THE LONG­EST DAY

MCN and a bunch of mis­fits on com­edy bikes tackle Land’s End to John O’groats

Motorcycle News (UK) - - #Ride5000miles MCN 5000 -

‘I ar­rive at the end 20 hours and 907 miles later’ MATT WILDEE

Three thirty-seven in the morn­ing and the carpark of the Hol­i­day Inn near Land’s End should be quiet, but to­day it is a hive of bizarre, hushed ac­tiv­ity. In the shad­ows, lit by the strobe of a flick­er­ing street­lamp, a man dressed as Elmo is fid­dling with the carbs on his tar­tan­cov­ered Kawasaki GPZ500S. Out of the cor­ner of my eye, a rider on a VFR750 which looks like it has been dragged from a swamp is try­ing to coax his re­luc­tant Honda to life.

This is the start of the Long­est Day Up char­ity ride: a thrash from Land’s End to John O’groats in a day on £300 bikes, with no mo­tor­ways in­volved. Over the last eight years it has raised more than £100,000 for Can­cer Re­search. MCN fea­tured the event last year and I was so in­spired I de­cided to take part. So I bought my­self a suit­ably aw­ful mo­tor­cy­cle – a fur-cov­ered, 80,000-mile Yamaha XJ900F called Al­bert.

Months of prep, swear­ing and skinned knuck­les fol­lowed be­fore an ex­haust header failed the day be­fore and the cylin­der head turned to dust as I tried to undo the al­ready-bro­ken ex­haust studs. So I cheated, tak­ing the for­feit of a blow-up croc on my pil­lion and us­ing my naked, stiffly sus­pended Yamaha MT-09 SP with its 14-litre tank. No tour­ing bike, but I’m still, as Elmo suit-wear­ing Keith Bous­field points out, “a cheat­ing b*****d”.

With a drop of the Union Jack we roll onto the A30. Throt­tles are stretched and the sound of leaky ex­hausts and clat­ter­ing valves floats across the moors. There is a set route and along the way are four check points. At these stops vol­un­teers pro­vide re­fresh­ments and some­times much-needed re­pairs.

There are few things in life I like bet­ter than clock­ing dis­tance and the MT-09 and I set­tle into a rhythm, com­plet­ing 120 miles be­tween fillups and latch­ing onto var­i­ous rid­ers on the way. All walks of life are here: from hus­band and wife Dan and Trudy Mills on their VFRS to Tony Hor­rocks and hand-painted Tri­umph Tiger 900 rid­ing in mem­ory of his brother died from can­cer. His bike looks OK from a dis­tance but is so bent that no panel lugs ac­tu­ally meet their mount­ing holes. Over time I ride with them all and I can’t help but be im­pressed with their for­ti­tude and stay­ing power.

But in­evitably as the miles roll by, the pain starts. Six hours and 350 miles and the ache from my back­side grows with in­ten­sity with ev­ery bump, matched by an ache in my neck that gets big­ger from the con­stant bat­tle against wind blast. The only thing to do is keep go­ing.

But there are amaz­ing mo­ments. Chas­ing James Sar­gent on his Honda Hawk held to­gether with gaffa tape and good­will across the Lin­colnshire is hi­lar­i­ous and an empty A68 on a sum­mer’s day is sheer joy. As I cross the Scot­tish bor­der I get a Ger­man tourist to take a pic­ture. Even on a mod­ern bike this feels like an achieve­ment.

Scot­land is amaz­ing, but is al­ways much big­ger than you think and the real­ity of an­other 400-mile stretch ahead of me and ev­ery­one else starts to bite. But the re­ward is the fi­nal 120mile leg. The A9 to John O’groats cuts mag­nif­i­cently though the High­lands, lit by the length­en­ing shad­ows and orange light of a mid-sum­mer sun­set. I ar­rive at the fin­ish line 20 hours and 907 miles af­ter I set off.

Ev­ery­one is buzzing, wired from so long in the sad­dle, with the talk al­ready mov­ing to next year’s event, bikes and prep. I’m al­ready think­ing of the ma­chine I could take. You should come and join us. ● To do­nate, or join in next year head to www. th­e­longest­day­down­chal­lenge.co.uk

You can’t beat a furry out­fit… The ride’s raised £100k-plus It’s strictly no mo­tor­ways Spot the one who’s been cheat­ing… Ev­ery stop means run­ning re­pairs

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