Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Bonus trip photos

24th September - The home run and the gearbox that let go..

Alan - (Spain and France)

22nd September

"After sleeping for 2 hours, (7am Spanish time), I was woken by a procession of vehicles obviously going to work the fields. I am sure one of them slowed down but I didn’t even pull my head out from under my sleeping bag, for one, it was to much effort and it was too cold, and I could not be bothered to try and communicate with hand signals at this particular time unless they came over and kicked me, or I could smell coffee, not that I am a coffee drinker but anything warm to drink would have been welcome.

It was another 2 hours before the sun came over the hillside and started to warm things up, and only then that I thought about getting up and starting all over again. 9 am, and I was out my bag with the wrongly named MSR whisper light multi fuel stove preparing for take of. Anybody who has one of these or has been in the next county to one, will know they are not the quietest cookers but by Heavens they are fast. Whilst I had my pot of hot going, I got everything else packed up and ready, again choosing the body armour over the jacket hoping for it to warm up later in the day. I only managed to drink half of my desperately needed cup of tea as my plastic mug had chilled during the night and me adding the hot water cracked it in 2.

I had about 50 miles left in the tank, and was going to use that first hours ride to wake myself up then stop to fuel myself and the bike, whilst doing the regular checks. It wasn’t until I got going that I remembered the problems I was having yesterday with speed or lack of it, but as I was taking it slow to start of with I didn’t put the engine under any strain so found it to be running ok with only a little kangarooing. At the first stop, I pulled in next to 2 police bikers filling up. I wasn’t too concerned until they started to pay me some attention. They could see the number plate was half melted, and hanging on by a couple of zip ties, and I had bits of string holding bits of a pannier onto the back of the seat which in turn had me almost sitting on the tank, it wasn’t until I took my helmet of that they either thought I would cause them to much aggravation, or they could see I was a poor traveller on my big adventure. I paid for fuel a couple of pastries and a litre of oil. I had been using half a litre a day so far. I checked the dip stick no sign of oil so I put a little over half a litre in, after a couple more worried checks and 2 litre’s later I set of on my way again.
My plan was to make it up to the French border during day light hours to make the most of this highly recommended pass. This was to be my worst day’s riding I had ever experienced.

From the moment I left the services, the bike started to kangaroo on any speed above 40. I thought if it was going to do this I might as well see how fast it would go and sit at that speed, (65mph), at least I would be putting more miles behind me in a lesser time, and with the ground I had to cover every little helps. I managed to get 90 miles out of that full tank before going onto reserve. I had been travelling for one and a half hours, and I had to stop again for more fuel, and yes another half litre of oil. It was uncomfortable, and aggravating, to be riding a bike that kept jittering and kangarooing every 3 seconds then to be stopping every hour and a half, I was becoming fully pissed off. I had every thought of how I was going to ceremoniously destroy the thing once I got home, but at least I was still covering ground.

It was after stopping for fuel and oil just before Manzanares that things took a turn for the worse. The kangarooing never stopped but the speed slowed to a maximum of 40 mph, it was getting to the stage where I was keeping track of the road marking and distances just in case I had to call out Mr international AA, which I dreaded. It wasn’t long before I started to see signs for Santander, and was starting to think "sod it", I can't take much more of this, I was meant to be having fun. Unfortunately, or fortunately, the road signs did not match the map I was reading from so I had to do a bit of back tracking and re-navigation. It was at this point, while stopped in the middle of a central reservation, having a hissy fit, and swearing to my self, that I reevaluated the situation.

Fail myself by getting the ferry straight from Spain, or turn this bad time into a good one. I was not held by times or a date to be home, work wasn’t an issue. I was however fully P'd off with straight motorways, and getting passed by every kind of slow moving vehicle invented by man, while kangarooing along the road.
I re-planned my route from Manzanares. I would stay on the main roads until Tomelloso then pick the road going North East, joining the N420 staying on this road heading for Cuenca before getting on the N320. These where all good roads not fast, and very little traffic. I was feeling calmer and better about the whole situation. It wasn’t until I turned off at Vilar De Domingo Garcia, (CM-210), That the road became exceptional and I felt truly relaxed and ready to carry on to France.

The road was well paved, plenty of twists and turns, and a few hairpins, and it took me through a valley that was sheer rock on one side with densely packed woods on the other. There was also a wooden walkway built onto the rock face that followed the contour of the valley where it started and ended I have no idea. I would like to plan in another visit to explore this area a lot more on future trips.
I followed the CM-210 until I joined the A-211 eastward onto the A-23 to take me back north and the border. The rest of the journey was once again motorway, only
broken up by fuel/oil stops.

It started to get dark about an hour after I passed Zaragoza. I thought about stopping for the night and carrying on in the morning. I also knew that the rest of the group had a ferry booked for the 24th this was to be my new goal, to at least make it to the ferry so mind made up I pushed on until I had at least crossed the boarder. I could always do the pass in daylight another time. I finally reached the boarder about midnight it was on the way down the French side that tiredness got the better of me, this time I stopped under an old bridge but set the tent up to ensure I had a good sleep no cup of tea this time though.

September 23rd

I didn’t bother to set an alarm or worry about what time I woke up. 2 days riding even on my bike should be plenty of time to make the ferry. I woke up about 7am feeling ready for another day. An hour later I was on the bike and making ground. My first job was to buy a road map of France find out where I was then plan a route to St Malo. I am not one for planning and tend to do things more of the cuff, that way I never get lost, it is just another route or adventure. Others in the group might have different opinions on the way I work but in a good humoured way. I picked up a map at Pau, had an espresso, and while waiting for the caffeine hit, I updated Shads with my location and that I would hopefully see them at the ferry, not waiting for a reply I headed off.

Thankfully the bike had decided to loose her attitude sickness, and started to act like a bike again no kangarooing, and could keep a speed of 70mph. At one of the still regular fuel stops I checked my phone, Shads had text back that if I could make Nantes before 6.30pm I would be able stay at his brothers with the promise of a few beers and steak. Needless to say I made it, well to the outskirts of the town where his brother lives. After a quick phone call, Shads turned up with his brother to show me the way back. After swapping stores with Shads of the happenings over the last few days, some lovely hospitality and great steak it was an early night, as Shads and myself had to be up at 5am to complete the last 3 hours of a great adventure to our final destination, St Malo.

I was pleased that I had managed to make it to the ferry, where I finally met up with Si and Daz. To sit down and have that cup of tea as a group was a fitting end, and summed up the trip nicely. Thanks to Si, Shads, Daz, and Jason, hope to do it all again soon."

Darren, Myself, the free campsite and the reunion...

We woke at 7am, which was a lay-in of sorts by our standards. The gear was damp, as it had rained through the night, but who cared, it could dry when we reached home that night.
As expected, the site office was closed, and with no-one in sight, we had blended a free spot, and broke camp on a high, heading down to the ferry terminal, where we were soon enough boarded, and making our way up to deck 7 for breakfast.

Reunited with Shad and Alan, we caught up on Alan's last few days, and spent the next six hours recounting our adventure as we headed for Blighty.

Portsmouth again.

Disembarking, our paths were to send us all in different directions, Shad was off to Wales, Alan, Norwich, Darren and Myself off to East Anglia, so aside from Darren and Myself who rode together up to the M25, we all split up and headed off to our respective destinations.

I found myself making a solitary trip counterclockwise around the M25, heading for Dartford and the A12.

Time check 8pm:

Myself and the Grand Wazoo, both dirty from the trail made good headway, however, exiting the Dartford tunnel, I could hear a screeching coming from somewhere, but put it down to wind whistling through the helmet vents, and pushed on at 70mph.
Preoccupied with reaching home, I missed the A12 turnoff, so ended up taking the M11, which was a pain, as I was running low on fuel. Stopping at services at Bishops Stortford, I flipped up the visor to hear all hell breaking loose underneath me. The screeching had become a wail. Something in the gearbox had let go, and it sounded bad, I figured a main bearing was breaking up, but determined that we'd make it back under our own steam, decided to throw caution to the wind, and press on the final 40 miles home.

It was bloody cold, despite all liners in the gear I was freezing, and just as I was about to leave the filling station, I heard a familiar engine sound. Turning around in the saddle I saw the by now familiar Tenere pull up behind me.
Me counterclockwise around the M25, Alan clockwise, and here we both are in Stortford, you had to smile.
I recon he was as pleased to see me as I was to see him, so we had a coffee together before splitting off, this time at a more sedate pace of 60mph, just in case the box locked up. (Not that it would have made much difference anyhow)

With screeching bearings, Me and the Wazoo rolled into the workshop a little after 22:00 zulu, greeted by B, who had the workshop open, lit, and decked out with a "Welcome Home" banner, complete with Eric, who batted me in the face as I rode in, and whom I'd left back home with B, to keep an eye on things while I was away.

The journey was over, a grand total of 4212 miles for me, and so, dear readers, ends a short, but most eventful trip through Europe and over the water to North Africa.
I had been apprehensive about riding in a group, albeit a small one. I came away from the journey having learned, amongst other things, patience, and tolerance.

Thanks to Shad for the rations, and the basha that most definitely saved my skin in the Atlas, to Alan for giving me something to use my tools on, countless times, to Darren for food and good cameraderie on the cold Atlas mountainside, and for generally being a good sport, despite the abuse inflicted on his him and his GSA, to Jason for the late night smokes, tea, and insightfull conversations, and to everyone for a great ride, and for making the trip what it was.

Until the next Adventure......

Si, Shad, Alan, Darren and Jason

Sunday, 21 November 2010

September 23rd - St Malo in the rain

We broke camp early, and it took Darren and Shad 30 minutes to realise I was clean shaven. Naturally I received some verbal abuse for breaking rule 2 "No shaving", but it was good natured, and short lived.

Shad had arranged a lunch stop-over just short of Nantes, at his brothers house, so we pointed our bikes towards Niort, and hit the back roads.
After having ridden some spectacular roads these past few weeks, enjoyed some gorgeous weather, and been humbled by great scenery, I found the route drab, and uninspiring. The roads were very much like ours back home, as were the dull, overcast skies. I was sad that our journey was coming to a close, but equally glad I was edging closer to home.

We made Stuarts house by 12, and were warmly welcomed with food, drink, and good company. I had once again, been feeling drowsy on the bike, so
it was a chance to catch a few hours rest, and decide what to do from here.

St Malo lay about 3 hours ride to the West. The option was to stay over with our hosts, or ride on to the port, and be fresh for the ferry in the morning.
In the meantime, we hear that Alan is in France, and is riding hard to rendezvous here at Stuarts place.

Shad decides to stay with Stuart, and catch up on several years of missed contact, and wait for Alan.
I decide to camp till the bitter end, and plan to head for St Malo, recce the ferry terminal, then go and find a campsite, and a hot meal somewhere in town.
Darren opts to ride with me through to the port, so we bid our hosts adieu, accept several bottles of wine from Stuart as a gift, and leave Shad to reminisce, while he waits for the determined Alan to catch up.

We left Stuarts at 3pm, and pretty much stuck to the N137 through to Nantes, Rennes, and St Malo, so that we weren't rushed looking for digs for the night.
Fuel stops, port side of Rennes were few and far between on the motorway, so much so that after driving on the warning light for what seemed like ages, I claimed 252 miles to a tank before thankfully replenishing stocks.

We hit St Malo at rush hour, and as the heavens opened, we pulled into a parking lot behind a hotel, and took shelter under a tree while we discussed a battle plan.

First things first, find the ferry terminal, get our bearings, then find a campsite.
We found a great municipal site, about a mile from the terminal, and after scouting the area for anything else, we settled down, and pitched tents in the rain.
The site office was closed, and by the look of the noticeboard, would only be open at 9am, we'd be long gone then.

Tents up, gear stowed and locked up, Darren and Myself headed off to the quayside to recce a group of restaurants we'd spotted earlier. We settled on a small seafront one, "La Cale", on Quai Solidor, attracted by the appealing look of steak on a patrons plate, that we had spied through the window.
The hostess and owner was a charming, and resembled a French Zoe Wannamaker. Her English was good, her sense of humour better, and her food, wonderful. We had a huge plate of ribs, with two tankards of beer each, and some homemade ice cream.

We sat and toasted ourselves on the successful completion of our adventure, having at this stage ridden 4040 miles, and raising a glass to not having to be up at 5am in Nantes to be at the port for 9.
We head back to the campsite, and our tents, and turn in for the night, my last night on the thermarest in the tent. It was all a little moving really, during these past three weeks, there had been this little ritual of a cup of tea and a smoke before zipping the tent up, and now this was to be the end of the ritual... all a little sad really.

Never mind, Good Night.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Alan and the Tenére - Mission "Group catch-up"

For the moment, I'll leave myself, (smugly beardless), Darren, and Shad in our tents, and fill you in on the whereabouts of the determined Alan, and his Yamaha.

Since getting to Marrakesh on the 17th to spend time with his girlfriend, he's been determined to rejoin the group, pushing himself possibly harder than us to do it. In his own words, I'll hand the pen over to him.


After the nightmarish experience of riding through Fez, I was not particularly looking forward to my ride to meet Jill through Marrakesh. As it turned out, the main roads through Marrakesh are fairly straight, and 6 lanes wide, so plenty of fun to blast through and have a bit of fun making use of what little power the bike had left, but also keeping a 360 degree look out for every other fool on the road. Once I got to the south side of the city where google maps had told me to be, (as I don’t use sat nav), things got very hectic. Getting caught up in all the motorised traffic as well as the horse drawn variety, in roads that were now becoming streets, then turning into back alleys of a maze within a maze.

After 30 minutes of battling everything, I finally admitted defeat and pulled up behind a taxi to get directions, even before I managed to get off the bike with my bit of paper, a very nice gentleman on a little scooter pulled up next to me offering his services for free, offering to get me to where I needed to be. Desperate, alone, hot, thirsty, hungry, and most importantly of all “stupid”, I believed him. Yet again I was going to ride in away I had never ridden before, whilst going at what felt like, and were, break neck speeds.
I followed this kind gentleman through what could be best described as a bustling packed market street full of people, which whilst on a scooter is fairly simple but not on a fairly large 660, and after 10 minuets of crushed toes and bashed mirrors we turn off this back street into a smaller street, where thankfully the Riad Alma was located. With a curt nod and thank you I start to unload, but this kind gentleman is standing looking expectantly for something more, so after some dashing, bartering, and “this is nothing to me, how is this going to help” I part with €5.

Instead of giving a long drawn out report on the next five days, I will just give the basic good, and not so good bits.

Riad Alma.
Excellent could not have asked for, or booked a better place. Worth every penny and most needed after the time on the bike.

You have the basic street sellers, so with these, just use common sense. If it looks as if the tables are dirty and not many locals are eating, then move on.
The food stands that set up at night time in the main square are worth trying, but don’t use it as a main meal to fill you up.
The cafes and small eateries around the main square are more for the tourist. The food is ok but basic, the prices are what you would expect for a tourist trap.
The best food we had was going to some of the Riads, where there seemed to be proper chefs, rather than cooks, and far more pricey, but well worth it for an evening meal.

Places we visited.
The main square, full of street vendors trying to use animals to make money from the tourist. The animals are not well looked after, and are abused to get them to perform. You make your own choice.

Jardin Majorelle gardens, Nice, but I am a bloke and there is not much to get my attention. I could walk round in 5 minuets Jill, 2 hours.
Tanneries, I have a strong stomach and the smell didn’t bother me too much until I got to the pit with the rotting chickens and hides laid on the top, that turned my stomach. For Jill it was all a little overpowering, even with mint placed under the nose.
We also visited a few of the tombs and old palaces. Yet again I am not the arty type but those into photography would love this.
The most relaxing place to visit was Les Bains De Marrakech you have to book this a day or 2 in advance but it is definitely worth a visit, and book the hammam and massage after, I did not want to move away from the pool for a couple of hours.

Getting about.
We had no hassle, or even felt threatened walking about inside the main walls, it's worth getting lost within the maze of streets, as this will take you away from the more touristy attractions, and there are always taxis to get you back to a familiar place easily enough.
Things to be wary of
The kids giving you directions, they are always lying and just want your money. This is definitely once place where nothing is free. Don’t look to closely at the horses they are not in a great shape and many have open wounds.

Leaving Marrakesh, and rejoining the group.

To start of with, thanks for the kind words Si, it was a great adventure and I couldn't have asked for a better leader, (and wing man, Shads).

As much as I was enjoying Marrakesh, I missed being on the bike, and in a group having a blast. It was soon time for me to leave, (21st), to start my journey home. I had been in touch with Shads by text, so I knew it was going to be a 10-hour ride to get me to Ceuta. I had checked out ferry times on the net and knew there were a couple of late ferries, but thought I would try for the 6.30pm crossing, giving me more time to get through Spain. (I will be keeping everything on Moroccan time as that is what I had been working to).

I said my farewells to Jill at 9am, after collecting my bike from the secure parking, and started my journey hoping to catch up with the others somewhere in Spain. But you will all know by now that is not going to happen.

Driving out of Marrakesh, and picking up the signs for Casablanca the bike was acting surprisingly well, being able to do 65mph, and sometimes 70mph was quite a treat. The road through to Ceuta is not one to really talk about, I was trying to cover ground, not look around, so apart from lacking in fuel stations and being a toll road, which only takes cash. I will leave it up to other reports to do the explaining.

I had decide to leave all my spare Dirhams with Jill, so she could go for another massage, taking with me just enough for fuel, and not much else seeing as I had had a big breakfast, and my camelback was full, and with a spare 1.5ltr stashed, I would survive. This plan would have worked, apart from the fuel being almost twice as expensive on the A5/A3, maybe it would have been a different journey had I taken the N1. As it was, I had to take a detour into Rabat to get some more Dirhams, I also took this opportunity to refresh my self with chicken and chips and a cold coke, as well as a bit of map reading, as I had left Marrakesh without thinking of which route I would take through Spain.
I was hoping to hear from Shads as to their progress, and follow a similar path. Chicken and chips devoured I set off thinking it was going to be a close call for me to catch the 6.30 ferry. I found the coast roads very European, and nothing like the rawness of the rest of Morocco, not so much of a let down, just an anti climax after the experiences of the last 2 weeks. As I neared Ceuta, time was running out so instead of constantly canning, (how that makes me laugh), canning it with a top speed 70mph, I will try that again. Pottering along at 70mph, I stopped to look for fuel before crossing the border. Getting over the border was yet again a very quick, and simple process, taking only 10 minutes. Finding a ticket office still open In Ceuta I bought my ticket with an hour to spare, before I could board the 9.30pm ferry. I decided to take a little ride around, find my way, then stop off and get something/anything to eat. I was now getting quite an appetite, and a sore arse.

I think it was at this point that I text Shads, to find out where they were, and which way I should head, explaining that I would try to catch them. He advised me that they had been riding hard as well and it was not worth the risk of trying to catch them up, and I should stay safe and catch up upon my return to the UK. I felt deflated, as I was looking forward to riding in the group again, all be it at the back. I now made a personal choice, I would still ride hard, putting as much time and miles in as I could but not taking unnecessary risks. At least I knew speeding was not going to be a risk, plus, I did have the advantage of being fully rested. In that hour of waiting I got the map out and decided to head for a pass in the Pyrenees recommended by the French family Shad and myself had met in an auberge.

I can't remember the ferry crossing it was very much a case of getting a seat, putting the headphones in, a bit of Pink Floyd's dark side of the moon, boots off, and customary dribble down the chin. I was woken up by the thrusters marking our arrival in Algeciras, at 10.30pm.

From the moment we had arrived in Santander and started our journey properly, I had been wearing body armour, with just a t-shirt over the top, now in Spain (half past midnight local time), and a bit of a bite in the air, I had a choice of either getting wrapped up warm, back in my UK biking jacket, or use the refreshing chill to keep my wits about me, which seemed a more drastic but necessary option.
The next 5 hours where spent riding in the dark, due to crap lights on the bike, getting worried by any car coming up from behind, and hoping that they had seen me, praying it wasn’t a pissed Spaniard, or on the hill sections, getting passed by HGV’s, as the bike had now decide to drop down to 40mph up hill, 50mph on the flat, and 60mph down hill.

I managed to pass Malaga, and at Granada, I finally managed to head north which felt good, even though I new I had to go east, North was going to take me home, or at least back to the other lot, which was ultimately what kept me going.
Reaching Jaen at 2am, I was making good ground, and felt like I was getting somewhere. Still feeling quite all right, I reckoned that if I could see the sun rise, I had a good chance of keeping my self going to make France by late afternoon.

This, however, was not to be the case. I got another hour and a half further on, and going through high passes, I starting to feel the cold, and my mind wandering, it was time to be Mr sensible. I started looking for anywhere close to the main carriage way, but out the way of people and houses. I finally did a bit of a u-turn down a slip road, which took me into a farmers field. I had a quick recce, and saw nothing to concern me, so I parked up pulled out the sleeping bag and roll mat, boiled a tin of something, ate, had a great cup of tea, and climbed into my very familiar and comfortable bed, pleased that I was getting closer to familiar faces.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

September 22nd - The foul sausage and Oradour-sur-Glane

Well rested, we were packed and broke camp at 8am. The weather was typically English, and a far cry from the climates of Spain and North Africa we had been treated to.
We lit out of camp, and hit the N10 to Bordeaux.
It was a little over 300 miles to Oradour-sur-Glane, and I figured with a steady ride, we could be there by late afternoon.

Feeling peckish, I pulled over at a motorway service cafe at Lilaire, and went in search of food inside. ordering a mixture of salads, croissants, (which Shadwell was determined to call Krassonts), and a lovely looking French sausage.
The sausage was awful, it smelled foul, and seemed to be made up of intestines, or offal of some or other description. I've had sausages in various other countries, but this had to be the worst stinking sausage I'd ever come across, and even Daz, after taking a bite refused another helping.

Refuelling, and getting a caffeine fix, we were back on the motorway, and having passed through Bordeaux, we were heading for Angouleme. Tiredness hit all at once, and again, I found myself dozing off behind the bars, jerking awake suddenly, convinced I was on the wrong side of the road, and having no recollection of the last 10 miles or so.
We factored several roadside stops into the ride, to combat the fatigue of the last few weeks that was slowly beginning to take its toll.

Back at camp last night, Shad had heard that Alan had left Marrakesh, and was riding non-stop through to Cueta, had made Algeciras, and was blasting through Spain, very much the same way we had done, and was determined to catch us up before we got to St Malo in two days time.
Hats off to him, he's a great rider, and was very much missed on this last leg of the journey, and I reckon all of us were secretly hoping he'd pull it off.

The route through to Oradour was uneventful, and uninspiring, but I had always known that that would be the case. After Oradour, we could take a leisurely ride through the back roads to St Malo, but for now, I had a single minded purpose to get to this martyred village, and had convinced Shad and Darren that it was well worth seeing.

We arrived at Oradour-sur-Glane at 5:30pm, only to find that the village had closed at 5pm. Not to be deterred, Darren and myself jumped over the wall, and went exploring.
Within a few minuted, I was accosted by a French guide, who politely told me that the village was now closed. I pleaded my case that I had ridden several thousand miles to get here, and would be gone in the morning.
She took pity on me, and told me that they were locking the church up in 15 minutes, so I best see that first, thereafter, I was free to wander through the village, but needed to leave the same way I entered.

I felt incredibly lucky, not only was I eventually here, but we had the village to ourselves, not another tourist in sight, and with the sun just setting, it made it a truly humble, and unforgettable visit. Thank you Mrs French lady, whoever you were.

Darren and myself spent about 90 minutes walking around, taking pictures. Shad had elected to stay behind at the bikes, and to go off and recce a possible campsite for the evening.
Our visit at Oradour over, we headed out of town, through the back roads in the direction of Confolens, and Ruffec.
We found a superb campsite in the woods at Champagne-Mouton, and were greeted by the Dutch owner, who supplied us with Beer and fresh bread as we set up camp. A delightfull end to the day, and some gorgeous scenery. Darren and Shad retired to their tents at around 10pm, I had another redbush tea and a smoke, then, after not too much thought about it, went off to the "bloc sanitaire" and had a shave.

With much lathering and shaving, three weeks worth of beard disappeared in 10 minutes. I felt refreshed, and smiling smugly to myself, retired to write the daily diary.

Tomorrow, the plan is to be near Nantes, were we are to have lunch with Shads brother.