Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Episode 11. The end bit

So the journey home from our hotel in Labastide Murat in the Bordeaux region would involve another long day in the saddle to get to Pre-en-Pail, in Normandy some 400 miles, where we had an appointment with Shirley, Ravens step mum. She has some land with a cottage and two gite. Both Colin and Raven were due to go there on their travels.
I will spare you the journey as it was fairly uneventful and long, mostly on motorways with nothing much of interest. When we did stop and even when we were packing to set off in the morning I could tell that for the fourth consecutive day Colin had a huge amount on his mind. He had slept little and worried lots. What did happen towards the end of the day was me getting a tad of road rage. I am by nature a pretty placid sort of person and not usually overly annoyed at other road users errors. However I suspect this day was a culmination of having lost a friend, had another in hospital and seeing the pain Colin was continually suffering both mentally and physically, with his back. The driver had almost hit Colin and ignored all the signs and road markings, it ended with me pulling up next to the driver when he stopped at a layby, his window was down. We had an exchange of pleasantries, well no. I had an exchange of unpleasantries in the universal language understandable to all. At this point I noticed Colin was disappearing round the next corner and I had no idea where we were or where we were going. I caught up and had words with myself. He didn’t need me being an idiot he needed support of a friend. We went up the long driveway that leads to Shirley's beautiful home. On arriving we parked up the bikes and were greeted by four barking dogs. None of them any great size and one, just the cutest looking dog.

I tried to encourage them to come close and be petted but they weren’t having any of it. In due course Shirley came out to greet us and we all entered the cottage. Shirley is a wonderful lady who along with her late husband Tony had completely refurbished the cottage and gites. Between them they had made a fantastic job of turning the goat barn into a holiday let, along with the second that I didn’t see. Tony, Raven's dad had met Shirley just seven years prior to his death last year and Shirley was still coming to terms with that terrible loss. She knows she needs to rent the holiday homes out to maintain an income but as of yet has not managed to do so. Obviously Shirley had questions as to what had happened and what would happen next. Colin struggled through being as honest and open as only he can be. Shirley was accepting of the events, not without being upset but this lady took some comfort in the fact that her late husband had not had to deal with his daughter's untimely death. Tony had been a motorcyclist and like so many parents was concerned as to Raven’s use of a motorcycle.
Shirley explained that she had got some pizza for us and hoped we liked it, what a star. By this time the dogs had become more trusting and I had fallen for Betty the mischievous little fluffy one. Yeah, that's it my knowledge of dogs runs only to fluffy or not!
I was shattered and took a shower before hitting the sack, I had managed to book a ticket on the same ferry as Colin and we were to head off first thing in the morning.
It was 5.30am and Shirley had woken to see us off. We rode out onto the motorway in the crisp fresh air and started the journey to Calais. It was fairly uneventful apart from my choke cable sticking, needing a quick roadside repair, and me nearly running out of fuel again, after my silly decision to ride to the next station rather than wait the five minutes until this one opened. We arrived at the ferry in good time. I rode up to passport control and the guy asked where I had been, “Good trip?” he said. I paused and thought, does he really want to hear this, no of course he doesn’t. “Yes thanks very nice” I replied and we rode onto the boat.
The crossing was pleasant and the ride home equally so. We stopped at a petrol station where we would go our separate ways. I shook Colin's hand and with nothing prepared to say I smiled and said “In the words of Vinnie Jones, It’s been emotional”. We both laughed and set off for our respective homes. I had completed over 3000 miles. Thats an eighth of the way round the world hmmmmmmm!!!!

It’s now two weeks later. I have returned to work and also, with Colin's help, organised a charity ride out in Ravens memory. We are piggybacking an Air Ambulance event and supporting them. A whole load of her friends have signed up and we hope to end it all with a picnic for anyone, biker or not who wants to join us in remembering a dear friend.

What did I learn. Preparation is everything. Remember the rev counter light i would never need or the choke cable i purchased and never fitted. All these things have taught me that I need to prepare before any bigger adventure. This was a shake down trip, bigger than last years UK version. I used it to test my bike, my gear, my resolve and riding ability. I learnt to be flexible and adapt to changes along the way. So for me it was a good trip, marred with sadness but overall a great experience where I met lots of people and enjoyed their company.

Some have asked if i will continue to ride a bike after the terrible events on this trip. Here’s my answer. Motorcycling and travel are my thing, my drug if you like. It’s addictive and exciting, and yes dangerous, but so is crossing the road. On my bike i am free to go where I want, meet new and exciting people. I saw several people look at me from their cars and in some I saw a little envy. I’m not rich, I don’t have a top of the range bike and most my gear is second hand. But what I get from riding and travel is worth all the saving and hard work to make it happen. So yes I will continue to ride and explore my boundaries.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this and i do hope some will leave feedback. Maybe next year it will be bigger and better. 
Raven x

Monday, 25 July 2016

Episode 10. Millau Viaduct

We were up and on the road by 6am. We rode out of Caspe on the same road and past the accident site both of us with our own thoughts. The Sun was just starting to rise and we were treated to a hazy start to the day.
The roads were wonderful, flowing curves complimented by awesome scenery. Before I knew it Colin was signalling to get fuel, surely we hadn't gone that far yet, but we had and the roads had been a joy to settle into the day. Fuelled, we set off again headed for Andorra. I led the way with my slower machine, although we had been travelling at the same speed when Colin led, his bike being more frugal with the fuel at the lower speeds. I was in two minds as to which bike I wanted more, the faster smoother four cylinder road bike with its fairing and wide saddle or my single cylinder thumper with the hard thin saddle, no wind protection but the ability to go off road. I considered other options such as the big BMW GS or even the smaller 850. The cost of these was the issue. In the end I realised me and Molli are an item, we work well together. She stops me speeding past wonderful sights and prevents speeding tickets. I get to ride off road and that has always been important to me. We picked up the A2 and then the C13 following signs for Andorra. We stopped at the village of Pantos for a coffee, well, two in my case. Again a picturesque little town on market day, although we were ahead of market start time. I went to get my second coffee and there was a schematic map on the wall indicating the various roads out of town and significant towns along the way. Oliana was there, oh my god Oliana, the town I should be heading for today to start the event I had entered. I had totally forgotten it with the past few days events.
I first heard about the Twinshock challenge at the bike show in London. I had only gone because I had nothing else to do and there was an adventure bike area and the possibility of seeing the new Honda RC13, a road legal Moto GP bike. Anyway that bike wasn't there, but Austin Vince was. He is a hero of mine since watching Mondo Enduro and reading books by Lois Pryce. I spoke to Austin and he explained he was doing a navigational event for two days in the Pyrenees, it’s all off road and great fun. I needed team mates as the rules state you must be a team of two or more. He didn't seem to mind that I was a shock short of a twinshock bike. In the following months I was introduced to Mark and Kevin, both good off road riders and we formed a team. On our first meeting Kevin had fallen badly twice from his beautiful TT500 Yamaha. He went home injured. Subsequently he counted himself out of the event. Mark and I trained for the rest of that weekend and again a few weeks later, we seemed to ride well together. Our team needed a name so we had Kevin in mind when we called ourselves “OMG you killed Kevin”. We were sent maps which needed endless hours of copying and expanding and route marking. It took me weeks to get all the waypoints marked and do pace notes to get between them. I only did half of them and Mark the rest. Then my hopes of competing faded when Mark fell from his bike on the way down breaking 5 ribs. Austin had said come along anyway we will do some riding together. However all that had gone from my mind with the most recent of events. Now in Pontos it came back. We mounted up and headed north passing through Oliana and right past the hotel with all the competition bikes outside. We carried on and I was surprised to see that my route I had planned to take to the first waypoint was correct. Soon that was behind us and we continued towards Andorra, swiftly passing through customs and stopping at a big supermarket type shop. Weirdly the staff required us to leave crash helmets at the entrance. Once in the shop we found the motorcycle section where you could pick up a crash helmet, very strange. It was time for me to make amends and get a camera. I knew the one I wanted and it was purchased slightly cheaper than in the UK. I got a memory card and was set. Outside I took the camera and inserted the memory card, I was ready. We rode off with me following. Andorra is beautiful, clean and modern. We rode through the town centre, then again and a third time. In my mind I was happy that Colin was looking for a nice cafe for us to stop at. Eventually we went back towards Spain before stopping. He was furious at not having any signal on his sat nav. I checked mine and it also had no signal. We rode back just following the signs for France. The road was utter bliss. The views amazing and we rode well together. I was filming it and Colin may have been as he had a new bike cam and had attached it to his helmet.
I can get pizza delivered anywhere
We stopped at the top of a pass and I raided the pizza box on top of Colins bike, we had a photo session before cruising down the sweeping curves to the pass. Andorra must make most of its income from skiing in the winter months but the views and roads make for a great summer trip too. All too soon it was over and France was upon us.

We stopped again for some cold drinks before riding off towards Millau. This was not going to be an easy visit. I had planned to visit the bridge and was aware that Raven had it as a goal during her journey. We had again ridden a long way to complete this part of the trip. We stopped to fuel up just before the viaduct. We had a bite to eat but time was getting on, so quickly we mounted up and headed off to complete the last few kilometres to the bridge. As we closed in on the final few kilometres I could feel myself wishing Raven was with us and I wanted to share this with her. In the last kilometre I metaphorically held her hand as if she were on the back of my bike. Gripped the left bar tighter and as the viaduct came into view I shuddered at its wonder.

A huge bridge spanning a 2.5kilometre gorge over the river Tarn, some 270m (890ft) high. It was such an amazing engineering feat. The tallest bridge in the world by virtue of its highest mast being 343m (1125ft) above the gorge. Designed by British architect Norman Foster it was an incredible sight. My usual over enthusiastic wonder at engineering was to the fore, but also the tears streamed down my face at not being a group of three. I also knew this was the end of the sad times for me. I had made it and I had shared it with the memory of my friend Raven. She had come into my life like a ball of lightening, illuminating everything and making every minute of knowing her an absolute joy, we had huge amounts in common and what's not to like about a lovely girl with three bikes? Five days is all we had and I will treasure ever one of those days for the rest of mine. I have nothing but wonderful memories of Raven. I stopped at the far side with my head in my hands I felt exhausted. Colin pulled up next to me and was equally upset, I knew however that his pain would continue for a long time yet. We went to the car park and walked to the viewing platform. I got the new camera out and switched it on ‘memory card fault’, brilliant! I had left my phone on the bike and now only had the tablet in my rucksack. But that takes  pictures doesnt it?  I have to say it took some great pictures. ( as I am writing this I have mastered adding pictures and suspect you will see just how good this pictures is). Back at the bikes my bum was still aching and I really didn't want to ride much further, but this wasn’t about me, not this time. Colin suggested another three hours to his mates house. I pointed out that he had earlier told me I have a tail light out. I was kind of hoping that would be my get out clause but what actually happened was roadside repairs. A quick fix and the tail light was as good as new. We rode on and on and on. Eventually Colin stopped, at the entrance to a set of shops, to say he was exhausted. I was off the bike and straight into the wheelie bins, looking for bubble wrap to make a cushion. Hey presto at no cost a cushion to ease the pain.
shop, wheelie bin, new cushion

 But really we were exhausted, so after a failed attempt to book I a biker hostel we found a hotel. The Hotel Bastide, named after the person who invented the pricing list. It was a lovely hotel with a great shower and amazing restaurant. Colin was paying and little did he know we were in the expensive bit. We had a salad starter followed by beuf bourguignon. The starter was crazy good and the main I'm sure equally good but I'm no great meat eater so I picked at it. Colin didn't want dessert, but I did and he had paid for the set menu so I had double Creme Brulee. Before we knew it the clock was well past 11pm and we hit the beds. Tomorrow would be a day of long miles and another challenging encounter.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Episode 9. A day off

I guessed by the look on Colins face that sleep didn't come easy, if at all, that night and I was in no better condition after just 5 hours sleep. But I was up and ready to help in any way I could. This wasn't going to be easy for either of us. We went down to the car park to get our luggage. I remember on arrival the lift was a tiny affair with what I thought were two doors on adjacent walls. It seemed odd, that's all. I told Colin I had no intention of riding anywhere today and we both needed a day off. Both to recover from the shock of events and my arse was killing. He agreed and went about negotiating the continued use of the rooms he had booked. We unloaded the bikes in relative silence and made our way back to the lift. The doors closed and we both looked at each other sighing as we knew this wouldn’t be a good day. “I need to get flowers mate to put at the scene”. I on the other hand needed to see where this had happened. The previous night on my journey up I had been haunted by maybe coming across the scene in the dark and having some kind of mishap myself. I don't do flowers at the roadside, I always think that I would have other options like a favourite place that we had in common where I could remember them better. But I didn't have one for Raven. I had only known her for 5 days and the only place we had in common was 717 miles away.   Colin leant back against the side of the lift, only it wasn't the wall and the doors had opened. Stood outside was the staff member who had placed a heavy crate at the door entrance. Colin went back in almost slow motion. He stepped back to stop the fall but his foot struck the crate and he went down on his back. His bad back that had plagued him for the past few days. Still holding his luggage he could do nothing to stop the fall. He lay there momentarily, not nearly long enough to assess any damage, instead out of shock or embarrassment, he got straight up. I helped lift his baggage. The staff members was so apologetic and I think all three of us just wanted the whole thing to end.
We went to the restaurant for breakfast and were shortly joined by the owner's husband, a nice guy who had been supportive the previous day. Between us we could sign and pigeon English a conversation. He was glad that the Police had been good with Colin and that all the services had done what they could for Raven.
We walked into Caspe town centre and I found a hardware store, using Google translate the manager understood that I wanted flowers and he drew a map for us. Again we walked in relative silence on the approach to the shop Colin stopped to take a phone call from Ravens husband. Colin had broken the news the previous day and I realised this would be the one of many difficult calls for him, nothing for me to do but carry on to the shop. I was there for him if he needed me. Again Google translate came to the fore helping explain what I wanted. A selection of flowers were shown to me and I chose a simple pink rose and two lilies with some flora to back them. I asked for ribbon and the lady produced tiny thin ribbon. I made the gesture for bigger and she produced a quite wide ribbon, well enormous really but it was clear that was the option. She asked if I wanted words. I chose to write a few on a till roll for her to copy. It’s not easy choosing words for remembrance, especially after such a short time of knowing the person. There was no doubt Raven was an amazing person and she had lit up my life for those few days. We had immediately become good friends with similar sense of humour and being of similar age we appreciated many of the same things. Plus she was a girl with three bikes, what wasn’t to like about the woman. She went to the back of the shop and I waited, I waited for quite some time. I called to her in my best Spanish and explained I needed to go for a few minutes but I would be back with Colin who also wanted flowers. I found Colin still sat where he had answered the call, he was still talking, his shoulders slumped and a pained expression. I could only be there for him I couldn't deal with his pain or Ravens family, unless they expressly asked. The call ended and we spoke briefly, it was nothing more than we had already said but reinforcing support and friendship for a guy struggling with the horrific events of yesterday and its impact on today and the future.
We went to the florist and Colin ordered a similar bouquet. He wrote the words he wanted and we waited and waited and waited. The flowers were on the counter, what could possibly have taken so long. When the assistant reappeared it was obvious what had taken the time. The large ribbon had equally large gold lettering on it with our messages on them. Each letter was a sticker lovingly placed and spaced by the assistant who spoke no English. It must have been a very difficult thing to do, bearing in mind any error would mean the whole thing would go in the bin and she would have to start again. We paid our money and with thanks for their help made our way back to the hotel. There was no point in taking the flowers out in the baking heat so we decided to get some sleep and go out at about 5pm.
I slept a little but was up at 3pm sipping water in the shaded front of the hotel when Colin text. We met up and sat under the cover trying to make conversation without getting upset. I told the story of my ride the night before and realised I would need fuel as soon as we could. We went back to our rooms. I showered and put on a fresh shirt and trousers. We met I the car park. I opened the tank and shook the bike there was no fuel in there. I suspect what little remained had been evaporated as the engine cooled the previous night. We siphoned two litres from Colins and went to fill up. Then we rode the few miles from Caspe to the scene of the accident. Molli was play in up, now you and I both know that the fuel had run out and whatever crud lay at the bottom of the tank had now been sucked into the carb making her run rough, but it just seemed that Molli didn't want to go to where Erik (Ravens BMW) had probably ended his motorcycling days. We approached down the hill to the simple right hand curve in the road and it was obvious what had happened. Just prior to the corner the road had a nasty dip at the point where motorcyclist start to turn in. Hidden from view it catches you out. I had been prepared and we had slowed ready to stop but I could see how this would unsettle a bike. Straight ahead I could see where Erik had impacted the barrier. We placed the flowers and in silence thought our own thoughts, said our own prayers. Colin told me more and I listened intently.
We rode back to the hotel and sat at the bar our glasses touched but nothing was said, we knew what we meant. Then out of nowhere I began to laugh, laugh to the point tears ran down my face. I had sent a tweet about Colins fall in the lift and tagged it as comedy gold. Colin looked bemused, “you know who would have laughed at your fall in the lift?” We both laughed and the silence was broken. We were going to leave early the next day and it wasn’t going to be an easy day either so we packed up and before I knew it it was 9.30pm. My call was for pizza and there was a restaurant just across from the hotel. I scoffed a large pepperoni in next to no time and Colin struggled with his Hawaiian. He clearly doesn't know me as the pizza monster I am and he really doesn't know that cold pizza the following day is my absolute favourite. I made him box up the rest so we could have it the next day. Caspe was a lovely town and makes its money from the fishing. Apparently the lake homes some of the biggest fish anywhere in Europe. The town itself is a picturesque hilltop affair which looks stunning against the setting sun. I liked Caspe despite having been there under awful circumstances. Tomorrow we would ride through Andorra and on to the Millau Viaduct in France.

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. Didnt 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 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.

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 decission 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 kilometer.
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.
day one 260 miles

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Episode 8. 717 miles in a 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 didn't 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.
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.

Episode 7. OOPS 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.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Episode 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.