The Best Laid Plans

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Route transferred to GPS, packed and ready to go.

Returning from a great trip around mainland Europe with my brother Peter and friend Chris, I was ready to finish organising the Land’s End to John o’Groats to Skaw trip as best as I could. I struggled a little with identifying some charging stops even a couple of days before we were due to head off, but at least I had the accommodation sorted and the initial stops, so was quite happy for us to determine further stops en route.

Then, the day before we were due to go, James and his girlfriend Kate, who were expecting their first baby together, received advice from the hospital that the impending arrival would likely have to be induced, probably within the week. We’d originally scheduled the trip for six weeks before the due date to avoid any likelihood of clashing with the due date.

Faced with this reality, and in the full knowledge as a father myself of priorities, I said to James that I would be happy to postpone the trip even at this late stage. He was very appreciative, but told me to go ahead if I wanted to. I replied that it would probably more enjoyable to share the experience, so I would indeed postpone.

A few phone calls later, and it had been postponed. Everyone with whom I’d made bookings was broadly sympathetic and understood the situation.

In some respects, I was glad of the respite, having only just undertaken the trip around mainland Europe, and took the opportunity to plan in greater detail the charge stops and reappraise the schedule. I decided that rather than trying to complete the mainland part of the journey in three days, it would be far more sensible to undertake that part over four days, with two days of three stints followed by two days of two stints. This would make each day far less long. The original second day I’d planned was of particular concern, so the chance to review this was welcome.

We rescheduled to leave on Thursday 17th August, heading off from Land’s End on Friday, 18th August and over the next few weeks I managed to plan a detailed route and organise charge stops and accommodation along the whole route.

One thing we hadn’t foreseen… As time pressed on, things on the baby front for Kate and James improved and the initial view of inducing birth early was pushed back under constant observation, until we were a few days from leaving, at which point, they were both delivered a healthy baby girl. I know a lot of soul searching went on from their perspective about what to do vis-à-vis the trip, but ultimately by this stage it was more important for James to be around, of course, for Kate and his new daughter.

So, after a bit of discussion, and unnecessary apologies on James’ part, I decided that I would undertake the journey alone. Sadly, I wasn’t in a position where we could reschedule, and James understood fully. It was the initial intention to do the journey alone in any case, so I didn’t really mind. The only concern remaining was transport to Land’s End and back from Aberdeen. On that front, James rather insistently offered in a blink to step in and drive me and the bike down to Land’s End in a hire van and then to come and collect me and the bike from Aberdeen on the return journey, saying it was the least he could do, given what had happened.

He was certainly under no obligation to me. Family comes first, and I was clear on that, but this offer was certainly a relief on my part, and I wasn’t going to object too strongly, because it was the one headache I could foresee.

Knowing I had this option meant I could get a bike ramp for loading and unloading the bike, which James could take back in the van and I wouldn’t need to concern myself with one-way van hire or loading and unloading the bike from the van alone, let alone considering how I would do this without the benefit of a bike ramp.

In any case, I would honour the fundraising split between the blood bikes and Tommy’s – both being very worthwhile causes and James still being instrumental in helping out with the trip.

So, with the journey planned, I set about finalising details and packing.

I swapped the top box I usually use on the Zero for my now well-travelled GIVI 52 litre top box from my Honda CBF 1000 petrol bike, which was just able to hold the two external chargers I’d borrowed, along with the 6-way power strip, the type 2 to Commando cable, and the power cables for the chargers. The whole top-box was effectively filled just by things to help me to charge more quickly than I would otherwise have been able to do.

Having initially considered, and in fact bought, a set of soft panniers for the Zero, I concluded that these were not really safe to mount without the side rack, so I abandoned that idea and settled for a waterproof Oxford Aqua T30 30 litre roll bag, which I decided would mount just fine on the passenger seat, and a nolabel T2 20 litre waterproof rucksack. The roll bag could be used for additional extension cables (I carried two, two-way extension cables for circumstances where I needed to charge from domestic sockets), puncture repair kits, and sundry accessories. I packed all my clothes, a laptop, USB hard drive, toiletries bag, and all the things I’d need for overnight stops in the rucksack.

I transferred all the routes across to my trusty Garmin 590LM satnav and checked the mounting for my Garmin VIRB XE video camera, which I mounted to the bike handlebars. I’d already tested the suitability of filming from this vantage point on the Zero and seen that the lack of engine vibration meant much steadier footage than I had ever got mounting a camera on the handlebars of my petrol bike.

The two conditions I require of video action cameras are that they should be waterproof and be able to film a full day’s riding, ideally without requiring a battery change. In opting for the Garmin VIRB XE over the likes of a GoPro, I had a camera which would meet both expectations, being waterproof in its own housing. The camera also uses a proprietary powering solution via a weatherproof clip to standard USB cable, which means I can power the camera for several hours through a small USB power bank.

Not only that, but the footage, shot at 60fps in full HD, offers smooth and crisp recordings and had performed favourably in reviews, scoring higher than the GoPro alternatives. A simple, raised slide switch on top means that the camera can be switched on and off while wearing gloves and can also, if required, be controlled through Garmin satnav units. As I planned to record the whole journey, this latter option is a nice-to-have, but I don’t really use it. The on-board GPS tracking, which logs GPS position as the camera records, allowing you to later review the footage and locate your position on a map, is also a nice feature, but less of a concern when I usually extract the logs from GPS unit instead.