Monday, 18 July 2011

Trip Report 2 - Days 1 and 2

I woke up at 8am on the morning of the 17th June 2011, although most things were packed and ready to go there were still some things left to do. The first errand of the day was to pop into the post office and pick up an international driving permit, this isn't essential for Morocco but it does help by translating the terms of a UK driving licence in to other languages.

More worring though was the fact that I didn't have a spare key for my MT 350, it had come up on the MT riders club that Timpsons carry a key blank that will work. I went down to my local timpsons who told me they would have to order the blank in for me, with departure only 3 hours away this was not an option. After going around several independat key cutters I decided to run the risk and carry only one key.

After all of this it had got to 12:30 and Pirate and I were supposed to be leaving at 1pm so we could get to Countess Services on the A303 to meet Geoff at 2:30. Needless to say it was actually 2pm by the time we got on the road after all the bikes had been loaded and much swearing had taken place due to not finding certain essential items and then finding them again. The long and the short of it is you can't get from bristol to Countess services in half an hour. I decided to put my rain suit on as although the sky was currently clear it had drizzled a little previously that day.

After saying good bye and I love you to Liz, my better half, we were on the road and spirits were very high and apart from traffic coming out of bristol the jorney to countess services was smooth running. Well smooth running until we stopped to put some fuel in the bikes; before leaving I had swapped the standard fuel cap on my Acerbis tank to a lockable one (not because i was worried about people stealing fuel, but because I didn't want a breather pipe getting in the way of my tank bag) and I had managed to do it up so tight that the locking mechanism failed. I knew i had enough fuel to get me to countess services tho so pirate filled up and we got going again.

We were well over an hour late by the time we got to countess services and Geoff was begining to think we'd gone with out him. As soon as we got there we set about forcing my fuel cap off with a screw driver this took about 20 minutes of more swearing and fettleing when eventually the cap came free, so I filled up with feul and we were on our way to dover.

Our journey day one.
It was after 4 when we left Countess services which ment that we reached the M25 at 5pm, now any one who knows anything about travel in the UK knows that you don't go round the M25 at 5pm on a Friday night, Had we been on time we would have been arriving at the Travellodge in Ashford at 5pm ready for as much sleep as we could get before getting on the road  to cross the channel the following day. Instead of getting relaxed here we were stuck in a traffic jam and then it rained and by rained I mean it poured down it was monsoon conditions. It took us 2 and a half hours to go 30 miles.

Eventually we arrived at the travelodge at about 8:30 pm only 8 and a half hours before our scheduled departure time on the ferry (5am). It was 10pm by the time we were ready for dinner, a wholsome meal at the closest fast food restaurant, and we didn't get to bed until close to midnight.

 It was 3am when our alarms went off to get us up in time to make the Ferry at 5am however once again we didn't leave in time as it wasn't until 20 past 4 when we set off on the 25mile ride to Dover. Once again we had under estimated how long it would take us to load the bikes up and get fully kitted up with all our gear.

I set off on to the motorway trying to keep my bike at 70mph (yes officer) all the way to dover to give ourselves the best chance of getting our 5am ferry. It soon became clear that Pirate and Geoff were not interested in running at pace.

In my personal opnion alot of this came down to the way Pirate had loaded his bike. Pirate had decide to take not 1 but 2 spare rear tyres and a spare front tyre and had attached them to the outside of his front panniers making his bike almost the width of a small car and because of this his bike became unstable at 65mph, unfortunately Pirate can be stubborn so despite this unwelcome feature and my gentle hints the tyres stayed in place for the whole trip. So despite having a 350 engine and probably I was carring more weight than Pirate (alot of it unnecessary) my bike seemed to have a more comfortable cruising speed than simons 500.

I was often having to slow down to 50mph to let them catch up. Then suddenly on the last hill going into Dover at 4:45 (So I was still hopeful that we may just squeeze on to our 5am ferry) I lost sight of Pirate and Geoff completely from my mirrors. I was swearing and cursing them as a pulled into a layby thinking that they may have followed a different path around dover or something as they had different Satelite Navigation systems to mine. I waited for 5 minutes and then moved to the Port entrance as this was the most sensible place ro wait if they were going a different route.

After a couple of moments the 2 of them turned up and rode straight past me without stopping to say what happened or anything (I was quite taken a back by this and thought it was quite rude). So I climbed aboard my steed and set off through passport control and followed signs to the ferry. On my way through I got flagged into customs, both times I have been through dover I have been pulled into this customs shed. Inside the shed there was a lady who probably thought that making jokes was akin to devil worship. Any first she was grumpy about the orange mohawk on my helmet. I didn't dare take the helmet off to show her that I had a real one underneath. Then she asked me if I was carrying a knife. My reply to this was "only my camping knife".
"Oh can I see it" she replied.
So I un pack my tank bag and get out my swiss army knife.
"That's a weapon, It has a lock blade"
In my mine a lock blade is  saftey feature that stops the blade folding back on your fingers, but apparently under UK law a lock blade is a weapon (how ridiculous). I was quite worried that she was going to confiscate the knife, a knife I had spent a lot of money on during my last europe trip (I had bought it in switzerland). Luckly she proved to be human after all and she told me that as long as it remained on the bike It could stay with me.

Leaving Dover on the Boat
I caught up with Geoff and Pirate and it was now 5:15 and our Ferry had left but for no extra cost we were moved on to the 5:55 ferry, which was odd as we originally wanted to book this Ferry yet had been told it was sold out. I found out the reason that Pirate and Geoff were held up was because pirate had run out of petrol. Having syphoned some out of geoffs massive 38litre fuel tank on the GS he was on the road again.

We left the UK and arrived in France just before 9am (French time) having had breakfast on the boat. Our first job was to get petrol so we set off in to Calais to get Petrol. Once we had got petrol we got on to the Autoroute.

Once on the autoroute it wasn't long until we had to had to pull of the road as Pirates side stand spring had broken and was dangerously hanging loose. So we pulled off the road and strapped it up with a couple of cable ties and got back on the road.

Once we got south of Rouen the rain came back to us and it was once again torrential so we pushed on through though just as we cleared the main patch of rain it was my time to break some springs, my centre stand springs disappeared, Geoff told me the loose stand was creating lots of sparks behind me. Once again a fix with a couple of cable ties fixed this problem and we were off again. Unfortunately the rain had caught us while we were stopped and we were once again riding in torrential rain.

The next drama occored at a toll booth on the peage, I couldn't see any manned booths so went to an automatic one, The sensor on these automatic booths is designed to register for cars. so wouldn't pick up my bike. We were stuck by the booth with a queue of cars building up behind us. I had to walk accross to the the closest member of staff to get someone to open the gate for us after we paid.

Our journey day two.
Next It was Pirates turn to loose his centre stand, He now had no stand and for the rest of the day every time we wanted to stop he had to lean his bike against a lampost or wall. Unfortunately whilst fixing pirates bike the rain had come in so hard and side ways it had flooded my engine. My bike wouldn't start so we pushed it to the next bridge to check out why it wasn't starting. If it was water only time would cure it as it would have to evaporate from the engine. So while this was happening I just checked the cam belt to ensure that this wasn't the problem. After half an hour in the dry under the bridge we put her back together and she fired up and we were on our way.

Pirates Bike against a lamp post
By the end of the day we had got as far as Tours, 200km short of our intended destination for the day (Bordeaux). We ate at KFC because it was convienient and quick and then got a room at the closest Etap Hotel. The etap hotel was ideal for people just pulling off the motorway to stop for the night, however with 3 people in a room and all our bike gear as well it was more than a little crammed. Pirate managed to rig up a bungy to his bike so he could now use his side stand.

Trip Report 1 - Before Departure

In 2009 I undertook my first motorcycle trip abroad, to Dubrovnik and back on a Kawasaki W650. This was a eureka moment for me as I had found a way to combine my two passions in life: motorcycles and travel. In addition I found the joy of riding on unpaved roads whilst riding to the Southern tip of Istra (the North Westerly heart shaped peninsular in Croatia). Some of the most beautiful landsacpe I experinced on this trip was only veiwable on unpaved roads.

After returning to the UK I wanted to buy a dual sport motorcycle so I could get more experience on unpaved (green) roads. I settled on a Harley Davidson MT350 they had been the British milatry's main motorcycle for the last 15 years and they were now being removed from service. Soon after puchasing this bike I went for a ride and I found out how tough my new hobby was going to be, after almost giving up on the first lane I attempted as it was a tough rock climb on the outskirts of Keynsham near Bristol. From then onwards I was hooked going green lane riding most weekends where available. In these early days I broke the golden rule of all outdoor pursuits "never go alone" and with hindsight I was lucky I never seriously hurt myself, as I didn't have back up, but in my mind I could go alone or not at all and this was no choice for me.

In June 2010 I got married to my girlfriend/fiancĂ©e of 6 and a half years and at the time we were talking about moving to Canada in 2012, although this ambition has been put on hold for now, at the time I wanted to ride a motorcycle accross Europe to Morocco before leaving. I decided that my summer holiday in 2011, would be to ride my MT350 to Morocco and into the Atlas Mountains and hopefully as far as the desert. I thought would be the ultimate adventure I could take on two wheels in three weeks riding to and from Bristol.

Through the MT Riders Club I met another rider, known as "Pirate" or Simon who became my usual riding buddy as we were able to be free at similar times in the week. As time went on Pirate and I have become good mates. In the spring of 2010 I told pirate of my plan for summer 2011 and his immediate reaction was "can I come?" to which my reply was "of course considering everywhere I'm intending on visiting is public road, so I can't really stop you."

After Pirate got on board we offered a space on the trip to some of our riding buddies unfortunately noone could make it due to work or family commitments. One good mate of ours, Franc really wanted to go and I think if there was any way he could have made it he would have.

Another thing that put many people off joining our adventure was the time window we choose for our adventure, late June/early July when the heat has the potential to rise to 50 degrees centigrade. It emerged that it wasn't going to be an easy trip according to the information we had. It was suddenly becoming a real and challenging adventure to the Sahara in summer. The challenge aspect of it prompted me to try and make some good out of this adventure and I started raising money for the Muscular Dystrophy Campagin.

In the Autumn of 2010 I got involved with another internet based motorcycle club: Horizons Unlimited. If you are ever inspired to take a trip on two wheels yourself this internet based forum aand travel advice website is an esstential travel accessory. It was through Horizons Unlimited that I met both Paul and Geoff who we goiong to join us in the trip.

Eventually we had our team and I got to planning a route. I didn't want a ridgid itineary, instead I wanted a rough idea of where we were  heading at each stage of the trip, so although there was no set agenda there was a plan. Our plan was to get through Europe as quickly as possible hopefully in three days but to give ourselves a fourth in case of unforseen incidents; then route around Morocco losely listed as Tangier - Meknes - Midelt - Bolamane Dades - Zagora - Ourazazate - Marrakech - Tangier  and finally with four days left to get home.

In the planning one of the major issues that came up was the vast difference between the machines, Paul's Honda XR650L was similarly capable to mine and Pirate's MTs, but Geoff's BMW R1200GS was much heavier and much more road biased than the other bikes. With this in mind we made sure that at all times on this tirp there had to be an altenative route on tarmac incase Geoff or the machine wasn't up to the tricky sections.

Eventually the 17th of June 2011 came around and we were set to go!!