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Back in a box

Wake up and follow our noses to breakfast which makes a lovely change.  A proper cooked breakfast at our accommodation, the only one of this trip.  I think I even had a flower in a vase ..

Its twatting down and cold as we suit up and leave and it looks like it could be a very long day down to Oslo.  We head for Trondheim which has a bypass .. usually .. but today its blocked with an accident and we get directed over the mountains in the storm alongside all the crawling trucks.  This really is a reality check after the last 10 days. You may as well be anywhere on a day like this, staring at raindrops on the inside of your visor and trying to arrange a coherent image of all the threats around you by assembling a myriad of tiny kaleidoscopic images coming through the droplets.  Its bloody hard work, and very very slow.  Oslo is 600km and I just expected a motorway all the way but no.. not out here.. its just a main road… a pain road ..

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For a short while it all opens out as we’re free..

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But the closer we get to Oslo the worse it gets.  Frequently the single carriageway roads have a big fuck off barrier running down the middle for extended periods making it absolutely impossible to overtake.  Its a very unpleasant tedious journey, broken only with coffee and cake

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Its not until you get really close that the road turns into proper motorway.   We end up getting in towards dusk and a small tired hotel in the centre.   This is another quiet capital city, and absolutely nothing like any normal big city.  I guess that isn’t a bad thing though.  And again, no parking.. not unless you want to sell your anal virginity to pay for it.  Well as far as I’m concerned that is exit only.. so I have a look about and see there is bike parking in front of a theatre about 5/600 yards away so the horses will have to spend the night there.  I’d never even think about doing that in a normal big city.. There is no bay marked but there is a sign. Lock the bike.. cross my fingers .. walk away .. life is too short to worry about it.

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We’ve both got colons full of cake and we’re not really hungry so we take a quick wander about before the light disappears on another day.

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By the time we get back to the hotel I’m peckish and go on the hunt for food.  There is a supermarket just down the road with a ‘pizza hut’ standard salad bar full of snot and fingernails and I help the bloke out by clearing out all the dregs from all the containers to eat in the room. I hold my nose and eat it like medicine .. crunchy medicine.. with the occasional sharp bit in .. ummmmm

In the morning we drag our luggage down to the theatre, each telling ourselves that they will still be there, straining our eyes to get our first look.. wondering what the tow recovery fee is round here. I hear a fait whinny and I know my iron horse has picked up my scent.. she’s still there where I left her.  Thank God for that .. I never doubted it for a moment ..

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Today we’re headed back into Sweden and Gothenburg.  Its no distance at all really so we decide to take a longer route via Erska then south past a big bugger off lake.  But first .. breakfast.. again.

Its 7:30.  in any normal city there would be cafes open but here everything is still very much asleep here in the centre.  We can see a very very nice cake shop with a very very nice young lady filling the shelves and we knock on the door to see if she would fill out stomachs but no .. they don’t open till 8.. so off we go.. we’ll find somewhere soon enough.. or not.  You know its going to be one of those days when you see a brand new McDonald’s.. one with at least 20 Tesla charging stations .. go up to the door .. and its shut..

The road to Erska has been tarmac’d with black boredom so we just stop and press ‘scare the shit out of me’ on the sat nav which immediately recalculates the quickest and most direct route to Gräfsnäs at the head of the lake.  There has got to be cafes there right!

Turn right.. TURN RIGHT.. ‘but thats a footpath’… ‘just do as your told’.. I forgot to turn off the dominatrix audio .. ‘ and put that ball back in your mouth’… ‘Sorry miss ‘

So we’re directed down some very small rough twisty rough roads that soon turn into good gravel then open up with a view of the lake.

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Not really such a bad option.. and not scary at all once you swap your road brain out and insert the fearless one.  That brain has been in a locked box since we rode the Pamir .. it got sooooo scared there that it locked itself in from the inside.  So I got the dominatrix to shout at it VERY LOUDLY and it opened back up in an instant.

We get to Gräfsnäs and see a cafe at the head of the lake.. there are 100s of sailboats moored up.. its a beautiful warm sunny day.. there are deck chairs outside .. in we go.  No go .. shut.. shit.

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There is a tourist information office next door which seems to be the only thing open round here.  I think its open so they can tell tourists that everything is shut… which is exactly what she says.  There is however a small bakery just up the road that she recommends.. ‘is it open’.. ‘its always open’.. that’s good enough for us.   Down a couple of shady street and we spot a couple of old men sitting outside a shop with coffees in their hands, just chewing the fat.  Bingo ..  We’re going in ..

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Inside the air is thick with sugar and I can almost feel it dive bombing my skin .. its like calorie radiation.  Well if I’m going to take calories on board its going to be via the traditional route..

The young bloke behind the counter is very obviously not Swedish so I ask him where he is from.  Turns out he is from Yemen and he came to Germany then to Sweden where he has a lot of family already.   He’s making the coffee, speaking in one of his numerous languages, just passing the time.  We buy some sandwiches and cake too and I ask him if he makes anything from Yemen.  He just smiles and adds a large slice of free cake to the tray .. two of my favourite words together at last .. free… and cake :)  And Fuck me sideways.. its delicious.  So delicious Brian and I almost come to blows over it.

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Luckily for us, the young bloke comes out with more free cake to try before we need to call in a referee.  So.. then I feel guilty so I go and buy another 2 expensive coffees .. I bet it works for him every single time  :)

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The ride down to Gothenburg is pretty uneventful, except for an unusual tag team helmet signing ..

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Tonight its my turn to get a room and I’ve gone for a B&B on the outskirts, right on the tram line into the city.  Booking.com had it as ‘only one room left.. buy it now .. you’ll be sorry if you don’t .. don’t be sorry .. do it.. do it NOW’ so we turned up expecting a place full to bursting .. people soup .. waiting for the loo .. showing in the last persons skin flakes and wee .. but the place was empty.. and if I’m honest.. it felt a bit weird.  Its a big house and the family .. if there is one.. lives in the above ground section, with the ‘guests’ all directed down some stairs to the very nice cells.. err .. rooms..   It felt like I might be locked in at any minute by some weird Swede with bulging eyes and a mouth only 50% occupied by teeth .. and then be experimented on.. and forced to have babies with Brian .. its not somewhere I’d have felt comfortable staying on my own.  We were definitely the only guests.

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But at least the bikes were close and safe this time

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We jump on the  No5 tram into town for a wander about.  We can’t seem to find the centre, so we just end up following loads of locals .. most of which seem to be assembled out of absolutely perfect body parts ..

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Travelling like we do we frequently just end up ticking boxes and moving to the next place.  Some ticks are bright green, some are blood red, some flash madly and launch fireworks,  and some are a very very very pale shade of grey .. like this place..

Wake up the next day just happy to be alive and come back up to the light from the cellar below.  Breakfast.. Oat milk .. just WTF is that about .. did anyone ever see a calf sucking on oats?

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I’m not lactose/wheat/whatever is flavor of this bloody month intolerant .. I’m ‘food intolerant’ intolerant.  The world is full of fuckweasels shouting and screaming trying to make themselves abnormal just to be normal.. you’re not normal unless your’re abnormal nowadays.  Its just like everything I can think of.. all the actual sufferers of any actual intolerance/disability/abuse are just drowned out by all the bloody cock wombles screaming this and that bollocks .. everyone nowdays seem to be born with big open sores that they spend their lives picking at and fucking off 99% of the population with .. ahhhhhhhhhh .. thats better .. and by the way.. I bought the actual proper milk from a cow last night in the supermarket,  just after I nearly walked straight into a big display of chocolate after getting a MASSIVE blip on my (recalibrated to only show perfection) tottiometer .. there apparently are humans made from body parts even better than perfection .. my advice .. when in Sweden wear a balaclava .. and put it on backwards .. otherwise you’ll be constantly tripping over your tongue ..

Today we’re headed to Lund to stay with a Swedish friend of Brian’s.  Its not far so we decide to pop into Malmo for more coffee.. more cake .. and more tongue/feet related incidents ..

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Lund is a lovely little town, beautiful streets, beautiful people, beautiful weather.  We’re sitting outside and I want to take a picture but it would get the woman sitting next to me in it so I ask if she minds.  She’s French and she immediately starts chatting like she’s cast off a veil of silence.. non stop babble .. she says that she knew we must be English because they are the only people that will approach and talk to random people in the street.. and she loves it.  She used to work in Oxford and loved it so much she is trying to convince her husband to move to the UK.  He is some mad scientist for a CERN related project they are doing out in Sweden.  They’re building more of those particle things – and this one will be straight, so the bloke throwing the particle can get a really good run up before he throws it ..   They’ve been at it for 8 years so far and she’s not happy.  WTF do the EU decide to build the most expensive projects on earth in the most expensive countries on earth?  Makes no sense at all to me.. unless they’re building it out of wood.. plenty of that in Scandinavia ..

Get on the bikes and ride out to Brian’s mate.  I’ve been looking forward to this bit of the trip.  Staying with a local is always an enlightening experience, being allowed into somebody’s home, to sit in beautiful worn furniture, turn taps used a million times by old hands .. a living museum .. I just love walking in and soaking it all up .. people’s character expressed through paintings and carpets and furniture and towels and soap and condiments.. sights.. smells.. an atmosphere .. character..  a lifetime mapped out before you .. I just love it.

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Brian’s mate keeps bees.. lots and lots of bees .. 1.5 Tonnes of honey a year bees.  The garden is full of hives and the house is full of well used and well worn bee related gizmos and gadgets.  Its quite a complicated business.  Did you know honey bees only live for 6 months.. and they die because their wings wear out .. something I would never have even thought of!  Poor little buggers. We just spend a lovely evening chatting and listening to old music that the old boys sing along to with their wine lubricated voices.  I just smile.. all night long.  Happiness like this isn’t expensive, but its absolutely priceless.

Next morning I’m sad to leave.  Jut say goodbye to the bees.

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From here it’s just head down and back onto the tarmac treadmill back home.  Over the Øresund bridge.. where Brian buggers off because he thinks I’ll be arrested if I stop ..

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From Copenhagen its due south ..and its very very very windy

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take the short  ferry trip to Germany

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And head for our hotel in the Turkish district, home of the drunken carpet fitters ..

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At this stage in the game its just ride .. eat .. bed .. repeat.  We head go to the food court in the nearest shopping Mall and tank up on Turkish .. $%”^£$^”£  .. well that’s what I thought he said .. it was warm and tasty and cheap and that’s all I wanted ..

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And some spunk for afters .. obviously

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We need to get a negative lateral flow test before we catch the ferry, and Germany seems to be the easiest place to get it.  They allow anyone one free test a day, perfect.  We’re heading to see my brother tonight so this will be the last hotel of this trip.  My body isn’t used to coming home so soon.  I’m steering the bike west but I can feel it trying to tug me in the opposite direction, its far from finished.. but I promise her .. and myself .. an XXL ride next year.  This was just a short break.. a release valve for all the pent up frustration built up over the last couple of years .. the world is coming back slowly and I’m bloody well going to get out there and see of much of it as I can.  I want to come to the end this life with both my eyes displaying ‘MEMORY FULL’ :)

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The test centre is only 5 minutes down the road and in typical German style we’re in and out in no time, minus a few mills of mucus.

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One last stop for coffee and cake

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And we’re on our way to my brother and his wife in Made.  They have a lovely little house with a beautiful garden so we just sit in the sunshine and chat, talk and listen,  just share our lives.

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And all to suddenly its time to go home.  Brian is such an easy bloke to travel with.. everyone should have a Brian .. but you can’t have mine

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A quick skip to Dunkirk, approach the ferry booths with a bit of trepidation.. but we’ve got all we need and on we go .. both being pulled inextricably towards home ..

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Get home and back the metal mule into the garage, open the door, and slide back into my parallel life ..

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She’s like a dog that doesn’t want to go back in its kennel.. she’s fucked off.. she growls if I go near her .. I need to throw her a bone.. a Pamir Highway shaped bone,  a Magadan bone.. that should give her something to chew on over the winter .. and me too ..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heaven on Earth

Now children, this is a public service announcement.  If you wake up on a Sunday in Norway, just don’t bother getting out of your bed.. because hardly any other fucker will have.

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There is no breakfast at this particular inn so we go into town to find a cafe.  Sunday morning.. people will be up and about walking dogs.. getting papers .. chatting over hot coffee .. we’ll have trouble parking.. and have to queue.  But no.  No dogs. No papers. No coffee.. No… just no.  Everywhere… everywhere is closed.  For anyone used to a 24/7 country like the UK, its a strange experience.  There is absolutely nowhere open apart from the filling station, and all they have is dirty fries .. nom nom ergggggggghhhhhh

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So today we’re going to take a scenic route .. or should that really be the more scenic route..  We’ll head to Saltstrauman and follow the coast road down to the ferry at Halsa, then down to Jektvik for the longer ferry back through the Arctic Circle,  then the last ferry of the day from Nesna and follow the road down to our quarters in Mosjøen.  Its not sunny today.. the mood has turned and  we have the clouds in battle with the land for the focus of every landscape.. and its amazing ..

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I dont like repeating myself.. I don’t.. like repeating myself .. ever.  It took a very special effort just to type that .. and already thinking of deleting it.   I will do it under certain circumstances, if I have to, but very very rarely do I want to do it.  We’ve only been riding a couple of hours today, but this is one of those circumstances.  I already want to ride this again tomorrow, and possibly the next day too.  This really is a very very special journey.. a very very very special journey.

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Every turn, every corner, every hill, every move gives me a spectacular view that’s using a full pallet of natures colours to maximum effect.   Bridges.. tunnels.. ferries.. and more red paint than a fire engine factory.. its .. I dunno .. its art .. Mother Nature and Slartibartfast creating a landscape to rival anything else on the planet.

But still .. everywhere is shut.  We get to Ørnes looking for a coffee.  Petrol station. Closed.  Go into the small town and a parade of shops.  Not a small parade, quite  a big one with a big supermarket.. all closed.  Go to some other cafes on the satnav.. all closed.  We see a young bloke coming out a building. ‘Yes its Sunday, everything is closed, but there is usually a small shop open about 40 mins further on.  In the UK people would starve if the shops were shut on Sunday, and people would have mental breakdowns in they couldn’t get their Amazon delivery of that inflatable toilet seat..

Set off.. there’a cafe with lights on .. screech to a stop.. closed.  Nice flower arrangement though .. I wonder if I can eat it ..

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My stomach isn’t being fed but my eyes and ears and nose certainly are ..

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We get to the shop and its like a single cowpat in a massive field with human flies buzzing all around it.. it does have a cafe attached.. but its closed on Sunday, as is the one directly behind it.. I don’t understand it.  I reckon I could make a good living just opening a cafe here and working just one day a week ..   We buy some crusty tarts and gold bars wrapped in snickers wrappers .. well we assumed they were by the price.. and just sit and stare at the world around us before following the visual roller coaster straight down the throat of the next ferry.. IMG_3037 IMG_3057 IMG_3060

The ferries obviously bunch the traffic up and if you don’t get off first then you’ve got some traffic to play with for a while.  I frequently get out in front before I simply have to stop.. climb down a precarious steep bank of big boulders and nearly fall into a fjord.. but its always worth it .. every single time ..

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The next ferry is a lot bigger and has a cafe.. shock horror .. that’s not for the fact they have a cafe open .. its for the fact they charge about a tenner for a sorry looking soggy burger.. but the price is worth paying just for the view of the young lady behind the counter.. if not for the view of the mess on your plate..  I had 5 ..

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This ferry takes about 40 minutes and crosses back over the arctic circle where everyone rushes out on deck to take a picture of a tiny spec of a sign in the far distance

IMG_3089 IMG_3093and I had to stop young Brian from swimming across it.. mainly because young Brian can’t swim ..

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Its getting colder and gloomier as the day goes on but it doesn’t detract from the fun we’re having.  On to the last ferry of the day before we chase back through the tunnels towards the real world where .. fingers crossed .. we can find a hot meal and let all this sink in.

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The hotel is of the unattended variety on an industrial estate, punch a code and a locker opens with a key.  We go out on a dinner hunt and I glance at my bank to see one of the auto petrol stations has charged me £125 for about 10 litres .. ummmmmm .. maybe that’s right.. see I told you Norway was expensive .. Jesus … still I can sort that out later.  Time now to crawl down a slippery bank of green covered rocks and slip, smash my phone protector screen and twat my hip bone.. still .. it was worth the trouble ..

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I hobble down town and we just push restaurant doors until the first one opens, no pissing about .. feed me now!  I have some special reserved slots in my memory .. my best rides ever folder.. they’ll never expire.. and I’ll never tire of throwing them back up on the projector in my head and slowly leafing through them .. today is going in that folder.  What a wonderful day to be alive ..

The next day is never going to match the day before.  We are heading towards Trondheim but its my turn to get the accommodation tonight and I’ve gone a bit left field.  Its a B&B on a small island called Tautra.  Its connected to the mainland via a causeway, and it looks quite interesting.  We’ll have to see how that turns out .. but first .. breakfast.  Again, the first few places we try from the satnav are closed.. brilliant!  We ride into an empty carpark for another cafe and it looks closed but there is someone drinking some coffee under an awning and I ask where he got it, and he points to the door.  In we go, and its completely empty but we can hear someone knocking about in the kitchen.  I give him a shout and he appears. ‘Breakfast?’ ‘Sure, Eggs and bacon?’  ‘Sir .. I want to have your babies’..

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I’m salivating just at the memory.. the first proper breakfast this trip.  Just what my body needed.  I go to pay.. he puts the cost in the card machine .. its £126.50.  Ummmmmmmmm……. ‘Is this right?’ .. ‘Sure.. of course’.  ‘But its £126’.. ‘This is Norway .. its expensive here’.. ‘You are not fucking joking mate’ .. and then I have a moment where I’m actually going to put my card in and pay.. he must be right.. its Noway.. its expensive.. that makes perfect sense .. ‘But we only paid £60 for dinner last night, so how can 2 eggs and bacon be £126?”.. and then the light comes on for him.  This is apparently a hotel and he’s assumed we stayed the night here.. ‘Ohhhhhhhhhhh OK .. sorry.. £25 then please’.. ‘OK that is far more reasonable.. and I’ll add a £100 tip’ ..

So out we go heading south on the main road.  They can even get enough traffic here to form a small queue at road works

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Its still a beautiful ride but its never going to take my breath away like yesterday did.  You know you’re spoilt when days like this are tagged as ‘average’ ..

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There really is hardly anyone about but they’re all crawling along at 80kph. Maybe they know something we don’t.  Its always best to follow the lead from the locals so we take just take it easy and cruise along all day, just stopping for some helmet love from Greta.  Not that Greta thank God, this one was born with fully functioning smile muscles ..

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I think she lights her own farts too, so definitely not the other Greta ..

We follow the wandering river for a while, and pass little hotels covered in grass catering for the fishermen.

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The island is quite a few miles off the main route south.  I’m not entirely sure what the catering situation is so we drop into a supermarket and get a few provisions.  I’m a bit worried about this place to be honest.  Brian never ever complains but I don’t want to piss him off just because I want to stay on an island.

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So off we go, off the beaten track.  We are seeing the changes in sunset times as we come south and tonight its getting a bit gloomy as we twist and turn our way towards the hotel. We get to the causeway and there is a big electric gate to keep the foxes and other predators  out.  Over we go.. through some fields of pungent cabbages, and up a small hill.  I’m thinking Brian will be cursing me in his helmet.. I’ll have to apologise to him later.  We arrive at a small building and go inside. The second I cross the threshold I just know everything is going to be alright.. it has an atmosphere that runs up to me and envelopes me in warmth and friendliness and love.  There are some almost sexual cooking scents coming out of the kitchen, and this place is apparently a brewery too.  I’ve run out of boxes to tick, but then the host tells us we’re staying in his house and leads us across the courtyard to his house, then up the stairs. He pushes open the door to our room ..

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Fuck.  Just Fuck. I still haven’t spoken to Brian about it but I look at him and his face just says it all.  This.. this is a beautiful place.. a very beautiful place indeed.

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Come here and see it for yourself, that’s all I can say.

Brian and I go for a walk after dinner, down to the jetty where we meet a group of pissed up people from Tronheim, all dressed like SBS recruits, ready to board a big rib that’s tied up with its engines burbling and burping in the water.  They’re all smiling and laughing and full of the full set of beers brewed by our B&B.  Turns out this place is pretty well known for its food and ales.  Sometimes you’re just lucky I guess.  You press a button on a tiny piece of glass and it all leads you to a secluded house with a view of a fjord from your bed, lovely food, and another memory beaten into your brain with a stake through it, never to be removed.

I walk down past the hotel through some fields and down to a rocky beach where I just sit and watch the show finish with the sun dropping and the clouds showing the end credits in gentle purples and reds… I collect some stones to take home and give to my wife. Stones I can just hold in my hands, close my eyes, and come back to this exact moment..

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Next: Back in the box

 

 

Fast Fjordward

Well I didn’t sleep that well, but not because we’re going to visa Santa, but because a group of people decided to have a huge argument in the middle of the night that involved (hopefully) throwing large objects about or worse.. throwing each other about.  It sounded like someone was trying to break into the building with loud thumps and bumps and bangs.  It reminds me of a night at a similar latitude in Anchorage where we camped near some Inuit’s that were smashed out their skulls and were having a full on family riot all night long..

The light up here is just beautiful.. how can a simple frequency of light give me so much pleasure.  I just stand and stare at the slowly moving shadows while the beast warms her lungs and looks like she’s inhaled from a huge vaping machine.  I remember when Brian and I were sitting eating breakfast thinking about this trip and saying that we’d probably have to keep it local this year. This doesn’t feel very local to me..

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The practicalities of living at these latitudes means the balconies are totally enclosed against the cold.

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A a few cold clicks north and we’re in.

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As we’re taking some pictures of the bike a French couple come up to us.  He wants a picture with the bikes.  They only speak English through a little hand held translation device but it seems their daughter lives and works up here and they are visiting.  Perhaps she’s helping Santa with his French letters ..  He’s a biker and seems to have a large collection of old bikes back home as he scrolls through his pictures.  A couple of time as he scrolls he points at people and says ‘morte.. COVID’ which needs no translation.. and brings things into perspective as to why its all so quiet.

Santa isn’t an early riser apparently and he’s not available to take an audience until 10.. or until you can produce receipts that  prove you’ve spent at least a weeks wages in his gift store .. so I buy a fridge magnet .. so that’s 2 weeks wages ..

Off we go.. is there a queue .. screaming kids .. people feinting .. autograph hunters .. nope.. nobody at all.  We walk round the corner and there he is .. actual Santa .. sitting in his chair.. reading his phone .. he’s probably on the Santa app.

Santa wont have his picture taken unless you pay .. he’s quite insistent.. and reminds me of a Kirby hoover salesman that we once had in the house.. ‘Have your picture taken with me’ .. no thanks mate.. ‘Come on .. have a picture.. it will be great .. you can look at it and if you don’t like it then don’t buy it’.. no thanks mate .. I’m fine .. ‘Come on.. have a picture .. you can pay in 300 easy instalments or I can put it on your mortgage’..

‘Just Fuck Off will you Santa’..

So I have to ask an elf instead ..

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And… true story .. Santa isn’t a fat bastard because he eats lots of mince pies over Christmas .. Santa is a fat bastard because he lives directly opposite a 24/7 service station serving cheap all you can eat gut buster buffets .. but don’t tell the kids ..

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We’re headed for Kiruna today, in Sweden. and another unknown border crossing.  Judging on progress so far and that we’re going from one EU country to another we’re hoping it will be pain and hassle free. We’ve just got time for a few more lovely lakes though..

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Get to the border and there is a Finish guard checking entry from Sweden but nobody cares if you’re leaving :)

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Its odd how much a country can immediately feel so different even though its only a matter of a few meters away.. and Sweden does immediately feel different.  As though the seeds from the trees couldn’t make it across the river.  The landscape is different too, a bit more rolling.  Lots of roadworks too but luckily its dry so the rough road sections are just loose rather than ooooo’se.  So we decide to test what really matters to us both .. cake.  Drop into a small town and a tiny warm cafe for coffee cake and calories.

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I really do like the Scandi style and the Swedes seem to do it best.  I could happily dismantle this place and live it in back home.. as long as it came with the barista and the calorie cabinet ..  They warn us there are lots of reindeer on the roads round here so to be careful on the bikes, and so it proves

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Reindeer really are beautiful creatures with velvet covered antlers and huge feet that make a noise like banging 2 bits of wood together when they run.  Bloody solid though I’m sure.

Tonight’s destination is some huts in the woods about 11km out from Kiruna and there is nothing else there so we head into town for supplies.  Kiruna is the northernmost town in Sweden and it’s there for one reason only, iron ore.  You can see the mountains of waste from miles and miles away.  Kiruna also has a problem.  Quite a big problem in fact.  Its sinking due to under mining.  Large areas of the place are being condemned and the government is paying to build replacement buildings and move people from the affected areas.

We spot a supermarket and go to park up when a woman comes up asking about the antenna on my helmet.  Err.. that’s not an antenna .. that’s a big cable tie keeping the broken visor up :)  Comes in useful for carrying it though, and I might even get a tiny flag to fly from it ..

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She’s a right hippy chick, and she tells us she is quite famous in Sweden as a singer of Sami music. Not something on my spotify play list .. but she’s a nice lady, very friendly and chatty and wiling to handle my helmet in public.

Sweden is as equally expensive as Finland but, like there, the contrast between the prices in the supermarket and the cafes is massive.  Coffee and a mouthgasm for a couple of quid .. oh yea ..

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We’re both just sitting there in a post cake-coital state when a woman comes rushing over to us.. ‘are you the bikers?’ My first thought is bollocks, someone has run over the bikes .. but no .. she’s seen theem outside and has come in to search for us.  She just wants to chat and find out what we’re doing.  She is a biker and has a couple of Harleys .. yes I know .. but she’s test ridden the Pan American and is trying to buy one to ride the world on.   Her English is just amazing .. shes talking fast and keeping up with all the jokes better than a lot of natives would .. smiling and laughing, flirting and giggling .. she’d be a lot of fun to ride with for sure.  Turns out she spends all her life underground driving a concrete truck in the mines.  Her shift pattern lets her accumulate lots of holiday and she’s already been about a fair bit but she wants to go further.. much much further. Always a good thing to hear from a woman ..

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Go and raid the salad counter for dinner.. this isn’t like your Pizza Hut salad bar full of manky lettuce with brown edges and sweetcorn full of bogies from snotty nosed kids.. this is proper nice and fresh.  Loads of meat, tuna, whatever.  I like going out to eat but sometimes I just like a mass of healthy food, and this is the way to do it here.

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and a Ploppy for afters .. obviously

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Ride back out of town and into the forest to find the huts.  We can hear dogs.. lots and lots and lots of dogs.  Turns out the huts are at a dog-sled centre and they’re absolutely everywhere.  300 of them!  They work constantly from September to May then rest up over the summer in their pens. Its quite a sight.  Loads of sleighs and harnesses sitting ready for snow to fall ..

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They reckon you can put your hands in any of the cages and they won’t bite you.IMG_2782

The hut is basic and there is a ‘kitchen hut’ at the end full of everything you need to prepare and eat your meals.. I like it .. I really like it.  Its the different things that stick in your memory the most, and this is definitely different.

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See… I really can really almost claim it as camping :)

I’m out for the count and hit the hay early.. but as usual I need to wee in the middle of the night .. standing on the viranda in the cold.. a star filled sky.. the smell of animals mixed with the trees .. the sound of the dogs shuffling about.. and wee pouring onto the  grass .. just perfect ..

There are wolves about up here.. we heard them last night and this morning they’re chatting to the dogs .. at 6 am.. which is nice ..

The wolves howl.. the dogs all howl back.. and then suddenly it all stops dead.  Its very odd.. they all just stop simultaneously.  Fuck knows how that works.. anyway.. back to the hut for brekkie.

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then drop off my Ploppy at the long drop.. a loo with a view..

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Today we’re going to try and get into Norway.  Brian’s Swedish mate says he doesn’t know if we’ll get in but we’ll ride up and check.  I think we should be OK but things are changing all the time so we don’t book any accommodation  just in case.  First stop will be Riksgränsen up on the border.

Its a beautiful cold bright morning as we follow the giant iron ore trains through the wilderness towards Norway.

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Its proper desolate up here, and all the better for it.  Fuck how much of my life do i spend crawling along staring at the rear bumper of a car in front, or filtering through a mass of metal, just trying to get 5 miles down the road in less than an hour ..   surrounded by concrete .. road signs .. noise..  people..  pressure .. but up here I just don’t care.. there is room to share.. room to spare .. there are a lot of hikers about but for the most part its just two blokes, two bikes, and the whole world to ourselves.

Get to Riksgränsen and I’m expecting a town but its just some houses, a closed hotel, a closed YMCA hostel and a supermarket.  There is a lovely ‘supermarket at the end of the universe’ vibe about this place. Hikers getting provisions before disappearing into the wilderness.. bikers having a last cake before disappearing into police custody ..

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At least the Swedes have a sense of humour though

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And you’re going to need that if you go LARGE on the Plopps

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OK, time to go.  Scoot up to the customs building on the top of the hill.. and ride straight through.  That was too easy.  Like a lot of these borders though, customs and immigration are often a good way apart with some nomansland in between .. if this is no mans land .. can I claim it for my own?

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Beautiful eh.  I think the tarmac is made from ground down currency.. they’ve got more money than they know what to do with..

Immigration is just a bloke standing in the road in the sunshine.  Flash the NHS COVID QR code and we’re in no questions asked. The integration of these systems that has gone on behind the scenes really is very very impressive.  These Scandinavians really are a smart bunch though too.

We were thinking about staying in Narvik but by the time we get there its only early afternoon so we decide to just have a look about and some lunch then wing it later.  The first thing that strikes me is all the mobility scooters .. everyone seems to have one.  They are screaming about everywhere.  I soon figured out why everyone drives them though, its because they can drive them faster than they can drive their bloody cars!!

Go for lunch .. Now .. even the Swedes think that Norway is expensive!  Dinner will definitely cost you an arm and a leg.. plus a lung and a kidney if you want starter and desert .. £2.50 for a Marathon bar? Really?  Behave yourself please :) So I buy a bread roll and fill it with dirt .. nom nom nom :)

My bike hates being driven at 80kph.. it shunts and hunts and complains and it drives me mental but that is what everyone is doing here.  There are a lot of overhead cameras for all the tunnels and as its often a single road I’m not sure if they can work out average speeds and stuff too – getting stopped for speeding can involve a fist in a studded gauntlet being roughly shoved up your Gary and vast sums money being extracted so we just go with the flow… go with the slow .. still, at least there is a bit of a view every now and then ..

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but I bet it looks shit in the other direction .. or not

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So… not then .. this place is beauuuuuutiful.  Its not really like anywhere I’ve ever been before and I’m just in awe of it. Everything.. just everything is perfect.  Its just ridiculous how perfect it is.  The road winds and twists and dips and follows the water’s edge and leads us straight into the belly of our first ferry.

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All the locals are charge via ANPR cameras but ours aren’t recognised so the crew take pictures of them on their phones and tell us we’ll be billed later.. that’s something to look forward to ..

We’ve still not organised anywhere to stay this evening so Brian brings up the C word .. yes that C word.. the one I hate hearing and I hate even more hearing .. Camping .. I’m wincing even as I type it .. OK.. lets see what we can do.  All the sites we have seen so far have been closed .. hallelujia .. but we come to one on a beautiful lake side and go in to ask, but they just don’t want to know.  They will barely speak to us for some reason and in the end they just say its closed.  Using the miracle of technology I have a quick look about and find a hotel in Fauske a couple of hours south.  Just one click and there is a bed with my name on it.. they do camping too but what Brian doesn’t know wont hurt him .. and I’m really only thinking about his welfare .. and ..well .. I fucking hate camping ..

Luckily its stays light a lot longer up here and we chase the slowly setting sun along golden stretches of tarmac towards sleep.

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We come across a small hotel in a town and there are bikes everywhere, mostly designed for the transportation of human bodies considerably bigger than ours.

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We go in to find some dinner, and maybe some company but nobody seems to want to talk to us. Perhaps our bikes just aren’t man enough .. or perhaps we’ve just bumped into the local chapter of the other C word..  It doesn’t cost anything to just have a chat does it.  If only everyone was as nice as us :)

We get to Fauske quite late and a receptionist you can smell from a fjord away.. Christ .. I think she’s removed the atomiser from her perfume bottle and attached a hose pipe instead.   Doesn’t put Brian off though :)  Check in .. climb the steps.. open the door .. ahhhhh.. that’ll do

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Its a place with a shared kitchen and bathroom and we can hear another couple arrive with a young baby.   I recognise them from earlier in the day when I saw them flying a drone.  She is German and he is Austrian and they are on parental leave.  They’ve just decided to bugger off for 2 months around Europe with a newborn in a pandemic .. they are our kind of people. They’ve been away for over a month now and they’re just taking it easy.  She’s cooking dinner and telling us they actually bought a burger and fries today and shared it because its so expensive.  They’re a lovely couple and the baby is a little angel.  We just spend ages chatting away, learning and listening and looking into other lives.  Good on em, I’m not sure I’d have just picked up the baby and gone like that..

We take an evening stroll looking to get down to the water but all the roads are private. Fauske.. who’s ever heard of Fauske.. another random point on the planet forever planted into my memory.

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Next: Heaven on Earth

 

 

 

 

Northern Sights

Up and out and over to the ferry.  Again its really really quiet.. like we’ve arrived 5 hours to early or something.  A few cars and trucks but not a ferry full for sure.  How on earth some of these companies survive is beyond me.  Government subsidies I guess.. but what other options are there.

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30 minutes later and we’re on Finish soil.  We’re directed towards a little shed and I see a woman who’s totally enveloped in plastic, like she has fallen on one of those luggage wrapping machines at the airport.  Shes walking towards our shed .. here we go .. they’re going to tickle my brainbox and test my gag reflex with cotton buds .. good luck with that .. my gut is fully loaded with my favourite spew ingredient of carrot .. and the JCB has yet to move it all to the exit .. this could get colourful and she’ll need that suit

Turn into the shed and there are 2 pretty young blonde ladies in full Finland border force uniforms.. except for the slippers .  I point to her feet and she just laughs .. ‘Well we’re not busy and spend most of the time just sitting in the hut relaxing so I like to be comfortable’ .. good girl .. she wants to see our QR codes .. waves her phone over them which pings obediently and we’re through :) Dunno what the woman in the tight plastic wrap is doing .. maybe that’s just how she feels comfortable.. interesting :)

Within 20 yards I go straight over a roundabout because I’m distracted.. WTF is this about?  Reminds me of what I see if I mistakenly open my eyes in the middle of the night when sharing with Brian ..

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I always assume that an unknown capital city is going to be a pretty big place so I go for a hotel in the centre.  We looked for hotels with parking but with no luck unless we wanted to use our special issue asbestos credit cards that were issued specially for this trip.. these cards are the only ones that can take the heat of Scandinavia without having  a meltdown the second someone tries to charge £100 for a banana on them ..

So we turn up at the hotel hoping to find a nook or cranny or ditch we can park the horses in.

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We’re greeted by a lovely young white blonde lady talking in her sing song English accent.  ‘Can we park the bikes here?’ No I’m afraid not, parking is by the hour on the street and is charged in testicles .. I could maybe risk an hour . maybe an hour and a half .. but definitely not two .. then she tells us about a ‘parking hole’ .. Brian and I look at her.. and look at each other.. neither of us want to say the wrong thing here .. apparently the ‘parking hole’ is available for €36 .. for all night … now depending on if this is a translation error or an extra service the lady provides.. is either fucking ridiculously expensive .. or very cheap and it would be rude to refuse ..

Still confused we decide to just smile and take the keys and say we’ll move the bikes in a minute .. When we were coming into the city I spotted a bike parking bay about 800m away.  The street parking stops at 9pm so we ride the bikes down to the bay and walk back.  We’ll collect them after dinner and park in the street close to the hotel.

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The hotel is a bit tired.. well .. knackered really ..

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but.. it meets all my criteria so I’m happy.  Another random room for me to load a 3d image into my brain so I can negotiate it in complete darkness and so not piss all over Brian in the night .. again ..

We’re here quite early, we’ll go for a walk around, so we go and ask the young blonde with the parking hole where would be good to go.. like an old part of the city .. but there doesn’t seem to be one so we just head off towards the water

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Gets bloody cold here in the winter obviously .. so cold you have to wear cushions .. I’d like to see the shot of her just dressed in earnings ..

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I have to be honest.. I’m quite disappointed with Helsinki.  I’m certain I haven’t seen the best of it in an afternoon and I’d happily take recommendations of things to see here.  It has a certain atmosphere but it just doesn’t have the feel that a vibrant major city has.  My phone camera is showing a sad face .. so I go out for an hour while Brian sits like a teenager on his phone and look for places to eat later.

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a real sign of the times ..

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We head out later to eat. Everywhere costs an arm and a leg so Brian feels he is old enough and had enough use from his limbs to exchange them for a small plate of food, but I go to the supermarket and raid their ‘fill your own tub’ meat and salad bar for about €16 a kilo..

Every day you open your eyes from sleep .. in a lovely dry warm bed.. wondering what the day will bring.  It sounds like somebody is throwing pebbles at the window.. maybe its the blonde receptionist trying to attract my attention .. maybe I’ll open the window and she’ll start singing and throwing me flowers .. or maybe Mother Nature has had an argument with Father Nature and she’s in a rage.  Its absolutely twatting down and throwing it hard against the windows.  We have breakfast and tell the receptionist where we’re planning to go today.. he suggests we stay another night ..

We run to the bikes to pack as quickly as we can but even by the time we’ve done that, then we have wet hands trying to slide into gloves and visors that have got water on both sides. So off we go into the storm.  We’re headed for Kuopio but a mate has told us about an Ace Cafe in Lahti and asked to get him some mugs.  By the time we get there we’re both soaked and cold.  We’re like 2 sponges plucked from a bucket as we walk in leaving a pool of water at every step.  This place is a LOT bigger and better than its London counterpart.  Its part of the chain though.  They’re all over the world now apparently.  The owner and his wife are there. He’s an ex motorcycle dealer and has a lot of contacts in the racing world.  He has exhibitions that he changes regularly and he’s put a lot of effort in

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We feel duty bound to spend enough money for them to pay the cleaner to mop up all of our mess, and we’re both freezing cold too, so we sit for an hour or so and consume as much as we can for our body furnaces to fire up and keep us alive for the ride north.  No British fat boy fry ups here though unfortunately :(

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Then back out into the relentless rain.IMG_2498

Fuck what a day this is turning out to be.  The rain has wicked it way down my buff and my (2) jumpers and my TShirt.. my waterproof leather trousers gave up completely some time ago and I am soaked to the skin.  We’ve done a couple of hours since the Ace and the furnace went out some time ago.  I’m properly cold and I’m shivvering, and its still pissing down.  Sometimes .. just very very occasionally I get to a stage where I just don’t know what to do. My body has all the warning lights flashing and its sirens are all going but its just about keeping going and upright as the little voices run about in my head deciding what to do.  There really aren’t a lot of options up here unless your plans include trees.  Then.. in the gloom we see one of those 200ft tall signs like they have in the USA. An ABC.  A service station. Thank fuck for that.  By the time we get inside I’m shaking so much I can’t even use the phone. Brian disappears to get something to eat then returns with a plate piled high with hot meat and veg .. I’m expecting to see smoke coming from his wallet where his credit card has caught fire but between quick mouth fulls  he says he’s found an all you can eat buffet for €10  round the corner.. and he’s dived right in.

I’m still soaked and shivering so I need to sort myself out first.  Years and years ago I was on a trip somewhere in Alaska with Nick Sanders and he came into a cafe all wet and cold.  He went round the place taking every newspaper he could find and stuffed them under his clothing.  I remember thinking if ever I get to that state when I look like a vagrant pikey and I’m resorting to sticking newspapers under my jumper then please shoot me. Well .. shoot me now ..

I go round the tables taking all the newspapers I can find and stick them under my clothes to absorb all the water and try to warm me up.  By the time I get to the hot food counter I look like a bloody scarecrow with newspaper poking out all over the place.  I’m not in the mood to brood though .. I’m in the mood for food.  Never has warm food tasted so good.  Brian and I just sit like two foie gras geese and stuff down hot foot until I’m about to burst.

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Brian is an amazing bloke I have to say. I just keep forgetting he is 77.  He just ploughs on and on through everything you put in front of him.  I’ve been all over the place with him and he never complains.. he just goes.

I take out all the wet paper and replace it with dry, hopefully that and all the food will keep the shivers at bay for a few more hours.  We get to Kuopio early evening and locate the house.  Its a AirBnB type arrangement tonight.  A room in a shared house.  We get inside and wander about, not really concentrating, through the living room, into a bedroom with 2 people asleep on a bed .. I’m not thinking about being in someones room, or that they’re in our room .. I’m just wondering how warm they are and if I could just slip my freezing .. wet .. tired body in there for an hour just to bring myself back to life.

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These are my favourite places.  The unique smell every house has.  The feeling of being at home but not.  Bumping into random strangers on the landing at 2am.  Mismatched towels and cutlery and cups.  Looking through cupboards for TBags, or opening the fridge and just seeing into other peoples lives.  The couple from the bed wake up and wander in but they dont speak much English.  We want to try and dry our clothes and there are fireplaces here but they say NO.. no fires .. definitely no fires.  There is a sauna in the basement, and, luckily a washer and tumble drier. We put most our clothes in and wander down to the supermarket for some tea.  My leathers are all soaked, so I decide that the weight limit on the drier door is advisory only and throw them in for an hour.  When I go to take them out I’m not sure if the strange smell is drying leather, or dying electrics.  The leathers are still steaming and I leave them to hopefully dry overnight.

Nothing beats that exact moment when you climb into a warm bed, lay horizontal and let all your muscles know their work is done for the day..

Wake up.. and the rain has stopped.. thank FUCK for that.. my leathers are still damp and pulling them on is a cold and unpleasant experience.  Coffee and some buns we bought last night and we’re off.  Its getting more and more remote up here with a lot less traffic.. you can almost feel yourself climbing up this giant ball that we all inhabit.. climbing up and up towards the Arctic Circle.  We thought about going to the Nordkapp but Brian has been before and I really have no massive desire to tick that particular box so we’re just headed as far as Rovaniemi today.  It sits just below the circle and we can head in tomorrow and visit a certain gentleman in red tomorrow too.  I just hope hes wearing a jacket and not red speedos..

Its quiet.. its cold .. its lonely and it feels a lot like parts of Siberia .. and I love it.

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And just like Siberia, or the Alaskan Highway, or a million other lonely roads  there are little random places in the middle of bum fuck nowhere that your body can mysteriously detect from miles away .. maybe a scent of cooking travelling through a cool breeze.. maybe a happy face travelling in the opposite direction .. maybe the distant sound of a truck accelerating away with a driver considerably heavier than when he stopped an hour ago .. whatever.. your mouth starts salivating.. your bladder starts to relax at the thought of relief .. and then you see it.  Not some characterless cookie cutter branded place where you’re served by a disinterested youth whose only thought is how they are going to pay for their next tattoo .. but by a husband and wife making a living keeping travellers alive and satisfied. Warm and friendly, cooked from scratch.  No heirs or graces.. my favourite places ..

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Fried eggs sandwiches … nom nom nom :)
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You can genuiniely feel it … honestly you can .. I’m sure anyone that has been this way will tell you the same.  I’ve been to these latitudes elsewhere but often travelling east-west instead of due north .. and this time it really fells like I’m riding to the top of the world .. like the sunshine is pushing me up the slope .. its such a lovely feeling.  Seeing all the houses with their roof ladders to take the snow off.. and Randolf’s relations all roaming about..

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Get to Rovaniemi after another stop for a service station gutbustathon and this time we’re trying another accommodation option, a flat in a little tower block.  Collect the key from the local Chinese resturant and off we go.  New and shiny and now with the added odour of riding boots.. I’ve no doubt the maid will be very happy indeed. Got to the supermarket and get an ‘indoor camping’ meal .. then sit cross legged on the floor and eat it with a spork .. just like the real thing ..

I’m really not sure I’m going to sleep tonight.. I’m soooooooo excited … I’ve got my list and I’ve checked it twice .. guess who we’re going to see in the morning ..

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Next: Fast Fjordward

 

North to the circle

A different day, a different country, different rules.  We had to prove vaccination last night but being unvaccinated wouldn’t have been a problem, it would just mean breakfast in our room.  As it is here you get a time slot to avoid too much interaction, and all the food has to be covered up.  The lovely receptionist is still on duty this morning and Brian is keen to know if Randolf needs feeding or would like a gentle stroking.. honestly .. he’s 77 FFS .. but only on the outside it seems ..

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I’m sure I’m not alone.. I’m sure everyone does it .. sometimes I reach a perfect point on the planet at a perfect moment and I just wish I could share all my senses , just share this, my hear and now. The smell of the riverbank, the sound of the birds fighting over breakfast, the sound of a massive body of water whispering past my feet, the fresh cold air building goose pimples on my skin .. another memory pushed to the front ..IMG_2063

And then the sound of a Ktm clearing its throat in an underground garage ..

The plan is to take the coast road from here to Tallinn in Estonia, and maybe see if we can see the sea.  Not much traffic about, still cold and windy, and its not long until we reach cake o’clock.  Stop, punch in a pin and head for a coastal cafe.  This area really looks set up for the summer months with lots of campsites near the water under the trees, but again all the cafes are closed and the beaches are deserted, so in the end we follow our noses like the Bistow kids and end up at cake and coffee heaven.

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God knows what that is but it has my taste buds dancing and my tongue doing a tango .. I’m constantly amazed at the seemingly infinite recipes for creating obesity fixes .. but I usually don’t eat as much on a trip and I know that if we get where we’re heading I’ll be eating air sandwiches anyway ..

Take a quick walk down to the beach and push our way through the crowds to dip our toes in The Baltic

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After a couple of hours the road and the sky both decide to take a turn for the worse and go very dull.  We notice the scenery start to don its rain jacket so we find some shelter . .with cake .. and do the same

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I didn’t think they needed this far north .. the sell by date was 1960

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We decide if we’re going to get wet we might as well slow down and take a more indirect route inland so we get  the maps out and just take a wandering route.  They’ll still be cake I’m sure .. everyone loves cake.  There really is bugger all up here .. nothing but trees for miles and miles and miles, small towns, more trees.  It’s only August but everything seems to have closed.  We spot a lovely looking cafe and I need to stop because my bladder has created enough pressure for me to cut through a 1 inch steel plate.. but its closed..

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So I urinaly cut a UK flag out of the 1 inch metal  front door and off we go.  A word from the wise .. always remember to wear a mask when working with high urinal pressures, and always close your mouth, blow back can be a major problem.

Get the next town and spot an interesting shop ..

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Go looking  for refreshments .. there is a sort of pub/bar place but the owner looks like he has had his smile muscles removed and sold them on the internet so we walk out and see people going in and out of a house.. lots of people.  It looks like a human bee hive.. people hovering.. waiting their turn .. all covered in nectar ..    So we go for a look, walk in through someone’s converted living room and into their back garden for yet more coffee.. and yet more cake ..

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Get to Tallinn and a very anonymous hotel by the ferry terminal.  We’re actually taking a day off here to see the old city and just let the horses cool down, plus we want to go to the Ferry terminal tomorrow and see what gives about crossing the water to FinlandIMG_2124IMG_2309IMG_2307

We’re wandering down to the old city and we’re constantly being buzzed by tossers on electric scooters.  These bloody things are the bane of society.  They’re all over the bloody place now.  And here in Tallinn they really are all over the place.  They are just thrown down across the pavements the moment they run out of power and left.. they’re bloody everywhere!  I’m having a rant about it.. walking head down and ranting.. head down and I’m suddenly grabbed by Brian and I feel the wind of a speeding car pass right across the front of my legs as I’m standing in the road..  thanks Brian mate… I  know he thinks he knows me inside out but one more step and he would have seen me inside out .. in kit form .. randomly distributed down the road … fuck.. that was close ..

We get to the edge of the old city. We’re not planning on going inside tonight so we find a bar on the outskirts where one single girl is desperately trying to serve everyone in the entire place, and take payments, and pour beer at the bar, and you can see shes struggling.  As we leave Brian just gives her a kind word and asks if she’s OK.. and tears come to her eyes..

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Get up and out to the ferry terminal, quite expecting that this might be a sticking point on the journey.  So far we’ve avoided all officialdom and our passports have remained snugly in our pockets but at pinch points like this we know we’ll have to face up to the federales.  So .. with some trepidation we go to the ticket lady and see what gives.  ‘Vaccinated?’ .. ‘Yep’.. ‘OK, 36 Euros please’. ‘Ohhhhhh K then’.  Its no problem at all.  We’ll have passports and COVID certs checked in Helsinki .. and that’s us done .. horah!

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So off we go into the old city.  Its a beautiful place, a very beautiful place indeed.

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Still remarkably few people about, certainly not enough to eat all the cake on offer.  Brian is doing his best though ..

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We’re walking along the old walls of the city see a little dark door, with a little dark man sitting in a little dark kiosk.. with a little dark look on his face .. so we give him some money and walk up to the top of the wall for a view of the city.  We’re walking along and I see an bloke taking some pictures.  I stand behind him because I dont want to get in his shot

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At first I think he’s a vagrant.  He’s wearing really shabby clothes and very worn shoes and he has sprayed himself lavishly with Eau de OldFella.  So.. because we’re British.. we start chatting with him.  He speaks with a strong Spanish accent but is actually an American from New Mexico.  Travel is his thing and he usually goes at least 4 times a year. He says he feels like a cat that’s been let out of a cage.  As soon as he had permission to come to Europe he was in the air and on his way.  A really interesting character.  I’m really not sure how many trips are left in him.. but I hope he enjoys every one.

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And a Tinder profile picture for my old mate..

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We wander back through the old streets and back to the hotel.. without any near death experiences this time .. and money money everywhere..

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My bloody travel plug has gone tits up and I need a cable to charge my drone so I leave Brian to inspect the inside of his eyelids for an hour and skirt around looking for a lead.  I quite like this place ..

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All this cake is producing output that is putting us over our three wipe thresholds .. so we’ve decided we need to send a vegetable JCB down the tube to short this shit out … we were in the supermarket earlier and they had a hot food counter serving a large selection of unrecognisable brown slushy items, and vegetables, so we went out and got a load each and send them down to work in the dark depths of our bowels ..

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Next: Northern Sights

 

 

 

 

Up the Baltics

I walk to breakfast bare foot across the cool flagstones, feeling the gentle undulations and imperfections that would send a Grand Designs OCD kitchen freak to distraction.  All the steps taken before me rock my heals and steer me to a table by the huge old fireplace to eat, to look out the window, to hear voices arguing outside.  My brain usually full of thoughts of home and work is free to take whatever path it wants, and it just wanders round, takes its time .. relaxes.. breathes

Today we’re just taking a route across to Suwalki near the border with Lithuania.  We don’t want to have to be dealing with border problems at the end of a day. We’re keen to slow down just a bit and avoid the major routes, just get the map out and plot a journey through the lakes.

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The road is real surprise, like going to see a tribute band then having the originals turn up instead.  Its an absolute joy after all the lifeless conveyor belts we’ve been on.  Rolling and twisting and ducking and diving like a roller coaster that’s been unwound and laid across the countryside.   We decided when we left that we’re going to do everything to avoid contact with any official authority, and in our case that’s mostly obviously the police.    Whenever we cross into another country we get a text asking us to go to a government site and fill in X,Y and Z because they all have official rules that we should be obeying, but we, like 99% of travellers just … dont…  Every time I see police my bum tightens so much it can be used as a pencil sharpener .. useful for a policeman that wants to fill in a form.. but has a blunt pencil .. The other day when we were in Szczecin we came across a load of coppers diverting traffic and they gave us a good look but luckily we didn’t exceed their bovveration threshold and they just waved us on.  Today we come round a bend and the road is closed because of an accident.  So we sit and wait… wait and see..

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We’ve developed a habit of riding close and obliquely behind trucks when there are police about.. and its downhill .. so the Ktm can keep her voice down, so we slide past and back out into the open road.

We’ve had nothing to eat since breakfast and its mid afternoon so we decide we’ll take a lake lunch ..

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A billion places on the planet to eat but this one will go into my memory for today.  A random choice, a flip of a coin, a late squeeze of a brake lever.. decision made.

Get to Suwalki and another random choice hotel.  Much to my friend’s frustration I frequently go for the cheapest option because all I want to do is get clean and get horizontal.  Everything else is a bonus, and in an odd way I like the semi derelict places best.  This one is fine, if a little bit pink ..

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And the receptionist mentioned to Brian that she needs her plumbing seeing to .. so she gave him her address and he promised he would bring his big plunger round later that evening ..

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‘Where is the main street?’.. ‘This is the main street’.. oh.. OK.. loads of places are just shut and look like they have been for some time.  The town is just dead.  When I’m feeling down and hard done by back home I  think back to places like this that just seem to be coming to the end of their lives ..

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There is still hope here though I’m sure.  We go out to eat and watch the locals go about their business.  What can I say .. there is plenty of ‘very very good breeding stock’ here at least ..

And .. of course .. I’m always more than willing to sample the local delicacies …

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Christ knows what it was but that stuff on the right looked like a perfect ball of fart fodder .. and so it was.  My bum was snoring all night long.

So far we have flashed our paper COVID certificates whenever we’ve been asked but it looks like some of the countries will only accept the QR code on the app.  I did mine before we came but Brian has a phone with dementia and it simply cannot remember anything between doing one thing and the next so he’s not been able to do it.  I guess sitting a few miles from a border with a dodgy internet connection isn’t the best place to do this but we manage to find away round his problem and submit his request.. and watch a lady Polish army officer match around showing off her perfectly made to measure camos with as many perfect curves as yesterdays fabulous road .. i can just imagine her on manoeuvres…

The coffee however looks like its not been used this century.. or someone has gobbed a dollop of COVID infected flem in it ..

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Its been twatting down again all night and its dull and grey but the girls dont care.  They just want to run ..

IMG_1801 IMG_1807We go to get some fuel just before the border and a couple of Germans turn up on some ATs, both looking like they have just been ridden from the nearest showroom.  They’re the first foreign riders we’ve seen but they’re not interested in getting themselves dirty talking to us.  Fuck um.. I’ve given up trying to talk to wankers .. life is too short.
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I come out the garage and take a wrong turning which makes the satnav recalculate which results in us heading down some single track roads through a few tiny villages.  Another random choice that just by luck takes up another winding twisting curvy road for a few miles then up to a small bridge that must be on the border.  A Polish police car one side, a Lithuanian one the other.  Neither policeman even looks up from their phones as we go past .. and we’re in to Lithunania 😀️

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Who built these roads .. they’re shit .. all smooth and curvy and up and downy .. all fast and open and with a grip like a hookers hand .. apparently.. I hate them…  😍️😍️😍️

The weather is brightening up too.  Still cold and windy but who cares. We’re heading up through Lithuania to Riga in Latvia tonight.  We’re leaving all the traffic behind.. seeing it disappear in the mirrors.. heading north.  You can see the light changing as we climb up through the latitudes, the days are getting longer, the air is changing too.  All these things your body is natively sensitive to, all amplified by being on the bike.  This is why I do this.  This is what goes through my head all day.  I don’t listen to music, I don’t have any comms, I just let my brain freestyle with no distractions bar the million things we see on our way.

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I got these Avons just because they are the only matched set my local tyre dealer could supply, and they are really very good. Amazing in the wet too.  See that stripe down the middle where the different compound is too .. isn’t technology wonderful 😊️IMG_1899
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Have a coffee.. look at a map.. bung a few points in the sat nav and bugger off on the back roads.. there are always lovely things hiding on the back roads..

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Your brain always trys to fit what it sees into what it knows .. what is sees is a load of old Russian planes and helicopters .. what it doesn’t think is that actually this is an open air museum attached to a motel .. not something I’d find in Hampshire ..

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Get to Riga and we’re a little out of town this time so we can park the horses safely underground.  Go to see the receptionist .. but she can barely see us due to the ridiculous set of false eyelashes she’s wearing.  She looks like she has just put glue all over her eyelids then stuck her face in a big bowl of black spiders.  Her eyelid muscles can barely lift them and they’re flicking so fast I fear they’re going to come off at any moment and impale themselves in my forehead.  Lovely girl though.. unmarried .. likes cats.. has a big ginger pussy she calls Randolf .. ummm

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I takes us about 30 mins to walk into town along the river and across the bridge.  Its a beautiful evening, there is a live band playing in the park and the old town is busy paining its face with the golds and yellows of the evening sun.

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I love live music, I don’t really care what it is as long as it sounds good.  I remember walking through the Moscow underground one day and hearing a violin from far away and being drawn towards it with all my hairs standing on end and my emotions going in all directions.. and then seeing a young woman with her eyes closed completely lost in the moment.  I remember just stading and staring.. its such a beautiful instrument to watch being played.  Tonight its a small band in a square surrounded by couples dancing between courses .. absolutely perfect ..

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I ordered Solanka, never heard of it before, turns out to be one of the best things I’ve ever tasted.

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A lovely evening walk home in the dark, another day in my ridiculously lucky life completed

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Next: North to the Circle

 

 

Scandemic

You had plans didn’t you.  We all had plans. I had plans.  I had all sorts of plans.  I had Tajikiplans.. Kazakplans.. Pamir plans and Magaplans for 2020 and just like everyone else I watched as the shutters came down, the borders closed and governments round the world closed their fists around their populations.  Bugger…

So 2021 I remade the plans.. I had plans A to Z with different routes winding their way around trying to give them the best chances, and once again, they were slowly but surely struck off.  My last plan to be deleted was to just ride to Magadan.  Russia was open by air to UK citizens but not by land.  I got quotes to fly the bike to Moscow (£5k!) and tried to look at other freighting options .. like ships to St Petersburg, but I couldn’t find a way through.

I went to breakfast with a couple of mates in July.  We all had UK cabin fever and we needed to get out to taste some left hand drive tarmac.  We decided to just hit the ‘fuck it’ button and go.  Trying to find out where you could and couldn’t go and what you could and couldn’t do was almost impossible so we just decided to go freestyle and see how far we could get. So .. two of us threw the saddles over the horses and headed for the tunnel.

Getting out was no problem at all.  No pre-tests required.  Turn up, show double vaccination certificate, get on the train.

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We were speaking to a bloke on the train who worked for NATO in Brussels.  He wasn’t exactly positive about our chances when we told him our rough plan… which was nice ..

Off the train easy peasy.. no checks.  So… first border.. Belgium.  Pass the sign.. same as usual.. ok then.. the only thing trying to stop us was the weather.  Pouring with rain and blowing a gale. Who would ever want to live in Belgium? Are land and houses free here?  I can’t see any other reason to live in this place.

First petrol station .. are we allowed here?  Anybody going to say anything.. ask to see anything..  only our credit cards.  Perhaps they cant see we are British because we’re wearing masks ..

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Then off to the first bed for the night.  A room in a house in a tiny village.

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And off to town for dinner.  No certificates.. no questions askedIMG_1441 IMG_1445The waitress looked at my hands and asked ‘are you having problems with your motorcycle?’.. errr .. nope.. not yet.. but it is a Ktm so its not completely out of the question.. 
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Holland has recently changed all their speed limits to a blanket 100kph in the day (0600-2100 I think) and we didn’t want to give the police too much time to pull us over so we passed through the south as quick as possible without stopping and into Germany.. and again, no borders, no checks, no nothing.  This was looking good.  We popped into a town for some lunch and weren’t allowed to sit inside because my mate Brian had left his certificate on the bike but they’re happy to serve us outside

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Get towards the hotel in Magdeburg and the sat nav tries to take us down a road that’s closed.  So we reroute.. to another road that’s closed.  We’re really really close .. and there is a path over there look .. we can just nip through there where those people are walking can’t we .. directly onto some Tram road works.. the sensible thing would have been to turn round at this point but my bladder alarm was feeling like it was going to go off at any point .. so we went up another footpath only to appear out on a big pedestrianised area.. with a police car parked on the side.. and another 20 police cars parked in a car park at the side of a big building .. and two policemen with their arms crossed looking in wonder at us as we rode through the pedestrians right in front of the police station. I think one policeman bet the other that if my Ktm could keep going for 100m without breaking down then he’d let me off.. which was nice

This was the first time we had to produce our certificates in order to check in.  Not many people about here, lots of places still closed.  It really feels like we shouldn’t be here at all but again, went out to eat outside with no problems at all.

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Today we’re heading for Kolobrzeg, some random Polish seaside resort town neither of us have ever been to.  Not into the swing of things quite yet.. it always takes a few days.  If it takes me more than 1 minute to pack the bike then something is wrong.  Its just got to be grab and go.

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I love this bike… I really do LOVE this bike.  Every time I wake it up in the morning it thrashes and clatters and swears and farts and snorts and fills the air with the scent of adventure… and unburnt fuel.. my favourite combination ..

We head off ..taking the easy and fast route along the autobahns with all the fucking lunatics who didn’t specify a brake pedal in the list of options.  Its blowing hard like it has been since we left and the journey is accompanied by the constant blur of wind turbine blades sending shadows racing across the tarmac.

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Its really quiet out on the road.  No cars fully packed with kids and luggage, no foreign plates, and everybody here is keeping there distance.. I can’t get anyone to put their hands on my helmet no matter how hard I try ..

It starts to proper tit down again and we head for the temporary embrace of Ronald MacDonald.  You cant even order a meal here without flashing your QR code.  Ours doesn’t work of course so we have to go manual and show the manager.  We end up doing this quite often.. showing somebody something they don’t understand or recognise but that eases their conscience enough to let us carry on ..

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The German/Poland border is the most active we’ve seen.  Plenty of activity, but the road is open and nobody is stopping us so on we go.

We decide to pop into Szczecin because Brian has been told its a shithole and he never ever ever ever believes anything anybody says and wants to see for himself.  Big old place with crawling traffic and trams and people everywhere.  A real contrast to where we’ve been so far.  No masks, no distancing, life looks normal.  We go to a cake shop, always our destination of choice, and I finally manage to get my helmet into the hands of a young maiden .. and her mum

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And just for the record .. we quite liked the place ..

As we get closer to Kolobrzeg the heavens burst and paint an already grey landscape with yet another coat.  This place is advertised as a holiday hot spot.  Lots of roadside adverts with kids on sunny beaches and lots of smiling white teeth.. but not this year it seems.  People we speak to say the summer has been a washout and that this fucking relentless wind has been a feature for months.

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Dinner is served in a plastic tent in the square with heavy rain sounding like paintgun pellets hitting the canvas.

We’ve come up this way because I wanted to visit Gdansk but Brian has heard that Gdynia is supposed to be nice so we head off into the storms.  F*ck its raining .. its all gone biblical and I can’t see a bloody thing.  We’re on single carrageway roads and its getting almost impossible to ride so we decide to get some cakes to soak up all the water

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Everything is soaked right through to the skin .. time to break out the touratwat waterproof glove liners :)

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Now this is one of those days that we do so you dont have to .. I’ve done a lot of shit days over the years but this one is right up there with any of them.  When we eventually get close to Gdynia the world comes to a complete standstill, and it doesn’t seem to change for hours.  The place is just in chaos.  The EU has packed a big squadron of  of C17s with Euros then flown over here with the back door open and everybody is rushing around trying to grab it and spend it.. mostly on the roads.  Every road contractor from here to eternity has turned up and started to dig for tarmac.. its like a black gold rush .. and the traffic is carnage.  I’m sure the Ktm’s engine is about to turn to liquid metal at any moment, and my balls are glowing red like I’ve slid down a huge banister naked .. we filter for what feels like hours and hours just to get down to the waterside where I hang my balls in the water and sit in a cloud of steam to calm down.

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See .. this girl knows its going to be 3 days until she can eat again .. because of the traffic .. well that’s her excuse anyway..

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Tonight its Torun, a little walled town a long way south, so back into the metal melee we go for another few hours of chaos.  Torun is well worth the trouble though.  A beautiful place full of increasingly beautiful people.

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Some of whom need the assistance of a pole when they dance ..

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A lovely warm evening. I’m beginning to feel reality slipping away now .. I love that feeling.. When I sit at home I’m constantly thumbing thought my memories but I really began to think a lot of them were getting towards their use by date .. I was getting desperate to top them up and refresh them and now its starting to fall into place.. old memories are pushed to the back and new ones fill their places..

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Next: Up The Baltics

India

There is a beaten up oil drum at the side of the road with ‘customs’ written on it in faded white paint.  The door it stands by looks shut.  It looks like it’s been shut for a while .. maybe 50 years .. got to start somewhere though so we park our bikes right in front of a no parking sign and go walkabout.

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It’s obviously the border .. but its just completely open… with traffic just streaming though unimpeded. Lots ot tuks tuks  .. cars.. trucks.. wizen old men straining every last bit of elasticity from their skinny muscles to get ancient flat bed bicycles loaded with people/cargo/animals across the bumps.. horns blaring and people shouting .. it’s like watching some sort of exodus.  Lots of bright white eyeballs stare at us from wrinkled grubby faces .. maybe the occasional flash of teeth as they smile at these aliens on their foreign beasts. India .. I love it.

We go over and bang on the door of the customs office.  Nothing.  Bang harder.  Someone amongst the masses outside has noticed us and sent a runner to the men we need to see.  Someone approaches us and tells us we need to do immigration first.  ‘Follow me’ ..

We can’t leave the bikes unattended here so it’s a one at a time operation.. one at a tttttttiiiiiiiiiiiiiimmmmmmmeeeeeeeee.    Time.. time has a different meaning out here.. I don’t think the Indians have words for ‘hurry’ or ‘expedite’ .. Go into the office and there are 5/6 men in there tapping away at computers.  I’m not sure if they’re actually on though.. and this ‘bring an idiot to work day’ thing is obiously happening here too.  2 men sit down at the desk in front of me, turn the computer on,  get started.

After about 10 minutes I decide they’re probaby just watching Bollyporn or something .. there is a lot of head wobbling going on .. and pointing at the screen .. but not a lot else.  They seem to be having some trouble with the 1980/2019 interface between their computer and a passport scanner..  I keep seeing red lights flash .. then heads wobble .. red lights flash .. heads wobble .. I’m trapped in passport limbo land .. I’m going to die here .. I can feel an angry  little demon break into my brain and grab the controls to my mouth .. I have to go to manual control otherwise spit is going to start flying very soon ..

red lights .. “beeeeeeeeep” .. not heard that before … they look surprised ..nope .. more head wobbling .. deeeeeep breaths … then suddenly .. 2 beeps .. shock and awe .. celebrations all round .. break out the champaigne .. turn up the music and dance .. fuck I think they’ve gone and done it.  So .. carnets.  If you know what you’re doing it takes 5 minutes .. so I’m estimating an hour.. or two..

My mate speaks to the man and they find the key to the big lock and open the door to … a stable .. well that’s what it looks like.  Shit from floor to ceiling everywhere, no computers, more like a room that they would use to extract information from spies.. using baseball bats.  I go outside .. sit with the bikes ..and dehydrate.  I’m properly thirsty so I look up and see a bloke in a window just above my head.  Walk round the coner and up some stairs and there are 3 people in a ‘control room’ looking out on the traffic leaving India. Lots of dusty books.  I don’t even remember seeing any computers.  One bloke shouts to another one walking arond outside with a big stick, pointing to the trucks and letting them through, shouting back information to the controller.. I just stand for a while.. it’s just facinating to watch.. trying to figure out their system. They’re all friendly and they can see the bikes from the window.  I go to ask if they will watch them for a minute but instead they send another runner to get some life giving liquid.  I get handed a bottle .. christ knows what it is .. could be piss for all I care.

My mate emerges from the stables.. ‘is it done’ .. nope, of course it isn’t .. they just need to ask me some questions. In I go.. “Name” .. same as on every document I’ve just given you mate.. “Father’s name”.. WTF.. this is a carnet, NOT A BLOODY WILL YOU KNOB.. “Date of birth” .. ehhh?  Mine or the bikes’s?  JEEEEEEEESUSSSSSS.  He’s got  whole load of random questions scribbled down on a scrappy piece of paper in front of him .. and obligatory idiot by his side .. and the carnet is still in the plastic bag in front of him.  I can feel the demon smashing at my forehead from within .. I can see his rage pulsing in the vein in my neck .. if I let him out to play we’ll be here all day.. but it’s all I can do to stop myself venting..  I think it would be less tortuous hanging from the ceiling by my balls and being twatted with the bat ..

I give him as many random answers as he wants and he sends back for my mate.  He knows how the carnet has to be filled and guides them through the process.. slowly..   I spend the time outside trying to turn my patience setting up past 10 .. I’m going to need it.  I’ve been to India a few times before and I know it’s like this .. my massochistic side is really looking forward to it.

While I’ve been sitting watching what looks like the entire population of the world go by I’ve been hearing trains, and every now and then all the traffic comes to a complete standstill for a while.  We finally get our carnets and join the throng again.  We get about 500 yards and see some barriers coming down across the road.  I’ll just queue up here .. on the left.. they drve on the left here don’t they?  Is this a one way road then?  No?  So why is the right hand side of the road filling up too then?  Because there is space there.. thats why.. so we wiggle and push our way through and get somewhere near the front.  You can’t describe riding in an Indian town or city .. this is riding in India.. this is normal .. this is not me parked .. this is just trying to make some forward progress ..

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Get towards the barrier.. look across the void .. and guess what.  The people on the other side are doing the exact some thing .. filling every inch of space right across the road ..

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If you need 3 guesses as to what happens next then congratulations,  you’ve earned a fucktard badge.  The barriers come up and its a just a massive metal scrum trying to push its way forward from both directions.  Hold your nerve.. prepare to get close up and personal with bikes .. trucks.. hand  carts piled high with fruit.. old people with huge loads on their backs.. women ballancing piles of good on their heads.  Don’t give an inch.. if you’re not actually making contact with at least 4 other vehicles then you’re just not trying ..

You can imagine that the bitch is not a happy bunny in this complete carnage.. her temperature guage is reaching for the sky and I have to turn the engine off and push with my feet.  Its over 40 degrees and I’m surrounded by engines desperately trying to keep their tempers.. sweating metal throwing heat in all directions.. I can feel the water inside my ears.. desperate times call for desperate measures and we both pull out the ‘lets just get the hell out of here’ cards.  Start the engines, take the gloves off and just properly bully our way through the moving maze in front of us until we finally emerge into traffic taking up only 90% of the road.

Pull into the first petrol station, find a water hose.. point it straight at my face.. run away inside my head to hide and let the water just cool my soul for a few minutes.. that was an intense introduction .. India.. don’t fight it ..  love it.

Get out of the town .. watch the buildings fade from  concrete and brick and stone to dirty shanty wooden huts.  Time for Chai.  I just love this stuff.  I can’t get enough.  They only ever seem to serve it in snot glasses though.. little slimy things with a single shot of chai .. I really want a MUG.  Line them up..

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My riding buddy is using this opportunity to meet up with various friend and family as we ride across the country and tonight we’re meeting a cousin in a border town.  I’ve ridden in India quite a bit but never throught I’d be here on my own bike.  I need to be careful.. very careful .. riding a fast bike over here is like walking naked while carrying a bowl filled to the brim with boiling hot water .. you always have 2 choices in any situation .. use the fast forward switch .. or the brakes .. but out here fast forward will just mean your enevitable accident will come sooner and result in a longer list of injuries.  Anything can happen at any time.  We ride into the town and I get to think ‘what would Musk do here’  Park a Tesla here and the fucking thing would just sit there shitting itself refusing to move.  There are no rules.. this is one of the most populous nations on earth and all the technical asperations of the world just have no place here at all.  Electric vehicles?  Yea right .. self driving cars?  You’d have to hack your way into the  computer, find where they keep all the rules.. then delete the whole bloody lot.

Duck and dodge your way through the traffic and find the hotel.. even though these are cheap places they are beyond the means of most the local population and they’re alway an oasis from the chaos just over the wall ..

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My milk level is running low and I need a topup so I open the gate and enter the wall of sound outside..  look left .. right .. right.. left .. left .. right .. left as I thread my way across the road to an ATM in a moudly shed, then walk through the shit and rotting rubbish .. looking into holes .. trying to sniff it out .. trying to sniff anything out amongst this rubbish is never going to work though..

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Spend the evening with my mate’s cousin having  dinner.  He works for a charity that helps local farmers.  I must admit I don’t know enough about India and it’s structure.  It’s split into lots of states, and the state we’re in used to be a pretty dangerous place.   It used to be known as the ‘wild west’ .. even though it’s in the east.  Corruption was rife even by Indian standards and there were all sorts of unsavoury things happening but now it’s slowly dragging itself off the floor.  A really nice evening in a dimly lit flat amongst the locals.  People shuffling about the building in their flip flops .. all shiny with sweat.. packs of feral dogs barking outide . flicking electricity..stale humid air..  proper imersion .. I love it.

Next morning .. out we go into the … is traffic the right word even ..

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I haven’t got that long in India.  The trip was planned around the need to get back for my daughter’s wedding.  Riding long distances here is always problematical and we’re going to have to stick to the arteries rather than the veins of their road system.  We’ve not planned too far today though and we head off down some cappilaries .. through tiny villages .. hoards of animals and people everywhere.. kids being led down the side of the road in long lines to school.. clouds of woodsmoke bringing the world in and out of focus .. acrid smells of burning plastic .. warm bread .. bodies .. all human life.  It’s more slowgress than progress .. much of the time in low gear wiggling your way through past the cows or the conversation going on in the middle of the road.

The chai clock chimes 2 and we dive into a shak in the shade.  Hot and himid and a million flies per soul.  If this place was to suddenly transform and require air conditioning for a billion people.. Christ knows what would happen to the planet.  Sometimes I think we need to be prepared to take a few steps back before we go forward.  I order as many chai’s as he has glasses .. he doesn’t look happy though

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Get onto a main road and let the top 4 gears have a go at last.  Traffic is OK and you can cut through it but there are crossings everywhere and they will take the smallest gap in the traffic to pour onto the road in a mass of tangled vehicles.  If you’re coming to ride out here and you’re selectiong what to ride.. buy the biggest bugger off horn you can and then build your bike around it.  Loud horns aren’t allowed on bikes out here .. that would mean you could hear the noise from the other side of the world .. but we’re not subject to that restriction and my thumb is glued to it.  Every crossing is a dare ..

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Get to … well near .. our destination.  The place is grid locked.  Even the word ‘grid’ implies some order though.. and that isn’t how it works.  I remember getting stuck and actually just turning into a market at the road side and riding through a tight tunnel of people between stalls to get round a problem.. then riding between some people eating .. over a small plank spanning an open sewer .. over some rough ground/ someones garden then down an alley back into the traffic. Every town has to be treated like a full on urban assault course.

Find the hotel, park up, drag our sorry hot souls up the steps, go inside and close the glass door to the world outside.

Part of the world outside has its face and hands pressed up against the glass.. looking straight at me .. eyes on. And what beautiful eyes they are.  The human body always does such a good job of keeping it’s windows bright and clean no matter what state the rest of the body is in.  And this body is skinny and filthy, matted dull hair, skin blotched by god knows what.. spots and sores.. cuts and bruises .. nothing between the souls of her feet and the concrete beneath.  A little urchin soul born in a body nobody wants.  Brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it.  Right.. I’m not going to be able to make a difference to this girl her whole life.. I’m not going to be able to save her.. but I’m fucked if I’m not going to make a difference to her life today.  Call it guilt .. call it conscience..  call it compassion .. I don’t care what you call it.  It’s just between me and her.

I quickly get out of my leathers and go back down.  She’s sitting on the steps outside.  A few shops along from the hotel is a cafe and confectionary shop.  We’re not quite in the arse end of town tonight. maybe just the lower back.. I just give her the slightest nod and she gets up and slowly walks towards me.  We walk up to the cafe door and someone inside walks towards us.  He obviously doesn’t want her inside so I take her hand and we walk straight past him and up to the cake cabinet.  Just let her choose what she wants.  I giver her money, who knows where it would go, she would never spend it on this.  Even though she is absolutely on her arse.. she’s not greedy and I prompt her to choose more until the little box is full.  Then over to the drinks cabinet.. then the chocolate..  The cast system is still alive and well .. and poverty .. true poverty.. is all around.  ‘Poverty’ is another emotive word banded about and misused.. just like ‘survivor’ .. and ‘deserves’.  Bollocks is all I can say.  This is poverty.. you can’t fall much lower than this. I go to the till, hand her the bag of treats and pay.  By the time I’ve turned back round she has dissappeared into the crowd outside.  I’m guessing that in her world  nothing is done for nothing and there is always some sort of payback.  I just hope she finds a quiet spot where she can gorge herself and sleep with a stomach full of sugar for a change.

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We’re heading for Lucknow and we’re riding the artery towards Agra and Delhi.  This is where the money is .. you’d think there would be services and reasonable infrastructure .. some brick buildings at least but this is eastern India and it’s just more of the same.. same old same old .. with the enphasis on the ‘old’.  Amazing that the worlds 7th largest and 2nd most populous country is so far down the economic evolutionaly scale.  After the journey we’ve been on, this section is quickly just turning into a grind.  The lansdcape is flat and dull and uninspiring.  It’s supposed to be the monsoon season here but as with weather the world over, it’s got new ideas about the way it wants to work now.   So sun .. warm .. brummmmmmmmmmmm

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Lucknow is a big old city and a tourist hotspot.  My mate has booked a Sheritan 25km out.  Get to the little village, turn though the gates and cross the line between the haves and the have nots.  The hotel is all shiny and clean and quiet with pretty young things deployed at regular intervals .. art on the walls

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I’ve seen all this before a million times .. so I walk 200m and step back over the line where there is noise, chaos, and shit in great abundance.

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Of course I enjoy a lovely bed.. a big hot shower and good food.  I’m just not altogether comfortable when the gap is so huge I guess.  Jesus I’m not a tree hugging womble by any stretch, there will always be a human food chain, there has to be.  It would just be nice if the differences between the levels were less.  Greed.. it’s all just down to greed.

Anyway .. enough of that.  The Bitch.. I’ve not mentioned her in a while.  She doesn’t like India.  She’s running like I’ve added rocks to her fuel.  Lumpy and shit and not at all comfortable at any speed.  It’s getting worse and worse and I’m beginning to wonder if she is just going to spit the dummy and ask to speak to her mum very soon.  Every time I press the starter I wonder what will happen.. the only upside is that I could get someone to pick her up and carry her on their head all the way to Mumbai from here and still make it back for the wedding.  We’re in contact with an agent in Mumbai but plans are still evolving and I need some clarity before I book my flights back.

On the road towards Agra, home of the Taj.  Mother nature has decided she’s going to pull a curtain of hard rain over the city and it’s awash.  A wash is what it needs too.  Fuck the place is a dump.  Look at the Taj.. look how beautiful that thing is.. think how many people visit it.. how the surrounding area must be full of top hotels and botiques selling to the moneyed moths drawn to it’s flame .. errrrrrr…. no..

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We’re just about a quarter of a mile away and the place is an epic tip.  There are people and dogs pissing and shtting in the street, the roads are all up .. it’s like someone has walked out of an operating theatre half way through and not come back .. bits and pieces of infrastructure just sticking out the ground like broken bones.  We’re staying in a homestay for a change.  The owner is another dentist specialising in teeth tourists.  At least his place is above ground level. We go up to our room, pull back the curtains and  watch the apes stealing fruit before fee climbing across the buildings to their escape.

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We’re having a day off here. I’ve been to the Taj before but this time I just want to try and get some pictures of the bike.  Looking at the map it looks promising.  There is a garden on the opposite side of the river that was supposidly due to be the site of the Black Taj Mehal.  It has a clear view of the Taj and looks as though there are access roads we could use.  The rain has other ideas though and most of the day it is just falling down.  In the afternoon we decide to go anyway.. bollocks to it.. and we set off.  It’s only a short journey, maybe a couple of miles.. but its a journey I will never forget.  The rain is just off the scale.. and every building is just trying to evacuate water as quickly as it possible however can.  Think disney.. think ‘ride from atlantis’ where you journey through a city with a coal grey sky that is the bottom of a massive bath that someone has just pulled the plug out of ..  water pours off of roofs in spouts like waterfalls .. it comes out of doorways .. through windows and cracks.. drains back up and spout into the roads forming deep dirty puddles.. its just amazing.. I wish I’d taken some pictures but as usual that isn’t the priority.  As we get to the park our hearts begin to sink.  There are army everywhere.. every road towards the river is blocked.  It’s just not going to happen.  At least the rain seems to be taking a breather.  It’s stupid hot and humid.. time for a walk. Pay your money.. walk into the garden .. through the mud .. stand and stare

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Still not got anywhere near with the bikes though.  My mate is busy quizzing the locals for ideas.  There is a park just down the road apparantly .. a sports field .. that will have to do.  It’s pretty dark by now and the rain has stared up again.

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My mate gets a text from someone who says he’s in Agra and would like to see him.  My buddy is fearing all sorts of greetings from his mates and is trying to get them to just keep it low key but it doesn’t look like that’s happening.  We’re due to meet some of them in Delhi tomorrow .. it could be interesting ..

We go to meet his mate and it turns out to be one of his best friends and his wife.. they’ve used someone else’s phone to surprise him.. and they’re going to escort us to Delhi tomorrow.. yep .. it’s all going to be low key for sure.. they’ll all just shake our hands and let us on our way ..

The next day I’m awoken by a stampeed of wild animals running across the roof. Look out of the window and see .. the best part of bugger all.  Monsoon rain is being sprayed from the sky at high pressure.  Forget gravity.. the clouds are sneezing hard, squeezing and forcing water to race for the ground.   It’s angry rain .. ‘come on if you think you’re hard enough’ rain .. am I hard enough?  Only one way to find out.

Fuck… just fuckkkkkk.. where have the bloody roads gone?  The city is doing an all out Venice impression.  Riding for miles in deep water, Tuk tuks up to their floor boards and looking like little yellow tug boats.  I remember coming to an overpass and the water was just coming out the sides of it in jets.. we crawl through the mess and out of the city to meet our outrider.. wait in a petrol station that is completely underwater.. ummmmmm .. I wonder .. I wonder how the bitch likes her fuel .. with a dash of water maybe ..

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Fantstic ride .. brain on full power .. all sences turned to the max .. almost like riding blind a lot of the time.  As you can imagine, getting near the capital, then familiar and I’m not entrirely sure welcome  infrastructure starts to appear..

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Very very expensive though.. probably more than at home.  Not for the masses cerainly.   Get to the outskirts and our outrider pulls over to check his plans.  Just a couple of people to shake hands with then done in 10 minutes .. brilliant .. and off we go.  What’t that up ahead?  Looks like an accident.. loads of people gathered at the side of the road by some bikes … loads of people .. a mob.  The winker comes on .. oh shit ..

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I think even my mate is surprised by how many people have turned up.  They’ve got all his friends from school too.  It’s a proper love in and they’re all smiling and laughing and very very pleased to see us.  It’s a lovely welcome and they’ve made a huge effort.. and it’s not really started yet.  This is just the reception party.  The ‘others’ are waiting in the city.  Everyone saddles up and off we go in a big cavelcade of bikes and cars, into the heart of the city.  Trying to keep people together in this traffic would be impossible unless they had all agreed to put a suiside tablet on their tongue and take absolutely no prisoners.  It’s like riding with a tight moving metal fence around you.. and to make it worse one of the greeters has put his precious 10 year old son on the back of my bike ..

We make it through to the heart and ride in convoy down India gate to be greeted by more well wishers .. and a TV crew .. and newspaper reporters .. I can see my mate’s reaction.. its a real mixture of fear and gratitude.  They have made a serious effort and they’ve even bought cake and a picnic:))  The next few hours is spent taking and taking pictures and doing interviews and riding up and down for the cameras whilst the passing crowd gathers to sit and stare.  Oh..and sweating.. don’t forget the sweating.. my leathers are wet with my sweat.. and my boots contain at least 2 litres  of fluid that was happily inside my body when I left this morning .. I don’t think I’ve pissed all day.. IMG_6776 IMG_6780 IMG_6793 IMG_6790 IMG_6807

After a few hours we’re off .. I’ve promised my sweat glands they will be recharged and refilled.. I’ve promised my sore wet feet a good long soak in a shower .. I’ve promised my stomach all it can eat .. I’ve promsied my aching back it can have a few hours off from holding me upright .. but those promises are going to have to wait a bit longer.. there are more treats in store.  They have managed to get the keys to my mate’s old school so we ride round there for more chat and pictures.  They’ve gone to a serious amount of trouble.  I can see my mate is begining to flag too.  Perhaps he has made the same promices to his body..

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By the time we get to the hotel we’re both in the red and running in low power mode.  Nice hotel too.  My mate has some family business to attend to and they live across the street.  We go over for dinner and another full imersion experience amongst the locals before I lay in bed and run around turning all the switches off in my body .. legs ..off .. arms .. off .. back off .. then flick the big switch and go into an instant coma.

The world doesn’t wait and morning forces me back to life.  My mate has business to attend to so I’m going walkabout.There is a big Sikh temple just round the corner, worth a look.. I’ll start there..

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So many religions .. I can’t keep track.. the Sikh’s seem to be like magpies .. they really seem to love shiny and bright stuff.. each to there own .. I’m here to look.. not to judge

I head into the city.  I’m expecting to see shiny shops and american chains everywhere but nope..I can’t find a single one.  I wander about in the oppressive heat looking for a cup of coffee and I spot this..

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An oasis .. my tastebuds put their budgie smugglers on ready to dive head first into a big cup of froth.. oh yea .. I go inside and it’s HUGE.. doesn’t smell right thought .. ‘Coffee please’ .. ‘No coffee.. only tea’  .. errr .. you might want to think about changing the name ..

Just keep on walking.  I get to an underpass and there are people asleep on the floor everywhere.. mostly young people.. and lots of kids.  All spark out on the hard filty floor.  Poverty?  ‘Only a 50 inch TV’ poverty .. fuck off..

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That really starts to play on my mind.. run around and kick my conscience .. I need to service my thirst .. keep on walking ..

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There seems to only be a choice of 1.. an ancient place with shiny seats.. fans on the ceiling .. and ‘in need of refirbishment’

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I must have some of the luckiest sences on the planet.  I take them to places like these and they search and scan .. enjoy the light and the shade .. the smell only age and constant use can bring .. the feel of a table wiped a million times .. a seat that has heard secrets .. a cup that has been kissed by untold unknown lips .. I could sit here all day and just watch.  It’s like live history.  But I’ve got to go back to the underpass.  The image of the young girl and her little brother is gnawing at me and pulling me back.  I shouldn’t have just walked past.  I walk back and as I approach an older youth roughly wakes her up and drags her away somewhere.  I have to cut that train of through right there .. there is nothing I can do.

I’m walking back to the hotel.  I smell .. then I see another down and out.  He’s not begging .. he’s just sitting under a tree.  I ask him for a photo in exchange for change .. not the kind of change he needs though.  A change of clothes .. of luck .. of life.. that’s never going to come his way.

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Back through the sliding doors I go .. into the Metropolitan and the cool sanctuary only luck and prosperity can bring.

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We’ve got to get moving on towards Mumbai.  We’ve got a date to get to the shippers for crating and I’ve booked my flight.  The final act of the journey.  Not far outside Delhi is a big technical hub and the traffic in the morning is supposidly epic .. yes indeed ..

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See.. no road markings .. that would just be a waste of paint.. and this just goes on and on and on .. epic indeed.  Why the hell would anyone choose to drive in this every day.   Small gaps come and small gaps go as the mass slowly moves and you have to take every opportunity you get .. it’s intense and intimidating ..  and I enjoy every single second of it.. hang on a sec .. I’ll just go for a wee .. before it starts raining ..

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As you ride east to west you see a marked improvement in investment and prosperity.  More new cars on the road too.  The traffic is beginning to move faster and faster but the majority of the traffic is still  rumbling old trucks.  Christ only knows how old these things are  Most of them have ‘keep clear 30ft’ written on the back .. but India has been metric for a long long time,  since the 50s.  They cannot be that age but they crawl and crowd their way along the highways as mobile chicanes.. or tunnels if you’re feeling really brave.  You’ve seen those YouTube videos of street racers dodging through the traffic.. well slow it down a touch and that’s the way to make progress out here.   I don’t think I’ve seen a police car the entire time I’ve been here.  And .. the bitch is down to 1.5 cylinders by the feel of it and the vibrations are getting worse and worse.  It’s getting nasty and difficult to ride in traffic too.  Whenever we get to a city we just split up as the Bitch is slimmer than the bimmer and it just has to keep moving as much and as fast as possible.

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Get to Ahmedabad to meet another of my buddy’s school pals, but first we need to see Gary .. good traditional Indian name .. everyone knows Gary ..

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We meet the bloke and he takes us into the city for dinner.    Riding in a Tuk Tuk at night through a city like this is a whole new experience.  It’s like being constantly attacked from all sides .. your head is up in the roof and you can only see out the open sides and the front.  Bumpers of buses .. bikes .. cars.. trucks all appear suddenly and you’re convinced this is it .. then we dodge and chink and the metal disappears just to be instantly replaced by something else.  It’s like being in a cage with surrounded by metal beasts desperate to eat you.  Fuck I Love it..

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There is always a final day’s riding, and this is it.  Down and into Mumbai.  Mumbai is a big city.  London x 2.  20 million people ..

We’ve got to get somewhere down near the docks.  How hard can it be?  We get to the outskirts in good time and then just seem to hit a solid wall of metal.  I have never ever ever ever ever been in traffic like this.. anywhere… It is just complete and utter chaos.. and I see things that I just don’t believe.  We’re on a tight 2 lane dual carridgeway that is currently a lorry park.  It is twisting its way up and over a hill.  There is a muddy 2 ft gap to the left that we’re crawling through with all the other bikes.  Then we come to a car.  The car is sideways across 2 lanes.  The car has decided it has gone the wrong way and is trying to turn round and drive back against the traffic, but the lorries coming up the hill have decided to trap it and stop it.  It’s just bloody insane.  Any time there is a space to the left then bikes, and usually cars too take to the rough ground and try to make progress.  It’s a muddly slippery and rocky quagmire, and it’s usually a drop from the road’s edge.  Get on to that and it’s a bitch to get back on the road.  We’re all over the pace.. paths.. small rocky access roads past people scratching a living repairing the irriparable.  The bitch is on fire. I have to stop.  Go into hole and ask for a bucket or anything I can use.  Empty the contents of the nearest puddle over the bike.. wait 10 minutes .. start again.

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I go to buy liquid .. wander down between the piles of rubbish looking for something to drink.  Someone is sitting on a chair on a pile of rotting shit being shaved .. and points  to a tent.  I go in, buy a couple of bottles and ask if there is a toilet.  He just gives me a weird look.. and points outside .. ‘it’s all open’ .. OK then ..

We’re getting close now .. sat nav says 5km.  It’s getting dark and it’s starting to rain.. we’re off to the side.. approaching some deep muddy puddles and the just bike stops dead .. a yellow light appears .. then a message .. ‘fuel pump failure’.. ummmmmmmmm… perfect..

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I wander into a derilict building looking for a large piece of concrete to punish the bitch with,  or two ropes I can tie to each wheel and invite the locals to pull her apart .. or a ramp to the roof where I can push her off .. or a meat hook I can hang her by the tits from ..

I find a container .. and again transfer a dirty puddle to her red hot engine.. and wait.  Turn the key.. no message.. press… ststststststsstart  and it’s running.. but it’s clearly very unhappy about it. It’s only 5km I think .. surely I can make it there.  It’s properly dark by the time we arrive.  We’re hot and completely fucked but the crating destination is 200m away and we’re here.  My mate goes to check in and I follow a few minutes later.  I can tell something is wrong just by the body language.. and the bulging eyes .. the hotel has not renewed it’s ‘Form C’ and cannot take foreign visitors.  My mate is properly fucked off .. I’d probably be happy to join the vagrants the way I feel .. just get horizontal on a comfy pile of rotting fruit and wait for morning.  My buddy valiantly volunteers to get back on his bike and recce the local options .. while I attach an intraveinous drip to my arm with a big bag of chai hanging from the ceiling ..

He returns and it’s not good news.. there isn’t anywhere round here and we’re going to have to ride 15 km towards the centre of the city.. perfect.. just perfect.  Now if riding in India in the day is fun, riding at night is something you should only do if you’ve just been told you have a terminal disease and have just hours to live.   The signs says this is a dual carrigeway, and I’m definately riding in the left section, so why are there 2 lanes of white lights in front of me then?  That will be because the actual dual carrigeway is solid on the other side, so they’ve all decided to come the wrong way down the exit and drive down this side instead… of course they have.  To take the exit we have to ride between lines of oncoming traffic, it all feels perfectly natural.  There are one way roads here, but they’re all flowing in ‘my direction’ .. whatever that is .. up.. down .. sideways .. whatever.  The road surface is all to shit too .. they don’t have pot holes like this in Southampton.. I think I saw a face down there somewhere ..

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Fuck what a ride.. and with the bitch coughing and spluttering it makes it all extra special.  Bt this stage of the journey I think the bikes know each other so well that they ride for each other.. one punches a hole in the traffic and the other rushes through looking for the next battle.. running very close together.. tag teaming as we go.  We get to the hotel about 10pm, another long hard day under the wheels.  I’m not betting on the Bitch starting in the morning.

I’m up early and looking for something to fill the void below my neck.. anything will do .. I come to a shed taking delivery of a load of milk .. perhaps this day wont be so bad after all .. maybe my luck is in.. Load the bike, turn the key, pray and press.  This bike should definately be in hospital.  It starts but it sounds really odd .. the exhaust note is defiantely off .. but it’s moving and that’s all that matters.  The traffic is nowhere near as bad as last night and we make it down to the rendevois, a cafe next to a shed, get chai and biscuits and await our agent.

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The ‘agent’ is a scruffy bloke on a scooter.  We’re near the port here but not actually inside the perimeter.  Wheel the bike into a dusty shed.. dismantle it as much as necessary .. giver her pat on the bum.. say thanks …  wave goodbye. Truth be told she deserves a rest.  This has been a pretty hard trip.

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No paperwork..  no nothing .. trust that this random bloke is going to do what I think he is.  Climb in a tuk tuk to the station, buy a ticket to ride.IMG_7147IMG_7405 IMG_7400 IMG_7404

We have to hang around in Mumbai for a few days when the bike and carnet go through the various processes at the docks. My riding buddy has some more friends here that work for a posh hotel chain and will put us up .. oh dear ..

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Mumbai is just bloody HUGE and I’m only going to see a small fraction of it.  I much prefer the smaller places TBH.  Still, at least it keeps my camera happy

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As a final reminder to myself I use the last day to go on a tour of the world’s 3rd biggest slum, and it’s a deep dive into the depths of dispair.  It does have some structure at least, and the city puts running water to toilet blocks.  There is industry there too, recycling for example, which in this case means things like cleaning out old paint pots and knocking the dents out, or collecting plastic, or dismantling electical goods and getting high on solder, but as usual the ‘Mr Big’s live off elsewhere and cream off the money, and the people live among the mess. We’re taken through some of the ‘houses’.. down dark, shoulder width alleys with pretty well every sound a human can make echoing round the walls.  No room for doors.. just dirty curtains over holes.. glimpses of life that is no life at all.

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It’s time to fly.  Get up at 4:30.. a dozy handshake and a quiet goodbye with my mate, up up and away.  It’s been an amazing ride, and it will take me a while to process all that my eyes saw but my brain has yet to recall.. that’s all for later.. that’s the drug that runs through my veins and keeps me going .. until the next time.

 

 

 

Nepal

Nepal.  I’ve always wanted to visit Nepal.  China to Nepal is like going from one extreme to the other.  Within 100m of leaving China you’re into a mob of people.. hands going everywhere.. little blokes diving into my panniers .. someone has taken my passport and just disappeared.. and I’ve not got off my bike yet.  It’s roasting hot and the smell of humanity is all around.  I think I’m responsible for at least 50% of it ..

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At most checkpoints the luggage searches are just cursory but this lot are doing a proper job going through everything.  Good job I secreted my drone before I got here .. that would have gone for sure .. The passport reappears and the officials wander off leaving my bike looking like I’ve ridden over a speed bump at 50mph with my pannier lids open.  No passport stamps though, so off we go to hunt down the man with the stamp.  Easier said than done.  I think this border was closed for quite a while after the big 2015 earthquake.  I can imagine there was a proper shitfest round here at that time.  Nepal is on it’s knees anyway even before Mother Nature gave it a big slap.  You can get visas on arrival here but we got ours in London so it’s a simple stamp and go.  Customs though.. not so straight forward.  The building is easy enough to identify but you walk in and you’re invisible.  Nobody wants to know.  It’s like a doctors waiting room with loads of sweaty truck driver sitting in shadows with hands full of paperwork needing attention.  There is a long line of old Indian trucks lined up in the mud outside.. sighing and ticking with the effort of driving the Friendship highway.  We’ve been warned about this road.  We meet a motorcyclist coming in the other direction.. he left at stupid o’clock this morning and it’s taken him 10 hours to do 150km, and he’s on a nice light bike.  He says it’s unbelievably bad.  Good to know ..

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As we stand there in the customs office, a fixer suddenly appears and says he’ll sort it out.  He wants our carnets then he’ll run round to the appropriate sheds and get the stamps.  I must be honest, I didn’t know you needed a carnet for Nepal.. good job I’ve got one.. It would be perfectly possible to enter without one though ..  just drive straight past the customs shed … nobody would give a toss either on entry or exit. ..

The first few miles .. if it’s like this all the way it’s going to take 10 days not 10 hours.  It’s an absolute quagmire .. deep sloppy mud just like a pig sty.. like riding through a sticky brown smoothy.  Then as soon as the ground gets harder all the mud turns to ruts.  They’re so deep you can’t ride through with your feet on the pegs and the BMW is trying to walk on tiptoe.. but still dragging its tits along the tops.. it’s bloody hard work.. and slow.  I’m not stopping on the shit bits for pictures.. I’m far too busy gassing my gusset and trying to stop the turtle sticking it’s head out.  This is about as good as it gets ..

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My riding buddy was telling me about Nepal.  Quoting Factfulness by Hans Rosling.  Part of the book apparantly grades countries from 1 to 4 by their general infrastructure and facilities amongst other things.  So hospitals and health provision, time for ambulances to arrive, all sorts of things we take for granted living in a 4 rated country.  There aren’t that many at grade 1.. but Nepal is.  Not much of anything it seems, and certainly not the place to have an accident.  This can be waiting round any corner ..

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The road crosses a river and turns to hard packed gravel and we all enjoy getting out of 2nd gear for a change ..

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We’re going down a hill.. I ride to the front .. go round a slight bend.. and there are a couple of bikes coming towards us, both 2 up.  I’m towards the middle of the road, they’re towards the middle of the road .. everyone rides the easiest line..  we’ve been meeting trafic and passing on either side.. whatever works .. but there is an official side of the road.. and in Nepal it’s the left.  So we do the dance .. the same one you do on a busy pavement .. you both go one way.. then you both go the other way .. then you crash head on into each other. Shit.  I stay upright but I took a big hit on the right front side.  The crashed bike is down and the riders are on the floor.  The riders on the other bike are already in my face .. “why were you riding on the wrong side of the road”.. the riders aren’t badly hurt but they have some cuts on their hands and legs.  Hands up .. this was probably 70% my fault .. I was in the middle of the road rather than the left .. but they didn’t go to their left either.  There are 4 angry men and it’s getting heated fast.  My riding buddy is an Indian by birth and can speak to them in their native tongue thank god.. but it’s not cooling down so he just says to get going up the road and off we go.   We ride a few miles with my plastics flapping and light hanging off.  Then pull over to try and fix the bike up.  The riders have followed us the arguments start all over again.  Fair enough.. two have hurt themselves and there is some damage to their bike.  I patch up the bike while my buddy enters negotiations with the riders.  Showing a willingness to accept some blame and pay some money seems to lower the temperature a little but they’re talking big sums of money, and they’re threatening to get the police from the next village involved.  Not what I wanted to hear.. I take the broken bits off the bike and patch it up to ride.  Nothing major, just snapped plastics, bent brackets and dented panniers.

Negotiations aren’t going well and the noise is getting worse.. eyes are opening wider .. tension is in the air.. they want a sum that my buddy is absolutely not going to accept.  They say”we’ll’ go to the police then” .. and my mate says “OK.. let’s go”.  OOOOOkkkk…

So off we go.  the village is 30km away and the road is .. I’m struggling to describe this section of road .. it’s just awful.  A thin cutting into the side of a mountain with nothing to stop you going airborne.. all deep wet mud and steep rocky ups and downs.  I remember one section.. a very very steep and very very rutted decent round some stupid tight bends.. if I’d had time to think about it I doubt I’d have got the nerve to ride it but by that time you’re in the middle of it and you just cannot stop.  My buddy is a TRF member and he reckons this would be a difficult ride even on a smaller bike. After a torturous climb we come to a village and a police station/blue tin hut manned by a young bloke with  a gun.  He’s not there to mediate or apportion blame.. just to make sure neither side gets physical.  He just wants it sorted.  The riders are lying about the amounts they asked for and now have bought their demands down to more reasonable levels.. I can understand their position, of course I can.  In the end we reach an agreement and I hand over some USD.. we shake hands and we’re on our way.  That could have been a lot LOT worse.. at least nobody was badly hurt and the bikes were still going..

I thought the road must get better at some point but no .. it just keeps on giving.. you see a picture like this and you think ‘oh.. that looks OK’ but you don’t see the bloody great sharp stone that started it ..

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By this stage this is absolutely the worst road I’ve ever ridden, no doubt about it.  A lot of this is in my mind .. millions of riders do this all the time with a smile on their faces.. my problem is the inconsistency.  You get used to one shity surface and it almost detects you starting to relax .. so it it offers you another item from it’s never ending road surface menu.. deep water with sandy muddy slipy slidy shit everywhere.. or sharp rocky and steep sections.. all loose with 50% of the power just spinning the wheel and showing the rider behind with rocks and stones ..

We get to a village.  At least there is a bit of tarmac there.. just to keep the dust down.  Another group of humanity with the misfortune to appear from the womb halfway up a mountain in the middle of bum fuck nowhere in one of the poorest nations on earth.  My buddy is speaking to a local about the best way to Katmandu from here.. I’m thinking maybe an airlift..

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Word is there is a new road.. hooray.. we’re saved.  It starts about another 30km from here but apparently it’s a good road right to Katmandu.  I can’t help wondering why the rider we spoke to earlier didn’t mention it.. until we get there..

When he said new ‘road’, what he meant to say was new ‘roadworks’… it’s miles and mile of epic shitfest connected by short stretched of tarmac.  It’s like a dashed line .. but with tarmac as the short bits. By now we’re well into auto pilot mode in the shit.  A lot of the time it’s like trying to ride the bike sideways over a line of running machines .. one wheel heading in one direction and the other moving in another direction completely independently.   I’m sure there are some substances on this road that are new to science.  The muddly red sand combo is my real favourite.  The cars are trucks are crawling through and are about 1 foot in front of you.. and one foot behind you..  I flipped into masochist mode some time ago and I’ve really started to enjoy it now.  Covered in shit from head to toe, boots full of water, glove stains on my hands .. tired and hungry, and we’re still a long way from our beds.

These are the days that make the trip for me.  The Brrrrrummmmmmmmm… beer.. food… bed … breakfast … bruuuummmmmmmmmmm… beer .. food .. bed … breakfast .. repeat until done … that’s just not my thing .. I want shit and cold and discomfort .. I want to be tired.. to be scared .. to be kicked in all my senses .. I want worry .. I want adversity .. I want difficulty.. i want near misses and adrenaline on my tongue..  I want something for my brain to do .. I want plans to change and I want to work through it all and come out smiling .. I want Oh Fuck… and I want OHHHHH FUUUUCKKKK.. I want good and bad.. big highs and big lows.. and shit days like this .. I really do want shit days like this..  Good job too because this day isn’t getting better any time soon ..

We eventually get to the main (probably only) arterial main road to Katmandu. Maybe 40km to run.  Should be no problem despite the crawling traffic and billowing black clouds.  The road surface is ok and we’re all used to forcing our way through any which way we can.  Bloody dangerous though… but then the road starts to climb.  The traffic bunches up and eventually becomes a 5mph solid metal worm of screaming engines and fag paper gaps.. it gets dark .. it gets worse .. and it starts to rain.  The road surface turns to absolute pony.. I’ve never seen anything like it. As un PC and unsavoury as this sounds, the road looks like it has been tarmaced over the scene of a massacre.   Imagine bodies randomly laying about and a tarmac lorry just coming and pouring over the top.  Its pitch black, you’re doing between 0 and 5mph in the middle of a lorry sandwich and you’re being pushed all over the road by huge lumps and dips.  Your autopilot is operating at 200% and your lungs feel like a new fence that someone has just gone and painted with old diesel.  After what seems like a lifetime we get to a small turnoff and follow a backroad towards Katmandu.  The sat nav is directing us through  turnings that look more like paths to a front door than a road.  Very very narrow gaps between buildings only to find you’re at the top of some sort of roller coaster with the road dropping away from you at a mental angle.  And you’re sharing this with trucks..  I remember following an articulated petrol lorry through one section and thinking the road was the equivalent of the Suez canal with clearances measured in microns. Absolutely no chance of getting past … none at all.  The only town planning involved here revolves around maintaining the smallest gaps that vehicles can get through.

We eventually get into Katmandu and come to a dual carriageway.. so that means about 10 lanes of traffic .. so what was a line of lights behind me turns into a view of the stars on a dark night .. with millions of lights winking and merging.  We loose one rider and stop to try and see him.  My bike is .. shock horror .. overheating again.  Not surprising given all the crawling and the high 30’s temperature.

What looks like traffic chaos obviously as some sort of order but it’s alien to us.  Buses come by and someone jumps off .. shouting destinations to attract customers as the bus crawls along beside him like a pet dog .. then he jumps on .. thumps the body and they’re off in a thick cloud and a roar of rattling .. I could sit and watch this stuff for hours.  Identifying our mate is impossible in this mess.  We try and call and text but nothing’s working.  He has a destination anyway so he should be fine.  And off we go into the melee.  Riding in these places in the dark is just asking for trouble.. it’s like riding through a battlefield.. during the battle .. you can’t see bugger all what with the trucks and the dust from the road..  My blinking is on full-fast just trying to keep up with the assault and I’m breathing like a free diver,  holding it for long periods to try and avoid having too many years taken off my life expectancy.  Nepal seems to be like India, only 20 years ago.  I’ll remember that ride through the city for a long long time.  We get to the hotel and the other rider is there safe and sound.  We all just breath a collective sigh of relief, smile, laugh and use all of our extensive collective vocabulary of swearwords to describe what has been both a complete fuckfest, but also one of my favourite ever riding days.

We’re not staying long in Nepal and today we say goodbye to our 3rd rider.  He’s staying for a while then going home to see his girlfriend before returning and continuing his trip.

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After yesterday, the roads couldn’t be any worse but they try their best anyway as we head out south towards India. Riding out of Katmandu is a revelation though.  I always though Katmandu would be a lovely place full of amazing buildings but in reality it’s just one big fart away from being flattened.  The outskirts especially are just filthy shanty towns that look to provide shelter but not much else.  The roads get worse and worse and smaller and smaller and tighter and tighter.  We thought that there should be a good route but we just blindly follow the sat navs.  Maybe I left mine in ‘piss take’ mode by mistake as we eventually find ourselves way up in the mountians on a single track.  At least there isn’t anyone trying to kill us up here..

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After a few hours we join a very thin strip of tarmac and chase it hard up and down the mountains.  Maybe this is the road we missed as there are loads of old 4x4s using it too, most of them are oncoming ..  and they are driving like lunatics .. one of my horns has given up due to overuse and at every corner I send out a warning like a strangled sheep.  They obviously just run straight over sheep round here because it seems to make absolutely bugger all difference to the speed they come round the corners.  The downhills are the worst.  Very very steep and narrow and often loose, the 4x4s aren’t willing to sacrifice even the smallest amount of speed and momentum and they just come hurtling round leaving you with next to nothingness .. literally .. as the mountain drops away from the roads edge.  You get used to anything eventually though and it just becomes normal.  Christ only knows what it’s like at night round here.

We get to a small village and decide to stop for some chai, one of my favourites.  A couple of small sheds very popular with the local fly community.  The owner of the chai shop has a son with Downs syndrome and he’s out in the back with his sister.  He seems happy enough and comes for a chat but you can just imagine there is absolutely zero support for anyone with any problems out here.  Just another reminder of my luck at the birth lottery.

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Get to Rajdandi .. one of the kids has run through the house and turned the thermostat up to max again.  My pores are pouring and  my eyeballs feel like they’re melting.  Find the hotel and just sit under the ceiling fan to try and cool the supercomputer in my head that feels close to shutdown.  Shit its hot and it looks.. and smells .. like the roads are running with sweat.  I go out hunting for cold liquid .. and ice creams.  Ice creams can be an easy way to turn your arse into a chocolate fountain out here but at the moment I just don’t care.

I need another shave.. I’m looking for a shop.  What I see is a very narrow gap between 2 buildings that has been converted into a barbers.  Its so tight that you have to walk in sideways, sit in a chair and get shoved up against the counter so they have room to stand behind you.  The concentration of smells is intense and the noise from outside bounces round like small echos in a cave.

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Chai.. means milk .. there must be milk round here somewhere but these places do not have food shops.  We’re so used to ‘want… buy.. eat’ but in these countries the ‘want’ is always far removed from the ‘buy’  They have food markets .. not food shops.  Lots of places are knocking up Chai though so there must be milk about somewhere.  My mate joins the hunt and is directed from one place to another to another until we track down a freezer in a small hole in the wall selling bottled drinks.  The freezer is full of bladders of milk .. it’s a vision of heaven.. I want to just dive in and have a swim .. but instead I just buy as many as I can carry and have a wild night in necking nectar.

India and Nepal have an open border, but only for Indians and Nepalese.   Get to the border and a rusty gate is the only indication that jurisdiction is changing.  I’ve done this before in Africa, just ridden past a few huts then a while later realised I’m in another country and have had to turn round.  We stop by the gate and I sit with the bikes while my mate looks for customs.

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My mate reappears with good news and bad news.  The good news is that he has identified the man we need to stamp the carnets.  The bad news is that the bloke has apparently not got the right hat, so he’s gone off home to get it.. he’ll be back in 30 minutes..

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The man appears and I have to say, the hat was definitely worth the wait .. look at that crease in his shirt too .. I think he’s changed .. this has to be done properly after all..

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So.. passports.. where the hell are those done?  We go past the barrier and into the throng.  Animals.. trucks.. carts.. bicycles .. all seemingly going back and forth between Nepal and India without restriction.  It’s a constant slow flood of humanity .. flowing in two directions at once .. all very strange.

We find a house that is apparently immigration.  Walk in and there are 3 people in uniform just sitting chewing the fat.  Looks like we’re an inconvenience.. they hadn’t expected to actually do any work when they woke up this mornings.  They’re not allowed to do immigration though, that’s the job of a man in the village and he’s not here. The computers are all turned off and resting snugly under some dust sheets on a desk…  better call the man then I guess…

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The man turns up 15 minutes later, takes off the sheets, turns on the computer.. unlocks the cupboard with the stamps in .. gets out the old paper ledgers and gets to work.  Unfortunately for us it seems that in Nepal we’ve had the good fortune to exit on ‘bring an idiot to work day’.  The man is obviously using this rare opportunity to teach someone the highly complex process of stamping a passport.   His mate isn’t a quick learner .. and i have to leave the building otherwise I’m going to grab the bloody stamp and beat him to death with it .. exited August 2019 in red across his forehead ..

They give us a shout and we can leave at last.  Join the flood and just let ourselves get pulled along by the current towards India.  We’re on the conveyor but we’ve no idea where to get off.  Nobody is stopping anywhere but we know we’ve got to do this properly otherwise we won’t get the bikes out of the port.

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Ok .. I know what I’m going to do .. there is no substitute for experience.  I’m going to sod off on my own today and try to avoid the inevitable shit fest that is currently kicking off in the hotel car park.  The guide has said take the expressway .. but nobody is listening .. “Are you plugged in?  Receiving?  Check … Monday?  Two lollies please?  25 miles .. East.. no west .. left … maybe right .. 2 hours .. 10 minutes .. ” Bugger this .. I’m off.

I’m riding out towards the expressway with a few of the others .. they’re all connected .. and travel like a 6 wheeled caterpilla .. and 2 out of 3 sat navs says turn right .. they peel off, ignoring the bright green expressway signs .. and go to their fate .. I get onto the expressway and I’m away..

It’s about an hour before I hit the first check point.  The old adage is definitely true .. he travels fastest who travels alone… I wander into the checkpoint .. wave my passport .. have a stilted chat with someone .. and I’m gone .. one down ..

Another hour .. another checkpoint .. and I’ve got 7 missed calls telling me to “come back”.  That’s not going to happen … I’ll give them a call in a minute.  The police are a bit more wary at this checkpoint.  They don’t want to let me through, and they get an english speaker on the phone for a chat.  “Where are you going?  What are you doing?  Where is your guide?” .. The problem out here is that all the towns have 3 different names .. another thing the guide forgot to mention .. and I’ve got a name that the bloke on the phone doesn’t recognise, and I can’t pronounce properly. . I suspect I have another problem too, in that outsiders are not allowed to stay at the place I’m telling them I’m going to .. another thing the guide .. you get the picture .. so I suggest I send him a picture of my destination on my satnav .. which we do .. and I’m through.  Two down.

So now I’m 2 hours up the expressway.. and I phone the group.  “You have to come back here.  We’ve been stuck at a checkpoint for 2 hours because we’re not all together” Really?  I’m shocked and stunned.. who would have thought it .. and are they on the expressway as instructed?  Of course they’re not.  The guide is with them, he’ll have to sort it out, I’m not going back.  “I’ll wait for you in [wherever]” and I’m on my way.

The expressway ends at a big checkpoint just outside a small city.  This one is going to be a challenge I think, but no .. he just points me to a police car and has a chat with the driver.  Lights on .. ‘follow him’ .. this is a city that they don’t want you anywhere near .. they don’t even want your wheels stopping here .. they want you out.  So off we go.. have you seen VIPs being blue lighted through cities .. one car peels off as another takes over and clears the traffic .. then another .. then another as they relay you through.. that’s me as we skip through the city.  I’m low on fuel so I overtake the car and point to my tank.. he stops at the first station and we try to get in.  The stations have barriers across to stop you, and not even the police can get through this one so he spins his wheels and scoots off up the road to the next one where he instructs the attendant to just fill me up ASAP as he waits nervously in the background.

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It’s still stupid hot and I buy a red bull at the gate.. go to pop the ring but a little Chinese hand stops me and points up the road.  No time for drinking .. get back on the road with the police and out of town..  way way out of town .. it’s miles before he turns around and leaves me alone.  I find a spot ..stop .. lie down on the road .. wait .. fall asleep.

Two hours later and I’m awoken by a horn .. I peel myself off the tarmac and get vertical just in time for one of the other riders to get right in my face telling me he had to wait at a checkpoint for 2 hours because I blew through a police check and he’s really not happy.  A few years ago I would have backed down in this situation but now .. sod this .. I think he gets the message that he is chatting complete shit and that I’ve been waiting here for 2 hours because he can’t follow simple instructions .. and he’s quickly out of my face.  I’m not perfect .. and I’m nasty bastard sometimes .. and there are always 2 sides remember .. Anyway, turns out later that the guide had the wrong paperwork anyway and that the stuff he had with him said the group was going somewhere else entirely.. in a different direction .. so he had to get new paperwork sent to him .. Tibetmoto .. remember the name

So now we’re late.. we’re hungry.. and we’ve got a long way to go, across the desert and towards the mountains.

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To another strip of random buildings by another checkpoint.  Things are getting more serious now .. this is where the army begins to take precedence over the police .. This could be a really long day.  I’m a bit of a masochist and I’m hoping this is going to turn into a test .. a dare .. a real bitch of a ride.   Now here is the thing.. the destination we have for tonight .. we can’t stay there.  All the guides are mates and keep in touch with each other.  There is another group a day ahead that tried to stay at our destination and got a definite NO.  They had to ride something like 1100km non stop before they could find a bed.. but our guide decided we’d go there and try anyway.  All part of the fuckfest experience ..

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Through the checkpoint and we meet the mountains head on.  Proper bugger off mountains .. give me my breath back mountains .. proper awe inspiring mountains.  The roads are shit and dangerous, the temperature is falling, its raining hard and as we get to the top of a big pass the road is closed due to an accident.  Perfect ..

IMG_5069IMG_5070-2 P1010385 IMG_5005 IMG_5003I’m looking at the bike.. and I see oil on the brakes.. it looks like it has altitude sickness again.  I had another Adventure that pissed oil out everywhere when it wore the chrome off the stantions.  These stantions aren’t worn though .. just another headfuck the she Devil is playing with meIMG_4988Give the Chinese their due.  Back at home this road would be closed for a week.  People in yellow jackets measuring skid marks.. all manner of specialised lifting equipment would be bought in .. reports would be needed.. witnesses questioned .. but over here they just get one truck to tow the crashed truck into the ditch and out of the way ..and the road is opened in an hour ..

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The guide is back in the queue somewhere .. we’ll see him later .. we’re off.  It’s a difficult.. slippery ..shitty .. moody..  atmospheric and beautiful ride.  You could come through here a hundred times and it would always be different.  Get to our destination and I recognise it from previous trips.  An absolute shit hole based around an army barracks.  Just a few unidentifiable buildings, and a squat/hotel that we cannot stay in.  We sit and listen to the army singing.. eat some freshly carved animal and wait for the guide..

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Christ what a life.. what a shitty existence some people have.  I walk up to a hole and a young face appears.  My eyes adjust to the darkness and I can see a small room with a few boxes of cheap food items for sale, and this young girl just trapped inside.  I wonder what she’s thnking.  I wonder what I would think in her shoes ..

So it’s getting dark now and some people are starting to panic.  The guide isn’t here yet and it’s been 2 hours.  We know we can’t stay here, but some people wander down to the hotel and ask anyway.  Then they go to the police and ask them.  Then the police go to the hotel, and they ask the army.  And get the finger.. of course they do. There are different kinds of intelligence .. and I’m trying to work out which ones different people have.  A few of them realise the score.. you can’t fuck with the Chinese army.  You’re nothing to them.. you’re just noise..

Eventually the guide turns up, about 3 hours after we got here.  Its dark now, and he’s got a couple of riders panicing that they might have to actually ride up the dark scary roads where there are monsters waiting to eat them.  This is getting stupid now.  The guide is speaking to the police and army but they’re all saying NO.. definately NO.  We HAVE to go.  It’s 200km to the next town .. lets go… let’ just FUCKING GO. Some of the others want to go too..My riding buddy is fine.  He hasn’t complained about anthing .. we’ve just rode whatever and whenever..   but no.. one rider is really panicing now .. ‘tell them we’re old’ .. ‘tell them it’s too dangerous’ . ‘tell them we promise to be good’ .. and another rider is on the phone to Tibetmoto saying its too risky to ride at night ..

FUUUUUUUUCKKKKKK SAKEEEE… this is an adventure ride you fucking wombles .. NOT A FUCKING COFFEE MORNING .. grow some .. fucking just GROW SOME.  I keep a few spare sets in my panniers .. sometime when I’m really scared I take a big pair out and clip on an upgrade .. it helps me get through it .. I try and fit them onto the problem riders but they’re too big for them and keep falling off .. you know the kinds of people that leave a damp patch on a chair when they’ve sat on it .. the sort of people that if you offered them 2 identical shades of red .. wouldn’t be able to choose which identical shade of red they wanted .. Jesus .. I’ve done a lot of miles with a lot of groups but I’ve never seen behaviour like this before.

No.. its a definite NO.  Go.. its a definite GO.  So we get ready to go.  Its dark and cold and raining .. I’m looking forward to this .. then the guide goes to get in his car .. and spots something coming out from underneath it.  Oil.. gearbox oil.  He’s hit a big rock on the road and split his gearbox casing.. Oh yea .. it just gets better and better…

So now one of the riders is trying to get everyone to just refuse to leave.. to which the police rightly reply you’ll be breaking the law .. he asks me if I’m in .. “WHAT! bugger off mate” .. even the guide is suggesting we try that … EXCUSE ME?  You’re suggesting we break the law in this militarised zone about 100m from an army barracks!!!! What the actual FUCK?  More phone calls to TibetMoto .. who suggests we are not allowed to stay but we can ‘rest’ .. maybe ride into the mountains and ‘rest’ somewhere for the night.. without the guide .. yep.. good luck arguing the semantics of that with some Chinese army patrol in the middle of the night.  I suggest the guide just hitches a ride with a truck and we just ride though the night but that’s about as popular as a warm turd sandwich..

11pm.. we could have been half way there by now .. but we’re still here dicking about.  The police ask the army again .. as if that’s going to work .. but for some reason its a yes this time. What?  ‘yes.. but only if you stay on the first floor of the hotel.. the ground floor is too dangerous.. you might come out in the night’ .. One rider.. I genuinely thought he was going to hug the policeman and kiss him .. Me.. I’m just really embarrassed.  Rough tough bikers with a row of super expensive metal machinery equipped with helicopter searchlights, heated clothing, GPSs and big fuel tanks but without the balls to ride a few hundred km in the dark.  The locals are all fizzing about on 125 shitters with a candle for a light wearing only tatty jumpers and disappearing off into the mountains.. I wish I was going with them.  Even the Bitch agrees.. I can here her mumbling insults under her breath .. Last time I was here we reached this checkpoint at midnight in the freezing cold and rain, then we all just got back on and rode another 3 hours to our beds at the next town.. nobody complained ..nobody cried .. nobody died.  Fucking hell .. just FUCK.

Into the ‘hotel’ we go.. I even hear complaints about the price.. about £15 .. and that they were quoted about £5 earlier .. just get these people out of my face right now.. right fucking NOW.  My roomie for tonight is asking me what the problem is.. is he doing something wrong .. ‘yes .. you’re breathing’ comes to my mind but I just ignore him .. hammer some ear plugs in and listen to my blood rushing through my body.  I’ve not been this pissed off in years.

The next morning is a bit tense.  All I want to do is go.  Some poor bastard got a call and has driven through the night to get another car here for the guide.  I patch up the Bitch again and we’re off .. higher and higher.. climbing onto the Tibetan plateu.

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The only good thing is that it will be good to see what the next section looks like in the daylight.  Last time I remember roads of deep dust, sliding about and coughing, shivering and wondering what the fuck I was doing but also having a proper good time battling adversity and normality.  Perhaps I’m just not normal.  I certainly hope so..

Spectacular.  Another word dummed and over used to the point of worthlessness.  I don’t know any other words to describe these places though.  This whole region has to be my favourite place on the planet.  The best I’ve ever seen, I can’t say any more than that.  More muddy slippery twisty steep and dangerous roads with views that such a tiny number of people will get the pleasure to see.. they seem to have a calming effect at least and I can see my blood pressure drop and my veins contract and disappear back into my skin ..

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I just love this place.. who wouldn’t.. isolated and lonely.. inhospitable .. untamed … you’re there on it’s terms.. Get to the destination and a cold draughty hotel specialising in ‘damp art’ on the ceilings. No electric either, and a communal shower room ankle deep in fungal nail infection spores .. just the way I like it.

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We’re still not into Tibet.. the next day is the day.. up onto the roof of the world we go .. along with a good percentage of the Chinese army.  I’ve made a break for it again .. and I’m running fast along a infinite straight road.  Something is coming from the right.. a Chinese Humvee .. and there is a load of armour parked up .. getting behind a group like this is like riding behind a rolling roadblock so I light the afterburners and beat the Humvee to the road .. the others aren’t going to be so lucky ..  I get to the next checkpoint and there is no way I’ll get through this alone.  I tell the guard the guide is behind and it down to wait .. again..   An hour and a half later the others arrive.  The Humvee had closed the road for some live firing exercises.  You can never fortell these things .. and I remind myself of that as we come across a line of stopped traffic just 10 minutes down the road.  Go to the front, soldiers in full mountain camo across the road.  nobody else in sight.  What’s going on here then?  Then suddenly whoosh … .whoosh whoosh whoosh and small vapour trails appear in the sky from behind the nearest mountain.  SAMs.  They’re firing SAMs.. of course they are.  We’re watching a very grown up fireworks display ..

Kashmir.. we’re in Chinese Kashmir.. I’d forgotten that.  India is currently fucking about again in Kashmir.. turning the clamps up on the locals .. and China is rattling its sabres.. just reminding the Indians exactly who this area belongs to.  Fuck do these things move.. you’re lucky to catch one with the naked eye.. they’re gone in a fraction of a second and into the clouds and a drone target way off in the distance.  Pretty impressive .. for the first hour at least.  After 3 hours .. not so much.  And while I’m waiting I see the other fork leg is pissing out oil as well.. oh joy ..

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Never mind.  I have to adopt a kind of fatalist attitude on these trips.  What will be will be and all that.  I’ll just have to try and deal with whatever happens later.  For now lets just enjoy the ride.  Across the plain and up to the Tibet border.

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Get to the Tibet border post on the lake where the clouds just bump along the mountain tops.  We’re at about 5000m and still climbing.. the place is just bloody incredible

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Its getting proper desolate now.. down below freezing.. sleet and snow .. doing everything it can to dissuade us from going any further ..  IMG_5204-2

But once in a while Mother Nature gives us a prize for our persistence..

IMG_5206Before turning up the shit storm to 11 and challenging you to a big windy water fight.. it’s unavoidable..it’s inevitable..  put your head down .. just pull in your body and run the gauntlet .
P1010519P1010518Get the next checkpoint in the storm and run for cover.  We’re in the police station and it sounds like someone is tipping a truck load of bolts onto the roof.   The bikes are just a blur out the wndow but then the curtain of rain retreats and lets the sunshine have another go.IMG_5155We don’t know where we’re staying, we’re waiting for the guide.  Apparently one of the riders is a goldfish.  Despite all the antics of the other evening, he’s asking the police about a hotel room .. I look at him .. incredulous..  he might as well be saying “wibble wank bollocks tits and a pink rubbery arse please” .. it would make about as much sense to them, and even if it did he would be getting the finger.  What can i say?   I’m looking forward to saying goodbye .. that’s putting it politely ..

Guide turns up and takes us down to our digs.  Some rooms above a small row of shops.  Now we are in the middle of absolutely nowhere, way up in the mountains of Tibet, 100s of km from anything and anyone.  Someone came through at some time with few lorry loads of human infrastructure, tipped them by the road, then fucked off back to humanity.  The rooms have clean beds.  That’s a bonus already.  No electricity at the moment but an inside toilet .. of a sort .. of a ‘fuck what’s that all over the floor.. and that smell is burning my eyes’ sort..  and there is no running water or shower but who cares… I’ll tell you who cares .. the fucking traveling wimpberries I’m with that’s who.  Not all of them.. just the usual suspects.. moaning again about the price and how can you have a hotel with no running water and this place is a dump and .. and this and that and the other.  In a couple more days they’ll be drinking lattes and walking round hotel rooms in soft towelling robes where this lot will still be shitting in the ditch and drinking from puddles.. Fuck them.. just have a giggle with the locals .. thank them for their hospitality and thank your lucky stars that you can leave..

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I’m up.. I’m out.. I’m off .. running alone .. clearing my head .. cleansing my soul.. detoxing my lungs with thin cold clean air.. its down near freezing again and raining hard.  This is the wrong time to be up here.  The monsoon season.  I didn’t think they had monsoon way up here but clearly they do.  Soooo cold and bleak.  A few days ago I was roasting my tits off and now I can only just show enough skin to hold with 2 fingers when I piss.  The road is wet and slippery and there are a lot of big fuck off wild dogs wandering about in the road.  They’re Tibetan mastifs and they’re proper hard bastards with a coat thicker than an elephant sandwich.. about the size of a small pony and built like an armoured vehicle, you wouldn’t want to hit one.. or upset one either.  We go through the last military checkpoint and to the first proper town for a while.  My forks are still pissing oil out.  I go down and push a seal scraper up the stantion to remove any dirt.  as soon as I break the seal I get an ejaculation of liquid all over me .. the change in altitude has increased the pressure in the forks to such an extent the oil is pissing past the seals.  I’m with my usual riding buddy again now and he says I should bleed the forks.  I go back down.. open the bleed screws and hear a small sigh of relief as the forks depressurise.. I guess I should have thought about that myself.  I didn’t even know I had bleed screws!  None of the other ‘normal’ bikes I’ve ridden this route with have ever done this though. Ho hum..

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Tibet is huge.. Tibet is diverse .. Tibet .. in places .. is a lot like parts of the grand canyon.. don’t believe me?  I didn’t believe me either.  I didn’t see it last time but there is a small town with some historic ruins way way off the main route and we’re taking the diversion to go there.. go over another couple of freezing 5000m passes on unmade roads and suddenly it’s like stepping into anther world

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From 5000m sleet and snow you descend to 3500m warm and sunshine and spend the afternoon playing silly buggers on the brand new tarmac, all on our own,  a very big, very impressive private playground..

We (almost) all get to our agreed meeting point, a fuel station just outside the town and checkpoint.  Looks like we nearly had a full house at this morning’s listening test.. but .. it only takes one.  One rider has been seen turning round and heading off up a track some time ago .. so we wait.. luckily .. entertainment is on hand ..

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An hour and a half later the rider still hasn’t appeared.  A couple of the riders go back back to search for him and we head into town to the hotel.  I walk around town and past the big dark gates of the military compound where they sound like they’re busy killing each other.. I’ve think I’ve got a couple of people I’d quite like to throw over for them to practice with ..

IMG_5496IMG_5361 IMG_5387 IMG_5390 IMG_5396If we thought yesterday was mad, then today provides the most diversity I’ve ever seen in a single riding day.  First climb out of the canyon.P1010609 IMG_5592 P1010633spend an hour screaming across a flat grassy plains then come across an almost alpine set of valleys..
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P1010654wobble and slide around for a few miles in some roadsworks ..
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through some mountains where Mother nature keeps her colour palette P1010685pit your skills against a set of slippery clay switchbacksP1010693and join back up with the G219 towards Mt Kailash.  We’re all running on empty and jump into the santuary of a lonely cafe.  I walk through the kitchen to go to the ‘toilet’.. the steps are steep and literally running with oil and grease.. the walls dripping with water.  If you walked into a kitchen like this at home you’d walk straight out and phone the local authority but here you just stand and watch culinary magic emerge from the dirt and chaos.. IMG_5498 IMG_5514 IMG_5507 IMG_5511 IMG_5518IMG_5507

Mt kailash is a real God magnet with loads of different claimants.  With every God comes a squad and they’re attracted from all over the globe to spend 3 days trecking round it’s base as a pilgrimage.  I was expecting the town at the base to be full of shiny hotels catering for wealthy pilgrims trying to buy their tickets to the after life but in reality it is just another scrappy collection of dirty buildings with a lovely wild west feel.

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I really like this place.  If there are Gods floating in the air, then they make me feel very welcome despite my total disbelief in anything other than fate. Still .. they make sure to give me a beautiful send off the next morning .. and for that I’m very grateful

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It’s difficult to believe you’re just  few 100km from Everest up here.. other than the feeling that you’re up near the ceiling of the world.. and you sometimes have to dip your head to avoid bumping it on the clouds ..

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Get to the last big town before Everest and it’s tourist central.  Our hotel is is like a huge pot of accents mixed in a pot, boiling and bubbling and popping, filling the air with excited words in a dozen different languages.  Russians.. Indians.. even some Japanese ladies.  Just goes to show that religions don’t have a single face I guess…

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We wander about the town and try to find something substantial to expand our ever contracting stomachs.  I think my winker stinker is in danger of growing over .. See a place advertising burgers.. just advertising them you understand.. not selling.  They’ve had menus printed with 90% of items they don’t actually sell.  “Rice burgers?”.. a nod .. a thumbs up .. a banknote .. and something like a festering wound from the back end of a yak appears..

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Get on the road early and out the back door of town.  There is a long way round and a short way round to Everest from here.  We went the short way last time and it was a 60 mile ride from hell to the main Everest/Nepal road but in the last few years the tarmac tanks have rolled through and beten the landscape into submission.  Not another vehicle in sight. the Chinese investment in their roads is just ridiculous.. if only they would invest in more than the odd fuel station every 200km .. what a ride though .. what a ridiculous bloody ride.IMG_5871 IMG_5875 IMG_5882 IMG_5890 IMG_5883

Tingri.. you should be able to see the peak of Everest from here but there are waves of clouds and rain going through.. looks like it will be a toss of the coin wether the weather will open a window for us to see Everest or not.

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Stop for a quick lunch.. pull back a thick heavy curtain and get hit by a wave of lovely heat from the stove.  Feel your body and brain start to fight over if they want to stay here in the warm or go out into the cold.. I’ve not come all this way again for nothing  though.  Go for fuel.. fill to the very top.. every drip counts out here.  We’re ready.. we’re steady.. but we’re not going .. one of the other riders comes out from the village and tells us there is a problem with the RT.  It’s refusing to start again.. perfect.. absolutely perfect..

First.. try and jump start it.. getting the battery out the RT is like a tiny woman with narrow hips trying to deliver a 10lb baby.. it’s not a straight forward procedure.  These situations are like natural selection at work.. lots of cooks vying to be head chef.. arguing and pontificating about the problem.. coming up with a long list of potential problems .. I put my hands up .. I’m just as bad myself but I’m standing back, hoping there will  be a quick solution and we can get on our way. Or not.. It doesn’t want to jump.. the voltage showing on the dash is only slowly climbing to 12V.. and the starter is dead.. I’ll give it 10 minutes .. there is a motorcycle shop 20ft away as luck would have it but they don’t have the right battery .. fancy that .. they only have small 6V batteries .. 5 minutes .. I suggest they get a car battery and run some long leads from the luggage box to the battery .. nope, they don’t like that idea ..  2 minutes .. there is a lot of discussion as to what the problem is.. and not a lot of proposed solutions.  I’m not a mechanic and I hate electrics but these situations demand some sort of systematic approach.. I’m not some big hero swooping in with a solution .. but this approach is not working and we’re quickly running out of time so I just grab the big chef’s hat and my jump leads and dive in .. jump leads.. not to the battery terminals but to the actual leads to the engine.  Engine jumps straight away, but take the jump leads off and the bike stops immediately. The battery is completely fucked  Take the battery out the equation.  Buy 2 6V batteries, connect them in parallel and sacrifice my jump leads to make leads to run from the panniers.  We quickly get it all connected up.  The batteries are only intended to turn over a engine with a tiny yogurt pot of a piston and they don’t have the amps to turn the RT but jump start it and it will now run on its own.

IMG_5816 IMG_5832 IMG_5840 IMG_5849 IMG_5855We’re running late now and the weather is overtaking us.  We get to the gate at the start of the Everest road, buy a ticket to ride and head off and up.

IMG_5858 IMG_5863 IMG_5910 IMG_5911 IMG_5915Its a slow, wet, slippery and freezing cold ascent.  A complete contrast to the last time I was here.  If you’re coming.. do yourself a favour and do it earlier or later in the season.  Get close to Everest and you suddenly see that big brother has beaten you to it.  More cameras and more checks.  And a big new carpark. Unfortunately since the last time I was here Everest has gone all ‘Disney’.  20km out you have to park and board electric coaches to take you up to the camp.  No more pictures with that epic backdrop  .. what a bloody shame that is ..

P1010922 P1010929And Everest is playing hide and seek anyway.. occasionally pulling back the veil of cloud to show a glimpse of shoulder .. a flash of neck .. a spot of cleavage .. just teasing and tantilizing..  it’s there.. it’s right there .. P1010928Just retire to the cafe.. use the wi-fi.. yes really .. and retire to our cold cell for the night.  I sleep like the dead in these places.. I absolutely love themIMG_5965Get up before dark and walk up the road to try my luck again but the Everest is obviously a late riser and has the blanket wrapped tightly around itself.  I can’t say I blame it.IMG_5968

Get back to the car park and the BMW is proving a bitch to start again.  See the listening thing again .. I said yesterday you need to put the jump leads to the copper of the leads to the bike, not on the battery terminals as they’re just soaking up every last amp like hungry little birds in a nest.  Two of the riders fuck off despite the fact their mate is in the car park with a dead bike .. thanks for that .. but we press the jump leads to the copper and it’s off.. ready to rock.   A couple of damp cold hours later we’re shaking hands and saying our goodbyes.. more with relief than sadness .  I’m like a service station sandwich.  I’m lovely on the outside but completely shit on the inside .. and I know it.

I’m looking for our new guide.  The group is splitting here, one group heading east to Lahsa and Laos and three of us going west into Nepal.  The guide is going east.  We have a driver.  ‘Where is our guide?’ .. he’s 250km away on the border town with Nepal .. of course he is .. so we’re on our own.  They know there are no checkpoints between here and there so they save their money and let us loose alone.  I doubt it’s legal and I don’t really care.  I doubt we’ll need the guide between here and there.  What could possibly go wrong..

Well for the first 30 minutes anyway ..

We’ve ridden back to Tingri, into the petrol station, and they’re empty.   The next one is 250km or so.  The driver is with us but he doesn’t speak any english.  We ride into the village and the guide has a chat with some locals.  This obviously happens quite a bit and the locals hide a bit of fuel away.  We get an offer .. 20 litres .. for £80.  400% markup.  Now I don’t mind being exploited to a certain degree.. but 400% is way beyond my threshold.  The little bloke has run off to the get the fuel but he’s been gone an hour already and he’s obviously trying to scrounge fuel from other people and make his cut.  Christ only knows what he could be putting in a can.  We’ve had enough.  I’ve got  bit of fuel in my rotopax.  We leave the driver with £40.  Take it or leave it when the bloke comes back.  We need to leave.  So we head out into the wilderness at 50mph to see how far we can get.

We’re doing well.. holding our nerve.. eking out the fuel .. but I chicken out just before another big mountain pass to stop and share my can out between myself and the Tiger800. Ok.. let’s play

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The Chinese tunnel moles are busy burying themselves under this mountian and so the road has been left to go to rack and ruin but things like this are always fun. Then get to the bottom and spend the next hour running along a smooth and sinuous strip of black cut through a gourgeous gorge.  Nothing .. absolutely nothing stop the Chinese road builders.

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We’ve still a way to go and I think the bulb in my fuel light is going to blow it’s been on so long now.. when we come round a corner and there like a mirage is a fuel station.  Our guide can’t have been this way as he said there was no fuel before the border.. Perhaps it isn’t real.. or has no fuel.. or no electricity .. but it’s all good and we all pile in and let the horses take a good long drink.  You don’t realise how tense your body is until you release it.. my shoulders come down from my ears .. my lungs breath all the way out .. my bladder decides it has 2 gallons it needs to get rid of.  We saddle up.. get the whips back out and beat the beasts down the road towards the border.

Get to the town and the electricity is out all over.. lots of dead neon and generators banging away in the streets.   I’ve really enjoyed this section despite everything.  I hope everyone has.  Tibet is one of the most amazing places  on the planet and I could never get tired of it.

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Next morning, the sun is shining and we’re of to the border with Nepal.  The scenery has changed again.. all lush valleys.  Yesterday I woke up at Everest base camp, this morning looks more like Austria.

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Get to the border with our new guide.  I think he’s just helping out .. he is too efficient to be associated with the others we’ve met.  We think we’ll be through in a moment and on our way but there is a problem.  Luckily I still have one more empty page in my catalogue of disasters that Tibetmoto have provided me with.  Apparently now our guide has been sent the wrong paperwork and we need to get some more sent over from Kashgar .. excellent… Tibetmoto .. I won’t tell you again..

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