It started as an open invite to anyone interested in riding with me from Land's End to John o'Groats. I was going to do it the slow way, on the same 105cc Honda CT110 that I'd ridden from Sydney to London on and then from New York to Alaska. So I'd done some miles on her, but always wanted to do some in the UK.
I'd thought about doing the trip the previous year but kept putting it off. That's why I opened it up to anyone else that was interested and set a date and time and so knew I had to be there whether I wanted to be or not!
And what a good decision that was.
About 26 riders and bikes turned up, though we never did a formal headcount so I'm not too sure whether we lost or gained any over the duration of the trip.
Some turned up on small bikes like Honda C90s and one on a Yamaha Townmate 80cc two-stroke who had bought cheap small bikes especially for the trip. Others arrived on Honda MSX125s or Yamaha TW200s they already owned. There were bigger bikes; a Suzuki Vstrom 650 and 1000, a Suzuki GSX1250 ridden by James and Minn who were on their honeymoon. Australian Paul had flown over from Oz especially for the trip and was riding a Suzuki Bandit he'd picked up cheap upon landing.
Nich Brown of Overland Magazine turned up on his Royal Enfield Bullet 500, whilst John Goode had borrowed his wife's three wheeled 125cc Yamaha Tricity. Will Munsey had borrowed a Vespa 125 from somewhere. There were Yamaha MT03s, battered examples of both BMW F650s and Honda CB200s, and a clean looking Honda CRF230, ridden by two sisters, Bee and Chilie, splitting the ride with one shadowing behind in a camper van and changing over midday, as Chilie was undergoing treatment for ovarian cancer and had Land's End to John o'Groats down on her bucket list.
So a motley crew we were. Most complete strangers. I knew a few but not many. Most knew no one. Given the potential chaos of 26 strangers riding eight days to the top of the country I devised something of a loose plan, designating camp spots and some lunch spots, meaning that if people got lost or wanted to make their own way then they could, all meeting up at day's end.
I didn't want to run it formally like a guided tour. I wanted people to have and make their own adventure, do it their way, not my way. I suppose my aim was to try and give them, and me, a taste of what it was like on my big trips across the world. People say you can't have an adventure in your own country but I disagree. I reckon that if you approach it in the right frame of mind, with the right attitude, then it doesn't matter where you're riding, just that you're out there riding!
It was also a manageable amount of time eight days. Even for me, now married, I don't want to be away any longer. A week now seems like a long time. You have to be in very fortunate circumstance to have the time, and the money, to go away for months on end. Sometimes it's more important to have manageable adventures, which you can go off on, and come back from, without having to sacrifice too much of your world.
And so off we set, and for the next eight days picked our way up the country. We avoided motorways, all but a very small stretch around Bristol, but for the most part stuck to all the tiny little roads and rural areas that would obviously take us longer to navigate but mean that we'd get to see a lot more of the country; places most of us had never been before.
The run up along the Cornish and Devon coast - having left Land's End - was stunning, aided by the sunny weather and the excitement of it all. Looking in your rear view mirror and seeing a pearl of 26 bikes trailing off into the distance was a great feeling. I was excited to be a part of it. I was chuffed that people turned out and I was nervous and concerned that we'd all be alright and that people would enjoy it.
As the days passed by and more time was spent together I think it dawned on us all that we were part of something really special. It was a completely organic adventure. None of us knew where we were really going or what was going to happen. Sometimes it was sunny. Sometimes it rained. We stayed the second night at the wonderful Dom's Bike Stop just outside Leominster. It was sunny until then, then rained pretty much solid for the next two days as we entered Derbyshire, the Peak District and headed for Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire.
There we stayed at the come of Ian Coates, a motorcycling legend, in his seventies, and still with an appetite for travel. It was a wet, windy night in his open ended barn. Some stayed at the pub. The group reformed the next day as we pushed into the Yorkshire Dales and headed for Cumbria. The weather was bitter, as bitter as any I'd encountered elsewhere. But people were in good spirits; some riding as smaller groups, some riding solo, but everyone meeting back up at Haggs Bank Bunkhouse in Cumbria for some hot food and to dry clothes.
By this point I was proud of everyone. Sometimes I found it hard. I'm not the best organised. I can panic. I don't often know where I'm going. So to have a chorus of voices asking me where I was going confused me even more as I'm used to only looking after myself. But I wanted this trip for the challenge. I knew it would be hard, but I like that. I like it when a trip is a challenge. It means it's worth doing and that you're getting something out of it. And the challenge was worth it, as the miles ticked by, I began to enjoy it more and more.
From Cumbria we pushed north towards Scotland, passing through Gretna Green and Dumfries, before heading to the coastline that would take us all the way up to the port of Gourock, where we would catch a ferry to Dunoon, skipping the passage through the congested corridor between Edinburgh and Glasgow. The ferry drops you off right at the foot of the Highlands. Ferries feel like they're transporting you to another world. This one was no different, despite only being about 25 minutes long.
From here the trip really opened up. We'd come through the cluster of the Midlands and spine of the country, where the population was dense and it difficult to avoid the major towns and cities (though we managed it!). Now we were aiming for the Scottish Highlands, where the land is plentiful and the people sparse. Some might think the bikes we were on were too small for such places, but quite the contrary. There's something special, therapeutic even about cruising along in the low forties. More time to think, less speed to race. The speed just suited the mood.
After a night at Glendaruel campsite, complete with rampant midges, we continued north, day six to eight taking us along the west coast, recently designated part of the North Coast 500; a tourist industry idea to get more people to visit the Highlands. It's clearly working, there's a lot of tourists up here, though not to the point of congestion. For us we rode and we rode. We had good weather now. The Pass of the Cattle into Applecross was made even more spectacular by blue, almost cloudless skies. The views just got better and better. Bikes were all holding in there. Some coaxed gently. Some thrashed. But all still making progress.
Lunch in Gairloch. Stocking up on supplies at the Tesco in Ullapool. We were dirty and dishevelled, most of us tired. It had been a long seven days to this point, riding roughly 180 miles a day, which at any speed, on these tight roads, is plenty. B&Bs would have resuscitated us, but there was something fitting about the sufferance of camping that made it ideal for this budget endeavour. I'd aimed to spend £200 for the whole thing. It might have been a touch more by the end, but still not more than £300. Some had machines so frugal they'd spent more on beer than they had on petrol. Others with bigger bikes and appetites did spent a fair bit more.
The last day across the tops to John o'Groats was murder. The weather had set in; landing a deep fog and mist, complete with heavy rain and blustery side winds all the way along. A bit of sunshine for this last push would have been lovely, but it wasn't to be. People still laughed though. People still had a good time. Mikey Sunter from Thurso had met us in Applecross and invited us all back the house he shares with his girlfriend and made us all tea, twenty miles from our final destination. It was just what we needed and a reminder that there are good people everywhere.
Riding into John o'Groats was a satisfying feeling. Chilie and Bee both climbed on their 230cc machine for the final ride in. It seemed so fitting. I was chuffed to bits that they'd decided to come in the first place, and just as chuffed again that they'd made it. I was chuffed that everyone had made it; all bar one - Martyn - who sadly succumbed to clutch problems not far from the end.
These 26 strangers - just 8 days prior - had met at a point at the foot of the country not sure what they were getting into or what was going to happen. That took guts that did; that and some blind faith in the spirit of adventure. Talking to people they all had their reasons for being there; be it a short respite from some of the troubles of home, to making a fresh start, and giving themselves breathing space for the decisions that lay ahead. They thanked me for organising it. But I tell you, I will thank them more for coming.
It was a truly unique experience was Garbage Run 2017. There was something mystical about it even. The bonding of people. The sharing of adventures. The going away having made great friends. And Dorothy, my motorcycle, had risen to the challenge yet again. First Sydney to London (23,000 miles), then New York to Alaska (10,000 miles), now Land's End to John o'Groats (about 2200 miles by the time we were done). Still original engine, bar new piston in Seattle. What a grand machine, a minion amongst motorcycles but a heart as big as a bucket. Faultless she's been (almost, but that was me and the rain!)
People ask about the next Garbage Run, but there can't be a next one, not like that one in any case. That one was unique, and I'll remember it as the first. But I did enjoy it, and I enjoyed the fortune in being able to nudge people into their own adventures. So to be honest I might run another one in September if anyone's up for it. I might have to charge a bit for it as we're buying a house and obviously I need some way of paying my share of the bills. But it won't be much. Just to make ends meet. So if you're up for it drop me a line and I'll try and set a date.
But to the original Garbage Run crew all I can say is thankyou, for what was by far the best ride of my life. You guys made it what it was. Safe onward journeys to wherever the road might lead.
The Garbage Run Gang of 2017
Nick - Triumph Thruxton 900
Rob - BMW F650 GS
Chris - Honda CB500
Garry - Honda MSX125
Dave - Suzuki V-Strom 650
James and Minn - Suzuki GSX1250F
John - Honda C90
Nich - Royal Enfield Bullet 500
Kevin - Suzuki V-Strom 1000
Dave - Honda XR600
Dave - Yamaha TW200
Matt - Honda C90
Dangerous Brian - Honda CG125
Be - Honda CRF230
Chilie - Honda CRF230
Mark - Honda CB200
Will - Vespa 125
John - Yamaha Tricity
Matt - Honda XR125
Jay - Yamaha V80
Paul - Suzuki Bandit 600
Connor - Honda MSX125
Chris - Honda C90
Martyn - Suzuki DR750 BIG
Simon - Honda Monkey Bike
Chris - Suzuki 110
Paul - Royal Enfield 350
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!