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Vladivostok … or Bust

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

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

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

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

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

Feels weird to be leaving alone this time.  Just kiss my wife goodbye.  “See you sometime mid September”  … Dover and out…

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Quick skip up to Made in Holland to see my sister-in-law, then a 900km slog across the increasingly broken roads of Europe to Lezno in Poland.  Just another pretty little town keeping itself to itself…. just minding its own business..
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Found a cashpoint to get some money out… and a suggestion of just where I might like to put it…  I am a cat lover after all.

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Before heading to the square for a sunset dinner

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Breakfast… checkout.  I asked the young lady to sign my helmet.  I’d cleaned some of it off before I started.. and I asked her if she wouldn’t mind filling it up for me again… took forever and ever … I’m nothing if not a patient man… “no don’t worry … just take as much time as you like”

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Then back to the square to have a play with my new drone… and see an early indication of the standard of driving when some fuckwit doesn’t register a screaming drone flying just by his left ear!

Only a few 100 miles to Lublin so take the roads less travelled for a change.  Photo mojo is in hiding again.  I know I’ll regret it later but I just cannot be arsed.  It’s all pretty flat and dull out this way and it also really bastard windy.  Still, my reputation seems to proceed me wherever I go.  I can’t step foot into a coffee shop nowadays without a young woman reaching for my helmet..

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This fucking wind is absolutely doing my fucking nut.  I’ve tried so many screens on this bike and they’re all varying degrees of fecking useless.  I think they were tested by having an elf sit on the bike and having someone else bend over and fart 100m in front of it.  “Can you feel that?”  “No mate – not a trace, just a slight smell of cabbage”  Job done.  Bloody useless.  Maybe on a perfectly calm day it might work but add in trucks, trees and a flat naked wind obsessed landscape and it feels like my eyeballs have come loose.  I ride into a big electrical storm and decide the best medicine is coffee and cake.  I sit down and wait.  It suddenly gets really dark.  Someone has just walked in.  A regular by the looks of it.   She’s dressed very inappropriately and bending over to look at the cakes.  I whip out my ‘thigh-chaffometer’ and take a quick measurement.  She scores %100 – the perfect score.  Complete contact from thighs to ankles.  Good job I ordered my cake before she arrived as she’s bulk buying..

Anyway, WTF am I going to do about this screen?  It’s only day 2.  I’ve only done a few 100 miles and I’m already thinking of just taking it off and throwing it in front of a train.  Fecking useless.  I look out the window into the rain.  This screen is from the 1290 – fits fine if you just fit some of these and some shorter screen screws – just in case your’re interested ..  anyway, the screen has a big vent in it.  I reckon that’s what screwing up the airflow.  So I step outside and as luck would have it there is a decorating shop next door.  Loads of paint, and by shear luck, some special Polish motorcycle screen vent repair …

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Which I go and administer to the bike.  Fits in perfectly.  You’d never notice it was there.  This will be a KTM power part in the very near future.

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I’d have paid at least £1000 for that to be done at a dealer.  Anyway.. time for a road test so into the rain and west towards Lublin.

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The tape makes a huge difference thank God.  Feels like someone has glued my eyeballs back in.  Fuck that’s a relief at least.   Saves me securing them with nails.   I look at my bike in pictures like this.. and it’s like looking at pictures of my wife when she was 25 … I get all excited … until I look in the kitchen  and see it now.. that’s right .. I keep my bike in the kitchen ..still, they’re made for riding, not for looking at eh .. uh um.. perhaps I should stop there… otherwise I might be looking for a solicitor ..

Get to Lublin late afternoon and my Aussie mate’s bike is already there safe and sound.  Part 1 done.  Go and celebrate with a meal at the Sexy Duck.  Who the fuck has ever seen a sexy duck?  Anyway, one duck burger later and I waddle back to the hotel and have a strange urge to dive for soggy bread in the bottom of the swimming pool.

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It’s the night of the blood moon so we sit out on the veranda sipping coffee and staring at the sky.  A group of Israel kids is here and we have a  chat with their teacher.  I’m embarrassed to say my war history knowledge is very poor but it turns out that one of the biggest death camps was just up the road at Majdanek.  The kids are bought to see it as a reminder.

Off towards Belarus. I wonder what this will be like.  Every border is different but we’ve seen reports of 7 hour crossings so I overdose on patience pills and off we go.  It’s not a busy border… just as well .. getting out of Poland is simples.  Nomansland is a narrow road across the river border so the Polish only release a few vehicles at a time.  The majority of travellers are Russians and Belorussians obviously.  There is a land border between Belarus and Russia but it’s currently closed to Europeans so we will exit into Ukraine.

Russia2018-31At the end of the bridge there is a young girl in a tight uniform , sporting a long thick auburn pony tail, wearing a big smile and carrying a big gun.  That alone is reason to visit Belarus… she flatly refuses to sign my helmet though.  She just ushers us on into the beginning of the usual paperwork trail these borders entail.  We join the queue amongst all the scrap 20 year old Peugeots and VWs being pushed through the border.  We get pulled forward as a group and wander about trying to work out what to do.  I loose my mate and I see a guard waving me over to a small hut.  I go in and my Aussie mate thinks he’s hit pay dirt.  In front of us is a real killer in a little Thunderbirds outfit, complete with small red hat and fingernails that look like they’ve recently been dipped in somebody’s blood.   She’s wearing a smile but I suspect that she could easily tear apart a rare steak, made out of my leg, and swallow it in an instant if provoked.  Still, she asks a few polite questions and orders the shuddering fat guard to go and fill our forms in for us, which is nice.  Go into the main building and this is where it goes all old soviet on you.  Window 1 gives you a faded printout on old yellowing paper that you take to window 2.. or is that 3 .. that punches some keys .. puts a stamp on it and sends you to window 3 or is that back to window 1 .. I definitely went back to window 1 at some point in the game .. anyway… you just keep going until there is no more room for any more stamps.   Then you get a fanfare and you can go to window 4 to get some insurance… unless you’re a car.. when you’ll have to go to window 5 to pay the toll for the roads..before going back to window 4

So… 4 hours later and we’re off, just as someone sticks a big pin in the jet black clouds and sets off a massive storm.

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Go to fill up the bikes.  FYI, almost all petrol stations in Belarus/Russia are pay in advance, and most don’t let you just fill the bike up.  “сколько?” [skolka – how many] Pick a big number, pay, fill, then go back and give them your card to credit the remainder.  Best done with cash as the B[W]ankers will charge you on both transactions.  And not everyone trusts the Russians with their credit cards either do they..  Works fine though.

We’re running late and arrive in Minsk after dark.  Big place, looks more modern than I thought it would.  Some weird architecture too.  Lots of money about.  Lots of big expensive cars and bikes about.  Mostly the ones where the dealers has to take you into a special little room and measure your cock to make sure it’s small enough before you can buy them .. and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of very beautiful young women.  I had the thigh-chaffometer out for 3 days and it registered 0% every single time..

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Get to the Hotel and pass through the usual time portal to 1970.  It’s all good though, comfy and quiet and safe parking.  I’m quite surprised so far.  Good roads too, new and shiny to the capital at least.  A nice atmosphere to the place as well.  Get up for breakfast, Russian style.  Breakfast is last nights cold leftovers.  Who cares.  Who doesn’t like fried eggs and beetroot?

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Welcome to Minsk. I was expecting lots of old architecture and big brutal soviet building everywhere but it’s not like that at all at first glance.

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We go to the war museum just up the road and it soon becomes clear why.   Looks like Belarus (White Russia) was in the wrong place at the wrong time and was just destroyed.  Lots of harrowing details of all sorts of atrocities. Pictures of people hanging in the streets and battles being fought among the rubble of the city.  It’s got a complicated and very unpleasant war history.

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No police about… drive up on the pavement and get the drone out …

We’re here for a couple of days so we  head out into the countryside to Nesvizh Castle.  Just to show how fluid the borders have been around this region, the castle has been in Poland… Lithuania .. and now Belarus.   Still, it’s an target ..  a destination .. a distraction.. that’s all the excuse I ever need.

Even out in the countryside the roads are all good and there is lots of new in among all the old.  I like the old though.  Europe is loosing all it’s character fast.  It’s turning into a bland meh soup and it’s a shame.  You’d often be hard pressed to know just where the hell you were if you were dropped in randomly on the main arteries.  All these prefab, pre-drab buildings… Germany… same … Poland ..same … same same same.  I juts hate it. Belarus is a relief for now, but I’m sure it will succumb to the inevitable eventually.  So, out into the little wooden villages.  Tiny one room houses built to keep everyone warm in the winter.  Real communities.  Stop here for a minute and people appear out of houses and wander down the road for a chat.  Chewing the fat and passing the time.  Laughing at my pigeon Russian, handing me dirty apples from a filthy bucket, leaning out the windows and laughing.  Really friendly people.  We’re all the same underneath..

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Get out to the castle for a look about.  Nice place on a big lake.  Busy too… I think I saw at least 5 other people there..

Russia2018-61Russia2018-63Russia2018-66Russia2018-60Russia2018-62Blowing a bloody gale but these little drones are amazing…

Then out for a lovely warm evening among the beautiful people of Minsk

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Pity I didn’t bring my dog… they do his favorite …Russia2018-53

Next stop Kiev.. Fill my stomach with cold vegetables and cream, meatballs and cheese, cucumber and custard … all the things you see on Masterchef .. then get on the road.  Pretty flat and empty.  New roads.. falling prey to the pre-drab epidemic..

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Cross into Ukraine and down into the chaos of Kiev.  Big, tight, noisy city with the biggest fuck-off cobblestones I’ve ever seen.  Rough as arseholes but stop you going too fast and last 2 million years.  I’ve seen three Maybachs here in about 10 minutes too, one of them wearing a matte paint job and wheels from a MiG  – must be a hoods convention going on somewhere.

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Find the hotel, cleverly disguised as a  drugs den..

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With a deliverscrew franchise right on the doorstep..

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According to the internet.. not experience you understand … the standard of such services in Kiev is described as ‘Premier’…

My mate is into all things big and explosive so we do a day trip 300km south to Pervomaysk to visit the ICBM Museum.  After the big treaty was signed one was allowed to be kept open as a museum in Arizona and one here in Ukraine.  300km of sunflower fields and shit roads later and we go down a dusty track to what looks like a rocket scrapyard in a field, through a rusty gate and park by a big helicopter that crash landed back in 1995.

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A little Maldovan guide turns up in a short dress totally unsuited to the windy conditions and takes us round.  With a big smile on her face and a happy sing song voice she spends ages explaining just how fucking scary and close to complete destruction the world was back in the days when I was happily riding round on a Chopper buying 8 chews for a penny.  She told stories of how during the Cuban Missile Crisis, one senior soviet commander averted world annihilation by refusing an order issued due to a case of mistaken identity.  He was never acknowledged but instead sent away somewhere ‘nice and quiet’ .. and very very cold probably.

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Then underground we go… into the belly of the beast.  First into the air and water processing plant

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Then down  a tunnel into the actual control structure.  These places are designed to withstand a direct hit and still be able to operate for up to 45 days in total isolation, completely cut off from the world.  The statistics are ridiculous and I can’t remember them other than they were in the ‘fucking hell’ bracket of weights, sizes, and dimensions categories.  Basically, the control unit is a very very very very very thick, very very very very heavy metal tube about 40m by 3m inside a massive huge meganormous concrete sleeve.  The whole thing is independently suspended in the void to help resist shock.  Difficult to photograph.

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There are 12 stories in the tube, and it’s the one at the bottom that houses the big scary fireworks buttons.  You get in a tiny lift/coffin and descend into the cold and dark and appear in a little tiny room with 2 seats, 2 screens and lots of buttons.  The soldiers/moles used to sit here for days on end with absolutely no entertainment allowed.  The Yanks apparently had TV and all sorts but the Ukrainians just had to do with staring competition … I Spy .. and “could you please avert your eyes for a minute please Vladamir.. and maybe stick your fingers in your ears… and pass me a tissue”.  Must have driven them insane.  Two of you can play at earth destruction by sitting in two chairs, typing a code at a terminal and both pressing a button within a few seconds of each other.  Boom.  Thanks and goodnight.  Two fingers.. two yellow buttons… the end of the world.

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Its quite a relief to get back outside where a whole load of big boys toys are slowly rotting and turning to rust.  Moving the ICBMs about and maneuvering them into the silos needed all sorts of specialist vehicles.  There are big FUCK OFF Tonka toys everywhere

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And of course the silos themselves.  The American silos were designed to be used more than once I think but the Russians took their usual ‘functional’ approach.  Why build a re-usable silo when the whole world was about to be blown to shit? Their rockets just had a monster fuck off explosive charge strapped to the bottom of them to launch them out the silo while simultaneously turning the whole place to rubble and dust.  Fuck I’d like to see (an unarmed) one of those being launched.  That would be a sight to see.

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We wander back to the bikes and I ask if we can ride the bikes past all the missiles, over the bunker complex, past the trains and out to  to the silo for a picture… I’m not hopeful .. “Da.. no problem” so off we go:)

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Then back between the endless sunflower fields to Kiev.  Ukraine is the world’s top producer of sunflower seeds.  I’ve yet to see a single parrot yet though.  Pick a field.. any field… and ride

Next day .. the deliverscrew ladies are still wandering about outside so in an effort to dampen the attraction to such services we decide to go and get ourselves radiated.  Chernobyl is only about 80 miles away.  You can book tours from here but my friends have organised a personal tour and will meet a guide up at the outer checkpoint.  We turn the sat navs on and follow the line north to the pulsing yellow dot..

It’s at times like these I think what a stupidly lucky sod I am.  Riding round the planet ..  chasing my dreams .. visiting nuclear disaster sites …

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My Aussie mates have ordered a special personal tour that includes taking X-Rays of each other right up against the wall of Reactor 3 where the very large piece of radioactive shit hit a truly massive fan.   Their guide arrives and I’m tagging along for the ride.  Get in the car, open the barrier and here we go.. The area is pretty big and it takes a while to arrive at … Chernobyl ..

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Chernobyl isn’t where the shit went down though it seems.  Chernobyl is a small town just up the road from the shit+fan site It’s still a living breathing town..  It has all the usual stuff.  Shops, offices, restaurants,  hotel, a post office .. police station.  Looks completely normal and undamaged.  It does have special rules like nighttime curfews and people only work here for short periods I think though.  It’s not what I expected though, not at all.  There are some reminders here, like a display of some of the remote control equipment used to clean up the site.

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You have to go through lots of checkpoints and have lots of paperwork to get inside the area, and you’re constantly checked for radiation levels.  Walk up to the machine… assume the position… hands on the sensors .. and if you’re OK the barrier will open and let you through .. hopefully

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So in we go.. I remember Chernobyl.  I remember seeing it on the news.  I remember hearing about it, seeing all the scare stories and pictures of two headed animals etc.  But the reality, as explained by the guide, is not what I remember at all.  Who to believe is anyone’s guess but it’s interesting none the less.

From memory.. so don’t have a go because my memory isn’t what it was .. my memory isn’t what it was .. my memory .. anyway… There were 4 reactors here and there were plans to gradually build that number up to 12.  At the point when reactor 4 went up, reactor 5 was already 85% complete and reactor 6 was underway too.  The first 4 were built like semi-detached houses, right next to each other.  I think the story goes that the auto systems were turned off to do some manual tests .. that were not entirely successful.  They just lost control and it all went Pete Tong. They obviously shut down the other 3 immediately but the remarkable thing is, they bought them all back up and had them working online again just a few days later.   Belarus caught the brunt of the cloud.  Everyone was evacuated from Pripyat (the ghost town) but it wasn’t hit badly by the cloud and could have been repopulated but the decision was made not to.   They ‘say’ nobody died as a direct consequence of the accident.  One fire-fighter died of a heart attack I think.  Obviously they do acknowledge the bravery and sacrifice made by a lot of extraordinary people involved in fighting the fire and the subsequent containment operations.  You see pictures of helicopters just hovering just over the pit dropping stuff into it and checking conditions.  Just normal uniforms on, no lead suits or protective stuff.  Seriously brave individuals every one of them.  “Fuck that shit” as my Aussie mate would say.  Who knows how many died as a result of that.  Reactor 4 is now enveloped in a big concrete sarcophagus, but you can go into reactor 3 next door and stand next to the wall to reactor 4,  take X-Ray selfies and maybe cook some marsh mellows..  That’s what my mates are off to do…

I’ve only paid for the cheap seats and I’m expecting to bum around for a few hours in the sunshine…  maybe soak up some rays … or maybe not … So I go back to the car with the guide and prepare to read.  “OK… what can we do..  do you fancy going to reactor 5?”  Ummmm… OK then …

The guide has been coming here regularly for 10 years and he’s only been to reactor 5 a few times he tells me, it’s definitely NOT on the usual itinerary.   It was 85% complete at the time of the accident but they decided to stop, not surprisingly…  They stripped it out and then clad it in some red panels for some reason to do with the radioactivity… just to be on the safe side .. yea right ..  anyway, we get out the car and take a path through the undergrowth towards the cooling tower.  Let’s just check the radioactivity levels here shall we..

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that’s millisieverts I think… I dunno .. that’s measured just off the path anyway .. and we’re sticking to the path .. I’m sure that’s fine..  and I am wearing long sleeves as instructed ..  it’s all good..

So we wander through the undergrowth towards the cooling tower.  Please note all the health and safety warning signs and daily signed inspection notes to confirm that the walkway is safe and complies to article 22234234B of the ‘you’re a fucking idiot’ guidelines …

Russia2018-117Russia2018-124These cooling towers are MASSIVE.  Amazing acoustics too.  The guide throws a big rock against a metal panel and it echo’s about the place like a ghost trying to fight it’s way out.  Quite poignantly, a quite well known Australian artist came here and painted a mural of a doctor working at the local hospital after the event..

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We get back into the car and ride the tracks round to the cooling lake and the old labs they used after to try and detect changes in the fish and animals.  Apparently they never found any abnormalities but they put it down to the fact that the first thing to go in infected creatures is the reproductive system… mother nature’s fail safe mechanism kicks in..

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And then round to the reactor itself.  It’s just a big sod off derelict nuclear power station.  Safe as houses.

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We climb under a monster lump of metal that’s just fallen off the side and leans against a hole in the wall.  I take time to inspect the safety certificate.. just to be sure .. before climbing up a load of incomplete concrete stairs in 90% darkness to emerge towards the roof.  Nice… I like what you’ve done with the place.  very ‘now’ .. very ‘in’

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The guide takes me through another door into 100% darkness and we navigate through to the huge void in the middle where the reactor would have been.  Luckily he’s got a torch… on his phone.. and as long as I keep within 10 centimeters of him I can avoid the 5 story drops between the platforms we step across.  You can here the scale of the place as your voice/screams/farts echo around in the darkness.  Why the fuck didn’t I use my torch too?  It’s funny how fear can mess with your head:)

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Out into the light we go, up loads of 99% corroded 89 degree ladders, dodge round more fallen tonnage and we can get a really good view across to Reactor 4.

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You’re not supposed to take pictures of Reactor 4, so the guide didn’t take me round there when nobody was about. Here is an artists impression of what I saw ..

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Not a place I ever expected to be for sure.. We go and collect my mates from their tour through reactor 3 and go for lunch.  Looks nice enough … bit of a fizzy aftertaste though…

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The guide is with us for a couple more hours so he decides to just take us for a walk round Pripyat.  This place is weird.. .and BIG.  It was a really big place… maybe 50000 predominately young people lived here.  The school had to run 2 shifts to accommodate all the children.  I thought it was going to be a tiny place but no.  It had a big stadium with running tracks and big grandstands,  a swimming complex, lots of high rises .. hotels .. everything a normal town would have.  We start with the usual… the wheel.. where there is a radioactive hotspot scoring somewhere over 300 on the ‘DIY sterilizations done here’ scale.

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Then we just wander about through the undergrowth, through the old stadium and into the swimming pool..

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Russia2018-162And the gym.. with its parquet flooring .. as supplied by people on extended holidays in Siberia with nothing better to do apparently .. Russia2018-151

And up one of the derelict and stripped out 17 story tower blocks for a view. 

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Cool… “Do you want to go through the red forest to see the woodpecker?”  WTF are you on about mate?  What is this bollocks of which you speak?  Well, just in case we’ve not received more than 1000 times our daily allowed dose of radiation, the Red Forest is area that caught some of the cloud and killed all the trees, turning them … yep .. you guessed it .. .  “It still has high levels of radiation so … keep the car windows shut… ”  Understood ..that’ll work .. I’m sure this little Toyota has been heavily modified to resist all the nasties in the air round here .. so off we go … quickly .. to see The Woodpecker, otherwise known as the Duga Radar.  This is some HOOOOOOOGE engineering, old soviet style.  I think it was basically an over the horizon radar to detect ballistic missiles going through part of the atmosphere, sending shortwave bursts through the air, fucking up everyone’s communications and disrupting broadcasts all over the world whilst consuming vast amounts of electricity… hence it’s location .. Its MASSIVE… I think 500m by 100m.  It would make a good washing line…

Russia2018-163 Russia2018-165 Russia2018-166Then back to Kiev for a day of wandering and people watching.  There is a nice old Metro system here, looks a lot like the one in Moscow, not surprisingly…. from when they used to be besties..

The girl at the ICBM museum told us you can get 10-12 years in prison just for displaying a communist symbol here nowadays…

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And we came across the Ukraine branch of the Putin fan club..

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We’ve not had much exercise for the last few days so we get on a random metro train to the end of the line and walk back

Russia2018-191 Russia2018-195 Russia2018-198Seems they have a problem with flying saucers round here, crash landing into the buildings.  Russia2018-196

We’ve got a long long way to go… so we’d better get on with it.. we pack up and head east .. to the Motherland.. it’s time to get on with it.

Next – Siberia

Ace to North Face

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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and the statues waiting patiently ..

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

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

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

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

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the very very very old..

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and the pre-historic…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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And she obviously loves me…

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

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

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

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

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

Next Page

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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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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Land of the dawn lit mountains

Where do I start with this one?  It’s coming up to Christmas It’s dark. It’s cold. It’s wet. It’s time to leave. I’ve got means, I’ve got opportunity, I’ve got to get the hell out of here.  Right now.  A fellow RTW rider at work is in the same state.  We’re like 2 animals tied up and straining at the lead, whining and moaning, heads hanging down and desperately needing to go out for a good long walk.  A quick escape plan is made, bribes are paid, collars are loosened and we’re off.  Running out the door and heading hard for the horizon before anyone realises we’re missing.

Boxing day, I’m away.  Destination is Arunachal Pradesh – The land of the dawn lit mountains – in far north east India.  A place I admit I never knew existed.  A disputed region that China calls South Tibet, squeezed in between China, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar.

We saw an off-road Enfield tour advertised and I signed up before the ink was even dry on the screen.  Bugger the details, bugger the route, bugger the accommodation.  All we were interested in was ‘where and when’.

Boxing day, I’m away.  I’m travelling in full Mad Max black leathers as I don’t have off-road kit.  I’m going through customs.  The man with the magic wand isn’t happy.  The wand is going mental and he can’t feel my legs.  For the first time in my life I’m lead into a private room with 2 blokes wearing rubber gloves.  I don’t think he’s even put any lubrication on.  He asks me to remove my trousers – he needs to see what I’m packing.  Not much as it happens.  They can’t decide if its a tiny stick of dynamite or just a very short fuse.  Either way they decide it’s no threat to man (or woman) or beast and I’m let back on my way without any rubber meets flesh moments.  Onto the big silver bird and it’s first stop Delhi to meet up with my workmate and her fella who flew out yesterday.

This is just a stopover before heading north so check into a cookie cutter ‘Boliday Inn’ and head straight for the city.  Someone has been round with a dustpan and brush since I was hear last.  Lots of new buildings and roads,   They’ve even built a huge bugger off metro system.  You don’t have to look very far to see where they’ve tipped all the rubbish though.  Head out from the centre and it’s quickly shite central.  The driving is just as mental and never has the word ‘merge’ been more appropriate as cars buses and bikes jostle and join together like rubbish flowing down a river.  The gaps between vehicles is measured in molecules. If you’re claustrophobic this isn’t the place for you.  Look out any window and there’s a bus/lorry/taxi panel pressed right up against you.  Quick scoot round the centre, look in at an Enfield shop and eat on a balcony in the sun.  Reality is already fading fast.  Thank God.  Reality is over-rated.

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We’re heading back in the evening and the driver hits a massive bump – it’s like he’s fired the ejector seat without opening the roof.  I’ve got my sunglasses on my head and now I’ve got Oakley embedded in my skull right next to my 666 birthmark.  Still, it means I can put my sunglasses on my head and wear my helmet at the same time now.

Up early for a flight up to Dibrugarh.  India is a massive country. It’s 2700km and 2 and a half hours north east before we land at Dibrugarh to meet the bikes.  They’ve taken 7 days by road on a truck to get here.  We meet Gaurav and climb in the truck down to the town to meet the machines.  Already the place seems weird.  The traffic is suitably mental and there is shit everywhere you look but this is not at all the India I’m expecting.  For anyone that’s been to India before, you expect chaos all around you all the time.  That, and lots and lots and lots of people.  People soup.  You can’t get away from people where ever you go.  They’re absolutely everywhere.  But here… it’s different.  Arunachal Pradesh is the least populated area in all India and it’s immediately apparent.   I bought a few cats with me on this trip, just to see if there would be room to swing them.  Out here I can swing them by the ends of their tails with room to spare.  It’s a strange feeling.  A bit post apocalyptic.

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India334India005Out to the hotel and a walk around the mean dark streets where poverty lives.  Round past the little shops where all sorts of sounds and smells fight for your attention.  Round past a huge train yard where the beasts go to be tended.  This place is really isolated and it’s the end of the line as far as trains are concerned.  We’re heading off into that isolation tomorrow.  Out across the flood plains and north into the mountains.

After a night haunted by ghost trains clanking and moaning past the door on the way to their beds in the sheds we meet up with the team running the trip.  There are only 3 of us but 6 of them!  Gaurav is the leader.  An indian film maker and big motorcyclist that now runs tours, mostly in Kashmir but occasionally out here in the land that India has forgotten. He has a ‘road captain’ that will ride with us too plus a mechanic, a cook and a ‘helper’ plus a driver to bring the travelling party along.  There is absolutely no tourist infrastructure up this way.  It’s really quite refreshing!  They’ve bought 5 bikes so we go and choose our steeds.  Enfield 500 Bullets.

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Good old Enfields.  These are the ‘Machismo’ editions.  Electric start, disk brake, 5 forward gears and 5 neutrals. They’re a bit small for me though.  I reckon I must look like a Shetland shagging a Shih Tzu when I’m riding it but who cares.  These things are tough.  They’re survivors.   I reckon they’ll be the bikes the coach roaches will be riding after the holocaust.

Saddle up and ride out.  From previous experience I’m expecting to be riding in nose to tail traffic in clouds of black smoke and checking my life insurance every 20 seconds out here but it’s the complete opposite.  Get out of town and the traffic is almost non-existant.  Good roads for a few miles then down some lanes through theea plantations.  Stunted bushes gleaming with night sweat in the low morning sunshine.

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We’re heading for the ferry to cross the huge Brahmaputra river. The Indian government is slowly trying to pull this region into the 21st century by building roads and bridges, mainly for military access, and the river is punctuated by towering stubs of concrete  that will eventually carry the bridge high over the river but at the moment they just disappear over the horizon like a long row of punctuation marks.

Down into the sand we go.  This is where my fear begins.  Fear of anything other than tarmac under the wheels.  The Enfield is too small for me to comfortably stand up on so I have to sit down and ride the rough stuff.  I hate doing that.  My backside is exit only for everything.  Signals from a saddle, doctor’s fingers, foreign objects, anything. Sitting down through the sand gives me anal overload and I can’t process it.  The Enfield though, that’s been there and done that and it just takes over.  It’s an incredibly stable bike and just pulls on through no problem what so ever.  Perhaps this won’t be so bad after all.

Get to the ferry terminal and it’s all calm and quiet.  No swarms of hot people pushing and shoving their way about.  No shouting and screaming.  No tension.  Just odd.

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The journey takes about an hour as the huge river meanders it’s way east on it’s long journey to the Bay of Bengal.  I love journeys like this.  No health and safety, no briefings, no tannoy announcements, just jump on and hope you get to the other side.  It’s a really slow ride through very shallow water where a special ‘sonar wallah’ takes depth readings with a bamboo pole.

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A gentle hour spent throbbing through the water and we’re at the docks/beach.  The bridge supports still run off into the distance in both directions.  This is going to be one massive bridge but it just shows how big these flood plains are up here.  I take a depth reading using my sandometer before I ride off.  It’s well into the brown and I’m expecting lots of fartworks but again the bike just wiggles up the beach belching and popping to it’s hearts content.   The Enfields are possessed by gentle souls.  They don’t have the power to scare you.  They’re like riding a mechanical elephant.  Slow and a bit ponderous but virtually unstoppable and extremely sure footed.

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This really is a beautiful area of the world.  Ears used to the constant cacophony of a crowd are being retuned to the quiet of an open landscape and the rush of low speed air on a bike.  Riding along tracks built on high ground you look out over the landscape at the stilted houses and the drying crops and remember how lucky you are.

India036India035Short ride up to Boleng and camp by a river.  Soon as we arrive the little team are sprinting about putting up tents and cooking dinner as we sit in comfy chairs sipping rice wine and feeling guilty.  That will soon pass I’m sure!  A three course dinner served under head torches, an hour chatting shit by the campfire and the jet lag says its time to shut down for the night.

The tent has been pitched on a slope and I keep waking up in a foetal ball in the bottom corner.  I flippin hate camping.  I reckon even Houdini would have trouble escaping from my bloody sleeping bag in anything under an hour.  And I guarantee he’d have pissed himself in the process.   Wake up and unfold myself and head out to the veranda.  Lovely fine white sand between my toes and a cup of my chai in my hand before I’ve finished my first fart.  Bliss.

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The crew have been up for hours and food smells hang in the air mixed with woodsmoke, water and wine.  Sit and watch the mechanic  awaken the beasts as they fart and pop and clear their pipes for the day.   The accelerator on an Enfield doesn’t really make much difference to forward motion.  It’s mostly just a volume control.  The mechanic turns up the noise and the river ripples in response in the distance.  Riding behind one is like being fired at with a 12 bore air pistol.  You can see the pulses exploding in the dust and if you get one in the face you know about it.  The bureautwats in Brussels would have a fit watching and listening to this stuff.  They would go into a clipboard frenzy the moment the key was turned.  India, you’ve got to love it! You can’t beat the smell of unburnt hydrocarbons with your breakfast.

India038India328Destination today is Jenging.  Not far, not far on normal roads anyway.  Anyone that’s been to India will know what the average roads are like so you can imagine what the small roads and tracks in the mountains are like.  We were warned about their condition before we came and I’m glad to see they’re just as shit as advertised. Shitter in fact.  These aren’t just rough roads.  They’re really tough roads.  Keep anything shiny or new away from roads. Like 25% finished road jigsaws most of the time. Like they’ve got a lorry load of road bits and driven along with the back flap open.  A lot are just tracks.  Often wet and slippery and trying to throw you into the scenery.  Not that that would be so bad.  Beautiful, lush and often a lovely deep bottle green.
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Stop for lunch at a shack next to a suspended bamboo bridge and watch a local ride over.  Bloody thing is swinging about everywhere and crunching under his wheels as the bamboo breaks.  I go down for a look and head straight out over the water accompanied by creaks and groans and squeaks beneath my feet.  I don’t think Brunel would be particularly impressed and I doubt it would take one of his trains but it feels safe enough.  Give it the old bounce test and get it going like a trampoline in no time.  A big Randolph , a front Cody and a set of huge Kabooms with a couple of Full Rudys and I’m ready to eat. Nice.

Sit down to eat something hot and random to the sound of knuckle meeting nose.  Some locals have decided to settle a dispute the old fashioned way and trying to twat 7 bells of each other.  We’re told there are all sorts of tribal disputes up here and they’re often falling out.  As long as he doesn’t get any blood in my rice.  Still, there are plenty of people round here to sign my helmet (careful!) and they’re all very friendly when they’re not punching each other.

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On to Jenging we go.  The roads just get rougher and rougher as we head further up into the hills.  Potholes just don’t cover it.  More like earth workings.  You know those huge mining excavations with 50 tonne yellow earth movers prowling about in them, well they’ve got nothing on the holes in these roads.  The people riding in front keep disappearing into the road then reappear seconds later yomping out the other side of a hole/crevasse/trench.  The old Enfield just keeps plugging through though.  You chuck it into something you’re sure will defeat it and it just comes out laughing and smiling saying “is that all you’ve got?  Bring it on.”  Fucking incredible really.  I’ve got ties wider than it’s tyres and it’s ground clearance isn’t brilliant but the bloody things are unstoppable.

India068By the time we get to Jenging my balls are bruised and my arse… my arse feels like a gay hooker whose just finished a 48 hour shift at a love parade. Jesus.  I hope we’ve got nice beds and warm showers tonight.  “We’re staying in a government house tonight”.  Great, definitely warm beds, a Jacuzzi, hot showers and possibly a pool then.  The region has these government houses that the people stay in when they’re up here sorting stuff out.  If there is nobody staying there then it’s possible to pay and stay there.  Here we go.  Where is it?  I’m looking for whitewashed stones, possibly a gatehouse, and definitely a flagpole.  Hang on, we’ve all stopped.  I guess we’ll just wait by this derelict abandoned building while we make a phone call and send the chauffeur in to guide us in to the mansion.  What?  Are you sure?  Oh you’re such a funny bloke:)  No really?  Oh…..India072India071I was not expecting this.  Perhaps he meant a government prison house?  I can’t imagine a UK government official pitching up, washing with a bucket, shitting in a hole and sleeping in a bed of unknown hygienic provenance but apparently it’s true here.  There is a little bloke on duty that has to jump on his bike and power the generator to provide meagre pulsing power and thats about it.  The crew are all over it anyway.  Boiling water to wash and commandeering the ‘kitchen’ to execute and cook the dinner while we wander around and compare damp patches.  Fantastic place.  We all dare each other to stand on the bamboo balcony built on the edge of the hill and attached to the house by a couple of pieces of string.

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My back feels like it’s plugged directly into the mains and someone is flicking a switch.  I had some huge hits up the jacksee today.  Like being arse raped by a buffalo with big lead balls.  I think it’s re-plumbed my nervous system and I’ve now got a short.  Gaurav makes some enquiries and we get hold of the local doctor/masseur/surgeon/DIY expert. Jenging is just a small village hanging on to the side of a hill.  Multi tasking is a necessity!  Dr Bob decides the best way to fix my back is to pummel my head with his fists and to rub his hands so hard on my face that I’m worried he’s going to rub it all off and I’ll just end up looking like “The Scream”. He eventually decides that the twatting method can be used on my back too and he punches it into submission.  The price?  £2.  I give him a fiver and his smile is so wide it touches his ears.

Bloody cold at night up here.  Jump straight from the campfire to the nearest bed and a couple of crusty blankets.  Out like a light.

Wake in the morning.  There is something telling me to get up.  To go outside.  There’s something waiting for me.  Out of the warm cocoon and out I go.  “Thanks” I hear all my senses say.  “Thanks a lot”.  This is why it’s worth the pain to get to these places.  I just stand and breath it all in.  I’m breathing through my eyes, through my ears, through my skin.  The sky is busy painting in slow motion.  Shadows crawling towards me, clouds hovering and warming themselves in the first morning rays.  Land of the dawn lit mountains.  This is it.  Special moment to treasure forever.  Beauty beyond words.

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“What would you like for breakfast today?” asks the cook.  “Onion Omlettes… chai.. bread and butter…dancing girls….”  “Dancing girls?  How many have you got?  I could probably eat a couple, I’m quite hungry”.  “No problem.  I’ve got 4”

Excellent.  There is nothing like a troupe of young dancing girls for breakfast I find.  Today is new year’s eve and the girls are going to be dancing for a small local audience this evening so they’re here to practice early.  So we munch away in the corner as the girls wiggle and glide their way round the cold concrete floor.  They’re all lithe and liquid and move like silk curtains in a breeze to some low hypnotic  music.  It’s all over far too soon as the man on the bike falls off exhausted and the electricity goes off.  India080Out into the jungle we go again, tracking round the hillside and across the valleys.  Come to a suspension bridge that says it was built in 2004 but looks like it was built from parts of another bridge made in 1805.  You watch a truck cross and it sways back and forth against the concrete end stops, the gap opening and shutting like a mad  cutting machine where you dare people to put their leg in. No signs, no health and safety, just watch your step.  India085Spend the day bouncing and sliding along the hillsides admiring all the moody views.  The hills are peppered with little communities all living in stilted bamboo houses.  These places are like tinder boxes and it takes the fire service at least 15 years to arrive so they all build separate stores well away from their homes on the edges of the villages so when they inevitable happens all their livelihoods are safe and protected.

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It’s new years eve tonight so I’m expecting something special. Something regal, royal and opulent. Champagne and caviar. Maybe a ballroom and orchestra. It’s another government house but surely lightening (and damp, dry rot, crusty beds, elec..elect..electr..e…candlelight) cant strike twice can it? We cross the river and look up at the town up in the hills above. The sign says 2km. I reckon that’s 2km straight up. We climb up the zig zag track against a flow of water over some weird looking purple clay like goo, then big lots of mud and slime. Lord knows how they get the government limousines up here. It must days to clean them afterwards. Maybe this one has a helipad? Get to the village and it’s looking good. A flat football pitch dug out the hillside, there is even a small roundabout! I can see the house. It’s got a drive… and gates… and trees out front … and even some tarmac. Game on!

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Through the gates we go.  Still looking good.  But then my old eyes begin to focus and see the cracks.  Like one of those erroneous decisions you make in a crowded dark nightclub.  “Blimey, she looks all right… nice arse… good hair…. why is she going into the gents?” Then the light dawns and the full horror hits.  As the house comes into focus it’s not initially too bad.  Could go either way.  Go through the front hall and into the ‘atrium’.  I think the SAS have been here first.  I think they’ve used it as an urban assault training venue.  All dilapidated and semi destroyed.   I’ve got my own suite… which is nice.  Bedroom, changing room, bathroom and balcony.  All the rooms have flower names.  Mine is called ‘Daisy’.  I think this is a boutique hotel and all the rooms are themed.  My theme seems to be ‘Abandoned’.  It’s really clever how authentic the decorators have made it.  Cold, mouldy and dark with a wicked cold breeze running through it.  I’ll just shut the windows, that will help.  I shut the windows.  Makes fuck all difference.  There isn’t any glass in them.  Showering with a bucket of hot water is a test of speed before any essential body parts run away and hide in my warm body cavity and before the electricity goes off ag… fuck.  Washing your body using Braille isn’t as easy as you’d think when your body is 100% goose pimples.

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Nothing stops Gaurav’s little helpers though and they set about the evening ritual slaughter for dinner.  I lay on my bed in the dark and listen to various local animals saying goodbye to 2015, and life in general really, as they get ready to celebrate a happy stew year. Screaming and wailing their way out of this world.

Spend new years eve sitting outside in the freezing cold round a camp fire surrounded by perfectly clear IMAX view of the beautiful galaxy stretching off into infinity.  Suddenly a big furtive pig runs into the light of the fire.  It pauses just briefly, fixes me with a “you have’t seen me, right” look, then hurries off into the shadows until the celebrations subside.

I quickly raid Violet, Marigold, and Golden Shower… yes really.. for blankets and spend the night wrapped up like a puff pastry sausage roll.

Another day, another lovely sunrise with the sun spotlighting the mountain tops through the clouds.  Down is up in reverse.  Sliding, slithering and slipping through the goo.

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Forget the goo though, just look at the view. Christ that’s beautiful.  A river of cloud flowing slowly through the valley.  Looking down at clouds is one of my favourite things and this is up there with the best.  Simple pleasures.

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India124So.  Today is bridge day.  We’ve been trying not to think about bridge day.  We’ve been told that this is why some people come on the trip.  We’ve also been told that this is why people don’t come on the trip.  Will the bridge take us to the other side, or will it take us to ‘the other side‘?  Time to find out.

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Follow some lovely jungle tracks for a while  before Gaurav stops and looks over the edge.  WTF?  Down there?  We’re going to be riding over what is really a footbridge.  The paths to and fro are just very steep narrow rocky footpaths down from the tracks.  Tip the bikes in and down we go.  Anyone coming up has no chance as a swarm of barely in control Enfields scrabble down the slope like loose rocks.  Shit.  That’s impressive.  About 500ft long and 150ft above the water.  The locals use this as a shortcut on their little 125’s but their total combined weight is about 2 stone wet through.  These Enfield’s are still fat from Christmas and with us Europorkers on board this is going to be interesting.India133

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First across is the mechanic….errrr… maniac.  I think he’s spotted a naked maiden bending over on the other side and sets off like a dog on heat.  The bridge is swaying and making a loud clacking noise, usually followed by bits of the bridge breaking free and dropping into the water below. He makes is across and disappears into the undergrowth with the maiden to claim his prize.  OK – our turns.  I’m strangely calm about it for some reason.  Perhaps I’ve just convinced myself that death is inevitable and it’s just not worth worrying about it.  Perhaps I’m just stupid.  Perhaps I’ll just ride back the way I came and go home.  The next rider makes it across.  All good, then my fellow workmate is up.  Off she goes… steady… doing well… clank clank clank as plank after plank after plank drops in the water but she’s across no problem.  Good girl!  OK.  I’m lined up.  I’m ready to go.  I’m off… well nearly off as it happens as I instantly veer to the left and rip the left foot peg clean off on a cable.  So I’m 10m in with no left footpeg and my leg dangling  in thin air at 20mph on a wobbly wooden tightrope.  What else could possibly go wrong?  I get to the middle and it’s really moving now.  Swaying to and fro and with the surface leaning to the left.  Bollocks… whats that?  That looks like a bit of a gap… or too.  The previous rider has made a few structural modifications and suddenly there are some big gaps.  I just chicken out and stop.  Probably not the best idea!  I look at the gap and just pop the front over the first gap but the back then goes in and the bike starts to roll back into the gap.  Logic would say the bike is not going to fit through the gap and fall into the water below but at this moment logic isn’t in control.  Survival instinct has taken over and my brain is searching for a solution as the bike pulls me backwards.  As luck would have it I’m still in gear..mainly due to the fact that my left footrest has gone.. so I slowly let the clutch out and creep out the hole and forward over the gaps before riding slowly up the other side with my heart rate at somewhere over 2000bpm and my arse tight enough to use as a pencil sharpener.  Fuck!  I turn round and the last rider across has stopped in the middle and wont go any further.  We wander out with some spare planks to patch it all up and get him across.

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Let my heart rate calm down a bit, and manage to sharpen about 500 pencils before setting off out up the valley to find some food.  The towns are all shut up except for a few hardy souls selling their wears in the cold shadows of their shops.

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The light is dropping and we’ve got to get up the mountain to a small village where Gaurav has a mate with some small shacks he lets people sleep in.  After the last 2 nights I’m not expecting anything.  Maybe a floor and a roof.  Maybe a pig toilet (where the there is hole in the floor strategically placed over a pig sty for immediate reprocessing!)  and a couple of blankets made of snot and ear wax.  The road up is spectcularly rough and my ares is being constantly being arsed to take up the slack when the suspension runs out of travel.  We’re lead down a 1 in 1 track for what feels like a 2 mile stoppie before reaching a flat area with a few fantastic tiny huts perching delicately on the jungle slope.  Shit – I wasn’t expecting this for sure.

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India153India149So the electrics are for decoration only and the walls and floors are see through but who cares!  I sit on my balcony and wonder and really the way things sometimes work out.India151

 

Spend a wonderful night dreaming of laying suspended on clouds.  Out for chai and breakfast round the fire before attacking the very steep rough and slippery  track out of this little oasis and back to the spine crushing road at the top.  No thinking, no hesitating, just pin it to win it and up we all go.  These bikes continue to surprise me.  I’ve done a fair amount of rough and off-road riding though I would definitely not class myself as anything other than an average rider.  I  would definitely never ever say I was an off-road rider, it’s always scared my bowel contents out of me.  The strange thing is that I find myself thinking that I’ve never ever been more comfortable riding off-road and in the sorts of conditions we’re seeing here.  I’m happily sitting down and riding though just about anything on the Enfield.  It slips slides and wiggles and it doesn’t bother me at all.  We’re not really hanging about either.   Its just such a stable old beast.  I occasionally have to stand up when it gets really shit but with the low bars I have to stick my arse out look like Miley Cyrus practising her twerking moves.  You also can’t help standing on the heal change and going into neutral which always makes me laugh… NOT..

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Up in the hills again we’re going following a rough track with high jungle both sides. We come to a clearing and there are some kids and adults sitting on the edge selling stuff they’ve picked from the local fauna.  Bananas and chillies, supposedly the hottest in the world.  This area likes it’s food very hot and spicy.  I bought a special ‘tongue sock’ before I came to protect me from the worst of it but after a meal it looks like it’s been bombed with napalm.  These people up here are so isolated and innocent that they’ve apparently never had their pictures taken on a phone.  I can’t remember the last time I met someone like that but it was a very long time ago indeed.  Lots of giggling and laughing and pointing.  The kids want 10 pence for a bunch of bananas so I give them a 100 and feed their little pig running around their heals.  Everyones a winner.

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We’re back for a touch of civilisation today and we spend the day slowly descending though roads cut through dense jungle, surrounded by deep dense greenery and some strange palm trees with trunks as smooth dark and hard as a black athletes body.  Deep shadows and piecing sunshine constantly fight for your attention as we twist and turn slowly through the mess and water down and on to the plains below near a village we camped near a few days ago.  First sighting of an elephant too.  Looks like it’s slept in a graffiti hotspot as it’s covered in tags and signs, lumbering slowly along the road.  The bloke on his back is busy texting.  Surely that’s dangerous…

We’re staying at a ‘resort’ tonight.  That could mean anything, absolutely anything.  Perhaps it’s a new an unknowns ‘Sandals’ resort with white sand and an infinity pool.  Perhaps it’s a shed with a puddle, a ‘last resort’.  The track up to it certainly doesn’t look like it’s been regularly used by people delivering delicate items of glass and furniture and foie gras in little refrigerated trucks.  It’s a river bank, all sandy with big rocks in then a very very steep, loose,  tight and twisty ending but the climax is definitely worth all the frightening foreplay.  A big wooden house with big bedrooms, showers and even that most elusive of utilities, near constant electricity.  Bonus.  Hot shower anyone?  Yes please, I’ll take 3.  Scrub off my dirty coating and delight in the feeling of a cool breeze over clean warm flesh.  The place is really close to the big river and some rapids.  It’s a fledgling project to offer white water rafting to visitors.  This time of the year the river is low and so is trade.

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Cooking smells draw us in to the dining area.  Us, and all the owners pets too.  The dogs are fine but the little kitten is climbing about trying to get to the food and making a right racket.  The cook comes out the kitchen and just grabs the cat.  Oh shit.  It’s kitty and custard for desert by the looks of it.  He suddenly just hurls the cat high in to the air.  WTF is he doing?  The cats eyes are wide open like two shiny marbles, it’s mouth is wide open, it’s legs are splayed out and it’s thinks it’s looking death in the face.  It’s traveling backwards fast and it’s meeeoooooooo is fading as it gets further and further away.  It hits a beam far up in the roof of the house,and clings on for dear life,  perched on a ledge, no route down. Perhaps I can try that with the kids at home.  What a flippin racket though.  The cat just sits there screaming “I’m really really really sorry” at the top of it’s little squeaky voice until I finish and climb up on the furniture to rescue it.  Then we have kitty and custard to finish anyway:)  Tasty.

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My back is shagged again and my arse feels like it’s been used in a game of ‘pass the arsehole’ at a gay sumo birthday party.  I need attention.  One of the crew goes to town, finds a big box with ‘1970’ on it and opens it to find a tiny little masseur that looks like a cross between a mad magician and Val Doonican.  Huge black moustache, a beige nylon cardigan/trousers combo and muscles like a mouse.  I’m not hopeful.  What follows is less like a massage, and more like being attacked by an angry 12 year old.  Lots of little punches,  jabs and slaps.  Lots of pulling and shoving.  After a while the sweat is dripping of the ends of his moustache and I feel so sorry for him that I motion for him to stop.  His nylons have generate so much static that he is in danger of shorting out the building so I tell him to leave.  I just see a white flash of light and hear an almighty crack as he steps of the veranda and touches earth.  When the cloud of smoke clears it appears all his clothes have shrink wrapped themselves to his body. He wont get those off in a hurry.

Take a walk down to the river basin and watch the cows wander about on the beach.  A beautiful spot, covered in millions of colourful pebbles.  Someone has been hard at work arranging them all so that there are never two of the same colour next to each other.  That must have taken a while.

India331“What’s on the menu today?”  “Todays’s theme is riverbeds” is the reply.  We’ve seen them stretching out into the sunny haze from up in the mountains.  Wide veins of water randomly wandering about towards the horizon amongst the stony beds.  We take the thrill ride down the track and through the tall grass lining the edges, the seed heads all alight with the low sun and swinging about like lighters at a concert.

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Find a proper wide tarmac road and it feels like I’m riding on a magic carpet.  All smooth and delicious and grippy.  Still absolutely no traffic.  None.  Nada.  It’s really Freaky.  Tarmac soon turns to trail turns to rocks and we get to the riverbed.

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There tracks are obvious where trucks have pushed the stones into the ground but these are often the worst to ride on.  Rocks that would usually move are solidly driven into the ground and quickly give my poor old back the twitches again.  What a stunning place though..  Clear and cool and bright and scrubbed clean by the sand.  Just gorgeous.

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The beds are obviously punctuated by lots of flowing water.  They’re too fast, deep and rocky to cross in vehicles but the locals, as always, have provided solutions. In the usual Indian manner, they don’t wait for the government to sort it out, they sort it out themselves.  Like little river trolls , enterprising groups build bridges of stone and wood, then they build themselves little huts and simple barriers and charge people a modest sum to cross.

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We’re at the barrier at one bridge and I get a strong smell of perfume.  Really strong too.  Unless I’ve suddenly developed the nose of a labrador it has to be close.  It’s got to be one of the blokes at the barrier.  At a guess, I’d say it’s the one with the bright pink nail varnish.   Ho hum.  Each to their own.  Perhaps it gets really lonely out here…

We shelter from the sun in their hut for a while and I drink my daily 2 gallon allowance of chai.  Just watching the world go by. People come.  People go.  Same same but different.  Same the world over.

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The sun is falling out the sky, tired after another day of shining bright.  We’re camping again tonight and we need to find somewhere flat and smooth in this wilderness.  We need to get off the riverbeds first but they just keep on coming. We come to a big one that the local’s bridge building skills don’t quite stretch to so there is a ferry instead.  3 boats lashed together and one motor to just drive against the current.  India209

Loading these things is a delicate balancing act and we’re all told where to stand for the crossing whilst the crew goes into a blur bailing out the water from the three hulls.  I love this stuff.  I’ve got the top spot, balanced right on the front of far boat.  The motor is beating through my feet and the water is chattering round the front as we slowly drift across.  Look down into crystal clear water on its never ending journey from the clouds to the sea to the clouds to the sea.  Watch the deep beneath my feet and resist the urge to just jump in.  Bump the bikes off and we’re away and on the hunt for a site for the night.  There are tracks going off in all directions but we’re running out of time so Gaurav goes hunting whilst the crew chases an escaped cockerel round and round like a Benny Hill sketch.  The final score is cockerel won, crew zero.  Vegetarian for dinner tonight.

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Gaurav appears out of some bushes on the bike and has a huge smile on his face.  “I’ve found a beautiful spot.  You’ll love it, follow me”.  I’m wondering if I told him that I loved motorcycle assault courses as we head off through all range of stuff with low tree branches, sand and gravel and tall grass before reaching a large open area and we stop….at a massive boulder field.  “It’s just over there” says Gaurav.  “How the fuck are we going to get over there?” “We’ll just follow the road” says my lady friend.  “The road?  Are you mad?  WTF are you talking about?  There is no flippin road!” She has spotted a track where the boulders are 2mm lower than all those surrounding it – brilliant.  That’s a road…. obviously…..

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My enfield is standing by me like an obedient metal mutt, wagging it’s tail and ready to do whatever I command.  “TO DISABILITY, AND BEYOND” I shout  as I launch  off over the ‘road’ to the sand beyond.  I’m going too fast.  I’m going to die.  I’m going to be turned into a million piece human jigsaw when I come off on this.  Sure enough there is a HUGE boulder that I swear is the shape of a coffin, right in the middle of my path.  It’s my destiny.  It’s fate.  It’s fucking big and hard and launches me straight out into the big rocks where the inevitable happens and me and the Enfield part company.  The bike just sits there laughing and giggling.  “Bovvered?”  It’s not bovvered at all.  Not a mark on it.  I think the boulders have suffered more than it has.  It’s indestructible.  Luckily my leathers have kept all my essential components within stretching distance of one another and I’m in one piece.  I get the bike upright again and slowly bump myself onto the deep smooth sand.

Was the pain worth this pleasure?  Decide for yourself.  We’ve found ourselves on an elephant footpath and pitch our tents amongst the big flat circles and watch the sun fall slowly over the edge.

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In the monsoon this plain is flooded and leaves many people isolated on little islands.  The only way across is by elephant. I think we’re camped in the middle of the E1.  I’m keen not to get squashed under the heels of a jumbonaut in the night so I’ve made sure my tent is on the hard shoulder.  I think that’s sensible.

In the morning, there’s only one way out.  No body has been up to build a bridge or tarmac a road so it’s back over the boulders and along the tracks.

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We’re not going far today.  Destination is Roing where an ex government man has built a guest house.  I wonder if he’s the architect of the other government houses we’ve stayed in.  Maybe they were done just for practice.  Maybe he’s got it right this time.  Maybe…   We take a short detour to Assam for a cup of… you’ve guessed it … tea.  Crossing the borders between states means paperwork, even though they’re the same country.  You need permits.  We’ve not bought ours this time so we park up the road and creep past the barrier.  As I do I look left into the office window and see way back in time.  An old man is busy doing his paperwork on a huge old typewriter.  When was the last time you saw one of those being used? The familiar tap tap bing comes through the air as hits newline with the big chrome handle.

Beyond the barrier is just like a normal border town.  Lots of coming and going but a bit of an atmosphere too.  Maybe not so friendly this time.  Lots of curiosity and people staring.  A bit uncomfortable if I’m honest but that’s a good thing.  It’s always good to give all your senses some practice and experiences, even the unpleasant ones. India230
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Get to Joing and this time we get a great result on the lodging lottery.  I reckon this is a 4 number win easily.  Bamboo huts in a compound overlooking the river.

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Spend the evening with the host in his little octagonal bamboo tower.  Squeaky suspended floors and a barbecue in the middle where he cooks chicken kebabs with a molten lava coating. These things burn straight through my tongue sock and have all my taste buds running for cover.  He is also serving some delicious local rice wine that tastes a lot like honey.  As I pour it in there is a hiss and a cloud of steam like a hot horseshoe being doused in a cold bucket of water.

The host says the wine can only be made by women, and even then, only particular women.  It must have a secret ingredient.  I’m not really sure I want to know exactly what that ingredient is and I don’t ask any more questions. Whatever it is,  it tastes divine.

The special chicken coating has done something to my insides.  I feel like I’ve been sitting impaled on an air hose and I’m all bloated and full of hot air.  I’m in danger of letting loose an entry for the worlds longest fart competition so I head to bed early and climb into the cold hard bed.  I lay down, hold on and release the trigger to let the pressure wave loose which has both good and bad side effects. The good news is that can I slam  all the doors shut without having to get out of bed.  The bad news is that my ears start bleeding.  The air pressure has reached about 50 atmospheres and so I have to call the owner to drill a little hole in the wall to allow me to decompress slowly.

Back to the little tower for breakfast and chai.  Anyone that’s had chai knows it’s sweet.  Ours is getting sweeter every day and I reckon it’s now about 70/30 sugar to tea.  I might as well suck a stick of sugar cane.  Nobody does diabetic out here, they miss out the betic completely and go straight to die.  Bloody lovely way to go though.

Today is a big local loop up the Mayodiya pass and back.  We’re  only about 40 miles from the  China border and you can see it in the local people’s eyes.  The pass is not that high at about 2700m but it’ll be chilly up there and we’ll be able to see  some of the snow topped himalayas over the border in the neighbours garden.

Like a lot of countries India has an aspiration to turn all the roads up to it’s borders into modern 2 lane highways that project an idea of wealth to people entering from outside.   Lots of these roads are currently single lane narrow trails just scratched into the side of the mountains through 100’s of years of toing and froing.   As you ride these roads you go through miles and miles of rough, shit and mess then you’ll suddenly come across a small section covered in people laying tarmac, then back to the shit again.  I can’t work it out.  I think they just take a load of stuff to a place where there are locals living and fix it there but leave all the rest alone.  Anyway, this road isn’t going to be finished any time soon for sure.  We come across a section where they’re trying to widen the jungle with a big fuck off Caterpillar.  Women with red flags on poles walk through the undergrowth waving the flags and the Caterpillar bulldozes it’s way through behind them.  I bet they hardly ever have accidents doing that.  Safe as houses!

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We quickly get up above the jungle and start to climb.  The road is very bad in sections and there is a lot of loose stuff about.  It’s funny how you just don’t think about things until it’s almost too late sometimes.  You’re mind is off somewhere else, your body is in cruise control and all is well in the world.  I come to a right hand corner and go right to avoid a big rock.  I’m really close to the edge and as I lean round I look down at my right foot for some reason and what do I see?  Nothing.  Literally nothing for hundreds and hundreds of feet.   My foot….. lots and lots of air… then mountain.  Jesus Christ, I need to concentrate.  We’re on a single track road and there are sometimes cars and even lorries on it and you can meet them at any time.  The only barriers are what Mother Nature provides.  A  few weedy bushes if you’re lucky but frequently their is just air.  If you go off the edge here you’re going to fly, then you’re going to die.  Give it 5 minutes though and you’re back on auto pilot, mind wandering, whistling a happy tune.  Maybe it’s altitude?  Maybe is madness? Anyway, we all make it safely to the top and breath in the view.

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The good news is that there is a tiny village about 10k down the other side that we can go and warm up and eat at.  The bad news is that it’s down the shadow side of the mountain and the road is a sheet of ice.  Bloody farty wank bugger and knob.  Do they do delivery?  I’ll wait here.  Just take out my brain and put it safely under a big rock to collect later and off we go.  Onto the ice we go.  You know you’re in trouble when you can’t here anything underneath the wheels.  No road noise equals no grip as we very carefully pick and slither our way down the track, trying not to think about the quick way down just a short slide away.  Get to the little village, complete with it’s own hotel and restaurant.

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It looks popular so I run inside to see if I can get a table.  The maitre d tells me he can just about fit us in and that we can have the table by the kitchen.  He leads us across the bamboo floor and we sit amongst the smoke and smells, relax in the warmth and swap smiles with the locals.

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Full of chai with a stomach feeling like a wobbly water bomb we retrace our steps up and over the pass, remembering to retrieve my brain from the rock on the way.  Get to sea level just in time for sunset.  Another perfect day over.

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The end is nigh.  I’ve enjoyed this trip so much.  Did anyone ever watch Mr Ben as a kid?  I’m at the moment when I can see the shopkeeper arriving to take me out of this dream and I’m wondering if I can buck the trend and shoot him and stay here instead.    It’s got to be possible.

Today we’re slowly heading back west to where we can start the long journey home.  Put that to the back of my mind though, get on the bike, breath and just ride.  I’m not quite ready to take this smile off my face.

Get to some more riverbeds and go for a quick paddle before following some more post apocalyptic tarmac for a while.  Just us.  5 bikes… and 2 elephants.

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There is just time for a short diversion for a last look at the view over the plains.  Point the bikes skyward and open the throttle.  My poor old bike is beginning to feel it now and the clutch won’t disengage which makes life interesting in the mess and mud but we make it through.  My eyes must be getting really fat with all these feasts I’m giving them.

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“Hello – iPhone 6 here.  I know that when I get home it’s all going to be shit and grey and wet and I’ll just have to hide in his dark pocket for months so I thought I’d just get a final bit of exercise before my enforced hibernation.  Please forgive my indulgence.

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We’re back in Assam now and the scenery all starts to grow low.  Low and green and tea flavoured.  It’s our last night out in the wilds and tonight its another government house in the middle of a big plantation.  Got to be good right?  These tea barons make a mint (no pun intended!) so it’s all going to be thick carpets, gold plate and sticking your pinky out to drink your chai.  I hope my dinner suit hasn’t got to creased in my luggage.  I’m sure the maid will be able to press it when she’s ironing my newspaper.  The road should have told me something.  I think the official classification according to the international roads and highways agency would be ‘completely and utterly fucking shit and completely unsuitable for any form of wheeled transport.  Do not use, even in the worst emergency, ever’.  So…we’re scooting along this road about 60 and I appear to have someone on my saddle equipped with a  super taser that he just can’t resist pressing every few seconds.  I’m going to be at least 2 inches shorter by the end of this trip. By the time we get to the house it’s all I can do to stand up.  I’m really looking forward to a deep hot bath…. or not

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The tea baron seems to have left the building.  Maybe some time in 1950.  He’s taken all his toys with him too by the looks of it.  My ‘bed’ is a 2 poster.  That’s a new one on me for a start.  Someone seems to have nicked the mattress as well… There is a bed…with a blanket… but no mattress.  It’s like an empty sandwich.  That’s going to do my back the world of good.  We’re told they’re going to turn the electricity off at 6:30 for ‘maintenance/diverting to the house next door so I take the bucket of hot water to the bathroom (read bomb shelter.. that someone has tested by letting a bomb off on the inside) at 6 safe in the knowledge that …. shit…. the fucking idiots can’t tell the time.  Too late now, all my clothes are somewhere in the pitch black, so just soap up and get on with it.  I bet I look like a car washed by a child, with big grubby patches I’ve missed but who cares.  It’s all the fun of a trip like this.  Eat our final supper by candlelight and reflect on a fantastic 10 days spent in good company in a really great part of the world.   Retire to my bed/rack for a fractious night of spasms and dreams of torture.

Up in the morning and the sun is doing it’s best to put the smile back on my face.  Burning the mist off the tea and bathing the house in its most sympathetic soft light.

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Take breakfast on the balcony.  Sit with my feet on the edge and watch a swarm of workers land and work their way through around the tea bushes.  A low hum of conversation fills the air and the low sun fires piercing rays through the mist. All is right in the world.  Kill me now.

Am I still here?  Bugger.  Still.  It’s in the memory bank.  Marked ‘DO NOT DELETE.  EVER’.

Out onto the road and east east east, back to everything I’ve not missed in the slightest.  The road gets busier and busier, and more and more mental.  The normal chaos that is India fades back in and we’re back to the town far too quickly.  Surrounded by noise and solid traffic,  acrid smells and clouds of smoke,  a super tight concentration of humanity just trying to make it’s way.  Reach the hotel and we’ve all made it in one piece.  A fruitless walk around town to try and find some presents and visit the local Enfield dealer and there is only time to eat and sleep.

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I’m in the hotel restaurant waiting for my dinner.  I get a weird sensation round my ankles.  Like my lady friend sitting next to me is playing footsie. Surely not.  Not with her boyfriend sat right next to her.  Suddenly I see something scoot out from under the table and across the floor.  Panic over…. a mouse has been crawling over my foot.  I think it’s gone to the kitchen to help with the dinner.  Good old India.

So it’s another trip over and a long journey home.  Not long enough though.  I’ll be back in the rat race in 2 days.  We travel too far too quickly nowadays.  It’s not natural.  We need time to adjust but we barely have time to think nowadays.

This trip has been a bit of a revelation though.  When you’ve done a lot of travelling it’s difficult to recapture the thrills and feelings like when you first started.  At first it’s like teenage sex.  It’s all brilliant and you just don’t realise how lucky you are.  You don’t know that tight flesh won’t last forever, and that nipples can in fact point down as well as up.  The experiences are just spoilt on you.  You just don’t take the time to appreciate exactly what it is you’re doing, you just dive in (careful!) and enjoy the moment.  For me, this trip has been a bit like voyager viagra.  Not a full return to the halcyon days of youth when you could hammer rivets into ships without using your hands, just a gentle rekindling and awakening of feelings and emotions you expected never to experience again. Just simple things really but stuff to raise your mood and give a bit of a reality check.

Arunachal Pradesh.  It’s such a beautiful place. I’d go back in a heartbeat and I would recommend it to anyone.  It’s changing fast though so get in quick.

Now, as soon as I can find a new spine on eBay I’ll be ready for the next one:)

Into the unknown

So where do I start with this trip?  Before we start, let’s get a couple of things straight.  I hate camping.  I hate it with a passion. It’s not natural.  I didn’t spend millions of years developing opposable thumbs so I could sleep under a thin piece of canvas and partially cook food on a small fire and eat it with a spork.  I developed opposable thumbs so I could open bedroom doors, turn the knobs on an oven and eat with a knife and fork.  Secondly, riding off-road scares me, lots, It scares me in the same way sticking a revving chainsaw down my pants would scare me. So, what sort of trip should I do this year?  How a about a 2 week off-road camping holiday in Iceland?  That sounds absolutely perfect.  I could have saved lots of money by staying at home and beating myself in the trousers with a lump hammer but I signed up all the same and off we went.

Rock up to Luton the evening before to meet up with the others.  There are 6 of us all together.  Mark, a Welsh/Brummie hybrid businessman who put the trip together.  He’s on a 690 Rally Raid.  Steve, the baker on his Ktm 525.  Gareth, an engineer/enduro/off-road maniac riding a F800GS.  Guy, founder of Nitron shocks sporting a spanky DRZ400.  Geoff, an engineer from Coventry on another 690 Rally Raid and me on my old R1150GSA.  They’re all staying at the airport hotels but I’m risking a run into the ghetto to risk my life but saving a tenner.  The room is super heated and only has a single window about the size of my anus. I spend a hot sultry night listening to the sounds of an impromptu Santa Pod meeting that seems to taking place outside.

Up early to catch the Easysweat out to Keflavik then grab a taxi to the shipper. I’m riding shotgun.  I certainly wish I had one. I would shoot the driver. He’s driving me nuts.  Chatting shit and making absolutely no sense.  Price for the experience?  £100.  Bugger me this place is expensive.

Get to the shippers and Mark hands the paperwork in.  10 minutes later the bikes are released and we walk up to meet out metal mates in their container.  A lot easier than I was expecting for sure.  They’ve all arrived safe and sound and in one piece so 20 minutes later and we’re on the road after a quick stop at a cake shop.  I love cake.

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Reykjavik isn’t much more than a small town so we’re quickly out and into the countryside.  Cold and bright we go in search of where the continental plates meet. A huge gaping scar on the landscape like two giant jigsaw pieces that don’t quite fit. Stop anywhere though and you’re immediately surrounded by swarms of little black flies. I feel like PigPen and it’s only the first day.  Christ knows what it will be like when I’ve not showered for a while and my ‘man crust’ really gets into it’s stride.  You try and take pictures and the little feckers even land on the lens giving big black smudges.  Little bastards.

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We’re here to ride the trails but Iceland has had an unusually bad winter and many of the roads are still closed, even here in the south.  There are signs warning of big fines and the dipping of testicles in molten lava if you ignore the closures so we have to track back to the tarmac and hunt down a camp site.

Find a lovely grassy site and pitch up next to an old bloke with a 4 foot tongue, a young girlfriend and an unusual number plate.

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A quick caveman breakfast and we’re off to Geyser to see the … I’ll let you work that out for yourself.  This is my first look at boiling water coming out the ground and as we ride in it’s a strange sight for sure.  Little clouds of steam drifting about 1 foot off the ground and bubbling mud belching and farting and stinking.  This place smells like a 15 year old’s bedroom.  Watch the big geyser ejaculate into the sky a few times then ride on up to Gulfoss.  Big old waterfall for sure but really not all that when compared to places like Niagra.

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Destination is north so we take to the rough on the F35.  Wide, flat, fast and loose in the cold sunshine out into the wilderness.  Like a giant quarry, barren and bare except where the rivers provide some life and colour.  Most the time you feel like you’re living in black and white.  Quite an easy ride in bright sunshine.  Only one water crossing and there is a car up to its doors in the mud at the side.  We take 6 different routes through.  5 succeed and reach dry land.  Geoff rides into something with the consistency of a chocolate gateaux and we have to manhandle him out.

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ice0026ice0027Towards the end we suddenly descend into a little valley where they’ve hidden all the beauty.  Over a brow and instantly it’s a different world with fields of grass being harvested and small fields of sheep.  Getting proper cold now though – bloody freezing in fact and by the time we choose a camp site I’d willing pay £100 for a hot tub.  Luckily it’s only £2 and includes more boiling hot stinky showers.  I’m convinced the shower is going to make me smell like an egg sandwich but it doesn’t seem to stick to your skin. 

Go to eat like humans in a restaurant which is nice.  The waitress is an annoying little mare who says she speaks 24 languages but still comes back to us 5 times to check the order.   When it comes to pay she can’t add up 2 and 2 without a calculator either.  Reminds me of my university lecturer mate who someone described as being ‘Like a lighthouse in the desert.  Extremely bright but completely fucking useless’.

Another dozy night with the lights on and we’re off further north again.  We want to make it round to  Húsavík to try and do some whale watching so off we go up the coast towards the arctic circle.  Weather is really cold now so we divert into a small village for some substinence and as is often the case we happen upon a little oasis looking out over the cold deep water to the mountains beyond.  Like a lovely dream the cafe is staffed by a pair of beautiful and buxom older ladies who move with feline grace and purr when they talk.  To top it all they serve the most delicious cakes and soups.  I think the name of the place was Heaven and we were all happy to worship.

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ice0045ice0052ice0053ice0056ice0060An hour or two of food and flirting later and we’re off again.  A lovely bit of road.  A beautiful ride along the mountainside twisting, dipping and diving with the ever changing rocks and sea as company right the way up to 66° north.  Apparently the arctic circle runs at 66°33′45.8 but this will do for me and I don’t really want to get the bike wet at the moment.

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Round the tip and into the little town of Siglufjörður.  A beautiful place slowly turning from a vibrant fishing town into a museum.  Not long ago this place landed thousands of tonnes of Herring but now the Herring have learnt to avoid the area and holiday elsewhere leaving the trade to decline.  A pretty little place though full of colour and old buildings.

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ice0077ice0202Getting late and the weather is coming in again so we scoot through the single file tunnels and round the headland to be met by more freezing temperatures, rain and wind.  The clouds hover just above the sea and create an array of threatening colours and shapes.  A really beautiful scene despite the fact my tits are freezing off.  It’s down below 4 degrees and me timbers are really shivering as we get down to Akureyri, Iceland’s second biggest town.  We all dive into a diner to pour hot chocolate down our necks and defrost our veins before heading on to Húsavík.  Couple of hours of ‘I never want to do that again’ riding in the ice cold drizzle and wind and we finally arrive.  Camping at this point feels slightly more attractive than shoving a blunt needle down my jap’s eye, but only slightly, so we go looking for accommodation. We do a quick tour of the guest-houses but place is fully bloody booked so we end up on a wet camp site next to the local football field where we can watch the local ladies team practice.  Despite all the lycra, I’d still rather be under tiles than a tent.  Out to dinner in a very nice restaurant where the prices are specified in gold cards.  I choose a bowl of soup which just has a single gold card against it.

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All the buildings out here are super heated due to the free natural hot water.  They reckon for ever £100 we spend on heating, they spend £15.  Trouble is, going from the hot to the cold to the hot to the cold all the time is making me feel completely shit.  Tomorrow could be difficult.

Wake up to the pitter patter of tiny raindrops tapping on the tent.  I bloody hate camping.  Can someone please come and build a hotel over the top of me so I can get out in the warm and dry rather than the cold and wet.

A couple of the riders leave early to ride the tracks in the hills amongst the clouds, the rest of us were intending to watch the whales but the weather is to bad for the boats to leave the harbour so we wander round the town.  We go to a warm cafe and ask for some poached eggs on toast.  “What are these poached eggs of which you speak?” says the  little lady behind the counter. “I’ll show you” says Steve and promptly walks into their kitchen and starts cooking.  Very nice too thanks Steve.  I’m feeling really shit so  head for the tent for a 40 winks/6 hours sleep.  Wake up about quarter past 29 oclock in time for dinner/breakfast/tea/whatever. 

Another cold wet night, we pack away our sodden tents and head for the desert. Initially flat wide and fast it soon narrows down and becomes single track as it heads out into the desert and towards the volcano at Askja.  The boys are having a lovely time hooning about in the loose, disappearing into the distance.  I come to a small water crossing and  go ride round the edge, catch a big rock and take a tumble.  The bike has taken a hit on the exhaust manifold and it’s sounding sick.  Fucky bollocks.  Still running though so I  just carry on riding with my fingers in my ears.  The road is getting pretty soft so I wait at a junction when the others go and take a look at the volcano and new lava fields.

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Some serious boys toys down here.  Big 4×4 trucks with luxurious accommodation, lovely tricked up vans and even huge coaches with massive wheels obviously stolen from a plane. 

When the boys return it’s getting late and they’re all low on fuel so we track back north through the deep sand.  This stuff is bread and butter to the others but for me it’s a  shit sandwich.  I’m riding along trying to do the right thing when the bike gets a massive wiggle on.  I prepare to eject but I’m a fraction too late and my foot gets caught  between the pannier and the sand as the bike goes down, dragging my foot back and twisting my knee.  I pull the foot out from under the bike and I’m convinced my ankle is broken.  It’s pointing in the wrong direction and I reckon I could kick myself in the back of the head with it.  A bit of careful wiggling and squatting and it seems to be largely ok though which is a miracle. I bought a nice new pair of tough boots before I came out and they look to have been worth their weight in plaster of Paris.

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Totally spooked I crawl the next few miles through thick deep black sand before we pick our way through huge expanse of lava fields and up towards Route 1. The lava fields are  like a maze with the roads picking their way back and forth, up and down, in and out amongst the huge lumps of sharp, dark, forboding rock.  The road gets straighter and wider  and the sun momentarily treats us to a big rainbow before diving for cover again under the big grey blanket.

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We reach the little haven of Möðrudalur about 8:30, wet, very cold and tired.  Most of the others camp but the second I enter the super warm sanctuary of site office cafe my resolve dissolves and a couple of us end up getting beds in the bunkhouse.  I guess I should feel guilty by TBH I don’t give a toss. Warm bed, warm water, space to move, simple pleasures and for £25 not expensive either.  It’s just Delicious.  I check the bike and it looks like the manifold has bent where the rock hit and it’s popped one of the  retaining bolts off the head.  The manifold doesn’t fit flush to the head and that’s what all the noise is all about.

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Up the next morning feeling warm and dry for a change but the other side of the glass it’s still pissing down again and very very cold.  No doubt the Icelanders are as pissed off with the summer weather as we are.  Still hovering around  1 to 4 degrees.  Meet the campers for breakfast.  Half the group want to head  back into the desert to feel the sand between their wheels, the other half had enough yesterday and opt to have a slow day up to Reykjahlíð where can all meet up later.  I’m obviously piste off with piste so  take the easy ride up to Route 1 and round.  Route 1 sounds like it should be a busy main route full of traffic and infrastructure.  The reality is that it’s often just a winding ribbon of tarmac in the wilderness.  It’s a bleak and lonely place with miles of nothingness which I find strangely attractive.  Riding the ribbon through a tunnel of grey cloud and rain we track up to Reykjahlíð stopping on the way to visit another big geothermal field steaming away to itself.  Jesus what a stink.  This one smells worse than an adolescent school changing room and it’s as much as I can do to breath without gagging. The planet must be bursting at the seams just here as there is a huge geothermal plant just up the road then a huge steaming lake and a blue lagoon looke likey full of boiling bodies warming their bones.  Iceland is such a weird place.

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Get to Reykjahlíð and start looking at the options.  Go to a campsite with a lovely view over a lake.  There a a lovely view in the office too.  Mid twenties with the tautest  pair of jumper lumps in the northern hemisphere.  Before we can say a word some old bloke built like an old bird with claws for hands and translucent skin appears and he doesn’t  seem to like the look of us dripping all over his carpet.  “Sorry, all the rooms are full”. Yea right, with air probably. If we want to camp we have to take the bikes right over  to the edge of the campsite too.  We’re not keep to give this twat any money so we look elsewhere.  Not many options round here though. There are expensive rooms in a condemned hut or bed and breakfast for 180 Euros.  “WTF – are you sure?” “I’ll sell that today no problem” says the bloke.  Jesus, still on a cold wet Saturday maybe he will.  So it’s  back to the camp site where we have to comfort ourselves with a few minutes puppy love as we sign in before setting up tents in the rain yet again.

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Up again and the weather is on repeat.  Out to fuel up but Steve’s bike is pissing fuel out the overflow pipe.  It’s been dribbling for a few days but now it’s properly pouring  out.  Time for tools!  Gareth get’s the carb apart and cleans it all out and we’re ready to go but it’s taken a while and we’re late leaving.  The plan has always been to ride  down the F26 through the middle north to south.  Mark tells us it’s a tough road with lots of deep water crossings.  About 150 miles of nothing but a single track etched through  the rugged and hostile landscape.  We’ve been checking regularly and it’s been closed.  Today it’s open for the first time this year, brilliant, should be in a right shit state  I’m sure.  Quick look at another waterfall through thick clouds of bastard black flies and we peel off the tarmac to head south. 

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It’s all fine for a while, nice and compact  where it’s been used regularly to the little villages.  Through a gate and the proper F26 starts in earnest.  I know the others just take this shit in their stride and I admire  them for it.  I wish I had half the confidence they have on these surfaces.  I think my problem is size related.  No not that, well not this time anyway!  It’s to do with the  size of the track.  I’ve done a fair amount of rough roading but most of it has been on big wide roads and tracks with room for a big bike to move about when it gets jiggy. The  F26 is a shallow single track trench bulldozed into the ground. The middle is usually a shitty loose no go area and the edges are raised right up to stop people wandering off  into the landscape.  We had wardens trying to find us earlier in the trip round the volcano because they had seen some tyre tracks outside the edges of the road and they weren’t  happy.  Result is that I find myself confined to a single tyre track on my big heavy bike and that leaves me with not much room for error.  There you go, that’s my excuse and  I’m sticking to it. 

Anyway, the others go and play like pigs in shit while I plod along and play safe.  The road itself is a bit of everything you could think of.  Lots of  loose, lots of mud and slush, sand, snow, ice and of course water.  Lots of cold water.  The road is just desolate, uninviting and hostile.  Nothing lives up here out of choice.  We meet a few drivers and hear various reports of weather and conditions.  Roads like this, everyone shares.  Everyone is in it together.  The water crossings get bigger and  more frequent until we come to a really deep and wide one where two lakes have decided to join themselves toghether.  The warning sign says deep water.  Warning signs aren’t  used lightly out here.  It’s about 50-60m wide too.  I look at something like this and I just think WTF am I doing here? Why am I sat on an old bike waiting to ride in cold  water up to my balls?  Only one way to go though, we’re going in. I stop and hold a small naming ceremony using a handy Nabuchadnezzar of Champaign I carry for these occasions.   “I name this ship HMS Adventure.  God bless her and all that try and sail on her”. We’re off.  The minute the bike hits the water it immediately disappears in a cloud of steam  and the  bike hisses it’s displeasure like a caged cat.  I can see the bikes that have already crossed so I know logically that it’s not too deep  but when the cylinders go  under and the leaking manifold’s scream turns into a frantic farting noise then I’m convinced I’m going under.  I even start breathing through my nose instead of my mouth cos

that’s going to be underwater any second.  Few seconds later and it’s up and out, stuttering up the bank to meet the others.  Boots full of cold water but a big smile on my  face. Bike is nice and clean too.

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Few miles later and I come round a corner and for a magical moment there is a hole in the cloud and rain.  It illuminates a group of huts and a campsite in beautiful relief against an angry dark grey sky.  Another oasis in the middle of this bitch of a road.  It’s early evening and we could continue but I really want to stop, rest and eat, lazy  lightweight that I am!  We decide to stay the night.  4 Head out to the bleak camp ground over the banks of virgin snow but I look at my opposable thumbs and think they need  some more practice so Guy and I buy beds in the bunkhouse for £35.  Soon as I’m inside the wind picks up and a storm suddenly appears over the horizon.  I watch the poor buggers  in the tents struggling to cook in the gale from the comfort of the bunkhouse kitchen whilst cooking dinner and padding over warm worn floorboards in bare feet.  I love places

like this.  A wooden hut full of tired bodies chatting merrily away and sharing stories.  Only real travellers end up in  places like these and they have lots of interesting tales to tell.  We’re chatting to a pair of Swiss couples coming through in their Land Rovers.  Both the men and one of the women also ride 1200GS’s off road, and the other has a F700GS.  They’ve been all over the world together and are obviously so comfortable in each others company.  One of the men is a property developer.  He’s talking about us going to the caribbean where he has his own private island.  “Only a small one.  6000 square meters” Fuck!  Yes mate, and you can visit my 2 up 2 down in Eastleigh, you’d love that:)  The bunkhouse has accommodation downstairs just consisting of double bunk beds in a single room.  Upstairs is where the rescue team is housed.  They stay for the duration of the summer when the road is open.  They reckon the wether has  been so bad that the road will only be open 7-8 weeks this year.  Once they leave you’re on your own if you’re stupid enough to venture out here.

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Wake up at 4am with a big lump in the sleeping bag.  My bladder.  Climb down from the bunk, slip on some shoes and head outside over to the toilet block.  The light is all weird, like a confused sun rise/set.  Like the sun is sleeping with one eye open, keeping watch over the land and ready to call in a storm as soon as it sees movement.  A  sleepy, never to forget moment. Back to bed and a warm comfy coma.  Get up and the rain is throwing itself at the windows again, angry and wild, desperately trying to break in.  A civilised breakfast of porridge and coffee before slipping all the wet kit on and shoving my feet into soaking wet boots.  I feel so sorry for my feet.  Shut up all day in the dark and cold.  No wonder they protest.  I feel sorry for the campers too.  Trying to break camp in the wet.  Half of us leave early and leave the others to catch up.  I’m travelling a lot slower than them anyway.  Immediately it’s into lots of snow, ice and water.  The road has been cut through snow and the puddles are often hiding sheets of solid ice.  Some of the water crossings  are deeper than yesterday but usually narrower at least with steep banks in and out.  Eventually the road widens out and becomes graded and fast before eventually turning back to beautiful black tarmac.  Get to the petrol station and a cafe.  I’ve made it and I’m happy I did it.  I would never try a road like that on my own.  One of the riders counted the water crossings at 40 without the long deep puddles in the snow.  Nobody has eaten properly for the last couple of days so we all sit and relax in the cafe as the weather continues to rage outside.  I sit on a sofa and can’t remember feeling so comfortable.

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Half the group get togged up and head out to Selfoss while the others get there Facebook and social media fixes.  Life is so much easier when you don’t have friends.  I can’t think of anyone that really gives a shit what I’m doing, why would they?  Anyway, its properly twatting down now and we ride/sail our way through the water to Salfoss.  There is a big site there with loads of cabins but they’re all fecking full. Everyone is retreating under cover and so it’s another wet pitch and another night when the sound of raindrops never stops.  Wake up and it’s still going.  Fecking amazing.  At home we might get rain for a few hours at a time but out here it’s been raining pretty well constantly for days and days and days.  I’m properly fed up with this now.  I’ve got fucking rain rage and I’m under my own personal cloud.  There’s going to be trouble if I can’t get under a roof tonight. We go for breakfast early and luckily they have a cabin free for tonight – we take it without asking the cost.

We have a day to kill before heading to Reykjavik to drop the bikes tomorrow so we plan a big circle route round the local lakes that looks like it should be sealed roads. It never turns out that way out here though of course!  We head for the piste and Gareth disappears into the distance on his 800 and I can see the smile beaming through his helmet from a mile away.  He’s in his element on roads like this and it’s lovely to watch.  I catch up with him later and he’s giggling away to himself.  “What have you been doing?” I ask.  “About 110” he says still giggling.  110mph on the gravel drifting it about.  Jesus.  My GS doesn’t even do 110.  The blokes a fucking nutter. 

The scenery is much nicer down here.  In places it’s awe inspiring.  The mist blanket is lifted back to revel deep green hills and mountains, vast water courses running over huge plains reaching to the horizon.  Some of the roads are lovely too as they track the lake edges.  Beautiful wood and glass houses nestle on the rocks. Christ only knows what those cost out here.  A really lovely area though.  Back to the comfort of the cabin and a proper bed.  Inspect the bike to see if there is anything I can do about the noise.   Riding along today some of the walkers along the side of the road put their hands over their ears because the noise is so loud.  Turns out all the manifold bolts have vibrated loose!  Nip them up but it doesn’t make much difference.  I’m sure the British plod can hear it from here and they’ll be waiting for me outside the port in Hull when I return.

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We meet back up with the others and ride into Reykjavik to drop the bikes.  Piece of cake again.  I love cake.  Just ride them onto the container and Foxtrot Oscar back to the  cake shop.  Taxi into town where we’ve rented a couple of apartments. 3 pairs of motorcycle boots in a 16ft square room equals nuclear meltdown and a toxic cloud that could wipe out an entire nation so we need to do something.  Guy wraps his in a thick plastic bag.  I put mine in the fridge.  Top tip – if you’ve got stinky boots, put them in the  freezer for a few days – kills all the bacteria:)  Fridges don’t work so well but at least they harness the stink.  Pity the poor bastard that open the door after we leave though.  “Mystery death of Reykjavik cleaner.  A young blond and very fit cleaner was found dead at an apartment today.  The room was empty but the fridge door was open. There were no signs of a struggle.  Police are mystified”.  We spend the evening wandering amongst the tourists through the town centre, eating expensive fish and chips and trying to find a shop that sells puffin’s feet. 

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Coach to the airport and home.  Another trip over.  More memories and friends made.  Did I enjoy it, of course, despite the shitty weather.  It’s very beautiful in parts and very hostile in others.  The people are very friendly and it feels so safe.  I always left stuff on the bike and usually left the keys  in too.  We didn’t see it at it’s best I’m sure.  Perhaps that’s for the best though.  It’s saved it all for the next time…

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Heading far east

Here we go again.  Walking the tarmac tightrope and heading for the horizon.  Ditching the desk and running for the hills.  Ten weeks, two wheels, 10000 miles.  A few months ago I opened the door, looked in the stable and thought about what I should throw my saddle over.  KTM 990 SMT with a hooligan kit and a very bad temper.  R1100S with 170k and looking like a victim of a chainsaw massacre, split into big component parts and sitting on shelves.  R1150GSA with 110k and a passport full of stamps.  “I need a new bike” I think to myself.  As if reading my mind, I hear some soft sobbing from behind me.  Turn around and see a small puddle of metal tears under my old GSA.  “All right old girl.  One more time”.  Decision made.

It’s simple plan.  Distance: Far.  Direction: East.  UK to Bangkok.   If you’re a fan of turgid, dry, humorless, self indulgent shit then you’ve come to the rigfht place, please enjoy:)  Might keep your eyes busy for 30 minutes at least and if you can get through to the end I’ll send you a congratulatory ‘boredom endurance’ certificate for your efforts and to in some way compensate you for wasting your life:)

I do realize what a very very lucky bastard I am to be able to do these kinds of trips.  I really do.  I’m a very lucky bastard indeed, in fact I’m thinking of changing my name to Mr V V V L Bastard.  I hope the following doesn’t appear blasé or dismissive.  It’s not intended to be.  I live on the edge of fantasy as I find reality hard to deal with in life so the lines between fact and fiction aren’t always obvious.
6:30 Sunday morning up and at ’em.  Southampton to Soest.  Out to Dover in the grey.  Front of the queue with a couple of other bikers.  “Where you off to?”, “Luxemborg, you?” “Bangkok”. Silence, of the ‘you taking the piss?’ variety.  It’s strange how your mind rationalises things like this.  Leave the house, turn left, follow black stuff till Bangkok.  Forget about the scary places enroute.  It will all be fine, just treat every day as it comes.  I’m just happy to be moving, I really don’t care where, just as long as I’m moving.

Continue reading Heading far east

The end of the earth

Buenos Aires, down to Ushuaia then up to Alaska, all in 9 weeks, March to May 2010. Bonkers. This is the story of the trip. It’s more ‘bog’ than ‘blog’ I’m afraid but I hope it can give an idea of the trip. This one was quite difficult for many reasons. I’m sure you’ll see so I won’t pre-empt your thought patterns by telling you yet. A long way to go and not enought time to do it in really. Did we make it? Ready? Here we go….

Tick, tock, tick, tock.. Self destruct, armed, ready, steady, go.I bought a little cheap laptop out with me on this trip that I was going to use.  I was going to stick my hand into the velvet bag of words in my skull and lay them in order on the screen.  Turns out my thoughts are happier to run at the speed of ink so I’ll let the words fall from my head, down my arm and onto the page instead.  Putting words to paper is dangerous though.  An open book is…well..an open book.  One of my two faces will write this account while the other outward facing one will filter my thoughts and present only those deemed acceptable by the audience at the time.

Back to the front.  It’s quite a big group of riders – 20 bikes and a few pillions and crew.  There is bound to be a complete cross section of people amongst them, there always is.  [Hang on a minute, I just have to get something off my chest.  I’m in a hostel in Buenos Aires.  I’m sitting at a big table in the kitchen.  It’s lunchtime and the freaks are out.  Travellers.  Fucking big stupid dreadlocks but never been anywhere near Jamaica.  Speaking with Australian voice inflection,  assaulting my ears as he tries to chat up a sleepy blonde. Jesus. “Do me a favour mate” I ask him.  “Here is a big scary knife, jump onto it will you please”.  One less oxygen thief in the world.  Face 2 wipes the blade of blood and I’m back in the game.]

So we all turn up at the airport and the willy waving begins.  The 11th commandment dictates that motorcyclists take part in this ritual whenever they meet for the first time.  I’m never going to win one of those.  Perhaps if there were a weener waving contest I might stand a chance.  Whos going to be fastest/first/biggest/best?  Who’s got the newest shiniest gadgets?  Face 1 plays the game while face 2 starts the categorization process.  I’m bad. I know it.  I’m the current ‘quickest to judge’ world champion.  No second chances. No reviews. No shit.    It’s the same with everything I encounter.  Sometimes a touch is enough.  Drag a finger along a button in a shop and its like reading a barcode.  Bleep, crap, move on.  Cars, bikes, holidays, cutlery, food, TV, audio all assessed and categorized immediately.  I look at people and I like to think I can read their characteristics like words in a stock ticker running through their veins.  I try not to look at mine.  I’m not sure I’d like what I see.

Continue reading The end of the earth

Journey to the mythical city

This is a diary of my 2007 trip from Southampton down to the mythical city of Timbuktu in Mali. A few weeks of sweating in the madness that is Africa. I’m afraid it’s more effluent than eloquent, but it gives me something to think about during the long hours alone inside my crash helmet. In my opinion, this diary is a little to self conscious. Last time when I went round the world I didn’t know anyone would read it so my mind was free to roam but this time it might be a little different. I think it gets better towards the end anyway, but if it all seems like a long loud fart, just look at the pictures.

Thanks must go to Nick Sanders for providing me with the opportunity for such an adventure. I went round the world with Nick in 2002 and ever since have been doing trips with him acting as guide/dogsbody/shepherd and it’s been a lot of fun.Thanks also to my friend Paul Blezard who is a motorcycling journalist and all round good bloke. He’s a gifted rider who can, in 99% of cases, including mine, get on somebody’s bike and ride it as well if not better than they can instantly. Paul took on some off road training before I left and whatever it taught my brain was probably the most useful thing I needed on this trip.Apologies for the photos…. When you’re leading a group of riders or running late and playing catch-up you have no if any chance to spend time taking shots of the beautiful scenery I saw. Most the shots are ‘grab and go’ so please be gentle! And… one of my cameras got nicked so there are a lot missing. And I know a lot of people travel, far and wide, up hill and down dale. I don’t ever mean to sound condescending so please forgive anything that comes across that way. I’ve left it how I wrote it at the time, and that may be when I was spaced out with no food and having had my life flash before my eyes… for the 10th time that day….Sooooo…. if you have half an hour to spare some time, then take a look.

Continue reading Journey to the mythical city

The beginning..

OK we’re off! All met up at the airport and checked in. Some of the riders have more baggage than a small nation takes to the Olympic games, and some have more than a large nation takes. God only knows how they will carry it all. I’m sure some them have packed their double beds and favourite armchairs.

We’re on the plane. I’m sitting next to some bloke I don’t know. It’s 10.30 am but he smells like he’s spent the last few hours sampling every spirit on the rack. “Hi, who are you then” I ask. “Hello mate,” he replies, “I’m John and I’m an alcoholic… sorry, sorry… I’m your mechanic” Oh excellent I think. That’s good. I ask him about his breath problem and he says it’s medication from the doctor. Apparently he suffers from really bad ‘polo breath’ so the doctor prescribed some Jack Daniels flavour tablets to hide his embarrassing ‘minty halitosis’ problem.

We’re at 30000ft and it’s time to point Percy at some porcelain. Up to the back I go and wait behind a young girl with a bloke. He’s performing open tonsil surgery with his tongue and she’s bravely managing with only alcohol as aesthetic. Toilet becomes free. She goes in… and he goes in too. Eh up think I, that’s jolly neighborly…

We’re in New York. They seem to be rebuilding the airport unless some enterprising builder has just put a strip of concrete down and is charging airliners half price to land there. We head into town and it’s the same story, all the roads are being rebuilt and half the buildings. We go to catch the ferry the next day and the ferry terminal is being rebuilt too. Everything is being refurbished. I think they’re going to rename it New New York when they are finished.

We’re off to collect the bikes. TAXI! “Statton Island Ferry mate” “What you want to go?” “Statton Island ferry idiot” “What” “move over half wit, I’ll drive” I though I’d have problems speaking American, but I should have learnt Spanish instead it seems. “Could you open the boot” Bloke starts undoing his shoes… “er Trunk” Did the Americans used to drive elephants before they drove cars? Who knows. Over on the ferry you get a lovely view of NY waterfront but it looks weird now the towers have gone. Really bare. We’ve picked up the bike from the freighters and they all start ok thank god. Some are a bit damaged and mine has a bit missing that holds the tank bag on. BUGGER. First aid is administered with thick Velcro.

Continue reading The beginning..