Chapter 36 – USA – Utah & Colorado BDR

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The Backcountry Discovery Routes (“BDR”) are off road trails and dirt roads that have been charted by adventure motorcycle enthusiasts across America’s most iconic and beautiful States.

The Utah BDR is a 871 mile long route of sand trails and gravel roads passing through locations such as Moab, Valley of the Gods, the Abajo and La Sal Mountain Ranges, Nine Mile Canyon, and the northern Wasatch Mountains.

The Colorado BDR starts at Four Corners (New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado) and takes riders across high elevation trails, mountain passes and along the lush valleys of the Colorado River through a number of iconic locations such as Telluride, San Juan Mountains, Continental Divide, Collegiate Range, Northern Rocky Mountains and Leadville.

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Utah BDR

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An enjoyable section of the Colorado BDR

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My KTM 1190 Adventure R in South Africa

 

 

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The Honda Africa Twin I hired in Boulder, Colorado

 

In 2015 I had planned to ride the Colorado BDR on a KTM 1190 Adventure R, but a sudden bout of serious illness prevented me from doing so. I have to say it was a rough old time and I was drawn to the “light”on a couple of occasions. But I survived.

Having cheated an early departure from our planet, unlike some of the other poor chaps I shared the hospital ward with, I had time to reflect on things, and decided to start up my own company, Apollo Advisory (www.apollo-advisory.net).  This has proved to be a very good decision, quite successful and extremely rewarding. Importantly, it allows me to focus on projects I like and am good at, and more importantly cash and sufficient spare time for travel and adventure.

Rescheduled to September 2016, the new Honda CRF 1000 L Africa Twin was now available in the USA and so I booked one of those from a bike hire shop in Boulder, Colorado. I planned to not only ride along the Colorado BDR, but also the Utah BDR.

My better half, the lovely Fanny, was not available to join me on this America trip as she had better things to do, and so I was to ride with my friend, John, who would be riding his Yamaha 1200 Super Tenere from his home in California.

So, task number one, get to Boulder, which I could see from the map was, and still is just north of Denver in Colorado.

From Hong Kong where we live on the other side of the world the cheapest way to get to the nearest airport, Denver, was with United Airlines, a carrier renown for awful food, ancient aeroplanes, even more ancient flight attendants, and of course beating up its Asian passengers.

With a 23 kilogram baggage allowance to carry all my motorcycling and camping gear there was not much room left over for underpants, but who needs those anyway? It did mean I had to wear some of my heavy biking kit, including my motorcycle boots, through the various airports and onto my flights.

I did get quite a few strange looks as I clomped aboard, but not as many as when I walked on board a flight with a parachute on my back a few years back!

Inevitably, I suppose, the flight was long and miserable. The in-flight fodder was served to its human captives with the grace and finesse of forking out silage to cows, but edible with huge dollops of Tabasco Sauce that I somehow smuggled through the security checks. Unlike Asian airlines, there was no in-flight entertainment, and I had forgotten to bring a book!

I sat in the rearmost seat among a group of very excitable xiang ba lao from Fujian or Guangxi who spent the entire flight arguing, shouting,  jumping up and down, trashing the lavatory, swapping seats and coughing up their lungs.

After decades living in China I have become almost immune to this peasant like chaos and I did my best to block them out with good quality earplugs, and as much red wine as my geriatric stewardess would serve me.

Getting completely inebriated was actually a good way to prepare for the horrors of the American TSA that I knew lay at the other end. Its akin to being herded into the abattoir by sadistic slaughters with electric prods in a third tier city in China. It’s not going to be nice is it?

Anyway, having endured the transit through San Francisco airport and got onto my connecting flight by the skin of my teeth, my mood immediately improved as I settled into my seat and peered out of the aeroplane window at the expanse of desert and mountains below.

Somewhere down there were the routes I was going to ride over the coming weeks.

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The teardrop shaped town of Moab, with the Colorado River meandering through the canyons and desert of southern Utah. I will ride from top of the picture to the bottom a few days later

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Later, I will ride across these mountain passes in Colorado.

 

By the miracles of longitude and a spherical Earth I arrived in Denver before I took off in Hong Kong. My body clock deceived by bright sunshine and blue skies.

I took a shuttle bus directly to House of Motorrad in Boulder and in the early evening of the long good Friday introduced myself to the owner, Benjamin with whom I had been corresponding for months by email.

As I entered the shop I saw a grey coloured Africa Twin.

Grey?

Yes, apparently in the land of red, white and blue Honda have decided to export a dull looking grey bike, instead of the red, white and blue Africa Twins that they export elsewhere in the world.  Why?  No idea… its all Japanese to me.

But it wasn’t the colour that grabbed my attention. It was the tyres. They were 100% smooth treaded road tyres, the ones I guess the bikes were exported to America with, AND totally unsuitable for the BDR route that lay ahead.

I quickly checked my email history with Ben and saw quite clearly that I had asked many many many times for Metzler Karoo 3s or Continental TCK80s to be fitted. I would also have been happy with a pair of Dunlop D606 or Pirelli MT21s. Seriously?

I raised the issue with Ben and he informed me that the tyres were ‘good enough’.

Hackles prickling on the back of my neck. 

I explained that they were indeed ‘not good enough’, but I got the immediate impression that this yank thought this limey pom didn’t know what he was talking about, nor cared.

‘Where you going, anyway?’, he inquired without real interest.

‘Well, as I explained in my emails, the Colorado BDR…I am meeting a friend in Park City, Utah tomorrow’.

I could see the immediate alarm and uncertainty on Ben’s face, and to cut a long story short he explained it was impossible to ride a motorcycle like the Africa Twin on the BDR, and in any case he would have to charge me an additional US$421 to change the tyres, and repeated many times that I would be liable for the first US$1500 of any scratch, nick, dink or damage, however minor, to the bike.

I was disappointed, tired and jet-lagged and in my despondency easily persuaded to rent a very nice KTM 690 Enduro instead. It had the right tyres on at least, and I do like this motorcycle very much, so I agreed and took it.

Without further ado the shop closed, everyone disappeared and I was left outside in a car park trying to strap all my kit onto a very slim and tall enduro bike ….and failing miserably.

Now it was dark, I had been awake for 2 days, I couldn’t afford (nor wanted) to pay US$200 for a grotty motel room in Boulder and so I decided to ride into the wilderness and find a spot to camp.  I had declined the extra expense of renting a Garmin GPS at US$10 a day and so I used the Sygic maps app on my iPhone to navigate.

I had not got a chance to buy a US SIM card for my phone due to all the rushing about and so I went in search of one of those in the various stores and malls around Boulder. This took longer than I expected as Americans are unused to open cellphones and foreigners asking for “pay as you go” GSM SIM cards.

After fitting the SIM card I immediately received a string of WhatsApp messages from John who was preparing to ride from Walnut Creek in California to Park City in Utah and after a ping pong conversation it was clear he was not happy about my choice of motorcycle and strongly suggested I return the KTM and get the Honda Africa Twin as originally planned…. and fork out the extra money for a set of proper tyres.

I was now fading from tiredness and so I rode about 10 miles out of Boulder with all my luggage piled precariously high on the back seat of the KTM.  After riding into a more rural area I spotted the dark silhouettes of some people sitting by a fire on some farmland and asked them if I could pitch my tent in their field.

‘Sure, buddy’, came the reply from some shadowy figure, ‘mind out for those cactus …and the rattlers!’

Cactus and rattle snakes were the least of my worries, and in a very well practiced procedure my tent was up, the ground mat blown up, and sleeping bag unraveled. In seconds I had squeezed into my maggot and was out for the count, lying heaven knows where and with what?

I woke up as the the sky was turning from purple, to red, and finally orange.

As the sun peered out above an unfamiliar horizon I was already packed up and set my course for the ubiquitous American diner, Denny’s for my favourite US breakfast of eggs and spinach, and a quart or two of black coffee.

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I love my tent. Very comfortable and free.

By now I had not washed in nearly three days and we men have certain body parts that will start to rot if not attended to. Luckily Denny’s had a bathroom, it was very early, very few customers (if any), and so I took advantage of a strategically low hand basin. All in the pursuit of cleanliness and hygiene, I should add. At least I didn’t dry my nuts in the hand dryer, like Hong Kong men do in changing rooms! As pragmatic as it is, you have to draw the line somewhere.

Now fed, watered, rested and “cleaned” I could appraise the situation a little better, and in the light of day I decided to return the KTM, incur the extra costs and get more suitable tyres fitted on the Honda, re-pack everything and head across Colorado to Utah.

I was waiting in the car park of House of Motorrad when Ben arrived and told him that I had changed my mind. On careful reflection I would indeed be taking the Africa Twin as originally planned ….and I would like a set of off road tyres fitted.

Ben showed me a pair of Mitas E07 tyres that I am not too familiar with. They looked like dual sport 50/50 types. Not ideal, and certainly not the TCK80s or Karoo 3 tyres I really wanted, and indeed the BDR route ahead required.

But no choice… ho gwoh mo… as they say in Hong Kong.

Ben also decided that he wanted to fit more robust SW Motech engine bars as he had firmly decided in his mind that I will drop the bike and the SW Motech engine bars were definitely better than the Honda ones, which are rather cosmetic and more suited to holding on extra lights and other weekend warrior stuff than doing what it says on the box… protecting the engine.

It was Saturday morning and he said I would have to wait until five other rental bikes had been prepared for other customers, just to rile me I suspect.  I had a long ride ahead, but I realised there is no point arguing in a position of weakness… its always counterproductive.

As I had a few hours, in fact all morning to whittle away, I laid out and inspected all my kit in the car park, dumped my big traveling bag with a last minute selection of things I was sure I didn’t need with Ben,  prepared the KTM 690 Enduro and took it to explore Boulder.

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Luggage piled precariously high on the KTM …not ideal

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Buying some camping supplies at a huge store in Boulder

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The KTM 690 Enduro … one of my favourite bikes.. out exploring Boulder in Colorado.

 

I rode around Boulder, explored a few hill roads in the outskirts, chatted with some bikers here and there, drank more coffee than I needed, bought some camping supplies from a huge superstore called REI,  bought Johnny Rotten’s autobiography, “Anger is an Energy” from a very well stocked Barnes and Noble store, looked around some motorcycle shops at their new bikes, and got verbally berated by a middle aged woman at a set of traffic lights for a “wheelie” incident.

I know from past experience that Americans cannot make tea, or at least not the sort of tea everyone drinks in England. The vast majority of supermarkets and cafes sell teas flavoured with spices, herbs and fruit extracts–certainly not the “builder’s tea” that we limeys prefer. Having been to America many times before I was well prepared and had brought with me copious amounts of Yorkshire Gold teabags.

Whilst whittling away my time in a Starbucks shop I asked if I could use my own tea?

‘LIKE, TOADALLY, NO’, was the answer given by the barista. I was told it was against their insurance policy or something.

‘Oh! … how about a mug of boiling water?’

‘OK’.

Sorted.  How hard can it be?

I returned to Zer Haus of Motorrad about 1:00 pm and the Africa Twin was ready.  It looked absolutely superb. Ben had done a brilliant job fitting it out with quality after market accessories necessary for true adventure riding.

These included: Altrider belly plate (effective); SW Motech engine bars and luggage racks (well designed); Wolfman soft panniers and tank bag (superb); Barkbuster enduro handguards (strong); and Doubletake mirrors (clever)

https://www.doubletakemirror.com/

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Honda Africa Twin loaded up… and a former Hong Kong flag for good measure

 

As I was strapping down all my kit onto the excellent luggage rack in the configuration I have used for years I was given another lecture by Ben with the main theme being if I drop the bike–which he assured me in no uncertain terms I will–do not damage the bike too much and put it out of action for weeks, destroy his business, ruin his life, and make his wife run off with the kids.

This attitude and the threat of forking out US$1500 had reinforced in my brain one thing, and one thing only … DON’T DROP THE FUCKING BIKE. It became my mantra, and in a way sort of ruined the trip because it clipped my wings and sapped my confidence.

One problem remained, and it was a glaring one. The tyres were still the wrong ones.

I was getting slightly irritated at being lectured to, and annoyed at the parochial arrogant attitude of someone I was parting with my cash. If I am buying expensive brand new tyres on my already expensive rental bike I want the ones I need… not the ones you want to flog…savvie?

I know from experience riding this Africa Twin on Metzler Karoo 3 tyres in Wales, and indeed riding my KTM 990 Adventure and other bikes around the world on various tyre combinations along extremely challenging roads in the Rift Valley in north west Kenya, the Sahara desert, Nubian desert, Kalahari, Namib desert, Serengeti, Masai Mara, Sinai, Cardamom Mountains, Gobi desert, Tibet, Qinghai, Gansu, Alps, blah blah, that the motorcycle I ride and my ability to ride it is capable enough… provided I decide how the bike is set up and don’t get railroaded and bullied into bad decisions.

Grrr!

Anyway, it was what it was, nothing more I could do, and I was itching to get going.

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The Wolfman panniers.. very good

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Mitas E07s … pretty good all round tyres on gravel and tar … but not good enough on deep sand and steep rocky scree

I worked out how far I could travel in the remaining hours and set a course largely along Highway 40 to a place up in the Colorado Rockies called Steamboat Springs where I planned to camp and the following day continue to the Hilton Hotel in Park City, Utah for a rendezvous at 12 noon with John and his Yamaha.

As I roared off towards the mountains I immediately found the Honda Africa Twin to be a very comfortable touring bike indeed. It cornered really really well and I would put its cornering ability as one of the best adventure bikes I have ever ridden, despite having a 21 inch front wheel.

It has a super smooth engine and gear box. The riding position is perfect, both sitting down on the seat and standing up on the pegs. Later, I would ride for over seven hours almost continuously up on the pegs and was very comfortable and balanced. Sounded nice too. Just right.

The only niggle, and its a well documented niggle, is that Honda have decided to swap the positioning of the indicator switch and the horn which means that people like me who have been riding for decades will be unable to naturally find, and cancel the indicators, and instead press the tinny sounding horn …..every single time. Its annoying, and when performing turns in busy traffic, possibly even dangerous. Even after a fortnight I was still having to look down to find the wretched indicator switch.

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My office

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Possibly best portrait of the Honda Africa Twin on the BDR trip (Southern Utah).

 

At 94 BHP the Honda is not a super powerful bike, and being about 230 kilograms + 35 kilograms of kit + 19 kilograms of fuel + 93 kilograms of Rupert its power to weight ratio is not as good as say, a KTM 1190 Adventure R, but this belied its true ability as a very high performing and capable adventure bike.

The only time I could have done with a bit more power was when I was overtaking, but I was often doing 100+ mph on the open highways and easily overtook the RVs and monster trucks that occupy the Colorado landscape. When not overtaking, I cruised very comfortably at 85 mph on the single lane highways across the Rockies.

It was Saturday afternoon and as I ascended the mountains outside Denver the roads were congested with recreational vehicles and people enjoying outdoor pursuits. SUVs were adorned with kayaks, bicycles, dirt bikes, and all sorts of camping equipment.

The Harley Davidson weekend warriors were out in droves, most wearing silly bandannas, grey goatie beards, an assortment of leather waistcoats, unnecessary chains, chrome bling, daft trousers and professing allegiance to some warrior gang or Big 4 accounting firm.

I have always found Harley Davidson motorbikes and their riders to be faintly ridiculous. Maybe its because I’m English, but I think any “adults”  wanting to cruise around in a “rebel without a clue” fantasy in leather, chains, and Tufty Club badges are a bit daft.

I could hardly be bothered to return the motorcycle greeting as I encountered them coming the other way on the roads. In America that involves saluting with your left arm outstretched and pointing at the floor, as opposed to a nonchalant sideways nod that we Brits give.

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These Harleys are quite cool…

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Japanese Hell’s Angels

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This Japanese guy even had a man bag shaped like a revolver holster … yeeee haaaw!

That all said, I did accidentally wander into a “Terminator” type pub later on in the trip that had rows of Harley’s outside. Inside was a true gang of something or another that looked me up and down and dismissed me as one of them “new fangled adventure riders” and a foreign one to boot.

‘Awww Wight Turkish?’, I greeted them all as I sauntered to the bar. No idea why… thought it was amusing at the time. They collectively sort of nodded and grunted something and got on with what they were doing. Hardly surprising, as by that time near the end of the trip I was covered in red dust, smelled vile, had shaven my head, grown a grey beard, had evil patchy sunburn, and blood shot red eyes.

I had altered my course somewhat along the way to escape the droves of RVs and eventually got on some of the high mountain roads with very little traffic, passing through small towns and sprawling commercial parks, and eventually pulled into the very touristy ski resort of Steamboat Springs.

I rode around for a while and looked for camping sites, but all I found were truly awful RV parks with all the charm and attraction of some sort of Soviet gulag concentration camp. And very expensive. Not happening, is it?

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Pork rib sandwich and fries…definitely added more wobble to my gut.

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The bar I pulled into… very enjoyable.

After stocking up on some pretty decent craft ale I saw being sold at the side of the road I decided to push on as the light was fading and stopped about 20 miles further on at a isolated bar I saw glowing in the dark. As soon as I walked in I became the centre of attention, largely, I suspect because everyone inside was a local, and I obviously wasn’t.

I met a very friendly bunch of yokels who fed me with a huge pork rib sandwich (I was indeed quite hungry), bought me some beers, made conversation that was largely making excuses for Donald Trump, and directed me to a nearby campsite, warning me to go very slowly and carefully at night because of elks and deer leaping into the road, and reinforced this warning with some graphic horror stories of destructive encounters between wildlife and vehicles over the years.

An enjoyable, relaxing, and quintessentially American evening after a very long journey. Good fun. Good people.

I camped up just off the road in the dark and woke up and packed up while it was still dark… and bitterly cold. My tent and ground sheet were covered in ice, and my water bottles frozen solid.

I had ummed and aahed about bringing my huge North Face expedition sleeping bag that we used when Fanny and I were camping high up in the Himalayas in Tibet a few years previously. A top of the range sleeping bag, rather bulky, but not that heavy, and with some effort can be squeezed into a compression bag.

A very good decision as it turned out because in the weeks ahead the nights would be pretty cold in both the deserts of Utah and up in the 10,000 foot plus mountains of Colorado.

I also had a North Face tent and a top of the range ThermaRest sleeping mat that is actually more comfortable than a bed. I have to say I slept brilliantly the whole trip.

I made coffee, had some porridge and was off riding again before the sun came up. In the coming weeks I would just camp where ever I could, preferably in a wood next to a stream, or creek as Americans call them.

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My North Face tent

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Its September the 11th … passing by a tribute from local fire fighters on the way to Park City

 

I rode high up along mountain passes, next to numerous stretches of high altitude lakes and reservoirs which were full of speed boats, kayaks, water skiers and other recreational activities. The hillsides were ablaze with autumn colours. All very pretty.

I arrived in Park City spot on noon as planned and checked into the rather ghastly Hilton Hotel where I was to meet John. The reception staff were a bit snobby, and the rooms were characterless and rather gloomy.

John had already booked a twin room for us to share so that we could get a good night’s rest before we started the BDR ride the next day.  I made the mistake of turning on the television and every single channel was awful. Parochial, dull, gravitating to the lowest denominator, and painfully annoying. Click.

Anyway, I had better things to do than watching annoying commercials and sports I don’t understand. Drinking beer, for instance.

John arrived on his Yamaha a few hours later having crossed the Bonneville Salt Flats from his home in Walnut Creek, some 900 miles away. A long old ride indeed.

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John’s Yamaha and Rupert’s Honda parked outside the Hilton Hotel in Park City, Utah

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Rupert & John

 

That evening John treated me to a very delicious steak dinner and a good bottle of wine as he had promised.  We had made a bet two years ago about losing weight and I won. John maintains that cutting out internal organs to lose weight is cheating, but a bet’s a bet.

I had known John for a few years and we first met when I was employed by his company to investigate a nasty kidnapping and murder case at one of his company’s factories in Malaysia. Suffice to say, confidentiality precludes saying any more, but we discovered we shared the same interest in motorcycling.  John maintains a collection of various types of motorcycle and pedal bikes which he is very competent and experienced at riding, from touring, trail, dirt to track. I guess you would describe him as a successful and wealthy American, with a very comfortable lifestyle…and lot’s of toys.

I haven’t shared a room with anyone except my other half for decades, and during the night I had to put in earplugs due to the terrible noise John made while he slept. My goodness what a dreadful racket!

In the morning when John woke up, he stared at me alarmingly and said, ‘Shit, you are a fucking noisy sleeper’.

So camping it is going forward, with tents spread sufficiently far apart!

I had made the assumption that John had downloaded all the GPS way points for the Utah and Colorado BDR routes into his Garmin, and he had.  I think its best to just have one person in charge of navigation and as its John’s home turf and he had a proper Garmin GPS, that responsibility fell to him.

The problem was we were traveling north to south in Utah and the BDR GPS way points, of which there are hundreds, were now the wrong way round. It doesn’t bode well when you immediately go the wrong way as you set out on an expedition?

The Utah BDR does run along a few tar roads, but mostly follows gravel and sand tracks that wind through stunning countryside, idyllic rural scenery, mountain trails and impressive deserts. The sort of places that the average person won’t come across.

There is a lot of debate as to whether the “Back Country Discovery Routes” are 100% suitable for large adventure bikes, like John’s Yamaha Super Tenere,  KTM 990/1290s Adventures, BMW R 1200 GS,  and Honda CRF 1000 L like I was riding …. OR … more suited to smaller enduro and dirt bikes with 450cc and 250cc engines…and lighter luggage.

We shall see, won’t we?

The GPS way points showed the turn off points and we quickly found our first turn off just outside Park City and the only indication of the track was a post with a number written on it. To confuse things the route numbers would often change without meeting another trail or any obvious change in direction.

Immediately, one got the feeling of being remote and off the beaten track. This first section was of hard packed gravel roads that meandered left and right, up and down, and through hills covered in pine, deciduous trees, and the famous Aspens that covered the hills in a blanket of greens, browns, reds, oranges and yellows.

Quite beautiful.

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First section

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Silly hats.

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John’s Yamaha and its tidy hard luggage setup

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My Honda Africa Twin with soft luggage setup

 

The autumn temperature during the day was very comfortable, in fact, pretty much perfect. John was leading and riding at a much slower pace than I am used to, but I got in the rhythm and thoroughly enjoyed drifting through valleys, across streams, through woods, past impressive ranches, and over hills and rocky outcrops. This is what its all about and I was really enjoying myself.

So far the Utah BDR was quite easy, very enjoyable, and incredibly picturesque.

By the end of the day, the scenery was becoming less wooded and increasingly open rocky desert. As the sun was fading we found our first campsite just off the track up a hill and settled into our respective spaces. As we chatted about a great day’s riding and what lay ahead I got the impression John was anxious about the cold in the mountains of Colorado and that he was inclined towards staying in motels and lodges.

I, on the other hand, wanted to camp the whole way. I was well prepared for camping and unlike John, didn’t have the cash to fork out on hotels. While we were chatting I also shared one of my phobias, and one I had no intention of confronting.

I have developed over the years an absolute fear of lightening and will not under any circumstance place myself in a situation in which there is any risk of being caught exposed during a storm. Not least that the ground turns to claggy mud through the heavy rain, the lack of visibility, and general dangerous riding conditions.

No, for me the risk of being struck by a bolt in open desert, or above the tree line in the mountains in the late afternoon is all too real.

This fear of lightening really took hold in the deserts of Namibia during the rainy season back in 2000s when I was caught in a storm with lightening crashing around me. On my KTM 990 Adventure I was the highest object from horizon to horizon and sitting on the only lump of metal. Terrifying!

On one occasion while camping near Windhoek a small tree a few meters from my tent got struck by a bolt of lightening in a relentless and frightening storm, and that was that. Even in Hong Kong on the island I live the lightening seems intent on finding its mark and a tree outside our apartment has been hit several times.

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Typical gravel road

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John relaxing by the camp fire…

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Careful with our camp fire as the surrounding bush was tinder dry and a careless ember could easily cause a bush fire.

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Camped up in wilderness

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Storm clouds gathering to the east and north

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View from near the communication station

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Library picture of some bikers encountering lightening… not for me!

 

I knew that in the Rockies several people had been killed by lightening during August and general advise was that afternoon storms were to be avoided. However, when I checked the forecast for the coming day it predicted lightening in the desert we were traveling across and as an avid micro-meteorologist from my paragliding activities, an “A” level in Geography, and sufferer of “astrophobia” I can recognise every cloud in the sky and forecast exactly whats lies ahead.

We set off rather late the next day after faffing about having breakfast at a diner and getting petrol and water. John pulled off the tar road and started riding along a rather technical and challenging section of trails.

This cannot be the route I thought to myself as we crashed and skidded along. There is no way we will complete even 30 miles in a day. Eventually we came across a steep rocky section and John wisely decided to turn around, go back, and bypass this section.

As we rode back the way we came to the gravel road I was certain in my mind he had taken a wrong route. There is no way “that” was a section of the BDR aimed at duel purpose motorcycles. It was challenging enough for a 250 cc trail bike.

After about 15 minutes I pulled alongside John and got him to stop. ‘I am sure that wasn’t a section of BDR… we must have gone past the turning… let’s go back’.

And we did and quickly found the correct turning and a long gravel track disappearing off into the wide expanse of desert.

We followed this track for an hour or so and then John made a sequence of wrong turns with us going every wrong way and even up into the mountains where there was a high altitude communication station. Again we came to cliffs and steep sections and whilst doing so the sky was increasingly turning black. I could see the cells of cumulus nimbus and lightening started grounding all around us, and it started raining.

I stopped next to a rocky outcrop and contemplated camping up until the storm passed. The weather forecast for the next 5 days was sunny sunny sunny. Why risk being exposed in the desert in a storm? There is no Faraday cage effect on a motorcycle!

We scouted the area and found a few suitable campsites. As we were sheltering from a vicious gust front I was sitting next to a mound of rocks and I just glanced to my left and could clearly see the face of a snake about 10 cms away from mine. Was it a snake? A forked tongue suddenly darted out and that cleared up any uncertainty. Fook me!

John was more worried about the rattlesnake nest than the lightening. I was undecided.

As a storm cell moved across the desert valley beneath us a maintenance truck from the communication station drew up along side John and they had a conversation.

John shouted over, ‘There is a campsite down by the canyon wall about 3 miles away’.

I thought about this and decided we could make a dash down the mountain and across the desert valley where the lightening had been ground striking and find the campsite where we could settle down and wait out the storm.

I did not hang about and belted down the wet mud track, found the junction we should have taken 3 hours previously and hoofed it down the muddy track. My Honda with its Mitas tyres was fine on muddy gravel and I charged along at 60-70 mph, lest the next storm cell explode above my head.

John was being much more cautious and fell back slightly.

After about 5 miles there was no sign of this alleged campsite.

A few miles further along we found an isolated municipal information station with shelters and I thought it was a suitable place to pitch our tents under and perhaps camp overnight. I could see another huge black cloud reaching up into the stratosphere and flashing from internal cloud to cloud explosions of lightening.

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The rain sweeping across the trail we will ride across in a few hours

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Very dark across the desert

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Typical gravel road… untypically dark clouds

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‘I am staying here’, I told John.

John was not having any of it and said he was pushing on to a town 30 miles away where he could find a motel.

I looked ahead and the storm was huge and it was clearly developing and raining heavily.  I had checked the weather forecast and it predicted heavy storms all night.

‘Nope, you go, I’m staying here’, I insisted. ‘I will meet you at Green River in the morning’ and with that John rode off in the direction of the storm.

I was left in the middle of the desert with at least a partial concrete shelter above my head as I watched the storm drift northwards across the huge expanse of desert valley. I reflected that it was not a good idea to part company with John, but I was not going to be coerced against my better judgement to ride into the eye of a storm. Even though we got lost many times we were ahead of schedule due to making progress along long sections the previous day, and it was already late afternoon.

I did a little bit of a recce of the immediate area and found some very nice campsite above a spectacular canyon and watched the lightening show in the far distance. Its crazy to ride into that, I thought, not least flash floods in canyons and the sand road turning into a gooey quagmire.

After about two hours the storm cell had indeed drifted northwards. There were some other cells to my west, but east towards Green River had cleared somewhat and so in the interest of not losing John, and perhaps digging him out of the mud, I decided to make a run towards Green River.

The sun was low and the route took me through a truly spectacular rose coloured canyon that was glowing orange pink due to the setting sun. I was also riding at my normal comfortable pace, skimming across ruts and corrugations, sliding the back round corners. What a joy!

The sandy track meandered through a steep sided canyon and for the first time that afternoon I was really enjoying myself, not least I was motoring at a fair lick and the Honda was riding beautifully. This is more like it.

Better than my KTM 990 Adventure?  Yes, I think so, although both are outstanding motorcycles.

No more than 30 minutes since I started I came across a river bridge and saw John standing by the side of the road. He had set up his tent under a burnt out tree that on one fateful day had been struck by lightening.

‘You didn’t go far’, I challenged him.

We caught up and I decided to set up my tent in the same spot, but away from the trees. We cooked up some freeze dried camping food that I thought was pretty good, and got a brew on. For the second night we realised we hadn’t got any beer.  Oh well, Yorkshire Gold it is.

As the sun went down we were treated to an absolutely spectacular lightening storm that exploded all around us and thundered through the canyon. It then started to rain and the lightening started striking the cross shaped valley we were in.

I eyed a reasonably clean and simple municipal concrete ablution block not far away and told John, ‘I am bringing my stuff in there… its going to pour tonight and camping in a river bed under trees that have nearly all been struck by lightening during a storm isn’t the greatest idea’. And off I went and set up my ground mat and sleeping bag in the “heads”.

A slightly pooey disinfectant smell, but tolerable, and more importantly, safe and dry.

Soon after John joined me and placed his entire one man tent and contents inside the small concrete structure. We set up our camping chairs just outside to watch one of the greatest shows on Earth. The storm lasted until 5.30 am and the flashes and bangs were amplified by the cauldron shape of the canyon we were in. Quite amazing.

After porridge and coffee the next morning we packed up and carried on to Green River, passing across desert sandy tracks until we reached the busy Highway 70 that routed us into the city. We refueled again, the idea being we always keep our tanks filled up when we see the opportunity. This is something Fanny and I always did on our expeditions, especially in Africa and Asia where fuel availability is very much less certain than in America or Europe.

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Campsite in dry river wadi under lightening burnt trees! … not greatest campsite given the heavy rain that is to come.

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John preparing his food

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Library picture of the show we were given

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Breakfast and packing up.

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The next day is dry and sunny and will remain so for a week

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Panoramic photo of our camp site

 

The Honda Africa Twin has a 5 gallon tank and petrol costs between US$2.10 – 3.50 a gallon in the US depending how remote the fuel station is. Usually it was about US$2.70 for 91 Octane fuel.

I had worked out that while riding on the trails and tracks in mostly 2nd and 3rd gear I was getting about 57 miles to the gallon which is pretty good. This went down to 46 miles per gallon when I was hoofing it above 80 mph. Not bad.

It meant I had a safe range of about 230 miles on a tank. John’s Super Tenere had a 6 gallon tank and was making less mpg than me and so effectively we had the same range.

After Green Point we continued on the BDR towards Moab where we planned to stay that evening. Again we got lost a few times on gravely sand type trails but they were manageable. John then turned onto more rocky and steep trails that wound up through the hills. At this point I was having doubts we were actually on the correct trail. There were steep sandy inclines, large rocks and lots of twists.

For the first time on the trip the limitations of my tyres became apparent, accentuating the weight of my bike. My front was all over the place and I was constantly rescuing the bike from slides. My brain was filled with DON’T DROP THE BIKE and I think this was affecting my confidence. I kept thinking what’s the point of this risky technical riding when we can see the same things and yet take a more manageable gravel track.

I was riding a lot slower than I liked and I was also making mistakes. I was not riding well. Was it the bike? Just one of those days? Lack of confidence?  All I think, but lack of confidence is the greatest risk and definitely affects riding performance.

I was getting sufficient traction on the back tyre, but the front was sliding away in the deep sand sections and being knocked sideways by large rocks, none of it helped by following in John’s dust wake.

My head was down instead of up, I was paddling when I should be standing up on the pegs, my elbows had come down. I was doing it all wrong.

I caught up with John and told him I was struggling a bit on the sand and he said, ‘This is Utah, man, its going to be all sand from now on’.

Well that helped!

I continued following and was OKish when I increased my speed and got in the flow, but when I followed at someone else’s pace I was making all sort of adjustments to stay upright. I kept changing between 1st gear and 2nd gear when I should have stayed in a smooth 2nd or 3rd the whole time.

Then it happened. I was immediately behind John and I lost my track and in order not to drop the bike I went off piste and down a vertical section and into a sand pit. I wrestled to keep the bike upright but I was on a steep slope with an even larger drop to my right. I was frozen… unable to move.

I waited to regain my composure.

Losing US$1500 dollars was flashing through my mind, but more importantly than that I was determined to return the bike in pristine condition to make a point to “Doubting Benjamin”. Fuck this.

I couldn’t even get off the bike without risking it toppling sideways and so I waited for John to come back and help me.

I waited ages.

Is he coming back? Evidently not.

I would have to get out of this situation by myself, and so I gently allowed the bike to lean again the uphill side of the sand on the left pannier and hand guard. Not so easy, but I did it. The slope was steep so no worries about about any scratches in soft sand.

Now I could get off the bike and appraise the situation. I hiked up to the trail I came off and surveyed the scenery. Still no John. Surely he would realise I am not behind him and come back and help.

No.

I tried to ride the bike up without sitting on it like I did on the Honda course in Wales when we all practiced U-turns on steep slopes. However, the back wheel was sliding and the front burying itself further into the sand. There was no option. I had to get all the luggage off, haul it all back up to the trail and then try and ride the unladen bike back up the steep slope.

And that is what I did.

With all the luggage unloaded and having had a bit a breather, and to be honest in a rather agitated and angry mood, I aggressively rode the bike back up the slope like a 125 trial bike, put all the luggage back on and carried on.

‘Good old Honda… shit old tyres’,  I was muttering to myself.

Further along the rocky trail I saw John’s bike, and then I saw John laughing and smoking a cigarette.  As I drew up alongside I shouted, ‘Did you know I was missing? Why didn’t you come back and help? I went off the track!!!’.

I can’t really remember what John said, something about walking back quarter of a mile and giving up, or some such bollocks, but by then the red mist had truly filled my helmet and I was furious. Any further communication with John would result in “bad words” and so I decided to leave him there, smoking his cigarette and grinning.

‘Not in my world’, I shouted several times and I sped off at a ridiculously fast pace. Strangely, the bike was suddenly in its element as I zipped across the trail. My faffing about attitude had melted away and I was back in the groove. It was like being in any dangerous or risky situation I have been in, and I have been in a lot. If you are angry enough, or even euphoric, you are no longer timid.

Pretty soon afterwards I came to the end of the trail and to a T-junction with a tar road in front.

I waited a while, looked over my shoulder, waited a bit more. No John.  So I thought ‘fuck it, that’s enough’.  I will go it alone… lone wolf style…. just like how I have ridden all over the world.

Of course, I had not planned the route, that was John’s job, but as it happened I had got myself onto Route 128 that runs along side the Colorado River and through Castle Valley towards Route 191 that passes through Moab.

After riding for another hour along the Colorado River I wasn’t sure what to do and was getting a bit tired from all the riding and manhandling the Honda in the sand and so I thought about camping up.

Alongside the Colorado River seemed to be lots of camp sites, but like many in Utah and Colorado you have to pay a fee for a plot of ground with no facilities. What’s the point? I can camp anywhere else for free and so I carried on into Moab to check it out and have a rest. I also thought in the urban area I might get a signal on my phone and a message from John.

Moab was not what I was expecting. Very very touristy and a centre for outdoor activities and adventure sports in the vicinity. Far too many dull looking people in RVs and “born to be mild” types on Harleys for my liking and so after stocking up on supplies and checking messages and internet I carried on south and found a more remote camping site near a stunning lookout point called “The Needles”.

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My campsite near “The Needles”

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Check the map… no internet here.

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Starting to climb into the mountains

 

Here I would rest up and plan the route ahead.

Now I was navigating on my own.

When I was in Moab I had downloaded and configured the BDR GPS way points onto my iPhone from a program called Rever, and bought a Utah map and a Colorado map upon which I plotted the various routes and way points. Not as good as the Butler BDR maps, but good enough to orientate myself. From now on I will do nothing I don’t enjoy and go at my pace.

As I mentioned, my camping setup was near on perfect, and so it should be after living in a tent for years on various trips. I had enough freeze dried camping food for the entire trip and to be honest, America isn’t like Africa. There is a 7/11, Taco something, Denny’s, coffee shop, supermarket, and petrol station around every corner, and you can drink water straight out of the tap, or even out of a creek if you need to.

I spoke to Fanny on Facetime. There was 14 hours between us so conversations were in the evening or first thing in the morning, if indeed I had a signal.

‘Where’s John?’ Came the first question.

‘Oh um, we went our separate ways’, I answered trying to evade the issue.

‘AAAAAIIIIYAAAA!’, came the inevitable reply, ‘I KNEW you wouldn’t last more than THREE DAYS, typical, you are a 孤独狼’

That’s for sure.

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No need for Starbucks .. all self contained on the bike.

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View of Colorado River valley from Needles

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Vast expanse of Canyonlands

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Its perhaps now I should give some impressions of America, or at least the State of Utah.

I was now in the land of Cowboys and Indians and Coyote Road Runner. The scenery is spectacular to be sure, but the culture? Well there isn’t any to be brutally honest. Anything remotely “old” or “man made” is exaggerated to beyond the point of disappointment. You have the natural scenery and that’s it. Having said that, the landscape is indeed truly spectacular.

The food? Its edible, but unexciting. I found I liked two things while in America… scrambled eggs with spinach, and super spicy hot buffalo wings. That was about it. I don’t care for pizza, hamburgers, taco things, hotdogs, or sandwiches. I’ll eat them, but then I’ll eat anything. I found a cat skull in my hotpot in China once, and since I had paid for it, and so had moggy, I ate it. It didn’t taste like chicken if that’s what you are wondering!

In America any so called foreign or ethnic food is Americanised to the point of ? … well to the point it bears no resemblance or taste to what it purports to be. Sugar dominates the menu. The petrol stations are full of lard and sugar and everything is supersized. Seriously! Who drinks a bucket of soda for breakfast? Well I can tell you, a lot of people.

Whilst queuing in a coffee shop, or “waiting in line” as they say in America, I noticed that the locals ordered really strange drinks. I heard one lady ask for a mocha chokka something with skimmed coconut milk. Huh? When I asked for a black coffee the Millennial shop assistant looked at me as if I had asked to sleep with her dog!

America and England?  Divided by a common language for sure.

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As nutritious as it gets… a portion of avocado (trying to be healthy) only comes with a chicken salad… Hey Ho!

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Steatopygia in Namibia is genetic to Capoid females. In the US of A its clearly due to free refills of buckets of sugar!

 

Animals? Didn’t see many except small dogs, ground squirrels, and big dogs. I was hoping to see a bear, but never did.  I did see some deer and antelope in the mountains… but I also saw hundreds and hundreds of hunters, dressed up like characters in Honey Boo Boo Child and tearing about the place on ATVs (quad bikes to you and me) with gun racks on the front.

Trees dominate the mountain landscape of Utah and Colorado, in particular the glorious Aspens with all their colourful leaves as they transitioned through the autumn into winter. The unspoiled crystal clear rivers and streams that run through the valleys are very picturesque, the mountains are impressive, and the deserts and canyons are spectacular.

Having seen a lot of the world, I feel the best of America is what the Soul of the Universe put there in the first place.  If, however, your goals of a motorcycle adventure include amazing food, interesting cultures, historical sites, diverse flora and fauna… go to Africa or Asia!

The saddest part of my trip was when I entered the Navajo indigenous “reserve” and saw the native Americans wandering aimlessly about. Its enough to make you cry.

But its the same all over the world where nomadic proud people like Australian Aborigines, South African Bushmen, Canadian Inuit or Mongolian herdsmen are hauled out of their free existence and involuntarily assimilated into the modern western way of things.

Among all my childhood memories from growing up in the 1960s the imagery of a proud Apache or Sioux on a bare backed horse in full warrior regalia in the wilds of America stood out as truly “magnificent”. When we played Cowboys and Indians, I always wanted to be an Indian. They’re the coolest aren’t they.

Now… these bewildered folk are living in abandoned cars and sucking on quarts of Doctor Pepper, or staggering about, pissed out of their minds in an attempt to find a better reality.  Anomie by any measure.

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Before

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After

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Pretty much sums it up….

 

I woke up the next morning in a more positive frame of mind. In the light of day I found myself in a truly spectacular bit of the desert in southern Utah. I was not alone, either. I was in a small camping area on the side of a steep canyon and there were some other campers who wandered over while I was making my porridge and coffee to say hello.

I always think when you travel alone you meet more people. They see you on your own and feel more inclined to approach and chat than when you are in a group or with someone else.

The exception to this is when I travel with Fanny. She was extremely popular on our travels. A lovely, kind, gregarious, super smart and unusually loud Chinese woman. Throw a huge adventure motorcycle into the equation and she is always going to attract a lot of attention.

My Honda Africa Twin did attract a bit of attention, and all sorts of bikers, and indeed other travelers would come up to me and chat, and many would ask for my impressions of my motorcycle, which I have to say were very favourable.

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Getting petrol at any opportunity

 

I understood at the time that the Africa Twin was very hard to come by in the US and a surprising number of bikers I met were on a waiting list to own one, and so inevitably they wanted to know who I was, and what I was up to?

Not an easy one. I am English, live in Hong Kong, and also in Shanghai and South Africa where I have a house.

Where did I start my journey? England, Hong Kong, Cape Town, Boulder.

When did you start your journey? Thirty years ago, ten years ago, June 2010, last week.

I am quite sure people went away rather confused. I certainly was.

I spent some time planning the route ahead and trying as much as possible to stick to the BDR, but also factoring in a few detours to see some interesting sites.

Setting up camp and packing up was very quick due to being very well rehearsed and having a good luggage system. The Wolfman soft panniers were very spacious and very easy to load up. In each was a yellow dry bag that I could pull out, fill up with whatever and push back into the sturdy soft pannier and strap down securely.

I had food, water and cooking equipment in one pannier; biking kit, camping chair and tools in the other; and all my camping gear and clothes in a yellow North Face dufflebag, the same one that I have used all over the world. I strapped this very securely across the SW Motech luggage rack with bungees. I also brought my black sheepskin, but rarely used it as the Honda seat is super comfortable, more so than any of my KTMs.

I had a small Wolfman tank bag in which I kept camera equipment, maps, chargers and cables; and my valuables were kept in secret pockets in my Rev’It riding gear that I kept with me.  I would have preferred a larger tank bag with a bigger map pocket on the top, but I was very impressed with the Wolfman soft panniers and these will definitely be added to my “perfect adventure bike” kit list.

I rode a few miles to a touristy look out point called “The Needles” with panoramic views over the huge expanse of Canyonlands and the meandering Colorado River.  I then went to look at some arches in a government controlled park that was teeming with tourists and a popular destination for Harleys and other touring bikes. I could not see why this area was singled out as a location of special interest, and I was certainly not going to pay US$25 to see what I could see all around me for free. Very bizarre.

I found a small store and petrol station near the national park, and despite a slightly more expensive price and only serving 85 Octane “gas” I topped up my tank and set a cross country course to pick up the BDR and continue towards Duchesne, Price, Horse Mountain, Twin peaks, Bluff, Mexican Hat and the highlight of the trip, Valley of the Gods.

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Cyclists from Australia up in the mountains … respect!

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I guess its Manti -Lasal National Forest

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Bikers from New York near Gooseberry Station, high up in mountains

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Beautiful autumn colours

 

I turned right off the tarmac and for the next few days I didn’t see a tarmac road again. I rode across gravel and light sand trails that were perfect for the Africa Twin and never saw anyone for most of the day until I started riding up into the mountains and bumped into a husband and wife couple on Suzuki 250s who were on holiday from New York and kept their bikes nearby.

They were a bit surprised to see such a big motorcycle in trail bike territory and warned me to be careful as the hunting season had started and hunting parties were tearing about on ATVs and camped up in various places.

I was now in thick woodland on single track mud trails high above the surrounding expanse of hot desert. Very enjoyable riding and quite cool in temperature.

My maps showed a few tracks, but there were in reality hundreds of unmarked trails crisscrossing in all directions. Occasionally I came across beautiful deer and antelope as they bounded out of the forest and froze startled in front of me.

‘Don’t worry’, I would call out, ‘I’m no going to harm you’. And they would leap away into the dark of the forest.

Not long later, I would come across the persecutors of the local wildlife, dressed head to toe in Honey Boo Boo camouflage clothing and tearing about on ATVs, or camped with 4×4 trucks in openings in the wood. I chatted with a few, disguising the animosity I felt towards hunters, and they seemed normal enough people, but I couldn’t understand what the attraction in shooting animals could be. No one in America, especially with expensive trucks and ATVs, is starving, nor needs to live off the land. I cannot for the life of me imagine killing one unless I was in a survival situation.

Don’t get it. Don’t want to get it.

I rode up and down trails in this range of mountains, often crossing streams and dry sandy river beds. Occasionally, I would ride along long sections of sand, some of it deep and the limitations of my tyres and the weight of my bike would become all too apparent.

The scenery became quite remote and as the sun was fading I realized I was probably not on the trail I thought I was and had drifted west, rather than east as intended towards a town called Blanding.

No worries. There were lots of wonderful places to set up camp besides little rivers, and streams and suitable to build a fire without burning down the forest. I was on my own in the wilderness and my mind drifted towards the prospect that my food might attract bears. In fact, I had seen a few signs warning about food and attracting bears. There were also mountain lions and people told me there were lots of them. I guess like leopards in Africa, the chances of encountering one would be rare. Despite an encounter with a creature that might like to eat me, I really wanted to see a bear or mountain lion.

The sky was completely clear, and there had recently been a full moon and so it was still quite bright after dark in my isolated and peaceful camping spot. There was a lot of wood to make a fire, the water in the stream was crystal clear and tasted pure.

I cooked up some camping food that was pretty good, especially with some dollops of Tobasco, and drank a huge can of Mexican low alcohol beer. Apparently in Utah, for some daft religious reasons, you can only get low alcohol beer.  Really?  During our last conversation, I don’t remember the Soul of the Universe mentioning what the alcohol content of beer should be, nor which hand I should wipe my arse with, for that matter. Anyway. For entertainment I had my Johnny Rotten autobiography and I managed only a few pages before I fell asleep.

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One of my campsites

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Getting a fire going

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Porridge and coffee for breakfast

 

I woke up slightly alarmed in the middle of the night due to some scuffling noises outside and found a few deer snuffling about. They didn’t seem too bothered and I was quite happy they were about. As there was no rain and it was not freezing I had left the outer cover of the tent off and could see the stars through the gauze of the flysheet. This is what its all about. Riding all day in beautiful surroundings on a superb motorcycle and camping under the stars with a fire in the woods. Bliss.

The next day I was up and packed quickly and plotted a route along the remainder of the Utah BDR to Four Corners, but wanted to include a few more sights such at Monument Valley, the one with the Wile Coyote scenery and huge sandstone buttes, and also Mexican Hat and of course the switchback escarpment twisties of Route 261 down to the Valley of the Gods.

A very enjoyable days riding in which somehow or another I managed to ride a total of 485 miles, much of it off road. Considering the BDR is 850 miles long, that is quite a bit of a diversion on the last day of the Utah section.

Both Mexican Hat and Monument Valley were impressive, but there were a lot of tourists and that sort of blunted the impact. Valley of the Gods, however, was the highlight of the whole trip. Not a long section of off road riding, but passing through scenery that lived up to its name. Almost unearthly.

As I was riding up on the pegs on the bright red dirt through a helter skelter of amazing rock structures, arches, spires and buttes I came across a solitary open top white sports car with a well dressed couple who waved excitedly at me. The lady was jumping up and down on her seat whilst filming me and the scenery as they drove passed. The driver was beaming a very wide smile, and looked remarkably like David Hasslehoff

Only in America, I thought.

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The Bird

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Nice twistie road down towards Valley of the Gods

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Valley of the Gods…

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Another camp site

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Mexican Hat

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Monument Valley

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I had seen Four Corners monument in the TV series, “Breaking Bad”and thought I might as well take a look. On the way I passed by some rather scruffy Navajo Nation settlements, dominated by the trophies of the poor, broken down cars, and tatty trailers.

I refueled at a Navajo petrol station that was also a ten pin bowling center and burger bar. I didn’t play bowls, but I did have a burger. Afterwards as I struggled to digest the lump of meat I wished I had done it the other way round.

I have never really seen native Indians in the flesh so to speak, or at least in large numbers, and I was surprised how Asian they looked. Maybe the Chinese did discover America first, or their ancestors migrated across the Baring Straits.

When I got to Four Corners I was rather taken aback that I would have to pay to see what is essentially a man made and rather unexciting monument. Arizona meets New Mexico meets Utah meets Colorado. Seen, done, off riding again in 10 seconds.

As I was riding in the early evening towards Cortez on what is essentially the first leg of the Colorado BDR, I could see a strange structure on my right hand side. What the hell is that?

As I got nearer I realized this was not a structure, it was some sort of volcano or “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” like mountain.

I have got to take a look at that, I said out loud in my helmet.

I found out its called Ship Rock.

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Shiprock .. just over the State line in New Mexico

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Wikipedia describes it as:

Shiprock (Navajo: Tsé Bitʼaʼí, “rock with wings” or “winged rock”[4] ) is a monadnock rising nearly 1,583 feet (482.5 m) above the high-desert plain of the Navajo Nation in San Juan County, New Mexico, United States. Its peak elevation is 7,177 feet (2,187.5 m) above sea level. It lies about 10.75 miles (17.30 km) southwest of the town of Shiprock, which is named for the peak.

I rode 20 miles away from my planned route to Cortez to take a closer look and it is truly surreal. It really stands out from the surrounding area and has sort of radial arms stretching out like hands of a clock. Experts say it is the erosional remnant of the throat of a volcano. No wonder the Navajo revere and protect it.

I couldn’t hang about, nor was I allowed to as the Navajo Nation restrict people like me camping in the vicinity, so I continued to Cortez and was pleasantly surprised when I got there that it was a really nice town with lots of restaurants, bars and motels.

I went into one of the bars and had some spicy buffalo wings and a beer, and was entertained by some very talented and entertaining musicians. Before I knew it it was late and I had no chance to find a campsite and so I checked into the cheapest motel in town, one that smelt like a corner shop in England in the 1970s.

The motel was a bit depressing, not well maintained, and as soon as I was washed up I decided to go out again and explore. I went into another bar just down the road and watched a superb one man band called Hurricane Jake (https://www.facebook.com/HurricaneJakesOneManBand/).

He was really good but there were only a few people around and I think I was one third of his entire audience. Later I found out there was a “Blues and Brews” festival in Telluride, that was where all the people had gone, and that was actually where I panned to be the next day.

Again in the interests of escaping Vindaloo Motel I went to some late night supermarkets and stocked up on fruit and veggies, and took the opportunity to fuel up my bike at the “gas station” across the road.

As I did so I bumped into two young Norwegian lads, Christian Mørck Røde and Peter Saxhaug Solnør on “adventured up” Kawasaki 650 KLRs.

I like KLRs…Fanny and I have one in Hong Kong

They were riding from Alaska to Argentina and had called their expedition, Chasing Borders (www.chasingborders.com). It was great to meet such excited and positive explorers and I was full of admiration, and dare I say, a touch of envy.

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Chasing Borders, Peter and Christian

The next day I followed the BDR route to the ski resort of Telluride, mostly along gravel tracks alongside a stream called Beaver Creek. They are all called Beaver Creek aren’t they?

Again, I came across lots of hunting camps and shared the track with ATVs and occasionally horses and cattle. I encountered very few other motorcycles up in the mountains and I could feel that it was decidedly cooler. The Mitas E07 tyres were OK, but I could feel the back slipping again on the steeper slopes.

I got to Telluride earlier than I expected and it was absolutely packed with people. There were hundreds of motorcycles, RVs, SUVs and camper vans in the pretty town. Telluride appeared to be an upmarket ski resort, it was very warm and sunny when I arrived, and the throngs of festival goers were in a party mood.

I rode up to the gates of the “Blues and Brews” festival ground and was told that there was no room for camping. I also noticed that admission was US$250!!! Well that ruled that out, but I wasn’t too disappointed because I heard there were bands and lots of lively activity in the bars and restaurants of Telluride that evening.

While riding about I saw a black Yamaha Super Tenere in the street and thought it might be John and that we had caught up. But on closer inspection it wasn’t. In fact, it belonged to a young lad from Oregon who was doing an “Ironbutt” ride across America. That means he rides up to 1000 miles a day, up to 14 hours a day. Tough old stuff.

We got chatting and decided to team up and find a camping site for the evening that would allow us to get back to Telluride in the evening and have a few beers.

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Not John, another Yamaha Super Tenere rider I met near Telluride.

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Anger is an Energy … my flip flops are frozen!

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Not John, but another John on another Yamaha

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Telluride

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Cable car from mountain down to Telluride

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Not a bad way to avoid parking

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Beer and music in a pub in Telluride

 

We found a campsite up in the mountains about 8 miles away from Telluride. It was a government one and so we would have to pay 15 dollars, but the plot was very big and we could share the cost. Furthermore, the camp “guards” (there always seem to be a retired elderly couple whose job is to collect fees at municipal camp sites) told us we could use the cable car from a nearby upmarket ski resort down to the Telluride valley for free, and after setting up camp that is what we did.

A very lively evening where we sampled the local ales and listened to some great bands. By 8 pm, however, I was seriously fading. All I had had was a couple of craft IPAs and some salad and chicken wings, but I was seriously whacked, made my excuses and took the cable car back up the mountain and then back to the campsite.

It was extremely cold during the night as my tent was pitched at 12,000 feet in the Rockies in Autumn, but I was out for the count, despite another visit by some deer and elk in the night.

The next day I was up bright and early. I had the steepest and highest sections of the Colorado BDR ahead of me and was slightly anxious about what lay ahead, bearing in mind what Ben had been warning.

Whilst I did not strictly adhere to the Utah BDR, I did ride on enough sand to prove the tyres on my Africa Twin were limited. I have zipped up and down Sani pass in Lesotho on my fully laden KTM 990 Adventure, up and down Mushroom Farm pass in Malawi and all sorts of challenging roads in the Rift Valley in the north west of Kenya, and indeed around the world. How hard could it be?

I aimed towards the small mountain village of Ophir and then towards the pass. There were signs warning the route was only suitable for 4x4s, and indicating that when wet the road was impassable.

The Ophir Pass is rocky and has a steep scree slope on the right hand side as you go up. I had seen pictures of it, but in reality it is steeper than it looks. I stopped half way up to take a picture.

Big Mistake.

As I got back on my bike it started slipping backwards. Heck! I turned on the engine and engaged 1st gear and the back just spun and the bike started going backwards faster. The rocks were fairly large and recent rains had washed out the gravel leaving large slippy boulders, gullies and very uneven rubble.

It seemed I had a rock jamming my front wheel and my back wheel was just skidding and squirming left and right. This ain’t good!

I tried out all four settings of the Honda’s traction control, which can be activated very easily using a button on the left hand grip, even on the go, but my heavy bike was still slipping backwards.

If I continued what I was doing I was going to be sliding backwards into the ski resort I just came from, if indeed I stayed upright which was highly unlikely. Dropping the bike on these sharp rocks would undoubtedly lead to significant damage and so I quickly decided that the only way to get going again was to unload all my luggage and let some of the air out of my tyres… although on these steep rocks that would risk tyre slippage and potentially ripping the valve out of the inner tube.

I was in full bike gear and perched on a steep scree slope, but I managed to get the dry bags out of the Wolfman panniers and get the North Face bag off. I then had to carry them further up the mountain and then go back down to get the bike.

After sliding back down the scree slope to my bike I removed the rocks in front of the front tyre and gouged out a sort of smooth path to get going. I got back on the bike and engaged traction control setting #1 and gradually the bike got going again.

The secret to riding such a big bike on such a surface is obviously having the correct tyres, and in this case the knobblier the better. But more importantly it means going smoothly, preferably in second gear, and keeping up momentum, and that requires confidence and a modicum of skill, but most importantly, confidence.

I had been seriously huffing and puffing due all the exertion at high altitude but gradually got in the flow and decided as I had momentum not to stop to collect my luggage which lay ahead on a surface that was still steep and rocky.

The only slight hiccup came when I had to perform a 180 switch back turn on the very loose gravel and exposed rocks, and I just about managed the tricky turn as my back tyre squirreled about due to lack of traction, the very awkward camber and, to be honest, my poor riding.

I pushed on up the mountain and on a more gentle inclined parked up the bike and ambled down the slope to get my stuff. This was going to be exhausting.

Not long after starting to hike down the mountain trail I saw a 4×4 SUV with two elderly ladies in the front seat crawling up the mountain pass I had just come. As it drew up along side me a Scandinavian sounding lady in the driving seat leaned out and told me they had collected my luggage. Apparently they had been following me from a distance and seen me struggling. That was nice of them.

I hopped into the back of the SUV and gushed my appreciation for “rescuing”me and my stuff. The driver was from Finland and was touring around Colorado with her American friend. Ophir Pass was obviously an easy route for a woman from the land of rally and F1 drivers, but they told me that at their hotel the previous evening that the locals had warned the pass had been washed out badly by recent bad weather and had yet to be graded.

This was at the limits of my heavy laden bike, but I am quite sure the Africa Twin would have zipped up on a pair of Metzler Karoo 3s, and with perhaps less luggage and a more confident rider. Stop faffing about Utley

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Doesn’t seem as steep as Sani Pass in South Africa/Lesotho which I zipped up easily on several occasions on my KTM 990 Adventure + full luggage

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Ophir Pass

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In fact, steeper than it looks.

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Made it…Ophir Pass

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Now I have to go back and get my luggage!

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Down the other side and back on the tarmac.

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My KTM 990 Adventure R breezed up Sani Pass from South Africa to Lesotho on a pair of Heindenau K60 Scouts (good on gravel and rocks…treacherous in the mud)

I expressed my thanks to the ladies at the top of the pass, reloaded my bike and rode down a less steep tar and gravel road on the other side. At the bottom of the slope I came to a T junctions at Million Dollar Highway.

I had two BDR options to Lake City: the more direct route eastwards across the mountain ridges of Animas Fork; or north eastwards via Ouray across Sunshine Mountain. I chose the latter and it was a good choice, a fairly easy off road ride through stunning scenery.

Like much of the Utah BDR, there was a little bit of tarmac in between long sections of twisty steep gravel roads and high altitude passes.  I rode reasonably quickly and learned my lesson about keeping up momentum. Yet again, I found myself cursing the tyres and reflecting on the fact that riding a rental bike has its limitations. The only alternative is buying a bike and then selling it after the expedition, which is OK for longer expeditions, but not really feasible for rides of less than a month.

It was still quite early and I pushed on through a place called Cathedral along pretty good gravel tracks, twisty mountain tracks, valleys with beautiful steams and lakes and by late afternoon I had made ridden a fair old distance and made it all the way to Taylor Park Reservoir which had a Trading Post where I could get fuel, a coffee and refill my water bottles.

As I arrived I could see quite a few mid sized dirt and enduro bikes in the car park and went into a restaurant where there were a couple of riders eating some food. I introduced myself and got chatting with two elder chaps than myself who had been riding more challenging trails than I was.

They knew the area pretty well and advised me which routes I could take. They also decided to treat me to the restaurant specialty of home made apple pie and ice cream that I have to say was delicious and very welcome.

One of the guys was at least 70 years old and riding a stripped down and modified DR 650 in full enduro battle mode. He was camped up with his riding buddy in what he described as a state of the art camper van, or should I say recreational vehicle. The sort that is super luxurious and better equipped and more comfortable than most people’s homes. He told me it had a trailer on the back on which he transported an assortment of off road and touring motorcycles.

Now that’s the way to do it… if you’re rich. With Donald Trump type modesty he assured me he was indeed very rich … and so I didn’t feel so guilty accepting his apple pie.

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Buena Vista

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Stop for what?

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Beautiful colours

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Nice easy mountain pass in lovely weather

I thought about camping up in Taylor Park, but I knew Cottonwood Pass was nearby and I could ride over it towards Buena Vista and perhaps camp along the way. I heard at the Traders gas station that the road is OK in the dry and that there were dozens of free camping sites along the Cottonwood Creek near Rainbow Lake.

After struggling up Ophir Pass I was not too enthused with the prospect of an evening battle against gravity, but as it turned out Cottonwood Pass was easy and very enjoyable to ride. Great views, wide hard packed gravel going up and a tar road going down on the other side.

As I drifted down the tar road towards Buena Vista I could see lots of campsite and so I pulled into one of them which was heavily wooded, next to a beautiful creek, and a site that actually obscured quite a few campers who were pitched up already.

I pulled up next to a couple who were riding a KTM 1290 Super Adventure. Attempts to strike up a conversation were dampened by a shrew faced woman with thin mean lips, blonde dyed hair, a really irritating “Fox News”accent, and a thoroughly unpleasant disposition. No idea what was going on there, but I left them to it, and set up my camp further along the river, got some trance music flashing away on my blue tooth iZoom speaker, and got some food and beer going.

I was right next to the creek and again I had nocturnal visits from various deer, elk and ground squirrels.  Occasionally, I could hear the shrill nasal tones of “Fox News” woman carried on the wind and thought KTM man had one of his few chances for eternal peace, happiness, and a garage full of any motorcycle he liked. Blame it on the bears, I will gladly go witness!

I might have managed a chapter of John Lydon before I was out for the count .Another very comfortable and enjoyable camp in the great outdoors.

As I was camped in a valley, the sun didn’t appear until an hour after sunrise and so I took my time making breakfast and charting the route ahead. I wanted to have a coffee in Buena Vista and deviate somewhat off the BDR to see Aspen, a high end ski resort that features in the original “Dumb and Dumber” movie and a destination during winter for the more wealthy skier.

As it turned out I had camped not that far away from Buena Vista which was quite a nice little town. I refueled, had some coffee and internet catch up in a very nice coffee shop, and was tempted to a very delicious muffin.

I chatted to a few locals and then picked up the BDR to Leadville and doubled backed to Twin Peaks and onto Aspen through endless forests of stunning Aspens that were by now every colour of the rainbow. The last colour they go through is a bright translucent golden yellow before they fall off in early winter. I was here at the right time for sure.

Perfect riding in stunning scenery.

When I rode into Aspen I found it to be very upmarket indeed, but it did have a rather confusing one way system in between top end shops and restaurants. Reminded me of Carmel in California. Rich and out of my league.

By chance, I found Aspen’s only Australian coffee shop and parked next to an orange 2007 KTM 990 Adventure, almost identical to Fanny’s “bigbiketrip” one.

I got the impression as I walked in that I was not entirely welcome. People in their smart casual clothes actually recoiled as I got near. Indeed I was a sight, and no doubt I smelled quite bad too. The server was a typical snobby Millennial type with a curt manner and unattractive disposition. So, I sat outside with my coffee and chatted with Fanny on WeChat.

I reflected on the fact that I was near the end of my trip. The time had passed quickly and I never heard from John again. Not sure if he continued with the ride northwards through Colorado or went back to California when he was at the nearest point in Southern Utah and through Eureka or Reno back to Walnut Creek.

After coffee and some welcome suggestions from the owner of the KTM 990 Adv, I picked up the BDR via Meredith and Basalt and rode alongside a stunning trout fishing river, which meandered and sparkled down from the mountains.

There were lots of fly fisherman in their waders flicking their flys into the babbling crystal clear waters. What a lovely way to spend a day. I stopped to watch them in their magical surroundings and made a mental note that this might be a nice way to whittle away some of my twilight years.

I found the turnoff route up over the mountains to a town called, Eagle. I was supposed to ride to Gypsum but made a wrong turn that took me over quite challenging gravel and extremely rutted hard packed mud.

Impassable in wet weather, the tops of the mud ruts were very high which meant I had to ride carefully along the crests like a gymnast on a balance beam.  I came across a hunter on an ATV and he said he was also having a rough time of it, but not as much as some bikers he saw further down the track.

In no time I came across a group of about six motorcyclists on an assortment of adventure bikes, and without exception they were all on their sides or stuck in the ruts. I was up on the pegs in second gear as I weaved and skimmed across the steep mud crests and waved enthusiastically as I passed them.

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lake-catamount

I couldn’t stop and couldn’t take a pictures or indeed any video. Doing so would mean putting my foot down and I would certainly fall into the deep ruts and the bike would topple over, as indeed the gaggle of adventure bikes had clearly done already.

As I rode by at a fair old lick I felt stupidly superior and had to check myself, because as we all know, pride comes before a fall.

I was enjoying my ride, and particularly this section which was quite technical, but surprisingly similar to the roads I did in Wales during the Honda off road course a few months earlier, albeit a lot drier.  With these tyres, sand and steep rocky scree were my enemy. However, on loose gravel and hard packed mud the E07s were no problem at all and I guess this is why there are such varied reviews and appraisals of these Mitas tyres.

I eventually descended down from the tricky mountain trails and onto the tar road between Eagle and Gypsum. I then had a few hours riding following gravel trails alongside the Colorado River through the valleys up towards Steamboat Springs.

Arriving just south of Steamboat Springs I had no intention of going any further north towards Wyoming as I wanted to finish my trip with a blast up Pikes Peak. I recently watched a video clip of the famous road racing biker, Guy Martin cahooning up the hill climb course on a bike he built himself, and I wanted to see it.

It was now dark and so I decided to set up camp near a Lake called Catamount and ride back down south along the Highway 40 the next day towards Colorado Springs. I had already been to Steamboat Springs and I knew it was quite touristy, with few options to free camp and so this was as north as I was going.

It was quite exposed and a bit windy next to the large expanse of water high up in the Rockies, but comfortable inside my sleeping bag.  I may have been camping illegally as there are regulations about camping near water sources, and so I packed up and got going early and made good progress towards Pikes Peak the next day which I thought would be a fitting end to my trip.

I arrived about midday after some fast road riding along Highway 40 and 70. I could see the summit of Pikes Peak from quite far away and made a wrong turn, as my batteries had all died on all my various electrical devices. I could no longer charge up my various devices using the 12v socket on my bike because the power cable had broken.

Also, as I was riding the wrong way in the foothills of Pikes Peak something stung me on my exposed neck which caused a nasty red welt for several weeks. It was unusually painful for an insect sting and I have no idea what it was, but it caused me to stop for half an hour as it affected my eyesight, made everything blurry and made me feel nauseous. Very strange.

As the initial sharp pain subsided I decided to carry on and found the correct route and rode up the twisty road to the top of Pike Peak. I paid a small entrance fee and unfortunately the weather was not as clear as it had been over the previous week, but a brilliant view nonetheless.

At the top I met some other bikers and a multitude of tourists who had ridden in a train to the summit.

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View from Summit

The summit is quite interesting but its the ride which is more fun and so I rode back down the mountain and towards Colorado Springs.

I now had to get ready to return the bike and get my flight back to Hong Kong. I still had 3 days to go and found an urban camping site not too far from the airport in the suburbs of Denver on AirBnB.

In the pictures and description on AirBnB the place I booked looked great, but when I got into Denver and navigated through the atrocious rush hour traffic and towards my destination, I found myself on a road called Colfax Avenue, and it became ever more depressing and run down the further I followed it. In fact, the neighbourhood was quite revolting and I recognized drug addicts, prostitutes, and predatory lowlifes shuffling along and lurking on the street corners.

I pulled up in a street of run down bungalows that without exception had an assortment of broken down cars, washing machines and former household appliances sprawled out in their front yards. The street would actually be quite nice if they cleared up their mess, but then it would also be quite nice if these lowlifes did something productive and stopped taking drugs.

As I was contemplating doing a runner and abandoning the money I had already spent making a booking, my AirBnB host appeared out of nowhere and welcomed me. She was also not what I was expecting and appeared to be as high as a kite. She did her best to pretend not to be stoned and advised me to ride down the back ally and park my bike next to the chained wire fence at the back of her garden. In the garden I could see a tent and fairy lights all over the garden. It seemed very out of place!

Oh well, all part of the grand scheme of things… let’s get on with it.

After unpacking and doing my best to secure my belongings in an area where most of the zombies walking around would very much like to relieve me of them,  I went in search of food.

A big mistake.

As a former policeman I recognised the area as a particularly unsafe place to be after dark. As the only person on the streets of, let’s say, an Anglo Saxon and sober disposition, I decided to err on the side of caution and foxtrot oscar. Let’s not forget I was in a country that celebrates shooting each other and in a States where you can legally buy cannabis and illegally buy anything else. Law and order may exist in Aspen a hundred miles away, but it was like some post apocalyptic nightmare in this part of Denver.

So, I backtracked to my tent, cooked up some freeze dried beans and chili, made a mug of tea, had a very welcome shower in the house, chatted with my host’s very nice elderly mother, and settled down to sleep with a few chapters of my book.

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Somehow I am going to remember Colfax Ave, but for all the wrong reason.

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Returning the motorcycle to House of Motorrad in Boulder. In the same state I found it, bar four thousand miles or so on the clock!

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A quick beer in Pearl Street

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A mooch about the shops and restaurants…very different to Colfax Ave!

I was up before it was light, the bike was still where I parked it (hurray!) and rode 40 odd miles to Boulder to return the motorcycle, which I am proud to report was in the same condition I received it. Again I arrived early and so I had breakfast at Denny’s Diner and was publicly reprimanded by an obnoxious, loud and obese waiter because my motorcycle was parked in a car parking spot, and not a motorcycle parking spot.

‘Where’s the motorcycle parking spot?, I asked rather irritably

‘There ain’t one, man, MOVE IT’

‘Then it will stay where it fucking is’, I replied slowly and quietly in my English accent, ‘ Please may I have a menu’.

Suitably subdued the waiter sidled off, came back in his own time and dropped a menu on my table.

Never a good idea to upset your waiter as they are serving your food, but I had had enough of rude sanctimonious yanks pontificating to me about… well …. about everything to be honest. I had met some really nice, friendly and interesting people on my trip in America, but I had also met some really obnoxious and arrogant ones too, perhaps too many.

Breakfast of eggs and spinach did arrive, eventually.

Inevitably I never got a coffee refill, and inevitably the only tip the fat waiter got was “no carbs after 5 pm!”

The day was going well so far, wasn’t it?

At spot on 10 am, as planned, I returned the Africa Twin to Ben, pleased that it was undamaged and hadn’t been dropped, and especially pleased that I didn’t have to pay any bike damage penalty.

It had been a great bike and is perhaps the best adventure motorcycle at the moment. Given all the  gnashing of gums and fuss Ben made when I collected the bike two weeks previously, I should have got a Dick Dastardly and Muttly medal for completing two BDRs on a fully loaded up adventure bike, with the wrong tyres, and returned it without a scratch.

He played it down of course, but I had made my point. Amen!

My flight back to Hong Kong was the next morning and so I decided to spend the remainder of the day wandering around Boulder, rather than return any earlier than I possibly could to Zombieland.

After patrolling up and down Pearl Street and hanging about in pretentious coffee shops and bars I took the very efficient Regional Transport District (“RTD”) bus back to Denver, and at the central station took a connecting bus to Colfax, all for a few dollars.

I sat on the bus among a group of local ladies on their way back from work and we had a really good chat. As the only Anglo Saxon on the bus I stood out a bit to be sure. The female bus driver was very funny and unusually animated and I was getting quizzed from all around me.

It was rather surreal describing my travels, especially around Africa to an audience of predominantly African Americans. I was concerned I was boring them all, but they genuinely seemed fascinated and kept prompting me for more. The lady sitting next to me said she really wanted to visit Africa, but expressed concern it was dangerous. As I looked out of the bus window at Colfax Avenue I assured her it was considerably less dangerous than where we were.

I had a very comfortable and peaceful night in my ghetto campsite and early the next day took an Uber taxi with my cheerful and friendly driver, Charles, to Denver International airport.

I had not booked an Uber taxi before, and it cost a third of the price of the regular cabs. I could track my cab on an iPhone app as it approached and see a biography of the driver and description of the car. All very impressive.

After being back in Hong Kong for a few days, and recovering from my jet lag, I reflected on my “small bike trip” in the USA.

The Honda Africa Twin is a great adventure motorcycle, the Utah and Colorado scenery is truly magnificent, everything is clean and tidy, the air is unpolluted and fresh, the autumn weather was perfect, most people were kind and friendly, and it was super fun riding across all the desert tracks and mountain trails.

As good as Africa?

Of course not, there aren’t any elephants.

Chapter 34 – Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin in Wales

With all our KTMs now sold, and perhaps a few expeditions on the horizon, we have been taking a serious look at the new Honda Africa Twin.

Honda Africa Twin

The new Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin.

 

Honda Africa Twin

The old Honda XRV 750 Africa Twin

 

 

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A Royal Hong Kong Police Honda CBX 750 leaving Happy Valley Police Station, similar to the one I rode everyday as Senior Inspector Operations Hong Kong Island in mid 1990s.  A truly awful posting as I had no interest handing out traffic tickets, or mopping up blood and guts at accidents… but I did get to play around on a bike all day.

 

 

I briefly had a Honda Africa Twin in the early 1990s when I was in the Royal Hong Kong police, but I have to say I didn’t care for it that much.  It was just too lethargic and dull.

Besides, I already rode a slow and heavy Honda for up to seven hours every day as a traffic cop and didn’t need another one.

In those days I was a bit of a speed freak and so I quickly replaced the Africa Twin with a Yamaha 1200 Vmax upon which I cahooned about Hong Kong as fast as I could.

My attempts to go faster were helped with a Kawasaki ZXR 750,  the ridiculously quick Suzuki GSX 1300 R Hayabusa,  a Honda CBR 900 RR Fireblade, and of course my maddest bike ever, a tuned up “racing spec” Yamaha YZF-R1.

With all these fast racing bikes, leaping off cliffs with my paraglider, insane Mrs Utley, and Yip Kai Foon and his triads all trying to kill me, I am surprised I am still around.

Later when I got into long distance motorcycle expeditions I was fortunate to get hold of a superb KTM 990 Adventure, and stuck with KTM for over a decade, with a few Kawasaki KLRs here and there.

Now, the Honda Africa Twin is back and on paper it ticks all the boxes. It is certainly getting glowing reviews from the increasing band of owners.

http://www.motorcyclenews.com/bike-reviews/honda/crf1000l-africa-twin/2016/

But how good is it really?

The only way to know is a test ride, and the best I know of is the off road course offered by the Honda Adventure Centre in the Brecon Beacons in Wales.

http://hondaadventurecentre.com/the-courses/

I rather optimistically chose to go to the UK in June, hoping that the weather would be kind and that the two sunny days of a British summer would coincide with my visit back to the mother-ship. Also, I planned to go to Florence… but I’ll explain that later.

I flew from Hong Kong to Gatwick via Dubai, and then suffered the dreadfully unreliable and painfully slow Southern Railways train to Bexhill on the south coast where I picked up my KTM 990 SMT. After doing some work (yes, I do some occasionally) I then booked my place on the next available course in Wales, and then after finishing a work report I rode to Merthyr Tydfil.

I brought my tent and sleeping bag as I planned to camp, but as soon as I crossed the Severn River the skys turned grey and it just never stopped raining and so I threw in the towel and checked into the designated hotel where I met some of the other riders who were joining the Honda Adventure course.

 

 

 

There are three levels of off road course offered by the Honda Centre in Wales and each lasts two days and takes place in the forests and trails within the beautiful Brecon Beacons National park.

The new Africa Twin comes in two forms and we got a chance to try both. The most radical version being the DCT  (automatic gearbox with sequential gear changing paddle on the left hand-grip ) and also the more usual 6 speed manual gearbox version with a clutch that purists like myself feel more inclined to ride. All the UK bikes come with ABS and three levels of traction control.

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A flock of Africa Twins lined up outside the Honda Centre in Merthyr Tydfil.

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My bike, #17 for two days. As they say, the best off road vehicle is someone else’s.

 

 

 

 

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Briefings, bikes, rain, chocolate bars and lots of mud

 

 

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Our playground…. Nice.

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I call this “taking a picture of myself and my bike”.

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Yes… I like this bike.

 

 

So how did it handle?  How does it compare with the KTM 990 Adventure R and KTM 1190 Adventure R?

Very simply, I liked the Africa Twin so much I will get one.

In the UK the Africa Twin comes in black/grey; white/red/blue; and red/white/black. All look good and the black/grey actually looks better in the flesh than in the pictures. However, the gold wheels and classic rally look on the white/red/blue probably sway this particular colour scheme for me. 

With 232Kgs and only 94 BHP the Africa twin’s power to weight ratio is not that special, however I found the bike to be very nimble and more than fast enough. In fact, its weight is deceptive and it handled like a much smaller enduro bike off road, and like a good touring bike on the tarmac. Even with a big 21 inch front it corners round the bends extremely well. A lot of R&D has gone into its design, it has a very low center of gravity and is extremely well balanced.

Its also a very comfortable bike, the seat is just right for me and can be adjusted, the handle bars and riding position couldn’t be better. And the exhaust note ? yep…not bad at all given all the EU restrictions on modern motorcycles.

I threw it around in the mud and trails pretty competently after I got the hang of adjusting the traction control and ABS whilst on the hoof. The only time you are aware of the weight is when you are going down steep wet slippy slopes and even then I had no problems. In the mud, water and gravel it charges around like a smaller enduro bike giving the rider bags of confidence. And its a lot of fun.

Could I see myself riding one around the world on every surface Planet Earth has to offer?

Absolutely.

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The red one … with the DCT

 

So, what was the DCT bike like?

At first a bit strange, not least because there is no clutch. The rev and go “Honda 90″ feel quickly disappears when you open up the throttle and it charges off over the rocks and mud pools like a Dakar Rally bike.  Clucking Bell!

Allegedly, the automatic gearbox can change gear more efficiently than Guy Martin or Valentino Rossi and I strained my ears to hear the gears actually change, but all I noticed was the indicator on the display flicking up through the numbers. There are various settings to alter at what engine revs the gears actually change …”sports”  “road” etc.

On the manual version bike I rarely got out of 2nd gear,  occasionally 3rd,  on the Welsh trails, but I noticed that the DCT  bike quickly went through the gears up to 6th. A bit strange to be in 6th at a relatively slow speed off road, but seemed to work.

There is a sequential gear shift paddle like on high performance sports cars if you want to manually change gears. Suffice to say, I got used to it reasonably quickly, and against my initial reservations, I thought it was actually pretty good.  The DCT will certainly improve most people’s riding ability.

 

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Usual layout, although I kept pressing the horn instead of canceling the indicators. Even after two days I was still honking people when I completed a turn.

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Not dropped it yet…but I will later

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That’s what it looks like underneath

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Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud

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There is definitely something missing on that bike!

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Waiting in turn to roar up a hill … steeper than it looks.

 

Below are a few videos from Youtube of the very muddy course I was on in Wales.

BTW- I am on Bike #17 with number plate index RX16 KXV – black boots and DPM style Arai Helmet.

Great fun… and many thanks to Steve for taking, editing, narrating  and publishing the video.

 

 

 

 

 

Well all good things come to an end until you start more good things. I really enjoyed the course and made some good friends. Importantly, the Africa Twin was all I hoped it to be and more. I am sure Fanny will love riding it too and we have it penciled in for the next big one, unless the new KTM 800 Adventure steals a lead.

In fact, I will be riding one fairly soon along the BDR in Utah and Colorado with my friend, John Drury, although I am not sure if the US Africa Twins have traction control.  We will see.

http://www.backcountrydiscoveryroutes.com/COBDR

So, what to do now?

Well since I was in Wales and the rain had stopped briefly I decided to go on a ride…a  ride to Touratech in South Wales in fact to have a look at all their toys.

When I arrived at Touratech in a place beginning with a Y and no vowels I asked where the Africa Twin was with all the Touratech add-ons? I was told all their bikes had been taken to the Horizons Unlimited gathering near Hereford and so that’s where I went next.

A great ride as always across Wales and when I arrived at the HUBB meeting I could see the usual swarm of adventure and touring motorcycles, a few stalls and a noticeably middle aged crowd. I had not booked a place, but a very nice lady signed me in at 60 quid for one nights camping in a wet field! Britain, huh?

Oh well, I did manage to meet the Dakar legend, Nick Plumb in the flesh and so it was worth it.

 

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Nice

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Nick Plumb’s BMW Dakar bike…. Amazing

 

 

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Meeting the legendary Dakar rider Nick Plumb.

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A Touratech’ed up Africa Twin … I should coco.

 

I also saw Alex Jackson from Kaapstad tours, and some other commercial motorcycle tour operators who had their stalls set up and were doing their marketing thing.  I expect its a tough old life trying to sell motorcycle tours to independent minded motorcycle adventurers. A bit like selling ice to Eskimos I suppose.

I was bouncing around telling Alex and his “aw wight aw wight inch yaa” business partner I had met Nick Plumb and was waxing lyrical about how he had completed the Dakar ….twice, and featured on the Charlie Boorman “Race to Dakar” TV Series.

He didn’t seem impressed. How can you not be impressed?

To me completing the Dakar on a rally motorcycle is the all time achievement …second only to walking on the moon. I would love to do it myself and have the utmost respect for anyone who has and I was truly honoured to meet Nick Plumb.

Horizons Unlimited is a strange and wonderful gathering of rather odd people. There are a few “Round The World” motorcycling legends sharing their stories, some interesting presentations for budding adventurers, some very nice motorcycles to look at, and most importantly a bar.

For the large part though, its like a village hall lawn bowls committee meeting, except with leather tassels and smelling faintly of damp nylon and exhaust fumes.

 

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My sixty quid a night wet camping patch… really?

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Well.. lets call it “checking my kit” for my Colorado and Utah BDR expedition in September, although I don’t think I need any more practice putting up a tent.

 

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I only went in as I bought some raffles tickets. Did I win anything? An Austin Vince mug? A Sam Manicom book? A Charlie Boorman video? A years supply of teabags? Nope. Zip.

 

This was my last jolly on my KTM 990 SMT as I decided to sell it to my mate, Nick Dobson who has been looking after it in England for the last three years. It is always sad to say goodbye to a bike, and it has been a truly awesome bike.

One of the deciding factors to part company with a UK plated bike was that I lost my temper with Bennetts, the British firm I insure my bike with as I (Nick actually) missed the automatic renewal date by three days and so they said I have to go through the whole rigmarole of getting a new quote ….and pay a premium of a hundred quid (72%) a year more than the previous year despite no accidents or incidents.

The complete moron I spoke to on the telephone from Bennetts said he must ask me all the questions again. ALL OF THEM. And in his annoying regional accent and Millennial grammar.

Again?

Yes again.

I said he must be joking, but he insisted he must ask the questions without interruption,  despite the obvious “jobs worthy” ridiculousness of the whole thing.

He was half way through his, ‘I MUST finish the question….have you had any… blah blah blah?’ when I told him quite descriptively what he could do with his quote … and hung up.

That was annoying, I thought, I will have to sell my bike now.

In actual fact, I had pretty much decided to sell my bike as riding it for just two weeks out of fifty-two really isn’t a good reason to keep a motorcycle in the UK, and I was starting to go through one of my “England’s a real dump” episodes which was bolstered by a combination of the awful weather, the awful traffic jams, the truly awful food, having to look at fat orange people with tattoos and piercings, Nick’s mum scaring the crap out of me … AND …a particularly disturbing and unpleasant visit to Starbucks in Pevensy in East Sussex.

They were all signs from the Soul of the Universe to sell my KTM and move on .

 

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Nick!  Can I borrow your bike?

 

One of the reasons I booked a ticket to England was that Ducati had informed me I was shortlisted to ride their new Ducati Multistrada 1200 Enduro on a leg of their Globetrotter round the world marketing trip and invited me to go to Florence for a final selection. Therefore, I headed to the UK to pick up my bike as I had planned an interesting ride through Europe to Italy.

Having purchased my air-ticket I was told by Ducati they thought I was too young and handsome to ride their motorcycle and so I was unceremoniously “cut” from the event. A bit harsh I thought, but on reflection the whole thing sounded like a bit of a faff.

I had Sri Lanka and USA biking expeditions coming up, and this Ducati marketing thing was more costly and inconvenient than I initially anticipated and so I wasn’t too disappointed.

I suspect Ducati have messed up a bit. Seven contented adventure riders, and at the same time 4993 really “pissed off” adventure riders who are probably evaluating buying a Honda Africa twin now. Must have learned their marketing skills from KTM!!

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Not a Ducati

 

As I had finished the Honda Africa Twin off road course and had no reason or desire to hang about in the UK I decided to go back home to Hong Kong, but I couldn’t change my ticket without a costly surcharge.

As none of my relatives like me very much and I had nowhere really to go, I had to find a place to stay for a few days.  I had my tent but it was still raining a lot and in England its really difficult to camp as everywhere is private or off limits.  Luckily, I found a  Lapland style wooden hut in the middle of Dorset … in fact in the garden of April Cottage near Harman’s Cross.

http://www.dorsetbedandbreakfasts.co.uk/april-cottage.htm

My sort of place. Run by a super chap called Peter from Switzerland and his lovely wife, Joanna, it was a great place to stay, write up some reports for work, and explore the Purbeck Way and Dorset coastline, even in the rain.

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Sleeping on reindeer skins in a Lapland wooden hut in Dorset.

 

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My sister’s house in Poole.

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My pretty niece Sophia in Poole…

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And my other pretty but slightly bonkers niece, Jessie

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On one of my runs near Swanage

 

I believe Botox works wonders although how can you improve on perfection.

 

And went for a run along Purbeck Way

 

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The best meal I had in the UK… thanks to Peter & Joanna Burri at April Cottage/Lapland Lodge in Harmans Cross, Dorset.  Highly recommended.

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My home at Lapland Lodge… along with the Africa Twin Course in Wales .. the best bits of my trip to UK.

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My sort of place.

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Joined by a hoss and its rider whilst doing one of my runs near Corfe Castle in Dorset.

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A ride on the steam train back from Swanage to Corfe Castle

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I am allergic to # 15 – “English food”

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I do respect enthusiasts who go to huge efforts to restore British heritage, like this steam train which runs between Swanage and Corfe Castle.

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Moo!

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A380 back to Hong Kong

 

Next Chapter (s) ……Riding Honda CRF250 Baja motorcycles in Sri Lanka and Riding a Honda Africa Twin across the BDR in Colorado and Utah, USA

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Chapter 31 – Vietnam and Cambodia

So what do two adventure bikers do for their Christmas holidays?

Of course, go on another motorcycle adventure, this time to Vietnam and Cambodia.

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Lots of temples in the Cambodian forests… some like this very isolated

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Riding through The Cardomon mountains, Cambodia on a Honda Transalp 650

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Coffee and noodles and more coffee in Hanoi.

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Riding around Hanoi

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Our Honda and a hat

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Hanoi

Flying directly into Phnom Penh from Hong Kong was expensive and so we decided to fly into Hanoi first, have a look around and then take a local flight to Cambodia where we would pick up a Honda Africa Twin and spend two weeks over the holidays touring the country, and perhaps include a few days relaxing on the southern coast.

I have been to Ho Chi Minh a few times, but neither Fanny or I had been to Hanoi and we had been planning to go there for some time.   Originally our plan was to ride from Hanoi to Hai Phong, inspired by the famous “Top Gear Special”, but we didn’t really have enough time to do a big trip in both Vietnam and Cambodia. Also, Fanny was recovering from ACL reconstruction surgery to her knee and she did not want to ride a bike herself, and so we decided to spend the majority of our time in Cambodia as we could share a larger adventure motorbike. It seems Vietnam only hires out small scooters and mopeds, which are perfectly OK for scooting about the city, but a bit challenging for an countrywide tour in a few days.

Hanoi is a really interesting and bustling city with French and Chinese style architecture reflecting its rather complicated heritage. We liked it very much. There are tens of thousands of scooters riding about in a seemingly chaotic manner, but after a while you realize, despite universal none adherence to any traffic laws whatsoever, that carnage, death and destruction is actually quite rare. In fact, everyone just manages to avoid colliding into everyone else.

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When in Hanoi….

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Lots of markets and hawkers stalls

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School kids visiting the Hanoi War Museum…

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And serving soldier …

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A B52 …once

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And Fanny . and B52 wreckage in a very small pond.

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Riding into restaurant in Hanoi

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Exploring around the narrow streets… perfect on a moped

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Look at her happy face… anyone would think she had found authentic Vietnamese beef noodles for a dollar

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And more…

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I believe this is a called a “take a picture of your self” or something like that.

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Fanny and I hiking around Hanoi

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Before…..

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After… !

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Zoom…. kids and all

Crossing the road on foot does take a leap of faith, if not courage, and yet the bikes and cars just seem to slide by, dodge and side step you, employing well practiced collision avoidance techniques. Accidents do happen of course, and like their Thai neighbours the Vietnamese take enormous pleasure in publishing the graphic images of squashed and smashed up human being in newspapers and specialist magazines. Everyone’s got to have a hobby I suppose.

Finding accommodation in Hanoi was easy and we stayed at a superb hotel in the old town called Oriental Suites. A colonial looking and very well managed mid sized hotel right in the heart of the old town. Great coffee and very obsequious staff… just how we like it.

http://www.orientalsuiteshotel.com/en-us/hotels/home.html

We decide to hire a scooter to get around and explore the city and at first were given a “last thing you’ll ever ride” piece of junk clearly belonging to one of the hotel staff.  After an 18.5 second test drive I returned and gave the hotel manager a full and frank appraisal of his “Vamporetta” or whatever it was. The traffic was bad enough in Hanoi, but without any brakes, steering bearings gone, and an engine that stalled all the time… I don’t think so.  So, we were given one of the ubiquitous Honda 110 mopeds and it was perfectly fine and off we went.

We found lots of great restaurants, cafes, noodle shops, and market stalls, most of which were selling a huge array of Christmas decorations and junk nobody really needs in life. The street food was very good and it seems the Vietnamese, like the southern Chinese they share a border, will eat absolutely anything. There were a lot of roasted pooches looking rather sad for themselves in heated glass display cases at various street hawker stalls. Evidently, the locals are perfectly aware that their taste in cuisine isn’t appreciated by the vast majority of tourists, including many Chinese from the more civilized cities and northern provinces, and so they were sensitive to people like Fanny and I taking pictures of poached pug and char grilled collie. But we did anyway.

Hanoi, along with the same parts of China that regularly eat dog, i.e. Guangxi and Guangdong, are also the markets for rhino horn although I never saw any evidence of this devastating trade in endangered animal parts. Not surprising since gram for gram rhino horn its more valuable than gold. Wont last for long though as there wont be a rhino left on the planet within a generation.

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Harley Bikers in Hanoi

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Biker Cafe

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Lots of captured US aircraft

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US aircraft sculpture ….

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The winners flag flying above their captured aircraft

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Bit mad on roads in day and night

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Hanoi shop

Anyway, we explored the back streets, drank lots of excellent coffee, went to a small lake with the wreckage of a downed B52 bomber still in it, and really enjoyed our visit to the Hanoi War Museum that was full of US warplanes and helicopters, as well as large displays of medieval warfare techniques and home made weapons used against the French troops during the 1950s. Despite nearly everyone being half the size of Fanny, the Vietnamese seem like very tough people… they certainly have a high tolerance for discomfort and hardship.

A day or so later we took a Vietnamese flight via Vientiane in Laos to Phnom Penh and breezed through immigration very quickly as we had applied for our visas in advance. We avoided the taxis and hired a “tut tut” on the main highway to take us to our hotel, the Grande Palaise, near the central market.

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Phnom Penh

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In a tut tut on way to pick up our bike

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Cambodia-physical-map

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The Grande Palaise, Phnom Penh… looks nice until you have to flush a lavatory.

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Ahh… no guests at breakfast… wonder why?

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The GDP of a country is inversely proportional to the length of their leader’s motorcade.

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If you see this dog …. hand him over to the Cambodian police … not the Vietnamese police…unless you are fond of pug stew.

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An amazing looking colonial hotel in keeping with its name, but the devils in the detail and its seems Cambodian attention to detail and good grouting is en par with that in Hong Kong.  The hotel had been converted from an old colonial cinema and it was also clear that they had done a pretty crap job of it. The electric was shocking, the plumbing was appalling, and the bed was lumpy. Judging by the expression on the faces of two snooty looking French guests at breakfast the next morning we were not the only people to think so.

The next day we navigated around a seemingly endless motorcade of Vietnamese and Cambodian officials in blacked out limos, army trucks and police officers in SUVs as they raced back and forth across the city.  Cars and pedestrians alike were forced to stop by hundreds of police officers as this officialdom went about what ever it was doing. Eventually there was a window of opportunity to move about and we got another tut tut to our motorcycle hire shop.

The Bike Shop is run by a Frenchman and his Cambodian partner and we rented a decent looking, but rather old 2001 Honda Transalp 650. I was a bit disappointed that the Africa Twin 750 we had booked online had been given to a French couple, but in the end the Transalp was absolutely faultless and was to prove the ideal bike for some very demanding riding later on. I really grew to like the Transalp.

http://www.motorcyclecambodia.com

We had intended to ride south to the coastal resort town of Kep, but decided instead to ride north west towards Siem Reap where the world heritage temples of Angkor Wat are located. For those not familiar with Cambodia, and that included me before this trip, there is a huge lake in the middle of the country and you have no choice but to ride around it.  No bridges span it and during the rainy season it expands greatly in size and pretty much the whole country is under water.

As it was late December we were traveling in the dry season and so we rode along unsurfaced, potholed and dusty construction roads for several hundred kilometers to Kampong Thom. The Honda, although 14 years old, was extremely well maintained and I could tell from the briefing about checking oil, general maintenance and spare parts that the company we hired it from really looked after their bikes and cared about them. We were also given soft panniers and I have to say if ever I ride around the world or do a significant motorcycle adventure again I will use some sort of soft pannier system rather than the  hugely expensive aluminum square “Touratech” boxes we had on our KTMs for our ride through Africa and Europe.

Because the roads and traffic were so bad we didn’t make the progress we thought we’d make. Also, I was by now really fed up riding on a so called national highway made of holes, dirt and more holes with thick dust being thrown up by trucks and speeding SUVs and so at Kampong Thom we turned off the highway and headed north towards Preah Vihear where we were told there were some interesting temples in the hills at the northern border with Thailand and Laos.

A great decision. The roads were now virtually empty, the scenery was very rural and beautiful, and the road surface was excellent. After about 40 kilometers we saw a sign indicating that there was a resort nearby and since it was getting late and we were tired we headed off along a narrow road through endless fields full of cows, water buffalo and horses and between expanses of rainforest and large deciduous trees.  At around 6pm the light faded noticeably and we had still been unable to find the “resort”, but we did find the ruins of an ancient temple complex. Quite a sight to find in the middle of a forest as the sun was going down.

There was no one around except for a young man on a scooter by a small wooden booth. We stopped to ask him about the “resort”.  ‘This is it”, he told us in perfect English.  Huh!  Apparently the resort was the ruins of the stunning Khmer temples and there was, in fact, no “hotel with a swimming pool and a restaurant” type resort that Fanny and I had envisaged in our minds.

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One of many temples we found

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Fanny and the young Cambodian guy who brought us back to his homestay

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Restaurant where we had our dinner and evening shower in a cow paddock behind restaurant

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Just Fanny and I exploring a site full of temples in the forest

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early morning light

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Prasat Yeay Poeun

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Our homestay

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Morning fire at our homestay…

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Morning wash

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Inside one of the temples

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Sandy roads

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2001 Honda

We had no tent, no sleeping bags and actually very little in the way of luggage at all. Certainly no food. Neither of us were too fussed. It wasn’t raining, the temperature was a perfect 24 degrees and we could perhaps kip with the ghosts in one of the many thousand year old ruins.

‘You can stay at a homestay’, the young man told us. ‘No problem’.

Apparently for 6 dollars for the two of us we could stay at a local home, and that is what we did. But first, food hunting. We were told there was a village nearby and we could find something to eat. Result.

We rode into a charming little farming village and found a small stall selling a very limited selection of local food, including something that looked like papaya salad with dried river prawns. As we drew up on the Honda the whole village stopped and stared at us as if we had landed in a flying saucer. The lady owner looked us up and down and we were covered from head to toe in red dust. I was wearing shorts and my light weight motorcycle jacket and my legs were absolutely caked in filth.

Would I like a shower?  Yes, I would and so I was taken into the cow paddock behind the restaurant where there was a well, a plastic bowl, a hand pump, and a bar of soap right in the middle of the field.

I looked around pondering whether I should just wash my hands and face or have a full shower, and if so am I expected to stand in the field stark bollock naked or wear a sarong or something?  I started stripping off and nobody seemed to take any notice and so I had a proper wash and then wandered back to the restaurant absolutely refreshed and in great spirits.

‘You gotta have a shower’, I told Fanny, as I described the washing facilities, ‘ Its great’.

I chatted as best I could with the owner and her extended family while Fanny had a more modest shower in a field in the middle of Cambodia. Fanny came back all refreshed and tucked into some rather chewy and gamey prawns, and I decided that dinner would be a fried egg and three bottles of Angkor beer.

After we left the restaurant, bade our farewells and were riding through the pitch blackness of where ever it was, I suddenly realized that all the farm houses looked exactly the same and could not remember which was the one we agreed we would stay in. They were all virtually identical wooden structures on stilts and it was pitch dark except for a few lights that were powered by small electric generators or oil lamps. Luckily Fanny came to the rescue and remembered that the only distinguishing feature was that “our” farm house had two doors on the outside bog. And indeed it did.

We parked the Transalp under the farm house, right next to the young man who introduced the homestay in the first place, who was resting in a hammock. Aha! It was his families house. We were shown up the wooden stairs, found our little space on the wooden floor with two mats covered by a mosquito net, lit a candle and settled down.

I had bought a Cambodian sim card for US$5 at the airport the day before and it had unlimited 4G internet connection for one month, and low and behold it actually worked and so Fanny and I did some research and realized that we were in the middle of the pre-Angkorian temple complex called Sambor Pre Kuk.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sambor_Prei_Kuk

I slept absolutely soundly and very comfortably. It was pretty much like camping. I woke up as the sun was rising thanks to several hundred cockerels and the rest of the farm yard dawn chorus engaging in a rendition of “Old MacDonald had a farm”. We had a quick wash from a bucket, a warm up by the fire and then packed our few things up.

Would we like to see the temples?  Yes please.  Our young saviour who found us somewhere to stay and guarded our bike over night was also the ticket issuing official to the temple complex. US$5 dollars later we were riding along sand tracks through an 8th century world heritage site with not another soul in sight. The morning light streaming through the tree canopy gave the temple ruins a surreal appearance and we spent several hours exploring. Simply amazing.

We then continued north to Preah Vihear through a truly idyllic rural setting. It was like taking a ride in a time machine and going back several hundred years to a purely agricultural pre-industrial era. Like an oriental version of Constable’s Hay Wain painting, there were beautiful trees and flowers, paddy fields with oxen pulling wooden ploughs, farm labourers toiling in the fields, strange looking long legged white cows with frilly necks, water buffalo wallowing in paddies, and typical Asian skinny mongrel dogs skulking about.

As we got further north the topography became more hilly, but not particularly mountainous as we thought it would. Again we found more amazing Khmer temple ruins, but we were a bit templed out and wanted to press on to Siem Reap and find a place to rest and so we headed south west along very rural and narrow roads. None very direct. Fanny was navigating from the pillion seat using my Samsung phone and a map app, but like parts of west China we rode through the maps were clearly not very accurate.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preah_Vihear_Temple

We did a lot of riding that day and I had the beginnings of a sore bottom, as did Fanny. In fact, riding pillion is more tiring on your lower back and bum than actually riding because you are not supported by the handlebars. The scenery and riding was amazing, but the Honda Transalp seat was not the most comfortable I have ever sat on. I had forgotten to bring my sheep skin seat cover and was regretting it.

We approached Angkor Wat from the north along very rural roads, and for about 5 kilometers actually rode along a very narrow canal embankment, through local villages and then suddenly we were inside the Angkor Wat complex via a rather unorthodox route.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angkor_Wat

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Not something you see everyday

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An amazing place .. and we could ride our motorcycle freely between the temples.. Not Angkor Wat, but the other one nearby.

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Riding towards Angkor Wat

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Angkor Wat complex

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Wow!  Templed out or not, fond of history or not, this is a spectacular place to see and experience.  On par with the Taj Mahal and Giza pyramids, the symmetry and beauty of these Cambodian temples is astonishing. As with the other man made wonders of the world, Angkor Wat is something most people are familiar with and yet its a strange feeling to actually see the buildings in the flesh, so to speak. The scale was larger than I was expecting and there were a lot more temple complexes, statues and structures. Whilst we could ride right up to many of the ruins and structures, the actual Angkor Wat is surrounded by a huge symmetrical square moat and you can only get to it by crossing a foot bridge.

Not as old as the temples we had seen so far, its undoubtedly the most spectacular. Originally Hindu and later Buddhist, its supposed to be the largest religious complex in the world and like the pyramids, and indeed Stonehenge, the architectural skill and engineering involved in its construction is almost inconceivable.

We had started early that day and we were feeling tired, but the early evening light and amazing architecture was mesmerizing.  As expected there were a lot of tourists from all over the world which contrasted with the virtual empty temples we had seen earlier in the day.

After seeing as much as we could, we rode a few kilometers south into the busy city of Siem Reap and found a very pleasant hotel to stay in called Horizons Cambodia.  Given it was one of best B&Bs in the town and it was peak season we were lucky to just rock up and find a vacancy. In fact. they also gave us a really nice suite and allowed us to park our motorcycle in the garden behind locked gates. A result.

It was Christmas Eve and we wandered into the old part of the town and found a very decent restaurant serving local delicious local food.  My bum was still really sore and I could barely sit down, but what a great day.

The next morning we had a big choice to make. As there is a huge expanse of water called Tonle Sap Lake just south of Siem Reap and right in the middle of the country, we could either go clockwise around it, ride the truly awful national highway again back to Phnom Penh and then further on to the south coast, or take a much longer anti clockwise ride around the lake towards Battambang and then south across the Cardamon Mountains towards Koh Kong on the south west coast of Cambodia.  This is very near to Koh Chang in Thailand which I toured a few months earlier (previous chapter).

Fanny and I wanted to see the Cardamon mountains as they are off the tourist route, remote, and home to some of the last expanses of Asian rainforest.  However it would take two to three days, I was not sure where we would stay, and we would probably have to ride on gravel tracks and trails.

I prefer to stand up on foot pegs when riding off road, partly because of balance and centre of gravity, and partly to take the load off my bum. With a  pillion rider you have to sit down all the time, and for the pillion rider they are also going to have a rough old ride balancing on the back seat. Fanny was game on anyway, and so we set off west towards the western border with Thailand and by lunchtime swung around the lake and were heading south east towards Battambang.

Whilst filling with petrol at a gas station and studying the map I realized that going forward navigation was going to be a bit tricky. We were told by locals there were some new gravel roads built by Chinese contractors to serve hydro electric dams up in the mountains, but these were not marked on our maps. In fact, as far as this remote south western part of Cambodia was concerned none of the maps reconciled at all.

Oh well, go for it.

As we turned off a fairly busy highway between Battambang and Posat we still had about five hours of daylight left. Within a few kilometers, the road narrowed and we were on a single trail just elevated above the paddy fields and within fifteen kilometers it turned into the classic gravel type track we were very familiar with in southern Africa.

I could see a range of medium sized mountains in the distance and knew that there were several peaks around two  thousand meters in height that we would have to navigate around. I was estimating that as the crow flies we had about 250 kilometers to reach Koh Kang, but the roads indicated on both our hard and soft copy maps meandered about and often faded out completely.  I know logically that locals over the years would move between villages and there should be some sort of access, even if only using small tracks.

As we rode along Fanny suddenly told me that our position on the cellphone map indicated we were in the middle of a field, and yet we were still on the road. Strange. We had similar problems in remote locations in Sudan and Egypt from time to time, but then we were using a GPS with loaded maps, rather than a cellphone that uploaded maps from the 3G internet signal.

We carried on for a while, but we were going more and more off course, or so it appeared. After a while I doubled back to the point it deviated and could see no sign of another road and so we turned around yet again and carried on again.  After about 40 minutes we arrived at a small village where I could see a cell phone repeater mast on a nearby hill. However, the Samsung still showed we were in the middle of nowhere and our hard copy map tended to indicate we had gone too far west.

Time to ask someone, but we were really struggling with the language and through repeated attempts I realized the locals would just nod and shake there heads, point in any direction and agree to anything you said just to get rid of you and save face. I am pretty sure “I don’t know” is not in a Cambodian’s vocabulary.

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Riding around on sand roads in the forest looking for temples

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A lot of gravel roads in Cambodia

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Crossing one of the Chinese bridges across the dams for the hydro electric stations in Cardamom mountains

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me

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Nice bit of concrete near dams… only last a few kilometers and then back to gravel and sand

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This is pretty much only picture we have of the rough roads as I had to concentrate on riding and Fanny was holding on for grim life. Usual obstacle course …. quite steep here and deciding which route to take. Good fun really

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Mostly we were on our own all day… rarely saw any other people

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Is it a road or a stream? … both apparently

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Water to cross

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Reservoirs for hydro electric dams

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One of many bridges crossing the dammed river in the Cardamom mountains

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Fanny

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If its takes a car .. it’ll take us

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Eventually someone pointed to a road that by the position of the sun seemed to be heading south and that to my mind was all the corroboration I needed and so we started riding down an increasingly narrow and eroded trail.  Within half an hour the road turned into an obstacle course of rocks, deeply rutted hardened mud and occasional ponds and swollen streams. I was sweating profusely as we battled along for an hour, making what I guess was less than 10 kilometers in progress. The track went up, down, left, right, through jungles, over ridges and across streets and rivers. Often the vegetation was so think, or a branch so low I would have to get off the bike and walk it through while ducking.

We stopped for a water break, looked around, studied my lying maps, and then I looked at Fanny for some feedback.  I was a bit concerned she was not enjoying her “Christmas Day lost in the jungle adventure”, but actually she was in pretty good spirits and seemed to be enjoying herself.  Of course, as an adventure rider I do not like to say that I am lost, rather I am not where I thought I should be. Nevertheless I hadn’t a fucking clue where we were.

Occasionally the track or river bed was so bad that Fanny had to get off and walk as a tackled some particularly rutted patches or wade the bike through a river or stream, or worse a river that I didn’t know what the depth actually was. I have to say that the Transalp was superb though…. handling like a modern 250 enduro.  I was a bit nervous that I was giving the 14 year old veteran too much of a work out as the long suspension fattened out and the belly pan scraped over logs and rocks. But it seemed fine, the engine, gear box, clutch all purring along doing what its meant to do. Only the suspension was showing its age, but then it was carrying two big chunky humans over a surface that resembled a trials bike course.

A one stage there was a dark and particularly still expanse of water in the jungle where the trail suddenly just stopped and so we got off and prodded around a bit, trying to gauge how deep the water was.  The dark pond seemed to continued into the darkness of the jungle and I couldn’t see the other side from where we were.

With no other vehicles to observe going through the water Fanny decided to get off and take a jungle trek around and I took a leap of faith and plunged into the water and sludge and to my relief emerged out the other side. I was a bit alarmed to catch sight of a large snake dashing for safety as I hurtled towards it. If I lost momentum the bike would undoubtedly fall over and get stuck in the sludge, so out my way Sid, I’m coming through.

Trucks clearly used the trail, possibly as a short cut, or maybe there was no other way through. I just couldn’t tell. But during the recent rainy season the trucks had carved out two to three foot deep troughs in the mud that had now hardened and were like an obstacle course and quite difficult to ride across. Often there was no sign of consensus for the two wheeled traffic and the motorcycle tracks weaved about and went in all directions.

I don’t drop my bike often but on one particularly nasty stretch I hesitated on a high ridge with Fanny on the back and as there was a four foot drop on either side there was nowhere to put my feet and so I called out to Fanny that we were going over and in very slow motion that is exactly what happened.  Fanny jumped off, but I didn’t want to damage the hired Honda and so it fell on top of me. No Alpinestar enduro boots, no enduro gear.. just shorts and trainers and so I was pinned into the hardened mud with 200kg of motorcycle on top of me. It hurt a bit but I was basically uninjured and the bike was completely undamaged having had a soft landing.

Adventure bikers will know that once pinned under a heavy adventure bike its near on impossible to get it off. However, Fanny has a black belt in picking up motorbikes and despite the uneven surface she lifted the bike sufficiently for me to wriggle out from underneath it. Once free we could easily right the bike, push it to a place we could get back on again and carry on.

It was a stupid fall caused because I was faffing about and because I was tired near the end of a very long day of riding.  Riding off road is a head game and requires being focused, being balanced, using proper throttle control and riding assertively. If you lose momentum on a slope or uneven ground you will fall down. If the front wheel washes out or don’t use proper throttle to keep up a forward momentum you will fall down. And if you are wearing shorts and trainers instead of enduro boots and riding gear, you stand a good chance of hurting yourself.

We crossed a few more rivers and I was starting to think we had bitten off a bit more than we could chew. On one tricky and very rutted section Fanny said she would prefer to get off and walk and so I powered the very capable Honda along the twisty and ploughed up trail, until the surface improved a bit and there were less streams to cross and then waited for Fanny. After a while I decided to park up the bike and hike back the way I came to find her and share some water.

As I was hiking back I could hear the unmistakeable whine of a 100cc moped and then I saw it appear out of the murkiness of the jungle canopy, with an old man riding and Fanny waving and laughing on the back. As it approached I noticed the old man only had one leg.

‘I have been rescued by a real biker who knows what he’s doing’, Fanny said laughing.  Well you can’t argue with that.

We thanked to old man who then he soldiered on into the jungle again and we watched until the putt putt sound of the moped disappeared. I am quite sure he knew the route much better than me, but was humbled by his riding skill and endurance, especially given the fact that he had only one leg and was about 70 years old.

We had spent a good deal of the afternoon battling along the trail and did seem to be getting nearer to a visible cross roads near the Pursat River that looked like it might be habitable and we might find somewhere to stay. And then almost suddenly we were in pitch blackness. For some strange reason that only Cambodian’s will understand, you are not allowed to put your headlights on while riding in the daytime.  This safety feature is reserved only of the government. In most parts of the world the headlights on a motorcycle are always on… for safety so you can be seen. Not so in Cambodia and so now it was officially dark I could turn them on.

Riding in the dark is not so bad,  you can see the road clearly enough, you just can’t seen anything else.  After a while we came off the trail and joined a more substantial gravel track and within about 30 kilometers we were at the cross road marked on the map which in reality was a roundabout with a statue of an elephant in the middle. Not only did we find a hotel, but also a pretty decent roadside restaurant.

The hotel wasn’t very nice, but it was cheap, had a sort of shower thing, and we could ride the bike into the hotel building and park it outside our room. Again we were filthy, but after a scrub down and some food were out for the count.

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Out of jungle into an open space … time for a water break

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Rest break…. dense forest behind which we rode through on second day in Cardamom mountains

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Plaque showing Chinese Civil Engineering Company who build hydro electric plants, bridges and dams etc…

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Gravel roads and trails

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Good bit of gravel road meandering through Cardamom mountains

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Have to stand up a bit… bum too sore and road to rough

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Fanny doing the elephant sign motorcyclist pose … we all have to.

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Our Honda Transalp 650 on a good stretch of gravel road in the Cardamom mountains, SW Cambodia.

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Similar to picture I took of Nick Dobson in Namibia’s Skeleton Coast in 2009

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After you….

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Fanny playing volleyball for first time after her ACL operation with some locals in Kep

The next day the weather was perfect. The bike started which was a relief and we set off up into the mountains and subsequently along some of the best trails I have ever ridden. The only sign of humans were when we got close to a hydro electric dam and the road turned to concrete, but quickly reverted back to gravel and sand after a few kilometers. There were many lakes and quite a few impressive bridges and dams.  We passed through some very basic villages that reminded us very much of Africa and meandered around lake shores, rivers and contour trails around hills.

Strangely, considering the natural beauty of the rainforest we were riding through, there were no animals and birds. I expected this area to be teeming with life, like a tropical paradise, but it was unnaturally barren and very quiet apart from a few insects and butterflies. Had the Cambodians eaten the place clean during the war? Perhaps.

By mid afternoon I could tell by signs of human activity and signs of electric pylons etc… we were getting nearer to Koh Kong, and as we descended out of the mountains we could see the sea, a huge river delta, mangroves swamps, bridges and the buildings of the coastal town that border with Thailand.

We stayed at Oasis Resort, a very lucky find indeed given it was peak season, and a thoroughly relaxing place to re-charge the batteries for a couple of days. A lovely location next to the river and mangroves, great value for money, big clean and well appointed room, top notch bar and restaurant and a superb “infinity style” swimming pool. Jason, an Englishman from Southampton, had built it from scratch over a decade ago and over the years built one of the best places we have stayed at.  Jason is starting a new project in Sri Lanka and so this place will be up for sale. Very tempting.

http://oasisresort.netkhmer.com/p/blog-page_30.html

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Riding down towards Koh Kong

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More water to cross

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Chilli crab on beach at Koh Kong

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Riding along elevated trail roads above mangrove swamps in Koh Kong

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Oasis Resort in Kep

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Jason at his resort called Oasis in Koh Kong…. Highly recommended.

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Oasis infinity pool, Koh Kong

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Oasis Resort, Koh Kong

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Exploring the magrove swamps around Koh Kong

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Koh Kong …. next to Chilli Crab restaurant.

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Koh Kong

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Fanny concentrating on chilli crab

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Our hotel in Kep

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Kep

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Relaxing at our French owned resort in Kep

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How many glasses of rosie can one drink in the afternoon before falling asleep? Six allegedly.

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Kep beach

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Not too shabby…. our hotel for New Years Eve in Kep

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Our evening dinner spot…. Kep

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15 seconds after this photograph was taken the cow took exception to Fanny and tried to head butt here… luckily it was tethered

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Hiking around Kep

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Seafood market in kep

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Kep coastline where we went sailing

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Really good bike ….

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Ummm…I think it was a good move to get a Honda Transalp instead of a Honda Africa Twin… maybe.. perhaps… probably.

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New Years Eve in Kep, Cambodia

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Kep…. relaxing at Yacht Club with a sundowner

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Fanny and our trust stead

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Never stop exploring

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Another year gone by….

After exploring Koh Kong, eating chilli crabs, drinking Angkor beer on the beach, swimming, serious idling about and yarning with Jason we set off back into the mountains, but this time on a good road through Boulum Sakor National Park, with elevated views across the forests towards Kep.  We passed the turning to Sihanouk which was described by some people we met as a tourist resort for “common people with nasty kids” and into Kampot which is famous for pepper plantations. We didn’t stay, but it looked a pretty nice place, and continued to Kep.

At first, I didn’t care for Kep too much, but I grew to really like it.  Quiet, relaxed, very nice resorts and excellent food. Just what we wanted for a few days over the new year. We hired a hobby cat and sailed around until Fanny got seasick, tried out a few French owned resorts that actually had some vacancies as we hadn’t booked ahead, did some hiking and exploring, ate a lot and saw in the New Year at a party at the Yacht Club.  Well, “saw in” is a bit of an exaggeration as we both fell asleep at 10 pm … which was just as well as we had to ride back to Phnom Penh the next day to return the Honda before midday, which we did.

As we had some time to kill before our flight to Hanoi we decided to visit the Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuol_Sleng_Genocide_Museum

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Whilst we should all be aware of what real shits human beings can be when push comes to shove, I wish I never went. It was thoroughly depressing and disturbing. Its unimaginable what the Cambodians did to each other in the killing fields and torture chambers just a few decades ago, until of course its thrust in your face at such a hell hole as this.  With the ungodly atrocities being committed at this moment by ISIL, Jihadis and Boko Haram… carrying on where the Maoists, Rwandans, Japanese and Nazis left off, do we really need it? Maybe, maybe not.  I just wish I hadn’t gone.

We caught the evening flight back to Hanoi, stayed at the same hotel in the old town as before, and the next day took another short flight and were back in Hong Kong with yet another motorcycling adventure added to the list.

The Honda Transalp was a superb bike for an old girl, and hauled the two of us all over Cambodia with ease. Its fired up my interest to take a look at the Honda CRF 1000 Africa Twin when it comes out in 2015.  Or do we stick with KTM and try out the new lightweight 800 Adventure?  Decisions decisions…..

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Next … we off to the Isle of Man TT and Ireland on our KTM 990 SMT……

Chapter 17 – The UK – its alright for ducks

 

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Utleystan in Yorkshire

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Fanny and her KTM 990 Adventure “Stella”

Constant rain, grey skies, mealy mouthed job worthies, stifling political correctness, unhealthy tasteless food, boring non stop reality TV, Kay Burley, speed cameras, stealth taxation, VAT, high crime rates, fat women in leggings, fat women in leggings and shorts, fat women in yoga pants, under performing sports teams, corrupt greedy bankers, a haven for violent radicals, inept and dishonest politicians, and fluorescent green reflective jackets….

HURRAY we finally made it to the mufti effnic kingdom of Blighty. The country I am indigenous to and have a love/hate relationship with … I love to hate it.

But hey! Enough of all that pom bashing stuff.

The reality is of course there are some real gems in good ol’ Blighty, but like diamond mining you have to sift through a lot of shit to find it.

The UK produces the best soldiers in the world; is a leader in innovation, creativity, art and design; has a unique sense of self effacing humour; and most importantly it produces Marstons Pedigree bitter and Marmite (both from Burton Upon Trent near where I grew up ….I might add).

We have some lovely friends and family who for some reason or another still live on “mud island” and they have all made Fanny and I extremely welcome in their homes and tolerated my smelly boots, wet soggy clothes, and my incessant whinging and whining about the food, the weather, Britain’s preoccupation with health and safety, snowflakes being offended at everything and anything, and inflicting diversity on me against my will.

I can’t help it… I like it the way it was… in 1839, probably.

We intended to take the Euro-tunnel from France to England, but the price for a single trip was a minimum of £99 each, and so we took the cheaper ferry option where on board we met some very interesting fellow bikers and shared our stories of daring do and adventures in far flung exotic places.

I have to say I was a bit emotional when I saw the white cliffs of Dover and realized we had actually ridden our bikes more than 35,000 kms from the southern tip of Africa, across the Middle east and Europe and all the way to England, and done so with no back up or support, no Long Way Down style Nissan Pathfinders full of spare parts, medics, security etc., and completely self financed. We had also managed to raise a few bucks for our charities, Autism Research Trust and Half the Sky along the way.

As we drove down the ferry ramp I looked back in my rear view mirror and saw the orange headlight of Fanny’s KTM bringing up the rear, as it had done every day for more than a year, and I felt immensely proud of her. Against all the odds she had done it. A remarkable achievement given that she only had a driving licence for a month before we set off.

And even more remarkable, that she had managed to put up with me the whole time!

I also felt very lucky and privileged as only a very few people ever get the chance to ride a motorcycle around the world, and of those who do, only a few get to do it on the best adventure motorcycle,  and together with their “other half”.

It was late when we cleared (i.e. just drove through) customs at Dover port, we were both very tired, the weather wasn’t very warm, and we had to make a concerted effort to remember to ride on the left hand side of the road for the first time since Kenya.

We were aiming for Bexhill on Sea in East Sussex where my good friend Nick Dobson and his parents live and where we would be staying to celebrate Nick’s 50th birthday and indeed the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

As we were riding the twisty roads along the south coast of England I kept wondering whether this would be the end of our big bike trip. Neither of us were ready to stop and so I was constantly mulling over various options to keep going.  We were aiming for Shanghai and between us and east China were a lot of challenges.

It was strange riding in England after so long. We had no problem keeping to the UK speed limits as we had got into the habit of driving quite steadily and slowly for fuel and tyre consumption, but occasionally I would forget we were in the land of speed cameras, the terminally offended, and where the locals might get a tad upset if we did a bit of off roading across their gardens. Just as well we had South African licence plates!

Whilst we had become used to terrible driving conditions in places like Cairo and Addis Ababa, we still had to make a concerted effort to keep well clear of the notoriously “biker unfriendly” car drivers that hog the roads in the UK.

There are actually some very considerate car drivers about, but there are also some extremely inconsiderate and very grumpy ones. What is really disturbing is that there are some car drivers who think its perfectly OK to nudge a bicycle or motorcycle off the road, or deliberately prevent them filtering through spaces that are wide enough for two wheels but not for four. A definite slack jawed character flaw among some of the UK population.

The most dangerous times on UK roads are when the mummies (both male and female) are collecting their little darlings from school in their “Surrey tractors” and a motorcyclist has to be very alert to their erratic manoeuvres, dangerous obstruction and appalling parking techniques.

I can proudly say I was never taken to, or collected from school in a car during my entire school days. As very small children we would of course walk to school with our mothers, and from the age of six or seven onwards we would walk, cycle or take the school bus by ourselves as any kid seen being taken to school by their mummy would be quite justifiably beaten at playtime, even if they didn’t have ginger hair.

In fact, in those days most kids played outside all day, drank from hose pipes, regularly worked on farms, and only lollypop ladies and “The Sweet” wore hi-viz clothing.

Back in the 60s and 70s when I grew up in England the concept of the poor hurt “victim”, being offended at everything, personal injury lawyers and namby pamby health and safety hadn’t invented themselves yet and so there was more joie de vivre and leg room for a kid to kick about and learn about life.

When I look back at my childhood I had a lot of freedom growing up in the countryside in Staffordshire. I was a very independent young child and according to my mother would disappear for hours on end and only reappear at mealtimes.

I would regularly get caned, mostly justifiably, and occasionally unfairly, but more often than not I would get away with my various infractions and deviations from adult social constraints.

I remember an occasion when my brother and I both got thrown off the school bus  (“The Stevenson Rocket”) in the middle of no where for an alleged “fighting incident” and immediately got picked up by a passing truck that subsequently overtook the school bus blaring its air-horn and with us hanging out the window and waving with immense delight at our friends sitting on the bus.

Nowadays I am told its too dangerous for kids to walk or cycle to school. And indeed it well may be… not because there are more pedophiles and pervs trawling the streets for little boys, but because all the mummies are causing driving havoc in their Surrey tractors outside the schools whilst collecting Henry for ballet lessons, or Chesney for his Ritalin prescription ….and of course at the same time texting, tweeting, updating their Facebook status and panicking they are late for Pilates class.

Anyway, I digress as usual.

We continued with our tour of the UK and started by visiting my younger sister, Amanda at her home in Wiltshire, very near to Stonehenge, and then to see my eldest daughter, Becky at her home in Bristol.  My brother, Simon, is a good chap, but suffers from acute online Tourette’s Syndrome and insults everyone.  He interferes in sensitive matters inappropriately, and appropriate matter insensitively, and so for the sake of Fanny I keep her and myself well away. A great shame, but actions have consequences.

Later, we escaped into Wales, which Fanny describes as the nicest part in England!!

We crossed the Severn Bridge into a very wet and rainy South Wales and then across glorious countryside and picturesque valleys all the way to the north to see Alan Jones, an old buddy who lives in Conwy,  and with whom I joined the Metropolitan police in 1981. He has now retired and his many idling activities includes testing eight thousand quid law mowers and motorised wheel barrows, and shouting at the dogs.

After a superb time in Wales, where Alan guided us as we climbed Mount Snowdon and did some impressive hikes in the mountains, we went to see our friend Tony whom we first met in the Sinai when we were staying in Dahab for several months, having been directly caught up in the Egyptian Spring Revolution and all the chaos in Syria. We made the most of it, Fanny learning to windsurf and me getting my diving qualifications in the Red Sea. Tony was my dive master.

He was back in England for a while from sunny Egypt and staying in his home town of Wallasey, near Birkenhead, undergoing yet more medical treatment. As a former UK special forces soldier he had been through a lot and he was now suffering from the punishment he had put his body through in his earlier life serving our Nation in hostile climes.

He lived in a small, but immaculately kept apartment, yet because he lived on his own the local authorities wanted to put him in even smaller accommodation, no doubt so they could use his apartment to provide free housing to some immigrants with dozens of children and extended families.

The injustice of it all is unbearable, but he doesn’t complain, as is the way of these former fighters for our freedoms. He just soldiers on. I think Britain’s former soldiers are treated abysmally and its a disgrace.

Well Liverpool? What an experience!

I hadn’t yet seen the UK TV show called “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding” nor had I any inkling that it was now fashionable for British women of all shapes and sizes to spray paint themselves orange and make a lot of effort to display as much of this orange flesh as possible. Very odd eye brows too!

Why?

I never found out as I never had the nerve to ask one of these fiercesome looking Oompa Lumpa creatures why they do it.  Patches of flesh that weren’t orange were tattooed, something else that never looks good on a woman. Each to their own, I suppose. So long as they don’t make it compulsory, and I don’t have to look at them!

Maori patterns were once popular tattoos (as many forty somethings are reminded each time they take a shower… for ever and ever), but now many men and women have Chinese characters indelibly inked onto their flesh and since I can speak, read and write Chinese quite well I am privy to some real clangers.

 

The Chinese is either badly translated or just poor calligraphy. I guess this is the reverse of the nonsensical English expressions written on T-shirts worn by Asian teenagers (“What’nt Gone Be Nobody’s Cool” and all that).

Or perhaps having the Chinese character for “wardrobe” on your bum has some special meaning bigoted old farts like me don’t appreciate.

Or perhaps its the Emperor’s New Clothes, ‘Hey! Everyone….that woman is orange and has “Lard Arse” tattooed in Chinese’.

And ankle tattoos? Just don’t do it.. its asymmetrical and upsets people with Aspergers like me.

I think I took yet another wrong turn along rant street. 

The high streets of all British towns all look pretty much the same to me. Same shops, same design, same sort of people selling the Big Issue with the same dog, same miserable people milling around.

Generally I don’t like these town centers and shopping malls very much and I make a real effort to avoid them. However, Fanny and I do occasionally have to buy important things from UK shops, like Motorcycle News and lottery tickets and so, if we can, we prefer to go to the out of town retail centers where we can park our bikes safely (Britain is full of bike thieves) and get the miserable experience over and done with as soon as possible.

It is true enough that the UK supermarkets are the best in the world and seem to sell everything, although its quite hard to take in a kilometer long aisle of 1000 different types of breakfast cereal or cat food when you have traveled through countries like Malawi and Ethiopia.

Despite the UK spending 13 billion quid every year on Aid to places like Africa you still can’t buy Vindaloo flavoured shampoo or green Kitkats in Blantyre or Addis Ababa!

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Fanny in Kingston on Thames

 

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Rupert packing up the bikes in sunny Wiltshire

 

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yeah!

Abbots Bromley (home) to Uttoxeter (School) in the 1970s on the Yellow Peril Stevenson Rocket school bus. I think the number of times I got thrown off by the conductor was 42 times!

 

The grey skies of England… and Arundel Castle …also grey…. and family car …  grey.  Nice green fields, though.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fanny, Paola and Nick in Bexhill

 

 

Who dares mess around with Mr Dobson Senior.

 

A biker chap I met on the Channel ferry who had lived life to the full in some amazing places…

Waiting to board the ferry with the other bikers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cuppa tea and cake … must be England. (Actually this is Wales, Fanny’s favourite bit of England).

 

 

Our good friend, Nick celebrating his 50th birthday with his family in Bexhill

 

 

Felpham in Sussex … where I spent childhood holidays

“The Front” in Felpham… fond memories of carefree days.

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Fanny meets Touratech

 

 

 

 

 

 

A high street in the UK.. can’t remember which one as they all look the same

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Britain, and indeed Europe have beautiful cathedrals and churches… this one in Hitchen has an art gallery inside.   In Hereford I saw a church that had been partly converted into a coffee shop, and had reduced the size of the “praying” area due, I assume, to a greater demand for caffeine and cakes than redemption and salvation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everyone rides along the wonderful roads of Derbyshire to Mattlock Bath, has fish and chips and then wanders around looking at other people’s bikes…. a very civilised way to spend the day

“They do better chips in the Cairngorms” – but then according to Gary Corbett “everything is better in the Cairngorms”

Fanny and Andrea with her red Ducati Monster

Horizon’s Unlimited gathering in Ripley…. more BMW GS 1200s than you can shake a stick at.

Camped up… but this time with hundreds of other adventure bikers

It rained hard …as indeed it did nearly every day while we were in the UK in June and July 2012.

The Horizon Unlimited gathering attracted all sorts of people. Some aspiring adventurers and other the “real deal” nomads who have been everywhere on the planet on anything from mopeds, Australian postie bikes, racing bikes and of course the Adventure bikes such as KTM 990 Adventure, BMW GS 800 and 1200, Yamaha XT 500, 600 and 660 and the classic Honda Africa Twin.

The slow ride race which Paul Chapman and I entered and we narrowly missed the finals. Great fun and a great few days with like minded motorcycling enthusiasts.

Paul Chapman (of Adventure Parts and Camel Toe) and Ruprecht the Monkeyboy at the Horizons Unlimited slow riding competition. We KTM riders were well beaten by slower guys.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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If my sister had seen my feet she would never have allowed them in her bubbly bath thing.

 

Fanny and my niece, Sophia relaxing in the kitchen at my sisters house

 

The last time I rode a motorcycle into Thomas Alleynes High School I was punished. I believe it was my Batavus Mk 4S which I got on my 16th birthday when I was in the sixth form.

 

Waiting outside the Headmistress’ office at Oldfield’s School in Uttoxeter, Staffordshire. Somethings never change.   I got caned and slippered so many times I started to like it… raaaah!

 

Fanny hooliganing around in the KTM shop and disturbing the reserved British types who were clearly unused to so much noise and mayhem coming out of one single human. One of the assistants (of a shop that sells machines that go BRRAAAAP!) asked her to shut up… very funny…only in Britain.

 

Yum Yum … thanks you Pae and Fanny

 

 

Due to the fact that it never stopped raining we gave up the idea of going to the Lake District and Scotland and rode eastwards to the beautiful English county of Derbyshire to see our friends, Andrea and Gary who lived in the Peak District inside a dry house with a larder and two refrigerators full of food.

I can assure Gary and Andrea the great food wasn’t the only reason we visited. Honestly.

Gary and Andrea are also bikers and while we were staying with them we went on a ride together to Mattlock Bath where hundreds of bikers gather on Sundays and drink tea and eat fish and chips.

We then went to Stoke on Trent and spent time with my sister and her family  and were thoroughly spoilt with great food, a very comfy bed and even served “Manhattan Cocktails” by my brother in law, Mark as we wallowed like hippos in their Jacuzzi.

Adventure biking is exciting and there is nothing to stimulate the mind quite like world travel, but after so long living in our tent or occasionally in grotty budget hotels a home cooked meal, a bathroom with clean towels and a comfy dry bed are extremely welcome and so we are very grateful to our friends and family in the UK who looked after us

(Photos in “Our Friends” Page above):  ……..a special mention to The Dobsons in East Sussex; Mandy, Sally and Martin in Wiltshire; Alan & Sue in North Wales; Gary and Andrea in Derbyshire; Rachel and Mark in Staffordshire; David and Pae Lee in Hertfordshire; Andrew and Abigail in Kent; Becky in Bristol; and Rik in Wales. Thank you all very much.

Whilst in Staffordshire I took Fanny to see the schools I went to as a boy.  Oldfield’s Middle School and Thomas Alleynes (Grammar/High) School. We rocked up on our loud KTMs in the evening and I thought the caretaker was going to chase us away, but I explained what we were doing and that it was many years since I was last there as a schoolboy and so he very kindly gave us the grand tour, which brought back many memories for me and gave Fanny an insight into what an English school looks like.

Oldfield Hall is a very nice looking school set in beautiful grounds with playing fields and woods. I had heard on this trip that many school playing fields in the UK are being sold off by the education authorities which to my mind is a crying shame. Sport, physical training and competition is extremely important to a child’s development. Winning and losing is a reality of life and eventually all of us have to come to terms with not getting what we want sooner or later. Its how we deal with defeat and failure that matters.

Later, we also went to the Horizon’s Unlimited Adventure Bike gathering in Ripley. We had a terrific time, met some interesting people and would especially like to thank Sam Manicom, one of the world’s greatest motorcycle adventurers and an all round decent chap who made us very welcome at the HU meeting.

After our tour of the Midlands we had to head back “daan sarf” so our bikes could get yet another service.

We rode to the KTM UK Centre in Hemel Hemstead where Jason and his team did their thing to the bikes, hopefully changed oils and filters, checked all the bearings, and tightened the nuts and bolts and then relieved me of more money than I can really afford + VAT.  No choice though. KTMs like their filters changed and are fussy about the quality of their oil.

While our bikes were being serviced I was kindly loaned a blue KTM 990 and my friend, David Lee looked after us at his home in Hitchen. His wife, Pae is originally from Thailand and so that evening we had a delicious authentic Thai dinner with all the hot chillis and spices, and also polished off some of David’s impressive booze cabinet.

A great evening with good friends.

It so happened that while we were in Hitchen the Queen was visiting as part of her Diamond Jubilee Tour and so we all trooped off to line the route with our plastic Union Flags to see Her Majesty inspect her subjects, including a visiting Pinko Commie RTW motorcyclist, Fanny.

The “Establishment” was well represented and looked as alarmed and uncomfortable among the proletariat as if Millwall football supporters had invaded the Royal enclosure at Ascot.

Lady Farsenby -Smythe and Lord Twistleton-Flange looked particularly uncomfortable as they had to endure mingling with the great unwashed who were being rather common and vulgar with their regional accents and uncouth ways, don’t you know.

Anyway, well done Ma’am (as in Ham) on 60 years of reign and occasional sunshine.

After saying goodbye to David, Pae and their very charming children we went to collect our bikes from KTM in Hemel Hemstead.  The new 990 Adventure which they loaned me was handed back in the condition it was given and then we headed to London on our newly serviced KTMs to sort out visas, passports, air-tickets for Fanny back to China and shipping arrangements for our bikes to where-ever they were going. We were still not sure.

We not only went into London to do all our admin chores, but also did some touring of Kent which is a rather well to do county of England. We particularly enjoyed visiting Chartwell where Winston Churchill lived. A super home, even nicer gardens and in a particularly green and pleasant bit of the country.

One of the few things I do like about London is that it has some of the greatest museums and art galleries in the World and so while we were running around applying for visas we went to the superb British Museum which houses a collection of the finest and most interesting treasures collected during a time when the sun never set on the British Empire.

Of course the museum is now run and operated in the best possible taste so as not to offend any of the tourists from the countries the loot was “half inched” from in the first place.

We stayed at my friend Andrew’s house in Seven-oaks and were very well looked after by him and his wife, Abigail.

Andrew is another motorcycle enthusiast and Abigail probably has me to thank for their garage being full of motorcycles as fifteen years ago or so I rocked up for work in the Stand in London, where we both worked (in the Fraud Services Unit of the now defunct Arthur Andersen Accounting firm) on my Suzuki 1300 GSXR Hayabusa and the seed was sown.

He is a die hard biker now and when we were living in Egypt he came out and we rode to St. Catherine’s Monastery on the KTMs.

I was born in London, but I am sad, and a bit embarrassed to say I do not care for it very much, and according to Fanny, neither does she, a born and bred Shanghanese woman from another continent and totally different culture.

She told me in Chinese that it appeared to be a mess, felt hostile and not very English. I had to agree. People ask me if I would ever go back to live in England. Maybe, but definitely not to London or any of the other English cities.

Nowadays, London is like Karachi on bin day. If I am being totally honest I am rather scared and wary of the menacing young Muslim men who prowl about looking hostile and confrontational in many parts of London, and indeed in British cities such Luton, Birmingham and Bradford.  I am also suspicious of humans who cover their face and engage in superstitious odd rituals, and that includes Moonies, Freemasons, Doggers, and Catholics.

Fortunately, the Holy See in Rome has given up torturing, burning, hanging, mutilating, beheading and generally being nasty to people for apostasy, otherwise I would be in a lot trouble. Islam has not.

I can assure you this is not racism or Islamophobia. For a start Islam isn’t a race, its a superstition, one based on ancient texts penned by frail humans with a poor understanding of science and a fear of the unknown.

Also, its not a phobia as my fear is not irrational. On the contrary, my fear and loathing of all organised religion is extremely rational and based on common sense, a very good understanding of “Strain Theory”, and a decent knowledge of the works of Marx, Weber, Durkheim, Powell, Hitchens, Dawkins, Newton, Darwin, and Johnny Rotten.

In actual fact, I enjoy and relish different cultures, that’s why I travel. I couldn’t care less what shade of pink, yellow or brown a human being is, but I am increasingly saddened that I am indigenous to a land that has little culture of its own, and feels compelled to adopt some nasty and unsavoury alien ones.

Strangely, I found Muslims and Christians I encountered in the Middle East and north Africa to be quite friendly, if not a little aloof and conservative. But then, whilst visiting these Islamic countries I went out of my way to be respectful, compliant and courteous to my indigenous hosts.

Anyway, what can you do?  A “belief” to my mind is something private, and not to be inflicted on others. The best one can be is well mannered.

Again I digress. Back to the big bike trip.

Our visit to London wasn’t a particularly successful one because the London passport office had basically closed down and the applicants now had to go online and make an appointment to submit their documents at another office behind Victoria Train Station.

I already had a well used passport, full of visas and entry stamps, but I needed a second passport and used the excuse that the Israelis had stamped my passport and now I couldn’t travel to my favourite country, Yemen anymore.

I could have told them the truth– that its a safety precaution for when I travel to dodgy countries–but then the mealie mouthed jobs worthies at the passport authority wouldn’t have given me a second passport. The UK is getting more like China– everything is banned and so you have to use lateral thinking to get around the ridiculous red tape.

Also, Fanny and I were still undecided about where we were going next and so we didn’t know which visas to apply for, when, and in what sequence.

If we wanted to ride across central and eastern Europe and through the “‘Stans” to China on our KTMs it was entirely possible, but administratively it was a major headache and was far far too expensive.

In the end we decided that Fanny should fly back to China and see if she could secure some support and sponsorship from some Chinese companies and sort out all the administration and permits for places like Tibet, Xinjiang, Kazakhstan and Mongolia on the ground in China.

For instance, as a foreigner, I was not allowed in Tibet without a special permit, I had to have a paid escort whilst riding a motorcycle in China, and visa restrictions would be prohibitive.  (Note: we sorted all this out — as described in subsequent chapters of this blog) 

Fanny had to leave anyway as her UK visa was about the expire. Somalian warlords, Italian mafioso, Saudi arms dealers, Romanian pickpockets and Islamic hate preachers can all stay in the UK and get a council house if they want one. Chinese lawyers cannot. Roll on Brexit.

Anyway, it would not be a good idea for her to overstay as she might want to visit the UK in the future. In the meantime I would stay in England … at least until the first week of August which was a sort of deadline for several reasons.

One of the reasons was the weather, as we cannot ride through places like Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Xinjiang or Tibet in the winter as it reaches ridiculously cold temperatures of -30 degrees centigrade in places, even in late autumn. Another was that our funds were now in the red and we would both have to get jobs the following year.

As we had already ridden several hundreds of kilometers that day we had left it too late to ride the bikes a further 150 kilometers to Bexhill where we were going to store Fanny’s bike in Nick’s garage. So we checked out some budget hotels in London and were shocked that there was nothing available under £80.

Crickey!

Fortunately we had researched some campsites and there appeared to be one in Crystal Palace of all places and that is where we headed for.

It was quite fun riding through busy central London at night with all the neon lights and bustling activity, especially so with our South African registered bikes as however hard we tried to comply with the road signs, painted mostly on the road surface to make it even more confusing,  our Garmin GPS was forever causing us to be in the wrong lane at the wrong time, inadvertently causing us to break many provisions of the UK Road Traffic Act.

South African plates, though! We were effectively immune from prosecution in the UK. I felt like a Nigerian diplomat.

Although it was getting late, we took it steady through the busy boroughs of London. This was just as well because we were overtaken by a Triumph Street Triple that was filtering through the gaps and we saw it make the fundamental mistake of not checking vehicles waiting to make a right hand turn through held up traffic, and we watched in horror as  it ploughed right into the side of a white van that turned in front of a waiting bus.

Luckily the rider was wearing decent protective clothing and its seemed only his pride was bruised. Unfortunately his bike was not so lucky as it broadsided into the side of the van. His lovely new Triumph was a real mess and he had no-one else to blame really but himself.

As a fellow rider I did actually feel sorry for him as he picked up the fragments of his pride and joy and examined the holes in his riding gear.

Fanny and I had of course ridden through some of the most congested cities with the worst driving standards on Planet Earth and we had learned to ride with caution and anticipation. Many of the motorcycle riders we saw in Europe clearly hadn’t learned this lesson and their meeting with a wheel chair, or their maker is sadly inevitable.

We pushed on across the River Thames and got to the campsite near the famous radio tower in South London at about 10 p.m.

No-one was around and so I rode around as I had done many many times, in many many campsites around the world, scoping out the ground and looking for the perfect place to park up our motorcycles and pitch our tent.

In England such activity is obviously a heinous antisocial crime and this blatant breach of local etiquette had infuriated the two wardens and the 300 pound security officer who appeared out of nowhere and tore into me in what I can only describe as a “London rant” of obscenities with lots of “YOUR BANG AAAWWWT  OV AAAWWWDAAA” stuff and other Cockney cliches.

Now there is a time to argue and there is a time to put on a gormless posh accent and mumble “I’m terribly sorry old chap”…… like the British paratrooper played by Edward Fox who lands in a greenhouse in the war movie “The Battle of Britain”.

This was the time for the latter and it worked a treat because they did not know what to do and gradually calmed down and reverted to just plain lecturing mode with lots of tutting and head shaking.

In the end, instead of them calling the “Old Bill” to take us off to the Tower they found us a very nice camping spot and in the morning I continued my humble apologetic routine, told them we had had an awful day in the drenching rain, were held up in appalling traffic, and were riding around the world for charity etc etc.” (which is all true).

Surprisingly they had completely changed their tune and kindly informed us that the camping fee was on them. They told me they had also had a shit day, apologised for getting angry at us, and wished us well.

I should never have told this story to Fanny because she then went into a speech I have heard from my mother, teachers, wives, and a multitude of former girlfriends ….. The speech that consists of variations on the theme of being nice:  ‘I told you being nice is better’, ‘You see, you don’t have to start a fight all the time’, ‘People will be nice if you are nice to them’, etc etc..

To which I nodded intently and replied, ‘ Where’s my breakfast, Bitch?’. Which probably accounts for the fact that there is a long list of former females in my life.

In the morning we packed up and rode out of the suburbs of south London, which let’s be honest, is not very nice, and into Surrey, which is very nice.

We followed a lot of the route that was later going to be cycled along during the road event in the London Olympics, and we then cut through charming South Downs villages with cricket greens and duck ponds to a place I saw advertised in Motor Cycle News, called “Cycles Spray” that I hoped could repair and re-paint Fanny’s damaged side panels that had been grazed and gouged when she cart-wheeled her bike along a sand and gravel trail on the way to Soussesvlei Dunes in Namibia.

The scratched and grazed panels did looked the part, and certainly gave the impression that we had indeed ridden across Africa, but it was time to get the bike back into 100% tiptop condition. The KTMs are superb motorcycles and despite where we had been they were in great condition and had been well looked after and serviced.

I unbolted the orange plastic panels, handed them over and said I would collect them in a couple of weeks when they were ready. We were lucky because they were being repaired and painted at a fraction of the cost of replacement plastic panels from KTM or Acerbis, which I have to say are a ridiculously expensive.

Fanny then rode her bike “sort of naked” to Bexhill where we stored it in the Dobson’s garage.  I then took her and her bag on the back of my bike to Gatwick to catch the express bus to Heathrow airport for her flight back to Shanghai.

As she boarded the bus I was suddenly and unexpectedly flushed with enormous sadness.

We had been together every day and every minute for the last year and been through some amazing adventures together. Few people live cheek by jowl as we had, and saying goodbye to a loved one is always tough.

After her bus pulled away and I rode back to Bexhill to get my own things I kept looking in my mirror. No more orange light following me anymore. My 尾巴 had gone. I suddenly felt extremely lost and very lonely.

It took several days not to panic each time I looked in my mirror and couldn’t see her bike. For everyday over the past year or so I had led the way with Fanny following behind.  I paved the way and moderated the way I rode to Fanny’s speed, Fanny’s capability, and made sure there was always enough space and time for both of our bikes to maneuver, get over something, passed something, or overtake.

I was like a lookout Meercat constantly doing a 360 degree scan for danger and risk. Now I only had myself to worry about and it was only a matter of time before I was back to my bad habits, riding around rather more quickly than I should, performing unnecessary wheelies, sliding on bends, and banking steeply around corners.

‘Are you riding safely?’, Fanny would ask me when she called me on the telephone.

‘Oh, yes” I would reply.

So what should I do now? I felt a bit lost.

The first thing I did was to organize all our kit and then take a ride to Arundel where I knew there was a YHA and campsite I could stay at cheaply, think about things and plan the next few weeks.

I really didn’t want to fritter the time away and yet I didn’t want to put unnecessary mileage on my bike.  I also wanted to do things that would have probably bored Fanny a bit.  Old fart activities like visiting military museums, airshows, county fares, bird parks, and castles.

I knew the Farnborough Airshow was coming up and so I headed for there, but on the way I pulled into the former WWII RAF airfield at Tangmere where Hurricanes and Spitfires battled against the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain. Now a museum, I had a great day looking at all the aircraft and exhibits and chatting with the volunteers who ran the place. These people are represent Britain at its best and I had an amazing time. I would love to have been a RAF pilot, but alas, not to be. A Royal Hong Kong Police officer was not a bad alternative as it turned out.

As I arrived in Farnborough it was pouring with rain. Very heavy, very wet and extremely miserable. I looked around for places to stay, but being unprepared I ended up camping right at the end of the runway, illegally in Army grounds as it happened, and in the morning a military patrol chased me away, but not before I watched some amazing aerobatic displays which put on quite a show despite low cloud and continuing bad weather.

Decidedly wet and soggy,  I pushed on into Wiltshire to see my sister again and perhaps do some skydiving at Netheravon. In the end I just watched the skydivers from Amanda’s garden with a cup of tea and a cake as they tumbled out of the aircraft and spent the remaining time walking her basset hounds (Urgh!), running across Salisbury Plain (good fun), riding bicycles with my sister, and going for rides around Wiltshire on my stripped down KTM.

I decided that if its going to continue to rain I might as be in Wales and so I left my sister’s house and rode back across the border. Whilst cahooning along the many superb motorcycling routes in Wales, and believe me there are many, I stayed at Rik Davis’ bed and breakfast. Rik is a fellow adventure motorcyclist and has ridden around the world on his BMW GS.

His website is www.thebigbiketrip.com and so with a URL like that he is sort of our motorcycle adventure cousin.

We shared stories and adventures late into the night and the next day I rode up to Conwy in North Wales to stay with my friend Alan again. We had provisionally agreed to do some hiking in Wales together and he suggested we hike the entire Offa’s Dyke.

Good idea I thought … how far is it?   177 miles!

Alan is a meticulous planner and also as a former Snowdonian mountain rescue team member owns the best hiking and mountaineering kit money can buy.

I have very little decent kit, and what I do have is all stored in Shanghai.  My last ill prepared climb to the summit of Mount Kenya in borrowed shoes and my motorcycle kit was rather miserable, wet and decidedly cold. I told Alan I would only do it if he lent me some kit which he kindly agreed. The only thing he didn’t have was boots as I take a size 12 2E wide, and as I didn’t have the money to buy anything decent I bought some cheap shoes in a sale.

I assumed if I could climb Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya in someone else’s falling apart boots and borrowed kit, I could easily walk across Wales.

Wrong!

We drove down to the start of the hike at Chepstow on the Severn Estuary and had planned a 7-10 days hike to along the Offa’s Dyke trail to Prestatyn on the north coast of Wales.

To save costs we were bringing camping gear with us in our rucksacks and against Alan’s recommendation we each brought our own tents. Alan lent me an 30 year old rucksack that felt comfortable enough in his dining room. Little did I know this 90 litre instrument of torture would bring me misery and injury in days to come.

The first day was very pleasant, walking up above the River Wye in unusually brilliant sunshine. All was well, but by 25 miles my ankles and feet were sore as my shoes had no heel and the rucksack was cutting into my shoulders as the waist support no longer worked, nor provided any support, and so the weight was carried 100% on the flimsy shoulder straps.

Alan was also suffering as he got bitten by some insects that became infected and although he wouldn’t admit it, being a “mountain man” and all was probably struggling too.

When we eventually clambered into Monmouth we were both tired and aching for different reasons.  We camped up and had some dinner in a local pub and the next day we were both in an even worse state.

After an unnecessary argument, that was mostly my fault, Alan decided that was that and went home. I think he was secretly relived to escape my yomping pace and Asperger’s ways.  I don’t like civilian style hiking, I like to march as if going into battle. No idea why. I just like the rhythm and pace. I used to like foot drill when I was training as a young Police Inspector in Hong Kong. Everyone else hated it.

The cheap Karimoor shoes I was wearing were not very good for long distance hikes because they had no heel or ankle support. However, I made the mistake of giving them away to a charity shop and buying an even worse pair of hiking boots that became so painful that by the third day of hiking I had no choice but to take them off and wear my flip flops, which in turn I had to take off in the soggy ground, or steep hills and walk bare footed because they were just too slippy to walk in, especially with a heavy backpack.

Crazy stuff.

At Hay on Wye my feet were in an awful state, so much so I barely registered the red welds and blisters on my shoulders from the heavy ill fitting rucksack. I put blister ointment and plasters on my feet and taped them up with silver gaffer tape, but the new boots were just too ill fitting, not worn in, and badly designed that they were agonizing the whole time.

It was a real shame because the weather and scenery was stunning. When the five days of sunshine in Wales was over and it started to rain I decided enough was enough. This was supposed to be for pleasure, not a selection for a counter terrorism unit and I was not having any fun at all.

Although my body was fine, my feet were very blistered and in excruciating agony and so when I got to Knighton I completed the trip back to Conwy by train and considered feeding the boots to Alan’s dogs when I got there. I have some decent boots in China and I have vowed to myself that one day I will do it again and complete it

(Post note —Offa’s Dyke Unfinished Business — May/June 2017–with proper kit!!)

As things between Alan and I weren’t that cordial, all my fault and I apologise, I didn’t hang about to annoy him anymore and so collected my KTM from his garage and rode back into England to see my friend Gary and Andrea in the Derbyshire High Peak again.

The only trouble was they had decided in the weeks since Fanny and I saw them to part company,  which was probably for the best as they seemed to spend their entire time bickering and arguing.

As Andrea had moved out I supervised her moving her stuff into her new home, went for a few motorcycle rides together, and gave moral support in her time of need by drinking most of her wine and eating everything in her refrigerator. What are friends for after all?

I was pleased for Andrea when I later heard she not only got a super new job, a new house, new man, but had eventually been awarded her PhD. We Thomas Alleynes’ Class of 81 don’t hang about.

I then went to Staffordshire to see my Mum again who was looking much better following her stroke a year or so previously.  As she is partially paralyzed she is confined to a chair. Why she doesn’t have a mobility scooter or electric wheel chair is beyond my understanding.

However, I think I know.

She is being held captive by her abusive partner of many decades, the dimwitted village idiot, Tom.  I only see her very rarely, living overseas, and when I do I am allowed only an hour or so a year before the revolting smelly oik returns and causes trouble.

The poor woman stupidly ran off with this oaf when my siblings and I were small children and subsequently she endured a life of domestic abuse, parochial drudgery and missed opportunities. She rightly left my father, who was actually a very well educated gentleman, but (like his eldest son) totally unsuited to marriage and domestic restraint.

A few years back I had a run in with this dullard, when we were trying to relocate our mother to a more suitable disabled friendly bungalow on the south coast of England. A part of the country she loved as a child and young woman, pleaded with me to go to when she was lying in her hospital bed, and where her mother and father retired to by the sea.

Tom, the village cretin, refused and insisted that she remains confined to a chair on the ground floor of a totally unsuitable 16th century cottage in the village that time forgot. She can’t even go out or sit in the garden.  I understand she goes shopping occasionally, when it suits Tom to get her into the car and push her about in a wheelchair.

During a heated debate when I was reiterating my mothers wishes Tom raised his fist to hit me, much like he did to my siblings and I when we were small children, but he suddenly realized that I am no longer eleven years old, nor very small.  In fact, I am an evil fucker of note, love a ruck, and extremely well trained and practiced looking after myself.

For the first time in his life, the village oaf realized he was nano seconds from a sound hiding, and like all bullies he scurried off, in this case to the next door neighbour, an off duty police constable, to come to his rescue, and perhaps arrest me …. as was the constant threat when I was a teenager.

During the 1970s he was prone to dishing out beatings, often threatening to have me locked up, or sent away to a children’s home. Most of the time he was just a typical nasty stepfather. Aggressive, abusive, unsupportive, highly embarrassing, and irritatingly dimwitted.

My teenage years would have been an absolute misery if not for Graham and Jean Whirledge, local farmers, who sort of adopted me and allowed me to work on their dairy farm when I wasn’t at school. I also thank my aunt and uncle, Bill and Gail McCarthy, and my grandmothers, Amanda Utley and Joan Golbourne for allowing me some respite from the misery, and to enjoy a modicum of normality and support from time to time.

My brother, Simon, clearly an undiagnosed dyslexic, was also badly treated and his bolt hole was another dairy farm called Aikenheads, until he escaped and joined the British Army Junior Leaders Regiment at 15 years old, and later the Blues & Royals Household Calvary.

Our schools? In those days teachers didn’t care. We had nothing, got nothing, and got punished and further disadvantaged just for being poor and underprivileged. Plain and simple. I regret that I never learned to play a musical instrument, play rugby, or any other team sport because I didn’t have money for kit, or extra curricular equipment, nor transport to get about. I generally hitch hiked everywhere, which, whilst a common practice at the time, wasn’t particularly reliable for getting anywhere on time.

I did learn to throw a tractor around a muddy field as soon as my feet could touch the pedals, shovel poo, milk a cow, deliver a calf, toss a straw bail high up onto a trailer, and developed a respect for graft and money!  I remember village kids used to smoke cigarettes. I never did, not for health reasons, but because ten No. 6 fags equated to an hour of shoveling shit in my mind, and I had better things to spend my “50 pence an hour” on.

Later in my mid-teens I supported myself with money earned from some other holiday jobs. A memorable and lucrative gig (that my Aunt Gail arranged when I was 15) was with the Long Term Credit Bank of Japan in Lombard Street in the City of London. With cash in my back pocket that I earned all by myself and a 50cc moped to get around, Joy Division, The Stranglers, Bauhaus, The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, Killing Joke, Sex Pistols, Psychedelic Furs, and Stiff Little Fingers took care of me until I escaped to London to help old ladies cross the road and chase crims in a SD1 Rover.

(Back to Bagot Street, Abbots Bromley, 2012) 

So, to the embarrassment and visible discomfort of the off duty officer, he was educated (or reacquainted) with how UK law should be enforced, should have been enforced 40 years ago, and sensibly slide away back into his house and closed the door. The deflated village oaf was left standing on the street and had no option but to escape in his “Fritzl” van and go off to a nearby cow shed to be consoled by one of his cretinous mates, or one of the revolting farm hags he often shagged.

Alas, the poor old dear remains in her chair and I visit her rarely and far too infrequently. My inability to resolve this issue fills me with frustration and anger. My siblings accept the situation, but I never will. Families, huh!

After saying goodbye to my mother and feeling thoroughly wretched about the situation and somewhat depressed, not least because I hate that fucking village, I received some good news from Fanny.

She had managed to negotiate sponsorship and two brand new motorcycles from a Chinese motorcycle manufacturer called Chun Feng Moto. She also got sponsorship from some adventure kit manufacturers, including The North Face, the adventure clothing and equipment manufacturer. This was super news and I was delighted for Fanny that all her hard work had paid off.

This meant I knew exactly what I had to do now.

Get a new Chinese visa and arrange for both KTMs and myself to get shipped out of the UK.

I had been looking for new Pirelli tyres for both KTMs, but this was now unnecessary as they could more easily be found in South Africa. Every tyre fitting place it seemed in the UK, and even KTM UK had no time to find and fit tyres.

After a wasted trip to KTM in Hemel Hemstead to look for tyres I had to find somewhere to sleep or a place to camp and looked around in vain for a decent priced B&B or a campsite, but there were none to be found.

I remembered I used to paraglide at Dunstable Downs which wasn’t too far away and I also knew there were fields and meadows I could possibly get into on my bike under the cover of darkness and this is what I did.

It was a strange experience because as I was putting up my tent on a grassy bank surrounded by trees about ten cars suddenly drove into a nearby car park and a mighty commotion started. It took me a while to realise what was going on and how far the UK had slide down the slippery slope since I left three decades ago. This was a doggers party and the local “dogs” (if that what you call the participants) had all rocked up and were doing their thing.

For crying out loud.  I was stuck, didn’t want to alert anyone to my presence, and so I waited unseen and unheard only a few hundred meters away until these “sad acts” had finished their evenings entertainment and drove away before I managed to finish pitching my tent, secure my bike and get to sleep.

It must have been about 3 a.m in the morning that I heard roaring and as I roused from my sleep I was confused.  I rubbed my eyes, pricked my ears and listened out. There it was a again, as distinctive as when I had heard that sound before in South Luangwa, the Kruger, Okavango Delta, Swaziland, the Masia Mara and so on.

Its a fucking lion.

I sat bolt upright, considered where I was and then the coin dropped, I was literally 500 meters from Whipsnade Zoo.

The next day I packed up and rode out to a nearby biker gathering to see my friend Alex from Kaapstad Adventure. It was at a Ducati dealers shop and the Long Way Down rider Charlie Boorman was going to be there to support Garmin who were launching a new GPS and were clearly a sponsor of his.

I met a few bikers and I wandered up to Charlie to say Hi. He said, ‘Oh I remember you, are you still riding that heap of scrap’. I tried to think of something witty to retort, but could only think of  “Cheerio”.

As my friend Nick was still in Italy, another friend, Andrew very kindly volunteered to put me up again in his comfortable studio apartment above his house and later take me down to Bexhill to collect Fanny’s bike and store them in his garage until I could ferry both bikes to Anglo Pacific Shippers in London NW10.

We arrived just in time for a famous Dobson’s Sunday lunch. Perfect timing. While both bikes were in Andrew’s garage Paul Chapman of Adventure Parts very kindly fitted them out with “Camel Toe” side stand supports, adventure windscreens and wind vents to direct the air to the radiators to improve cooling and sound dampening.  I really wish we had had those when we were in Africa.

While I was rested up and waiting to leave I also spent some time thinking about what to do for work when the expedition finishes at the end of the year. I had been asked by several companies to get involved in their forensic investigation and risk consulting practices and I had to have a good think whether this was something I wanted to do again. I believe I am very good at my job, but I was becoming increasingly frustrated with the politics and intrinsic unfairness of large consulting firms.

Over the years I had built up a great network of satisfied clients and good relationships with a number of law firms, and so I decided to set up my own practice, Apollo Advisory, which has been a great success.

I had a year working for a firm called Censere with three other forensic directors, but this was not working out, despite us working on amazing projects and meeting the objectives of our business plan. While I was in hospital recovering from a serious bout of peritonitis that nearly killed me, they decided not to pay any of us for our work, and so we all went our separate ways.

This proved to be a blessing in disguise, despite being owed a lot of money, my company, Apollo Advisory, went onto even better things.  It allows me to work with very talented people, on projects I like and am very good at, earn a few bucks, continue with my pursuit of fluency in Chinese, travel, keep fit, and have sufficient time for more adventures and expeditions.

But all that would come a little later, as the Asian leg of our big bike trip was just around the corner.

Next chapters : China, Tibet, India, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, USA.

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Fanny packing up her bike in Wiltshire

 

 

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Bernard, Cathy and Biscuit  …  famous RTW riders at HU meeting

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Rupert & Nick doing some off road riding with Yamaha in Wales

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Stonehenge in Wiltshire (again)

 

 

The orange North Face bag in the holdall en route to Shanghai… bye bye Fanny

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Fanny’s bike all kitted out.. thanks Paul

New windshield and kit

Waiting until sunsets so I can find a free camping spot… England doesn’t do camping very well… not like Wales.

Free camping on Dunstable Downs. I think I have made a tent pitching error somewhere … where’s Fanny when you need her.

 

 

Parked up outside my childhood home in Abbots Bromley for tea with my mum

 

The Offa’s Dyke…. highly recommended, but bring good boots

 

 

 

 

Proof, the sun is shining on the Welsh/English border

Hello cow

 

 

Camped in a small park in Knighton

 

Now barefooted as boots unbearable, and my flip flops, those classic hiking footwear, were unwearable in the wet.

The dogs…..

Putting the evil rucksack down for half an hour for a pint of cider at a small pub in the ruins of a castle. I asked many of the Brits who were out for a drive if they would give me a lift to Hay on Wye as it was still 17 miles away and I was in flip-flops and my feet were finished but none of them would help me and so I had another pint and walked. 杂种的英国人。

 

 

 

Hiking the Offa’s Dyke, very beautiful in the sun

 

Chatting with Colin Lyle, Ex Rhodesian Air Force at RAF Tangmere museum

 

 

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A really enjoyable visit to RAF Tangmere which was one of the famous Battle of Britain airfields. Passionate volunteers who keep everything running smoothly. Highly recommended

 

 

The Queen and I — we have something in common…neither of us has a pension plan.

Rupert looking like a very dodgy character in the crowd

 

The loan bike from KTM UK… no wheelies…must remember it has a UK registration plate and not an untraceable South African one.

 

The KTMs have lived in many lovely garages in the UK

 

A day trip to Chartwell… thoroughly recommended.

Top bloke that Churchill fellow… and nice house

 

Fanny and her bike outside Buckingham Palace just before the police came along in a van and told us to move on.

HP Brown Sauce label with a KTM …and its about to rain, again.

 

So many wonderful things in the British Museum, but this Anglo Saxon helmet is probably my favourite.

 

While in London I tried and failed to get into the Olympic village. This is as far as I got

I did manage to get a ticket for the volleyball at Earl’s Court.

 

 

 

 

The new UK passport office behind Victoria train station.  I am pretty sure I was the only indigenous person from the British Isles in there, and that included all staff. I wonder how long before people like me have to live in a “natives” reserve in Surrey.

 

A ride with Andrea to the Cat and Fiddle which used to be a road in Derbyshire where bikers could give it some beans. But now like most fun in the UK, it is banned and over policed with cameras, helicopters and CCTV.

 

Bumped into this Chinese Rickshaw rider who had ridden to London from China.

 

 

The repaired shiny side panels on Fanny’s bike… looks good as new

 

 

“And there I was with my mate Ewan in the middle of Zambia and this really handsome chap turned up on a much nicer KTM than our piles of scrap”.. bore bore boreman…

Alex and his KTM

 

 

 

 

 

The KTMs at the shippers and heading back home to Cape Town. We on the other hand are off to China for a new adventure