As we sit by the campfire one evening, Herbert recounts his first extended bike trip, 30 years ago. As is the way with travel tales, the wanderlust sets in, and there's only one remedy: to get back on the road.
"..Suddenly, halfway round a corner lay a wooden beam. That's the Scottish way of warning traffic about a 'sheep crossing.' I slammed on the brakes. It was only then that I realized the road was covered in fresh sheep manure - and my Suzuki GT550 began sliding in the mess. My older sister Erika was on the back, as it was she who had put the idea in my head to ride up to Scotland.
"We had heard that it rains a lot there, so we had stuffed two sets of raingear into an old cotton army bag. Everything else we needed for the trip, we fit too: camera, clothes, a tent, and two sleeping bags. I also had a tankbag I was mighty proud of - the Harro Elefantenboy (a German classic), the only one available on the accessories market at the time. At a forced pace, the Suzi guzzled around 18 mpg.
"...back to the manure...we went down and my left knee landed right on the beam. Ouch! Unlike today, we didn't have a lot of safe, high-tech gear, so considering that I was wearing leathers and my sister only a denim suit, it was a miracle that we got away as unscathed as we did. As chance would have it, a car came along, and the driver, who happened to be a friendly nurse, drove us to the nearest hospital where they stitched up the open wound on my knee. The village police officer stayed up half the night repairing my damaged bike. We glued old carrier bags over the holes in our raingear, and the next day, with a few improvised spares, we continued our journey."
Several weeks after telling his story by the campfire, Herbert and I set off for Scotland to retrace the tracks of the bike trip that he'd taken in 1979. It's early August, and we plan to be on the road for 30 days. Spending many years traveling the world by motorcycle myself, I've learned that every journey poses a new challenge. This time, though, I plan to ride pillion on the new BMW R 1200 RT, as Erika once did. And as one who typically rides her own bike, this reversal of roles proves to be a challenge all on its own...
Warming up in England's Lake District
We leave Europe behind and roll through the "Gateway to Scotland," otherwise known as the Lake District, in England's northwest corner. Narrow, winding single-track roads snake their way through dense oak forests, and low, gray stone houses nestle on barren slopes. The chains of hills are shrouded in mist. Patches of ferns and heather are sprinkled between mysterious moors and small, dark ponds. A one- in-three gradient makes the Hardknott the steepest pass road in England, and the extreme curves and hairpin bends of Wrynose Pass demand constant gear changing. This is the perfect terrain to get us warmed up for Scotland.