June 21st, 2017 – Cardiff, Wales to Holyhead, Wales: ~215 miles
If I could summarize our time in Wales with one word, it would simply be: “sheep.” I feel like I’m seeing twice as many sheep as humans, but it turns out I’m wrong: the actual ratio is 3 to 1.
Vy’s an animal lover, so she enjoys her newly dubbed “sheep peeps” greatly. We stop constantly to take photos of sheep grazing, running, or…doing nothing.
We hug the border of Wales and England and discover a town that is famous not for sheep, but for books. Hay-on-Wye has a population of approximately 1,600, yet it features nearly 30 bookstores (many of which focus exclusively on used books). The small town annually hosts one of the world’s largest literary festivals, the Hay Festival – a celebration of art and literature that has expanded in recent years to include several locations worldwide.
Vy’s much more interested in books than I am, so at first I wanted to get back on the road. But after a few minutes in Richard Booth, I was content to spend hours there.
One of the nice things of being on an adventure bike is that you can tackle whatever road strikes your fancy. That’s not to say you couldn’t tackle the pictured road on a sportbike, but it’s much easier on this Triumph.
Wales is a small country – it’s smaller than all but three of the United States. Despite that, there’s plenty to admire if you enjoy natural beauty. A tenth of the nation is actually a National Park called Snowdonia, which features Wales’ largest natural lake and highest mountain. It’s undoubtedly gorgeous, yet after 12 straight hours of bright green rolling hills the photos and memories all feel the same to me. As we approach the top of Wales, we have to cross the Menai Strait. The most interesting way to do so (at least on a road) is across the Menai Bridge, considered to be the first modern suspension bridge in the world.
Just after the bridge, Vy and I stumble upon a town with the longest place name in Europe. It requires a deep breath to type, let alone say. It’s 58 characters long and it is the second longest one-world place name in the world: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. No, you’re not saying it correctly in your head right now, so let this weatherman show you the way:
A couple of days in and I am finally getting comfortable with the aptly-named Explorer. Last year, Triumph significantly updated the model for 2016 to make it more competitive with offerings from BMW and KTM, and I’d say they’ve succeeded. It’s a quality two-up tourer and the top-of-the-line XRt model that we’re on may have more computers and sensors than Apollo 11. Cornering ABS, traction control, ride-by-wire throttle control, an Inertial Measurement Unit, multiple ride modes, Semi Active Suspension, tire pressure monitors, power windshields, heated seats, even a hill hold function. The list goes on and on, and it’s all good. Triumph deserves special mention here for making all of the electronics intuitive. There’s a lot of (possibly too many) options available from the handlebar controls but they’re designed in a way that’s easy to navigate, even on the move.
My only real complaint with the Explorer is the same issue I have with the little-brother Tiger 800: it feels a bit top heavy compared to the competition, so at low speeds it feels ponderous. That might seem like an easy criticism with a big ADV bike but I’ve recently covered hundreds of miles on a similarly-sized BMW R1200GS, which weighs 20 pounds less and makes it feel like the weight sits lower.
While I may be getting used to the bike, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the UK’s speed cameras. Thankfully, the NUVIZ I am testing had audio alerts to warn me about most of them. Street signs took care of the rest of the alerts, like this heads up to ride safely.
Our plan is to take the ferry out of Holyhead the next morning, so our accommodations for the night are nearby at Wavecrest B&B. The owner’s name is Jaye and she’s an absolute sweetheart. When she sees us pull up on a bike she offers up a parking space in her personal garage to make sure the bike will be safe. I’d eventually find this bike-friendly behavior to be typical of our B&B hosts but Jaye deserves special mention for being very helpful and friendly.
Jaye suggests a few local places for dinner and Vy convinces me that we should walk. En route, I notice a vehicle that’s not found in the US: a Mitsubshi Pajero Evolution. Americans will recognize this as the Montero, which as far as I know is an inoffensive SUV that was pulled from the market in 2006 because it sold poorly. But this is the “Evolution”, a rare homologation version built so that Mitsubishi could race it in Dakar! Approximately 2,500 examples were built between 1997-1999, nearly all of which were sold in Japan. The 3.5L V6 motor produced “276 horsepower”, and the 2 door Pajero Evolution also featured Recaro seats, the insane flared bodywork, and skidplates that provided full coverage underneath. It was a monster and Mitsubishi would go on to not just dominate the production-based “T2” class in Dakar, they won the entire thing. Hell, in 1998, these oddballs took 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. In my mind, it’s one of the coolest SUVs ever built. And one was just sitting here near a dock, looking like it hadn’t been driven in a few months. For more on what makes this special, check out this article on Jalopnik.
After a pleasant dinner, Vy and I make our way back to the B&B. We’ve got to plan out tomorrow, which will include a ferry ride and a quick stop in Dublin…