I've just got back from an awesome day at the Ride of Respect 2011 at Royal Wootton Bassett. (I posted about it here and here for the background.)
I missed my early alarm and ended up leaving the house at about 5.15 am, half an hour later than I had planned. I had been outside in my dressing gown to check the weather, which was mild and dry, so I opted for leathers rather than textile waterproofs. Of course, within two miles it was drizzling and then raining, and my boots filled with water. Once it's in, it's in (as it were), so there was little point in stopping to put waterproof overtrousers on at that stage. I met up with two friends from the TOMCC in Carmarthen, and we rode up together.
We stopped at Leigh Delamere services on the M4 to grab another coffee and a chance to drain the previous one, and I took the opportunity to fix the flags on the bike ready for the ride. A large Welsh flag for Anna, and a small Union Flag for me (you don't carry an English flag in Wales if you know what's good for you). Already there were hundreds of bikes there.
I was booked in to arrive between 8.00 and 9.00 am at Hullavington Airfield, and it was towards the end of that interval that we actually arrived. We were marshalled into rows on the main runway and told we had about an hour before we set off. In the end, this was nearer to two hours, but the purchase of a bacon roll and a coffee made this quite a pleasant wait. As usual at motorcycle events, everyone there was a friend you just hadn't met yet. It was amazing to see so many bikes in one place.
There was this little scallywag there:
and some who could barely keep their eyes open:
All kinds of bikes were there - many sportsbikes, but just as many Harleys and cruisers, lots of GoldWings, hundreds of trikes, and a smattering of learner bikes, trailies and even a couple of proper Mod-style Lambrettas, complete with RAF roundels and zillions of mirrors. Many had national flags of various kinds, and many had special Ride of Respect 'Thank You' flags. There were lots of military bikers and their families, too. All two-wheeled life was there.
I have no pictures from the ride through Royal Wootton Bassett itself and the surrounding villages, as I was fully occupied in keeping the bike upright, but the experience was amazing. The avowed purpose of the ride was to say 'thank you' to the people of RWB for their dignity and compassion in watching so many of our brave troops make their last journey home through RAF Lyneham, but many of the people seemed to want to say 'thank you' to the bikers who came from all corners of the UK to see them. I found this quite hard to handle, and could merely say "no, thank you" in response. It was a happy, friendly and emotional experience, which must have gone some way to counterpoint the many sombre occasions that RWB has seen. All along the route, people had decorated their houses and gardens with Union Flags and bunting, and many had brought furniture out and were treating the day as a spectacle, with sandwiches and a Thermos flask. They waved, we waved; they shouted, we tooted our horns; they pointed at us, we revved the nuts off our bikes in reply; they reached out their hands and we high-fived them as we passed. Many children were along the route, waving and smiling, and I think everyone present was grinning from start to finish. It was joyous.
(Incidentally, the high-fiving of stationary pedestrians was quite a feat even at 5 mph, especially if they were young and low to the ground. One biker had stopped towards the end to take photographs and held his hand out to me as I was passing at about 30 mph. Afterwards, I had my hand clamped under my other armpit in pain, and when I checked in my mirror he was still spinning like an ice skater as I left the village.)
Two moments stand out for me. One was an elderly gentleman standing in his small garden holding a little brown dog in his arms, holding the dog's paw and making it wave to all the passing bikes. He got a special wave and a loud toot from me. The other was the people in the house in (I think) Malmesbury with a Welsh flag on display, who saw my red dragon and went wild. I almost fell off with waving and grinning at them. It was a good job I couldn't stop and explain that I wasn't really very Welsh, and that the flag was really for someone else.
Once through RWB, it was all over and we were decanted back onto the M4 and headed for Wales again. We took the journey home a little more easily than we did the frantic journey up, and I was home by about 5 pm. I emptied the water out of my boots (they are truly waterproof, and didn't let a drop out) and surveyed the purple dye that had leached out of my leather trousers and onto my legs, making me look as if I were in the advanced stages of some gross vascular disease.
The Bonnie didn't miss a beat all day, although it went through three tankfuls of best unleaded. I did try to use the free satnav on the iPhone for the last stages of the journey, but it was a little unsatisfactory. I put the phone in the clear panel on top of the tank bag, but with the movement of the bike it slid around a little and often decided that it was upside down and displayed the info screen the wrong way up. With a proper mount, upright and more visible to the rider, it would have been better, so a report on this will have to wait for another day. Two things I have noticed, however, are that using the GPS chipset gets the phone very hot, and also that with the GPS in use it eats the battery in no time at all. A permanent power supply is essential.
I am now cold, stiff and ready for bed, so that's where I am going. It was a great day and well worth doing. RAF Lyneham will soon be closing, so there will no longer be a role for RWB, but I am hoping that next year on Mother's Day there will be something else of this nature planned. A long ride, lots of friendly people, and a bacon roll - what more would anyone want?
Apart from raising an estimated £130,000 for Afghan Heroes, of course.
BBC report here.