Thursday, 24 December 2009

Heading for the sun

The trip has finally begun!

Four days ago Tracy and I set off from Edinburgh on my motorbike heading south for Christmas in Guildford, after which we will be heading to Portsmouth on the 27th for a ferry bound for Northern Spain.

What a week for starting the journey. Some parts of Britain have received the worst snow for 20 years. One thing which really is almost impossible on a motorbike is riding on snow or ice on the roads. One tiny slip and you are off the bike - and the speed you are travelling determines the speed you hit the ground.

The week before we left was spent scanning the weather forecast trying to work out how to get to London without:
a) Freezing to death
b) Sliding on the snow and ice

We left Edinburgh with Tracy on the back of the bike, with clear gritted roads in Edinburgh. Being 24 hours since the last snow I foolishly thought the A1 would have been cleared and gritted. The first stretch was clear, although very cold, but from Dunbar the A1 deteriorated into an icy nightmare. Travelling at 50 miles per hour down a tyres-width clearing in the snow made by cars became seriously dangerous. Pulling off the road would have proved worse, as cars where right behind us, and deep snow on the slip roads made it impossible to stop safely. This, combined with minus degrees celsius and a 50 mile per hour wind chill resulted in the first days riding being both dangerous and downright unpleasant.

We are now down near Guildford with Tracy's Mum and husband after overnight stops in Newcastle to see Tracy's brother and family, and Sheffield to visit the home we moved into after returning from South Africa.

I suppose it was apt that when I visited the school in Sheffield that I first attended in 1980 as a young boy returning from South Africa the walk there was just as cold and slushy as it was the first day I attended all those years ago.

I also made a visit to the house we moved to, in which my mother passed away in November last year. It felt to me that this is where my journey was really starting from. I did not feel any particularly strong emotions standing outside the house - but the reailization that I was at the start of the journey I have dreamed of for so many years was clear.

Today Tracy and I made a Christmas Eve visit to my brother David's house to see him, his wife and their 4 children. We spent some time sorting through family photos from the 60's to the late noughties. Together we enjoyed sorting through photos of our parents as young, happy newlyweds. We found the photo of my father taken 20 minutes before he tragicly died from a heart attack whist running in the 1983 Sheffield half marathon, just 3 years after our return from South Africa. One photo shows my mother and my Grandpa, taken in the begining of 2008 - a year that neither of them would see the end of. Whilst we sifted through the boxes of photos, there was a cacophony of David and Cally's children playing - the next generation. It was a moment to reflect upon the inevitable cyclical nature of life. I miss both my parents terribly but love my nieces and nephews who will be our family's future.

My family now feels closer than ever, and the exciting news that Tracy is pregnant warms my heart - our child that will ensure that a little bit of my father and mother lives on.  This trip is really all about my family, and my coming to terms with all that has happened in the years since leaving South Africa.  To spend time with all my family at the start of the journey seems just right.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Almost ready to leave

Last week the plans for this trip finally started to come together. The last piece of the puzzle was the arrival of the Carnet de Passage, a temporary import document supplied by the RAC, to allow the bike to pass through Africa without having to pay huge import duties.

For the first time in the preparation I had the sudden realization that this trip is going to happen. When planning a trip like this there is so much to learn, buy and sort out, that the objective of actually living the dream gets lost for a while.

This week I took the bike into my local Yamaha dealer for the last few changes, and a final check over. A heavy duty bash plate was fitted to protect the engine, a center stand fitted so working on the bike on the road isn't too much of a pain, and a power source for the GPS has also been fitted.

I've also had my head stuck into a 'Motorcycle Tech Book' this week - and yes it is as boring as it sounds. But I'm hoping the pain of learning how my bike works will be appreciated when I'm out on the road. About my final job to do to the bike is to change the tires for some 'knobblies' before I leave. I am forcing myself to change them myself, rather than at a garage, as I really need to know I can fix a puncture myself!

In equal measure I'm looking forward to getting on the road at the end of the month, but also dreading the day I say my goodbyes to my wife. This journey has been a dream for so long, and I just wish I could share it with Tracy. In some ways I'm also hoping this trip is going to be a turning of the page - from my desires during my younger years of completing this trip and all it represents to moving on with my life and following new dreams. I don't know what I'll feel when I arrive back in South Africa (assuming I make it), but I expect there will be some mixed emotions. One thing is for sure though – it won’t be simple getting there.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Latest Update

I thought I'd just give a quick update on what is going on at the moment with regards to the trip planning.

Well there is a start date! Tracy and I will be setting off from Portsmouth on the 27th of December 2009. The plan is to ride down from Edinburgh to Tracy's mum's in Guildford in time for Christmas, then on the 27th we'll set off 2 up on the bike for the port. A great friend of ours 'Cactus' AKA Robin and his wife Keeley will be joining us.  As Tracy is at University doing a post grad Journalism degree, she can only join me for her Christams break.

From Portsmouth we'll catch the overnight ferry to Bilbao in northern Spain then head south for Gibraltar and the ferry crossing to Morocco after 2 to 3 days riding. Tracy will probably come as far as Marakesh, before she has to fly back for the begining of term on the 9th of Jan. Cactus and Keeley are joining me for the Sahara crossing and will bike down as far as Senegal before we have to part company, at which point they will motorbike all the way home to London!

I'm so excited that Cactus decided to join for the begining of the trip as I have fond memories from many years ago when we were both skiing in the Alps dreaming of buying a Landrover and driving through Africa. We might not be going by Landrover, but it's great when shared dreams come to fruition.  Cactus has been motorbiking for years and years -  so it'll be good having someone around who actually knows what he is doing! :)

Planning is going well. Things I've recently done include:
- Serviced the bike
- Been to the travel clinic and got my jabs and anti malarial
- Bought travel insurance (Irvine Cambell)
- Got a new passport
- Got my driving licence
- Ordered bike spares
- Got ferry tickets
- Started buying stuff I need from my kit list

Things I haven't done yet but should have:
- Learn to speak French
- Learn to fix my motorbike - or at least fix a punture
- Learn how to ride off road without falling over
- Apply for the Carnet (official paperwork for the bike)

Distance and Timing Chart

This is the data I have used to plan basic distances and timings for the trip - distances are obviously estimates, as are speeds.

I like to work out a journey in this way to get an overall picture of what is going on.

CountryKm Average Speed Time Riding  hrs Number of Days Riding Total Days Including 2 days per Country Extra
UK720 70 5 2.06 2.06
Morocco 3002405 15.01 17.01
Mauritania 2014 405 10.07 12.07
Mali1367 40 56.84 8.84
Burkino Faso 5284052.64 4.64
Ghana10054055.03 7.03
Togo15540 50.782.78
Benin 120 405 0.6 2.6
Nigeria 134340 5 6.728.72
Cameroon 951405 4.76 6.76
Gabon 8134054.076.07
DR Congo207405 1.04 3.04
Angola188140 5 9.419.41
Namibia 1475 405 7.389.38
South Africa718 50 5 2.872.87
weeks 15.93
months 3.6

Kit List

I always find it useful checking out other peoples kit lists as a guide to what to take on a trip like this.  So I though I'd post my current kit list as it stands at the moment for others to scan over.

I'll probably put some other posts up soon with other planning documents.

  • Yamaha XTZ660 Tenere
  • Water bottles
  • 2 x Panniers
  • Fuel can – 1 x 10L
  • D-Lock
  • Rear Pannier
  • Straps and Bungees
  • Extension bars
  • 2 x TK80 Tyres
  • 2 x Heavy Duty Tubes
  • Battery
  • Sprocket
  • Chain
  • Brake Blocks
  • Center Stand
  • Spare keys
  • Oil Engine
  • Chain Oil
  • Grease
  • Main fuse
  • Back tyre TK80
  • 2 x inner tubes (heavy duty)
  • Head and tail light pack
  • Oil Filter
  • Air Filter
  • Spark plug
  • Radiator sealant
  • Electrical wire, connectors
  • Epoxy glue
  • Clutch Cable
  • Rack spare bolts
  • Gaffer tape
  • Zip ties
  • Locktite
  • Hose ties
  • Electrical tape
  • Rear brake pads
  • Links for chain
Puncture Repair Kit
  • Tyre Levers  
  • Tyre pressure gauge
  • Puncture repair kit (incl patches and glue)
  • Extra patches
  • Extra glue
  • Cycle pump
  • Manual
  • Rags
  • Chain splitter
  • Spoke key
  • Pliers with wire cutter
  • Allen keys
  • Sockets 8,10,12,13,14,17,19
  • Spanners 8,10,12,13,14,17,19
  • Mole grips
  • 3/8" drive ratchet
  • 1/4" drive ratchet
  • Spark plug remover
  • Bit holder
  • Flat head screw driver
  • Cross head screwdriver
  • Junior hacksaw
  • Adjustable spanner
Kitchen Set
  • Emergency food
  • Tin
  • Spoon
  • ½ greenback
  • Lighter
  • Whisperlite stove
  • Stove spares
  • Small pocket knife
  • 1/2 Liter Fuel bottle
  • Purification Tabs - Iodine and Chlorine
 Documents (all photocopied / scanned and emailed to myself)
  • Notebook (Diary)
  • Pen
  • Passport photos x 40
  • Photocopies of visas and passport
  • US dollars, Sterling and Euros - including $400 emergency reserve
  • Travellers’ cheques and photocopy of numbers
  • Visa debit card
  • Credit card
  • Driver’s license
  • International Driving Permit
  • Passport
  • Local currency
  • Wallet
  • LP travel guide Africa
  • Insurance details
  • Ferry details
  • Vehicle ownership documents
  • Carnet
  • Cholera and Yellow Fever Certificates

  • Maps
  • Compass
  • Map Holder
Camping Gear

  • Head torch (Petzel micro)
  • Lightweight Thermorest
  • 10 liter waterbag
  • One man tent
  • 2 season down sleeping bag

  • Watch
  • Ear Plugs
  • Key leash
  • Belt with zip for concealing cash
  • Money belt
  • T. shirt x 2
  • Shorts x 1
  • Motorbike trousers x 1
  • Lightweight trousers x 1
  • Socks x 2
  • Trainers x 1
  • Walking Boots x 1
  • Peaked cap
  • Motorbike Jacket
  • Buff
  • Motorbike gloves
  • Fleece
  • Long sleeved shirt
  • Boxer shorts x 2
  • Spectacles x 2 (incl 1 spare)
  • Sunglasses
  • Motorbike helmet

  • Mobile phone
  • Mobile phone charger
  • Solar charger
  • Universal adapter
  • Camera
  • Camera case
  • 3 x 4GB SD cards
  • 16 GB Flash USB drive
  • Camera battery charger
  • Camera to computer cable
  • AA batteries
  • AAA batteries
Wash Kit and Toiletries

  • Toilet paper
  • Razor
  • Small hand towel
  • Deodorant
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Wash bag
  • Soap and plastic container
  • Suncream
  • Wet wipes
 Medical Kit

  • Antiseptic cream
  • Zinc Oxide tape
  • Small stretch bandage
  • Anti-fungal cream
  • Gauze bandage
  • Ciprofloxin
  • Antiseptic wipes
  • Elastoplast bandages
  • Syringe and needles
  • Steristrips
  • Pressure relief padding
  • Adhesive surgical dressing
  • 6 x small adhesive wound dressings
  • 2 x small dressing pads
  • Flucloxacilin (skin infections)
  • Ibuprofen 400mg
  • Thermometer
  • Doxycycline (malaria)
  • Loperamide 2mg (Imodium – stoppers)
  • Amoxycillin (antibiotic)
  • Trimethoprim (urine infections)
  • Piriton
  • Insect repellent

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Well I've got a bike

Well I've got a bike. I guess for a novice motorcyclist today was a big day.  Today was the day I picked up my motobike and rode it for the first time.

Somehow I'm not quite excited as I should be. Maybe its because there is so much else going on at the moment, trying to get the trip organised and get stuff together. The bike is in some ways just one of many things I need to get sorted in the next few weeks.  Saying that, I must confess I enjoyed the ride home.

So what could be the worst start to your motocycling career? Getting on your first bike for the very first time and the bike won't start!  Guess what I was imagining as the engine was turning over without it firing up? That's right - me by myself in the middle of the Sahara or Congo with a 200kg bike that won't start.

The bike I've gone for is the the Yamaha XTZ660 Tenere. It's hopefully built for the job, but this afternoon when it wasn't starting I began to wonder.

I picked up the bike from a great guy called Charlie in Edinburgh who has only had it a couple of weeks. He said the bike was just too high for him - somehow I don't think I'll be having that problem (I'm 6'6"). The previous owner to him obviously went all over Eastern Europe on the bike covering its alloy panniers with country stickers - which I spent most of this evening trying to remove.

So I have a bike. I'd better learn how to start it, ride it and fix it.

Friday, 2 October 2009

It will happen...

I've harboured a dream for almost as long as I can remember.

As a child my family lived in Springs on the East Rand of Johannesburg. Due to the political problems at the time, my parents felt it prudent to move back to the the UK in late 1979. My father had a great plan to drive the family home in a VW camper through the heart of Africa over several months. Grandparents were obviously a little nervous at the prospect of their grandchildren spending months away from school in a hostile environment. My father, unperturbed, bought us some school books and carried on planning. We went on a recce to Botswana to test the 'Combi' and its occupants. Soon before departure for the trip my father realised that due to Apartide and Southern African politics at the time, he couldn't get us beyond Victoria falls in Zimbabwe because of wars and bureaucracy. We flew to London in December 1979.

Being back in the UK; a country I had no memories of, was a shock to the system. Sunshine and freedom was soon replaced by Parker Jackets, Moon Boots, dirty slushy roads and grey skies. I was apparently a misery for the first couple of years back at home, and I just looked at a map of the world on our kitchen wall in Sheffield dreaming of living elsewhere. I vowed there and then to recreate the journey.

For me South Africa and Sheffield were alien to each other. There was no connection for me between the places; one was full of sunshine, game parks and out door pools, whilst the other was full of gloom and imposing Victorian schools. My idea from the outset was to link the two parts of my early life to create a physical link, overland through Africa and Europe, to shown the connections and people as well as how the landscapes, cultures and ideas change between my two homes.

When I first arrived back to the UK, I was culturally South African, but after a few years back in the UK, I now realise, I became British, but I still hold dearly to my soul the memories of my childhood in South Africa.

My feeble attempts to execute my dream first showed at University in the early 90's when I spent more time in book shop travel sections than in the Uni library. I planned to cycle through Europe and East Africa from Cairo to Cape Town. For various reasons I did go to east Africa but did not overland the whole way. A couple of years later I had the bright idea of becoming a driver with an African Overland company. I got my truck licence, did mechanics and off road driving courses before applying to work for Encounter Overland. To be honest it was my own fears that held me back that time - and the responsibility for all the guests in such a harsh environment at that time. Many beery nights have been spent with friends since dreaming about the journey.

My father passed away in 1983, and my mother in November last year. It is funny how such things change you in more ways than just grief.

With the support of my most wonderful wife we have just committed ourselves to the project, with the plan to start the journey by motorbike this Christmas.  I will set off from Edinburgh and bike as far as we can get - the ultimate goal is Cape Town.  My wife will join me for as much of the journey as she can.