Looking to avoid using my rucksack, I loaded up the Fireblade, managing to get everything I needed for the three day trip (one there, one for the game and one to get me back) into my two Kriega tank bags, kissed Carolina goodbye and headed East.
With everything that is going on at the moment, being able to forget it all and just ride was a great relief. All I needed to think about was positioning and the road. It was bliss. Even two unexpected sharp heavy showers around Salisbury and Winchester didn't dampen the ride, in fact the cooler air and rain were rather refreshing.
Making good progress, I cut across the countryside along the A272 until I hit the A3, which is a well surfaced, quick, two lane carriageway hooking up London with the South Coast. Pointing the bike North, I clicked off the miles heading up through the Hindhead tunnel, dropping down two gears in the process and heading up past Guildford. Stopping for a quick refresh at the Services just before the M25, I knew I was a getting low on petrol, but not looking to pay the elevated prices, my plan was to carry on and stop at one of the stations deeper in town.
Now under the dome of the capital and heading up through New Malden and Wimbledon, I spotted an Esso garage at Kingston Vale and pulled in. Now, this is where my normally cordial veneer slipped. With the pump zeroed I was all ready to go, but the team behind the desk wouldn't turn the pump on. Wearing earplugs, I half heard and message over the tannoy and when it was repeated, I finally heard clearly. They were telling me to remove my helmet and being hot and now especially bothered, I lost it. Swearing rather loudly, I clipped everything back up on the bike, put my gloves back on and rode off, making as much noise as I could as I left. As I rode away, I realised that I had been highly immature and felt a little ashamed, however I still find these rules ridiculous. Cameras had seen me pull up, recording my registration in the process and if a station is going to enforce this policy, large clear signs at the pumps need to be there.
With the exception of the Supermarket brands, UK petrol stations work as franchises so there is no governing rule issued by the brand (Shell, Esso, BP) restricting the wearing of helmets. Its all down to local choice. On this occasion I was wearing full leathers on a searing hot day, with luggage clearly strapped to the bike and I wanted fuel, so why not give it to me? Oh you thought I was going to steal it then? Don't you have insurance? Oh you do, but you want to do all you can to stop being stolen from. Okay that's not a problem, then how about providing an alternative which doesn't discriminate against a particular motoring group, you know, like Pay at Pump! You do know that with this in place, it makes your life easier right? Well, the Supermarkets do and they have a much more user friendly, successful business model. A further irony was, that if I did remove my lid, then all they would have seen would have been my eyes and the top of my head as I wearing a Buff to shield against road fumes/pollen. I wonder what they would have done then?
Living down on the South Coast, this doesn't happen (well at least it doesn't happen to me) so I guess I just boiled over, a victim to the heat and my own preconceptions of not living in fear of my fellow man on a daily basis. The irony is that after filtering through pretty horrible queues all the way along the South Circular Road in Sheen, riding over Kew Bridge and up through Chiswick, getting seriously roasted in the process, I stopped at the BP by Gunnersbury Lane and filled up without incident, leaving my lid on the whole time. I even thanked the smiling cashier for not requesting I take off the lid, which was clearly a case of my guilt dictating my actions. One thing is for sure though, chalking it down to experience, I'm never using that Esso again, in the car or on the bike.
After a good days cricket on the Saturday, I set on the long Sunday ride home. Cutting back through London to the South, I realised that although I'd been to the Box Hill bike meet more times than I can remember, I've never actually ridden up to the top of box hill. If you've never done it, the view is well worth carving your way past the hundreds of cyclists who own the road.
Bikes; they just have this way of tying everything together and making it all okay.