Here I am sitting in the Ace cafe again. The Bitch is outside, loaded and waiting, ready to go. Stamping her feet and snorting. She’s nervous and so am I. Another journey from west to east. London to Bangkok for the 3rd time. I wonder. Will I be able to just cut and paste the blog from 2016? I very much doubt it.
I only got back from the last one about 9 months ago and here I am again. WTF am I doing? How has my life changed so much in such a short space of time. In July 2016 I took redundancy after a 30 year career in software, left for Bangkok a week later, and since then I’ve not given IT another thought. Now here I am having attracted another set of bonkers bikers into following me 11000 miles across the world with no support beyond my meagre organisational skills, a few years travelling experience, a couple of credit cards and Booking.com. Oh well. One day all I will be is a faded photo in someone’s bottom drawer, a name on a family tree, a memory occasionally recalled by a child. I don’t want to fade to nothing. I want to leave my mark and this is my way of doing it.
This trip is a bit different from the last 2. This time I have aimed high. Everest base camp. Somewhere I’ve always wanted to go but each time I’ve thought about it I’ve wondered if it’s a step too far. Getting there is quite difficult and carries a few more risks to add to all the usual ones these sorts of mileages attracts. So this time I offered the riders the option. When we are in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night at very high altitude, hungry, tired, freezing our tits off, getting 4 hours sleep in a concrete cell on a bed like a gurney, having a throbbing headache and feeling like shit I need them to know it was their choice. Without exception, each rider chose this option. Bring it on!
So, who do we have this time? Well we obviously have me and The Bitch. The Bitch that let me down on the Laos border last year and had to be recovered. The Bitch that had to have both her wheels straightened and drilled for tubes. The Bitch that cost me £1000 to get her dodgy electrics sorted. The Bitch that needed her suspension rebuilding after twatting some bumps so hard that the top bolt on the rear bent into a banana shape and the wheel looked like a 50p piece. The Bitch with the scars and the memories. Yes.. that Bitch. We’ve got some making up to do.
So who does The Bitch have along for friends this time? A 2010 Transalp ridden by an 73 year old ex lorry driver mate of mine that rode from London Bangkok with me in 2014 via a different route. A 64/F800 Adventure ridden by a NZ/UK national CFO resident in Dubai, a 13/1200GSA ridden by a recently retired PWC partner, a Honda CF500 fully clothed in Rally Raid kit ridden by an engineer/mechanic, and lastly an almost new 16/R1200GSA piloted by a retired risk manager. You would have thought he would know better.
Lots of expensive kit, all pristine and clean, all perfectly packed. We’ll see how long that lasts. Off to Dover to hole up near the tunnel then an early train and off we go, heading east through Germany in the rain to Soest. A day only memorable for meeting possibly the oldest hooker in Germany. I was chatting to her for a while in a petrol station. She’d had a big car accident and brain damage but that didn’t stop some lowlife scumbag standing just off to the side trying to rent her out for blowjobs to lorry drivers. Emptying one tank as they filled another. Still. She signed my helmet, and she didn’t charge. Bonus
Stop for lunch and I forgot we’re in the land of the big sausage. Everywhere you go. Big sausages. Makes me feel uncomfortable. I always feel inadequate asking a woman to handle a big sausage and hand it to me. I’m more of a cocktail sausage man myself.
Get to Soest for the first night of the trip. 3 rooms, 5 men. I’d booked 3 twins. The hotel had just recently changed all its beds, to doubles. I don’t think the group is quite ready to share double beds quite yet. That will come later.. Fetty wank. Thanks for letting me know! No more rooms so I use my personal ‘get me out of the shit’ device and get another room round the corner. Off to a perfect start…
Day one over. No dead bodies. Result. Quick breakfast and head out towards Berlin.
We’re drawing a fast black line across Europe and it’s motorway all the way. Just a long black wet blur to meet my mate on his Transalp and complete the team. Take a walk down to Alexanderplatz in the sunshine and back through the gate.
A few more hours of deadly dull eurobland road and scenery and we’re in Warsaw. Years and years of feeding a travelling addiction has dulled my senses and left me searching for a bigger and bigger fix every time. It’s not good but with ‘only’ 67 days I’m already in a hurry to get out of here. To get somewhere with borders, somewhere with edges, somewhere different. Warsaw still feels a bit different, at least for the time being.
Get to the hotel and since I was last here it seems to advertised for a “Massive twat required to be our new security and parking Nazi. Only complete and utter uber tossers need apply. Duties will include stopping motorcyclists parking safely in completely empty secure parking areas, acting like a petulant child, shouting and screaming and throwing your hands in the air”. On these trips I carry a small bag with my ‘special’ swearword inside written in red on pieces of paper. The one I only use on special occasions. The one that makes me shiver when I say it. The one that starts with C…. The pieces of paper have to be used sparingly. I really have to think hard before I use one. Once used they have to be thrown away. But…after one quick ‘negotiation’ with this bloke I just stick my had in the bag and grab a load and treat myself to a C word frenzy. You can see how wars start out here. Fucking idiot. The only other parking is outside the front amongst the beggars and gypsies that we’ve been beating off as we stripped the bikes. We’ll have to do something about that.
Go out for dinner in the backstreet and I’m pleased to be offered a chair at a table on a precipitous and dangerous wooden platform which I subsequently fall back off and onto the pavement, breaking the chair into the bargain. It’s things like this that I enjoy. No health and safety nerds with clipboards in high vis jackets. Look out for yourself! Take some responsibility. Long may it continue.
If you’re moving fast then standard Europe starts to run out pretty quickly and before we know it we’re in Lithuania and headed to Kaunas City. One of the riders randomly chooses a place to stop for dinner and I find myself in the exact same toilet I was in last year. A real case of Deja Poo. What are the odds? Nice food though and some beautiful faces too.
Kaunas City is the kind of random place that you would probably never choose to visit. Just a small town on a big river. Filled with locals doing their thing and enjoying lives amongst the old city streets. I love the place. We sit and eat in the street, watching the people. Feeling the change. Slowly melting into the journey and starting the deep dive.
From Kaunas in Lithuania it’s up to Riga in Latvia to a small hotel nestled amongst the narrow cobbled streets. You can tell we’re heading east by the change in ‘taste’ displayed by the locals. I doubt a wedding car that looked like the bastard child of Cinderella’s carriage and an ugly American heap that put the ‘Cry’ in Chrysler would get many bookings round here.
For some completely unknown reason we end up eating at a vegetarian restaurant. It’s full of weirdos wearing hair shirts and sipping drinks made of fuck knows what that look like fluids you might get inside the cooling systems of space ships. I think if you’re going vegetarian then you should show commitment to the cause and have most of your teeth out as you don’t need them any more. One overpriced and under whelming meal later and I’m A. Still hungry and B. Ready to play the complete Dark Side of the Moon album through my arse. Luckily I’m sharing with my old mate and we’ve agreed to adopt a free and unrestricted fart policy. An agreement like this is essential early in a travellers relationship as it makes sleeping easier and cures any pooformance anxiety when using the bathroom. This hotel also provides earplugs which, though intended to keep the sounds of revellers throwing up outside the clubs in the streets at bay should also keep all but my deep bum notes from his ears and allow me to complete deflate my bowels.
In the morning I’m nearly back to my normal size. Just apply some cream to my stretch marks, have some breakfast and we’re ready for Mother Russia. We head out through the forest and abandoned Estonia border.
Stop at a derelict looking petrol station and listen to an old Lada use 90% of it’s 20HP to pump out 80’s dance music and shake the leaves from the trees. Somewhere I think we’ve been though a time machine. Then there is a flash of light and a van from the 80s appears. We’ve definitely stumbled upon some some sort of time portal. Perhaps I can get a lift back to my youth… it might not go back that far though..
The Estonian borders operate a slot system where you book a time to cross then wait in a room decorated in all those things your great grandmother put out in charity bags in 1960. Wait for your plate to appear on the screen and off you go. I’ve been through Russian borders a few times and it’s never a quick procedure but this time it’s quite straight forward… except for the ‘problem’. The Bitch is the problem. The Bitch didn’t get her passport stamped out last year so she is still officially in Russia. Yet here she is in the flesh outside the booth of the man pointing at his computer screen. Problem. As as westerner we have the stupid idea that places like this have computer systems just for show and that they are just pressing buttons to frustrate the poor mug with his face at the window but in reality these places know everything. Russia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have a common customs policy so you go through customs on entry to Russia and on the exit of Kyrgyzstan in my case. Last year though there were some problems with the systems when we exited Kazakhstan into Uzbekistan and my bike wasn’t booked out. Bollocks! Still, the bike is clearly here, right in front of the blokes eyes. I flip the coin and just wait as he looks at me…. It’s heads. I win:) He just shrugs and continues the process and I’m in. Next day I get an email asking me to send me evidence of leaving last year. They’re switched on these Russians.
Anyway – it’s taken a couple of hours but we’re all in. Rock up to the first petrol station and get some worthless insurance from someone who I would swear in court is actually Dr Spock. Go to the cooler and I see cans of Red Bull. 3 sizes. Normal, large and Russian.
First night in the motherland is in Pskov, a nice hotel in a place I’ve never been before. I brush off my rusty Russian and we head out for dinner down by the wide slow river. I really like Russia and I’m glad to be back. Google translate is pointed at a menu and says ‘chicken salad’. What it should have said was ‘A very small child’s portion of wet lettuce covered in horse seamen, served with a warm worm and a cat sick coleslaw’. Delicious. I had 2nd’s…
From Pskov it’s out into the Russian wilderness and north towards St Petersburg. Reasonable roads, loads of fuel, bores my tits off! I wish I had a travel reset button. I really wish I could get my travel virginity back. My moto mojo told me it would meet me along the way somewhere. I hope it’s soon. I’m getting worried it’s got lost somewhere.
Get to St Petersburg and it’s a big old city for sure. The usual Russian traffic chaos and maniacs intent on invading europe by clandestinely taking out their motorcyclists. I fitted the loudest horn I could find to The Bitch before leaving and I suggested the others all do the same. It’s our only weapon in traffic like this. It sounds like a flotilla of small ships coming through as we all head for the channels and weave our way through. Get to a nice hotel in the centre and head out for dinner at a recommended local restaurant where we spend a happy evening asking the waitresses about their dumplings.
St Petersburg is culture central and you can’t take more than 2 steps in any direction without bumping into something… or somebody… to stand and stare at.
You can’t go to St Petersburg without visiting the Hermitage so I get on the underground and make my way up. On the way in I’m approached by 2 officers of the elite Russian Tottie Core who were having trouble with their buttons and needed some assistance. Luckily I have an Bsc Hons degree in buttons and can do (or undo) one with each hand simultaneously. It was their lucky day:)
Get into the Hermitage and it’s absolutely bloody MASSIVE. Culture overload from the word go. 100000 rooms of paintings, statues, and antiquities from the beginning of time. I wonder if my mojo is hiding in here somewhere so I go looking. 90% of the place is semi-deserted.. unless you include the angels…
and the statues waiting patiently ..
Get anywhere near anything significant and you’re caught up in a tide of tourists falling over themselves to get a low quality picture of a tiny painting that they wouldn’t hang in their toilets.
No mojo here though. Bastard! WTF has happened to it. Couldn’t it get a Russian visa? I’ll have to keep on looking. Take a wander round town and see if I can pick up it’s trail.
I definitely felt a twitch then .. I’m sure I did…
Moscow is too far from St Petersburg to do in a normal day so we take a ride down to Velikiy Novgorod, a city with a long and impressive history, a UNESCO world heritage site and location of a HUGE Kremlin. Yep – I thought there was only THE Kremlin but no. A Kremlin is a fortified complex and there are loads throughout Russia. This one is stuffed with the old
the very very very old..
and the pre-historic…
A really nice place with a lovely atmosphere, full of people enjoying themselves in the sunshine.
Get out early and head south for Moscow. Fast road all the way..
Day off .. .. Tourist mode on…. Metro…. Red Square…. Kremlin….
Tick…. then up to the space museum… an really amazing place.
Then up and out towards Tambov before the Russians get out of bed…
To hole up in the little oasis in the centre of the chaos..
Out to dinner and I get a ping on my phone. Airdrop. Or TartDrop in this case. Two women advertising for business…. they’re sitting just behind me… that’s a first..
Still can’t find my mojo though. I’ve emailed. I’ve texted. I’ve left voicemails. Still no reply. Perhaps it decided to stay at home… I really hope not. I’m starting to get worried I might never see it again.. perhaps it’s lost forever.
Head south today. Across the dark flat earth across the patchwork roads down to Saratov on the Volga.
Get to the same hotel that I had the problems with Lucyfer last year. I’ve stuffed my pockets with garlic and I’m wearing at least 200 crucifixes, they’re all dragging along behind me on long chains as I climb the stairs ready and prepared for my encounter with the beastess. Get to reception and it seems my luck has changed. The place seems to have undergone an exorcism and Lucyfer has been replaced with a little angel.
And she obviously loves me…
The words “shit” and “happens” are best mates and I know they love to spend time in each other’s company. They’ve not met up on this trip yet and I’m wondering if today is the day. The long haul out across the shit roads to Kazakhstan seems to be the place they like to hang out and chat. If we get out early enough maybe we’ll beat them to the border. Out we go, leaving the infrastructure behind and heading for the bumpy potholed horizon.
Get close to the border and dodge into Ozinki for some lunch. These are the places where my mojo might be hiding. Dusty towns way off piste with rough streets and lots of staring faces. Follow your nose, pick up a scent, walk though a dark door and see what you find. This time we find a small room full of tables already set for lunch. Biscuits and sandwiches and drinks cover all the surfaces and we think we’ve hit pay dirt until an attractive buxom lady starts flapping her arms and pointing to a locked room. Eh? She goes and gets a key, opens the door and points inside. Eh? O…K… we go and sit down just as all the local school kids arrive for their lunch. Ohhhhhh… right…..
We sit in the goldfish bowl and eat as every child makes their way to and from the toilet, whether they need it or not, just for a look, a giggle, a smile. This is what it’s all about.
Up to the Russian border and out double quick. I can barely believe it. Where the fuck are the ‘shit’ and ‘happens’ brothers? Maybe they’ve fallen out, or maybe they’ve got bigger plans for later…Next Page