Category Archives: Round the World 2002

3 months, 32000 miles around the globe in a big hurry

Kyrgyzstan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ahhhhhhhh… that’s better ..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to Tibet

On and on and on

Out towards Yekaterinburg.  Trying to make peace with the bike.  Already calculating how many times I might have to start the bitch over the rest of the trip.  Giving up or turning round isn’t an option.  Death or glory…shit or bust.  I’ll keep it running as much as possible and just see what happens.  It’s nothing I can fix easily out here anyway.  If it’s the starter then it’s a fuck of a job involving wiggling the engine within the frame to get access .. yes really .. I was quoted £1200 by a dealer … and if it’s something else then I’m going to need some specialist tools, some fairy dust and three wishes from a KTM genie.  I tried bump starting it out of a petrol station but the slipper clutch wont let the rear wheel lock.  I’m not going to able to bump it myself for sure.

I take to the fields for a moment to distract myself and look for a suitable ditch to burn the bitch in..


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I decide she can live just a little bit longer, as long as she can get me to a nice truck stop for a random assortment of culinary delights… so she does .. proper food at last.  A sea of beige .. just the way I like it …

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I’m scooting along on my own and get to Yekaterinburg early.  Arrive at the hotel… and … eh … you can almost smell the turd polish .. Some creepy bloke you wouldn’t let in the same county as your daughter, with swarms of flies under each armpit comes running out and tells me the parking out here in this quiet and secluded dead end road by the building site is perfectly safe as there is a security camera about 500m up the road that is turned on between 10-11pm almost every evening.  He then directs me through some blast proof intruder doors, down some steps that have obviously been donated from a number of separate buildings into a corridor of rooms that will at some point appear feature on  the Discovery Channel’s ‘Worlds worse serial killer’ episodes.  The place stinks for a start, and the rooms look like people have screamed a lot in them, and probably lost a lot of blood… and teeth .. and other body parts used for going to the toilet .. It just looks and feels like the Grim Reaper is a regular here.  He’s obviously purchased a fuck off tin of Turd Polish and used it on his Booking.com entry as this place bears little resemblance .   Always be wary when a listing shows a lot of the local area and not much else…   I know… I  just know for an absolute fact that my buddies will  not get within sniffing distance of the creepy fuckwit before turning round and buggering off up the road so I go and hunt for a replacement.  I just need some fuel first.  So I go to the nearest station … its a bloody automatic one .. it’s going to be a nightmare … but for some reason I park and just wait … something seems to be interfering with my ‘bovvered-ometer’…

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After about 10 minutes the interference clears and my ‘bovvered-ometer’ suddenly registers 100% and I have to leave before I put an Alpinestar sized hole in the screen .. Go and find more fuel and a hotel then get back to the hotel just as my mates arrive.   “Novotel anyone?”

Yekaterinburg is a big place and has the highest building between Moscow and Vladivostok.  55 floors so up we go for a gander.
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We head out early towards Tyumen. The Ural motorcycle museum is at Irbit and we were going to try and take a look.  Internet says ‘closed on Monday’ .. guess what today is .. bollocks .. we’ll go and take a look anyway and see what gives.

Not so busy today… getting less and less as we go further and further east..

Russia2018-379 Russia2018-373 Russia2018-376 Russia2018-391Dive into any little village .. people just getting on with it ..

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Get to Irbit but can’t find the museum.. probably because it’s closed .. Google maps apparently thinks it’s inside a stationery shop.. or possibly right next to a prison … so ask a taxi driver and follow him out of town to a little courtyard.. down a little alley .. through a little door .. and it’s closed.  Bugger.  I give the door a good rattle but it’s locked.  I turn around to leave and the door suddenly opens and a little bearded bloke starts chatting away.  I think he’s been asleep for the last 2 months and has been awakened by the KTM bouncing it’s booms in the alley. After a bit of a chat he invites us in.  Result!  I’m not really into old bikes but it’s quite an interesting little place none the less.  This little bloke is the museum director Alexander Bulanov.  He’s a bit of a hero!  He’s a decorated Ural motorcycle champion and also has some Guinness world records including covering 25506 kilometers in 440 hours (with his mate Konstantin Matveev) without stopping the bike.  He had a big sidecar accident and now walks with a limp and a stick.  Nice bloke, gave us free rein and let us just wander about sitting on the bikes and taking pictures.

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Then a few hours of this ..

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into Tyumen and .. officially .. Siberia.  Siberia is BIG.  In fact it’s fucking HUUUUGE  The UK would fit into Siberia 62 times.  It’s 1.3 times the size of the USA.  And that’s just Siberia, not the whole of Russia.    Tyumen is just another big city.  Another spot on the dot to dot line across this truly massive country.

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Go out for dinner and happen upon a club so in we go..   Walk in and we’re confronted by a clutch of young women that have been carefully poured into very tight, very low cut dresses.  They’ve been filled right up to the very brim …  one false move and they’re going to spill something … something pink probably … best be careful then…  I do like pink though ..

Looks like the club can cater for about 500 but I think they’ve had a few cancellations… like maybe 495 .. There is a live band playing and they’re really good.  Playing to an empty dance floor for an hour can’t be much fun but they do a good job.

Get out the city towards Omsk and it’s really starting to thin out.. nothing wrong with that.  Lots of miles between fuel… never ending fields of wheat sunbathing in 30 degrees… welcome to Siberia..

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The road follows the Trans Siberian railway, sometimes loosely and sometimes, like today, runs alongside for long periods.   We crisscross it regularly and often just run alongside the trains as they lumber their way back and forth.  We plan to be on that train in a few weeks, retracing all these miles back to Moscow.

Not so bad eh?  Beautiful weather and miles and miles and miles of nothing but fields and trees.  A song in my head, the KTM just purring towards the horizon.  Friends… food … fun… The minute I leave on these trips someone goes round in my head and shuts all the doors to my life at home.  Work … shut…. bills … shut … that leaking gutter … shut … now is all that matters.

More roadworks.. more pissed up Russians on their phones.  These ones were out their car with a permanent marker defacing the bitch before I knew what was happening.  I let them get on with it… fucking bike is getting on my tits … sometimes going a day without a problem, then squealing like a horse that’s been kicked in the knackers all day long.  Bitch!Russia2018-420

Russia2018-423Riders .. make your pillions dismount … obviously!
Russia2018-422Get to Omsk and a creepy hotel I’m convinced from the moment I walk in is haunted.  My Aussie mate’s wife feels it too. She has a quiet word and convinces it to move on so I can get some sleep..Russia2018-426Russia2018-425Next morning, breakfast is bought to us by the colour green.. Truth be told I much prefer these ‘what the fuck is this?’ places to the cookie-cutter ‘where the fuck am I’ hotels.   
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Next dot on the map is Novosibirsk where we’re going to hole up for a couple of days and fettle the bikes… or use mine for RPG target practice… It’s been OK last couple of days… not a squeak ..bastard!

Russia2018-436 Russia2018-430 Russia2018-432Siberia… flat…. flat and more flat .. the scale of the place is almost frightening though.  Russia2018-434Russia2018-435

But it’s another beautiful day, and it’s another great ride on the Trans Siberian highway …

In all the big cities we get to the traffic is obviously growing faster than the road systems.  It’s a crawl if you’re lucky, and it’s gridlock if you’re not.  The crawling starts miles of the city and gets tighter and tighter.  It’s hot.. we’re hot .. the bikes are hot… tempers are hot.. we get to the big bridge over the river and there are 4 … yes count them … 4 separate accidents within 1km or so.  One involves a motorbike that’s laying horizontal across the road. Others are just rear-enders.  Novosibirsk traffic is a prize fucking bitch and by the time we get to the hotel in the centre my balls are glowing red and my legs are cooked ready to carve.. Nice view though, right overlooking the station and our friends the Trans Siberian trains.  I’ll be back here soon enough ..
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Novosibirsk is a major city along this route and has a lot of the big dealers.  We ride past Honda, Triumph,  and Suzuki dealers on the way in … no KTM though ..  and the Aussies have had tyres sent to the BMW dealer so we head off up to see they will allow a KTM to darken their workshop.  Big and shiny showroom just like anywhere else on the planet, with the bikes tucked in a corner.  He reckons they sell about 30 bikes a year.  Not many, but as he says, in a month’s time it will be -30 degrees out here .. OK then.. Russia2018-451 The BMW oil doesn’t specify the necessary MA2 tag so rather than take the risk, my Honda mate and I spend an hour in the metal melee working our way across town to the Honda/Triumph dealer.  Really nice bloke, Alex, and speaks good English.  He’s got room so we get the oil changed, drink coffee, and look at the view..

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I don’t think they do pipes LOUD enough for me …

I’m sitting drinking coffee … I hear a long loud squeal… has someone trapped a young stallion in the workshop?  My heart sinks… then I hear the bike start.  Fucky tits shit bugger and bollocky wank.. The bike has been squealing but starting up to now… this time it just span and didn’t start… KTM really should offer psychiatric care packages  the way these fucking bikes mess with your head… I go and boil the bitch in 10 miles of hot, shit, slow and smelly traffic as punishment…

Back to the hotel.  I press a button for a lift .. a light comes on … the door opens and a man in a hard hat steps out .. of the top of a lift ..

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I think the Russian state hackers have been practicing on these lifts.  The fucking things have gone into meltdown.  Press to go down.. it goes up … press to go down again … it goes down a bit .. then it goes back up .. press to go up … it goes down.  We’re on the high floors so we can’t use the stairs all the time .. just trying to go up to your room to get something can mean a 10 minute up..down..down..up…down.. up.. BINGO .. to get to your floor… then back to the lift to fight your way down.  Something that should take 5 minutes easily takes 20.  I missed breakfast this morning so tonight I’m going to drag my mattress in and camp out in the lift to make sure I get fed.

We take a wander across the square to the station for a look.  They’re really ornate places, just like the underground.Russia2018-472 Russia2018-474Russia2018-475

I really enjoy being in Russia and I really like this place.  Lots of really good memories and a feeling of being properly immersed.  I could spend a few days here .. wandering about … riding the lifts ..

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Russia .. the only country where the green-cross-men are hung like horses…

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I threw the thigh chaff-ometer away … I’ve switched to visual  …

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And … see my theory about aliens … they’re really integrating into society out here … this bloke even married one .. or maybe she did … it’s difficult to tell..

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Go to start….start …. START … START YOU FUCKING BITCH OR I AM GOING TO GET THE GREEN CROSS CODE MAN TO STICK HIS MASSIVE DICK RIGHT UP YOUR CHUFF ….. That does it…

The bike only starts on the 4th try.  That’s a bit worrying… in the same way that finding a huge stinking oozing  green pussy lump on your cock would be worrying … BITCH.  I’m properly in the middle of nowhere now this could be an enormous pain in the backside .. in the same way that having the green-cross man … you get the picture..

Fuck it… let’s just go…

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Get out of the city and the main road is closed for a cycle race.  The diversions aren’t obvious and a kind bloke toots and stops me when he sees I’m going in the wrong direction.  Either that or he is directing me towards Austria as he can see I’m on a KTM and just assumes, quite rightly, that it’s in the middle of a breakdown…

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For all my bravado .. my ‘shit or bust, death or glory’  attitude… I can’t stop worrying about this starting problem.  Riding out of Novosibirsk feels like we’re leaving the last chance saloon.  The last really big city.  The last place I might possibly get this diagnosed and/or fixed.  I’m so lost in thought … that I don’t see the police car following me … overtaking on solid while lines … their absolute favorite reason for …. here we go .. lights on .. pull over … wallet to emergency.  I’ll just put my sunglasses on the ground here so I forget to pick them up and they get driven over by the policeman as he leaves .. that would make this day a lot better.

Here we go.  I know what I’ve done.  He knows I know what I’ve done.  It’s just a matter of time and money.  He sits there repeating himself and drawing pictures.  I sit there working out my starting bid.  I open my wallet… offer him 1000 rubles.  He just starts laughing.  Wrong move Ivan.. so I slowly just put the note back in the wallet.  Put the wallet in my jacket.  Zip up my jacket.  Zip up my coat. Put my hands in my lap, and wait.  After a surprisingly short pause, he blinks first and tells me to put the note under the dash out the way of the camera as usual and I’m on my way…

Get to the next petrol station and the bike is fucking about again.  I look at the road.  Left out into the wilderness.  Right ..  90 minutes back into Novosibirsk.  I don’t know exactly what the problem is.  There is a 0.00001% chance it’s the battery, and a 99.9999% chance it’s the starter/sprag clutch.  I just need to do something.  Just to get some confirmation from a mechanic.  Right it is then, 90 minutes … 2 and a half hours back into Novosibirsk to the Honda dealers to have a word with Alex.  I get there, fucked and hot after fighting the traffic across the city.  Alex has a replacement battery, but he gets the mechanic out and I think he knows what I’m going to ask before I even press the button.  ‘Starter’ he says.  Fuck… I was really really really hoping it was the battery ..  So that’s that.  Decision made.  I’m going to ride into the wilderness on a wing and a prayer.  What will be will be.  Next decision… BAM.. that’s looking like it would be a very stupid decision indeed ..

Next – And on and on

 

 

 

Siberia

Out of Kiev in the low morning light we go.  Heading east into the rising sun.  Riding towards Russia.  I’ve been here a few times now and I must admit to having a bit of a soft spot for it.  I like the Russian attitude.  I like their spirit.  I like they way they wave their middle finger in the air at the world and go their own way.  Fuck you! And they probably would too given half a chance.  While we’re checking all our paperwork and making sure there is a yellow warning triangle over that 2 inch coffee spill, and that French policeman is checking I’m carrying a hi-vis vest that can be seen from space, and that I’ve got my breath tester and warning triangle and safety pants on, the Russians will just jump start some 20 year old planes covered in dust and bird shit, strap some random ordinance on, take off from some derelict airstrip and fuck the lot of us.

Anyway, stop for petrol and randomly run into the main KTM dealer in Ukraine.  He looks very surprised to see an Adventure more than 10 miles from a mother ship nipple.

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You can see the surprised look on his face.  He waves goodbye and roars off up the road before the bike can brake down on the forecourt.

We stop at some random spot selling 10ft Teddy bears and I go to order some lunch.  My Russian/Menu reading abilities are not quite there yet .. and I wonder why the bill is so high … before we’re served with enough food for a party ..

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I’ve only ever travelled into Russia on tourist visas before .. or more exactly ‘auto-tourist’ visas.  These are restricted to max 30 days though so no good for us this time.  We’re going in on business visas this time but we were warned they might question why we’re on bikes.  Turns out they couldn’t care less.  Fill out the customs forms (2 copies, and put in exactly what it says on the V5) and you’re away.  2 hours is a new record and we’re through.  2 hours, HORAH.  We can get to the hotel and look around.  Time for a sauna.. or a massage.. or a swim .. or … or… we could spend 4 hours looking for insurance.. I hate saunas anyway .. let’s go and try to get a piece of useless paper from a sweaty old nana in a roadside shed… that’s a much better idea.  We go to shed/nana No1.  She’s got the prime spot just inside the border post.  She’s bound to know what she’s doing.  I’ll be in and out before she knows it .. a situation I’m sadly very familiar with … I’ve done this before, but not at this border, it’s always been easy enough.. until now.

We’re going to be here about 60 days but she seems to be incapable of counting beyond a month so we go for that instead.  Or we try to.  She tells us to wait outside and she starts wrestling with the computer and making phone calls.  It’s late on a Saturday afternoon which probably isn’t helping.  After about 90 minutes she gives up and tells us she can’t do it.  Fuck.  She gives me some random instructions to some place 20km up the road, possibly in a cafe, possibly in a underground graveyard .. or maybe in a tree house.. yep, that’s probably it.. a tree house.. about 15-20km away … should be obvious.  So, that’s 2 hours done, we still need to waste another 2 before we can feel we have had the full experience.

First place we try is some sort of asylum with scary drug fucked people wandering about in wife-beaters.  Then after a few more km we see a tree house … only it’s not in a tree.  It’s just a wooden shed perched on top of a bus stop.  There is a big buxom nana leaning out of the window looking down at us.  If she leans out just a little bit more the whole lot is going to land in the road at our feet.  We consider that for a moment.  My mate thinks being crushed under a big Russian nana isn’t such a bad way to go .. We run up the back stairs and into her lair, give her our documents… and wait..  for about an hour … before being told it’s impossible… again.  Apparently a squirrel has chewed through the soggy piece of string the computer system is connected to.  “Are there any more nana’s we can try please?”  She points out the window just down the road to a shed where another dribbling little  bloke in another wife-beater is standing, putting 50% of his drink in his mouth and the other 50% down the front of his vest. Perfect.

So off we go to Nana No3.  By this stage we don’t care what we get, as long as it says insurance on the top of it.  This nana/pop combo don’t have a fucking clue.  I think it’s their first day on the job. In fact it might not be their job at all.  Perhaps they just came in to steal the beer.  We sit in front of the computer and play a game of insurance scrabble.  This involves coming up with any random names, numbers and dates that fit in the spaces on the screen and let you move through to the next page of questions.  At the end of the process we’ve got a piece of paper that bears as much resemblance to reality as a Donald Trump tweet but who cares.  We’ve reached our 4 hour threshold and we’ve got ‘something’.  We celebrate with handshakes and cake.

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before chasing the sunset to Bryansk.   Travelling by road through Russia frequently has a very low ‘wow’ factor!Russia2018-212

Another sprawling city with shit traffic and a million traffic lights.  I decide to test the sensitivity of the local police by dodging round some cars at some lights.  Turns out they’re quite sensitive..  I get pulled over and I’m wondering how my brand new Harry Potter insurance document is going to stand up to scrutiny.  He’s got a job to do after all.  Getting stopped doesn’t fill me with dread the way it does at home.  All it does is send my wallet running for the hills for fear of being gang raped and left open and bleeding in a ditch.   My advice, for what it’s worth, is show them respect.  Take you helmet off ..  take your plugs out .. shake their hand .. say hello.. smile .. listen .. be polite.   Works this time anyway.  Quick look at the passport and we’re on our way up some bombed out streets to our hotel.  I booked the wrong hotel… that turns out to be the right hotel… I should have booked the hotel down the road where my Aussie mates are staying.  Theirs doubles as a knocking shop, has rooms with huge round beds, mirrors on the ceiling and a receptionist that implies their bike might not still be outside where they left it in the morning.

IMG_1342I booked the one up the road by mistake, with secure parking and mattresses with an almost 0% seamen content. My bad.

Wake to the sound of bells and wander down to the church next door in the sunshine.  Stick my head in the door, go inside… feel the change in atmosphere .. listen to the chanting… smell the air… step into someone else’s world.

Russia2018-213 Russia2018-214 Russia2018-215Get on the road to the capital, easy riding for a few hours, then get anywhere near the city and the traffic just turns to shit.  Russia2018-222 Russia2018-224We filter for about 50km  and stop at an ‘Express’ pre-bland just to let ourself blink.  Russians are pretty good at letting you filter to be fair.  Especially the ones with the big flashy shiny machines that they don’t want a pannier scratch down the side of..Russia2018-225Then out into more and more tightly packed and random traffic.  You have to be aggressive in this stuff,  anything else is a sign of weakness and will be punished mercilessly.  I especially like the 8 lane sections with entries and exits on both sides.  It’s like someone is trying to plait the traffic, everyone moving left and right and fighting their way to one side or the other.  Get to Moscow late afternoon and play dare with all the traffic for an hour before getting to the hotel.  Moscow traffic is total shit.  White lines are just there to imply a general direction of traffic, not to separate it at all.  Still, all safe..  just another lovely day on the road

All day I’ve been wondering what I should do if I hear about an impending terrorist incident, or think I’m about to get taken hostage, or if there is a big off-site explosion… luckily the hotel has all that covered… phew… that’s a relief …

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Go and visit Lenin who has aged remarkably since I last visited him 20 years ago then go for a wander

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moscow

and do a self guided tour of the most ornate stations on the network .. amazing places

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I think I spot an alien from one of the crashed spaceships… she’s got her disguise almost… perfectly … right .. almost 100% .. there is just … one .. small ..  thing ..

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Moscow is fecking HUGE .. some really good views from the  330m TV tower though..

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We get back to the hotel late and I can hear a slow, low growling noise .. angry and mean … where the fuck is that coming from?  I wander about in the dark and walk towards the noise… Ohhhhhhhhh … OK then ….. What’s the problem? Its my bike.  It’s staring at me and it does not look happy. It’s had enough waiting about l … it’s fucked off, bored,  and wants some proper exercise … it’s time to go ..

Next stop is Nizhniy Novgorod, location of one of England’s recent world cup games I think.  This is the thick end of the trans Siberian road and it’s chock a block with traffic and accidents all the way.  Russian driving really is ridiculous.  I’m going down a dual carriageway behind a van and suddenly I see bits and pieces flying in the air and clouds of blue smoke.  The van I’m following doesn’t see it however and decides to take the number of vehicles involved to a nice round 5.   A few seconds later two babushkas get out their cars and start facing up for a fight.  Time to leave ..

Stop for fuel and you could be anywhere… anywhere they sell pop up deer that is …

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Get to Nizhniy Novgorod  and it’s a big old city.  It has the 2nd biggest Kremlin in Russia I think and we’re in a hotel just outside the walls.  Perched on the hill with a beautiful view across the river.

Russia2018-278 Russia2018-279 Russia2018-280 Russia2018-281 Russia2018-284 Russia2018-283 Russia2018-290It’s a beautiful sunny evening and it’s a beautiful view.  I get the bike out and ride it round to take some pictures in the setting sunlight.  I walk away, turn around  to take the shot and I get photobombed .. by a Russian bride … every girl loves a growling KTM … she doesn’t seem put off about getting her lovely white dress covered in chain oil either… the bike takes on a deep purrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr…….. at least it’s happy for a change … Russia2018-288Anyway, despite the wind .. it’s time to fly …

We came out the hotel last night and headed across the river towards the stadium because I had to get some new pants.  I bought some before I left but never test road tested them.  They seem to have a knack of … well … you know when you carefully  pack your panniers in the morning .. then ride for a few miles over bumpy roads .. then open the lid .. and nothing seems to be where you packed it … and you have to get everything out and repack it .. yes .. exactly ..  so I needed new pants…

Anyway, we should have gone in the other direction and into the Kremlin as the town inside looks old and interesting.  Next time..

Out of Nizhniy Novgorod towards Kazan, another world cup venue.  Fight the traffic and the loons all day.  Russia’s rep for dangerous driving is well known and well deserved.  I like to ride at the front as it means I don’t have to witness my fellow motorcyclists being pushed and bullied and jostled by some bloke on the phone to his mate whilst also looking at his girlfriends phone in her lap and his mums phone in the back seat. You leave the smallest opportunity for someone to fill a space in and around yourself and it’s taken immediately.  You just move over to the left of your lane to look to overtake and someone will immediately come alongside you in the right of your lane and fill that gap.. or worse still .. they’ll use that gap to brake into when they’ve spent too long looking at funny pictures of Russian accidents on Instagram and haven’t realised the traffic has stopped in front of them.   They’ll just come skidding past your knee and stop within a mm of a crash … still with their phones in their hands.  All lorry drivers do it.. all bus drivers .. I reckon if you look at Russia cosmoneaughts at take off, they do it too. It’s fucking madness.

Lots of roadworks today.  Usually bridges reduced to one-way traffic.  Miles and miles and miles of queues so we’re filtering both sides, down the middle and frequently down  the inside on the verge… which means you don’t always see the police.. who take exception and pull us over.  This time.. not even a word was said.. he looked at us… we looked at him … he waved us on .. and off we filtered …

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What’s this about?  Do I have to try and put air back into the machine?

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The roads are pretty flat and dull out here.  Fucking windy again and raining.. stop at any random cafe … you wont care what the food tastes like ..

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Then go for a ride in their front garden …


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Go out for dinner in the evening and see yet more evidence of crashed space ships.  This looks quite a bad one … he was probably on the phone ..

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Get up early for a tattoo’d sausage, a cake and a cube of wobbly flem then we’re off..

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We’re off to Izhevsk, home of the AK-47.  The rifle’s designer, Mikhail Kalashnikov lived here until his death in 2013.  There is a museum here that lets you get hand’s on with them, so why not..

And while we’re here, why don’t we stay in a big log cabin?   There is quite an industry building these out in Russia and you see a lot of cabin assembly lines alongside the road.  There is something about staying in a building that moves and wobbles and creaks when you walk through it and that could go up in flames any minute.  I like it:)  There is a big wedding going on when we arrive, kids everywhere, pissed as farts… climbing about on the balcony’s … playing with matches … the usual ..

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Take a walk up to the museum in the afternoon sun.  Old trams patrol the roads and the whole place is looking a bit 2nd hand but it all functions.  The trams have got to be 30 years old at least but they still climb up and down the hills and try to run over tourists looking in completely the wrong direction…  It would take us 20 years, 100 petitions and 1000 public enquiries just to put a tram from one end of the high street to the other but all the Russian towns have them.  The towns also all have their own power stations to ensure they’re independent.

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Get to the museum and have a look what’s on the menu…

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OK… I’ll have one of these please

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Buy a ticket – about £3.50 for 5 shots ..

Russia2018-328Go through the little green doorRussia2018-329Collect your weapon of choice.. and get a safety briefing… in Russian.  Basically this is the bullety end, this is the shouldery end, and this is the kill switch .. You’re led into a firing range with a loaded weapon .. stand .. point .. click .. click .. Russia2018-332No age limit:)
Russia2018-331and this is my score … don’t fuck with me people, else I’ll shoot your balls off.. well one of them maybe .. both if your wearing a pair of my scrambling pants … Russia2018-334Then go through to the gift shop.  AK-105 anyone?  About £300 I think.

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Getting into routine now .. get up .. say bye to the cat ..

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Wave goodbye to the panda

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Then bugger off against towards the flat,  featureless horizon.  It’s like driving through one of those old cartoons where the background just repeats itself ever few seconds… Russia is just a massive country and there is going to be lots and lots and lots and lots of this … we’ve only just started ..

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until you get to this…

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Then one of these …

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Despite the lack of hills/corners/colour I do enjoy the riding out here. We’re still going through a relatively populated area of the country and the traffic is still heavy.  The KTM just slices through it though and I find myself taking bigger and bigger risks..  I’ll just over take these 2… 5…10… 20 lorries… TRUUUUCKKK … I suddenly find myself riding down a two way tunnel of trucks at about 80mph after a road I thought was flat has traffic suddenly appearing out of a dip.. FUUUUUUUCK this … I dive into a gap with my eyes about 20 times their normal size and my ears suffering from the pressure wave.  Fuckwit…

Then next morning the bike decides it’s all going way too smoothly…  it wants to speak to it’s mummy ..

You can moan all you like out here girl.. but the KTM mother ship isn’t going to hear you scream…  now just shut the fuck up and get on with it..

Next – On and on and on

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

kml 1 kml 2 kml 3 kml 4 kml 5 kml 6 kml 7 kml 8 kml 9 kml 10 kml 11 kml 12

 

Far East Motorcycle Tour

Ride with me on a UK to Bangkok motorcycle tour.  Out from the UK and east to the land of the Hammer and Sickle.  Up to St Petersburg, down through Moscow and out to Kazakhstan on our way to China and beyond to the far east.

28 days from the UK out through Europe, Russia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan and border with China.  Across the Torugart pass into China then 26 days across and down to Laos in the south.  In 2017 I plan to travel through the high Himalayas and visit Everest base camp before continuing east through the Tibetan capital of  Lhasa before heading east through the Leaping Tiger gorge and Shangri La before turning south to Mohan and out through Laos.

This ride departs from UK Aug 8th or 9th 2017.

Stage 1

Leave the UK and ride east across Europe into Russia, then down through Kazakhstan and into Kyrgyzstan where we reach the Chinese border.

Stage 2

Ride 26 days across  China.

Stage 3

12 days in Laos and Thailand to Bangkok where we finish.

You can join this tour for 1, 2 or all stages, the choice is yours.  Together they constitute a single trip from the UK to Bangkok.  From there you can continue on around the world or sea freight your bike back to the UK.

All the details of the 2017 tour can be found here.

If you’re interested, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. I’d be very happy to hear from you.

UK to Bangkok Motorcycle Tour

Ride with me on a UK to Bangkok motorcycle tour.  Out from the UK and east to the land of the hammer and sickle.  Up to St Petersburg, down through Moscow and out to Kazakhstan on our way to China and beyond

27 days across China from Kyrgyzstan in the west down to Laos in the south.  In 2017 I plan to travel through the high Himalayas and visit Everest base camp before continuing east through the Tibetan capital of  Lhasa before heading east through the Leaping Tiger gorge and Shangri La before turning south to Mohan and out through Laos.

This ride departs from UK August 8th 2017.

Stage 1

Leave the UK and ride east across Europe into Russia, then down through Kazakhstan and into Kyrgyzstan where we reach the Chinese border.

Stage 2

Ride 28 days across  China.

Stage 3

10 days in Laos and Thailand to Bangkok where we finish.

You can join this tour for 1, 2 or all stages, the choice is yours.  Together they constitute a single trip from the UK to Bangkok.  From there you can continue on around the world or sea freight your bike back to the UK.

All the details of the 2017 tour can be found here.

If you’re interested, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. I’d be very happy to hear from you.

Europe and Morocco

Mon 21st Arrive in Istanbul.

Another airport, another city, another set of customs, another chance to loose baggage and sure enough someone’s bag goes missing and we wait for a while but it’s not turning up.  I reckon most of our clothes are perfectly capable of walking off on their own now after so much wear and so little washing.  Head into town into a little hotel in the city centre with the smallest TV so far which annoys my roommate.  He likes to sit 1 inch from the telly to simulate ‘wide screen’ but with this one he’s going to have to press his nose right up against it.

Tue 22nd

My bloody leg and knee is killing me and it’s not helped by being on the 632nd floor of a hotel without lifts, or being at the bottom of a steep hill.  Spend the day hobbling round the city visiting some of the sights like the Blue Mosque and the bazaar.  The thing I really notice here is the smoking.  Everyone smokes.  The blokes smoke, the girls smoke, the kids smoke, the petrol attendants smoke, everyone smokes.  Even the birds fly around with 1 eye shut and a fag in their beaks.  Eating lunch is an exercise in how long you can hold your breath.  Some of the restaurants have firemen as waiters, in full breathing apparatus. They’re the only one who can see further than 2 feet in front of their faces.  It’s disgusting.

Wed 23rd Istanbul to Karala 280 miles.

Up early and ready to go.  Ready…steady….steady…steady… bugger, more waiting.  The customs are being a real arse about releasing the bikes because so few of the riders smoke apparently, I dunno.  We go out to the freighters and wait for hours on the grass being watched by the squareheads.  Turkish men seem to have the squarest heads in the world, no question.  It’s like their heads are made in boxes and they have a large flat bit on the back where they’re thumped out the mould with a plank.  You could stand 4 Turkish men together and put a square hat over the 4 of them together with no gaps, weird.  Anyway, we eventually get the bikes cleared and have to reassemble them in almost complete darkness with only the faint glow of a thousand cigarettes as light in the warehouse.  Eventually get away about 4 and head out of Turkey towards Greece.  It’s raining and cold and dark when we cross the boarder into Euroland.  Speeds increase as usual the later (and more dangerous) it gets and everyone wants their beds.  Two boys see a dog in the middle of the motorway but they’re shifting and it’s down to lady luck.  Dog gets a kick from the first which puts it into a spin like a figure skater on steroids, then the second bike runs it over, job done!  Both claim the kill but I still remain the only unambiguous dog killer on the trip.  Arrive late again in Karala and crash out after eating something unidentified but squashy and warm, tasty.

Continue reading Europe and Morocco