Thursday, 17 January 2013

Zero Degrees

Zero Degrees

Hearing Jeannie’s metallic yet muffled (due to earplugs and helmet being on) shout


Milliseconds before the garage door hit me on the head eliciting an instantaneous

“F….ing Hell” outburst, was not the way I envisaged my annual ride to visit my Mum’s grave, starting!

“Sorry, I pressed the wrong button again” came the apology.

“See you later” I replied in disbelief that I’d just been clocked on the head by the electric garage door!

Still it gave me an interesting if somewhat unorthodox introduction into what was to become a ride of sheer determination, with a splash of pain thrown in for good measure.

17th January 1943, my dearly beloved Mum’s date of birth, who sadly passed away on the 27th July 2001 from breast cancer aged just 58, eight years older than I am right now, which is a sobering thought!

Looking at the laptop at 8.30am having run through the usual Walton Household routine of, up at 7.00am, Jeannie takes Lilie Rose down for breakfast, Ben get himself up and goes down too, I shower, dress then collect Lilie Rose at 7.30am and get her ready for the school bus which arrives at 8.20am. Jeannie in the meantime takes Ben to school for 8.00am sports classes. Job done!

The temperature on screen was reading -3 degrees centigrade but a quick look out of the walk-way tells me otherwise. It’s clear, no fresh snow and the paths are clear. No problem then heading out on Mr T for the 200 mile round trip to Temple Normanton.

Laying my bike kit out- I’m pleased I bought the Gerbings heated jacket & gloves last year otherwise I would be in serious trouble.

Keep it simple, keep it safe!

After a swift dink on the head from the garage door after asking Jeannie to open the gate and close the garage door behind me (not “On Me” Jeannie) I was away for 9.15am.

The temperature gauge on Mr T reacted swiftly 10*, 9*,8*,7*,6*,5* C and that was in the first half a mile, I pulled over and plugged the Gerbing dual digital controller in and set the jacket to “gas mark 2” and the gloves to 4. Mmmmmm instant heat in the jacket but the gloves where not as responsive. Pulling in at the siding where I normally make my final adjustments before getting on the M62 East bound, I turned the gloves up to full number 5. I could feel the heat in my right hand rising on the back of my hand and fingers.

The roads were all well gritted, dry and clear with the usual white frosting of salt residue. Pulling onto the M62 the traffic was quite heavy to say the 9.00am work bound traffic should have cleared by now as it was 9.30am.

My body was toasty warm, my legs fine, they very rarely give me any problems but my left hand was already letting me know it was zero degrees. My toes were feeling it too, even though I had two pairs of socks plus a pair of ex-army gortex socks on as well. This was going to be a long hour and a half’s ride.

Heading up hill passing over Rakewood Viaduct the temperature dropped to -2 degrees C. Which in the real world equates to -4 degrees as Mr T’s temperature sensor is mounted in the fairing at the side of the water radiator of all places increasing the temperature by 2 degrees. Proven in East Germany riding back from Colditz with two BMW GSA Riders both running 2 degrees less than myself.

By the time I reached the crest of the hill the temperature gauge read zero degrees so I was happy. The jacket was doing a great job the right glove was stinging the back of my right hand but the left glove was not playing at all. Now how do I describe the feeling? It felt like the ends of my fingers were totally void of feeling and swelling to such a degree that my gloves were the only thing stopping them from going “Pop”. I know lots of riders have been here thousands of times but no one ever explains to non “winter riders” how there body is coping. As ever I had lost all feeling in the ends of my feet which is nothing new.

It was just the pain in my left hand and predominantly the full length of all my fingers. My thumb was so numb I could not unhook it from under the handlebar without consciously thinking about it. You know what I mean, you breathe without thinking until you go for a run and then because your out of breath you actually think about breathing! This was exactly the same, I had to really make myself switch the indicator switch rather than it just happening.

Heading over the M62 cutting over Saddleworth Moor the temperature resolutely sat at zero degrees centigrade. Riding in the middle lane at a constant 70mph I came level with the back of a VW Flat-Bed waggon who slowly but purposefully started to drift into the middle lane at the side of me. A quick look in the mirror confirmed my worst fear.  A low flying set of headlights just about to pass me at speeds will in excess of the 70mph limit. “I can do without this shit” I said out loud as I wound Mr T’s throttle back and in an attempt to clear the drifting VW Flat-Bed. The driver must have heard the exhaust and as I levelled with the cab he stopped drifting.

Looking over at the driver I knew exactly why he’s been drifting, the driver had a map unfolded on the steering wheel, unbelievable! I was ripping.

So with that bit of excitement out the way the task of pootling through the 10 mile long 50mph average speed limit area began. I was determined not to stop and so rode straight past the services in defiance, one hot hand one mildly numb. All of a sudden the traffic in all three lanes ground to a standstill. Being as the lanes have been narrowed there was no were to filter and so stopped and put my feet down. At the point of impact I thought I’d just stuck my frozen toes in the electric socket. A shearing pain shot up the back of both calf muscles. “I just love riding in winter!” I told myself quietly.

After just a few minutes we started moving at about 10mph. The reason for the holdup, a white van had mounted the banking and now lay on its side in on the hard shoulder on the other side of the barrier some 300 meters from where I’d come to a halt. The windscreen was shattered,  the driver still in his seat slumped over the wheel, emergency services just arriving and running to the drivers aid. I felt a little uneasy at the sight but rode on my thoughts still on the drivers welfare.  

By the time I reached the M1 roundabout I was in my usual mental state, overriding the discomfort and focusing on my Mum. How she had suffered unbearable pain with Lymphoedema causing her right arm are to swell to three times its natural size. So what the hell was I moaning about, “Get a grip Raymondo”. However by the time I was passing the Meadow Hall Shopping Centre to the right of the M1 I was suffering some serious discomfort. My toes were non-existent, even after jogging on the foot pegs, my left hand fingers felt as though someone had pumped them up with liquid ice.

“Chesterfield 8 miles” I said out loud in order to convince myself the discomfort would all be over shortly. 

Turning off the M1 at junction 29 I headed towards the roundabout at speed.

“Work you bastard’s, work!” I screamed at my left hand fingers.

Pulling up on the line just as a truck drove past with the driver staring at me.

“That was far too close for comfort Raymondo, now just take it steady lad!”

Pulling around the huge roundabout I took the 5th turning onto the Chesterfield By-Pass (why it’s called the Chesterfield By-Pass. I have no idea as it runs straight into Chesterfield by-passing Temple Normanton and Hasland on its way, both of which I was heading to.

Taking the only exit off the by-pass turning first left then sharp downhill right I headed into Hasland to buy some flowers at the same shop I’d used for the past 10 years. Pulling into the car parking area just at the side of the road I realised it was full except for a triangle at the far end. I rolled Mr T into the triangle backwards only to look up and see an elderly gent, resplendent with body warmer and flat cap, sat in his car gesturing for me to move. I looked at him, put the side stand down and pointed at Mr T, he gestured again for me to move.

“I’m staying here” I shouted through my helmet loud enough for a chap stood outside the café smoking, to turnaround to see what was going on.

The driver gestured more fervently this time shouting something that I could not hear!

I quickly lifted the front of my helmet, smiled and told him to “F**K Off!”

Which he did!

“Good on yer lad”

“Bloody car drivers, where did he think he was going to park it wouldn’t have fitted there anyway!” The smoker shouted over.

“Sorry about that, just a bit stressed out” I replied

“Don’t the worry lad!”

With that I unplugged and went over to the flower shop.

Sadly the selection was very limited this year but managed to find a nice bunch of lilies and roses. (No prizes for guessing why I always buy the same flowers).

As I waited to pay the searing agony hit me, like plunging my left hand into a furnace. My eyes started to water up and it took all my time not to scream.

“Hot Aches”

“You all right love” the flower lady asked as I shook my left hand relentlessly.

“Hot Aches, sorry I’ll be with you in a minute”

“It’s OK love, do you want a card with these?”

“No thank you” I just about managed to say.

Back outside the guy outside the café was telling another chap about what had just happened. They both looked round and put a hand up to me.

I took a couple of minutes to get a grip, my left hand was lovely and warm now, my toes were buzzing so loud I could have sworn I could hear them. My Mums flower wedged where I always put them in the front screen.

Happy Birthday Mum x x x

Gloves back on, zipped up, I headed back the way I came towards Temple Normanton up Grassmoor Hill I was so pleased there was not another car in site and the road was dry as I was riding at 20mph. 8 minutes later after going around the annoying one way street to Temple Normanton Cemetery. I pulled onto the only non-snow and ice covered part of the car park I could find right in the corner.

I spent a little time with my Mum and my thoughts. It’s strange but this never gets any easier, 11 years and still there is a massive void in not just my life but that of our entire family.

Temple Normanton Cemetery 

Riding the 50 metres back past the cemetery as I just could not be bothered to go all the way around the one way road to get back to where I wanted to go. I headed down through Grassmoor towards CMC Motorcycles in Clay Cross. Filling up at Tesco’s and getting a few strange looks as I walked in from everyone waiting to pay.

Parking up it hit me, this was the first time ever that my bike was the only bike outside the shop! Inside I took my helmet, gloves and two jacket’s including the Gerbings jacket, off.

Ordered coffee and a bacon n egg butty and sat down with my brew. A quick call to my Dad confirmed it was far too treacherous to head up the hill to his, and so he came down to the shop for a chat and a walk around.

A cracking Cafe, which is well worth a visit

Seeing my Dad walking through the shop brought it home to me how old he now looks, a real gentleman with so much pride. A big hug followed by a really nice chat about bikes. It was great just to have some time alone and talk man stuff without interruption nor explanation. Walking around the showroom I pointed out the Suzuki T125 Stinger in the far corner.

Suzuki T125 Stinger
"Not for Sale"

As sharp as a knife my Dad said

“Do you remember me having to carry you into the house at Mablethorpe”

“I do indeed”

“Bloody hell you were in a state, no sole on your boot, 6 stitches in your fingers and your hands frozen to the handlebars” “You couldn’t even get off the bike”

“I couldn’t walk Dad, my left foot was frozen like a block of ice”

It was January 1981 I’d been asked by the owner of the Shoulder of Mutton, Mrs Simpson where I worked as a Commis Chef,  to make her a Turkey sandwich. I had  just handed in a months’ notice as I’d got a new job as Chef De Partie at Higham Farm Hotel complete with its own Well in reception and indoor swimming pool, at the side of the restaurant and bar.

In the larder I had cut the roll in two, buttered it put it on a plate and went over to the cooling racks. Pulled out the 3foot by 2foot tray with the turkey on it. Stood on one leg with the other at right angles to me and rested the tray on the rack and my knee. As I started to carve the turkey breast with a 12 inch serrated edge carving knife. The trays slipped and instinctively I went to grab it, sliding my right hand up the full 12 inch serrated edged length of the blade!

I ended up with 8 stiches, 4 in my second finger severing the tendons, two in each of the others, my little finger being the only one to escape injury. My second finger still curls involuntarily to this day when I’m cold. I was put on 4 weeks sick leave so did no more I packed all my belongings in a box, stored it in my mates room, got on my bike and rode 95 miles to Mablethorpe from Hardstoft on my Suzuki T125 stinger in the January snow and rain.

Arriving at my Mum and Dads B&B I just sat there with my numb thumb on the horn until they both came running out. I was wet through to the bone and my £35 Belstaff Wax jacket & trousers had given up the ghost. My right boot had fell apart and my left had no sole on it because I’d ridden the last 15 miles with my feet on the floor in a foot of snow. My leather gloves were wringing wet through. It took almost two hours to get back to some  resemblance of fitness and I suffered the worst “Hot Aches” I have ever suffered for about an hour and yes I cried, screamed and totally lost it but I was home. Well at least for a month, then I was off again, with new boots!

After a long goodbye outside the shop, where numerous folks come over to have a look at Mr T, much to my Dads surprise and delight, I set off back the way I had come.

Happily the cold edge did not seem to be as piercing and I made good progress up the M1 the temperature still sat at zero degrees centigrade though. I passed one single bike on the M1but had an awful lot of car drivers just look at me and shake their heads in what must have been disbelief.

As I pulled onto the M62 I felt the cold starting to bite more and so decided to turn my jacket and glove up a little, to my utter shock the bloody things were not even on! I’d accidently pulled the power lead out when I gave my dad one final hug and plugged it back in, not thinking to switch the Gerbings back on. Once I’d switched them on I was delighted as both gloves sprung to into action along with the jacket. Obviously my twiddling the connectors whilst I waited for my Dad to arrive had done the trick. “Brilliant, central heating for Raymondo!”

On the M62 West bound,  a mini pulled alongside me and everyone had a good look, I only found out when I arrived home that it was one of the Manc Riders Glen and his crew. As he Tweeted me to ask “Was that you I’ve just passed on the M62?”

I’m happy the ride went as well as could be expected in such conditions and that the snow stayed away. Now it’s time to go and see Foggy & Whit’s “Giving it Gas” at the Thwaites Empire Theatre in Blackburn with Kev, Kev and Lefty my Manc Rider mates.


You must not miss this. Carl Fogarty and James Whitham end their tour in Carl's home town. Described as an unmissable event for all sports fans, Carl and James will provide insight into today's world of racing, recall former glories and disasters, and discuss the burning issues of the day — on and off-track.
“We’re really looking forward to the tour,” said Carl, who can lay claim to the title of most successful World Superbike racer ever, based on the number of World titles and race wins he clocked up in his career.

Time for a wash me think's!

So until the next time, ride safe and be happy.

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