IBA SS1k Attempt – August 13-14, 2016 In some respects, it would be accurate to say that My SS1000 attempt took a full year rather than just 24h. That’s because I first came up with the idea in August of 2015 while lying in a hospital bed and feeling pretty horrible. I was diagnosed with cancer in late June 2015. As anybody that’s been through it knows, a cancer diagnosis creates a mixture of emotions. The first is shock and fear. “Oh shit, I’m going to die!” In my case, I’d known that there was something (seriously) wrong with me, so the shock was minimized, but when your worst fears are confirmed it’s still a hell of a kick in the teeth. After the shock and fear, the next emotion (at least for me) was sorrow. I wasn’t sorry for myself, but for those around me. I knew that it was going to be a serious blow – especially to my wife and kids – and I didn’t want to put them through the pain. Then the survival instinct kicks in and a new emotion surfaces – determination. Like most early diagnosis cancer sufferers, I thought to myself “no, I can beat this”. But, to beat it, I had to go through some rough surgery. I won’t describe the details here but it was challenging stuff. So, while I was lying in that hospital bed, I turned my attention to what I could target as a goal for the future. I wanted something that would require me to be relatively fit and healthy, but within the realms of (genuine) possibility. For some reason, an IBA qualification popped up. The more I thought about it, the more attractive it became. It was eminently achievable (lots of people have done it) but it requires grit … and reasonably good health. Over the next few months as I recovered from surgery (and follow-on treatment), I started planning my ride. I looked at lots of possible routes but finally narrowed it down to three that I thought were ‘doable’. I then worked out turn-by-turn directions and developed a spreadsheet with start and finish times for each leg. I also looked at satellite images of each fuel/rest stop to make sure that I knew EXACTLY how to get there and where the fuel pumps were. I even created a packing checklist, to make sure that everything that I needed to complete the ride would be with me on the bike. I know that this all sounds like over-kill, but I found the planning to be interesting. It sustained me – especially during the cold winter evenings of early 2016. Even if I didn’t ever actually do the ride, planning it was fun. I was feeling better and stronger all the time and everything seemed to be slotting into place to bring the vision to reality. By April, I knew that I’d do it. I originally wanted to do the ride in May or June, but there was always something that came up that stopped me. Then, as the weekend of August 13/14 approached I realized that it was completely free. Better yet, it looked like the weather would be good. On the Monday, I tentatively booked it (in my head) as the weekend to go. By Wednesday, I was mentally committed. By Friday night, I had packed my bag, checked the bike, and was ready to go. I’d spent a lot of time thinking about departure times. There were two big considerations. The first was to maximize the amount of time riding in daylight and the second was to hit the roadworks (of which there are many) at the least busy times. I’d looked at 8am starts, but that would mean taking a sleep break after 13 or 14 hours of journey. It seemed pointless to stop and sleep so close to completion. I considered a 5am start, 30 minutes before sunrise, and just go right through in one go, but I really didn’t want to be getting up at 4am. In the end, I opted for an 11am start with a 4hour sleep stop at 11pm. I played with the times again and again and this seemed the best. So, on the morning of Saturday August 13, 2016, I was ready to go. I checked the bike (a 2010 Kawasaki Versys 650) and everything looked good – oil, brake fluid, chain, Scottoiler etc. I got my wife to sign the witness form and gave myself authorization to launch. Leg-1: Chorleywood to Knutsford (M25-M1-M6) My 11am departure was slightly delayed and I finally left home at 11:05am. No big deal but I admit that it did irritate me a little. I had intended to leave at EXACTLY 11am. Still, I was feeling good and the weather was perfect (warm but a little cloudy). I stopped at the local fuel station (about a mile from home), filled the tank and the clock was running. The M25 traffic was relatively light and I smiled as I accelerated up to highway speed. Unfortunately, my smile was short lived. As soon as I got onto the M1 North (11 miles into the ride) the traffic built up substantially. For the next 70 miles, I fought my way through heavy traffic and roadworks. I rarely got above 60mph and spent several periods at 30-50mph. As always, I encountered an inordinate number of terrible drivers, especially (my personal hate) people that sit in the middle or outer lanes when the inside lanes are clear. A little over an hour later, I peeled off the M1 onto the M6 it was like a breath of fresh air. The road was very light traffic so I set about trying to claw back some lost time. The car drivers seemed to have suddenly learnt basic lane control and there were very few middle/outside lane hoggers. I was able to maintain an appropriate highway speed for the next 30-40 miles. The road was boring, with no scenery of any note, but at least it had a good surface and I could progress quickly. I had been expecting slower traffic past Birmingham, but was hoping that 50mph would be possible and it was! But, the traffic warning signs over the road started flashing ominously about heavy traffic between M6 junctions 16 and 17. Oh no! The queues started around junction 14. By junction 15 it was stop-start and I was filtering at 20-30mph. As always, the car drivers weren’t helping and there were so many of those arrogant jerks in big cars that feel that they’re so important that they don’t have to move over a little so that a bike can get through. Several times I got stuck behind two side-by-side SUVs with a 5” gap between them. To add insult to injury, the ignoramus drivers of these cars were often blatantly chatting on mobile phones or (even worse) texting as they crawled along oblivious to everything around them. The roadworks lasted for the next 14 miles it was painfully slow going. I kept glancing down at my watch (fixed to the handlebars) and seeing that I was falling further and further behind schedule. I was not a happy biker and could visualize planned rest stops evaporating into the mists of the best-laid plans. I finally reached Knutsford services at 2:10pm, 20 minutes behind schedule. Leg-2: Knutsford to Abington (M6-M/A74) I didn’t hang around at Knutsford. Fuel, toilet break, quick drink of water and back on the road. But, I was surprised to discover that this still soaked up more than 15-minutes. I’d budgeted my fuel stops at 20-30 minutes and assumed that this would allow plenty of time for a stretch and short relaxation break. In fact, I’d thought that if necessary my generous allocation for fuel stops would allow me to catch up time in the instance that a leg had been particularly bad. It was a bit if a blow to discover that a ‘quick’ stop was fifteen minutes. As I headed back out onto the M6, I added it up in my head. I estimated that I lost 1-2 minutes pulling off the motorway and negotiating the service station roads to the fuel pumps. It was then 3-4 minutes to remove helmet and gloves, unclip and flip up the tank bag and pump fuel. It was 2-3 minutes to pay for the fuel and then another 2-3 minutes to go to the toilet, which is challenging in full motorcycle gear. Back outside, and noting down times in my log probably took a minute and re-dressing (helmet, gloves, jacket/trousers attachment, adjusting neck warmer etc.) took another 2-3 minutes. So, that’s 10-15 minutes assuming that there’s no queue and no massive group of people ahead of you – either at the pump or the payment counter. It takes time to dump a few litres of fuel into the tank! Thankfully, the second leg of my journey was much better. The further north I headed, the less traffic there was. In fact, the traffic seemed to melt away once I was past the turnings for Liverpool and Manchester. No surprise really. 35% of the UK population lives in the south (13% in London alone) so the further north you travel the less people there are. Once you get into south Cumbria, you’ve put three-quarters of the UK population behind you. With the light traffic, I actually enjoyed the first part of leg-2. It was also a beautiful day. As I headed up over Shap, the clouds were building to left and right, but it looked fantastically dramatic. I love the scenery there and in terms of motorway travel, it’s got to be amongst the best in Britain. The landscape is desolate and on a stormy looking day it’s like something out of Lord of the Rings. Unfortunately, the dramatic clouds delivered on their promise as I headed over the border into Scotland, and it started to rain. But, it was just the occasional shower and I didn’t really get wet. I arrived at Abington Services a little before 5pm, now just 5 minutes behind schedule. It had been a great leg. I had caught up time and the scenery had been engaging. My butt was a little sore and my joints felt a little stiff, but nothing much to worry me. Leg-3: Abington to Port Glasgow (M/A74-M8-A8) My timing to Abington filled me with confidence so I took the opportunity to eat a sandwich and have a quick drink. Once again, I was surprised at the amount of time that the fuel break took and it was 25 minutes later that I was back on the M74 and heading (further) North. This time however, instead of contemplating the time of the stop, I spent twenty minutes thinking about costs. The fuel at both Knutsford and Abington were >10% more expensive than my local station. That’s a lot! In fact, over the length of the journey that would add up. I began doing calculations in my head. - £0.11 more expensive per litre which is ~£0.5 more expensive per gallon - 1,000 mile trip with ~800 relying on motorway. - 55mpg means 14 gallons of fuel. - £7 extra in cost. OK, I admit that £7 extra isn’t a HUGE amount, but it is significant and it’s annoying. Motorway service stations have (pretty much) a captive audience for fuel. They must be among the heaviest used fuel stops in the entire British Isles. But the law of supply and demand doesn’t apply. They SHOULD be heavily discounted because of the massive bulk of custom. Instead, they scalp the public and charge them MORE. The same is true of the coffee shops and restaurants. It’s disgraceful really. I know that their argument would be that they provide a valuable service, and it’s true … they do. But, applying such huge mark-ups is really nothing but a complete rip-off. My mental gymnastics burned up 20-30 minutes and in no time I was on the outskirts of Glasgow. I groaned when I saw signs for 13 miles of roadworks but thankfully once I hit them I found it was actually possible to maintain the speed limit of 50mph so I was happy. I did have one sticky point at the end of the roadworks as I got onto the M8. I (stupidly) assumed that the speed limit was 70mph and gratefully accelerated away, only to notice a (craftily small) sign that said 50mph. Oops! I slowed, and spent the rest of the ride to Port Glasgow looking out for the sneaky Scottish speed limit signs, which they seem to do their best to hide. I reached Port Glasgow at 6:10pm, 15-minutes AHEAD of schedule. It had been a pleasant ride, especially the last bit of weaving around a few roundabouts and enjoying the view over the firth of Clyde. I stopped at a Tesco fuel station in town and splashed some fuel into the tank, noting that now that I was off the motorway the price was once more reasonable, and then prepared to turn around and head back the way that I had came. Before I remounted the bike, I pulled out the extra fleece that was on my top box and put that on. I had been feeling a little chilly ever since crossing the border into the frozen wastelands of Scotland and by the time I stopped at Port Glasgow, I was shivering. By now, it was 6:15pm and the warmth of the day was definitely dropping fast. Leg-4: Port Glasgow to Southwaite (A8-M8-M/A74-M6) The fourth leg turned out to be quite a slog. I had been bored a few times already on the journey and had tried to fill these boring periods with mental activity (such as calculating the time for a fuel stop or how much extra the fuel was on the motorway), but now the boredom was really starting to set in. The scenery was nice, especially through Dumfries, but the riding was boring. Worse, my butt was numb, my knees and hips were aching, my neck was stiff and my hands were starting to cramp up. The boredom was being accompanied by pain! So, when I reached Southwaite (at 8:00pm, 20 minutes ahead of schedule), I decided to stop and invest ten minutes doing some stretches. Leg-5: Southwaite to Knutsford (M6) The stretching seemed to pay off and I felt a lot better as I set off on my fifth leg with the sky beginning to turn pink and darkness approaching. But, as I got back up to highway speed I realized that even with my extra fleece I was still cold. That was my second big lesson for the day. The first had been that I’d underestimated the time required for a fuel stop and the second was that I’d underestimated the amount of clothing that I needed to be comfortable. But, I gritted my teeth and ploughed on. My original plan had been pull off the M6 at Junction 19 (just before Knutsford services) ride a few hundred yards east to a church at Over Tabley (I’d scouted out on Google Street View) and spend a couple of hours sleeping. It looked as if there was a layby that I could park the bike and a quiet looking graveyard where I could hop over the wall and bivvi for a while. My assumption was that after 10-12 hours, I’d be ready for some Z’s. But, as I approach Junction 19 (at 10pm) I realized that I was still feeling pretty good and very alert. Chances are, I’d struggle to get sleep. I didn’t want to waste time trying to sleep so instead of stopping I grabbed fuel at Knutsford service station, and buzzed off once more into the night. Leg-6: Knutsford to Strensham (M6-M5) As soon as I got back onto the M6 after Knutsford, I learnt my third lesson of the trip. I couldn’t see my directions! I had planned out my route meticulously and wrote a ride plan for each leg. I’d noted the general directions, the distance between turn/checkpoints, the estimated time enroute and any other notable pieces of information. I’d printed this off and placed in the top of my tankbag with a different set of notes for each leg. As I accelerated away from Knutsford, I realized that the notes were useless. It was dark! I couldn’t see them let alone read them. Luckily though, the endless pre-trip planning (and re-planning) meant that I had memorized everything, so I didn’t really need the notes anyway. Still, it would have been nice to be able to glance down and be able to estimate the time/distance to the next turn/checkpoint. It would have been even nicer to glance at a GPS and have it tell me EXACTLY how far was remaining. But, let’s face it, GPS is for wussies. Thankfully, the M6 roadworks that had delayed my journey on the way north were free flowing on the way south. In fact, it was quite nice to cruise along at 50mph for a while. The only nuisance was that the people responsible for the roadworks had (for some inexplicable reason) placed small humps in the road every 200-300m on the inside lane. Probably not a problem in a car, but, at best, annoying on a bike. So, I spent the next 14 miles swerving around them or did what I absolutely hate – sat in the middle lane! At least for those periods when I did sit in the middle lane I kept a close eye on my mirrors and as soon as somebody started to approach from behind I moved over. I soooooo wish that other drivers would do the same thing. By the time I left the M6 and joined the M5 heading southeast, I was feeling cold and cursing my inadequate planning. By the time I saw the sign for Strensham services (at a little before midnight), I was truly ready for a stop. Bored, stiff and cold. So, I took a 30-minute break and warmed up with a double espresso and a burger. I’d lost track of where I was on the schedule now, but I was pretty sure that I had at least 30-minutes spare – and probably more, so I wasn’t worried. Leg-7: Strensham to Exeter (M5) As I sat in Strensham services, I took a look at Google maps on my phone. Yes, I know – I denigrated using a GPS but quite happily pulled out my phone. What can I say, I’m a hypocrite. In my defence the phone was off except for when I checked messages at fuel-stops and texted my wife so that she knew I was still alive. Anyway, I still didn’t feel the need to sleep but thought that it might be a good idea. So I spent quite a while looking at the satellite view of roads nearby but couldn’t find any obvious place to lay my sleeping bag and stretch out. I could see a few potential places down towards Exeter, so I mentally noted a few locations and then headed back out on the road. The M5 journey southwest was (like so many British roads) plagued with roadworks. It seemed as if every few miles there was another set and the speed limit was back down to 50mph. I was beginning to get REALLY tired of roadworks. The state of the British roads really is a disgrace. How come other countries (like France, Germany and Belgium) have such great roads. Whenever I’ve rode/driven there, I have encountered the occasional roadworks, but they’re usually short and buzzing with worker activity. In the UK, we get 10-20 mile stretches of highway with minimal worker activity for MONTHS (and sometimes years) on end. Perhaps it’s time that the UK Highways Agency was revamped with some more dynamic leadership. Or, is this just another example of the inefficiency of the British public sector. It’s funny that as a nation we voted to leave the bureaucracy and inefficiency of the European Union without having any kind of plan in place and forgetting that our own government-run institutions are at least as bad as and typically much worse than those of the EU. Thankfully, it was the early hours of the morning, so the traffic was minimal. I headed through the roadworks at a steady 50mph so didn’t really lose a huge amount of time. One thing that I noticed at this time of day is that almost every vehicle is travelling fast. There are very few motorists doing less than 70mph, and a significant number are going a lot faster. In fact, there was a bit of excitement around Bristol when a car zoomed past me at about 100mph. I was watching his taillights disappear into the distance when, whoosh, a police car came past me going even quicker. 30-seconds later, with the police car by now a quarter of a mile into the distance, I saw his ‘blues’ go on. But the other car didn’t stop. I sped up (just a little) to see what would happen. The chase probably lasted five or six miles. I have no idea what the speeder was thinking. There was little chance that he’d outrun the police. The only thing that I could surmise was that he had something in the car that perhaps he shouldn’t have and was trying to surreptitiously get rid of it. It got serious when the police car pulled alongside and kind of ‘jinked’ towards him. I don’t think that the cop had any intention of ramming him at those sorts of speeds, but it unnerved the speeder and he finally pulled over onto the hard shoulder. I was sorry that the drama was over because it had been an interesting break to the boredom. But, the good news was I was also further down the road without noticing. I reached Exeter services at 2:10am. Leg-8: Exeter to Fleet (A30-A303-M3) As I pumped fuel at Exeter, I took another look at my notes. By now, I’d stopped paying attention to my original schedule and it was completely out of the window. Home was now (theoretically) just 3 hours away. I was feeling pretty good. So I decided not to bother looking for a sleep spot and just carry on. I was feeling confident that I could make it without too much difficulty. I’m guessing that, at one time the A30 and A303 were pretty good biking roads. Some bits are really nice and twisty. But, I’m also guessing that there have been a few accidents over the years because the best bits are now reduced speed limit (50mph). It seems such a shame. I know that it must be horrible for emergency services to be scraping the remains of some dumbass kid off the road after he’s lost it on a corner. But, does reducing the speed limit to 50mph really make a difference? After all, if the speeder was willing to exceed the limit at 60 or 70mph limit, won’t he/she still be willing to push it at 50mph? I don’t know. Perhaps the stats support the actions. I guess that if it saves a life, it’s worth it. But, I do think that it’s a shame that everybody has to suffer and fun roads get turned into boring routes. Anyway, in the dead of night it’s tough to push on especially when the headlights don’t point around corners. So, this was my fourth lesson. Riding twisty roads, late at night really isn’t a great idea. It was especially unnerving when every 10-20 minutes headlights would appear behind me and somebody in a hot-hatch would zoom up FAST behind me. I always moved over quickly so that I could let them get to whatever urgent engagement was so important, but it wasn’t fun at all. So much for those speed limits huh? Leg-9: Fleet to Chorleywood (M3-M25) By the time I got to the M3, despite only being 50 miles from home, I decided that I needed some more caffeine (and another stretch). The pains in my joints really were getting troublesome. Knees, elbows, hips, neck, shoulders, arms and (most of all) my hands were screaming for some relief. So, I pulled into the Fleet service station hoping that there was something open. I saw a sign for Starbucks as I took the exit road and decided that I’d even be willing to succumb to the extortionate prices of one of their espressos. But, I was able to avoid Starbucks when I found that McDonalds was open. Better yet, they had started serving breakfast at 4am and it was now a few minutes after. So, I sat down with a sausage and egg McMuffin, hash brown and (reasonably priced) double espresso. I know that McDonalds aren’t the healthiest restaurants on the planet and their coffee isn’t as nice as Starbucks. but, they’re consistent, reasonably priced and generally clean. I’ve pulled over at several McDonalds restaurants in the past and been grateful to be able to sit in relative comfort for a while. This was the case at Fleet. I probably sat there for 20-30 minutes, warming up and watching a steady stream of customers come in. Why is it that people that are out-and-about in the early hours of the morning are always so … interesting. A group of teenagers that didn’t look much older than sixteen (but I guess must’ve been to be on the motorway) full of energy and enthusiasm happily chatting away while stuffing amazing quantities of food into their slim frames. Two twenty-something couples that seemed half asleep, thoroughly miserable, and wishing that they were still in bed. An older guy, probably in his sixties, with an impressive ponytail and dressed in jeans, t-shirt and denim jacket. He looked as if he’d fallen asleep in his clothes forty-years ago and just woken up. I’ve done quite a lot of travel, and it seems to be consistent in any country that the most interesting people are to be found between 3am and 5am in restaurants and coffee shops, especially those by the side of the road or at bus/train stations. The final leg was easy. As I left Fleet, the sky was clearing in the east and as I got onto the M25, it was close to daylight. The traffic was light and the turn-off for home (a few miles after the M40 exit) appeared quickly. I pulled into my local fuel station at around 5:40am and was home by 5:50am. I gave the bike a quick spray with GT-85 and pushed it into the garage. ---------- I have to say, this was not an enjoyable ride. On the whole it was boring, uncomfortable and tedious in the extreme. But, I’m glad that I did it, and I might even do it again. Now, I'm just waiting for the trip to be verified so that I can officially claim to be one of the "worlds toughest motorcycle riders".