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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..

walk back through the city though.. jesus .. IMG_7065 IMG_7068 IMG_7070 IMG_7078 IMG_7079

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.

India

up up and away

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..

Nepal

Back to Tibet

I’ve not crossed at this border before.  Irkeshtam – I’d had a quick google.. it looked like a couple of old abandoned vehicles and a shed but just like the Tourgart border I usually go through, the Chinese have moved all their muscle right up against the fence with Kyrgyzstan.   Army checkpoints and a load of big sheds  full of lorry xray machines and such like.  This is the just the first layer of the Chinese security onion that runs all the way into Kashgar.  I’m a bit concerned that my drone will soon be alone .. in a  dusty pile of confiscated gizmology somewhere.. I’ve got to work out how to get through this but it looks tricky.  A lot of people with absolutely nothing better to do than piss on your fireworks..

I’m not the leader of this group.  We bummed a ride along with another group of 3 and 1 other.  So I don’t really know the details of who/what/when. What I do know how to do though is .. wait.  Don’t ask.. don’t push .. don’t .. just don’t.  Just wait .. are you sitting comfortably .. then I’ll begin

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A couple of Chinese guards come in for a ‘chat’ .. a chat at a Chinese border is never just a chat .. ‘where have you all come from’ .. ‘where are you going’ .. its at this point we’re all wondering if you should mention the T word or not.  We shouldn’t be in this situation.  The guide should be here.  Tibetmoto .. no no . just don’t.. really.. DONT!!  I’m not impressed already and it only gets worse. I would’t usually diss a company but they’re shit.  If you’re doing something like this avoid the parasites like Tibetmoto and go straight to someone like Navo.  This has been a public service anouncement …

The ‘chat’ is getting a little more intense, and we’re all skipping round the T word until we’re asked directly, whereupon our guide appears, just in the nick of time, and drowns the guards in a mountain of paperwork.

We’re lead round from desk to desk, from personal scanners to luggage scanners to truck xray machines .. I even have to put my knob in a scanner to have a wee.. The truck XRay machine is the tricky one… all luggage on .. park in the middle .. wait ..

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And we’re through to the other side in a couple of hours.  That’s not too bad .. except that the XRays have to be checked again centrally in another building in Kashgar.. and it’s lunchtime .. I flip ‘wait mode’ to on .. close my mind .. There is going to be whole lot of this ..

We decamp to a scrubby row of buildings .. follow the good smells rather than the bad.. and get something to eat.  Even here, in the middle of nowhere, all the little 1 man hole in the wall shops have riot shields and various fuck off twatting equipment to subdue anyone unfortunate to end up there ..

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3 hours later .. wait mode off..  and we’re moving again.  Moving to the next layer of the onion .. the immigration and customs building a couple of hours away. At this point we’re still transients .. no passport stamps… no documents .. just vagrants.  Get to customs and I’ve not been through this one before. Another small town of buildings with a few small people knocking about inside, all with the job title ‘Oxygen Thief’.  The guide is running about handing out pieces of paper left right and centre and trying to get something… anything done before they shut down for the day.  We get through immigration but the bikes have to stay the night.  This bit has always been a major ball ache and I hope it’s better this time.

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Get in a minibus to Kashgar.. here we go .. that wasn’t too bad .. ‘what? .. we just have to stop at the police station on the way out’ .. ohhhh k.  This is already our 10th police check of the day..  You just cannot believe the way this area is locked down.  It’s like trying to go for a piss at home.. and having a police check at the bottom of the stairs .. and the top of the stairs .. and the toilet door .. and before you lift the lid .. (I know Roger .. you never lift the lid .. but you get my drift) .. then having all the checks on the way back too .. it’s mad.  So this police check is a little more serious.  China uses facial recognition everywhere… EVERYWHERE .. and you have to be on the system before you get get through the following checks.  Eventually we’re let loose and on the expressway towards Kashgar .. here we go .. down the on ramp .. accelerate .. brake … and go for the next check.  YOU CAN SEE THE FUCKING CUSTOMS BUILDING FROM HERE … JEEEESUS….  The checkpoints have barriers inside .. just like Heathrow you put your passport on the panel then wait to be recognised .. or not .. back a bit .. left a bit .. right a bit .. closer .. closer still .. nope .. further away .. nope … smile .. scowl .. pull down your trousers and point your arse at the camera .. ping .. the gates open ..

Back on the bus.. accelerate .. 10 minutes later .. here we go again .. and again… and again… maybe 5 checkpoints before Kashgar.. same process.. same problems .. just identical layers of the onion ..

Kashgar itself .. Jesus .. it was bad last time I was here but now .. All the roads have cameras on all lanes at about 500m intervals.. and they take pictures of every vehicle that passes underneath. There are cameras on the streets at maybe 50m intervals.. you absolutely cannot get away from them.  They are everywhere.  Someone was telling us about someone they knew that crossed a road but didn’t use a crossing.. he got a fine by text within 20 seconds ..

Next morning … breakfast .. shall I eat todays bread .. or yesterdays .. difficult decision  ..

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Get on the minibus and embark on another 3 hour checkathon out to customs to collect the bikes.  They’re all still there.. they’re as used to waiting as we are ..

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“dum de dum de dum de dum” … repeat for 2 hours .. then ride back through all the checks .. again .. By the time we get to the last check just outside the city we’re all just about checked off.. my face aches with the effort of trying to get through a 1000 recognitions .. and my fuckedoffometer is in the red.  Perhaps not the best time to encounter a c*nt in a cops uniform.  We’ve been let loose by the guide to just ride back to the hotel.  We’re racing through the traffic like 2 wheeled top guns.. swarming and letting off steam.  We get to a big line of traffic about 1km from the hotel and I filter to the front.. where there is a little policeman   Motorcycles are not allowed in the city..  I know that.  He is telling me to turn around and  go back out .. but my body currently has a little addrenaline filled demon at the controls and I’m just not in the mood .. the lights change .. and he jumps in front of me .. and for some reason the demon just decides to pull away anyway .. and give the policeman a glancing blow as I go .. that was right at the very bottom of my good ideas list .. and he’s on the radio immediately .. bollocks..

Get to the hotel.. and the other riders are .. quite rightly .. not happy with me.. even though they all followed me through past the police .. ummmmmmmmmm….. I’m really not sure that was my finest moment .. my mind has already been through a million combinations of expulsion to public flogging to having to eat 2 day old bread .. and 90% of what it is coming up with is bad news.. The only positive thread I can cling too is that the bikes aren’t yet registered and I had my helmet on ..

We all go for a walk round town for the afternoon.  I vary my walk .. keep my head down .. wear glasses .. whatever .. I’m properly shitting myself ..

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I go to the big supermarket and treat myself to a last supper of my fvourite meal ..  milk.. and a nurse ..

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Then take a wander to the night market.  This place is crawling with police.. all carrying their own favourite forms of suppression.  One has a riot shield with a half moon serrated cut out in the top for holding people down by the neck .. I look at each one .. who will it be that gets the call on the radio to grab me and smash in my back door and let a load of cockroaches loose up my chuff  ..

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Back to the hotel.. and a long night.. afraid to sleep .. waiting for the knock on the door .. but nothing happens .. maybe they’re waiting in reception .. maybe by the bike in the car park .. what a twat!   But there is nobody there.. my blood pressure is going from min to max every 5 minutes ..

Today is vehicle inspection.  Previously this has been in some semi derelict hovel stinking of piss and shit, with one woman and an ancient computer.  Ive not been here for a couple of years though and this year it’s an all new facility right next to the vehicle and licencing office 35 miles outside town.

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Here we go.. again .. wait for this .. wait for that.. read a few books .. have a sleep .. ok .. ready .. steady .. Captain clipboard comes over with a policeman and they start going through the bikes.  They want a rubbing of the frame number to put on the paperwork for each bike.  Now… I have brought a Ktm through here before.. and I know the Ktm has a sticker.. not an etched frame number.  Last time the guide and the clipboard came to an arrangement because they cant get a rubbing .. but not this time.  He tries to get a rubbing.. fails .. does all the other bikes.  When I’m not looking the little fucker leans in and starts to trys and pull my frame number sticker off the frame ..

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“HOOOOLD it right there mate .. what exactly the hell do you think you are doing?”  TibetMoto .. No .. remember..  ‘Cannot do bikes then’ and just flounces off in a strop.  OK, thanks for your help .. tosser…

So now I have a problem.  The policeman won’t sign any of the forms as all bikes have to be done together. And they won’t do my bike without an etching .. of a sticker ..

Bugger this… I get a small screwdriver.. and right in front of the policeman I etch my frame number into the brand new aluminium panelling of his shiny new building .. take a rubbing .. give it to him..

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Then he decides he wants to check the engine numbers.. time for my blood pressure to rise again.. I forgot to check if the alumininum panel was still stuck on .. but it is.. and mine is the easiest to check by far due to it being stuck in plain sight right on the side of the crankcase ..

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Job done.  That was easy …

The journey back to Kashgar is another fuckfest of checks and waiting in the burning sunshine.  One of the riders gets a strop on about the way tourists are treated .. and gets short thrift from the guide.. which I agree with .. “you are in China, you abide by Chinese rules” .. except for running into policemen obviously.  The rider says he is going to write to the Chinese embassy and complain .. yep .. good luck with that.  I suspect that will be about as effective as pissing on a California wild fire ..

Back in Kashgar and my confidence is slowly growing.. I might have dodged this particular bullet .. maybe my luck is in … I begin to feel invincible .. so I go down the night market and get a kabab.. if I can survive that .. I have morphed into Captain Scarlet and I’m indestructable ..

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Back at the hotel our Tibet guide has arrived and we all go down for a briefing.  I’ve done this a few times now, I know the rules, I know how things work, and I definately know how things don’t work.  One minute in and I can see we’ve got problems.  Question?  How do people who think they know everything ever bloody learn if they never listen?  That has always bothered me.  Some of this group have their ears on backwards and they’re just not listening.  Asking questions that have already been asked.. repeating wrong answers .. talking over each other.. utter confusion .. and the guide isn’t helping either.  He’s telling us to try and get petrol on our own.. try to get through the checks on our own .. the exact opposite of what I was expecting to hear, and unlikely to work given my experience in the past.   TibetMoto .. no.. I can’t say it enough.  So basically do what the fuck you want and I’ll see you somewhere later, that’ll work fine .. some of the group are really winding me up too .. paranoid about knowing our destinations to the nearest inch .. unwlling to take a shit without a GPS coordinate for a warm western toilet seat .. I have to spend some time alone .. I predict a fuckfest.. and I have to decide what to do ..

Up up and away

Kyrgyzstan

Out of Tajikistan is easy peasy.. I watch a couple of Tajik soldiers playing football.  This is one of the highest border crossing in the world but they play like they’re at sea level.  A cold and exposed place even in the summer. Take your boots off and step inside to the welcome of a wave of heat from the fire and the smells of cooking, nutty brown faces in the shadows. NASA should send their prospective Mars astronauts to places like these.. living on top of each other in isolation for long periods.

There are 25km of nomansland here before you get to Kyrgyzstan, but there are people living in the occasional hut and small farm along the route.. not something I’ve seen before.  I wonder how that works..

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The road is the perfect shit/spectacular mix and any pain of having your bollocks bashed by the seat is easily distracted by the spectacular scenery.  I’ve always loved Kyrgyzstan.  Other countries have their spectacular parts by in Kyrgyzstan it’s just everywhere.   Get the border.. boots off again .. into the ‘office’.  Nobody here again and the guard is a lovely bloke.. he just tells us to sit down and he fills in all the paperwork for us.  This border isn’t computerised so he writes little notes all over the customs forms to make sure we can leave with no problem.

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We’re meeting some other riders in Osh.. congregating for the next piece of the jigsaw.  The sun is dropping an it’s windy and cold.  We’re riding through the groves in the mountains, racing the shadows.  Get to Osh and it’s the usual .. why the hell don’t they just save their money and forget about traffic lights completely.   They’ve tried them, but they just don’t work round here.  Nobody gives a toss.  Put yourself in London mode.. push.. shove.. and dare the traffic .. it’s the only way through.  Get to a big overland hostel on the outskirts and meet our first rider.  He’s come over from London and been here a while.  I don’t think we’re going to get on… and I’ve not got off my bike yet..

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We’re early..about 5/6 days early..  You need contingency on these trips and we’ve not used any.  Travelling in a pair reduces the likely hood of problems.. unless one is riding the Devil’s daughter of course .. but we’ve done ok so far.

We decide to spend a couple of days here to rest up.  I hate resting up… resting makes me restless …

Get up.. breakfast.. looks good.. looks ‘normal’ for a change.  There are a varied collection of people here as usual, including the ‘I speak in a loud voice and love to tell everyone all about myself and never let anyone else get a word in edgeways’ knob… I could probably fit a fist in sideways mate so beware .. I know I shouldn’t get wound up by these muppets but they just grip my shit .. they waste my life ..

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Our room is right next to the toilets and they seem to be the busiest room in the place.  Judging by the smell there are a lot of people busy turning their bowels inside out and using every hole available to get alien bugs out their systems.. that’s not a good sign .. must be the campers.. probably vegans.. or veggies .. or Jains.  This is what happens if you don’t eat properly.. it’s like putting piss in a petrol tank ..  I don’t believe in a God.. I believe in Mother Nature and if you think you know better than her .. good luck with that. You fuck with her at your peril .. just look out the window

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Ahhhhhhhh… that’s better ..

After breakfast we wander down town.  It’s time for another shave and a haircut.  The hunt is on .. the sun is evil hot so we head for the cool cover of the market and search among the stalls for a man with a blade.

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No.. not that blade thanks .. something smaller ..

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You hear these places before you see them.. sounds of men laughing and chatting .. scissors clipping .. the occasional raised voice .. and the smell of .. blokes..

I’ve lucked out.. I get the big boss.. and the full treatment.. We chat away in my pigeon Russian.. families .. kids .. work .. I don’t know what ‘going away anywhere nice this year’ is in Russian but it was probably said and ignored.. At home I use a triple blade and shave once .. he uses one blade and shaves me 3 times.. skin like soft glass .. all the nerve ending exposed .. feeling every draft of air .. delicious.. and a haircut too, not that there is much of that to do.. I give him twice what he asks for and he starts singing ..

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We go for a wander.. someone is knocking at my door… my back door..  I think something is keen to get out so I head back to the hostel in the heat… feeling worse with every step.. fuck it!  I’m going down fast.  Get to the room ad let the pressure off but the bug has it’s claws in my guts and it seems happy to stay.  Lay down.. shut down.. I’m woken up by sicky burps .. my favourites.  I hate being sick.. I panic.. and I think my stomach is going to appear in the sink before my eyes.. get to the shower and honk… there you are you bastard.. it’s the ham from the omelette.. probably touched by one of the evacuees using the toilet outside .. or left in this heat .. either way it’s making an very unattractive sick pizza in the bottom of the shower.. back to bed for a few minutes .. 8 hours later it’s the middle of the night and I wake up with more sicky burps.. and something alien moving about in my stomach looking for an exit.  It feels like it’s trying to cut it’s way out .. I make it to the bathroom and the next thing I remember is coming round later looking at the ceiling .. the pain got really intense and I think I just passed out.. by this stage the alien has managed to work his way through the maze of my intestines and is ready to leave .. right now .. I’m sure there are scientists that have calculated the amount of thrust a human can produce.. well I seem to have the afterburners on too .. the sound is like pointing a hose in a bucket.. no chance of a splash even .. it’s all one way traffic .. I can actually feel the pain exiting my body .. brilliant.  Farts back to manual and we’re ready to go.

We decide to head north a few hundred kms for a ride out to Tokogul with our Kiwi friends.  They’re heading to Almaty to meet some friends and this will be our final day together.  They’re a lovely couple and I’ll miss their company.  If you see them about, wish them well and send them my love..

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The ride up is stupid hot.  I’m really getting tired of this heat.  I’m riding with all my vents and cuffs open to try and scoop as much air as possible.  As much air… and bees.  I feel something shoot up my sleeve and sting me.. bastard.  Stop.. take my jacket off.. a big dead bee drops out and I have a good swelling developing on my arm.  Jacket on .. ride away .. 10 minutes later .. the exact same thing happens again .. so now I have forearm like the world wanking champion and I can hardly get my jacket over it.  Get up to the lake and there is an old hotel perched by the water.  No rooms though apparently.  Fuckywank..  ‘Are you sure?’..  Here is her first reply..

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‘Yes’.. ‘really?’ .. ‘yes’ .. ‘could you check?’ . ‘I did’ .. ‘so no rooms at all’.. ‘No .. apart from Room 25’.. WTF!  Why do people do this?  Maybe room 25 is the scene of an ancient murder.. or it’s haunted .. who cares.  It’s a double so the Kiwis have the bed and we get the floor.  This place was obviously a Russian tourist hotel and it’s fallen into .. well .. disrepair would be an understatement .. but it’s on the lake and I can get horizontal under cover.. all my requirements are met..

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Next morning we wish the Kiwis a sad farewell and they head out and over the horizon..

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There are some kids in the car park.. one seems to be the unique owner of a kevlar skull.. christ knows how he did that ..

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Spend the day letting gravity take us slowly back south to Osh.  I say slowly .. but not slowly enough obviously.   I come round a corner in a small village and there is a hut outside the police station.. with a man with a gun pointed at me… a RADAR gun obviously.  I don’t know how this works out here.  I don’t think the police get payed anything at all.  I think they all just get turns with the gun.  I’m right outside the police station.  No words again… I just sigh.. roll my eyes .. give him about £5 .. get a nod .. ride off..

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Get back to Osh and the same hostel to meet with 3 of the remaining riders.. at least I get off my bike this time .. before deciding there are one or two that I won’t be sending Christmas cards too ..

We need to service the bikes.  Zorros .. a Swiss German I think.. has recently opened a fledgling business where you can do your own servicing and buy help for the difficult stuff.  He knows a welder too so I get my rack fixed.  I think this is what they call an ‘invisible repair’

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IMG_4538I’ve ripped open my trousers on the foot pegs and need a repair so I head own to the market again to find a menders.  I find one place.. that points me to another.. that points me to another.  Nobody wants to know.. I go back to the 2nd or 3rd place I looked at.. 2 old men bent over ancient sewing machines.. the air thick with glue and polish.. and I ask them again.. I grab a piece of old leather off a shelf and show them .. just patch it .. please .. I reach out my hand .. and he reaches out his.  He takes the trousers and sews while his mate takes broken shoes from people at a window and makes them serviceable again.  Shoes that would only be in dressing up boxes at home are standard issue here and can’t be thrown away.

 

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My feet are itching and I need to move.. now .. so we decide to ride down to Sary Tash and wait for the others to come down tomorrow.  Yet another beautiful ride .. how many times have I thought that this trip .. stop for dinner and meet a friendly  French couple who write travel books.. and restore my faith in the Gauls

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I see a boy on a horse.  The boy and the horse are obviously having an argument about something.  The horse is snorting and flaring it’s nostrils and twitching it’s hips and the boy is sitting totally relaxed on it’s back as it stomps around thinking of what its going to do next.. stop.. run .. buck.  I feel a real affinity with this lad.  We’re both sat astride our recalcitrant steeds.. wondering exactly who is in control.  I get off and have a chat.  He wants chocolate.. that’s all the kids want .. simple pleasures

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We plan on riding to Sary Mogul and we’ve got a tent booked at Mt Lenin base camp.  The location is given as the village,  and when we get there we’re directed to a track.. it’s an hour up there.. OOOOOOkkkkkkk.  We start down the road but quickly meet a river crossing.  I wade in up to my knees and can hardly stand up as it’s so running fast.. and it’s all rocky.  I look up ‘the perfect recipe for disaster’ and this has all the ingredients so we decide that discretion is the better part of valour and we go back to Sary Tash with our tails between our legs to find a door with a bed and a bog.. if you’re there .. Pamir Extreme.. an oasis amongst the ruins.

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We’ve got a day to kick our heels before we head east.. my heals are well kicked by now .. kicked to shit in fact .. so I take the camera for a walk around the village ..

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I come to a school.  Kids .. lots of kids out playing and lots of women in white supervising.  In the UK I would have already been arrested and put on a register for being this close to a school with a camera but out here they just want their pictures taken.  The kids all run to the fence and line up then the women just ask me to come in.. open the gates and line the kids up.. snap..

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One little kid comes over and I pick him up.  Without thinking I just pick him up and throw him way up in the air.  I used to do it to my kids.  My neighbours said they would just watch the kids appear over the hedge screaming then hear them laugh as they landed.  Anyway.. after a 5 second ‘flight’ the kid lands in my arms and starts laughing.. all good .. until I look down.  An orderly queue of 40 kids have all queued up for their flights .. and they’re all staring at me .. so I’m in a school throwing kids in the air .. just like I would be at home .. NOT .. I’ve done about 10 and I’m fucked.. we’re at altitude and kiddy throwing is hard work ..  and there is a smell .. quite a bad one..  Most of the flights have gone well but a few have obviously had ‘flight fright’  and they’ve literally shit themselves .. I’m getting about a 3/1 alright/shite ratio .. time to leave I think .. so I feign a heart attack and leave the ladies to clean the kids up .. good memories ..

I give the afternoon sun time to mellow and soften before I take a ride back towards Tajikistan to take some pictures.  The light is beautiful .. it like golden dust falling from the sky .. it’s falling on the grass .. on the horses .. on the mountains.  I get off the bike and just stand there to watch Mother Nature paint with the evening light.  Quick light brushstrokes fill the sky .. a thick dark shadow or two start to appear .. sharp lines become blurred and soft .. fuck .. FUCK I love Kyrgyzstan .. and I love this.. just this .. just this right here right now.. the golden globe of the camera just keeps turning and falling .. kill me now .. just kill me now..

Some kids from a lonely Yurt see me and come running through the light.. all giggles and smiles .. panting little bodies .. hair flying about in the wind… holding hands so the little one can keep up..

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created by dji camera

But I can’t die yet .. I’ve got a date to keep tomorrow .. the next page.. so I go back for my 1000000th bowl of plov and bumpy bunk bed for the night.  All the group is here now.. ready to play..

Next morning we’re up and ready to go early… ‘Gentlemen… start your engines’ .. ‘no not you sir… you with the BMW’  The starter switch is being met with silence.  It’s cold up here and the battery isn’t showing 12V .. it’s sort of working its way up to it .. 12V hoorah.. but no joy.  Its the amps mate.. that’s what you need .. and its all out of amps .. so we jump start it .. and cross our fingers.

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Out into the morning towards the Chinese border at Irkeshtam.  Fuck what a view.. riding alongside a ridge of white that is the Himalayas.. the scale of everything here is just ‘off’ .. just wrong .. just .. fuuuuck …

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Out of Kyrgyzstan we get a smile from the customs bloke as he reads the little notes from his mate at the other border.. a piece of cake.. just about as far away as you can get from what happens next …

Back to Tibet

Pamir we go

Tajikistan.   Probably one of those places most people have never heard of.  I made a point of deliberately not googling the fuck out of it before I left.. leaving it to describe itself to me in 3D surround sound and vision rather than on a small piece of glass.

The border is just like all the others round here.  Lots of big hats and guttural accents, headscarves and hijabs, people just moving from one place to the next.  Another tourist expedite zone too.  We’ve shown from one place to the next to the next.. pay our road taxes .. and pop out the other side  PDQ.  No insurance though ..

My thought was that Tajikistan was going to be a step back from Uzbekistan but I was wrong.  The same person who operated the humanity hoover has driven a beauty bulldozer right across Uzbekistan and piled it all up in Tajikistan.  The scenery immediately welcomes bikers with spiky mountains with tight narrow gorges, like riding through the wrinkles of an old mans face, then added some lakes and drinks cooled by running mountain streams ..

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Oh yea… and the Tunnel of Death ..

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5km unventilated and on a constant downwards slope to make you feel like Jules Verne on a journey to the centre of the earth.  Dark and wet and with the air bluer that during one of my best swearathons. They advise cyclists to get a lift through .. or they’ll be lifted out ..

Get to Dushanbe and an overland hostel.  Everyone is here for the same reason .. at the beginning or the end  .. the start or the finish .. the Pamir Highway .. hell yea.    Lots of boys toys .. some big .. some small .. some with lovely long brown legs, hair in plaits, and knickers drying on a line ..

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They take one look at us and decide that we’re too old and crusty to mix it with the yoofs so they direct us up the road to an old peoples home instead.  So we wade back out to the bikes through the ankle deep bullshit and bollocks and hashish fumes and go to the abandoned building round the corner.  We’re on the 180th floor I think.  No lift.. 45 degrees .. and dead bodies on the stairs like the approach to the Everest summit. Fuck me sideways its hot..

Hot and sweaty calls for cold milk.  I’m thinking milk stations should be included on sat navs… every evening starts with a hunt.. I can almost sniff it out .. the smell of a cool dripping udder. Follow my nose down past some shops selling things with sell by dates that are either 70 years in the future or 30 years in the past, down to a main road.  6th sense says left .. steps getting quicker .. I can feel it’s close .. then I see some supermarket trollies .. shit I’ve not seen any of those for about 3 weeks .. I’m running now .. addiction driving me forward .. I’m in .. where is it?  WHERE IS IT … there it is .. natural.. strawberry… banana .. HELL YES.. I’m in… standing in the cooler with a pint in each hand .. pouring it in stereo .. Strawnana flavour ..  Get to the checkout with a dozen empty containers and half a dozen full ones .. milk dripping down my chin .. that should do for tonight …

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Dushanbe to Osh.. the Pamir Highway.  You can get a taxi no problem .. for about $1000 dollars. You can sit in a 4×4 in a cloud of dust and be thrown about like a small teddy bear in a washing machine for 5 days, or you can strap on a pair of tight sports pants, write a short letter to your loved ones, fill up, fuck off and ride the bastard..

We’re heading for Kalaikhum, a little town with it’s face pressed up against the border with Afghanistan. Again, I deliberately didn’t Google the Pamir, other than to identify the route.   Surely I’ll know it when I see it .. this is pretty .. is this it?

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Nope .. oh well .. this then?

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Really?  Still no?  … what about this..

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In my mind the Pamir Highway doesn’t really start until Khorog but who cares .. it’s just a name .. and this will do for me.  We get to the Afghan border, I think I’ll go for a paddle

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or maybe not ..

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Afghanistan.  It’s just there .. just 100m away from me.  100m separating sectarianism from sanctuary.  It’s surreal to stand at one end of the bridge to the border.  Like ‘awesome’ and ‘amazing’ and all the other words that have been overused to the point of  pointlessness .. surreal is what this is.  The Russians.. Bin Laden .. ISIS .. death and destruction.  And here I am on my bike, staring the entrance.  Maybe sometime I’ll have the nerve to go in ..

The road soon turns to shit as it threads itself between the tight shoulders of the mountains with the river rushing between.  Seldom have I seen such a natural border as this.

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We’re climbing and falling and the bitch is on fire .. almost.. the temperature is going through the roof again and I have to stop to let her cool down.  This is getting to be worry now.. and pretty bloody annoying too.

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We come to a section with a big waterfall coming off the mountain and across the road so I ride underneath it and stop.  The weight of the water is punching my head and shoulders and screaming in my ears .. the bitch is steaming beneath me and I’m wondering what her problem is..  It’s loosing coolant but not a massive amount .. the fan is on all the time.  We’re quite high but that shouldn’t make much difference.  Christ knows.. perhaps at her age she’s just getting hot flushes ..

Get to Kalaikhum and the electricity is out.  Cans are the order of the day ..

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There is a hotel in town, and from the car park outside it looks like this is for the tourists who only like dust on the other side of a piece of glass.  It has it’s own generator and sits with its middle finger in the air to everyone on the outside

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Guest house ‘shepherds’ greet you as you turn across the bridge into town and we’re corralled into a small guest house by the river.  Cheap and cheerful and full of restless souls.  Two of the souls are nice middle age Kiwis couple on a Tiger 800.  They started in the UK too and are riding all the way home over 7 months.  Word is the riding gets a bit more serious from here on so we decide to ride together and see how it goes.  We spend the night in a sweatbox while the taxi drivers get the penthouse with the river view.

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I love places like this in the morning, everyone wandering about half asleep trying to synchronise their own morning routines with everyone else,  sharing a single sink, shivering in with a mixture of the chill and excitement.

The town has been treated to about 200m of tarmac then it’s out onto the rough.   The road and the river, Tajikistan and Afghanistan moving left and right together like perfect dance partners, always close but never touching.   Villages are visible cross the water, people too, sometimes waving as they pass on horseback .. AK47s that is .. not hands ..

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It’s a beautiful road, it’s an amazing road, but it’s a hard, slow and dangerous road too.  The temperature is mid 40s again and the Bitch is boiling.  Every opportunity I get.. every time I see running water.. I have to stop throw water over it, wait a few minutes .. carry on .. IMG_3902

Find some kids washing some cars in the middle of nowhere .. a completely pointless operation .. do something useful instead and try to put out the fire in the Bitch’s belly .

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I’m stopped in the shade, letting the bitch cool down … again .. and I suddenly see a priest.  What are the chances?  Right.. mate.. over here .. please can you exorcise this bitch for me .. I’ll try anything ..

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I can feel the tension rise as he approaches .. I can hear metalic tinkling as the Bitch tenses herself for a fight .. I see him grab his cross and start mumbling low chants .. and the next thing I see is him running for the river with his cassock on fire and his beard ablaze .. sorry mate .. it seems this Bitch really is the daughter of the devil..perhaps she belongs on the other side of this river..

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Fuck what a road that is.. I’ve been lucky to ride some good routes but this one is quite special.

Towards the end of the day the sun seems to be coming in to land directly on the back of my head.  Hotter and hotter and hotter.. we come to a small town with a river full of kids .. make that a river full of kids and 2 bikers in full biker kit .. Mark the Kiwi and I just walk down to the river surrounded by kids .. convinced we’re going to stop .. they’re definitely going to stop .. I bet you they stop .. we don’t stop .. we just walk straight in .. full leathers .. and in we go.  It’s not until I’m up to my neck I remember my money and my phone .. oh well .. they’ll have to take their chances ..

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Get to Khorog, nice hotel with a hen party going on in the restaurant.   This particular hen looked like she had already laid quite a few eggs.. and she liked her music LOUD.  The sort of LOUD where you can feel your ears actually moving with the base, and your food vibrates in front of your face.  I ordered … it doesn’t matter what I ordered because the bloke couldn’t hear me anyway .. so got plov by default.. I do like a bit of plov with my bass though..

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From Khorog you can either take the road directly east to Murghab .. or you can take the diversion south and loop through the Wakhan Corridor.  Bollocks .. no choice .. we’re going to take the Wakhan route.. I know I won’t regret it ..

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I’m about a mile in and I’m regretting it already .. christ this road is an absolute shitter.  Rough as arseholes with deep sand and even worse .. deep gravel.  The three of us come into a small village where the bloke with the gravel truck has obviously got bored and just dumped the whole bloody lot.  We’re all going too fast .. up to our tits in small round polished greased pebbles .. slewing about like 3 elephants on ice.  Some bloke chooses this exact moment to get out of his car and step right into our path.. and leave his door open.. leaving us next to no room to get through.  How on earth nobody got hit I’ve no idea.  Given a million tries, this is the only one that would have ended without disaster.  Must have looked spectacular though.

I can always tell how shit the riding has been by the number of pictures I take and on this section I think I took .. 1

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The destination is just a small collection of houses.  Follow a hand painted sign down a rocky track.. sound the horn and some very grateful local will come out and steer you towards their home stay where you can inspect the damage of the day ..

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My tyre rack has snapped, my number plate is hanging by a single bolt and several bolts from the luggage rack have MIA.

We’ve managed to avoid death all day but someone out there still wants to get us.  Mark goes into the ‘shower room’ reaches up to turn the water on at the shower head and gets a big shock.  Electricity and water aren’t best mates obviously and they’ve got acquainted somewhere.  He chickens out and takes his singed body hair back to his room.  I just grab a rag, walk in, reach up, turn it on.. it’s a bit tingly .. I quite like it ..

We all sit around on the floor for more plov before settling down for the night with the mozzies.

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Between us and Murghab lies the Khargush pass.  Ever heard of it?  Neither had I.  It’s on the list of the worlds most dangerous roads.  Dangerous usually means spectacular.  Its an arse clenching sandy windy steep and loose hideously corrugated cold and inhospitable bitch of a road.  It’s one of the best roads I’ve ever ridden.

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The Bitch is really really really unhappy today.  She really chooses her moments.  I think yesterday didn’t do her any good, all day with her tits and arse bouncing about.  She’s loosing water and there isn’t much of that up here.  I don’t want to turn her off.  Who knows if she’ll ever start again, so she’s being punished to within 1 bar of her maximum.  Eventually we get to a check point, complete with a cold stream.  I wash her down, fill her up .. wish I’d bought a [insert any other bike on earth here] instead ..

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Eventually we spot tarmac on the horizon and spend the last couple of miles getting ever faster like the ground could collapse beneath us at any point.. Jesus .. what a ride that was.. not that the future looks to bad either

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I’m running low.  Get to a village and ask .. follow the pointing fingers to a small house.  Knock on the door.. yep .. this looks just like my local Texaco ..IMG_4085 IMG_4088 IMG_4089 IMG_4091

Get to Murghab and a nice hotel for about $15, plus another $20 dollars an hour just to sit in a comfy chair and watch the receptionist.

I’m looking for a drone spot .. I jump on the brakes.. I get off the bike ..where is that coming from?  There is water on the road.. and it’s coming from under the covers somewhere..

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I’ve got to look at the Bitch.. see what’s occurring.  I get the side panel off and the problem is immediately obvious.  Another KTM genius decided that the overflow pipe would run between the reservoir tank and a sharp piece of plastic.  The shaking and vibration has made the reservoir tank shake about and pinch the pipe against the plastic.  It’s nearly cut all the way through.  I need to take the reservoir off then I can probably cut and shorten the pipe for now.  In these days of ‘that’s two hours labour to take that off mate’ you need to take the tank off to get at the reservoir mount .. and so all the plastics have to come off as well .. but as luck would have it Mark the Kiwi is an avid collector and purchaser of random products from petrol stations promising all sorts of miracle cures to all automotive ills.. and he’s got some magic tape that supposedly seals onto itself and can fix split hoses.  He’s having a good day and he’s smiling. a) because he just had a shower and b) because there was an uninhibited French girl walking about in the showers with her pert lady bumps on display .. perhaps the French aren’t so bad after all.    5 minutes later.. job done..amazing

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Get up.. mind the cows .. fuel up and head out into the amazing morning light you just only get at these altitudesIMG_4134 IMG_4139 IMG_4143IMG_4093

Follow the Tajikistan exit signs towards Kyrgyzstan.  Just like the exits of your local supermarket, the last bit of the journey is lined with treats and temptations .. and I’m tempted .. I’m tempted to just turn around and just do the whole thing  again .. IMG_4206 IMG_4203 IMG_4159 IMG_4153 IMG_4162 IMG_4168 IMG_4175 IMG_4164

Kyrgystan

If you can’t Stan the heat

We  were warned… Leaving Russia is like being pushed through a door and having it slam shut behind you.  In this case it’s an oven door, and we’re on the inside, staring out though the glass back at mother Russia.  You can’t go back, the only way is forward, and the only option is the semi derelict, comical road leading off from the border towards Atyrau.  Deep breath, pack your pants carefully and go.  The road is just complete bollocks for miles and miles.  It’s low 40s and I’m sweating my tits off.  There is sweet FA out here except camels, heat and potholes.  After about 300km we stop for fuel.  It’s so fecking hot out here that they have people pumps next to the petrol pumps.  You stand there while the attendant sticks the pump into your mouth and pulls the handle in .. the numbers spin round until you’re rehydrated and the pump cuts out.  I took 20 litres .. not bad …

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Into the shit we go again .. lots of lorries crawling about through the mess, clouded in dust, spitting and howling in low gears and pumping out dense cancer clouds.  Overtaking these things is a test of faith.  You’ve no bloody idea what they can see and you’re completely and utterly blind.. just the feel of the wheels crashing and sliding about underneath you as you open the throttle and hope.  You can chew the air as you pass, crunching the sand between your teeth.

We’ve seen nothing for miles and miles.  You begin to think you’ve missed a turn to ‘humanity’ and you’re heading off into hell.  Then a building appears in the distance.. its a truck stop of sorts.. a small cafe where people can get out of the sun.  Ride across the powder sand and into the sanctuary of the building.  i think the over timer went off ages ago and I’m well overcooked ..

Get some eggs and bread and as much liquid as they can carry from the kitchen.

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There are a couple of the truck drivers sitting at another table and one of them is trying to talk to us.  Or rather he’s just trying to talk .. it’s proving quite difficult for him due to the fact he is absolutely shit faced.  He’s so drunk he forgets to swallow when he drinks so when he opens his mouth, all the liquid he just poured in comes running out and down his chin on to the table. He’s a fucking mess.  Him and his mate get up, walk out, fire up, drive off.  We’ll be trying to overtake him in a few minutes ..

Get to Atyrau and its stupid hot now.. about 46 .. and my sweat glands are all wide open and gasping like coy carp being fed. Come to some lights. Sit. Wait. Watch the bars climbing… the bike was running like a bitch on the way in and it’s really unhappy.  Do I switch it off or not?  I’m in a big queue .. pushing it in this heat will be bad .. eventually I chicken out and turn it off.  The lights go green.. turn the switch .. hit the button … “fuck off” is the replay from the engine bay … Horns are blasting behind me.. people are squeezing past rushing to beat the lights .. 3 more changes of light later .. try again .. same answer .. fuck you bitch…

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I wait 10 minutes .. try again and it starts.  I’m taking no prisoners and I spend the next 10 minutes punishing the bike in the heat.  Making it scream.  Making it suffer.  I get to the hotel and its hot again so I just get a couple of water bottles, fill them up with stinking water and pour them over the engine.  The whole lot fizzes and hisses like a cat in a cage, bad smelling steam filling my nostrils.  I take the panels off – it’s losing water but it’s not obvious from where.  All I can do is refill it and hope it shows itself one way or the other… something to fill my mind with as we head across the barren wilderness ..

Next morning we know it’s a long hall across blank lands.  Running the gauntlet between shadows 100s of miles apart. Someone left the oven on overnight too and it’s roasting.  Go to the petrol station, take my fuel can off and go to get it filled… “Niet” .. sod off mate, just fill this up .. I’m not in the mood for arguing .. I’m in the mood for watching a human torch run the 100m in 5.5 seconds to that river over there  … “Niet”.. WANKER!!!!!!!  As luck would have it a police car pulls on to the forecourt and I grab the copper as he rushes for the air conditioned sanctuary of the shop.  Show him the can, point at the ‘benzine’ stamped in it .. and he tells the attendant to just do it and stop fucking about ..   As we’re filling up there is a huge smash on the road outside as 3 cars play metal origami.  I award the prize to the white Lada whose front end now resembles The Shard.  As if by magic, out rushes the policeman .. perhaps they have Minority Report out here .. he was just waiting for that to happen.

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Out we go.  As usual the wind is playing in the emptiness that starts as soon as you leave town.  Running around in circles, rushing from one side to the other, breathing in and breathing out, playing blow motorcyclist and trying to score points by putting you in a ditch.

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It’s hotter than yesterday.. my nose is burned 5 layers deep and feels like a thick piece of cardboard.  Whose bloody idea was this?  Jesus..

Get petrol .. on a 1 to 1 ratio with water .. sit in the shade and feel my tongue return to normal size as it sucks up liquid like a sponge.  Watch a fat bloke go into the shop .. I think he was looking for a recharge too  – he’s bigger coming out than he was going in ..

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It’s the middle of the day and the sun seems to be sitting about 100m off the ground.. we can see a cafe … one two three .. go .. like running across baking tarmac in bare feet .. oohhh ahhhh ooooh ah ah ah ooooooo … and we in .. safe for now..  get to the sinks .. get half naked .. run my shirt under the tap and put it back on .. nothing like a bit of thermal shock to get your heart pumping ..

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Even out here in the absolutely middle of bum fuck nowhere we meet friendly english speaking locals keen to cross their lives with ours for a few minutes… crossing tracks as we make our separate ways across the planet. We get talking to a Tajik oil worker making his way back from Aktau on the Black Sea coast.  He gives his number .. ‘any problems just call me’.. You’re unlikely to get that on the M4 services ..

We’re heading to Beyneu near the border to Uzbekistan.  Someone has been along the route with a humanity hoover and removed all signs of life, then you get a small congregation of buildings where they have emptied the bag..

The heat is getting almost unbearable now, and humid too.  We’re stopping as often as we can.. which is every couple of hours out here.  We’re still at least two hours out.   Just counting the Ks.. reeling it it .. making all sorts of promises to mind and body if it can just keep it’s shit together until we get there.

‘There’ is a small hotel amongst the collection of random buildings that is Bayneu.  Looks ok.  There are 3 French GSs (what else..) outside, looking used .. and abused.  Fuck me.. it NEVER fails to amaze me how some people pack .. OK.. I’m going on a long trip .. best get onto the Touratwat website, tick the ‘select all’ button and throw as much unnecessary shit at the bike I as can, attach it to wherever there are spare nuts and bolts to hold it on.  And I’m going to camp.. so what I need is a 3 ring circus tent, a 15 person gas barbecue and cutlery for 3 peice place settings .. and see these massive panniers, they have a lovely flat space on top.. a place to stash my dinner jacket, 15 pairs of shoes and as much other unnecessary shit as will fill this oversized bag that arrived from that other overland website .. in fact 2 of them turned up so I can pack my paddling pool too .. and pillion .. I’m not carrying a pillion am I .. seems a shame to waste that space .. I’ll put another fucking great body bag up there to rest my back on .. and then I’ll strap a pair of tyres on the front .. just enough room for me .. perfect ..

Yea.. perfect.. that’s why you’ve tuned up here on a 6 month old GS with a pogo stick for a rear shock mate .. that’s why you’ve had to crawl the last few 1000K feeling like you’re in open sea on a small boat ..   Anyway.. enough ranting .. now .. the French bit..

I haven’t got a problem with the French per se, but this lot are a bunch of arrogant wankers that pretend not to speak English and just reply in monosyllables, and they treat the hotel staff like low life and I do not like that at all .. Most bikers you meet on trips like this are friendly and keen to swap experiences, share knowledge and just enjoy being alive but this lot have all taken C@*T exams and passed with flying colours.  It’s not often I meet such a complete bunch of twats ..

So we check in and the lady gives us a room downstairs. It’s fine.. the AC is noisy but who cares.  Then she comes in all apologetic and says she has got a better room upstairs so we move up there,  We’re going out to get some provisions .. where is my wallet?   Shit… I’m starting low on the panic scale .. holding it at level 1 .. it’s here somewhere .. it has to be .. when was the last time I had it .. 2 hours ago .. level 3 .. 2 hours in 46 degrees away .. in a truck-stop .. am I really sure it isn’t here?  Ask the hotel lady if she has seen it .. nope .. level 6 … I have a spare card on the bike but no spare driving licence .. 7 .. FUCK IT.. I’m going to have to ride back 2 hours and see if I left it ..in 46 degrees .. and then back.. I get on the bike, ride down to the shop and buy a load of liquid .. get on .. head out .. level 8 …

As I’m hankering down.. looking at the long black like heading out into the wilderness I feel a buzz in my pocket .. they’ve found it..  When we moved rooms it had fallen out of my pocket and gone under a couch.  One of the hotel ladies had crawled about looking for it and found it .. Hallelulia ..I instantly release the panic pressure valve and I’m down to a 0 .. go back to the hotel, grab the cleaner lady.. give her a big kiss and a cuddle, have a giggle .. thank the goodness of human nature .. and hate the Frenchmen even more for treating these lovely ladies like dirt ..

We go for a wander round the town.  Christ.. what future do these people have out here, trapped in a small prison of a town surrounded by sand.

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Next morning we’re up early.  We’ve a long way to go and a border in between.  I go down in the dark and see 2 of the hotel women asleep. They sleep under table in the dining room with a big sheet over the top to turn it into a tent.  Fuck sake … their smiles are instantly on though as they make me a breakfast of eggs and sleepy dust ..

Today is 500km to Nukus .. 499km of which is almost totally uninhabited.  I need extra fuel, I’m going to put some in my pockets .. some in my wallet .. and I’m going to literally fill my boots..

Get to  the fuel station.  They’re used to this.  People stocking up for the long journey.  They don’t care what you put fuel in so I fill a few water bottles and my can and strap them to the back then head out of town towards the Uzbek border.  The signs aren’t good.. a sand road leads out into the desert . but as if by magic it turns into a brand new spanking smooth band of blackness.  Get to the border, the road stops and its back into the sand to ride past the queues of trucks waiting patiently.  Get to the front and the border looks shut… time to fuel up ..

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The gates open and we’re let through and out of Kazakhstan in an instant. Only to join a huge queue into Uzbekistan.   The traffic is tunnelled into a narrow concrete channel and it’s full to bursting with cars waiting patiently in the ever growing heat.  In Italy this would be a horn fest, in other places this would be a fight, but here its just quiet.  People get out there cars and usher us to the front, squeezing past with microns to spare.  We’re like animals in a cage and women money changers patrol up and down with shopping bags full of cash .. yes really .. low denomination notes mean you can’t carry Uzbek currency in a wallet, you have to wear a rucksack.  We get to the front and go inside.  Uzbeks are like the Kazaks, super keen to encourage foreigners so we’re pushed to the front again but we refuse and let the ladies in front go first.  I am British after all …

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Hand over an inch of currency for some insurance.  This place feels like the desert equivalent of the Restaurant at the end of the Universe, full of weird creatures all waiting for .. who knows what ..

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When the planet designers were planning this area they just thought bugger  it… nobody will want to live in this hell hole.. we won’t waste any time, effort or resources on it, we’ll just leave it to scorch under the blazing son.  Shadows are too precious so we’ll allocate … none ..

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Riding out here you just begin to wonder.. mostly you wonder if you’re going to die.  It’s so hot here you fully expect to see Beelzebub stretched out on a towel by the side of the road.. glass of warm blood in his hand.. soaking up the rays .. keeping his lovely red tan topped up..

There is nothing here.. absolutely nothing.  I’ve ridden in some hostile places before but this is special.  It’s blank, flat, featureless and its waiting to kill you.  There is absolutely no relief at all.. anywhere.  I’m wearing my leathers.. and I’m spending all my time convincing myself that there must be an end to this.  I’m genuinely trying not to panic, to hold my nerve and just ride into the wobbly mirage in front of me.  All I’ve seen is a dot on a map, a symbol on a screen, and I have to trust that’s the truth.. that there is an end to this nightmare road.

I’m getting really fidgety and my tongue is filling my mouth.  I’m having real trouble concentrating.  I’m a MASSIVE idiot and don’t ever carry enough liquid with me . .ever. .despite being told by everyone I ever ride with.  My riding buddy has a camel pack and gets through gallons a day.. I sometimes have a 500ml bottle of juice with me, but today that’s in the past .. that was hours ago .. the road from the border is a bastard for the first 100km so it’s been slow going, and now I’m so thirsty I would drink my own piss .. if I could piss that is .. but then something appears on the horizon.  Something that isn’t just sand. It’s a semi derelict building.. with some trucks outside.. its the loveliest thing I have ever seen in my life.

Park under a cover.. and the heat is immediately reduced.  I take a look at my temp gauge, probably only about 30 here out of the sun

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Ummm .. nope.  Get inside.. past the inevitable Globe Busters stickers .. and into a room of fat sweaty bodies and flies.  Whatever .. who cares.. there is a fridge promising cold drinks .. at 45 degrees .. so I buy the bottom shelf and start pouring.  I just sit .. I’m a fly landing strip .. I don’t care.  They’re walking about all chatting to each other .. comparing shit .. complementing each other on their bad breath .. I just cannot be bothered.. I can feel the first 10 glasses going straight to my ankles.. then my knees, and by the time I get to my 3rd gallon I’m beginning to feel human again.  That was hard.  That was really hard.  But it’s not getting easier any time soon.  I’m feeling like a water ballon with legs as I waddle outside to sit in the shade with the other mentalists stupid enough to be here.

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Leave the sanctuary and run from the sun towards Nukus.  Still no fuel.  The problem is that 90% of the cars in Uzbek run on natural gas so proper fuel stations are very few and very far between out here.  By the time we get to Nukus my buddy on his GSA is reading 1 mile range.  Nukus is the end of the world if you’re going west but it’s the door to civilisation the way we’re going.  Shops .. milk even .. a decent resturant and hot showers ..

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Next morning, the usual in a new country, go find an ATM.  I find an ATM, then I find another, and another.  None of them work for me.  Uzbek ATMs only work for people with local bank cards.  This was a public service anouncement . You need to find an international ATM, usually in a big hotel.  A kindly local directs us to one and we press in some big number and stand back .. you know those card tricks where they send hundreds of cards flying in the air out their hands .. exactly…

We’re headed for Bukhara today.  550km.. easy peasy.. we’ve done the hard bit now.  I bet there are Starbucks every 10ft from now on .. Fact is, these towns have grown up around oases and once you leave you’re quickly watching civilisation dissappear like end credits in your wing mirrors.  Back to the desert and and the relentless heat again.  And in public service anouncement No2… never ride past a petrol station out this way.. or you could very easily be in trouble.  I went past one .. then hit a new concrete dual carrageway.  Ahhhhh ‘new’ will mean proper services and regular fuel .. I’ll just carry on .. I’ll be fine .. I tell you what .. the people that built this road must have bought a very very big bag of sandwiches and a 100 gallon thermos with them.. bloody thing goes on for 150 miles with nothing… NOTHING .. then a LPG station .. then NOTHING again. Nothing but heat and scrub desert.

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By the time we get to Bukhara the Bitch is back in to binary mode again.  On or off… fast or stop .. shit or bust..  our hotel is hidden down an alley off an alley off a smaller alley somewhere.  I’m bursting the bitch and she’s tearing a strip off all the walls with her noise, look in the mirrors and it’s all dust and falling masonry.  Good job there is nothing important round here .. Get the hotel and we’re told to bring them through to the inner courtyard as even the flies will take off with stuff from your bike round here.  Then 2 minutes walk out to the square

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I’ve always wanted to come here.  Anticipation is often one thing, and the reality is another but not here.  Go for a walk back in time .. way way back ..

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Amazing place.  Just amazing…

I need a shave .. and I’m sweating .. there is a droplet on the end of each follicle on my face.. I look like a dandelion covered in dew .. so I go hunting for a barber .. looking in the shadows .. looking through windows and doors .. looking for someone tooled up with a cut throat razor  .. I see a little white shed with a chair in it .. and a man in white.. that’s a good sign.. no blood .. unless he puts a new shirt on after every shave.  Fuck it.. my feet are sore, my bollocks are picked in sweat and I’d rather risk my life than walk another foot in this heat.  Go ahead mate, do your worst.

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Here we go.. lather/fly food first.  Give me a good covering and let the flies come and play all over my face like little kids in mud.  They’re having a great time while it’s taking me all my time not to twitch as the blade blade slowly skims my jugular.   I think the bastard adds something to the lather to keep the flies on his clients rather than on himself… clever man .. still… I don’t have any of the near death experiences I had with the Nigerian and leave with a face like tight silk hugging a warm breast.  I like it here .. I like it a lot.

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From Buhara its a short hop down to Samarkand.

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This time the hotel is a hostel down some sort of urban assault course, open drains and ditches, tight tight .. bugger me this is tight alleyways.  Get to the hostel and somebody has bought a tank, loaded it with BoHo shit, parked in the courtyard and spent two days firing at every wall and crevice.  Apparently they hit the fusebox too .. no electric.  46 degrees again and no AC.  Just before the hostel as we rode in I noticed a pool of water in a small square.  Possible a fountain.. possibly a pond .. definitely water based, and definitely my next destination. Dump the bike, walk down the road.. climb in … oh fuck me yes …

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So I’m sitting in the pond .. clothes on .. as you do.. and some small kids see me and decide they’ll jump in too.  They’re in.. they’re out .. they’re drinking enough of it to give me the shits for the rest of time ..  then there comes some shouting from down the street .. the kids stop .. then jump out and run for it as the noise gets louder and louder until a bloke with a raised fist and spittle dripping down his chin comes into view.  I’m guessing this is his pond I’m cooling my testicles in .. and bathing isn’t allowed .. OOOOOOOkkkkkkkkkk.. He looks at me.  You can see the decisions going round in his head.. I look at him .. stop pissing in the pool immediately .. and smile .. he just looks .. turns .. leaves .. another win for international relations.

I squelch back to the hotel, change and go and feet my eyes on some more sights ..

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A quick breakfast surrounded by youthful women.. never a chore .. then head out towards Tajikistan.  It’s complete unknown to me.  I’m expecting it to be … interesting..

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Pamir we go

Armenia, Georgia, Russia

Armenia has some proper history and it’s a shame we can’t see it.  It’s one of the oldest countries on the planet.  I’ll come back here again, I’ll leave it for next time.  The country runs away to the south but we want to exit to the north tomorrow so we ask our host for some recommendations and head south to Khor Virap monastery overlooking Mt Ararat where Noah supposedly disembarked.

Getting out of Yerevan we go to get fuel.  Little place by the side of a main road.  More like a kiosk than a petrol station.  This bloke put the hose in the bike, pulled the handle, lit a fag.  Amazing..

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Out at Khor Virap its a beautiful place but a bitch of a climb up in leathers and 40 odd degrees.  By the time I get to the top I can just about see a blurry Ararat through my sweaty eyeballs.  Can’t see any lamas though.. or hippos.. or push-me-pull-yous.  Its a bloody long walk to Africa from here.. especially with those little hippo legs …

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Nothing gets wasted out here.  If horses could be powered by natural gas they would go round with LPG canisters strapped to their backs too.

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From Khor Virap we ride round to Noravank. Another monastery hidden in the mountains.  The roads are surprisingly good and pretty empty too.  Loads of trucks pushing out smoke like they’re vaping with liquorice.  Greta Thunberg would have a shit fit out here ..

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Tonight’s bed is at a ‘resort’ on the lake at Sevan.  We find the place and ride along the beach.  I think it’s a weight watchers retreat .. no food and a fucking long walk to anywhere .. we eventually track down a cafe with a very short menu .. bread … cheese ..

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We’re heading north and out towards Tbilisi, passing through little towns.  Taking it really slowly to avoid being pulled.  If you stop for a few minutes you’ll see the same policeman go up… down.. up… down

I spot an open door out the corner of my eye so I turn around… see the same policeman ..again.. and see an old bloke sitting in a chair in a small room,  just looking out watching the world go by.  I go up and ask if I can take his picture.. he doesn’t move .. I think he’s dead ..a display model .. but he slowly raises his hand in assent and I take a few pics.  Go to shake his hand.. very carefully.  It’s like holding a piece of balsa wood, it’s almost weightless.  I think somebody just opens his door in the morning and he sits there all day.. he’s probably still there.  I hope so anyway.

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We have 2 borders to choose from, so we choose the one with the wiggly line.  Get to the border and we’re the only ones here again, what are the odds?  Get through the border and we see why we’re the only ones there.  The road is an award winning shitter of a road, all under dark trees, big deep muddy puddles, rocks and holes, sand and gravel.. all good practice.

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Get to Tbilisi in good time and go for a wander.  Nice place.  Stupid hot though and I have to rest the Bitch for a while before launching an assault up the hills to the hotel.

Our hotel is in the old town.  All stupid narrow and stupid steep streets. Even with the lungs of the Bitch she can’t do a hill start here, the road is too steep and too slippery.  I’m following a Grade A twat up the hill and he’s doing 1mph.  I’m shouting and screaming expletives and blowing my horn but he’s oblivious, unlike the surrounding people who are listening to my swearathon in stunned silence – a couple of them hold up 10s… Scooter riders have to get off half way up this hill and push it’s that steep.  There are as many cars going backwards as forwards, lining up for another go.

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I go for a walk round the slightly less steep streets, I’m looking about at the buildings .. WTF?  All the buildings are slowly loosing a fight against gravity and falling down the hill towards the river.  The windows and doors are all to cock and have they have huge cracks running all through them.  They look close to collapse to me and I’m buggered if I’d go inside one.

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So.. I go inside one for a massage… go into a cubicle and walk in to get undressed and nearly fall down a fucking great hole in the floor where something has just given way.  And I mean a FUCKING great hole .. The masseuse comes in and starts .. and cannot do my left leg .. because they can’t stand on the floor by my left leg.. because there is a FUCKING great hole in the floor .. then I smack my head on the way out because the door frame is all to cock ..

So I go looking for a shave.  I’ve walked for miles and can’t find anywhere then I see a little hole in the wall, see mirrors, walk in.  There is a large Nigerian lady inside and a little boy playing on the floor.  I ask if they do shaves and she points to the chair.  So far so good…

She calls her husband in.  He goes to the drawer and gets out a safety razor. ‘Nope – I want a cut throat razor please’.. they both look at each other.. “a cut throat” ..”you’ve only ever done one of those before..and that didn’t go well…what was it .. 60 stitches?” .. “but we need the money” .. “well, he looks like he has a tough neck .. give it a go.. you’re a fast runner” .. “Ohhh K’ then”…

He dabs some foam on and starts picking away at my face.. I can smell piss .. it might be me .. at my age weeing isn’t always voluntary.. but I think it’s him.. I think he’s scared he’s going to kill me .. and I agree.  He’s just taking small  dabs at me from a distance .. like someone petting a dangerous dog ..  By the time he’s ‘finished’ it looks like I’ve just had a bag of rats put over my head and they’ve had a feeding frenzy.  I don’t care.. I’m just happy to get out of there with only 40 stitches ..

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North, up through the gorgeous Georgian mountains. People had told me Georgia was a beautiful place, and here it is. Beauty by the bucket load.. big buckets too ..

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Get to the Russian border in the mountains.  Get to the guard, takes our passports .. and doesn’t give them back.. “wait over there”..  2 hours later and he comes back to us .. “interview.. come this way”.. we’re taken to a little room along with a couple of small Thai girls.. hello .. what’s going on .. is this some sort of “welcome to Russia” gift?  No, of course it isn’t.  We are all being interviewed separately to state our intentions in Russia.. and have our phone IDs recorded.. This is a sensitive area and we were warned when we were getting our visas.  Following directly east to west we would go through Chechnya but we’ve decided to loop over to the north instead to spend a few more days here.  Interviews over we’re sent outside to wait..again.. 4 hours after arriving we’re through, insured, and on our way in to Vladikavkaz.

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Vladikavkaz is like stepping back in time, and it’s all the better for it.  Ride down a few miles of dual carriageway on the way in and there are big statues every 100m.. no traffic at all .. the only things I overtake are a herd of cows.  It sees to be a really sleepy little town.  Get to the Hotel Vladikavkaz – any hotel in Russia that is named after the place it’s in is always in the very centre – a fact to amaze your friends with – and this is right on the river.

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Did I say sleepy .. well they apparently don’t sleep in Vladikavkaz… or they sleep in the day.  The road outside the hotel doubles as a drag strip by night and all the local spend until 3am ragging the tits of their metal steeds.  They’ve got to get their kicks somehow I guess.

From Vladikavkaz we trek up to Rostov-On-Don.  Why Rostov?  I’m beginning to wonder after the 5th hour of blank flat land roads, heat and wind.  Perhaps the local famouses thought the same thing.  Read any Chekov, Pushkin or Tolstoy and your laughing muscles are unlikely to get any exercise .. Russia is the same all over .. nothing..  nothing .. bugger all .. wilderness .. BLOODY GREAT CITY … repeat until border ..

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Rostov to Volgograd .. see above .. but Volgograd is a lot lot nicer.

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Take a wander down to the river in the sunshine among the beautiful people.

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Next morning we’re on our way out of town to visit Mother Russia.  When in Rome and all that . We’re riding out of town in the morning rush, dodging and weaving through the traffic on the dual carriageway.  My travel buddy is riding behind a old twin axle transit van.. looking to skip through.  Suddenly there is bang and the left rear axle just collapses.  The outside wheel comes off and starts racing through the traffic alone, the inside wheel jams in the wheel arch and sends the van slewing over the road until it hits the central reservation.  Russians are used to this and they just skip round it without looking.  We ride skip through and ride alongside the speeding wheel until it bounces onto the pavement looking for someone to kill..

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You can see statue from a distance but you can’t really get an idea of scale.  Drive up, park, walk.. and … omg .. just Oh my Actual GOD.. That status absolutely fecking massive.  It’s covered in scaffold and the air is thick with the sounds of workmen tending to her gently…with hammers.  I bought the drone up, I want to give it a fly but I’m concerned I’m going to be arrested.  Truth is .. nobody cares .. excellent..

Go in and see the eternal flame and the list of the fallen.. its a long list .. its a very very very long list.

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Out of Volgograd and its bleak and cold and raining and I’m happy just to let my pores close for a while and give my sweat glands a break.

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The relief is short lived though and the heat returns with a vengeance as we get closer to Astrakhan.  It’s secret location of a huge Russian tottie factory.  I think the boardwalk in front our hotel is at the end of the protection line….   amazing ..

Nice city too.  Big Kremlin .. big square .. girls on horseback .. I’m thinking of staying..  We go for dinner at a place by the square, there is a woman there with her husband and a couple of small kids.  I’m guessing by the she  way she slowly and gracefully stretches her long leg out and points at the menu with the tip of her outstretched toe that she is a ballet dancer… not that I’m studying her you understand.  Her husband looks like he punches through walls and makes sandwiches with the bricks…

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Its a shame we’re leaving Russia, but where we’re going is Russia by proxy anyway.   We ride out towards the border, towards a door, a door I’ve not been through before.  I know it’s shit on the other side.. but I’m going to open it anyway ..

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Next – If you cant stan the heat

Turkey, Georgia and Armenia

Turkey.  I’ve not spent much time here.. I’m searching for pastures new … I’ve still got the mojo no-go feeling .. I need a kick in the eyeballs .. a stiff new scent up the nose .. something to grab my attention.. but right now I just need to stay alive.  We get to Istanbul and head for the old city.  This place seems to be about 300% over populated .. the thermometer has gone into the comedy zone and my bladder is on lockdown to stop me loosing any more fluid.  The Bitch is unhappy again and I don’t blame her.. tiny tight streets that it’s impossible to filter through.. creeping and crawling … sweating and swearing through the maze.  I don’t stall it this time but it’s feeling nasty .. like it’s running on 3 cylinders .. yes .. I know … thanks

The Hotel is right next to the Blue Mosque and the calls to prayer are going out as we arrive… drawing the faithful out from the cool sanctuary of the shadows.  We follow the crowd .. follow the call .. follow the sunset ..

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We walk down to the water and look across the Bosporus .. look at Asia.. look at our future..

“Shit loads of history round here” .. I’m sure that’s how they start all the bus tours.. everyone and his wife has been through here and left something to be remembered by.  A nice atmosphere and a real melting pot of people.  The only downside is the constant pestering.. the length of my temper is directly opposite to the air temperature. I just give up at the first hurdle .. the first restaurant .. the first place I can find cold liquid and try to replace the 50% of my bodyweight I lost on the way in.   The 50% that is currently dipping out of my leathers and making the hotel room smell like a gym changing room..

This trip is a lot earlier in the year than I would normally go as I need to get back in time for my baby girl’s wedding.  Consequently its a LOT hotter than usual.  I’m happy with the cold.  I’m never happier than when I’m covered in goose pimples, my tummy banana has run away and hidden in its cave and my nipples could pierce armour plating.  The heat is different, especially as its now pushing 40 degrees.   I’d much rather sweat than bleed though so I’ll just have to get used to it.  I’ve done it before but it takes a while to get used to it.  Milk is the secret.  Milk is the secret to everything..  and I can still find it here.. on the black market .. I just have to check it’s not camels .. or horse.

We have a rest day here but the next day is a long one so my buddy buggers off to Ankara to split it in two.  I haven’t shaved in a week and my whiskers are in danger of getting tangled in the wheels.  I’ve promised myself a shave at a proper Turkish barbers so I hunt one down, dragging my beard along the pavement behind me.  These blokes know what they’re doing .. I think the average Turk’s face is like the Forth Road Bridge .. they have to shave them in teams .. one barber at a time is not enough and they just end up chasing bristles across their face..only to find another wave of stubble where they shaved 2 minutes ago.  I’m a one man job though .. an easy job .. he could probably do it with his eyes shut .. perhaps not though .. not this time .. I’m not quite ready to die..

He spends more time rubbing cream into my face than I usually spend on the whole deal .. this would cost a fortune back at home, I’d have had to sign a dozen wavers, he would be wearing high vis and safely goggles and the walls would be covered in small signs from B&Q with pictures of decapitated bodies and blood .. but out here he just puts in a blade and goes straight for the jugular.  My face is super smooth.. it feels like cling film .. almost slippery smooth .. but he’s not happy so back out with the cream for round 2 .. and then the wax.  I don’t think he’ll be happy until he sees my skull.  Wax all over my ears and under my eyes… then he gets 2 ear buds dips them in the bowl and sticks them up my nose .. JEEEEEEEEESSUS …

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For years now my hair follicles have been emigrating from my head and relocating in my nostrils .. so pulling them out involved him putting his feet on my cheeks and yanking with all his strength.. the result.. well I won’t scare you by showing you what they looked like .. he just took them into the kitchen and put them in a cup of hot water and gave me this .. maybe they’re all made this way ..

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These 2 were clean shaven when I came in 20 minutes ago ..

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Next day I go for a walk round the city.  A lot of the pleasure of these trips comes from taking pictures.  Today it’s not working.. you can’t force it .. I get really frustrated .. and lost.  I like getting lost though. I don’t get lost enough.. even though lots of people tell me I should ..

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Out of Istanbul.. across the bridge .. and into Asia ..

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and… and  nothing .. I’m really surprised how sparsely populated Turkey is .. and blank .. get out the city and just you and the tarmac.. and nothing..  except the wind. Turkey likes it’s flags.. the bigger the better.. and the wind enjoys playing with them.

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No matter how hard I think I cannot remember anything about the ride that day .. nothing .. my mind obviously didn’t see anything worth wasting memory on .. not until the sun stated falling and the landscape was brushed with soft yellow light ..

I was really low on fuel, out on an A road and there was just nothing and nobody about anywhere.  I hoped the GPS was lying to me.. or I was going to be walking.. I’m going over a new bridge and I see what looks like an abandoned fuel station off the road with no obvious path to it.   I’m not in a position to pass up any opportunity so I get off the road, ride through a small abandoned village and under the bridge .. just follow my nose.  Get to the station and there is a light on.  Someone appears and looks at me like he hasn’t seen a human for weeks.  The pump is working though .. the fuel is probably 40 years old .. and leaded .. but who cares..   I go to put my helmet back on but he gestures to me .. would I like a drink?  Why not .. I follow him out through a derelict shop to a small kitchen where he makes me some tea..  we go back to the sofas and just sit in silence for 20 minutes watching a film on a grainy TV set.. I think he just wants company.. I think he’s the only person for miles around .. its times like this that makes trips for me.  Nice tea too ..

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We shake hands and nod .. smile and wave .. and off into towards the setting sun

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I’m meeting my mate in Cappadocia, the place with the caves and the balloons.  It’s well hidden though and you don’t see it until you’re right on top of it.

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Looks like a bad case of rock worm to me… Cappadocia though is tourist central as you can imagine.  I meet up with my mate and he drags me to his cave .. I like what he’s done with the place ..

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We’re taking a day off here to have a ride around the different locations. I’ve been on the bike 1 minute.. I get to the bottom of the road and turn right.. something felt weird .. something isn’t right .. so I stop.  I see shit and happens .. or the Fuckall brothers .. running away and falling over themselves laughing .. Oh… brilliant… IMG_2361 IMG_2360

The day the Ktm designer decided where to put the ignition switch he obviously left his brain in a bin.  The switch is in the yolk in front of the bars.. so when you move the bars .. if you’ve got anything other than a single key in the ignition.. like a keyring for example (what WAS I thinking) with another key on .. then .. if you’re luckily enough to be carrying the Fuckall brothers .. things can get wedged like a shove penny machine and just snap the top of the key off .. which is nice.  Bloody hell, I’ve only been away a bloody week ..  I CAN start the bike with the stub and some pliers as long as I hold the fob close to the ignition .. I really fancy doing that for the next 6/7 weeks .. out with the spare… when I get hold of shit and happens ..

So .. off we go .. again .. there are houses built into the rocks, there are houses built right on the tops of rocks, and someone recently discovered a set of underground caves 6 storeys deep too.  I went to level 1 and freaked out .. it was like running about in someones bowel.. all dark and tight and smelly.. impressive though

We wanted to go up in a balloon but the wind is still blowing hard and looks like it will be for the next few days so we take a Turkish bath instead.  You have a quick sauna then you’re taken into a big room where a health and safety inspector would run out of ink in 10 seconds flat.  The room is about 200 degrees for a start, full of fat blokes in skirts .. singing.  That’s a health and safety issue right there.  In the centre is a raised square area where soap is liberally applied by aforementioned fat hairy singing blokes.  The whole place is tiled, it’s all sharp square edges, and the it’s awash with soap bubbles.  It takes all my concentration to walk 2 meters to my allocated fat bloke without my legs going all ‘baby giraffe’ on me…  once you reach the safety of the table you can just relax .. listen to the singing .. look up at the amazing tiled ceiling with the suns rays casting tunnels of bright light through the steam .. and get liberally soaped by a fat bloke .. go on .. you know you want too.. then into a big communal bubbling bath for a while where you can fart with impunity.  Lastly you can be beaten and stretched and tortured for an hour by very angry man who has sharpened his elbows on an angle grinder and just loves making people scream.  I’d recommend it.

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Get up and out.. into the blankness.  The camera isn’t interested.. it’s just not worth trying when it’s in this mood.. We’re heading north to the black sea coast and we’ve a way to go.  Going to take a while.  What we really need is a delay.. seems shit and happens are riding with my mate today .. christ they’ve been busy ..

We get stopped by the police at a checkpoint.  We’re all legal and stuff .. insured .. international licences .. should be absolutely no problem.  I’m first .. I’m through .. I look round and the policeman is on the phone .. that’s not a good sign.  Problem 1 .. someone has entered his plate as a O not a 0.  This happens all the time.  I have a 1.. and it’s often an I on the documents.. Problem 2 is they have his number plate down as a car.  Maybe they only saw it from behind .. it’s an easy mistake to make .. anyway, this causes mucho problemo..

About an hour and 50 phone calls to various official offices later, the details have been updated and we’re on our way again.  Time to get some squiggles on my helmet ..

IMG_2437 IMG_2429 IMG-19OMG this is dull… sooo soo soooo dull .. I’m riding with one eye open to save the other from the pain of looking at it .. we get stopped for speeding .. just to relieve the boredom ..

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You have to have these null days .. you have to have the yin and the yang.  I’m a spoiled twat right?  Yes I am.. I know I am .. but it doesn’t help. We get to a petrol station.. running late.  There are a load of old men sitting having a chat and a fag. One of them speaks really good English.  He’s a dentist and specialises in teeth tourists.  We’ve been looking at the map and decided we have time to skip into Armenia but there are no border crossings from Turkey.  I ask him why … he talks a big intake of breath and off he goes .. full rant .. I wish I’d taken more notice in history lessons .. then I’d have kept my mouth shut.  10 minutes later .. I wish I’d never asked … 30 minutes later .. I really really really wish I had been born without any ears ..

By the time we get to the coast its getting dark.  The town we’re at is built on a 60% angle.. I think it was originally built on the level then tilted .. all the roads are at hideous lean angles, regardless of their direction.  Come to a turning and the left peg is nearly touching the road, but put your right foot down and you’ll be lucky to touch tarmac.  Scares the shit out of me.

I’m feeling really restless and I don’t know what I want.  I get like this sometimes on these trips .. just passing the days .. head in a spin .. like an addict looking for a fix .. and Turkey isn’t doing it for me.   IMG-8 IMG-9
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Follow the coast road east.  I’ve no doubt I’ve not seen the best of Turkey but I’ll really not miss it.   Just time for a few more squiggles and we’re out

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Get into Georgia and it’s immediately a different world.. and a much better one.  The second we’re through we’re set on by the hawkers.. insurance .. yes .. you .. random bloke .. yep .. I’ll just hand you my passport and V5 and some dollars and you can disappear into a random hole somewhere round the corner and sort it out for me while I sit in the shade and drink.  You .. you look trustworthy .. change this funny money into your funny money will you .. I should really check it .. but my bothered-ometer just isn’t working in this heat.  Luckily my documents come back to me 15 minutes later together with some pink paper covered in writing I don’t understand.  Perfect.

We get up the coast a bit and stop at the first beach for lunch.

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And I take a quick dip in the Black Sea to cool off .. ahhhhhhhhhhhhh .that’s better..

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One of my riding buddies mates has recommended a route across the south of Georgia towards Armenia so we head into the mountains to Khulo looking for some relief from the heat.  Take the a nice twisty road up to Khulo and look for a bed.  The place is dead but we’re still told the hotels are full.  It has quite an unfriendly atmosphere about it.. strange stares and quiet when we walk past .. but I like that.  Gives some of my 6th, 7th and 8th senses some exercise.. we end up down the road out of town in hostel perched on the mountainside.

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Take a wander about and look for something to eat.  Go into a shop that looks like the last delivery was sometime in 1940.

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The only place we could find with stuff not past it’s sell by date was the off licence

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We’re off to Armenia.. the road up to Khulo was as good as advertised .. I’m looking forward to more. The second we leave the town the road turns to proper shit and stays that way for the next 2 hours.  Very steep and very loose .. like my bowels.  It’s Georgia FFS, what did I expect.  Still, nice views when I can take my eyes off the road.

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By the time we get to tarmac the bikes are really tired .. time for a little lie down ..

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Get into town and go for breakfast and the feeling is the same as in Khulo.. but if you persist long enough you’ll get a smile .. sort of ..

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We’re heading for the Armenia border.  Looks like there are 3 to choose from, but we go for the closest.  The road is up. We perch on a thin strip of tarmac as we try to go against the trucks.. the BMW gets its bum fondled by a trailer and nearly goes over the edge …

IMG_2630Get up to the Armenia border.  Is it open?  We were prepared for queues but we’re the only ones here.  Not another bugger in sight.  Go in and bang on a window.. wake up the guard.. get a sleepy stamp in my passport then go for some insurance.  They’re all sat around eating their dinner.  I rub my stomach .. 2 hands pop out through the glass .. one has my insurance .. the other has a sandwich.. that’s a first:)

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We’re headed down to Yerevan, one of the worlds continuously inhabited cities .. bet you didn’t know that.. I didn’t ..  We’re only just a few minutes inside, always the most dangerous time, and we’re pulled for speeding.  The locals are living in poverty with fences made from crashed cars but the police can still afford radar and video.  It’s a nice clip to be fair .. some good fast overtaking .. I wonder if I could buy it off him for my blog .. he starts by showing us the chart of the fines and we’re at the top.  This is where he would usually smile and get his buddy to sit in the back so I could put the money in the slot and we could be on our way .. usually..

This bloke is different.. he really wants the money.  I wasn’t expecting that.  He’s getting quite wound up about it .. and me offering him £20 hasn’t helped.  We haven’t got any more cash so he phones up someone at headquarters and get an earful.  We’re threatened with the removal of our driving licences until we pay .. we need to respect the law .. even though there are locals driving past us with their feet to the floor and smoke pouring out the back like a challenger tank.  We go to plan B,  just go quiet.  He’s really pissed though and starts shouting down the phone and getting all red in the face.  His little mate has to take over before he explodes.  We explain that this is all the money we have, and we’re leaving tomorrow, and eventually they take the £20 I offered him in the first place .. and get no ticket .. WTF was that all about .. proper good cop bad cop ..

First big town and it’s been proper pissing down. The roads are awash.  There are huge 6ft x 4ft open metal grills in the road taking the floodwater, and bikes if you’re not careful or you approach them at the wrong angle.  Where is that health and safety bloke .. .  I’m pulling away from some lights and a huge dog comes running out from the side of the road.  It’s times like this that can finish the trip in an instant.  It’s not just playing, it wants a piece of me.  I brake hard and hit the back of it and it lets out a big yelp and stumbles straight into the path of a oncoming car .. game over ..

Get to Yerevan and into the city centre.  Nice city, and a complete contrast to the countryside.  We’re staying in an old ground floor apartment block.  The landlord tells us not to leave things within reach of open windows as they’re likely to go missing.  No chance of bringing the bikes inside so they have to take their chances chained up outside. It doesn’t feel at all threatening and the locals are really friendly. We take a wander round the square in the evening amongst all the locals.  Feels a lot like Russia, everyone out for a walk and a chat.  I like the feeling round here.

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I’m up early, just in case I have to start filling in a stolen bike police report but they’re still there.  Stretching and yawning in the early morning sun.

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Next – Armenia, Georgia and Russia

London to …

Life on a KTM Adventure is much like life as a gigolo… I assume…  much of the time one ride is much the same as any other.. going through the motions.. nothing special… same old same old… arriving on time … satisfied but not sated. Sometimes the ride  will rock your world.. grab you by every nerve ending you have and shake you hard.. mirror every move you make in perfect synchrony and take you screaming over the line exhausted and bathed in sweat.  Sometimes the ride will be lumpy, loose and uncomfortable.. unpredictable .. painful even.. accompanied by strange noises and unpleasant hot smells.. and sometimes you seriously wonder if you will get to the line without your riding partner expiring underneath you…  This is the story of a KTM gigolo.

It all started so well.  Me and one other ride out to Asia, meet a few others for a while then head to a far flung foreign port to ship the bikes home.  I’ve got all the visas.. I’ve got the carnet .. everything is ready to go.  Three days before I leave.  I’ll just check where the engine number is.  I know it will be checked against the carnet.  I get down on my hands and knees and take a look..

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OK then … I just lay on my back in the garage.. this could be a problem..  I bought the bike off a bloke that had it from new.. how the hell do I end up with a bike with no engine number.. apart from the obvious.  Jesus.. I need a plan…

On my last trip to Russia I threw the bike down the road … well … sand.. and really crumpled and bent the pannier rails.  Jesse rails are made from a cheese/chocolate alloy and you only have to fart near them and they bend .. even a small fart will do it.  I asked around and found a fabricator in a shed  just up the road that builds wings for airliners by night and helps restore old aircraft by day.  I got him to copy my pannier rails but in 16mm solid steel bar.

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Hard as nails… I also had him knock me up a rack to mount my spare tyres and make them easier to carry.

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So.. Plan A.. call the fabricator with the engine number and  dimensions of the area to cover .. he gives me a call with 1 day to go .. “ready”.  I go and collect them and file the ends round ..

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Stick it on ..

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Well … that looks … ummmm.  Maybe if it was a 1916 Sopwith Pup that would be believable but I don’t want some bored border guard with a huge moustache and a sharp pencil telling me to bugger off and refusing me entry,  leaving me trying to get the bike back from the middle of bum fuck nowhere..

12 hours to go… I’ve got plans B to G but they’d all involve trying to find people to help me on the road .. then I have another thought.  I actually know someone with access to an engraver don’t I?  Yes I do.  One phone call and a 20 minute journey and I’m getting some aluminium plates made..

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That should be enough.  I get some liquid metal and stick one of the plates on .. straight on the side of the cylinder .. in plain view.. give it as long as possible to get roughed up.. it will be fine… what could possibly go wrong.

It’s a sunny Sunday and I’m off again.  I kiss my wife goodbye.. just like I was going to the shops… I won’t speak to her for a while… We have a pact when I’m away.  I don’t call unless I have added significant shit to a far flung foreign fan.  She is happier to believe I’m riding in lovely warm sunshine all day every day on good roads with absolutely no other traffic.. and who am I to tell her otherwise..

I meet my riding buddy on the M25, go to Folkestone, take the train..

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This trip is not my usual format.  We have a vague plan and we have particular places we need to be at particular times but the rest of the time we will just be winging it… that and I’m taking the kicking in my own pocket this time.   I’m keen to run the wallet raping gauntlet of Europe ASAP.. fast forward … just a blur of tarmac and beds.  It’s just like re-reading the first chapter of my favourite book ..

First stop Reims, a beautiful city, but the stop is outside in an industrial area that could be anywhere, the usual collection of anonymous buildings and fast food outlets .. and an instantly forgettable pink hotel….F1 themed .. it’s the pits .. next..

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Berlin .. an Air BnB south of the city.  Put the bike in the motorway slot.. pull the trigger .. hold it down

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Christ traveling through Europe overland is expensive.. all the service stations seem to have gone the way of BMW garages .. splashing loads of cash of expensive chrome and ducting and ‘themes’ .. and green plastic cows .. then having to charge shit loads to pay for it all..  Jesus.. I feel a rant coming on .. I was talking to a bloke in B&Q a while ago about this .. ‘read The Age of Absurdity by Michael Foley’ .. so I did.. ‘Buy more shit or we’re all fucked’ seems to be the general theme..

Anyway ..on these trips I have must admit I have a drinking problem.. and the further from home I go.. the worse it gets… “Hello… my name’s Jason.. and I’m a Milkaholic”.  I cannot resist it.   Ideally I would take a friendly Friesian with a huge set of udders as a pillion.. that would be perfect…  At home I probably drink 3/4 pints a day, maybe more.  How many calcium units is that?  Whatever it is I certainly qualify as a binge drinker.  So whenever I see it .. I buy it .. and never one at a time ..

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Get to the AirBnB and meet our host Zoltan.  Zoltan.. I was expecting a Heinz or Ernst,  not Zoltan.  Such is the diversity of Europe that Zoltan is from Hungary.  He is a mechanical engineer and works in the car industry.  We’re chatting about engines and I ask him about the shallow pistons on the Ktm.. “Oh… they’re good.. but they’re not a long term solution” .. that my friend is just exactly what I want to hear as I head off into the wilderness on a bike with an engine of seemingly unknown provenance and mileage .. thanks.

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Someone has knocked the s off of beds .. its a double.  My riding buddy booked it.. ..a bit presumptuous.. this is only our second night together .. oh well.. what happens on tour .. next..

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I get up and before we set off I have to have a word with my wallet.  It’s run away and hidden in my socks.  It’s sitting there quivering in fear and it won’t come out.  It knows today it’s going to be subjected to toll torture and vignette hell and it doesn’t want to go.  All I can do is promise it will be over soon and that I will treat it a lot more gently in a few days .. just tickle it with pretty foreign currencies .. not stick my fist up its arse and pull huge sums out kicking and screaming the way they do at the toll booths… its not convinced.. it won’t come out so I grab the sock and shake it until it pops out and starts running round the room like a mouse dropped from a cat’s mouth .. desperately looking for sanctuary.. I feel it’s pain ..

Out of Berlin in the soft morning light and south over the mountains on roads paved with gold .. or at least they should be .. through long tunnels lined with €500 notes down into the beauty of Slovakia and across to small village outside Zagreb.

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Whatever the flavour.. whatever the price .. it has to me mine.. the true sign of addiction

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My buddy booked the room tonight .. twin beds .. we must have fallen out .. or I’m not as good as I thought I was ..

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Croatia is shut today .. national holiday .. bollocks .. how am I going to get my milk?  I wasn’t prepared for this.. maybe I can find a doctor … get some condensed milk on prescription .. just to take the edge off..

The woman renting us the room see’s I’m in trouble.. she can see me sweating and shaking .. she knows I’m close to an episode .. so she drives to her mum’s house and gets me some milky medicine.. it’s warm .. not the way I like it .. but I’m in no position to complain.. phew .. that was close..

Wake up.. walk out the room .. someone has been in and stuck some adverts on the doors … looks like milk addiction therapy to me .. something I’d definitely be interested in anyway ..

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Out and south we go.  Croatia is weird country.. all concentrated on the coast it seems.. like Canada is concentrated along the border.  Out in the middle there isn’t much of anything.. and we’re going through the middle..  It’s getting hot now.. proper hot..stupid hot.. why the hell am I wearing leathers hot.   Stop just shy of the Bosnia border for some lunch.  Time to start introducing random brown slop to my diet and they have just the thing on the menu.

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Get down to the first border of the trip.. this is going to be a theme for the next few days.  Sweating in hot queues of metal, finding your way round a maze of windows.. filling in forms .. the Bosnia border is pretty straight forward though.  Insurance is mandatory so go to the nana-in-a-box first and flash some dollars then a quick stamp and on our way towards Sarajevo.

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It’s only day three .. time for a problem by now surely .. do I have to wait until I’m properly in the middle of the desert .. surely the shit and happens brothers are travelling with me.. I’m sure I saw their visas somewhere .. ahhhhh here they are … that Christ for that ..

Traffic is crawling as we approach Sarajevo and the Bitch is getting hot.  Proper hot.  This shouldn’t be happening hot.  The fan is running constantly but the bars are still going up.   Then I just stall it … just for a laugh .. I choose the biggest busiest junction obviously .. why not .. I’ll just press this little button and all will be well .. ok.. I’ll just press it again… ooooooooooooooo … look at all these amber lights … soooooooo pretty …. The Bitch refuses to start.. and then she starts warning at me that if I press that button one more time she’s going to start self harming ..  I don’t even read the messages .. My mind is already into ‘oh shit’ mode and going through getting the bike home from here.. There are a few other warning lights on now too so I just push the bike through the traffic .. only stopping briefly to have an argument with a fat hairy munter that had fallen out of an ugly tree, hit all the branches, then gone up for another 5 goes .. and throw it in the gutter … its a good job I’m not on the side of a mountain .. it could easily be at the bottom by now … BITCH.. The trouble is she is possessed by the devil… FACT

I was having some issues with her when I was preparing for the trip .. I’d had enough .. time to put her out of my misery .. so I took her up the road to an abandoned building… filled the place with petrol … set fire to it .. came back in the morning and this is what I found..

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Untouched … i expected to find some baby dragons in the ashes … all she wants to do is screw with my mind ..

So I give her 10 minutes.. approach her quietly with my head bowed and my hands pressed together and press the starter… success.  Warning lights are still on and she’s running like a pig but we get down to the hotel and I leave it outside half hoping it will be gone in the morning.  Go for a walk round Sarajevo old town… I’ve been through here before and I really like it.  It has history and atmosphere and bullet holes seeping out of the walls.. and beautiful women everywhere you turn..  I spent a lot of time turning .. no pictures though .. I feel like I’ve definitely gone through the perv age threshold .. from ‘daddy’ to ‘grandad’..

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Not sure about the food though.. I think this one has come straight from the pavement to the plate ..

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Get up in the morning and the Bitch is still outside.  There are scorch marks on the surrounding pavement where I presume she has torched prospective thieves just to amuse herself in the night .. whatever .. she seems to be back to normal self … another of her mind fuck tricks .. so we head off out into the countryside towards Serbia.

Bosnia is a very beautiful country in parts.  Lakes and mountains and huge meadows full of wild flowers.. good roads too

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Stop for coffee ..cake .. and a caress for my helmet ..

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Out of Bosnia, into Serbia and on towards Belgrade.. just another big collection of concrete and tarmac chaos .. It’s proper PROPER hot and we’re stopping every 10m for cold drinks .. we stop at a petrol station and I go in to buy some cold coffee .. another one of my addictions .. and always purchased in multiples ..

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There is a really unusual looking girl behind the counter and I ask her if I can take her picture.. she looks like a cat .. she must have the smallest mouth I’ve ever seen .. I think one lipstick would last her a lifetime .. she won’t have it though .. she just flicks her tail, hisses and scratches her nails down the curtains .. very strange .. lovely coat though ..

I remember Belgrade as being a wild west style city with out of control traffic and real edgy vibe about it but I think it’s got it act together now, tied it shoelaces properly, straightened its tie, sorted out it’s behaviour and been for an interview at the EU headmasters office about joining the club… its a real shame.. still I did manage to get over myself for a few minutes and get the tottieometer out ..

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I’m out hunting for milk.. but I find a motorbike… an old Honda previously owned by a monk .. the current rider used to be friends with the (now) monk and bought it recently as a ‘non-runner’.. that hadn’t been turned over for the last 20 years. He poured oil down the plug holes and gently teased it back and forth over a few weeks until it was free.. then it just started.    He’s polished it within an inch of it’s life and it sounds lovely… not for me though.. far too reliable..

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Serbia seems to have nothing of the natural beauty of Bosnia but it’s an interesting place none the less.  The buildings the Americans bombed back in 1999 are still ‘as was’ .. sitting as a reminder to behave themselves.  We’re come to a small town and it’s at least 20m since the last drink so we stop in the town square and immediately get invited for a coffee from a man celebrating his birthday.  He’s in the army and says he remembers riding a scooter down this road and having a cruise missile fly just over his head and hit the base just a couple of 100m from where we’re sitting.. lucky he wasn’t early for work that day ..

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Just like all my other addictions .. I like pairs ..

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I’m hoping to meeting my old mate Brian in Sofia today.  Get to the Bulgarian border and it’s a car park.  I have a real problem at borders overcoming my British gene.. I feel I have to queue.. it’s a compulsion.. I just cannot help it.  My travel buddy isn’t affected by this problem and would happily push in at the front but we agree on a compromise and push in half way..

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The Bitch is getting hot again.  Yesterday coming into Serbia she was glowing red .. proper pissed.. and she has started loosing coolant now too. This time I pushed her through the border in 37 degrees and full leathers .. I’m sure I could see her smirking ..

Down to Sofia and another game of spot the difference .. one city merging into the next .. we’re moving fast.. eyes on a destination over the horizon..

Get to the hotel.. knock on the door next to mine and Brian appears.  My old mate has been down to Greece and is on his way back.  Always good to see him.  He never looks a day older .. he’s always looked 95 ..

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Out and heading south.. we’re looking for breakfast .. and at last we see signs of leaving Euroland ..

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That and the fact that MacDonalds don’t do breakfast here..

Stop for fuel and I see a woman who is not exactly hiding the fact that her jumper lumps are straining at their leash  .. her nipples are in danger of popping off like champagne corks .. perhaps if I just gently wiggle them between my thumb and finger ..

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Out of Bulgaria and into Turkey.  I’m carrying a drone and I’m not sure it’s allowed so I hide it .. somewhere they’ll never look .. unless they have a special drone sniffing dog .. I always worry though .. it’s like Midnight Express .. are they going to feel my heartbeat .. see the pulse in my neck … hell no .. the bloke just remotely inspects them from his chair in the shade .. and we’re away.. the gateway to Asia

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Time to get started ..

Next – Turkey, Georgia and armenia