One other rider and I head into town but the sand is so soft that it is almost impossible to keep forward progress so we abandon the idea. We’re stopped at the side of a sort of roundabout round a statue. My mate goes round but there is absolutely nobody around and it’s just a big sand pit so I nip back down the way I came. As I ride off back to the auberge, some scruffy scrote in baseball cap pulls along side on a battered little 125 and tries to indicate for me to pull over.I think he’s a salesman and continue on my way. He comes along side again and starts shouting ‘Police’. Uh oh.I pull over and he shows me his warrant card. Now, we decided last night that we cannot ride back along the road of death and destruction that we arrived by yesterday because it is too dangerous and we were very very lucky that nobody got hurt so we spoke to someone at the docks and we have chartered a boat to take the bikes 150 miles down the river to Mopti. We need to be at the docs shortly… ‘You come with me to police station’. Your gut starts to tighten and you see a big pear shape appearing. I feign innocence.I know what he’s telling me I’ve done trying to mitigate and think of a way out.I tell him in my finest French that 20 of us are catching a boat to Mopti in an hour. ‘You come with me to police station, NOW’. OK, I show his some money ‘I pay a fine yes?’. ‘No, it is very bad’. Ummmm, plan X.I ride away from the copper and catch up my mate who has stopped in the distance.Safety in numbers and more pressure on plod.Plod comes too and his is obviously getting frustrated because neither of us admit to speaking any French.I just try to look sorry and keep absolutely quiet, not replying to him at all. ‘You give me money’. YES, result. Group photo in Timbuktu and off to the docks.
The charter boat is a 90ft long traditional Mali river boat, sleek and narrow and shaped like a giant Sycamore leaf.It’s not exactly a ro-ro ferry though. The docks are chaos.Beggars, flies, food sellers all crawling all over you trying to extract cash. I’ve taken a couple of patience pills already because I thought this might happen but I think I’m becoming a bit of an addict and I need a bigger fix now. Dusty faces squint into the sun and push little hands upwards, people argue over prices, bustle becomes hustle, it’s flippin hot and I’m getting angry.
‘Loading’ means 5 or 6 youths lifting and manhandling the bikes over the side of the boat, through a small gap with the roof, then arranging it amongst the planks and poles.Bikes that 2 weeks ago were the owners pride and joy and now on their sides amongst the bilge water and detritus at the bottom of a Mali river boat.
The clamour and noise is increasing.The boat is surrounded by people reaching in and touching, asking for money and trying to sell.The heat is intense.I’m sitting there covered in flies, crawling, itching, tickling their way around my mouth, ears, eyes, and I can’t be arsed to flick them off for the 0,5 seconds of relief that would give before they all returned. I’m going to blow.I’m really going to blow.There is going to be blood on the carpet very shortly.There is only one thing for it.Pope Benny sent me a single Mother Theresa strength pill, and this looks like the time to use it.Trouble is, it’s the size of a rugby ball. Extreme circumstances call for extreme measures.I stick the pill on the end of one of the horizontal poles in the boat. I take a good run up, open wide and launch myself onto the pole. The pill is activated.Suddenly I feel calm, detached, serene.I’m smiling, laughing, joking with the kids.The flies have left, the heat has subsided, my heartbeat is slow.What a load of bollocks. Not even a Mother Theresa pill could crack this one. I unleash a vitriolic attack on the kids and sellers. Spit is flying like bullets from an Uzzi 9mm. The birds have been scared off the water. The is a tsunami wave emanating from the boat.I’m strafing the place with a torrent of verbal fire. Everyone is laid flat on the floor with their hands over their heads. It looks like a war zone.All is quiet for just a moment, then like the flies, the relief only lasts a second and the clamour returns unabated. I curl up un the bottom of the boat and shake like an agitated rattle snake until the boat finally leaves the dock. The boat is going to take two days to get to Mopti at a max speed of 8mph.There is a cook aboard working over a solid fuel stove amongst the water and mess. There are about 5 other crew who will drive the boat constantly except for mandatory police stops along the way.
The toilet is a 1ft square hole in the back, just above the surface of the Niger.You have to climb over the huge ex-truck diesel motor at the back to get to it.
The scenery is fantastic though.The river is so so wide, the sky is HUGE, the sun is shining.You see lots of boat traffic on the water, slowly making its way up and down between the banks of cattle and scrub. Sun sets and we bed down amongst the poles on the bottom of the boat.It’s like sleeping on an egg carton.You wake up every few minutes but the sight of a sky full of stars, a bright crescent moon and black faces glinting in the moonlight makes it a memorable experience despite the discomfort.
Fitful sleep, aching bones.Sleeping across rough widely randomly spaced poles using your shoe as a pillow is probably not prescribed by posture specialists. My right shoulder is very sore after the accident and for some reason the left shoulder hurts too. I think I also got extremely dehydrated on the rough road that I’ve not managed to catch up.I’ve got a headache that just won’t go.Still.. one more day aboard ‘ship’ and we’ll be moving properly quickly I hope. The sun is climbing up to the horizon and the sunrise is beautiful, reflected in the big ripples from the boat.My camera is under 10 snoring bikers but I wouldn’t do it justice anyway. Human nature never fails to amaze me.We’ve all spent nearly 3 weeks together but a lot of the riders are still the selfish wankers they set out as.Flat space on the boat is at a premium.Those of us on the planks and amongst the bikes are at a considerable comfort disadvantage over the flat sleepers.It’s like Lord of the Flies.The flat sleepers have hired armed guards complete with dogs, searchlights and stun guns to protect their spaces.They’ve even cut the top off a bottle so they can wee in situ and through it over the edge without loosing their space.Tossers. I asked them to try and rearrange things so as more people could be accommodated but, you know what they did?They just worked out how they could make themselves even more comfortable. Fuck them all.I’m on the planks again tonight.I hold a grudge, and they WILL pay. One way or another, they will pay.It will give me something to think about on the days ahead. The ride itself is smooth and very very uneventful.We pass sandbank islands populated by tents, long lines of mud huts and little villages between the cattle strewn plains. We pass big fishing villages where there are piles of HUGE tubular nets, each like a chrysalis from which a massive butterfly has hatched and flown. I watch as kingfishers survey the water before falling in a flash to emerge with breakfast. You wonder how long life will be this way. The women here are all carrying brightly coloured plastic bowls rather than baskets on their heads.Lots of the kids are wearing European football shirt copies, and I know this might sound weird, but some of the women are wearing bras. A women came down to the water to wash and she had a bra on, I don’t know why I should find that strange, but it is.
The perpetual creep of the mobile phone disease is getting close here too. Some of the riders are sending texts and even phoning home occasionally from a knackered old boat in the middle of the Niger river in Mali. My phone doesn’t work here but it works all over the populated regions of Mauritania and even across the Sahara road there is full coverage via regular relay stations.What did the world do without them I wonder. Trouble is, Africa seems such a money based place anyway, it doesn’t need any help to get it on the way to the western greed driven society.Everything here is about the last penny, the biggest screw, the ‘cadeau’. If I hear that word one more time I’ll fly. I can understand that they want what the western world has, of course they do, but it’s the basics of what they’re building this on that worries me. The dog eat dog principle means that people would seem to not think twice about making a buck at the expense of everyone else and that’s bad. It seemed to be that way in Russia when I visited and it had ended up with those that either had it all, or had nothing. There seemed to be nothing in the middle. I hope I’m wrong.
Eventful night aboard ship.Fist we ran aground when the captain saw a hippo and diverted for us to see it, then the boat broke down.It has two old diesel truck motors at the back, but one it seems is for spares because it isn’t connected to anything.I make my way down to the ‘poop deck’ in the dark by walking along the side of the boat in the pitch dark and still of the night. I stop to watch the young crew members crawling all over the hot motor, spannering and sweating like little glow worms with torches in their mouths.They get the motor running again after a while and we’re back on our way. Unlike last night we throw anchor and hold up to wait for morning as the dock police don’t finishing polishing their guns till 8.
The crew decide to party. The huge ghetto blaster is unleashed and some fast, throbbing, thrashing Mali music comes on. It’s flippin good stuff. They certainly love their music out here and we have been through quite a few places having music festivals recently. But if you’re a selfish old Scottish kilt-lifter that thinks anything over 5bpm is a devil dance then the best thing you can do, even if you’ve been useless 23:59 of the last 24 hours, is to shout ‘TURN THAT FUCKING THING OFF’ at the top of your crinkly wrinkled old voice. As he was one of the flat dwellers I thought I’d get his penance out the way at this point. I jumped onto his shoulders in the finest circus acrobat tradition, grabbed all the loose skin from around his neck, pulled with all my might and tied it in a big knot above his head. From the shoulders up he looks like the ‘Parsons Nose’ end of a plucked chicken. Still, at least he can wee without having to undo his flies now that his Hampton sits just under his chin. I do hate Englishmen abroad sometimes. We dock in Mopti. What a squalid dump this place is. You can feel the impending hustle as you approach. Youths with boats come along side and hang on to prevent you unloading without going over their boat. They stop you getting a berth parallel to the dock and so unloading becomes a complete bastard. The boat ends up at an angle to the shore and all the bikes have to be manhandled up inside the boat, under all the cross bracing, which means being just dragged on their sides along with any sticky out bits being shaved off or bent and buggered as they travel. Anything that doesn’t get snapped off in the first stage runs the gauntlet of being effectively grabbed and ‘thrown out the window’ to be caught by sweating youths. These youths usually grab the first and usually most inappropriate parts of the bike and proceed to slide it on its side down a greasy plank into shallow water. They do literally thousands of pounds worth of damage as they go. The break off winkers and auxiliary lights, shatter number plates, bend and brake levers and scratch and gouge bodywork as they go. I jump aboard and remove any plastic snappy bendy expensive/essential bits before the unloading muppets approach it for disembarkation. So as we understand each other I quickly attach a paper clip with a Stanley Knife blade in to each of the muppets gonads then have a little string for each worker. Slight upward pressure on the string and blades meet bollocks. It seems to do the trick. I work them like a posse of puppets till my bike is dockside. The only casualty is a mullered back brake lever that I can live without. I think the worse thing to happen that one bike had an ABS sensor broken so the bike had no brakes, just like 99% of the other bikes out here. That’s another bike on the recovery truck!
I put my bike over by our truck so as it could be watched, but someone moved it, only a little, but the little thieves had my camera out my handlebar bag which is a pain. If only they had left the memory card , little feckers. The people round this place are like vultures that want to eat you before you are dead. They’re intense, perpetual invasion of your personal space can get too much, like they’re almost trying to get inside your head with you. It’s market day and the place is a sensory supernova, stalls have thousands of fish, several deep, spread out like huge blankets of death in front of them.There seems to be more food than even the flys can cope with here. Under a shelter people are building boats with huge planks of wood. They’re smelting any any metal they can find to make nails for the boats and work in a hot noisy hellhole. There are people crammed in every space, sharing sweat and hot scented air as they slither by each other on the way to some unknown destination. It’s an amazing sight, but I’ve had enough now thanks, 400 miles later and we have another crash after some kids push a bike in front of a rider for a laugh and he goes down the road at about 65. Another brakes his chain, another snaps a suspension bolt and we roll into Bamako late, hot and bothered. It’s 41 degres today and it is only getting hotter.
Decision day. Once we are running in a home like direction I want to bolt ASAP. I have things I need to get back for, including my wife’s birthday Everyone is tired, feeling bad, getting edgy in the heat, barking and barracking. Heat and fatigue are an explosive combination, especially in a group this size. It has been decided that the group rest here in Bamako today so it’s decision made. We’re in Mali, about 4 thousand miles from home, and there is ferry with my name on it as soon as I can get there. One other rider and I decide to cut and run. I have to retrieve my mobile from another rider across town. Bamako is manic. Every other vehicle is a green Mercedes van Taxi. Licensed to take 20 and go 60kph they take 40 and go 100, in town. Mind you, it is all very staccato. It’s full on or full off, winner takes all in the 40 degree diesel smog. My body is pinking badly, just like the bike. We both need good quality fuel and we’re just getting shit. I’m not talking ‘soft babygrow powder pinking’, Im talking full on ‘Dog Dick Pinking’ here. Any request for any power from body bike is met with ‘the lithium crystals are completely wankered captain’ from the engine room. I’ve lost loads of weight, I can feel bones that got buried at adolescence and I don’t like it. We won’t have the truck anywhere behind us now so we load the bikes, load them some more then keep strapping bits on until you run out of straps. The poor old iron horse bends at her knees as she takes the strain when I climb on. Off out the squalor and noise starts to disappear behind to be replaced by the welcome rush of wind as we make quick progress north. Pass through comfort zone customs as we progress. Good to see it’s moved a decent distance this trip. Every village you pass through has a welt of waving kids living at the edge of the road. I’m happy waving today, waving ‘goodbye and thanks for all the sand’. Black birds sit in the road but as we approach they take off and display bright flashes of blue with every wing beat as their beautiful under wing plumage becomes visible.
We reach the start of the 80 miles of piste where the bloke crashed his BMW the other day/week/lifetime. It feels easier today after the road to Timbuktu but it is all corrugated, loose, sandy and fecking dangerous. We left Bamako late and it is getting dark already so I unload my brain, wrap it safely in a bag and set off at 50-60mph, barely in control, wheel often spinning in 4th gear and drifting around on the cambers and bumps. Look like the sun is racing us to the horizon and if it wins and we’re still on this road we are done for.. Faster, faster. Fast and loose is the only way. It’s scary, dangerous, and stupid. As we get about 15 miles from the tarmac there is a ‘diversion’ where they are starting to work on the main piste, so onto the soft and narrow side piste we go, along with the trucks and vans. Mad.. MAD. THIS IS TOTAL LUNACY. Now driving out here at night is very dangerous. Everyone I spoke to before coming out said definitely, absolutely, positively don’t do it. It’s much like playing catch in a sharp knife factory with the lights off. So here we are in the dusk, 130 miles from bed. What do you do. Well you ride amongst the trucks and vans. Sliding and drifting around amongst the marauding mounds of metal. One mistake here and it’s game over. The dust is so thick and the visibility so low that you are blinking 20 tikes a second and all you have for reference is scary silhouettes and sounds. I can just about make out the other rider with me. If I see his bike slide I just open my throttle and power through whatever is unseen under my wheels and I guess he does the same. BONKERS. We reach the start of the tarmac as the sun pulls the light cord for the night. There is a big beautiful heard of cattle walking through the low trees down towards a waterhole. They move silently through a think blanket of dust lit by the dying light, stunning and definitely a shot I’ll put in my mental favorites. They look like souls out for a quiet stroll when there is nobody else about. 100 miles of tarmac and we’re back on soft side piste again in the pitch dark. Forget the catch game, this is like going to the pub on a Friday night dressed only in a pair of pants with a dartboard drawn on the front. We eventually make ‘Tarmacfall’ at about 9. Ask for the best auberge in town and we’re led out of town on rough roads to end up at the local radio station which rents out rooms too. Odd combination but we watch the evening DJ for a while as he does his stuff amongst his cassettes and 8tracks in what looks like a 60s kitchen before drifting into a squalid bed for a fitful sleep to the sounds of late night mellow Mali music.
Nice to be awoken by music rather than the call to prayer. Not slept well though because the bed is so dirty it’s like sleeping on sandpaper. You don’t slide but scratch as you move around. We have got a serious distance to cover today and to get across borders too. We get off early but the police and carnet boys are not up yet so we have to wait and don’t get out of Mali unit 10. Get to the Mauritanian border and the guard wants money to stamp the passport. That is something I will not miss about Africa. The Mali copper wanted cash this morning to stamp us out and this twat wants money to stamp us in. He wants about 15 quid for the tow of us. There is queue forming outside and I just say ‘Non’. He looks confused. I just can’t afford to waste any more time so I offer him a 10 Euro note and say ‘Finished’ and stand up to leave. He capitulates and gives me the passport back thank goodness. We’re supposed to stop at customs. I know we’re supposed to stop, but I found that by rolling up to the police and customs posts quietly in neutral doesn’t give them time to get off their asses and out their huts before I gun it off down the road. This works fine for about 100 miles but I detect more urgency from the guards as we reach a big town. Then we get pulled by a cop car. GULP. It’s Laurel and Hardy, Mauritanian style. Hardy is fuming, irate, spitting feathers. He’s angry and that’s bad. Laurel is about 12 years old, simple, and scratching his head. I know what he is on about. We’ve missed a stamp, and he wants us to return 100 miles to the border. We both go quiet. We have entry stamps from the police and show him them. He thinks our visas have expired too’ ummm .. until we get it into his thick head that they are 3 months visas. He’s still not happy and keeps pointing back the way we’ve just come. I get the sweeties out and give them a handful each. It’s like he’s taken a patience pill. He calms down, or he is worn out, or the batteries on his flashing lights are going to run out soon, but his eyes go back in their sockets, the pumping vein in his temple subsides and he is heading back in our direction I think. He’s looks exhausted because we’re still not budging and he thinks we will never understand what he is talking about so he lets us go, motioning to get our passports stamped as we leave. No danger mate! Now we’re in trouble again with fuel. My bike has a 300 mile range but the other rider doesn’t. His is much smaller. Every town we go through is still dry of essence. Imagine driving to York and every petrol station on the way is empty. He’s nearly empty and we’re crawling. I’m annoyed, very annoyed. I intended to come back alone and the other rider is dragging me down and holding me back all the time. I’m steaming, pissed, and wondering if I can kill him without anyone seeing. We’re in another dry petrol station. He’ll not get to the next town. Some Spanish blokey pulls into the petrol station in a white van and we ask him where the nearest fuel is. He says 100 miles, but, he has a motorbike in the back that has a little petrol in that he could siphon out for us, maybe at least a litre or two. Turns out it has 6 in the bike. Lady luck is doing her best today by the looks of it. So we’re crawling for the next 100 miles. Seeing a petrol station with petrol is such a relief I almost wet my pants. Both bikes full and strapped up with extra fuel cans and we’re off again. We’re seriously late now. It’s 10pm and we’ve still got 175 miles to go to bed. We’ve got to cross some desert and some plains to reach. Forget going to the pub in your dart pants. This ride is like running round an American firing range with a bright orange ‘Friendly Forces’ flag tied to your back. The sea mist is reaching right inland too making matters even worse. Things appear in your peripheral vision like things on the ghost train at the funfair. Camels, donkeys, cows, goats. Any one of which could become a life threatening bollard at any point. That’s without the cars and lorries. Many of them only have one or two full beam lights and nothing else. They quickly turn their lights on for a couple of seconds then disappear into the blackness until the moment you come across them in your headlights. This is a 3 hour non-blink shity scaredy journey that I never want to repeat.The other rider very nearly hits a small girl as she runs out in front of him in a small village. We get into town about 1am and I’m apoplectic with rage. If I had been on my own I’d have been here HOURS ago. I’m screaming through the city and matey doesn’t keep close. I turn around in the entrance to a barracks ad by the time he turns around the guard has woken up and is chasing him down the with his gun out. I’m running red lights and he nearly gets collected a dozen times. By the time we get to the auberge I’m not on speaking terms with myself, let alone him. What a flippin day. 650 miles.
Out of Mauritania today. Across the desert we go.Out the Auberge, turn right, then take the next right turn in 300 miles with nothing much in-between. When we came through this section of the Sahara last time it was in a sandstorm and we couldn’t really see anything. Today though there is just a light breeze here coming in from the sea. Mother nature is putting the final windy brushstrokes to another desert landscape masterpiece.It is magnificent in the low morning sunshine. Nothing manmade can really rival a scene like this on such a huge scale. Enormous smooth peachy pink dunes roll as far as the eye can see in all directions.As you ride the dune lines give a kaleidoscopic effect to draw a million patterns for your delectation.
Sand turns to scrub turns to rocks turns to gravel turns to the Mauritanian border. We wait and watch the huge train we’ve recently been racing pass across our vista like a giant sidewinder rattling and running from left to right.
Border is empty, result. Two travel much quicker than 20, but not as fast as one. Across the minefield and into Morocco. 200 miles to go.Dark, again, angry, again. Get to Dahklar and pay ¬£25 for a room in the 5 star Sahara Regency. It has obviously been raining very hard here recently as there are huge puddles covering most of the road in places. I go to put my bike in the hotel garage. There is a 15 ft ramp that drops about 10 ft and it has a door at the bottom.I know the moment I start down the ramp that something is wrong. The ramp is like ice and I just slide down with both brakes locked and feet on the ground, straight into the door. I can’t get off of or move the bike in any direction and have to wait sheepishly for someone to open the door. Some mute from the Adams family pulls the door up to be instantly greeted by 300kg of bike and rider sliding in out of control. First meal in over a week. I can just about remember how to use a knife and fork!. Straight off to bed for another big day tomorrow. 550 miles.
6 hours sleep, I get the night porter to chisel my eyes open and jetwash my eyeballs. I’m getting more and more agitated. I want to run. I want to skidadle, quickstyle, vamos, GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE & GET MOVING. Since we left Bamako it’s like I’ve been taking a very old dog on a very very long walk. He was initially enthusiastic but as we go further and further he keeps getting to the end of his lead and I have to drag him along. Now he’s even having trouble wagging his tail without someone shaking his arse for him. I’m up ready to go, and he’s standing there on 3 legs scratching his ear. His movements are slow and deliberate, dragging his feet and barely conscious. To be honest he’s a really nice bloke and a better road rider than me I’m sure but endurance motorcycling is another thing completely and getting on the bike and moving within 5 minutes of waking up is clearly not his forte.
We’ve got all the time in the world. We’ve only got 550 miles across desert and sandy cliffside roads to do today. Why don’t we sleep in till 12? COME ON, IT’S NINE, 2 hours late already.Even Morocco is dry of essence way down south and he runs out of petrol. I love days like this.I ride to the next town which luckily has some and bring him some back, check his nose is still nice and wet, and we’re away again.
The towns have streams instead of roads and out of town there are large sections of road underwater to an unknown depth. One section has some lorries on their sides in the desert where for some reason they have decided to try and drive round the water. I’m through messing about and go straight through at about 30.Water everywhere including all in my boots. Must be over 18 inches deep. I’m too weary to worry, to cold to care. Morocco has been flippin freezing cold even down here ever since we’ve crossed the border.
The lead is stretching to breaking. I’m pulling hard, jerking and shouting. My one reserve, never use swearword is screamed into my helmet on a minute by minute basis. My throat is sore with the constant stream of abuse I’m shouting as I scream and snort my way too slowly across the sopping wet plain. It’s dark, AGAIN. I’m apoplectic, AGAIN. I’m not doing the AGAIN. FACT! As we get about 100 miles from our destination the winds gets really really wild. We’re driving along the exposed clifftops between two giants playing blow football. Leeeefffft, right, riiiiiiight, left, riggggght we go all over the road. I’ve let Rover off the lead and he’s miles behind. When I wait for him to catch up he starts complaining of near death experiences with trucks and sand drifts across the road. We’re hitting deep standing water hard and fast, maybe about 50. We’re in a wild weather nightmare. By the time we finally get through our last in-town river crossing and to a hotel I’m just not having it anymore.I think rover has noticed. He’s wimpering and licking my hand. I kick his arse and send him to his kennel. I’m not interested anymore.RSPCA for him tomorrow. 600 miles.
Last night I did it.I told Rover it’s over.I’m going alone.I’m not looking. I’m not listening, I’m not hanging about and I’m gone. Unfortunately Rover thinks I’m joking or something cos he’s up out his basket at 5am and packs his bike at warp speed in the restaurant of the hotel.
I get away alone but I’m held up for ages at a police check. Rover appears in my mirrors.Ummmm. I have a 300 mile range and he has 200 so I won’t stop till way after he has to go for petrol. Out towards Agadir the Atlas mountains appear again. Fantastic and majestic in the cool clear morning light. Head east to Marakesh through the mountains. Morocco has some of the most smooth sinuous sensual curves it has been my pleasure to ride anywhere.The road into the sun this morning is delicious.Round and round, up and down, red green and brown. I love the Atlas range.It’s not the usual.More ‘rugged rocks’ than ‘chocolate box’.Huge red and brown scrubland with small green abrasive bushy coating down at these lower levels.The road is rough. An old road. On a sports bike this would be a back braking bullock bashing bout of buggery. My big heavy bike is made for this stuff. Serene and untroubled it’s a simply wonderful way to get some world under your wheels.
I stop to take a few pictures and later I catch Rover on the streets of Marakesh, looking for the way out. He’s peeing against the sign we need so I point and we leave. An hour of playing in the fast traffic and I’m alone again but I’ve made a schoolboy error. I’ve not got enough money for the remaining tolls. I break formation from the fast flowing toll traffic and swoop into a big town/city for cash. It’s apparently the one day of the year when all new drivers take their driving tests simultaneously.It’s tight, hot, slow and chaotic.My bike is too big to fight fast and loose and all the gaps are only scooter sized. I loose over an hour getting in and out this place. It’s my comeuppance for abandoning Rover. I come across him again on the road almost immediately. OK OK, one last time I pull in behind and we ride together towards the port. We’re in the dark again as we break off onto the B roads across country to the opposite coast. Unfortunately Rover can’t see in the dark and can’t keep up even a modest pace.. traffic is very heavy and slow.. very very slow. We’re not going to make a ferry tonight, we’re going way too slowly. ‘Come on, here boy’ but it’s no good. He’s out and running on empty. Eventually we reach the east coast and the traffic clears. Moroccan roads are frequently super smooth and shiny and with the rain here they are very slippery, especially with knobbly tyres on. I’m in a hurry.I need to get across to the mainland tonight to give me a chance to do a one hit ride to Le Harve. The road to the port is about 20 miles from here and there is a roundabout every mile or so. I’m playing dare with the pleasure/pain principle. Sliding the worn knobbly rear out the corners and riding my luck. Fate decides to deal me a curveball and have an extra tight roundabout next to the waters edge with no barrier and a camber that appears to fall away into the sea. It’s covered in gravel too. I believe I’m in the sea. I’m walking home for sure. I’m sliding the bike ‘Super Motard’ styley right over with my foot sliding on the ground keeping it up. I’m alive and surprised .Rover reckons it looked spectacular and didn’t believe I’d make it round. He had seen the 20kph warning sign I’d missed. It’s not something I’d want to repeat even if the outcome was guaranteed to be the same. An out of body experience. Get to the border and buy our way through quickly even though there is nobody about. Dash through to the ferry. The last one is at 10:30.RESULT! We get our boarding passes and wait. We queue then drive to the ferry.The ferry unloads.Mr Squarehead Tosserbollocks then comes over to us and tells us that there is a technical fault with the unloading ramp, even though they have just unloaded in front of our eyes.Truth is they have done a Ryanair and called the trip off because there are only very few passengers to take. Nothing we can do but find a cheap hotel.If I had known this I could have been in bed hours ago. I’ve got to get up in 5 hours and do the longest ride I’ve ever done. 5 hours is not enough.
6am, riding again. Down to the docks and check in for the 7:30. At least the ferry is running today. I bet they were up all night fixing that ramp. OK, I’m stood in Cueta which is a Spanish enclave on the tip of Africa. I’m riding direct to Southampton from here and only stopping for piss, petrol and powernaps.Out the ferry in Algeciras, say goodbye to Rover and hand control to the GPS. £65 worth of ebay guidance is going to hold my hand and take the directional strain. It’s calculated some hideous mileage and I’m not thinking about it, choosing to concentrate on the promise I’ve made myself of as much expensive ferry food as I can eat tomorrow afternoon. I need to be in Le Havre by 3pm tomorrow. 100 miles, cold and wet.Splash and dash and head north towards Madrid.300 miles, 12:30.Getting seriously seriously cold.Stuff as much food as possible in the furnace and on my way again. Up into the Pyrenees.Snows up and I’m in a freezer.I’ve been shivering for hours but at least the sun has been out occasionally. 550 miles and the sun is falling. I’m still up in the mountains with a long long way to run. Darkness falls, temperature drops and I reckon this run might defeat me. I’ve never been this cold.It’s wet as well.Melted snow runs across the roads and it’s starting to drizzle and get seriously foggy/cloudy too. Follow the lorries is the only way as the road curves and drops towards San Sebastian. Try to forget about the worn knobbles writhing around looking for grip.This is bad.This is killing me. I am wearing every layer I have with me. 2 Tshirts, 2 sweat shrts, a vest and 2 coats. It’s not enough and it’s not working. I sit on the bike in a garage out the rain and take a nap. Wake up 40 minutes later, half blind.I’ve obviously been leaning on one eye and it’s showing ‘temporary fault’ through the blur.One eye, one chance, one way to make the ferry and that’s to keep on moving.Over 550 miles to go and it’s nearly midnight. I have to stop, unable to think, unable to control the bike, unable to keep it between 2 white lines.2am & I pull into a garage.The blast of hot air in the shop gives me hope. I’ve been shivering uncontrollably for hours. The road is high, the snow is everywhere and the thick fog is freezing. The bloke in the garage is wearing a Tshirt. I’ve got on all my stuff and I’m doing an epileptic fit, even after sitting on the floor for an hour under the heater. Time is passing, miles are not.Out again and make 50 scary miles before stopping again. This is an epic nightmare.Another nap for an hour by some coffee machines.I see some bodywarmers in the shop, but the shop is closed.I must have looked a desperate mess because I convince the shopkeeper to open for me to buy one. Another layer, another ray of hope, another disappointment. It doesn’t make much difference because my core is so cold now. Another 40 miles.I’m falling asleep.I fall asleep on the bike then wake up suddenly and forget where I am. I stand up forgetting I’m on the bike and it falls over. Back to sleep, it’s the only option. 6am, 450 miles to go.I’m off.The light is lifting, the traffic is heavy and concentration is hard. After 100 miles or so I’m waking with the sun. Quick coffee and go again. 250 to go, 200, 180, 85. Lids are lead again.Stop by some traffic lights and sleep on the bike. Shivering again.It’s getting colder or I’m dying.Le Mans, Ahhh Le Mans. A friendly place injects a little optimism and I start to run quickly towards the light. Autopilot on as the speed increases for the final push to Le Havre. Made it.It’s 1:30 and I’m hear in body if not in mind. My eyeballs are in agony after so many hours of freezing cold windblast.I try to cover them with my hands to warm them up and it helps a little.
My odometer is showing 1350 miles but the GPS says 1265. By the time I reach home later it will be over 1300. That’s the longest , hardest, most ridiculous ride I’ve ever done. There is a fine line between pushing yourself and pushing yourself over the edge. What a stupid tosser!
So, now,relaxing and full of food on the ferry home.It’s all over, finito, kaput.It’s been a weird one this time.50/50 pleasure/pain, fun/fear, awe/awful.Not the usual feelings by any means.I think I’ve been very very lucky this time to get back in one piece and that dumbs the pleasure at bit. The bike is covered in battle scars.Squeaking, rattling, bruised and abused my old iron horse has gone up massively in my estimations.10000 miles in a month of manic mullering, 4000 in the last week and she’s not been touched once and not complained once.I trust that bike now and that isn’t something I give out easily. At least the body has learnt a lot of new stuff this time. I’m sure my subconscious is packed with new experiences to use for reference in the future, whether that be when the bike gets out of shape on the road, or when one of the other senses tries to analyse something new. In most peoples cases, including mine, the body really is a sensory supercomputer seldom stimulated beyond the suburban same-old same-old. In out mostly super-clean, risk averse, clinical and generally antiseptic and tasteless world chances to teach it are rare. Trips like this one are at least a chance to try. Eat bread full of sand with fingers full of dirt. Drag a finger along dry dusty crackled skin. Taste the acrid black belch of a Bamako bus, or butter spread with a huge dirty knife that’s just finished slaughtering a goat. Squint at the sight of low sun bouncing of buffed blue clay roads, or at the heads of children thick with the crusty scabs of 100 unwashed days. Hear the gentle wash of shallow water through the side of a wooden boat, the clipped loud bartering of a market, the splosh of a kingfisher dropping in on lunch.Smell the stench of an open sewer running across a street in 40 degrees of sultry heat, a rotting animal, a pile a poo that you piss on beneath your feet. Inhale near a kid that has never used toilet paper. Whiff a cheap hooker on the street. Run to the edge of your comfort zone and keep on running. Use it or loose it. Evolution is already dumbing down underused senses and it’ll only get worse. Push yourself, scare yourself, hurt yourself. A human template is usually pretty blank. Go paint yourself. So as I sit on the ferry, still shivering and desperately tired, I close my eyes and roll the final credits then replay the trips ‘out takes’ in my mind and smile. Feeling really alive is a good thing, however you choose to do it.