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Glasgow, United Kingdom
An illustrator and games artist living and working in Scotland. I have various hobbies: coding, travel, art and games; and I enjoy writing about them.

6 December 2012

Motorcycle Diaries: Scotland 2012

This blog post is long overdue. I apologise for that and make a promise to write important posts like this without delay.

This summer was a good one. Filled with many hot days, hundreds of miles of road and roaring of motorcycles. Excitement dillusted with weeks of office work. Fun, stressful and extremely rewarding work never the less. But when work is done and dusted, and summer is almost over, it's time for adventure.

Our big adventure this year was a trip around Scotland on our 125cc motorcycles. A lot of planning went into it. The one important thing one has to remember about a 125cc motorcycle is that it is slow. Slow and doesn't have the accelleration power to climb steep hills. We of course did not know anything about this. What added to the adrenaline and excitement is that our oversized rucksacks would sway dangerously from side to side on sharp bends and would cause some serious sore backs and blisters in the future. We did not know any of that; we had a route, some points on the map, money for petrol, some food and the undying Russian motto: "Avos'!". A word that Wikipedia translates as: philosophy of behaviour or attitude in which a person ignores possible problems, dangers or hassles and, at the same time, expects a favourable outcome. And so, counting on our luck, we set off on our adventure.
Heavy rucksacks, low powered bikes and unrellenting enthusiasm for adventure.
Within a few hours of riding through the flat farmland of Angus we suddenly hit the jaw dropping sight that was Glenshee. To say that we were in awe would be an understatement. Breaks started to smoke as we screeched to a halt beside the uneven single track road. Before us, and as far the eye could see was the pale-green beauty of a Scottish glen. Harsh grey sky was above us, giving everything a fresh yet sombre feel. We stayed for a long while, and little did we know that this is only the first stop in a queue of many, many others.
The formidabble beauty of Glenshee

Abandon hope all ye who enter here.
With reluctance we left the glen behind and continued on our way. There still was a lot of road between us and our destination - Inverness. The Old Military Road took us higher and higher into the hills and we made another stop somewhere along the A939, just North of Ballater. One of the guys decided to unscrew his rele and lost a screw in the tall grass. While everyone was looking for it and cursing him playfully, I sat about half a mile away beside the road, waiting for the perfect shot. As soon as they finished with the rele and roared past me, I frantically pressed on the camera button.
The sky was so close I could almost touch it
Getting over the Cairngorm mountains took most of the evening. It turned out, quite unexpectedly, our motorbikes can't climb mountains, especially with 120kg of extra weight. As we limped up hill in first gear, reaching maximum speeds of just below 10mph, I had a moment of reflection and contemplation. My meditative state was so deep I completely forgot to take pictures. In all fairness, it was difficult enough trying not to fall off the overworked bike backwards, downhill. Speaking of downhill, coming down the other side of the Cairngorm hills was the single most terrifying and exhillirating experience of my life.

At sunset, tired, sore and hungry, we reached Inverness, but our day was far from over. We still had nowhere to stay and we got lost in the city. As tiny as Inverness is, it has a surprisingly confusing traffic system. At this point our spirit of adventure and youthful enthusiasm were swapped out to tired grumbling and having a dig at eachother for the tiniest of things. One of us even expressed his anger to nearby horses by forcefully feeding them bits of grass, as a stress relief method, we were assured.
Even the beauty of the Scottish North could not cure the tiredness
After an hour of arguing and another 30 miles of road it started to get dark and we made a decision to stay in the woods of Glen Strathfarrar. A decision which became the biggest mistake and the undoing of the entire trip. One word: midgies. If you are not a fan of millions of flying insects biting your face, arms, ears, neck and even private parts; as has been found out after a careless attempt at attending a nature call. If you are not a fan of that, stay away from Scotland. Unless of course, unlike us, you are smart, and take some form of anti midgie spray. However, we weren't. The madness of this moment is difficult to describe with words. We set up tents in record time, swearing and slapping midgies off as we went. We smoked our entire reserve of tobacco in a space of an hour. We even fashioned a DIY flame thrower from a lighter and a deodorant. At one point it really made sense to scratch your skin off and sit in the river. There were no midgies in the tents, and we were thankful for that. Still however we didn't get a wink of sleep because our entire bodies were covered in bites and itched. Nedless to say, there were no pictures taken of this agony.

The next morning we were on the road in less than 20 minutes. Riding along, running from the madness. At one point I pushed my bike to the limit of its power, doing 65mph along a tiny country road. Not, thinking, blinded by the insane itching. The race stopped near Loch Lochy. We missed every castle we wanted to photograph and rode right past Loch Ness - one of the most important locations on our "To-See" list. Our good mood was back and morale was restored earlier, in Drumnadrochit, during a large breakfast. We were full of enthusiasm and ready for new adventures. In addition we started to see the funny side of our midgie insident.

Riding along a windy road along Loch Lochy we had a great idea. We will strap a camera to one of the bikes and record our fantastic surroundings.

The sunset cought up with us at the base of Ben Nevis. This behemoth is the largest mountain most of the guys have seen. It just sat there, glistening in the sun right in front of us. We also had a chance to appreciate the monument dedicated to the British SAS troops of the second world war. I have upmost respect for these men, because you have to be a very special kind of dedicated to force yourself through the selection.

Unfortunately, however badly we wanted, we decided against climbing the mountain in the dark and wet. After many hours of standing around we decided against it. There was nowhere to leave the bikes, we were not at all dressed for climbing a mountain in the dark and everyone was pretty tired. On top of all that the midgies started to eat us alive again.

Our disappointment however was reinbursed when we came through Glen Coe. Under the grim skies the glen looked magnificant and imposing. I almost expected to be attacked by Orcs!

We stopped for a while to change into dry socks and enjoy the breathtaking beauty a while longer. Not to say we were all happy little bikers - it was bucketing it down with rain and we were wet and shivering. My leather got so soaked it resembled an overweight sponge. However the awe inducing vistas we were seeing were all worth it.

Before I conclude, a small tip for all the riders out there. Do not, under any circumstances spend 18 hours on the road in a wet and cold day. In fact, just don't do it at all. Having passed Perth we all started to fall asleep. I cannot emphasise enough how dangerous it is.

But soon it was home, hot shower, cup of hot chocolate and a warm blanket to sit under and reflect on our amazing adventure.

My apologies for not writing this earlier. This year's been hectic.