Vespa for Beginners: Part I

First break at pub in Sundridge for tea.

I’m writing this from The Ship Hotel’s ‘Saloon’ bar in Newhaven. Newhaven does not have much to recommend it, other than being a ‘gateway,’ but I am nonetheless happy to be holed up in The Ship before boarding an actual ship at about 9pm. And I’m happy to have made it to Newhaven without incident, and before dark. Of course, I did leave at about 10am, so I should have made it before dark!

My Vespa journeys have thus far been ones where anticipation is the ‘bad’ part. Of course I was nervous about riding from London to Cambridge, Cambridge to London, and London to Newhaven. Of course I’m nervous about riding to Paris tomorrow. But when I’m actually riding, actually on the road, I’m not nervous.

The ‘Do Not Panic’ moment(s).

I’m too busy being aware – aware of other drivers, aware of the road conditions, the weather, how cold (or not) I am, if I need a wee, whether I’m going to run out of petrol (hurrah reserve tank,) etc etc. And I think that’s a good thing.

The best moments today included the sheer glory of riding through Sussex, across rolling green hills (gorse and furze?) with a purple and blue sky stretched out above me and no one else on the road. Riding at an average of 30 miles per hour means everyone passes me so I’m alone on the road a lot, which is lovely. There are the stretches of dual carriageway where lorries are blowing past and I’m gritting my teeth and hanging on for the ride and

Made it to the Ferry!

praying that all carries on forward, and all those laws like ‘two objects cannot occupy the same space’ and ‘gravity’ work with, rather than against me. And that was exhilarating.

Then there were the stretches of woodland where I passed enormous, perfect fly agaric mushrooms and wanted wildly to stop and take photos, but dared not because the thought process only happened after I’d passed the fungi and I didn’t want to stop in a dangerous place. But they were amazing! And the timing! (See last post.) I rode past fields full of lively pheasants, and I avoided a good deal of roadkill – one fox (very sad, that made me,) and a number of pheasants and hares. The brilliant pheasant feathers made me want to stop and collect some, but for obvious reasons that would have been unsafe.

Some notes I took during various breaks throughout the day:

‘A friendly cyclist slip-streamed me uphill near Bromley, but I couldn’t understand what he was saying!’

Low tide – pungent smells and colourful boats in Newhaven.

‘At a pub in Sundridge, by a fireside having tea. Super-nice proprietor keeps calling me ‘dahlin (darling)’. Came out of pub to find a guy taking pictures of Vespa. I told him all about her! He’s been thinking of getting one. Ace.’

‘In Lewes about to have a fish pie for lunch at The Snowdrop. Famished! Chilly, too, but was determined to have lunch in Lewes because of Virginia Woolf [who used to live nearby]. Plan to ride through Rodmell [where V.W. lived] for last stretch to Newhaven.’

The people I’ve spoken with on the journey have all been fantastically friendly. The barman in Sundridge and the guy who took photos of Vespa were both

It’s not Remy but looks like Remy! Fire Station cat saying hello & trying to climb into my bag.

amazed/wished me luck on my journey. I’m lucky to have so many people wishing me luck!

Upon returning to Vespa after my enormous lunch of fish pie at The Snowdrop, Vespa would not start. If I’d been hungry, I probably would have burst into tears. Fortunately, I’d just eaten, so I Did Not Panic. I am pleased to admit that not a whisper of panic entered my mind.

My first thought swept back to the man outside the pub who’d just given me directions to Rodmell. He had a van. I thought, hmm, I could probably convince him to drive me & Vespa to the port (about 6, 8 miles away,) and…hope Vespa would start in the morning, in Dieppe? Hmm.

Hmm. I took out my phone, about to call Dani, but I knew that wasn’t the best idea. I phoned Neil from Scooterworks, who has become known to me as ‘Neil from Scooterworks,’ the guy who sold me Vespa. I said, ‘Hello, it’s Kelley, [etc]…I’ve just ridden from London to Newhaven and stopped for lunch for about an hour, and now it won’t start, which I find…’ pause. ‘slightly worrying.’

Doom Bar & free wi-fi in The Ship.

Neil patiently explained to close off the choke and fuel, open the throttle all the way, and give it ‘five…no, ten, sharp kicks. Then close the throttle all the way and give it five more. Then turn the fuel on one it’s started.’ I said ok, thinking, I don’t know if I have the energy for all those kicks. (Did I mention that Vespa, being a 1967 manual scooter, is a kick-start?) I closed the choke and fuel, opened the throttle all the way, and gave it just three sharp kicks before it started. Joy! Relief! Thank you, Neil!

I rode through Rodmell, mentally waving to Virginia Woolf, and cruised down the winding road to Newhaven.

My only wish right now was that I could board the ferry earlier than 9pm because I just want a hot shower & bed! I’m so very glad I got a ‘Captain’s Cabin’ on board – it was a special deal and it means I’ve got a cabin all to myself. Guess I’ll just have to have some sticky toffee pudding at The Ship whilst I wait. Or potato skins. Or both…

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