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 15 – He’s not the Messiah – he’s a very naughty boy.

So… did we do Turkey for Christmas?  Alas No.

Syria and Libya were descending into civil war and chaos, all the ferries from Egypt had been cancelled, and Fanny was not allowed to ride or drive a vehicle in Saudi Arabia (not for being Chinese, but because she’s a woman!). 

Also, the prospects of motorcycling in Europe during the freezing cold winter were not particularly appealing to either of us and so we decided to stay in Dahab, a small and beautiful town in the Sinai on the west coast of the Gulf of Aqaba….at least until the end of February when, one way or the other, we would have to get our KTMs and ourselves across the Mediterranean Sea and into Europe.

After a moderate amount of hassle and a few long detours to various government offices in El Tur, Cairo, Sharm El Sheikh and Nuweiba we extended both our Egyptian visas and our bike permits for a few more months.  This included Fanny, because she is a Chinese citizen, having to be interviewed by the head of the Sinai’s “Security Police”  which involved Fanny not being interviewed at all, and the Chief and I swapping police stories over tea in his office for several hours.

The force is strong, young globetrotter.

Whilst we were in “form filling” mood Fanny also managed to extend her British visa in Cairo and so Dahab with its sunny weather, reasonably cheap accommodation and Red Sea activity is where we slummed out Christmas, Chinese New Year and the worst of the northern hemisphere winter.

We also managed to extend our stay at our apartment at a fraction of what similar accommodation would have cost anywhere else in the world. We chose a German owned apartment as opposed to any Egyptian run place because Fanny is allergic to sewage coming out the shower head and being electrocuted by all the appliances. She’s fussy like that.

We also got our bikes serviced at the very impressive KTM service centre down in Sharm El Sheikh and they did an excellent job, although the bike service parts and oil are hard to come by in Egypt because of high import taxes and a loused up economy and so it was not cheap.

More details on all the technical stuff of our bikes and kit in the “Bikes and Equipment” page of this diary.

Fanny and I riding around Dahab

Fanny and I riding around Dahab

Look Fanny ... mini pyramids

Look Fanny … mini pyramids

Fanny making friends as usual

Fanny making friends as usual

Relaxing next to the sea at one of hundreds of restaurants and coffee shops along the Dahab front

Relaxing next to the sea at one of hundreds of restaurants and coffee shops along the Dahab front

Our apartment.. nothing worked in it and it was a health and safety nightmare .. but it was right  next to the sea and the views were amazing..

Our apartment.. nothing worked in it and it was a health and safety nightmare .. but it was right next to the sea and the views were amazing..

Our garden

Our garden

Riding around in the Sinai on our motorcycles

The Sinai desert is absolutely stunning, but locations near its human occupants are often dirty, scruffy and littered with human detritus, such as this abandoned tank… or is it an armored personnel carrier?

Me and my bike at the pyramids in Giza, Cairo.

Me and my bike at the pyramids in Giza, Cairo.

Our home for the winter… Dahab… a narrow band of human development between the beautiful Red Sea and the bone dry red mountains of the Sinai

Attack of the goats

Christmas in Dahab.

Sunsets and sunrises were always spectacular times of the day

Fanny learning to windsurf

The KTM garage (background) and enduro race track in Sharm El Sheikh

The super staff at the KTM Centre in Sharm El Sheikh where we serviced our motorcycles.

Learning to dive with my very patient instructor,  Laura from H2O Divers

Laura and I preparing to dive – PADI Open water and Advanced Open water courses with H2O in Dahab. I was not particularly good at scuba diving as I suffer slightly from claustrophobia and thrash about too much and consume too much air. Later after many failed attempts to teach me to conserve air the dive masters gave up trying and decided to give me huge yellow air tanks… far larger than anyone else’s.

Beautiful marine life and coral reefs along the entire coast.

Beautiful marine life and coral reefs along the entire coast.

http://www.h2odiversdahab.com/ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o-tJRZueVSU

So what have we been up to?  Well serious idling of course. When there was nothing on Fox Movies (the only English TV channel) and nothing to do to the bikes, we mooched about town chatting to people and wandering around.

Fanny became immersed in local life and community and was greeted with “ni hao?” where ever she went and occasionally “konnichiwa,” which she wasn’t so keen about. Through her Chinese websites she had become “our woman in Egypt” and was an unpaid ambassador and fixer for the increasing number of visiting Chinese to the Sinai peninsular.

 

I kept myself reasonably occupied and did manage to get my PADI Open water, and indeed Advanced Open water diving qualifications. Swimming with the marine life in the Red Sea is fascinating, unworldly even, but the real joy of diving is that you don’t have to listen to or talk with anyone for 50 minutes while you bob about underwater looking at seaslugs, coral and your depth gauge.

Fanny persevered and mastered windsurfing, but I abandoned learning to kite surf.

Whilst I am pretty good at handling and controlling kites and parafoils–through many years of paragliding I suppose–no amount of time was going to keep me upright on a wake board on top of the sea and I got fed up being dragged through the water inhaling plankton …and so I  jacked it in. A man’s gotta know his limits. My other activity was annoying the local police on my KTM as I cruised about in my standard Sinai biking configuration of flip flops and shorts, refusing to stop and refusing to pay bribes.

The incompetence of the local old bill was only matched by their colleagues in the ubiquitous Egyptian military.  How they must miss their despot dictator, but at least Mubarek told them which end of a falafel to start eating and stopped their incessant bickering.  Now they wander around like lost souls with only calls to prayer and loading their AK 47 rifle magazines to occupy them. Pointy ends forward, chaps.

As well as practicing my sand riding and off road motorcycling, I decided to get back into serious running mode, get fit and so found some amazing runs in the desert mountains that surround Dahab. The only fly in the ointment was that I became aware of a creature called the Burton’s Carpet Viper that makes its home in south Sinai.

Damn those Wikipedia people — I was quite happy in blissful ignorance.  Apparently, this evil viper is a monster of legend and is lurking in every nook and cranny and under every stone in the desert, poised to give anyone who crosses its path an agonising death.

If I am to believe the numerous emails from my friends and former colleagues in the Big 4 forensic accounting practices and consultancies around the planet this might be preferable to going back to work, but even so, evil vipers that one doesn’t share children with? It doesn’t bare thinking about.

Serious idling

Fanny windsurfing in the lagoon.

Back in Dahab

The view from our apartment in Dahab

Dogs and cats run amok in Dahab.. it’s a bit like Mui Wo on Lantau Island.

Moggy and I writing up this blog in our apartment in Dahab. How do you spell “kat”?

Look “Health and Safety” Brits… no green hi viz jacket and no safety goggles either.

A truly daft pose in the desert mountains (pic by Gary Corbett)

Lion fish … no touching

Going for an evening ride in the mountains …. and another wonderful evening sky in Dahab. The KTM 990 Adventure R is such a superb bike. They have taken us across Africa without any problems at all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the interest of my continuing pursuit of Mandarin fluency, I continued to work on my Chinese everyday and wrote some rather basic articles for various magazines and websites which seemed to be appreciated by my three followers. Fanny was also very busy with articles for various publications and continued in her attempt to secure sponsorship to cover the pricey entry fees for both of us and our KTM bikes to enter into China, but times are tough and I suspect that the funding will never materialise. I am inclined to miss out riding into China and finish our trip in Europe unless Fanny achieves the impossible.  She is very determined though, has a following of more than three million people and has some influential people and Chinese PR companies on the case so you never know. (Note: we did ride 13,000 kilometers across China in the end .. but on CF Moto 650 TR motorcycles which were excellent)

Video links to China and Africa below-

http://youtu.be/XjPi7XJ9xdc

It seemed I was not the only Englishman to find refuge in Dahab during the winter months and we became close pals with two others.  One a retired and rather smashed up former 22 Regiment Special Air Service non-commissioned officer in his 70s from Merseyside and the other a chap about the same age as myself from East London who was studying for an Anthropology degree at Oxford University and in the distant past would have been a Metropolitan Police C11 (flying squad) target.

So…  an ex special forces soldier cum dive master, a London blagger cum academic, a Chinese intelligence specialist cum biker chick and a Hong Kong cop cum forensic accountant … what an eclectic bunch to hang out together drinking Bedouin tea and putting the world to rights.

Occasionally when the internet was running I would chat with friends around the world on Skype, including my friend, Nick Dobson and his Dad, Chris, a former Daily Telegraph war correspondent, war historian and author.  On one call Chris Senior reminisced back to the late 60s and early 70s when he rode on the back of an Israeli tank through many of the places we had ridden our bikes in the Sinai.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/3710300916/ref=cm_cr_rev_prod_title

Amazing tales.  So, friendly and chaotic Egyptians running Sinai, or grumpy and efficient Israelis?  Seems you can’t have everything in life… but perhaps the Egyptians have it. We like friendly.

In Egypt, Fanny is a popular name ...

In Egypt, Fanny is a popular name … “not” an internet search term!

Our buddie, Tony

Andrew Durant and I exploring  Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai

Our respective landships parked up in Dahab

Andrew and I go for ride through the Sinai desert to St Catherine’s monastery

Diver Rupert & Windsurfer Fanny

The H2O team doing a clean up dive of bay (Tony, Andrew Durant and myself included)

 

I also spent time with an old colleague from my Arthur Andersen days who has now become a serious motorcycle fan, with five very nice bikes in his garage in Kent, UK and an assortment of off-road and track courses under his belt. Apparently arriving to work in Surrey Street, London on my Suzuki GSXR 1300 Hayabusa one day sparked off his interest in bikes.  And quite right too… awesome bike.

Andrew came out to Dahab for a few days vacation, mainly to scuba dive, but we took the KTMs out for a spin to Saint Catherine’s monastery– which lies just below Mount Sinai where the Old Testament says Moses received the ten commandments.

Although it was very a bright and sunny day in the desert, it was uncomfortably cold on the motorcycles in the morning shadows and I should have worn many more layers of clothes. However beautiful the surroundings, it really is miserable being cold on a motorcycle.

We toured around the fascinating monastery buildings and then on the way back to the coast I had a big wobble on a bend in the middle of the desert.

I initially thought I had veered into one of the large cracks that the desert diurnal temperature difference makes in the road surface through continual expansion and contraction. But after wobbling to a stop I discovered that I had in fact picked up a six inch nail in my back Pirelli tyre.

To exacerbate my misfortune I had left all the tyre levers, the air pump and puncture repair kit back in the panniers back at the apartment in Dahab and so we managed to flag down a Bedouin pick-up “bakkie” and load my bike onto the back and return 100kms + to Dahab.  It required manoeuvring the bike from a small sand embankment onto a flat back truck and then pushing the bike off the flat back onto the back of the pick up and securing it with my tow rope.

Off roading

Off roading in the Sinai

Middle of the Sinai

Middle of the Sinai

Six inch nail embedded in my back tyre in middle of Sinai desert… annoying!

Fanny, myself and friends from China in Dahab

We had to take ferry up Lake Nasser (dammed upstream) of the Nile from Wadi Halfa in Sudan to Aswan in Egypt. I would have loved to have ridden this part of north Egypt, but the human inhabitants have some scam going on so that you cannot actually ride across the border. In Egypt we would run into literally hundreds of police and military road blocks across the entire country.  we would

 

Like my home in the small village of Arniston on the southern tip of Africa, each day in Dahab was like an episode of  BBC Radio 4’s “The Archers”, but without all the British mealie mouthed political correctness and popularized deviance.

Always some minor drama that got all the locals excited and yet in the big scale of things, irrelevant and unimportant. The real troubles in Cairo seemed a long way away.

I am not sure how long one has to stay somewhere before a place becomes “I lived in” rather than “I stayed at”.  Perhaps being given the  local “German Bakery” coffee shop discount card was a defining  moment in permanent residency.

Fanny got heavily involved with helping visiting Chinese find accommodation, transport and general assistance in return for them bringing in supplies from China.  Such supplies included a new Canon camera to replace the one I dropped, a helmet video camera to replace the GoPro that was stolen outside the Mosque, and an intercom set kindly donated by a Chinese OEM manufacturer. We also got very welcome supplies like Chinese spices, chili sauce, green tea, food ingredients and daft but useful things like flip-flops.

I checked out a few more dive sites in the Red Sea and got into the swing of scuba diving, free diving and snorkeling, but was getting itchy feet to go exploring again and so I decided that since we were unable to travel through Syria on the bikes that I would hike through Jordan and Israel and to the Syrian border to do a recce and generally do the tourist thing.

Fanny was not really interested in backpacking and sleeping rough in ditches (no idea why), and had friends coming over for Chinese New Year and so she decided to relax and hold the fort in Dahab. I packed a very small rucksack lent to me by our lovely landlady, Beatte (from Germany) and took an early local bus to Nuweiba where I hoped to catch the ferry to Aqaba in Jordan, which is just north of the border with Saudi Arabia.

I very much wanted to ride my bike but the temporary import duties and custom fees for Jordan and Israel were far too expensive, especially the fees to get back into Egypt and so I decided to travel light and use public transport instead. When I got to Nuweiba it was full of Syrian trucks queuing up to take the ferry to Jordan.

I wandered through the port and up to the ferry which was moored up and chatted with various drivers who all seemed very friendly and told me all about their woes in Syria.  I was very disappointed we could not travel through Syria and as each day passed the situation seemed to get worse and worse.

Two hours after the ferry should have set sail we were invited to board and my passport was checked and I was sent back to immigration as somehow or another I had managed to navigate myself around every single security, customs and immigration check point in the port during my walkabout.

Passport now stamped with an exit chop I boarded the ferry and after settling down I realized I was the only non-Arab passenger on the ship.

As we cross the Gulf of Aqaba we sailed close to the deserted coast of Saudi Arabia, a country that looked, at least from the sea,  pretty much like other parts of the Sinai.  However, because of the restrictions imposed by Saudi’s ultra extremist inhabitants could have been the far side of the moon.

As I scanned the deserted coast I pondered that the diving must be absolutely glorious because Saudis just hang about in air-conditioned shopping malls and rarely venture away from creature comforts.  It seemed strange that it is a land that Fanny is not allowed to ride her bike in. Indeed I don’t think women are allowed to do very much at all except hide in the shadows and make new little Saudis.

Rupert & Fanny in the Sinai

Rupert & Fanny in the Sinai

Fanny of St Catherines

Fanny of St Catherines

Another road block

Another road block

Fanny and I loaded up and parked up for another great Egyptian lunch

On the ferry from Egypt to Jordan

The Saudi coast.. looking very barren. Everyone is in the city shopping malls buying Victoria Secret’s knickers.

Huge Jordanian flag flying above Aqaba. Could see it for miles

Hiking in the stunningly beautiful Wadi Rum in Jordan

Wadi Rum in Jordan

 

On arrival at Aqaba port I was given a free visa, but I had to wait for an hour as the immigration officer had left his post and gone AWL.  As the only foreigner, and indeed only person left in the terminal I paced around looking at the numerous pictures of King Abdullah II Al Hussein that adorned the walls of the arrival hall.  In fact his portrait is all over Jordan and he always looked cheerful and well dressed in western suits, Arab finery, or more often than not in various types of military uniform with a chest full of medals that he had actually earned through military service as a young man.

The King is a well-educated chap and has been recognised for promoting progressive policies, economic growth and social reform since he came to the throne. Rare qualities in a leader and a stark contrast with Jordan’s neighbours.

As I exited the port I was descended upon by a huge number of touts and taxi drivers and to their surprise I sprinted away into the darkness of the desert. My escape and evasion was successful, but a few minutes later I realized my mistake as Aqaba town was actually about 8 kilometers away from the port and so I orientated myself, programmed my GPS and started my hike along a well made but deserted motorway into the town.

Actually I had walked only a few kilometers when a friendly bus driver picked me up and dropped me off in town by the biggest flag pole I had ever seen with a tennis court sized flag billowing in the wind… a flag I would later see from miles away on the Israel side of the border.

I wandered around town and found a restaurant that served excellent sheesh kebabs and barbecued chicken, after which I wandered around a bit more looking for a place to rough camp in my sleeping bag.

The town was very modern and had lots of bars and clubs and fast food outlets, but there was something strange about Aqaba that I could not immediately fathom and then it dawned on me. There were no women. I suppose there were woman, but definitely not on the streets after sunset.

I inquired about staying in a hotel and found out another interesting fact… it is bloody expensive in Jordan and so I found a quiet bit of beach, unpacked my sleeping bag and went to sleep. One of the joys and freedoms of traveling alone.

I woke many times in the night as you do when you are roughing it on an uneven surface and was quite pleased when I saw the red glow of dawn and got up and headed to where I had been told the mini buses go to Petra.  I found one, but it was not moving until it was full and the only occupant so far was a Chinese guy from Canada called Yee.

We decided we would upgrade and share a taxi and entered into negotiations with a local driver. Eventually we agreed on a trip to Wadi Rum, where we would stay for half a day to look around and then continue on to Petra. I found out that Yee also lived in Shanghai and worked for Disney Education.

Whilst Yee could also speak Mandarin he seemed more comfortable in English, although he spoke with exactly the same accent as Agent Smith in the movie “The Matrix”. When we were chatting about previous work and things he said ‘Oh, yes, the famous OORTHOOR ANDERRRSEN’, which made me snigger out loud, and so I had to tell him.

 

IMG_0163

A desert dog running with us in Wadi Rum in Jordan

Hiking in the stunningly beautiful Wadi Rum in Jordan

Amazing colours….

Petra in winter

Riding aboard a Bedouin 4×4 in Wadi Rum in Jordan

 

Wadi Rum is an absolutely stunning bit of Planet Earth. Beautiful.

On reflection even better than Petra which is pretty damned amazing in itself. We hired a Bedouin guide and a rather ropey 4×4 “thing” and toured the famous landmarks, including a Spring named after Lawrence of Arabia who camped there, allegedly. Our guide pointed in the direction of a gloriously picturesque open valley that disappeared into infinity and told us that Aqaba was three days camel ride away. Now that would have been an adventure and in retrospect I wish I had been impulsive and just done it, camping each night Bedouin style by a fire with the camels under the stars.  It would be damned good fun on a KTM 450 EXE as well.

I was wishing Fanny was with me and could see the desert. If she had been we would have probably have been impulsive and done the desert hike.

It was a crisp day, dry as a bone, the sun was blazing in an otherwise azure blue sky with just a few whiffs of cloud here and there. The desert colours were truly breathtaking and so we hiked around a bit taking in the amazing scenery. We were shown a small mountain with high sand dunes and our guide said he would meet us on the other side, no doubt so he could save fuel and whittle away some client time as we climbed the rocky hill.

Yee was not a Bear Gryls type of person, in fact far from it and he struggled a bit in his totally unsuitable shoes but eventually we made it to the peak and slid down the dune to the other side and carried on with our hike.

I was regretting not being in the more flexible position to change my mind and spend the whole day hiking about and then camp up at night in the desert by a Bedouin fire, but I had a taxi driver waiting and a companion who was keen to get on to Petra.

Another time.

After getting back in the taxi we had another 100 kilometers to drive to Petra and slowly climbed up into the mountains to an altitude of about 2000 meters. As we drove along deserted roads high up on the plateau I had to double take at the surrounding hill tops outside.

The pink landscape was dusted with white snow and ice!

I hadn’t seen snow since the summit of Mount Kenya but a bracing stop to take pictures brought it all flooding back. Bloody hell it was cold.  Freezing my nuts off on the equator in Africa and now re-freezing them in the middle of the desert in Jordan.

It’s not what you expect.

Hiking in Petra. The rock colours were amazing and some had distinct layers of colours  that looked like Licorice Allsorts and so I added some good specimens to my world tour rock collection that I keep in Arniston.

Icy Petra… I was not expecting snow in Jordan

 

As we got nearer to Petra I could see the deep valleys that the famous pink rock-hewn churches and monasteries were cut into.  I could also see hundreds, if not thousands of caves where the ancient troglodytes had lived, and some Bedouin tribes still do. A bit drafty, I thought.

Both Fanny and Yee had researched and recommended the same backpackers to stay in called, for some unknown reason,  The Valentine Inn  and that is where we decided to go.

http://www.valentine-inn.com/

When the taxi arrived I saw that the Valentine Inn was decorated with lots of red hearts like a garish brothel in Kowloon Tong. Oh Lord. But as it turned out it was actually a pretty decent hostel, warm, with very reasonably priced dorm rooms, and with an excellent and very reasonably priced evening meal and breakfast.

On arrival Yee applied all his attention to a young Korean lady from New Zealand who lived in Hong Kong teaching music, and I was left on my own, as indeed middle-aged sole travelers usually are in such places. Glad I had a book.

The next day I escaped from the prowling guides and touts and blagged my way into the grounds of Petra for free using the remains of someone else’s three day ticket thus saving a staggering 70 UK pounds!

It was also the first day of the Year of the Dragon and so there were hundreds of Chinese on holiday to annoy and impress with my cunning linguistic skills. As I was wandering about I bumped into a Hong Kong movie star wearing an Indiana Jones hat… de rigour attire for all the well-heeled tourists in Petra.

I tried out my Cantonese on Mo Lan-yung, or whatever he was called, and he asked me, how come, since I was a former Royal Hong Kong Police officer, my Cantonese was so rubbish.  A bit blunt I thought.

I was quick to retort and he seemed a little taken aback when I suggested Cantonese in this day and age was as much use as Welsh or Afrikaans and was therefore a language destined for extinction and thus pointless making any effort to learn or remember.  I waffled on about how I thought the only languages worth learning were Mandarin, Spanish, Arabic and English.

He was no more impressed or convinced by my argument than my Boer or Welsh friends.

Petra is quite an amazing place, especially the rock formations and colours. It was bigger and more dramatic than I expected, but unlike my fellow tourists I refused to ride a donkey up the 800 steps to the famous monastery at the top of the mountain and so I yomped up.

There were many sheer cliff walls with long drops and of course no western style “health and safety” fences to prevent people inadvertently cliff diving off the edge.  At the top on a precipice was a small hut with a breathtaking view over the valley and deserts that stretched out towards the horizon.

caves

Of course, that famous shot in Petra .. Indiana Jones style

 

There was a Bedouin man warming himself by a small fire inside the hut and I asked him if there was an alternative route back rather than hiking along the well trodden tourist path. He said there was,  but I would need to employ a guide. There was no way I was going to employ anyone, but it did mean it was possible. ‘How long would it take?’ ‘About three to four hours’, he replied.

Of course, that meant it would take two hours. Everyone always exaggerates, I thought, and so I disappeared quickly before his sales pitch could start and I scrambled down a cliff path into a dry wadi that suddenly fell away to a sheer drop of about 4-500 meters.

‘kin ‘ell. I looked back up at the Bedouin guy and he looked down at me and we both contemplated the situation and then he disappeared and I escaped before he could appear and say he told me so.

Through trial and error I tried every path I could see and could not for the life of me find the alternative route down to the valley. And then I saw it. A goat path zigzagging along steep slopes above more sheer cliffs. I nearly gave up, but then I thought bugger it, don’t look down and take it steady.

And so started my rock climbing challenge for idiots without proper kit. It seemed I was steadily climbing higher and higher rather than going down into the desired direction of the valley ….and then it happened.

The path momentarily disappeared and started again a few meters away. Between was a crevice of only a meter or so, but a seemingly infinite way down.  Nothing I thought. Pretend its just a short stepping stone and jump.

But I hesitated.

I was suddenly flushed with a severe bout of acrophobia. What if I fell?  That would be it.. game over. Worse… what if I fell and got stuck 127 hours style?

And then I just did it. I jumped and felt elated for a nano second until I realized my surroundings and discovered I had in fact jumped onto the top of a Wile E Coyote cartoon type column of rock.

For crying out loud.

Breathe deeply, gently turn 180 degrees, focus on a  landing spot on the other side of the chasm and leap.

Except I was still completely frozen on the spot …on all fours.  Petrified in Petra.

I reflected on my predicament for what seemed like an age. No one knew where I was. I had no phone.  No ID. And I had someone else’s three-day ticket–with their name on it. 

And then I thought through the indignity of being rescued … probably by some  “I told you so”  Bedouins on mountain camels that would tip toe along the narrow and precarious mountain ledges.

Before I could think too much more I was back across the void and scrambling away the way I came. Thank fuck for that was my only thought.

When I got back to the wadi the Bedouin fellow was waiting for me and I flinched and cowered in embarrassment as he said,  ‘Not that way- it’s very dangerous’….. ‘That way’, and he pointed to a glaringly obvious well trodden path that had somehow been invisible before. ‘Oh yes’,  ‘just looking around’, I lied, ‘ Thank you…’ and waved as confidently as I could and started along the “correct” route which took pretty much four hours of hiking, exactly as he told me it would.

While I was hiking back I managed to see some amazing temple ruins and caves that were off the tourist trail and also passed through the local village known as  “Little Petra” that appeared very run down and very poor.

I smiled at some small grubby children who were playing in the road and they looked up at me in astonishment, burst into tears and started howling and so I quickened my pace and checked frequently over my shoulder to see if an angry mob with burning torches was in pursuit.

As the sun was setting I entered the common room of the Valentine Inn and could see my traveling partner, Yee still trying his luck with the Korean girl, but clearly getting nowhere. He was waffling on about reading palms and deciphering human auras and the girl was doing a really bad job pretending that she was interested.

I wondered whether I should intervene and help him out, but I decided chatting up girls is something he is going to have to work out by himself and so I left him to it and set about planning my route to Jerusalem.

The next day Yee, two Japanese guys and I shared a minibus to the Jordanian Capital, Amman from where we intended to get another bus to the King Hussein border and into Israel.

When we arrived at the Jordanian side of the border the crossing was thankfully very quick and we took a bus for another 5 kilometers across no-man’s land to the Israeli border which is called Allenby.

There were many rather striking Israeli female soldiers in combat uniforms with M4 machine guns and punk haircuts manning the checkpoints and public areas.  As expected the security was tight, but the immigration and customs process was pleasingly efficient and quick.

Lunch at bus station in Israel

 

 

I had heard you could get an Israeli immigration stamp put on a piece of paper as a stamp in my passport would prevent me from entry into Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Sudan, and perhaps Iran and Pakistan.

They interviewed me politely and were very interested in our adventure, especially our trip through Sudan.  I waxed lyrical about how amazing the country was and what wonderful people the Sudanese were, and did they know Sudan also had pyramids like Egypt? Blah Blah!

What I had realized throughout the trip was the quickest way to get through immigration and customs was to bore the officials to death so that they would quickly process the papers.

They did ask me if I wanted a piece of paper stamped, but I said ‘No’,  I didn’t see why I had to pander to childish and petty political nonsense. However, I had an ulterior motive as this would give me justification to apply for a second passport from London.

I had tried unsuccessfully to get a second passport from the British Consulate in Hong Kong and now I had a plan.

In any case, I have been to Sudan already, Fanny is not allowed to ride in Saudi Arabia, my connections at the border with Syria told me it was about to descend into civil war, and at the time Iran and Pakistan were at risk of being nuked by Israel and the US.

I managed to lose my Japanese fellow travelers somewhere near Syria and Yee had stayed in Amman, and so I got a cheap  mini bus back down and through towards Jerusalem which I was thoroughly looking forward to.

Israel already looked the most advanced country I had been to since South Africa. Trees everywhere, smart shops, well-built cream coloured stone houses and offices, and generally a feel of being well organised.

The most striking initial impression was that there were military personnel everywhere, mostly young teenagers armed to the teeth.

The second was that it is a smorgasbord of races and religions.  The most obvious are the Haredi or ultra orthodox Jews who scurry about in their black uniforms, eccentric hats and religious paraphernalia. They were not very friendly, I guess because they make a serious effort to isolate themselves from everyone and look disapprovingly on anyone else’s lifestyle.

There were also a lot of Palestinian, many more than I expected to see and many were quite aggressive looking and again, unfriendly. Adding to the mix of cultures and beliefs were lots of orthodox Christians and pilgrims from Greece, Turkey, Russia and Armenia.

With such a mixed and eclectic population, and with such a long and violent history you would expect Jerusalem to be a tinder box, and I think it is. It felt edgy and hostile, but the police and security forces looked professional and well able to deal with it.

With all due respect to the Israelis, I think it is fair to say it is not a particularly friendly place, in fact many of the people I met were rude and overly aggressive.

There were also a lot of tourists milling about, especially Americans who were noticeably absent in most parts of Africa and the Middle East that we had traveled through thus far.

Some of the tourists I met were open-minded, moderate and interested in visiting the epicenter of the Holy Lands;  others were clearly barking mad religious extremists who were engaging in some kind of spiritual orgy.

Still, each to their own. So long as they don’t make it compulsory is my attitude to religion.

Where the crucifixion is said by many to have been… Jerusalem

An Orthodox Jewish chap bustling along the streets of Jerusalem

Tourist tack being sold next to the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus is said to have been crucified.

 

I stayed at a very well run and clean backpackers in the middle of the city called Abraham Hostel

 

http://www.abraham-hostel-jerusalem.com/

 

It offered a very good breakfast, cheap dorms, good facilities and a travel center that could arrange all sorts of tours, including the free Old City tour that I went on the next morning. A bit of an evangelical happy clappy youth missionary feel about it, but then Israel is what it is, the 51st State of America and so I suppose it was to be expected.

Whilst the tour was ostensibly free, Naomi, our four foot tall and four foot wide tour guide reminded everyone on the quarter of the hour, every quarter of an hour that she survived on our tips and our generosity-just like those irritating waiters we Brits have to suffer every time we try to eat something in America.

My name is like Chuck and I’ll like toadally be your like toadally tax dodgin” wayda and like interrupt you like toadally like through your toadally like entire meal …like”….. “Have a toadally like nice day like”.

 

Anyway, despite being in the middle of winter, it was a sunny and stunningly beautiful day and we were shown around the maze of the Christian, Muslim, Armenian and Jewish quarters of the ancient city.

We were also  given an introduction to the incredibly rich and complex history of Jerusalem, much of which was new to me and I have to say absolutely fascinating. I actually spent quite a bit of time researching and reading up about places I visited, although getting a secular or independent version of events was not that easy. Most people are already indoctrinated and convinced of their own point of view that little they see or experience is going to change their mind.

For me my visit to Jerusalem has strengthened my view that all the religions are manifestations of superstitions that play to the frailties of human beings and have been used very effectively by the powerful to control other human beings, and for the powerless to tolerate being controlled by other human beings.

Whether there is in fact a God or Soul of the Universe I still don’t know …but the reality is neither does anyone else. I feel there is, but such beliefs are private matters and not to be inflicted upon others.

Amen.

People  who know me will be astounded that many years ago as a small boy I was actually an Alter-boy and I used to serve at Mass at Saint Joseph’s Church in Burton Upon Trent in Staffordshire.

On occasions, usually Good Friday, we used to perform a Benediction Mass and “Stations of the Cross”, a service that requires a meditation at each of the 14 stations that feature around the inside walls of all Catholic Churches.  Now in Jerusalem I was able to follow the real thing up to the The Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

At the 11th Station there was a small stall renting out wooden crosses to pilgrims and even some shops selling crowns of thorns and little baby Jesus dolls.  I knew Filipinos were prone to mixing up their Catholicism and Austronesian superstitions and were particularly fond of  a good torture re-enactment when the supply of Virgin Mary-like tree stumps and mud fish was running low, but I was surprised such superstitious devotions occurred in Jerusalem.

Of course I had to try one out and immediately thought of the Monty Python film, “Life of Brian”  with all those great sketches and stir it up blasphemies.  The crosses were all half scale sized, either for crucifying dwarfs or because the Israeli department of health and safety was worried about tourists putting their backs out.

As Naomi was telling us about a recent punch up between Greek and Armenian Christian monks outside the site Jesus was allegedly crucified, I was caught singing and whistling,  “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” with the cross on my shoulder and was immediately admonished and left in no doubt I was in disgrace by everyone around me.

No sense of humour some people.

He’s not the Messiah .. he’s a very naughty boy.

Wailing Wall

 

So what else was there to see?

Well no trip to Jerusalem is complete without a visit to see the West Wall which in itself is just an old wall, but the wailing and head nodding by the faithful was mildly interesting, if not rather bizarre.

I had to buy a Jewish skull-cap to go in and look at the wall myself, so I bought one from a stall that was selling an assortment in different colours and patterns. Some had Rastafarian colours with five leaved plants on them (?), some with pictures of Homer Simpson (??). All very at odds with what I thought the point of the bodily adornment was for in the first place. Anyway, I found the perfect skull cap….  embroidered with the Chelsea Football Club badge. It looked great and I thought might come in useful one day if I am ever granted an audience with Comrade Abramovich.

I also saw the Dome of the Rock and the Temple Mount.

We were told we would not be allowed bring in any Bibles or engage in any praying at the Temple Mount and this prompted a huge Texan in our group to ask if he could bring in his iPhone as it had a Bible App?  This caused a bit of a debate as I think the Romans, the Knesset, Mohammed, King David, Angel Gabriel, Herod and the whole bunch of humans who make up these rules had overlooked the possibility of this technological advancement.

The foundation stone in the Temple Mount is believed by some, including many in our tour group, to be the first ever rock from which the world was created and so arguably the most religious site in Jerusalem, if not the World.

I was reliably informed by my Jewish guide, and this was confirmed by a lady from the fundamental autonomous region of South Carolina that it is the oldest thing on the planet… and therefore about 5,000 years old.

Huh?, I thought.  My mother’s pug dog in Abbots Bromley is older than that!

But there was no point arguing the toss. It seems that Jerusalem has been argued over, conquered, knocked down and re-built over and over again throughout its 3,000 year old history. It’s difficult to keep track of which religious group or sect owns which bit.  According to Wikipedia Jerusalem has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times.

Enough religious stuff, it was now time for a bit of shopping, not that I could afford much.  I wanted some Israeli Defence Force T-shirts for Fanny and as presents for friends. An Israeli flag to stick on my panniers to match my Israeli stamp in my passport.  I also wanted to replace my punctured inner tube as the bastard Sinai 6 inch nail had done a bloody thorough job making several large holes. I had in fact patched up the inner tube but I had nagging doubts about the quality of my handiwork.

The T-shirts were easy to find from one of the many army surplus shops in the city.  I got the inner tube from KTM Jerusalem, which didn’t have many KTM bikes or parts because imports are taxed sky-high in Israel,  but they did have a 150/70 -18 ultra heavy-duty tube and so I took it.  My efforts to find an Israeli flag sticker were not so successful so I bought a Palestine Liberation Organisation one instead. No one will know the difference.

For me, two days in Jerusalem was enough. I am glad I went, but wont be disappointed if I don’t go again. It’s like being a kid and living in a household with parents who fight all day. Tense, miserable and damaging to the soul.

I wanted to leave Israel by the Eilat/Taba border back into Egypt, but also wanted to stop off by the Dead Sea for a swim. The buses took a bit of juggling but I eventually found one and was thrown off at a place called Ein Gamph, right next to the salt encrusted shores of the Dead Sea where the water is ten times more saline than normal sea water.

Israeli emergency response police with a BMW GS 800 they use for patrolling.

Rupert having a swim at Dead Sea

I wasted no time and I stripped off down to my underpants which really needed a wash anyway after five days hiking and jumped into the water which turned out to be warmer than I expected and had a sort of slimy feel to it– I think due to the salt rather than my underpants.

Of course, the oddest thing is the incredible buoyancy and you float on top of the water rather than in it.  No Dead Sea swim is complete without getting some water into your eyes which is excruciatingly painful. It also burns your tongue if you stick it into the water, which of course curiosity dictates we all have to do.

After a dip in the water and a wallow in the medicinal mud, which is supposedly good for one’s health and skin, I got out feeling good, but no different to how I normally do and went to the bus stop and waited optimistically for the No.444 bus to Eilat which eventually came 2 hours later and swished by me without showing any inclination whatsoever to stop.

It was the last one and so when my jaw lifted and my mouth finally closed I accepted that I might be staying a bit longer in Mein Kampf. In fact another 14 hours until the next No.444 came by at 8.00 am the next day.

I thought how lucky we were to have our “go anywhere” bikes on this trip and really missed my KTM which would have been great fun in Israel and wouldn’t have left me stranded.

Anyway, there was no point blubbing by a lonely bus stop and so I wandered around for a while, found some crisps to eat for dinner and watched Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy on my laptop whilst wrapped up in my sleeping bag by the shores on the Dead Sea…. as one does.

I had a good night’s sleep under the stars at 480 meters below sea level and despite a very rare rainstorm during the night I stayed warm and dry in my sleeping bag. As the sun was rising I had a dawn dip in the Dead Sea and later found a fast food kiosk that opened up early, made me coffee and some toast for breakfast and had an interesting yarn with the ever so slightly insane owner.

I then went to the bus stop and boarded the bus which arrived at exactly 8.00am and then I got dropped off at 11.30am in the sunny and very touristy southern Israeli town of Eilat. It was from here I could see the huge Jordanian flag in Aqaba on the other side of the gulf.

I arrived at a completely deserted border crossing as all the officials had either gone off to prayer or to have a midday snooze and when they arrived back I breezed through the Egyptian border town of Taba.  Again as far as I could tell I was the only tourist at the border crossing and I was the only person to board a mini bus that took me down the beautiful Sinai coastline, and by 3.00pm I was back in Dahab.

After telling Fanny about my adventures over tea and falafels I spent an afternoon wrestling my tyre off the rim of the rear wheel and fitted the new inner tube I bought in Jerusalem. I thoroughly cleaned both bikes, re-greased and oiled whatever parts required and pretty much got the KTMs looking like new, although I had to admit both could really do with new tyres.

After 23,000 kilometers both sprockets and chains looked in great order. That proved we had the bikes perfectly set up and our campaign of reasonably limited hooliganism had been successful.

Meeting one of a very few fellow adventure riders in Dahab. This German RTW rider had a beautiful BMW, one I would far rather ride than a modern GS1200.

Biking meet diving – Dahab

Andrea, Gary (The Corbetts) and Rupert preparing to dive at Canyon, Dahab. A deep dive into a volcanic fissure

John (dive instructor) and Gary and Andrea Corbett, Canyons, Dahab

Camels and KTMs at Blue Hole, Dahab

 

We also had some more visitors to Dahab– Andrea and Gary Corbett from Derbyshire in England. I went to school with Andrea in Staffordshire back in the day and she is a Ducati Monster rider. Her husband, Gary, comes from Scotland and is a fairly recent convert to motorcycling and rides a Yamaha XJ 900.

They are both big climbers and ex mountain rescue team members in the Derbyshire Peaks and they had come out to Dahab to join us in some diving, snorkeling, biking, running and of course idling about.

As luck would have it, their visit coincided with Dahab’s once a year storm and so they endured not only the less than perfect weather but my constant reminders that the weather wasn’t normally like this and that it was very sunny before they arrived.

The politest way I can describe Andrea is that she is vertically challenged and this clearly annoys her because her feet cannot touch the ground on 95% of all motorcycles. This meant that Gary, with much less motorcycling experience than Andrea would have to ride Fanny’s KTM with Andrea on the back as pillion.  She was not happy about this at all.

As we went for a ride we used Fanny’s new Chinese helmet video camera and managed to record Andrea looking absolutely terrified perched up on the back of the pillion seat. She was especially displeased when we decided to do a bit of off roading and racing about, particularly when Gary decided to steeply lean the bike around corners despite me warning him that the tyres really were on their last legs.

We left Dahab at the end of February with mixed feelings. It’s a beautiful place, and we enjoyed the laid back life by the sea, but we had both started to get itchy feet again and wanted to move on. Fanny had been told that China Shipping had a Ro Ro (Roll On Roll Off) leaving Alexandria on the 28th and we aimed to put our bikes on it and take a flight to Istanbul and then take a bus to Mersin on the south coast of Turkey to meet the ship a week later.

China Shipping promised to pay all the fees at the Egyptian side, a promised they later reneged on and in the end we had to cough up. Not sure what went wrong, but for other potential explorers coming through Egypt please note that everything to do with customs, immigration and import and export of vehicles in Egypt is hideously expensive, risky and uncertain, and will take considerably longer than anyone tells you it will.  Copious amounts of patience, good humour and good luck is needed.

Like any good plan, always have fall back options and contingencies. Since we had seven days to ride to Alexandria we decided to spend a few days on the most southerly tip of the Sinai, called Ras Mohammed. A diving paradise and a beautiful place to camp and relax. After we left Dahab we got there fairly quickly and had a chance to dust off the gear and do some snorkeling in some of the best coral reefs on the planet.

While we were camped on the deserted sandy beach I actually decided to sleep outside the tent under the stars and give Fanny a break from my feet.  There was no one around, we were on the isolated southern tip of the Sinai peninsula and because of the dry air and lack of pollution the northern hemisphere constellations were crystal clear and an amazing finale to our unintended five months stay in Egypt.

Ras Mohammed, south tip of Sinai

Camping at Ras Mohammed, Sinai. Fanny reading a copy of “Ride” magazine, not that she needed to because we were having the ride of our life.

Sand riding at Ras Mohammed, Sinai

Its a beautiful world if you make the effort to see it

Our boots on the KTM mirrors look like creatures against the setting sun

 

The next day was gloriously sunny and I decided to go snorkeling right in front of our tent and bikes. The water was a degree or so warmer than Dahab and that made all the difference. Once inside the water there were initially only sand beds but in the distance I could see an underwater coral island teeming with every fish in the Red Sea “Marine Life” book.

I knew it would be my last chance for a while, if indeed ever again, and spent a good part of the day free diving down to join by far the best life in Egypt. We spent another glorious day at Ras Mohammed and then we then decided to join up with John and Jan, fellow KTM 990 Adventure riders from Sharm El Sheikh and take a few pictures and join them at the local English pub for a very well attended boule competition.

Given the number of evenings I have played this game with my cheating friends in Arniston on the cliffs above the bay with a glass of cheeky I breezed through to the semi finals, but ultimately it was not to be my day and I was beaten by determined local talent.

Jan very kindly put us up at his villa on the cliffs above the harbour with his five dogs. A beautiful house from the days when style was en vogue and dustmen were in employment in Egypt. On the way to Jan’s house we had to ride the bikes precariously close to the edge of the crumbly cliff. As I had been drinking in the T2 pub and Fanny had not I decided to ride the bikes. Naturally.

Bright and early the next day we set off north to Port Said on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and the port closest to the mouth of the Suez Canal. Although we had about 600 kilometers to ride we were in no real rush and I savoured probably my last ever view of the Sinai, the Red Sea and the desert mountains. It really is a barren, but beautiful bit of Planet Earth, spoiled only by us, its human inhabitants and our debris, pollution and trash.

We stopped off for lunch at the best falafel restaurant we had been to in the whole of Africa, at a place called Ras Sedr just south of the Suez tunnel.  Falafels, bread, salad, tahina and bedouin tea with mint… the whole lot for a quid. Very very delicious and made a very slight credit to our “being ripped off on the trip” account. Huge debits are to come later on in Alexandria. Oh well, one should enjoy the little victories when one can.

T2 English pub in Sharm El Sheikh with four KTM 990 Adventures in the car park.

These bikes are the real deal and between the four of them have seen some real adventures.

Port Said… continuing troubles that plague the whole of Egypt. Having chatted with many Egyptians and Sinai/Sahara Beduoins I predict even more trouble.. sadly.

I love this picture. This one image describes what our adventure was all about. The bikes in full adventure mode, a new and exciting location, meeting the locals, eating and drinking the real deal, relaxing, and being with Fanny

Cruising along good roads towards Suez. The same stretch of road we experienced a huge sand storm a month or so early.

We had a bit of a refueling crisis after lunch as Egypt, which sits on huge oil and gas reserves and has oil refineries polluting the environment up and down the Red Sea, often has no petrol at its own fuel stations.

My particular theory is that this fuel shortage is due to the urgent demand for oil to make gel and hair products for Egyptian men. Anyway, this particular town had not only run out of 95 octane which our bikes like, but had no petrol whatsoever.

After a frantic double back along the road we had just ridden we found 90 octane at a grubby station and so I thought it wise to add the remainder of our octane booster additive as I really hoped that would be the last that we would need it, going to Europe and all.

That said we kissed goodbye to 15-20 pence a liter fuel and braced ourselves for the most expensive fuel in the world…Europe, and in particular, Turkey.

As we approached the Suez the military presence got heavier and heavier with tanks, armoured personnel carriers, and armed soldiers at every junction. They never gave us any problems and always waved cheerily at us, and if we did get stopped went through their usual practice of asking pointless questions and giving our bikes a cursory “look up and down”.

Not once did they ever check what was in our panniers or perform a proper check. If I was their commander there would have been some well delivered lectures and quite a few “bollockings”. But it’s not my problem and never will be. We are just guests in a country going through a very turbulent and often violent transformation. The best one can do is keep the good-humoured smile going, despite one’s mind thinking otherwise.

Inside the Chinese Consulate and Ambassadors home in Port Said.

Fanny and our bikes outside the Chinese Consulate in Port Said. A big thank you for their help.

While we were in Port Said we went to visit and say thanks to Mr. Xu (徐先生), the Chinese Ambassador in Alexandria and Port Said who also happened to be the head of the Chinese state-owned firm, COSCO in Egypt. He had been kind enough to help us with various things and had got to know Fanny very well.

He lived and worked out of probably the nicest house is Port Said, an art deco palace of sorts that used to be an Italian residence in better times.

After drinking tea in the Ambassadors office we waved our goodbyes and headed off along the International Coastal Highway to Alexandria which was about 250 kilometers from Port Said.  The coast was not that pretty and the towns were chaotic and run down.

When we got to Alexandria I was a tad disappointed.  Its glorious Greek, Hellenic, Roman, Ottoman, and British history, architecture and monuments had been obliterated over the years and what we found was a crumbling version of Bognor Regis surrounded by a sea of rubbish and environmentally hostile factories and grubby warehouses.

What a karsi.

All that is left are the ruins of a small Roman theater, the new and forgettable  Bibliotheca Alexandrina (!) and  Pompey’s Pillar (!!).  Alexander the Great might well be a tad disappointed as well.

The Bay in Alexandria

Whilst in Alexandria we stayed at the Union Hotel, which was not bad and had great views over the harbour, but it had no car park or secure parking and so we had to park our bikes outside the front door on the pavement and pay a watchman,  who subsequently disappeared, and so Fanny and I maintained a vigil on a bench in our sleeping bags throughout most of the night.

Despite our efforts we found in the morning that both bikes had been subjected to minor acts of vandalism such as pulling off indicators, bending mirrors and peeling off country flag stickers from the panniers. Some people, huh?

Later in the day we were met by one of Fanny’s Facebook motorcycle buddies, called Omar, who had ridden a Honda Africa Twin across Africa in 2009.  We were later to accept his kind hospitality and stayed at his house on the outskirts of the city where, importantly, we could safely park our bikes and have peace of mind.

Whilst riding with him through the city I quickly discovered that I had got a puncture in my rear tyre.  It was very soon after we set off and so I do not think it was an accident, but rather another act of mindless vandalism as a small nail had clearly been pressed into the rubber tread and I suspect while it was parked overnight outside in the street.

So, I set about repairing the puncture near a busy road junction and I quickly got the tyre off and found that the inner tube I had bought in Israel was seriously perished and had a huge tear where the small nail went in. This inner tube must have been on the shelf in Jerusalem since Pontius Pilate was a boy.

It was too big a hole to patch up and so I threw it away and replaced it with a normal gauge (thin) inner tube that we carried along with other spares in my panniers and which is better suited to riding on the tar roads ahead anyway. AND SO….  was to begin our day(s) from hell in Alexandria.

After wrestling the beading of the rear tyre back into place with water, washing up liquid, blowing it up to 3 bars and bouncing it about I put the wheel back on and I discovered that I had lost my sunglasses. Not only that, one of the legs of my only trousers had finally given up the ghost and literally fallen off, but worst of all I found that the rear WP shock absorber of my 9 month old 2011 KTM 990 Adventure R had failed.

Luckily, unlike a BMW rear shock that will collapse, the WP shock on a KTM will support the weight of the bike, just, but there is no rebound and so it will bounce about and bottom out very easily. It is just about ride-able on very flat and smooth surfaces and very slowly, which of course is nigh on impossible in Egypt.

The suspension was now extremely spongy and research through KTM forums on the internet suggested that the gaskets had failed and the nitrogen and oil had probably escaped. Clucking Bell. What else could go wrong? Clearly a lot– there were still a few more hours left in that day for fate to ruin the day even more.

Omar supervising, while I repair the puncture to my rear tyre on the side of the road in the city center of Alexandria

The gasket seal has ruptured and the nitrogen gas and oil has leaked out of the WP rear shock . Luckily the KTM WP suspension allows the weight of the bike (and me) to be supported by the orange spring..just!. Its not ideal but allows you to ride slowly to a location to get it repaired. The strong point about WP suspension is that it can be rebuilt and made as good as new. However, this is not something you can do yourself and it needs to be sent away to an expert with the correct tools and of course re-build kit. This is an advantage over the BMW which is not as robust as the KTM for true off roading and RTW adventure.

I’m looking for the right word to describe my state of the art WP rear suspension… ???

I contacted  KTM in Cape Town, from where I bought the bikes and from where over the years I had spent in excess of half a million Rand, and they said the shock absorber was not covered by the warranty and further added its to be expected on a trip like ours and best that we ride to an authorised dealer to get it repaired. Wonderful advise, thank you so much.

So to all Cape To Cairo potential explorers make sure you are always near an authorised dealer, and carry a clean handkerchief and don’t talk to strangers. Deep breathes and relax… aaahhhh!

That said one must note that the Long Way Down team on their BMWs had several suspension failures and so it happens to all the best adventure bikes I suppose. Still, the reason why I chose KTM was that this should not happen. It’s a hassle of note, and a very expensive one which will make a huge dent in the expedition budget.

We were also very excited to find out through various forums and from Omar that a new ferry service was being introduced between Alexandria and Mersin and that the first would depart Alexandria on the 28th. Of course we were very keen to get on as it would be quicker, cheaper and easier than the RoRo cargo ship from China Shipping… but sadly like so much good news in Egypt that wasn’t going to happen… not for now anyway.  Oh well, 没办法。 http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hubb/middle-east/trying-reach-turkey-egypt-any-62770#post368714

The next day whilst enduring yet another day of bureaucratic purgatory and being shunted from one squalid “government” waiting area to another I was to find out that the offer of free shipping for our bikes by Mr. Mohamed Roshdy of China Shipping Line wasn’t free after all either.  In fact, we had to pay everything at both the Egyptian and Turkish sides.

Certainly, if I had been on my own, I would have risked riding through Syria at that moment. In fact, all in all I regret that we did not make a run for it. It was still in the early days of the civil war and we could have made it over the Jordanian border and skirted the trouble zones up to the border with Turkey.

Or we could have got shot or captured by Syrian rebels or Government forces. Either way we would not have had the chance to actually enjoy Syria or see Damascus which was on our list of things to see.

Decisions decisions.

Fanny (center) and the Chinese Ambassador  徐先生 (right)

 

The whole idea of riding to Alexandria rather than going through Jordan and Syria was predicated on the fact that Syria was risky and China Shipping Line had promised Fanny they would help us cross the Mediterranean for free.

Of course, I was annoyed about the extra expense and paying ten Egyptians to a do a job that doesn’t even need doing by one person, but what upset me the most was that Fanny was extremely upset and hurt by the whole incident and had lost face.  A very bad thing for Chinese people.

As far as bureaucratic red tape goes, the whole Egyptian leg had been seriously time-consuming and ten times more expensive than all the other African countries we had been through put together. It is very fair to say that Egypt is a complete rip off and in all honesty I cannot recommend that anyone brings in their foreign registered vehicle, unless they have serious money to burn and have some sort of perverse masochistic streak.

I was reminded of the German expedition we met just south of the Sudanese border who were fuming about how they were treated in Egypt and now I knew how they felt. Scuba divers and sun-seekers on a package holiday to Sharm El Sheikh may not know what really goes on under the surface of Egypt and they don’t really need to.

They breeze in on Easy Jet, get picked up by a charming hotel driver from the airport and are deposited on their beach deck chairs and then a week later they go home with pictures of Bedouin fires and stripy fish, whilst clutching a stuffed camel.

Any foreigner living in Egypt for any length of time will know all too well what all the negatives, dangers, and inefficiencies are already, and for those that don’t live there they will not stay long enough to worry.

But I will say that for a country that sits on oil and gas reserves, generates huge revenues from the Suez canal and is blessed with both natural and historical wonders you would think Egypt has it made. However the reality is that it is quite the opposite.

Five thousand years of civilization …  in reverse.

Some of the receipts and invoices we incurred in Egypt totally over US$1000 for absolutely nothing…

Our wonderful bikes left in a very dusty Egyptian Customs Department warehouse in Alexandria… I felt like a parent that had left the children to be looked after by Jimmy Savile.

Anyway, suffice to say after 5 months a move was well overdue and we were very exited that we were moving on to Turkey and Europe.

Predictably, I suppose, the ship never arrived on the expected date and so we had no choice but to leave our bikes in a customs warehouse in Alexandria in the hope that three days of excruciatingly painful and expensive paperwork will see them eventually loaded onto the cargo ship, the MV Grand Napoli on the 1st or 2nd of March.

This cargo ship, once it actually sets sail from Alexandria, was scheduled to arrive ten days later in Mersin on the southern coast of Turkey from where we planned to collect our motorcycles from the port. We were to take the short cut and fly to Istanbul and after a few days take a bus across Turkey to the south coast. 

I am pleased to say that we eventually managed to get both motorcycles’ carnet de passages (trip ticks as the locals call them) signed off by the authorities and we were both very relieved to get our passports returned to us.  

Assuming both bikes actually arrive, as there is always a risk, my KTM 990 Adventure R will go into the KTM garage in Mersin where the mechanics will attempt to re-build the shock and then we will ride along the southern coast in early spring, an area of Turkey that is supposed to be amazingly beautiful.

(Post Note : KTM Turkey did an awesome job and rebuilt the WP like new and shipped it to Mersin where it was expertly fitted by the local KTM garage… job done) 永不放弃   or perhaps  愚公移山                                  

The MV Grande Napoli .. taking our bikes from Alexandria in Egypt to Mersin in Turkey…or so we hope!