No pictures today. It was just too wet, and cold, to stop for that.
I left Elgin around nine and rode south along the same route I took yesterday, through Rothes and Dufftown. When I reached the junction at Glenlivet, though, I turned left instead of right.
A series of B roads ensued, winding through Cairngorms National Park, passing a ski hill, closed for the season. The sky was grey and the air was cool, and it was pretty much a certainty there would be rain on my ride down to Edinburgh. Eventually the B roads have way to the A93, which could itself fit Iain Banks’s definition of a “great wee road.” I followed it down to a small, pretty town in Aberdeenshire called Ballater, where I stopped to get gas. The station didn’t have a WC, which was becoming necessary, so I looked for a place to have coffee and maybe a bite to eat.
I found a great coffee shop attached to a hotel in a disused church and ordered an Americano and a cranberry, apricot & ginger scone. It was a damned fine coffee and the best scone I’ve had in a long time, served with butter and raspberry jam. I chatted with an older couple who had stopped in for tea.
It had rained while I was in the cafe, although the worst seemed to have passed. I got back on the A93, and all I can say is: what a spectacular motorcycling road, and what a gorgeous environment to place it in. Aberdeenshire is stunning. Stone houses crouched on rolling hillsides,. Green fields with boulders protruding at irregular intervals, and rocky streams burbling through them. Even in a pissing rain, it was beautiful.
And, yes, it had become a pissing rain. Rivulets of rainwater runneled down my visor, inside and out. The seal on this lid is all but useless in keeping the water out, while perfectly up to the task of keeping fog in. Note to self: always bring your own helmet.By the time I reached Braemar all pretence of waterproofing had been abandoned by the gear. I was cold and wet, and there seemed to be no end in sight to the weather, so I pressed on for Edinburgh.When I finally arrived, I was too early to check in to my hotel. I sat in the guest lounge alone, drinking a pint of what has become my regular beer in Scotland, Caledonia Best. When the room was ready, I brought in my things from the bike and had a shower to fend off hypothermia.Soon I’ll be heading out with Gillian and her friend Gavin to have dinner, likely some drinks, and to see a little of the city. I’ll see more of it tomorrow.
O western wind, when wilt thou blow,
That the small rain down can rain?
Christ! That my love were in my arms,
And I in my bed again.
Well, the damned wind blew today. Did it ever! Damned near blew me right off the highway. The rain wasn’t small at that point, though, and if it had succeeded the last two lines would have been very unlikely ever to occur again.
I woke up with the sound of the wind outside my window, howling down Crown Street in Inverness, shaking the small trees, and making them bend, but not break. It had rained in the night, but wasn’t raining when I got up. I showered and dressed and made some breakfast. I washed the breakfast dishes, and brought the cases in from the bike to pack my things into them (everything fits like a charm now), and then waited and read the news online for a while, since checkout wasn’t for another couple of hours.
When it was time to go, I dropped the key with Malcolm and Maggie, and thanked them for being such great hosts. I had set the GPS to hit a couple of distilleries on the way to Elgin, which Google Maps said was only about 90 minutes away from Inverness. There were four hours between check out and check in times, and that left me with 2 1/2 hours to kill. I might as well use the time productively, I thought.
As I got the Tiger started and waved goodbye to Inverness, the rain began. Just a mizzle at first, then more and more insistent. The wind picked up, too, and by the time I was on the A9 heading south, it took effort and concentration to keep the bike upright and going in a more or less straight line. The rental helmet doesn’t have an anti-fog shield (note to self: always bring your own helmet!), and I had to keep it cracked open to let in enough air to keep it clear. Unfortunately that meant water running down the inside of the visor. There was just no winning.
After a half hour or so of this, I decided to pull at a roadside parking area and reset the GPS to come straight to Elgin. I’d find someplace to hang out until I could check in if the weather wasn’t any better there. I pulled a u-turn, as instructed, at the first safe opportunity, and then the GPS sent me down some B roads heading east. The GPS said the speed limit was 60 mph, but you’d have to be mad to do that on a nice day on these roads, and this wasn’t a particularly nice day. I kept to about half that. Gradually the wind died down to merely blustering, and the rain all but stopped altogether. Overhead the clouds raced furiously across the sky. No type of weather was going to last long, except windy.
I saw a sign for the Culloden Battlefield historical site, so I took the road in that direction. When I got there, I discovered the National Trust wanted £2 for parking and £11 to access the site. I’ll all for preserving heritage and history, but I’ll be damed if I’m paying £13 to hike through a muddy moor in the rain. In wet motorcycle gear. With that wind.
I found a gas station and filled the bike up, and then found my way back to the gloriously deserted B roads, which it turns out are part of the Tourist Route of the Highlands. Who knew? I didn’t stop at any of the castles along the way. I like the architecture fine, but I could give a fuck about the asshats who used to occupy them, literally lording it over the local population. (I find the idea of aristocracy and royalty offensively undemocratic. You may disagree, and I’m not going to try to persuade anyone otherwise who wants to be subservient to those whose ancestors killed someone else’s ancestors and took their land. It’s just not my idea of how the world ought to be.)
Anyway, the GPS by hook or by crook will take you back to a highway eventually unless you’ve expressly told it not to, and even then it might not recognize A roads as highways, and just keep you off the motorways instead. So, after a while, I was on the A96, whether I liked it or not. I should have tried harder to defeat it. For a long stretch we crawled along at under 30 mph anyway. Our progress was slowed by trucks hauling enormous propeller blades for wind generators, which we eventually passed when they took up the entirety of the left lane during the brief mile or so that we had a passing lane. (Note to North Americans: the right lane is the passing lane here.)
The wind began to pick back up again when I was about 10 miles from Elgin, although still not at the speeds it had been earlier. Storm Hector, as I’ve since heard it’s called, followed me eastward.
When I got to town, I found my hotel quite easily, and they were kind enough to let me check in early. The storm is supposed to blow over this evening. I’ve been out walking around, and the wind is still quite blowy, but it hasn’t rained in a couple of hours.
Elgin is a nice enough town. Almost like a miniature of Inverness, with a lot of old stone buildings and narrow streets. The lanes here are for walking only, or maybe you can cycle down them; they are far too narrow, and their widths too varied, to risk a car in them. There are a lot of shops in the centre of town, and a few pubs. I plan to eat at one of them tonight.
Tomorrow, weather permitting, I’ll head out to the Glenfiddich and Macallan distilleries, and explore The Cairngorms a bit, too. Maybe I’ll even take some pictures, something I’ve done much less of than I’d planned. If the weather is like today, though, I’ll find places to hang out and read. David has inspired me to take another crack at Ulysses. I can think of far worse ways to spend a day.
It is always a happy day, the first day of the year on my motorcycle. This year, which has been abnormally cold for Vancouver – we’ve had snow since before Christmas! – the first ride was delayed a couple of weeks. This year, for a change, it wasn’t biblical amounts of rain that kept me from riding.
In fact, it was raining today, also known as First Ride Day. But that’s not so unusual. You can’t let a little rain stop you if you ride a motorcycle in Vancouver. Today, though, was not a little rain. Apparently we have been thrown overboard into what the weather folks are calling an ‘atmospheric river’. If the atmospheric river were whisky, I’d be well and truly drunk. A more sensible man would have left his bike in the garage. Only strangers have ever accused me of being sensible.
‘Waterproof’, when it comes to motorcycle gear, is more an aspiration than a reality, and my waterlogged waterproof jacket and pants are hanging to drip dry, my socks are in the dryer, and my boots and gloves are ever so slowly dehydrating.
On the plus side, it took me much less time to get to and (more importantly) from work, and my mood was noticeably more positive all day long. Something about riding a motorcycle, even a relatively short and dull ride, like commuting to work, is inherently cheering. Psychologists should probably study this, although they’d likely get it wrong.