I’ve been bragging about my trip to the Sahara for a few years now. I’ve been telling my friends (and anyone else who would listen) that I would be going again in June of 2012. To be honest with you I’m not sure if I even believed it myself. Then last night I decided, in my infinite (and intoxicated) wisdom, to ask people to sponsor me with all proceeds going to the British Epilepsy Association. Within about ten minutes I’d been sponsored one hundred pounds and several people had told me how brave I was and had wished me the best of luck. All of a sudden it became apparent that I could not back down and now I’m in a state somewhere between nervous and mild terror.
I imagine the type of person who normally undertakes such a trip is quite big, confident and has the financial reserves that mean they don’t have to worry about their money whilst they are away. Not only that, they would normally go in a group. As much as I like to kid myself that I’m exactly what I just described the reality is that I’m 5 foot 4 inches, of thin build and am basically about as far away from macho as humans get!
I rode my motorbike from England to Morocco 3 years ago but to be completely honest, I left England with the mindset that I would probably wimp out before getting to Morocco and end up just meandering around France and Spain. The next thing I knew I’d crossed the border into Morocco. There was no time to be scared, I turned up at the border and seemed to get stuck in the conveyor belt of processes to get across. This time I’ve been sponsored by many people so I have no choice, I have to go into Morocco. Not only that, I have to go all the way to the Sahara desert. Let’s just hope that summer in the Sahara is not too hot!
So, to say that I feel nervous would be an understatement at this point in time but for good reason I’d say. Riding a motorbike is a risky business at the best of times but, let’s face it, riding one that’s maintained by a computer programmer and completely overloaded with camping equipment eight thousand miles when ones directional ability is likely to get you lost on the way to the bathroom does not have a guaranteed outcome! The last time I went, I was about five miles from the beginning of my journey when I ran wide on a bend, I ended up flying onto the grass and just managed to stop my 300kg loaded up Transalp just before hitting a tree. For the next twenty miles or so I continuously repeated “Richard you complete twat!”, by the time I’d got to Dover I’d made it into a little song, I even had a little dance routine worked out too! With a start like that what chance did I have getting all the way to Morocco.
I spent a lot of time today thinking about my route and came to the conclusion that I’m not going to plan one. I want to wake up in the morning and decide where to go that day. In my day to day life I wake up in the morning and look at my diary, typically I’ll then have to go out to a few customers, make a few phone calls, fix a few computers and do some web design. The long and the short of it is that I do what my diary tells me to do. It will be nice to be able to get up and decide my myself. I want to keep the trip as enjoyable as possible by giving myself freedom.
So, with the above in mind my plan is as follows: England, France, Spain, Morocco, Sahara desert and back. No wiggly line on a map for me!
Happy New Year! Today I learnt how to grease my chain (thank you YouTube!). After riding over 25,000 miles on a combination of Honda Transalp, Suzuki GSX-R 750 and an Aprilia RSV1000R I have found that I have been incorrectly greasing my chain. I’ve been spraying the grease on the outside of the chain but the centrifugal force (do you like that?) just flings the grease off the chain, what I should have been doing was spraying the grease onto the inside of the chain. This way the centrifugal force forces the grease into the joints of the chain. So, with this in mind I decided to remove the rear wheel and take a look at the front and rear sprockets. I replaced the sprockets only about 2500 miles ago with third party ones and wear was clearly visible. Luckily I had a brand new set here consisting of genuine Honda sprockets and a heavy duty Honda chain so I have fitted them. From now on I’m sticking to genuine Honda parts. The chain was a complete nightmare as I needed to join the two ends, there are tools available specifically for this purpose but needless to say I didn’t have any of them so I just smashed the living daylights out of the link until it fitted together perfectly. Once I had joined the two ends of the chain together I realised that I should have removed a link as now it’s at maximum adjustment. When I realised that I would need to break the chain and re-join it I thought “be patient Richard”. My next thought was that I would rather pay an expert to do it properly, this task has now been added to my list of items for Honda to deal with!
Whilst the back wheel was off I decided to remove the rear swing arm and I’m glad I did. The bearings were surrounded by grit and dirt so everything was cleaned and greased, I also replaced the rear brake pads as they had been in there for quite some time and were getting a little worn. It’s all back together and now the backend is completely ready for my trip. I know I just made it sound like putting the rear end back together was easy as I’m such a professional but the reality was not quite as simple! It took me about half an hour to get the rear axle back through the swing arm and the wheel, however trying to align the axle was a complete nightmare. When I finally got it through I just sat back and smiled, it wasn’t that bad. Then I realised that I had forgotten to include the rear brake calliper. Bollocks! After spending the next two hours getting the axle out and replacing it with the calliper in place I made a decision to go more, which in turn would make the job easier and certainly faster! I’ve learnt from that mistake!
It’s now only 19 days until I leave Buxted for Morocco. My preparations are coming along nicely but I’ve had a few last minute changes to equipment. It’s very important to me to have a record of this trip and I can’t think of a better way than to write a blog on my way around (hence this blog). My original plan was to take a little netbook with me but they’re just too slow. I played with one in PC World and within 10 minutes (about the time it took to load Firefox) I’d developed a nasty case of Tourettes.
My iPad was out of the question as typing on them is not something I would bestow on any living creature. You’re okay as long as you don’t make any mistakes but the moment you need to go back and correct something you’re doomed to a life of misery. So there I was moaning about iPads saying if they only had keyboards they would be perfect for my trip, it was then that I found out that you can get keyboards for iPads. I bought mine with a nice leather case for protection then got stumped by photographs. As a test I took some photographs on my Nikon D300 and wanted to get one of them rotated, cropped and resized and put on my blog. My conclusion: If you actually want to do something properly get a computer, if all you want to do is walk around looking like a complete wanker then get an iPad.
So, it looks like I’m taking my rather large HP Elitebook 8530p with me to Morocco. The Elitebook is a fantastic laptop that is designed to take a real hammering. Mine’s got 8GB of memory and a 240GB SSD hard drive so is incredibly fast but the trouble is the battery only last about 4 hours. To get around this I’ve bought another 2 batteries and a 12v charger for the bike. Now I’ve got to wire in a charging point into my left pannier that is able to cope with a draw of 90 watts. I’ve got all the cables and connectors I need so will set about getting this done tomorrow.
I’ve been worrying about getting all my paperwork ready for quite some time now but never got round to sorting it out. Earlier today I compiled it all into a waterproof folder. It contains my passport, bike logbook, bike insurance (Europe), bike MOT, Newhaven to Dieppe ferry ticket, D16 TER Morocco entry form (in English, French and Arabic) and 50 police checkpoint documents for the Western Sahara.
The bike has had a lot of work done to it in the last two weeks. I’ve changed the oil and filter, coolant, air filter, chain and sprockets, headlight bulb, brake pads front and back and replaced the spark plugs. Then it went to Everest Motorcycles in Framfield for the valve clearance to be checked, carbs synced, new tyres and inner tubes fitted front and back (with slime), grease the cables and to remove a link from the chain. With the exception of the wiring I have to do to power the laptop the bike is pretty much ready. Once I’ve completed the wiring I’ll drain my laptop battery and do a little test run and see what happens.
Anyway, it’s now twenty past nine so I’m late for bed. Night!
Today I have been trying to sort out the computer that I will be using for my trip. I’m still not happy about only taking the iPad however I seem to have worked out how to do everything that I need to. I’ve bought a little dongle thing that plugs into the iPad that gives it a USB port. I still find it hard to believe that Apple made me spend £25 on a USB port when everything else gives you 3 of them for free. Apple are greedy bastards but my laptop is big so it looks like I’m going to have to limp on with my iPad and with it’s £25 USB port. This trip is either going to bring me and my iPad together as one or the iPad will end it’s life as it decelerates from 200mph to zero when it hits the wall after I’ve thrown it, we can but wait and see.
I also decided that it would be a good idea to take my video camera (Panasonic HDC-SD600). Obviously this meant purchasing a car charger and a new 64GB SDXC card. I’ve not really used the video camera much so hope it all works out to be okay. I’m now carrying so much electrical stuff that I could probably create my own lightning! So if you happen to stumble across a chap on a fully loaded Transalp glowing in the dark be nice to him or you may find a thunderbolt heading your way!
The one time I used the camera before was when I decided (alcohol) to do some dancing in my shed. I read all the instructions and it turned out that I first had to take the video, then I had to send it to my computer. Once on my computer I then had to convert it to another format, only then could I edit the video and export it as a normal video. Then I was able to upload it to YouTube and all was well. The process worked nicely however I just knew that some snotty nosed little primary school kid was probably able to do it in 20 seconds on a phone! So I checked the Internet for shortcuts to my monotonous process and found loads of messages by those aforementioned snotty nosed primary school kids asking for help. When help came is was basically telling them to do what I had done which, as you can imagine, they didn’t like. That made me feel much better.
So, as the process is ‘a little involved’ I wont be uploading any videos whilst on the move, however I will upload them all upon my return.
It’s now 8:10 AM on Sunday morning. This time next week I will be on the way to Newhaven. How exciting!!
Today has been a good day for the trip. All the planning and arranging that I have done previously have come together nicely and seeing the bike all loaded up with equipment has made me really excited! Having said that I’ve been sitting here in bed for the last half an hour listening to the rain on the window and it doesn’t seem to be letting up at all. My bike has a pair of brand new tyres which are always a little slippery until you’ve done a few miles on them and riding on new tyres in the wet on the metal floor of a ferry is not good for the sphincter! Hopefully it will be dry on the morning of Sunday 17th.
I have purchased a mini travel tripod for my Nikon and Panasonic cameras and also a 64GB memory card for the video camera. I’ve already got 2 LED Lenser torches and a Petzl RXP head torch (which I love by the way!) so seeing what I’m doing shouldn’t be a problem.
This afternoon I checked the wiring had been done correctly and tested it. Once I was happy that everything was working as expected I replaced the side panels and seat and mounted the aluminium panniers. The panniers have now been packed and are about two thirds full which leaves some space for little purchases throughout the trip. I also visited Peacocks earlier and bought a load of cheap boxers and tee shirts. All my clothes are now packed up in my watertight Ortlieb bag.
I’ve been trying to find the perfect tent for years but every tent I’ve bought over the years has had one problem or another. This time round I will be using my new Coleman Tauri X2 tent which I hope will prove to be perfect. We’ll see!
The only thing I feel disappointed about is the fact that I have been unable to find a light and small fold up chair. I tend to start early and end my day early so I can enjoy my evenings. One creature comfort that I would love is a nice chair to sit on but alas it looks like I’m going to be confined to the floor for a month.
With everything now mounted on the bike and less than a week to go I’m now getting very excited, however at the same time I also feel a little lonely. I know that when I leave Buxted I’ll be on my own, when I’m on the ferry I’ll be nervous and on my own. In France I know how to say the basics but I don’t understand enough the have a propper conversation so I’ll be on my own there too. Ditto for Spain and ditto for Morocco.. Being on my own is fine but it does take some time to adjust.
Anyway, I’ll try to get some pictures of the bike all loaded up tomorrow.
Here is the picture of the bike all loaded up and almost ready to go..
My Honda Transalp all loaded up and almost ready to go. I just need to add the crash bars and wait for my second Ortlieb bag for the tent.
Good morning people. Here is a picture of my Honda Transalp XL650 with the crash bars fitted. Almost ready now, just need to wait for my small Ortlieb bag to turn up for my tent. 4 days and I will be riding from England to the Sahara desert!! How exciting!
Here is my Honda Transalp XL650 with the crash bars fitted.
Okay, let me paint the picture. I’m sitting in a camp site in France stuffing my face with a jambon and fromage omlet and chips, or to be more precise I’m just outside of a town called Saint Martin Du Pean which is basically about 150 miles south of Dieppe. The first thing I did when I arrived was to have a glass (read swig) of Gentleman Jack that I had decanted into one of my aluminium bottles. This made me feel like a god of speaking French and gave me the confidence to try it out. After the disaster of trying out my French I decided to only speak in loud English from this point onwards. They’re bound to understand English if I shout.
Anyway, here’s how my day went. I arrived at the Newhaven port at around 8:30 and was promptly directed to security where they told me to unpack my panniers. Having forgotten my nicorette patches they were duly told that picking on me wouldn’t get them anywhere and that they could unpack them themselves if they really felt the need. Needless to say they promptly set about unpacking both my panniers, tank bag and the storage space under my seat. I told them that my father-in-law was a Judge and that it would be in their interest to put everything back in the same place that it was taken from or it would be taken further. When they had completed their task they told me that I was free to leave. After mentioning that I was suprised that they hadn’t picked on a disabled person I drove out of Newhaven onto the ferry.
I met a lovely couple on the ferry, they were touring around France on their Harley for three weeks and we talked through most of the journey. We arrived in France where I duly programmed a destination into my GPS. I’m sure it knew exactly where it was going but I couldn’t see the screen so I just followed my paper map which seemed to work fine. The roads were almost empty with the exception of a huge traffic jam near Rouen which stopped cars for about 10 miles. Luckily I was on a bike so just zipped past them. I asked my GPS find me a camp site which it did so I followed the directions but there was no camp site. I then asked it to find me another camp site which it did but after 21 miles there was no camp site. The third time I asked it it directed me to this camp site. This site does exist but is full opf camper vans and old people but hey, it’s only one night.
Anyway, I’m going back to my tent to set up my bed and sleeping bag, etc. Night.. Rich x