It was 10 in the night, I was outside the ferry terminal, and I had no idea where to go. I stood outside for a while, just to see what others were doing, and that didn’t help much. All the taxis that came in were taken quite quickly, so that wasn’t an option either.
Out came the phone, destination set for the closest camping site, time to walk.
It was surprising how alive the place was at 10 in the night. There was a rock concert going on in one corner, some roller-coasters were flying in another, and the roads were full of motorcycles, buzzing around like flies. It was like Diwali night in India, without the firecrackers.
I wasn’t feeling as energetic as everyone else though, I guess the ferry ride had taken its toll. I must’ve walked a kilometer or so, and I knew I had to get a taxi. I was in kind of the sleepy part of Douglas by now, so getting one wasn’t that hard.
“Where you off to my friend?”
“Just need a camping spot for the night.”
“I got the place for you.”
One of the reasons why I started walking to begin with was because I was scared of taxis ripping me off. The guy driving me could easily have, I had never been to this island, he could’ve driven me around the same place thrice and I wouldn’t have known. Instead, he told me about the places to eat, about the timings of the race, and about the best places to watch from. He took me to a camping spot right besides the race route, charged me by the meter, and left.
The theme continued inside the camping office. They gave me a full schedule of the race, told me about the facilities inside the area, and charged 15 pounds for the night.
Now it was time for the real challenge, putting a tent up for the first time in my life, in the dark of night.
I found a place close to the entrance, everyone else had giant tents with them, only my tiny one could’ve fit in there. Even though I could barely see what I was doing, I did manage to prop the thing up without much trouble. I only made the mistake of not using any of the tie downs to secure it to the ground, I was too tired to bother with it, I should have.
It was a cold night. I spent it shivering inside the tent, unable to sleep because of the rain smashing on the top, and the wind trying to take me back to Liverpool. One by one I put on every piece of clothing I carried, curled myself inside the sleeping bag like a featus, but it made no difference. I was getting a bit sleepy around dawn, but by then bikers had started looping around the course one last time before the race began.
By 6 am I decided it would be better for me to get ready and find some place warmer.
The washrooms were surprisingly clean again. It might seem a bit stupid to most people outside India that I’m constantly surprised at basic hygeine, but you don’t know. I was ready in half-an hour, and on the road to the nearest McDonald’s.
I have a complicated relationship with McDonald’s, I ate their food a bit too much over the past few years. When I came to the UK, I suddenly lost the taste for their burgers, and the situation hasn’t improved since. For a vegetarian like me, not being able to eat McDonald’s can be a problem during travel. You can’t always find cheap, eatable veggie stuff on the road. At a McDonald’s you know what to expect, makes life a little bit simpler.
More importantly, nothing else was open at that hour. The place was warm, the McEgg burger was eatable, and the coffee sucked slightly less than I remember it did.
Now all I had to do was make it to Creg Ny Baa. That’s where I had booked my grandstand ticket, that was the only one available. I looked for a cab for about 15 minutes, nothing came. Well, time to walk again.
I hadn’t noticed it during the night, but this island is full of amazing houses. I don’t know what people here do to make so much money, but I saw a house with 2 Ferraris and a GT-R parked in the driveway. As I walked along with sidewalk, I saw one gorgeous house after another, huge lawns, beautiful architecture, filled with greenery.
I guess that kinda explains why nobody seemed to want my money, money is the last thing they need here.
As I kept walking, following Google Maps directions, I started noticing familiar names on the screen. The first was Quarter Bridge, and then I was climbing up to a place called Bray Hill.
Holy shit, I was going to the paddock.
Maybe it was the lack of sleep, or the shock of not finding a taxi, but I hadn’t noticed that my path to Creg Ny Baa was to go through the heart of it all. I obviously didn’t complain, just crossed over the road and found myself walking around the pit lane, bikes lined up everywhere, stars walking about the place.
The first person I noticed was John McGuinness, he wasn’t doing so well. I saw him sitting inside his tent, looking rather injured, which is what he was. The next person I saw was Guy Martin, who was pushing his TT Zero bike to the scrutiny with a mechanic. Both Guy and John were meeting fans, John had a bit more time than Guy, but it was surprising to see how well Guy handled the crowd. He noticed a guy holding a phone in his hand, taking a photo of him from a distance. He went to him to make sure the dude could take a close-up selfie.
I did not go closer than 10 feet to either one of them, there was no reason to. These guys have a job to do, me chasing them down for a meaningless picture isn’t going to help them do it. They are both extremely nice, it would’ve been easy to get an autograph or a selfie, but why would I bother them? There was nothing I could give them in return, my words don’t matter, they hold no value, and there’s no gift I can give to them they could make use of.
The difference between the Isle of Man TT pit and a MotoGP pit is like the difference between a school yard and a prison yard. Even so, I did not intend to take any advantage of that difference.
I walked around a lot, saw a lot of very busy people, and a lot of very happy fans. It’s not everyday that you get to stand next to a race bike while mechanics are working it, and have one of the team come and explain what they are doing, the finer points about the bike, and answer any questions you might have.
It was time to get going again, my destination was still very far away, and I had to walk it all with 15 kgs on my back.
By this time it was getting close to race time. The entire road is blocked an hour or so before that happens, that was my only road to get where I wanted to go. There are marshals everywhere on the course, every time I ran into one I asked if I could still carry on walking. I was hoping for someone to put me out of my misery and tell me that the road was closed, but all they ever said was “If you go fast enough, you will make it!”.
I should’ve known better than to ask an Isle of Man TT marshal for advice about giving up.
I kept going, walked until my shoulders hurt, ran until it felt like my thighs would detach from my hips, and then walked again. I could have stopped and watched the race from anywhere, but I wanted to make it to Creg Ny Baa, it was my own little race before the big boys started theirs.
After Hillberry, there’s an almost straight road uphill to Creg Ny Baa. The marshal at Hillberry was of course optimistic again, but told me to make a run for it. It’s even more difficult to try to get somewhere when you can see how far that place really is. The bigger problem was that this stretch of road did not have a sidewalk, so you had to walk on the road. It was embarrassing to watch bikers slow down for me, bikers who were clearly enjoying the course, their free track time. I thought of asking some of the passing cars for a lift, but it would have been too dangerous, stopping a car on a narrow road. I just had to keep at it.
I ran, I was scared of my bag’s shoulder straps tearing off and getting me into some real trouble, but I ran. When I couldn’t run anymore, I walked. Luckily, the last 500 meters or so there was a path by the road that went through some fields, and I could at least get off the course. I must have walked the last few hundred meters with my back parallel to the ground. I was half-dead, sea-sickness, sleeplessness and exhaustion had been my last 24 hours, but the party was just getting started.
I made it to Creg Ny Baa, found my seat on the grand stand, and immediately got out again to find some better place. The grand stand was cold as balls, facing away from the Sun, and the view wasn’t any good either.
I had destroyed my pelvis to make it to this place, and now I was hungry. The race got delayed a bit, and that gave me the chance to get some food in me. Once I was done, it was time to scout for a better place. There was no way I was going any further uphill, so I started walking by the course down the way I had come.
“Looking for a place to watch the race from?”
“Yeah, can’t find any!”
“It’s all taken, people have been sitting here since 7 am, you can sit with us if you like.”
I watched the race with a few young Irish bikers. If they hadn’t given me space, I wouldn’t have been able to get as close to the action as I did. How close? Here’s how much.
First up we saw the TT Zero race, those bikes can accelerate. It still surprises me that the only real electric bike race in the world happens here, not something promoted by Dorna or MotoGP. Those guys are missing out on a lot of fun.
Next up it was time for the Sidecars. I have no idea why these things exist, what’s their purpose outside the race track? I think the “monkey” has probably one of the hardest jobs on the planet, holding on for dear life, no control over his death. Sidecars scared me, the first time one passed a few inches off me, I almost dropped my phone. The are fucking loud, and they weave around on the bumps, looking constantly out of control. Even by the standards of Isle of Man, that stuff is batshit crazy.
By this time me and the Irish lads had talked a bit, I told them about my journey from India to Milton Keynes, and then on to here. They had been on the island for a week, and had struggled against constant rains, high winds, and no races. I realized my luck again, I had come to the only part of the whole race weekend when there was some sunshine. Because of the bad weather over so much of the week, a lot of races had been crammed into the 1 day that I was there. Jackpot.
I couldn’t really have asked for anything more. Sitting in the warmth of the Sun, bikes screaming past a few centimeters away, the beautiful island mountains and coastline beyond for a view. There were a few food tents too, the lads had their beer, I had my hot chocolate.
Then came the Senior TT, the race everybody was waiting for. It is hard to describe the feeling of 200 horses being put down on the asphalt so close to you. I was on a stretch of road where I could hear the bikes push it all the way from 1st to 6th, with they going past me while upshifting from 3rd to 4th. You had to be there, you should be there.
Hutchy unfortunately crashed out during the race, we saw the helicopter airlifting him to the hospital. His crash did produce a magical moment, where marshals and all the racers did a safety lap of the circuit all together. The noise was unbelievable, a lot of wheelies were pulled. Hutchy would have enjoyed it.
With a few laps left of the race, the boys decided to start heading towards Hillberry. They had planned to get to watch the racers from a few other points on the course, while also getting away from some of the traffic that would start at Creg Ny Baa after the race had ended. I decided to follow their lead.
I should’ve stayed.