18 November, 2008

More random thoughts now I'm home again.

Whilst I was riding on those long stretches of open road in Russia and Kazakhstan I had plenty of time to consider what I wanted to say about various aspects of my travel. Unfortunately as one approaches one's mid-fifties, one's memory is not what it used to be and given that I neglected to write them down those thoughts disappeared.

However, all is not lost, as one's mind also has that strange ability to retrieve random thoughts at the most unlikely moments and as each one pops back into a part of my brain that I can retrieve it from, I now have the opportunity to put pen to paper (metaphorically speaking).

The first of these thoughts is what I call avoiding "big ouchies".
A Big Ouchie is what my son Julien used to call a physically painful experience when he was a young boy. I can recall the times when as a 5 year old he would fall off the swings in the playground, or from his bicycle, and graze his knee and tell me it was a big ouchie.

Whilst I was riding the gravel road sections between Khabarovsk and Chita I was acutely conscious of avoiding my own big ouchie.

I was very fortunate that I never had a single incident during my riding where I physically fell off the Burgie. There were certainly moments of trepidation when it was very easy to lock up the wheels under braking or when the gravel was so loose and deep that you effectively lost steering control, or when the convoys of cars driven by the professional drivers from Vladivostok to Western Siberia would speed past at twice my speed, in groups of half a dozen or more, flicking up rocks and creating a cloud of dust that made the route ahead all but invisible. These cars were a big challenge for me as I often had to travel down the centre of the road to find the smoothest surface and to avoid loose gravel. In these instances I had vehicles passing me on both right and left and was blind to whether there were any oncoming vehicles or whether there was another patch of deep loose gravel directly ahead which I needed to avoid.
So during these times I would tell myself to avoid "big ouchies" and this helped me put things into perspective - i.e. I would slow down or take a slightly less risky path through the dirt.

After reaching Krasnoyarsk there was minimal gravel and dirt roads apart from Kazakhstan. I'd like to retell my experiences there when travelling South from Qustanay to Khromtau. This particular road was also under construction and there were long stretches where the old road had been torn up and the new road was being built over the top of it. The state of the road was such that the road under construction could not be ridden on and instead there was just a dirt track. Now a dirt track is not to difficult to travel on at slow speed in the dry, but when the heavens open up in the forceful manner they do in Kazakhstan then it quickly becomes a quagmire. Simply holding the Burgie up in these conditions was almost impossible and I knew I had met my match when the front wheel locked up with mud between the wheel and mudguard. This was more than exacerbated by the fact that I was trying to ride on a road tyre which had minimal tread left - very difficult going and extremely trying. I came so close to losing the Burgie on that day, that it wasn't funny. Having said that, perseverance, focusing on avoiding a big ouchie, and taking it relatively easy meant I could ride till 2am - having said this, I had little choice, however, as there was no where to stop and camp until I reached my first truck stop - see below. If I had I had tried to stop at the side of the road the Burgie and I would have sunk into the mud, and I would have had to pitch my tent in the mud too.

Just a quick note to let you all know that I haven't been able to add further posts to this blog because the Blogger SPAM robots have apparently identified me as a SPAMMER extraordinaire. Hopefully this will be resolved soon and I will again be free to add to the myriad of trivia available to us via the word wide weasel.

26 October, 2008

A homecoming, yes, a homecoming. She’s taken me there… and she brought me back again. … and now I’ve brought her home too. On the 12th of October the Adelaide Express arrived in Melbourne after sailing from La Spezzia Italy on the 20th of September.

On the 16th of October the container (in which she had been travelling) was moved from the Port of Melbourne to Hoffman Freight in Newport, and unpacked.

On the 17th of October I visited Australian Customs in Docklands and obtained customs clearance – a surprisingly simple and civilised procedure by comparison with my experiences in other countries.

On the 21st of October I booked in a quarantine inspection with AQIS, fearing the worst and that the Burgie would need to have to be steamcleaned before she would pass quarantine inspection. On the 22nd of October I visited Hoffman freight, and set my eyes upon her for the first time in almost 8 weeks, to meet AQIS, only to find that AQIS had arrived 2 hours earlier and had already approved her for importation.

On the 23rd of October, Loyd and I rented a large trailer and collected the Burgie + crate to take her back to her home.

On that evening and on the subsequent day I removed the walls of the crate, bolted her back together (windscreen, bars, mudguard etc., reconnect battery, removed all my possessions which were still under the seat and in the Givi top box, and installed a new set of rear brake pads and air filter.

On the 25th I gave her a clean and today on the 26th I purchased 10 litres of fuel and filled her up prior to Loyd, Richard, Kimie and I lifting up her front end, bracing her with a hydraulic jack and putting the front wheel back on. By 2pm she was fired up and I slowly rode her out of the crate. I rode her around 30km to my parents and back twice today before changing out her vital fluids tonight. The rear drive oil was chocolate brown - yuk – but other fluids were not too bad. The rear subframe was also due for attention again as the welding I had done in Kazakhstan had not survived the rest of the journey.

This time I opted to remove the subframe completely, instead of doing an "on bike" weld, and took it round to Loyd's for him to show off his newly acquired welding skills.

Ok, so this was the historical tale but what is the real story???? …....

….well, I have to say that I truly enjoy being back in the saddle. Being back home again is great, but…. also a bit of a let down. It is oh, so easy to settle back into the rhythm of ones life, almost as if one never left it. However, I CAN’T do that – it would be WRONG to do that. I have to have something to show for my travels. I don’t mean in a tangible sense, I mean that I have to KNOW and UNDERSTAND what I have learnt, and I have to carry that with me throughout my remaining years. Being back on the Burgie encapsulates, and revives, that sense of exhilaration, and luxurious freedom, of the open road.

On the Burgie I feel once again that the road that stretches out before me has no end, and is mine to ride and live as I choose. She exemplifies to me the true existentialist notion of freedom – be decisive in my actions in the full knowledge of, and taking responsibility for, the consequences my actions. With her back it does make it easier for me to live for tomorrow, as much as today…. and with that I leave you for the moment.

08 September, 2008

On the road again........ NOT!

Thank you to all readers. I am now back home in Melbourne and today I have returned to my office and daily routine. As you can imagine, it's quite a shock to the system to be back at work and I'm slacking off to update web pages, and the like, instead.

Altogether I travelled over 29,000kms on the Burgie, 7,500kms on the Haobon and another few hundred on the Honda in Vietnam, for a total journey of 37,500kms and 17 countries over a period of 4.5 months. I will now collate all photos and flesh out this blog (which is currently really just a skeleton) such that I properly describe all my experiences. I hope it will be interesting reading for many of you and will inspire some to take your own personal journeys.

The Burgman was crated on Saturday 30th August (at great expense by a local Italian dealer) and is sailing from Genove on the 17th of September. The photo below was one of the last shots I took of the Burgie, parked in the dealers workshop awaiting crating.
It will hopefully arrive around a month later. I will then strip it down, check all mechanicals, have the subframe trued and rewelded, and probably arrange a respray for the plastic panels. Wear items such as the air filter and brake pads are now due for replacement and I was fortunate that they managed to last the complete journey.

Some of you may recall that my biggest mechanical concern was whether I would have further problems with the fuel filter after it started to leak one week prior to departure. I had the filter plastic welded but also elected to purchase a spare and have it shipped independently to Korea. Well, in a classic example of Murphy's law at work, the fuel filter was shipped back to Melbourne, still in its original packing, untouched and unused. I gurarantee that if I hadn't brought it along though, that the original would have started leaking again somewhere in the backblocks of Siberia and I would have been up the creek without a paddle.

25 August, 2008

.... and in the end....... i'ts not the end at all.

Well I arrived in Palermo - strange city that it is - only to find that I can't actually ship from there directly to Australia. I have been told to head back North to either Roma or Genove.

The situation is exacerbated by the fact that in August the whole of the Italy shuts down for summer vacation (holidays) and then there is also the language problem (no parlo Italiano).

So here I am Roma after another fascinating ride through Southern Italy, this time taking in the volcanoes,
both extant (Etna),

and extinct (Vesuvius)

and the cobblestone streets of Napoli (think Napoli, think very bouncy cobblestones). The street scene below is straight out of one of Sophia Loren's famous '60s movies such as Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow or Marriage Italian Style.

Now I am Roma though, I am still finding it difficult to locate a shipper. If anyone with local knowledge is reading this and can assist me it would be very much appreciated.

18 August, 2008

LA STRADA (with apologies to Fellini)

Hi all, I'm safe and well and have just arrived in Ancona Italia.
Just having a nice relaxing ride South - so many bikes on the road including many Burgmen of all denominations.

Since my last posting I have travelled through the Czech republic (Prague has the best beer in the world!),




and Croatia.

I'm now getting close to my final destination (Palermo Sicily) and am enjoying it so much I feel like turning around and doing it all again. The road gets into your soul (the journey is the destination) and the Burgie has been a faithful companion to me, albeit a bit worn and tired after all I have asked of it.

Soon, alas, it will all come to an end but in the meantime I will try and prolong these final days as long as possible.

The Italians are an interesting people - easily excitable and lively, but also very helpful. My final task will be to get the Burgie safely on board a ship back to Australia. I am not looking forward to this as it is going to be a challenging and onerous activity, and it aso represents the end of my time on the road.

03 August, 2008

Norwegian Wood - isn't it good.

You will all have read in my previous post about how I fell in love with Norway, but I have left out many of the details of my journey itself, so this is quick attempt to fill in the gaps.

During my very enjoyable stay at Chez Magnus, Magnus arranged for me to make a guest appearance in the local newspaper in Kalix Sweden, see below for details.

Hitting the road I left Kalix to head back to where I had been - Finland - to head North into the Arctic Circle and up to Nordkap. The roads through here are quite smooth, albeit a little damp, and those reindeer warning signs are not put there for nothing. My first experience of a stag with enormous antlers trotting towards me down the centre white line, as if he owned the road, was one of awe and wonder - what a magnificent creature. He was the first of many though, and as I crossed into Lapland and then into Norway proper I saw many more of both sexes.

Stopping to take photos was almost out of the question, however. The mosquitoes in this neck of the woods are plentiful and voracious - apparently that is why the deer come on to the road, to escape the mozzies. Tempted as I was to toss the poor suffering reindeer my can of Aeroguard, I needed it for myself.

I stopped for fuel once I crossed border, paying §3 per litre and enjoying my first $25 service station hamburger (yes, it is true what they say about Norway being the most expensive country in Europe)

Before long though, as I continued North, the winds grew steadily stronger and the night (although it was bright daylight) grew steadily cooler. I finally reached Nordkap, after travelling through 6 tunnels - the longest 7km - and windswept fishing villages, around 12.30am with many other tourists (including 2 Goldwings and a Triumph Sprint) enjoying the view from the clifftop. The wind by this stage was blowing a gale and one of the Goldwing riders needed us to rescue him as his bike was blown sideways and over by one huge gust (think how heavy a Goldwing is folks, and think what wind force is required to achieve that!).

I decided it would be inappropriate to try and erect the tent in that location so headed back 15km South to the lee of cliff face and set up camp around 2.30am (again in broad daylight). That was fine until around 5am when the wind changed direction slightly and I ended up with a flattened tent and a broken fibreglass tent pole to show for my efforts.

By 7.30am I was ready to get back on my way and continue South along the fjords, but first I had 2 or 3 mountain passes to cross. With altitudes up to 1,500 metres and plenty of snow, mist and rain it was truly desolate and bloody cold. Believe it or not though, the conditions may have been hard for me but I passed at least 50 hardy souls on bicycles all heading North into the gale up to Nordkap.

I finally reached Alta, to joke with the two service station attendants about what a miserable summer they were having (I can't believe anyone voluntarily chooses to live in such cities as Alta, Hammerfest and Tromse where for 2 months each year they see no daylight whatsoever!), before continuing down to Narvik where I had a most enjoyable stay in the local Youth Hostel.

Next day I continued further South along magnficinet roads and vistas, taking ferries across fjords, passing the maelstroms near Bodo, and crossing out of the polar circle again, to camp for the night alongside a fjord near Mo I Rana ( I figured camping was the easiest way to keep my costs down). It is here where I believe I caught the dreaded lurgy.

The following day was similar riding alongside fjords and up and down mountains. This part of Norway is only 6km wide at one point and I reached Dovre (the troll capital of Norway) to find all accommodation booked out and having to set up tent again 2 metres from a wonderful fresh flowing river.

After an early start I headed off to Sogndal via the Jostedalsbreen glacier and the magnificent UNESCO listed Geiranger fjord ferry - what magnificent riding.

I have told you about my unpleasant experience en route to Oslo, and from Oslo I was feeling quite under the weather fro the ride down into Sweden and into Malmo where I spent a morning in the local hospital before crossing the bridge into Denmark and Copenhagen. This evening was spent in a beautiful farmhouse hotel in Kosor on the Danish coast and the next day took me to Kiel in journey - a short days ride but added to by 200km of recrossing my tracks endeavouring to find a camera that may have bounced to the road somewhere along a 50 km stretch of freeway.

This evening was spent camped at a Rast Platz alongside the autobahn as all accommodation was booked out in Kiel.

Yesterday I took a short ride to Hamburg and arrived early enough to take the last bed in a backpacker's lodge in St Pauli (a great bohemian location near the Reeperbahn) and today I have arrived in Berlin in an attempt to understand the changes that have occurred since I last rode into this city in October 1977 (and there was a big wall around it :-)).

Tomorrow it's off to Leipzig to visit the Stasi museum and then off to Prague and Budapest to see a little more of Eastern European history.

02 August, 2008

Heaven and Hell in Scandinavia

I have been to paradise ... and it is in Norway.

From the wild and woolly north to the milder southern climes, this is a land which has been blessed with beauty.

Every corner you turn, your eyes are peeled back with the most wondrous sites - from a stag reindeer standing in the middle of the road with its massive antlers, to ominous dark clouds and foreboding skies with grey clouds moving past a light speed, to the howling gales at Nordkap - the northern most point in Europe with daylight at 2am, to mountain glaciers with clear bright snow, and pools of reflective ice, silver cold cascades tumbling hundreds of metres into clear mountain streams turning into rivers, and ending in Fjords with massively vertical sides and massively deep trenches. Even the lush verdant fields and pastures, and old cottage towns which usually do not interest me, are so perfect that it takes your breath away.

It is land of indescribable beauty, and you want to cry with joy as the winding roads show you yet another aspect of this land of the North.

There is no stopping it though, when you think you have seen the best, and it cannot get any more perfect, it does, and keeps on doing so. When Tolkien wrote the 'Rings' it is clear he based the geographic setting on Norway.

.... and I have not even begun to describe the motorcycling side of things. With my new Bridgestones installed the Burgie was literally gliding through the turns as if on a cushion of air (sorry if that sounds a bit magic carpetish guys!), whether on drenchingly wet roads in the mists of the mountains, or whether sweeping up and down fjords with 20 linked hairpin bends, the Burgie could not put a foot wrong. The roads are cambered precisely such that your body movement is sufficient to have the bike turn in exactly as needed for a flowing entry and exit.

Ah, paradise......

I have also been to Hell in Norway (it's around 20-30km north east of Trondheim on highway E6 if you wish to check your atlas), but my personal Hell was my experience with drinking the local water. Now Norway has some of the coolest, freshest, cleanest and tastiest mountain water I have ever tasted (yes folks, it's on a par with Siberia), however, I seemed to sample a bad batch of the stuff somewhere South of Narvik.

At first I had a little stabbing pain which I put down to having skipped lunch. On day 2 the pain persisted but was not particularly troubling. On day 3 I woke up at the youth hostel in Sogndal and went down to enjoy the usual marvellously fresh and wholesome Scandinavian breakfast which is included in the tariff. After finishing breakfast I went down to the Burgie to perform a little preventative maintenance (check oil levels etc.) before starting the day's ride to Oslo. I finished this, walked back to wash my hands and immediately vomited. I did so twice more before starting the ride but wasn't feeling that bad and put it down to maybe a reaction to the nip of vodka (from my stash from Russia) the previous evening.

I figured the fresh air on the ride would clear things up and managed around an hour in the saddle before I had to take my first break - well to use a 'Monty Python'ism, whatever was wrong with me had opened the sluice gates at both ends!

Back on the bike again, the day was getting warmer and I managed a further hour in the saddle before having to stop and lie down in the shade. I lay down and promptly fell asleep, only waking when the heat of the sun increased as the sun moved across the sky. I woke up and promptly vomited another 6 times (it was a real eye opener to see how little of my breakfast had been digested in any meaningful way).

I was totally and utterly nauseated by now and could do nothing but sleep a little longer finally waking to see how the sun had travelled significantly across the sky and I needed to get a move on if I was going to make the relatively short distance to Oslo before nightfall (which is around midnight this far North). I groggily roused myself, vomited 3 more times and crawled onto the Burgie. By this time I was feeling really ill and knew I was in no fit shape to ride, but hoped a bit of a cooling breeze could do me no harm. I rode 20 metres out of the roadside rest spot onto the highway and realised I was blacking out - all went dark and I had no control whatsoever. Thank goodness there was little other traffic around, as I wobbled sideways across the road before managing to get near the side of the road and barely hold the Burgie upright for the minute or so whilst my swoon passed.

Figuring I had sufficiently embarrassed myself in front of all onlookers I determined to keep on riding and made another 5km towards Oslo before pulling over, throwing up again and sleeping for a further period.

On awaking, I knew I wasn't going to throw up any more but the urgent feeling was now below the waist line.

Four days have passed since that dreadful day and I am only now starting to feel truly better. I visited the hospital the following day in Malmo Sweden and they were most reluctant to prescribe antibiotics to assist. My motions have improved from water (20 times a day) to soup (10 times a day) to porridge (5 times a day) and finally today to nothing, so I figure I'm over the worst of it.

The worst aspect though, and I put this down to my debilitated state and temporary loss of faculties, was losing my camera three days ago in Denmark. From what I can recollect, I left it sitting on my luggage when I left a rest spot on the freeway between Nyborg and Odense. The loss of the camera is not really a big deal but what is, is that the SD card in it contained all my photos for the last 3 weeks. :-(

Whilst I am hopeful of possibly recovering some of those taken in Russia, the Scandinavian shots, alas, are gone forever. I guess this shows the positives and negatives of digital camera ownership. In the past we could only take 36 shots on a roll of film, but if we lost a camera we only lost 36, instead of 360 photos.

The lesson is learnt, though, and I will ensure I regularly swap memory cards in situations where I cannot easily get Internet access for uploading.

23 July, 2008

Goodbye to Russia and hello to Western Europe

Firstly, apologies to all readers for my lack of updates. Internet access has been a trifle difficult in Russia and it is only now, in Sweden, that I can easily access all the sites I am used to. This is not because the sites are blocked in Russia (as they are in China), but simply a case of me struggling with Cyrillic keyboards and Russian language Windows messages which are indecipherable to me, and just the sheer logistics of finding an easily accessible Internet cafe.

Heading north from Sochi my first surprise was to find the local bus stop populated by cows, instead of people!.

Continuing on my way north further surprising sights were to be found.

Ex Aeroflot plane used as a restaurant just south of Tuapse.

Beachside resorts north of Sochi.

More natural obstacles on Russian roads.

After leaving Sochi I headed North for the final leg of my Russian journey. The roads were mainly excellent, however, my rapidly balding rear tyre was a major concern and dwelt in the back of my mind all the way through (not without good reason either - I had my first puncture on the Burgie,

which I repaired myself, but the tyre damage was such that the repair was not permanent and I had to add more air every day otherwise it was flat in 2 days).

Only 1,000 km to go to Moscow.

First stop was a camping ground outside of Roston on Dov

and I had my first experience of nearly poisoning myself on Russian vodka. Now vodka is cheap in Russia ($4 for 0.5 litres) but very sneaky in the way it goes down easily (and makes you feel like death the next day!).

Harvesting in the massive wheat fields of the caucasus.

I ended up writing off a whole day before 5pm before I was ready to pack up camp and hit the road. Hit the road I did though and was soon on the outskirts of Volgograd (ex-Stalingrad), scene of the bloodiest battle of World War II.

City limits sign on entry to Volgograd

Riding into the Volga valley.

I visited the war museum and have tremendous respect for the Russian soldiers and civil ans who participated in the drawn-out conflict.

Next day was off to Saratov - home of Yuri Gagarin - and the university which is named after him. Regrettably, after another incident with the local constabulary I was too frazzled to find the Gagarin museum but did get to enjoy the city.

For the remainder of that day it rained and I had a rather unpleasant night finding a secluded camping area, and more importantly, slithering and sliding my way through the fields to a copse of trees were I could camp without being noticed by all and sundry travelling down the main highway.

It was then off to Moscow

to meet Anton of the international Burgman community.

Anton proved to be an energetic and gracious host and I spent 3 days of enjoying the sights and sounds of one of the most exciting and beautiful cities I have ever visited. The motorcycling community is huge and I saw more Honda Goldwings than I have ever seen in my life.

Parking in Russia is very relaxed.

Along with half a dozen other Burgman riders

we got to enjoy a myriad of activities including, believe it or not, downhill snow skiing in the middle of 32 degrees July (Moscow, like Dubai, has a very impressive year round indoor skiing slope).

After 3 days of 4am/6am bedtimes, including a 4am visit to Red Square and the kremlin,
and very hot days,
it was time to say goodbye to Anton and his fellow Burgman owners - many thanks guys for all your support - I had a great time

and head up to St Petersburg.

en route I passsed a funeral.

In St Petersburg I was kindly hosted by Anton's friend Alex, and his family. They have a wonderful old huge flat in downtown St P, and a country dacha which I had the opportunity to visit.

St P has many great sites and sounds (as the site of the October revolution) which Alex and family showed me, but the really enjoyable part was the visit to the dacha with Alex's father Pavel.

Never have I had such tasty and delicious fruit and vegetables before - organically grown and absolutely delicious.

Unfortunately all good things have to come to an end and on the 19th July my visa was expiring so I had to set off on the road north from St P to Finland.

The road was good and ride uneventful except for my final run in with Russian bureaucracy. When I had re-entered Russia from Kazakhstan it seems that the customs officers in Astrakhan had put the wrong date on my motorcycle papers. I was told I couldn't leave and asked (rather brusquely) why I had overstayed my welcome. I said that it was their mistake, not mine, but they would have none of this. Finally, a kindly female customs officer took me to a private room, handed me a pen and paper, and in a Kafkaesquian twist, dictated to me what I should write (that I was ill and couldn't ride and this is why I didn't leave on time). I said "do you want me to lie?" but she simply said, this is Russia, do as I ask and you can leave straight away otherwise it will take a day to clear you if you insist on telling what really happened.

I thought this incredibly funny and for a moment thought about insisting on doing it right and seeing how the system really works, but time had the better of me and I chose to write what she dictated and 5 minutes later I was on my way into Finland.

Finland was great, fantastically clean country, but a little sterile.

Two days ago I arrived in Kalix Sweden to enjoy the hospitality of Magnus (from the Suzuki GSX1400 club, and his family (1 set of twins and 1 set of triplets).

Midnight sun in Sweden - 50kms south of Arctic circle

Magnus and his wife are famous throughout Scandinavia for their family and I had a great time enjoying the company of three 3 year olds and two 6 year olds.

After replacement tyres, new rear wheel bearings and oil and filter change I'm saying goodbye and leaving this morning for Nordkapp - the Northern most point in Europe and the wild and woolly scenery and roads of Norway.

Bye folks, many thanks for your hospitality.

Norway here I come!