2017 The Sahara

8. 717 miles in one day

717miles in a day. More of the mileage later. I was awake at 7am and ready to go, I knew it would be a long day, I wanted an early start, as it is 700 plus miles to the event in three days and I would like a day off. However I hit the snooze button and before I knew it 10am was fast approaching and I was still on the campsite. A speedy trip to the bathroom, bung in some new eyes and I was off. Headed for Faro initially. It seemed to take quite a while and already I was feeling the heat of the day building. I had plenty of water but I was clearly going to need more. From Faro I headed East on the N125 to avoid tolls, passing the point I had said farewell to Colin and Raven. A firm handshake from Colin and a fist bump from Raven. Again it seemed to take an age to reach the Spanish border, but apart from a welcome notice there was nothing to indicate a change of country. I fuelled up and hit the road headed for Seville. The temperature now was into the 30’s and I could feel my bare arms starting to burn. I don’t recall stopping again until Seville where I dived into a McDonald’s for some air conditioning, cold drinks and free WiFi. The bike sat outside in baking temperatures and I worried how she would cope in these conditions. I must have been there an hour before stepping out again into the sauna. I got my jacket out because I needed arms covered from the sun. The bike was still red hot and I tried to be gentle with her. Before long the sun was directly overhead and my neck was starting to burn so I headed for the next petrol station. It was a bit off the beaten track but had all the facilities I needed, a toilet, water, and shade. I drank over a litre of water, topped up my water bottle and dripped some on the exhaust of the bike. It hissed and evaporated immediately. I couldn’t risk trying to cool her that way so I settled down for half an hour. The weather report said hot hot hot all day. I dug around in my kit and pulled out my winter neck cover, why did i pack this? Ripping out the wooly bit I then had a summer neck protector. I opened all the vents on my jacket and emptied two litres of water over myself, rubbing it into the jacket, my jeans, the helmet, neck protector and saddle. It felt good for the first twenty minutes, after which it had evaporated and I was back in the furnace. I wanted to make Cordoba as I knew the road was long and boring. After that I would benefit from just getting as far up the road towards Valencia as possible. That would make for extra time to visit places and actually take photographs. The tank seemed to take forever to empty and when I switched to reserve it was gone 5pm. I fuelled my bike, began the ritual of filling my hydration pack and eating a small bar of chocolate. It was getting close to 40 degrees and I knew I might have to seek a campsite soon as everything was so hot. I was stood sipping water and eating an ice cream when my phone bleeped. It was Colin. It was the first contact today. Message ‘not good news mate. Fucking major issue’. I thought that perhaps his bike had failed again so I replied ‘ what’s happened, where and when’ Message ‘Up in Spain. Raven had a major off, can’t believe it’. Time to stop the texts and call. I will never forget this. Mate what’s happened? Raven has had an accident. Is she ok? No mate. A hospital job? Worse than that. What? It’s fatal. I asked some questions but really I can’t recall what. I did ask Colin where he was and he didn’t know so I told him to get me a town name and I was on my way. Minutes later the town name arrived Caspe. I plumbed it into the sat nav. It was the equivalent of a whole day riding. The sat nav told me it would be 2am by the time I arrived. I clamped my hands to my head, pacing about repeatedly saying “fuck fuck fuck, no, what the fuck”. All completely wasted on anyone who could hear. I text my sister the news and asked for the British Consulate numbers. Having got those I called them. They were very kind and helpful. I then quickly emailed Austin Vince, organiser of the off road event i am due to ride and Rachael, a friend who wanted a chat about a web site she is develloping. I doused my clothes again in water jumped aboard and set off. It was a dual carriageway mostly and as I rode along, fairly numb to the heat, my surroundings and other road users, I thought about Raven and how we had such a great time. A friendship kindling that would surely last. At one point we had likened ourselves to Muppet characters. In my helmet I whispered “bye muppet” and promptly bawled my eyes out. Really I dont recall much of the ride except the part shortly after setting off where the Speedo cable snapped. No biggy, I know my bike will do 250km on a tank and have 50km in the reserve tank. My only record of distance now was the sat nav that only told me how far to the next junction in miles. This was just the right time for a maths test. OK 50km on reserve equates to about 36 miles. The rest didn’t matter as long as I made mental notes when I switched to reserve. Then I saw in the top left corner of the screen it said miles to destination. More maths determined this was going to be at least three tanks of fuel and it was going to be tight if I didn’t get the fuelling right. The big problem was that my visor was bug splattered, my contacts were salty and washing around the sockets from tears and the sat nav is mounted on a flexi coupling. The next fuel stop came and went in a blurr. As I continued north I saw that all the windmills I had admired on the way down were now in semi darkness and all had synchronised flashing lights. The horizon lit up in a stroboscopic display. Raven and I had shared our thoughts on the relative beauty of windmills and the great use they make of the world’s free energy. Inside my helmet I thanked her for the view. Suddenly the bike cut out, I knew this to be the need for fuel. Typically I had just passed the 24hr fuel station sign. It’s ok I will make the next one. I did make the next one and the sat nav told me I was 206 miles from my destination, it was 10pm and light was fading, at 50mph I was still 4 hours away. I ditched my contact lenses and reverted to glasses, causing my vision to blurr until the my eyes adjusted. With 200mile range this was gojng to be a challenge. I rode on having text Colin that I was still coming to him and asking him to book me a room. I was quite adamant that there would be more fuel. The last time I had looked the sat nav had said continue for 100 miles, but now it said take the next exit. I took that exit and stopped to check the sat nav hadn’t thrown a wobbly. It was adamant I needed to take the N330. I happily took that road as sun had now set my lights were proving to be quite ineffective with all the weight on the back of the bike. I had no choice my mate needed me. I had judged speed by the rev counter, oh yes remember in episode one when I noticed the rev counter bulb had blown!! The route was torturous, with twisting lanes barely wide enough for a car and steep hills that sapped the bikes power. This would have been biking nirvana during the day, but now it was biking hell with constant warnings of wildlife and sharp bends. I could see silhouetted mountains as I climbed but inside I wanted straight simple roads for effective mpg and ease of progress. Tiny little villages came and went in darkness. Occasionally a group of youngsters would be stood at the roadside having heard the rattle of the single cylinder 650 thundering its way towards them. I was tense in my shoulders from watching the darkened roads and still being upset at the circumstances of my ride. I lost count of the miles done and I really couldn’t see the miles to go as the sat nav had turned to night mode. Then I took a turn and the sat nav said continue for 32 miles, at the roadside a sign said 30km to the next fuel station. OK 32km is about 18 miles 18 from 32 is 14, when the sat nav says 14miles I will be at the fuel station. I continued on. At 14miles their was a small village with a fuel station but before I even got there I knew it would be closed. This was the back of beyond. I now had just 40 miles to go. Suddenly the bike cut out. I switched to reserve, that’s it I’m not going to make it. I will get close but not make it. These are dark and unforgiving roads at night. But I needed a game plan. Obviously there may be a fuel station along the way but I wasn’t feeling it. So let’s reduce air resistance. I had done this earlier when overtaking lorries in the open plains where cross winds attack you. I ducked down behind the fairing and took one hand off the handlebars, holding the other as straight as possible so it didnt droop into the airflow. At junctions I would sit up and control the bike proper. Also when I didnt have a clear view I would sit up. Feathering the throttle to get maximum fuel economy, easing it on at the hills and off for descents. I tried not to use the brakes as that is wasted energy. Slowly the miles came down. Then a sign for Caspe only six miles, but I needed it to be just one mile. I knew the road number and if there was signal I could always get Colin to send a taxi for me. Oh good it was a steep road cut between two signal sapping hills. I longed for the downhill and in time it came, leading to a roundabout where my sat nav informed me I had reached my destination, but I hadn’t. Colin had sent me the hotel details in a photograph and I needed to put that into the sat nav. Engine off I squinted with tired eyes to make out the address and plumbed it in. 1 mile, for goodness sake will this ever end. I text Colin, Informing him I may not make it and rode round into what looked like a High Street. Stopping again and switching the engine off I looked for anything resembling a hotel. It’s 230am everything looks grey and the same, but up the road I saw a character waving a phone torch light in the street. I had made it, my amazing little bike had done an impossible days work and delivered me safely to Colins location. I rode into the underground car park and we greated each other with a hug. The bike remained loaded up and we went to my room where Colin explained the whole story. We both needed sleep and would deal with things later that day. I was in pain, my hand ached from holding the throttle for 14hours, my arse was red raw and my shoulders ached. I didnt sleep much but when I did it was deep and restful.

7. All change.

It’s Sunday and the day of the parade, but rewind to last night. We returned from the beach and cleaned up. We were advised that security had been teling camoers that locals may try and get on camp or even raid unattended tents during the last night. As a precaution we packed up some of our kit and locked away valuables before making our way to the entertainment area. It was by far the busiest night with Fun Loving Criminals headlining the evening. We started on the beers, primarily because we needed to use up the excess beer tokens we had. Always aware that we would be needing to ride early in the morning. Colin returned to his tent first, exhausted from the days riding. He more so than us as he had been team leader for the excursions and as such had to concentrate more than either myself or Raven. In the great scheme of things Colin has been a legend. Next to faulter was Raven, her day had also been entertaining with her first venture into the sea. She will admit to not being a good swimmer, or even a swimmer but she braved the massive undercurrent and waves to show she could do it. She has been great fun, with her good looks she attracts plenty of attention and her happy go lucky nature makes her fun to be around. I went back to watch FLC’s and was amazed to see they were really ageing. The one track I recognised was Scooby Snack, used in Pulp Fiction. But they were struggling with a crowd that really preferred hard rock. Quite often the lead would call out to the crowd expecting a response and was met with silence. I don’t think he dared to hold the microphone to the crowd for them to sing along. I went to the second stage for a short while where a much better, in my opinion, group were banging out some well known rock anthems. However it was just a few minutes before I was also feeling the draw of my bed. The constant hum of bikes growled over the thumping base of the music and raised voices of drunken revellers. Every now and then a biker or two would see who could hold there bikes on the rev limiter longest. None of this affected my sleep in any way whatsoever. It was just prior to 7am I dragged myself from my pit and began the task of stripping the tent and packing up proper. What happened next stopped me in my tracks. I am due to meet my one remaining team mate in Oliana, Spain in 3 days ready for a two day navigational exercise. We had been a three man team but on our first training session in UK we managed to injure Kevin who had to pull out of the event. Mark and I continued practice and prepare for the event. Mark had set out on Friday and already had a bit of a mare when he wasn’t allowed into France because his passport had been stolen after he left it on his bike saddle for the crossing. Once loaded back on the ferry and ready to sail home he located the passport in a ‘safe’ place he had secreted it. He even managed to get them to reopen the bow doors to let him off. He then rode some off road tracks towards Paris. I had chuckled at his passport incident, but today the message was far worse. Mark was in hospital, having pitched off his bike and broken 5 ribs. His trip is over, as is our challenge on the trails of the Pyrenees. I have messaged him back to see if we need to mount a rescue operation and notified the organisers of our teams demise. I am now awaiting an update before a re-shuffle of my own plans to fit in with people’s needs and my own holiday plans. Anyway back to better times. With the bikes loaded we said our farewells to new friends and had one last team photo. We rode into town looking for a café to get breakfast. I was going to stay to watch the bike parade but Colin and Raven needed to make tracks. I rode with them for 15km before deciding we weren’t going to find a café, I overtook Colin and pulled into the side of the road. We said out goodbyes and promised to stay in touch. I turned in the road and watched them disappear from view in my mirrors as I rode back to town. So again no pictures at this time but trust me when I say I have never seen so many bikes in one parade. The streets remain open but they are lined with spectators. When the bikes start to come through I expected the parade to take a few minutes. Some twenty minutes later the cavalcade of bikes up to 8 deep was still ploughing through the junction I stood at. Every type of bike and rider is accounted for in a bright array of colours all lit by the crystal blue sky. Even some children had got in on the ride on their little peewee 80’s. Some families, reminiscent of other countries crammed the whole family on one bike. I filmed and took photo’s (not that you will see any of them). And then as quick as it started it was over. I went to the shopping centre where I sit now typing this. Well there you go, you are as up to date as I am. (later) I decided not to head back into Spain but instead, against the advice of friends I revisited Albufeira. Well I found an expensive campsite where I sit now listening to the pub singer murdering some family favourite songs. It’s poor karaoke at best. Every song starts and ends with a ‘Yehaw’. Anyway I spent the afternoon at the beach and having yet another swim. My bright white body reflecting the sun directly into others eyes. I have to say I have a full bricklayers white T shirt tan. My arms are super brown as is my neck. I really was just wasting time in the hope that I would get word from Austin about my role, if any, in the upcoming challenge. At this time it has not arrived and I have resorted to asking HU members and Lois Pryce via Twitter to encourage him to look at his emails. I have had news from Mark. He was riding a trail in France when he hit a chain stretched across the path. He is in a lot of pain and hopes his travel insurance will sort recovery for the bike and his return trip home. I’m so far away its almost impossible for me to get to see him. He hopes to be mobile enough in 6 days to travel back home. Back to the bar here at the campsite. The pub singer has finished and the second half of the entertainment has started, the reptile show. Now if you own a bar and you want to clear it in seconds flat, employ a reptile handler to release snakes into the crowd. Honestly it has emptied with much screaming of children and adults alike.

6. A few days on.

It’s Friday now and thanks to the power of solar energy I have electricity a plenty with which to write. So let’s go back to Thursday. We were up relatively early and had several coffees at the hotel to start the day. The bikes loaded we set of about 10am for the long 6km journey to the bike meet site. With Colin leading the way we arrived and parked up at the entrance to pay out fees collect our free T shirts, badges, stickers, oil and condoms. Yep free sex! I’m not sure I needed six but maybe the lady behind the counter thought I was a catch. Having registered we set sail into the vast wooed area this site is made up of. The organisation alone makes it worth the entry fee. Routes to various camping areas are marked out, fenced off and lit. There are walkways with overhead water sprays to keep you cool. The facilities are excellent and extensive. The site is right next to the airport and I understand it is usually just a wooded park area with no facilities at all. We found the spot Colins friends Gel and Jason had marked out for us and them. We set about pitching tents. Raven has a large two man tent and Colin a small mobile mansion. I would say, see the attached picture but you know me and getting pictures attached. Anyhow the tents were up in quick time and we went for a walk around the site. The first port of call the stall where you exchange cash for beer tokens. Then a walk around more and more stalls selling all things from salted squid to tattoos of salted squid. A few beers later we sat at the entrance watching the endless stream of bikes coming onto the site. Every conceivable bike and some spectacular custom jobs. If you ever thought you were elite riding a Harley Davidson, come and see this place. Come to this place anyway it is incredible. After, literally a few hours bike watching and spending beer tokens we wandered back through to one of the two large entertainment areas, with a stage, live music and yet more food stalls. Once the sun had set it was just the right temperature to walk talk and thoroughly enjoy meeting new people. Bikers are inherently friendly, unless like Raven you bump into a guy and during your apology you rub his arm, at which point he gets very angry at being touched. I’m guessing he will be taking his condoms home. It was just after midnight that we strolled back to our tents with music still pumping into the night air and bikes arriving at various engine pitches I crashed drunkenly into my tent and slept soundly. Colin was up early and had the coffee on, good lad. I dragged myself out of the tent and into the start of yet another glorious day. We have quite a shaded spot so the intense heat of the day hadn’t cut through the trees yet. I am loving my camping stool. A purchase made after last year’s trip when I realised the only thing I missed when using the tiny tent is a place to sit comfortably. There are some uber expensive aluminium and fabric chairs that fold down small or there are some cheap copies. I have a cheap copy and my bum doesn’t seem to mind. Maybe it will when the cheapness shows and the thing collapses impaling me. After a quick clean up we set off to the beach for breakfast. The day was starting to warm up and for the second time in a life of riding bikes I found myself wearing a t shirt and no gloves. If anything it heightens your awareness, makes you scared is what it does. More coffee and a toasted cheese sandwich set us up for the day. Raven needed a new air bed so we headed back into town. My bike has needed a new foot on the side stand for sometime as in sand it just sinks. I had one ready to fit but ran out of time prior to setting off. Anyway I purchased a pair of babies training shoes and some expanding foam. Moments later my side stand is very cool in its new training shoe. Back into the air conditioned shops for 30 minutes whilst the foam set and hey presto a unique little side stand, not quite unique as Raven has the same but with a shoe. I did try to purchase a solar charger and was sent to Staples but no one had any left. Back on camp I borrowed Ravens solar charger and my tablet is up and running. The Sun is starting to kick in now and although I suspect its great for the solar panel, its not so great for the palid white blogger. I’m going to hit the showers then maybe the beach before it all starts again this evening. I want to know how many people are here, according to the website last year saw 40 thousand bikers here, no wonder I couldn’t find my tent earlier. It’s Saturday now and yes indeed we did go to the beach for a swim. The waves were massive and washed us further downstream with each breaker. It was a short exhaustive swim but it felt good. We returned to the camp and cleaned up before hitting the entertainment area. We walked around the stalls, which mostly sold leather biker kit and associated vests with tassels and the like. For some reason we struggled to decide on food and ended up just eating a sweet waffle before attacking the beer. The music was good, the bikes better and all washed down with a few good beers some great laughs and the communal feeling of brotherhood between bikers. There are exhibitions of choppers built to perfection and rat bikes alike. Some big names have stalls but mostly they are independent traders. At about 11pm Colin and Raven retired for the night and I went on to watch some more live music supplied by a surprisingly good all female rock band. However beer and long days forced me to my bed at about 1am. Amazingly the party continued throughout the night and the hoards of people just didn’t seem to die down. We were up early and formed a plan to go out for a ride into the local countryside. First breakfast at the now regular haunt of the shopping centre Faro Forum. From there we just set off looking for little used roads and local life. We stumbled across a colourful little market in Olhao. We checked out the abundant fruit stalls and a warehouse with the remains of the days fish catch. I really don’t like the smell or taste of most fish but I did enjoy seeing the various sizes and types of fish caught locally. From there we wandered some more and I was pleased to get some good gopro footage to make some kind of holiday video from later. Back in Faro we went to the headquarters of the Moto Club Faro. Wow what a clubhouse. When I think back to the clubhouse used by the motorcycle club of my youth, it was a reading room in a tiny village with wooden floor, plastic chairs and a tea urn. This place was out of this world, a huge white building set on a hill in the centre of Faro with ample bike parking spaces and inside the you could see why they needed ample parking. The place was like a Hard Rock Café for club members and visitors alike. We had a beer and checked out the various bikes and engines displayed within the building. The food looked great too but none of us were hungry. We decided that another swim was in order and as I had the gopro with us we filmed the escapades of trying, firstly to get in the sea and then not be swept away by the ferocious currents. A short swim was all that we could manage before we dragged ourselves exhausted from the water to air dry in the sun. Having semi dried we came back to camp in order to clean up before this evening’s events. The headline act “The fun loving criminals”. So I’m off to the showers to get cleaned up. Tomorrow is Sunday and the main event is the ride out through the town. I have decided not to take part as I think the true spectacle will be as a spectator. Upwards of 30000 bikes are expected to take part. So it’s an early start for us with the packing up to be done early and get off site prior to the ride out. After that I will be headed off to make Oliana in time for the event I have entered there.

5. Faro at last

It’s Wednesday, I had to tell myself that as its all blurring into one big adventure. So last night Colin and co made a long journey well into the night and camped wild. I hope they had better neighbours than mine when I tried that. Anyway a plan was hatched to meet up today at a small town called Camas. For some reason Colin wanted to meet at 7am, does he not know this is my holiday. Anyway using the age old barter skills we agreed on 10am. I am currently sat at Pomodoro Cafe inside the Carrefour at Camas, enjoying tosdados and coffee. The bike is fuelled and I’m ready to go. Let’s just rewind to yesterday.

   Did I mention getting caught up in a dust twister? I’m going to call it that because I don’t know the real name. It was like a mini tornado of dust. I was filming it across the field as I rode along and it seemed to go behind me as our paths met, but the sudden wind really shook me and the bike. All very exciting. I saw another two but they missed me. Ahh I also forgot to mention the strip club. But let’s just move that to one side for a second and talk about the weird set up of towns and rural industrial spaces. So towns seem to conform to what we would expect, all the houses and businesses in and around a central hub of shops and cafes etc. In stark contrast, out on the open road in the middle of nowhere appears to be huge strings of business premises. Not all are functional but all do appear to be miles from civilisation. I can see that it makes owning company buildings cheap, but just who works there? Everyone must have company cars and fuel cards for sure. Also who needs that many plant machinery places. At first I thought it was just me being a plant spotter but having met up with Colin he also shares my view that there are huge numbers of yards, some sporting very old and battered machinery. Does everyone in Europe play by the same rules, as I am sure our kit has to be safer. Anyway whilst pondering this and many other questions on this long stretch of very flat, very boring road I saw a strip club, right there a million miles from any town. So who, what, why etc. Anyway there wasn’t a queue!! No I didn’t. Back to today. We did indeed all meet up and rode the last 100km to Portugal as a threesome. The road was as always a dual carriageway right up until the border where we were stopped. However, we were stopped for nothing more than a chat and given some nice directions to avoid the toll roads into Faro. The road we used was a rough track compared to the endless dual carriageway but it made a nice change and tested our skills at predicting what the locals were going to do as they went about there lives driving with various levels of skill. One guy behind me was filming us on his mobile so I obliged with a quick wheelie and then spent the next 15 minutes checking behind to see if he was in fact a cop.

Without to much issue Colin guided us to the hotel Realgarve and we booked in. I had intended to stay on a campsite but Colin got a great deal on 2 rooms so I stayed. We ate well and had a few beers before I came over all holiday maker and went to the pool for a swim. Followed by a reddening session in the sun. Then back to my room for a nap before dinner. Finally a decent cooked meal with beer obviously. We chatted and engaged each other with tales before walking into Faro town which was pretty much closed. Back to the hotel then for coffee, ice cream and bed. That’s pretty much it for today, no long miles just a nice ride in some lovely sunshine and arriving at our destination. Colin assures me there will be no sleep for the next three nights of the Faro bike rally and we are setting off early to get our pitch sorted out. I can’t guarantee any more posts for a few days as I am running out of battery again and the battery bank takes forever to charge on the bike which has to be running in order to charge. As we are not going anywhere for a while it may be an issue. Just to leave you with my next quandary, I have to be in Oliana on Wednesday. Oliana is 800miles away and I could be here until Monday. It’s a long ride and most of it is back the way I came. Next time I need to allow more time to see the areas I visit. But that is why we do shake down trips to test machine, equipment and set boundaries for what we want from a trip.

4. 360 miles. A long slog

So day 4 started with the rewrite of day 3 and subsequent posting. It all took much longer than anticipated so I am going to try another approach. Today’s blog is brought to you by Google docs in association with the blogger app.

  OMG I added a photo and it’s the right way up! So this is last night’s hotel, a lavish affair with marble stairs and a 3 bed room with En suite. As you can see the bike wore her PJ’s.

In the travelling world they call it the invisibility cloak as no one looks at a covered bike, it’s just a covered machine. In fact I’m surprised you can see it at all in its camo gear. Ok I’m washed and cleaned its time to get rolling, catch you later. (later) So I made it to Madrid in some pretty heavy traffic. The bike sure felt the heat and my leg got the brunt of it. I badly needed a coffee. Purchased said coffee and sat down to update my photos only to find the advertised WiFi doesn’t work. I have tried to contact Colin and Raven to see how they are getting on, I forgot to mention that they had taken refuge after a massive downpour left them soaked through. I suspect they are gaining on me as I settle into a more leisurely pace. My pace was a steady 110kph on the way here, until the traffic build up. I passed Guadalajara which looked a clean modern city but decided not to stop as Madrid was my target location. On arrival Madrid is a bustling capital city full of high rise buildings and old architecture. All very clean but stubbornly hot for a bloke in a riding suit. I don’t actually have any plans for the route from here so I dragged the map out and have found a route to Cordoba. My plans of riding the trans Portugal track have been shelved as the bike is so heavily loaded. I’m not sure it could handle off roading with all that weight, now I regret not replacing the rear shock that looks permanently compressed and sagging. I’m told the Suzuki SV650 has the same rear shock and second hand they are quite cheap. So I have had contact from Colin saying his bike is playing up and he has had to stop to repair it. They hope to make Seville by tonight. I’m not sure I will get that far but I’ll give it a go.

I didn’t make it Seville but nor did the others. Colins bike had issues with the stator rings and alternator connections. However they are fixed and on the road again. I, on the other hand, am on a campsite near Cordoba. After my posh coffee in Madrid I walked the town for about half an hour but the heat and the crowds were no place for me in riding kit with a rucksack and crash helmet to carry. I did manage to pick up a battery bank for the tablet, and once I had used the phone sat nav to get me out the city, I plugged it in to charge. The road was straight and dull, what’s more it was going to be like this for 300km. I rode until the bike demanded fuel and stopped to fuel us both.  I know the bike does about 200km per tank with a reserve of 50km. Using that almost clockwork accuracy I can judge when to fill her up before hitting the reserve. I found a shaded area at the filling station and sat down to eat my sandwich. Man it was bad. I could only make out that the box said barbecue something. I will never know what that something was and only one half got eaten. I’m not sure even the local rats would eat the other, in fact it may have been a barbecued relative. Another Red Bull lunch.

Back on the road I played with the gopro and POV stick, but really there is only so much you can do before even that gets dull. Meanwhile little Honda plodded away the kilometres. The road seemed to be cutting across a huge expanse of open land, very flat and burnt to within an inch of life. It was sauna hot in my kit despite opening all the vents on my dessert range of bike gear. The wind hit me at a 45 degree angle from the front right, causing me to have to lean to the right to keep straight. Unless overtaking a lorry when the wind died and the leaning right thing made me career towards the side of the lorry. Then as I passed the driver, again the wind hit. After a while it became easy to just lean, not lean and lean again. However the bike felt like it was struggling at times and I was getting very hungry. I ran out of water in my hydration pack and decided enough was enough. The bike was going to need fuel again soon and that would be a good time to stop. With that the engine died. I knew it was low fuel by the way she just shut down. Switching to reserve she fired up and carried on, but it was clear to see the headwind had made hard work for the engine reducing the tanks range by 25km. I filled myself up on iced coffee and yet another burger. The bike was fuelled and I even remembered to find a campsite online before setting off. It was an hour’s ride and the bike made easier work of it than I. On arrival at La Carlota it didn’t take long to find the site, get signed in and pitch my tent. The ground is rock hard and my new French neighbour kindly leant me a hammer. Luckily my tent will pitch easily with just three pegs and as there is no wind I suspect it will need no more. Next to the French family are two female bikers who went past me earlier on a Harley. They don’t speak English but I managed to get from them that they are also going to Faro for the bike meet. So far the 4 People I have met are all leather clad, leather skinned bikers. I hope I fit in! Right its time for a shower before finding the bar and night club. Alright the bar and then my bed. Colin and Raven are on the road again and riding into the evening to make up time. I am not sure they need to make up much as the Faro thing starts in 2 days and I am only 3 hours from there. Time to dig out the map and see what’s close by. Once again I promise to take more pics soon.

3. WOW WOW WOW

Well let’s see now, last time I blogged there had been a few ales sunk. So let’s get up to speed. I know nothing of football but hey I’m in the south of France in a bar and its the Euro thingy final. France are playing Portugal, so at some point I’m going to be in the winning teams country. France lost and the evening’s entertainment was cut short. But I had made friends, cheered on a team and eaten pizza thanks to the lady who purchased more than she could eat. At least I think that’s what she meant! Anyway it was very nice. After the curtailed festivities I made my way back to the campsite and crawled drunkenly onto the air bed. I was woken sometime later by an enormous thunderstorm. It seemed to go on for ages. If it were not for my throbbing head I would have taken some pictures. As it was, the rain fell all night. The bike was not covered which meant by morning my sheepskin saddle cover was drenched. I pulled back the tent flap and crawled out, managing three steps before throwing up. Morning campers, don’t mind me blowing chunks as you eat your corn flakes!
Anyway if it needed proving, I can confirm lack of food and excess beer is no cure for dehydration. To the bathroom to clean up and put in some eyes for the day. I’ve had contacts for nearly a year and still struggle to poke myself in the eyes. However it beats the hell out of putting specs on and off with a crash helmet. All of which goes out the window when the sun shines as sunnies are called for.
I digress. The bike was ready in double quick time and I said bon voyage to the French biker couple who are making their way back to their home in LaRochelle. I rode out and quickly picked up the road to Pau. Immediately bursting into Carol Deckers hits ‘China in your hand’ and ‘Heart and Soul’ (Ta Pau). Once I got to Pau (It was a theme she had, On a scheme he had, told in a foreign land, To take life on earth, To the second birth and the man was in command. “I’ll stop now”) I found myself in yet another McD’s having coffee and a burger to bolster my grumbling tummy.

I then followed signs for Oloron St Marie where I had seen a road on the map that looked twisty, rather than the main road into the Pyrenees. It was biking heaven with no more than 50m of straight between bends and it went on for ages, although no great increase in altitude I seemed to think. When eventually the road came to an end I had done some weird dog leg and was still 30km from the road proper. Looking at the map now I can’t recall where exactly I was when I first saw the mountains looming up into the cloud but it was a breath taking site. The Sun was breaking through from what had been quite a dull start and I had a good feeling about this next section. What followed was an attack on the senses. The air was cleaner, I mean you could taste the lack of any pollution, the sights were beyond description for a mere mortal like me. Mother nature (or God if you like) has done a wonderful job to create such sights.

The roads were sublime, perfect tarmac with mostly long sweeping bends affording ever more breath taking vista’s at every turn. Even the bike sounded content purring away under me as we climbed the 6000 ft to the top. I stopped several times to take pictures and also got some gopro footage for later. I hope I have managed to add some pictures to this blogg by the time it goes live. It was so good the miles slipped past, well the kilometres actually as my bike is Spanish by origin and as such has a kilometre speedo. Unfortunately the UK law states that it must have a mph speedo and so to get round this the dealer slapped a sticker over the top of the original dial. The net effect is that you cannot see the kph for the sticker which is hopelessly inaccurate for use in UK.
Onwards.

So I made it through to Spain and started the journey south in blistering heat. My right leg burning at the ankle from heat generated by the exhaust. I knew I should have put that heat shield back on. Yet more breath taking scenery followed with the mountains replaced by wide open spaces, massive expanses of land as far as the eye could see. It made me realise that in the UK you can always tell its an island because the views never open up like this. Don’t get me wrong I have seen wonderful places within the UK, mostly through the rain but they are there. Talking of rain, there was a heavy downpour headed my way and I really needed to find cover, if not the side pouch of the throwovers may have to be opened and no one wants that, oh no! With the best timing ever a service station and café came into view with a covered parking area so I dived in. Burger and chips ordered I sat down to catch up with Colin and Raven. They were still in France and making good progress. The rain passed without hitting the café area and after a coffee I hit the road again. An hour later the bike needed a fuel and I, the chance to cool down a little, so I pulled into a service station and topped up. Now, if my French is poor my Spanish is non existent and I have to be grateful that sign language and other people’s decent education gets us through. It was here that I saw battery banks for sale. These small units can charge or recharge your phone or laptop several times from one charge of their own. I have limited knowledge on such things and would have purchased one if I was certain it would charge up from my remaining USB point on the bike. However much sign language and shrugging of shoulders between me and the very kind assistant couldn’t resolve this dilemma. I’m hoping the question I have posted on the HU website will answer that soon. Outside as the bike cooled in what little shade there was, I drank my energy drink. The can had Valentino Rossi on it so I am confident my riding will improve, especially the leg wave! As I gulped the fizzy gunge a Harley style bike pulled in with rider and pillion dressed in black leather. The pillion stepped off and came over. They are both French from LeHarve and are on their way to the Faro bike meet. They seemed impressed that I was also venturing that way despite the fact we had completed much the same route. We chatted for a while before I headed off, bikers are friendly people and it was great to know that we all get along wherever we meet. I was headed towards Zaragosse which the bikers had told me was an expensive place to stay. Decision made, as the riding was going so well I would carry on another 60 miles and then look for a campsite. The road was the A2 and as its lavish description alludes to it was a long straightish dual carriageway. I invented a new game, as cars pass check the passenger and point to the gopro then wave. Loads of people waved back, next time I will turn the camera on. I stopped probably 100miles from Madrid and plugged campsites into the sat nav on my phone. Excellent there were loads back at Zaragosse and none here. OK its wild camping time. I picked up some water and headed off road to find somewhere discrete. I located a spot on a hillside within sight of the road. I pitched the tent behind a bush and covered the bike behind another. That was it, I’m wild camping. It was at this point I sat in my little tent and started this blogg, getting used to the noises that would no doubt wake me during the night, but if I could recognise them now there would be no issue when it was dark. It as nearly 9pm when I heard dogs howling close by and I poked my head out to see what that was all about. What followed was the sight of three wild dogs chasing a small rodent just about 100m from my tent. They got it and ripped it to pieces before scampering off the nearby shrubs. I was in no mood to have to protect myself from wild dogs, armed only with a pen knife and a packet of M&M’s I didn’t stand much chance. So, can you pack up and leave a camp site in under five minutes? I can do it in 3. I could even see a hotel from my hillside and within 20 minutes I was in opulent glory. Expensive opulent glory, but what price your life?
Anyhow the blog I had written got stuck in the blogger app and had to be deleted so I have written this all for a second time. My apologies for lack of photos again but I will find time to learn how its done and actually stop to take more. I’m having so much fun and the views appear so often I just want more. Maybe I need to slow it down some and that is the plan for today (I’m writing this on Tuesday 12th or day 4). Hopefully this will all copy over into blogger and I will do more tonight.

2. Saddle sore

It’s the end of day 2 and I am short on time as the battery in the tab is low. The expensive USB charger I purchased for the trip has gone duff. I still have the cheap Chinese one but that is linked into the ignition and the bike has done more than enough running today, allied to that the charger is handlebar mounted and the tab isn’t. However my excellent French enabled me to converse with a family on the camp site and they charged it to 40% before they had to go out. I say my excellent French, it was more my ability to spot the child who speaks English and get her to ask mum n dad (momma et pappa). I’m a natural me!


So I was up early and straight on the road, ok it was 9am and then I had the full breakfast before packing and setting sail. I had spent the night in a F1 hotel at La Roche Sur Yon. It was just my bad luck that a whole troop of batten twirlers were staying there and were practicing late into the night. I had to stay, it would have been rude not to. Anyway on with the journey. It was already hot by the time the bike was loaded and on the road. Again I chose to make miles rather than sight see. Although I did drop into La Rochelle, another holiday destination from my youth. Funny how things don’t seem the same 35 years later! It was very built up and I never did find the beach that we camped on as teenagers. I headed south towards Bordeaux, the wine region. There were plenty of grape vines to prove I was in the area and for some reason a number of roadside melon sellers. I don’t know much about the French but I certainly didn’t know they do melon. I do know that their housing confuses me. It all looks so old and everywhere has shutters. Most places look medieval but cared for. I think I like it. Obviously I can’t show you pictures because I’m still a newbie at this blogging app thingy.


Today was also bike maintenance day. Oh yes the left mirror came loose. It was the friction screw, so I fixed it in no time. I did glance over the rest of it and even tried to jury rig a charger for the tablet but it wasn’t going to happen. Does filling it up with fuel count as maintenance? I did that twice and even used my credit card because its Sunday and the French still do that Sunday rest thing. In fact they do a lot of chilled stuff and again I quite like it. For instance I am now sat at a bar with a beer enjoying the evening with other chillaxed people. I came here first because I was thirsty and then I saw the ice cream menu. If they did pizza I may never leave.

Sorry if this is all a bit disjointed but I am aware that battery life is limited and the quantity of beer seems directly proportional to the speed and accuracy of the typing hic hic.
Only once today did I need the yellow arrow (see pic), having performed a fantastic feet up turn in the narrow road I was immediately confronted by another mad French man on the wrong side of the carriageway. Oh no sorry it was me again.



I have had contact from Colin and Raven. So, Colin is a friend from work and Raven is, well Raven is a friend of Colins I think. Anyway here’s the rub. Colin and I were chatting one day and he found out my intention to do a Europe trip this year. He suggested the bike meet at Faro. He then suggested we meet there. He must know I’m a terrible companion to travel with. It was agreed, right up to the point that he cancelled due to work commitments. Well that got sorted and him and Raven are currently headed down through France and hopefully we will all meet up at some point in Faro. He just messaged me to say he knocked Raven off her bike. It was slow speed and no damage. They are tying to do another 100km before bedding down. I am trying to do a few more litres before doing the same.
Today’s roads were long and straight, I got so bored I even filmed some corners when they happened. Having said that I made good progress with another 280 miles bagged. I was heading for Pau but I came to Aire Sur L’adour first. As I turned into the town I crossed a bridge over a small river. It was very picturesque, and then I saw a camp site right at the edge of the river. I had to stop there. “Un personne pour un nuit avec un tente si vous plait mate”. It worked and a few minutes later I was ensconced by the rivers edge. Ablutions done I went to the bar in the square and here we are up to date.

The Adour River with a weir on one side of the bridge and my campsite on the other. At the end of the road is the bar where I wrote this blog

You have my sincere apologies if this is an awful post but its all I can manage at this time. I will work on the photographs and maybe even videos but for now be grateful I am not posting pictures of the toilets along the way!

Portugal 2016

Episode 1. Here goes


5am and I’m up, ready to don the riding gear and head for Portsmouth. My bike sits outside covered over and looking like there is a passenger already on the pillion seat. When the cover comes off I realise that with a rucksack on its not going to be easy to throw a leg over. Didn,t I do lots of prep to prevent just this sort of thing? Then there is the shuffling to get it back out through the gate, its heavy, have I packed too much? She starts on the button without issue and my sister takes a snap of me wobbling down the road bound for, well bound for nowhere in particular. Things have changed since my original plans and having adapted to the changes they changed again. I’m not good with agendas so I’m going and will just make it up as I go along. There is a rough plan to get to Portugal and a definite date in Oliana, Spain for a two day navigational event, but apart from that Europe beckons for my first continental adventure.


I made it down to Portsmouth in good time with little or no traffic on the road at that time on a gloomy looking Saturday morning. I notice that the rev counter bulb has blown, it’s no biggy as I am going to be riding in daylight hours only and the hassle of stripping the light cluster for one bulb is not worth the effort. I quickly board the ferry and the bike is lashed down. I make my way up to the passenger area, purchasing a coffee and Pan Au Chocolate, oh yes I’m positively continental.

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Let’s talk tech. I have with me a small tablet, my phone and a gopro. I’m not good with any of them but I quickly link to the ferry WiFi. What follows is an hour of updates and uploads whilst trying to get to grips with typing on a tab. Then I see that I don’t have google docs so that is currently downloading as I write this in a memo form, hoping it will copy over to docs and then onto the new blog I have set up. Surely it’s easy, after all its just words right?


Ok it does seem it is that easy. So it’s now 4.30pm and I’m in my hotel. Want to know how it all went? Well I managed to get through passport control and onto the French roads of Cherbourge without issue. Thanks to my handy yellow arrow on the inside of my fly screen, I even managed to stay on the right side of the road. I followed the majority of other English vehicles through the town, not because I don’t have a map but because I fell asleep on the ferry and woke up as we were advised to collect our vehicles. So I had no plan other than to head for Mont Saint Michel. Luckily that was advertised quite soon and I simply picked up the route and followed it. The sky was still grey and every now and then there was a hint of sunshine. I passed San Mere Eglise a place I recall from my school trip aged 13. I now wish I had just ridden through SME. A lesson learnt as I may never visit that area again and a trip down memory lane would have been nice. However I was aware that I needed to get on and make for the hotel which was a heady 250miles away. I always knew France was going to be a big push just to get through but I have already learnt that its not about the miles its about the journey.
Anyway the miles came and went as did the first fuel stop in Saint Etienne En-Cogles. A tiny typical French village just off the main road. It had a beautiful church in the centre and a tiny petrol station attached to a B&B. The lady spoke no English and I spoke very bad French but hey the bike was filled and I was back on the road. The wrong side of the road as it turns out, much to the farmers surprise I’m sure. Where was the handy yellow arrow to remind me? In fairness it was still there and a quick glance showed it was I who was in the wrong, so I stopped berating the poor chap and swerved back onto my side before impact. Back on The main road I noticed The bikers don’t do the English “head nod” in recognition of another biker, oh no, over here its a full arm wave if travelling in The opposite direction or a Valentino Rossi style leg wave as they pass you on the same side of the road. I have the arm wave down but my VR leg shake is not the best, kinda looks like I’m shaking something out of my trouser leg, which I am sure will happen if the quality of the toilets doesn’t improve.


The roads were straight and dull, typical dual carriageway all the way, but the weather was improving and the bike purred along nicely. I was starting to thoroughly enjoy myself, even more so when I noticed several women in different vehicles taking time to wave and nod approvingly, as if to say, good on you, have fun on your trip. Well thanks ladies I will try my best.
The next decision, do I go on the toll road to finish the last 50km? No of course not, a decision made even easier by the clearly signed route. What followed was archetypal French villages and farm land, sweeping roads passing through tiny villages, houses with clay tiled roofs. It was heavenly and getting hotter by the kilometre.
Ok I am officially shattered but slightly more confident with the blog thing. I can’t work out how to add photos yet, nor tell anyone where the blog is, but hold fire friends I will get it sorted out. Having eaten just one Pan Au Chocolate for the day I really need to find some food.

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Week 8 No longer down but out!

Its not news to any of you that we are currently facing incredible times of isolation and uncertainty due to Covid-19. The triathlon I have entered has been cancelled. I can defer until 2021 or an event later in the year, however that event is during a time I hope to be travelling. I will continue to train as best I can and continue to do occasional updates on progress. I will get this event done and hopefully make the money I want to for such a great cause.

Keep the faith people we will get through this and return to an active fun life that we all deserve. Take care of yourselves and those you love. Above all, in the words of Caroline Flack “Be Kind”.

Week 5,6 and 7. Down but not out.

The hospital have said 6 to 8 weeks before I can train again. That’s cutting it fine, but forget that I need to get back on my feet. The first two days I spent with my foot elevated and ice packs every three waking hours. The bruising came out, the sharp muscular pain eased a bit. Trips to the bathroom involved adding the ankle support and a hobble the short distance. I didnt do stretching exercises until day three but prior to that I was slowly writing the letters of the alphabet in the air with my toes. Keeping the ankle mobile but under no load was a priority. As the days went on I used it more and froze it less. It was day 6 that I went back to work for an 8 hour shift, luckily I was rostored a day off on day 7. Since then I have been back at work full time and each day sees the ankle getting stronger, although it still smarts at the end of the day.

Just a gentle reminder that I’ve not been training!!

Cycling: none

Running: none

Swimming: I’m back in the pool, or at least I was last night. I managed 200m in small bites, all freestyle. It felt great to do some phys’.

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