The day will come when I will die. So the only matter of consequence before me is what I will do with my allotted time. I can remain on shore, paralyzed with fear, or I can raise my sails and dip and soar in the breeze.--Richard Bode

Friday, July 31, 2015


In my last post I was telling you that I was in the mountains around the Lake District in England. Those mountains are impressive -- not like the Alps or the Rockies, both of which are enormous and majestic -- but more for the fun riding on single lane roads up through great herds of sheep.

I said in my last posting that I had dropped my bike on my foot.  Can you tell which one I dropped the bike on? 

That poor foot turned black and blue on the bottom and around the toes.

The toes don't look too bad here, but as time went on they turned more and more black. They looked dead. It has been over a week now since my stupid accident, and, although the color is returning, the foot is still swollen.

Anyway, as I say, I rode down into the Welsh Mountains of Snowdonia. I really like it there. The riding was marvelous, although the weather continued to be bad with rain every day.

From Wales, I rode back into the flatter lands of Southern England. I wanted to go to Stratford Upon Avon, Shakespeare's home town. I was there years ago with my wife, and I remember it very well.

My foot was feeling better, so I was able to walk along the river and explore a bit. It sure is pretty there. I wonder what it would be like to travel the rivers of England and mainland Europe in a rented houseboat like so many people do.

After walking for a mile or so, I came to a cute little ferry ran by a man who pulled it across the River Avon with a crank and pulley system. He charged 50 cents to go across.

The main thing I wanted to do in Stratford was go to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre to take in a play. My wife and I did that years ago when we were there together, and I really enjoyed the experience. So, I went to see "Merchant of Venice", but I was very disappointed: it was done in modern day costume on a bare stage and the actors mumbled their lines so that I couldn't understand a word they said (well -- to give them some credit, it may have been that my 71 year old ears have gotten too weak to understand people on stage). The next night I went to see "The Jew of Malta", a play from the same era but by a different writer. It was done in period costume with good stage sets and great acting, and, maybe because I remembered my hearing aides, I could hear every word. Unlike the previous night's show of The Merchant of Venice", this show got a standing ovation from an appreciative crowd.

I stayed at a beautiful Youth Hostel in Stratford. It was really nice -- one of the best places I have stayed at all summer.

There was a "motorcycle only" parking area in town. I parked there each night when I went in to a play. I felt really safe doing that. No one will bother a bike hidden behind a wall. The parking at the hostel was similar. It was also hidden behind a wall.

But finally, my time in Britain is over. I am ready to head back to the mainland. I wanted to take the Channel Train (The Chunnel) over to Calais, France, but there are huge groups of North Africans in Calais trying to sneak aboard lorries and smuggle themselves to England. The police in  England have the main roads closed and the lorries stacked up for miles. I guess they were checking every truck for illegals. All I know is that I could not get to the tunnel. That is okay. A ferry will work just as well. It will also give me a chance to see the English Channel a little better. The last time I came across the Channel on a ferry was 45 years ago when I brought a group of grouchy high school students to Europe. There was a back-up today of cars trying to get on the ferry. Everything was running a half hour late.

But look, behind the ferry -- the famous White Cliffs of Dover.

So goodbye to England, at least for this summer. I will miss it. It is definitely one of my favorite places on Earth (even if they do talk funny there -- Y'all better staighten up that accent, ya hear?).

Here is a map of my UK trip this summer.

I am in Calais, France tonight, staying in a very nice Youth Hostel. I plan to ride up to Ghent, Belgium tomorrow.

More later, Ron

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

England's Lake District

The Lake District in northwest England has to be one of the most picturesque places on Earth. The entire area is a national park now, although I am not sure what that means since there are no rangers nor public campgrounds nor visitor centers. No matter -- it is still beautiful. There are little lanes like this one all over the place, They are fun motorcycle rides.

I have been staying at a hostel in Ambleside on the north end of Lake Windermere. Several poets and authors and artists lived near here. One of them was William Wordsworth. I hiked to his home. This is it.

As far as homes go I guess this one was nice, but I was more taken with the garden. I do love gardens.

I was never a great fan of Wordsworth's poetry. I have never floated "Lonely as a cloud" in my life. I just can't identify with it, nor with Shelly, Keats or Byron, I want my poetry to have some grit in it. Give me Service's "The Cremation of Sam McGee" or Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade", but not the frilly stuff of the Romantic Poets. Okay, enough rambling. Here is another picture from Wordsworth's bedroom window. Way down in the distance you can see Lake Windermere. That is where I am staying. Better get to walking.

There are trails and people hiking them all over the place here in the Lake District. Mostly, they are pretty well marked.

The trail I was following went across a river. Hmmm. I have my camera, passport and wallet in my pocket and it has been raining (Again. Still!) Those stones look slick. Maybe I should rethink this.

There are other paths to choose from. I am in no hurry. I can just enjoy the scenery for now. I can see my village, Ambleside, down there. I won't get lost.

Look. A bridge. Now I can get across the river.

The streams and creeks are raging. Is it because of all the rain?

I said in earlier posts that I have started staying in hostels. I like them, especially since they are dry. But look, poor Odysseus has to stay out in the rain. Sorry big boy.

Today is a new day, and the owner of this hostel copied out a map for me of a good ride up and over one of the mountain passes. First, though, a visit to a museum. Do you recognize this guy?

If you have read as many Beatrix Potter books to your children as I have to mine, then you will recognize that rabbit. He is Peter Cottontail or course. Beatrix Potter had a house on the other side of Lake Windermere. I want to go see it. But first, I want to ride the mountain pass my hostel host told me about.  

These one lane roads have pull-out spots every so often so that cars can get past each other.

Those passing spots can be tricky, especially if four or five cars get there at the same time. It requires a lot of negotiations and backing up and squeezing by. Sometimes a driver will decide that a motorcycle doesn't need much space and will not pull over. I don't  much like it when that happens.

I was very hungry, but it was sprinkling. Still, it is too pretty up here to let a little precipitation stop a hungry man. Time for lunch.

At one pull-off I misjudged how steep the slant was. When I put my left foot down, the ground wasn't there. I was stopped, but the bike was leaning over to the left so far I couldn't hold it up. It fell on me and pinned my left foot. A bicycle rider stopped and tried to pick the bike off me so I could stand up. He lifted it about 8 inches, and then dropped it on my foot again. Ow! Ouch! Sob! Fortunately, a car and two motorcycle riders came along. It was a group effort, but finally my bike was upright.

Then, I looked 20 feet uphill and one of the motorcycle rider's bike was coming down backwards. He had left it in neutral with the motor running. Fortunately, it fell over before it got to us or before it went over the side of the mountain. It was safe, but several parts broke off.

I was ready to call it a day on this mountain. My ankle was aching like the dickens. But look! There is the rest of the road up the pass. Oh no. Sigh!

I did finally get to Beatrix Potter's house. Here it is.

Actually, the house was a sort of anti-climax to the day. There wasn't all that much of Beatrix in it. Still, I enjoyed learning about her. She was very talented. I also enjoyed seeing scenes that I recognized from her books, like this one. I can't remember which of her stories it was in, but I do remember it. I need to look it up sometime.

Now I am back at the hostel. My foot is propped up and packed in ice. I can tell nothing is broken, but it sure is bruised. Oh well -- gotta ride off tomorrow. A man has gotta do what a man has to do.

(Foot update - When I got back home to America 5 weeks later, my wife made me go to the doctor. He took one look at my foot and sent me to the hospital for an x-ray. It turned out that the 4th (or lateral) metatarsal was broken in half down its entire length, from end to end.)

Heading south tomorrow.


Monday, July 20, 2015

Glen Coe Scotland

It was raining when I left the beautiful hostel at Invergarry between Loch Ness and Loch Lochy. I rode west along the lakes. Loch Ness and Loch Lochy are in the Great Glen, the wide slash that runs diagonally through Scotland. The Great Glen is just slightly above sea level, and canals and locks were built there many years ago to allow shipping from the Atlantic to the North Sea.

My wife, Patrice, and I rode this way 30 years ago on our bicycles, but I remember us being on the other side of the lakes. My memory has grown rusty I guess, because so many things seem different. For one thing, there is so much more traffic now.

Just south of the Great Glen there is another valley, Glen Coe, where the British king ordered the Jacobite McDonalds and Stuarts who lived there massacred in a surprise attack about 300 years ago. It is a famous event in all the history books.

Until recently, there was a lot of slate mining there. Slate is used mostly for the roofs of houses, but also for blackboards in schools and for pool tables. It was kind of interesting to walk around in the old mine, but then, I like rocks.

The lady at the Glencoe visitor center told me that I should definitely ride up through Glen Coe. It is supposed to be some of the most beautiful scenery in Scotland. She was right.

Fortunately, it stopped raining and I could see a long way up the side valleys.

There were trails and hikers going up them everywhere.

I think in winter it snows a lot up there. No snow now though. I bet the rain washed it all away.

Can you read the sign in this next picture? It says "Danger of Landslides".  I don't think Odysseus and I want one of those.

The Glen finally dumped me out close to Loch Lomond. There she is down there.

I had my GPS (they call it a Navi -- as in navigator -- here) set to take me to the hostel I planned to stay in for the night. At one point, I noticed on my GPS that the hostel was directly across the lake from me. There was no way to get there without going around the south end of the lake. It was about 50 miles around, but it wasn't a waste because I had to go that way anyway.

When I got to the hostel, there was a BMW motorcycle with Nederland license plates. I knew that bike. It was Hank, a school teacher from Holland whom I had met at a hostel just a few nights ago. And here is the hostel, looking cheerful in the sunshine.

I love sunshine. I have seen it so rarely on this summer's trip. And sure enough, when I got up this morning it was raining again. I rained so much that I did something I don't much like to do -- I rode the six lane "Motorway" through Glascow and down to the "Lake District". I knew I would not be able to see anything on the country lanes I normally ride anyway.

So, tonight, I am in a hostel in the "Lake District". This area is one of the most scenic in all of the United Kingdom. If it clears up tomorrow I might stay here and do some hiking. There is a lot to see in this area.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Rain, Rain Go Away

I have been riding in the Scottish Highlands. It is beautiful here, but I have taken very few pictures because it has been raining almost constantly. Everyone says this is the worst and rainiest summer they can remember. I heard the same thing all the time when I was in the Scandinavian countries. It has been cold, and the wind has been vicious. Today, for example, the wind was so strong the rain was coming down sideways. There have been times that I have been riding along leaning way over into the wind, and then, when the wind suddenly stops, I have to quickly get the bike upright, and as I am doing that a sudden gust from the opposite direction will blow me across the road.

The roads here in the Highlands are often single track. If you look at the picture above again, you can see that I am pulled off onto one of the passing places. This works pretty well as long as everyone is well behaved and willing to share the road. Normally they are. Oncoming cars will flash their lights to tell you that they are pulling over into a passing place to let you by. If they don't do that you had better watch out because they are coming and you had better get out of the way.

There are some nice villages down in the valleys where you can meet some really nice people. Everyone is always so curious about me and about where I am from and where I am going. However, up in the windswept moors there is almost nobody. Look at this house. The nearest neighbors must be miles away. 

Can you see all the sheep around that house in the last picture. Those guys are everywhere. There are also some big deer (sorry, but every time I saw one of those big deer rascals it was raining too hard to take a picture). It is little wonder that distilling whiskey would be a good thing to do here in the Highlands. Those distilleries are everywhere (so are castles, but I am absolutely burned out on looking at those things). I am not burned out on distilleries though. I figured I should stop at one and have a wee dram to take the chill out of meself. Maybe you have heard of this one since it is very popular among Scotch Whiskey drinkers in the US.

I learned that a dram is two fingers worth of Scotch in a glass. They gave me a dram of 15 year old Scotch, but I am ashamed to say I only took a sip or two of it. How anybody can drink that stuff is beyond me. I am told it is an acquired taste, but I guess I will never be able to acquire it. For one thing, I think it makes you talk funny. Here is an example: can you read the Scottish language on this sign? Thank goodness everyone has learned to speak English here.

Not everyday has been constant rain, although every day has had rain in it. I drove up to the far north of Britain to John O'Groats, and there I had a rare hour of sunshine.

Mostly it has been very, very wet and rainy here. I have started staying in youth hostels. I have done this many places around the world, and usually they are nice. However, my daughter Jessica and I stayed in one in the Czech Republic last year and it was terrible. I didn't think I wanted to try it again. But a couple of days ago, wet and cold from rain, I passed a hostel and decided that it looked dry and warm. I turned around, went back, asked to see the rooms, and settled on one for 27 dollars. It was a marvelous experience. Everyone in the place was older, like me, or else a member of a family (mom, dad, maybe a couple of young kids). And  everyone was quiet, which is important to me. I don't like bratty and drunken 22 year old boys ruining my experience. Not that there was not some 22 year old boys -- one, from Prague, was on a motorcycle, and he shared a room with me and a sixty year old man (also riding a motorcycle) from Holland.  As long as these hostels remain a positive experience, I think I will not stay in either a rainy campground or an expensive hotel during the rest of my trip.

So now I am at Loch Ness in my third hostel here in Scotland, sitting in a beautiful and clean lounge, typing this blog. There are two other people in here also -- a man and his 14 year old daughter -- both reading quietly. I can look out the large picture window, and it looks like the sky is clearing up. I am hoping for a clear day tomorrow. I think I will ride down the west coast and find a ferry to Ireland.