I can’t think of another way to describe my experience on the last day other than emotional!
It started with a fairly mad rush to the shops as they opened to try and finish off the last of my gift shopping, then back to the hotel to finish packing and start my final push home. So far so good.
I started around 9:30 and headed towards Exeter on the A30, then stopped to fuel up. This is where things started to go wrong.
Bikers tend to look out for each other; on a couple of occasions when I’d stopped on the side of the road to take photos passing riders would gesture to me to see if I was alright or I needed help. So obviously I was happy to check on other riders if I saw anyone that looked to be in the same sort of position I was. Now as I came round a large roundabout to join the A30 again I spotted a couple of bikers just off one of the turnings; they were both off their bikes and we’re just standing around. Had the roles been reversed I was sure they would do the same for me, so I decided to do the bikerly thing and turn off to make sure they were ok. I rode past them and gestured to see if they needed any help, to which they responded they were fine. I rode up a bit further and turned round to head back towards the roundabout. They waved at me as I rode past them again, and I returned the wave as I spotted the sign for the A30 and brought Kingpin up to speed to join the main road.
I had been riding, I think, for around 40 minutes when all of a sudden a sign on the side of the road declared ‘Welcome to Cornwall’. And I realised with a dawning sense of disbelief that I was travelling in the wrong direction!
I found the next slip road and turned back, at this point feeling totally disorientated and quite disheartened; by the time I got back to Exeter I’d lost about an hour and a half and over half a tank of fuel for nothing. I took some time to just take a step back and calm down a bit; obviously now I had to re-think my plans. I wasn’t going to have the time to stop at both Lyme Regis and Poole, and since I was still quite gutted that I’d done something so daft I decided just to call it quits: I would jump on the M5 and head back towards Bristol to join the M4 back home.
And it was about 20 minutes into my M5 stint when I suddenly thought “hang on- Cheddar Gorge is out this way, isn’t it?” Could it be that the first place I’d missed due to my enthusiasm and lack of navigational ability might still be an option on the way back? “If I see any signs for Cheddar as I get closer to Bristol then I’ll go” I thought. And, sure enough, it did. So I did.
Cheddar Gorge was a complete opposite to any of the Cornish roads I’d travelled: instead of large open areas of moorland you have a narrow twisty road through very tall and daunting cliff faces. The feeling is very much one of being enclosed. But it’s still an enjoyable experience, and I rode it once in both directions.
I stopped for about an hour to have a quick look around and to try the cheese (well you have to, don’t you?) then one more fuel stop before starting the final push back home.
The day had gone from despair to elation, and in a strange way I was happy that it had all gone wrong earlier: I’d had a great ride through the gorge, taken some great photos and eaten some great cheese – that easily made up for how bad I had felt a few hours previously.
I got home at around 7:30 that evening, tired but very happy. It’s good to remember that even when things look bleak they can turn around in a way that you don’t expect.
So there it was: my first tour done. What did I learn from it? Well..
Firstly you can’t do a tour like this in holiday season – you wouldn’t stand a chance of enjoying twisty country roads if you’re stuck behind caravans or queues of holiday makers.
Secondly I was a lot more capable than I’d expected to be. By this I mean that I was expecting more back pain that I actually got due to the riding position of the bike, and I could easily manage a couple of hours in the saddle if I needed to before having a break. To be honest, after my Brighton experience (see Madinah Phase Two-sort of) I was expecting about half that.
Thirdly touring is definitely an enjoyable pastime, and something I want to broaden my horizons with. But I think I would change to a larger more purposeful bike to do it – something like the Pan European, which would be more comfortable but still capable of having fun on the twisty roads.
The soft panniers I found were very easy to use each day; indeed it was fun just taking off the bags and using them as suitcases once I reached my hotel.
So my plan next is to do another one around September/October, but probably somewhere north this time. Watch this space..