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Vladivostok … or Bust

Hey you, yes YOU.  You over there with the KTM.  You’re not thinking about taking that Adventure on an actual adventure are you?  You know that on an 1190, even getting to the end of the driveway without braking down qualifies as an adventure.  KTM.  What does that stand for anyway?  Keeps Taking Money seems to be a common description.  But I prefer Kum To Mummy.  If you take your Adventure beyond screaming distance of the mother ship then good luck.  You’re going to need it.

I’ve done 3 big trips on 2 different 1190 Adventures, and so far its scoring 100%.  100% failure rate that is.  2016 the immobiliser transponder failed in no mans land just outside the Laos border.  Truck..ship…dealer…£1000 thanks very much.  2017 the chrome on the forks decided it was no longer necessary, wore through a couple of days before reaching Everest base camp and spent the next 5000 miles pissing oil out all over the brakes.  £500 hard re-chrome and rebuild … first ride .. some C**Ts nick the bike out of a pub car park.  I’ve had better days..  So, another 1190 is bought, an R this time.  18k and a full service history.  Replace the bits the C**Ts nicked with the old bike, fit the panniers, get some visas and fuck off east.  What could possibly go wrong… it’s a KTM after all … so virtually anything really.  Still, it’s not a holiday is it.  It’s an ADVENTURE!

The plan.  The plan was the BAM.  Lets go ride out to Irkutsk then up and along the BAM to Tynda, then down to Vladivostok and back from there.  Easy peasy.  Look how quickly I can get there on Google Earth.  A quick flick on the mouse and I’m there. No problem at all.  I asked for company.  There is definitely safety in numbers on these sorts of trips.  I’m not a big off-roader and I’m going to need help for sure.  A couple of people were interested but for various reasons dropped out along the way.  Only two people committed. My old mate, the 74 year old ex truck driver that’s ridden London Bangkok twice with me, and an Australian mate that again rode London Bangkok with me in 2016.  He’d be riding 2 up with his perfect pillion wife, planning to avoid the BAM and meet us in Never where the summer road meets the main east-west highway.  Plans should always be simple, even the big ones.  Ride out, train back.  Simple.

We all had a quick chat and decided on a route. Minsk, Kiev, Moscow, Vladivostok, and wherever in-between.  Spending more than 30 days in Russia you’re going to need a business visa.  Pretty straight forward nowadays – £100 for an LOI from an agent then apply as normal online.  I got a 60 day single entry for about £100.  Same for Belarus – pay $30 plus accommodation in advance to get a voucher then apply to London – 60 Euros I think. Anybody needs any help just ask.  It’s simples:)

My old mate decides to crash his bike in Bosnia about a month before we leave, just to make things difficult for himself, it was always going to be too simple otherwise.   He just dropped his brand new AT and something has twisted. The radiator started leaking badly and it was overheating.   Surely that shouldn’t happen.  Only Ktms do things like that don’t they?  Anyway, his bike is couriered back on a three legged horse with 2 limps and only makes it to the dealer a week before I leave.  I’m convinced it’s going to decend into an insurance super nightmare but by some miracle it’s all assessed, estimated, cleared and fixed in a couple of days.  One of the radiator fans had moved slightly when it fell, and then chaffed through the rad when it kicked in.  Rufty tufty these ATs eh! Anyway, he was delayed a few days and would meet up with us in Kiev.  My Ausie mates flew their bike over late June and spent a month zig-zagging all across Europe.  We would meet in Lublin, close to the Belarus border.

 

 

 

 

Down and Out

Out of China and meet the Laos guide with a pickup.  We manhandle the stricken bike in and tie it down tighter than an epileptic tiger.

web--547 web--548Then down to the border to sweat it out.  I’ve been through here a few times and it just gets longer and longer every time.  I think they must all be out polishing that bloody gold paint.   web--549Two hours  and a couple of pints sweat later and we’re released onto the  jungle mountain road. It’s definitely worth the wait.  web--550To spend the night deep in the forest at a facility where they test rainbows…web--551And moonshine..web--552and clouds…web--553I mark them a 10/10 on everything.

Leave the gates and navigate the huge new brown elephant shit roundabout that appeared overnight, then get out onto the red mud to clamp my arse shut for the day.web--554Laos is such a beautiful country and I’d love to spend longer here but we had to move some dates about to avoid some border closures in Kyrgyzstan so we’re just passing through quickly this year.  That and the fact that it’s costing upwards of $200 a day per rider for all the permits and shit.  It’s such a shame.  Blame the Chinese…
web--557 web--556 web--555I stop for lunch next to a hairdresser.  What did I stop for?  I can’t remember…  I’m not hungry any more … I need a haircut … and a shaveweb--558Get on the road out to towards the border and initially it’s not very promising but it soon turns into an amazing deserted curvefest, the likes of which I’ve rarely seen.   The Bitch is not stopping for anything.. including photos.  Go there yourself.  Fuck what a road.web--559Up to the border and yet another beautiful hotel looking out at Thailand across the Mekong river.  web--565 web--566web--563 web--564 web--567web--560 web--561The injured rider is still with us.  Getting the bike into Thailand without him could be a real bastard  and he’s really helping by smiling through the pain.  The bloke is made of steel or something.  I’m sure he cries into his sheets and bites down on towels all night though…. according to the additional cleaning bill anyway…

Get to the Thai border and transfer the bike to another pickup.web--568And get our permits stamped by a women that looks like something out the X Files.web--569Those stupid contact lenses just spook me out every time!

Get to Chiang Mai and we all go out to say goodbye to our broken mate.  It’s really sad to see him go, and it signals the end of the trip is getting horribly close.

We’re only in Thailand for 6 days and our mission is to cram as many corners as possible into the shorted possible distance.  Enter the Mae Hong Son Loop.  1864 corners in 400 miles.  Jesus H Christ.

Ever since I was a kid, when ever I eat my dinner, or sweets, or … well .. anything really .. I always leave the best till last.

This is the last. This is the best.  This is total tarmac insanity.web--570web--571web--572I have a theory about the design of this road.   I think they dipped a randy dog’s tail in paint and stood him in front of a big piece of paper.  Then they got a running machine and placed it right in front of him, put the doggy winner of ‘on heat rear of the year’  on it and turned the dial to ‘wiggle’.  The trace he painted with his tail was dropped directly onto the Mae Hong Song loop.

In places the road is like a tarmac spiral staircase and it’s so steep that I can’t work out how the fuck they even tarmac’d it in the first place.  I think they just held hot strips of tarmac under helicopters then dropped then on the mountains.  I can’t see how else they could do it.  The corners can get so tight and steep that it’s first gear even for the Bitch, and there isn’t a truck on the whole road as it’s simply not traversable for them.

I’m following a couple of the others and you can see their crash helmets bulging with their massive smiles.  This is absolutely ridiculous.  It’s just non stop.  1864 corners.  1864!   The only downside is my forks.   My forks are now for decorative purposes only.  They’ve got to the ‘tits on a trampoline’ stage.  The slightest touch of the front brakes has the front wheel shoved up between my balls and the headlight pointing at the ground so I’m trying not to use it.  That’s fine going up… Going down is a problem:)  I’m dragging the back which is fine right up until the moment it boils, fails, and trys to wipe me like leather spread down the side of a jagged cliff.

Ever since my mate twatted his Transalp in China on the same jagged road I did, his bike has been dragging it’s arse like a dog with an itch. As I follow him I watch sparks fly off his panniers in the corners.  But when we stop for a moment just to breath in and blink we notice it’s not his panniers that hitting the ground, it’s his aluminium fuel can full of petrol.. Ummmmmmm …

We all get to Mae Hong Song with our tyres rubbed raw and our throttle wrists aching like single adolescents, then hole up for the night in huts on stilts and listen to the rain pound down around us.

web--576 web--577After breakfast we take a quick diversion to a beautiful bamboo bridge across a sea of glistening green to a Monastery.web--578 web--581 web--580 web--579Unfortunately I only counted about 700 bends yesterday… WTF are the rest?  Oh… OK… here they are… phew…web--584

web--583 web--585And I even found a Ktm bush…
web--582Get back to Chaing Mai amid a huge thunder storm and take the bike for a well deserved scrub down.  That’s not going to be a 5 minute job…web--587I’m just wandering about and I come across the secret of why the Thais are so attractive…
web--586All good things come to an end… and some things come to a good end.. down to the outskirts of Bangkok.web--588web--590web--589And time to reflect on an amazing journey halfway around the planet….web--591This is it… we adopt the swarm formation and buzz into the hornets nest that is Bangkok rush hour traffic.. web--592 What a laugh that is.. oh how we laughed… FUUUUUUUCKKKKKKKKKKKKK.  Eventually we find our way to the freighters and turn off the bikes.  They all just sit there ticking to themselves.  Congratulating each other on a job well done.  Comparing scars and swapping stories…. or is that us… web--593 web--594 web--595We put the beasts in the container.. shut the door.. walk away…

Now the sad part starts …. until the next time:)routemap UK to BKK profile

 

 

Back from the brink

I feel like the Terminator at the end of T1.  I feel totally crushed.  The light in my eyes is dying.. dimming..  disappearing towards the darkness.  My brain has gone black.  The screen has been turned off and now there is just the white dot in the middle.  It’s flat lining.

Just as the light is about to fade to black, in it’s final death throws, my brain flashes one last image and I grasp it with both hands and follow the delicate thread. It’s an image of the leader of the Swiss tour group we hooked up with early in Tibet.  I remember sitting and talking with him in a police station somewhere.  Just him and me, having our photos done.  I remember his guide was with him, and that he was a mate of our guide.  I’ve not seen him since we left Lhasa days ago.  I remember him saying he was going to drive the G318 to recce it for a later trip…. and I remember seeing the guide somewhere recently.  I remember seeing him about an hour ago in reception.  We’re in a tiny town.  Really just a mile long strip of buildings along the road.  There aren’t many options out here.  I… wonder…

I stand up, turn around,  look round the car park and 20 yards away I see the Swiss bloke standing next to this…

web--423

Did I actually die?  Is this a dream?  “Hi… you don’t happen to have any tyres in the back of that do you?”  “Sure…. I have 2 or 3”  As I wander over I look through all my pockets and see if I’ve got any lucky stars left, or lucky heather, or four leaf clover.. Nope… I’m all out.. I know the Swiss group was 90%  700 Teneres plus a couple of F800s, all those wear 21 inch fronts so that’s probably what he has.  He only had a single 1200 and I can’t remember how new that was either. It’s not likely he can help but at least it keeps me from looking up the least painful suicide methods on the internet for another 30 seconds.

As I walk towards the back of the truck I see some apparitions appearing in the air just above it.  When I rode past Mt Kailash I think I picked up a few passengers.  I think a few of the Gods hitched a ride to get away from all the pilgrims constantly begging and asking for forgiveness.  I can imagine that gets a bit wearing… after 1000 years … They’re hovering above the van, but they’re all looking very enigmatic.. Are they smiling down on me?  Time to find out.

He lifts the flap and I’m immediately hit by a deafening wave of noise.  WTF is that?  I think … Is that the the sound of angels singing?… I look in and there, just within my reach is some rubber rocking horse shit.. A Heidenau K60, brand spanking new, exactly my size.   Very probably the only one in China.  So, I’ve just this moment discovered my tyre is fucked, and there is brand new replacement 20 yards away.  What the fuck are the odds of that?

I just fall to my knees and start sucking at the front of his trousers.  “Can I have that pleeeeeeeeease?  I’ve a hardly used 24 year old daughter I can give you, or a son.. your choice .. or a house in Southampton .. or my anal virginity .. anything you like .. just name it”.  All he wants are some dry trousers .. and 5 pieces of rectangular paper, each with a 20 stamped on them.   The guide thinks I’ve been arse raped.  I think I’ve just experienced a miracle.

I get back on the emotional roller coaster, AKA The Bitch, and ride 100 yards down the road where there is a big pile of lorry tyres. I Grab a greasy mechanic and get it changed.  The fucked tyre tears some more as it comes off the rim.. plan Z was to ride it anyway .. straight into the scenery probably .. The new tyre just pops on and The Bitch is  back in the game …. HELL YEA!

web--427Ride back round to the hotel and things are looking up already..web--424and up..web--426and up…web--425

With my luck running high I run around the town looking to lay a bet on the the leader of the catholic church declaring he is in fact a woman and that he from now on he wants to be known as “Pope Britney” but everyone has heard of the tyre miracle and they won’t take my money..

Wake up in the morning and the Gods are still smiling..web--429web--431web--432 web--430We take the bikes for breakfast and even the time wasting petrol voucher signing bloke looks happy for a change.web--433 web--434Then it’s Canyon O’Clock.  I’m keen not to be late… and so are the others.  We all disappear into the tight canyon maize and turn up the noise.   I have to take it easy to bed in the new tyre… I let it rotate once .. twice… that’ll do… web--435Then it gets all gorgeous..
web--436
web--437and bendy.. 99 of them .. up to 5000m …web--438Now I’m sure I’ve seen that sign done on a smaller scale with one hand.  I wonder if it’s an invitation, or maybe she’s got double jointed thighs… web--439web--440The Chinese don’t respect personal space, or personal anything really.  When we leave the bikes unattended, we turn round and they’re are people all over them, playing with the buttons, even sitting on them.  I go up to someone sitting on one of the bikes, push him and tell him in no uncertain terms to get the fuck off it.  Note to self.. in future .. check the twat hasn’t put the stand up .. that would end up with a Chinaman buried under a Ktm … that wouldn’t be good … I’m sure the ambulance will be here in good time… maybe sometime in 2019 … web--441Bugger off quick style to avoid the lynch mob, go about 500m round the corner and … here we go again…web--442Hanging on to a bolting Ktm is hungry work so we stop for lunch and confirm that stupid vain twats in hats aren’t just the preserve of the west. web--446We deliberately choose the cafe with the worst hygiene rating we can find.  I’m completely indestructible today – bring it on..web--447 web--449 web--448Then race the roving river through the warm afternoon sunshine.web--450To another lovely tiny mountain town
web--452web--453Two of us see a small neon sign, go down a dark passage, climb into a tiny lift and pop out in a hidden burger bar half way up a building.  Everyone just stares but we’re used to this by now.  As luck would have it … and I seem to be carrying a sack of it on my back .. there are not 1 by 2 English teachers in the crowd and they fall over themselves to help us avoid ordering the picked spider tits by mistake. web--454After what we’re ridden so far, after everything that we’ve seen,  telling people there is something special for tomorrow sounds just plain stupid… but it’s true.

Get to the police check/starting gate on the edge of town and take a look at the menu for today.  Look tasty… very very tasty

web--455

The light turns green, the curtain goes up and we’re off.   Off into the most ridiculous piece of road I know anywhere.  If there is another road on the planet that can give you this much variety on a single riding day then I’ll eat my own helmet… if I can still bend over far enough..web--456web--457web--458web--459web--461web--460web--462web--463web--466web--468web--469To end up at a grubby little hotel with a horrible view from both the foyerweb--473and my bedroom windowweb--474So we go and drown our sorrows in beer and cake..web--471web--472We’re at another holy mountain that I’ve never heard of.  Get up next morning, open the curtains … it’s probably raining.  Yep.. can’t see a thing.. web--475Go up on the roof for a better look in the cold morning air.  Oh yea.  Much better view from up here..web--476web--478We left Tibet yesterday.  We’re all excited.. we’re going for petrol .. and they’re going to let us fill up ourselves .. at the pump… just like the grown ups do… I wonder if I can remember how to do it.. web--479Before enjoying a final scream down and out of the mountains to Shangri-La.web--480 web--481web--482It’s a really fast road, and we’re going really fast.  Too fast. I come up behind a big 4×4 on a long sweeping left hand bend and I can see right round the corner.  I’m going to overtake, plenty of time, plenty of space, plenty of speed.  Open the throttle and off we go.  I’m probably doing somewhere between 70-80mph. I’m looking into the distance when I see something enter my peripheral vision  on the right.  It looks suspiciously like a big 4×4.. It’s decided to straight line the corner and it’s cutting me off, fast, and I’m going to hit it.  I am definitely going to hit it.  Don’t bother reading ahead and seeing if I really do.  I do. I’m leaning quite hard over and it’s quickly coming in on me and cutting me off.   This is very very likely going to hurt quite a bit.  At the last second I look at the car and just choose my spot.  I reckon I’m going into the drivers door.  Here we go.  It was nice speaking to you all …

Maybe the driver does something, maybe I do, it was all so quick I just don’t know exactly what happened.  My lent over front tyre touches the car’s front wheel.  I think the rest of the bike is going to come up vertical and slap into the side  but instead I just get a massive slide and wiggle on and the bike shakes like a wet dog.  By some miracle, nothing else touches the car and the driver pulls back onto his side of the road.  The bike sorts itself out and quickly gets itself back in shape.  The big bag of luck I’m carrying on my back suddenly feels a whole lot lighter.  Shiiiiittttt…  best slow down a bit…

By the time we get to Shangr-la I’m still shaking and I’m glad to just step off the bike.  I think I’ll have some lunch.  Lovely hotel, go the restaurant, right I’m going to treat myself to a hearty meal and celebrate being alive.  So what’s on the menu..
web--486“Errrrr…got any Snickers?”

As I was riding at 2mph with my feet on the ground coming into town I started thinking about my missus.  She’s often said I got a stone cold heart so I thought I’d prove her right.  She’d really like that…

When I was at base camp I took a few stones out the stream as I waited for the sun to rise and I put them in my pocket.  I also picked up a handful of colourful tattered prayer flags that were frozen to the ground.  I’ve got an idea so I grab the guide and we head off into the old town looking for someone that can work stone.  The guide tells me it’s unlikely we’ll find someone here.  We ask in loads of different shops.  Jewelry shops.  Handicrafts.  Hairdressers.. But no luck.  So I reach into my luck bag, grab a handful,  throw it into the air and follow it as it gets blown down a narrow back alley.   There’s a shop with some rough rocks outside, and a woman asleep on a bed behind the counter.   I pick up one of the rocks and throw it at the bed.  It’s a direct hit and she’s up and at us like a rabid dog..

We seemed to have stumbled upon the only jade cutter in the whole of Shangri-la.  From the dust covering everything in sight I think her sleep to work ratio is about 20 to 1.  I draw some shapes on the stone and we tell her what I would like like to do.  She says the stone is soft and fractured but she’ll try and see if she can remember how all these strange machines work and have a go..

web--488web--489web--487And the result.  Cold hard stone hearts.. from Everest.  Orders now being taken for 2019:)web--491 web--490All the fucking about early on in Tibet has given us a spare day so I spend it here taking the camera out for a walk.web--483 web--484Errr excuse me.  Shouldn’t that be on a lead?web--492web--497 web--496Go for a haircut and a shave.  I try never to go manual when I’m away. Being shaved is a pleasure you can’t get at home without booking an appointment,  signing a health and safety waver on 15 sheets of paper,  paying £30, then sticking your head in a clear plastic box and being shaved by someone using long rubber gloves through holes like somebody handling the Ebola virus.   Out here it’s £3, a 2nd hand blade and a young maiden breathing in your ear.    I had 5 shaves… just to be sure…web--494Whoops… my bad .. sorry .. it just went off in my handweb--495Last night we were wandering about and I saw a HUGE prayer wheel spinning round on the hill.  Go up for a look and it’s MASSIVE.  And it’s manual… Every few minutes enough people get enough energy together to push it round and chant their way around a few revolutions.  You don’t get that in Southampton.web--499Then wander home through the dark…wandering what duck body parts I’m going to eat for breakfast…web--500 web--501Breakfast is predictably unidentifiable/uninviting/possibly still alive and is best avoided, especially if you’re expecting to be down a million steps and with no toilet within squirting distance.

On the road we go, into the pouring rain, chasing the Tiger.  It’s difficult ride on a road through the clouds but by the time we reach the gorge it’s sorted itself out.  Grab a ticket and take a ride on the edge, up to Ann’s cafe where you can get bacon sandwiches, coffee, and an amazing view of one of the deepest gorges in the world.web--502 web--505 web--504 web--503Get back to the visitors centre an get down to see the rock that gives the gorge it’s name.  The legend says that the big rock in the middle of the raging torrent was used by the tiger to leap the gorge.  I bet it still got it’s paw’s wet though.web--507web--506 web--508 web--509 web--510Before returning to our admirers.. web--511web--515And another ride on the edge
web--512 web--513Down to Lijiang web--516 web--517And down to Dali via the lake.  Such a very beautiful place, but because it’s so beautiful it’s also bride central, all being photographed.  They’re bloody everywhere.   You can’t bloody move for flippin brides.  Not that I particularly want to move… not just at this particular moment… web--519 web--520 web--521 web--522Get to Dali, go out for a walk, and guess what…web--523 web--532We’ve nearing the end of our time in China and we’re all quite sad.  So to make ourselves feel better, and reinforce just how shit travelling in China really is, we all go out for a night at the Bad Monkey to stare at ugly women, drink shit beer, and listen to the worst band I’ve ever heard… all night
web--525 web--527web--530web--529web--528web--526Dali has a big ex-pat community and I can see why.  I think I could spend a lot of my time here.  Our guide says it’s his ambition to live here.   Perhaps with one of these…  I can’t see the attraction myself.. mind you I have my eyes closed and I’m facing the other way …web--533Dali traffic is a right bitch but we’re soon out and back in the wilderness.  Tonight we’re going to Zhenyuan,  way up into the mountains.    As I  got onto the bike this morning,  I picked up my Lucksack and was very dismayed to find it completely empty.  I’ve been fucking robbed and I suspect I know exactly who was behind it… bastards..
web--534web--535We’re having a great day.  It’s lovely and warm.. the roads are delicious.. the food is .. recognizable .. Perhaps I just mislayed my luck.  Perhaps I put it in another pocket.. perhaps I packed it somewhere really really safe.. that’ll be it…

Me and one other rider are running late.  Just enjoying the ride, the countryside, just the sights and sounds.  The sun is loosing it’s grip on the day and it’s slowly giving way to the night.    Dusk is coming down and we’re scooting along in formation, dealing with all the farm machinery returning to their beds.

We’re coming up behind a small truck, chugging and bumping it’s way along past a field with a big concrete culvert running alongside it.  There is a big tree ahead and a concrete bridge over the culvert into the field.  My mate goes to overtake, and I sudden;y hear the unmistakable chilling cackle of the  Shit and Happens crew.  The little bastards seems to have hitched a ride in the cab of the truck.  Just as the driver goes to indicate, I see Shit and Happens grab the indicator and hang on tight.  The instant my mate gets his head past the back of the truck they let go and I see the indicator begin to flash.  Shit and Happens jump into the back of the truck and start counting down in time with the taunting yellow flashes… 5..4…3…2… as the truck starts to fade across the road towards the turn.

My mate doesn’t have a chance.  By the time he realises what’s happening he can’t accelerate past, and he can’t brake hard enough as he’s pushed onto the gravel.

1… the truck makes contact and the bike is knocked hard.  It’s going down and the rider is thrown off, just missing the tree and landing on the small bridge.  All the traffic stops.  The truck stops.  I stop.  I run over to the little cloud of dust.  The rider hasn’t got up yet… that’s bad.  When he does get vertical, he looks like he’s been photo shopped into black and white.  And he does’t look … right.  He looks like he’s been carrying a 200kg handbag for 12 hours in his left hand.

He knows he’s hurt.  He shows me his right shoulder.  Fine.  Shows me his right… His right isn’t right.  It looks to me like he has broken his clavicle in 5 places and will need an operation to put the bone jigsaw back together and secure it with a titanium plate and also repair some damaged ligaments…. but I don’t tell him that… he’ll find out soon enough..

web--536 web--538 web--537We wait for the van, put the bike in the back and head off. We were told this road was closed close to the town tonight and that we’d probably have to wait for it to open. Right now that’s music to my rider’s ears…. Rap music… He absolutely hates rap music…

The road gets worse and worse as the it gets darker and darker. I ride behind the truck and watch the bike bounce about. Probably dancing to the rap… Get 10k from the town, it’s pitch black, and we’re into the road works. 30 minutes at 20kph on steep lose bumpy gravel behind 2 dozen lorries. Just what the doctor ordered…

Get to the town and he’s straight to the hospital. Looks like my roadside diagnosis was right. Poor bugger! He’s come back to the hotel wearing a contraption not unlike the harness I put on my pug when I take her out for a walk. He must be in absolute agony but he refuses to acknowledge it. He’s rock hard this boy. He says he’s going to stay with the group until we get the bike out. He get’s himself separate room in the basement where he can scream his heart out without keeping us awake.

The mood is understandably sombe the next day as we make our way down the expressway to Jinghong. We use the expressway for a change. Shit and Happens hate the expressways…web--539 web--542 web--541 web--540A quick squirt down to Mohan, unload the crashed bike and out we go. web--545

web--544 web--546I’ve said it before.  I’ll say it again.  I’ll be back.

Next Page

The Road to Ruin

Getting into bed is like diving into the mouth of a giant fluffy duvet caterpillar,  my head sticking out of it’s mouth.  I am as snug as a bug in a big fluffy rug.  I’m sleeping like the dead as soon as I hit the pillow.  Perhaps I am dead.  Perhaps this could be heaven.  Certainly feels like it.

Get up at bladder o’clock and follow my nose outside and across the courtyard.  I look up at the stars.  I stare up at them and they all wink back like there is someone photographing me from every one.  An amazing sight to go in the forever box.

We’re up before dawn to beat the sun to the peak. It’s -10 and the gritters haven’t been out. The road has a thin patina of ice on and we all carefully trickle up on tick over and wait for the first rays to touch the sky.

A couple of us try to walk right up to the far camp for a better view but we get turned round by a little bloke on a little scooter …

Perhaps their isn’t a better view anyway.  I guess this one will have to do..web-338My missus collects hearts… not real ones …. well not anymore … not since I installed a big fuck off padlock on the knife drawer … so I let my feminine side out for 2 minutes and make a cover for a card I’ll give her on our anniversary when I get home. Ahhhhh
web-339Put my balls against the Ktm freezer and roll back down to breakfast…

web-342This memory’s not going anywhere any time soon either…
web-340As sad as it is, we have to leave.  I look at the bend forecast on the GPS.  It says ‘see yesterday’.  The Bitch just hunkers down, grins, growls and fucks off towards the horizon with a howling banshee scream.  I look over my shoulder… See ya… I’ll be back..  Fuck yea.

web-343 web-344Some pictures paint a 1000 words.  And some paint 10000.web-346web-348 web-347web-345

Get to New Tengri early and take a look at The Bitch.  She’s not been shown any mercy the last couple of days and she’s looking really sad.  The brakes gave me a few scares coming down the mountain too.  To be brutally honest she looks a fucking mess.  Like a lady that’s been parting too hard for too long, with mascara running all over her face and sweat stains in all the wrong places.  She’s still smiling though, and that’s all that matters.

I’ve been in touch with a couple of mates.  One, Rob, an Aussie, into his off roading big styley, and Guy, owner of Nitron.   Rob has given me some instructions to make a DIY seal cleaner so I get my shit together and get The Bitch on the treatment table.

Get the mudguard off and the problem is immediately obvious.  The chrome has worn off the forks.  Nothing serious … I’ll just put some silver foil on them.. they’ll be fine

The bike has only done about 35,000 miles and the chrome has worn out already.  I’m unimpressed to say the least.  Granted, a few of those miles have been ‘non-tarmac’ but this is just bollocks.

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So, cut out a plastic tongue from a bottleweb-352

Then work it under the seal and move it round to dislodge the dust.. or in this case … loose chrome ..web-351web-353Add some completely useless strips of leather to the dust sealsweb-354web-350Reassemble, and dress the wounds to stop it leaking fork blood all over the place.  It’s a good look..web-355 web-356

Guy tells me I’ll not loose 100% of the oil. That’s great … but ..  eventually the forks will just flop about like the tits on a topless trampolinist.  Something to look forward to…

Take The Bitch for a quick scrub down.  I’d forgotten what she looked like under all that shit and grime.  She’s still a looker.  Still gives me the horn….

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Talking of which…. I’m riding back to the hotel and the 5000000th vehicle today pulls out straight in front of me.  Queue LOUD HORN… Queue … spluttering fart…. Queue smell of burning electrics …

Shit…. this is serious.  Smells like a show stopper.  BITCH.  WTF has happened?  Burning electrics is not usually a good sign.  My brain is going overtime.. the bike is going to have to go on the truck for sure.    I’m not going to be able to fix something like this out here in the middle of fucking nowhere.   I roll into the hotel and take a look.    Bugger bollocks, tits and arse.  It’s totally fucked.

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It’s my worst nightmare.  The one fucking essential thing on the whole bike has gone FUBAR.  The fucking bloody horn has broken.  The compressor has burnt out and is now just blowing out a weak fart of electrical smelling air.  Riding in China without a horn is like walking through a pack of hyenas smothered in gravy.  It’s always going to end in blood and tears.  Fuck.  I’ll have to think seriously think about this.

The guide tells us the road is being shut just out of town for more roadworks.  We need to be through them before 7am and they’re miles up the bloody road so we’re up and out in the pitch dark… again..

Roadworks… brilliant.  Miles of them.  In a ‘normal’ country they would divert you round somewhere but out here there is no option so you just drive over the road, whatever state of destruction it is currently in.  They seem to decide on the edges first, then build 2ft high concrete walls down the sides.  Then they get some massive fuck off big boys toy digger to drive between the walls and completely destroy whatever was there before and just leave a dusty bumpy mess … then they … fuck I don’t know .. that’s what stage they seem to be at the moment here … just what my fragile forks need… miles of destruction, bumps boulders and dust.   A lot of the cars here are quite new and the drivers are crawling through the melee.  It’s a very odd sensation indeed.  The walls keep a lot of the dust in so it feels like you’re riding down a light brown river with water up to your seat.  You can’t see through it.

Eventually we reach solid ground again and I have time to think about my wankered horn.  I guess every decision, even life of death decisions like riding without a horn in China is based on the  risk/reward ratio.  So.. if this is the reward ..  then I guess I’ll take the risk..

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Today’s destination is some place hidden 30 miles down a side road that I deliberately ride past just so I can spend an hour riding over a mountain pass to do a recce of tomorrows route.  That’s the official line and I’m sticking to it.  I just forgot to tell the other riders… sorry…

Rock into Sakya in the early afternoon and it’s another town built around a famous monastery/somewhere I’d never heard of.  Sakya monastery is an unusual place for a number of reasons that I suggest you look up yourselves … if you’re interested..  like the monks can marry … see … now you’re interested …   Anyway, it’s a pretty impressive place, not least for it’s library.  This place has a proper Harry Potter library.. it’s the most surreal room I’ve ever been in.  It’s enormous for a start.  Properly HUGE.  All the walls just disappear off into the distance in all directions …left.. right … up… and all the walls are made of big pigeon holes full to bursting with ancient scrolls … just millions of them … Jesus…. or … Buddah .. or .. I dunno..  Whatever I say I’m going to get into trouble… It’s an amazing place for sure.

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web-363web-366This bloke certainly knows his noodles…web-367web-368web-369

Get out of Sakya and start our decent.. it’s all downhill from here… for a while at least.  We’ve all got used to the altitude now but it will be nice to get some red blood back instead of this light blue stuff I’ve got at the moment.  Lhasa is somewhere about 10000ft so virtually see level..

This is still Tibet though so we still have to dick about diverting into towns and registering with the police every 10 minutes but I’ve almost stopped caring.  The locals don’t seem to care either… about anything… even their haircuts …

web-417But with views like this, nobody’s looking at your hair anyway… web-370As we approach Lhasa we’re all in sight of each other but that changes in about 5 seconds flat.  Lhasa is a big heaving city with suicidal traffic.  The UK has RoSPA, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.  China has the opposite.  China has a society for the creation of accidents, and everyone is a member.  Lhasa seems to be it’s headquarters.  This isn’t the time to try and stick together.  This is a time to concentrate on staying alive, especially is you haven’t got a BIG FUCK OFF HORN!  You just have to rely on speed.  Fuck the signs, fuck the lights, fuck the speed limits, fuck the lines in the road and fuck every every fucker on the road.  That’s the Lhasa driver’s handbook. Perfect.  Game on.  I’m off…

I love this stuff and so does The Bitch.  She loves absolutely nothing more than playing in traffic.   Slipping her slim hips through the gaps and giving a loud farting finger to the driver as she fucks off up the road.  Roaring with laughter as she scorches off the line before the light has hit the retina of the cage driver by her side.  Screaming with joy as she hoons through the lines of traffic leaving the unmistakable scent of eau du gasoline in her wake.  Oh yea baby .. the joy of 2 wheels and a big fuck off engine.

I get to the Potala Palace.  It’s trafficorama. I need a picture… I could pull over to the side and get a shot with crap everwhere and cars all over the place…

Or I could just stop in the middle of the road, put the hazard lights on… and walk off..  there’s bound to be a gap… eventually … probably… 10 minutes later… after much squealing of breaks and rapid lane changes by confused drivers .. and a Whoop Whoop from a police van that couldn’t see me hiding behind a tree … and a gap suddenly appears … job done…web-371Lhasa is such a lovely place.  I could wander round here for weeks.web-373 web-374 web-375And I even get to use the C word.. I can’t remember the last time I used it.. “Coffee please”web-376 web-377The Swiss boys turned up at the same hotel too.  Good to see they all made it safe and sound.  Their bikes are being put in a container and taken to Beijing then back to Switzerland.

We’ve got a day off here so I head out to takes some pictures.  Still life ..web-378City life ….web-381web-382Local wildlife.web-380 web-379I’m running out of fork tampons for The Bitch so I spend an hour in dark holes in the walls, assembling a Ktm medical kit.  Towels, scissors, and elastic.   Ktm owners .. don’t leave home without them.
web-383A few days ago I got an email from the Navo guide. The G318 is closed for the first 200 miles out of Lhasa, for 3 months, starting now. Brilliant.

So we need to take a big diversion.  What’s that I hear in the background?  Is that the sound of the shit and happens brothers rubbing their hands with glee?  Tittering?  Getting ready for a great day out together?  I just hope they don’t let things get out of hand.

We look at the map with the guide and identify the route.  I put a couple of way points in the GPS and we’re off.  In the immortal words uttered just before any and every natural and unnatural disaster that has ever been. “What could possibly go wrong?”web-384We get on the expressway and head out into a beautiful dawn,  full of hope and promise..  Wait for the guide to identify the correct road, just to be sure, then we’re off.  It’s a busy road with all the diverted traffic on it so we  all get split up quickly.  I get to a big sod off police check and I’m not in the mood to wait so I coast up alongside a truck and go through the barrier with it.  I’m spotted as I’m leaving and there’s a lot of shouting and waving but I’m not stopping.  I forgot to take my patience tablets this morning, sorry boys.  But waiting in unavoidable in China.  At the next town I have to wait for the others to arrive, and they had to wait at the police check anyway.  I’m never going to win.  And just to rub salt in the wound I have to go into the next police station, listen to a (well meaning) lecture on road safety, and write a short essay in a visitors book about how wonderful china is… Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh GOD.  Still… it gives Shit and Happens a chance to catch up and get into the back of the guide’s van..

We come to another small checkpoint just before a narrow bridge.  Shit and Happens get out the truck, run round the back and into the little hut, then whisper into the guard’s ear, little fuckers.   The guard tells the guide that the bikes can go over the bridge, but the truck cannot.  Shit and Happens are in the shed absolutely pissing themselves.  Rolling round and holding their sides, eyes watering with laughter.  Unable to believe their luck.

The guide tells me to take the others over and he’ll take a long route round and meet up with us later.  So now the disaster recipe is complete.   I try to disseminate the information to the other riders but Chinese whispers ensure confusion reigns and assumptions are made.  The guide goes his way, and we go ours.

Over the bridge we go.  Follow the GPS, we’ll be fine…  Get to a junction, turn off up a mountain, avoid a massive yak, and go play.  The X302.  It’s a thing of beauty. It’s a delicious sticky snake of a road.  It’s brand spanking new and as smooth as botoxed baby’s bottom.  It’s twisty and spectacular.  It’s every bikers dream.  It’s absolutely deserted.  Not another vehicle on it.  The locals are using the road to dry their crops on.  It’s..  it’s… it’s the wrong bloody road..  I’ve started seeing some signs for the G318.  I’ve been feeling this is all wrong for the last few miles, and so have a couple of the others.  I pull over and signal for everyone to stop but a couple of them ride past assuming I’m taking pictures.  The rest stop and we have a chat, look at the map, and agree we’ve taken a wrong turn.  Bollocks.  Still, no harm done.  We’ll wait for the others to turn round and some back, then we’ll retrace our steps.

5..10.. 15 minutes and there is no sign of them.  They must be up the road somewhere waiting for us.  I’m sure they will be.  So I ask the others to wait while I ride up and collect the strays.  10km… 20.. 40.. nothing. The road feels like it’s running off the end of world.  There is nobody and nothing here.  Nothing at all.  It’s completely and utterly naked apart from a black stripe of tarmac.   50km… 60.. still nothing.  I come to a grotty police shed by the side of the road with a barrier across stopping people from going up to the closed G318.  They’re not here either.  Surely they can’t have gone much further.  So I skip round the barrier and ride another 10km up to the G318.  It’s obviously closed.  There is no traffic on it at all… what’s left of it… except construction vehicles. I still can’t see them though so I ride up to a worker outside a hut and point up the road, and to my bike.  He just holds up 2 fingers and points up the road.  Fuck.  Really?  They’ve gone off into 200 km of roadworks? Oh dear…

So now I’ve got 2 riders in the G318 roadworks, I’ve got 3 other riders waiting for me 70km back up the X302, and the guide  somewhere on the original route wondering where the fuck we’ve got to.   I try to contact the 2 in the roadworks but can’t get hold of them.  I don’t have much  petrol and I can’t chase the strays any further so I have to turn back and ride back to the 3 waiting riders.  Get back to them, get hold of the guide and he’s been waiting for us for 3 hours back at the main road.  We all need to get back to him and decide what we’re going to do.

We work our way back down the 302,  find the guide and tell him what’s happened.  His reaction … “Oh my Godness” ..

This is a real problem for him.  He is supposed to be with us at all times and he could loose his job if the police get involved recovering stray riders, especially here in Tibet.  If the riders get to a police check without the guide then they could spark a real shit storm for him.   We could just take the diversion, cross our fingers and hope we all meet up at the end.  Right now that works for me ..  but .. we’ve no idea if there is fuel available in the roadworks, and if there is, can they get it without the guide.  We’ve no option other than to follow them into the unknown.

So now it’s about 6pm and I’m running on fumes so we all back track 25km to the bridge where the problem started and get fuel.  It’s getting cold now, and dark.  The sky is looking evil.  It’s looking for a fight.  That’s all we bloody need.

Back up to the X302 we go.  Back out into the wilderness.  Someone turns all the lights down and the mountains settle in to watch the fight.. ding ding..  round one.  Down comes the rain, cold and hard, then the wind picks. Piercing rays of light race across the plains like giant spotlights, sweeping along the mountainsides, looking for victims. Round 2 brings the thunder and lightening.  Fantastic sparks of light dodge and dance all around the sky, firing at the ground and turning the world blue for an instant at a time.  We get to G318 junction.   They’re not letting us on, maybe 9pm… maybe.. Great.  We’re just sitting on the bikes, dejected tired and cold.  Then round 3 starts.  The heavens open and we’re pelted with hail stones.  Perfect.  We all just stare out at each other from behind our little pieces of steamed up plastic.   What… the…. FUUUUUCCCCCCCCKKKK are we doing here!!  Beam me up Scottie…web-386web-387At about 8, somebody grabs the sky fader and turns it right down.. and off.  Time to go..  GPS says  about 170km to our destination.  Just over 100 miles. How hard can that be?

When the Chinese do a project like this they don’t piss about.  They swarm all over it 24 hours a day for as long as it takes.  Health and safety doesn’t take first place either.. or second… or third.  If it’s quicker to risk loosing a few bodies under the concrete or down a hole, then that’s fine. Just as long as it’s done quickly.

We head off into the dark, no markings, no barriers, no idea whats running under our wheels.  I frequently run my foot along the ground to try and get an idea of what’s going on but it’s not easy to tell.  The road is closed but all sorts of traffic has crawled out of the dark to use it and we come to big lines of red lights, cars and lorries trying to work their way through.  We get to a section being surfaced, road rollers rushing up and down, whispy steam running across the surface in the rain.  Fuck, this is going to take a while.  But no, they just wave us on to the hot tarmac and we weave between the rollers and just ride on to the next obstacle.  It’s just mad.

The road quickly turns to deep stone chippings, my personal favorite, and we start to climb.. and I see a sign I recognize from last year, and I know exactly where we are.  We’re headed up a 5000m pass on the loose in the pitch darkness.  Not another vehicle in sight.   Get to the top and the road starts to slope down steeply… towards … nothing.  My brain is telling me to stop.  I’m on loose gravel, descending a 5000m pass, and there are no barriers… They’ve got the posts in but the armco is still on their ‘to-do’ list…  Fucking hell.  This is just not funny any more.   We can see the construction traffic way off and way down below us.  They’ve got the giant moles out digging tunnels for the expressway to run under the mountains.  There’s no way we’ll get on there.  We tiptoe and wriggle our way down in low gear, my turtle with it’s head permanently stuck out my arse.  And it’s front legs.. and it’s shell… by the time we get to the bottom it’s just desperately hanging  in there just by it’s back feet …

OK, job done, now let’s just get on with it..  “It’ quickly turns into a complete fuckfest of mud, gravel, and ‘t r  c’. That’s tarmac with at least 50% of the surface missing.  Fucking great holes with rim killer edges, cleverly arranged so that there isn’t one continuous line in any direction.  Its a real work of art.  It’s a real bastard nightmare.  To make it worse, there is construction traffic on it too.  Heavily loaded trucks crawling through the night in clouds of black smoke, reducing our options to 1. That fucking great deep round hole to the left or 2.  That narrow groove with knife edges to the right.   3.  Stop….cry. ..die. 3 is quickly looking my best option…

We all jog and jiggle through the darkness, crawling through the mess, trying to stay upright with wheels and tyres intact.   Around midnight we get to a town and pick our way through the mud and shit past a long line of static traffic with their engines off.  This isn’t good..

Get to the front and it looks like there is a fight going on between 2 massive yellow Transformers  Two enormous digger buckets are flying through the air like giant boxing gloves, picked out in the spotlights from the cabs.  Get off the bikes and walk up for a closer look.  Turns out they’re not fighting, they’re digging 2 6ft deep trenches across the road.  Right across the road, from building to building.  There is absolutely no way through this.  Fuckit.  We’re stuck.

You brain makes all sorts of calculations based on your experience at home.  This would take weeks.   Health and safety assessments.  Putting up barriers.  Ordering 1000 clipboards and people to carry them about looking important and wasting time.  Ticking a million boxes. Putting up signs.  Construct a temporary village of offices, restaurants, toilets, showers.  Ground surveys.. Architects… traffic control…

Or…. you could just drive a fuck off digger into the middle of the road to stop the traffic, quickly dig a trench as onlookers stand on the sides, ducking their heads to avoid having them batted of their shoulders by a 2 tonne bucket.  You could then get 3 men to roll a pipe in the hole and level the ground underneath with a shovel while the digger chases them along, pushing dirt in at their feet.  One trip, one buried bloke, but still 2 left so carry on regardless..  Fill the hole, then race along punching the ground hard with the bucket until it’s sort of level, then back out into the shadows and let the traffic fight begin.  That would take about 30 minutes… let’s do that then.
web-388As soon as the diggers retreat, the traffic rushes towards each other and locks like two sumo wrestlers starting a fight.  Static to gridlocked in approximately 5 seconds.  We saddle up and pick our way between all the metal and we’re immediately into a quagmire with mud about a foot deep and trucks skidding about like fat drunken ice skaters.  We all stop for a mimute.  We don’t even speak.  We just look up the road, start the engines, follow the headlights.

Get to the next town and there is a police roadblock.  Really? We try and run it but they’re not having it and we get called into a dark dark shed out the rain.  I walk into the warmth and see a big fire.  I have the urge to just curl up like a wet leathery dog, go fetal, lie down, shut down.   The flames are throwing dark shadows round the walls and I can smell food.  Can’t see a bloody thing though.  It’s like I’ve walked into a scene from Blade Runner.  Then I see screens coming to life, and faces appearing out the dark.  The power has come back on.  Hands appear out the dark and take passports, the photocopier kicks into life and we’re off again.  GPS is predicting a 2:30am finish.    It’s pissing down with rain, it’s freezing cold, and the visor has put me into protective mode and steamed up, hiding all the shit outside from my tired eyes.

Then we hit the water.  We’ve not seen any traffic for ages and we’ve come to a section where they’ve been through and done their 2ft concrete wall thing down the sides.  Perfect.  Perfect that is for creating long sections of very deep water.  I’ve really had enough of this now.  This is dangerous.  We’re in the middle of fucking nowhere in the middle of the night and we’re on a motorcycle assault course.  We’re all wankered and we’re on on auto pilot.  Don’t think about it, just do it.    I keep hearing the rims twatting big holes deep under the water.  I daren’t even think about the forks..  I’m in a deep deep puddle and I hit something big… I suspect it was a submarine .. and the bike suddenly lurches left.  I’ll be off now… I know I’m coming off.  It’s guaranteed.  The bike is heading for the wall and at the last moment I jump off to avoid being crushed against the concrete.  I don’t know exactly how I’ve managed it but I land on my feet on top of the wall, with the bike leaning against the concrete, still running, up to it’s tits in water. A proper Ninja dismount. I just push the bike away from the wall, get on, ride out… fuck that was close.  The other riders pull up beside me, bikes steaming in the dark, all looking at each other.  This is simply insane.

Eventually we see traffic way off down and to the right, running fast, using the expressway… We trudge through a few more miles of destruction and come to a freeway entrance.  There are barriers of a sort but after what we’ve been through tonight they’ve dispatched in a second and we’re down on the new road.  We’re still about an hour away and not guaranteed that we’ll be able to get off the expressway at our stop but we get on anyway.

Reach the town about 3am. We’ve got a hotel name but no coordinates so we hunt about for a while among the people of the night, round and round in ever decreasing circles until we finally roll into the car park about 3:30am.  The strays are here.  We’re all back together.  We’ve all had an interesting day.. and the shit and happens brothers have had a fucking ball.

In the morning, breakfast is a little awkward at first but I serve out some portions of blame, including to myself, apologies are made, humble pies are nibbled and we’re all friends again.

I tell them if it happens again, I’m going to have their penises sliced and served for lunch.

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I’m hoping that today, shit and happens will sleep in and miss their ride.  I know the 318 from here is delicious.  I wander up to The Bitch in the car park.  Her bandages are soaked in oil and she’s caked in shit again but she’s got me through it so I change her dressings and treat her to a tank of 98 for breakfast.

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Last night is quickly forgotten as we scream across the mountains then chase a big river in the rain.

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The 318 is such schizophrenic road.  It’s different every day.  Anything you could put on a road menu, it’s got it.  Mountains, valleys, rivers, tunnels, and all threaded together with a single lovely smooth curvy strip of the black stuff.

web-397Wake up with the clouds slowly marching past the windows.  web-399 web-400web-401Last year this section was a disaster after lots of landslides and earthquakes but this year it’s absolutely delicious.  The best on the planet.  Want to argue?  You’re going to loose! I guarantee it.
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The camera keeps jumping up and down in the tank bag and wanting to come out for a look about.  I’m falling behind the others I’m sure but I don’t care.   I don’t want to blur this scenery.

The trees disappear, the roads begin to rise and fall, they begin to twist and turn and the speed starts to increase.  The grin begins and starts to spread as The Bitch starts chasing the black dragon.  She’s locked in like a low flying missile and her target is the horizon, ASAP.

I come to a bend with water coming down the mountain and across the road.  Not usually a problem but I slow down a bit as I approach then I see a shadow appear in the water.  Fuck…. I pull at the bars.. too late.  There is a horrible noise and the bike leaps to the side , lands and refuses to go in anything but a straight line.  I pull over and look at the damage.  The water has washed away a section of the road and left a 6 inch wall of tarmac with a deep gully in front of it.  The rim has taken a big twatting and the tyre has punctured and immediately gone down.  web-410Get the tools out and put a new tube in.  Call the guide.  He’s waiting an hour up the road at a checkpoint.  Fuckit.web-411As I’m finishing up, a car comes through and there is a loud crack as they go though the water.  The passenger is hanging out the window looking at the wheels.  It’s going along about 10mph and it’s obviously done some damage..  Perhaps I should open a pop-up garage here.  I’d make a fortune..web-409Get the bike back together and gingerly ride up the road to check it out.  It all feels fine.  I’m amazed but I’m not going to question it.  I’m a long way behind now and I need to get a groove on.  Time for a couple of hours of tarmac sex..
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SHHHHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIITTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTT this bike is quick. For 95% of these journeys I ride with as much mechanical sympathy as I can, aware of the miles it’s got to cover, minimizing the wear to the tyres, brakes and chains.  The other 5% is preserved for roads like this where The Bitch takes a big breath, adds a fuck load of fuel then buggers off down the road at insane speeds.      Tarmac sex at it’s best.

By the time I get to the hotel I’m spent.  I’m shaking.  I’m sweating.  I’m done.  I caught the other riders up and riding behind the Transalp I see the back wheel is buckled  so I go up for a chat.  Turns out he has hit the same hole.  He didn’t notice the damage but his wheel has a big dent in as well as the buckle.  Good job he’s got spoked wheels.

He comes over to look at my bike and compare dents.  He walks over and bends down.  “Have you seen your tyre mate?”.  Errrr no… why?  “Best take a look yourself”.

I bend over and take a look.  And my world starts to fold.

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The tyre is split.  I’ve been tear arsing round all afternoon, scraping the luggage and properly beasting the bike until it’s panting and screaming for its life.  I’ve been burying the front tyre in the tarmac on the brakes.  I’ve been doing all that with a split in my front tyre… I must have cut it inside with the rim and it’s worked through and fractured.  I can see the cut wire through the hole.

And my spare is 1000s of miles away in Kyrgyzstan.  We all left them in a lovely pile and rode away.   There is now way on earth I’ll get a tyre out here. No way at all.  My mind is furiously going through plans.  A… B… C… all ending up with the bike on the van.  There is a Ktm dealer in Kuming but that’s 1000’s of miles away, it might as well be on the moon for all the use that is.  I might get one in Laos, or Thailand.. but they’re weeks away.  I’m  totally and utterly fucked.   Another trip finishing early.  I just collapse onto my haunches.  My head drops and I let a long breath out.  I’m not sure  can be bothered to breath in again.  I just close my eyes and shut down.   It’s all over.  Bollocks.

Next Page

Top of the world

In my mind, I always thought I would be able to see Everest from days away. Always on the horizon, like a pointer to follow. Sticking up out the earth and touching the sky. But it’s not. Here we are, a couple of days away and there isn’t a bloody sign of it. We’re adapting to the altitude now and I can take maybe 3 steps between deep breaths. It’s beginning to feel normal. The usual. Kick the beasts into life the freezing cold morning air, throw a leg over an icy saddle and take the bikes for breakfast.

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Just another day?  If this feels normal, then there is something very wrong.   A scrubbed blue sky, pure filtered air, and the KTM twins playing at max volume.  Fuck – kill me now.

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Wait, give me a minute… maybe now…

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Nooo… ok… just give me a little longer please…

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OK – cancel that… I’m not finished just yet..

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This is mental.  The place is just … fuck…  Anyway.  Apart from being one of the most outrageously attractive places I’ve ever been, it’s also cock shrinkingly cold.  The sun is low and we’re riding straight into it.  All the others plugged themselves in this morning but I couldn’t be arsed.  My vest is in the bottom of the pannier.  I’ll be fine.  I meet up with another rider at the top of a pass.  I’ve been riding with my visor open and I find I have to move my head to look at him as my eyeballs seem to have frozen in their sockets.  It’s over 5000m and minus something stupid, perhaps I can justify the 30 seconds to get my vest out and plug it in… that’s if I can get my fingers to work…

We come to a small community of huts, see smoke coming out a chimney, all dive in through the door and cuddle the big iron fire in the middle of the room to resuscitate ourselves whilst a lovely young lady warms her dumplings…

I’ve just noticed something on my bike and I’m trying not to think about it… putting my fingers in my ears to ignore a problem works for funny noises but closing my eyes seems to have a negative effect on my riding .. so I go take another look.  I saw something on the forks the other day but convinced myself it was sweat where I’d been working The Bitch too hard.  It’s not going to be sweat out here at minus stupid though.  The buggering seals are leaking.   It’s running down and dripping on the ground, and it’s going on the brakes.  That is all I fucking need.  BITCH!

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Give it a wipe .. get on ..  go… brakes are for girls anyway.  It’s not as if I’m going to need them in the near future or anything..

I often find myself wandering the globe completely oblivious to what is around me.  Just heading for the big lumps, like Everest, and ignoring all the rest.  Today we’re going past Mt Kailash.  “Are we?  And…”

Well, according to Hinduism, Shiva, the god of gods, resides at the summit of Mt Kailash, where he sits in a state of perpetual meditation along with his wife Pārvatī. He is at once the Lord of Yoga and therefore the ultimate renunciate ascetic, yet he is also the divine master of Tantra.

In Jainism, Kailash is also known as Mount Meru.  Ashtapada, the mountain next to Mt. Kailash, is the site where the first Jain Tirthankara, Rishabhanatha, attained liberation.

However,  Vajrayana Buddhists believe that Mount Kailash is the home of the buddha Cakrasaṃvara (also known as Demchok),who represents supreme bliss.

So…. it’s a busy place then, and a pilgrim magnet.   That’ll be why I’ve never heard of it.  I’m not a pilgrim. I’m a Pisces.

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Then from one place I’d never heard of, we head off to another one Lake Manasarova, the highest freshwater lake in the world at just over 15000ft.  Where the all the gods come to do their ablutions.   If the gods go there, there must be a good hotel.  I’m looking forward to a bath in warm milk. I’m going to be extremely unhappy if I have to peel my own grapes.

One day my daydreams will come true.  But not today.  I’m really disappointed .. for about 10 seconds.

web-0288 web-0289The bedroom is another cold concrete cell with no electric until after dark but nobody cares.
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Just take a few steps down to the lake, stop, and stare.

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We all migrate to the only warm room in the building for something to eat.  When ‘something’ comes it’s unidentifiable but at least it gives my teeth some exercise and stops my stomach growling.

A couple of us drop the dust seals down the forks.  It will just be a bit of dust.  It’ll be fine if we clean it up.  I cut 2 thin slithers of leather and jam them in the seals then push them back in.  That’ll fix it.  No problem…

web-0293The next morning the gods are sleeping in and haven’t had time to get up and arrange the clouds.  It’s freezing again.  It’s bleak.  It’s deserted.  It’s beautiful.

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I say deserted.. I did see one lone biker on his hong-sing-wing-wan-wong-whatever making his pilgrimage to Mt Kailash.

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Then out into the heaving traffic once more…

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Ok… you can definitely kill me now..

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And him too…

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Oh hang on, hang on a minute … Jesus … will this never end..

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Get to hotel and prepare to celebrate the 100% success of my Heath Robinson leather repair to my forks.. Ktm will be adding it to their overland catelogue.. Touratwat will be on the phone offering me millions for the rights…. or possibly not

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It’s proper pissing out.  It all over the engine guard too now.  Fucky titty wank, knob bollocks and arse hairs.  I go out to binge on pig body parts to try and forget…

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Wake up excited… today’s the day… E-Day.  We need to prepare properly.  Go for breakfast.. sit down… look at a bowl of warm snot glooping about in front of you.. ignore … stand up and leave.  A perfect start.  The guide tells us the main road is closed for construction, we’re going to have to take a diversion.  Well that’s fine, as long as the diversion isn’t a 60 mile deep loose gravel track that you would have to ride blind, directly into the low morning sun.  As long as it’s not steep and sandy and rocky.  As long as it doesn’t have a 30 mile section where someone has painstakingly produced 10 million perfect corrugations with a 12 inch thick Toblerone.  As long as it’s not all that.  That would be bad.

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By the time we get to the end of it my forks are totally fucked.  The whole front of the bike is covered in oil.  Even my boots are covered.  The brakes too.  I watch a drip come down the fork and fall on to the ground.  I think it’s crying.  I feel like doing the same.

Still, a beautiful place for a breakdown…

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Get to Tingri for lunch.  We’re close now… you can feel it… you can see it… just a glimpse of the peak on the horizon.. bloody hell.  I hardly dare look.  We dive into a lovely warm womb cafe to thaw out, fill up and prepare for our ascent.

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Leaving the warmth of the womb is difficult, even with an Everest sized carrot dangling in front of me.  I could sit in these places all day, watching life go in and out, crossing paths with travelers, listening to wood cracking in the fire.  Ignoring the sound of fork oil dripping on the ground…

Take the road out of Tingri.  Do these look like the foothills of the biggest mountain on earth?  It still all feels like a bit of an illusion.

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Surprisingly for China, there isn’t an expressway up to Everest .. yet.  There is a brand new tarmac road though.  I’m really not sure how I feel about that.   I expected a dusty turning with a dilapidated wooden sign pointing pointing into the clouds.  I expected to be scared and worried.  I expected it to be blowing a 100 mph gale, snowing and grey.  But it’s not.  It’s lovely and sunny and dry and still.  It just looks like any road anywhere.

Still, I might as well go up …  now that I’m here..

web-0319I’m going up to Everest… I’ll just check the bike over.  Fucked forks… ✓… oil on the brakes … ✓ …. oil over the front tyre … ✓… OK, let’s go… shit or glory…
web-0320Go through the gate, immediately come to a mountain, and the start of the most ridiculous road in the world.  It looks just like someone has dropped a massive bowl or tarmac spaghetti.  web-0321

The KTM doesn’t like roads like these.  It absolutely hates them.  All it wants to do is just get them over with as quickly as possible… and who am I to stop it..

Get to the top of the first pass and stop at the viewing point.  Up over 5000m.  Should get a good view of Everest from here.. can you see it?  No – me neither.  Just sticky sinuous tarmac as far as I can see.  Oh well, never mind eh.

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Scraping round the bends, thumping down the straights, popping and farting on the overrun, I’m just having the time of my life.  A simply incredible ride.  A treat for all my senses.   A hearty meal for my mojo.  But still no Everest…

I come to a wide plain with some small scruffy villages, rice being harvested in the fields, feral kids running in and out of dark doorways, eyes staring out of nutty brown faces.  Have I taken a wrong turn somewhere?

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Then the road starts to climb, just gently, and twist, just gently.  You start getting glimpses of snow caps, like watching at a window with a curtain blowing in the wind. It’s there.. it’s gone..

Sweep left, sweep right … sweep FUCK….

web-0330Emotion is a strange thing.  I like to think I can control it but being suddenly smacked in the retinas by this view just brings a massive lump to my throat,  water to my eyes, and expletives to my mouth.  I just stop.  I can feel the Ktm’s heartbeat.  1000bpm.  “Yes my little metal mate…. mine too…  amazing isn’t it”  That’s Everest.  Jeeeeeesus.

I roll on up the road, past the monastery,  unable to resist the magnetic pull of the view.  I fell like the bloke in close encounters when he sees the ship.  I’m just drawn to it.  Body on auto.  Just follow  my eyes.  Up and up until the road runs out into a small group of tents.  There is a gap at the top so I ride up.  There is a thin string barrier running from one tent to a small dark hole in the other.  I rest the front wheel against the string, go to the hole and look in.  A small round face looks out, looks at me, looks at the bike… I just point to the bike, point to the camera, point to Everest… In return I get a smile, a flick of the hand and the string hits the ground… I’m in…  holy shit…. I’m actually in.

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The Bitch … the mountain.  That bike has let me down before and I really wondered if I would ever see it here… but here it is… just purring… bouncing its booms off the biggest mountain in the world….

I take a few pictures but I’m in a sort of daze.  The altitude isn’t helping either… String man is getting twitchy now and want’s me back behind the barrier.  The next stop up the mountain is the military camp about 1km up a dirt road and they’re sure to be watching.  Get back into the tent stockade and wait for the others to arrive.

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One by one they all appear, all drawn to one of the greatest views on the planet.  They all walk towards me but their eyes are transfixed.   We’re all just mesmerized.   We’ve all made it… this far at least…

I wander back to the tent, point to the bikes, point to the camera, point to the mountain, get a hesitation, a point to a watch, and a drop of the barrier.  Line up .. smile… done.  A fraction of a second in time, but a memory that will last forever.

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We all retire back down to the monastery, exhausted after such a huge emotional ejaculation.   It would be stupid to come all this way and miss sunset and sunrise so we’re staying the night.  A night at EBC.  Flippin unbelievable.  Lovely little rooms with 3000 tog duvets and electric blankets.  web-0338

Where ever you go, whatever direction your body is pointing, your eyes are only ever pointing one way.

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Sit in the warm and wait for sunset.  Smiles on automatic, laughs on loud.  Precious moment with mates.  Magical memories being hammered into my mind through a perfect picture window.

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Then out into the cold to say goodbye to a very special day indeed.

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Next Page

The journey begins

Waiting is a national passtime in China.  It’s something we’re all going to have to get used to.  The next few days especially.  So we wait.
web-0228After a suitable wait the guide appears and we follow him down the hill and get to point No1 in the 500 stage process of getting us and the bikes into China. I was only here a year ago but the place looks completely different.  Huge buildings have sprung up like weeds and the process has completely changed.  What was a cursory luggage search and a quick flash of passports has become a full-on X-Ray in massive machines built to process 2 trucks simultaneously and the filling in of forms that even the guides don’t understand.  If we wait long enough I’m sure it will change again.

A couple of hours in standby mode and we’re through and on the road towards the regional processing centre near Kashgar.  Here there building weed problem is even worse with a huge new and imposing immigration centre springing from the earth and reaching for the sky.  Out here bigger doesn’t mean better.  Bigger means more people to see, more stamps, more paperwork and more… yep .. you guessed it.   Just a few years ago we used to reach this point and everyone we needed to see was in the same place.  Easy peasy…1  2 3’seasy.  An hour and we’d be away with the bikes.  All done and dusted and disappearing into the setting sun.   Last year it had gone to a 2 stage process.  This year….

Get through immigration and this time we’re diverted up to a staging area with the trucks and cargo to wait.  Paperwork is handed through a small window to a bloke with a stamp that is allegedly made of some sort of ultra dense plutonium isotope meaning the user only has the strength to lift it up once every 2 hours.  The rest of the time he has to rest.  Luckily he has also has a stamp made of balsa wood that he can use for every other fucker that turns up at the window and sticks his sweaty head in.

It’s getting late and we’re still being made to wait.   There was a 0.0005% chance we’d get the bikes out tonight but that chance came and went hours ago.  By the time the little bloke has summoned the strength to lift the stamp and drop it on our paperwork, the gates are coming down and people are filing out.  We’re released to the tarmac outside for about 200 meters then directed into another holding area where the bikes have to bed down for the night amongst the trucks.
web-0230 web-0231Get the bus into Kashgar and have a chat with the fixer.  The process has changed so much now that you have different people for each part of the process.  This fixer only does part 1.  The rest of the world is hell bent on efficiency and saving time and money.  Out here it’s the complete opposite. I’m amazed at the difference a year has made.  There are now police stations on every road junction and uniforms absolutely everywhere you look, often with little red/blue flashing epaulettes .  Apparently it’s for safety.

Get to the usual hotel.  Different guide this year but this place is used by everyone bringing people in overland.  I’ve met a lot of foreign bikers here before and this time is no exception.  There’s a young bloke preparing some Chinese registered bikes in the car park for a small group arriving in a few days.  They plan to do the G219 like us but he’s been told the road is closed for 1000km due to military manoeuvres.  I’m hoping he’s wrong but I’m suspecting he’s right.  The G219 runs through some bitterly disputed areas and we’ve always known that you can have all the right permits but still be refused access at a moments notice.  I’ll wait and speak to our guide before I start reaching for the Prozac.  Well… maybe just one… packet… that won’t hurt..

Go out in the evening and it’s all blue and red flashing lights.  In any crowded area, at least 50% of the people seem to be police. Go to the night market and every 200 yards there are big groups of them just loitering.  They  routinely patrol the roads every hour with the  lights and sirens on too.  Quite an atmosphere, and not an especially safe or friendly one.  I like it all the same.  It’s really good to be back.

web-0232 web-0233In an effort to avoid getting intimately acquainted with the bathroom too soon, we all chicken out and head for a fast food joint.  Get to the door.  Not too fast… wait a second… what the fuck?  It’s shut, and there is a guard sitting outside the door, all dressed for a riot and with a fettish for long rubber batons.  Take a cursory look and lots of the shops have them.  You can’t just walk in now.  They have to release an electronic lock behind the counter before you can enter… or leave.  It’s for safety.  Go to a ‘normal’ shop to just to get a drink or some groceries and you notice that the person behind the counter is barricaded inside a thick metal cage.  They really are taking this seriously… perhaps they’ve had shopkeepers bludgeoned to death with snickers bars … or they’ve all been tied up with noodles and robbed.
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Manage to make it through the night with just the usual toilet interaction and head out to get some Chinese sims for the phones.  Even the phone shop now has guards, scanners and luggage XRay machines on the door.  Get inside and it looks like China’s biggest industry is now the manufacturing of hoops for people to jump through.  Last year, go to the lady, get a ticket and queue.  This year, go to the lady, ask for a ticket, nope…. we need to show a permit from the tour company…. fuck… While that’s being organised I wait outside and watch everyone file out and do their morning exercise

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Now we’re at the mercy of invisible men at invisible desks in invisible buildings through the city and beyond.  Theory is that the have to line up all the men at the depot where we dropped the bikes, identify the one with the biggest hat, get him to check the frame numbers, then keep our fingers crossed that he has enough strength to lift the stamp.  There are a lot of men and a lot of hats, lots of which are very similar in size.  This is not likely to be a quick process.

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We hole up in a coffee shop, eat some wife cake, you can imagine what that tastes like, and I eat 50 energy rods before I feel up to tackling the lady cake..web-0237 web-0238web-0239

We get the call about midday.  The seem to have got their hats in a line and identified the a man that can lift the stamp so we get in a bus and ride an hour back out to the customs compound.  It seems there has been a problem with the headgear.  Apparently there is a man in an office in Kashgar that wears a sombrero and he has insisted that his hat is the biggest in all of western China, and as such, he must add an additional stamp and signature before the bikes can be released, and he’s gone missing.  I think he went out for lunch, decided to walk back through some narrow streets and got himself wedged between 2 buildings.  It seems they are going to have to demolish the buildings before he can get back to his desk and it’s unlikely this will be done today.  There is nobody at the compound that can do it.  All our fixer can do is scream and shout down his phone and get the virtual finger in response.  After about 6 hours waiting it looks like sombrero man isn’t going to be free tonight and we’re going to have to come back tomorrow.

Get the bus back to Kashgar and decide to eat at the hotel.  We all wander up and down death row, choose our poison and take it back to the table to cook.  I’ve tried to only pick things that didn’t ever breath air or water but you can never tell.  Just cross your fingers, chew and swallow.
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Wake up in the morning and there is definitely something in the air.  It’s my roomie.  We all took a gamble last night, but when he pulled the handle he got 3 turds.  Jackpot.  His farts have gone from manual to automatic and his body is busy performing an emergency evacuation from all exits.  Poor bugger.  He’s in for a difficult day.  We stand him on his head in the van to try and stop him leaking and ride back out to the depot.

It seems sombrero man has managed to extricate himself.  They’ve had to chisel two huge channels in the walls and corridors so he can manoeuvre himself and his hat all the way to his desk and he has added his stamp but now he’s passed it to someone at the compound in order to complete a pretty pattern. The stamp artisan we need is in a building behind a big wall that neither us or the guide can get in to.  We have a fixer inside but it doesn’t seem to be helping.  It’s Friday and if we don’t get this done today we could be in trouble.  It gets towards lunchtime and still nothing.  People start filing out to eat and suddenly the agent is running down towards the bikes waving a bunch of paperwork and telling us to get to the gate.  I take a look at the paperwork.  The pattern of the stamps really is a work of art.  It’s almost worth waiting for..

We head to the far side of Kashgar to the vehicle inspection station.  A semi derelict set of buildings, 90% of which seem to have been used for impromptu toilets.  It’s still lunchtime and the place is closed.  This is going to be really tight.

The only entertainment are two very friendly ladies that are fascinated by one of the rider’s noses.   As asian genetics typically doesn’t put a lot of priority into growing a nose, a long western hooter has them staring, and running their fingers all over it.  Not something I’ve seen before!

‘Vehicle inspection station’ implies a state of the art facility with a rolling road, an array of sensitive sensors and banks of computer equipment manned by boffins in spotless blue coats looking at graphs.  In reality it’s a small shed that stinks of piss, with turds in the corner and a small concrete anti-room where a woman sits on an upturned bucket and bashes away at an old computer while everyone man and his dog shoves pieces of paper in her face.  Queueing does’t exist in China.  Wherever you are, customers usually just form a disorderly scrum.  The agent is in full on bitch mode though and she is spitting blood at all the late comers.  She soon has them all cowering in the corner like a bunch of bad dogs and we start sorting the bikes out.  The process just involves checking the engine numbers and, wait for it, taking a rubbing – remember those children? – of the VIN plate with a white sticker and a pencil.  Fucking impossible!  You need 10 inch fingers with 15 joints like ET to have any chance at all.  It’s just about going through the process though – not the result.  Our rubbings look like they could be of the arse end of a camel but nobody cares.  Just stick it on the form, hit the stamp and move on.

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Last year it was straight from here to the police station for licences but this year… this year we have to go to another random building to get fuck knows what from fuck knows who.  Get to the building and there is a huge queue of cars and lorries.  This isn’t going to be done in a hurry.  The agent takes one look and in a demonstration that men are the same the world over, she opens one button on her blouse, runs her hands through her hair, turns up the swivel on her hips, flirts her way to the front of the queue, puts her arm through that of the bloke with the biggest hat, cuddles up and walks him outside to the bikes.  Eyes to full flutter, personal space to minimum she continues to gently move him and guide him through the process while he just giggles and dribbles like an adult baby.  web-0246

Job done, she jumps on my bike, clicks her heals and we’re away up the road to the police station.  Just me, her, and 50000 sheets of paperwork.  It’s probably really too late to start this process but she’s got girly mode on max again and she just wiggles past the gate and into the station.  We just wait.  You can never be sure if they will need to see you in person.  An hour.. 2 hours.. The sun is setting and the weekend is coming.  Still no word from inside.  Eventually we get a call that we can go and so we all set off, almost legally, back into Kashgar.  It’s 9pm before she finishes with the licences.  God only knows what tricks she had to pull to do that.

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I have a chat with our Tibet guide.  He’s confirmed that the road is closed.  I’ve put all my Prozac in a Smarties tube so I can neck them en-mass easier but before I can get the tube to my mouth he offers me a thread of hope.  It looks like the road may only closed in the day.  He also says that you often can’t tell the situation until you get to the road block.  Sometimes the local military will let you through.  The problem is that this exercise is a big gig and is being controlled centrally so access could be a problem.  We’ll just have to go and see what we can do when we get there.  I’m a big fan of shoving my problems under the carpet and ignoring them so that sounds like a perfect plan to me.  ‘Laaaa la la laaaaaa – I can’t hear you … ‘

The delay in getting the bikes out has put us slightly behind, and the next nearest towns don’t have any accommodation for foreigners so we’re going to have to start with quite a big day.  Getting petrol is always a farce, even when the guide is with you.  All the petrol pumps in this region will not work unless someone presses their identity card on to it.   Everything is strictly controlled and you often need permission from the local police to fill up.  Eventually we’re full of fuel and we’re on our way.  Out and round we go, skirting the edge of the Taklamacan desert.  Even here China is building expressways.  If the moon was Chinese territory, they would build an expressway to it.  It’s still a work in progress though so it quickly fades and we’re out in the wilderness.  We stop at a services for something to eat.  China builds everything on such a huge scale that is often difficult to describe.  The services consist of a massive set of buildings, 100s of feet long and several storeys high.  They’re built to cater for some kind of future where a million people can turn up all at once.  There is only one small shop is open and even that only has a few half empty shelves filled with noodle meals that you resuscitate using a hot tap on the wall outside.

We have a town name, and a hotel name so someone who worships at the church of Google plugs it all in and it spits out a lat long.  We all blindly plug it in the satnavs, label it ‘wrong hotel in the wrong town’ and follow the pink like like lemmings.  We get to the ‘wrong town’ and three of us decide to try and get petrol.  Daring I know.  Without the guide… what were we thinking?  So we pick our target petrol station, wait for them to open the barrier to a local then come in 3 abreast before they can close it.  We hand over our driving licences and our insurance cards and ….. well … do nothing … for about an hour.  Try anything off-piste like this round here and all sorts of people end up crawling out the woodwork.  Police are called, then more police are called, then the police call more police on the phone, then we talk to the police on the phone, then more police turn up.  By the time we’re eventually offered some fuel I’m not sure I want it any more.  I think I’m going to walk…

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So off we go to look for the ‘wrong hotel’.  The ‘wrong town’ is being dug up and so we take to the separate bike lanes that run like small veins down along the river and between the all the buildings.  Riding The Bitch down here is like tip toeing through a line of tiny worker ants.  Eventually the road becomes a path becomes a pavement and end up outside a random block of flats where the ‘wrong hotel’ should be.  Seems Google has given us the wrong coordinates for the wrong hotel in the wrong city.  Nothing here but someone mending socks and someone else selling luke warm pig genitals on sticks.

We show the locals the name of the wrong hotel and they all start pointing in different directions so we go with the majority and ride round the pavements in search of our beds.  We grab a scooterist and he’s convinced he doesn’t know the way to the wrong hotel so we follow him just to pass the time. When we’ve passed enough time we stop the bloke and he admits he was just having a laugh and fucks off into the distance.  It’s not until that point that any of us actually dares to question the God of Google and zoom out on the satnavs to see where the hell we actually are.  We are, of course, off course.  We should be in another similar sounding hotel in another similar sounding town 40 similar miles away.  It’s getting quite late and it’s getting dark so we call in the guide to recover us and lead us to the promised land.

This is obviously a town that doesn’t see many if any foreigners so we’re mobbed in 10 seconds flat where ever we stop.  Just like the people the whole world over, everyone is friendly and smiling and just wants pictures.
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Eventually we get to the right town and head for the right hotel.  As soon as we go through the check point on the outskirts we immediately have a police escort.   We’re getting close to where the military action is and so we’ll be monitored.  Get to the right hotel and the escort hangs about outside with the engine running just in case we make a break for it.

Before going to bed I count my lucky stars and hope I’ve got enough.  I reckon I’m going to need a few to get us through the next few days.
web-0251We’re up and out early.  Up to the next town where the G219 begins.  Or not.  Getting given the finger here would mean diverting north of the Himalayas and missing Everest.  I was up all night polishing those lucky stars and I’m ready to hand them to anyone and everyone we meet.

Get to Kargilik and this is very quickly turning into a tour of roadblocks and  police stations.  We arrive at police central and the guide disappears to find out the score.  And we’re not alone.  There is a tour group from the Swizz company Muztoo here.  They run bikes from Switzerland to Beijing and let people join on sections as they please.  They’ve got a mix of Swiss and German riders, mostly on Transalps but with a 1200 and 800GS thrown in for good measure.  They’re on the same route and they’ve got the same problem.  Their guide is a mate of our guide and it looks like we’re going to attack this together…. eventually.

I put my waiting shoes on.  I hope they’re comfortable.  This could be a long one.

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When the guides appear they’ve got good news and bad news.  The good news is that we can get on to the G219.  The bad news is that the scenery is going to be invisible due to it being pitch dark.   It’s only lunchtime now and they’re not opening the road until 7pm.  Good job I bought more than one pair of waiting shoes.  I think the others are going to need them.

So we settle in to wait.  The riders all disperse to flat areas in the shade and turn themselves off for a few hours.  I just lay in the road between the bikes, put my head on my tank bag and stare at the insides of my eyelids.
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I get a kick from the guide and I get up off the road.  A lovely tarmac imprint in my face and a 50% dead body desperate for a blood supply.  We’ve got a way to go tonight and a couple of big passes to do so we all pick the cafe that looks to be the smallest gut gamble and I hop in for some dinner with the other riders.
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As the witching hour approaches we all roll past the big scrum of trucks and cars and line up at the barrier like a load of speedway riders waiting for the off.    Just the 5000th passport check of the day and the barrier is up.  We’re off and up into the failing light and heading into the sky.

The G219 doesn’t do anything gently.  It doesn’t mess about.  You want to go to Tibet?  You want to go to altitude?  Here you go then.  No pissing about with acclimatisation, no gentle introductions, just get on with it.

We get to the first pass as the sun is throwing the last rays of the day across the sky.  It’s steep, it’s loose and the only thing stopping you going off the edge are the last rays of sun shining directly in your eyes.

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Up is scary.  Down is … deleted from my mind due to near death-overload.  We’ve got some 200 miles to do before the next roadblock, night has fallen like a velvet blanket over our heads and somebody has turned the freezer on.  Not content with a blockade at each end, there are also road blocks en-route to contend with.  Around midnight we come into a tiny town with a rough road running straight up to big fuck off police station, currently under the control of lots of very small men in very large coats.   Wait for the guides to catch up in the van then queue in silence as General Big Potatoes stabs at a computer and shouts at everyone and anyone within spitting distance before letting us loose into the darkness once again.

It’s after 1am.  I’m cold, hungry and tired and I’m staring up in the dark.  This one is a big one.  Over 5000m.  The last thing I’m expecting at this point is sand.  I’m hoping it’s is a mirage but one ‘throttle open slide and wiggle and turtle sticking his head out moment’ and I know it’s not.  It’s not a mirage, it’s a fucking nightmare.  The road up the pass is completely destroyed.  All the crawling up and down by the trucks and military vehicles has turned the surface to dust.  Not just on the surface, but all the way through.  The road is a just a layer of very thick fine dust with rocks underneath.  It’s feels just like fesh fesh.   It looks like this is the place where they empty all of China’s hoover bags. The corners are the worst. All the braking and turning has pushed the dust into deep piles.  You turn the bars and you only get 50% of what you’re asking for.  We crawl up the switchbacks in clouds of dust and the sound of farts as bowels frantically react to big slides in thick choking blind clouds.  Get to the top and the headlight picks out the sign  – something over 5000m in the middle of the night and I’m shivering like I’m sat on a spin dryer full of rocks – WFT am I doing here?  It’s not over yet though and we’ve still a way to go.  At about 2:30 we reach the small town and start dreaming of lying under a warm blanket.  Get to the barrier and the warm blanket is 1km the other side.  The Swiss are staying at a semi-demolished shed/detention facility just at the barrier and they kindly offer us areas of bare concrete to rest up until the guide catches up.

About 3am we approach the barrier on foot and try our luck.  One of the guards takes pity on us and offers to drive us down into the town so he takes us to a small van and brings a few mates to heave and push us all inside until it looks like an overloaded washing machine with random colours and faces pressed against all the windows.  He starts it up, drives 20 meters to the barrier, then stops.  This barrier is not coming up for anyone it seems so we’re popped back out the van, unwashed,  and wait… again.  After a load more passports, permits and piss taking we shuffle off down the road into the night to find our beds.  Beds.  Does a slab of cold concrete covered in a threadbare blanket count as a bed?  I’ll have to look that up somewhere.  No mattress, no electricity, no toilet.  Walking in is like watching a secretly shot video of a FBI torture facility.  Down a dark corridor into a cell  with writing all over the walls from victims that have entered but never left.

I worry about it for all of about 2.5 seconds. I kick my boots off.  Lie down.  Shut down.

What feels like 5 seconds later the alarm goes off.  I haven’t got a bloody clue where I am and I think my eyes are broken.  Eyes open or shut looks absolutely identical.  It’s completely and utterly black. I fall out of bed and crawl across the floor following the noise to the alarm.  Silence.  Silence and total darkness.  I’m in a cold concrete womb and I need to find the exit.   Find the door and go out into Mole World.  Follow the dark tunnels round and then outside.  It’s still pitch black and the only way I think I’m outside is the change of temperature.  I walk a few yards in the dark dribbling a wee so i can  find my way back to the hole I just came out of.  I walk until I hit a solid object then proceed to laser cut a perfect circle in a wall using just the power of piss.

It’s 7am and we need to get back up to the bikes.  The petrol station opens at 7:30 and the barrier is open momentarily at 8 so we join the waking cattle and wander up the road breathing heavily in the altitude, blowing clouds of steam into the thin cold morning air.

Meet up with the Swiss at the petrol station.  One rider pushes in and claims a pump then 10 riders push up behind to share it.  There is a real atmosphere at times like this.  Tonnes and tonnes of metal is sitting around mumbling in the half light, people stumbling about half asleep, empty stomachs and sore eyes,  all just waiting for the word.

At about 8, a massive coat appears from a door and leans on the barrier and we’re away again.  Racing out into the cold bleak morning.

Cold and bleak can be miserable and grim , but it can also be beautiful and astounding.  We’re on the G219, we’re at altitude, and the place is absolutely deserted.  It’s just desolate.  I’ve not been this way before and it’s just incredible. The blockades ensure there is no traffic and provides us with a one way racetrack through the wilderness.  The Bitch is feeling the altitude but with lungs as big as hers she can always make the scenery a blur and I spend very pleasant couple of hours reeling in a widescreen horizon that is a constant treat of beautiful mountains and vast open plains. Just me, The Bitch and bitchumen in perfect harmony.

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Fuel for both body and bike is really thin on the ground out here.  Like every 2-300km thin.  We feed the beasts then go and thaw out for a while when we wait for out Tibetan driver to appear with his truck.  We try to get some breakfast but the only thing on the menu is a tasteless white gruel that even Oliver Twist would turn his nose  up at.  I think it’s made of that dust we saw on the pass the other night.  This is where the Tibet diet starts.  I’m not a big fan of toads tits and chickens ears so I’ll be eating air for a while.

web-0261Out we go again.   We’ve found the war games and we’re stuck behind a crawling column of khaki.  No way we’re allowed past this lot.  It’s obviously a slow motion war game this year. It’s going to be a long day.  Rather than sit at 30mph I just stop, get off and let everything disappear over the horizon and wait.  Wait until all I can hear is the wind.  Wait to feel alone.  Wait and wonder at the scale of this place.  Wait and picture me on my mental map.  Just a small insignificant dot in the middle of nowhere.  web-0263Press the starter.  Catch the convoy.  Stop.  Nap.  Repeat.

web-0265web-0264web-0266Fuck this place is beautiful.  No wonder everyone wants it.  This section is one of the disputed regions and is full of ‘deterrents’ to dissuade anyone from making a grab for it.

Eventually the convoy comes to a coordinated stop and a million bodies suddenly run down into the plain and break the world record for the biggest simultaneous piss.  We take the opportunity to scoot past and get a groove on, into Tibet and …. immediately to the next blockade.  It’s early afternoon and the barrier is going nowhere until 8pm.  Here we go again.  There is nothing here but the police station. No shops, no cafes, no nothing.  We’re at about 5100m and we’re all feeling pretty shit.  The Swiss group are here too, all scattered around the police station floor, all dead to the world, all wearing their waiting shoes.

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By the time 8pm comes round we’ve had enough and we could really do with loosing a bit of altitude.  We’re already at 5100m, and tonight’s town is somewhere around 4300 so I’m looking forward to a few hours gentle descent in the evening sunshine.

Ok. Forget gentle.  The road is lovely and smooth and we’re all racing the sun to the horizon.  Keen to find a bed before 3 o’clock in the morning.  The road has different ideas though.  At random points it just falls away beneath you leaving you sitting 2ft above the saddle and waiting to be bashed right in the bollocks as soon as the road decides to join you again a second later.   Either that or you manage to descend with the bike only to pull 10G as it hits the steep exit to the yomp and you’re spat out over the top.   Beautiful place for a big accident though.

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OK.  Forget descent too.  The sun is going down and we’re still going up.  Up… up and slowly up we go.  This is exactly what I don’t need.   The top of the pass is 5378m and it’s all very flat up here.  I expect 5478m to be the very very pointy snowy bit at the very very top of a triangular cartoon shaped mountain but it’s not.  It’s just a long straight road between a lot of very large fuck off imposing mountains.

The evening is quickly turning to the dark side so we gather in small formations and chase each other’s tail lights into the night….again.  About 10pm we get to a barrier just on the outskirts of the town, freezing and completely wankered.  I want my bed.  The guards don’t like it when you turn up alone, especially when the place is up to it’s tits in army.  We saw a load of them camped off in the distance when we came in. They look nervous and won’t let us approach the barrier so we have to wait for the guides.   10:30.  The guides arrive and we’re invited into the warmth of the police station while they decide where we’re going to stay.  All the police are really friendly and happy but I don’t want a cup of hot water and a soggy pig’s foot to suck on just at this moment thanks.  I’d much rather prefer a WARM FUCKING BED.

The two guides come up to the groups together, that’s never a good sign. The good news is that there are some luke warm beds within staggering distance, the bad news is that the next road block, 160km away, will shut at 7am tomorrow and we need to get there before it does.

Get into the town and fill up the bikes.  Round to the hotel about 11:30.  No showers, No dinner.  No time for anything but sleep.  And not much time for that either.  Back up at 4:30 into what feels like groundhog day.  Follow the black line… make that the white line.  The world has gone black and white as snow flurries come in horizontally on a fierce cold wind.  There are always points on these trips when they move from being a holiday to just being a mission and this is one.  Auto pilot on, just count down the numbers on the satnav.  Split them into 10s.  Anything to distract you from the cold wild weather attacking your senses  just a few thin layers of clothes and a thin piece of plastic away.

Get to the roadblock just before 7 and all huddle together in the wind and cold like a bunch of penguins out on the ice.  Stamping our feet.  Stapling our eyelids to our foreheads to stay awake…. and then we’re through.  This is the last roadblock in the exercise and we’re free.   Free to run wild.  Free to do what we like.   Free to….find the nearest bed and get something like normal body temperature back.

By 8:30am we’ve done another 120km and we’ve reached our destination and a lovely beautiful soft warm bed:)   After a quick recharge I go for a £2 wet shave and take a wander round the town.  It seems to be 50% police stations.  The guide has had to register us at 4 of them already and I have to go with him to a 5th and sit for a couple of hours with the leader of the Swiss group and have our photos taken.

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The fuel stations are getting further and further apart now.   You’re not allowed to carry or fill cans in Tibet.  So I have to fill the bike with a kettle, go and get my can, go out of the town and find a secluded spot, let the fuel out into the can, then go back into town to a different fuel station and fill the bike back up.  It all makes perfect sense when you’re there believe me.

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So.  We’re on the G219.  We’re getting closer and closer.  I still can’t believe we’ll actually get there.  I daren’t really think about it.  A lot can still happen between here and there.  We’ve been above 4000m for a few days now and we’ve got quite a few more to go.  Perhaps I should buy some of this.  Might need it where I’m going:)

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Next Page

 

 

Steppe 2

The little man lifts the little barrier and we’re in, leaving the huge queue of traffic behind us.  It’s nearly 40 degrees but there are no frayed tempers, no shouting and screaming.  They all seem to be resigned to their fate.  We quickly through the formalities and hunt down the insurance shed for more worthless pieces of paper.

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The bloke inside is barricaded in behind bars.  He’s got a 6ft square room with his computer, his bed, 2 years supply of food, and most important of all, an AC on full blast.  He’s on the inside in a jumper and hat, I’m feeling like I’m standing under an invisible shower.  Water is running from my head down my neck, my back, my crack, and all the way into my boots. It’s dripping out the ends of my sleeves.  It’s dripping off my ears.  It’s time like these I have to just sit down, shut down and wait.  Make my brain retreat away from my mouth where it can do no damage.  Away from my muscles where it can do no harm.  Just let it sit at the back of my skull and let things take their long, hot, unnecessarily complex and frustrating course.  I just have to go put myself in standby mode, otherwise there can be trouble.

At least we are here in daylight this year.  So I can see exactly how shit the road is.  I first came here in 2014 and the road was a bombsite.  Last year there were roadworks for about 60 miles and we spent hours in the dark dodging cravasses and sand dunes in clouds of dust. Twatting wheels and crawling past hot trucks sulking their way through the mess.  This year it’s better.  There are only 59 miles of roadworks.  WTF these people are on is anyone’s guess.  I reckon it’s the same people who are have been working on the M3 for the last 300 years.  I take a picture of this year’s road and last years and play spot the difference.  I’ve been looking for 5 hours and I can’t find one.  Bloody useless.  But, it is light at least.  I get to one section that is almost flat for 300 yards and scoot past a police car parked on the side.  His lights come on and he starts waving out the window at me so I pull over and see what he wants.  I pull up and he’s out the car running over to me.  This can’t be good.  But he just puts his arm around me and sends his mate out to take a picture.  “Whatsapp, Whatapp…” he shouts at me. Oh well.  Better than a ticket I guess.

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I get towards the end of the shit road.  I can see the good stuff.  The black stuff.  The smooth stuff.  I subconsciously speed up chasing the tarmac.  I’m going over the brow of a small hill and it all goes quiet.  I appear to have left the ground.  It’s all quiet for a second and I realise that I’ve missed a huge cut in the road where they’re probably going to put a huge 20ft fucking cattle grid or something.  So I desperately yank the bars up but not before there is a nasty ping as my rim hits the edge on the other side.  Fuuuuck that sounded nasty but the wheels are still going round and I’m still on the bike so I carry on regardless into Uralsk.  ‘la la laaaaaaaaa’  Nothing wrong here…. hopefully.  Get to the hotel and pluck up the courage to look at the wheel. I’ve got a significant dent in my rim but the wheel is still running straight and the tyre looks OK.  Only another 8000 miles.  It’ll be fine..

No corners to worry about anyway…

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Heading south in Kazakhstan it’s like the bloke on the road making machine had a heart attack and it wasn’t discovered he was dead until 1000’s of miles later when he hit a mountain.  He just fell forward on the wheel and his foot on the pedal.  Straight straight and more straight.  Following the curve of the earth like a degree of longitude on a globe.

We only stop for the 3 Ps.  Petrol.. piss.. and plov.

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Get to Aktobe and meet the hotel car park attendants.  I wonder how much it costs for a ticket..

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Aktobe.  Just another big scruffy city sheltering people from the wind and sand outside.

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We all go for a wander.  There is a really strong smell of gas and it gets stronger as we approach a huge hole in the ground.  Man law states that where ever there is a huge hole in the ground, you must stand on the edge, cross your arms and stare inside.  Lots of law abiding men in Aktobe.

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The men in the hole just ignore the strong smell of gas and just proceed to grind and weld and smoke their way through their repair.  When one of them decides to start a barbecue for dinner though I decide it’s time to leave…

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If anyone knows what this hand gesture means I’d be very interested to know:)
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Get up and head for breakfast.  Still really struggling without my little mojo mate.  Can’s see hide nor hair of the bugger, or anything else for that matter.  It’s probably fucked off somewhere else with a mate.

We head south towards Aralsk and the world is just empty and blank for hundreds of miles.

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With just the occasional petrol, piss and plov oasis

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I can’t imagine how the people live out here.  Do they know the rest of the world even exists?  Just one road and a world’s supply of sand and wind.

Get to Aralsk at dusk, jump off the tarmac and run round the sand roads looking for our beds.  I’ve deliberately kept out the centre this time and found a basic guest house on the edge of the desert.  I like this place.  First place to feel properly foreign this trip.  Nobody speaks English.  The place is a bit of a tip.  The cook is a grumpy old tart with a face that looks like it’s had a Tiger tank backed into it.  The beds are made for elfs and the  bathroom floor is a  slippery diesel/soap combo that it’s impossible to stand on without spiked shoes. You can’t walk around without holding on to something for fear of ending up on your face in a pool of blood.  I find myself washing my teeth with my crash helmet on just in case.

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We’re all hungry and so we approach the cook.  Now… let it be said here and now that I am the worlds smallest fan of Google translate. I hate it.  I despise it.   I really really dislike trying to talk to people through an impersonal piece of plastic and glass.  Then pointing it at them and asking them to speak into it.  It’s like giving someone a breathalyser test.  Still, people like it and that’s their choice, even though they’re wrong.

One of the riders, a very polite and educated man decides he’ll give it a go.  “My dear lady, would you please be so kind as to provide us with a variety of delicious and nutritious faire, preferably local, but  prepared in haste and with deference to our delicate western palates and our natural aversion to eating odd body parts.”  I don’t know what Google does with that little lot but the cook looks like we’ve asked her to prepare and slice a small child and serve it with a firework sticking out of it’s chuff.  You don’t need Google translate to see she doesn’t have a fucking scooby what Google is on about.  So I go to the kitchen and do the pointy thing and the eating foody thing and the rubby tummy thing and the pointing at a watch thing and she finally gets the message that we want her, a cook, to cook. We eventually get something that, like a lot of things in life, smells a whole lot better than it tastes, but it’s hot and lumpy and fills a hole.  Job done.

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I’m up early and I’m standing outside in the half light drinking coffee and chiseling dust from my eyes.  I hear a weird slow soft padding noise to the left and step out onto the sandy road for a look.  A camel appears between the houses into the low light of the rising sun.  Slowly thudding it’s big toes into the sand.  Then another, and another, and a small boy with a stick driving his herd across the road and into the desert beyond.  Dozens of naked feet  just padding quietly across the street between the houses, drawn to the heat and the light.

We’re keen to get out before the sun gets a real giggle on so we take a quick trip into town to see the memorial to the Aral sea and to look at the train station.  The place is deserted.  Just a woman and a cat, waiting for a train.

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Get out on the road, open the throttle, hold the bars straight, close your eyes for a couple of hours and you’ll get to Baykonor and the Cosmodrome.  There is a launch here in a few days so the place is in lockdown.  Nothing to see here… move along…

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Kasakhstan is just blank.  I think I’m the only thing over 6ft tall in about 3000 miles so the wind can run about with absolutely nothing to stop it. They might as well have horizontal chimneys..
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Down through Kyzlorda and on to Shymkent.  And I spy with my little eye, something beginning with R.  Fuck me.  A roundabout.    I really have to think about this.  I’ve completely forgotten what to do.  Sod it – nobody about – so I just ride straight over it.

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Shymkent – just another point on the join the dots route through Kazakhstan.
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OK.  I’m bored now.  Does anyone know if there are any mountains round here please?  Hills?  I’ll settle for a small set of speed humps… anything to break this monotony that is Kazakhstan.   We’re heading for Taraz near the Kyrgyzstan border and I know there are some hills and maybe even a few corners out this way.  I take a sample corner I carry in my luggage and put it under The Bitch’s nose.  She get’s the scent immediately, her head comes up and she’s off and searching.  Following her nose into cool mountain air and narrow curvy roads.  Fuck that’s a relief.  The wind has dropped, the sun is out, the roads are narrow, bendy and steep.  Little shops in villages with the locals all chatting shit.  The satnav is clueless but who cares.  It’s like diving in a cool pool at the end of a long day, like a big comfy bed at 4am, it’s just a big relief.  Kasakhstan is nearly done.  Soon be time to get a groove on in the mountains.

web-0147web-0148We blindly follow the satnav to the hotel.  I’m sure I ticked the ‘avoid very very narrow weak and broken bridges’ option.  Perhaps there are narrower and more broken bridges round here that it is actually avoiding. Either way, we choose a road that turns into a track that turns into a footpath that turns into a footbridge so narrow that we have to remove the luggage to get over it. At least Frieda duck was at home.
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Out to the border and through into Kyrgyzstan quick styley.  Where’s the waiting about?  Where is the ‘where the fuck do I go now, who do I see next, what the fuck does this bloke want’ all gone.  I really miss it:( Everyone is too friendly with each other.  I want dark borders with scary staring guards.  Barking dogs, hookers and dodgy geezers offering to help you through. I want a sweaty wait while they decide if the rubber gloves need to come out.  I want to be shouted at by a small bloke in a huge hat.  I want to worry that my passport isn’t going to come out that blank slot in the wall I just handed it through.  I want to stare at a man behind the glass.  I want to see him quietly show me a banknote inside a passport.  I want to read body language and work things out.  I want I want I want.  I really want the bad old days back.  Perhaps next time I’ll bring big bag of powder, or a fake passport, or a bundle of used cash that smells of cocaine.  Or I’ll grow so much facial hair I could be confused for an animal.  Or I’ll get absolutely shit faced and fall off in a heap at the barrier. Something to make it more interesting.

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Kyrgystan is somewhere I always look forward too.  Maybe I’ll find my mojo here.  I know it likes it too.  It’s not waiting here at the border but I think I can feel it in the air.  I can hear it laughing on the wind.  The Bitch can feel it too.  She’s feeling frisky and keen so I just grab the reins and off we go.  All pretty flat for a while

web-0156web-0157Then the road starts to climb, the temperature starts to drop, the air begins to thin and The Bitch starts to sing.  Very quickly up to about 4000m and all is suddenly right in the world.  I stop on a hill just to hear the silence.  To feel my heart reacting to the altitude.  Just to stare and marvel at the difference a few short miles can make.  As I get back to the bike a couple of kids on a horse drop down off the mountain and ride up alongside. No words, just smiles, handshakes, expressions and gestures.  

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web-0159I’ve been this way before and the scenery was outstanding.  I’m glad to see nothing has changed.  A beautifully smooth, wide and wandering road takes us through the mountains and down to Tokogul for the night.  The road just gets steeper and steeper, faster and faster, tighter and tighter until the luggage touches the tarmac and you know it’s time to stop.  Tokogul is just as shit and dusty as I remembered too.  Absolutely Perfect.  Get to a basic home stay and hole up.  Someone has put a shovel through the piece of wet string proving the internet to the whole town and so we’re almost completely cut off.  Not a feeling some of the riders are used to, or comfortable with.
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We’re taking a rest day here and given that the 20 screen multiplex cinema is closed, the international convention centre is being refurbished, the 50m pool is having the sand removed from the fast lane and the 50 lane bowling alley is still on the drawing board, there is not much to do today in Tokogul so we decide to go and get some sand under our wheels.  We take off the luggage and head into the rough.  Not particularly difficult to find round here.  Up to about 2700m in the sunshine for a few hours.  Lots of dust and sand.  Lots of loose and gravel.  Lots of beautiful views and lots of bugger all else round here..

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Except for beautiful blue lakes

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Out of Toktogul and race back up the mountain and across to Bishkek.  Only stopping once to give a kindly policeman a hefty donation to the ‘Fat Lazy Bastard’ society.   All just part of the game.

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Kyrgyzstan is just an achingly beautiful place.  I think God has a holiday home up here somewhere.

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We’ll coming up on about half way soon and we’ll service the bikes before heading into China so we head to Olga and Dima’s bike oasis in Bishkek’s container city to get some lovely new oil.   A really nice couple and out here, an absolute godsend.  He can even get you Tourtech goodies if you can wait 5 years and have a million pounds to spend.

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My brand new Klim gloves have already started to fall apart so I take them to the market to be repaired on a knackered 100 year sewing machine much like I suspect the cheap shit gloves were made with in the first place.web-0180web-0184web-0182web-0181The sun is shining and it’s lovely and warm so we head for the beach at Issyk Kol lake.  Along with the cows…. obviously.

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web-0188If you’re out this way, take the route less travelled.  The southern route round Issyk Kol.  Barren, rough, potholed and tough.  We follow the deep blue water’s edge for a whole, then find a scruffy cafe and stare at the waitress.

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Take the rough road 35 miles up to Son Kol lake to the yurt camp.  I know this road is bad but the jewel at the top is worth every twitch of my arse on the way up.

web-0192 web-0193 Get to the top and just gallop across the plain on the hard sandy grass to the yurt.  God I love this place.
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Son Kol is at about 3000m so nothing like will come later but you can still feel it. Get to bed early and sleep like the dead.

And in the morning, be glad that you’re alive.

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A good fast squirt across the plains to clear the lungs then more piste to the 33 pirates.  This always scares the shit out of me.  Fucking steep and fucking loose.  It gets me every single time.

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But once you’re at the bottom you’ve rewarded with a couple of hours of this.  Seems like a fair deal to me.

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Get to Naryn and hole up for a couple of days before we make the final push up to China.  I got some tyres some sent out from the UK so we spend the day servicing the beasts.  All the tyres about 2/3 worn.  Plenty of life left in them.  There is absolutely no way we’ll be able to get tyres on the rest of this journey.  Rather than carry them as spares we all just leave them in a pile and walk away…. if I had a time machine…..

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All the bikes happy and content with their shiny new shoes on, we follow the black line south.  I’m last out.  A visit to the market and a bit of messing about leaves me behind.  I’m heading out into the sunshine and having a ball.

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I’m riding along and I start to worry.  Rather than worrying what is going to go wrong like I usually do, I start to worry why nothing has gone wrong so far.  Did I forget to turn the fan on?  Did someone not bring the shit?  Did messrs ‘shit’ and ‘happens’ have a falling out? Why the fuck hasn’t anything gone wrong yet?  And then I see a rider waving from the side of the road and at last, ‘shit’ and ‘happens’ have started talking to each other.

I stop to see the problem.  He points to his front brake caliper.  Ummmm.  That’s not going to work…

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He was riding along and felt something hit his leg.  Unfortunately it seems it was the 2nd bolt leaving and not the first.  So we’re 2 caliper bolts down and 60 miles from anywhere.  We’ve got a selection of different bolts with us but these are M10 40mm I think and of course, nobody has any.  Exactly how tough are cable ties anyway?  As long as he doesn’t brake at 50mph going backwards it will be fine.  I look back to where I’ve just come and the shit/happens brothers seem to be cooking up a storm for me.  No alternatives though, I turn tail and run back to Naryn to search for bolts.  As luck would have it, I remember walking past a hole in a wall that looked like it could be a shiny bolt emporium so I head straight there.  I show the bloke a 30mm M10 and make a gesture.  He winks at me and tells me to meet him round the back.  There lurking in the shadows is a bucket of spanky 40mm M10s.  Whooha.  Up your’s shit & happens!  I buy 5 dozen bolts just in case and head back 60 miles into the gloom to my mate with the floppy brakes.

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By the time we all get to Tash Rabat it’s all calmed down and set itself to ‘beautiful’ again.

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One more bollock freezing night on an undersized bed and we’re ready for China…

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Fire up the beasts, run up to the China border… and wait…

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Next Page

Ace to North Face

Here I am sitting in the Ace cafe again. The Bitch is outside, loaded and waiting, ready to go.  Stamping her feet and snorting.  She’s nervous and so am I.  Another journey from west to east.  London to Bangkok for the 3rd time.  I wonder.  Will I be able to just cut and paste the blog from 2016?  I very much doubt it.

I only got back from the last one about 9 months ago and here I am again.  WTF am I doing?  How has my life changed so much in such a short space of time.  In July 2016 I took redundancy after a 30 year career in software, left for Bangkok a week later, and since then I’ve not given IT another thought.  Now here I am having attracted another set of bonkers bikers into following me 11000 miles across the world with no support beyond my meagre organisational skills, a few years travelling experience, a couple of credit cards and Booking.com.  Oh well.  One day all I will be is a faded photo in someone’s bottom drawer, a name on a family tree, a memory occasionally recalled by a child.  I don’t want to fade to nothing.  I want to leave my mark and this is my way of doing it.

This trip is a bit different from the last 2.  This time I have aimed high.  Everest base camp.  Somewhere I’ve always wanted to go but each time I’ve thought about it I’ve wondered if it’s a step too far.  Getting there is quite difficult and carries a few more risks to add to all the usual ones these sorts of mileages attracts.  So this time I offered the riders the option.  When we are in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night at very high altitude, hungry, tired, freezing our tits off, getting 4 hours sleep in a concrete cell on a bed like a gurney, having a throbbing headache and feeling like shit I need them to know it was their choice.  Without exception, each rider chose this option.   Bring it on!

So, who do we have this time?  Well we obviously have me and The Bitch.  The Bitch that let me down on the Laos border last year and had to be recovered.  The Bitch that had to have both her wheels straightened and drilled for tubes.  The Bitch that cost me £1000 to get her dodgy electrics sorted.  The Bitch that needed her suspension rebuilding after twatting some bumps so hard that the top bolt on the rear bent into a banana shape and the wheel looked like a 50p piece.  The Bitch with the scars and the memories.  Yes.. that Bitch.  We’ve got some making up to do.

So who does The Bitch have along for friends this time?  A 2010 Transalp ridden by an 73 year old ex lorry driver mate of mine that rode from London Bangkok with me in 2014 via a different route.  A 64/F800 Adventure ridden by a NZ/UK national CFO resident in Dubai, a 13/1200GSA ridden by a recently retired PWC partner, a Honda CF500 fully clothed in Rally Raid kit ridden by an engineer/mechanic,  and lastly an almost new 16/R1200GSA piloted by a retired risk manager.  You would have thought he would know better.

Lots of expensive kit, all pristine and clean, all perfectly packed. We’ll see how long that lasts.  Off to Dover to hole up near the tunnel then an early train and off we go, heading east through Germany in the rain to Soest. A day only memorable for meeting possibly the oldest hooker in Germany.  I was chatting to her for a while in a petrol station.  She’d had a big car accident and brain damage but that didn’t stop some lowlife scumbag standing just off to the side trying to rent her out for blowjobs to lorry drivers.  Emptying one tank as they filled another.   Still.  She signed my helmet, and she didn’t charge.  Bonus

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Stop for lunch and I forgot we’re in the land of the big sausage.  Everywhere you go.  Big sausages.  Makes me feel uncomfortable.  I always feel inadequate asking a woman to handle a big sausage and hand it to me.  I’m more of a cocktail sausage man myself.

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Get to Soest for the first night of the trip.  3 rooms, 5 men.  I’d booked 3 twins.  The hotel had just recently changed all its beds, to doubles. I don’t think the group is quite ready to share double beds quite yet.  That will come later..  Fetty wank.  Thanks for letting me know!  No more rooms so I use my personal ‘get me out of the shit’ device and get another room round the corner.  Off to a perfect start…

Go out to dinner in the main square and descend  into the cellar/dungeon for a wee only to find a good selection of what every travelling man needs.  Good job I had a bag of 300 2€ coins with me.

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Day one over.  No dead bodies.  Result.  Quick breakfast and head out towards Berlin.

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We’re drawing a fast black line across Europe and it’s motorway all the way.  Just a long black wet blur to meet my mate on his Transalp and complete the team.  Take a walk down to Alexanderplatz in the sunshine and back through the gate.

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A few more hours of deadly dull eurobland road and scenery and we’re in Warsaw.  Years and years of feeding a travelling addiction has dulled my senses and left me searching for a bigger and bigger fix every time.  It’s not good but with ‘only’ 67 days I’m already in a hurry to get out of here.  To get somewhere with borders, somewhere with edges, somewhere different.  Warsaw still feels a bit different, at least for the time being.

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Get to the hotel and since I was last here it seems to advertised for a “Massive twat required to be our new  security and parking Nazi.  Only complete and utter uber tossers need apply.  Duties will include stopping motorcyclists parking safely in completely empty secure parking areas, acting like a petulant child, shouting and screaming and throwing your hands in the air”.  On these trips I carry a small bag with my ‘special’ swearword inside written in red on pieces of paper.  The one I only use on special occasions.  The one that makes me shiver when I say it.  The one that starts with C….  The pieces of paper have to be used sparingly.  I really have to think hard before I use one.  Once used they have to be thrown away.  But…after one quick ‘negotiation’ with this bloke I just stick my had in the bag and grab a load and treat myself to a C word frenzy.    You can see how wars start out here.  Fucking idiot.  The only other parking is outside the front amongst the beggars and gypsies that we’ve been beating off as we stripped the bikes. We’ll have to do something about that.

Go out for dinner in the backstreet and I’m pleased to be offered a chair at a table on a precipitous and dangerous wooden platform which I subsequently fall back off and onto the pavement, breaking the chair into the bargain.  It’s things like this that I enjoy.  No health and safety nerds with clipboards in high vis jackets.  Look out for yourself! Take some responsibility. Long may it continue.

Back to the hotel after dark so using the old ‘It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission’ adage we move the bikes to within 2cm of the front door and run away to our rooms.

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If you’re moving fast then standard Europe starts to run out pretty quickly and before we know it we’re in Lithuania and headed to Kaunas City.  One of the riders randomly chooses a place to stop for dinner and I find myself in the exact same toilet I was in last year.  A real case of Deja Poo. What are the odds?  Nice food though and some beautiful faces too.

web-0017web-0018Kaunas City is the kind of random place that you would probably never choose to visit. Just a small town on a big river.  Filled with locals doing their thing and enjoying lives amongst the old city streets. I love the place. We sit and eat in the street, watching the people.  Feeling the change.  Slowly melting into the journey and starting the deep dive.

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From Kaunas in Lithuania it’s up to Riga in Latvia to a small hotel nestled amongst the narrow cobbled streets.  You can tell we’re heading east by the change in ‘taste’ displayed by the locals.  I doubt a wedding car that looked like the bastard child of Cinderella’s  carriage and an ugly American heap that put the ‘Cry’ in Chrysler would get many bookings round here.

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For some completely unknown reason we end up eating at a vegetarian restaurant.   It’s full of weirdos wearing hair shirts and sipping drinks made of fuck knows what that look like fluids you might get inside the cooling systems of space ships.  I think if you’re going vegetarian then you should show commitment to the cause and have most of your teeth out as you don’t need them any more.  One overpriced and under whelming meal later and I’m A. Still hungry and B. Ready to play the complete Dark Side of the Moon album through my arse.  Luckily I’m sharing with my old mate and we’ve agreed to adopt a free and unrestricted fart policy.  An agreement like this is essential early in a travellers relationship as it makes sleeping easier and cures any pooformance anxiety when using the bathroom.  This hotel also provides earplugs which, though intended to keep the sounds of revellers throwing up outside the clubs in the streets at bay should also keep all but my deep bum notes from his ears and allow me to complete deflate my bowels.

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In the morning I’m nearly back to my normal size.  Just apply some cream to my stretch marks, have some breakfast and we’re ready for Mother Russia.  We head out through the forest and abandoned Estonia border.

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Stop at a derelict looking petrol station and listen to an old Lada use 90% of it’s 20HP to pump out 80’s dance music and shake the leaves from the trees.  Somewhere I think we’ve been though a time machine.  Then there is a flash of light and a van from the 80s appears.  We’ve definitely stumbled upon some some sort of time portal.  Perhaps I can get a lift back to my youth… it might not go back that far though.. 

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The Estonian borders operate a slot system where you book a time to cross then wait in a room decorated in all those things your great grandmother put out in charity bags in 1960.  Wait for your plate to appear on the screen and off you go.  I’ve been through Russian borders a few times and it’s never a quick procedure but this time it’s quite straight forward… except for the ‘problem’. The Bitch is the problem.  The Bitch didn’t get her passport stamped out last year so she is still officially in Russia.  Yet here she is in the flesh outside the booth of the man pointing at his computer screen.  Problem.  As as westerner we have the stupid idea that places like this have computer systems just for show and that they are just pressing buttons to frustrate the poor mug with his face at the window but in reality these places know everything.  Russia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have a common customs policy so you go through customs on entry to Russia and on the exit of Kyrgyzstan in my case.  Last year though there were some problems with the systems when we exited Kazakhstan into Uzbekistan and my bike wasn’t booked out.  Bollocks!  Still, the bike is clearly here, right in front of the blokes eyes.  I flip the coin and just wait as he looks at me…. It’s heads.  I win:)  He just shrugs and continues the process and I’m in.  Next day I get an email  asking me to send me evidence of leaving last year.  They’re switched on these Russians.

Anyway – it’s taken a couple of hours but we’re all in.  Rock up to the first petrol station and get some worthless insurance from someone who I would swear in court is actually Dr Spock.   Go to the cooler and I see cans of Red Bull.  3 sizes.  Normal, large and Russian.

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Same with the sausages.  A display of Russian scale sausages.  I’m really hungry but there is no way I’m going to ask the girl to handle a sausage that size so I go without.

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First night in the motherland is in Pskov, a nice hotel in a place I’ve never been before.  I brush off my rusty Russian and we head out for dinner down by the wide slow river.  I really like Russia and I’m glad to be back.  Google translate is pointed at a menu and says  ‘chicken salad’.  What it should have said was ‘A very small child’s portion of wet lettuce covered in horse seamen, served with a warm worm and a cat sick coleslaw’.  Delicious. I had 2nd’s…

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From Pskov it’s out into the Russian wilderness and north towards St Petersburg.  Reasonable roads, loads of fuel, bores my tits off!  I wish I had a travel reset button.  I really wish I could get my travel virginity back.  My moto mojo told me it would meet me along the way somewhere.  I hope it’s soon.  I’m getting worried it’s got lost somewhere.

Get to St Petersburg and it’s a big old city for sure.  The usual Russian traffic chaos and maniacs intent on invading europe by clandestinely taking out their motorcyclists.  I fitted the loudest horn I could find to The Bitch before leaving and I suggested the others all do the same.  It’s our only weapon in traffic like this.  It sounds like a flotilla of small ships coming through as we all head for the channels and weave our way through.  Get to a nice hotel in the centre and head out for dinner at a recommended local restaurant where we spend a happy evening asking the waitresses about their dumplings.

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St Petersburg is culture central and you can’t take more than 2 steps in any direction without bumping into something… or somebody… to stand and stare at.

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You can’t go to St Petersburg without visiting the Hermitage so I get on the underground and make my way up. On the way in I’m approached by 2 officers of the elite Russian Tottie Core who were having trouble with their buttons and needed some assistance.  Luckily I have an Bsc Hons degree in buttons and can do (or undo) one with each hand simultaneously. It was their lucky day:)

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Get into the Hermitage and it’s absolutely bloody MASSIVE.  Culture overload from the word go.  100000 rooms of paintings, statues, and antiquities from the beginning of time.  I wonder if my mojo is hiding in here somewhere so I go looking.  90% of the place is semi-deserted.. unless you include the angels…

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and the statues waiting patiently ..

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Get anywhere near anything significant and you’re caught up in a tide of tourists falling over themselves  to get a low quality picture of a tiny painting that they wouldn’t hang in their toilets.

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No mojo here though.  Bastard!  WTF has happened to it.  Couldn’t it get a Russian visa?  I’ll have to keep on looking.  Take a wander round town and see if I can pick up it’s trail.

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I definitely felt a twitch then .. I’m sure I did…

Moscow is too far from St Petersburg to do in a normal day so we take a ride down to Velikiy Novgorod, a city with a long and impressive history, a UNESCO world heritage site and location of a HUGE Kremlin.  Yep – I thought there was only THE Kremlin but no.  A Kremlin is a fortified complex and there are loads throughout Russia.  This one is stuffed with the old

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the very very very old..

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and the pre-historic…

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A really nice place with a lovely atmosphere, full of people enjoying themselves in the sunshine.

Get out early and head south for Moscow.  Fast road all the way..

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Get to Moscow and it’s surprisingly quiet.  I can even actually see pieces of unoccupied tarmac.  web-0071web-0072 web-0073

Day off .. .. Tourist mode on…. Metro…. Red Square…. Kremlin….

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Tick…. then up to the space museum… an really amazing place.

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Then up and out towards Tambov before the Russians get out of bed…

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To hole up in the little oasis in the centre of the chaos..

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Out to dinner and I get a ping on my phone.  Airdrop.  Or TartDrop in this case.  Two women advertising for business….  they’re sitting just behind me… that’s a first..

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Still can’t find my mojo though.  I’ve emailed.  I’ve texted. I’ve left voicemails.  Still no reply.  Perhaps it decided to stay at home… I really hope not.  I’m starting to get worried I might never see it again..  perhaps it’s lost forever.

Head south today.  Across the dark flat earth across the patchwork roads down to Saratov on the Volga.

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Get to the same hotel that I had the problems with Lucyfer last year.  I’ve stuffed my pockets with garlic and I’m wearing at least 200 crucifixes, they’re all dragging along behind me on  long chains as I climb the stairs ready and prepared for my encounter with the beastess.  Get to reception and it seems my luck has changed.  The place seems to have undergone an exorcism and Lucyfer has been replaced with a little angel.

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And she obviously loves me…

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The words “shit” and “happens” are best mates and I know they love to spend time in each other’s company.  They’ve not met up on this trip yet and I’m wondering if today is the day.  The long haul out across the shit roads to Kazakhstan seems to be the place they like to hang out and chat.  If we get out early enough maybe we’ll beat them to the border.  Out we go, leaving the infrastructure behind and heading for the bumpy potholed horizon.

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Get close to the border and dodge into Ozinki for some lunch.  These are the places where my mojo might be hiding.  Dusty towns way off piste with rough streets and lots of staring faces. Follow your nose, pick up a scent, walk though a dark door and see what you find.  This time we find a small room full of tables already set for lunch.  Biscuits and sandwiches and drinks cover all the surfaces and we think we’ve hit pay dirt until an attractive buxom lady starts flapping her arms and pointing to a locked room.  Eh?  She goes and gets a key, opens the door and points inside.  Eh?  O…K… we go and sit down just as all the local school kids arrive for their lunch.   Ohhhhhh… right…..

We sit in the goldfish bowl and eat as every child makes their way to and from the toilet, whether they need it or not, just for a look, a giggle, a smile.  This is what it’s all about.

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Up to the Russian border and out double quick.  I can barely believe it.  Where the fuck are the ‘shit’ and ‘happens’ brothers?  Maybe they’ve fallen out, or maybe they’ve got bigger plans for later…

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Rock up to the Kazakstan border and there is traffic as far as you can see but everyone just points to the front.  We don’t ask twice and get to the gate and wait… web-0109

Next Page

2016 Ride Route

The route I followed for the London to Bangkok 2016 ride.

London to China

Through China

And finally Laos and Thailand

If you would like to play with the KML yourself – here is the data

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