If John Laity was accused of sanity, you wouldn’t find a court in the land to convict him.
A microlight pilot, he dreamed up Flying for Freedom to teach injured servicemen to fly, and plans to take them all on an expedition to the South Pole. In open flexwings.
In the meantime, he thought it would be a really good idea to get a bunch of lunatics together to ride Honda’s tiny Monkey Bikes from Land’s End to John O’Groats to raise money for Alzheimer’s research.
And since I’m 6ft 7ins, he thought it would be hilarious to get me to join them for the northern bit of the adventure.
For some reason which I’m sure will come to me in a minute, I agreed, which is why I found myself on the very comfy Stena Line ferry from Belfast to Cairnryan looking out at the rain and wondering why I never said no to adventures.
If I was a woman, I’d be permanently pregnant.
The ferry was even more comfy because with fewer people travelling, there was loads of room to stretch out, and if you need even more stretching out, £5 gets you a Hygge lounging chair or £15 the Stena Lounge with free food, drinks and newspapers.
Even better, the rain had stopped as I sped north on the Honda Africa Twin to catch up with the rest of the gang – as well as John, there was Paul Coleman and Nick Awebry from Dyson, which had said it would match the funds raised pound for pound, Allessandro Facta and Anna Wharton driving the backup van.
They’d set off two days earlier from Land’s End, taking turns on John’s bike and one from the Honda press fleet, and wearing bright orange Alzheimer’s Research T-Shirts over their bike kit.
“This turned holidaymaker road rage into waves and smiles, but as we only had one size fits all large it did make us look like a bag of stuffed carrots,” said John.
“The danger of being on Monkey Bikes is that you turn into fun hooligans. With chin to tank and all limbs tucked in, skinny guys Allessandro and Nick both claimed 77mph, and I’m sure I touched 75mph for a millisecond.”
Then, disaster struck with a flat back tyre on John’s bike – at 3.30pm on a Saturday.
“Amazingly we found a tyre at Parsons Motorcycle,s in Radstock, who kindly fitted and balanced the wheel for us at trade price,” said John.
“Then from Ludlow to Wigan it literally poured. My boots and trousers filled with water, and the large, comfortable seat made a fantastic pond to sit in.”
At Wigan the weather broke for an amazing ride through the Lake District, and with the forecast for Tuesday looking terrible, they decided to ride non-stop on the Monday, which is where I caught up with them after a stunning ride through Cairngorm scenery which managed to be both masculine and feminine, with the icy coldness of the lochs and the brutal grandeur of the mountains softened by the pale purple dusting of heather at their edges.
It was enough to make you come over all Rob Roy, don a kilt and go looking for Jessica Lange to rustle up a haggis, and at one stage I found myself humming Will Ye Go, Lassie, Go inside my helmet.
Just don’t tell anyone, in case they think I’m weird or something.
Meeting up with the gang, I handed the Africa Twin to Paul and descended on to the Monkey Bike, with John riding the other one.
“I thought about following Geoff, but realised it would be like following a high-sided vehicle. He looked like someone had placed the Leaning Tower of Pisa on a rollerskate,” said John.
In spite of its size, the Monkey Bike proved surprisingly comfortable. In fact, its deep, cushioned seat was actually more comfortable than the firm, narrow one on the Africa Twin, designed for easy off-road standing on the pegs.
Filling the tank cost £3.50, and John said that was good for 130 miles. Astonishing. In fact, John loves his so much he now does his daily commute on it.
As you can imagine with only 9.25bhp on tap, progress is flat out everywhere, although being a Honda, the engine is unbreakable, and at one stage I actually made it to 60mph, after which I blacked out due to the G-forces and lack of oxygen. Or possibly laughing so much.
After several hours of lunacy, we got to John O’Groats by early evening for the traditional Scottish greeting by four billion midges.
“I still don’t believe that the little Monkey Bikes did it,” said John over a very welcome beer later.
“Honda must make them out of bits of Captain America’s shield and Thor’s Hammer. They are simply awesome, and probably the best fun you can have on two wheels.”
I’ll drink to that. Cheers!
Geoff sailed from Belfast to Cairnryan with Stena Line, stenaline.co.uk. Fares for motorbike and rider start at £47 single, or day trip returns from £50.
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Now listen here
Setting out from Hanoi on an ageing Honda Cub, Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent spent the two months riding 2,000 miles along the Ho Chi Minh Trail through the mountains and jungles of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
Battling inhospitable terrain and multiple breakdowns, she met former American fighter pilots, tribal chiefs, illegal loggers and bomb disposal experts.
The result was A Short Ride in the Jungle, a truly excellent book which is both moving and funny; and the good news is she’s now narrated it as an audio book.
Available on Audible, Google Play, Nook and many more, it’s £14.46, although if you sign up for a 30-day Audible trial, you can get it free.