Tuesday, 16 March 2010

no matter where you go....

Sunday 14th March
We’re finally beginning to feel like the end is really approaching and i find myself thinking and reflecting on what’s been rather than what lays ahead. As we sat in one of the last little roadside shacks drinking sweet black tea on the owners threadbare little sofa, i had said to Danny that we’d miss these crazy little places and the complete lack of spoken English. Everyone was different and an individual experience. As we’d driven up into Europe and through Hungary and Austria, each stop was at a faceless service station, manned by robotic staff with less personality that Marvin the Paranoid Android. These service stations are like MacDonalds without the personality and we really did miss our tea shacks. In an odd way, i was even missing the crummy roads, potholes and loose gravel. They were challenging but brought variety and interest. When you’re on your 12th consecutive day of travelling for 15 hours, smooth roads might mean fast progress but the boredom is not your friend at 80mph. It’s too easy to become complacent and your mind drifts, losing concentration. I even found myself working out statistics today to keep my mind focussed: 16 days for 17 countries which included 23 hours of border crossings, 31 hours of ferry crossings, 15 hours of blogging, about 75 fuel stops and 1600 litres of fuel – hell! I must have been bored as I’m turning into Duane Dibley with brains!

Our continuing approach of talking to everyone who’ll listen continues to pay dividends. At one of the bland faceless service stations, we were still an object of some fascination, even to the sophisticated Europeans – one driver who’d just filled up with petrol almost walked into the edge of the car as he craned his neck for a better look. As he drove off, he wound down his passenger window and took a picture with his phone as he drove off. We twigged him and waved and he got all shy and put his foot down. All he had to do was say hi and we’d have had our picture taken with him. Still the Japanese tourists more than made up for it. You can always guarantee that Japanese tourists love a photo, no matter how inane or boring everyone else might think it was. So after I’d watched Japanese tourist #1 very carefully taking a picture of the grassy bank between us and the motorway, Danny started chatting to #2 another and within minutes we had sisters, mum, dad and i think several aunties and grandma all having their picture taken with us and the bikes. Priceless!

In terms of our riding, these last handful of days are really a means to an end. We’re spending long hours hunched over the tank bags, gripping the handlebars tightly as we try to minimise the areas of our bodies that are exposed to the icy blast of the sub-zero temperatures on the road. In my case, being a little bigger than the average bear, ;this hunching doesn’t really have much effect other than to make me look deformed giant Quasimodo. If it was summer time, we wouldn’t be worrying about ice on the rods, the horrendous cross winds or the driving sleet and we would be able to enjoy these last few days of riding a bit more.

Monday 15th March
As Ice Cube said, “Today was a good day”. We blasted off from Nurnberg and headed towards Holland. It was still cold and we had to look out for the mini avalanches falling off of the lorries as we roared past them. I was a mite cautious as I had turned the TV on in the morning (Like you do) and watched the news even though I couldn’t understand a word of German. But you didn’t have to be a Bio Chemist to work out that people had died in road accidents due to the harsh weather we had personally experienced the previous day. There was a possibility of a phone-in with Chris Moyles so we had to stop at 8.30am in case the phone rang... it didn’t so we cracked on. We have been somewhat invisible to the media during our trip even though all the luvvies have finished their Sport Relief duties and await their publicity ‘Shag-in’ on the live TV show, we are still out there ‘keeping it real’ and don’t mind if we are ignored because we have had a magnificently tough humbling experience, with no frills and no Pa’s wiping our a***s for us. What you see is what you get and we’ve seen the real world that is inhabited by real people who have welcomed us into their lives because they realised that we were simply performing an unselfish act that might just go towards helping someone have a better life, even if it’s only for one day.

Anyway! We got to Bavaria and as usual wherever there are mountains you will find Snow, winds, ice, treacherous roads and a seriously pissed off black man. We then reached Holland which was, well, Hollandy and then on to Belgium, who seem to be stuck in middle of being Dutch, German of French. Finally we were nearing our destination, Calais. The sun was shining brightly and we were hammering down the final stretch. We passed a convoy of military vehicles with blue lights flashing all over the place. They were surrounding a big lorry suspiciously placed in the middle. I think they were probably taking President Sarkosky and his Mrs for a dirty weekend at a secret location.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Here's a pic of the guy who helped us woith the tyre change. A cross betwen lurch and Jonathan pryce! See what we mean.....

Friday 12th March
Mornings have fallen into a neat little routine by now. This is mainly due to the fact that Danny and alarm clocks mix like oil and water. It simply doesn’t happen. As my alarm clock works just as well on the continent as the UK it is left to me to conduct the daily wake up call for Msr DD-J. Nevertheless, i was still fully loaded and ready to rock and roll by the time by team mate joined me in the first of our cold early morning starts. It was balaclavas at dawn and the prospect of 500 miles enthralling us. Not. The thought of throwing my leg over the saddle for the early morning stint is about as much fun as the anticipation of rubbing your backside with coarse grade sandpaper while simultaneously applying tourniquets to your lower limbs until the lack of blood leaves you numb.

Just as I was relishing the prospect of a event free morning, i realised that the familiar twinkle of Danny’s Tranny front headlamp was missing from my mirrors. Slowing down the 10mph on a motorway is never a pleasant prospect but the thought of riding back against the traffic (which i had done in Egypt but that’s about par for the course for them) was a worse one. Danny appeared in short order but travelling at a significantly reduced pace. Another kilometre or so further and we pulled into the service station. ‘You OK?’. ‘Yes, mate, but the front end started weaving which was why i slowed down’. Danny jumped off the bike and was checking the forks when i noticed his rear wheel rim was somewhat nearer the tarmac than it should have. ‘Give the back tyre a kick mate, looks a bit flat?’ as we all know, kicking the tyre will always tell you if there is a problem. On this occasion there was – our first flat!
My initial reaction was relief that a. it was jhis rear tyre that had gone, not the front, b. that he was still with me and not pancaked across the Turkish motorway and that c. We had practised changing tyres with Honda 3 weeks before. As luck would have it, we’d stopped opposite a tyre place but we were determined to sort this ourselves. Which we did with the able help of one of the many attendants and the not so able support of every other bugger that stopped and stared or pointed. Had they never seen two Englishmen changing a tyre on a well loaded tranny before? A mere ninety minutes, 2 cups of coffee, one repositioned set of brakepads and not very much swearing later, it was done. We felt properly self-sufficient as we had dealt with one of our biggest fears without so much as a single ‘oh, crap, what now?’.

Thinking ourselves to be so very clever, we set off, now just 2 hours behind schedule. Our border crossing from Turkey into Bulgaria was significantly shorter than all the north African and Middle Eastern chaotic affairs and we were anticipating a reasonably early stop near Sofia.

If you were to ask almost any biker what their least favourite biking conditions would be, they might say ‘Rain, ice, snow, other fast vehicles and the dark.’ As we came over the brow of hill south of Sofia, we got all of them slammed into our faces like an icy sledgehammer. Within 5 minutes, we were trying to ride through a driving blizzard with artics flashing their lights like they didn’t understand our genuinely terrifying position. We ended up on the hard shoulder riding with our hazards on. I was contemplating simply stopping and pitching the tent. Unfortunately, out tents would have been within striking range of the aforementioned lorries and we couldn’t risk it. We pushed on along the hard shoulder with the snow and ice beating our faces. Then, like a lighthouse appearing out of the murk, a sign for Services with motel came up in the feeble light cast by the bikes into the blizzard. I’m not a religious man, but i do believe i uttered a few short one thanks to the great motor biking god of the adventure travellers. I said a few more choice words as we crawled up the icy covered slip road but we safe. Time: 1030 pm.

Saturday 13th March
I woke up looking like Ricky Hatton’s uglier brother after a whooping from Floyd Mayweather. Eyes swollen and my body racked with pain caused by a room that was being heated by an electric heater that I had fallen asleep with. My sinuses were shot. I looked out of the window and I nearly cried. When I opened it, I did. It was about below eight. Scott, Peary, Ranulph Feinnes or the nutty Brian blessed would have been seen dead out in this. But we were going to ride 550 miles it and before I could say
“Mummy”, There was Graham, punctual as ever knocking on my door ever so politely, “Downstairs in half an hour?”. “Ok”. In my mind cussing his very existence. We get down stairs and before I can say, “Sunny side up”, we’re out the door. Whatever possesses a man to go out in Arctic conditions without as much as a cup of tea? I think he has a massive bet going on with the travel agent who organized this trip, yes. The very same one who said it couldn’t be done. Anyway I sulk over the motorway bridge with G’ and the bikes are at the top of what is now an icy ski jump ramp. We loaded up and gingerly inched down this hill... bobsleigh run, to the motorway. I think the only way we got down was through divine intervention and once in motion the wind was like Phil Taylor throwing darts in your face through the helmet visor from three paces. On we trekked, freezing water intermittently rearing its ugly head on the road trying to catch us out. Once through Sophia where our journey should have begun, we passed through the eastern side of the alps where it was so bitter it felt like the inside of our kits felt like they were littered with razor blades. Man it was cutting! My hands and feet no longer existed and I can tell you, on an empty stomach I was ready to kill. All the way down all I could see were thing that made me want to quit from fear, ‘slippery road’ signs, a burned out juggernaut, abandoned cars and snow everywhere. At last we arrived at the Serbian border which we sailed through. I warmed my frozen hands next to the engine and they froze back the moment we rode off. Graham had a eureka moment and reluctantly stopped for breakfast at a petrol station. There was a cop car parked outside and an old Kawasaki GPZ 1000 RX which 20 years ago was the dogs bollocks but now looked like the dogs dinner. We were welcomed a lot better than the Belgian eatery the night before. One cop ate food whilst the other one looked like he was looking at porn on the net. Both had guns so we pretended not to notice them. We ordered coffee, which I had three and these cheesy, sausage rolly things that looked like the beanstalk ogre’s fingers from the hand that he picks his nose with. Needless to say I didn’t finish mine but G’ ‘The Burger King’ took the glaze off the plate. We hit the road again feeling a bit better. The weather got warmer and the roads safer and faster. We made good time, that was until we got to a toll booth before the Hungarian border. Big G’ had no cash money, well none that anyone would accept anyway. Whatever you do in this world do not travel with Bulgarian money because nobody will take it. The toll guys visa machine wasn’t working and we were stuck. I never spoke and just lay my head forward on the tank and warmed my hands. I couldn’t even be bothered to ogle the blond who went through driving a rather large BMW. Still no joy with the machine. One of the guys told us to turn around and just squeeze through the gap between the barrier and the wall. Graham pondered. The guy reassured him. “ All the Serb guys on bikes do it”. I smelt trouble. We turned around and went steaming towards the toll. A car was at the raised barrier and Graham roared through it which triggered it to come down missing my head by inches. I was pissed. We got about a mile down the road overtaking cars over the double unbroken central lines only seeing the Serb cop standing by his car when it was too late. I had visions of this guy kicking the crap out of us in a cell for ‘international crimes’ committed by ‘The same Brits who let our people get slaughtered during the Kosovan war’. I was even more pissed. G’ made us stop at a petrol station as we needed gas. It must have been owned by a cockney because it was called ‘Elp’, (Euro Lux Petrol) which is exactly what we would have needed if that cop caught up with us. We filled up and went in to pay. Walking out I noticed a bag of sweets called ‘Negro’. This was getting silly. I bought three packs to embarrass my white friends when I give them as Xmas presents and we went to eat. We zoomed down to the Hungarian border and passed through painlessly and in what seemed like a relatively short time (Two hours) we arrived at the Intercontinental Hotel where not only did G’ get his Bulgarian money changed but we were looked after like real guests as we took advantage of the steam room where we let the carbon monoxide, soot and the smell of fear ooze out of our blocked pores.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Apologies for the short blog. Time to write is at a minimum as we are fast tracking through Syria and Turkey.

Craq Des Chevaliers - apparently the oldest castle in the world - here we ran into a set for a $6m Syrian TV series about Antony and Cleopatra.

The Yamaha in the deepest hotel basement - will explain all another time.....

Tuesday 9th March (continued)
Our border crossing into Syria (after Libya and Egypt) would be like comparing Harrods with Happy Shopper. Better organised, better looking, more light, less rat droppings in the offices and very importantly, far less pong. Surely it shouldn’t be beyond the wit of man to put all your different offices in a logical row – maybe even with numbers and clear signs. Instead, the Libyan and particularly the Egyptian border authorities have turned make busy, jobs worth, paperwork and red tape into a priceless art form. Self-important, unfriendly and on the take describes many of the officials we came across. If it wasn’t for the Tourist Police who genuinely wanted to help and do the best by us, i don’t how any new visitor with a motor would know where to start. So back, to the Syrian border. The marked improvements made the whole experience far less stressful and thankfully about 3 hours shorter. However, our happiness was short lived as we approached the yellow smog enshrouded melee that is Amman. We had just about got used to city driving techniques common to this neck of the woods but combine it with thick, choking smog and we were well on the road to killer headaches. Danny was about to get off and give up for an hour but we pushed on through.

Today also rewarded us with more of the spectacular scenery from sandy mountains to more rolling desert. And, I’m getting a biker’s tan – from the upper lip to just below the eyes and nicely topped off with a cheery tipped nose.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Graham and Danny make friends with the local traffic cops!
Sunday 7th
Sunday we were leaving Cairo to go to Taba heights. I was a bit emotional at breakfast. I won’t go into the details but Egypt is very close to me and the Mrs’ hearts. Let’s just say that ashes have been scattered on the River Nile at sunset by us from a boat some 5 years ago. I spoke to her that evening and she told me that she was having lunch with our friend Caroline from our local church and coincidently had become emotional too. It probably looked to the other guests at the hotel that me and Graham were having a lovers tiff, what with me dabbing my eyes with a napkin while he looked on serenely. There were loads of African people having a conference on Science and Technology. They were the brains from all over the motherland getting together to “Make loads of important decisions that nobody takes any notice of”, as one of the delegates joked. I have never seen so many black geeks before and it was good to see them trying to make a troubled continent work better for the good of all of us. We were given a wonderful send off and we headed off to the Sinai Desert to get casseroled. Luckily I had brought all the fruit with us that the hotel manager had placed in our room the day before and even though Graham had some to, he always likes to travel light so he left his behind.

Once I started cutting into my mouth watering supplies with the ratchet knife that our Libyan guide, Salem, had given to me as a keepsake there was no way Graham wasn’t going to want to indulge... and he did. We saw what looked like Obi One Kenobi tending to his sheep in the distance and wondered what anyone would be doing out here. He was probably saying to himself that the two dopy limeys over there are probably going to be found dehydrated and sunburned a couple of miles down the road with handkerchiefs tied round their heads. We took photos and some footage and headed off to a spectacular descent through a carving in some mountains that took your breath away. It was now offensively dark and I was now just offensive (Under my helmet of course) Graham’s throttle was stuck on full (purposely) and I was fearing for my life he had that look in his eye that said “I’m getting there by hook or by crook”. I wanted to just get there, even if it took all night. All of a sudden, rubber was burning in front of me. I couldn’t see it but I could smell it. Graham’s bike was snaking and I thought he was riding off the end of a cliff. In the blink of an eye all road markings had disappeared and so did my valor. When I got up to Graham he looked like Casper the Ghost. I nearly said “I knew that was going to happen!” but I was too tired and we still had a long way to go. We pushed on, well Graham did I was hanging back as I knew my bike couldn’t fly and the road we were on didn’t look like no normal road. I noticed what looked like a power station and hung back a bit more. I could see up ahead was some sort of checkpoint. A soldier approached with two nervous colleagues, kaleshni and Kov. He had rolled up on one of the Israeli borders which we had been trying to avoid like the plague as not only were carrying British passports that could be used in an assassination but If the Arab countries we were due to visit found out that we had been fraternizing with the Israelis they would not have let us in to their countries. With his gun semi levelled with a nervous grip the soldier pointed Graham in the right direction. Good job I wasn’t in the lead, eh? When we got to the final checkpoint before Taba a flash border policeman checked us out Graham went first and when he’d done with me he rushed me of with a, “Go Danny, Go”, well me being so tired, I’ve only knocked over his little wooden table that he writes on. He picks it up and repeats, “Go Danny,Go. I kid you not.

More to come...

Tuesday 9th March

Our morning was another early job but this time after less than 4 hour’s sleep. We pushed our pasty faces into the lids and rapidly exited Aqaba straight up into the 1200m high desert plateau. Jordan is like a breath of the proverbial after the dirt and dinge of Egypt. The roads are better and everything just has a cleaner feel to it. The comment from our Italian ‘uber overlander’ that the middle east ‘is no more problem’ was so true. Or so we thought.... my enthusiasm with the better roads and the total lack of respect for any road rules that we had started to pick up on in Egypt was giving me a little Mad Max syndrome. I should have learned my lesson after i passed one policemen loaded up with speed trap gun and got away with it. The second time was not so lucky. I was duly taken the unmarked police car and told in no uncertain terms ‘Speed, you, violation, speed 110km, you 128km!’ whoops. I was desperately hoping that i would walk away with the bike and not find myself in the clank with a dozen dodgy arab crims but just got a swift £15 fine. Of course, any official process must have a ream of paperwork to go with it and this was no exception. Whilst waiting, i turned on my ‘winningist, please don’t take away my motorbike sir’ smile. I got about as warm a response as Max Mosely at McLaren headquarters. Not to be beaten at the first try, as i walked away, i asked using the now familiar hand signals, if i could see the radar speed trap. Danny and i ended up both speed trapping approaching lorries and as if that wasn;t a big enough turn around, one of the plain clothes coppers asked Danny ‘You, work, movies!’ He’d recognised him even with his crash helmet and balaclava on. So in the space of ten minutes we went from speeding fine to pictures with the coppers – didn’t let me off the fine though!

More to come...