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.