The tour to Portugal was organised as a small group trip to discover some of the pitfalls of touring with a group to Portugal. We had been discussing touring with some ex-students for a number of years as they liked the idea of joining us when they heard about our experiences and travel stories while we were training them to pass their test.
This was one of the first longer tours that we were going to be doing to enable us to provide Advanced Training Tours in the future. The idea of taking people on tour was both scary and exciting at the same time. We had done many riding trips as individuals but never an organised tour for other people to learn and gain the same experience.
Usually I only toured with people who were experienced, as I didn’t see touring with inexperienced riders as something that I wanted to do. The speed would be slower, they’d want their hand holding and of course would look at the experienced riders for all their advice. This could be a bad idea, as the freedom of touring and enjoying the craic that touring had may become a chore and put an end to touring as I knew it.
Saying that, I am not a real biker like most, who has to be out and about on their bike at every opportunity. I can’t think of anything worse than having a full week on a bike and then spending my time off riding aimlessly around the UK! It is not my hobby and pastime, so it has never interested me to go for a ride to a cafe and then going home. It might be a release and a break for someone who works in an office or factory but it isn’t my way of enjoying a day off.
I did like the idea of passing on some knowledge and experience to novice travellers and giving some guidance and education where I could. This would be right up my street as a trainer and I think I would get a lot of satisfaction out of an Advanced Training Tour abroad.
The planning stages
The planning started and I had to make a decision on how it was going to work, how many people we would take, what the lowest ability level would be and of course – could they cope with such a big trip! Time would tell if we got it wrong or not. It is certainly different when you go with people who can ride but for people who just wanted the experience, could they really grasp what touring was all about or just like the idea of doing it. Or, had we bigged it up too much to make it sound appealing?
The route would be similar to what I have done previously. It would be a trip down to Portugal from Santander and then head straight down south. The roads were good, there was not much traffic and it was an easy ride. It would be long days riding but a bike tour should be a bike tour and not a sightseeing tour. If you want a sightseeing tour, either go on a coach or go on your own and stop everytime you see a nice view!
GFinding somewhere to stop over and stay is always a problem when booking for a group but with there only being 6 of us it was going to be easy. Booking 3 twin rooms would be easy enough and if one had a double bed the couple would have found it better than trying to share a single bed for part of the night!
The biggest challenge was going to be regarding the mileage per day and if they could cope. I had spoken to them all about how far we would be going and they all said they were capable of doing the mileage. The longest day would be around 350 miles and they were more than happy with that. It’s okay saying you can do it but doing it is a completely different story, especially day after day, time would tell!
The riding would be mainly on the bigger roads down through Spain and into Portugal, a lot of motorway and dual carriageway to break the back of the journey and then once in Portugal the roads were pretty good, open and fast for a good days riding. There and back would be the same roads and once down in the Algarve it would be riding around some great motorcycling routes and empty roads.
A bit of time off when we were there would be good but travelling in October may mean we don’t have the weather for the beach. It might be great for biking but I’d miss out on a day swimming and sunbathing, at least I’d get my seafood fix and a glass or two of wine.
The only problem I could see was that the trip might not be long enough or was going to be demanding for riders who had not ventured abroad before. We had a 10 day trip on the cards which meant 2 days on the ferry, a day off and 7 days to ride 2500 miles.
The group consisted of me and another instructor and there were four riders joining us. Mark, Andy and Paul were new riders and had undergone quite a lot of post test training. They were all hungry to learn how to improve and this was going to be an excellent adventure for them to go on. Cat was the weakest rider as she had not long started riding again and her ability was a bit lower than the others but Steve had worked with her quite a lot and was happy that she was up for the challenge.
A daunting prospect
It had only been a few weeks since I’d come out of hospital before the start of the trip. I’d had an abscess burst in my bowel whilst in France and had hospitalised me for just over a week. Porphine is pretty good stuff and had kept me in a state of comfort while I was lying there wondering how things would pan out.
Luckily I recovered quite well but was still struggling with food and had lost a couple of stone in weight. I was only 12.5 stone anyway, so I didn’t have anything to lose! But at least I was on the mend.
The morning of the start of the tour I had to have a procedure done to assess the damage but as I was just about to start a tour I could not have a general anesthetic or be sedated. This was because I could not have driven or ridden for 24 hours afterwards, so I opted for no painkillers or anything else, just plenty of lube to see the job done. I’d close my eyes, think of something else and just hope for a quick procedure. It all went well and I was ready to go.
So after the procedure, I went home and got my leathers on ready to start the 2500 mile round trip to Europe. I was to meet up with the three guys who were chomping at the bit to start their first tour, Steve and Cat would meet us down at the port as she was working until later in the day and could not leave any earlier.
We met up at the training school just after lunchtime and when the four of us were ready we departed Redditch to start the journey. The ride down was pretty steady, we rode in formation and made good time, stopping for something to drink and to fill up enroute. Tothill services is our usual stopping place, it’s 100 miles away and gives a nice break at around the one and a half hour mark if we have not had any traffic hold ups.
After a comfort break we departed and made our way south, we arrived in Portsmouth and filled up again to ensure we had full tanks of fuel and then found the hotel we would be staying in for the night before catching the ferry the following morning. The other two joined us early in the evening once they had travelled down.
Steve and I went to see his mom who lives in Pompey. I’d known her for many years and also called her mom. After we’d had a cuppa and a chat we regrouped with the rest of them and headed out for an evening meal and a few beers. I was going to have to be really careful what I ate and drank as I didn’t fancy another hospital visit any time soon!
Sharing with the Chainsaw
We stayed at the Ibis Hotel in the centre of town. It soon became apparent that we were not going to have a good night’s sleep because there were far too many students on the razz. I was sharing with Paul, AKA Larry Croft (grave digger), because he wore a holster on his leg with his valuables in. I also nicknamed him ‘The Chainsaw’ because of how loud he was with his snoring, you were definitely NOT getting any kip! This is when I decided we would all take turns sharing with The Chainsaw throughout the rest of the trip.
I was not feeling too well after my illness and really could do with some sleep during this trip to recoup some lost energy.
I wasn’t really looking forward to this tour. It was too soon for me to be riding a motorbike to be honest and my whole family had been telling me to pull out. Even on the day I was leaving I was still being told not to be so stupid and undergo this huge trip while I was still ill. It didn’t help that during my procedure earlier in the day I had fainted while in the waiting room at the hospital.
I suppose I didn’t want to let anyone down and in my mind I would have been doing just that if I would have pulled out now.
About the riding
There were only four of us who rode down to the port, the three riders had all done some advanced training with us previously so we knew their actual ability. The ride was steady with the group in staggered formation for the ride on the motorway. They all knew what to do and it was a pretty easy start for everyone as the excitement grew.
No issues and nice riding by all.