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 35 – Sri Lanka

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Sri Lanka –a tropical island off the south coast of Indian and famous for Ceylon tea, Tamil Tigers and Arthur C Clarke. A lot of people who have visited have been singing its praises, but what’s it like to explore on a motorcycle?

Picking the slightly out of season period of early July, Fanny and I flew on the surprisingly good value Sri Lankan Airlines from Hong Kong to Colombo, and then took a taxi from the airport to a colonial style house that Fanny had booked on the outskirts of the Capital.

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Srilanka

Our motorcycle route… mostly the south west, south and central highlands ….still a few places to visit in the future.

 

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Yasmine’s house on the outskirts of Colombo

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Yep… all to ourselves.

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My new friend … guarding the pool

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Sri Lankan breakfast

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Fanny and our lovely host, Yasmine

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Lush tropical gardens

 

OK…. so enough holiday snaps of Rupert and Fanny idling about and stuffing their faces … for now!

What about the motorcycles?

We searched online and found a place renting out scooters not too far from the airport and we arranged to hire two Honda XR 250 Bajas… an iconic bike and one I have seen being ridden very successfully in remote parts of Africa.

Austin Vince would no doubt approve because its a small 250cc Honda and I can see the logic for having such a bike for a long expedition. I think they look like classic adventure bikes, and I really like the two big headlights and gold wheel rims.

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The Honda XLR 250 Baja … our choice for the Sri Lanka trip

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The actual bikes we hired… the pictures not doing justice to what dogs they really were.

 

I hired a modern Honda XR 250 for a tour of Thailand a few years back and it was in good condition, well looked after, and everything worked. I really liked it.

These bikes were not in good condition, but they were reasonably cheap at US$21 per day. I was assured they were road worthy, although it was obvious that if you actually owned either of them you would have to spend hours in the garage with a full list of repairs and maintenance to do.

Fanny’s bike was slightly lower in the seat than mine, in slightly better condition, but the handlebars had slipped in the triple clamps and were a few degrees out which is something I find incredibly irritating.

Fanny on the other hand didn’t seem to mind…. after all she had ridden across the whole of Africa on a KTM 990 Adventure that had “out of true” handle bars after she crashed her motorcycle spectacularly in the remote deserts of Namibia.

To start the the Baja required a contortionist effort to pull up a broken toggle above the carburetor and engage the “choke”. The bike simply would not start without doing so. With practice I got used to this, but it meant I started the day rolling around on the floor and getting my hands covered in oil and grime. Not a big deal, but annoying nonetheless.

After a good nights rest we took a tut tut scooter taxi from Yasmine’s house all the way up to Negombo in the north where the bike shop was located. It was further than we thought and took a couple of hours, but it did give us a chance to look around and alerted us to the atrocious traffic conditions in and around Colombo, and indeed across Sri Lanka.

 

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I smashed the opaque yellow plastic obscuring the digital display… so I could see the speedo and odometer. It didn’t seem to distract from the overall run down look of the bike. The black bungee held my iPhone in place so I could follow the GPS. It worked “OK”

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Fanny collecting her bike from the shop.

 

We were told by the owner of the shop that we must both get Sri Lankan driving permits and that could take a few days.

Oh?

Or….. we could risk it and deal with the police as and when?

OK, we’ll do that.

We wanted to get on and I was confident I could handle the local rozzers, who seemed to be nice British Colonial types, like I used to be. How hard could it be?

I handed over a deposit and Fanny paid for for 13 days bike hire and we got going along a back lane route I set around the outskirts of Colombo back to Yasmine’s house on the east of the city, in a vain attempt to avoid the heavy traffic.

I was a bit nervous that Fanny had not been riding much over the last year or so, but she quickly got back into it and we both navigated and weaved through the appallingly bad traffic with no problems at all. In fact, the Honda Baja seemed perfect for Fanny.  I had to remind myself that this is a woman who has ridden around the world on every surface and in every condition Planet Earth has to offer.  Fanny is perfectly fine.

I had downloaded an iPhone App called “Sygic” and also the maps for Sri Lanka. This meant that unlike Google or Baidu Maps we could navigate without having to be online. Much like digital cameras put Kodak out of business, these new GPS apps are a free alternative to a Garmin or Tom Tom GPS.

I also bought a Sri Lankan 4G Sim card with internet access for 2 weeks at next to nothing and despite my reservations that there must be a catch, it worked perfectly for the whole trip and the signal coverage was pretty good. I was able to use the online maps as well and tether my phone to Fanny’s iPhone so she had internet access the whole time as well. Isn’t technology great?

The only issue was that the bracket I bought in China to hold the iPhone onto the handlebars?  It was still on the kitchen table in Hong Kong!

Like many occasions on our motorcycle adventures we came up with a work around and I used some bungees and strapped the iPhone onto the dash over the instrument panel that I couldn’t see anyway because the plastic was now opaque yellow.

Fortunately there was a USB power socket that I could power up the iPhone battery … otherwise it would only last a few hours with the bluetooth or GPS activated.  I did have to turn off the headlights as the electrics and battery were a bit dodgy.

Normally you cannot turn off motorcycle headlights, as its a safety feature, but we were in Asia and safety comes second to practicality and so the owners had fitted an on/off switch to save power.

Anyway, bikes and navigation sorted, ready to go.

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Fanny is a really good bike rider and the Honda 250 was perfect for her.

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Blue helmet, blue tinted glasses and headlights on full beam to “try” and scare the locals … all good.

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My Honda Baja had a particularly uncomfortable seat so I bought a seat cover!  A toilet seat cover to be accurate.  Nice.

 

During the trip I carried all the luggage and used my Givi water proof panniers that I had bought in the UK,  and our waterproof North Face day sacks. We were traveling light… just how we like it.  I think we could have gone even lighter, although not much. We wore our light weight motorcycle jackets for protection from sun and because they have a bit of armour inside. Perfect.

After about 50 kilometers in the saddle I came to the indisputable conclusion that my bike had the most uncomfortable seat I have ever sat on. Where was my black sheep skin cover when I needed it? Ah yes….on the kitchen table in Hong Kong with the iPhone bracket. Ta Ma De !

So, I made an emergency purchase (30 UK pence) of a rather lovely toilet seat cover, that whilst not being anywhere near as comfortable as a sheep skin, was Ho Gwoh Mo (better than nothing).

It did mean we had to stop quite often so I could get off the bike and walk about, or stand on the foot pegs for the blood to start flowing into my aging numb bum. Also, it was very hot and quite humid so we needed to stop and take a drink. I have learned from past experience that dehydration creeps up on you quickly on biking expeditions and so water discipline is vital, even if you are not thirsty.

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Bikes parked outside our room at Yasmine’s place in Colombo

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All ready to go …..but first more tea …. my passport says I’m British and it is Ceylon after all!

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Off we go…. a nice anti clockwise trip around southern Sri Lanka

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Not something you see everyday

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And coming to a grinding stop …. less than 50 kilometers into the trip to get carburetor jets cleaned by side of road. And a piece of wood wedged in to stop the plastic panniers melting on the exhaust. See we have done this before!!

 

 

The route out of Colombo and onto the coastal road to Galle, about 170 kilometers away, was like many we had done in third world cities where the locals drive badly and the police don’t care.

Slow and steady wins the race, keep away from nutters, animals and moving lumps of metal, and shout a lot. The shouting is actually pointless, but makes me feel better. Even fanny does it now in various languages.

Our host Yasmine had warned us that the driving could be interesting, and that the arch deacons of terrible driving were the buses.  My goodness, how right she was.

There were two types of bus… a blue one with a man hanging out the door waving his arms and shouting a lot, and a silver one with lots of chrome and lights … but without a man hanging out the door.

They are both awful, but the blue bus particularly so.

I don’t know what the Sinhalese or Tamil is for, ‘get out the friggin’ way… we’re coming through’, but I guess that was what the “hanging out man” was employed to scream at everyone as the bus continually cut everyone up.

It was difficult to get really road raged at Sri Lankan drivers whatever road genocide they seemed to be up to because they were so damned friendly and smiled all the time.

There was quite a lot of Indian style wobbly head, arms waving, and shouting things like ‘What for you kicking my dog calling him fuck off‘ … but in a very friendly and smiley way that immediately dampened any annoyance and made me laugh…even as they attempted to impale us on their front bumpers.

For Fanny?  Nothing unusual… just like a normal day riding in Shanghai. I think she was enjoying it!

About half way down the coastal road my bike stopped and I could see petrol pouring out of the carburetor and dripping straight onto the red hot engine. Holy shit?

After standing well back, scratching my chin and thinking aloud, ‘that’s not good’ over and over again a crowd gathered. After a general consultation with most of Sri Lanka in several languages I didn’t understand, it was opined that the jets were blocked.

We were told that for about 500 Sri Lankan Rupees (a quid or so) any street side mechanic, of which there seemed to be many, could fix it …and that’s what happened. Bike sorted…off we go again.

My bike was not a good specimen of motorcycle. It was 1990s purply blue in colour with those daft graphics they used in those days, and everything was in poor condition. The clutch, the brakes, the engine, the suspension, the bearings, the tyres, every cable, the bodywork, the pegs, the levers, controls, hand grips, ….. everything. I had to keep saying to myself, ‘its still going and its not mine’,  ‘its still going and in 10, 9, 8, etc… days I will never see it again’.

Fanny on the other hand seemed to really like her bike with its non perpendicular handlebars and bent levers.  ‘How’s your bike?’, I would ask her all the time.

‘Fine’, came back the answer every time.

As far as Fanny is concerned, she rarely gets upset by anything… all part of life’s rich tapestry is her mantra. If it goes… all is fine.

I did, however, have to rescue her a few times at traffic intersections when her bike stalled and she couldn’t get it started again.  These Hondas will only start in neutral, not as KTMs and most other bikes will do with the clutch engaged in any gear. The gears were so clunky and stiff to click up and down, and with no green neutral indicator working, it required some serious manual labour and bikers tradecraft to locate neutral and get going again.

The Baja engine is a single piston 250cc, has a simple carburetor,  the frame is quite big in size, and to be honest more than fast enough for everywhere we went to in Sri Lanka. Its just they were both in such a shabby state that I thought mine was going to break down all the time. It also sounded awful…just like a motorcycle about to break down… but it didn’t.

One of the reasons for the noise was that the drive chains were bone dry and hadn’t been oiled, ever.

We were explicitly told not to oil the chains, the reason given that they had ‘O’ rings that would get damaged by oil.  Of course, this was nonsense.

I was unable to tune out the dreadful noise my bike was making as its crunched, screeched  and scraped along and so as soon as I could I put both the bikes and ourselves out of our misery and doused both chains in oil.  Lots of it.

Better.

 

 

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I don’t think elephants or human females should have to wear body covers and masks.  A very bling burka nonetheless.

 

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Sri Lanka … a colourful surprise around every corner

 

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Demonstration ….  “Elephant lives matter”.

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A bit of gravel

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A quid to fix the carburetor and clean the jets

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The Baja is a great bike. Good engine. Some strange quirks, though. For instance the engine oil is poured into a filler in the bike frame near the handle bars… never seen that before.

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Arriving in the Old Fort at Galle on southern coast.

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Street dancing procession… very lively, colourful and loud!

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One of many temples we saw here and there.

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Fanny and her silver XR Baja

 

 

We arrived in Galle by late afternoon and rode around looking at the ancient walled fort, built by the Dutch many centuries ago.

When we got there it was packed with tourists, many from China who were doing the things Chinese seem to do everywhere. Posing for photographs in borrowed traditional clothing, doing ‘V’ signs (??) and repeatedly jumping in the air to get that “joyous jumping in the air” picture to put on Weibo (Chinese Facebook). One person does it… they all do it.

We thought of booking a place in Galle, but the few rooms we saw were a bit grim and expensive and so Fanny found a really nice hotel about 10 kilometers out of town that had a seafood restaurant serving the Sri Lankan specialty of chili mangrove crabs.

A very very happy Fanny indeed.

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Lots of churches

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Galle lighthouse

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Pretty streets and historic buildings in old Galle

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Exploring the walled fort

 

After Galle we headed along the south coast road to Dickwella. Not the greatest name I have ever heard for a place, but as it turned out it was a small coastal town with a beautiful beach in a secluded horseshoe bay. Fanny again did her research magic and booked us into a boutique hotel called “Salt”.

Here we idled about, swam in the sea, read books, Fanny had some body massages, we ambled about on the beach and along trails, ate every hour, and drank continuously.

The rooms at Salt were very tastefully designed with open to the elements bathrooms and semi open bedrooms, in the sense they only had three walls. Quite a few mosquitoes so the fan and mosquito net was really needed.  Sort of luxury camping.

On the top floor was an open plan lounge/bar that served very tasty meals and drinks by very attentive and friendly staff. Simple and stylish. Web link below.

http://www.salthousesrilanka.net/

I am not much of a beach person, nor is Fanny, but we can say this is one of the best beach locations we have ever been to and we will definitely go back for a short break in the future, provided that the commercial developers don’t ruin it.

We discovered the Indian 傻逼 who got me fired from my job in Hong Kong a decade or so ago was building a resort in Dickwella to add to his collection of Monopoly board hotels around the World. Would I like to send him a message, Fanny asked me?  No I friggin’ wouldn’t.

 

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Dickwella…. Horseshoe Bay

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Fanny starts her transition from a light skinned person to a very dark person within 48 hours. I on the other hand went from light pink with red spots to dark pink with red patches.

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For some bizarre reason … the dogs found me and followed me around for the whole stay. To Fanny’s amazement this always happens where ever we go…from China to Asia to Africa.  I had a pack of pugs follow me for 3 days across Sichuan and Yunnan once. Pugs!

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Warm sea, blue skies, the sound of breeze in palm trees, a book, a hammock, shade and beer….  Idling 101.

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Tea, fresh local fruit and buffalo curd… nice

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Breakfast looking at us

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A particularly gormless expression … That’s me .. not the dog.

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Ms Fang enjoying herself

 

 

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Yes… I have barely moved

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Like Thailand 30 years ago

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Tea anyone?

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We ran into a 3 meter snake on the road. I was jumping around  and screaming like a 3 year old girl as it slithered over my flipflops. The snake didn’t seem to care.

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Time to get going again after a relaxing beachy thing and head to Yala…. a large National Park in the south of Sri Lanka

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More elephants…

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South Coast

 

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‘That will be two bananas for guarding the bikes’

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Hello

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Wild coastline near Yala… reminds me of Overberg in South Africa where we have a house

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The pool at our place in Yala

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Going for a drive in Yala Nature Reserve… lots of elephants and a few leopards

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Even on the beach

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Packed his truck for the seaside

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Huts we lived in on beach near Yala

 

 

 

On the way to Yala National Park we ran into a police road block. As we approached a police officer noticed us and he raised his arm, and so thinking on my feet, or my numb bum more accurately, I employed Rupert’s police avoidance technique and waved enthusiastically back at him and smiled inanely.

As we passed the rather astounded and clearly flustered officer I allowed Fanny to pull up along side me and instructed her, ‘Don’t stop’ and we sped up somewhat as I plotted an escape along less obvious roads to Yala.  I never pay bribes.

We found a pretty swanky apartment right on the beach next to the main gate of the national park, again found by Fanny using online accommodation apps like Expedia and Air BnB. Always much cheaper to book online and you can check the reviews.

I did some investigation near the entrance of the game park and found some local boys who would give us a safari tour in a game viewer at a fraction of the cost being offered by the hotel.

Having been to Kafue, South Luangwa,  Chobe, Okavango Delta, Masai Mara, Etoshe, Kruger, Serengeti, Lake Charla, Ngorogoro Crater, Kilimajaro, etc… we were prepared to be a bit underwhelmed, but to our delight the park was really good.

Yala is mainly famous for leopards and Asian elephants. Alas,  we didn’t get close enough to see any leopards, but there were lots of elephants that for some reason in my mind I thought would be more even tempered than their African cousins.

Much to my absolute delight, and I have to say one of the funniest things I have ever seen, we spotted an elephant ambling along on a beautiful beach. This was too much of a photo opportunity to miss and a bus load of Fujian and Zhejiang peasants (Fanny assured me they were from their appearance and accents) rushed up to the elephant and started snapping away and making a lot of noise.

The elephant clearly took exception to these ivory and rhino horn smuggling 傻逼 and let out a roar that would put its African cousins to shame. It then started chasing after the Chinese whose little legs couldn’t move quick enough in the sand.

Cameras and selfie sticks went flying as they ran away in panic to their bus. The local tour guides rushed into action to shoo the elephant away as I was wiping tears from my eyes. This is too good. I couldn’t help myself as I told one group of thuggish looking Fujian “xiang ba lao” dog eaters that it was karma for all the environmental plunder and ivory smuggling they inflicted on the planet.

They looked absolutely crest-fallen…. not least for being laughed at by a Chinese speaking European.

Brilliant…

The safari got even better as the sun started to fade and we saw other animals emerge from the bush and many beautiful indigenous birds. What could be better…. Chinese being chased by elephants and seeing a beautiful green Sri Lankan Bee-eater swooping the skies catching,  bees, I guess.

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Yala beach house

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Green Bee-eater (Merops orientalis) , perched on twig in forest, Yala West National Park, Sri Lanka

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Visit by a monitor lizard while we were having lunch

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oink oink

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Bit of lunch and time to move on to the mountains

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One of many waterfalls we see as we climb up to over 2000 meters into the central mountains

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Stopping off for coffee in a place called Ella in the hills. It was full of the hippy traveling types that you always encounter in certain parts of Asia. Lots of banana pancakes, lardy pretend effnic food, body piercings, tattoos, Bob Marley on the stereo and more baggy bright hippy uniforms than you can shake a stick at. Not my cup of tea.  Nor fanny’s … so we move on!

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Funny Fanny

 

 

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Not a bad view …Ramboda

 

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View from our hotel room window in Ramboda

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Looks like the Lake District in England.. or Wales perhaps. It is raining after all.

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Long hike up the hill in the rain to the Mackwood tea plantations

 

 

The ride from the hot sunny south coast of Sri Lanka to the cool misty mountainous interior couldn’t have been more dramatic. Within a few hours we rode up nearly 3000 meters, and the temperature dropped from 35 degrees to about 14 degrees….and it started raining. All in 200 kilometers. Some of the time in thick cloud as we rode up and down the twisty roads surrounded by lush green tea plantations.

We stayed at a hotel in Ramboda perched on the hillside with spectacular views of waterfalls and valleys.

The food in the hotel was the usual tourist buffet fodder and so we explored the local villages and ate authentic local dhal, roti, pol sambol, rice noodles, veggies and curries. As usual we had to persuade the waiters and shop owners that we wanted the real deal, not the tourist slop. ‘Are you sure?’, they would always ask. ‘Absolutely… don’t spare the chili and spice and leave the heads on’.

One of our greatest joys traveling around the world is eating local authentic food and its one of the reasons I would struggle living back in Blighty again. I know I always make a fuss about western food being so bad, but with rare exceptions it usually is. The vast majority of my countrymen treat mealtimes like some unpleasant chore and feel guilty for being hungry. They make one concession to healthy eating… the salad.

By contrast, eating in Asia is a joyous occasion and Asians treat food very seriously. With the exception of the Philippines (yes, you know its true), food across the whole of the Asia Pacific is exciting and delicious. I have tried to educate my western friends and relatives about the merits of authentic Asian cuisine but they usually respond with exaggerated theatrics, glaring accusingly at their huang hua yu and yelling, ‘Its looking at me’, or  ‘I ate a chili –I can’t breathe’.

This all said, I would like to point out to my sister Amanda, and her daughter Sally, that my disdain for western food does not apply to cake…. or pudding.  Heaven forbid.

We explored the local tea plantations and at one place called Mackwood we saw how the tea was made and sampled a few cups of rosie leaf, with chocolate cake. There was a flow diagram on the wall of the factory that explained the eight stages of tea production and I am almost sure its the same chart Ms Hingorani, my school teacher at the Holy Rosary Primary School, used in a lesson about tea manufacture some 45 years ago. Maybe there are somethings that never need to change.

We had taken a tut tut scooter taxi up the mountain as it was a fair hike and raining hard, but on the way back we decided to spend the whole afternoon hiking 15 kms back to the hotel through the tea plantations and alongside the waterfalls. Very interesting.

The following day we decided to ride to Kandy in the center of Sri Lanka and have a look  at the temples and Buddhist relics and then ride along the country lanes back to Colombo. Our advise to anyone wanting to do a motorcycle ride in Sri Lanka, or anywhere else for that matter, is to set the route to all the “B” roads or less. This can be done on some GPS navigation programs in the route menu, but its better to plan the route ahead by setting way-points to avoid congested and hectic main roads. You see more and its much more enjoyable.

The bikes were still ticking along OK, although no more comfortable, but they had done the job and so far nothing had crashed into us, despite a few close shaves.  As we took a break I asked Fanny what she wanted to do for the next few days. She said she wanted to return the bikes and go back to Yasmine’s house and relax.

Wow… just what I wanted to do too.

We telephoned Yasmine and she had a couple from Canada in the guest house we had stayed in previously, but she said we could stay in a spare room in the main house…a beautiful room like the rest of her house. Very stylish and tasteful.

The bike shop we hired the Hondas from were less than accommodating and said, ‘a contract is a contract’,  and they would not return the balance of the rental. Really?  Yes, really.  After so many years I should have realized what these types are like. Always friendly when taking your money… not so much if you ask for it back.  Suan le ba?

So, the rest of the few days we had in Sri Lanka we relaxed in the peaceful gardens of Yasmine’s home and explored around Colombo, eating chili crabs and mooching around the shops and back streets.

Sri Lanka is a great place. Very friendly people, some absolute gems of places to see, tropical sunny weather, lots of elephants, cheap and excellent food.

Would we do it on a motorbike again? Perhaps not. But thanks to the British Empire and its talented Victorian engineers if we ever came back to Sri Lanka we will get around like the locals…..  by train.

 

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Nice view from the bog.

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Goodbye Bajas… you made it…just

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My riding partner

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Back at Yasmines with Kumari, our excellent chef. Thanks Kumari.

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Oh go on… another meal!

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Bit of warm rain from the monsoon that was affecting the west of Sri Lanka and India

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I have no idea what Fanny is doing. Sitting on a throne?

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Exploring Colombo

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Buying tea

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Colombo … will not look the same in 5 years for sure.

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Wandering around Colombo

 

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Sundowner in the sky lounge of a hotel in Colombo

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Our last sunset in Sri Lanka … for now

 

 

 

Next Chapter ….. Colorado and Utah BDR on a Honda Africa Twin

 

 

 

 

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 .

 

ktm smt

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!!

b

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 26 – 中国 Part 8 – Hubei, Anhui and onwards to Shanghai

The point at which we actually crossed from Chongqing into Hubei province was high up in the beautiful misty mountains of Huangshui (Yellow Water) National Park. We had thought of staying there for the night, but it was late autumn, getting quite cold and the locals told us that all the bingguan and hotel owners had locked up and gone back to the city until the season starts again in the Spring. It was a shame because it was a very picturesque and peaceful place, probably because all the tourists had left. We therefore planned to push on towards Yichang where the Three Gorges Dam project is located on the Yangtze River.

But in order to make any form of progress we needed to get onto the G50 highway and head east. Whilst we were banned from using national highways in Sichuan and Chongqing provinces, motorcycles were allegedly tolerated on highways in Hubei and Anhui provinces. Why the difference? Who knows?

One of many bridges spanning the gorges in Hubei

One of many bridges spanning the gorges in Hubei

 

The officials at the highway toll in Hubei

The officials at the highway toll in Hubei

We were both quite tired after a long day of riding in the mountains and thought that when we reached the toll booth of the highway we could ride straight through, but no… the officials stopped us. I was not entirely sure what was going on, but after a good fifteen minutes of Fanny arguing the toss the entire shift of officials just walked away towards their administration building and I looked towards Fanny and she shouted, ‘GO’ and so we rode passed the barriers and onto the highway just as the sun was setting. I later asked Fanny what it was all about and she explained that the toll booth officials had not encountered bikes like ours before, and so to save themselves from making any decision or lose of face, they just turned a blind eye, knowing we would either ride onto the highway or turn around and go away.  .

All was going well, but we soon came alongside a highway patrol car and I faced the dilemma all vehicles have. Do we hang back or over take them and risk being stoppped for speeding or whatever. They did not seem to be taking any notice of us, but after five or ten minutes the officers in the car directed us to pull over. Here we go again I thought. For reasons I can only put down to fatigue, Fanny decided that she was going to pretend she could not speak any Chinese and so I was left to chat with the officers. ‘Is there any problem, Officer?’ I asked, ‘I thought it was OK for us to ride on the highway in Hubei’.

‘Oh, it is OK’, replied the officer,’ but we are closing the highway because of a big traffic accident up ahead and you must leave the highway at this exit’.

As I unnecessarily translated what was going on to Fanny she put her head in her hands and I thought she was going to weep. ‘We are not leaving this highway’, she insisted.

I asked the officer if we could either wait or ride carefully past the accident.  After a lot of discussions over their police radios they said we could wait, but told me it would be about 2-3 hours before the road would open again.

I did not think it was a good idea and tried to reason with Fanny, ‘I think we should get off the highway now, its late, let’s find a place to stay or even camp by side of road and get going in morning’, I suggested, ‘Riding on motorways in the dark AND in the rain is not a good idea… we’re tired and its been a long day’.

‘I WANT TO CARRY ON’, Fanny demanded.

So we waited.

Fanny sat by the side of the road, chain smoking and keeping out of the way of the officers, and I was left to chat with the police in Mandarin for several hours. A very daft situation and it got even more ridiculous when more and more police officers arrived in an assortment of police vehicles and insisted on taking pictures with us. I knew Fanny had been posting our motorcycle adventure on the very popular Chinese online forum called http://www.weibo.com and had recently posted the account of the traffic cone throwing incident (described in previous chapter) and it had gone viral resulting in hundreds of thousands of comments and responses. I knew Fanny was becoming somewhat of a celebrity in China, but did these police really know who she was? If they did, they were not letting on. None of it made sense to me.

We were asked for our documents and as usual when stopped by the police I showed them my UK passport, the motorcycle registration documents, our insurance policies and my Chinese driving licence.  Of course Fanny also had all the legal documents for China, but she just pulled out her Hong Kong driving licence and gave them a “that’s all you’re getting” look.  I was surprised that they seemed quite satisfied with the Hong Kong driving licence as it is not valid for China, being technically a foreign one. I was even more surprised that the police never asked for her passport or Chinese ID card which would have confirmed she is actually Shanghanese.

I continued chatting with various officers, and they continued taking pictures of us posing with their cars as we all waited in the dark and rain on an empty highway in western Hubei. Something was definitely going on, but to this day I have no idea.

The first officer taking some pictures of us.

The first officer taking some pictures of us.

Literally one of hundreds of pictures that were taken of us.

The police moved their cars and vans around so they could use the headlights to take more pictures. We were slightly bemused by it all, but it was all done with good humour  and in a friendly manner and so like much of the last 20 months we just went with the flow.

What is going on?

All a bit odd… standing in the middle of a closed highway. At least we were not being thrown off the highway for once.

Oh well.. go with the flow.

Oh well.. go with the flow.

At one stage an officer asked if he could have a picture of Fanny.  Fanny? How does he know she is called Fanny. All her documents say 方怡。Did he hear my call her  name? Odd.

At one stage an officer asked if he could have a picture of Fanny.  Fanny?  How does he know she is called Fanny. Her documents say 方怡。Did he hear me call her name?

The character "e" used as prefix on all Hubei licence plates.  'You guys are a lot nicer than your colleagues in Chongqing'  I told the officers.

The character “e” used as prefix on all Hubei licence plates.  We liked Hubei as the police were a lot nicer and more friendly than their colleagues in Chongqing.

After waiting on the highway for a few hours a very small and slightly built senior ranking police officer arrived in a command car, and after more posing for photographs gave me a serious briefing…… ‘Maximum speed 100 kph, keep right, keep lights on, and drive carefully.’

You can’t argue with that, and so I thanked and shook the hands of at least ten police officers and then we rode off in the pitch dark with cameras flashing behind us, seemingly the only vehicles on the highway.  At 8.30pm we passed under a sign indicating that we had 380 kilometers to ride to Yichang and that meant a good four hours of riding in the dark and rain. We had already ridden over 500 kilometers that day and I braced myself for some iron butt riding.

Pulling up at one of the highway petrol stations and getting petrol pumped straight into the tank from a friendly attendant. We like Hubei.

Pulling up at one of the highway petrol stations and getting fuel pumped straight into our petrol tanks for once from a friendly attendant. We like Hubei.

We rode through about fifty tunnels and probably across an equal number of bridges. Some I knew were spectacular and civil engineering wonders, but because of the rain and darkness I could see nothing. It was slightly stressful because I was worried about Fanny, but she was doing perfectly well and when we stopped off for petrol she said she was actually enjoying herself. I really couldn’t think why.

I did, and still do to this day, regret not waiting until the morning to ride to Yichang. Apart from giving Fanny the experience of riding in the dark on a motorway, there was little to recommend taking the risk of riding in the dark and missing out on some of China’s most spectacular gorges and river systems. In this particular area hundreds of towns and villages have been submerged by rising waters due to the dam, and millions of people have been relocated. This is almost unimaginable in any country other than China where, rightly or wrongly, things get done and done quickly.

175 meter sign indicating rising waters upstream of Three Gorges Dam in Hubei

175 meter sign indicating rising waters upstream of Three Gorges Dam in Hubei

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We were not really in a rush and without being able to see much had ridden through the mountains and over the spectacular valleys of the Three Gorges.  I am lucky enough to have hiked in this area four years previously when I was studying Mandarin in Beijing and it was before the waters had started to significantly rise.  It is a very beautiful part of China.  At that time the Three Gorges Dam project had not been completed and so this time we made a plan to go on a day tour to visit one of the engineering wonders of the world and at least see what all the fuss is about.

The region from the air.

The Three Gorges … with the huge dam to the right.

Many of the gorges have been flooded due to the hydro-electric project, displacing hundreds of thousands of people and engulfing whole towns.

Many of the gorges have been flooded due to the hydro-electric project, displacing millions of people and engulfing whole towns and communities.  China needs the energy and having lived in Beijing I can definitely say this is a better way of generating power than the ubiquitous coal power stations that create pungent smog and choking pollution.

Not my picture, but a typical Chinese tourist industry one framed Chinese style with flowers in foreground ... just like a classical Chinese painting. However, on a good day it will look like this.

The three gorges …. looks just like a classical Chinese painting.

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We arrived in the heart of Yichang at about midnight. It had been one hell of a ride and we had ridden close to 900 kilometers since we set off fifteen hours earlier.  I can safely say I did not enjoy riding on the highway in the dark, but I was happy we had made progress and that Fanny had cheered up.  On arrival in yet another huge Chinese city we were gratefully met by a member of Yichang’s BMW motorcycle club who had been patiently waiting for us and he escorted us on his GS1200 Adventure to a tourist hotel. Given the choice I would prefer to camp and save money, but camping is not easy in large cities, it was late… and it was raining.

We made it... its a motel.... not that exciting .. but warm and dry

Our motel in Yichang near the Three Gorges Dam project

For those of you who have never been on a Chinese guided tour it is a definite “must do” on life’s bucket list. It is an experience if nothing else and gives one an idea of what the average Chinese person has to put up with if they want to do anything vaguely touristy or do any travelling.  Independent travel is growing very quickly in China, especially among the new generation of upwardly mobile, but for the average person the organised guided tour is the only affordable and practicable way to visit their own country or travel abroad.

So what’s it like?  Well the day starts by getting picked up at a designated location by one of the thousands of tourist buses and after finding a seat (or not) don’t be surprised if the person sitting next to you immediately settles down to sleep and closes the curtains obscuring the view you paid to see, nor if they repeatedly empty the contents of their lungs to the sound track of a demented cappuccino machine and deposit the green blob on the floor between your feet. It is imperative that you bring your MP3 to drown out the cacophony of deafening white noise and a high decibel monologue of memorized propaganda given by a small woman hiding behind a microphone. This is your tour guide and do not under any circumstances ask her any questions unless its involves asking where to buy extortionately priced plastic replicas of whatever you thought you were going to see, or some gelatinous food substance made out of animal hooves or innards on a stick.

On the bus ... Off the bus

On the bus … Off the bus

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You will all be given a brightly coloured hat with Chinese characters on the front, an assortment of passes, tickets, receipts and coupons that you must place in a plastic envelope attached to a brightly coloured ribbon around your neck and must have prominently displayed at all times whilst queuing, which you’ll spend most of your time doing.  You only need to understand three Chinese phrases —-“On the bus”, “Off the bus”, and “quickly”.

Completely ignore any reference to the word “laowai” (old foreigner) as they are talking about you and not to you. Whilst off the bus the tour guide will tool herself up with a portable white noise machine and a radio aerial with a coloured flag on the top which she will wave above her head whilst shouting “On the bus, Off the bus” etc.  Another golden rule is never ever under any circumstances talk the driver… you will recognise the driver because he is attached to an old coffee jar with tea leaves and flower petals floating inside and honks the horn all the time.

And so Fanny and I voluntarily, and with full knowledge of what we were letting ourselves into, set off on our “glorious revolutionary number one tour”  to the Three Gorges Dam. We found our seats in the cheap section and had hardly been on the bus five minutes before a huge fight broke out between a middle aged women and our tour guide. I couldn’t catch what it was all about, but apparently the tour guide had seriously insulted the lady by suggesting she was a “tourist” when in fact she was a “local” from Hubei. Such a terrible and unforgivable mistake was cause enough for the lady from Hubei to shout and scream throughout the entire journey. The tour guide, however, was unfazed by all this commotion and simply turned up the volume on the white noise machine to maximum and carried on regurgitating her rote learned tourist guide babble without drawing breath.

Fanny's passes

Fanny’s passes

Its that our flag? Forgotten.

Waiting around for someone to do something.  Get off the bus, follow the flag, queue for something, get back on the bus, wait a few minutes, and then get off the bus again and join another queue.

Beyond! the magnificent Three Gorges Dam project..

BEHOLD! The magnificent Three Gorges Dam project..

No worries ... here's a plastic one. Behold! the plastic three gorges project

Can’t see it? No worries … BEHOLD! the plastic Three Gorges Dam project

C'mon Fanny ... I take you to all the best places.

Fanny having a great time … I take her to all the best places.

I have even got my anorak on... blah blah blah mega watts, blah blah blah litres a second

I have even got my anorak on… blah blah blah mega watts, blah blah blah litres of water a second, blah blah blah we designed it all ourselves and the lao wai did nothing

I am loving this...

I am loving this…

I am

I am, really

So is Fanny

So is Fanny

Look at her happy face

Look at her happy face

I know, I know.... its a dam

“???!!!”

Yes its a dam

I have to go on the internet to see what we were supposed to see. Ahh yes, its a big dam

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I actually quite enjoyed the dam visit. Joking aside its an amazing engineering feat and although our actual tour guide was a bit lacking in technical knowledge and didn’t really have anything interesting to say, I managed to sidle up to an English speaking guide with another tour group who had probably paid a lot more for their tour than us, and the guide really knew his electric turbines from his kilowatt hours. Not only have I become an avid bird spotter in my later life, but a civil engineering nerd of note.

After visiting the dam, the construction museum and of course several tourist shops belonging to the driver’s uncle, we headed back to Yichang where we went for a stroll along the Yangtze River and watched the locals swimming next to the “No Swimming” sign. Some of them had attached themselves to buoys and were floating off down the immense river. Not sure why as we never saw them again.

Wandering around the dam construction museum

Wandering around the dam construction museum

Local guys attaching themselves to buoys and floating across river

Local guys attaching themselves to buoys and floating down the river

 

BEHOLD! the new KTM 1190 Adventure ... with tubeless tyres.  An ugly exhaust because of the  EU emission regulations, but nothing Akropovik can't sort out.

BEHOLD! the new KTM 1190 Adventure R … with tubeless tyres. An ugly exhaust because of the EU emission regulations, but nothing Akropovik or Leo Vince can’t sort out.

The next day we were escorted out of the city by the BMW riders’ club members, and just as we were leaving the city I got a puncture in my back tyre. The first and only on the trip in China. Unlike the KTM 990 Adventure, repairing a tubeless tyre on the CF Moto is extremely easy and just requires pulling out the nail, or whatever, and pushing through and plugging the hole with a strip of gooey rubber. It took me less than 5 minutes and off we went again. The new KTM 1190 Adventure is being launched in 2013 and among many new updates on our 990 Adventures, including being 50% more powerful, is fitted with tubeless tyres. Its definitely the way to go as anyone who has had to repair a puncture on a tubed motorcycle tyre will agree (see Austria, Egypt and Tanzania chapters).

We rode all through the day, covered more than 700 kilometers and just as the sun was setting decided to pull off the highway at a lake in Anhui province called Huating. A really beautiful place where we managed to find a very cheap and pleasant room above a restaurant with a view over the lake.  Again, we were not in a big rush and so we decided to stay there for a couple of days and explore the area, before carrying on towards Shanghai.

Repairing the puncture and the guys who helped us.

Repairing the puncture and the BMW guys who helped us.

saying goodbye to the Yichang BMW club guys who guided us onto the highway to continue our journey eastwards.

Saying goodbye to the Yichang BMW motorcycle club guys who guided us onto the highway to continue our journey eastwards.

No problems getting through toll onto the highway in Hubei on a beautiful sunny day

No problems getting through toll onto the highway in Hubei on a beautiful sunny day

Crossing one of many bridges. Roads were relatively quiet and we made good progress passed Wuhan to Anhui

Crossing one of many new bridges in China that now link the biggest road infrastructure in the world.  On this occasion the roads were relatively quiet and we made good progress through cities like Wuhan into Anhui province.

Fanny cruising along the highway in Hubei. Bikes going well and no worries about being thrown off highway until we get closer to Shanghai

Fanny cruising along a highway bridge in Hubei province. Our Chinese made motorcycles were going well and in Hubei we had no worries about being thrown off  highway until we got much closer to the mega-city of Shanghai. Chinese cities don’t just have one or two bridges spanning their rivers, they have dozens. The scale in China is immense.

Where ever we stop, large crowds come up to see the bikes. A rare sight  I guess to many people in China.

Where ever we stopped large crowds came up to see the bikes and ask questions. The big Chinese made motorbikes were a rare sight to many people.

After riding 700 kilometers on the highway we decided to pull off highway and stay at Huating lake in Anhui Province.

After riding 700 kilometers on the highway we decided to pull off and stay at Huating Lake in Anhui Province.

Enjoying the last few days of autumn in Anhui

Enjoying the last few warm days of autumn in Anhui

Swimming in Huating lake as the sun sets

Swimming in Huating lake as the sun set.

We found a small restaurant in a village next to the lake and managed to book a room upstairs for about five pounds. But first, fresh fish hotpot for dinner. Absolutely delicious.

We found a small restaurant in a village next to the lake and managed to book a room upstairs for about five pounds. But first, fresh fish hotpot for dinner. Absolutely delicious. This is what touring in China is all about. My view that Chinese food is best in the world was vindicated where ever we went.

View from our room. We were delighted to find this idyllic spot in Anhui. A perfect place to relax for a few days near the end of our big bike trip

View from our room. We were delighted to find this idyllic spot in Anhui. A perfect place to relax for a few days as we come to the  end of our big bike trip.

I have been all over the world and stayed is some of the best hotels, but few compare to this little paradise.

I have been all over the world and stayed is some of the best hotels, but few compare to this charming little place on the shores of the Huating.  Clean, simple and cheap… just how we like it.

Drying a kind of fungi in the sun for cooking

Drying a kind of fungi in the sun for cooking. The ingredients used in Chinese cooking always reflect the local area and tastes and flavours changed as we moved from one province (or even county) to another, but one thing always remained the same where ever we went… a passion for freshness and quality.

And lake fish

We ate some delicious fish, prepared Anhui style.  These are dried lake fish which are often used in soups and stews.

Fanny eating "mantou" (a kind a bread bun) from a hawker in the main town

Fanny eating “mantou” (a kind a plain bread bun, normally from northern China)

Local fruit stall... selling You Zi (Pomelo) which we eat often

Local fruit stall… including the large grapefruit looking You Zi (Pomelo) which we ate often at this time of year. Chinese people do not really eat puddings and sweets, but fresh fruit is always an important staple. No wonder the average Chinese person looks lean and healthy.

Having our dinner next to the lake and watching the local fishermen in their small boats

Sitting by the shores on Huating lake having our dinner and watching the local fishermen in their small boats

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Peaceful

A local girl picking cotton

A local girl picking cotton in the autumn sun

Cotton fields by the lake

Cotton fields by the lake in Huating, Anhui.

View from dinner

View from the small restaurant where we had our dinner

Last night at Huating before we set off towards Shanghai

Last night at Huating in Anhui Province before we set off towards Shanghai.

Our last evening on the Big Bike Trip. Couldn't ask for a nicer place.

Our last evening on the Big Bike Trip. Couldn’t ask for a nicer place.

Back on the road and the last stretch before we get to the outskirts of Shanghai

Back on the road and taking a petrol stop before we get to the outskirts of Shanghai

Our last petrol stop ... as always in China draws a crowd.

Our last petrol stop … as always in China the bikes draw a crowd and Fanny entertains them with stories from our trip. For many of the people we met they are witnessing the new generation of  modern China. The pace of change in China is phenomenal.

Arriving at CF Moto in Shanghai. We rode over 12,000 kilometers in China and our total mileage was 53,800 kilometers from South Africa and taking 18  months... with a few stops here and there.

A very proud Fanny arriving in her home town of  Shanghai and being met by the owner of the local CF Moto shop. We rode over 12,000 kilometers in China and our total mileage was 53,800 kilometers altogether from South Africa. It took  18 months… with a few stops here and there.  More adventure?  Of course.  Alaska to Chile? …. yes…. one day

We did it.

We did it.  53,800 Kilometers from Cape Town to Shanghai

The bikes did well.

Our CF Moto TR 650 bikes did well too.

We got into Shanghai after dark and left our bikes with the local CF Moto dealership as riding motorcycles without “沪” licence plates in Shanghai is illegal and could incur a big fine or even confiscation of our bikes.  We had ridden 12,300 kilometers in China on the CF Motos and 53,800 kilometers altogether since leaving Cape Town in June 2011.

Quite an adventure I would say.

Big Bike Trip Presentationin Shanghai

We were invited by Harley Davidson, Shanghai to use their facilities where Fanny and I gave a presentation about our Big Bike Trip to our guests and the local press.

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Presenting in Shanghai

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Fanny had a banner made up for the presentation in Shanghai

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Getting back into Shanghai life …. I had to have my “Chobe Safari Lodge” beanie and red fleece surgically removed.

a contrast to what we have been wearing for last 18 months

A contrast to what we have been wearing for the last 18 months

Fanny at charity boxing dinner in Shanghai.

Fanny at a charity boxing dinner in Shanghai.

Fanny looking lovely at Shanghai boxing charity event

Fanny…….my tough and beautiful round the world motorcycling partner

Looking very different to how she looked in north Kenya on the road to Moyale. A lady of many achievements

Looking very different to how she looked in north Kenya on the road to Moyale

Fanny looking very different to how she looked in Shanghai

Fanny in the deserts of north Kenya looking very different to how she looked at the charity boxing event in Shanghai

The end...

Life isn’t a dress rehearsal…

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Fanny and I stayed in Shanghai for two months where both of us were very busy catching up with the lives we had left behind. Fanny’s family live in Shanghai and they were very proud of her achievements and extremely pleased to see her back safe and well. Whilst Fanny had many things to attend to, including preparing for her bar exams and negotiating the new job she will start in the new year, I went back to language school to brush up my business Mandarin and get fit again in the gym and shed some of the kilograms I put on in Europe. In actual fact, I lost 7 kilograms, was back to my middle distant running form, fighting fit and looking forward to getting back to work myself, surprisingly.

We continued writing for our magazines, started on “the book” and  wrote some technical reviews of the motorcycles we had ridden. We attended presentations about our trip, gave interviews, and swapped our biking kit for dinner jackets and party dresses to attend some of Shanghai’s social events.

As the beautiful autumn sunshine in Shanghai turned to a decidedly chilly winter, we headed back to our starting point of Cape Town where we were reunited with our trusty KTMs. Bikers, and especially adventure bikers like us, become very attached to our seemingly inanimate two wheeled friends. We were both very excited and delighted to see them again. Fanny, me and our bikes had been through a lot together and seen the world as few will ever see it.  Adjusting back to so called normal life is quite difficult and for me a bit depressing, especially in winter, so we cheated the cold and gloom by simply changing hemispheres.

 

Arriving back where we started.... Cape Town

Arriving back in Cape Town with our biking kit

开普敦。

开普敦。

Back in South Africa with our KTMs

Back in South Africa with our KTMs… we have got this riding and camping lark down to perfection

KTMs arriving back in Cape Town --- where we started 18 months previously

My KTM 990 Adventure R being unpacked at the shippers in Cape Town and looking as good as the day we started off… which is more than I can say for myself.  We have cheated the northern hemisphere winter and back to the sun and beautiful of South Africa

Fanny's bike being unpacked

Fanny’s bike being unpacked and also looking like it could ride round the world again.

Both bikes back home at KTM Cape Town

A visit back to see Louis, Charl and the team at KTM Cape Town. Also, to have a quick look at their wonderful KTM 690 Adventure Onyx… very nice.

Back in Arniston ---southern tip of Africa

Having breakfast at “Willen’s” in Arniston …. the southern tip of Africa … and my home

Hout Bay

A ride out to Hout Bay for fish and chips … we love the northern hemisphere winter

Whilst relaxing in South Africa and watching television one day we made the mistake of switching over to the UK’s Sky News channel (which is to journalism what King Herod is to babysitting) and managed to catch up with what was going on in the rest of the world.  World economy? …still 乱七八糟.

Syria and middle east? …still fighting.

Terrorists? … still blowing people up.

Britain? ….still raining.

And America? …. nutters running amok and shooting up small children with “second amendment” assault rifles.

Same old same old.  Enough of that. Click. 

‘Let’s go out for a ride’

Cruising about Cape Town

Cruising about Cape Town

Borrowing a glider to fly off Signal Hill. Thanks www.paraglidesa.co.za

We rode up to Signal Hill in Cape Town and a tandem paragliding company lent me one of their gliders so I could have a fly.  I hadn’t flown for 18 months, but it’s like falling off a bike … just higher. Many thanks to http://www.paraglidesa.co.za

Riding around Cape Town with Fanny

Riding around Cape Town with Fanny

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At my home in Arniston

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Enjoying the amazing riding routes in the Cederberg and Karoo. Its going to be difficult for both of us to hang up the riding boots.

Chapter 25 – 中国 Part 7 – Chongqing

Having been unceremoniously thrown off the Chengdu-Chongqing highway by the local rozzers we were faced with at least a days ride to Chongqing along indirect and badly maintained triple digit “G” and “S” roads (i.e. the really really bad ones). Unfortunately, my  GPS had completely given up trying to calculate where we were, let alone set a route to where we wanted to go. It was confused, no doubt by the rapid pace of road construction and deconstruction in this part of the world, and so like all electronic devices when you really need them, had decided to go into “freeze” mode. No amount of shouting and cursing was going to change its mind.

There were many road signs showing the characters 重庆 (Chongqing), but apparently there was no consensus of opinion and they indicated going left, right, back, forward and even up. I couldn’t even tell which was east or west as the sun was hidden behind the smoggy haze that often envelops much of China.  So we stopped to ask for directions.

My carefully constructed questions were met with shrugs, blank stares, embarrassed grins, pointing in all directions, and occasionally dashes for freedom.  Annoyed that my years of Chinese study had come to nothing I asked Fanny to take over the local interrogation, but I soon realized when I heard her doing a Chris Rock like “DO YOU UNDERSTAND THE WORDS THAT ARE COMING OUT MY MOUTH” that she was getting nowhere either. So we did what all couple’s do when they are completely lost on a road trip. Blame each other.

Strolling along Chongqing Bund at night

The Bund in Chongqing with the mighty Yangtze River, colourful skyline, barges and impressive bridges.

Our brief, but noisy exchange in the middle of a concrete purgatory drew a bit of a crowd, but did little to help our situation other than blow off a bit of steam. I remembered I had my Casio watch, that up until now I had only used as an altimeter, and so I used the compass function to set a vaguely south east course.

I had studied and become quite good at navigation when I did my Royal Yacht Association Ocean Skippers sailing course some years back in South Africa, but navigation requires a compass AND an accurate map or chart.  We only had a map of the whole of China and a freebie tourist map, neither of which were good enough and so I pointed in a south east direction and declared in Maggie Thatcher style,

‘We go that way and we are not for turning’.

Chongqing

Chongqing province, with its capitol city being one of the largest and most crowded cities in the world.  It is a center for China’s “Go West” policy and famous for heavy manufacturing, especially the growing motor industry. The mighty Yangtze River cuts through the hilly capital city which is navigable all the way to Shanghai. Like Sichuan province, which Chongqing used to be part of until 1997, both of these south western provinces are extremely motorcycle unfriendly and their officials and local government are unruly, unaccountable and institutionally corrupt.  It is the wild west of China.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We followed a route that can best be described as “urban off roading”.  Ignoring signs, ignoring traffic signals and heading along whatever surfaces aimed in a generally south east direction. The route took us through scruffy towns and construction sites and occasionally along roads that were still being built. There were often concrete bollards or barriers placed at the entrances and exits to these stretches of virgin concrete and tarmac, but these were no obstacle to two wheels and clearly the local bicycles and scooters had already found some convenient short cuts and so we followed them too.

Surprisingly, nobody attempted to stop us and I was actually beginning to quite enjoying this little bit of adventure riding. Our CF Moto 650 TR motorcycles are technically touring bikes that are in their element cruising along smooth roads, but they seemed perfectly able to tackle the ramps, holes, mud and gravel that we encountered and so we weaved over and through whatever obstacles lay ahead of us.

A bit dangerous in places as the flyovers under construction would occasionally come to an abrupt stop, leaving a high precipice which would definitely be a bad idea to fly off.

Urban off roading

Urban off roading

Motorcycle clubs meet in Chongqing

Meeting the Motorcycle clubs and forum groups Chongqing

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As they first said in China, and still do in other parts of the world  “All roads lead to Rome” and in this case all the roads went through Chongqing first. Somehow or another by riding along unfinished roads we had managed to get onto a national highway without passing through any of the tolls.  Also, my GPS came back to life, showing that we had only 35 kilometers to ride into the center of the city. Phew! However, my euphoria was short lived as I saw a tunnel ahead of us and at the entrance were about twenty police and highways officials directing the heavy traffic into various lanes.

I knew they would attempt to stop us, but the traffic had come to a halt and that gave me a chance to covertly weave through the stationary cars and trucks and avoid most of them. One official in a hi-viz jacket caught sight of me and bravely lunged in front of me and so I slowed down, punched my arm in the air and shouted ‘Chelsea’. I couldn’t think of anything better to do, but it worked and as he reared backwards in surprise, I rode around him and entered the tunnel and escaped.

Ha ha! Oh! …..Fanny?. I was hoping she would follow my lead, but as I checked my mirrors there was no sign of her. Maybe she had shouted “Arsenal”. Nobody likes the “Gooners” in China and I had to agree that would be cause enough to lock her up.  There was no sign of her as I rode through the entire five kilometers of the busy highway tunnel and as I exited in the outskirts of Chongqing I was immediately faced with a dilemma.

The highway divided.  Four lanes going left and four going right and so I stopped, a bit precariously, right up against the central concrete divider with traffic hurtling both sides of me and waited, and waited and waited. Unlike throughout most of the expedition I actually had a charged up mobile phone, with a local SIM card inside, and there was a strong signal and so I called her, but there was no reply. Tamade! I had made a stupid mistake because I did not know where we were going to stay that evening as Fanny dealt with all those sort of thing in China.  I guessed it was probably near the Chongqing International Exhibition Center, but I didn’t really know where I was going and I couldn’t leave Fanny lost in one of the biggest cities in the world. What if she really had been detained or had had an accident?

I was starting to get anxious when I saw the headlights of Fanny’s bike emerge from the heavily congested tunnel and she pulled up behind me as traffic whizzed by either side of us.  I asked what happened and she said the police stopped her, but she explained that she was with the “lao wai” on the bike ahead and must follow otherwise we would get really lost.  ‘In the end they just let me go’, she explained, but continued, ‘What did you shout? They thought you were mad’.

East

Eastwards…..

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After programming the GPS with the location of the hotel that the Chunfeng Moto delegation had booked us into near the exhibition center we cruised along Chongqing’s  city highways down to the formidable Yangtze River and crossed one of the many outrageously enormous bridges than spans it into the commercial heart of the city where we eventually found our hotel. After settling in, there was only one thing to do. Have some hotpot (火锅), the quintessentially Chongqing dish.

Chongqing ... an classic image of modern China

Chongqing

Chongqing huoguo (hotpot)

Chongqing huoguo (hotpot)

Nanping District, Chongqing

Nanping District, Chongqing

Chongqing City centre looks pretty much like most other large city centres in the world. Absolutely heaving with people, very noisy,  busy public squares, bright advertising lights, sky scrapers, heavy traffic congestion and poor air quality.  However, everything is on a scale unprecedented anywhere else in the world and, stating the obvious, “Very Chinese”.

There are restaurants everywhere from small “da pai dang“, palatial “fan dian”  to fast food stall, including not only local Chinese snacks, but western fast food chains like the ubiquitous “mai dan lao” (McDonalds) and “ken de ji” (KFC).  Also, in the early mornings and evenings thousands of middle aged and elderly women fill the public spaces and practice synchronized  “line dancing” or “tai ji quan” to a cacophony of music ranging from traditional Chinese folk, Canto pop, Western classical, trance anthems, bass and drum and hip hop.  It is extremely popular throughout China. Sometimes hundreds of couples practice ball room dancing in the streets as well. At the risk of making sweeping generalizations, I think I can very safely say Chinese people love food and love noise.

I too love Chinese food, but increasingly as I get older I hate noise and if I can will avoid crowds like the plague. I had to admit I was hoping to get the next few days in Chongqing over and done with, but the reason we were in Chongqing was to meet our kind sponsors and participate in the China International Motorcycle Exhibition. I knew it was a showcase for the Chinese motorcycle industry and would be a far cry from the bike shows in London or Italy.

There would be no KTMs, nor the latest European or Japanese speed machines on display, but I like motorbikes of all shapes and sizes, even if they are all 125cc.   Fanny was very excited though, not least because she would meet her friends from CF Moto and many of her growing fan club.  Quite rightly many Chinese are proud of her motorcycling achievements and she was looking forward to the attention. She is a woman after all. So, I put on my happy face and got stuck in.

Fanny with her Tibetan white fox hat and the CF Moto 650 NK street bike that she will ride in Hong Kong.

Fanny with her Tibetan white fox hat and the CF Moto 650 NK street bike that she will probably use to ride in Hong Kong when she moves there in 2013.  The white fox hat might not be needed though.

Fanny and friends

Fanny and chief editor of Moto8 forum

At motorcycle show in Chongqing

At the motorcycle show in Chongqing

Earning my corn by taking the Chinese motorcycle press for rides around the exhibition demonstration ground.

Earning my corn by taking the Chinese motorcycle press for rides around the exhibition demonstration ground.

"And there we were heroically riding through a pride of lions in the Serengeti" blah blah blah ......

“And there we were riding through a pride of lions in the Serengeti” blah blah blah ……

The last time we faced our lunch like this was at Lake Charla in Tanzania.

The last time we faced our “alive and kicking” lunch like this was at Lake Charla in Tanzania.

Fanny facing the press

Fanny facing the press. There were big crowds and we had many press briefings to go to.

Heaven forbid I am becoming politically correct... but what is this bimbo doing on a motorcycle. Pointy end forward, pet

Fanny arriving at the show on her CF Moto 650 TR

And free of charge our demonstration rider "Mad Max"  putting the 650 NK through its paces. A wheelie, perhaps?

Me riding around the show ground. A wheelie, perhaps?

Yes.. a wheelie.. but not from Rupert, but from Hu Hai who really knows what he's doing.

Yes.. a wheelie.. but not from me, but from Hu Hai (CF Moto’s stunt rider) who really knows what he’s doing.

Hu Hai on the ATV doing ... what do you call it? ... a sidey?

Hu Hai on the ATV doing … what do you call it? … a sidey?

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Would you like a bowl of noodle? Looks like you need something to eat.

And what's this idiot doing?

Messing about on the CF Moto monkey bike… good fun.

Checking out the CF Moto 650 NK. This is bike Fanny will ride in Hong Kong next year to get to and from work.

Checking out the CF Moto 650 NK in its new signature livery of black and blue … will match Fanny’s bruisies.

Fanny on a bike like ours... the touring CF Moto 650 TR. It has been a great bike. Technical review of bike to follow soon.

Fanny on a touring CF Moto 650 TR like the ones we rode 12,000 kilometers across China It has been a great bike. Technical review of bike to follow soon in this diary.

Fanny on CF Moto 650 TR

Fanny on the CF Moto 650 TR

CF Moto is famous for these ATVs. Would be nice to have one at our home in Arniston, South Africa for going down to beach.

CF Moto is famous for manufacturing these ATVs. Would be nice to have one at our home in Arniston, South Africa for going down to beach.

Chen Lei from CF Moto showing off their bikes

Chen Lei from CF Moto showing off their bikes

I used to have one of these ... if I ever get job again I will get another.

I used to have one of these … if I ever get job or money again I will get another.

Fanny still doing the press thing. She writes for several Chinese magazines and also publishes a very good blogg at www.weibo.com/bigbiketrip

Fanny still doing the press thing. She writes for several Chinese and Italian magazines and also publishes a very popular blog at http://www.weibo.com/bigbiketrip

Having dinner with imotor.com

Having dinner with http://www.imotor.com.cn

getting into the mood ..can't stay  grumpy with all these bikes to play with

Getting into the mood ….can’t stay grumpy with all these bikes to play with

I would really like one of these for Hong Kong

I would really like one of these too… or a new KTM 1290 Super Duke  … or a ????

Looks familiar

Looks familiar

Electric bike from Honda .. maybe the future of motorcycling?

Electric bike from Honda .. maybe the future of motorcycling?

Fanny and our kind sponsor, Louis from Beijing Motoway who supplied our superb Rev'It kit. www.527motor.com.cn

Fanny and our kind sponsor, Louis from Beijing Motoway who supplied our superb Rev’It motorcycling kit. http://www.527motor.com.cn

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Beijing Motoway Motorcycle
http://www.527motor.com.cn

Gary from Yingang motorcycles.  If you ever want to ride around the world on a shoestring and get 1000 kilometers on a tank and take one spanner with you then the Yingang 125 is the way to go.

The charismatic and entrepreneurial Gary from Yingang motorcycles. If you ever want to ride around the world on a shoestring and get 1000 kilometers out of a single tank of petrol and just take one spanner with you, then the Yingang 125 may be the way to go.

The Yingang 125 adventure bike... its go around the world and keep going on vapours. But will you?

The Yingang 125 adventure bike… it’ll go around the world, cost very little to buy, is cheap as chips to run and very easy to maintain.

Eating my third dinner of the evening and still going strong. Thanks to CF Moto and the press.

Eating my third dinner of the evening and still going strong. Thanks to CF Moto and the Chinese motorcycle press.

Harley Davidson is very popular in China and there are many people who can afford them and drink in their club, but not for the light of pocket. The bikes and a drink in their club (above). Unfortunately, far too expensive for Fanny and I.

Harley Davidson is very popular in China and there are many people who can afford their motorcycles, accessories, and shiny bits and bobs, and to drink and eat in their club (above) in Chongqing. Far too expensive for Fanny and I …which I guess is a good thing as I look really daft in leather and tassels.

Custom Harleys... very bling.

Custom Harleys… very bling.

Not sure how long those wheels would last intact in Nan Jing Xi Road.

Not sure how long those wheels would last intact in Nan Jing Xi Road.

CF Moto's stunt rider -- Hu Hai  ( or as I call him Hu Li  Gan) ... I have seen many stunt riders and none as passionate, fun and skillful as Hu. Great guy.

CF Moto’s stunt rider — Hu Hai ( or as I call him Hu Li Gan) … Riding his 650 NK. I have seen many stunt riders and none are as passionate, fun or skillful as Hu. Great guy.

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We had three days at the Chongqing China International Motorcycle Show and we both enjoyed ourselves in the end. But, clearly starting to show the signs of becoming a rather fat and prosperous looking, it was time for me to stop wining and dining and for us to get going again.  As motorcycles are banned, not only in Chongqing, but on all the highways in Chongqing and Sichuan, Fanny had been in discussions with many experienced bikers about the best possible route out of Chongqing towards Yichang in Hubei province. It was decided we would leave very early in the morning to escape the traffic and get onto the G50 highway, as many large bike riders from the east of China were planning to do, and had done in the past with success. If we could get out of Chongqing and into Hubei we would be OK as motorcycles are allowed on highways in Hubei province, and indeed later in Anhui.

We got out of Chongqing City quite quickly as it was early and rode through the toll of the G 50 highway without too much hassle from the officials, but after 20 minutes of riding along the highway I saw some officials in hi-viz jackets run into the carriageway and wave their arms about. I slowed down, but easily rode passed them. I then looked at my mirror expecting Fanny to do the same and was absolutely astonished and shocked to see one of the officials pick up a two foot high traffic cone and throw it with force at Fanny’s bike,  causing her to come off and skid on her side with bike on top of her for several meters.

I screeched to a halt in the middle of the three lane highway,  U-turned and rode back to her. I couldn’t really hear what the officials were saying as I ran up to Fanny, but I saw she was crying and had clearly hurt herself. Her bike looked damaged, but not too seriously. I picked Fanny up and checked her out and she seemed more shocked than injured ( a few bad bruises as it turned out) and then I saw the official who threw the cone.  He immediately put on a show of bravado, but he was clearly nervous as he suddenly realized I was a foreigner and extremely angry. I charged up to him like a raging bull, and really considered thumping him, but controlled myself. I was desperately thinking of what to say in Chinese and all that came out of my mouth was a rather lame and pathetic admonishment. In the heat of the moment my Mandarin let me down and all I could think of calling him was a “bad egg“.

One of officials who throw a traffic cone at Fanny while she was cruising on highway at 80kph... causing her to come off.

One of officials who was involved in throwing a traffic cone at Fanny while she was cruising on highway at 80kph… causing her to come off.  It says “Traffic” on his hi-viz jacket. Irresponsible beyond words.

Huai dan ... the bad egg who threw the traffic cone at Fanny. Instead of thumping him which he deserved... I took this picture.

The 坏蛋 … the actual “bad egg” who threw the traffic cone at Fanny. Instead of thumping him which he thoroughly deserved… I took this picture.

A fussy unfocused picture of one of the officials. My hands were shaking with rage.

A fuzzy unfocused picture of one of the officials. My hands were shaking with rage.

When I joined the Royal Hong Kong Police in the mid eighties all the expatriate Inspectors had to learn Cantonese, and of course the first thing we learnt were all the swear words (of which there are many good ones that are frequently used). This was followed by chat up phrases so we could attempt (and always fail) to impress the local talent. My Mandarin, however, was learnt at Tsinghua University  in Beijing, one of China’s top academic institutions, and although I can chat almost fluently about magical phoenix(s) in mysterious forests and use impressive “cheng yu” (idioms) that nobody really needs, my “ma ren de hua” (cursing ability) is extremely poor.  My “How do you say?” requests to become more acquainted with China’s more colourful and fruity expressions have always been met with embarrassed chuckles from my teachers and Chinese friends. Fanny is no help either as  I rarely hear her say anything impolite. In fact, mainland Chinese are much more polite and cultured than the southerners or Hongkongers and so there is a big void in my Putonghua street credibility. Perhaps its a good thing. Of course it is.

So, having used up all the “egg” terms I could think of I reverted to tried, trusted and universally understood Anglo Saxon, took some pictures of the offending officials and got Fanny back on her bike as quickly as possible before anyone else turned up. I know all too well in China that things can escalate quickly as indignation rises and face is lost. Fanny’s bike was damaged on one side, as bikes with plastic fairing tend to be after a crash, but it seemed 100% roadworthy and so we made our escape as the officials got onto their mobile phones to plan their alibis and excuses.

I remember years ago in Hong Kong getting stopped on my motorcycle at a police  roadblock. I had done nothing wrong but I guess they needed to make up their numbers and in Hong Kong a police officer in uniform needs no justification to stop anyone. Strangely, and very unfairly they had waved on a Mercedes Benz luxury car that had dangerously cut me up and stopped me instead. I remember it vividly because it was on the very same day my son had been officially diagnosed with autism and so I had “gone off” on my bike to collect my thoughts and reflect on the lack of prospects that lay ahead for us all. Of course I was not in a particularly happy mood and unwisely remonstrated against the police officers’ surly behaviour and unfair actions towards me. This was a very bad idea as at the time I was also a police officer, more senior in rank, and a 鬼佬 (‘foreign devil’) to boot.  So, in order to protect themselves from a potential complaint from me they embellished a damaging story against me instead, and to cut a sad and long story short I ended up getting disciplined for conduct unbecoming an officer and was thrown to the dogs. Life is unfair sometimes, but the lesson learnt was that the police, not just in China or Hong Kong, are not shy in making something up to protect their necks, and as a foreigner or outsider one is always in a much weaker and vulnerable position.  As hard as it is, the best course of action is to avoid confrontation, swallow your pride and turn on your tail, regardless of the provocation.

As we rode away along the rather deserted highway I suspected that this was not going to be the end of matters and I was right. At the next toll we rode through the gap in the barrier, as all motorbikes do, and a group of about twenty uniformed traffic police ran frantically up to me and surrounded my bike, much like pit crews do when a Formula One racing car pulls into the pits. Clearly they were waiting for us, but Fanny was not in a good mood and she explained in no uncertain terms what happened earlier, but the traffic police seemed uninterested and completely unconcerned. To them, riding a motorcycle on a highway was a much more heinous offence than deliberately causing a road traffic accident and injury. Initially I though Fanny would be able to explain the seriousness of the incident and we would be allowed to carry on, but that was not to be. We both got a first hand lesson about the lawlessness of officials in Chongqing.

Bike fairing, mirrors, handlebars and crash bars damaged... but could have been worse.

Bike fairing, mirrors, handlebars and crash bars damaged… but could have been worse.

Despite being on the road for nearly 18 months, we had both heard the recent stories about organised crime in Chongqing and about the scandal of Bo Xilai and his wife who had murdered a British businessman. Clearly this unethical tone at the top had permeated throughout all of the public sector in Chongqing and government officials and the police alike were unaccountable for whatever their actions might be.  I was resigned to just getting off the highway and escaping these fools, but Fanny was very very angry and quite rightly so. Someone had tried to seriously injure her and it could have been very serious indeed. After an hour of arguing the toss, our fate was clear. No action would be taken against the officials whose reckless behaviour could have killed Fanny, and we were being kicked off yet another Chinese highway in the middle of no where.

A forlorn looking Fanny on the infamous G50 highway in Chongqing province

A forlorn looking Fanny on the infamous G50 highway in Chongqing province

I had regained my composure and while Fanny was alternating between crying and arguing I had structured a little speech that I gave to the most senior officer in as calm and articulate manner as I could. I told him about the accomplishments of Fanny–a fellow Chinese citizen, a woman and a proud ambassador for China throughout the world, and that a Chinese law enforcement officer had deliberately tried to injure her. Not only had she been injured, but her motorcycle had been damaged, she had lost serious face and the actions of the officer were reprehensible. It was quite a speech, grammar a bit dodgy in places, but it hit the spot and the officer literally rocked and recoiled on his feet. He made an attempt by telephone to persuade more senior officers to allow us to continue, but alas it was not to be and so we were escorted off the highway literally onto a sand track in the middle of very rural Chongqing.

Where are we?

Where are we?

One of many small and crowded towns we rode through in Chongqing

One of many small and crowded towns we rode through in Chongqing

I think at this stage both Fanny and I were hoping we could get the trip over and done with. I assumed the most interesting riding in China was behind us and all we had ahead was a slog of 2000 kilometers plus eastwards to Shanghai. Riding on the highways, unlike motorcycling in other parts of the world, is actually quite enjoyable as the route passes smoothly through valleys and mountains and you have time to take in the view as you cruise along. Riding off the highways was a battle of survival against appalling traffic and road conditions. In my mind Chongqing province was just another sprawling conurbation of concrete and chaos. How wrong I was.

Within half an hour of leaving the highway we were in rural Chongqing

Within half an hour of leaving the highway we were in rural Chongqing

The stress of the previous few hours was starting to fade, and although technically we were still lost I think both of us could not care less. We rode along a sand track for a while until it stopped and became farmer’s field and went no further. Like many roads in rural China it was no longer used as the highways now took the bulk of the traffic. I looked at the only maps we had of the area, one a freebie tourist one that Fanny used, but was pretty useless for navigation, and the other showed the whole of China that only reminded us we were right in the middle. I looked at the GPS and it showed a red line of the highway we had been turfed off and nothing else at all except the mighty Yangtze River and its tributaries meandering all over the place.  I surveyed the land around us we were surrounded by green fields, small thatched farm houses, small streams, rice terraces, and quite steep mountain slopes which were covered in mist. It looked like one of those Chinese paintings of idyllic rural landscapes and I think we both accepted that our China adventure was far from over.

Lots of different types of bamboo...  and other grasses

Lots of different types of bamboo… and other grasses

We rode around lost for several hours, but it was true magical mystery tour of middle earth.

We rode around lost for several hours, but it was true magical mystery tour of middle earth.

I am a true country boy and  life here moved at the pace I like

I am a true country boy and life here moved at the pace I like.

Chinese hamlets in Chongqing

Chinese hamlets in Chongqing

I cannot count how many little rice fields like this we passed by. Small communities a world away from the urban craziness in Chongqing city

I cannot count how many little rice fields like this we passed by. Small communities a world away from the urban craziness in Chongqing city

I think Fanny is smiling again. It had been a rotten day for her earlier on.

I think Fanny is smiling again. It had been a rotten day for her earlier on.

hundreds of kilometers of roads like this as we weaved through te villages, valleys and mountains.

hundreds of kilometers of roads like this as we weaved through te villages, valleys and mountains.

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Our meandering around the villages of rural Chongqing was very pleasant, but we seemed to be making no progress at all and so I made a concerted effort to try and work out where we were by asking the locals. For some bizarre reason I was having more success asking directions than Fanny. I think foreigners who speak Chinese as a second language can guess the meaning of people who speak with strong regional dialects better than say a native speaker from elsewhere in China. I knew Fanny was having trouble with the Sichuan and Chongqing dialects, as opposed to me who was having trouble with all of them.  Anyway, we decided to adopt a “get from village to village approach” and get to the border with Hubei even if it meant traveling in the opposite direction to get around the mountains ranges. It might take three days rather than three hours but we were OK with that.  We had accepted that against our original plan we were now exploring a part of China very few people will ever go to. It doesn’t really feature as a tourist attraction, despite being infinitely more interesting, beautiful and tranquil than the so called official tourist destinations.

Cruising

Cruising …

Still cruising ... where the streets have no name sort of thing

Still cruising … where the streets have no name sort of thing

Lots of lily ponds and ducks

Lots of lily ponds and ducks

Farms

Farms

Roads not always up to much and recent rains making conditions muddy

Roads not always up to much and recent rains making conditions muddy

Sometimes very muddy

Sometimes very muddy

Lets go round and detour?

Lets go round and detour?

That's better

That’s better

A reminder of modern China creeping in.

A reminder of modern China creeping in.

Typical scenery

Typical scenery

Its as if everyone has gone to Chongqing City and left the rural parts of the province

Its as if everyone has gone to Chongqing City and left the rural parts of the province

Valley after valley

Valley after valley

We stopped to have some noodles and it seemed the whole village came out to see us. It caused a lot of excitement

We stopped to have some noodles and it seemed the whole village came out to see us. It caused a lot of excitement

Onwards.... Fanny and her bike cruising along

Onwards…. Fanny and her bike cruising along

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We rode through many beautiful villages and some how or another were gradually making tracks in an easterly direction. We took each village as it came and asked for directions to the next passing over mountain and through valleys and paddy fields. We were aiming for Fengdu where we planned to spend the night. It is located on the banks of the Yangtze River and in China is known for its “Ghost Culture“, hence its called China’s Ghost City.  Fanny found a pretty good hotel and after a good spicy catfish hotpot we went for a walk along the banks of the river and saw many of the locals dancing the evening away in the public squares.

Arriving in Fengdu .. the Ghost Town of China.

Arriving in Fengdu .. the Ghost City of China.

Lots of ghosts dancing in the town square i the evening.

Lots of ghosts dancing in the town square during the evening.

More ghosts dancing in Fengdu.... they really like dancing

More ghosts in Fengdu…. its true.. they all come out at night and it seems they really like dancing.

Riding eastwards from Fengdu along a very misty Yangtze River

Riding eastwards from Fengdu along a very misty Yangtze River. When its grey , its really grey in China.

We could see the highway high up above us... passing through tunnels and over impressive bridges for many miles.

We could see the highway high up above us… passing through tunnels and over impressive bridges that spanned the many gorges for many miles.

800px-Fengdu

Fengu – Ghost City

Back into rural Chongqing heading to border with Hubei

Back into rural Chongqing heading towards the border with Hubei

Don't look down

Don’t look down

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Locals selling mushrooms and fungi such as ‘black wood ear’ (黑木耳)

Climbing back up into the mountains towards border with Hubei.

Climbing back up into the mountains.

This part of China near ShiZhuTuJia mountain ( 石柱土家)

Shi Zhu Tu Jia mountain ( 石柱土家)

We saw nobody except a few local villagers all day

We saw nobody except a few local villagers all day

Above the mountain mist

Above the mountain mist

Lunch

Lunch in a small town

Reminders of the pace of development in China.

Reminders of the pace of development in China.

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Bit muddy again

Waaahaaayyy ... mud.

Like chocolate pudding