Danger, danger!

Aren’t you scared? Isn’t XYZ country (take your pick) dangerous?  These questions keep coming when I talk about my motorcycle plans.

My answers are always the same: Colombia / Brazil / Russia / Kyrgyzstan and so on,  are safe. We avoid troubled places. Depending on the country / Town it is easy to know which regions / places to avoid. I would not go faffing around Dagestan, one of the Russian republics, for example; Or some parts of Colombia, or wander into an “unpacified” favela in Rio.

Our personal safety is my top priority. The safety of the bikes comes second!

I do a lot of research. Often, the best info is on the road. The police and military will be around. Especially in more volatile regions. Who best to ask? In Colombia they gave us good advice, in Central Asia, while making our way to Andijan (eastern Uzbekistan), the heavy police and military presence was enough of a hint to avoid wandering too far off the hotel in the dark.

Common sense applies at all times. We have lived in big cities, and we know there are places, even in London, Paris or Rio, where you do not go, ever; places you avoid at night.  The same applies when you travel. So far we never got into trouble with any mugger or gangs.

However…

For Africa, I must admit, something had been worrying me for a while. So I had to ask a specialist.

Let’s introduce Sandy. I met her at Motorcycle Mechanics evening classes, back in 2005. She was planning to ride from London back home, to Cape Town, while I was in the early planning of our 1 year around south America. She did ride back home the following year, through the middle East, Egypt, Sudan etc… all the way to South Africa. Then, in Cape Town, she created a motorcycle tour company. She knows the region very well, and as a biker, she understands the risks. So I sent her a message. I am a bit concerned about wildlife. I certainly do not want  to be eaten by a lion!

You see, we often end up travelling across very remote roads, and on the bikes, we are “out there”, very vulnerable. Namibia is very sparsely populated, so my question is not that daft. The answer came fast. Lions in Namibia are very wild, but she never saw any while riding there. She gave me valuable advice: avoid wild camping, stay in campsites as much as possible. If wild camping, have a fire going all night. Do not walk at night in remote places, do not go for a swim, unless someone who knows what s/he is doing tells us it is safe (crocodiles and all that!).

So, reassured, of sort. The bit about not camping wild is tricky. We are always at the mercy of a mechanic problem. I suppose, in such case, we could hide the broken down bike and ride 2 up on the other. We did that once, in Kyrgyzstan, when Alistair’s bike died. We hid it in a ditch and came back the following morning.

So I guess we will have to wing it and improvise. My plans are vague. I know by now, that the day we get on the bikes, my plans will last about 24 hours, before we have to make changes!

“Wildlife” encounters in Kazakhstan were a little less intimidating!

Blogging and other stuff

It has been a busy few days. First, a dreadful commuting week and attending  to my full time job, in town, has taken most of my time. I am a contractor, and I can tell you, I am counting the number Work Days to Freedom! As you probably guessed, I have a spreadsheet for that! I plan to quit around Easter, so I need to wait, before I give my notice.

 

In addition to work, we had friends over at home last weekend, so I spent a fair amount of time cooking. My beef Bourguignon was superb I must say, in all modesty!

 

Nevertheless, I still managed to sort few things out. 

 

First, the house and dog are sorted. The lovely couple (Ian and Brenda)  who lived in our house when we rode to Kyrgyzstan, in summer 2016, are free from the 26th of May. Their flat is rented until mid-September, so they will be happy  to stay in our house, and look after the dog, while we go travelling. 

 

For those who want to travel but worry about their pets and home, I can totally recommend this website: https://www.trustedhousesitters.com/

We found our current home sitters there. The only money exchanged is to join the website. Pet sitters sit for free, they get to live rent-free somewhere, while owners can go away knowing their pets are well looked after. Everybody wins. One of my friend has been using this site extensively for few years now, for his dogs, and never had a bad experience!

 

So Ian and Brenda will arrive the 26th of May, and we will fly out the 28th. It gives us a full day to fill them in and get the dog settled with them.

 

I have been investigating few countries, like Botswana and Namibia. It seems fuel range may be an issue.

My XT250 has a fuel capacity of 10l. My fuel range is 310km maximum (about 190 miles). I don’t want  a bigger fuel tank, as it would make it top heavy and the bike would be more difficult  to handle in challenging trails. I expect a lot of sand in some sections. 

 

Alistair’s previous travel bike, the TTR, had an Acerbis tank of 20l. His “new” (2015?) travel bike, a CRF250L, has a 6.6l fuel tank.  Alistair will need to change it for a bigger one.  They come as 10 to 12 litres.

 

Carrying extra fuel on motorbikes is never that easy (in addition to the big extra weight!). I have 2 fuel bladders (5 and 8 litres) but they are quite awkward to fix on bikes, when full. As we need to get the CRF fitted with a luggage rack, we will make sure it is built so that we can also fit one jerry can on the inside of the rack.

 

There is a lot to do with the bikes, especially the CRF, to make it travel ready. The XT was already sorted for our last trip across Russia, in summer 2016, so I just need few parts to be replaced and get the bike checked. Well, that’s actually Alistair’s job. My main problem is to find parts for my bike. It is a Japanese grey import. The XT250 was never sold in Europe and importing parts from the US, or Japan, costs a lot, especially the import duty is horrendous!

 

 

I keep getting emails from “developers” saying they want to help me increase my sales and give my website a higher profile. Hmmm… First, I have nothing to sell, and then, I really don’t care about raising my profile anywhere.

 

I have no idea how many people read this blog! Maybe 3? And 2 of those would be me, one from my office and the other from my iPad at home! So, to my lonely reader: I hope you enjoy my monologues! And no, Alistair does not read it!

 

So, here I must make a confession. Why do I blog? Why spend so much time, first blogging on the road, then rewriting the script, before loading my latest few rides reports into ADVRider? It is a lot of work indeed!

 

Well, before blogging, I used to keep holiday diaries in notepads, I still have them. A blog is so much more powerful. My reasons are purely selfish. First, sometime down the line, after a trip, when I am back to work, sitting in an open space office, the size a football pitch, surrounded by 100s of other workers ( I do feel like a factory chicken !), totally depressed, staring at my screens and various spread sheets and other crap, I can sneak into my blogs. I can reread and remember and see the pictures. It never fails to cheer me up. 

 

Many years down  the line, when I am old, and my mind and body are starting to give up,  I hope to impress the robot_nurses of future nursing homes, with my tales and show them (plug them?) into my ride reports. The diaries, ride reports and pictures, will be the only thing left! No one can take that away from me. 

And while the other inmates will contemplate the end of their lives with regret, having  spent so much of their life at work and not enough with their loved ones or achieving their early dreams,  I will be able to feel content because I have been fulfilling my childhood dreams. And way beyond! 

 

And then, after boring everyone to death in that nursing home (pun intended! ) about my motorcycle trips , when the Grim reaper finally comes to collect me, I will be able to tell him: “Come on My Friend, I am ready. I have explored this planet extensively,  I am ready for new Horizons, let’s cross the Final Frontier”. I will go without regrets, because, wow!  I had quite a Ride! 

  

Are you fulfilling your childhood dreams? Set free your inner child, you may be pleasantly surprised!

Vietnam2001 4

Where do you start?

As I get on with planning our trip to Africa, I often see this question popping out regularly in forums and meetings.

Where do you start?

If you have never done an overland motorcycle trip before,  it can be overwhelming, so many decisions to make, so much choice….

In our couple, I organise the trip entirely as well as being in charge of communications (Blog/website), while Alistair is the mechanic, deals with the bikes, repairs, getting them ready and the sorting out the GPS Open source map stuff. And picking up my bike when I “throw it “on the floor! His words not mine!

The bikes, what to take, and the way to set them up, is a topic that fills millions of pages in forums. We found what works for us through trial and errors. It fits our travel style. There is no perfect bike and perfect set up, only what works for you. And to be fair, we have 2 bikes each, what we call the “big bikes” and the “little bikes”.

The “big bikes” are solid touring bikes. I currently have a Honda CB500X and Alistair has a Triumph Tiger XC. They are perfect for motorways and can do a bit of gravel.  They are not for the roads and trails beyond Europe/ Western world, or at least not for us. So we have the “little bikes”. I have an XT250 and Alistair has a CRF250. Those little bikes can get through anything, they are simple to fix and maintain, light and agile.

But really, for you, the 1st choice, before even talking about bikes is: where to go and for how long. That may influence what sort of bike you take.

These days, we go away for 4 to 5 months. Where? Usually places we have not explored yet. I love discovering new countries, new regions and new cultures. For our next trip, we considered Africa (instead of the US as originally planned!) after a very inspiring presentation at the HUBB meeting in Wales, last year. Leonie, the half of “Amsterdam to Anywhere” did a very beautiful presentation and inspired us to consider Africa.

I got online to look at a map of the continent. Crossing all Africa was out of question as we have time constraints. Visas and shipping the “little bikes” was my first step. The HUBB shipping pages was, as always, very useful.

Initially, I thought about shipping to Ethiopia and ride down to Cape Town. Or even starting in Kenya or Tanzania…. Until, after few quotes and some investigation, I realised that shipping would be cheaper and much easier to and from Cape Town. So it was an easy choice. I like to keep things simple.

For the itinerary I use countries road maps to design a vague route, but that can change considerably once we start the trip. But we still need a general idea. Sometimes, seasons will dictate your itinerary. For example if you go to Ushuaia, you will have to go there during summer. So some points may be “fixed” in your trip, because you can only go there during a certain time only. Other than that, I keep my plans and itinerary flexible. Usually my plan goes out of window within the second day of riding!

I always start my preparations with a spreadsheet. One sheet is the “Getting there” costs and general budgeting: The carnet, required for shipping into South Africa, is added to shipping costs (back and forth) and the return flights.

Another sheet is for visas, carnet requirements and countries specific requirements (vaccinations and anything else). This time there is nothing to do much, but for Russia / central Asia you need to be organised, in term of Visas.

I have also a sheet for “Bikes”. There, I list all the preparation work to be done for each bike (e.g. “new chain” etc…) and Alistair completes it and deal with those.

The “Luggage” list starts with the spare parts to take with us.

My last sheet is with the “To Do” list. It always ends up being quite long!

Oh and I sometimes have a sheet of “places not to miss”.

Basically my spreadsheet is where I put everything about the trip that I have to deal with, sort out or remember.

I end up with a photo of the reason why we cannot disappear for an extended period of time! Luckily we always find someone to take care of him!

So do you start with a spreadsheets? Where do you start?

New Blog platform and ready for our next adventure!

Goodbye Google blog and hello the new integrated website blog!

DSCN1551

Hopefully it will be more user friendly once on the road!

Now, if you remember, at the end of our last trip, after 3 months crossing Europe, Russia, Siberia, Kazakhstan and exploring Kyrgyzstan, I did promise Alistair that next trip we would go to a civilised place!

That is why we have chosen…. Africa!

Let me explain. The plan is to ship the bikes to Cape Town and explore the lovely countries of south Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Lesotho…. all very  touristic places (I think!) and with lots of wild life.

What could possibly go wrong?

So next trip is this summer, planning 4 months!  The old Blogspot will not be updated as it is not compatible with my iPad and we do not plan to take a laptop.

More details will follow.