The radio was playing quietly in the background of my office, as I attended to emails and enquiries on Friday lunchtime 31st March. I heard a report that a pleasure boat or ferry had sunk off the coast of Bahrain, and up to 60 people had died. Like many times before, I thought to myself what I'd do if I was on a boat like that. I imagined I'd jump clear and swim ashore with my children. The report said many people had been trapped on the lower decks, and this brought it home to me that an easy escape wouldn't have been possible.
Little did I know, that about an hour later, I'd receive a call from a national newspaper asking if I knew Scott Belch. "Yes" I said. "He was a customer of mine back in 2002 on an Alps tour, became a friend, and came along the following year to help run the trip. Why do you ask?"
News desks across the country were reporting on the tragic incident, and by putting Scott's name into Google, they were lead to this page on my website.
The news that Scott was on the boat was a shock. He was due to get married (or may already have done so?) and an email last year explained how happy he was with his life, and partner in Bahrain.
Everyone featured on this page knew and loved Scott. He'll be missed by all of us.
We're not his best buddies or anything, but knew him through biking. When you've ridden a few thousand miles together, camped, drunk beer, and experienced the ups and downs of a hard road trip, a bond develops. We both understood the biking game. We loved camping - something which the hotel guests don't understand.
I was struck by Scott's easy going and pleasant nature. He joined my Alps trip at the very last minute in June 2002. So last minute in fact, there was no room left on our ferry over to France, so he had to catch a different one and meet up with us on the other side. This didn't faze him at all of course.
He turned out to be a darned good rider. Quick, but safe; like we all like to think we are. He loved his black Honda VFR750, and although it was an oldish model he cherished it and looked after it well. He quickly established himself as one of the quicker group and could cut it with the best of riders.
Although his level of riding skilll was second to none, it was his other qualities which endeared him to the group. He got on with people. Not in a soppy sentimental way, but a straight-down-the-line openess and honesty. Everyone liked him.
The picture I've used here reminds me of an incident in Bourg St Maurice which I will never forget. Click it for better quality. The photo inspired the story below - that's just how it was on the day.
We'd just been out for a long day's ride over the Alps; in fact all the way around Mont Blanc, pulling in three different countries in one day. We were returning from Italy to Bourg St Maurice in France, via the Col du Petit St Bernard pass. We had with us a rider who held various riding qualifications and was proud of his badges. Don't get me wrong, we all like to receive advice from advanced riders to help us improve our own riding. But this guy was a just a little bit too perfect. Know what I mean? He gave his advice freely and plentifully, whether it was asked for or not. He always had to ride in No2 position, and of course, he never "raced" anyone - advanced riders never do; they simply "make progress". (NOTE - we don't race anyone on our tours - the point here is, this guy would lecture us daily on how dangerous this would be). We'd ridden over the Grand St Bernard from Switzerland into Italy, and we were now on the last high pass of the day. The drop down from La Rosiere to Bourg is an amazing bit of road, which a series of tight bends and hairpins dropping down from around 2000 metres to the valley bottom way below.
Scott on his VFR, myself on the Firestorm, Mike on his CBR600 and a few others were enjoying the spirited ride back to base. Mr Perfect on his Pan European decided to show us "how to really ride a motorcycle". He wasn't racing us of course, just setting a challenging pace. A couple of Austrian bikes joined in, and being fairly local, soon made their way up to a position just behind the Pan..
(what I'm having to explain here, is that given his almost fanatical devotion to safe riding, we were rather surprised to see him set off at a fair old lick down the pass. The rest of the group just let him go)
Pan Man suddenly noticed 2 headlamps closing in his mirrors and thought it was us pushing him to go faster. Off he went like a bat out of hell (or so it seemed to us, from about 1/2 mile back), eventually losing out to the 2 expert Austrians. We kept them in view, but I must admit we were all a little way back. Pan Man was determined to be first back to the campsite.
About 6km from Bourg st Maurice, Scott came up with a clever plan. He remembered the cut through from just below Seez, down to the HEP station on the Les Arcs road, near the campsite. We hot-footed it down this narrow lane , while Peter Perfect went the long way round, via Bourg itself. We got back to the tents first of course, ripped off our sweaty leathers, grabbed a few beers from the cool box, and were casually sat there sipping the amber nectar when Pan Man pulled in.
"What kept you?" we chided. Oh how we laughed!
This picture of Scott was taken at this very moment. He's standing there, behind his bike, the engine ticking and smelling of hot oil while it cooled. The still air was 38 degrees Celcius. He said to me right then, "that was the best ride of my life". He held out his hand to show us how it was still shaking from the adrenalin rush he was still surfing on. I'll never forget that day, Scott.
It's my opinion that riding 10 of the highest passes in Europe consecutively, is a fantastic adrenaline rush, at whatever speed you do it.
The story of our ride in the Alps does not condone speeding or reckless riding in any way - but those who actually know me, understand that already.
Scott later went on to sell up in England and go and do a snowboarding season in Canada. He bought a KLR650 and rode right down through North America into Mexico and Central America. He was a true adventurer - like the Long Way Round thing, but without all the support.
He met a lovely lady whilst out in the States, and was looking forward to getting married. He seemed really really happy. I was pleased for him, that after his exciting and carefree early days, he was now settling down to the happy family life where we all get to in the end.
Scott was a biking buddy. The kind of guy you could see just once a year and go riding with. There are no doubt countless other people who knew him far better than I. Unfortunatley, due to the power of Google, the Press found me. The phone has hardly stopped ringing since yesterday afternoon. Yes - journalists have asked me questions, and I've told them more or less what you read here. "Wouldn't you be better talking to his family?" I asked. They are wary of doing this, understandably, in the circumstances. There has been a bit of a feeding frenzy, and the news desks have swapped any bits of information they can get hold of. Some have asked permission (Sunday Times) to use photos from this website, others just took them anyway.
I sincerely hope that none of his close friends or family have been caused any offence by this publicity. I simply related that I knew Scott and thought highly of him. I've not seen the papers yet, but believe I may have been quoted. I have not asked for, or received any money for this. Enough is enough, now. There's no point in fabricating a big story on Scott just for the sake of it. I don't want to talk about it anymore. I just hope any news reports on Scott portray him in the positive light he deserves.
One of his old school friends asked me to pen this small tribute, so I did. He's also dedicated a page of his own website to Scott, where anyone that knew Scott can post a picture or a few words.
See it here
We'll all miss you Scott. R.I.P
IMPORTANT FOOTNOTE As I mentioned, The Sunday Times was the only newspaper to ask permission to print a photo, and without any request from myself, offered to pay a fee if published. True to their word, they have just credited my account for using a small section of this very photo. This is a reflection of the standing on the Sunday Times. Thank you.
I wish to donate this money to a motorcycle related charity that Scott may have approved of. Any ideas? Or would it be acceptable to use it towards the running costs of a small privateer team racing in the TT this year? Comments please.
With permission from Scott's friends & family, the money was donated to Mark Halliday & Mark Holland, who are a privateer racers (sidecar team), and struggle financially to compete at the Isle of Man TT Races every year.