Eesh What a day! The day of diversions!
It starts off well; I’ve had a fairly good sleep in the tent and I’m on the road by 8am. Earliest start yet! It’s another fantastic summer’s day, so there’s over 12hrs of light to play with and I have 440 miles of tarmac stretched out between me and Kendal (where I plan to camp before tackling Kirkstone Pass).
The route, from last nights camp spot, into Market Harborough is great fun; fairly easy, meandering country roads, great views and that summery smell of wild garlic and rapeseed. On top of that, I’ve managed to pack the bike more neatly than any other day: a perfect start to the day if ever there was one!
I stop at the Sainsbury’s in Market Harborough to fill the tank and am served by the friendliest petrol station attendant in existence (I can’t prove that, it’s just a hunch). Then I start the bike up and, uh oh, the engine management light is flashing. Not good news. Most annoyingly, it means I now have to unpack my neatly stowed luggage so I can investigate further.
The Ape has two diagnostic wires near the battery that, when connected, allow an error code to display on the dash. The readout says ‘Err 36’. I’ve seen that one before; that means it’s blown a coil, not only that but the same one that I recently had replaced… This does not bode well.
I’m not completely surprised by this turn of events, in fact, I came prepared: I have a spare coil with me so I can give it to the breakdown guy and ask him to fit it (I’ve changed coils on other bikes before but this one is, well… Italian!).
I have a better idea though! There’s a guy, called Griff, at Aprilia Performance in Tamworth (about an hours drive away) who knows the Futura better than anyone else in the UK, why not see if he’ll take a look? After all it might be something more complicated than a simple coil failure.
They’re really busy but they agree to take a look at it given my special circumstances, so I programme a new postcode into the Sat-Nav. Now, it would probably have been quicker to just nip up the motorway, or even double back to the A5 and follow that into Tamworth, but that’s not in the spirit of the ride, so I tell the Zumo to avoid motorways and use the shortest distance rather than the fastest time. This means I still get to enjoy some good roads on the way up there.
There’s definitely something wrong with the bike though, enjoying the good roads isn’t easy when the Fut feels like it’s running on porridge, struggles to accelerate and only runs smooth on full-throttle after 6,000rpm… but somehow I manage. Usually this sort of disruption to my plans would annoy me but I’m still having loads of fun and in a great mood when I arrive.
While Griff takes a look at my Fut, I figure out the best way to get back onto the Bike8 route without missing too much of it out. It looks like there’s a fairly fast route that will drop me off only 15 miles north of Market Harborough. It means I’m unlikely to make it all the way to the Lake District today, but I’m feeling unusually flexible about things: whatever happens happens, even if it’s a bit shit, it still happens and there’s no point in resisting it! (I believe there’s a bumper sticker that expresses the same sentiment much more succinctly).
It turns out it is more complicated than a coil failure, much more complicated, and the guys at Aprilia Performance are fully booked up this week, so there’s nothing they can do. I’m faced with a choice: give up and go home, or drag the lame Ape around the route anyways, guaranteeing much higher fuel costs and running the risk of something going wrong in a more remote location…
Obviously I go for the second option – I’m having far too much fun to let this hiccough get in my way. Besides, Griff assures me that he knows trustworthy mechanics up and down the country, so I can call him if the worst happens and he’ll tell me who can help get me out of a bind.
There’s no doubt about it though, having the bike running so rough will mar my enjoyment a little. Add that to the constant blight of ‘loose chippings’, ‘road resurfacing’, roads badly in need of resurfacing, the added wind-noise of the replacement helmet and the alarming lack of a 3G signal regardless of where I stop, and I’m starting to wonder why I’m still enjoying myself at all.
Just as I’m having these thoughts, the 120mile, 2hr stop-off plus 2hr diversion comes to an end and I’m back on the Bike8 route. And suddenly it all makes sense again. Because I’ve been following the route for four days already, I’d started to take great roads for granted. Sure, that little stint into Tamworth and back reminded me how tedious even good roads can be but it’s not til I’m back on the 8 that I realise just how much fun these roads are, and just how lucky I am to be getting the perfect weather in which to ride them!
Credit is due to the team at Bike Magazine for stringing all these roads together in such a way. I mean, yeah, somebody already located all the great biking roads and put ‘Think Bike!’ or ‘Bends Dead Ahead’ posters up, but until now, no-one had shown us how to link all those roads together and hardly ever have to use a major dual carriageway or motorway! Thanks guys!
Unfortunately for me, the God of Tarmac wants to make sure I don’t get to Kendal tonight, so he’s upped the anti; doubling the amount of temporary road surfaces and even adding a few ‘Road Closed’ and ‘Diversion’ signs. I don’t know what was going on in Sleaford (I heard there may have been a stuck truck?!) but I got lost in a maze of different diversions and wasted a good hour trying to figure out how to get back on that pink squiggly line that the Sat-Nav keeps reminding me about.
It’s funny: the Garmin wants to recalculate when I go off-route but because this trip is about using certain roads, rather getting anywhere in particular, the placement and number of waypoints I’ve used means that every time it tries, it comes back the same result. It’s a strictly crafted round trip, so when I go off route, I have to find my own way back.
I decide to try and make it at least as far as Hawes before I camp, that would sew the Southern Loop up nicely. The rest of the day is spent switching between different roads, overtaking cage-drivers, enjoying short stretches of 60mph bends interspersed with 30mph villages and taking in some beautiful scenery – oh, and refuelling the thirsty Ape!
None of the roads are bad, but then not many are amazing or particularly challenging, so it all sort of melds into one in my head and I catch myself zoning out in autopilot a few times – but, in case you’d like a taste of what I’m experiencing, I have made this short video for you (best viewed in High Quality).
As much as I’ve enjoyed the last 200+ miles, it’s the run back up toward Hawes that really makes me smile. The road is just called The Avenue, which makes me think of straight roads lined by trees but this is far from straight. I’m heading west and the sun is pointing right at me, which really strains the eyes – but even that doesn’t stop me from enjoying this ride.
I do have to stop though! The light is fading and I’ve not made it quite as far as Hawes. I pull in to a perfect little rest stop surrounded by trees, just near Lightwater Valley Theme-park. I find the perfect pair of trees for my hammock on the first attempt, which is good because I’m shattered!
Sadly, there’s no 3G signal, so I can’t post to the blog tonight. Still, that means I can get an early night (it’s half past midnight, if you’re wondering)!