Baby don't you wanna go? Back to that same old place sweet home Chicago
13th September 2011
Route 66 continued on its way through so many small deserted towns. It was really sad to see all of these businesses just disappear as a result of the freeway. It's so strange because nothing like that happened from the motorways in UK, and I'm relatively sure the same goes for the rest of Europe.
Some of the roads were fun though as a result. They hadn't been resurfaced in years, or the were still dirt tracks. The only issue with the dirt tracks was my rear tyre. The tread was near enough gone, so the back end was skating around everywhere. I managed to keep it upright though, I didn't even have any close moments. I was so sure that my riding hadn't improved that much. In fact I found myself being more cautious most of the time, but maybe my caution had improved my riding.
I got to the half way point of 66, where there were dozens of Harley riders. I got chatting to a handful of them and it felt so good to be respected by these guys about what I had achieved and they were asking me for advice about the roads heading west. Respect from your peers is the best kind you can get. They also told me where to head to get a new rear tyre in Amarillo.
When I was there, I first went to the Harley shop. This was no good though. They wouldn't touch it because it wasn't a Harley. I was asking for a new tyre, not to completely overhaul the engine. I went on to another shop. This time the owner was the most self indulgent person I've ever met. He asked what bike the tyre was for.
"A V-Strom 650"
As he wandered over to his computer and said in a patronising manner, "Why do you get these small bikes?"
I was quite wound up about this response. How naïve! "Because the 650 is lighter, smaller, and handles better than the 1000 in my opinion. The power in the 650 is just as good as the 1000 because it's lighter. The wheels are also the same size on the 650 and the 1000, the only difference between the two being the frame and the engine. And if I've managed to get through 14 countries, 13,500 miles on all sorts of terrain I don't see an issue with the bike. Now obviously if you'd done such a thing I would be interested and respect your opinion but I'm guessing you haven't been out of the states."
He went pretty quiet then for some reason, and quietly looked to see if they had a tyre in stock that would fit. Unfortunately though he didn't. Whether it was because of my rant I don't know, but getting a new tyre in Amarillo was a no go. So I continued on to Oklahoma city the following day, and I managed to source one. By this time as well the tyre was getting pretty slick.
I then had a very long ride the next day, having spent quite a long time the last couple of days fannying around getting the new tyre. A great riding day though with so many enjoyable roads, and farmland scenery. I ended up in St Louis, a beautiful looking city with a very European feel to it with it's numerous brick buildings and churches. I only wish I had longer to look around, so I had to add it to my ever increasing list of places I want to visit again.
Back on track though I was able to get to Chicago on the day I'd hoped. Coming into Chicago was so amazing. This was my original final destination, so the sense of achievement was pretty amazing, although I think not as much as it will be when I get to New York. I got to the end of Route 66 with a huge grin on my face. I jumped off my bike and asked the first people I met to take a photo for me. The person I asked was a German guy called Sven, who was just about to walk into his apartment with his fiancé and his daughter. Sven was a biker as well, with aspirations to go on a big trip on his BMW GS1150 and I was invited to a party they were having that evening on the roof of their apartment. I had a great evening with this family in the most amazing setting in Chicago. Having come so far, it is so heart warming that people are so generous in all corners of the globe. This generosity was repeated again by another couple I met at the top of the Hancock building in Chicago who got me a drink and something to eat.
So Chicago done, I now have a couple of days to go 800 miles to New York and then I'm done. The end is in sight, and it feels good!
Well it winds through St Louis, Joplin Missouri, Kingsman, Barstow, San Bernardino
11th September 2011
I left Santa Monica with Calico as my target; a ghost town just off Route 66 near Barstow. I didn't leave Santa Monica until late afternoon, but I guessed it shouldn't take more than a few hours. I was only as far as Hollywood and I started to think that maybe this was a tall order because already I had been on the road for an hour. I kept going but it quickly got dark. I realised then that it being September, the nights were starting to close in, something I haven't had to consider before. The last time I was really properly riding was in Russia and it never got dark before 11pm. I continued plodding on until I saw the wig-wam hotel in San Bernardino and I decided to stay here, enticed by the sign that said 'have you stayed in a wig-wam lately?'
The next day I continued on my way, a little unsure of where I should aim for. I made my first stop at the ghost town of Calico, which turned out to be not much of a ghost town. It was an old silver mining town that had been turned into a tourist attraction with hundreds of people there, including a group of Brazilian Harley riders. Calico was interesting, if a little ironic that this 'ghost town' probably contained more tourists than residents it ever had.
I had a quick dinner at a Peggy Sue's diner, just down the road and had a pretty good burger and salad, served by the most cliché waitress, Cindi, wearing a turquois uniform with pink detailing on it. I couldn't help smiling at the awful conversation and fake smile that she gave to everyone to try and get a bigger tip. The road continued along, crossing over the highway here and there and along side it for the majority of the time. The roads here were pretty good by Russian standards, despite the yellow diamond signs warning me of a 'rough road'. So I quite happily zipped along over the bumps and past all the Harley's that seemed to be everywhere.
The road then went through a little old town called Oatman. A small deserted town with only a few residents that felt like Radiator Springs.The road then eventually came into the mountains near needles. Such great fun to ride around here. All the roads were pretty good, and they swept and flowed through the golden mountainous landscape. It really felt like I was riding through the Disney Pixar film Cars.
I knew of somewhere to camp just outside of Kingman, but when I got to the campsite there wasn't a soul around. Over the road though there was a few RV's parked up so I went over there. I rode up and down the area and picked out a spot where I thought I might set up camp. I got off and heard the voice of a screechy red neck woman.
"Hey, who're you?"
I ignored it whilst I tested the ground to see if I could put the tent up.
"Hey, who're you?"
"Hi, is it ok to set up my tent here?"
"Are you a traveller?" she inquisitively asked. "You can put your tent here, but don't put it down there! There's snakes and all down there."
"Thanks, I'll just put it next to my bike then."
"Yeah, there's green ones and red ones and they'll bite ya."
"Oh really?" I politely replied as I tried to edge away from her.
"Well what ya think they'll do? You can put it behind my RV. It's broken down so I can't run you over. Don't worry, I'm not gonna kill you or anything."
"Well that's always good to hear. I think I'll just put it over here by my bike." as I started to edge away whilst she was introducing me to her dog Billy.
I put the first peg of the tent in the ground, but none of the others would go in. There were just too many rocks. So I decided to put rocks inside the tent in the four corners, which was enough to hold it up - James, you're a genius. All the while this drunk short, dirty looking woman in her 40's was trying to get her dog into her RV.
"Billy says he don't wanna go in the RV!" she called over to me again.
"Oh doesn't he, bless him."
"He's a dog, dogs can't talk!"
"Oh no, you're right. Spend a few years at Harvard did you?" but I think the joke was lost on her, even with me making it culturally relevant to her by saying Harvard instead of Oxbridge. I decided to just jump into my tent and tried to get some shut eye. It was pretty windy though, and after a couple of hours, I knew I wasn't dropping off. My peg replacement stones weren't holding up too well either in the wind, so I packed up my tent and headed for a motel. I'm sure the crazy woman will have missed me in the morning, but it wasn't really love at first sight for me, so I thought I'd let this one go. Who knows, in years to come I may be thinking about the one who got away.
The Tuesday I spent just riding on, admiring the scenery of Arizona. I also rode through the petrified forest and the painted desert, more amazing colours reflecting out of the earth. It made me think about the amazing geological history this part of the world has, with both of these national parks, and the grand canyon, black mountains, and kaibab forest.
Again though the earlier nights put my targets out of grasp so I decided to camp near Holbrook. The owner offered me a proper bed though for an extra $5. I decided the next morning I would get up just before sunrise and really get some miles under my belt. If I was going to get to Chicago by sunday, I really needed to get cracking. I also decided I would stay in motels from here on in. I haven't used my credit card yet, and I got a text message from Virgin Money saying I had 0% interest on new purchases for a year so I thought I'd make the most of it. This way I can get a decent nights sleep and be refreshed for doing longer days riding.
So Passepartout, my flexible friend and I had a plan to enjoy the last couple of weeks of One Route.
It's been too long, I'm glad to be back
6th September 2011
Well whilst I was waiting for my motorcycle to get to LA, I spent my time not really doing a huge amount. Therefore I'm going to just list off the things did. Kind of. Knowing me I will end up going off on a tangent so it won't be much of a list
I landed at LAX about 5 hours before I left Tokyo because I crossed the international date line. So Tuesday 26th July was quite literally the longest day of my life. I hired a convertible for a week and spent that time just driving around seeing the sights that were going to be a little off Route 66.
First I spent two days going up Highway 1 to San Francisco. Amazing drive, enhanced with the constant blue water of the Pacific coast line along side. It would only have been better if I could share the experience with Passepartout. San Francisco was a very cool city and had a lovely vibe to it. Driving around San Francisco was fun as well, especially when my previous experience of the place was from Grand Theft Auto.
Next I went to Death Valley. That place is bloody hot! I stopped at Stovepipe Wells during a huge lightning storm, where I met a Geordi couple who were holidaying in the States again. They offered me a few beers and I ended up being too drunk to drive so I decide to sleep in the car. This didn't really happen. It was still over 100F (40C) after midnight! So once I had sobered up I drove to Beatty, out of the valley and a lot cooler. All in all, death valley is an amazing sight and I could spend days driving around all the little roads. I went onto Las Vegas though.
Las Vegas, the playground for adults. It has a certain atmosphere and I went to a Rat Pack tribute show at the Rio. Main problem with Las Vegas is that if you have no or little money, it's hard to enjoy yourself.
Next on the agenda was Grand Canyon. Everybody I've spoken to has said how amazing it is, how awe inspiring it is etc. I'll be completely honest; it's a lot of hype for a big hole in the ground. No doubt it is amazing how nature has done it, but for me Death Valley was so much better.
Back to LA, I got rid of the car and settled in a hostel for a week, and just chilled out by the pool. It was at this hostel that my camera and video camera was stolen. I couldn't believe it. I had got through all of these "dangerous countries", and it's in this hostel they're stolen. Why anyone would steal from a traveller I don't know. What these people have with them is all they have. Even if you are going to be that selfish at least have the dignity to leave the SD cards behind! I was able to take some silver lining from it though. I had taken some photographs on my phone, which I still had. There was also the thought that at least I have actually seen these sights with my own eyes, and I will always remember them the way I saw it, and not how the camera captured it.
With this and funds running low, some of my followers on Twitter put the feelers out and managed to hook me up with Erdem who let me stay in his home. Erdem is a Turkish guy and a fellow biker who had traveled the world by motorcycle a couple of years earlier, doing pretty much the same route as me. He's also heavily involved with the Ted Simon Foundation.
Erdem was an absolute star for putting up with me for four weeks. We had a good laugh together at his place along with a friend of his who was also staying there, Guven.
Erdem also let me use his little off road Yamaha to nip around the city, which I used to visit the Getty centre and the observatory amongst other places.
Once I had the arrival notice for Passepartout I went down the customs office and got the necessary stamps. I wad quite glad I did this myself and didn't pay an agent to do it! It was so simple.
The ship docked in to Long Beach about five hours behind schedule on the 31st August, so I wasn't hopeful of getting Passepartout on the 1st Sept. On the morning of the 2nd I got up bright and early to make my way to the warehouse. I made a quick phone call before I left just to double check everything.
"OK, your shipment is going to be unloaded and taken to our warehouse today and it will be available for collection on Tuesday"
"Tuesday!? Can't you do something so I can get it today if it's going to be at the warehouse today?"
"No. It will be available on Tuesday. Good day sir."
This was a little annoying to say the least. I started looking into changing the date for my flight home and completely changing my plans. I was getting wound up so I decided to skip breakfast and have a beer instead. Whilst drinking my morning beer I e-mailed the shipping company to have a moan at them. I just needed to rant.
About ten minutes later I had a response.
"Unfortunately we cannot control the order that the ship is unloaded because it is unloaded by union workers. I have contacted the warehouse though to tell them that the container your motorcycle is in contains hot cargo."
Five minutes later, another e-mail.
"The container is being collected by the warehouse at 10.30am and will be available for you around an hour afterwards. Please be aware that the warehouse closes at 4.30pm."
Immense! I jumped up, kicked my heels and rushed to the bus stop to get to the warehouse. Once there, a few more stamps and pieces of paper later, the giant wooden box was brought to me. I borrowed a hammer to open it up, and about an hour later I had a little bit of the top off. I was then able to jump inside and get a chisel that I remembered I had with my tools for some unknown reason. I honestly have no idea why I packed it, but I was glad I did.
After two cuts and a graze, Passepartout was out of his box and back together. I rode back to Erdem's, and the next day he and I gave it a service. Whilst doing all the bits and bobs, we also noticed that a bolt was hanging out of the frame. I gave a huge gulp, thankful that it had been discovered now. Erdem managed to get it in a bit further, but we decided not to force it all the way in case it snapped, and I made the decision just keep an eye on it instead of delaying getting back on the road to get a replacement. I personally don't think it's going anywhere for a long time.
So, Sunday the 4th September. 117 days after leaving home. I was again a little sad to say goodbye, but excited to get on the road. I left Erdem's home (after getting over the hangover) and made my way to Santa Monica to start Route 66. Oh yeah!!
And I am aware that that was not a list.
Lets fly away, if you could use some exotic booze
1st August 2011
I pulled off the main ring road of Tokyo and made a few random turns for no reason at all. I saw a 7/11 up the road, so on a whim I decided to try my bank card at the ATM one last time. It worked! I didn't know why or anything but I had some Yen! I later found out that the 7/11 ATM's are one of the few places in Japan that accepts foreign bank cards. I then asked the girl behind the counter where the nearest hotel was and made my way there. The hotel was a little more than I wanted to spend but I managed to negotiate them down a bit to my idea of value. Check-in wasn't for a few hours so I decided to go for a little wonder around the area.
It was so hot and humid though, 96% humidity to be precise, so I could only go a few hundred metres before I was exhausted. I went back to the hotel and just waited there so I could have a shower and decide where to go and what to see.
That evening I decided to go out to Harajuku, an area of Tokyo popular with the younger people of Tokyo, and famous for the fashion and the Japanese lolitas. I wandered down the main street and it was amazing. The clothes the girls were wearing looked so cool and made them look really cute. I continued to come here most days whilst I was in Tokyo.
The next day I headed for Ginza, the posh area of Tokyo to go to the Yamaha music store. It was so huge and amazing, spanning seven floors with all the instruments Yamaha make, including a few they don't make anymore, sound proof rooms for acoustic pianos, drums, two floors of sheet music, I was in heaven and ended up spending four hours in there.
I walked out when the heat and humidity hit me again, and went off to find more music shops, which was what I did most days I was in Tokyo, including one street with twenty guitar shops, all of them at least three stories.
Throughout all this fun, I also had to get my bike sorted. I found the road where the office of the agent (Ido) was, when an American guy called out jokingly saying, "Hey, do you speak English?"
This was Ido's friend Don, an American guy who now lived in Tokyo teaching at a special needs school who came along to meet me. We went off together to Ido's warehouse and I got the bike sorted to be shipped. I was going to get the bike flown originally but the cost and also because a motorcycle was now considered a dangerous item so most airlines wouldn't touch it, I now had to get it shipped.
I started off by taking the wing mirrors off, something I've never done before so I had to work out how to do that. Then I had to empty the fuel tank, which involved taking it off. Again something I'd never done before so I had to work out how to do this. I didn't want Ido or Don to think I knew nothing about my bike, so I was quite pleased with myself how quickly I did it, and how much I made it look like I knew what I was doing.
Once everything was done, Ido took Don and myself out for dinner. I had noodles with some sort of meat and a strange pink thing floating in the top. On the side we each had what looked like tiny Cornish pasties, but they a bit like a spring roll but wrapped in the pastry from the noodles. Over dinner was where I found out that I wouldn't see my bike in LA for at least four weeks! I couldn't believe it. Apparently it takes two weeks to get the bike crated and to get it cleared through customs, then another two weeks for it to actually get to USA.
So slightly frustrated I went back to my hotel, checked out and went to a hostel. I really had to start watching my money now if I have to stretch my budget an extra four weeks.
I spent the remainder of my time in Tokyo doing a bit more sightseeing, paying for the motorcycle to be shipped (not so easy when the worlds local bank won't even do balance transfers at their Tokyo branch!), and trying to get a cheap plane ticket to LA.
I decided to move onto Los Angeles because despite how much I had fallen in love with Tokyo, it was an expensive city. Tokyo had actually become my favourite city I'd ever been to. It's hard to describe, but once that humidity dropped, it was so nice to just wander around. Everyone was so sweet and friendly; they always smiled and bowed to you and were always willing to really help you if you asked. The whole vibe of the city was so appealing for such a huge city. I don't usually like big cities because they're all the same; an airport, a McDonald's, high rise towers, so many people that you feel so insignificant, but in Tokyo it just felt different.
Anyway, back on the farm, I had my ticket for a flight to LA, which unfortunately cost me nearly double what I was hoping to spend. So when I got to the airport, I went to the ticket desk and asked if any upgrades were available, just to make the most of what I paid. I was ready to give them the whole speech about what I was doing, going to get my War Child things out, but the girl behind the counter just said, "yes that's fine. We're overbooked on this flight in economy so you can have a free upgrade."
I went to the departure lounge, where I wasn't allowed in because my upgrade was only for the flight, but luckily a fast talking guy from Tennessee got me in as his guest. So we had a couple of beers, and then I got onto the plane, ready for the 10 hour flight. Sat down.
"Don't mind if I do!"
I could get used to this! USA, fifteenth and final country, here I come!
It started off so well
18th July 2011
I boarded the ferry, and everyone there seemed very welcoming. I found my bed, for which was in the economy section until I got to Donghae. I couldn't understand what was economy about it. The beds I'd seen on the website were fold out mattresses, which were laid out on the floor in a room of about ten. Although there were a lot of beds in the room, they were all little wooden bunk beds with plenty of room inside and room in the corridor to put my top box without it being a trip hazard.
I had a wonder round and bumped into a guy I met at a night club a few days earlier called Matias. An owner of a production company in Finland, and after exchanging pleasantries, we arranged to meet up later on. I wandered around the boat, and about thirty seconds later I was done. There was pretty much nothing to the ferry. A restaurant, a bar and a nightclub. It being so small I quite quickly ran into Matias again and we decided to do the only thing that there really was to do there and we went to the bar.
The next day at lunch time the ferry docked into Donghae, and off I went to South Korea. I wasn't expecting to be in this country on my trip, so it was a nice surprise. Matias and I had three hours to kill, so we went to find something to eat. We ate with a Japanese girl that I met in Vladivostok and had a Korean feast. We ordered 'BBQ pork dish' and out came a huge sizzling pan with barbecued pork in, long thin mushrooms that I nearly mistook for bean sprout and glass noodles. Along with this we were given a bowl of steamed rice each and half a dozen small dishes with chilies, vegetables, pickled cabbage, lettuce leaves, raw garlic and a few other strange things. It tasted absolutely amazing! Unfortunately our time in South Korea was nearly up, so we wandered back to the ferry port. I decided to head inside the ferry terminal to spend the last few Wan I had on an ice cream. Inside there was a couple of shops just selling absolutely vulgar cheap tack. These shops were filled with Russians from the ferry. They absolutely loved all this cheap plastic shit.
Back on the ferry, I found my new bed. This time it was apparently second class, although I wouldn't put an animal in there. There was four bunk beds cramped into a tiny room, leaving a corridor just about wide enough to walk sideways. So I did the only thing there was to do and went to the bar. (God, I sound like an alcoholic!) Matias met up with me again, and we joined a huge group of Russian and South Korean people. They were all in their late teens and early twenties, and they had been invited to Japan for a few days by the Japanese government. I tried to find out the ins and outs of it all, but their English wasn't quite good enough to explain it all properly. I decided to stay up chatting to everyone until late, which quickly became 3.00am. I wasn't too concerned though because the ferry probably wasn't going to dock until lunch time.
I woke up at 7.30 to find out that we would be docking in an hours time. Great! So I sorted my life out and I was ready to get into Japan. I got off the ferry with two Dutch people, a father and son. The father was retiring from being a Mitsubishi dealer for the last 30+ years and they were driving the last car from his dealership back to the factory in Japan. It was quite convenient because we were both able to get all the things necessary to get my bike and their car into the country, and we also had young Russian girl from the port telling us everything we needed to do. We had to have customs check the bike and car over first, then go to another town to get authorisation from the JAF (basically the Japanese AA) to import the vehicles, get the Carnet de Passage stamped by customs, pay the customs fees and then off we go. During this time we also went to get some cash from an ATM because of all the fees we had to pay. We tried two different banks but they wouldn't accept our cards. Luckily someone at the one bank didn't want to give up on helping us and managed to find an ATM at the post office that would accept foreign cards. When I left the port before doing all this I also half mentioned to the girl at the port that I'd need to get insurance somewhere and after all the paperwork was done, and we were back at the port, in her hand was my insurance certificate. What a star! So I got kitted up, and hit the Japanese roads, rubber side down that is!
The first strange thing for me was to be riding on the left again. After spending the best part of 3 months riding on the right, being back on the left felt so strange and really unnatural, and it took quite a bit of getting used to. The roads here were so amazingly smooth as well. When I was in Russia, and I wanted to stretch my legs, I usually stood up on the pegs for a bit. The roads in Russia often felt fairly smooth, and when I'd look down on the front forks, I would still see the suspension working quite hard to make it feel smooth to me. I tried this in Japan. I stood up, looked down and they weren't moving an inch.
The scenery was so beautiful as well. The amazingly blue sky framing the rolling hills and mountains looked fantastic and down from these mountains flowed the lush green rice fields all the way to the dark grey asphalt. It was only in Japan when I was going through a tunnel, I realised that I hadn't actually been through a tunnel since Georgia, which was when I lost my sun glasses. In Georgia the tunnels were not lit, so I had to take my sunglasses off to see anything. I went through the one tunnel there, put my sunglasses back on and carried on going. Came to another tunnel, took my sunglasses off, came to the light, put them back on, but oh. They were no longer in my hand. In Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Russia the roads never went underground. They just made the roads go round the mountains. So anyway, the tunnels in Japan. As it had been a while since I had last ridden, and a while since I'd been in a tunnel, I decided to put the bike into a lower gear, and really rev it. The acoustics in the Japanese tunnels was amazing. Even with my standard exhaust (I didn't want to put a nicer louder exhaust on incase it wasn't legal in one of the countries) the V-twin engine sounded immense.
I couldn't believe how much I'd underestimated Japan. I didn't even buy a map for the country, that's how little I was bothered about the country.
I spent the night in a random little Japanese town, before heading on to Mount Fuji the next day where I camped. Mount Fuji was an amazing sight and I decided to stay there two nights. The mountain actually looked Japanese, it was as though it had been perfectly made by the Japanese to look like the perfect mountain. On the second day I rode up it to about 2500 metres, the highest the road goes and it revealed some amazing sights looking over the other mountains in the area.
On my way back down I decided to go to the ATM as I was running low on cash. Card invalid. I tried another, card invalid. So had to blag the campsite owner to let me stay the second night for free.
After spending the night with beer, lying down looking up at the stars and listing to Pink Floyd I rode to Tokyo. I got to the toll booth to pay for the tolls. Passed them my bank card and it wouldn't work. Great! My card has been blocked by the bank. My phone doesn't work either in Japan for some reason so I can't call the bank, and I've only got ¥200 left, less than £2. I had to fill in some forms at the toll booth saying I'd pay the money when I had it, and I rode into Tokyo with no idea where to go. I have no money, my bank card doesn't work, my phone doesn't work, I have no hotel booked, and literally no idea where to go in Tokyo. Shit.
With a spoonful of miracle
15th July 2011
I woke up at about 6.30. I was breathing. All my limbs were still attached. I looked outside the tent, the bike was still there. I breathed a sigh of relief. Nothing seemed to have been stolen from near the bike either, although a few days later I couldn't find my nail clippers. I'm not sure if it's related or not.
I packed everything up and started heading towards Vladivostok. It was pretty warm from early on so I opened all the vents on my jacket and put my sleeves over my gloves so the wind can go up my arms; my usual routine for when it's hot. The roads continued in their mish-mash way of good and bad, and asphalt and gravel. I was cruising along listening to Suppers Ready by Genesis on my headphones when I felt a really sharp pain at the top of my arm. I rubbed it but I felt it again. A wasp had got up my sleeve! I stopped quickly, pulled my jacket off as fast as I could and killed the little bugger! There was about four little red marks on my arm. I put my jacket back on, eager to get to Vladivostok, but when I went to put my headphones in, they were no longer attached to my iPhone. I'd broken the wire whilst trying to get my jacket off quickly to get the little b**tard who was stinging me. Slightly annoyed, but still mega excited to be so close to Vladivostok. I raced on, and at last came to the city. What a sense of achievement! I had actually ridden my motorcycle all the way from my home to the other side of the world.
I made my way to the port first, going through all the road works for the city's revamp for the 2012 APEC. Got to the office and said to them proudly, "I'd like a ticket for the next ferry to Japan for my motorcycle and me." (yes it is 'and me' and not 'and I')
"Fully booked. 20 July next one"
"20th July!? But my visa runs out on the 16th"
The girl behind the counter just shrugged her shoulders in the annoying way Russians seem to do when they don't want to try and solve a problem. I asked to speak to Vladimir, the guy I'd been e mailing at their office. He seemed completely oblivious to the fact that the reason I've been e mailing him might possibly be because I wanted to get a ferry to Japan.
A Korean guy from the ferry company jumped in, "I can't get you on the ferry that leaves on the 6th but I can for the one on the 13th, but you'll have to change rooms when it docks into Donghae"
I replied "That'll be absolutely fine. Thank you!"
Vladimir piped up again, "But you will have to take your things and move to another room in Donghae."
"Yes, I understand. I don't mind at all. I'll sleep on the deck if that makes things any easier."
They did all seem a little surprised that I wasn't bothered about changing rooms. I think they have some sort of impression that we English folk will only travel first class, something that was confirmed later when I spoke to a guy called Tim, who traveled the tran-Siberian railway in third class. Every time he asked for a ticket they were shocked that he didn't want to travel first class, or at the very least second class.
So mini drama averted, and I was on a boat for the 13 July. I was still a little annoyed that I'd have to wait for 12 days, especially when I managed to get a week ahead of schedule. I then made my way to a hostel I'd been recommended and stayed in Vladivostok for what seemed an age. The majority of my time in Vladivostok there was a really thick fog, which gave the whole city a really erie feeling to it. As though I really had ridden to the end of the world. I then remembered that the world is in fact spherical, and not flat, so it couldn't have been the end of the world.
Luckily though, I did meet some top people whilst I was there. Three American guys who are traveling around the world from east to west, aptly named 'The Road Is West', were staying there for about as long as me, trying to sort out everything for the importation of their car they'd bought in Japan.
I also met one Dutch guy, Daniël. We did some sight seeing of Vladivostok, and went out drinking with some American Navy Seals we met at the port. So I had to represent England in the bar, and I'm pleased to say I think I did Queen and country proud.
We also went to visit Russky Island, with another English guy, Adam, to see what we could of the construction for the 2012 APEC meeting. Unfortunately though there was pretty much nothing to see. When I say 'pretty much nothing', I actually mean 'absolutely nothing'. However, on the ferry to the island we met a 29 year old journalist from Vladivostok and we all went off together for a bit to swim in the Japanese sea, which is rather cold, but for some very strange reason there's the odd stream of warm water. Although that could have just been someone having a piss in the sea further along the shore.
I was also forced to partake in yet more drinking with two Aussie girls, Jen and Louisa, and a Dutch brother and sister, Kim and the very beautiful Ilse (that's the sister that was the beautiful one, not the brother) along with Maks, the Russian guy who runs the hostel.
Although my time did drag out a little whilst I was in Vladivostok, the people I met made up for it, and it was actually strange to leave there in the morning of the 13th July, because I'd become like a piece of the furniture there. I'm relatively sure as well that some of the people who went to the hostel thought I was one of the people running it.
I got to the port nice and early to make sure everything was fine with the bike after having issues earlier in the week with the Russian customs. Mainly because I wasn't given a declaration form when I entered the country, but the Kazakhstan one turned out to be good enough. I went to the ferry company's office to pay the fee for my bike. A strange routine I must admit because they tell you the price in US Dollars, but you have to pay in Russian Rubles. I got out my flexible friend to pay the fee and good old Vladimir said, "Rubles only! I told you last week it was only in rubles"
"I know you did, so charge me in rubles on the card, it's fine."
"Cash rubles only."
"Well you could have told me it was cash only!" I retorted. "There must be some way round it. You have a card machine over there! I'll pay for it on card, then you take cash from that till and put it into your safe and the books will still balance. The maximum at an ATM is 6000 rubles, so there's no way I can pay the full fee in cash."
The charming Russian shrug came, and he just said, "cash only."
"Great, the ferry leaves in four hours. How am I going to get that much cash?" I said to myself. I wandered off to the bank to see if they could give me the amount I needed over the counter... No. I tried another bank. Then another. And finally I managed to find a bank who would do it for me.
I left the bank, and I hop, skipped and jumped (and fell over) back to the ferry office. Slapped my money down on the counter, I had a piece of paper stamped, and I was free to queue for passport control, then onwards to Japan. Time to get this party started!
I was scared, I was scared; tired and under prepared
10th July 2011
Feeling slightly hungover but relieved that the pain from walking had subsided by the next morning, Andreas, Claudia and I went into Irkutsk and they helped me get a new rear tyre. I'd decided to get a new tyre after coming off twice on the mud two days previous. We found a Kawasaki dealer, but they didn't really seem to know a lot and were trying to sell me tyres that I knew wouldn't fit. Fortunately I had the backup of Andreas that they wouldn't fit, otherwise I may have given into them convincing me it would have been ok
They were also trying to sell me new wheels and front tyres as well. Quite obviously not real bikers and just there to make money.
Eventually, I managed to get a pirelli tyre, although it was overpriced even for a tyre of it's quality. I was insistent on paying for it using my card, which they didn't seem to like. Probably because it meant they couldn't pocket the extra 2000 rubles that they overcharged. And once the tyre was purchased we had to go elsewhere to get it fitted, but didn't take too long, and again I had Andreas by my side as an extra pair of eyes to make sure it was done properly, viz. the torque on the bolt wasn't too high and chain correctly adjusted. I also tried to see if they could check the tracking on my front wheel, because for the last few days my bike had been suffering with some very violent vibrations, particularly at 36mph. They didn't have the equipment though, so I continued to just live with the tingling in my hands after a long days ride.
We all rode off together for a short ride to Lake Baikal, along the way meeting some other bikers, and a group of three people, two of which were from Northern Ireland, on their way to Mongolia to work in various monasteries. We rode on a dirt track and through a small river, my tyre giving me new found confidence, and set up camp quite literally a stones throw from the lake. It was a beautiful setting, albeit a little cold, including the lake. I decide to go for a swim but didn't even get my knees in the water before changing my mind, for it being so cold!
The next day I said my goodbyes to Andreas and Claudia. I was quite sad to say goodbye to them because I had grown quite fond of them. I went on and that evening to find a spot to camp. I found a small clearing by the side if the road, and I was hidden by a few trees, falling off just the once in the process compared to the two occasions I fell off a few days earlier.
I was amazed when I realised, in 7 weeks since beginning this trip, it was the first night I had been camping in the wilds properly on my own. Until now I'd always been lucky to have somebody welcome me into my home, or to have met somebody that I could camp with if I wasn't in a hotel. I did feel a little uneasy at first, but soon went to sleep from my exhaustion.
I continued to Chita, where after giving Passepartout some new shoes after his fight in India, (If you've not read Around the World in 80 Days, then that may be a little lost on you) I decided to change Passepartout's oil as well, after Fix gave him an opium overdose, (again, Around the World in 80 Days reference) ready for the final stretch to Vladivostok, and as for myself, I had an extra day off for some much needed rest.
It took a while to find my way out of Chita, but I flagged down a biker and he drew me a map, and I found my way with ease. 20 miles of gravel, and then the road was plain sailing all the way to Svobodney, which took me two days to reach. Spending the night camping in a clearing in the woods after going up an amazingly steep track with a biker, Kim who was from South Korea traveling in the opposite direction. Quite a funny guy to be fair.
Once I was in Svobodney, I realised I was only 1000 miles from Vladivostok. I was so happy with myself and Passepartout that I couldn't wipe the smile from my face. I could have ridden those 1000 miles non stop, but thought better of it. Stopping at a motel, (following the Russian traditions that I had learnt, ie vodka with some truckers) and then camping out on a random farm I found en route to Vladivostok.
I rode down the dusty farm track and found a small wooded area where I could hide. I went for a little walk to try and find an owner of the farm. I walked along the track, but when all I could see was the valley below, it was just farmland and no sign of any home. So I had some grub, and set up camp hidden right out of sight, except to the midges and mosquitos.
I got into my tent and all I could hear was rustling and movement around this wooded area. I knew deep down though that it was just some sort of animal wandering around. I read some of my book, Robinson Crusoe, to take my mind off it, and stumbled along the line, "Oh, what ridiculous resolutions men take when possessed with fear! It deprives them of the use of those means which reason offers for their relief.' It was so apt and true that I started to drift off - Until I heard a very loud rustling. It must just be an animal I thought to myself with my eyes wide open. Then I saw a flash of light on my tent. I froze. My heart raced and I'm sure I didn't even take a breath for a few minutes. Then this light was solidly on my tent, the light being that of a car, and I could hear talking. The light went away, I quickly put my trousers and jacket on, poked my head out of the tent and nervously and very quietly called out, "Hello... Preevyet?"
Nothing called back, I tried to focus my eyes in the darkness, but could see nothing. I got back into my tent, just nervously waiting for these people to come back. Scared is not the word, whilst I lay down in my tent, expecting the worst.
There is no pain, you are receding
7th July 2011
I was awoken in Krasnoyarsk by the the water pouring out of the gutters in the courtyard. I opened the curtains, and to my delight it was raining.
I had been considering the evening before about getting some new tyres. There was still quite a bit of tread on the rear, but I thought it could be worthwhile getting them here, because I wasn't sure if they'd last all the way to Vladivostok. I went to the shop, but the only rear tyre they had was a road tyre, and I wanted a tyre with a bit more tread because with my current tyres, I was never that confident when it wasn't Tarmac.
I decided to give it a miss and hope I could find something more suitable in Irkutsk.
I found my way out of the city and I was quite happy that the rain seemed to have passed over me and the sun was shining. I decided to keep the plastic bags over my feet (the boots aren't water proof, so with plastic bags over my feet then put the boots on, they stay dryer for a little longer). This was one of my wiser decisions. I got about 15 miles out of the city and I caught up with the rain again, which stayed with me for the majority of the day.
I got to Kansk, followed the signs for the main road through the city. I then came to a rather sketchy sign, saying I needed to turn right for Irkutsk. This road went around a petrol station, and it was dirt and gravel.
"This can't be the main road to Irkutsk", I said to myself in my helmet. "The roads since Krasnoyarsk have been pretty good, so this dirt track can't be correct!"
I continued for a few miles on this dirt track, and to my astonishment, there at the side of the road was a sign, 'M53'. I continued on this road and with the exception of 2 miles of tarmac, this was how it continued for what like seemed forever. The road went up into the mountains, and I was thinking to myself, maybe a new tyre, although it was a road tyre it may have been the best choice.
At the top of this mountain there was some tarmac! I was happy. There were a fair few pot holes here and there, but it was better to ride on. Along this stretch I then saw up to my left a yellow building. It was a café, and in front of it sat two German BMW GS's. One 800, and one 650. I put on the anchors, and went up to the café. I went in and met the two people, Andreas and Claudia. They were on their way to Magadan, going via Mongolia.
We came outside and looked at my bike.
"You're on a V-Strom?" Claudia said in a rhetorical manner, completely shocked by the matter.
"And it's been ok?" Andreas asked, equally surprised I had come nearly 10,000 miles on it.
If you're not a biker, I'd better explain something. Most people who go on these sorts of long distance motorcycle adventures will use a BMW or KTM usually. It's a little like most people use a plectrum or their fingers to play a guitar, most people don't use a hair brush to play the guitar.
Anyway, back on the farm, the Germans, Passepartout and I (Passepartout and I being unphased by their astonishment) decided to ride together as we were heading the same way for a few days. We found somewhere to camp off the road. Due to the rain all day however, it was ridiculously slippery and muddy and I duly fell off not once, but twice, breaking my right front indicator and bending the bar end's and hand protectors as well in the process. Particularly embarrassing in front of the German couple. We set up camp, and went to sleep, still rather wet!
Next morning, still slightly moist, I put on my plastic bags and my boots. The moisture quickly got to my feet and they stayed that way all day. The weather got nicer as the day went on and by midday it was lovely and warm. Andreas, Claudia and I took regular breaks as we were all feeling exhausted.
It was a long day but we eventually got to Irkutsk and we started searching for a bike club that Andreas and Claudia knew of. We found the place by 10.00pm, unfortunately it was no longer a bike club and just somebody's house. They were generous however to let us stay the night. I took my boots off and my feet were so sore that I could barely walk because my feet had been soaking wet all day.
We had a small meal at this house and some homemade schnapps and the pain slowly drifted away, as did I.
You've got a friend in me
3rd July 2011
I left Karasuk bright and early and made the 250 mile journey to Novisibirsk. It was such bliss as well because the roads were pretty good. By European and American standards they weren't immense, but after the roads that I've had pretty much since leaving Serbia, and obviously in particular Kazakhstan, it was an absolute pleasure to ride on them. The weather was still pretty hot, so I got a little sweaty again: Very sexy. Once in the city I telephoned Misha, a guy that I'd been told to ring; a friend of a friend of a friend in Kazakhstan. We some how eventually met up, despite neither of us speaking each others language. He led me through the streets of Novosibirsk to a hotel, along the way picking up his son, Slava, who spoke pretty good English.
After a shower, Slava showed me around Novosibirsk. The city was the very centre of the former USSR, and a tiny church that had been rebuilt not so long ago showed the exact spot. After sampling some of the local delicacies of KFC, I went to bed.
I was awoken by the sun shining through my room. I thought it was pretty strange that it was rising so close to where it had set, then I realised that it was because we were so far north. I looked at my watch and saw that the time was 4.00am. I couldn't believe that it was already so light. So I closed the curtains properly this time and went back to sleep. Few hours later I was awake, showered, fed and watered and I went for Kemerovo.
Another hot and sweaty day, with the added bonus of trying to find an address without a decent map of Kemerovo. Well done James! Instinct sent me to the right at the crossroads on my way into the city. I don't know why, I honestly had no idea where I was supposed to go. I saw a taxi driver at the side of the road, so I showed him my scrap of paper with the address on. Amazingly I was only 500 yards from the turning for the road.
I was greeted at the flat by a dog trying desperate to kill me, Olesya, and her mother. Olesya wasn't the dog, Olesya was the couch surfer I was staying with. We went to her uncles house for beer and shashlik. They were celebrating because their son had just passed his school exams. We then went into the city and met some of Olesya's friends. We wandered around for a little and drank beer in the street, the great Russian past time that it is, and we met bumped into some bikers. These bikers were eager to impress me, so I was driven in a car (that had a seat belt with a huge cut in it, so that was pretty pointless to wear) to an amazingly smooth and deserted dual carriageway, and the bikers did some pretty well executed wheelies, and standing wheelies. I took a glance at the speedo in the car and we were traveling at about 80mph. So they achieved what they set out to do with style!
Another hot and sweaty day and I was in Krasnoyarsk. The roads again being relatively smooth. I was really starting to like Russia with their fairly decent roads! I stopped by the city sign for Krasnoyarsk to take a quick photo and look at my map to see if I could get a place for the night, as I knew that I'd probably be camping for a little while, I thought a good shower and some luxury for myself would be good. A BMW X5 pulled over. "What does this guy want I wander? Probably wants to ask how much my motorcycle costs like everyone else I've met since leaving Europe." I said to myself.
"Do you need some help?" the guy inside the car asked me.
"You speak English! I'm going to look for a hotel"
"Follow me if you like. Would you like a cheap one, expensive one?"
"The cheapest one that has secure parking for the bike"
He led me to a pretty nice hotel, in a great location. He told me that the hotel has a really good restaurant attached to it as well. And it was good to be fair. We exchanged some more pleasantries and then said out goodbyes.
Once I got to my room, I thought about how many people have helped me over the last few weeks. Amazing considering to them I'm a complete and utter stranger. Some have welcomed me into their home, others have looked after me, taken me places, shown me things, helped me get things on the bike sorted. It's something that I probably wouldn't do in England to be fair. Although after such kindness from everyone, I have changed my outlook. Instead of doing the bare minimum to help someone, i.e. telling them the general direction of what they want to find, I will really go out of my way and do everything that I possibly can.
You don't know how lucky you are boy, back in the USSR
17th June 2011
On 17 June I left Ekibastuz early with Valentin, his father, Rustam and his Guiness record holder father in the car following me. They followed me as far as Pavlodar where I heard there was someone wanting to interview me, I presumed just the local paper. A car rolled up with three people in, they jumped out, got video cameras out, plugged in microphones and interviewed me for the news.
I thought this was so funny that they thought that somebody passing through their country was news. I few minutes later a second car pulled over and I was interviewed for another news channel. Why? I can understand why Ewan McGregor was interviewed when he went through Kazakhstan, but little ol' me? I did enjoy it though, and I mentioned all my sponsors and the charity War Child, I just hope none of it was lost in translation.
I got to the border and showed all my papers. They knew I didn't speak Russian or Kazakh, but they didn't know I knew enough words to hear them talking over their radios, "English... Motorcycle". They checked over my bike first and then I went to get my passport stamped. The man looked at it then passed it to someone else in another office and I waited whilst he stamped loads of local passports. Oh great, just because I've got an British passport I have to wait around for it to be stamped. I waited for about 20 minutes and I started to get frustrated. I asked one of the border guards hanging around why I was waiting. By the look on his face I think he thought I knew why. A young man in his 20's came out of the office wearing a white shirt and one more star on his shoulder board. He said something to me that I didn't understand one bit. He got on the phone, then passed it to me. A girl who spoke English told me I must wait at the border for many hours because there is problems with my visa. Problems with my visa!? I still have a week left on my visa. I asked to see my passport, I showed him the date on my visa. "Normalle, da?"
The officer showed me a small slip of paper I was given when I entered the country. There was a gap on it for another stamp.
I waited for another hour and then the English translator arrived. This gap for another stamp should have been stamped at a police station within five days of me entering. I thought that it was for the border guards to stamp on my way out of the country. About a dozen forms were filled in, then I had to put my statement, although I was told what to write by the translator and she didn't like my English, so I had to keep her bad grammar and any words that she didn't know had to be changed. Although to be honest, me writing anything was a waste of time because she wrote it in Kazakh directly below anyway. She was also insistent that I wrote that I had no complaints for some reason. Well actually I did, it's taken them four hours to do pretty much nothing and it's now getting too late for me to go to Novosibirsk tonight. Instead of fanny-ing around doing nothing for four hours, why don't you pull your finger out and actually get on with it. I decided that it was probably best for me to just say this in my head and not out loud as they were letting me off with a verbal warning. I do wonder though whether they would have let me go straight away if I had given them a bribe, but I'm not that sort of person to knowingly give a bribe.
Passport stamped I went to the Russian side of the border. It took all of four minutes for me to get my passport stamped and off I went. I rode the short distance to Karasuk as it was too late for Novosibirsk. I had some dinner at a motel and started writing. I could hear a party going on next door whilst I was writing.
A drunk middle aged Russian woman came into where I was sat an asked me to open a bottle of vodka for her. I was then offered some vodka, and somehow I managed to say no! She rambled on at me in Russian, even though I kept telling her I didn't understand her. It was quite clear she was coming onto me though, an she gave me her necklace and wrote some Russian in my notebook along with her phone number. She went back into her party and I went up to bed. What a bizarre welcome to Russia - bring on the rest of it!
Cos all I wanna do is *bang bang bang bang* and a *gun cocking* *ching* and take your money
16th June 2011
Valentin and his family were very pleased to see me when I arrived in Ekibastuz. After being fed and watered we made our way into town to a cafe. We had a coffee there and then went to the club adjacent to it. The club was owned by Valentin's friend Rustaf's father Marat, who is a guiness book record holder for many running records including running over 200 marathons in one year and running across the Sahara desert.
I had my first beer and was surprised that I was the only one in our group drinking, and they were shocked that I drank five pints and couldn't believe that on a normal night out in England I'd drink more than that. I came to the conclusion that because so many people who drink here, drink vodka all day and are looked down upon by society, therefore the youth are less inclined to drink at all.
The next day we went fishing, but the storm clouds came over fairly quickly and our efforts failed so we quickly packed up. That evening after spending time cleaning up my bike properly I met up with a group of local bikers. We had a ride out for an hour or two before going to a cafe. It was good speaking to bikers again and I still had the same amount of shock I get when people are very impressed by what I'm doing. I often think that it's just me wandering around the world on my bike and it's nothing to be impressed by. Anybody could do it. Most people have excuses of no money, mortgage, wife and children but surely there's a way round it.
A second attempt at fishing was a little more successful, although we did cheat slightly. Again the fish weren't taking the bait, so we swam out into the lake with a huge net and caught about 20 fish. This apparently was illegal so we had to be sly about it but it was still good fun. Although holding the fish in my hand seemed a little cruel because he didnt have a quick and painless death; more on these morals in a bit! This day though when leaving the house I made a school boy error by not putting sun cream on. I later saw how pink I was and I knew I'd be suffering for a few days! The evening was spent driving Valentin's dads car around the city and him trying to chat up girls. Something I found quite comical.
One of my final days in Kazakhstan is one I'll remember for a while for various reasons.
We started the day by going to a spa. Into the sauna to sweat it out, and bare the pain of my sunburn, then off into the cold lake. It was fun, but with the sunburn and the cold and my lack of swimming ability, I was glad to get out.
Next on the agenda was hunting. I've never been hunting before and I was very intrigued. I'm not the kind of person to be against it because I eat meat. I know it comes from an animal that's been killed, but usually within a controlled environment. I wasn't sure how I'd feel about this. The first (slightly drunk guy!) took a shot at the sirrock, at least that's what the animal was apparently called-I've never seen one before or know the correct spelling! It was about half a meter in length, light brown fur, teeth of a rodent, and small round ears. Anyway, the first shot was fired. We ran over to the sirrock and it was still alive, on it's back moving his paws around and it's intestines hanging out of him. No one did anything though, just stared at him. Why aren't they doing anything I wondered! This poor helpless animal is still alive and must be in unbelievable pain. He managed to roll over and scurried into his burrow with his insides following behind him. I didn't like what I saw and made me feel a little ill. We got back in the car and I was very quiet.
I started wandering to myself about the morals behind it all. They were killing the animal for it's meat, so it wasn't like it was a pointless act and just done for the sake of killing an animal or for it's fur, and neither was it an endangered animal. I started to wonder then as well, what made this sirrock that I felt sorry for any more helpless than a cow or a chicken that's been farmed?
Another sirrock was shot whilst I was having this moral dilemma. This time though it was a clean shot and killed instantly. I felt a little better about this. I was then asked if I wanted to try. I said yes. It was an opportunity I'd never get again, and I don't think I could form a rounded opinion on the subject of hunting unless I tried it. I jumped into the lead car and we raced along the dirt tracks and my adrenaline started to increase. I was keeping my eyes peeled and I got really caught up in the whole excitement like somebody in the crowd of a football match. I saw my target. The car was stopped. I cocked the gun, emptied my lungs and took aim. I ever so gently started to pull the trigger back. A huge bang and then complete silence: My hearing went. A few seconds later I could hear everyone talking again, along with a loud ringing in my ear. Nobody answered the phone though for about three hours. The sirrock... I missed. Adrenaline still pumping I jumped back into the car and the chase was on again. Second attempt; I missed. Third time though I killed one. I was actually quite pleased with myself at completing this big manly challenge.
That evening we went on to a friends ranch where our kills were skinned and gutted and then we had a huge meal, including a sheep's head which tasted slightly better than it looked.
The morals behind the whole hunting thing followed me back all the way to Valentin's. And even with the time to reflect I still haven't really made a decent judgement. Seeing the first sirrock still alive after being shot made me feel so bad, but I really did enjoy the chase and pulling the trigger. Maybe it's something I just need to think about a little more. Maybe over a beer-beer helps me think!
Leaving just enough, just enough for the city
11th June 2011
Hanging out with the R19 bikers turned out to be a great laugh. We ate and drank quite a lot. They gave me my first vodka, which I was happy to have as part of a toast. Then the second was poured. I tried to decline the third but they said, "Three, Russian tradition". And so this phrase continued to haunt me all evening as they gave me more booze, "Russian tradition!" Later in the night when it was only a couple of us I found out a little more. The club was a rather secretive one. I wasn't even allowed to know how many members there were. Looking around the room I could see many photographs of people who were in the club, so I think there must have been at least 50 people. After a few more drinks they told me where they had their large range of guns and ammunition, and I was also shown a silencer that they'd recently purchased from Russia. We also had a brief chat about the USSR, and WWII and what it meant to them. After the copious amounts of vodka though I started to drift off. When I closed my eyes though I was woken up by Vasiliy. "Russian tradition!" and another vodka was poured for me before I went to sleep.
The next morning I was told to drink some milk to settle my stomach. Unfortunately for me though the milk was carbonated cows milk. It was not pleasant! Gradually the rest of the bikers from the night before rolled up and they said they'd sort out changing my filter. In Kustanay they can't get genuine motorcycle filters, so instead they just match them up to car filters. This however could not be done. My filter was an unusual size. The old one couldn't be put back on either because when they took it off, they found it was broken inside.
These guys were very intuitive though. They phoned a few various contacts, and got a friend of theirs in Russia to get hold of the genuine part, ask a bus driver of the bus to Kazakhstan to take it with him, and 36 hours later I had my oil filter. Whilst I was waiting for the filter I stayed with one of the guys from the club, Sergey, his wife Olga and her son Daniel. They were a very friendly and hospitable family and I learnt a lot from Olga about their views on politics.
Kustanay is a very Russian influenced area of Kazakhstan, with a strong dislike for native Kazakhs. This is because Kazakhstan is a very split country between the young and Russian influenced north and older more native south. The current leader is much more popular in the north, especially after changing the capital to Astana. The south is viewed by the north as more of a wild country, with crime strife. It seemed a shame that there was such racism in a country that in reality has seen very little war. I just hope that the trend of where I've been going and trouble starting afterwards (Ratko Mladic was found and arrested in Serbia for war crimes, a bomb went off in Istanbul, and fighting in Georgia kicked off again, all shortly after I left each country!!) doesn't happen in Kazakhstan in the form of civil war.
After leaving Kustanay, I headed for Astana. I missed the turning on the left though when I was busy overtaking a lorry. I felt it wasn't right, but my trusty compass of the sun, according to the time I had, I was heading east. I then realised that I forgot to put the clock forward on my bike when I passed through the last time zone, therefore the sun was in the wrong position for me. I double checked by asking someone for directions (yes, that's right, a man asking for directions!) turned round and rode the 60 miles back to the turning for Astana. With my cock-up, and the time being wrong, I had lost three hours. This meant that by the time I got to Astana it was night time. I wasn't too wound up though because I knew it was all 100% my own fault so I had nobody to blame and get angry at other than myself. I've tried being angry at myself but the arguments are always very one sided, so it's a bit of a waste of time.
I found a hotel but it was fully booked. Three guys in black suits outside, perve-ing at my bike though were happy to guide me to another hotel. How kind I thought. They led me to the hotel but it was in a residential area and looked very dubious. Maybe they'd take my bike whilst I was asleep. I put the alarmed disc lock in front of them to put them off doing that. We all went into the hotel and they insisted on paying for me. I don't like being indebted to someone, and I've always been brought up to believe you don't get something for nothing.
They said they'd be back in an hour to pick me up and go out for food and drink. I didn't like this for some reason. Gut feeling. And my gut feeling earlier in the day when I was going the wrong way was correct so I decided to trust this one as well. I insisted on them letting me go to sleep and maybe the following night we go out. They seemed a little disappointed. Maybe they did have good intentions, or maybe it was because they wanted to get me drunk, mug me then use me as their gimp. Either way, they left and I never saw them again. Free bed though, and I was grateful for that. No hard feelings I guess.
The next morning I wandered around Astana for 5 hours. I was told off by the police a couple of times for not crossing the road at a crossing and for crossing when the red man was there. Maybe they didn't like the fact that I knew how to cross a road safely, and they were a little jealous of my skill.
Undeniably Astana had some fantastic architecture, and you could see how much the city had been developed since it was recently christened the capital of Kazakhstan. To me though it was just another city, another business hub with no real character.
After a second night in the hotel, I ran away the next morning before they realised that two nights hadn't been paid for, filled up with petrol and headed to Ekibastuz to meet the friends I made on the ferry to Kazakhstan, where I'll roost up for a few days until my Russian visa kicks in. Let the good times roll!
I want to break free
9th June 2011
After setting up camp fairly late, I was planning on sleeping in until about 7 or 8. I was rudely awoke though at 6am by the two Kazakhs I was traveling with. They took on board what I said the night before, that if we were to travel together then I want to set up camp at 6.00 or 7.00pm. So to make up for how early I wanted to set up camp, they thought it logical to start earlier in the day. I was not a happy bunny. They had a target in mind of Oral, the city that is, but for me it was still a lot of miles in one day. I was here to travel and see Kazakhstan, not to blitz through it. They had family back in Ekibastuz, so I completely understood that they wanted to get home to see them. Which was why I was happy to be left on my own, but they seemed to be so worried about me being in their country. They thought it was far too dangerous for one person on a motorcycle.
In my frustration, leaving that morning I dropped my bike. I got off, took all the panniers off then lifted it upright with some difficulty. The vibrations from the horrific roads the day before and done something to the muscles in my left hand, making me unable to grip anything. Anyway, with the bike upright, a few deep breaths and Queen in my headphones I left.
The roads were a lot better than the day before but they still weren't immense. In general, the surface was good, but there were more holes in it than a sieve. On the bike it wasn't a huge issue because I was able to choose a nice sweeping line between them. The cars however were swerving all over the place because they had two rows of wheels to concentrate on to miss the pot holes.
We got to Oral at about 6.00pm, and after another short argument we found somewhere to camp. Quickly though they said we needed to carry on because of all the midge's. I didn't care though and I was already unpacking my tent. They kept telling me that they'd eat me alive whilst I was asleep, a slight exaggeration I must admit! Once in my tent I was able to extinguish the ones inside and I slept soundly.
We got up the next morning at the agreed time of 6.00am. Whilst in my tent I'd decided that I was going to only ride to Aktobe. If they wanted to stop there then they were welcome to, but I was going to be continuing with them on my terms only. Reluctantly they left me in Aktobe with a biker they apparently knew there. Me and my new friend, Sanya went to a bikers festival that just happened to be going on in Aktobe.
I was so happy that I had made the decision to stop in Aktobe, and also that I had traveled with Valentin and his father for the first few days, because I wouldn't have been in Aktobe until a few days later, meaning I'd have missed the festival, so all the miles I did with them were justified. I very quickly made a lot of friends there, many people eager to practice their English and take photographs. I had a great night, despite being absolutely knackered. The bikers did some silly games and burnouts, whilst some bands played some rock music (which was ok, not the greatest). At the end of the evening Sanya had gone and turned off his phone. Fortunately though with all the friends I'd made I managed to find somewhere to crash that night.
I made my way to Kustanay the next day, with a phone number in my pocket of a biker from Kustanay that I got off somebody in Aktobe. By this time I knew what to expect in regards to the standard of the roads. 100 miles of good roads, 15 miles of dirt track, 30 miles of bumpy roads then back to 100 miles of good roads. This cycle went on like clockwork.
I phoned Andrey when I got to Kustanay, who took me to the club house of the R19 bikers. Beer and vodka out: Time to party!
No one ever said it would be this hard
1st June 2011
On the ferry to Kazakhstan was good. I met so many people from Kazakhstan who gave me phone numbers and addresses for me to stay with them. I feel a bit bad I haven't been able to take everybody up on their offers. I found out on this ferry that a lot of Kazakhs go to Georgia to buy two or three year old American cars on the cheap, and then drive them back to Kazakhstan, some of them for personal use, and some of them to sell at a profit. Two people I met, a father and son, were taking their BMW X5 back home to Ekibastuz. The son, Valentin spoke quite good English and we got chatting. I was advised by them that my planned route through Kazakhstan was quite dangerous, and it was backed up by several other people. I came to the conclusion that they were probably correct when a group of men from a region I was going to pass through weren't the most pleasant of guys. Later that evening on the ferry there was another man that came into my dorm that certainly didn't have any good intentions. I was sharing the room with two other people so when I was in the room by myself, I left the door open. A stumpy man who was balding and stank of booze came into my room, quite uninvited. He spoke no English but he made the international sign for 'camera' and I presumed he wanted me to take his photo to go on my website; a request that came from several other people. He then closed the door and as quick as the door closed, I wasn't comfortable. We tried to communicate to each other using pen and paper. He wrote Shymkent and then he drew a picture of a stick man with an angry looking face, much like his own. He pointed to his crude picture, then to himself, and then to the camera.
"I've taken your photo."
I pressed the button on the camera and showed him the photograph. He shook his head, pointed to the camera again and made a gesture towards his pocket. I laughed and said, "No!" He then made a gesture towards my top box. He obviously wanted me to give him my camera or anything else I had. It took some doing, but I convinced him to leave my room to find somebody to translate, knowing full well what he wanted. I just wanted him out of my dorm though. We wandered around the ferry for a bit, and then I quickly went round a corner and back to my dorm, locking myself in before his drunken legs could get his body back to the dorm. I sat on my bed and my blood ran cold. Why would someone do that? After all the kindness of the vast majority of the people on board, it was sad to think that somebody could be like that and taint my view of all Kazakhs. After this incident I decided then to avoid Shymkent and go along the north of Kazakhstan instead, through Oral, Aktobe, Kustanay and Astana.
When I got off the ferry I bumped into Valentin again and he invited me to his friends house in Aktay for me to stay there for a few nights. Not really knowing what I was planning on doing myself anyway, I took him up on the offer. After many hours of going from office to office, trying to get enough stamps on the various pieces of paper that had been shoved in my direction, I went with Valentin and his father into Aktay where I stayed for a few days. It was here that I tried horse meat, which I must say tasted pretty good. Similar texture to beef. I also tried camels milk. This was not so good. It tasted like sour milk and it was fizzy as well. I also learnt how to eat the Kazakh way; with your fingers. Valentin was going to be starting his journey along the same route as me, so we decided we'd head off together. I knew that they wanted to travel long distances each day and for a huge amount of time, so I thought we'd probably split up on the first day.
This first day was tough though! It started off amazingly well with the amazing views, the camels, cattle, horses and meerkats wandering across the road. It was something I'd never experienced before. We got onto the only road that goes out of Aktay and heads north. The main carriageway was ridiculously bumpy from the tarmac melting in the heat and the lorries forcing it in various directions, along with sand and gravel swept across it. Adjacent to this were many tracks in the steppe, made from other cars and lorries who decided it would be more comfortable than the road. I tried both but they were both terrible. I then thought that maybe making my own new track across the steppe would be the best idea. I rode onto it, and the moment the back wheel touched the soft sand, despite the high gear I was in, it came out from beneath me and I was on the floor. I was pleased to fall off for the first time though. I had a worry of not falling off at all and the inevitable falling off would happen on a fast highway in USA, doing a lot of damage to myself and my bike. I went back onto the road, stood up on the pegs I was able to achieve 20 mph, but I still felt I was being too harsh to my motorcycle, who I had decided to nickname Passepartout; the faithful servant of Phileus Fogg from the story Around the World in 80 Days. Side winds on the gravel weren't helping either and twice I thought I was going to come off again. I put my leg out ready to slide along the road, but when my foot touched the ground as the bike fell over to the left, it bounced back upright. Another big moment followed shortly afterwards when I was admiring the view. I looked back in front of me and a huge pot hole was meters away. I gently put the front brake on, but even being this gentle the front wheel locked up. Fortunately for me though I didn't have my iPod on, so I heard it lock and I was able to release the brake, and just brace myself and Passepartout for the pot hole. It was such a hot day too, well over 30 degrees. When I left Aktay in the morning I decided I would put my gloves on when I was out of the city. I forgot though, and by mid afternoon a strip of sunburn appeared on both of my hands.
Whilst trying to cope with this 'road' (I say road in its loosest sense) I went straight past the petrol station I should have filled up at. I didn't have enough fuel to go back, and not enough to get to the next petrol station. I had to go for the economy ride. I kept the bike in third gear, 3000 revs and about 25 mph with the hope I might be able to get pretty close to the next petrol station. I estimated I'd be about 50-100 miles short, but Passepartout just kept going and going. The fuel did eventually run out, but I was only two miles from the petrol station. The jerry can was filled up, shortly followed by the bike. Within this time Valentin and his father had caught me up. I rode with them again, but they wanted to keep going and going. It took a lot of arguing to actually allow me to stop, and I set up camp in the dark, and they parked next to my tent and slept in the car. Putting the tent up wasn't easy either. Not because it was pitch black, but because my left hand was shaking. The vibrations from the road had left it numb and I had no strength in it. I couldn't even put my left hand in my pocket to get my phone out! Eventually though, with the camp set, I could put my head down. One hard day over and done!
Ferry 'cross the...
26th May 2011
I left Turkey on 24th May with a little help from some random people shoving me in the right direction. One guy was particularly attentive to me and I found out why when I was ready to go to the Georgian passport control; he was trying to sell me a visa for Georgia. Fortunately for me though, because I've done a lot of research, I knew that I didn't need a visa for Georgia as it was part of the EU, much to the annoyance of the said man. When I got to the first city of Bat'Umi, I was amazed by the state of the road. It looked as though it had been dug up to be resurfaced, but there was no sign of people resurfacing. I came to the conclusion that during the city meeting they decided to spend their money on resurfacing the roads and proceeded to dig it up. After it was dug up though, the people of the city decided that the roads didn't need resurfacing after all and so they stopped the work, just leaving it dug up. Just after Tbilisi I stopped to have something to eat. I could see that all eyes were on me and when I sat down to eat my ice cream a group of teenagers came over to me and started talking to me. One of them, Dato, went and got me what essentially was a cheese pasty. I was touched by the generosity of such young people.
I then continued on my way, passing a funeral procession with an open casket, which for me was a strange sight to see having never seen such a thing before in front of me. About 30 miles from Tbilisi I saw a cyclist at the side of the road looking at maps so I stopped to say hello. His name was Tom Bruce and he was from England, near Chester and he was traveling around the world as well. When we said goodbye I started to think about what he was doing and how much tougher it must be for him than it is for me, and I really have to take my hat off to him! I was about to find somewhere to set up camp, when I thought it would probably be a good idea to get some water first. So I rode into Tbilisi and got some water. Unfortunately for me though, it took a lot longer than I expected to get back out of the city and it was too dark to find anywhere to camp. Therefore, I had to go into a hotel again; so much for roughing it round the world!
The next day I headed for Azerbaijan. I was told to go to the front of the queue because I'm on a motorcycle, so I thought maybe it was because its quick and easy to get me through. I was right with the easy bit, I had to do very little except wait. Whilst I was waiting, I spoke to a lot of people from Kazakhstan, which I was surprised to see. I was to find out why though later. Once I was in Azerbaijan, the roads were really good and the landscape was phenomenal. A lot of desert, mountains and a lot of canyons. I stayed my first night in Azerbaijan in Ganja, in a hotel again, but this one I booked before I left England in order for me to be able to get a visa for Azerbaijan. The hotel was immense. Gold everywhere, so clean, swimming pool, sauna, steam room and the staff couldn't do enough for me. I went for a swim and then into the sauna, which is where I had the great idea to wash my t-shirt in the sink, and then take it into the sauna to dry off. It's surprising though how long a t-shirt takes to dry in a sauna. I was dripping with sweat in there and the heat was making me dizzy, so I had to walk through the hotel wearing a very wet, but slightly hot t-shirt.
On my way to Baku I saw the result of the awful driving and stupid overtaking maneuvers people seem to do in this part of the world. Facing me on the left was a black Range Rover, further up the road on the right was a lorry and to my right, off the road was an over turned lorry. I stopped to see what had happened. I was very quickly waved on though by two people in black suits. Not being one to take a hint, I persisted in my questioning but to no avail, so I decided that maybe I should go on my way. Being a man though, I instantly became a qualified crash investigator. Lorry A went to overtake Lorry B, but Car C was coming towards him. Lorry A swung back onto the right side of the road, pushing Lorry B down the verge. Looking around at the number of people at the crash site, I don't know whether the driver of Lorry B was alive or not.
When I got to Baku, I decided first off I would find the port. I looked around for a bit but I couldn't find it, so I popped into a random shop, Alfa Marine. I went in and asked if anybody spoke English. A rather slick looking man in his thirties stood up, and said that he did. I told him I was trying to find where I needed to buy a ticket for the ferry. He wasn't sure either so he grabbed a crash helmet, and jumped on his three wheel Can-Am spyder and we raced all over Baku to find where to go. He then found out that his company is a supplier to the ferry company that operates to Kazakhstan and so we headed back to his office. He made some phone calls, and got me onto a ferry leaving the next day. I was so grateful. We then started to get properly acquainted. His name was Edgar and he was the director of Alfa Marine, who sell pretty much anything related to boats. Edgar though was not satisfied with just arranging a ticket onto the ferry for me, he took me out for dinner that night, bought me beer, and paid for me to stay in a hotel. Such a selfless act and I really admired his reasons.
"I think good people deserve good things."
Whilst we were having dinner he also said some things that really inspired me and gave me a lot of confidence for what I could face in Kazakhstan. So after a few hours of waiting around, my bike is on the ferry and now I'm just playing the waiting game. I'm getting really good at that game as well with all of my practice!
That Georgia's always on my mi mi mi mi mi mi mi mi mi mind
24th May 2011
Today I'm going to be leaving Turkey and heading into Georgia. Turkey has seemed to pass by for me fairly insignificantly. Not that it hasn't been a lovely place, and full of some really generous people.
When I first came into the country it was amazing after having to travel on such a terrible road in Bulgaria, I came into Turkey and the red earth parted for a beautiful dark smooth asphalt road. I estimated I could be in Istanbul around 6 or 7 and could just find any cheap hotel on the outskirts, just like most other bi cities. I got into Istanbul and the traffic became so dense. The road signs changed to just saying districts and I didn't know one from the other. There wasn't even signs for towns or cities outside of Istanbul so I could get to the other side of the city. Four hours soon passed and at 11.15 I found a reasonably priced hotel. Those four hours put a downer on Turkey for me. Although passing through the rest of the country it seems as though everyone else in the country has the same opinion on Istanbul and I have fortunately met a lot of genuinely kind people on my way through, in particular the owner of the campsite in Sinop who made me supper when I arrived and made me up a bed in the office because outside in my tent was apparently too cold.
Another reason I think it's been a little insignificant is because I've always had Georgia on my mind. To me Georgia is where it starts to get unknown and it's much more daunting. I've never met anyone from the country, nor have I ever known anyone visit there so I've no idea what to expect.
I've also started to hear different noises on the bike. I've been contacting people in UK for second opinions and they've just confirmed what I already really knew, it's just me being paranoid and I'm not really hearing anything and if I am, it's just tones and harmonics of the engine I've not noticed before.
So I guess I should get up and instead of talking about going to Georgia, like the Nike adverts say, just do it!
You got me running going out of my mind
17th May 2011
The last 24 hours have been literally insane. I could write my book on just those 24 hours. A bit like the tv series 24, which I had the idea for way before them. I thought it would be great to do a tv series that's in real time instead of the usual weekly ones which are ambiguous on time. If only I had patented the idea!
I left Niš on Monday morning with Varna as a target, just so I'd have 2 full days rest before getting the ferry to Poti, Georgia. I knew that 400 miles was a big ask, considering the roads were slowly getting worse. Getting out of Niš was a struggle to start with. It was the morning rush hour and road signs seemed to be a thing of the future for this city. Eventually I found the road I came in on, and made my way for the border. The road dropped into a valley with mountains to my left, to my right at a slightly lower level to the road was old fashioned telegraph poles which was running parallel to a single track railway line. Shrubs and bushes protected the railway line, but when there was a break in the shrubbery (a very nice shrubbery too with the two level effect, perfect for the knights who like to say 'ni') a fast flowing 10 metre wide river was revealed. It was an immense sight, and unfortunate there was nowhere to stop on this single carriageway to take any photographs.
Getting through the border was pretty simple, and I bumped into a guy who was probably in his 50's, from New Zealand who was on his way back there after cycling around the world. I didn't want to tell him he still had a long way to go. Maybe it was for himself he said that because to him it was the home stretch. He seemed pretty gnarley though to say the least!
I got to the first major city in Bulgaria, Sofiya and worry started to set in. It was a bustling city and I quickly got lost. The city itself though was like riding through a Comic Relief video and I was expecting Lenny Henry to walk around the corner at any point. I eventually found my way of the dusty roads and onto the highway where I was passed by four Germans on Harley's on their way to Turkey that I'd met the night before. By the way, I say highway, it was more like riding through the cobbled streets of Rome with all the potholes and badly filled in ones.
The road wound up into the mountains of Bulgaria where it started to rain a little. Then it started to rain a bit heavier. Then it was like a monsoon. Then the hail stones came down, pinging themselves off my soaked jacket, couple of them hurt quite a lot. I knew I had to keep going at this point though, there was no going back. The roads had no drainage so flooded quickly. My boots filled with water that just covered my toes. Then the lightening started. It was immense! Fork lightening so close to me, the sound was instant and boomed right through me. When I got out of the storm I got to a petrol station, emptied my boots and put another pair of socks on.
I made my way through Bulgaria along the single carriage highway, watching for police at every junction where the speed limit changes to 60km/h (38mph). I eventually got to Varna just as the sun set and found a hotel. I asked where I could park the bike, and the owner spoke in Bulgarian. His voluptuous daughter, Rina translated and said that I could park it in the restaurant! Off came the panniers and he and I pushed it towards the set of double doors. However only one door would open. I was very quick to dismiss the idea of getting it in, but the old boy was relentless. He dragged it back, lifting the back wheel to get a better angle and within no time it was parked next to the wine rack!
Next morning I woke up, had breakfast which consisted of jam, butter, Dairylea style triangle of cheese, half a tomato, cucumber sticks and a cold hard boiled egg. I did my best to eat it, but I couldn't work out whether it was the egg, tomato, or cucumber I was meant to dunk in the jam.
I then phoned the shipping agent, Roman and told him I was in Varna. "That is great. The ship arrives in 30 minutes and leaves about 3 hours later"
You mean 3 days?
"No, 3 hours"
Panic set in. I packed my bags quickly, asked Rina for directions and made my way to the port. I phoned Roman again to tell him I was here and he quickly came down.
By this time I had had time to digest what he had said earlier. Maybe this was a different ferry and there was no need to panic, which turned out to be true. Today was the ferry for Odessa.
So I come back on Friday for Poti?
"No, maybe 7 days"
7 days? I thought it left on 20th?
"Yes, but it is late"
So I made my way to another hotel near to the port, where there's a lot of guns being fired. Turns out it's also a hunting ground. I best not p**s anyone off whilst I'm here waiting for my ferry then!
Looking for adventure, and whatever comes our way
15th May 2011
Nearly got 2000 miles under my belt now. I must admit it is a bit of a shame that I've done so much so quickly because I know that I've probably missed loads of amazing things, but my priority is to get to Varna, Bulgaria by Friday to catch my ferry to Georgia. If I miss it for whatever reason it would really cock everything up. The next ferry isn't until the 30th, so it would put me behind schedule, which would have a knock on effect to all of my visas. That's why I've decided to press on now so I can get to Varna with plenty of time to understand the vibe of the place.
Personally the highlights of the trip for me so far have been Lake Garda and Slovenia. On Friday, when I left Macon for Italy I was in good spirits. The day before I left I had a nightmare problem when the return throttle cable snapped. Bill at Scooter Red in Cheltenham really helped to frantically ring round everyone to try and source a cable. Unfortunately though, we soon discovered that there wasn't any in the UK.
Suzuki did have some in Europe though and slowly a plan began to form. I went to my friends school where her, rather confused French teacher, Miss Iskra phoned Suzuki in France for me to collect the part when I was over there. So I limped it over to France and fitted the new throttle cable when I was in Macon on the Thursday.
Anyway, back on the farm! I was heading for Italy, saw Mont Blanc, rode through the tunnel. Made good headway in Italy but it started to get really busy and I was getting hot and bothered, then I ended up missing the turning for Lake Garda. I rode around for a bit, and nearly threw in the towel but just then I saw a sign. I got there, set up camp and a random English guy came over with a beer and I had an awesome sense of achievement.
Next day, I headed for Slovenia. What a country! There are no adjectives in my vocabulary to describe the place, but I'll try. It's lush and green with beautiful hills and mountains everywhere. The roads are a bikers dream. Long sweeping bends, tight hairpins, gorgeous scenery. Absolute bliss. I enjoyed the ride so much that when I set up camp I wanted to go out for a ride again!
431 miles today. Blitzed through Croatia, it was too wet for me. And I'm near the other side of Serbia now. Roads are slowly getting worse now I've found, after riding one section and my head was bobbing up and down like those dogs people have in the back window. Driving is crazier too! I was going along a single carriageway and everyone was treating it like a 6 lane highway. I thought I was going to be the witness for so many accidents. I just kept to the right, well out of the way and if someone wants to risk their life to overtake me, then so be it!
Hopefully I'll get to Varna tomorrow then with no hiccoughs. (yes, hiccoughs is right! I saw it on QI) then whilst I'm waiting for my ferry, I can roost up on the beach for a few days!
It won't be long, yeah, yeah, yeah
23rd April 2011
Well I’m here with just over two weeks to go until departure (11:00 10th May 2011) and I must admit I am quite nervous. Its only really the last week or two that its become real. After a year or so of talking about my idea its finally got to the point where its too late to back out of it.
I thought I’d start my first blog with telling you folks about how I have got to this point. When I first thought about going on a big trip, my original idea was to ride to Asia. I did some research into what countries I could go through with a motorcycle and which ones weren’t too dangerous. Gradually this evolved into adding on Route 66 at the end of it; something I’ve wanted to do for absolutely years. So I had my original rough idea and I started buying maps of the respective countries. I still remember how excited I was when the first map was delivered to my home. At the time I was still off work with my broken leg, so the most exciting part of my day was going to the gym for an hour then firing up the barbecue when I got home and seeing what interesting things I could cook on it. Pizza on the barbecue is highly recommended if your barbecue benefits from the luxury of a lid. I would advise against cooking eggs or rice. I would also advise against cooking its composite of egg fried rice.
I opened out the map and saw all these lines across the land and I could already imagine myself riding along them. I tried to explain to so many people how thrilled I was with my map, but nobody seemed to understand my rational obsession of looking at maps - quite understandably I must admit! Once I had a rough understanding on where I was intending on going I started looking into getting visas and finding out what I needed to do to be allowed through the country with my motorcycle. I went to the Chinese National Tourism Office and they basically told me not to go through the one area of China that connects Kazakhstan to China. They kindly informed me that in this mountainous region the Taliban do a lot of training, and to be camping on my own out here would be suicidal. At this moment in time I neither have any plans to lend the Taliban a helping hand nor do I want to commit suicide. I was also having a lot of trouble getting my bike from Beijing to San Francisco, so with those factors I made a new plan.
Unfortunately my new plan involved going through Russia twice and I was hit by a second stumbling block. Its only because the country was so vast, not because of my new found links to the Taliban that I wanted to go through Russia twice. Once before Kazakhstan and once afterwards, but because of these visa restrictions I’d have to go into Kazakhstan without a visa back out and hope that I could get another Russian visa whilst there. What if I couldn’t? That would be the end of the trip before I’m even a third of the way round. Back came out the maps and after some more research, Plan C was born. I’d arrive in Kazakhstan via ferry from Azerbaijan and not overland from Russia and thus I’d only need one Russian visa. Jackpot!
So then things started getting booked; ferries, carnets, visas, IDP’s. Equipment was being bought, sponsorship was being sought, press were being told and slowly all the pieces of the jigsaw were falling into place. Which basically leaves me here, two weeks to go, bricking it.