Meeting Bob

This is the story of a tiny riding mistake, great helpfulness and winding roads through the delightfully beautiful landscapes of central England.

I meet Bob on an almost sunny morning on a lonely bend in the middle of the Yorkshire Dales. I'm on my way back from the Isle of Man, the night before was a bit too cold for my ageing sleeping bag and I could have skipped the last beer at the Tannhill Inn – said to be the highest pub in Britain.

I tie my wet tent to the CX 500, frozen and with an un-ignorable pitch and find the pub locked. Too early for breakfast – that doesn't happen to me often.

The following walk through the boggy landscape peppered with morning dew and wisps of mist is a story in itself, as is breakfast an hour later in the cavernously low but warm Tannhill Inn.

About 20 miles separate me from the unexpected encounter with Bob. 20 miles in which I ponder the curious characters of the previous evening and the bonding effect of a few shared pints. I think about being on the road in general and especially with a motorbike. But above all, I think about the very special vibe of travelling home. This feeling conglomerate of sentimentality and anticipation, from which new plans emerge and impressions of the past time are pinned to memory like on an oversized mood board.

But the story actually begins weeks earlier, when the plan to go to the Classic TT matured.

Three tickets for the Rotterdam-Hull and Heysham-Douglas ferries had already been booked and we were huddled over a map of England, trying to link the landmarks together as charmingly as possible. I had already heard of the Yorkshire Dales. A UK-savvy friend often raved about the lonely-looking stretch of land in the middle of the United Kingdom. The point is clear: a little detour into the low mountain range is not to be missed.

As we roll off the ferry early in the morning at the end of August, the island greets us with glorious weather. The temperatures are perfect for riding and our two-cylinder engines roar with motivation into the clear morning air. Shortly after Hull disappears in our rear-view mirrors, we ride through countryside that fits every English cliché. Single lane roads lined with thick hedges, country roads flanked by stone walls and small towns that look as if they have come out of a Sherlock Holmes film. Well, what a lovely ride, isn't it? 

We pass York on the left, tangent to the picturesque meandering River Nidd and feel our way leisurely further west. At teatime we park the motorbikes in Harrogate. The further we steer the bikes towards the Irish Sea, the more beautiful it becomes. We hardly meet any other vehicles and when we turn into Bowland Forest at Waddington, we leave civilisation behind us. It looks almost like the Scottish Highlands, with barren hills and enchanted valleys, through whose forests peaty brown streams meander – a landscape to get lost in, an area where you want to forget time.

In the evening we sit at a rustic bar in Heysham over three pints and although we still have our actual destination with the Isle of Man ahead of us, in my mind I am already planning an extended journey home through Yorkshire.

After a great time at the Classic TT we are back in the same pub in Heysham a few days later. Our paths part here. While the rest of the crew leaves for the Ace Café, I have to go back to Hull for the ferry to Rotterdam. We say goodbye and leave Heysham in different directions.

It doesn't take long and I feel like the only person on this island, because from Ingleton the landscape becomes wide and empty. I follow the River Doe to the northwest. Thick, waterlogged clouds move quickly across the sky as patches of sunlight grope across the green, stone-walled landscape. In gentle waves, the road leads deeper into the Yorkshire Dales, can be ridden quickly and smoothly. In the distance I see the Ribblehead Viaduct, a railway bridge from the late 19th century that spans a distance of over 400 metres in 24 arches. I wouldn't be surprised if the Hogwarts Express was about to cross the imposing structure.

The asphalt has confidence-inspiring grip and the CX 500 runs like a young horse. I'm still mentally in Isle of Man mode, riding like there's no tomorrow. No villages, people or vehicles far and wide. Unreal. The hills glow in all imaginable shades of green and smell like meadows and summer flowers.

In Appersett, the recognition: I'm not completely alone after all. A few houses, a few people before loneliness envelops me again. In the soft afternoon light, I chase along Cliff Gate Road, which leads to the 526-metre-high Buttertubs Pass. Here we are deep in the Pennines, the low mountain range that stretches for about 400 kilometres from north to south through central England.

At the top of the pass, the view stretches to the horizon and the wind blows around my nose as I stop to take a photo. What a dreamlike landscape, what a wonderful ride.

In the last light of day, I unfold the Honda's side stand in front of the mentioned Tannhill Inn. A young couple is celebrating their wedding in beer-swilling company. Bright eyes, beaming faces. The barman assures me that the rooms are fully booked, but if it's not too cold, I can pitch my tent on the lawn behind the house.

In the cone of light from the headlamp, I am an easy target for the local mosquito population in the boggy landscape. I had completely forgotten about the existence of these pests. Midgies is the name of the plague in Scotland, where myriads of the little bloodsuckers have almost driven me to an early departure in the past.

The laughter and music of the celebrating people are lost in the night. From a rock, I have a 360-degree view of the surrounding landscape. A faint glimmer on the horizon suggests a town. Apart from the Tannhill Inn, there is nothing far and wide here. And it´s bloody cold. The lights of the brightly lit pub attract me like a moth. I am thirsty and meet like-minded people.

The morning takes its course as described. As the Tannhill Inn grows smaller behind me and eventually disappears from the rear view mirror entirely, I crawl into my thoughts. And because it is such an excellent morning for thinking and pondering, I take it really easy, unlike yesterday. 

The day is young and the ferry to Rotterdam doesn't leave until the evening. So I`m thinking, riding intuitively and unfortunately don't pay too much attention to the road layout.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I see the asphalt ribbon disappear into a depression, but on the hill opposite it reappears straight away – a bend is to be expected under almost no circumstances. Almost. When I become abruptly aware of the slight left turn in front of the front wheel and reach exaggeratedly into the dull brakes of the old Honda, about 20 metres still separate me from Bob. But Bob is not behind the wheel of the imposing old-timer that comes towards me just as I cross the oncoming lane with whining tyres. No, Bob lives in the only house far and wide and only witnesses the following scene acoustically.

My front wheel misses the old-timer in question by a hair's breadth, then the Honda digs itself into the English peat soil. To be honest, I'm missing something between the realisation that this might not end so well and the actual impact. By the time I can think straight again, I am literally nose deep in the mud. As I turn my head laboriously to the side, I see the rear wheel of the CX circling above me. I have apparently piggybacked the Honda as I descend over the handlebars. Before I fully comprehend the unfortunate situation, helping hands take the bike off my back. I spit out the peaty soil sample. Sand grits between my teeth, all of which are surprisingly still in place. I feel no pain, see no blood and can move - holy shit, what fortune.

Bob is standing in front of me, inspecting me with a worried look. I talk like a waterfall and yet don't know what I'm saying. Together we push the battered Honda into his driveway and inspect the damage. Everything is a bit crooked, but the levers are still on. The front wheel and fork are crooked, but seem to be intact. While Bob fetches his tools, I enjoy life and watch my left thumb begin to swell. For the moment a little painful, but nothing to seriously worry about. But during the subsequent refit, I can't really lend a hand and can almost only watch as this warm-hearted stranger bends my Honda back into shape. Bob rides a motorbike himself and obviously knows how to use tools. Curiously, I am not the first person he pulls out of this very ditch – and as I now know, not the last either.

Some time and a coffee later, I wave goodbye and roll out of the yard full of gratitude. If it weren’t for Bob, I'd probably still be stuck with my face in the dirt. A little humbled and with slight bruises to my motorbike ego, I tackle the last 100 miles to the port in Hull. Yorkshire looks almost a little more beautiful after this experience. And in the midst of this landscape I have now also found a friend.

 

 

 

Text: Alan Klee

Photos: Alan & Rigo Klee


 

 

 

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