Sunday, October 14, 2007

Home.....!

The rest of the ferry ride back to the UK was fairy uneventful other than speaking to a guy who used to supply meat to McDonalds et al, he was assuring me that the greasy fast food giant actually had the highest standards of meat anywhere and that it really was the best burger in the world. I prefer Burger King myself.

Coming down the ramp and hitting UK soil again, I spied Mark waiting patiently on the other side of the port fence with his Africa Twin and after a brief visit to passport control, we met up again for the first time since we all met in Equador, many months ago. I had figured that Mark would be the best person to meet up with first because I could get my bike slightly more 'road legal' and get all that beurocracy that I hadn't dealt with for so long sorted, ie insurance, tax and MOT. I was slightly nervous about HB's MOT inspection but I needn't have worried. Mark had been good enough to book HB into the local garage and the following morning, I was the proud owner of a shiny new MOT certificate. Straight through first time and not one issue after 37,000 miles! The inspector did have 9930 miles on the certificate until I pointed out that it was actually 99,300 miles.

HB passed 1st time!!!!


While Mark was at work, I got to work on HB and soon had all the oils changed, the air filter cleaned and even a wash in preparation for the ride home the next day. Their house really was nice though as it was built around 1520, however the door lintols aren't exactly suited for big lumbering oafs like me- mind your head! It was really nice to catch up with Mark again, though unfortunatelly Daisy was away on her new course that she's taken up since getting back a few months ago. It was great just to talk about the last few months with someone who knew exactly what I'd been through, and of course to get a decent pint of beer!

Mark and proper beer!


Thor, the biggest dog in the world next
to the lowest door lintol in the world- ouch!

Next morning, I'm off up the road to Edinburgh, stopping briefly at lunchtime for something I haven't had in a long time- a real fish supper out of newspaper! I make decent time and soon all the familiar names on road signs start wizzing past and before you know it, I'm back. I'm greeted by my sister, where I'll be staying for the next few months as my flat is still let out and its great to see her again. Mum is still on holiday and we catch up the following day. It really does feel weird to be back again and from what I've read from others who've done similar trips, it will take me a long time to adjust.


Arriving in Edinburgh


Trying on my old trousers-
I think someone's lost some weight!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Long Road Home

It would have been easy to hang around a while as I was really enjoying this place but, alas I really had to move on and catch the ferry back to mainland Italy for the long ride to Holland. It was hard to believe that the next ferry I would be on would take me and HB from Hook of Holland to Harwich and to the end of my journey.

The next few days were really a bit of a blur, stopping briefely at Levanto, Italy then over the beautiful Alps to Chur in Switzerland (where bizzarely, sightings of the baseball capped 'Ned' or 'Chav' made a sudden and unwelcome reappearance for the first time). I then sped on up through Germany, originally planning to stay with a friend in Mannheim but due to prior arrangements and bad timing, I just kept on going till I hit the Rheine.



More dodgy parking



The Alps- good roads!

I found quite possibly the bussiest caravan campsite I'd ever seen, not realising that there was a wine festival going on. At night, the Rheine was taken over by about 30 pleasure boats going up the river as part of the festival. While getting packed up the following morning, I got talking to the Brits next to me who were Scots living in Kent and ended up being given a huge cooked breakfast!

The Rheine




A healthy Scots fry up!


From there, I stopped briefely in Koln to see the Dom and then cracked on to Holland. I rode into in Nimwegan but still having a few hours of daylight left and nothing really catching my eye as far as campsites go, I plodded on until the bizzarely named s-Hertogenbosch. There I tried a few hotels but they were all too expensive and a bit noisy. I was told there might be a campsite at Vught,, to the south but there wasn't. I did eventually get directions to a campsite a few miles away, and on arrival, I found there was no one at the reception desk so I made my way between the vehicle barriers and started looking for a pitch. This was no ordinary campsite though as it was populated entirely by static caravans and it took me a heck of a time finding a spot to pitch. I found a group of drunken Russians outside one caravan, who pointed me to a small patch of grass nearby. One of them asked me, in all seriousness if I was indeed Hunting Terrorists thanks to an Alaska sticker on my pannier. It didn't look great but it would do.

Koln

It was funny, tonight was the last night of my journey as tomorrow, I would be back in the UK and I dunno, but I was expecting something maybe a bit nicer to mark the end of what has been to me anyways, quite a big thing. But it was not to be, I sat alone on a bench in the dark outside the site's snack bar eating sausage and chips out a bag and had a couple of cans of Heinikan to mark my last night in Europe and of the last 10 1/2 months through the Americas. I thought of Michelle, the beautiful places I had seen and the truly wonderful people we'd met on the road.

I awoke later at night in my tent to noises that wouldn't have been out of place in the Blair Witch movie. Every few seconds, I kept hearing loud bangs and snaps coming from all around and it took a while to realise that it was actually acorns falling from the trees on to the roofs of the caravans below. I wasn't too happy with this place as I'd been back to the reception, tried the door of their house and all to no avail. There were toilet and shower blocks nearby but they were locked and I could only get a key from reception. I thankfully found an unlocked toilet door near the site entrance otherwise the Russians might have had something to say.

When I had packed up the bike the next morning, I was determined not to pay and having noticed that the outward automatic vehicle barrier opened spontaniously the previous night as I was manoevering my way in, I quickly rode past the guy who was actually now in the reception window and straight to the barrier which thankfully opened immediately.

The town called Hook of Holland has to be one of the most depressing looking places I'd see, not lest beacuse of the incessant rain and the fact that it really looked just like Britain. Once I had my ferry ticket, I had a few hours to kill in this hell hole which I did by drinking lots of coffee and looking for an internet cafe in the rain but failed on the latter. The old dears in the tourist office eventually cracked and I was allowed to use their pc though I wondered who actually wanted tourist information other than the route out of town. I was then able to make contact with my friend Mark, who would meet me off the ferry in Harwich that night.

The ferry, though much like any other, pretty much signified the end of the journey for me. Once on board, I quickly found the bar to start drowning my sorrows. Thanfully there was a movie theatre (not free I might add) so the latest Bourne saga filled a couple of hours out of the 8 hour sailing.

After 37,000 amazing miles, the end of the road!!!!!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Italia- Parte Due

D'Elba sunset

I figured there really had to be much more to Italy than tailing grindingly slow industrial freight in the rain so I got the hell out of Riccione. My plan, such that it was, was to cut across the mainland, go and see Assisi, mainly out of half-remembered art history lessons from school, then head towards this little island called Isola D'Elba that so far, a couple of people had mentioned. Frankly, I knew nothing about it other than it was a wee island that was supposed to be quite pretty and, God forbid, there might even be some sunshine. So once clear of the area around Riccione which was irritatingly inhabited by thousands of wanna-be racers on sports bikes, the road crept up into the hills to finally reveal some pretty darn nice views, something I had previously yet to experience in Italy, so I knew I was onto something. The sun finally made a late appearance and I ended up really enjoying the ride to Assisi. I had vague memories of old art history lessons about Renaissance paintings and some chap called Francis, but to be honest, it was just a bit to busy with tourists for my liking. Whilest there, I also had the misfortune of buying the dryest and blandest pannini ever created.

I had decided to see how far I got before sundown as I was in the mood for the sea side now that it was all nice and sunny. I made it as far as the port town of Piombino by 5.30pm and headed straight for the ferry office, and as it turned out, there was a boat leaving in half an hour so I just got myself a ticket and got in line with the other Saga-louts queuing up. The company that runs the ferrys to the Islands, Moby, have these very colourful boats almost like huge floating cartoons.



After an hour, we pull up alongside Portoferraio, the main town on D'Elba and I head over to Laconella on the south side of the island where I've been told there are campsites aplenty. I'm shocked when the first one I find is asking 25Euro for a pitch so move on to the next one which is 16Euro, still expensive but its nearly sunset and I don't really have the time to feck about. It seems nice though, quite rustic, very near the beaches and I even get to see a proper shooting star leaving a cool silvery trail while sitting on the beach later that night so its all good.


My beach for a few days

The next night, after going to the beach and then spending most of the day buggering about trying to find some email on the island, I'd just finished my dinner when Esther, a German woman starts talking to me about the bike. It turns out she's done a few bike trips herself to Scotland and Ireland. The next couple of days are really nice, just going to the beach in the mornings and swimming and trying to get a tan back so it looks like I've actually been somewhere, then in the afternoons, Esther drove us around the island checking out wee villages. Napoleon lived here for a bit, ooh quite some time ago, so we went to see his house but opted out of paying to see the inside. There was a really gorgeous village called Poggio that was almost impossible to take a bad picture though I did try.


Napoleon woz ere!


Esther at the wee mans house


A village called Poggio

While at the campsite, I also met a really friendly couple, also from Germany, Stephan and Karen, who kind enough to offer their hospitality if I was passing their way while going home. I couldn't help thing that it was slightly ironic that in Germany, I was hanging out with Enrico, an Italian, while in Italy, I met loads of Germans. I can only figure that Italy and Germany must do some kind of mass country swap during the summer months or something.

Stephan
& Transalp

Stephans wife, Karen and me leaving D'Elba

Monday, September 03, 2007

Italia- Parte Una


Just makes you think of Italy, eh?

I walk around the town for a couple of hours but there's nothing to keep me interested so leave town. At the last minute, I decide to ride to Italy instead of Croatia. I'm now thinking I'll just see some bits of Italy I haven't seen before and miss out Croatia unfortunately as I'm rapidly running out of time and money, let alone patience. I also feel I'm getting quite jaded with it all again. I need to get some sort of plan together as to where I'm going. After Longarone, the scenery is really nice. The mountains just rise up all around me though the traffic is heavy and at times very going. I want to make it to somewhere on Lake Garda but as I don't have a guidebook for Italy, I have nowhere in mind yet and don't know about any campsites. I nearly loose it a few times on some of the sharp, hairpin bends that catch me out suddenly. I find my quite worn TKC80 tires really aren't the best on tarmac when its been raining. It's getting near dark and I'm still quite a few miles from Lake Garda and get a bit concerned as to where I'm going to be sleeping as I really can't afford a hotel room here. I'm also running out of petrol and try a few garages which all have some type of pre-pay system I haven't seen before that my tired brain can't cope with so give up and hope I make it somewhere. Right on sundown, I get to the top of the hill looking down on to Lake Garda and even though I still don't know where I'm going to stay, I stop to take a picture. I can't quite believe it when I notice a sign for a campsite on the way into town. When I find it, its pretty dark but ok to get the tent up. The site is very busy and costs 18euro a night. Expensive but I think I'll stay a couple of nights as I just feel so tired now. I get talking to a German couple on XT600s and have a beer with them by the lake. They're here for a couple of weeks and are spending it checking out the dirt roads around the lake on their bikes.


I'm in Italy so that can mean only one thing-

Bloody pasta for dinner again!


The following morning, it seems like it's going to rain all day. I opt for lying in my tent listening to the thunder and lightening while reading as there's not much else I can do and realise that I hardly ever do this so enjoy it while I can. Around 2 or 3pm the rain finally gives out and I get out from my sleeping bag and take as stroll around town. Windsurfing, it would appear is the main watersport round here as there are dozens of schools by the waterfront. The campsite manager tells me some places I should see while in Italy so my plan the following day was to head down the east side of the lake. Thats my first mistake. The traffic on that road is solid and barely gets above 30mph all the way. I have to go via Verona, a normally lovely city but not the parts I see today which are basically the ring roads. The ride through the country is not made any more pleasant by the fact that it was chucking it down with rain.


I pull over at one of the many roadside cafe/restaurants and although I'm frankly horrified at the prices, I end up sharing a table with an Italian trucker who's level of english perfectly matches my italian so its a fairly quiet lunch. I really had no idea of the amount of freight traffic that uses this road otherwise I would have opted for somewhere else to ride to. After getting well and truly fecked off with it, I decide that the 'nice bit' I was told about must be right by the coast and come off the main road. 'Nope, it certainly isn't here', I think to myself as I start skirting the edge of a trul ugly and equally massive industrial plant. At one point, the road has become totally flooded thanks to the ceasless rain and it looks like its around a foot deep in the middle. I decide I'll wait till the car in front of me has more or less cleared the huge puddle before I start to ride through it but as I'm waiting, the impatient knob-end in the car behind me overtakes me.


I've spent a very long and tedious day riding though heavy rain and even heavier traffic but eventually make it to Rimini. I had no particular plans to stay here so I thought I'd check it out first and decide if I would. After roughly two minutes, I decided I wasn't staying here but had seen a sign for the BMW place somewhere so figured I'd best grab a couple of spares like an oil filter and some crush washers while I had the chance. Again, this was easier said than done and after litteraly going round the houses and getting stuck on yet another ring road utterly solid with traffic, I found it. The man behind the counter was wearing quite fancy designer glasses with very clean overalls and wasn't particularly excited to see a dirty and soggy overlander or how little I spent in his establishment.

For reasons still unknown to me, I ventured on to Riccione, a little further down the coast thinking it might be a nice place to camp despite the truly shitty weather. The rain had miraculously cleared up by the time I got there and found a truly dull looking campsite. There were some loud swiss beer-boys across the grass and a few german bikers who as it turned out, were here for the Moto GP happening up the road. I'd fancied a fw days on a beach but this place was a total turn off. What little sand there was between the 50-odd million or so deckchairs that covered the beach as far as the eye could see really wasn't what I had in mind for myself. Unfortunately I had to stick it out for a couple of nights as I really needed to do some clothes washing before I encountered a fairly severe underpant crisis which really wouldn't be good for anybody.



Slovenia

Once the tallest building in Europe

The ride to Ljubljana is horrible. The map shows motorway where there isn't any and is chock full of lorries and heavy traffic. It also starts raining really heavily pretty much all the way, lightening too. At one point, the stationary traffic line goes on for miles but I ride up the outside, very dangerous in this rain as all it will take is some dozy bugger to decide to do a U-turn in front of me. I'm also worried about aquaplaning too. After a few hours of this hell, the motorway eventually starts and I can get some speed up, riding at 90mph a lot of the way but get clobbered for about 5 Euros over 3 different 'Peaje' toll booths. They really piss me off, why do bikes need to pay? I am as slow as possible but that's easy as my gloves are soaking wet and my fingers are totally hydrated so cars start honking behind me impatiently.


While I'm riding, my dreams of getting my own room with fresh linen and a hot bath are reduced to just getting a hostel not on the 4th floor. I make it to Dom Tabor hostel after dark but don't feel like going out so its noodles again. The hostel is 16 Euros for a shared dorm room but at least with breakfast included. Chatting with the Japanese guy in room, it turns out he's doing a 6 month RTW trip with what looks like a little day sack! He's quite cool though but I find he's difficult to chat to in the morning as he says his English speaking skills don't kick in till noon. We hear some commotion from outside the dorm window and watch some stupid students from England jump out their window on the floor below me on to the roof of the next building. One of them lands hard on the metal deck and it looks bloody painful in those flat-soled Converse shoes of his. I next see them again downstairs getting interviewed by the police and try not to piss myself laughing.

Hungary


Once I cross in to Hungary. The scenery is a lot better and they even have castles on hills and the buildings generally don't make you want to look away. I make it to a huge campsite by Lake Balatan. Lots of families with kids here it appears. Dinner is noodles and a banana. Mmm. Feel really tired so after a bit of a walk around, its a fairly early night. First thing the next morning, I go to the reception to pay for the site as it was shut when I arrived. It turns out it is 14 Euros! I nearly choke. After breakfast and despite the expense, I think I fancy sticking around here today as I still feel tired from constantly moving every day. I try to find some internet to email Michelle and the place looks open so I go in and sit down at a machine that is on. They tell me they're not open until 10am and I have to leave even though it's 09.50! Slightly pissed off, I go for another walk only to find when I get back, their machines are all now occupied by little kids! Ok, I can deal with it. I figure I'll just go for a swim in the nice open air camp ground pool instead. However, almost as soon as I get to the pool, it starts pissing it down. This is unbelievable! I can see that its just a shower though so decide to get changed and get in anyway. I'm the only one in the pool but by the time I've done ½ a length, the pool attendant suddenly appears.


PA- something in Hungarian

Me- Sorry?

PA- You need a cap to swim, please leave the pool.

Me- Er ok, where do I get one?

PA- I don't know, the reception maybe.

Me- But that's miles away. Don't you keep them here if you need them for the pool?

PA- Just get out of the pool! (shouting)


I start to laugh as the day just can't get any worse. I decide to leave this shit-hole right now. While packing up my tent, I listen to a very severe sounding German mother shouting at her crying kids and I can't help thinking I'd probably be crying too if someone shouted at me in German.

Slovakia

Feeling quite like shit after another good night out in Krakow, I eventually get myself ready to leave by about 1pm with Nick giving me a hand to get all my gubbins down the stairs. Krakow really is a great place and I hope I can get back there sometime. I think it even outstrips Edinburgh as having more pubs per head. Thanks again Nick! I take a detour via the skiing town, Zacapane for the smallest KFC meal I've ever had. The scenery at the mountains is pretty stunning though. I only make it to Zilina by night fall, a town that my guide book describes as not having anything much going for it and it's right. It takes me about an hour to find accommodation in the darkness and I get myself a room in a Commie style student block, complete with dodgy, shaky lift with flickering lights. Later on, after pointing out what I want from the pictures of the food on offer on the wall above the canteen downstairs, its not exactly what I get. Damn, this is a hard language! At least I get a room to myself for basically peanuts though.


I find Slovakia actually quite ugly, not the countryside which is very pleasant but the architecture is just horrendous. Can you imaging getting planning permission to build tower blocks in the countryside? A lot of the towns I pass through seem to be setting me up for a visit to a typical Scottish council estate. I find I have a few Slovakian pennies left and it totals around 700?s so before I enter Hungary, I stop at a McDonalds and go in to see what I can afford. I look at the confusing menu and see something which naturally looks shit but is affordable. The lady tells me that its actually a Happy Meal! Feigning indifference, I head to Spar and their deli counter instead.

Poland

The following morning, wayhey! Its proper raining again! After another walk around town, this time in daylight, I get myself a cheap lunch consisting of some sort of fried cheese thing in a stale baguette but I'm not hanging around. I'm off to Poland today, Krakow in fact. I'm staying with Nick, a friend of a friend and thankfully he's sent me some directions on how to get to his place. I think I like Poland as soon as I cross the border as when I'm riding alongside a railroad track, the driver gives his horn a big honk and as I turn round to look, he gives me a 'go on my son' kind of nod so it's already more sociable than the Czech Republic. Riding into Krakow, I find it's a really attractive place. Not only does it have beautiful looking old buildings and cobbled streets but its got cool old trams running down the middle of the roads. The high stone built tenement buildings also remind me of Edinburgh a bit. Nick turns out to be a really nice guy and he has a fantastic flat where I get my own room. Over the next few days, Nick shows me around town and we go out for quite a few beers, God I'm out of practice!



I enjoyed having a few days just kicking around not really doing much in Krakow which was just what I needed.
I did however take a ride out to Auschwitz which should have been quite straight forward but I ended up on back country lanes, dirt roads and dead ends, all within sight of the actual road I was trying to take. Unfortunatelly no rice paddy fields this time but I think as a detour, Michelle would have loved it! No matter, I got there eventually and this time joined one of the tours. I didn't know too much about this place apart from the obvious but there are really separate two sites. Auschwitz 1 is the start of the tour and was actually a former Polish army barracks that the Nazis helped themselves to and isn't really that big a site. 3Kms away is Auschwitz 2 (Birkenau), the place we all recognise from the pictures of the railroad heading under the brick archway. This place really is huge but there are actually less buildings to see here. Our guide thankfully doesn't suffer fools gladly and will just pause and give one hell of an icy stare to anyone caught making a noise during her talks. The exhibits are quite incredible, most notably the huge piles of human hair (about 2 tonnes worth), thousands of suitcases and even massive piles of children's shoes. It was during that exhibit that the irritatingly loud English couple (who's mobile phones kept going off during the guides speeches) and their free spirited sprog stopped and looked at the pile of children's shoes.


Mum to daughter- 'Ooh look darling, those shoe's are just your size'


(Fucking hell- this was just after the guide had explained that any children on the trains coming into Auschwitz were pretty much taken straight to the gas chambers as they were of no use to the Nazis)

Czech Republic

As I'm riding towards the Czech Republic, I'm pleased to see petrol prices have dropped overnight from 1.35E/L to 1.12E/L, only to realise that I'm now in Austria. Once actually inside CR, I'm pleased to note that the road is again lined with prostitutes and stalls selling garden gnomes, just like it was when me and James came here on the bike all those years ago. I arrive in Czesky Krumlov and immediately get into trouble from the law for riding through the main square of the town, the centre of which is all pedestrianised. Using my tricks learnt in South America, I immediately ask him where the campsite is thus changing the subject and he points me in the right direction. The campsite is cheap at 120K and very busy. I notice one or two other bikers there but once my camp is set up and I've eaten my dinner, no one has spoken to me yet which I find difficult to get used to after all the places I've been where total strangers come up to you and say hello all the time. More annoyingly, I've pitched my tent next to a bunch of 12year olds who are hell bent on getting drunk, which isn't hard. None of them can sing in tune either. Earplugs time again.



After packing up my tent the next morning, I take a walk round town, which is pleasant but very touristy and there's really not much that makes me want to hang around. I get an email from Michelle and she's back in Oz now. That feels very weird indeed, to think that we've travelled so far and done so much together and are now temporarily on opposite side of the world. Not feeling totally overjoyed, I ride off to Ollamoets, finding the driving standards here totally appalling. I'm sticking to backroads but I get overtaken by only inches by some arsehole while I'm also overtaking a truck. Relived I've made it on once piece, I find I've picked probably the only hostel on a 4th floor. After getting up there to look at the place, I'm knackered. I then find I have to bring the bike in through the front door and stick it round the back for security, which is fine but its no easy number getting HB through that door frame but somehow we do it. I end up going for some food and a couple of beers with a few students. One is English and the other two guys are German who don't say much. I think students are brilliant, the conversation goes a little like this:


Me- So what are you studying?

Student- Business studies and French. Its the best course for what I want to do

Me- Ah, so what to you want to do when you finish?

Student- Erm, I don't really know yet


Saturday, August 25, 2007

Am I dreaming?


It's like a bad dream.

I'm on my own today and for some reason am in a bus driving on the left side of the road. There seems to be red double decker buses everywhere and that tower over there looks remarkably like Big Ben. I'm also really, really tired but I could even swear that the river on my left is the Thames. I try to wake myself up and think of sunny Vancouver but its just not happening.


Hang on a second:

mmm, London


AARGH, F....K!! I'M IN LONDON!!! What the hell happened?


Gradually it starts coming back to me. I remember the long, emotional goodbye with Michelle in Vancouver airport the previous afternoon and a couple of days before that, taking my bike to the shipping agent in Richmond. Wait a minute, that's it- we're at the end of our Argentina to Alaska adventure and Michelle is flying home to Australia while I'm taking the 'Long Way Home' (...sorry) to Scotland by taking in some of Eastern Europe first. I'm en route to Munich via London to pick up my bike because the direct flight to Munich decided to be fully booked up when I called Air Transat. The flight from Vancouver to London is depressingly full up and they want $80 for extra legroom so I decide to forego it. I'm squeezed in against the window by a large guy and his wife who are pleasant enough to talk to but I know that I won't be getting any sleep tonight. I remind myself that the last time I was on a plane other than the little Cessna over the Nasca Lines, was arriving in Buenos Aires 9 ½ months ago. I'm relieved to find the 9 hour flight passes quickly enough though with some movies, telly and watching the planes progress on the electronic map. The cameras on the nose and under the plane are nice addition too.



I have an incredibly miserable train ride from Gatwick into London, looking around at the normality that I easily recognise but don't want to be a part of again just yet. Next to me there's a very loud, posh woman bleating away about the new bathroom cabinets that the inept joiner has recently fitted to her clearly very bored husband. Once I'm at Victoria Station, it's straight onto a direct bus to Stanstead Airport. I'm pleased it's all going smoothly so far as I couldn't handle any fuck-ups or delays right now. True to form though, the EasyJet check-in queue is the same as they always are, with the useless, miserable sods behind the counters doing their utmost to ensure the checking in process goes as slowly as possible.

With Michelle's words still ringing in my ear that I'd better not get chatting to any attractive women on the plane, Chrisa, a young Greek girl sits down next to me on the London-Munich flight who seems really nice. She's on her own and after chatting for a bit, invites me to meet up with her and her Italian friend, Enrico who lives in Munich so we agree to meet up following day. I'm pleased I've met some people to hang out with so soon. We land in Munich Airport at 3.30pm and I decide to get straight onto getting the bike cleared in Customs and out of the warehouse. The Swiss Cargo office is only one stop away on the airport train and thankfully it turns out to be a doddle. By 5.30pm, the paperwork is done, I've reconnected the battery and fitted the screen and mirrors again and I'm limping up the road to find some fuel as I'd practically run it dry before taking it to the shipping agent in Vancouver. Luckily a garage is nearby and the 22 litre tank takes 22.3 litres. I nearly choke at paying 30Euros to fill it up though.

I ride straight into Munich but find I'm starting to fall asleep so have to try hard to concentrate as cars whizz by all around me at what feels like 100mph. I find the hostel I'd booked and get checked in to a 6 bed dorm. I take a walk to find something to eat but the nice looking place up the road seems a bit expensive for me so opt for the ususal Subway sandwich and an early night. By the time my head hits the pillow, I've been awake for about 30 hours.








Although it would have been nice to hang out with Chrisa and Enrico for another day in Munich, I feel I have to get moving and decide to try and see Dachau the following day then head south to Berchtesgaden where Hitler had his holiday house. I first came to Dachau back in I think 1997 with my friend James when we did a bit of a Euro road trip on my old Suzuki GS1000G. We covered a fair few miles on that trip but I remember it seemed to rain almost every day in Germany so I'm hoping this trip is slightly less soggy. I pull up in the car park and it all seems very familiar, though this time the old parking attendant insists I leave my bike where he can keep an eye on it. The last time I was here, we didn't get a chance to see the museum so I headed for there first. As expected, it all makes for very educational but grim reading. The main sights can be seen fairly quickly if you know where you're going and these include the recreated accommodation blocks and the crematoria though I opt to avoid the huge memorials at the end of the site.

After a couple of hours, I'm back on the road to Berchtesgaden, which is all fairly tedious Euro motorway until I hit the more mountainous areas but typically, the weather is looking fairly crap it has to be said. I am aiming for the campsite but pretty much as soon as I arrive in the Bavarian town, the heavens decide to really tip it down on me so camping is now not on the menu. The hostel I find at first looks like it will cost 16Euro but due to being an old bugger without a membership card, it will actually cost me 26Euro for a shared dorm. I take a quick dash in the now incredibly heavy rain over to a nearby hotel which is full of Bavarian charm/clich├ęs including a proper Heidi manning the desk who informs me I must only use one bed. Its 33Euro but I get my own room. Oh well, there goes the budget again. After a not too bad dinner in the hotel, I'm out like a light by 8pm.


It still doesn't look good the following morning. You can't see the mountains from the window due to the solid cloud and lo and behold, its still raining. It's one of those days best off not being on a bike and Heidi informs me that its cheaper to stay a second night. Tempting but not at your prices, love. Luckily, breakfast is included and I eat enough to nearly make me sick. After grimly getting on the bike and riding out their garage into the pissing rain, I first head up the mountain to the Nazi museum at Dokumentation in Obersalzberg. I didn't know that the Nazis used this place as their second seat of power and by all accounts was a pretty busy place in its day and all the big-wigs had houses here though it basically got obliterated by the Allies. I end up going for one of those electronic English translator doo-dahs and I'm glad I did because all the exhibits were in German. Its actually pretty fascinating though some of the photos on display are pretty graphic. I particularly liked the bit about Hitler being portrayed by the Nazi PR as being this rustic, hard working, selfless man of the people but in actual fact he would normally sleep in till noon, eat a big lunch and then go off on one of his monologues for an hour or two, then it was movie time and after dinner it was on to another monologue that although Hitler himself frequently fell asleep during them, no one ever dared leave.

By the time I was done here, I'd hoped the rain would have disappeared but fat chance of that so I caught the bus up to the Eagles Nest, Hitler's 50th birthday prezzy from the guys. I thought it must be pretty good seeing I'd paid 14.50Euro to get there. You get dropped off up the mountain and walk to a rather nifty brass lined lift, which shoots you up 120m to the Eagles Nest. Apparently, on a clear day you can get the most spectacular views however all I could see was a total white-out. I quickly looked around the building finding only a busy restaurant and then discovered that's actually all it is. Bugger! As there's literally nothing to see, I just headed straight down again.


Canada- for the last time

Instead of the 2 days I assumed it would take us to ride from Prince Rupert to Vancouver, it took 3 days. En route, we stopped off in Fraser Lake and Lilloet where we stayed for free at the campsite as no one came to chase us for money. I even manged to severely block their loo so it was a good job we left. We took a really nice dirt road over some hills between Clinton and Pavillion. The locals told us to avoid it as it was dirt and had lots of switchbacks- decision made really. The scenery there was quite beautiful and reminded me briefly of riding in South America again.

I'd emailed Colin and Gill (we met them in Valpariso around Xmas) and we were on our waycaught the ferry over to Vancouver Island where they live. They were away for few days, and again we just needed to pick up the keys from their neigbour. Colin had said in his emails to just make ourselves at home and to make use of the bath, washing machine and had even left us beer in the fridge. We'd only met them once in Chile for really only a few hours but it was like meeting old friends when they came home a couple of days later after picking up Gills daughter from the airport and it was really nice to catch up again. Colin is a bit of a master at home brew wine making and we got pleanty of opportunities to sample his produce. On our last night in Victoria, I made everyone barbequed meat/veg on skewers with potato salad as a small way of saying thanks for our hosts wonderful hospitality.

We didn't get to see as much of Vancouver Island as we'd have liked though Victoria itself was very pleasant and I can see why ex-pats Colin and Gill chose to live there. It has a nice climate, you have all the outdoor activities you could want too. We spent most of our time there sorting out shipping and flights as unfortunatelly after nearly 10 months on the road, we're pretty much at the end of our trip. I managed to get my bike booked in with Motorcycle Express, and am to take it over to Vancouver Airport in a few days time. Michelle is off to Australia shortly after 8 years in London and I'm heading back to Europe for a few weeks on my own then its back to Scotland for me. I actually need to sort out visas and stuff there as I'm looking at also getting to Australia but I expect that will take several months to sort out. Although it will be weird being back and staying in one place, it will be fantastic to see my family and friends again though I'm not looking forward to paying UK prices again.

We next headed to Vancouver as we were staying at a friend of a friends place to the east of the city. Danny and Mia live in a very funky retro house with a huge assortment of animals. We stayed for a couple of nights while I got my bike over to the packing warehouse where Herr Bertie was strapped to a metal pallet and wrapped in plastic. The next time I'd be seeing him would be in Munich airport in a few days time. Michelle and I decided to get a hotel room for our last couple of nights together and spent a couple of days sightseeing in Vancouver and even managed to do the 'Grouse Grind' though our time of 1hr 40mins wasn't nearly as impressive as the people who do it in under 30 minutes. On our last night, we watched the sunset from Grouse Mountain and thankfully caught the cable car down rather than walking.

It was very emotional at the airport the following morning as Michelle saw me off. She was flying to Australia a couple of days later and would be heading to her folks place for a bit.
After everything we've seen and been through together, it felt really hard to be saying goodbye to Michelle however we will be seeing each other again in a few months.

Next stop for me, Europe!





South from Alaska

Well it seems like ages since I've done an 'update' so will try and be brief. After getting down to Fairbanks, I decided it would be a good time to change my now totally bald tires. And with a brief stop in Anchorage (where we got refused getting into a bar cos we didn't bring our passports!) we went to Tok which is at a bit of a crossroads so everyone goes there. And sure enough we bump into Bob and Angie again, having not seen them since Nicaragua so it was good to catch up. We were staying at the Sourdough Campsite, which in reality is more of an RV park. At least it had Wi-Fi but owner Ken's nightly 'Comedy' show was a bit too much to bear though the pensioners in their RV's seem to enjoy it.

We tried to book the inland passage ferry south but couldn't get anything for 5 days so decided to go to Valdez, which is where we had to pay for the most expensive hotel room on the trip ($90!). After a brief look around, including a bit of a ride up a dirt road, it was back to Tok where instead of enduring the painful Sourdough Campsite evening 'comedy show' again, we camped at a biker friendly campsite nearby for half the price. The owners, Brian and Vanessa have a 1968 Shovelhead Harley called Hazel and the campsite includes use of their sauna. They call each other from across the site by yelling 'Yo Mama!' or 'Yo Papa!'. Really nice couple and a very chilled out place to camp.



Dawson City on the 'Top of the World Highway' was next on the list, though its not really on the top of the world is it? It's one of those gold-rush town preserved for tourists and we find a campsite on the other side of the river, for which theres a regular and more importantly, free ferry to to other side. We take in Dimond Tooth Gerties show which is set in a old style casino. It consists of a few dancing girls and the singing Gertie who likes to get unsuspecting old men up onto the stage to remove garters from the dancing girls with their teeth. All good, clean family fun. On the way back to the campsite, we bumped in to another overlander from Switzerland called Werner on a well stickered Africa Twin who's also come up here from Argentina. I was pleased to hear that he didn't enjoy the Galapagos Islands as much as he had enjoyed the wildlife on the Valdez Peninsula in Argentina as we couldn't justify the huge cost of getting to the Galapagos.



We then aimed for Skagway to catch the ferry down to Juneau. The town itself is again one of those touristy places geared up for receiving regular cruise ships so you'd be forgiven for thinking that all the shops here only sell jewelry because they pracically do. With relief we got out of there and spent a few hours on a mini cruise of our own down to Juneau, Alaska's capital which a little bizzarely, is not on the mainland. We would only be in Juneau for a night so checked out a nearby glacier, which was receeding and although nice, not a patch on Perito Moreno. We just had time to go to the Alaska Brewery for a quick tour and to sample some of their wares. I reckon the IPA was the best as the rest all seem a little watery to my tastes, but hey, I wasn't complaining, it was free beer after all.

Early the following morning, it was back to the ferry port to catch the ferry for the 2 day trip down to Prince Rupert in Canada. Amazingly, the crew on the boats don't stock tie down straps for motorbikes so instead you get given a ball of string and are told to get on with it. Once the bikes had been thoroughly secured with the equivalent of garden twine, we got ourselves up to the deck. We had been planning to sleep on deck as the cabins were a tad pricy and had been talking to a couple of bikers from the US when one of them said he was just popping down to their cabin. A couple of minutes later, he returned with a key, and said 'there you go'. They'd only just gone and paid for a cabin for us for 2 nights! Yet another example of the incredible generosity of total strangers we have met on our trip. The guys were both ex-racers from the 70's and apparently had a great collection of around 30 bikes at home. So with our new cabin, we were able to stick our gear in the room and enjoy the next 2 days. The ferry goes down whats called the Inland Passage so you have islands on both side of the ship while it calls in at various ports. We stopped off at Sitka (they called out 'Sitka by the sea' on the PA) where we jumped ship for a few hours with a few people we'd met and went straight to some fairly lively pubs before having to get the bus back to port. The following day we only had 45 minutes in Petersburg or Little Norway as its known due to the colourful houses, which we put to good use by having the best cinamon buns we'd ever tasted from the bakery there. We manged to see a few whales etc from the ship but unfortunatelly nothing on a par with Valdez in Argentina. We did manage to see a couple of quite spectacular sunsets though in addition to some amazing scenery.






Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Alaska- The Last Frontier



Nice doggy

Again, its another easy-peasy border crossing into Alaska and am quietly relieved as I'd hoped the warrant for my arrest from my unpaid Arizona stop sign ticket hadn't been processed yet. We'd met Ramey in Canada and he'd offered us a spot to pitch our tent at his house in Fairbanks. To be honest, We'd have quite liked a hotel room as we were pretty shattered but after phoning a few hotels, they were all well out with our budget so the tent it was.

Alaskan border

Ramey's place was a few miles outside of town but luckily he'd drawn me a pretty good map so it didn't take too long to find the place. No one was home but we knew it was the right place. Ramey is a friend of Karl Bushby (http://goliath.mail2web.com), the British guy who has been walking from Punta Arenas to Alaska via the Darien Gap, and just crossed the Bearing Straits by using the ice flow, with the final goal of getting to the UK, via the Channel Tunnel and will take something like 14 years, walking every step of the way! He is now part of the way through Russia but has been experiencing visa difficulties and has been using Ramey's place as a base so when we saw the sheer volume of equipment and camp food rations, we knew this must be the place. There were some cd's lying around the house including one entitled 'Bearing Straits photos for mum'. I could just imagine it- “Yes, that's very good Karl, now come and eat your dinner”. I'd read his book a while ago and was really looking forward to meeting him but unfortunately they were down in Seattle and Vancouver doing some promotional stuff. So we spent the following day doing fun stuff like oil changes and the like in preparation for the trip up north to our final destination- Prudhoe Bay (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prudhoe_Bay). I bought a bunch of dried food to take up with us on the 3 day journey including beer as it's totally dry up there! The road up there is just under 500 miles from Fairbanks and turns to dirt at the start of the Dalton Highway. Enroute, we crossed the Arctic Circle and naturally stopped for some photos. While there, a family on holiday insisted we join them for sandwiches and beer- couldn't really refuse!


Arctic Circle celebrities

On day one, we made it as far as Galbraith Lake, just over 400 miles from Fairbanks so not a bad effort really. It's really quite beautiful up there despite having a great big bloody oil pipe running alongside the road. On day two, we got up to Deadhorse, despite me getting a puncture only 20 miles from Deadhorse (easily fixed), my GPS giving up the ghost (only temporarily as it turns out) and finally, running out of petrol as we pulled up alongside the place for the oil field tours. Somehow, we'de made it all the way from Ushuaia at the very bottom of South America to Prudhow Bay in Alaska, 8 months and 18 days later. My starting milage was 62,831 and by the time we made it to Prudhoe, it was reading 91,926, a fraction under 30,000 miles.

"Clunk, click on every trip"-
you can never be too tooled up on a bike ride

Confused GPS- Alaska's f%cked up sunset/rise times

Midnight sun

GS shadow


The Deadhorse oil field is as far north as you can drive yourself. To actually get to the Arctic ocean, a few miles further north, you actually have to go on the oil field tour which costs $38. The blurb on the place goes like this: “Commercial oil exploration started in Prudhoe Bay in the 1960s and the field was discovered in 1968 Atlantic Richfield Company but production did not begin until 1977 when the Alaska Pipeline was completed. Production peaked in 1988 at about 2 million barrels a day, but had fallen to below 1 million barrels a day by May 2005, or roughly 300 million barrels a year. Total production from 1977 through 2005 has been 13 billion barrels. As of December 2005, it is estimated that only 3 billion barrels are left (recoverable), which is roughly 10 years of production at the current rate. In terms of recoverable oil, the Prudhoe Bay field is the largest in the United States, more than double the size of the East Texas Oil Field, the second largest”.

Anyway, we finaly got to dip our toes in the Arctic ocean under the watchful eye of the oil field security guard, all these months and miles since doing the same thing in Ushuaia. With hindsight, I think I'd have liked to have started the trip in Alaska given that an oil filed camps generally aren't the most beautiful of places compared to the lovely national park down in Ushuaia.

The Arctic Ocean- We done it!!!!
(hmm, think I actually prefered the Carribean...)

Well never mind, somehow we made it and it has by no means been an easy trip. Very briefely, we've both had lots of ups and downs throughout the trip but somehow, no matter what the problem was, there has always been a way out of it and a bed at the end of the day. Looking back on my photos of this trip just makes me smile and want to do it all again to be quite honest though my bank manager might disagree!

I'd just love to be back down in South America though, where it's just so different and diverse. To my eyes anyway, the people there seem to be generally a lot happier with what they have and never seem to be chasing some impossible dream like the rest of us in the more developed parts of the world. I miss seeing whole familes stroll round the plazas of an evening, the utter lack of globalisation and the same old bloody chain shops seen almost everywhere else in the world, the incredibly varied and stunning scenery, the corrupt cops, whole Mexican villages coming out to watch the building of a speed bump, potholed main roads, and for us anyways, low relatively cost of living and no doubt lots of other things that will come to me over the following weeks.

Hmm, I really don't fancy having to wash that!

As as for us and the rest of the trip, we still don't know where we'll be shipping our bikes from but a ferry trip down the inland passage and Vancouver are next on the list.