In December 2014, at the age of fifty, West Country businesswoman Carla McKenzie set herself a daunting challenge: to master the art of riding a motorcycle off road well enough to ride one from John O’Groats to Land’s End using green lanes, byways and back roads as much as possible. The aim was to raise funds for the Dougie Dalzell MC Trust and Bike Tours For The Wounded.
In this blog Carla describes, in fully-illustrated, ride-by-ride detail, the highs and lows of her six month preparation for the trip which included many hours in the gym starting at the crack of dawn and long days out in the lanes every weekend on nine different trailbikes. Carla learnt new skills the hard way, suffering many bumps and bruises and several frustrating breakdowns. She also lost three stones (42lbs, 20kgs) in weight and talked about her challenge on local radio and national TV.
There is a detailed description of the sixteen day, 1800 mile JOGLE challenge itself which Carla did in July 2015 on a CCM GP 450, accompanied by two fellow members of the Trail Riders’ Fellowship. There are also separate sections about her background and work in catering consultancy, her off-road training weekend in Scotland and her day at the 2015 Goodwood Festival of Speed at which she saw two undaunted paraplegics riding motorcycles both on and off tarmac and met Lord March.
Carla’s enduring passions from childhood for both flying and motorcycles, through thirty years of road riding, also shine through. There are other interesting diversions described and illustrated including several meetings with inspirational world travellers, a ride in the back of an Ecomobile cabin motorcycle and meeting and receiving endorsements for the cause from both celebrity chefs and former military ‘top brass’.
Altogether, there are more than 40,000 words here and many hundreds of photographs, but it’s all broken down into very digestible bite-sized chunks! If you enjoy reading this blog, please consider making a donation to the cause.
How it all came about…..
In October 2014 I was in the USA on my fourth trip for an organisation called Bike Tours for The Wounded (BT4TW), riding a Harley-Davidson motorcycle through California and Route 66, carrying Claire, a soldier who was wounded in Iraq. Darren Clover and Mark Lamplough, the founders of the organisation, asked me if I would like to join them on a John O’Groats to Land’s End off-road challenge! The only off-road experience I’d previously had on a motorcycle was riding my Yamaha RD 200 and Honda CB500T around various airfields when I was seventeen and eighteen, while crewing for glider pilots. The bikes were handy for doing the radio checks at an easy distance and at competitions and I also used to use them to get from the launch grids to the ‘smoking sheds’ in which the barographs, which recorded the gliders’ altitudes, were prepared. They were usually miles away from the grid. The riding was easy and it was great to be able to do it without a crash helmet!
By December 2014 I had agreed to do the ‘JOGLE’ (John O’Groats to Land’s End) challenge. The BT4TW team then shortened the route from Northumberland to Somerset (and later, to Wiltshire) but I decided to stick with doing the whole journey. Frankly, I had little idea of what that meant and I’m embarrassed to recall saying that ‘if push came to shove’ I would do it on my Aprilia Caponord 1200 ‘monster trailie’. (Two tricky rides through the wet winter Wiltshire ruts on a bike only half the weight of the quarter-tonne Capo soon put paid to that mad idea!). In early December I was put in touch with motorcycle journalist Paul Blezard, who was apparently a fount of trail riding knowledge. I can clearly recall my first ‘phone call to him, and the slight disbelief in his voice at the challenge I’d set myself. Thankfully, he agreed to help, and his first recommendation was that I should join the Trail Riders Fellowship, which he’d been a member of for thirty years.
My dad had found me a Husqvarna TE 250 enduro machine just before Christmas – my first properly off-road-capable bike – although it was not due to arrive until February. My first big eye-opener into the world of trail riding came on the 28th December, when I rode over to Imber on Salisbury Plain to view the riders and their mud-encrusted machines at the lunch stop of the annual ‘Baker Run’ which Andover baker Steve Burbidge organises for charity. At that point the penny started to drop and the size of the task became apparent. Bikes, ice, mud and the need to send a crew to retrieve a stranded sidecar outfit were some of my overwhelming memories of that first contact, but there was no going back.
In January I joined the Trail Riders’ Fellowship and training began in earnest for this mammoth task. I started on a strict diet and significantly upped my exercise, including 6am gym sessions! After regularly going out for trail rides I soon became addicted to the off-road lifestyle, finding myself looking for my next fix. Despite numerous bike failures I was determined to continue my training and even brought out the pushbike – which had not seen the light of day in a long time! I was completely captivated by trail riding. There were a few incidents, cuts and bruises along the way as I was finding my feet but I enjoyed every moment of it. Riding around the countryside on the untarmacked lanes allowed me to appreciate the beauty that surrounds us. I soon discovered that a change in the weather can dramatically change the nature of the trails but knowing that this challenge was to raise money for the wounded was a real motivation and inspiration to keep me going. I was just getting used to the Husky 250 when it had a serious mechanical failure and the opportunity arose to ride the new CCM GP 450 and I jumped at the chance. After the test ride I knew it was the bike for me so I decided to buy one; I could not resist.
I have had great support from the Wiltshire TRF who have stuck by me and provided continuous help and advice along the way. Without them I would not be at the level of off-road riding that I am and when two of them, Andrew Byatt and James Higgs, decided to join me for the whole JOGLE it made the task seem much less daunting. Also thank you to Paul Blez for the continued support in both words and deeds. (He has edited every word of this extensive blog and contributed many words and photos of his own, and also joined us for the first and last sections of the JOGLE.)
Doing the JOGLE was a massive challenge. I was very excited to take it on but also terribly afraid that I wouldn’t be ready in time. In the event, I certainly wasn’t as well prepared as I would have liked and there were plenty of setbacks along the way, but we did it.
I hope you enjoy reading this blow-by-blow account of my preparation for the ride, (complete with a few entertaining diversions along the way) and the day-by-day account of the JOGLE ride itself…..And if you do, please consider making a contribution, however small, to the Dougie Dalzell MC Memorial Trust and BT4TW via the JustGiving link which can be found by clicking on HELP THE CAUSE!
Click below to read Part One of Carla’s Journey
Please click on the link above to donate, or text DDMT66 £3 to 70070