Updated: Apr 20, 2021
So the lockdown rules in England have relaxed. The "stay at home" rule ended on March 29, it became possible to meet upto six people outside and from April 12, self-catering accommodation was allowed to open. In other words: road trips are on the cards again. I'd booked the Friday (April 16) off work, made sure my girlfriend had babysitting organised and laid my plans. Time to get back on the road.
This is what I'd bought the Honda CrossTourer for: bigger trips with two. I took a very relaxed approach to my prep: the luggage is huge so I had no worries about packing. I knew where we were going, more or less, so I wasn't too worried about the route. But I'm rusty at the whole touring thing after so much lockdown. At the last minute, I decided to upload a route to the sat nav... which decided it didn't like it: cue much crashing of Basecamp and swearing until I deleted the damn thing and made it up from scratch again. Then, just the one hour behind schedule, I got the bike out of the lock-up and I was ready to go and get Ali.
Our destination: the excellent Midknowle Farm and Barns in the West Country (info here). Not just comfortable self-catering accommodation but also run by our friends Kevin and Lorraine - who I've known since the days of the Bike magazine forum. It was where I took Ali for her first bike trip, on the Kawasaki Z1000SX. The trip down on the roomier CrossTourer was more comfortable for both of us: confirmation that expanding the fleet made sense.
Saturday saw a lesiurely start - despite the blue skies, there was a chill edge to the air first thing. This time I didn't have a route in the sat nav and accidentally blundered onto the A303 for just long enough to remember what a dull bit of tarmac it is, before escaping for a better crosscountry ride to Bridgwater.
It was disappointing to see that the bedwetters have been out in force, littering the verges between Bridgwater and Minehead with 50-limit signs. I don't think there was more than a mile of it at the national limit. I know the argument is that this is to improve road safety - and I daresay dropping the limit does reduce the number of fatal crashes... but I wouldn't be at all surprised to see the total number of minor crashes has gone up on this and other roads with artificially lowered limits. I'm convinced the biggest causes of collisions are inattention, frustration and skill-lessness - all of which are promoted by these slug-speed conditions. Dawdling drivers don't pay attention to the road; those that want to get by get frustrated and then make poor decisions; and when there are fewer and fewer opportunities to drive at a real speed, of course drivers become de-skilled. Yes, I had far too much time time to think about this while puttering along in third on this god-awful road...
Thankfully, it wasn't long before things got better. A lot better. We stopped for lunch at Porlock Weir (I have to visit regularly to stop them renaming it) and then headed up onto Exmoor. I love the tight turns up Porlock Hill and then the flowing run across the moor. I had intended to shoot a bit of video but after wasting ten minutes faffing around realised that I'm rusty with all my kit. I need to invest some time in remembering how to use it properly. We did stop at one point to soak up the views down over Porlock Bay and then I fannied around a bit, riding up and down while Lorraine took a few pics of me (she's an excellent photographer) but I didn't have Ali on the back as I didn't fancy doing all the U-turns needed for a photoshoot with a passenger. Even though it was a Saturday, the road was nice and quiet. No ponies around, either...
We carried on along the A39 to Countisbury Hill - the steep, scenic descent to Lynmouth. As beautiful as ever, but the surface was pretty poor at the bottom and frankly it just got worse as we left the town: bumpy, pot-holed, covered with gravel. The overall state of the roads - not just here but over all three days of the trip from the East of England to the West - was frankly and universally shameful. Clearly and consistently worse than even two years ago. In places, frankly, our roads have become pretty dangerous with the size of the holes that are just left to fester. The patchworks of poor repairs in many places really does little to improve things. Compared with the condition of the roads ten years ago, I'd honestly say it's a disaster.
Still, we had a lovely ride back to base and then, on Sunday, made another late start and wound our way home through Glastonbury, Cheddar (great fish and chips; free parking for the bike; as-expected awful drivers in the Gorge) and then home through the Cotswolds.
As with our previous trip, I was keeping a critical eye on my riding. The different bike needs a slightly different style but I was happy that my use of mirrors was better, my acceleration sense was better, I was holding better - later - lines through right-handers. What really struck me was just how tired I was at the end of the weekend. I'm not properly bike-fit, the way I used to be: being stuck indoors during the lockdown has knocked the mile-munching stamina out of me. There's only one way to sort that out...
...Do more miles.