Mon 21st Arrive in Istanbul.
Another airport, another city, another set of customs, another chance to loose baggage and sure enough someone’s bag goes missing and we wait for a while but it’s not turning up. I reckon most of our clothes are perfectly capable of walking off on their own now after so much wear and so little washing. Head into town into a little hotel in the city centre with the smallest TV so far which annoys my roommate. He likes to sit 1 inch from the telly to simulate ‘wide screen’ but with this one he’s going to have to press his nose right up against it.
My bloody leg and knee is killing me and it’s not helped by being on the 632nd floor of a hotel without lifts, or being at the bottom of a steep hill. Spend the day hobbling round the city visiting some of the sights like the Blue Mosque and the bazaar. The thing I really notice here is the smoking. Everyone smokes. The blokes smoke, the girls smoke, the kids smoke, the petrol attendants smoke, everyone smokes. Even the birds fly around with 1 eye shut and a fag in their beaks. Eating lunch is an exercise in how long you can hold your breath. Some of the restaurants have firemen as waiters, in full breathing apparatus. They’re the only one who can see further than 2 feet in front of their faces. It’s disgusting.
Wed 23rd Istanbul to Karala 280 miles.
Up early and ready to go. Ready…steady….steady…steady… bugger, more waiting. The customs are being a real arse about releasing the bikes because so few of the riders smoke apparently, I dunno. We go out to the freighters and wait for hours on the grass being watched by the squareheads. Turkish men seem to have the squarest heads in the world, no question. It’s like their heads are made in boxes and they have a large flat bit on the back where they’re thumped out the mould with a plank. You could stand 4 Turkish men together and put a square hat over the 4 of them together with no gaps, weird. Anyway, we eventually get the bikes cleared and have to reassemble them in almost complete darkness with only the faint glow of a thousand cigarettes as light in the warehouse. Eventually get away about 4 and head out of Turkey towards Greece. It’s raining and cold and dark when we cross the boarder into Euroland. Speeds increase as usual the later (and more dangerous) it gets and everyone wants their beds. Two boys see a dog in the middle of the motorway but they’re shifting and it’s down to lady luck. Dog gets a kick from the first which puts it into a spin like a figure skater on steroids, then the second bike runs it over, job done! Both claim the kill but I still remain the only unambiguous dog killer on the trip. Arrive late again in Karala and crash out after eating something unidentified but squashy and warm, tasty.
Thur 24th Karla to Igoumenista 400 miles
Up onto the motorway and head west towards the Adriatic. I Climb out of Karla in the mist. Up out the steep hill the views back of the little town are glorious. Another mental postcard. Really tasty roads but with lots of different surfaces and no bloody petrol stations for miles and miles. Foggy as you like too, and cold. Could be a long day. The maps we’ve been given were apparantly produced by the Romans and don’t seem to have any roads later than 20AD on them. Navigating is of the ‘flip a coin at each junction’ variety but luckily we spot some Christians nailed to crosses and stop to ask the way. They have a few problems giving directions as they can only point left or right but we bungle through and find our way to the right road. Flip blimey bloody hell and woopdy do, these mountains are fantisimo, and the scenery is stonking too. A bit Banff’esque in its style and scale it’s really amazing. Up and down, round and round, brilliant and all framed by the jutting cliffs and hills and contrasting flat plains in the middle. The old winker stinker gets a bit of exercise as things get slippery and wet before drying out for maximus motorcycle fun. The Greeks seem friendly enough, they just seem to have more than their fair share of body hair, even the women. They also seem to be late developers. I started growing a moustache when I was about 17-18 but the women over here don’t seem to get theirs till about 30. I recon there could be some wolverine cross breeding going on around here or something. I’m sure you could attach a small piece of Velcro to any one of them and it would support their entire body weight. They all smoke like Indian trucks out here too which is a bit risky when you’re hairier than a tarantula that’s not had a haircut for a year. 95% of us get over to the coast by 6 and sit amongst the port whores and mad scooterists and wait for the ferry to Italy at 9pm. Get onboard and it’s quite empty, just a few truck drivers and us really. I try out the Velcro test on the waitresses by trying to suspend them over the side but they keep falling in the water. I’m fast running out of crew when someone reminds me that they’re Romanian, bugger, so I go and grab the nearest olive chomping monster and try again, success at last. Bet she’s still swinging from the funnel by her moustache right now, armpits blowing in the breeze. Some of the blokes didn’t make the ferry, mainly due to falling off on some diesel, and they’re on the later ferry.
Fri 25th Bari to Florence 500 miles.
Get to the port and get off the boat to meet the support van driven over from UK to follow us round Europe. Quite a few of the riders are leaving the challenge here to head straight back to blighty. Most of these riders have missed out large sections of other legs of the challenge so it’s no big surprise but they just disappear without saying goodbye which is a bit sad. So now we’re down to the hardcore of riders and we’re on a mission to get to Morocco ASAP. Out onto the autostrada and it looks like my speedo is broken because it says I’m doing 100 but it appears I’m not really moving at all as cars come screaming past like I’m standing still. All day they’re wazzing past, mostly Audi A4 and Mercedes estates. I reckon they must have another engine in the back or something the speeds they’re doing. We pass the Italian police (smoking!) but they don’t give a monkeys it seems, how refreshing is that. The only people they’re pulling over are those doing less than 100. “Excuse me sir, I wonder if I can just take a look at your car a moment” “Certainly officer, what seems to be the problem” “Well I just want to check there is nothing stuck under your accelerator pedal. Tell me sir, what is the top speed of your car” “Well, about 115 according to the manual officer” “Then why aren’t you trying to do 116?” “I’m sorry officer, I’ll stop driving like a girl and get the pedal to the metal, it won’t happen again” “Make sure it doesn’t sir, I’ll just issue this ticket for your to present to your local police station within the next 10 days to show your tyres are worn out and your brakes knackered and everything will be fine, now go and burn some rubber”. Mad… like Italian fuel stations. You go to eat in these places and it’s complete chaos with 1 person serving and 10 doing their hair/looking in the mirror. See my first British plate and realise the end of the trip is getting really close. Arrive in Florence and it’s completely dead. We head out for something to eat and get a really minging pizza which is a bit of a shock. All the decent pizza makers must have moved to the UK to open takeaways.
Leave really early so I can go via Pisa which is a bit off the route but I don’t want to pass up the opportunity. It’s raining and cold and early morning but the autostrada is still full of people doing top speed runs. Make it to Pisa as the sun is crawling over the horizon making all the marble change shades and the shadows chase across the dew on the grass. I drive straight in and park directly in front of the tower, in front of two policemen (smoking) who again don’t even lift a finger. I tried this in New York when I tried to park the bike by the jetty to the Statue of Liberty but there was a swat (twat?) team there in 2.75 seconds and the entire NYPD police dog department appeared 1.2 seconds later with their salivating beasts in tow. Why they bought their wives I’ve no idea. Get some pictures and back onto the autostrada into the mountains and north towards France. These autostrada are simply awesome and a miracle of engineering. They thread their way through the mountains, often 100’s of feet up and through limitless tunnels. It’s as though a giant hand has sewn the motorway along the coastline. Sunlight, dark, sunlight, dark, in, out, in, out, quiet, loud, quiet, loud as I rush through the tunnels at a fairly relaxed 100mph revelling in this curvy motorist heaven. The roads here remind me of those you see in science fiction films with the vehicles travelling through the sky and you expect to be overtaken by a Blade Runner at any moment. I pass into France and the traffic slows down a bit but the views remain. Swooping down towards Nice in the autumn sun then along past Monaco before the scenery starts to flatten off. Reach Montpellier by 2.30pm but it’s one of those ETAPE places with electronic check-in and there is no human on duty till 5 so I sit around in the car park and wait. Big distances out on these roads are no problem except for the huge tolls. It’s costing £20-£30 a day which is big money. They should encourage bikes by making them free like in Malaysia, some hope! Montpellier is apparently the theft capital of the south and we’re warned not to leave the bikes unattended anywhere. Some of the riders run into a bloke with a campervan that’s been trashed by some scum and lend him a few Euros for some fuel to get him to his mates a few miles up north.
27th Montpellier to some place hidden in the Pyrenees 380
Out and south again. It would be easier to head straight north from here and home to the UK but I want to take every opportunity on this trip and so head for the hills again. Couple of hours on the autoroutes in the early morning sun. The flat land is covered in mist and the sun picks up small islands of land looking like they’re suspended in the clouds. Love to stop and take photos but that’ll make life in the mountains difficult later as the sun goes down. Finally out onto the N roads and I’m away again climbing up into the Pyrenees. Here we go again…. You can tell if it’s a special road by the number of other bikers and this one is swarming with them buzzing the light morning traffic. Got to be careful though, there are a lot of very fast car drivers around too in M3’s and hotter than hot hatches taking the bends at serious speeds. God I love these roads, and the views, and the weather. You go so far from home but you still find these incredible conditions relatively ‘just up the road’. I’ll be back! Scream around all morning and try to avoid getting into a death race with the locals who are keen to show you just how well they know the roads and how brave they are. Still, they, like a lot of the loony riders, are probably only riding for a few miles where we’re in for the long haul. We’re riding high and dry and it doesn’t come much better, or at least I don’t think it does until the afternoon when we find some very special empty roads through some lakes towards dusk. Riding into the sun we’re like a flock of Swifts heading south for the winter as we twist and turn our way to the hotel. The last section is single track and with a loose surface and big drops, perfect. Find the hotel (a converted trout farm) in the middle of the mountains with it’s own (intermittent) electrical supply. Looks haunted to me, probably by the dead fish. It looks like one of those places you expect an Agatha Christy novel to be based in with weird people popping in and out of secret rooms and a murder in the night.
28th Some place in the Pyrenees to Some place in the Sierra Navada mountains 450 miles.
We’re all still alive, which is good. We’re off to some little place buried in the sides of the Sierra Nevada mountains today where Nick Sanders has a house. It’s not on any maps and the photocopier isn’t working to give us any details anyway due to the intermittent and inconsistent power supply so it’s a case of ‘ask when you get there’ again. Out the single tracks and onto the racetrack again. This place is dangerous with a capital D. It’s so fast, but you just can’t help it, honestly officer. Get into the Sierra Nevada about sunset and take one of the suggested ‘scenic routes’ over the top. It’s indescribable, the views look you’re on a different planet with the setting sun turning the plains below seven shades of red and orange, but then it get dark, which isn’t surprising I suppose but in the mountains it gets REALLY REALLY dark like the bowel of a black sheep in a cave. Riding these roads in the dark puts the fear of God into me. I’m in front and I feel like the pretty boy in prison, I think I’m going to get rammed from behind at any moment. We stop and ask the way, with hand signals and pieces of paper. Seems we’re going in the right direction but the road is covered in old people for some reason. They’re everywhere, stumbling around in groups. Still, at least if you hit them they’re not too hard, they’re just all squashy like hitting a huge jellyfish or something. By the time we finally reach the town about 9.30 we’re all covered in cardigans, huge stained underwear and slippers but at least most of the limbs seem to have blown away in the breeze. We do the ‘random ordering’ thing from the menu and get a selection of unrecognisable fare then retire to bed. I’m sharing a bedroom with a rider that’s still playing Indian Roulette (like Mexican Roulette except your bum becomes a water pistol) so the night is spent on two breaths and surrounded by umbrellas to avoid any ‘spalshbacks’.
29th Some place in the Sierra Navada mountains to Chefchouen (Morocco) 250 miles
The challenge loon and I have to get tyres fitted in between everything else today so we intend to leave early and drop into Malaga. I wake up at 7 after sleeping with my earplugs in to save listening to any wet noises from my room mate, bugger. Rush down to the café for breakfast and leave after all the others, with aforementioned nutter. My bike is fully loaded with luggage, and now it has a pair of tyres strapped on as well. Feels like I’ve got a Weight Watcher on the back and I’m taking him to his first meeting. Nutter goes off and I follow. Into the morning traffic along the Med coast highway which is a fast highly twisty turny road and we fly through the traffic at maximum speed and catch the others up then overtake them right in front of a police car, excellent. Plod must be on his way home or something cos he doesn’t follow as we squeeze our way down through the traffic. Find a shop in Malaga and wait for the tyres to be done. Only problem is this shop sells motorcross kit and it’s really really cheap. I look at some big bugger off shit kicker motorcross boots, then I try them on, and they fit unfortunately. They’re so tough though and big that I think I won’t be able to ride my bike in them. Looks like I might have to get the bike modified then I think. We’re late and need to get to a ferry to Morocco so loon and I set off. I’m struggling in my new boots but learn to reach down with my hand to change gear instead, all in the name of fashion. We come to a junction and filter to the front, I’m coming to a stop and go to put my feet down to help but there’s a problem. My new boots have steel toecaps and instead of stopping you they just make a lovely noise and skid along the ground instead. Anyway, I’m now going through the red light and across the junction with sparks coming off my boots and traffic swerving all around me, which is nice. One of the other motorists does shout ‘lovely boots’ as I pass though which makes everything suddenly better. I won’t do that again, cos I’ll probably die. Off over to Algeciras and meet some of the other late travellers and board the ferry for the short trip to Cutia (spelt wrong). This boat is seriously fast. I look out the back and we have 2 water skiers and a paracending tourist attached. The sea here is famously unstable as the Med and the Atlantic meet. The boat is up and down and all over the place. I think we’ve got a fat dance troupe practicing on the deck or something we’re rocking and rolling so much. One or two of the others have ‘blown chunks’ on earlier ferries today but we manage to keep our teeth clean and alight in the Spanish enclave with the same amount of food onboard as when we started. Drive out about a couple of miles and straight to Moroccan customs, or ‘Bribesville’ as it should be called. You just cannot get through here in less than 10 days unless you ‘persuade’ some bloke in a dress to tell you what to do. There is an intricate series of tests to be passed before you can get all the correct stamps and paperwork to allow you to leave. Go to window 1 get a form then go to door C and get it stamped before going to office Z and getting some insurance before going back to window 2 to show them the insurance and take officer Blimbong to your vehicle then get stamp D before going back to window 3 and wait for Officer Fleshdybong to stamp form D355GF2342Dde in triplicate then go back to window 1 and say thank you in Arabic….. then get your passport stamped. What a rigmarole… then negotiate the amount of ‘persuasion’ the bloke in a dress wants and exit stage left into the throng of Taxi’s touting for business 1 inch over the boarder. By the time we get over the sun is setting and it’s raining. I though rain was banned in Morocco but it’s putting on a good show tonight, and it’s cold too. I follow Nick in his car with his family that he’s picked up in Spain as he knows the way to where we’re going. Across and into the mountains we go. The roads here feel like they’ve been made by road students before going graduating on to main roads, they’re like badly rolled pastry, all ruffed up on the corners and the edges are sharp and dangerous. There are no corner signs either so I’m glad to get to the hotel at the village up the mountains. The bikes have to be guarded all night cos the local youths will steal anything that’s not nailed down. We still manage to loose a few bungees and other biker kit overnight though, little buggers.
30th Chefchouen to Marakesh 400miles
Out into the Moroccan countryside and it’s still pastry roads for a while which really begins to put me off. They have a habit of cutting a 3 ft strip section across the road to mend it, then filling it….. with mud and dirt, usually on a corner, blind more often than not. This is scary stuff and the roads are really beginning to get on my tits. The countryside is fascinating though. The roads are lined by people on mule back, side-saddle usually and heavily loaded with crops that they’re still harvesting at this late stage of the year. The whole place is a lot more picturesque and a great deal greener than I’d imagined with a great deal of the land cultivated and growing crops. The colours of the Moroccans costumes are bright and loud and very attractive against the olive skin. As we get onto the bigger roads they become much much better. I reckon they assess the graduates against their B-road skills then let only the very best attempt the other routes because they quickly become absolutely superb with wide open corners and mad snaking roads through the lowlands. As you drive the scenery changes through every variety of green plains to dusky moonscapes then back again, it’s really weird and just not what I expected at all. We approach Marakesh and go past extremely high palms with tiny tufts at the top, odd, like a models legs… and then we’re into the usual people/cart/oxen/bicycle/moped/lorry chaos that all the main towns seem to be. Navigate our way to the ‘Hotel Fantasy’ in the middle. Not my idea of fantasy but it’s a lovely little gaff with the usual carpeted walls and courtyard in the middle buried in a tiny back street just off the bazaar. We’re offered Hash (again), and not of the corned beef variety! The whole place stinks of the stuff and I’m sure most people’s feet aren’t touching the ground as they float by in a haze. I reckon I could run my bike on the stuff it seems so strong, and probably better than the petrol round here which is weaker than wee wee and seems to have all the inflammable properties of water. All the bikes are pinking and sounding like they’re dragging tin cans along behind them. Later we risk a night trip to the bazaar but it’s like a Michael Jackson thriller video with weirdos everywhere amongst the smoke and steam of the street vendors. Funny how a bloke in a dress can be scary.
31st Marakesh to Alt Benhaddou 145 miles
We’ve been promised something special today. We’re doing the Tizi-n-tichka pass across the Atlas mountains which is supposed to be the mutts nuts. We don’t get away till 12 then get out of Marakesh and into the mountains. They suddenly rise above you and you’re on your way up. No messing around here, it’s straight into biker Nevana and no mistake. The road itself is as mental as they get and the views are indescribable. The only problem is the mountain vendors. You have to stop every so often to let your pants cool down and you choose a nice spot with nobody around. Stop, look … nobody here Gloves off … nobody here. Helmet off… nobody here. Turn around and there are 200 blokes are standing there with hands full of beads and necklaces or crystals for sale. I reckon they disguise themselves as rocks or something cos I’m dammed if I can work out where they all come from. By the time I’m over the mountains I’ve spent £400 on crystals and £800 on necklaces and I could open my own hippy jewellery shop. The ride over that pass though is just fantastic and impossible to describe. To fully appreciate the experience you’d just have to take a look at my pants. It’s get the maximus skidmarks prize for most frightening/exhilarating/exciting piece of tarmac so far and that’s quite an honour. We get to a hotel made of poo. No really, it’s recently be refurbished, with shit. Honestly, the walls seem to have been plastered with dung and straw and are a delicious brown hue, nice. Good view of the city from the top though and you can see edge of the desert too.
1st Alt Benhaddou to Tinerhir 130 miles.
Short day along the edge of the Sahara desert and to a tiny town on a hill, parts of which date back to 300BC (Before Concrete) . Screaming through the desert gives little appreciation of speed, until that is you suddenly see a policeman standing in the road over the brow of a hill, Whoops. It doesn’t help that he seems to be wearing his desert camouflage outfit either. I don’t know what the speed limit is here but I’d guess I’m about 100% over it. Still, he doesn’t have a speed camera, just two hands to frantically wave in a ‘slow down’ motion as I motor past inches from his body. Either that or he was flapping his arms in a frantic attempt to take off and fly out my way. Blimey, what the hell was that all about. See loads of camel warning signs too which is weird, then see loads of camels grazing in the heat haze off to the right. Get off the bike for a closer look only to see the desert really seems to be a rubbish tip covered in plastic bags, tins and boxes discarded by the motorists. Ruins the pictures I want to take of the camels and I spend 10 minutes like a Sahara Wombol collecting all the rubbish and moving it out the way. Nearly at the hotel village and I see a couple of the others atop a huge sand/gravel hillock on the outskirts. Drive over the sand and take a good look at the hill. Why is it, even though you know it’s going to go wrong do you attempt something that you know is stupid and dangerous? Don’t ask me, I had nothing to do with it. My new shit kicker off-road boots took over like Wallace and Gromits ‘wrong trousers’ and suddenly I am just a passenger as they stride off to the bike and turn it towards the hill. “Oh bollocks, you’re not thinking what I’m thinking are you” as I look down at the boots. I got a sudden sense of foreboding as they kick the bike into gear and accelerate up the hill, OHHHHH NOOOOOO. I desperately try to take the boots off but they’ve got 50,000 buckles and big sharp teeth and they’re not just having it. We’re half way up and at about 40 degrees and my pants are getting damp. The back wheel begins to slip and suddenly the bike bottoms out and looses traction. SHITTTTTTT I’m in trouble. At this point my ‘oh so hard’ boots get scared and run away laughing as I desperately try and hold the bike on the slope. I’m shouting to my mates that I can see at the top but they’re ignoring me it seems. I can see them looking at me but they don’t move. After about a minute the bike starts to slip backwards and there is nothing I can do but drop it and jump off, SHAGGGGGG. I walk up to the others and it’s really windy up there (which is why they couldn’t hear me,oh yea!). We all manhandle the bike down the slope (I’ve broken the foot peg) then spend 10 minutes running around after my boots and end up lassoing them before putting them on and standing for an hour in a big runny pile of camel dung as punishment. We’ve been told that some people sleep on the roof here because the view of the milky way is incredible on a clear night so four of us drag our bedclothes and mattresses up onto the roof to bed down and watch the stars. It appears that one of the hotel workers regularly sleeps up here as there is a half made bed already up here. Well, there is for a minute. That’s as long as it took us to disassemble the bed and share out the covers amongst ourselves. Later that evening a couple come up for a romantic walk and star gaze, unaware of us in bed in the shadows. Unaware that is until our bowel fireworks display goes off and it suddenly sounds like the place is under mortar fire. The couple run for shelter as we desperately hold down the covers in an attempt to stop them flying away. I seem to have a perfect fit of my blankets and I suddenly blow up and start to float off like a Zeppelin before someone manages to pull some covers back and send me flying round the roof like a balloon when someone lets go of the end. Oh how we laughed. Later, the hotel waiter comes up to the roof to climb into his bed. We see him fumbling round in the dark kicking the dark night air in an attempt to locate his bed before disappearing back downstairs disappointed. Oh how we laughed (again). What a night for the stars though. Laying on your back looking at the milky way I see more shooting stars than I’ve ever seen before in my life. Every few minutes one would streak across the cool dark sky. Then the moon put in an appearance and slowly tracked it’s way over our heads to be replaced by the rising sun. Fantastic.
2nd Tinerhir to Fez 390 miles
Leave Tinerhir complete with a rear foot peg from a mate’s Moto Guzzi in place of my broken one. Thank goodness for that, I’d not have been able to ride otherwise. Today will be the last day we all ride together and it’s a strange feeling setting off amongst this group that I’ve spent the last 3 months with. Made some really good friends here and had some fantastic times together. All good things must come to an end I suppose and we head off to Fez through a huge gorge and then into some forests on a mountain, complete with ski lifts. Something else I never expected! More mental tyre bending antics and it’s probably good that this is coming to an end before I do myself or the bike some serious damage. Get to Fez reasonably early and decide to visit the Medina which is supposed to be over 1000 years old. Get a taxi. Pooooo, what’s that smell. “Was that you” I ask my mate. “Nope”. Well maybe the taxi driver is a 1 man sewer or something cos the stink is unbelievable. For about 5 minutes it’s like having your head stuck down a toilet just visited by a vegetarian. Christ what a stink. Make it to the Medina and it’s absolutely heaving with people, like blood running through veins you get pushed along by the tide of bodies moving through the narrow streets. Past all the cobblers and tailors, smells of foreign fare and confectionary and the inevitable fake branded clothes. Past tiny doorways with women hunched over sewing machines under a single 40 watt bulb and men mending pots and pans. I go to take a picture but the shot is suddenly ruined by the subject shoving out his hand for money. OK, this is getting silly now. I can hardly move and I’m sure there is an undercurrent of children somewhere down there running about under peoples legs when “what’s this”. Amongst the throng of people in a street not more than 5 ft wide the local brain surgeon has decided to bring his donkey … fully loaded … with a table… and chairs. MENTAL. The donkey isn’t stopping for anyone and forces it’s way through regardless. So now I have a table scar down one side and a hoof impression on my foot, lovely. Later we see even more donkeys loaded with everything from TV and Hi-Fi equipment to bricks and sand going through the streets. It’s mad, completely mad. We go to get a taxi back to the hotel but the taxi rank resembles roman amphitheatre with youths and taxis in combat over the fares. Before a taxi has come to a stop, youths will open the door and virtually pull the occupants out in a desperate bid to get an empty taxi for the tourists. It’s complete chaos. I think we’ve got one, I get in the front but 3 local women get in the back and start screaming at me in Arabic. We’ve got one this time, here we go. As we get in my mate gives a 20p tip to one of three boys who think they got this taxi for us and suddenly it’s ‘fight night’ as the boys get down to some serious fisticuffs in the middle of the road. By the time we’ve turned round there are fists flying everywhere and a crowd has gathered to watch. Men have opened betting and the tote boards show the odds. The blood is flowing and it’s time to leave. Still, it’s cheaper than a ticket to Lewis vs Tyson.
3rd Fez to Valencia 790miles
Sad day. The group will start to split today as people make their way home at different speed and in different directions. Today 2 of us are leaving early to try and get as far north as possible tonight. A mate and I plan to leave at 7 and catch the earliest ferry we can whilst the others wait for breakfast. Nearly everyone has come out to see us off and saying goodbye is quite hard. Made some really good friends on this trip and even with the best intentions in the world I’m unlikely to see most of these people again. Lots of hand shaking and back slapping to camouflage the emotion and we’re on our way out of Fez and north towards the ferry. I take the wrong road out of town and get on the lovely new motorway. Lovely fast road but it has less chances to exit than a royal marriage and we end up miles out of our way by the time we can get off, bollocks, good start! No stopping now and we get a grove on across the countryside unwinding the route we took when we arrived a few days ago back up to the port. We see and pass some of the other riders that left after us then meet up with a few more at the boarder. The queue at the boarder is enormous and the next ferry goes in about 20 minutes, then as if by magic, a bloke in a dress appears. This one has the high heals and handbag to go with it which is a bit scary. Pity he didn’t shave his legs. Nice calves though. Bloke/Bloke’ess/Weirdo says 5 euros for the policeman (I can’t believe he asks us for money to pay a policeman!) would grease our journey through the melee and so we pay up and get our passports stamped quickly. Bloke in a dress wants some money too (which he gets) and a kiss (which he didn’t.. well not from me anyway). Now we have to get the vehicles stamped out. Bloke in shed with rubber stamp is on a go-slow it seems. Well, more of a ‘go so slowly it’s impossible to see any body part moving’. 10 minutes to the ferry and the blokes sharpening his pencil, which was pretty sharp in the first place it seems to me and could probably pierce Armour. This bloke loves a sharp pencil obviously and takes care to ensure it’s all even and the point is absolutely completely and utterly perfect. 8 minutes to go and bloke still hasn’t started. The fact that there are 10 bikers outside his window with rapidly rising stress levels does nothing to increase his speed. 5 minutes to go and his pencil snaps the first time he presses it down. BANG, that’s enough and I blow. I go into MAD NUTTER BIKER mode, make a quick copy of the official exit stamp on the blokes forehead (back to front of course), grab his hair and then take great pleasure in twating his head down repeatedly on our exit forms putting 120 stamps on my form alone. Worked quite well actually, especially as the bump on his bonse got more ‘egg shaped’. He didn’t even start bleeding till I’d done 430 stamps which is quite an achievement. People who got there later reported the bloke was still doing it, by himself this time, keeping his beloved pencil nice and sharp. Anyway we now have about 30 seconds to do the 5 miles or so across town to the ferry and it’s suddenly ‘the isle of Cueto TT’ and off we go. No time for red lights, pedestrian crossings or queues on this journey. We make it with seconds to spare and hear the sound of sirens approaching as the ferry leaves the docks. Maybe we shouldn’t have done that. Quickly to the other side and say goodbye to the few others that managed to make this ferry then off up the motorway with my mate to Malaga where he peels of north and I continue east. Sad to see him go and suddenly that’s it, it’s all over and I’m on my way home alone. Sit by the side of the road for a while and ponder before heading back on the motorway. Some of this coastal road is single carriageway and an absolute bitch on a Sunday evening with nose to tail traffic and police everywhere and it’s dark before the motorway proper starts again. I’ve booked the ferry from Le Harve for the day after tomorrow so I need to make good progress north this evening. Before I know it the time is nearly midnight and I’ve done nearly 800 miles so it’s time to find a bed in Valencia. After sharing a room for the last 3 months with snoring farting moaning blokes the quiet in my room is eerie and my ears ring in the silence.
4rd Valencia to Lemoges 540miles
Up and a quick lonely breakfast before hitting the road in the early morning rush hour. It’s foggy and cold and the traffic is heavy but fast. I want to go to Andora to get a new crash helmet to replace by beautiful but battered and bashed grey Arai. You’re supposed to replace a helmet if it’s had a crash, let alone had a crash AND been dropped 15 times AND bumped more times than a particularly cheap Thai tart. Turn left at Barcelona and head into the Pyrenees again. This place is a popular destination and so there are new three lane motorways up into the mountains from here. It make a mockery of the truly crap roads we have at home as it snakes over bridges and through tunnels as it climbs into the clouds. They’re still making it though and eventually it turns single carriageway, tighter and with more traffic. No problem on a bike but it is suddenly getting really really cold. The snot is beginning to flow and I’m wishing I had as much body hair as the average Greek woman as I head through the toll tunnels and into Andora. This place is just a tax haven in the mountains and has only a couple of towns that seem to consist entirely of designer shop outlets. The place is full of really old people. Why are they spending loads of money on expensive clothes and stuff, they’ll be dead in five minutes anyway. Find the bike shop and quickly buy a new helmet then head off in the cold but bright sunshine into another toll tunnel towards France. As I approach the end of the tunnel something looks wrong. It’s like someone has turned the sun out or something and there is some weird white stuff falling on the road. Ah, snow, my favorite, and thick mist, excellent. F**K this for a laugh, so I stop and put my bike on my back and carry it down the mountain which keeps me nice and warm at least. Blast up the motorway to Lemoges and find a Formulae 1 in a misty part of town amongst the lorry drivers and cheap restaurants.
5th Lemoges to Le Harve 300 miles
It’s freezing cold and very very foggy, another entry in the ‘The World Motorcyclists Recipes for Disaster’. Driving along using one hand as a windscreen wiper and the other to feel out in the fog for the car in front I head north again amongst the golden trees across the flat open spaces of northern France. The French are drivers are very considerate to motorcyclists and usually pull out the way if they see you so you can make really good progress. The fog lifts slowly and the views open out as I reach Le Mans and blat up the Mulsanne straight then into town. I’ve been here a few times to watch the 24 hours so know my way around. Stop to stuff my face then have one last scream up the fantastic roads to Le Harve. One thing that must be a new addition to French are the people shape cut-outs they have by the sides of the road. They’re black and have a white cross on them and obviously signify where someone has died. They’re usually on the exits of corners and often there are several in the same area. If this was America they’d have been used as target practice. Driving around the states 90% of the out of town road signs have bullet holes in them, so never use one to shelter from the wind OK I didn’t expect to make it up here so quickly and was going to take the night boat but I’m here by 2pm and can take the afternoon instead. I cannot get a refund on my cabin so they give me a business class cabin instead. The bedroom is bigger than mine at home and so is the shower, lovely, and it’s got a TV. Seeing the BBC for the first time in 3 months is weird, but they’re still repeating what I saw before I went so nothing changes. Off the ferry and someone says ‘mate’ to me for the first time in 3 months. Back on the left and 30 minutes home in the rain. Drive up to the hose and greeted by ‘welcome home’ and ‘where the hell have you been’ posters on the garage. Really good to see the family again though.
So there you are, Journey over. Blimey, what an excellent time I had from start to finish. Lost count of the places I’ve been, the places I’ve stayed, the people I’ve talked too, the times I’ve laughed. Visited 95% of the petrol stations on the planet it seems and driven nearly 31,000 miles in 92 days over some most amazing roads and scenery known to drivers the world over. Driven in everything from arid dry to 90% humidity, gale force winds to calm summer days, below freezing to 50 degrees Celsius, snow to monsoon rain, piercing sunlight to absolute blackness. I’ve crawled through the mad chaos of India at 5 mph and screamed across Australia with the throttle wide open at 140. I’ve killed at least 3 rabbits, 5 birds, 10 lizards, an eagle, a dog and 10 million insects and butterflies along my way. I’ve driven over everything from wet mud gravel and clay to beautiful dry surfaces as good as the finest racing circuit. I’ve nearly killed myself on several occasions including once in Mexico when only the last minute avoiding action of a pickup truck avoided a 90mph motorcyclist splatting on his windscreen and quite a few times when I’ve oh so nearly done an Evil Kenivel jump into a lake/canyon/abyss without the aid of a ramp or parachute. I’ve driven between 3 and 18 hours a day and covered distances between 150 and 1130 miles at one sitting and got more spots on my bum than an adulterant Dalmatian doing it. I’ve seen so much I don’t think I’ll ever remember it all but I will remember the experience. What a ride… what a bloody incredible ride.
That’s it…it’s all over… the end …finished…ferme…complete……….. till the next time