happy on the road, packing what I needed onto my bike wearing little and washing when I could. The sun was kind to us and the rain clouds kinder, the ground was warm and dry for leaving the field. Three gentlemen camped opposite proved that the old school and the new generation could ride together and enjoy it just the same. The family next to us, the children grown up and riding their own bikes, spoke only in kind words and good humour. After a weekend like that, why would anyone want to return home to the normality of a street where people stare because you ride a dirty great big motorcycle?

George, Mark and Henry. Teacher and former pupils enjoying bikes as friends.
The Bulldog Bash for me was not a bike rally, it was a visit to a town populated by bikers who no matter what all do something with as much joy and passion as I do, they live for that moment when riding the bike fills the heart with joy. It did not matter if they were a teenage Dance music fan or pension paid grandma, they were there for the same reason I was, because they loved bikes.

Stopping for breakfast on the way home.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Congratulations to Rachel and Jan, with love from Curious Adventures

Yes folks, my dear friend Rachel has tied the knot and got married to her fabulous partner Jan and seeing them dancing together at the party after it was obvious just how much in love they were.

So what has this got to do with Motorbikes you may ask? Well, now there is a story all of its own.

Carol and I woke up good and early on Saturday morning, the previous evening had been spent sorting out clothing, hats and shoes and then packing it all into the panniers. The weather forecast warned of showers, so everything was packed into waterproof bags and sealed in good and tight. The panniers were slung over Sylvie and Noreen before being secured into place. Sadly other things had conspired against us and we were now running late, but this was time that we hoped to make up once out on the open road.

Riding a fully loaded Sylvie for the first time was interesting and to be honest, she had barely changed her gentle road manners. She was still very easily flickable and cornered with her usual good grace. My chain oiler was full of brand new and specially formulated oil thanks to the lovely folks of Tutoro Chain Oilers  and we hit the road.
Getting out of Weston was interesting and I picked up a tail in the form of two guys on those huge BMW GS1200 touring bikes, loaded up for a weekend break. Having left them behind in traffic I headed out of town to wait for Carol at our meeting point.

While waiting I noticed a huge amount of other bikers had the same idea, so this is the last petrol station we hit before the motorway, but even so, there were loads of them, ranging from Harleys to Hondas and Sports bikes to mopeds. It felt like every loved two wheels on that day.

I heard Carol approach before I saw her. Noreen has something of a characteristic exhaust note, or rather bellow. She pulled in and then together we headed off into the world of traffic that is the M5 on a Saturday afternoon. Sylvie picked up speed and we managed to get past the first of a series of numpties that we would meet. If I have any questions it would be this. Why would you drive your car onto the motorway at 40 miles per hour and then stay at that speed? Were it an old car I could understand, but this was a recent modern car. Oh I know why, it is because you are on the telephone!

So we blasted off into the distance, but traffic was heavy approaching Bristol and it stayed heavy until we cleared the M5/M4 interchange. Getting onto the M4 was surprisingly easy but traffic was still slow, finally we made it through and our speed picked up to real motorway speeds, progress was now being made. My MP3 player was gently singing away with such delights as Dissection and Slayer before a muffled raw of Dark Funeral live kicked in. Black Metal and Motorcycle touring, never before has this unholy alliance been so comfortable.

Loaded and ready to go, Jayne has a stretch!
 Talking of comfort, Sylvie has had a lot of work done to her (as documented else where in this here blog) to make her comfortable for long trips, but one thing we have not been able to modify yet is the super hard seat. Usually with in five miles, my back side is pounded to burger mince, but not this day. We made it all the way to our first stop at Leigh Dellamare services with out so much as a bum ache. We did need a wee though. From here we blasted along just enjoying the sunshine and riding together.

Riding long distances with your partner (or friend too come to that) is just awesome. I looked at Carol as she piloted Noreen along the motorway and she looked so serene, sat there doing what she does best, which is riding bikes very, very well. She noticed my quick glance (how does that happen? You look at some one on the motorway for a second and they notice and look back, even if they are asleep! Actually, riding bikes while asleep is dangerous, so don’t do it!) and I got a smile back.

Another wee stop at Membury and then back on the road. Traffic was still light here, but we both knew that London was going to be hectic. I was a little anxious about it to be honest, but Carol assured me I would be fine. Handy having a Senior Motorcycle Instructor Trainer as your girlfriend. Finally we stopped for fuel at Heston Services and prepared for the final long haul into the centre of London. The MP3 player was put away and the Sat Nav switched on. Bloomsbury Hotel here we come!

Passing under the M25 signalled for the traffic to start getting manic. With busses, cars, mopeds and cyclists every where and pedestrians with no sense of traffic fear walking in the road, London is a place to be cautious. Carol led the way as usual with her fine skills, I swear that she has a homing pigeon roosting in her brain that guides us to anywhere we want to go. She seems to know instinctively where we are at all times and I am starting to suspect that actually she is a Skynet Terminator turned to good! So using Carol’s inbuilt Sat Nav and the Tom Tom, we navigated through London heading towards Bloomsbury, the roads crossed and confused me, we went down roads going one way and then the other and to me it felt like we had entered a great labyrinth, luckily there was no minotaur to fight at the centre!

The Girls relaxing in the sunshine.

Then with less than a mile to go we hit major road works and the traffic halted. Passing along that final mile took nearly forty minutes. My engine temp gauge started to creep up and Sylvie was humming along at just over boiling point, thankfully she was well topped up with coolant. Noreen though was less happy. Her eleven hundred CC lump was getting hotter by the minute and sat in traffic that was moving in a speed measured in Snail time was not helping. With the end in sight we managed to find the street we wanted and there on the side of the road was a motorcycle park, two small spaces next to each other in an otherwise full parking lot.

The most impressive thing about parking in London is the Stainless Steel Ground anchors fixed into the road! With Sylvie and Noreen locked to these with no less than five locks, we dashed off to the hotel room to get changed. Noreen was still steaming away like a kettle on boil!

Our precious bikes locked up and secure.

The wedding reception was lovely in every way that such a thing can be lovely. The two young brides both looked elegant and beautiful in matching outfits and shoes, Jazz singer was crooning away and the music sounded wonderful. Despite my inherent dislike of Jazz, I found myself enjoying the entertainment and I wandered around the room finding friends long missed and thought never to be seen again.

The venue.

So a small message to those who are dear to me because we barely had time on the night.

Xander, you sir are a Scholar and a Gentleman, you also have such a kind, strong & gentle heart. You make a great little Brother.

Sam and kat, you are both wonderful beautiful women. It is wonderful to see you happy Sam.

Laura and Debbie, so little time to talk and yet so many happy memories. We must go and play soon

Pam and Mig, such a perfect couple and you both looked gorgeous. I have missed you Pam.

Gil and Jim, so lovely to see you again after so long, Gil still looks incredible.

But most of all, Rachel and Jan, you are perfect. Rachel, you are the best friend any one could ever wish for. Your grace and poise is evident in every thing you do and you are more lovely than ever. Jan, I have not met you before, but I can see how you won Rachel’s heart. The smile on her face when you are near is radiant.

Carol and I both wish you every happiness together, life will sometimes be hard and sometimes it will seem cruel, but as long as you love and care for each other, these things will pass you by with barely a mark on your hearts. Seeing you both together and so in love fills us all with a sense of good things for the future, not just for you both, but for the world to.

The evening ended and Carol and I headed back to the Hotel. Our room was stiflingly hot, the window barely opened and the duvet on the bed would have turned it into a furnace. So with the fan on and under a thin sheet, we snuggled down for a night of well deserved rest.

The Orwellian building as seen from our room, Minilove maybe?!

The following morning, I awoke and headed to the shower, it was so cool and refreshing, but the water seemed too slow…

I returned to the bed and sat with Carol for a while before she too made her way to the shower. She turned it on and waited. She turned it on more and still waited. No more water was to fall from that shower on that day. So it was a quick wash in the sink. She turned on the tap and waited. After half an hour she boiled the little amount of water left in the kettle and washed using that. It seemed that our hotel had maybe not paid it’s water bill!

We loaded our kit and headed back into London traffic. There were fire engines and ambulances roaring to and fro and sirens wailing for a fair bit of the time, but Carol and I were blissfully unaware of the rioting that took place while we slept in a different part of town!

Stopping for breakfast.

Negotiating the traffic was still stressful and once again we stopped at Heston services for fuel before heading back onto the motorway. The threats of rain turned into showers, but fortunately we had seen it coming and were already in our water proofs. It could rain as much as it liked, we were toasty and dry.
That lasted until just outside of Chippenham. A sudden increase in rain and then the flashes of lightening pointed to a storm. The rain that was hitting the road was bouncing four feet back into the air. Road spray made seeing cars running with out lights on hard work and our speed dropped to that of an elderly tortoise on a roasting hot day! Progress was slow. Then suddenly a barrier gave way and I felt the cold chill of rain water find it’s way through the outer layer of my riding kit and soak through to my smalls! It was like some one had poured a glass of water into my underwear, soaking my clothing. It was so cold and I was starting to shiver. Our last stop was at Gordano services, a top up with fuel and bit of chocolate was enough to warm us through for the final few miles home.

Minutes later, we were soaked by an electrical storm.

In total we clocked up just over two hundred and eighty miles, we each used two tanks of fuel and drank several pints of tea, coffee or hot chocolate. I saw some very dear friends and witnessed one of the dearest to me looking so radiantly happy I could have cried with joy. I also rode my bike in the busiest place I have ever been to and survived with out a scratch. Sylvie performed flawlessly despite having a thirty three BHP restrictor kit fitted and Noreen barely spluttered even when her fuel tap was turned to reserve.  My Tutoro Chain oiler was three quarters used when I got home and I swear that it made a difference to the ease at which my precious Sylvie ran.

What a wonderful weekend. We owe a huge debt of thanks to Rachel and Jan for inviting us and providing us with somewhere to sleep that was both safe and quiet. We most sincerely wish Rachel and Jan a very long and happy future together, filled with love, fun and all of the things that make life so rewarding.

I don't want to ride in London, I is scared!