Category Archives: UK to Bangkok 2016…

Laos and Thailand

Leaving China is a simple affair, but getting in to Laos and Thailand is a lot more complicated nowadays.

About two months before we left the UK, Thailand announced that it was going to require foreign vehicles to obtain new permits in order to enter.  It’s all because of the mental Chinese drivers.  The Chinese drive through Laos and into northern Thailand, whereupon they continue to drive like complete and utter fucking maniacs just like they do at home. They all too frequently don’t have insurance, invariably they crash and kill people, then they skip back to China and avoid prosecution. The Thais have had enough.  Once the Thais introduced the new measures, it was only a matter of time before Laos did the same.

Obtaining the permits has been a long and protracted process, mainly due to the fact that the authorities seem to have introduced them without any thought, and are requiring all sorts of unobtainable letters from foreign embassies. Trying to get any sense out of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office is like trying to squeeze blood out of air.  It’s just completely impossible to get anyone to take any responsibility for anything or answer any question at all.  I could save the UK billions and billions of pounds by just putting Sarin into the FCOs air conditioning.  I doubt very much if anyone in the whole wide world would notice the difference, ever.

In the end, to satisfy the Thai’s requirement for headed notepaper and official wax stamps I had to spend £200 getting a letter ‘legalized’ by a notary agent and send it out.  That gives you a lovely wax stamp and some ribbon too.  I think it probably means sweet FA to the Thai authorities but it eventually satisfies their need for documentary bling and they finally issued the permits and insurance about a week before we got to the border.   To get into Laos is easier, but invariably, a lot more expensive.  You now need a guide with a van, a ‘government tourist officer’ and a policeman to travel with you.  They don’t restrict your movement and you only see them at the start and end of the day so it’s really just money for old rope.

The guide is waiting for us as we exit China and takes us through the border.  It used to be sooooo simple, but nobody really knows what is supposed to happen with these new rules so he blags his way though the barriers and off we go.

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Laos is the home of the colour green.  It’s just soaked in it.  Everywhere you look  is some shade of it.  Deep and dark shiny leaves to light and bright rice plants and everything in between.  It’s as if someone just spilt a big fuck off pot of green paint on Laos when they were painting the planet.

Destination tonight is ‘over the mountain’.  Last time I was here the road was tight and twisty and as slippery as a 2nd hand car salesman but the guide tells us the whole thing has just been resurfaced and it’s fine.  I take that with a pinch of salt though.  Laos hasn’t got two turds to rub together so the road has probably just been coloured in with a black felt tip pen and left as it was underneath.

Get to the bottom of the hill though and he’s right.  Somebody has raided the piggy bank and bought an 80 mile strip of the world’s finest and most sticky tarmac then had it expertly laid by an expert roadologist.  The result turns out to be the best road of the trip.  A truly memorable and remarkable ride in probably the poorest country we have come through.

From the moment The Bitch puts her front wheel on the surface I can feel her mood change.  I know exactly what she wants.  She is in the mood for hardcore tarmac sex. Who am I to argue with that?

For the the next 40 minutes the mountain is alive with the rise and fall of The Bitch’s purrs and screams as she tears and claws at the tarmac, throwing her head back and wiggling her arse.  Faster then slower, then faster and faster still until with a final loud long wild howl she reaches the climax… of the mountain.. and I stop to take some pictures of the view while she smokes a fag and makes tiny ticking sounds as her body slowly returns to normal temperature.

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Pictures taken I mount The Bitch.  She doesn’t want to play any more.  At all.  Ever.  I turn the key and my heart sinks.  Here we go again.

immobilized in Laos

FUCK.  First the bloody desert and now up a bloody mountain in Laos.  BITCH.  I really hope the ride up wasn’t her last breath on this trip.  I do all the usual.  Both keys. No.  Play with all the settings. No.  Move the bike. No.  Put it on the centre stand.  No.  Threaten to burn her alive and piss on the ashes.  Yep.  Suddenly it decides to start again.  I really really don’t need this.  The others are at a cafe now on the mountain top so I leave The Bitch running for 20 minutes and have a cold drink to keep me from kicking 7 bells of shit out of it.

The rest of the ride down the mountain is just punishment.  I bump and grind her hard into the corners, jerk her back by her hair on the straights, bend her right over and stuff her head down between her knees on the brakes.  I just spank and thrash her mercilessly until I get this anger out of my system. She’s whining and screaming and shouting but I’ve had just had enough.  She’s got to learn her lesson.

By the time we get off the mountain we’re both completely spent.  I gently withdraw and dismount and walk away on wobbly legs to take some pictures while she murmurs quietly to herself under a tree,  stinking of oily sweat and eau du gasoline, looking at me with contempt.  BITCH.

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We’re staying at a little resort on the river tonight.  Take a junction off the main road and immediately the road turns to shit again.  All rough and loose.  We come to some more roadworks, just for a change.  There is a bulldozer in the road and everyone is sitting waiting in the heat with their engines off.  Mine is running.  Let The Bitch sweat.

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We approach the village where the resort is and it looks like a complete pit.  I’m thinking this might be the end to the perfect bloody day.  A broken bitch bike and a rat infested damp hotel with piss and chips for dinner and turd on toast for breakfast.   I’m ready for it.  Here we go.  I pull into the little resort, get off the bike and wander to reception expecting the worst.

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See.  It’s an absolute shit hole…. well apart from the infinity pool, cool riverside rooms, really fine dining and well stocked bar it is… an absolute nightmare.  The riders are not in agreement with me and though and they proceed to strip all the facilities bare before going to bed very well exercised, fed and watered.   It’s such a beautiful beautiful place that some of the riders insist they’re not going to leave.  No extra charge I tell them.

Next morning.  Put in the key.  Stare The Bitch in the eye and turn.  The second you turn the key you know if it’s going to start or not and this time it is immediately making all the right noises.  Press, yes. I wonder how long this will last though.

We’re going to Luang Prabang today.  Lovely breakfast.  Turd on toast was on the menu as I suspected but I chose option 2 of a full english, cereal, fruit, coffee and a neck massage instead.  It rained in the night and I suspect the road out might be a bit the worse for wear this morning.  Yep…

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The recent crasher is still hobbling badly so I walk his bike through the mire.  Another rider bins it trying to go round the edge.  Its a few arse tensing miles then we’re back on the better road and heading south.

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Then the heavens open for a couple of hours.  To call it rain would imply that there are raindrops but this tropical stuff is just like riding underwater.  I don’t bother with waterproofs as my leathers are all white with sweat salt and need a wash anyway.  Get down to Luang Prabang and a nice hotel directly on the night market.

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A day off, a trip on the Mekong and an afternoon watching the world go by in the rain.

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We’re going to exit Laos at Muang Ngeun and there is a rough road directly west from here but apparently its a real shitter.  The bikes are really knackered now and the Africa Twin has properly blown a fork seal.  There is oil coming out all over the brakes and wheel and it leaves a puddle every time we stop.

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We decide that discretion is the better part of valour and that it would be better to backtrack over the mountain and stay on tarmac.  It’s a lot longer route but nobody is complaining at having another go at some tarmac sex.

Except The Bitch that is.  We’re half way through another spanking and I stop to catch my breath.  Fatal mistake.  She’s gone cold on me immediately.  No response.  I’m pressing all the buttons but she’s completely turned herself off.  After 10 minutes fiddling I decide to coast back down the mountain and find a suitable drop to chuck her over.   A few miles down the road I try again and she starts up again.  I’m about to have a real sense of humour failure about this.  I can feel it.  This is going to end badly…

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I keep the engine running the rest of the day whenever I can.  I have to play petrolette a couple of times though.  Stop… fill…. spin the barrel… fire… starts.  WTF is up with this BITCH.   They’ve hidden the hotel again up a very steep gravel track and bikes are binned once again as they struggle up the tight loose switchbacks.  Not a bad place again though…

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The Africa Twin rider phones a Thai Honda dealer to see if he can sort out some fork seals.  “We would have to order them in sir.  I estimate they would be here in 4 months”.  What?

Laos is such a lovely place.  I could spend a while here.  It’s not far to the border from here,  just an hour through yet more of this…

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The Muang Ngeun border is a sleepy little place with a couple of pole barriers and hut.  Quick stamp and we’re out.  The guard lifts the pole and I ride into nomansland.  Pole comes down and someone has left something behind so we all stop and wait.  OK. Here we go.  I wish this trip was like “Wayne’s World” where I could create alternative endings. I wish I could press the button, scream down the road and spend 8 days flying round Thailand.  That would be my preferred ending.  But instead I get a different one….

The Bitch is dead again.  I’m 10ft into nomansland and she’s not having it.  I’m almost sure I can see a smirk on her face.  I wonder if Lucyfer sat on her in Saratov and infected her with her evil genes. I do all the usual, including the threats, but this time she’s not having any of it.  After about 15 minutes I decide to get a tow up to the Thai border and see what happens there.  We get a strap, put it footrest to footrest and off we go.  Man that’s fucking scary.  Not something I want to repeat in this lifetime.  We get to the Thai border and start on the paperwork.  It’s so hot that my leathers are soaked through with sweat and the paperwork looks like a watercolour painting as droplets send the ink oozing in every direction.  We have the permits with us but I think they don’t know what to do with them so they use the usual “computer broken” excuse to divert us to a customs building 60km further on.

I walk back to The Bitch whereupon I find one of the other riders has decided to pull all my connectors apart and spray them with WD40.  WTF!  “Why would you do that to someone’s bike without asking?” I’m sure he was only trying to help but when I reconnect everything and turn the key, I now get no gear/neutral indicator on the dash either.  Fucking brilliant. Thanks for that!  The immobiliser is still cutting in too so there is fuck all chance of it starting.

This is such a horrible feeling.  I’ve never had a terminal failure on a ride before and it’s like someone has cut off my lifeline.  I’m going through Plan A/B/C in my head trying to sort out a possible solution but it’s looking grim.  One of the riders says there is a Ktm dealer in Nan where we’re going tonight.  I’m not holding out much hope but I guess there is a chance.  Anyway, there is a man with a truck hanging about and I ask him to take the bike to Nan.  Load The Bitch up and I’m on 4 wheels.  Fuck Fuck Fuck.

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Me and The Bitch are definitely not on speaking terms.

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Get to the Nan ‘dealer’ and it’s just a bloke in a shed with a screwdriver and a Ktm sticker in the window.  That’s not going to work.  Take the bike to the hotel and negotiate a price for the driver to drop the bike at the freight agent in Bangkok.  I tell him he can tie a piece of rope round her tits and drag her all the way down the bloody road behind him for all I care.  He needs to stay at a hotel tonight, and tomorrow too and I could nearly have bought another 1190 at this rate.  Eat a depressing dinner and make some alternative plans for the next week.

Next morning the truck comes to the hotel to collect some luggage from the others that they want sending to Bangkok.  I climb up on the back, insert the key, twist and… you guessed it… the immobiliser clears.  It still won’t start of course because it doesn’t know WTF state the gearbox is in… if only he’d left the bloody thing alone….

Too late to worry about that though.  The other riders get going and I spend a sad morning organising a hire car.  In the space of 12 hours I’ve gone from a  Ktm1190 adventure to a Nissan 1200 Misadventure.  Bollocks.

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By now I’m too depressed to write.  I almost too depressed to breath.  I make my way up to Chiang Mai for a couple of days to consider the most painless method of suicide.  Maybe death by massage…

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I don’t want to get back in that bloody tin can.  Just the thought of it makes me want to hire a heavily armed SU27 from a friendly Russian, fly to Europe and pile as much ammunition and ordinance as I can right on top of the Ktm twat whose decision it was that their adventure bikes should have a fucking stupid bloody wanky game over trip ending shitting immobiliser.  I just want to atomise the twat.

I go to the chemist and get a dozen 500g Mogadon tablets to try and dull the pain.  Get in the cage and continue.  First to Sukhotai..

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Down to Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya

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The bridge over the river Kwai…

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And finally to the shippers at Bangkok where The Bitch is waiting.  Sitting in the corner.  Waiting for a spank.  Bloody thing.

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Drop all the bikes off and do the paperwork and we’re away into the city.  2 wheels to 2 legs.  Ready to split.  The Australian rider and the Victory Vision are continuing south to Singapore and the other Victory went into Viet Nam from Laos.  Now just the sad part.  The party is over and it’s time to go home.

It’s been a great trip with some incredible roads and scenery.  We’ve been fortunate to all make it through without too many incidents I reckon.  I could have gone very badly wrong on any number of occasions.  Lots of the riders have been down, a few of them more than once.  Our kit is bruised, the bikes are battered and The Bitch is dead but we’re all still here to tell the tale.

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Get on the plane home.  18 hours to fly what it’s taken 66 days to ride/dri… driv.. I just can’t bring myself to even think about it… Back to normality in the UK.  I know from experience that it will be a shock to the system for a while.  I’ll expect every bugger to just pull out in front of me, and I’ll expect every journey to contain at least 2 near death experiences.  That’s normal though.  It always takes a while for normality to slowly drive the experience further and further back into my memory and away from the everyday shit happening in front of my eyes.

Despite The Bitch letting me down, I do love that bike.  It’s got something indefinable about it.  Most metal doesn’t have soul but I reckon every Ktm is a reincarnated fighter or soldier or warrior or something.

Anyway, I’ve been in contact with a local Ktm Exorcist and I’m hopeful that they will be able to drive out the swarm of demons living in her electrics.  I’ve told him I want to watch as she spins her head round and round and vomits black blood all over him.  I want her to scream. I want The Bitch completely and utterly exorcised forever. After all, she’s going to have to go back and do it all again next year.

Back to civilisation

We’re going through our final Tibet police check.  We’re going to be set free again.  All the beasts in the petrol paddock are snorting and trying to throw their heads in the air,  all tense and ready to race.  Sweating with excitement and foaming at the mouth.

There is a sad looking weirdo wandering about looking at them, fiddling with some beads and humming a very low volume chant.  I can hear him as I walk over and mount up.  Just as I grab the reins and kick the spurs into The Bitch I look round and make a nanosecond’s eye contact with him.  Before I know it he has taken my eye contact as acquiescence and he’s jumped on the back.  It’s too late to stop now though.  The Bitch has smelt freedom and it’s launched off down the road like a Black Friday shopper after a bargain.

So now I’m riding quite quickly down a beautiful twisty river road with a weirdo chanting right in my ear.  He’s wearing absolutely no protective equipment except ‘big hair’ (which would probably leave a horrible singeing smell if I accidentally threw him down the road) and a thin blanket.  I don’t WTF he’s chanting but it’s got a good beat.  “um bum bum  chum come dum dum dum chum bum bum”.  He doesn’t stop for a beat.  He’s riding with one hand fiddling with his beads and the other hand seems to be issuing self inflicted punishment to his bollocks.  Every now and then, usually right in the middle of the corner, he will punch himself hard in the balls and his chant will include a sudden random scream.  “bum bum cum dum chum cum bum ARRRRHHHHHHHHHHH bum bum som chim”.  Fucking scares the shit out of me.  It’s like someone shouting “BOO” in the middle of a screw.  It really puts me off my stroke.  After 60 miles I’m a nervous wreck and have to stop for a rest.  He’s not missed a beat for an hour.  I can’t take any more of this.  I hide,  I watch, I wait, I watch,  I wait.  I can see him searching for me, scared to leave the bike, but he needs to visit the bushes and eventually he decides he is safe for a few seconds and wanders away.  Bad move! I immediately run full speed down the road, do a huge hop, skip and a massive jump, get my key out in mid air, then land key first and twist.  By the time my arse hits the saddle the engine is revving, The Bitch is screaming and the world is going backwards fast.  The other riders tell me he runs down the road after me as I disappear in a cloud of TKC70 fumes.  Another nail in anglo/Chinese relations.

The G318 is going to be a really hard act to follow, so the rest of the road to Shangri-La  doesn’t even try.  It just cheats.  The road takes us up into thick cloud for the afternoon.  Thick thick thick cloud.  5mph “can’t see the end of your dick when you pee” type of cloud. “I really really shouldn’t be doing this” type of cloud.  Even the mental Chinese drivers are crawling in this.  You just cannot see a bloody thing.  You know you’re in the mountains. You know there aren’t any barriers.  You just have a line on the sat nav that looks like a piece of pink string someone has dropped on the ground, all curled up and messy.   We just resort to picking a car and following it at crawling speed.  Anything else is just suicide.

Eventually we descend out the mirk and do a fast formation approach to Shangri-La.  I was really expecting something special.  I don’t know why.  Just because I’d heard the name I guess and thought there must be something unique about the place but it’s just a big town round an old cobbled centre.  Still, the hotel is better than we’ve had for a while and there are actually shops with stuff inside. We all have a decent meal for the first time in a while.  I take a wander round the old town after dark looking at the shadows and the steamed up windows.

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Somebody obviously requested “Play Misty for Me” on last night’s weather questionnaire.  All morning DJ Sky is playing it on repeat as we go through yet more mountains on the hunt for the Leaping Tiger Gorge.  Bitchin slippery roads and heavy traffic don’t make a good combination.   Overtake strictly at your own risk.  Trying to slow down or take any corner at anything other than exactly what the traffic is doing and you’re all over the place, two wheel sliding round the bends or just locking wheels on the horrible glassy tarmac.

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I’m looking for the gorge.  I thought it would be obvious.  It’s supposed to be the deepest in the world.  I’ve been through The Grand Canyon, and Copper Canyon in Mexico and as you approach them then you know something special is about to happen but the road out here is just a plain up and down road with no clue at all.  Even the entrance is hidden up a small road off a town.  Several of the riders just go straight past and don’t see it.  Take a small road for a few kms then it all just opens out in front of you.  The road is the usual scary shit with falling rocks and barriers that wouldn’t stop a toy car from going over the edge.

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Not that impressive is it! Coming through Tibet has spoilt us.  Anywhere with a river at the bottom and a mountains with clouds at the top is quite impressive for sure I guess.  The road is a dead end after about 27km and its a good ride.  We stop at “Anne’s” for a bacon sandwich and coffee.  English language + bacon + coffee = tourist hotspot.  Nice view though.

We head for tourist central to walk down to the river and the rock that is the source of the legend. The place is absolutely heaving with people, it’s about 300 degrees and I’m wearing full leathers.  The perfect combination.  The river is way down below and you have to fight your way down 100s of steep steps, every second one of which is occupied by a couple taking selfies.  Get to the bottom, sweating like a bastard, and fight the crowd to see the Tiger rock.  Right in the middle of the raging torrent is a 30ft rock that the tiger apparently used to leap the gorge. Yep – that looks likely.

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The walk up was a bitch.  I was sorely tempted to get a lift.  At the bottom there are teams of people that will put you in a sedan chair and then walk you back up to the top.  God only knows how or why they do it.  As usual in these situations, it’s only the serious chubbers that are hiring them.  Great mounds of human flesh pour their flaccid flesh into the chairs and two little chinamen struggle up the 100s of steps.  We follow behind slowly, watching our steps in the waterfalls of human sweat that are running down off the little sherpas.   We see several of the little buggers just collapse under the weight of the chubby wobbler sat in their chair too.  If that was me, I’d get them right to the top, then I’d just tip the lazy fucker right over the edge and watch them bounce down like a giant pudgy pink power ball.

Still.  If you make it safely to the top, you get another prize.  Here’s mine.  I chose this one because …. well… just because

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From the gorge it’s a quick and simple ride down to Lijang and a hotel right next to the old town.  We meet back up with our Norwegian rider on his High Ball.  It’s nice to see him safe and well.  The ‘old’ city is just a tourist trap.  It’s a maize of 1000s of stalls selling the same things.  As you walk along it’s just ‘food … animal body parts … trinkets… remedies…food … animal body parts … trinkets… remedies…’ repeat until dead.  Later some of the riders go out for dinner, and get lost.  Once the stalls are shut and shuttered, they all look identical.  It takes them 2 hours to find their way out.

The place is also full of the American chains.  KFC, Pizza Hut, and even Starbucks. It really pisses me off to be quite honest.  I only bought 3 Starbucks as a protest.. it would usually have been at least 10 in a 24 hour period.

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Next day is a short hop down the road to Dali.  We’re back in the land of the expressways so we all decide to run the gauntlet and raid the toll gates.  These raids are best done quick and fast and using the element of surprise.  We make sure to group up into a tight pack then it’s 3…2….1 and GO.   No hesitating, no surrender, just straight through the toll gates before they can raise the alarm and run out to stop you.  A few short seconds and we’re through the gates and on the expressway.  After what we’ve been through lately this is like heaven.  Fast and smooth and sea level.  We’re all quickly up to speed and in tight formation.  There is a strange pleasure in riding really tight and fast with a small group of bikes and we all swap in and out of position like a small cloud of swallows, flowing in and out through the traffic like a noisy metallic blob of metal and wheels.

We peel off the expressway early so we can go round the big lake that Dali sits on.  It’s a beautiful warm day and the lake is super saturated green under the big blue sky.   We stop to take some pictures of the beautiful little island in the middle.  It’s just such a beautiful place, and mobbed with the selfie brigade too.

1342 1344 1352As I’m walking back towards my bike I smell burning.  I can’t immediately see where it’s coming from.  A bit of sniffing and hunting about and I trace it to my ‘tottieometer’ attached to my trousers.  It’s blown a bloody fuse.  I’ve had to recalibrate this thing a few times since I entered China to be fair.  When I first entered, I set it to really sensitive as I thought Chinese girls wouldn’t be that attractive.  That soon turned out to be absolute bollocks and it kept going mental, beeping and reporting hits everywhere so I had to turn it right down.  I’ve barely got the dial turned up at all now and it’s still blown a fuse.  Then I turn round and see the problem.  There is a girl standing just behind me that it pains my eyes to look at.  It’s like looking at the sun, I just have to turn away otherwise I’m going to ruin my eyes and my trousers are just going to explode in a cloud of baby gravy. I have to get a picture but how am I going to do it?  My pants are already at bursting point and on a hair trigger so I can’t even look in her direction.  I just have to point the phone behind me, press randomly and hope the ‘auto tottie locating’ app works properly.  What do you reckon?  I can’t look…

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Christ, that was the closest my pocket rocket has come to exploding on the launch pad for a long time.  I quickly get on The Bitch and get going, nearly straight into the front of a c**t coming round a blind bend overtaking a car on the wrong side of the road…. again.  Jesus this place is just incredible.  I brake so hard that the front wheel leaves a big groove in the tarmac and all my bowel contents get pushed back up back in my mouth.  This place is just fucking insane.

Dali itself is a huge sprawling mass but we’re headed for the old, original walled city up in the hills.  Maybe a mile square it’s a mass of small streets enclosed by big walls.  It’s a real mixture of old and new and it’s got a good atmosphere about it.  Find the hotel, and head for the Bad Monkey bar for an evening chatting shit to a bisexual brit that owns the place. He came out a few years ago and started brewing beer and he’s going from strength to strength.  Good music, good company, good food, good times in the friendly dark atmosphere that is Dali city.

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We have a day off today to see the sights and as usual in these situations a few riders go missing in action.  One comes in about 6am and another wakes up in somebody else’s gaff somewhere across town with no idea where/what/who he is.  He has to ring the hotel and they send out a taxi to collect him and bring him back to safety.  Top man.

I go down to the Bad Monkey for a full english breakfast which is like sex on a plate after this long away from home.  I’ve just started the foreplay with the sausage when I get a shout from a ‘spotter’ sat out front.  It’s confirmed by a big green return and an alarm on my tottieometer. I run outside with a face full of food, follow my mate’s pointing finger and chase down the street.  She’s another beauty but she’s got ‘bitch’ running through her from head to toe.  She doesn’t want to be photographed but I’ve got this covered and go into stealth mode with the camera.  ‘Auto Tottie Detection’ on…. click…result…

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By the time I get back at the table my sausage has gone soggy.  That always happens…  The things I’m willing to do in the name of art…

Spend the day wandering about, just soaking in the atmosphere, wandering the streets, taking pictures of the locals..

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Back to the Bad Monkey again for tea and tottie.  It’s a bloody magnet this place.  I’ve got a lot of great memories and tonight is added to the list. I can’t put my finger on why exactly, a really good band are playing, everybody is relaxed and happy, and the people watching is top quality.

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I have a drink.  I never drink.  I shouldn’t drink.  My tottieometer flashes a big B for bootie and I run over to take a picture.  The bootie owner spots me and I have to make a quick excuse about admiring her shoes…

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I pop sticks before I get a stiletto in the eye… and giggle my way through the street back to the hotel..

Get up late and head out for  Lincang.  Supposed to be an easy ride and for the first half of the day it is.  The roads are just fantastic.  Full of 200m radius corners in the sky.  The Bitch is due a big spanking and today she gets one.  When she’s hot The Bitch is just the best thing on two wheels.  On the big corners you can just throw her down on the pegs then just stab her in the genitals with a hot stick and she just fucks off up the road like a banshee with the back wheel breaking traction and the rider trying to keep his boner from stabbing him in the eye.

We all just scream out of the hills and across the mighty Mekong.

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We’re all in a groove, all in formation, all moving fast.  But then we come across a bit of a problem.  A bit of a landslide.  Well, I say a bit…

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That’s not going to be cleared any time soon.  Just then a local bus driver decides he’ll park carefully out of the way of the traffic.  How very considerate of him.

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We’re not going up, over or round that landslide so we have to take an alternative route.  The only alternative is a turn 60 miles back in the direction from which we’ve just come.  Through miles and miles of corners in the sky.  What a shame.  Back on The Bitch, dig in the spurs in, crack the whip and chase the tarmac back to the junction.  God I love motorcycles.

We meet back up with the guide and he shows us the route out of town.  This is the old route over the mountains and every bugger and his wife is on it today, including every truck in the south of China.  It’s slow and tight and narrow and steep and extremely extremely scary.  You would have thought we had ridden enough of pretty well everything now and that there is nothing that could scare us.  That’s what I thought too until I started up this road.  It’s just a set of circumstances really.  The main problem being the trucks.  This road is neglected and shiny and dirty and dusty.  That’s not normally a problem but the trucks all have water cooled brakes like you see in a lot of these countries.  Every time they break they spray water on the brakes, and that water runs off in tiny quantities onto the road.  The water/dust/mud mix is exactly what inspired WD40 and it’s a fucking slimy slippery nightmare.  Even at 20mph the front and back wheels are sliding about all over the road and it’s like motorcycle dancing on ice, up a mountain, with no barriers.  Then we have the nearest miss of the whole trip.

Three riders are together and approaching a corner.  A truck is approaching the other way.  They all get to the corner at about the same time.  The corner is quite tight and the truck just decides to cut it.  No thought.  No warning. The front rider guns it and just makes it through the corner just missing the back of the trailer as it sweeps round.  The 2nd rider knows he’s fucked so he jumps on the brakes to avoid hitting the front of the truck.  The third rider and his pillion are buggered now.  They can’t stop on this surface and they hit the second rider, topple off the bike and go over the edge of the mountain.  The bike is resting on the edge and they’ve gone out of sight.  The second rider slams the bike down and rushes over to the edge where they went over and peers over the side.  To say they’ve been lucky is a bit of an understatement.  Like saying Trump’s hair looks a tad unnatural.. The mountainside here only slopes at maybe 60 or 70 degrees rather than the often vertical drops we’ve been seeing round here, and it’s covered in scrub.  He leans over and sees the rider and pillion caught in a small tree just below the edge so he just grabs them and pulls them back up to the road.  They say they just saw sky then branches.  Bloody hell.

The road goes on forever and ever, and as we finally descend we start seeing the terraced tea plantations and the little hoards of workers.

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It’s getting dark and cold and by the time we reach the hotel.  We’re all fucked after the ride over the mountain.  The hotel is way out of town in a business district, none of whose business is feeding people so we just chuck the helmets on and take a chance into town for a late night Pizza.

I’m reading in bed when I hear a bleeping noise.  WTF?  It’s about 1 in the morning and I’m buggered.  Then there is a knock at the door.  Really?  “Hang on.”  I bung on some trousers and open the door and before I know it there is a very attractive young lady in dressed in quick release clothing standing at the end of my bed, and she’s doing the fexting thing… I think she’s looking for a friend…. fuck sake….  and I can still hear the bleeping.  It looks like my tottieometer can now see through doors too.  Or maybe it just picked up a scent.  Whatever, I’m going to have to sort it out… with a hammer…the tottieometer that is…. not the quick release chick…

Next morning everyone is looking shagged.  Maybe the quick release girl did a complete tour of the building… Anyway, Puer is the destination today.  Just up the road really.  Easy peasy, if you have fuel that is… The fucking landslide is restricting the amount of fuel getting through and we spend an hour getting refused by every station in the town.  The Victory is on fumes so I decant a bottle from my tank and we slowly head off to the next town where we finally manage to fill up.  So another late start and into the mountains again.  Stop, look and thank God you’re alive.

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Still got to watch out for the occasional pot hole though…

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After so many days on the bike you don’t realise how close you’re riding to the edge.  If you ride very occasionally then you might be able to ride at 80-90% for short periods but have to concentrate hard.  When you ride regularly in all weathers you can maybe ride at 80% for long periods without even thinking about it very much.  When you’ve been on the bike all day everyday for weeks you find yourself riding at 90% all day and you can do a crossword at the same time.  You just don’t realise you’re at 90% until something happens.  We’re working our way out of the hills today and the roads are fast and open and dry but they’re slippery as hell and the bikes are moving about all over the place.  So get a corner slightly wrong, or, like I did, brake just a fraction too late and you’re suddenly up to your neck in shit and drowning.  I brake a tiny bit late on a fast downhill bend and the front just lets go.  My reaction puts the bike upright and now I’m heading for the bank on the opposite side, trying to break hard but skidding every time I touch the lever.  The KTM abs system is excellent and lets the wheel skid but there is absolutely no grip and I’m going to meet the bank very soon.  I just manage to turn my target fixation off a fraction before I meet the mud and the bike finds some grip from somewhere and finally falls into the corner way on the wrong side of the road.  Twat.

Just up the road I’m following another rider and we come up to another landslide.  A bulldozer has just cleared the road but it’s left a 5mm coating of pure evil wet clay.  We slow down and go in.  I can see it all now in my head.  I’m watching his back wheel as it just breaks traction and starts to slowly try and catch the front wheel.  He’s going down right in front of me.  The pillion ejects as soon as the bike starts to fall but the rider can’t get out the way and goes down with the bike.  I see his head fly back as something painful happens and he reacts.  I watch him slide along in front of me and put all my concentration into not joining in his accident. He and the bike slide off to the left into a bank of mud and I just coast out and on to the tarmac.  By the time I’ve got off the bike he’s up and hobbling around but it looks like he got his foot caught under the bike and he is struggling.  Three of us try to lift the bike but it’s almost impossible to even stand up in this stuff so we wedge the bike against the bank and manage to get it vertical just as another riders comes round the corner.  Despite all the waving and shouting he does exactly the same thing and ends up on his arse sliding down the road.  No damage though beyond some broken bits and a dent in his pride. The first rider gets on his bike and rides off on adrenaline and stubbornness. I hope that lasts… poor bugger is in a lot of pain.

I’m on my own as I get to Puer.  I’m following the sat nav and I’m on the right road.  Definitely.  Down the hill, round the corner, and … WTF?

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Looks like there still might be a bit of work to do on this road.. and maybe a bridge or two might be useful as well.  The sat nav doesn’t have any more roads round here so I just go straight line and follow my nose.  All the roads going in the direction I want are dead ends so I just start riding over the rough ground, through people’s gardens, across what looks like allotments, down a load of small paths between houses and up a steep slope through a gate and  to pop out in the middle of a bloody building site.  This place is still under construction and it takes me about 15 minutes of rough riding before I ride through a knackered fence and back onto tarmac.  I’m last to the hotel by a long margin and just as I arrive the heavens open in a desperate attempt to clean up this shit hole.

Breakfast next day is a weird event served by people so ugly they have to be hidden behind a screen..

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Both the group and the bikes are getting more and more battered and we take the easy and fast option of expressway all the way to Jingliang.  Yesterday’s crash rider’s foot is badly swollen and he can’t really put any weight on it.  Expressway riding is straight forward but anything else like moving is sensibly delegated to those of us with more than one useable foot.  We get to Jingliang quite early for a change and have time to visit the ‘american quarter’ for a pizza hut meal followed by Walmart for afters.

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All my fun in the mountains has fubar’d my front tyre so I go on the hunt for a fitter that can change it.  Then I go and ride around behind the street cooler to wash/cool down.

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Wait for the sun to get fed up and fuck off then take a late walk round the local streets to watch the people, and for the people to watch me.

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Last full day in China today.  Just a quick scoot down to Mohan along more roads in the sky through the rubber plantations.  Quick stop at a local motorbike shop and we’re off.

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The roads are really impressive down here, built way way up in the air.

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Mohan hasn’t changed at all.  It’s just a sleepy town full of comedy cakes and people who have blankets for hair.

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We treat ourselves just one more time to a big plate of chickens heads and pigs faces and retire for the night before an early and uneventful exit over the border into Laos.

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And so another ride through China comes to an end.  Last time I went north to The Great Wall and then south, this time, across the Taklamakan desert then through unforgettable Tibet.  I have to be one of the luckiest people alive. I’m still not satisfied though.  I’ll be back…

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G318. The best road on earth

We’re going up to the Pagoda palace later this morning so I’m up early and grab a taxi over to the rough side of town to get my panner frame sorted out.  The taxi driver is a very attractive little lady with lovely hands.  I like hands.  I particularly like the way she strokes and slides and caresses the steering wheel through them.  I’ve been away from home too long.

We arrive at a row of shuttered buildings.  One at the end is open and seems to have signs of life so I head that way.  I’ve taken the frame off the bike because I didn’t want to give The Bitch any more excuses not to start and I didn’t know what era of technology would be used to fix it.  The Bitch’s electrics are a law unto themselves and using TIG/MIG welding might just send the whole lot into meltdown.  Turns out I need not have worried.

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A little bloke emerges from the shadows at the back.  He takes a look, then wanders back into the darkness.  I reckon he knows this is a precision job and if he gets it even a fraction of a millimeter out then the panniers are not going to fit and it’s going to be a massive disaster.  I reckon he’s gone to get his lovely new jig and he’s going to spend 30 minutes adjusting it perfectly and then do a seamless fix so you would never even know it had been broken.

Truth is, he’s gone back in the dark to kick his missus out of bed and to grab an old pair of rusty pliers.  Out she comes, half asleep, rubbing her eyes, clutching the old pliers and trying to stop her tits fall out of her top.   Ahh.  The glamorous assistant.  I put the pieces together and clamp the pliers on, then hand them to the assistant.  She just drops the whole lot on the floor, fiddles with her ladybumps and sways on her feet. I do it again, then again… and eventually she seems to get a grip.  He lights the acetylene torch and grabs some wire.  Looks like he’s going to braze it.  This isn’t going to be pretty… much like his assistant.  She’s standing there in flip flops and wrapped in  highly inflammable blanket.  He’s brazing with no goggles and bloody straw hat.  It’s just a burnt boob/hair accident waiting to happen.  I wait in the taxi.  I don’t like the smell of burning flesh.

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Job done, £5.  Looks shit/well hard though and I doubt that will fail again.  Jump back in the taxi to watch the woman’s hands all the way back to the hotel.

We all hop on the bus out to the palace.  People look very different up here.  All short with often with nutty brown skin.  Not unattractive though..

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They’re still fiercely independent and don’t generally regard themselves as Chinese at all.  They even have their own language and a completely different alphabet too, which I didn’t know.

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It’s fliipin hot today, the palace is up a million steps and we’re at 3700m.  Sounds like a perfect recipe for a heart attack.  It looks lovely as you walk up.  This place has evolved over many 100s of years.  The ‘red keep’ came first I think, then the ‘white keep’ was built up later.  It’s bloody hard work getting up to it but it’s worth it.

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We wander round the palace for a few hours.  These is just so much stuff in there.  There are tombs and gold and stuff and more stuff and stuff on top of stuff.   “And here we have a 700 year old pile of dust and discarded writings from the 3rd Dalai Lama” I’m sure I can see some KFC receipts in there…  It’s a mess to be honest.  It needs a bloody good clean too.  My wife would be appalled at the state of it.  What have the monks got to do all day anyway.  They’re all just sitting round mumbling and lighting josticks.  Surely they’ve got time to run the hoover round now and again.  Lazy buggers.

The city has a really lovely atmosphere about it and just I wander about all afternoon watching the world go by.  The light up here is delicious too.  So clear and piercing.  I could easily stay here for a while.

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We go out for dinner and eat properly for the first time in a while.  Head back to the hotel and one of the riders beckons me over to his room. I walk in and there is another man down.  Flat on his back with a drip and oxygen tubes up his nose. The doctor is there and he’s got a big box of tricks he’s going to use to kick start my man back to life.  I hope it works.  We’re heading out tomorrow, and it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

We’re going to take the G318 east.  I see a poster showing the topography of our route.  It looks a bit hilly…

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G318 is is then.  Out of Lhasa in the cold clear morning air.  The clouds are all caught up on mountains and it looks like it’s going to be a good day.

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The plan is for there to be an expressway all the way to Lhasa.  They’re really going to have a job on their hands with that one given the mountains round here.  Motorbikes aren’t allowed on the expressways either.  In other parts of China we would wing it and just ride through the barriers but out here with the police and army everywhere that just isn’t an option.    This expressway is currently under construction anyway.  The problem is that the expressway out here runs parallel to the old road we’re on, and the old road is being completely destroyed by all the construction work.

There are miles and miles and miles of roadworks into the mountains.  It’s all slippery mud and water on steep roads with cars and trucks slithering about.  It’s a right bastard.  We’re going up a long steep incline where the ‘road’ is also tilted down about 30 degrees to the side.  The rider in front of me is off and up to his arse in mud.  Get the bike up, go a bit further and we’re between the crawling trucks when he hits a huge hole and he’s off again, about 2 inches in front of a truck.  Lifting these things is an arse any day of the week but doing it in mud at high altitude makes the beat of my heart beat echo round the mountains like a huge base drum and my blood scream through my ears.  Get through the mess though and up the road to the top of the first pass and its all worth it.

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Then its back down into the mud and roadworks.  These aren’t like normal roadworks either.  No effort at all is taken to control the traffic or create a safe way round.


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It’s getting late in the day and we’re chasing the horizon alongside a huge river.  The road here is good as we’re getting near town and the rider at the front is really in a groove.  I’m having trouble keeping up with him and he’s going a lot quicker than usual.  He suddenly slows down and we nearly pile into him as he just turns to the right and goes into a short tight spiral and goes down.  He doesn’t even jump off, he just sits and spins and crashes down.  I think he’s passed out.  We get him up and he’s sort of awake and coming round again.  Altitude does funny things to people for sure.  He says his vision just went and he lost his balance and went down.  Bloody good job that didn’t happen when he was tanking it round the last bend at 70mph.

Get to Bayi  just as it’s getting dark.  We can’t find the hotel.  some bastard has hidden it.  When you’re travelling through China you have to stay in particular hotels that have been designated as being able to have foreigners.  In some more isolated places, like this, the guide has to wait until we arrive in town then go and ask the local police where we can stay.  This is always a right PITA as it can take hours of … wait for it … yes, exactly.  It’s pitch black by the time we have somewhere to put our heads down.  After dinner we take a wander through the streets looking to eat other than chicken’s heads and mouse balls.  This is another place under deconstruction.  You have the roads, and the shops that sit about 5m back and 1m up, and you have a random assortment of mud and builders rubble in between.  A visit to a shop is like a climbing expedition.  You have to rope up and make sure you have crampons and axes with you as you negotiate the piles of wobbly broken paving stones and bricks and try not to fall down into the wet mud below. I hear a few cries in the darkness and think I may well have lost a couple of riders but right now, a snickers bar is the most important thing on my mind.

The surrounding roads are so battered that everywhere has a jet wash machine, including the hotel.  I treat The Dirty Bitch to quick bath, careful not to get the jet too close, just in case.  She looks lovely, but that only lasts about 10 minutes.

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The guide tells us the road gets really bad for a while today.  “Really bad?  How bad is really bad exactly?”  “Well, its one below really really bad”.  Oh, thanks. That’s helpful.. We’re only going to try and do 220km today as locals report lots of problems ahead.

Tibet has it’s head permanently in the clouds and this morning they just hanging about at street level.  It’s all a bit mad really.

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The road building seems to make absolutely no sense whatever out here.  The towns have all new junctions and nice roads then about 1ft outside town they just turn to absolute shit.  We’re diverted off the road, round some steep little tracks in a village, through a housing estate/deep puddle exhibition and we pop out onto the main road… and wait.  There is column of army trucks coming through and they’re blocking the road.  There are millions and millions of them.  They’re never ending.. I think they’re manufacturing them just round the corner and this production line will just go on forever until we starve and die at the roadside.  On and on and on and on they come, crawling through the mud.  It must be an hour before they’re all through.

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Through the mud and slime and we start to climb through the clouds.  These roads would be motorcycling navana if only the tarmac didn’t suddenly turn to gravel and clay just round a 120 degree corner that you had just committed to at peg bending speed.  A few sections of the climb are just beautiful and smooth but these get less and less until it just ends up being one very very long and very very rough loose and slippery road into the sky.

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The bike is getting really battered today, poor thing.  I ‘almost’ feel sorry for her.  But not quite.  It’s just shit shit and more shit until suddenly it isn’t.  For lunch, we’re served a lovely big potion of bendy tarmac threaded high up along the side of a very very steep mountainside.

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Unfortunately it’s mud pie for desert though.  The road is getting progressively worse and worse.  Long sections of rutty clay and slippery mud with long deep puddles just to keep you on your toes.  My arse hasn’t relaxed for hours and the stitches I had put in after the birth of Trevor are pulling like a bitch.  We’re picking our way through a wet track under some trees when we come to the back of a long line of solid traffic.  We slowly paddle our way through, sliding and shimmying through all the mess and get to the front.  There is a bit of an incline ahead and it looks like people can’t get up it.  They’ve decided to dump some sand on it.  Christ only knows where the sand came from, but there are 100 year old trucks trying to back into the mess and drop the sand.  In a moment of comedy gold, a truck backs up and gets stuck solid right across the road.  It’s grunting and groaning and it’s just digging itself in.  After the obligatory wait, they call in a big fuck off bulldozer to try and push the truck out.  In it goes, spinning it’s tracks and making an almighty hole in the road as it shoves and pushes at the truck.    The truck is twisting and buckling with every shove and I’m sure it’s going to snap before this is over.  The bulldozer just keeps on pushing and shoving and spinning on its arse like a hyperactive dog chasing its own tail sending mud and water everywhere.  Eventually the truck is freed and drives away to hide it’s head in shame.  The bulldozer scoots off into the forest and the end result is a much bigger bloody mess than they started with.  Just typical.  We’re not waiting for more trucks to get stuck so we both just dive in, have a deep cold mud bath and we’re on our way in the pouring rain.

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More miles of rough river beds and roads of stones and we get to Nyingchi, another small town clinging to life amongst the chaos.   Total for the day, 220km, 8 hours hard riding.

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This G318 is really difficult.  In fact it is proving to be a real bitch.  It’s battering the bikes and the riders to death and it’s regularly scaring the shit out me.  But I love this road.

Today we ride out and it decides it’s given us enough crap for a little while.  It offers us some apologies in the form of some spectacular views.  The clouds are keeping the scenery a secret for the first few miles but then they just part and reveal what they’ve been hiding.

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Just takes your breath away, what little you have at this altitude anyway.   OK it’s not Banff or Yosemite but that’s not the point.  It’s a nice reward for all the trouble of getting here.

Anyway, enough of that, let’s get back to more and more and more of this.

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The roads are the worse so far.  I’m sure they qualify as “really really” bad  by now.  One long section has been chiselled out of the cliff and it’s all just falling down into the valley below.  There isn’t any other way around these sections and the traffic is gridlocked.  We wait under big overhangs and look at the rocks in the road.  This whole place is unstable.  Just one small mumble from Mother Nature and one of those big fuck off rocks will fall and I will instantly become one dimensional.

I’m riding through another section later and there are deep mud ruts everywhere.  There is no barrier, that’s probably somewhere down in the valley below.   The edge is shored up level with the mud but the long vertical drop is … not worth thinking about. An on coming car decides he prefers my ruts to his and drives straight down the middle at me, pushing me to within a couple of feet of the drop.  Everything goes quiet, everything but the bodily essentials has to shut down and all power is diverted to the brain.  Situations like this are life or death.  These mad bastards place no value on any human life except their own. They’re just completely insane if you give them a steering wheel.  I’ve got no time to think about that now and I just go for the gap on the road, rather than the much bigger gap over the edge.    Fuck that was close.

As as quickly as it ended, pure black tarmac suddenly appears again.  There is just no logic to this at all.  It’s like a massive Chinese puzzle.  How the hell did they get through all that shit to build this road here?  How did they do that?  Did they fly it in?  Did aliens build this?  It makes no sense.  Don’t question it, just get on and ride.  Hard and fast.

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We meet up with the guide at a garage.  The town is all up…again… and the road signs are .. elsewhere.  We’ve all become complacent,  it’s just one road and we’ve all just fallen into following the guide’s instructions without question.  He points right.  “Stop in 100km”.  Off we all go. Like a pack of dogs being let out the car we all go barking and growling off up the road, chasing about and playing silly buggers.  The road is fantastic.  Cold and wet but really spectacular.  We’re up above 5000m again too.  I didn’t think we were going that high today?  Who cares!  Then we come to a long long twisting descent through what feels like 1000 bends.  This is one of the best rides we’ve done so far I reckon.  Amazing, and no traffic at all…

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Someone has stopped up ahead..  He’s had a call from the guide.  He’s been trying everyone but phone reception is, not surprisingly, less than 100% up here. “We’ve got to meet the guide at the petrol station”.  “OK, it’s not far now”.  “No, the one we just came from”.  “Oh”  He’s got confused in all the diversions, sent us all up the wrong way and none of us noticed.  Still.  We get to ride the whole lot back in reverse, which was nice.  So, if you want to ride one of the best roads in China, check out the S201:)  That was a public service announcement.

Back to the fuel station to fuel up…again.  It’s getting a bit late now and it’s really really bitingly cold.

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Another huge line of traffic.  More waiting while they tarmac a random patch of road somewhere in the middle and ignore all the carnage for miles around.  I reckon they start each day with a game of bitumen bingo.  They put all the road sections numbers on little balls in a black bag, then they sit about drinking chai pulling them out.  “All the fours”.. section 44.  The fact that sections 1  to 43 and 45 to 1000 are all complete dog shit doesn’t matter.  “44 it is then” and off they go.

Boxai is the smallest town on this route so far.  Just a strip of concrete with a few buildings along it.  The guide is stuck in traffic at least an hour behind.  Captain Scarlet is near death again.  He’s really suffering badly.  He was diagnosed with Bronchitis by a Chinese doctor and the altitude and cold is doing it’s utmost best to kill him.  He is amazingly resilient and he’ll never give in but I’m really worried about him.   We’re not heading down to sea level any time soon either. The riders all collapse in the foyer of a small hotel while I go looking for our beds.  I’m asking about and can’t find it.  A girl jumps on the bike and points down the road.  It’s not it though.  She speaks to the guide and then we head back up the other way and through a small alley, down and round a corner to a little door.  Bingo, it’s the right place but it’s taken the best part of an hour and the guide is here now too.  Recover the riders and lead them all to their rooms/squats for the night.  This is all part of the game.  Part of the experience.  There’s no extra charge.

The guide has been told that the next section of the road was closed by a big landslide today so we need to leave early tomorrow and see if we can get through, otherwise we’ll have to all sleep in our panniers.

Another shivering night in a hotel right next to a 24hour donkey torturers.  I think there must be a lot of very bad donkeys round here as the place was working all night long.  I didn’t know donkeys could scream so loud.  Out at 7 into the mist we go. It’s about 220 miles to Mangkang.  Sounds straight forward but nothing is straight forward round here.  We’ve also got the road of 99 bends to contend with on Yela Mountain.

A quick chase through a deep gloreous gorge for an hour then we see Yela.  The climb begins in a village.  Slow and frustrating as the Trucks get in to their crawls and start to spread out a bit.  As it climbs it opens out and speeds up.  Up and up and round and round it goes.  I don’t think I’ve looked at the instruments for ages, I’m always looking over my shoulder at the next bend.

1195 11991235It looks like a lot of fun, and lots of it is, but, much of it is patched with cheap concrete and tarmac with a 5 minute lifespan.

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If you get safely to the top there is a little shed where you can go and claim a prize.  I chose this one, purely because it came with sturdy motorcycle friendly boots complete with knee protection. 1207

So, how many high passes can we pass in a day?  It’s just up…

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and down

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and up above the snow line again

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then back down

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then up up up

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and down all day long.  Probably the most spectacular views so far. The guide tells us he has never seen westerners allowed along this road as it’s regarded as just too dangerous. I’m not sure that’s true though.  Surely Globebusters come this way?  Anyway,  it’s not often that I am intimidated by a road but on the final section along the mountain today I’ll admit I was having a few problems with my nerves.  The road often has no barrier at all.  Absolutely nothing. It’s paved right up to the edge, then its just space.  Looking down is like the view from an aircraft.  It’s scale the likes of which I don’t remember ever seeing before.  It’s just bloody MAD.  So riding along with nothing on one side and some maniacal Chinaman in a lorry coming towards you in the middle of the road round a corner tends to question WTF you’re doing there.

But then you come down to earth, see a pretty face, your trousers whisper  “just leave this to me son”  and you just forget the last 9 hours of hell on wheels.

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It’s the last night in Tibet tonight.  So we thought we’d stay somewhere nice.  Then we roll into town.  ‘Nice’ might be pushing it.  ‘Acceptable’ would be good.  But the police have other ideas.

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We’re directed to the centre of town, which seems even worse, and we wait…. for hours… and hours… and probably some more hours too.  I think we all just switched off.  It was starting to get dark when I work up.  “It’s just up there, up the street”.  Street is pushing it. “Special Stage” is more accurate. Oh well…at least nobody will notice if I shit myself.  It will blend in perfectly.

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Hotel is a very tired collection of basic rooms, threadbare carpets and internet working through a piece of very wet string.  We walk down the ‘street’ to get some dinner.  The ‘pavement’ is a 2ft wide strip of concrete just tacked on to the sides of the shops. There is just a drop down into the mud.  You shuffle along and if someone is walking the other way, then you have to go into a shop to let them pass. All very strange.

We are a day behind where we should be because of the bad state of the G318.  We’ve a long way to go today, all the way to Shangri La.

Ok.  I’ve looked in my little bag of words but I just can’t find any that I can use to describe the roads today.  The views were just outrageous.  And the rocks.. I’m riding along high on the mountains and Rob is riding about 50m behind me.  I don’t see a thing.  We stop up the road for some pictures.  “Did you see that?” “What?”  “That fucking rock that came bouncing down the hill?”  “Nope – didn’t see anything”.  “Jesus mate, that could have taken both of us right out”

As we rode by, a big lump of rock about the size of a soccer ball came rolling down the cliff, bounced in the road  between us as we rode, then flew off into the valley below.  I reckon it’s still falling.. Looking over the edge, we’re flying an aircraft again, and flying really high.

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if you can see it..

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Some of the roads are really really beautiful, smooth and fast and empty.

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but they do have the occasional pothole..

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We get to the Tibet border.  We’re loosing altitude fast.  The bikes are beginning to get back to normal and the riders are too.

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I don’t want to leave.  I just want to turn round and ride the whole lot back in reverse.  I’ve been unbelievably fortunate in life. I’ve ridden all over the world and seen some incredible things.  I’ve ridden through the Rockies a few times, I’ve ridden all along the Andes, all through the Atlas.  Alaska, Africa, Australia, all over the flippin place but I’ve never ridden a road like the G318.   It’s bloody amazing.

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Into the sky

Tibet.  I’ve wanted visit Tibet for a while now.  It’s not exactly the easiest place to ride a bike to and through though.  Tibet is another layer of complication on the already complicated business of getting the bikes through China.  You have to have a whole lot of extra permits, you need an additional Tibetan guide, and, most difficult of all, the roads have to be open.  In past years when we’ve asked for permits this route has been closed because mother nature has spat the dummy and flooded the place, pushed giant landslides across the roads or shaken the place to pieces, generally destroying the roads and making it impassable.  This year though we’re in luck.  Game on.

The one fly in the ointment is that Tibet will not admit Norwegians.  They awarded the Dali Lama a Nobel prize some years ago and that wasn’t the most popular decision round here so now they wont give them permits to enter.  Our poor Norwegian on his Victory is going to have to split from the party and take a route round the province with our guide and meet us later.

We meet our new driver and our Tibetan guide in Gulmud, wave a sad au revoir to our friend and head for the sky.  The ride rules are going to be very different now.  There is a much heavier concentration of police and plenty of checkpoints on the road.  Along with the police, there is a very heavy military presence in this region so we need to stick to the rules.   He can only let us off the lead for short periods as we can’t go through the checkpoints alone and they get nervous if we sit and wait for the him to turn up.  Fine with me.  Their country.  Their rules.

Gulmud is about 2800m, we’ll be going straight up over 5000m today and staying at about 4600m tonight.  No messing about.  No acclimatization.  Just get on with it.

Get out and start heading south.  Everything is hiding under a cold grey blanket of cloud.  It doesn’t look very friendly or inviting and neither does the border/waiting station.  Lots and lots of police here, and they don’t seem to be of the ‘not bothered’ variety we’ve been seeing up to now. They properly look over the bikes for a start.  They’re very unhappy about the fuel can on the back.  “Empty” the guide tells them.  He’s still not happy but decides it can be someone else’s problem and lets me go.  The guide tells me we’ll have to empty it and hide it in the van later.


0901 0902The biggest warning you get from the guide is about taking pictures.  You must not under any circumstances take any pictures where any military item of any kind is anywhere in it, ever.  Ignoring this rule is punishable by being put in a small metal box in a public square with just your balls hanging out… Oh.. I wonder if I will ever have an original thought in my whole life…

So there wont be many pictures for a while.  Our visit coincides perfectly with a huge military training operation and the place is absolutely full of hardware.  I’m really surprised we’ve been allowed through at all.   Off we go through… off to the sky.  Through the clouds and up and up and up.

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I thought the whole place would be empty.  That there would be just nothing here at all.  The Chinese don’t stick to the normal rules and they beat the landscape into submission, however difficult or hostile it is.  There are poles and pylons and wires running about everywhere for a start.  And the train of course.  I’m told this is the highest train line in the world.  Not just a little funicular railway either.  No, its a proper fuck off big style kind of thing that regularly screams across the scenery.  It’s all a bit weird.

The roads are full with columns of military trucks.  There are 100s and 100s of them.  Crawling along, scrabbling their way up the long long climb like big green snakes breathing out dense black smoke.  This is no fun at all.  And the roads are in a seriously bad way too.  Forget the troughs in Saratov, these are far more dangerous.  Whenever the climb gets steep, big deep slots appear in the road.  Tyre width with straight edges and bloody deep and dangerous.  Once in, you’re in.  You’re not going anywhere but where the slot takes you.  They often go on for 100s of yards and it’s like riding a motorcycle high wire.  Look down and you’re doomed, just keep your head up and try to relax.  Add in a low visibility black cloud and you’ve really got your work cut out.  You can overtake but there are a lot of commercial trucks on the route too and they have exactly the same idea so it’s slow slow progress.  Eventually we get passed the millionth truck and weave our way up to the first peak.  It’s at just over 5000m.  We’re heading up and one of the riders suddenly finds out his altitude threshold  is at 4980m, gets confused in a rut and just dumps it.  He’s not 100% with it and needs some help so the guide grabs him and sticks him on some oxygen.  It’s impossible to know how you’re going to react to altitude until you do it.  Some of the riders have been high before, but none have come this high.  It’s wrong to underestimate its effect, especially as you’re in charge of a 2 wheeled weapon.

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You don’t want to spend too long too high up so a few quick pictures then off and down to about 4500m.  Yep, that should help.  Spend the afternoon traversing indescribably huge high altitude plains.  This looks like where they hold the international weather system games.  Way way over in the left corner we have the red contestant.  Please put your hands together for “Storm”.  All dark and moody and with water and wind to spare.  An real angry looking bastard definitely in the mood for a fight.  And in the blue corner, please put your hands together for “Ice”.  Super tight, super bright clouds swallowing sunlight and illuminating themselves to blinding intensity.  All pointy sharp edges.  Scary and threatening.  Game on.  The different systems move around each other and there are big skirmishes wherever they meet.  The scale of this place is just rediculous.  And, while we are at it, are the roads.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.  We’re way up in the mountains and quite a way from the nearest road mending team.  One of the biggest problems is the yomps.  The tamac just climbs and drops constantly and you’re either thrown out the saddle or compressed at about 10g and your tits suddenly hit your toes.  It’s raining and dull too so you can’t see any contrast.  A lot of the yomps are diagonal too so you’re just thrown towards the trucks/scenery.

Stop for a late lunch at the kind of place you would bring your wife, if you absolutely, positively without a shadow of a doubt wanted an immediate divorce.  It’s bloody freezing and wet and hostile outside so we all huddle round a heater and guess what will come out from behind the curtain to eat.  Go out to the ‘toilet’.  This is a first for me.  The ‘toilet’ is a platform built directly over the top of a small pond. It’s not clear what came first… the toilet or the pond…  The whole place is a disgusting dumping ground for everything going in or out of the human body.  Anyway.. back to eat.. I’m sure the cooks don’t use this toilet.  They’ll have a private one, all gleaming white and smelling of roses…

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Body temperatures back to just over 0 degrees its back out into the murk and cold.

Whenever it gets near the destination everyone speeds up, especially when they’re being snowed on or the temperature is only reading 0.5 inches on their dick-thermometer:)  The road is now just disintegrating too.  The trucks are all bunched up crawling over a bridge so we decide to overtake 200 at a time.  It’s all going so well until my brain very suddenly registers a big tear in the road/bridge continuum just ahead. FUUUUUUUUUKKKKKKK… This is why the trucks are all crawling.  They’re slowly having to climb through a 2 ft deep V shaped gouge that’s formed where the tarmac has collapsed where it meets … or used to meet. .. the bloody bridge.  Jesus Christ Almighty….. Bang on the brakes and slow as much as I can but now it’s time to just let go, yank the bars and hope for the best.  I feel about 10 years being knocked off the bike as it crashes through and out the other side and on to the bridge.  Shit.  That was a close call.  All my own stupid fault I know as well.   My room mate later tells me he hit the gouge so hard and fast that it kicked the back wheel right up in the air and he was riding on the front wheel only for quite a way.  Scared himself shitless!

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Tonights destination is Tanggulazhen, another army base but this time with just a couple of shops, petrol stations and a Grotel, a Grotty Hotel below the standard of a torn tent… This is the first full day at altitude and everyone is feeling shit.  Headaches are the main problem and we all have them.   It’s so cold we just run outside and follow our noses to the nearest door with the smell of food and all sit round a small stove trying to keep alive while the owner insists on opening the fridge/outside door to let the smoke out.   The clouds have landed outside and they’re slowly parading past the door like giant grey ghosts. Jesus it’s bleak up here.  It’s these sorts of moments that make a trip like this for me though.  Isolated, cold, sitting under a dull light bulb with friends, eating anything you can find and watching the clouds go by.  All wrapped up, and feeling bad I wander back to the Grotel through the mist, blurred Chinese neon signs winking and fizzing in the damp, distant sounds of machines snoring as they tick over to keep their pilots alive.  Check the horses and give them all a pat on the way through before a fitful nights sleep.  I hope the other riders are all enjoying themselves as much as I am:)

Get up in the morning to find the clouds are late risers round here.  There is ice on the bikes and the temperature is still around freezing.  Can’t see much.  Probably better that way though.  The riders don’t look well at all.  The guide hands out some medication to some of them but they didn’t get much sleep by the looks of it either.  It’s going to be a tough day.  The bikes aren’t keen to start either, especially the BMWs.  My Ktm is fine however, and I’m trying to convince myself that the problem is the key and that it’s all fine now… I don’t try the old key.. just in case it works and blows my theory..

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OK.  So everyone (except me it seems…luckily) is feeling shit today and has altitude related problems.  What’s the plan then?  I know, let’s go higher.  What a fucking great idea:)   It’s Tibet, there is one road, what else are you going to?  Tunnel your way to Lhasa:)

The road up here runs between 4500 and 5000m all day long and the beauty and scale just reaches obscene levels.  Still loads of wires and shit kicking about though.  You have to remind yourself where you are much of the time.  You’re just riding along big open plains at 5000m, so those snow capped mountains you’re looking at, they’re proper high.  Amazing!

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Today will be the highest we go on the trip.  We slowly climb and climb and I hit 5240m just as a parade of mountains and a big lake comes into view.

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It’s not as dramatic as I imagined it would be to be honest.  It’s just because of the scale though.  The whole flippin place is so high up.  No big jutting mountains here, just lots and lots of snow capped lumps! The craggy ones are elsewhere.  Bloody impressive to be on a 2 lane road being passed by commercial vehicles at over 5200m though.

A quick bit of exercise for the camera and we head back down a bit for some bike and body fuel.  Both are using a lot more than usual at this altitude and temperature.  Proper proper cold now.  Yet another checkpoint and out towards Nagqu through the rain and snow.

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The guide lets us off the lead for about 100km at a time between checkpoints.  As we approach the next one we quickly swap snow for sunshine and sheep.  Tibet is just weird..

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Get to Nagqu and it’s an absolute shit hole, the likes of which we’ve not seen so far.  It’s a really big town, still up avove 4000m,  and the whole place is currently under destruction.  The roads are all up everywhere.  0955 0956

The place is just destroyed.  It’s difficult to describe places like this.  It really is like they started building the place and decided to move in 2 weeks later. They’ll just finish it as they go along.. or not.. You go from tarmac, down a foot deep step into mud and gravel in the centre of town, then on to mud, then back to tarmac.  Our hotel seems to be in an area where the army has been practicing urban warfare.   Shit loads of shit just everywhere, piled up on the roadside.  The hotel foyer is full of oxygen cylinders for the faint hearted as usual.  Some of the riders might be taking those to bed with them:)

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Breakfast is… not worthy of the name. Air bread and eggs.  This isn’t going to help my digestion at all.

Usually when I come to China my bum turns into my cock and pisses out hot brown wee for weeks on end but this time it’s exactly the opposite.  I’ve not had to sit on a bog for weeks now…at all.  And my belly has got all swollen up like I’m expecting a food baby.  Sure enough, I woke up in the middle of the night having contractions.  I sneak slowly into the toilet, clutching my swollen abdomen, trying to remember my birthing classes.   My bowel suddenly lets out a long low animal growl.  Oh God, my wind has broken, I’ve gone into labour.. this is awkward..   I breath.. and push… and breath.. and push. The head out but it’s just so broad shouldered it isn’t moving any further.  My screams eventually reach a level when my roomy has to call in the crash team to deliver it by emergency anal cesarian.   After a particularly messy delivered it weighs in at 10lb 7oz.  Everyone agrees it is the spitting image of it’s dad.  I’ve decided to call it Trevor.

Anyway, I leave baby Trevor sleeping soundly in the toilet bowl upstairs and go looking for breakfast alternatives.  This place looks like a bloody bomb site.  No chance of anything here so I get back to the room.  I’ve got to breast feed Trevor..

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I quickly decide there is just no future for me and Trevor so I gently carry him down in the lift and lay him on a huge pile of shit outside in the street.  He’ll be happy there… with all his mates..

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Saddle up, and head south towards Lhasa.  Beautiful blue sky,  fluffy white clouds, mountains and Yaks as far as the eye can see.  It’s just sooooooo incredibly beautiful up here.

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Lhasa is way down at 3600m and the scenery soon starts to change as you get near.  The mountains start going from gray to green and it starts to really warm up.  Must be 5 degrees at least…

We get to the outskirts of town and enter some sort of urban vehicle assault course.  This is weird.  I recognise this place.  I’m sure I do.  Now where… OH I know.  I think this is where they came to make  Call of Duty.  Bloody place is just a mass of broken buildings and roads.  “Ping Ping Ping… ” Bollocks.  I’ve been hit.  I’ve taken a sniper bullet to the panniers and a frame weld has broken.  These Jesse panniers are lovely but the frames are shit.  Every trip I’ve ever been on where someone has had them, the frames have broken.  I’ve had a few ‘ghost’ falls when the bike has fallen over but nothing else.  We get out of the war zone and I apply a big bugger off cable tie bandage to stop it flapping about.  It’s just a flesh wound.

We stop for fuel.  It’s all been going so well the last couple of days but here it’s a different story.  “I’m sorry sir.  It appears that you have not been keeping to your daily wait quota.  You cannot leave this petrol station until you’re average is up to the 2 hour minimum.  Now… if you would just like to wait over there… we will be with you …. sometime in the future.”  The guide said it would be bad here and he is right.  The fuel station not only has all the usual barriers/permits/kettle mallarky, it also has several on duty police outside and inside.  They have absolutely no idea what to do about us at all.  In Lhasa, as well as all the other stuff,  in order to get fuel they want to see Chinese driving licences and Chinese vehicle inspection and insurance cards.  They have little cameras that they take photos of the licences on before you can proceed.  We have all of the above and we hand it all over.  Still doesn’t work though.  Wait…wait… wait some more… what are we waiting for?  I’ve been waiting so long now I can’t remember.. The police cannot make their mind up.  They’re just staring at each other.  They want us to go somewhere else so they can get back to waiting on their own…  The riders are getting pissed off now.  Nothing is happening, and it doesn’t look likely to either.  Then suddenly it appears our waiting average has gone back up to the required amount and they just give the OK.  WTF!  There is no rhyme nor reason to it.  Bonkers.  2 hours after we arrive and the first kettle is getting filled.  Horah.

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Down into the city we go.  What a weird place it is too.  All squeezed in between the mountains.  The ride in is one I’ll remember forever, with the mountains like giant walls along the roadside.  We come round some buildings and suddenly we’re riding past the Potala Palace.  A really strange experience.  You see it on the screen and there it is, right in front of your eyes.  I didn’t think they would put a big set of traffic lights in front of it but that’s what they’ve done.  Jump off for a quick snap and we’re off to the hotel/doctors surgery.  Reception is half reception and half surgery.  So many people have altitude problems here that they have a proper 24 hour on-site doctor and medical staff.  Bloody hell.  One of the riders is feeling very very rough.  He checks in to the hotel, checks in with the doc, and next minute he’s on his back in his bedroom with a drip and an oxygen mask on…

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I miss Trevor…

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China to Tibet

This is the part where a million things can go wrong… Will the guide get here in time.  Will all the paperwork be in order..  Did I remember to put everyone on the list… that would be embarrassing…

This border isn’t the usual kind of thing.  There is just a big fuck off fence, some solid, big closed gates and a few guards. You can’t see anything the other side, just a road disappearing down  hill.   After about an hour I see our guide appear on the other side and I breath a sigh of relief.  Let the waiting begin…

Waiting is a Chinese national pastime… and the border guards all hold Phd’s in waiting techniques and execution.  They would be displaying their certificates, but they’re still waiting for them…

I have absolutely no idea why everything takes so long in China.  I think it has something to do with the fact that everyone is always waiting for someone else to make a decision, and that person is waiting for someone else to make a decision…  We get through the gates, which is a result, but it’s only stage 1 or the 1000 stage process for entry… It’s getting really cold now and starting to piss down.  Perfect waiting weather..

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Next stop is a semi-derelict building down the bottom of the hill.  The barriers are up.  It might be a lunch break.. we’ll have to wait and see… We have to stand out in the rain for an hour until people start popping out the building and move the barrier then takes the bikes up to be searched.  Don’t get the idea this is anything organised though.  You just dump luggage on a battered table outside in the rain and someone checks the zips and buckles work properly.  Open…close… “ok”.  Brilliant.. They’re always mob handed too.  Why have one person doing a job when it would take 15 times as long to have 30 people doing it. Bikes searched we spend another hour waiting for the other people to finish their lunch break.  Perhaps they only have a small canteen that can fit 2 people in and they have to do it in shifts.. that’ll be it…  In fact I think they just wanted to wait until the rain registered on their torrentialometer.  It’s gone off the top of the scale now so they stamp the paper, wave goodby and have another lunch break…

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Kashgar is quite a way from here, down through the mountains.  The road is a right shitter for miles and miles.  Long sections of shitty loose gravel which is always fun when it’s pissing down and you can’t see WTF you’re going.  Loads of pea shingle too which is my absolute favourite, especially on corners.  I wish all the worlds in the road were like this… NOT. It’s not particularly hard, I’m just fucking useless and it really pisses me off.  I’ve done many many thousands of miles on rough roads in all conditions from pitch dark to snow to 80mph cross winds and I’m still bloody useless at it.  Its a confidence thing.  I can get through pretty well anything but I find it flippin hard and scary.  Having said that, this Ktm is a whole lot easier to ride in this stuff than my old GSA ever was.  Maybe it can teach me..

Get to the customs post.  Looks busy… could be quite a wait…

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Looks like these officials failed their waiting exams.  We’re through pretty quick ..but… the guide tells me that a really big cheese from Beijing  has just been put in charge of the region’s Waiting and Piss Taking department.  As he’s new in post, he’s keen to impress… so the bikes are going to be impounded overnight and we’ll have to collect them from customs tomorrow.  Fetty wank.  So we ride the bikes up to the customs compound for inspection.  All they have to do is check the vin numbers.  That shouldn’t take them long… I’m almost tempted to wait..

Now, I’ll fully admit, if there was a worldwide competition for who was ‘quickest to judge’ every person they meet then I would win.  Hands down.  No question at all.  This bloke was special though.  There is little red sign tucked up in the corner of my brain somewhere behind a locked door.  I’m not even sure it works any more.  I can’t even remember the last time it illuminated..   I ride the bike in and take my helmet off.  I hear a voice behind me.  It’s speaking Chinese and I can’t even see the owner but the my brain butler has run to the little door, rushed in and turned the sign on.  In fact he is there quickly switching it on and off and on and off.  This has never happened to me before.  He has also sent his subordinates to raise all the hairs on my neck… He really has pushed out the boat out.  So, I turn around and see the source of the noise.  He’s a stumpy little bloke swaggering about surrounded by little human flies.  Like bluebottles round a cow pat.  My brain butler has reached epileptic levels of light switching now and it’s a blur…. And what does this sign say?  “C*NT!!!!!”.

Shit floats, and this little shit has floated to the top of his little pool and he’s bobbing about shoving it in everyone’s face.   You just know this is going to be trouble.  I have to keep away from him because my brain butler might take over my mouth and that would be bad at this point.  Some of the other riders are seeing the same thing I’m sure, but some are antagonising him.  Refusing to bend over and suck his toes.  Result is, that checking 9 Vin numbers is going to take too long today, it is after all, nearly 3rd lunchtime, and we’re going to have to wait… until tomorrow.  The guide calls a bus in from Kashgar and we ride the 30 miles into the city on 4 wheels.  Bastard…

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Next day we have to go to plan 放.  Ideally we would be heading to the vehicle inspection station to get the VINs checked (wait a minute….errr) and get the paperwork sorted but as the bikes are at the customs post, waiting to have their VINs checked, then we have to wait about until Little Chief stinky C*NT decides we can come and collect the bikes.  The guide is still waiting for the call…

China.  It’s a real wonder they get anywhere sometimes… So, in an effort to get just something, anything done we decide to do so some simultaneous waiting.. We go to get some Chinese sims for our phones as it’s by far the cheapest way for us to stay in touch out here.  7 sims…. oh, that’ll be 4 hours of your precious life please… bargain…   Thing is, you have to wait for 10 minutes every 15 minutes to let them go outside for a  dance…

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The clock ticks 1 second before the time that would mean we don’t have enough time to get to the vehicle inspection station today and the big red C light illuminates on the guide’s phone.  It’s God on the line and he says the bikes will be available at 2…

Get on a bus, all excited… yep… back on track.. all good… get to the customs station…. load the bikes…  get on the bikes… ride up to the barrier.. that red light is going to go green any second and we’re away…   Then the clouds part, a big bright ray of light beams down, and suddenly Big Chief C appears wearing a massive cheesy grin that would make the Pope want to take a pop at him.

It appears that they have’t checked the VINs yet….  Oh Jesus/Mohammed/Aizen-Myoo/Buddah/Donald Trump… please strike me down before I grab this little turd, debag him, bend him over, park my bike backwards up his arse and do a burn out…

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He waits…. we wait… he waits… we wait… he waits until he is absolutely sure that we have no chance of making it to the vehicle inspection station, then he wanders around for 10 minutes checking VINs with some other big cheese that had nothing better to do…

He’s going to open the barrier… he really is… I’m sure he is… hold on though… in one final act of defiance/giving us the finger, he only lets the bikes out in small groups… When I rule the world, this bloke is going to placed in a small metal box in a public square with just his bollocks hanging out.  By the box I will place a bat, some pliers, a lighter, a soldering iron, a big jar of red ants, some safety pins and a sign inviting people to come up with innovative applications of aforementioned items to this tossers testicles.. not that I’ve thought about this at all your understand…

It’s too late to get to the vehicle inspection station today now and so we’ll have to go to plan 警方.  Bollocksy boo.  We will have to stay another day in Kaskgar and miss out a day later somewhere.  But first we have to get some fuel.  That shouldn’t take long…. but wait… what’s this…

There is only 1 fuel station between Naryn and Kashgar, and it’s maybe 400km/250 miles.  When some of the riders passed the fuel station it was invisible/shut.  I carry some spare but not enough for everyone and we’re not going to all make it to Kashgar from here.  Getting fuel in this Xinjiang province is always difficult.  All the fuel stations have barriers across.  Even if you dodge the barriers the fuel pumps have to have a Chinese residents card presented to them before they will work. The pumps are all attended and on a bike they will only let you fill using 7Litre kettles.  It’s all about control.  This region is regarded as a renegade area and it seems they need to be kept under close control, including their movements.

I left my Chinese residency card back in the UK, my bad. None of the bikes are even being allowed onto the forecourts.  The guide is showing them all the permits and papers but they’re just not having it.  The guide has a local tourist police official with him but they’re not having that either.  It appears we fall into the 1% of situations their rules don’t cover.  The guide phones the local police…and we wait… After a considerable time, we all have to go up to the local police station and present our passports through a big gate, wait, then get letter signed that we take back to the fuel station.  We then have to slowly fill the bikes with the kettles… So 3 hours later, it’s getting late and we’re finally off into Kashgar on the bikes… thanks for waiting…

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Kashgar is a proper big city in the middle of absolutely nowhere.  After the isolation of Kyrgyzstan, a city like this is a full on experience.  Electric scooters are everywhere, sneaking up on you all the time and riding with complete abandon.  The language, the food, the signs, everything is foreign.  Excellent:)

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So now we’re a day behind and we just have to hope we can get the remaining paperwork done today so we can get the flock out of here.  We ride out in the morning sun to the vehicle inspection station.  We seem to be going all over the place,  down across dusty unmade roads, over lots of rough ground and generally seem to be avoiding all tarmac whenever possible.  We get to the vehicle inspection station and watch their morning dance.  They look more like a rag tag army of prisoners than anything else.  Employment is the name of the game though.  Just employ them, then tell them to wait to be told what to do…  I ask the guide about the route in.  It’s all because there are so many police checks on the route that we’d be all day getting across the city so, as usual, the army of ants just drive wherever they can to get where they want to go.

The station has to take rubbings.. yes really… of our VINs using special little white stickers.  Once that’s done these have to be taken up the road somewhere to another place where the have some special anti-rubbing technology that translates the rubbings back into characters on a piece of paper.   It all makes perfect sense to me.   So, only 5 hours and we can head back in to the city.  We’re all legal, and inspected, and VIN confirmed.  That should make the accident I’m about to have so much easier to sort out when the police/ambulance/undertaker arrives.

I’m doing 60mph down a long straight road.  There is a turning to my right that I’m not taking.. There is a car coming the other way about the same speed and he is indicating.. which is a shock in itself out here.. that he is going to turn left into the turning.  “OK, he looks like he’s slowing down a bit… all good”.  So I maintain 60 and approach…the end of my life..  As I get close to the junction, the driver decides he doesn’t have time to wait, so he puts his foot down and without slowing down, he just turns right across the front of me.  So now I’ve got a 100mph head on staring me in the face.  There is a car behind him so I can’t go round.  Brakes are the only choice.  Full on, headlight diving on to the road, brain pressed all the way to the front of my skull and my eyes popped out my head and pressing hard against my visor… he makes it across just a whisker before I slither past his tail.  It’s all over in a couple of bowel loosening seconds and he’s away into the distance.  Me, I’ve only got very sore eyes and a skidmark in my pants to show for the experience.  I very much doubt this will be the last time this happens out here.  Welcome to China..

Next day, we’re up early and ready to go.  We head out of the city.  There isn’t much of anything outside town so we all need to get fuel.  You’d think it would be easier inside the city.. you would though wouldn’t you?  Are you fucking stupid!!  Of course it isn’t.  It’s just as much of a head fuck as it is in the whole bloody region.  Get to a big fuel station.  Get to the barrier.  No.  Get the guide.  No.  Show the paperwork.  No.  Wait.. yes.  It’s flippin unbelievable.   The guide phones  a police station, then I follow him miles across the city to visit it in person.  We go in, get shunted from one room to another then eventually get delivered to a room with a huge piece of cheese on the door.  The top man’s den.  He’s there, only visible from the neck down as he’s simultaneously smoking at least a dozen cigarettes, drinking coffee and having his toes sucked by new recruits.  One of his bitches places our piece of paper in front of him and a hand appears out of the cloud to scribble an unintelligible signature than I could have done myself, then we’re gone and back to the fuel station.  I think the riders are getting used to waiting already, and that can only be a good thing.  They’ve all just switched themselves off.  All like little robots that didn’t use Duracell and have run out of battery.  I go round and jump start them all, get to the pumps and we all fuel up and ride off out into the unknown.

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The riding is pretty easy out towards Hotan.  I’m hoping the riders are using it as an acclimatisation day.  I’ve warned everyone about the standard of driving out here but there is no substitute for experience.  I think that China is the most consistently dangerous country that I’ve ever ridden in.  They seem to have to concern for human life at all.  There are lots of places where the riding is very difficult and dangerous, and I have ridden many miles in a lot of them, but China is outstanding in it’s complete and utter road madness.  Don’t take my word for it.  “Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough “as the saying goes:)

We get towards Hotan and we meet up with the guide to get more fuel.  We’re following him in and the road madness is really beginning.  We’re overtaken by a 40ft truck.  We’re in the outside lane of an open dual carriageway and he is now in the fast lane of the opposite carriageway.  The bloke is absolutely mad and there is traffic diving off in all directions to get out of his way.  There is nowhere for him to pull back in so he’s getting faster and faster, making it ever more dangerous.  I advised the riders to just pull out of things like this, just pull back and make a gap and keep us all alive but I’m not sure they heard me.  One decides to play with the truck and block his route back in.  Fuck me!  This is going to end very badly very soon.  The truck is torn between just swatting the rider like a small fly, or keeping his foot down and speeding up past more traffic.  You see his smoke stacks light up with a big belch of black soot as he goes for the pass.  He’s been in the opposite carriageway for 30 seconds or more and he’s really moving now.  It’s chaos on the other side as this bloody thing hurtles down the road and anything in the way is going to be toast.  Just in time he veers back in and avoids a huge stacking into another truck and we all live to see another day/accident.  You see this stuff in India, at about 20mph.  Out here it’s all first world vehicles and roads, and it’s first world speeds.  It’s just another level of madness.

Get to the fuel stop and I loose the plot.  I know I shouldn’t.  I just can’t help myself.  The bloke who blocked the truck is a really nice fella, and he’s my room mate too.  I’m just so pumped up at seeing such a close accident that I can’t help myself.  This could have all ended in a big pile of bones and blood.  He’s not happy about being mauled and I understand that.  I’ve just never been so convinced we were all going down in swarm of bent metal and screams.  Rant over, and we approach the barrier.  No.  “Oh fuck off, this is not happening again…” Someone comes over and releases my special external blood pressure valve and as the fluid jets from my veins, I calm down and convince myself that I must…just….wait…. I look around and the others see the same.  They’ve all shut down again.  The world has stopped…  The guide speaks to someone that phones someone that asks someone and eventually we go to get fuel.  One by one.  Only one bike allowed in the station at once.. served in between the line of locals… 9 bikes.  3 hours..

So now it’s dark.  The crazyometer goes way up after dark.  They think if you can’t see their faces then it’s OK to do things that they would never even think of doing in daylight.  I wouldn’t think that was a very big list of things to be honest, but it really is.

I fitted a big fuck off sound bomb horn to the Ktm before I came out, and tonight I might as well tape the horn button down.  I stay at the back as a defensive outrider, trying to fend off all the fucking maniacs that think a car can fit into a 6 inch gap between 2 bikes. I use the bike as a weapon, that’s the only way.  I veer towards the drivers windows, horn full on, hands out balled as fists.  I ride across them, block them, brake in front of them, anything to try and keep the riders in front of me as safe as possible. I quite enjoy it to be fair, but it’s full on dangerous and occasionally you get drivers that are absolutely not going to back off regardless.  They’ll actually touch you and you’ll feel a nudge as you’re riding.  Then it’s time to just move over or die.

We get to the hotel with the sound of the sound bomb still ringing in our ears.  It’s very late and so dinner is a grab and go from a greasy fast food place round the corner.  God knows what the food is coated in though.  It reckon its the same stuff they coat condoms with.  You put in in your mouth and it just slides down your throat like a slug of slippery flem.  Disgusting…

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We’re off to start our journey across the Taklamakan desert today.  It’s pretty big.  It’s about the size of Germany.  It’s going to be a few dull days where if you don’t like sand, you’re going to get pretty bored.

Crossing a desert always sounds exciting and scary and an adventure but in truth there is a long dull road straight through it.

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The road is punctuated by small towns where people take advantage of the sun to dry their nuts.

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Some of the towns are just the same sorts of strips you’ll see in the USA, or maybe would have seen 200 years ago.  Run down holes selling/making/mending whatever.  People has split up today to see how we get on getting fuel in smaller numbers.  2 of us pull in to a station, ride right round the barrier and park with all the little bikes.  A bit of laughing and joking and picture taking and one of the men uses his residents card to let us have fuel.  See, they’re all renegades out here at heart.

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Pull away from the fuel stop and immediately see the aftermath of a big, lorry based accident.  Fuel, blood, glass everywhere.  I hope the others take a note.

We’re off down a dual carriageway again but this one has barriers both sides and in the middle.  We’ve got to be safe here right?  Nobody can pull out on us, nobody can get in our lanes, nobody except the women.. with the carpets..

We seem to have hit upon China’s carpet capital by mistake.  There are women everywhere rushing too and from the sides of the road to the central reservation carrying small carpets/rugs. They’re using the central reservation as a sort of clothes line to drape the carpets over to dry.  Of course they are.

Get to Minfeng and quite a nice hotel amongst the ruins of a town.  Take a quick look round to see if I can get a haircut.  Nobody wants to know.  All the shops look exactly the same from the outside, you’ve no chance of identifying anything so I walk back to the hotel disappointed, my hair dragging along the pavement behind me.

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As we leave Minfeng, the desert proper starts to appear.  Little or nothing of anything for long distances.  Fuel stations every so often but not much else.  Getting fuel is usually fine out here.  The further you’re away from the authorities the less people worry.  Still usually have to fill up with kettles but that’s no big deal really.

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I’m riding alone at the back today.  Acting sweeper.  I pull over for something to eat at a stall by the side of the road.  It’s a popular place.  All the local flies eat here.  No choice though, there is nothing else about and this is the first place with human life in I’ve seen since leaving town so I park, get in the shade and ask a pretty young lady to chuck something together for me.     She chops and frys and pours some slithering concoction on to a plate for me and I chat to the randoms all sitting around slurping their noodles.  They’re really excited to see a UK passport with the stamps in.  They’re all friendly and nice and just passing the time.  Lunch over I get back on the bike, turn the key, and watch… a red light starts flashing, the engine light comes on, and the starter button is dead.  Fuck. Do it again.  Same thing.  And again.  And again.  Brilliant. My bike is dead in the middle of the bloody desert.  I dick about changing settings, in/out of gear, clutch in/out, nothing.  I roll the bike about a bit in/out of gear.  Put it on the centre stand.  Then suddenly it’s all ok again.  It starts up.  WTF was that all about?  That’s really not funny.  Seriously.

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Ride the bike to Charkilik trying to figure out what just happened.  The bike is running fine now.  Starts every time I try it.  Why did it do that?  That’s twice the electrics have gone mental on me now.  If I could swap a year of my life in return for my old GSA to be under my arse right now I’d do it.  Some bloody spotty twat in Austria has probably put a bug in the software somewhere that’s giving me all this pain and grief out in the Chinese desert.  He’s probably playing Call of Duty and doesn’t have a care in the world.  When I rule the world, I’ll make him play call of duty 3D, in Kabul, draped in a USA flag and with only a water pistol.   These bloody things aren’t proper adventure bikes.  They’re like fucking motorcycle supermodels.  Fantastic to ride when they’re in the mood but prone to spit the dummy at the smallest provocation.  Bitch.  This is really going to haunt me now.

Make it to Charkilik without any more problems and take a walk around another faceless Chinese town.  We go out to look for dinner.  One of the blokes heads out to do a recce with the guide.  They have a couple of places the hotel has recommended.   The first place is closed. The 2nd place is currently on fire, with everyone standing outside watching the flames.  Greasy snot lubricated chicken it is then.0819

I go for a massage through a small dark door in town.  This woman knows what she’s doing and she’s got hands that could squeeze blood out of a.. well.. anything she put her hand around..   She’s also got another agenda in her mind and starts doing some fexting with me.   It’s like sexting, but just using fingers.  I’m sure you get the drift.  She’s looking to make a few extra quid on the side..or on her back.. or with her bum in the air…

Back to the hotel in the dark with my mind just going round and round.  I need to start learning K’tmish and have a word with The Bitch.  Find out what the hell she’s so bloody upset about.  I just need to translate “Just exactly what is your fucking problem?” and then take it from there.  Maybe I should buy her some bloody flowers or something.

Heading out of town again and through more desert today.  These places are properly isolated.  100s of miles of sweet FA between them.  They’re still building shed loads of new housing though.  Who on earth would want to come and live in a place like this.  I come across some roadworks.  They’re fixing the cracks and holes in the road, which is good.  They’re fixing them by pouring molten tar from kettles into the holes… which is probably not so good.

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The desert today is even more deserted than the last couple of days have been.  There is just bugger all out here.  Just nothing.

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A petrol station appears like a mirage.  Just the station.  Nothing else in sight.  Go in, get sent straight out.  I’ve got to fuel up off the forecourt.  It would be really bad if there was a fire or explosions out here obviously.  Millions of… pieces of sand might get injured.  Ridiculous. I put in a couple of kettles, turn the key, and it’s dead again.  Fuck this.  Another 5 minutes of playing, praying, and promising my soul to the devil and it decides to start again.  Shit.  I just do not need this.  I’m wondering what the world record for leaving a motorcycle ticking over is.  If I start now, then I reckon a month should do it.  Wanker.  Immobilisers have absolutely no place on these bikes.  Tit wank!

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The bike is fine when it’s running.  Absolutely no problem at all.  Ride to the outskirts of the town where we’re staying and see the others parked by the roadside, eating and resting from the heat.  Before I know what I’ve done I turn the bike off.  Shiiiiiiiit.  So I restart it.  No problem.  OK.  It’s fine again.  Turn it off and go for some food.  Come out, turn the key, dead again.  This time it takes about 15 minutes before it starts again.  This is doing my bloody hear in.  There is absolutely nothing you can do about this without the Ktm mother ship.  You’re absolutely screwed.

Get to the hotel and get on the web.  It’s certainly not a common fault, which is really helpful of course.  People suggest the side stand switch but that’s not going to make the engine light come on.  I know it’s the immobiliser.  I thought today it could be the key so I dig the spare out of the bottom of the pannier and try that.  The bike starts but that’s no guarantee of anything.

Go out for dinner but I’m not hungry.  I can’t sleep and spend a couple of hours just wandering around the city in the dark.  I come to a load of shops but you have to go through a police turnstyle to get in.  50% of the shops are still open, even though its nearly midnight. I find a hairdresser and let 2 women get at me with some clippers.  That’s a weight of my mind anyway:)

Next day we’re heading out of Xinjiang province which will make life a little bit easier.  You might even be able to fill the bike up at a pump.  You never know your luck!  We’re at the edge of the desert now thank God and suddenly a moonscape just appears out of nowhere.  After all the boredom of the last few days, it’s so refreshing to have something for your eyes to do.

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0835I guess this is the start of the big fellas we’ll be meeting in a few days.   We spend a fantastic hour swerving through the curves before popping out into some sort of mountain assembly zone.  You just can’t see the scale of these places from the pictures.  It’s just a massive massive plain with baby mountains being born in it.  A mountain nursery.  The rocks are all being slowly folded and pushed together in a production line that runs from one horizon to the other.  It’s one of those believe it or not views.  It’s amazing.

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The border between the Xinjiang and Qinghai provinces is up in the mountains.  The scale is such that you just don’t think about it.  We’re at maybe 3000m here but it’s flat to the horizon in all directions.  Get to the border and … I’ll give you three guesses… but if you use more than one then you’ve not been listening.

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There are petrol stations just over the border and we go to the pumps to fill up.  Just to treat ourselves.  I nearly go full out and buy myself a My Little Pony helicopter.  Just what you need out here in the middle of fucking nowhere.

0876 Bloody cold up here with a piercingly bright sun.  Ride up to Huatugou to for the night.  Looks like a military town.  The traffic is 90%  Chummers (Chinese Hummers!)  going round and round and round in circles. Get to the hotel, off the bike and my eyes are immediately drawn to 2 partially dressed young women that look like they’ve just coming off shift at an ‘army personnel servicing  facility’.  I’m hypnotised by their hips and I run across a road trying to get a picture, oblivious to the oncoming Chummers and traffic hooting and standing on the brakes.  I just can’t help it… I’m in some sort of spell… help me… I have the perfect shot all framed, press the button… “Out of storage..”  Buggering bum flaps.  By the time I’ve sorted that out they’re out of sight and I’m standing in the middle of the road in a puddle of dribble.

A couple of us go in search of somewhere to change our oil.  We just ride about in ever increasing circles until we find a bike garage/scrap yard.  We bought some oil in the city a few days ago but these boys just have an official oil recycling facility/big hole round the back where they can dispose of the oil in a responsible/nobody will know fashion.  We just park up amonst the mess and they run about helping.  Not a word is said.  Exchange a few quid for a toothless smile and a handshake and we’re on our way.

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We’ve been working to unofficial Kashgar time for the last week or so but now we’ve got to bite the bullet and go to Beijing time which means we’ve lost another 2 hours.  It’s late and the only food is at a hotel round the corner.  The kitchen is closing and we just manage to get a few random dishes out to the table.  Luckily for me they still had some chicken heads left.  Oh yes… luuuuurvery

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Across the road from the hotel is a comfy looking bar.    It looks just so wrong.  WTF is someone doing opening a comfy modern bar in the middle of this shit hole.  Perhaps it’s not real.  Perhaps it’s a honey trap to test the resolve of the locals.  Who cares.  We go in, fall into a comfy leather couch in the warm and order coffee.  Beautiful beautiful coffee.  And only £1000 a cup.  The owner is a young Chinese man who speaks perfect english.  It’s like China stops at the front door.  It’s just odd.  We sit for an hour and chat, watching the Chummers  as they roll past testing their flashing blue lights.  It’s quite intimidating.  They know we’re in here and eventually they can’t resist it any longer.  They stop and get out and come in.  “Just be cool” is the advice from the owner.  A few minutes of negotiation and fast Chinese and they’re gone into the night.  We take it as our signal to leave and we skulk back through the cold and dark to bed.

Next morning it’s out into the cold bright morning.  Spend the day fighting freezing cold, rain, sandstorms and polished road surfaces to Gulmid.

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A faceless hotel in a faceless city.  We go out and get a last good meal down us.  Tomorrow we take a deep breath and head for the sky.  Tibet.  I can’t wait.

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Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan

I’ve never been to Uzbekistan.  I know it’s one of the most common holiday destinations on the planet but somehow I’ve managed to avoid it, until today.

I want to visit Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan but their road system is such that there is only one good road that runs north to south through Kyrgyzstan to Osh, and no good roads that run east to west.  Rather than enter at the north then ride all the way down and then back up again we’ll spend a few days in Uzbekistan and enter Kyrgyzstan in the south and ride up from there.

I’m not happy to take people somewhere I have never been so I’ve organised a guide to meet us on the other side and take us through.  That should make life simpler…maybe.

There are shed loads of border crossings between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and I’m not meeting the guide at the first border crossing I try.  So why did I try it… because I’m an idiot… and I love sitting round being mobbed by hawkers, money changers and the great unwashed as I look at a pair of locked gates and speak to the guide at the next border down the road… twat.. Get to the next, correct, border a few miles down the road.  It’s closed to all but Uzbek and Kyrgy foot passengers… Get on the phone, speak to the guide, and hand the phone to the guard for a chat.

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The guide is just over the fence but hasn’t noted the complete absence of any vehicles crossing… excellent… this is going perfectly.  Today we’re headed for Tashkent.  I can smell it from where I’m standing. I can very very nearly touch it… but.. the only border open that will allow foreign vehicles to cross today is 60 miles west at Yalama.  The guide tells us to head there and he’ll drive down to meet us in a couple of hours.

I’ve heard all sorts of horror stories about being crossing into Uzbekistan.  There is a big old list of drugs that you can’t bring in for a start.  Bob and Carrie are carrying a bag of random health tablets big enough to open a new branch of Holland & Barrett.  That could be a problem.  Money can be a problem too.  It all has to be itemised on entry and exit and can be confiscated if you’re unlucky/dishonest about it.  We shared out  the cash last night out to minimise that risk.

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Uzbekistan is also not a big fan of alcohol.  One of the riders is trying to smuggle about 3 bottles of whisky through, in his skin.  It’s mad hot and he’s sweating it out, he’s smelling like a ram raid accident in an off-licence. It doesn’t go un-noticed and as soon as we get through the border three of the riders are pulled aside for breath tests. As soon as they walk towards our rider, Mr Al Cohol, the breathalyzer immediately starts flashing, vibrating and wailing like a rape alarm.  That’s enough for them and they take him away for a chat in a private room.  Option 1 is they get a doctor, do a test, take him to the police station and generally drop a massive turd in his plans.  Option 2 is they bend him over and extract 100USD from his anal cashpoint.

Cash dispensed and it’s off for insurance at a little alley hidden amongst a long line of trucks.

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We follow the guide to Tashkent through the mad Uzbek traffic.  Maybe this is a favourite holiday destination for Russians.  This lot are just as fucking crazy for sure.  If you’re prepared to ride like a complete and utter twat and  ignore all the road signs, traffic lights and speed limits then following a car through a city on a bike shouldn’t really be a problem.  We all decided to put our brains in the panniers at the border and we’re ‘riding like we stole it’ but we’re still having problems keeping the guide in sight.  The problem is the taxis.  Every car is a potential taxi in Tashkent.  If anyone sticks their hand out then 6 lanes of traffic immediately veer towards them and jump on the brakes to try and get the ride.  It’s an Uber friendly system but means you’re constantly being attacked by people cutting across you then jumping on the brakes. I really enjoy it though:)

We all make it to the hotel in one piece and try to change some money.  They ATMs only give out dollars.  I wonder why that is, until I go to the exchange in the hotel.  The exchange is a little room with a glass panel, as usual.  Behind the panel are three people.  One to do the paperwork, one to hold a sack, and another to shovel money from a massive pile in the corner.  I think the exchange rate looks to be about 1cm to the pound.

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Take a walk out to dinner down by the river.  Eat some unidentifiable meat, drink some stuff that looks like a urine sample provided by superman, and get a bill bigger than buying a house…

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We all hand over a couple of cm’s each and they bring a small cart for me to put the cash in.

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Uzbekistan is quite a big country and it’s full of stuff I’d love to see but that’s all west of here and we’re going east.  Next time maybe…  Today we’re just off to Kokand and it turns out to mostly be a tour of Uzbekistans many and varied police check points.  Blokes in big hats, all armed with fully loaded ballpoints, and they’re not afraid to use them… Having said that, Uzbekistan has a border with Afganistan so maybe it’s not such a bad idea to check.  Saw a sign to Kabul today too which I wasn’t expecting.

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The closer you get to Kyrgyzstan, the more the landscape begins to rock and roll.  Out into the beautiful Fergana valley and get some welcome relief from the heat in the cool of the mountains.

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Whenever there is a guide involved, then there are the obligatory places they want to steer you towards for a visit/rest/kickback. In Kokand we go to see Palace of Khudáyár Khán.  Turns out to be quite an interesting place for a change.  Kokand sits directly on one of the ancient silk roads and the whole place has lots of interesting history.  Uzbekistan is an asian crossroads and as a result is a real melting pot of peoples from around the world.  The guide is a 4ft dark haired woman that I wouldn’t necessarily of thought was Asian, she looks more south American to me.  She says her husband is 6ft and has red hair.  I really surprised she admitted that…

Take a look round the cool dark rooms of the palace in the afternoon heat.  Every room has a woman in the corner, just sitting quietly in the shadows, passing the time. Living a simple life.  Probably bored out her mind…

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I try really really hard to avoid confrontation on the road and advise all the other riders to do likewise.  It’s never worth it, and you’re always going to loose… but the little bastards out here are so absolutely fucking mental that I’ve caught an incurably bad case of ride rage.   I constantly find myself threatening to ‘re-educate’/smash their bloody faces in as I find myself with a wing mirror in my face yet again as someone just pulls into the side of me.   The little wankers just think its funny.  Just like I think tying their cocks to my chain and running it through the sprockets a few times would be absolutely hilarious.   Fuckers.  I later hear stories of bikers that have been pulled off their bikes here and beaten by the side of the road when they’ve threatened the drivers like that.  That’s the advantage we have of riding as a swarm though.

Get to the accommodation and go looking for dinner in the dark.  Mention beer at any restaurant here and people start whispering and looking at each other wondering if they should call the alcohol police so we save them the trouble and head back to the hotel where the police beer radar is apparently broken.

Next morning we’re heading for the border with Kyrgyzstan, but not before we can use up 2 buckets of biro ink at the police checks, and visit a silk factory.  Watch the women boiling the silk worm chrysalises then untangle them and spin the silk onto shuttles. They make all sorts here. Carpets, fabrics, scarfs, all sorts.  Some manually and some using rooms full of old soviet looms, formally used to make Russian parachutes.  0421 0423 0425 0426 0427 0433

Getting out of Uzbekistan is surprisingly easy.  Just mental hot and time consuming.  You just have to make sure you always always know where your rag is… you really don’t want to loose it here.  Let them poke, prod, piss about and waste your life till their heart’s content.  Smile through the pain and only speak when you’re spoken to. It’s the quickest way..  I’m glad we’re in a group though.  I can imagine that coming through alone would be a completely different experience.

Kyrgyzstan should be easy and quick.  There is nobody else at the border.  Surely it’s going to be simples.  I’ve been through the northern borders and it was easy and straightforward.  Nothing is ever simple though.  Russia and Kazakhstan share a common customs treaty thing.  You go through customs entering Russia and existing Kazakhstan.  They’re trying to extend the agreement to include Kyrgyzstan but this border hasn’t got the computer system working properly so they’ve had to get the old border officials out their storage boxes, dust them off, plug them in and get the paperwork done the old way.  These blokes seem to have been in storage for years and really need a good oiling.  They’re creaking away every time their old limbs move and little bits and pieces keep falling off them.  Sometimes they just stop completely still for minutes at a time, stamp poised tantalisingly above your form, before suddenly bringing it down with a bang that sends shudders though the portacabin.

Paperwork done it’s a quick skip into Osh to the hotel… in theory.  Combine a GPS coordinate that sends you down a track knee deep in pea gravel to end up at someone’s washing line together with 2 hotels that have the same name and you have a fraught hour fighting hot traffic across town to ‘Ahh you want Sunrise 1…. this is Sunrise 2..” and back across town to find the hotel hidden down an alley about 300 yards from where you first started…

Luckily the hotel has a special little beer wash in reception for just this situation.  It’s a machine just like a human sized car wash but it uses cold beer instead of soapy water.  Walk a pissed off, tired hot and sweaty biker through the machine and they come out the other side completely cool and relaxed with a big stupid grin on their face.  Result!

Day off in Osh to take a look about.  It’s just an average grotty low rise city unless you want to take advantage of the surrounding mountains.  I think you cam trek to 7000m somewhere round here.  Bugger that for a laugh!

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Just a wander about and watch the people watching me.  Not many foreign faces round here though I get their fare share of tourists.  Go down to the market to get some local spices and stuff.    Whenever I do one of these long journeys I collect all sorts of things with different colours and textures.  Plants, rocks, sand, earth, spices, flowers, whatever, and when I get back I make up bottles for the kids with all the layers of the journey in.

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Osh market is the usual warren of sleepy stalls, 90% of which are selling the exact same thing.  Christ knows how they all survive.   There is a 200 year old woman cowering in a corner. She’s got more wrinkles than an elderly sharpei dog and she’s trying to make a penny selling little paper parcels of… something… could be dog shit for all I know.. Who cares.  I buy a couple just to make myself feel better.  Soon as I’m out of site she probably whips off the prosthetic mask and sprints off to the local off-licence for some gin.

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Go out in the evening for a game of pavement jenga then eat at a restaurant with small huts nestled amongst the trees.  We play poolet with the rotating table.  Put the plates of food down, spin the table, eat what stops in front of you.  Also known as spin the pottie.

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Next morning, one of the riders has lost.  Real bad.   He’s lost his shirt, his socks, his pants and everything else within splattering distance.  Over the last week he really been gambling with his guts.  He was really on a roll.  Now he’s on a bog roll.   Poor fella looks near death.  He gets on the bike and rides though.  I’m just going to have to remember not to ride to close behind him today..

We decide to get petrol at a forecourt on a 1 in 1 slope.  The sound of a high revving engine and exploding plastic signals a rider down.  Another scar to add to the list. Head out into the lush green countryside, stopping often to let the sickly rider let off brown steam in the salubrious roadside services…

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This road north through Kyrgyzstan is a real beauty.  Threading through the mountains and the lakes on its way to Toktogul.

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We start to climb and enjoy ourselves getting lost in every bikers favourite man versus machine versus mountain road game.  It’s sunny warm and dry and our tyres are getting tired out with all the fun.  Come round a corner and there is a queue of traffic at a standstill. Filter for a few miles with the parked traffic getting tighter and tighter until we get to the front and see the problem.  Looks like someone has lost the man/machine/mountain game.  A fuel tanker is lying on its side with a fractured tank.  Petrol and diesel is pouring out across the road and cascading in a big stinky waterfall into the pristine blue lake below. There is a huge stain spreading through the water below and the police have closed the road.  There is miles of traffic stopped in both directions and we’re miles from anywhere.  I can’t imagine any recovery vehicle will get through any time soon.

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I suddenly hear a huge rumble from somewhere.  WTF?  I look up and around to see if stuff is coming down the mountains or something.  An Earthquake maybe?  There is goes again.  It’s coming from the right somewhere….  Over there.. somewhere in those people.. Where is it coming from? I wander over towards the noise… look in the crowd… it’s coming from my rider! He’s lying on the ground in the shade, surrounded by 100s of people wondering how a human can possibly make that much noise without the aid of a huge array of speakers and amplifiers.  He looks like death.  He’s a nasty shade of grey and I wonder if I should ask him how he would like to be buried.  A local is trying to shove vodka down him telling him it will make him feel much better.  I think a medivac is the only thing that will make this boy feel better.  There is a proper thunder storm going on in his insides…. make that a chunder storm… The exorcist has got nothing on this boy.  He is like a bottle of coke that’s been dropped from 100ft then opened.   The crowd is beginning to suspect worse is to come and starts running  for cover in every direction.  Hands over their ears.  They’re grabbing small screaming children and the elderly and fleeing the storm, diving behind barriers hiding behind cars and trucks, I think I even see some people on their knees starting to pray.  There is a massive boom as his guts let off the final spectacular firework of the display.  It’s too much for his mouth to deal with and it inevitably heads for the next nearest exit..  At this point, he has absolutely no shame, and absolutely no options.  He has to clear the path otherwise he is going to be boiled alive in his own lava hot shit.  Trousers down..  parents cover the kids eyes, and make sure their mouths are closed.   KERRRRRRRBUUUM. Out it all comes in a massive thunder crap.  He’s hovering 10ft off the ground supported on the thrust from a bum jet of screaming shit.  I’m always really impressed the power that the human body is capable of.   Eventually the thrust subsides and he performs a perfect gentle landing.  There isn’t a toilet on earth that could have dealt with that.  I think it was lucky he was out here in the open rather than a confined area.  God knows what would have happened in a small cubical.  As the noise subsidies, people slowly come out of their hiding places, just feeling lucky to be alive.  He’s got to feel better after that…  This bloke is indestructible.  He’s like Captain Scarlet.  He’s on his feet and ready to ride…  amazing.

The police realise that they might not get so lucky if he explodes again so they decide to just quickly sweep a load of rocks and dust from the mountain over the flow of fuel and then just open the road.  Can you imagine that anywhere else?  So we all pick our way carefully through the slippery stream and rocks and out to the other side to freedom.  There’s no traffic but it’s getting late now and we’re racing the sun to the horizon again.

However old you get, there are moments in your life where you see things that your eyes cannot work out and your brain just cannot believe are true, and it suddenly happens as we start to descend towards Tokogul lake.   I can’t remember the exact moment it happened but some weird vision just took over my consciousness.  It was one of the strangest experiences I’ve had for a long time.  One minute we’re coming down a hill, and the next moment by brain is completely and utterly 110% occupied with the view in front of me.   It’s like staring at one of those 3d picture books where your brain is going in and out of focus trying to work out WTF is going on.   A picture on a page will never do justice to the picture I still have in my brain.  Mountains and lake, sun and clouds, a wonderful watercolour evolving before my eyes.  It’s like some sort of etherial vision appearing.  It’s just amazing… like a dream… with police in it… Police? What’s that all about?

The bastards in blue are waiting at the bottom of the hill with their hand held one arm bandit.  It’s just come up with 7 oranges and the bloke thinks he’s hit the jackpot.  We’ve all been hypnotised by the view and we’ve all run straight through the trap.

I go over for a chat and the usual police bribe auction begins.  He starts the bidding at about $40 each for all 7 bikes.  Bollocks mate.  Show me a picture.  His trigger finger must have slipped in the excitement of his catch and he only has a couple on the gun.  OK – $20 for the first 2… He’s not happy with that.. so I go for $20 for the first 3…  He’s still not happy… but he can hear the sound of lots more money approaching as all the traffic that was stopped in the accident is catching up and will soon be heading down the hill and into his trap/pocket.  I’m standing with my arms crossed, no wallet out, no hurry… He blinks first and motions to just put the money under a book on the bonnet of the car…

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We try to take some pictures of the view.  Those are proper big hills over the other side, and the lake is massively wide too.  My brain is hurting working out the scales and distances so we just get on with it,  ride straight into the setting sun and a mattress on a floor at a home stay in the village.

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Captain Scarlet looks a lot better now and I can safely get within 20 ft of him now he’s showered.  All fill up on a lovely dinner of Plov from the outside kitchen before heading for bed.
rob15Kyrgyzstan is such a beautiful country.  It’s largely just empty and your’s to go and play in.  So we go and play…

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Out of Toktogul and take the one road north up towards Bishkek.   PC Twat has decided he wants to do some more wallet raping and catches us again as we climb into the mountains out of town.  You’d think we’d see these bloody traps and often we do but they still get us.  You could slow to walking pace and they’d still pull you over.  There are no posted limits anywhere… “Jeeeeeesus.  What’s the bloody speed limit?”  “Sorry sir, it’s 10km less than you were travelling”.  Of course it is….

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We’ve just started regarding them as road tolls rather than fines.  So with that in mind we just think fuck it, let’s just enjoy ourselves.  The fines are the same regardless of how fast you’re going anyway.  Up we go into the mountains.  This ride is one of the most beautiful I know.  Cold and bright and fast.  Big open bends with a good surface. Views to die for… if you’re not careful.   No barriers but hey, you can’t have everything.  The chase is on….


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Chasing across the mountains, big smiles on our faces, bikes all singing and dancing their way north.  Life is good on days like this.  Get towards the high plains and the Kyrgys seem to have introduced a few speed limiting measures since I was here last.  Tank traps.  The road is flat, open and fast but every few miles there are big big holes in the road.  They’re usually about 10ft long and maybe a foot deep. They’re perfectly rectangular and man made.  They’re fucking deadly and going into one would certainly be a one way trip.   No warnings, no signs, no barriers.  I guess they’ll be back to fill them in later maybe…  gives me an idea though.  Biker burials.. Perhaps I could offer a service whereby bikers can be buried in their favourite roads.  I’ll speak to the local council.  It could be combined with their pot hole mending and would save them a fortune.  You could have a little plaque and everything…

Up we go again.  Another 3300m pass.  Up and up, through a tunnel at the top then out to yet another ‘fuck me’ view.  God this place is beautiful

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I’m using this trip to conduct a scientific experiment to see exactly how much pleasure a biker can have before they get bored.  Exactly how high is the average biker pleasure threshold?  I’m beginning to think it’s infinite…

Get on towards Bishkek and it’s the usual chaos with tightly knitted traffic and soaring temperatures.  It’s some sort of national holiday celebration tomorrow so the centre of the city is all being closed off. The city roads are narrow and tight. Filtering is tight and dangerous but 100% necessary. It’s here I find out exactly why you need balls of steel to ride a Ktm.  If they weren’t made of steel, they would have been cooked, removed, and put in a can of Heinz beans and meatballs by now.  Sitting in traffic on the Ktm is like sitting astride a barbecue.  Jesus by bollocks are on fire.  I had to piss myself 3 times just to douse the fire and relieve the pain.

One night on the floor of a basic home stay, next night a modern hotel with the comfiest beds in the world.  Yin and yang. Light and shade. Gotta have it.

Next day we’ve all got stuff to do to the bikes.  Oil and tyre changes need to be done.  A quick worship at the God of Google and we get a lat long for place in a ‘container city’ outside town run by Dima and Olga.  It’s right across town and the place is gridlocked.  All the main roads are closed and we spend a fractious hour crawling through the melee to the post apocalyptic area that is ‘container city’.  Rows and rows of old containers, many selling all sorts of crap and others offering millions  of other sorts of services.  You really have to know where to look in these places else you would waste hours.. We find Dima amongst the mess, just like a motorbike oasis.

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We all load up with oil, replacement nuts and bolts, chain lube. gloves, indicators from a 1940 Ural… well why not… and numerous other bits and pieces from her little Aladin’s cave.  There is nobody in the vicinity that can change bike tyres so she rings ‘the best bike mechanic in Bishkek’  and gives some directions back across town.

We’re all wandering about getting ready to leave and we hear a big noise somewhere close by.  It can’t be Captain Scarlet, he’s standing right next to me… It sounds like a big crash or something big falling down.. don’t know what that was.. Anyway, Tony and I head off across the city to try and find the mechanic.  It’s difficult not to think in ‘western’ terms when you’re doing this.  I’m going to be looking for a garage of some sort aren’t I?  With bikes in or around it probably.  The smell of oil in the air.  It’s going to be obvious surely.  Not.  We get to the place.  Its just a very shabby residential place.  Not a fucking thing in site that looks likely to fix bikes. We’re going down narrow rough roads round housing estates, looking through gates, going down paths.  Nothing.  We find a row of lock up garages.  There are a few people about but nobody knows anything about bikes.  We’ve been looking for ages when we just come across a 4×4 coming in the other direction that flashes his lights and points.  We follow him back to the lockups we were at earlier and he stops at the garage right next door to some bloke we asked just a few minutes ago!  Perhaps he thought we were going to rob the place or something.   Anyway,  he opens the garage, rolls out an old Africa Twin out the way and gets on with changing the tyres.  We could easily be doing this ourselves really.  Tony is just changing his tyres early.  It’s mental hot and if we can get someone to do it then why not.    Still, keeps the local economy going I guess.

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As we wait, a some British registered, Japanese imported weird looking 4×4 people carrier arrives with a Russian bike tour bloke at the wheel.  He’s come to speak to the mechanic.  He runs bike tours in Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan.  He’s thinking of running tours with the 12 Urals he has in Bishkek. “Impossible to kill.  I took all the oil out of the engine and gearbox and then drove 120km off road on one.  No problem”  I wouldn’t buy a second hand bike from this bloke thats for sure…

Tyre done we head back across the city to the hotel to rehydrate/drink gallons of cold beer.  As I walk into reception there are 2 more bikers there checking in.  They’re the last 2 of my riders coming though China.  They left the UK early and went west through Russia to Irkutsk, then down into Mongolia to Ulaan Bataar then west back to Russia before coming south through Kazakhstan to Kyrgyzstan. So, here we are then.  All 9 bikes ready to go.

Oh yea.. the big bang we heard this morning at container city… was a car bomb going off at the Chinese embassy a few miles up the road.  Nice.

Our route from Bishkek to China is going to take in Son Kol lake.  It’s not the easiest place to get to and the roads are going to be steep and rough so the Victories both take different options and will meet up with us again in a few days.  Get out the city early and head towards Issyk Kul lake.  A beautiful fast ride through the mountains on new roads built just like a big bob sleigh run.  Delicious big fast positive camber bends and views for miles ahead.  Not a bugger on the road either… except for the police of course…. toll paid and we get to the lake.  I think this is one of the biggest highest fresh water lakes in the world.  I would take all day to ride round it.  We’re only going half way today to Karakol.  We take a random track towards the water and end up on a beach.. with the horses.. obviously

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There’s a storm coming over the mountains.  Big skies, big weather.  It doesn’t last long and before long we’re back in the sunshine and running out towards Karakol alongside the big fields of crops.

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Karakol is quite a rough isolated town without too many facilities.  We head on in for dinner.  “Sausage in Claire” is on the menu.  Ummm.  From the looks on all the bloke’s faces, Claire could be quite busy tonight…

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Next morning we need to leave early as we’re meeting someone later to take us up to Son Kul lake.  Quick skip round to look at the wonderful wooden Jewish church then along the south of Issyk Kul.

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Must be the first day back at school today.  Get anywhere near a village and the roads are full of dressed up kids.  The boys in suits and the girls with huge snowflakes in their hair.

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We meet our bloke at the rough road junction up to the lake.  There is only one way up but there are yurt camps all over the place and I have visions of those knackered penguins that come up onto the beach with a belly full of food, and a million penguins in front of them.  “Now… which one is my bloody nest…”, so this bloke will just guide us in.

The ride up is the usual rutty, loose single track stuff climbing up and up into the dusk.  Lovely ride though.

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Get to the top and there is a huge rolling grassy plain in front of you with tracks off in all directions.  The guide just lifts his arm and points to one and off we all go.  You know when you’re out walking in the summer and their are swifts all doing their low level tricks catching bugs on the wing.. that’s what it feels like as 7 bikes all swarm about taking 7 different paths across the rolling plain.  The sound of engines getting closer then further away.  Everyone just having fun in the falling sunshine.

We get to our camp just before the sun starts to hiss into the lake and I run around trying to catch some of the beautiful evening light.

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As soon as the sun goes down, the temperature drops about 100 degrees.  Jeeeeeeesus it’s cold.  Quick dinner and we all retire to the yurts for a 10 hour snoring and farting contest.   I think I scored very highly on the farts but there are people who’s snores can be heard from the moon so I was never going to win that one.   I think we collectively achieved about 10 minutes sleep before the lights started to come on again outside.

Get up to go for a piss.  Christ it was cold last night.  I flippin froze my tits off.  I pick them up out the bed and put them in my pockets.  I’ll have to put them back on later…

Out for a piss.  The sky doesn’t look at all happy to be awake this morning either…
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The mad Russian with the indestructible Urals told me the road down from the lake was one of the best routes in the region.  It includes the ‘road of the 33 pirates’, and that’s why I asked the Victories not to come this way.

Round the lake we go, round a corner and the ground drops away in front of us.  Here are the 33 pirates.  33 very steep loose and tight switchbacks dropping well over 1000m into a valley.

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Pictures just don’t do this road justice.  I found it a really scary experience!  It’s so loose that you find yourself flowing towards each corner on a bed of deep rolling stones and you’re convinced you’re going over the edge.  I was constantly hovering over the eject button the whole way.  One rider boiled the brakes and another just had to bin it or take the very quick way down.  He’s hurt his ribs but he’s still moving.  Good lad.  You off road boys would be up and down it all day on the little bikes I’m sure but I’ve not got the skills for this sort of stuff so I’m just glad to get down in one piece.

Get that out of the way though and the rest of the ride is just as the Russian said.  It’s just so so so beautiful out here.  Vast plains with the dusty track just finding a fast flowing path across them.  Water, horses, clouds and sky.  No people.  No houses.  No nothing.  Just us, the bikes and the sounds of revving engines bouncing off the mountains.   One of the best hours of my biking life..

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All too soon we get back to the main road and make our way up to our home stay in Naryn, the last town before we get to China.

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I’ve had a load of tyres shipped out here so we spend the day changing those and fettling with the bikes.  One of the bits of my chain oiler has snapped, and I’ve lost a few bolts from the pannier frames so I head down to the market to look for bits and pieces amongst the warrens.  Naryn is a weird place with what looks like small, odd shaped hills all around it.  They’re not hills though, they’re mountain tops.  It’s all pretty high round here.

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Towards the end of the day the light starts to change and a couple of us take the opportunity to head out to check the bikes and look for pictures.  We just pull off the road and ride up into the hills, then turn around to look at the views.  Very special round here.  Very special indeed.  Fuck I’m a luck boy….

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Getting close now… really close.  There is bugger all between here and the border.  Nothing except Tash Rabat on the old silk route.  There is a restored road house set amongst the mountains up there.  There’s load of argument about exactly how old the place is.  I’m just certain it qualifies for a ‘fucking old’ qualification.  Take the road out and through the cold mountains.  Feels like nomansland already.

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Take the rough road up the yurt camp at Tash Rabat.  Someone has been up here, swept the mountains, polished the sky and carefully arranged a few fluffy white clouds to welcome us in.  They’ve done a really really good job…

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Pay a visit to the road house as it would be rude not to having ridden all this way.  It’s bleak, cold and dark inside…. like my head… but it must have been a life saver to people travelling through here 100s of years ago.  The yurts are a better option tonight though for sure.

Another fractious night in the bollock freezing cold and an early start to get up to the China border before lunch.  Line the bikes up for a quick group shot and we’re on our way.

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The Torugart pass used to be a rough old ride but the unstoppable force that is China has payed for a road to be built to ease the trucks journeys to every consumer it can find on the planet.  I’m convinced 90% of the plant’s surface will soon be covered in Chinese tarmac.  It’s a real pity.  It’s easy to forget where you are when you’re just humming along on smooth tarmac… until you open the throttle.  It’s up about 3700m so the bikes response to the throttle is about the same as a wife’s response to an amorous touch after an argument.   It’s always slow, and more often than not it’s completely undetectable..  More beautiful scenery though, and light that only comes with altitude.

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Out of Kyrgyzstan and up across nomansland to the gate to China.  Cross my fingers and hope that the guide is going to appear through the fence..

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Next Page

South through Kazakhstan

On the road early, over the Volga, round the roundabout where the train broke down and out of Saratov into the wilderness.  Long day ahead and fraught with the potential for problems.

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Usually nomansland is just a short distance between border posts but down here it might as well start 200 miles back here at Saratov.  There is sweet feck all between here and the Russian border.  Just 200 miles of of 50/50 tarmac/hole roads, a few isolated villages and some petrol stations.

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We’ve been travelling through Nowhere and we’ve just about reached the middle when Tony pulls over with a flat tyre.  These Africa twins have front tyres not much bigger than a pushbike and Tony has gone beyond it’s twatting threshold on a pothole.   There are two pinch punctures, just by the valve as luck would have it.  No problem, we’ll quickly swap for his spare and fix it later.  Tony gets the spare from the panier..  “Are you sure this isn’t the back? ”  “Nope, this is the back”… It might not be the back for this bike, but it’s the back for some bike.  The Honda garage has given him the wrong size tube.  Triffic!  We try and patch the splits while Tony spits blood down the mobile at the Honda dealer back in Chelsea.  The dealer seems to be a close relation of Lucyfer in Saratov and is basically giving Tony the finger.  A finger he may well loose if Tony ever meets him in person, or at least find inserted where he can itch his throat from the inside   The splits are quite big and the patches wont hold… The Africa Twin is the only bike here with a 21inch wheel.  Fucky wank.  “Anyone got a plan B?”

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All the 19inch wheels here are tubeless, or rather they should be..  As (bad) luck would have it, a week before I left for the trip I went to get some new tyres fitted on my KTM and the front wouldn’t reseal.  The KTMs have some really stupid arse system with a big rubber seal that sits in a groove of the rim along with a tyre pressure sensor.  If the tyre isn’t put under aesthetic and changed under full operating theatre conditions by a specially trained Tyreomotrist using sterile levers and surgical pads then there is a 500% chance that the seal will be damaged and that air will piss out through the spokes leaving  you stranded.  Unfortunately my tyre was fitted in an NHS tyre fitters and they mistakenly let a CarTyremotrist do the work resulting in a bad case of aforementioned spoke air pissingeyetous.  I spoke to 2 KTM dealers and said I had an emergency and could they help.  Both, to be completely honest, were completely fucking useless and didn’t want to help.  Both have now been targeted for localised tactical nuclear missile strikes as soon as I rule the world. The moral of the story is, if you have a Ktm 1190 Adventure, always go private…

So, I am sitting in the middle of Nowhere with a spare 19inch inner tube to match the one currently curing my pissingeyetous.  Result! Problem is “My tube is considerably thicker than yours”:) It takes ages to get the tube in the thinner tyre without damaging it and by the time we’re rolling we’ve lost well over an hour.  The sun is starting to head west towards bed and we’ve still go a way to go.

Get to  the Russia border.  It’s all quiet and it shouldn’t take long.  Shouldn’t… Russian border guards are supposedly only equipped with button mushrooms for penises and like to take their frustration out on everybody they meet.  “Stand here” No sitting.  Stand the other side of 1 way glass for 15 minutes when the guard pulls funny faces at you, plays with his mushroom and tries to flick bogies in a bin across the office.  When he’s finally finished or his nose runs dry he stamps the passport and throws it back through the hole at you.  We’re slowly getting through and heading off across nomansland to the Kazakhstan border on the hill.  I chose to go in the middle to advise the others at the other border and get insurance.  My bad!

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I go through Kazak immigration and customs and the other riders gradually get their insurance and head off towards Uralsk.  I wait… and I wait… for hours… for Bob and Carrie to come up from the Russian border.  WTF is going on down there,  I can’t get hold of them on the phone either.  The border is going to close soon, it’s getting dark and Lucyfer looks like she has arranged a bugger off black cloud full of devil piss to rain down at any moment.  I decide I’m going to have to go back and see.  I go back out through immigration and as I’m about to ride out I see them appear over the horizon.  Seems as though Carrie was really unfortunate and had the misfortune to have ‘Nicolai  the Nose’ doing her passport.  Nicolai is famous for his bogie mining.  It has something to do with having a freekishly slim little finger than can mine bogies most mere mortals would have no hope with. He can pay pick and flick for hours on end, and that’s whats held Carrie up.  He had her passport for 90 minutes before his finger touched his brain and he had to stop flicking.  It had nothing to do with her being American I’m sure.  The fact that the same thing happened last time we came through here with some Americans is pure coincidence…

So now it’s dark, and raining, and I know the road from here goes right off the end of the shitter scale.  Brilliant.  Bob, Carrie, Tony and I head off into the darkness and hope not to be swallowed by the giant holes I know are just waiting for us up the road..

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Last time I came through here, the first 20 miles or so the roads were spectacularly bad.  Lots of the potholes were proudly displaying awards for their size, depth and the number of ‘kills’ they had notched up. Some still had trucks at the bottom, trapped forever, just ticking over waiting for the world to end. This road is SHIT.  Get passed that though and I don’t remember it being too bad.

Memory is a curious thing though… we get through the first 20 mile maze of craters intact and come to a small town.  I don’t remember this.  It’s now pitch black and getting pretty late.  The sat navs say right then left.  So we go right… then left.  Tarmac turns to gravel turns to thick white solid rutted mud turns to thick scary rutty shot with huge stones in and we have to stop.  This can’t be right. This road goes in the right direction towards Uralsk but there is no way the other bikes would have come this way, the Victories would never have made it.   It is pitch black in all directions, nobody about at all. We decide to head back to the town, get some fuel and ask.  We’re  on the gravel and an old Audi appears out the dark from a track.  Two drunks fall out and start waving.  They’re gabbling away and pointing back where we’ve just come from and crossing their arms to make it clear we definitely shouldn’t go that way.  Definitely!  Make no mistake about it…  They draw us a map in the gravel.  Back to town and turn right at the roundabout.  Back we go, get some fuel and ask.  The first bloke points us back in the direction we just came.  I reckon he’s just having a laugh so I ignore him and ask again.  Sure enough the second woman points straight over the roundabout but mumbles something incoherent but not encouraging.  Down we go, over the roundabout and into the pitch darkness.  500 yards later we meet a 20ft high wall of earth.  Brilliant…  Back track and find some small track that runs down alongside the road.  Sat navs are still having a laugh telling us to turn left, right, round, whatever, but we stick with it and take the track.  The next 60 miles is just a stupid fuckfest of a ride along really rough and very dusty roads in the pitch blackness running alongside the roadworks that will eventually sort all this out.  We shouldn’t be riding this stuff at night and it’s a bitch.  The occasional truck and car come through in a giant dust cloud and you just have to pray there isn’t a giant hole in the mirk.  The track bucks and weaves and yomps about forever and ever.  It’s getting really late now too.  This is difficult shit and I imagine the other riders will be waiting for me with knives and baseball bats should any of them make it to Uralsk alive.  Just as I’m considering turning off my lights and riding off the track to bury myself alive so as I can avoid being lynched, the roadworks end and we meet lovely smooth, deep black velvety kissable tarmac.  It’s like seeing a toilet when you’re just about to poo your pants..  Like untying a knot in your knob (I should be so lucky).. The relief is almost orgasmic.  We all breath a collective sigh of relief and turn up the throttles to blur speed.  We hammer through Uralsk at some high multiple of the speed limit and get to the hotel about 10pm, completely wankered and looking like we’ve been sitting inside a hoover bag for 12 hours.  All the riders are present and correct though and thats the main thing.  We’ve also lost 2 hours on a time change so it’s now gone midnight… Pomi tells me thats the worst days riding he has ever had.  “Cool. No extra charge…” I tell him.  Midnight pizza and collapse into a coma in the big cool fluffy arms of a clean fresh bed.

WFT… morning already… that can’t be right… Jesus.  Well, at least today can’t be as bad as yesterday can it.  Easy ride down to Aktobe.. Yep.  No problem.  Yea right…

The roads aren’t too bad out here.  Not much traffic and beautiful and sunny.  The hardest thing out here is getting petrol.  I think the term ‘multiprocessing’ has yet to make it’s way out to Russia and Kazakhstan.  The rule says that  “The likelihood of payment chaos and confusion trebles for each and every bike that enters the petrol station simultaneously.   Should the rider decide to share a pump with another rider then is an increasingly likely chance of the pressure building in the attendants head to such a level that their ears may bleed and their brain will start dribbling out of their nose. If the riders should approach the till in groups of more than one, then the chance of being charged at least 300% of your actual cost is significantly increased.  If you should try and combine the purchase of fuel with any other item available at the station then you should expect to pay all the numbers the attendant can presently see on the screen in front of them.  If you should present the attendant with a credit card then be warned that the police may need to be called to the fight you’re just about to start”.    It’s the same every time.  It’s mental.

The people are starting to look different out here too.  Much more asian.  We always get mobbed at each stop and end up covered and surrounded by sweet smelling young women in loose fitting clothing.  Nightmare..

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Petrol issues aside, all we have to contend with is the flat dull scenery, and the police.  They’re bastards out here.  I’d forgotten just how bad they are.  I warned the riders to only keep a few small notes in their wallets… We’re all strung out but Pomi gets pulled in the batmobile and we all wait to see the damage.

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The policeman really hit pay dirt this time.  He started the usual negotiation, Pomi got out his wallet and there was a €50 note nestling in the folds.  The policeman had to turn on the internal windscreen wipers as he involuntarily jizzed himself at the sight of it. Once he had seen that there was no going back.  I reckon he can retire on that.

We’re making good time.  Cool.  Nice meal and an early night… or maybe not..

Tony has another pinch puncture on the Africa twin.  Stop… fix.. go.. stop.. fix again.. go.. stop.. swap tubes… stop… run out of patches… retire to the wilderness to blubber like a baby.  We’re about 50km out from Aktobe.  It’s getting dark and we’re clean out of luck.  We can’t fix the original tube, or my spare, and we don’t have any patches left.  Tony is understandably reluctant to try a 50km wheelie.. It’s going to be a late one… Everyone heads for the hotel in Aktobe and to try and find a truck to come out and recover the bike.  The sun gives up watching the carnage and decides to go to bed and hand over to the man in the moon.  Dark, tired, late and stranded.  The hotel finds a truck then Bob and Carrie lead it out.  We lift the Africa twin in and head into town.  We’re all tired and hungry and travelling way to fast through town.  We’re coming off a roundabout and we nail it in the pitch dark.  I just catch a flicker of a person crossing the road from the left and I miss them by an inch.  Close enough to smell their fear/perfume/poo combo.  Fuck.  This day could have just got a whole lot worse.  Get to the hotel about midnight and the lovely evening meal I was so looking forward to turns out to be some warm beer and a pasty thing that must have fallen off the back of a Cornish biker back in 1985.

We’ve got to shuffle the next couple of days to let us sort Tony’s bike out otherwise we’re going nowhere.  I texted the riders last night so a few went on a massive bender.  One particular rider ended up at a lock-in where he got smashed to such a degree that he could not take advantage of the hooker he was presented ‘as a gift from the people of Kazakhstan to a road weary traveller’.   That’ll teach him.

The little woman on this reception desk is Lucyfer’s complete alter ego.  A proper angel that you can hardly look at without wearing a welding mask, such is the brightness of her halo.   She’s on the case of finding some 21inch tubes in Aktobe.  She has sent her finest needle hunter out into the hot city haystack on mission impossible.  Yep… good luck with that.

I’m thinking plan A is doomed so I go to a quiet place,  light a few candles, get down on my knees and pray long and hard to the God of Google. The desk angel must have shined her light on me for a brief second and amongst all the noise on the pages is a phone number…. get the phone, give it a ring…. “Hello, yes, I can help, OK, I’ll be there in 15 minutes”.  It’s a miracle.  There is no other way to describe it.  14 minutes later a little bloke in an old SLK rocks up a the hotel.  He speaks really good english and has a daughter that studied in London that speaks it ever perfecter.  Perfect:) He doesn’t ride a bike even, he just has a really helpful habit and he needs to get a good fix.  It’s a cultural thing apparently, He just like to do good.  People like him are rarer than tits on a gymnast and I’m still amazed that he’s standing there in front of me.

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This is a public information broadcast.. if anyone finds themselves up to their necks in shit in the Aktobe area, please feel free to phone Gennadi on +7 701 3397714

He thinks finding 21inch tubes in Aktobe is as likely as finding moon rock but we go out and try anyway.  We scoot all around town in his little Merc, chewing the fat, stopping, asking, trying to find help.  He takes me here, there and everywhere trying to find some help.  I say to him that I saw someone in a Range Rover yesterday and that he must be loaded.  Turns out though that my little helper has a Hummer, a Porche, both an old and a new Beetle and his Merc.  He owns an advertising business and he’s obviously doing well for himself.  We get a call from someone at the hotel.  Turns out the needle hunter has found a big pile of moon rock.  Apparently as he was loading the rock into his car, what should there be underneath but 2, 21inch inner tubes, 15 hens teeth and the putrid stink of rocking horse shit.  We head back to the hotel and there they are, in the rubber.  They’re thicker than an elephant’s condom and hardly bend at all but they’re about the right size.  What a bloody result that is!  Price.  About $10 each… Christ alive, brake out the champagne. The dancing girls are on me…

Gennadi takes me to QuickShits.  It’s an old train carrage that’s fallen off a truck and now has tyre menders squatting in it but they seem to know what they’re doing.

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The fix the punctures in our buggered tubes then they try to put one of the new tubes into the Africa twin rim… they try… and they fail.   The valve of the tubes has a thick rubber sheath a la 1930’s and won’t fit through the hole in the rim.  Gennadi translates “Fuck the rim… drill the bastard” but their drills are as blunt as the end of my knob and they’re not having it.  We fit the original tube with the proper mend in.  We’ll carry the spares and work it out if we need to.  You know we’re going to need to right?  You haven’t read ahead and seen that we need to.  You just know it’s going to happen…

Back into the SLKmobile and round town again in search of puncture patches and glue, then look for some spare fuel tanks.  The route south from here is really remote.  I talk to Gennadi and tell him we’ve going through Aral.  He advises me to sleep in the desert outside town and not to go in.  It’s a really depressed place and not particularly friendly.  We don’t have the option for camping and there is feck all for 100s of miles all around so he just tells me “Go in late, stay somewhere safe, and get out as soon as possible”.  Perhaps I’ll keep that bit of advise to myself…

Anyway, we’re all back on the road and ready to roll, that’s all that matters right now.  The next couple of days we’ll cross the most isolated area of the whole journey.  With a quick wave and a puff of smoke Gennadi disappears and we’re on our own again.  Lovely dinner for a change then I take a wander round Aktobe and try to avoid getting caught in the web spun by the women of the night.

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Aral is about 400 miles from Aktobe, and for about 399 miles of that there is absolutely sweet feck all apart from tarmac, sand and camels. Off we all go out into the morning sunshine.  One road, no choice.  There is nothing for about 150 miles where there is a truck stop and a cafe.  Everyone lives on-site at these transitional places and they always seem to have a temporary feel.

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Aral is further than I’ve ever gone on a tank of fuel with the Adventure and it probably the same for some of the others too.  I’ve got a 6L spare that we’ll have to share.  You have to spend the next few hours desperately resisting the urge to open the throttle and pull in the horizon.  Slow and steady, constantly working out miles per bar on the fuel gauge, staring at the blur of sand, marvelling at the scale of the place and the huge blue sky above.

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I think Tony’s Africa twin has a special little gizmo that can work out precisely when we reach a particular position and then let the front tyre down.  Looks like someone has set it to “the absolute middle of fucking nowhere in the blazing sun with the longest possible recovery time available in any direction and no visible traffic to and probably beyond the horizon”.  Luckily this set of circumstances seems to have been satisfied and the twin pops it’s patches and slows to a stop again.  Wanky tits and arse, please can someone remove this shit magnet from my back.  Looks like this tube is screwed completely now.  We have my 19 but if that get’s buggered then I’ll be screwed too.  We’ve got to try and fit the super thick Russian military grade ones.  Buggering knob cock and tits….

Trying to stick the fat valve from these tubes through the rim of the twin is like trying to mate a horse with a hamster.  Not a normal hamster either.  Nope, we’re talking about the very uncommon ‘minichuff, perpetual virgin’ hamster only found in the road cracks of central Kazakhstan.  Try as we might it’s just not happening and we’re not about to create the worlds first horamster any time soon. The squealing is getting just to much to bear and it’s threatening to wake the dead so we have to abort and go to plan… well… another plan…   As luck would have it, again, Bob , is randomly carrying a brand spanking new, hard as the hardest of nails, goes through a safe like tongue through chocolate, drill bit.  Bob had an issue at the shippers that started with a seat that wouldn’t come off and ended with a fuck off big drill being applied.  He donated the drill to a hotelier earlier in the trip but still has the bit so we clamp it in some mole grips and he slowly hones out the hole.  I’m carrying a small file too so together we stretch out the hamster to accept the horse.  It’s still a tight fit but hey, thats the best for everyone involved, and it gets Tony rolling again thank God.

About 4 of us are not going to make it for sure.  Bob follows a truck and drafts it at about 1ft from the tailgate to eek the fuel out and the rest of us wait for the first to run out of petrol.  About 20 miles out the High Ball runs out so we all pull over and I share my 6L out, each according to his need, but with me as a priority in case I have to run to get more.  Slowly slowly slowly we go and eventually Aral appears in the low sun on the horizon like a magical mirage.  Nobody wants to go to Aral. Even the main road bypasses it.  It’s a weird ghostly little place with sand rushing across the streets.  It looks really tired.  Like the place has almost given up.  It’s more like an open prison than a town.  Where are you going to run to though out here in the middle of the desert. Get to the hotel and try to sort the rooms out.  I got the Angel of Aktobe to phone ahead yesterday and book some rooms but she might as well have saved her extremely valuable angle breath as the bloke at the door hasn’t a bloody clue that we were coming.  We’re swarmed by kids too and despite their young age, they’re strangely intimidating as they shout and stare.  There is a garage under the hotel complete with a 10ft pit down the middle and a 75 degree slippery slope to get in and out.  Get the bikes all locked tight and go to look for some dinner.  The hotel is right next to the train station and it has a big monument to the Aral sea that used to lap at its door.  The monument also doubles as a wedding venue and a short racetrack where pissed up locals can drift their 30 year old BMWs in ever decreasing circles.

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Put your hand out and some random will stop and take you somewhere for about 50 pence.  We end up at a random building serving food outside and play ‘lucky dip’ with a menu and ‘double dare ‘with our bowels.  Walk back trough the dark and broken pavements to the hotel.  I’m convinced that John Cleese got the ideas for his silly walks by watching someone walk along a pavement in Aral.  It’s like walking through a game of Tetris.  Every paving stone is at least 2 feet above or below the one you’re on.  There are shadows everywhere and you know you’re being watched.  It’s an odd place.

Get up early.  Nobody about.   I have to pull 2 wires of plug and place them on the night no-watchman’s ears to raise him from his coma.  I hope he’s not getting payed for this, lazy bastard.  He opens the garage and thankfully the bikes are all present and correct.  Last time I came here they did a nice breakfast but the only thing we’re likely to get this morning is warm flem on toast so we skip it and pop sticks out into the cold desert quick styley.

Another 150 miles of nothing.  Nothing at all.  Sunshine fills the sky and desert fills the land.  Catch a wiff of food on the wind and get to a small cafe just outside Baikonur, home of the Russian cosmodrome.  “Ham, eggs and coffee 15 times please, and whatever the others are having”.  An unexpected treat.

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The cosmodrome is officially Russian territory and you have to fly in from Russia at some hideous cost if you want to look around it.  You can just see a teaser from the bridge.

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South to Kyzylorda and civilisation slowly starts to come back to life as the desert gives up it’s grip to rivers and irrigation canals. Water certainly brings life… including the fecking police.  This one just wants a picture though.  “Does my hat look big in this?”

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Kyzylorda is just a sprawling mess that looks like it’s been built from everybody else’s leftovers.

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After dinner I go down the supermarket to buy some milk, but all they have is camel… ummm no thanks… and judging by the woman’s reaction I work out that I’ve left my flies open..

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A civilised breakfast for a change and we head out of town towards Shymkent.   Get to the edge of town and the wind is there waiting for us.  You can see it waiting like a gang of thugs, just itching to rough you up.  Wailing and whistling and daring you.  “Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough.”  Ride out the lee of the city and it’s on you straight away.  Pushing and shoving and trying to tackle you off the bike.  It’s really vicious out here and is non-stop all day long.  A good excuse to stop for coffee..

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By the time we stop for lunch by an airport, the wind is so bad it’s ripping the wings off the planes..

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I’m leaving the cafe, pulling away down a dual carriageway.  First, second, third, forth,  FUCK. Suddenly there’s a big white transit in my face, coming straight at me in the fast lane, and fast.  There is a gap in the barriers and he’s jinked through it and decided to drive up the wrong side of the road as a shortcut to his destination/death.  I’ve got the same decision staring me right in the face. Braking is pointless as he’s going to fast to stop anyway. I feel the torrent of adrenaline hit my tongue as the brain hits the big red emergency button and turns up all the dials.  It could easily turn into one of those situations like on a pavement when you both end up going left and right and end up joined at the nose but thankfully there is traffic in the inside lane so he has no options. I veer right and go down the white line missing him by a distance my brain refuses to compute.  “You’re better off not knowing” it whispers to me.

The rest of the day is mostly spent in the company of the bastards in blue.  I think we got stopped another 4 or 5 times.  I lost count. It was quite thoughtful of them really though.  It meant we all got a turn to experience the hot seat.  All part of the overland experience.  “No extra charge” I tell them:)

Get to Shymkent and end up at a new club where the ladies amongst us award the toilets the very rare 10 out of 10 accolade  Several of the men are hypnotised by a young lady using a  fast and furious firm bootie shaking technique.  They all glaze over and drink shots until they pass out.

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I seem immune to it luckily.   I can watch this sort of thing for hours…. it’s a gift…

Next Page

London to Bangkok 2016

London to Bangkok.  66 days.  11 random strangers.  7 proper adventure bikes, one ruggedized custom  and a batmobile.  What could possibly go wrong.

If you can’t read text, but you can read maps, then just feel free to take a look at our route instead:)

I rode this route in 2014, loved it, and wanted to do it again.  That’s how this little plan got started.  The last time I rode out to Kazakhstan alone and met up with an organised tour but this time I decided to try my hand at sorting it all out myself and seeing if I could attract some other like minded souls to join me.  I would try standing on the other side of the fence.  Poacher turned gamekeeper.  I’d take a group half way round the world through Europe, Russia, the stans, China and Asia.  Easy peasy lemon squeezy… in my head.

The interweb cast it’s net and drew in some riders from around the world.  It all got serious pretty dam quick and before I knew it their were new bikes being bought, containers arriving in the UK and people in the air heading for the off.  It felt like someone had tied my guts up in a gordian knot but there was no going back now.

Ace cafe 8th August.  Off we go.  The group will grow as we travel and pick people up on the way.  It’s all a bit surreal.  I walk into the car park and in ride Bob and Carrie from the USA on their  brand spanking new and shiny 1190 Adventure.  Bob deals in specialist insurance and Carrie is an interior designer.  They’re all packed to the max and ready to go.  Few minutes later Tony, a London landlord arrives on another sparkling new Africa twin.  Then Pomi, a businessman from Luton rolls up on the batmobile.  Pomi has decided to bring the most inappropriate bike I could possibly think of for a trip like this.  A Vistory Vision.  A 3 tonne, 20 ft long lump of shiny black plastic and metal.  He knows the risks.  I know its possible to get these things through more shit than you’d ever think possible. I’ve met people on big Harley’s in places I’m convinced they could only have reached by dropping the bloody thing from a helicopter.  It would take a serious fuck off helicopter to even lift this thing off the ground though.  It will be ‘interesting’ to see how it does.

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Take the bikes through the city for lunch then down to Folkstone to meet the next rider.

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The Chandos Premier Guest house is a real bed and basic. I can only imagine the local inspectors are blind or that all the rooms are nailed shut and the doors wallpapered over during their visits.  The shower room has a cubical raised so high that you could base jump from it to the floor.  Not that you can see the floor as the 1 sq ft room is filled with a basin anyway.  I didn’t bring a parachute so had to repel down to the ground and try to dry myself off standing on one foot with my bollocks in the basin. Still, its all good practice for what I know is to come.

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We meet up with Bruce, a Canadian oil man on his GSA, and we head down into town for fish and chips.  Folkstone is such a sad looking place.  Tired, dirty, ragged and half empty.  We end up eating plates of bland beige food in a decrepit chip shop with steamed up windows and no English spoken before heading back to the bed and basic for a bouncy night among the bed springs and wafer thin blankets.

Up early,  bolt down a full english then a quick ride down to the white cliffs and wave goodbye to Blighty in the warm summer sunshine.

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My plan is to skip through Europe ASAP.  Bit selfish really as I’ve been all over here loads of times.  It’s just all so flippin dull.   You could be in an old cartoon with the same old scenery going past repetitively. The tarmac to green ratio has nearly hit 100% I reckon and it’s just a blur of blackness under the wheels to Soest in Germany for the first night.  First night on my first epic adventure.  First hotel on my first night….  knock on the door… it’s empty… look in the windows …. its empty… nobody about… doors locked.  Shagamuffin!  This is Germany.  I expected saluting guards, precision, efficiency.  I at least expected a warm body to be in residence.  Phone the booking number.  “OK, I’ll be there in 15 minutes”.  Great.  At least it’s not raining.  Eventually a little Bosnian bloke rolls up, lets us in and away we go.  Apparently Germany is shut on Mondays.  Part of some EU cost cutting measures.  Be warned.

Soest is a lovely little place.  Loads of beautiful old (shut today) buildings and a big square full of (mostly shut today) restaurants.   It’s just up the road from one of the dams that the Dambusters ‘altered’ back in the 40s.
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0023Good food and a good nights rest later and we’re off again.  Compasses stuck on East.  Next stop Berlin.  A simple cookie cutter hotel within walking distance of the Brandenburg gate.  We start to walk down to Alexanderplatz but its bloody miles so sit outside in the freezing cold and consume a curry.  When in Rome and all that…0034 0035 0036

Next target is Warsaw, home of the colour grey.   Nobody does grey like Warsaw.  Today they have the full watercolour pallet in use.  The sky is a dark , angry shade and doing its best to drop all its contents onto our cold soggy souls as we trudge through the storm to the capital.  I reckon it could rain like this continuously for 10 years and the place would still look dirty.  We slop slowly along through the battered old assortment of cars, buses and trucks to the hotel in the centre where we meet up with Rob and Leonie from Australia on their GSA.  They’re both in the oil industry too.  They shipped their bike to Dublin and spent some alone time touring about and visiting ‘rellies’ before catching up with us here.  Rob is about 9ft 3 and Leonie has to be measured with specially calibrated equipment under a microscope because she is so tiny.  They’re a perfect match.

Warsaw at least seems to be resisting the Eurobland disease quite well and still feels eastern European.  Could just be all that grey though.

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The storm has thankfully run out of steam by the time we head off towards Lithuania.  We quickly reach the EU high tide money mark where the roads begin to turn from fast motorways to roadworks and contraflows and the lorries turn from environmentally uber friendly supertrucks to black belching arthritic 2000 a day smokers.  Breath in… over take… breath out.  It’s bright and cold though and life on the bike is good.  Thoughts of home and work start to take 2nd place to ‘WTF is that stupid wanker playing at’ and life on the road begins to take shape.  These things always take a few days to fade in and it will go on for a while yet.  We have so far to go.  We’ve hardly started.  I’m getting to know my KTM 1190 too.  It’s a delicious bike.  It’s alive and it kicks.  It farts and it belches.  It’s an unknown quantity though.  I’ve used my old 1150 GSA for years on these trips and I know it inside out.  The KTM is a different animal from a different time.  If something goes wrong, it’s going to need to talk k’tmish to the KTM mother ship.  I don’t speak k’tmish.  That could be a problem.

Next stop is Kaunas City.  Not Kaunas. Kaunas city.  Kaunas city is a delightful little beauty spot nestling on the big sprawling arse that is Kaunas.  Hole up in a hotel on a quiet pedestrianised area watched over by a beautiful old church.  Eat drink and be merry.

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On the road and out of Lithuania towards Latvia.  The lines between the countries are getting ever more blurred but thankfully the influence of mother Russia gets more obvious as you head further and further towards her clutches.  Big statues dominate the towns and people begin to wear the soviet frowns, along with fashions from the 80s.  Everything is low rent and dilapidated and the english language is getting harder and harder to use.  We get a lot more stares from the locals too.   The journey is really starting properly now.

There really does seems such a massive divide between the young and the old out here.  Traditions are living out their final days amongst the older generations and many I’ve no doubt will die with them.  The east/west line is moving in this direction and will soon swallow these old countries for good.  I really find it quite sad, but then I live in the west so maybe that’s a bit hypocritical.

The weather does it’s utmost best to hold us back and we spend the day fighting fierce crosswinds and head butting evil gusts every time a truck goes in the opposite direction.  Roads are pretty good though and generally not that busy so its an easy ride up to Rezekne.    It’s still a fair way to Russia from here but it definitely has that border town feeling.  Isolated and alone and with a bit of an atmosphere about it.

I go out to take some pictures.  I pull away from a turning and a load of warning lights come on .  TC, ABS and a some others.  WTF!  Bike is still running and appears to be OK.  I only pulled away normally, no reaching for the sky or burnouts, just the usual.  Stop the bike, restart, all the lights stay on.  Fucky wanky tits.  These fucking stupid electrics drive me to buggering distraction.  If I had a big pair of scissors and could easily identify the culprits I’d just cut the bastard wires right now.  On. Off. On. Off.  Bike starts but the lights stay on.  What a big bag of wank these systems are.  I ride the bike back to the hotel, turn it off and ‘do a Rossi’.  I get on my knees and pray to the Gods of Orange and Black.  I pray that the electronic brain fart fucks off into the night, never to be seen again.  Then I spend a fretful night dreaming of having to push the bloody thing to China.

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I wake up and go to breakfast, tired and aching from all that pushing the bike in my dreams.  Entering Russia today.  My head is spinning about, worried about the potential for a buggered bike in the land of the hammer and sickle.  Jesus, the bloody thing has only done about 7000 miles.  My old GSA would laugh at that.  I don’t think it’s memory goes back to when it was 7000 miles old.  I don’t really have much choice though, the bike was running at least yesterday.  I’ve got some black tape to stick over the warning lights if I have to…

Bob tells me he can’t find the original registration document for his KTM too.  Ok.  That could be a problem… I’m sure he has it somewhere, probably, so we all head out to the bikes.  I put in the key, turn, and my prayers have been answered.  The dash is clean.  No warnings.  No lights. I put it to the back of my mind and pretend it was all a horrible dream… la la la la la

Getting out of Latvia is a piece of cake as usual.  Just a wave and a smile for the europeans, and a stamp for the others.  The Russian border is always an exercise in the maximum consumption of time for the least amount of movement and the most amount of repetition.  Everything seems to be going remarkably smoothly.  Too smoothly.  Then someone gets the Uzzi out, loads it with turds and starts firing it about.  I get hit first.  I am such an achingly massive twat!  For some unknown reason, the Russians want to see our European bike insurance documents.  I’ve got mine with me, no problem.  “Problem”.  “Really?  What?”  “Expired.  No entry”.  You know those TV shots when the camera pans backwards and the person stays put looking as though their world has just ended… Shit on a stick!  I’ve printed out last years certificates.  What a ten foot tosser I am!  IPhone to the rescue.  Email.  Insurance.  Ummmmmmmm.  Buggery titwank, I don’t have this years certificates.  I reinsured a few months ago but they haven’t sent me the documents.  That’s convenient…  It’s my bad I know.  I’ve just forgotten it in all the noise of organising the trip.  At this point I thank God for the 24/7 society we live in.  I’m standing at the Russian border, up to my testies in shit, talking to the lovely Carole at MCE.  “No problem.  They’re on their way.”  “Thanks Carole.  I think I love you”.  One ping from the phone, forward it to the grumpy young lady at the computer next to me, hit print and I’m back in the game:)  Unlike Bob….

“You go home” says the official, and points back to Latvia.  He cannot find his original registration document and has offered a photocopy.  This bloke has been recruited from the KGB fraud department and can spot a copy at a million miles.  Bob looks at him.  “You go home”. The message couldn’t be clearer.    Most of the riders are through and waiting the other side.  I know Bob has the  document, Bob knows he has the document.  The officer probably knows he has the document too but he’s not having it.  Bob and Carrie turn back towards Latvia.  They’ll find it and catch us up.

The moment they ride past the border back towards Latvia something clicks.  They’re off the bike, diving to the bottom of a random bag and there it is.  A USA registration document is not like a proper big A4 UK one.  It’s about half the size of a credit card and looks like a receipt from 7Eleven.  Can you buy a Ktm at a 7Eleven?  Nothing would surprise me.  They come back round and we start the process all over again. In another comedy twist, Bob’s bike is registered in his company’s name rather than his personal name. We try to explain, and I prepared a printed Russian translation of the situation before I left but this doesn’t seem to help much.  The bloke in the booth looks like his brain has overheated and shut down.  He’s just dribbling and hitting the enter key over and over and over.  They take out the faulty bloke, install a newer one and we’re through… Phew.  I play hallelujah in my trousers using a celebratory fart I had saved just for this occasion.  Turns out I had enough for 15 verses.  Result.

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Insurance.  They’ve  moved it since I came last time but we eventually locate it in a little shed outside an abandoned petrol station.  It’s about £7 each.  Bargain, even though I suspect it’s totally and utterly bloody useless.

The first real town is Velikiye Luki 100 miles away.  I’ve been here before.  It’s a real mess.  Lots of the big buildings look abandoned but look closely and they’re still being used.  95% derelict with the last 5% struggling on in the chaos.  Its a real contrast with Europe.  The only new buildings seem to be the gas stations.  Still, the Russians just get on with it.  I’m fucked if I would though.

The hotel today is an old converted school in the middle of an imposing soviet housing estate.  It looks like Precinct 13 on the outside.  You expect to be greeted by a prison guard, handed an orange jumpsuit, given a try of slop and told to keep away from Mr Big.  Step inside though and its all comfy clean beds, good food and lots of beer, a theme close to every biker’s heart.

As luck would have it, a team from China is here with an electric car that they have driven overland heading for Spain.  They tell tales of their destruction across Kazakstan  where they’ve managed to smash a wheel in a hole.  Great.  Thanks for that.  I’m really looking forward to it.

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I’m wandering about after dinner and I step through a door/time machine that takes me to a wedding back in the 70s.  Collars as wide as a Vulcan bomber’s wings, make up thicker than butter slapped on toast and a vodka charged atmosphere that would set off a breathalyzer at 200ft.  Definitely cheap, but also very definitely cheerful.

Breakfast and I give out the usual warnings about the bat shit crazy Russian nutter drivers they’re likely to meet today.  Just imagine all the vodka soaked revelers we saw last night sat behind a wheel of a big fast car and in a hurry to get to their own funerals.  I know the fire is ready, it’s time for the baptism so off we go to meet our destiny.

East from Velikiye Luki is pretty quiet for a long time.  “What’s all the fuss about” they think.  “This is a piece of piss – stupid twat!”. The only distraction from the billions of trees are the stuffed animals stalls.  Fancy a brown bear?  Maybe a wolf sir?  Just a small one.  Or a boar’s head.  Much more fashionable and comfortable than an Arai…

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Gets really really cold and bleak too for a while… know what I mean boys..

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And then the fun begins…. Moscow is one of the world’s biggest, strongest, most deadly twat magnets.  As you get closer and closer, more and more and more twats are drawn in to join the fray.  The city is just dragging them all in with an invisible, irresistible force and today they have the magnet turned up to 11.   There are twats in every direction.  Here a twat, there a twat, everywhere a twat twat… All barely in control and seldom driving in a straight line for more than 50 yards.  The lane indiscipline is truly quite impressive.  Absolutely no notice is taken of anything other than the barriers on each side of the 6 lane motorway, everywhere else is a free for all.  I love it.  It’s a no holds barred survival exercise and any sign of weakness is instantly punished mercilessly.  It’s just like falling into some big fuck off river rapids with a load of jet skis, big power boats and supertankers thrown in for good measure.  You buck and weave your way through as random projectiles constantly skim past you at high speed from all sides.  We are just little fish swimming with sharks.  Some of the riders at the back of the group later recount tails of wafer thin passing distances and near death experiences. Welcome to Russia! As the get to the centre we all find each other again, spit out mouthfuls of adrenaline, lets the pulses calm down and finally allow ourselves a quick moment just to blink.  Moscow city traffic is just a solid metal jigsaw.  Lots of very hot metal flowing at the speed of lava through the streets.  It’s fractious and tight.  An ambulance sits in the traffic, lights flashing, not moving an inch.  It’s probably the same one I saw when I was last here 2 years ago..

Get to the hotel and meet up with Tor, a highly entertaining Norwegian oil man on a ‘ruggedised’ Victory High Ball.  He has fitted the bash plate from a Scania truck and has other some custom stuff to try and stop the inevitable destruction about to be wrought on it as we head south.  We’ll see..

Out to dinner in the rain.  I love wet cities in the dark.  Moscow isn’t that far from home but it feels like a million miles tonight.

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A Day off in Moscow.  Get up and go for breakfast.  What’s that noise?  It’s a harp.  Of course it is.  Everyone has breakfast accompanied by a slim slinky Russian girl playing the harp in a ball gown, of course they do.  I feel a bit underdressed in my just my underwear and socks but I really don’t want to get  scrambled egg or jam on my freshly laundered tux.  The weather is still doing it’s best to batter it’s way through the windows using it’s highest calibre raindrops.  A few of us venture out anyway and descend into the labyrinth of the Moscow metro.  These old stations look more like great dining halls or museums.  Beautifully built with ornate fixtures and fittings, great paintings and incredible mosaics, and each one unique.

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I took some Russian evening classes before coming out.  Being able to read the alphabet helps a lot but I still think I’ve achieved a superhuman feat just getting us 2 stops down the line down to Red Square:)

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Flush with the success of finding Red Square we get back on the Metro and find our way out the city to the Moscow Space Museum.  The rain has gone up a notch to ‘Biblical’.  Jeeeesus it’s proper falling down now.  There is a HUGE fuck off statue of a  rocket launch outside but you can’t look up without your eye sockets instantly filling with water. Get to the museum.  Closed.  Moscow is closed on Mondays too.  Probably the only thing the Russians have in common with the Germans..

A few of us go and buy a job lot of brave tablets and get a taxi out to the wolves den.  The Night Wolves that is.  Putin’s Motorcycle Militia as they’re also affectionately known.

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Turn up and it looks closed.  “Oh dear .. how sad… let’s leave… immediately..” Go to the gate and two bouncers approach us.  I say bouncers, but I doubt they actually bounce.  I think they’re made of lead … or possibly iron.  I think they would just leave a dent in the tarmac if you tried to bounce them. I could try it, but I decide not to, just out of respect.  “Any guns, any knives?”.  “Nope, we’re clean”  “Do you want any?”  Ummmmmm.  Wander down to the den.  It looks like a Mad Max film set.  All weird and dark.  Thankfully pretty empty tonight too, except for the kittens.  Even hard bikers love kittens.  They’re wandering around the tables and sitting on your lap, looking into your eyes and digging their claws into your bollocks.  I’m not about to slap a Night Wolves pussy so I just cry quietly until the bloody claws are retracted and it moves on to lick itself clean.

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Some human mountain/machine/experiment joins the table next to ours.   He’s almost totally square. His neck is so thick it looks like he has ears on his shoulders.  Don’t look.. don’t look…. don’t…… I looked… I couldn’t help it… It was like looking at death, just for a fraction of a second.  Time to leave…

Next morning the lazy Russian harpist is having a lay in so I have to breakfast in silence.  Where’s the fun in that.  I feel a bit overdressed now in my sparkling white dress suit, complete with bow tie and cummerbund….

We want to take some pictures of the bikes by Red Square so we make our way across town.  Russians start work late and work late so the roads are thankfully abandoned.  I go ahead down the road and tell the others to wait, then I’ll take their pictures one by one in front of the cathedral.  I’m laying down and crawling about in the middle of the road, trying to get the perfect angle.  Turn round and what do I see?  A police car with the lights flashing thinking I’ve had a one man RTA.  Either he sees I’m just some stupid foreigner pissing about or, more likely, he decides he doesn’t want to get blood on his gloves so off go the lights and on he goes, careful not to run me over as I roll about in the road.

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Tambov is the target today.  A faceless Russian town on the road south towards the border with Kazakhstan.     We hurry out of Moscow before the bloke gets to work and turns the big twat magnet on.  You’re out in the countryside surprisingly quickly too.  No suburbs fading out for miles and miles, just … out, and into open ground.  Sunny and cold, but flat and dull.  The roads generally get worse and worse as you head south in Russia but these aren’t too bad, until you hit Tambov.  We’ve all seen this stuff but sometimes it’s just difficult to believe it’s real.  Tarmac all rolled up and grooved with deep holes and ripples that turn the ride into an assault course. Some of the holes are so deep that the cars have to go though at weird angles to stop them bottoming out or beaching themselves.  Where the tarmac is actually flat, its like polished glass and the air is full of the noise of cheap tyres squealing scrabbling for grip.  Our nicely refurbished, clean and modern hotel nestles amongst the ruins of the city centre.  I take my bike down the road to some secure parking in a multi story car park next to a casino.  There isn’t a bugger in sight so I just leave the bike under the protection of an old woman with a mop and bucket and leave.  I’m sure it will be fine…

Sit outside the worlds slowest service restaurant and watch the sun go down.  I took a menu.  If I go back, I’ll order when I leave London.  That way I’ll only have to wait 6 hours for my food when I arrive…

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I’m keen to give the riders some idea of the tarmac shit storms that we’re likely to encounter as we get further and further away from what we like to think of as civilisation, and southern Russia is absolutely perfect for that.  I have absolutely no bloody idea how these roads get so absolutely shit.  Perhaps they have some giant nocturnal tarmacpecker birds that come to destroy them during under the cover of darkness, perhaps they have a special breed of moles with metal teeth and a taste for tarmac.  Who knows.  The fact is they’re just shit.  Shot to pieces with deep sharp pot holes and generally suffering from about 300 years of neglect.  The only thing they seem to do is have small teams that go and paint them the exact same colour as the surrounding tarmac, just so you can’t see the fuckers until your front wheel disappears down them. Twatting the holes is absolutely unavoidable, you just have to slow down.  I find installing a 12 inch titanium spike on the seat, then riding standing up with the point just below by tummy banana concentrates my mind and makes me just a little bit more careful.   Even with my helmet on and ears plugs in, all I can hear is shouts, expletives and  ‘twangs’ as rims are battered, tyres bruised and balls sent back to places they last visited in adolescence.

Not much between these places down south though.  Just little villages.  Getting hot down here though.  Stop at some random building,  start exploring doors and you’ll usually find a windowless shop or two.  They look like tiny nuclear bunkers complete with 100 years supply of biscuits and 20 times refrozen ice lollies.

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Saratov is a big city straddling the mighty Volga river.  They have a ancient tram system throughout and the roads have worn so badly that the rails sit  about 1 foot clear of the surface.  The Victory has a real problem scraping it’s way through all the junctions and takes a proper battering.  We come to a section up a steep hill where the ruts in the road are so deep you have to commit to a course at the bottom and hope that nothing coming in the opposite direction has chosen the same rut.  You have absolutely no chance of changing course without using heavy lifting equipment.  It’s comical really.  Some of the ruts are so deep that the pegs are nearly touching the top and its a  scary experience, especially when you have a bloody great tram right up your chuff.

Tonight’s bed is in a boutique hotel not far from the river.  It looked good on the internet but it failed to mention that the place was manned (or rather womanned) by an evil bleach blond bitch, so foul and vile that’s she just been kicked out of hell.  She’s a real life Bond villaness.  She’s Mrs Jekyll from the tips of her toes, past her fine figure and up to her full pouty smiling mouth but from there up she’s pure Ms Hyde.  She oozes a toxic mix of sex and trouble, and she looks like she gets her kicks by biting the bollocks off budgerigars.

There is nothing else for it, I just have to get on with it.  We lock eyes.  OMG.  She’s got the bitchometer turned up to the max and I have to hold on to the counter to stop myself being driven to my knees.  This is going to be difficult.  She speaks absolutely no English so I’m immediately at a disadvantage.  She has the booking in front of her but she’s determined to make it difficult.  I’ve booked 7 rooms but she’s given me 6 and tells me the hotel is full.  No more rooms.  I try to argue, I honestly do… Mrs Jekyll widens the smile and leans forward but Mrs Hyde takes over the words and it’s just like the Exorsist.  I don’t know what “Your mother sucks cocks” is in Russian but I suspect that’s what’s being delivered.  I learnt a little Russian but my vocabulary doesn’t run to “No, my mother doesn’t let yogurt slingers pass her lips you evil bitch. Just get your tits out of a tangle, look at the booking and give me my rooms before I ring Satan and promise him my soul if he takes you back, gives you testicles for tits and sets you on fire for all eternity”.  The result was inevitable. Demon-in-a-dress 1.  Biker 0.

I find a cleaner cowering under a cupboard, avoiding the ten foot spiked tongue of Beelzebella, and get her to come and reconfigure one of the rooms to a twin.  She’s happy to get away and breaths a sigh of relief as soon as the lift doors shut.  She changes the room then climbs up into the roof to hide from Hyde.  Poor girl.

I go down for round 2 with the Angel of Darkness.  I need to ask her for some directions and to get some taxis.  I creep round the corner and I’m sure I see some yellow feathers on her lips before the forked tongue has a chance to clean up the evidence.   I have to go to her side of the desk and use google translate.  I just see a flash of her  screen showing lots of scared little faces on budgieboiler.net before she has a chance to clear it.  Witch… We get a couple of taxis ordered.  They turn up and we have to jump through the windows and drive away half hanging out the cars as the drivers refuse to stop for fear of being eaten alive.

Down to dinner alongside the Volga.  Relax, unwind and look out over the dark water towards tomorrows target.  Next stop Kazakhstan:)

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Get up and go for breakfast.  Lucyfer is still on duty.  I don’t think it sleeps…quite scary really.  She wants to talk to me about the rooms.  In a typical ‘female rewriting history’ moment she sets her smile to ‘smirk’  and uses google translate to tell me that I booked 7 rooms but only paid for 6.  I almost convince myself that this thing sitting in front of me is not actually a woman but just a beastess of the night with tits and that actually I would be quite justified by lumping in the mouth with a large piece of concrete.  The problem is we have all fallen in to her trap and she knows it.  The hotel is like a little prison and has a 20ft high steel fence all the way round it.  We and the bikes are all on the inside and the bitch wont press the button to open the gate unless I pay for the unused room.  Her manicured hand, complete with nails fashioned by Sabatier is hovering over the button as she turns the smile from ‘smirk’ to  ‘smug’.   BEEEEEEEATCH.  It’s bloody check mate and she knows it.  I have to get my get out of jail credit card and pay up for a room she knows I didn’t use and that she said I couldn’t.    I run down the pet shop and buy a ‘ladybudgie’ desperate for a sex change then rush to the vets to have its balls removed and replaced with small high powered explosives.  As we leave the compound I hand ‘bomber’ over in a small cage as a leaving present.  I’m sure she wont be able to resist….

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