Saturday, 13 March 2010
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.