At 6am it was still dark in the London area, but the horizon was tinged with just a hint of the coming day. Way out in the countryside, the frosty air was clear enough for us to see the stars, and this boded well for the Adventure Travel Day at the Ace Cafe London.
By the time we arrived (7.15am) at one of the UKs most iconic motorcycle sites, the sun was up and adventure travel companies were already on site unloading boxes and bikes from vans, putting up marquees; all blowing breath clouds as they did so. Darren, the Cafe’s events duty manager was moving swiftly around the site, welcoming newcomers as he did so, and answering a steady stream of questions from everyone.
We were shown inside the cafe where early bird bikers were sitting down to the Ace’s famous full English breakfasts – they are huge by the way, and an absolutely perfect way to start the day. Birgit, Dave, Mon and I got stuck straight in to unloading the boxes of books and t-shirts, the pop up banners and all the other kit that’s needed to do a book signing. We like to put on a good display – so there’s always lots of ‘stuff’.
By the time we’d finished, the car park was almost completely ringed with stands and adventure bike riders were rolling in. BMW GSs, new Triumphs, Teneres, some gems of Honda Africa Twins, Transalps and so on. And there were quite a few surprises amongst the bikes. Author Nathan Millward rolled in on Dorothy. She’s his 105cc Australian postie bike – the one he’d ridden across Asia.
Other authors book signing were Robert Wicks with his brand new book on some of the world’s greatest overlanding routes, Norman Magowan with his two books on South and North America and Jeremy Bullard with his new book Life on the Line.
By 10.30 the car park was full and bikes were stretched down the road for hundreds of yards in both directions. I stood at the doorway to the Cafe for just a moment and all I could hear was the confident burble of overlanding bikes and the cheerful natter of people talking to the guys from such companies as Traveldri Plus, Metal Mule, Adventure Peru, James Cargo, Compass Expeditions, Stahlkoffer, Touratech, Continental Tyres, Adventure Bike Shop, KTM, Triumph and many more.
The temperature maxed at around 6C but in spite of all the cold handshakes that were going on (I could easily tell who were the riders with heated grips that worked well), everyone seemed to be enjoying the sunshine of a brilliant spring day. Surprise visitors were the two Korean girls who have recently arrived in the UK, having ridden 125cc Hondas from Vladivostok in Eastern Russia. Plucky lasses who are touring the UK before heading out to explore more of Europe.
And one other surprise visitor was Bob Porecha. We simply don’t get to see Bob often enough. He has been running an Independent BMW garage and showroom for, well, almost as long as BMW motorcycles have been around! (It feels like that anyway) You know those moments ‘out there’ when you’ve exhausted your own knowledge and quite simply, are stuck? We had quite a few of those and by phone or email Bob, based in Sydenham London, got us sorted out. You’ll read about him in my third book Distant Suns.
The riders who’d travelled the furthest to get to the Ace Café? I suspect that was Ray Walton and his son Ben. They’d ridden down from Rochdale for the day. Good stuff!
I had great fun meeting loads of friends from Adventure Bike Rider, Horizons Unlimited, UKGsers, Honda XRV guys, and lots of people who have been buying my books over the past few years. It’s a huge social opportunity for all of us, and being able to do a bit of dreaming and drooling over travel goodies? Well it’s a pretty good combination.
The sun stayed with us all for the day and it wasn’t until the first hints of evening red were easing into the sky that people began to head off. All, I think, with happy grins. My best-selling books of the day? Into Africa and Distant Suns.
And finally, a big thanks to Mark, Linda, Jan, Darren and all the staff at the Ace Cafe for setting up such a great day.