Looking back it seemed like a marvellous idea and just the thing to escape the winter blues. Ted Magnum and I had noticed a camping expedition just before Christmas. It was set to be a smallish jaunt for a few days to sunny Yorkshire and a chance to check out my new camping equipment sometime in mid February. Having been ill since July much of the stuff I had purchased had not had the chance to be tested or used in anger and neither the bike nor I had had a decent run out since then.
As the time for departure drew nearer it seemed ominous that Ted should fracture his ribs and cry off like the big girls blouse he has become and my rear brake pads desperately required replacement. The weather had also taken a turn for the worse with predictions of heavy snow. As I had cried off a few run outs in the past few months I felt I would be letting the side down if I did not partake in this one. After all if I could not manage a run out in this country with people I knew, what chance would I have on my own in strange lands. The die was cast and I packed up and set off in clear sunshine under cloudless skies along the M62 arriving in Cropton, North Yorkshire some 4 hours later. Within couple of hours my tent was up and the hordes started to arrive. I say hordes there were about 20 of us but still, a good turnout considering the bitter cold conditions.
Old acquaintances were renewed and I was glad to see a good few friendly faces from previous meet ups. My equipment should have been checked and tested before I left but as I said I had no time to set any of it up. Thanks to Hondas decision to do away with normal petrol taps and fit vacuum pumps into their petrol tanks I was not able to draw any fuel to my new petrol stove. A short length of pipe would have enabled me to siphon some off but it did not occur to me to bring any. As a result I had no cooking facilities. It did not occur to me either that I should have taken some candles to keep warm and take the chill off the tent. My theory that two, one season sleeping bags doubled up with silk liners would make a three season sleeping bag was also completely wrong. As the first night drew in I shivered in my tent as the mercury fell to minus 7 with my teeth chattering so hard I could not sleep. I finally surfaced at around 6am in the hope of seeing someone else awake that I could cadge a cup of tea off.
As it turned out no one else woke or surfaced until around 7-30 am and by that time I was seriously concerned that rigor mortis would set in never mind hyperthermia. I was the coldest I can ever remember. Mercifully Sleepdog appeared and seeing my plight offered me a cuppa before we went off for breakfast. We had been told by the guy organising the run out that our engines would have to be running by 10am for a spot of green laning and then a trip to Whitby for fish and chips before heading back to camp. And so with bellies full and suitably refreshed a dozen bikes set off playing follow the leader. Now my idea of green laning is a nice bit of tarmac preferably with white lines in the middle and some street lights for when it gets dark with some nice bits of greenery on either side of said tarmac. Some live stock in the fields and a few swallows flying idly by and some sunshine in the sky would be ideal but it seems this lot had other ideas about what green laning means.
In this case it meant going along muddy paths that I would not send a pack mule along and the paths were full of mud, huge puddles and some snow, lots of snow. Somehow I managed to get to the end of the path in one piece with no damage to myself or the bike. Feeling quite pleased with myself we stopped at a village green and I had a fag and contemplated the run out to Whitby. My feeling of self satisfaction and general smugness disappeared shortly after we set off again and turned onto a path that sported a large notice with the legend “UNSUITABLE FOR MOTOR VEHICLES”. If this lump of V twin 650 Honda was not a motor vehicle then I have no idea what is. My heart sank but nothing could have prepared me for the terror that was to come. The path led up the side of a mountain that Sherpa Tensing and Sir Edmund Hillary would no doubt have used to practice the assault on Everest. This was not green laning; this was snowboarding and skiing territory.
The snow was deep and I fell off a dozen or so times, once quite badly with my leg trapped under the damn bike. My hand was badly hurt and it swelled up so much I could not use my left hand. This made clutch control a tad awkward. In the end I simply could not go on and feeling like one of the Hobbits as Gandalf led them over the mountains I cracked. My confidence had gone completely and I would gladly have tipped my bike off the ledge and left it there and called in mountain rescue to come and get me off this damn mountain. Only two things could have made me continue, a line of coke to give me some much needed confidence or some Prozac to make me care less. As it was it was Sleepdog who came to the rescue on the confidence front and Obi One Kenobi (the guy who had organised the run out) insisted I ride his much lighter bike and he ride mine.
The difference in machines was amazing, it went where I pointed it to and I did not have to have my feet off the ground so much that it made my hips and legs hurt. As it was the scars on my stomach were aching from the exertion of picking the bike up again and again and yet again many times over. Within a few hundred yards I decided I wanted to swap bikes and keep my new steed. All went well until we started the descent. One by one all of the bikes stopped and as I caught up with the front runners I understood why. In front of us was a steep incline covered in sheet ice that made riding down the side all but impossible except for the very foolhardy or insane. Ten machines were manhandled down the incline until we got to the bottom and back onto the black stuff. I was so happy to be back on tarmac I got down on my knees and kissed the road. It taken us almost five hours to travel 2.5 miles from the sign that said “UNSUITABLE FOR MOTOR VEHICLES” and back onto tarmac. To be fair it was mainly my fault as I was the slowest rider and fell off more times than anyone else. Strangely enough I only saw one other person fall off and that was just the once. I imagined that I was the most unpopular guy in the group although no one said a word.
We arrived back at camp after reaching Whitby and refuelling on fish and chips. By the evening I was in such a bad way I could only limp along and my hand was now turning varying shades of blue. There was only one thing to do and that was to relent. I had given up alcohol for lent but this was akin to 41 days and nights in the wilderness and I got the calling. Several pints of Becks later and I no longer cared about my aching bones and another night under canvass seemed a wonderful idea. I spent a good few hours in the company of Sleepdog and crusty under their basha bathing in the warmth of a charcoal burner. Crusty related the funniest story I have ever heard about pickled eggs but I will not repeat it in print. I thought I was going to cough up a lung I was laughing so hard and the mental images will stay with me for the rest of my life.
Sadly and all too quickly morning arrived and it was time to pack up and go home and then the snow started. It appeared everyone else was heading either north or south but I was the only one going west across the Pennines. I decided to stay another night but this time in the comfort of a bed and breakfast. I made this decision on the grounds that I was not fit enough to brave being stranded if any of the roads west were closed and by the amount of snow falling this was a distinct possibility.
It had been a fantastic weekend, satisfying, terrifying, exhilarating and illuminating and that was just in one afternoon. The people were fantastic and yes I would do it again but not right now! To all those who I had promised to keep records of cost and expenditure so they could decide if they could afford to do what I do here is a rough break down.
3 tanks of fuel, 45 quid (but loads left in my tank)
food and entertainment 80 quid (would have been a lot less if my stove had of been working)
1 nights B+B 45 quid
camping fees nil.