Blog Updates

Check here for weekly updates and stories from the road. 

Always great to hear from you or get feedback:  ukcan20@gmail.com

Thursday 9 Sept - Half of UkCAN20 is back at work in Vancouver, half hiding in Zambia
 
Well poor old Mike is back at work in Vancouver, and been very quiet since. I (Dan) have escaped out to Zambia for an extra week - mainly to attend the annual board meeting of the hydro scheme charity NWZDT that we have been raising money for. Its exciting times with lots of new plans and potential.
 
A HUGE thanks to all those who have donated - we have made our original target but since every pound, dollar or rouble enables more villagers to be connected to power already generated but not connected, we will keep going!
 
As i get time, i will add more photos to the site, but in the meantime, if you live in the UK, get the Telegraph this Saturday as i have written an article that should be published - and tell your friends :)
 
 
 
Monday September 1st 2008 - UkCAN20 reaches Halifax!
 
Over 32,000km
21 countries.
107 days, somehow a lifetime.
So many memories.
We are off to pop a big bottle of champagne and have a nippy dip in the atlantic.
 
Can't thank you all enough for your support.
 
mike and dan
 ukcan20
 
ps. we are 70% to our fundraising target....   www.justgiving.com/ukcan20     :)
 
 
 
Saturday 30th August - Montreal memories
 
Mike and Dan reunited in Montreal and had a wonderful time re-living university days - condensed into a few hours. It is freshers week so lots of bright eyed 1st years walking around - have we really grown up?!  We met up with 2 firends we made on the road in Istanbul but live here. At the time we said 'hey we are coming to Montreal - see you there!' It was quite surreal to actually turn up and seem them there! Thanks Marie and Veronique for a wonderful dinner and comfy couch!
 
Only a matter of days to go now.....
 
 
Sunday 24 August - Iron Butts and Prairies
 

I think you will enjoy the account below of a 2,642km marathon ride across the prairies- it was quite an adventure :)    Dan

 

Written a big comfy leather armchair just outside Toronto.

I am typing using two paws that now exist on the end of my arms in place of things I used to have called hands. In fact I just had two numb things hanging there for the first 24hrs after finishing - yes I made it!

I rode 1,624 kilometers through appalling weather, across two time zones, three Canadian provinces, the Atlantic/Arctic watershed, an entire weather system, one speed trap and one bear. And then I decided to keep going. I cant remember much of the second day, but 34 hours and 15 minutes after I set off, I was in a little town called Nobel, and had ridden a total of 2,642 kilometers.

The Iron Butt association calls this a back to back Saddle Sore and Bun Burner, and I certainly feel like I have earned entry to the club. I left Saskatoon at 6.30am on Friday 22 August, after less than 4 hours sleep. A wonderful sunrise smiled at me as I set off, but within an hour I was catching up to a dense mass of black clouds. For the next 2 hours I only had light drizzle, but far worse was the wind. A gusty force 6-7 was coming at me diagonally from the front left. Any biker will confirm that a steady side wind is unpleasant but manageable - you can lean into it and reach some kind of equilibrium. But strong gusts are another matter. It is stating the obvious, but important to note that unlike most other hazards like potholes and weaving trucks, you cannot see wind coming. Imagine standing in a boxing ring, blindfolded. Your opponent can take a swing anytime, and you cant see it coming. All you can do is tense up and try to be ready for anything. This tension soon becomes unbearable - it feels like torture.

So when the wind died and the rain began I sang with joy inside my helmet. For 3 hours the rain was steady and as usual it wasn't long before it began to seep in through my 'waterproof' one-piece. In our preparations I took an optimistic view of the amount of rain we would see on the trip, and as part of cost saving, bought Mike and I these one-pieces in a bargain bin for 10GBP. They leaked on our practice run to Cornwall before we even left England, and of course ever since. They don't just leak anywhere, the cold water leaks into the crotch area. This is as morally wrong as a blindfolded boxer. They are also a Houdini-esque feat to get on, almost causing a dislocated shoulder each time. For 29,000km and almost 4 months we have been dreaming of getting to our destination Halifax, lighting a big fire on the beach, and burning them. Mike might throw me on the fire too. Only then will we go buy a big bottle of champagne and celebrate the end of the trip.

After 3 hours the rain changed. The sky got even darker and the rain intensified. I was in the center of the vast prairie-storm, and for 30mins I was on main beam crawling along, and could still hardly see the oncoming traffic. I was wearing 6 layers on my top, 7 if you count my spine protector, and the water made it through the last one. I was now wet to the skin, and extremely cold. The rain was briefly sleet which gives an indication of the air temperature. Things were not looking good - I had ridden 500-600km, only a third of the distance and slow due to rain, and I was already pretty exhausted. This was only the center, not end of the storm. When you get cold and tired your judgment is impaired, but its hard to know when this is. I was riding along with two voices in my head. One was saying 'keep going dan, this aint for quitters' and the other was saying 'be as stubborn as you like, but not stupid'.

At one point I decided I should stop. Arrive Alive is more important than Iron Butt. However, the middle of Manitoba is rather sparsely habitated and it was another 50km before there was even a small single-pump gas station. There is no point stopping in the open and just sitting in rain, so I kept going. Two more loooong sloooow hours and I finally saw bright skies ahead. The boost to morale was incredible, and some time later when I rode out of the storm into bright sunshine I was singing again. I stopped, filled up with petrol, wolfed a burger, ignored the motel, ripped off my not-so-waterproofs, and set off with renewed vigor. As I blasted along, basking in sunshine, trailing water vapour, I reflected I have never before actually traveled through an entire weather system. You see 'weather fronts' and 'depressions' on diagrams on the TV, but what do these actually look like? Having caught up on a storm, ridden 700-800 kilometers through its various moods including the center, and out the other side into a completely unaware calm sunny zone, I can recommend TV.

I felt like I had just run a marathon and I was only half way there. I also realised that I was going to cross not just one but two time zones so would effectively loose two hours of daylight. As a rider you rely almost entirely on sight, and riding distances at night is highly inadvisable. There are more hazards, they are harder to see, and the eye strain is severe. So this was not a good thing.

 

Some time later, it was drizzling again, and then it got dark. This was rural northern Ontario, and the dangers of moose and deer on the road are very real. A motorbike's single headlight is not very bright, and hitting either would not end well for me. So I stopped in a small random town and sat and waited. A couple of cars passed and then – perfect – a big truck. Serious lights and serious 'road presence', I had my battering ram. I tucked in behind him, feeling like a cheeky freerider.

 

For the next 2.5hrs I sat right behind the truck, entering a kind of trance as the two red lights bobbed in front of me, kilometer after kilometer. There was a lightening show from a distant storm on one side, and close to midnight, the air cleared and a half moon rose. Time and space became a different kind of time and space. Then all too soon we reached Thunder Bay, I had to turn off, and reluctantly wave goodbye to my new big brother. I only had 150 kilometers left to go.

 

I refueled the bike, my stomach refused another coffee, and so after a deep breath I set off. An hour or so later I was getting close to my destination, and I cannot describe the annoyance when I realized it was a few kilometers too close. I needed a printed petrol receipt as evidence of time and place, and there was no town for another 150km or so, and at that point it felt like another 500km. So I took a diversion to small, very quiet town called Red Rock about 10km away on the lake. It was all of about 4 blocks big, but incredibly, I couldn't find the 'downtown area' to look for a cash machine to get another receipt. I screeched to a halt by some startled kids who were hanging out drinking beer, and they pointed me in the right direction. Then I couldn't get out, and had to go back to them again.

 

I finally stopped at a gas station in Nipigon at 3.30am local time (1.30am in 'real' time), got my receipt to prove I was there and the time. A traffic cop pulled up and before he could say anything, I press-ganged him into being my witness. As he filled in my form, he was pretty excited . Not about my trip, but about the license plate- "I never seen me a YUKON plate before" he says. That's when u know you're in a big country- the plate from a different province is exciting to locals. He didn't grasp the overall trip, or wasn't interested, I made his night with the Yukon plate.

It was now 3.45am or so, and I looked around the desolate gas station forecourt. It was a crushing anticlimax. I had done it, against considerable odds, but there was no one but myself to celebrate with. And I had had a lot of my own company already that day. Damn that nice cop - where was the press or say some cheerleaders?! Not here. So I decided instead that I would just keep going. It would be light in less than 2 hours, and I'd just rest my eyes for a while and get going asap. So I lay down right there on the concrete on my back, beside the bike in all my gear, head on tankbag and holding my camera on my chest, and rested my eyes.

The sunrise was spectacular, an explosion of colour and an intensity more like a sunset. I stood up and staggered around like a drunk, my head spinning. I watched the sunrise, and gulped bad coffee to try and wake up. It was quite surreal. After 3 cups I was able to walk in a straight line and so decreed myself ready to set off. It was a glorious, peaceful early morning, and the road had wonderful views of Lake Superior, but twice the scene was shattered as a wave of nausea hit me and I had to stop. I found a little café, and ate something which helped my stomach a lot, and I set off again.

As an impoverished student, I had ridden through this area 8 years ago on an old motorbike, and I wanted to try and find a café run by a couple that had shown me great kindness. So I turned off the main highway and set off down a smaller road that I remembered seeing lots of bears on. Feeling much improved and with a long way to go, I raised the pace, and the first thing I met was a speed trap. Damn and blast. It was the first of the day for the traffic cop and she was very pleased with herself – for the breakneck speed of 113kph, I owed $240. 

 

Ha, what she hadn't counted on was my story. Initially dubious about its authenticity, the expression on her face was priceless, and she ended up a fan, let me off, and even told me where the next trap was! I set off again smiling. Sadly I didn't find the café or the old couple, but it was great to re-live some memories. And I passed one bear and the Artic/Atlantic watershed. I also decided to try a shortcut, on a logging road which was unpaved. This turned out to be quite an adventure – all the rain had turned it to mud, and I slithered around for the next 100km. I had to keep up my speed and corners were at times terrifying with regular trucks thundering past. It was one of the longest 100km I have ridden, one of the harder roads of the whole trip, and when I got to the end, my nerves were not in great shape.    

 

But I was now running out of time. So I filled up and set off again. I cant remember much of the next 4-5 hours except it rained a lot. And so it was that I finally reached a town called Nobel, a few hundred kilometers north of Toronto, and had done another 1000km. That made a total of 2,642km, I had done it. It was a shaky hand that signed that final receipt, and I walked outside to see the skies clearing to reveal a wonderful sunset.

 ------------------------------

Thanks and congratulations if you have read this far!

A huge thanks for the encouraging emails I got in reply to my email before setting off – I wished I had got them on the way to give me a boost. A huge thanks also to those who sponsored me in faith, and now that I have done it, if anyone wants to sponsor me, that would be great.

www.justgiving.com/ukcan20

  

Fri 23 August. Saskatoon. Final leg across Canada - Dan to go for gold in an endurance test called Iron Butt!

 Dan. Mike and I want to spend time with different people and so are separating for a few days and will meet again in Montreal. Mike stayed in Saskatoon where he recently finished his law degree, and Dan set off east.
 
I sent out the following email - Hello from Saskatoon in the middle of the prairies!
 
Since my last email i have made it across 6000km of pretty terrible roads and weather, giant killer mosquitoes and vodka fuelled truck drivers in Siberia,  We also negotiated the Bering Sea and complex paperwork and got ourselves to Alaska. Its now the home stretch for our finish in Halifax on the east coast of Canada - and paved roads, regular gas stations, Tim Hortons takeaways and courteous drivers means its getting too easy! The only thing on this trip that is behind schedule is our fundraising, so to address both of these, i have set a challenge....
 
Today Im going to attempt to ride 1,000miles (1,600km) non-stop - apart from filling up with petrol. This feat earns entry to the 'toughest motorcycle club in the world, the 'Iron Butt'.  To add to the challenge I am riding a single cylinder bone shaker of a bike - akin to sitting on, and holding onto, a high frequency jack hammer. It also has no screen to speak of, & there has been heavy rain everyday. The fatigue from the vibrations & buffeting of 100km/hr wind &rain for around 20hrs will be extreme. So will boredom, and i dont have an ipod!
 
Please throw a few pounds, dollars, yen, roubles or yuan at the donation site!
 
Www.justgiving.com/ukcan20
 
 
 
Saturday 16 August.   Yukon Ho!
 
Dan. After a fantastic few days fishing for salmon in Alaska, we have spent a day in Mike's hometown of Whitehorse in the Yukon.  Mike's mum Hilary has been a star and lined up a newspaper and live radio interview, and last night we gave a 'photos and stories' talk to group of their friends about the trip - all to try and raise awareness of the charity and hopefully boost donations - we are about half way to our target.  It has been just wonderful having a day (only one sadly!) here to relax a little, meet their friends, get some washing done, sleep in a bed, get on the internet, and do a bit of bike maintenance. Everyone has been so welcoming - thank you all.
 
Alaska fishing was a new and exciting experience for both me and my dad. We are used to fishing on the Zambezi River in Zambia in blazing hot sunshine, from a boat, using lures - all very comfortable. Here we set off in the rain, fished in the rain, stood out IN the glacier melt river, and used fly fishing rods. I was introduced to waders, and had fun stumbling around in the river, fell over once, taking in a large amount of glacier water, which then sloshed around in my waders for an hour or two untill i was close to hypothermia.
 
Being rather keen, i was the first out on the river by quite a time- Mike's dad Tim sent me off with all the gear. I have done a bit of fly fishing, but this was a different league- huge 15ft rods. I tried the only technique i know, one handed casting, and on the first cast, nearly snapped my wrist. I couldn't believe how strong these guys must be. After a couple of failed attempts, i looked around to make sure no one was looking, and used two hands to cast. I didnt care if that was ladies technique, i wanted a fish. I later found out you are meant to use two hands.
 
So despite the wet weather, it was a stunning location and experience, with mountains, bald eagles flying around and nesting above, grizzy bears on the shore and wading out towards us, and we all caught a couple of salmon :)
 
Very shortly we set off on a 2200km loop through the Rockies, finishing in Edmonton on the 20th. Our dads and one mum will travel in convoy for this section, and then we are back on our own to face the prairies.  We plan to try and join the 'world's toughest motorcycle club', the Iron Butt (www.ironbutt.com), by doing a 1000 mile (1600km) ride in 24 hours, stopping only for gas. This is planned for the 23 August, beginning in Saskatoon, traversing the prairies and past Winnipeg, and finishing in Ontario just beyond Thunder Bay.  Its a pretty tough challenge on old, slow, shaky, vibrating bikes, so here is an appeal for sponsors to help motivate us - a pound a mile would do :)
 
 
 
Sunday 10 August.  UkCAN20 Part 3 : Alaska baby!
 
Dan. Big hello from Alaska - Anchorage airport to be precise. We arrived late last night, and our two dads are racing north to meet us any hour soon.  Mike's bike is safely waiting in the customs warehouse, and the dads are bringing a second bike for me, so we can get going tomorrow morning. Alaskan salmon beware.
 
The travellers moto "never decline an opportunity to eat" should include "or sleep".  I am light-headed and totally confused by lack of sleep, 16 hr jet lag and crossing the timeline somewhere along the way between Seoul, San Francisco and Anchorage (becoming a day younger) but since the ferry ride about 3 days ago, we have only caught a few hours rest here and there - on buses, trucks, a couch, and last night on another classic: the airport bench.  
When we settled down around 2am beside a carousel, excited at finding 2 benches without the 'anti-lie-down-armrests', it was quiet. Not for long - it kept leaping into action as flights arrived through the night (loud siren noises etc), and we would wake up, hugging our valuables, and be surrounded by people, pointing and giggling at the snoring sleeping guys. I just hope i wasn't dribbling.
 
To add to the restful setting, there are regular announcements looping on the LOUDspeaker. Favourites include: "make sure you take your bag, many look the same", "keep children away from the moving carousel" (we are back in the dreaded land of health and safety, "smokers must go outside, not anywhere outside but to specific areas outside" and "The US of A is on Orange safety alert". Apparently this means no liquids in handluggage. Thanks.
 
Time to log out. Shortly we set off on the final 8,000km....
 

Saturday 9 August.  Goodbye UkCAN20 Part 2 - from the Seoul of Asia

Dan.  Its hard to believe but we are about to set off to the airport to fly to Anchorage, Alaska for the final leg of our big adventure. We are very excited - both our dads are meeting us there and we ride together through Alaska and the Yukon, catch some giant salmon, and stop off at Mike's home in Whitehorse - we are looking forward to some of his mum's home cooking! Then its a big marathon crossing Canada, with Dan in particular looking forward to a diversion via Toronto :) 

The ferry crossing from Russia to Korea was uneventful, it took 20 hours and after very little sleep the days before, we slept for a lot of it! We had an unexpected and really fun stop in the port town of Sok Cho where we arrived. Its a delightful town and a new friend of mine lives there (teaching english) by complete coincidence. After a much needed shower, she took us out for dinner, showed us around, and then...took us Karaoke singing - when in Korea. Fortunately for the locals, the room was sound proof. 

We finished about 2am, and went straight to the trucks, and set off on our journeys. I went 6 hours south to the port of Busan, crated my bike and left it to be shipped to London. My driver thought he was on a racetrack and winding round coastal roads, drifting out into the wrong side, ignoring red lights, braking very hard - all to karaoke tunes at full blast, had me more nervous than any riding to date. He even managed to make my bike fall over in the back, grrr.   Mike had a much more civilised drive to Seoul, crated and then delivered his bike to be flown to Anchorage. We then rendezvoued with an old friend of his from high school, who is also here teching english. The world is a big, and small place!

And now we set off to fly ourselves. Its amazing how many things have fallen into place given how complicated it has been- especially the shipping. Huge thanks to Mike's mum, and Wendy here in Seoul, who have organised it all. 

Our heads are spinning with so many memories, but we cant wait for the next stage :)

 

Early hours of Wednesday 6th August. Greetings from the Vladivostok Iron Tigers club!

Dan, in haste. In a few hours we set off on a 300km ride to catch a 17 hr ferry to South Korea. There we zig zag across the country, crate our bikes, send them off and then follow hot behind on a flight to Alaska on the 9th - for the final leg!

Its still sinking in that we have made it thus far. For so long Vladivostok has been a distant target, seeming...well half way around the world. Over 22,000km through 18 or so countries, 82 days on the road, and countless new friends. Its very exciting to have made it here, we are very mindful of getting here safely, and whilst we can't wait for the final stage, we leave behind incredible memories and emotions in Asia.

 

Sunday 27 July. Hello from Irkutsk, near Lake Baikol! (largest/deepest lake in world apparently)

Update from Dan, and below is another story from Mike - "Enter the Barbarians"

Well who would have thought 7 European bikers would find themselves in Irkutsk on the same day and all get together?! We have taken over the living room of a dacha of a bike-loving Irkutsk residence excitedly sharing stories, comparing technology, planning routes, and taking turns on the internet. We have two 23 year old British guys from Lancashire who only just got their licenses, and have set off round the world 'to see if it can be done by novicies', raising money for Barnados, on brand new Suzuki V Stroms. We have a pair of Germans on KTM 990's on a 6 week loop from home to Mongolia and now on their way back - envious of us continuing. We have a Frenchman aiming for Vladiovostok (like us) who wanted to see if he could do the trip as if he was setting off for a commute to work. He has one small backpack only, no paniers or modifications to his V Strom, riding in a pair of trainers and jeans. No joke. And us. 

How times have changed with technology. The frenchman had passed through Novosibersk a while back and met the resident bikers there, who gave me his mobile when we passed through. I texted to say 'hi - we are behind you, maybe see you on the road'. He bumped into the 2 english chaps, and i got a text out of the blue from them. And they bumped into the Germans... Last night, pretty exhausted from two 700km days on pretty bad roads, we got a text from the english guys saying "where are you? its saturday night, 5 of us are sitting having a drink and laugh in Irkutsk, come join us!" It was 10pm, we were 80km away, about to camp, it was getting dark, we were tired, but couldnt miss this. So we broke all the rules, rode into a large town at night, a Saturday night with plenty of drunks, got lost, got found, and by nearly 1am, all 7 of us were eating pizza and excitedly swaping stories.  Exhausted beyond words, we got taken back to the dacha, and fell asleep betwen 3and 5am. The weather is terrible here with lots of rain, so dark, the timezone jumped ahead 2hrs, and we woke up today, thinking it was about 9am, and found it was 1pm. Oops.

Despite our very tight timetable, we have decided to wait another day and set off very early tomw. Its funny, we have 4 months, but when it is broken down, every single day counts. There is a huge rain cloud moving east, and we hope to follow just behind it, not under. In two days we hope to make Chita, and from there it is bad dirt road for 1000-1600km to Khabarosk on the far east. We do not want to do it in the wet - we dont have off road tyres and we will spend a lot of time horizontal if it is muddy, and it will be an endurance marathon as it is. We met a biker coming the other way, on a bike identical to Mike's, and he had great advice. He said the road is awful, loose rocks and corrugations for 1000km +, but fine. Its just a test of endurance - 5 days riding 12 hrs a day, covering 200-300km each day.  So deep breadth, we hope to emerge in Khabarosk in 7-8 days time....tired, muddy, skinnier, and dreaming of North America and that wonderful invention: asphalt.

Internet connection is not likely to allow uploading photos sadly, as i would love to get ones up of Siberia. The landscape is large and dramatic as one might imagine, and there have been lots of great sights. One is the number of second hand Japanese cars that are imported to Vladiovostok and then driven across Russia to Moscow/other towns. They are driven on the above mentioned awful road, by young guys on a 'delivery sucess fee' who call themselves "Samuaris". Two drivers take turns and, fuelled by local Red Bull copies (going by names including Bullet, Burn and Flash), go nonstop for between 5 and 10 days( covering 5000-10000km). The cars get battered, but they polish them up, no doubt roll back the odometers, and flog them. To add to the crazy idea, all these cars are right hand drive, and so we face a barrage of drivers doing crazy manoevers associated with overtaking as they cant see ahead.

Other than that, we are trying to learn Russian! The cryllic alphatbet is a challenge - al the signs on the road are pretty meaningless. I have pasted the alphabet, roman and cryllic side by side, on my tank bag so that as the signs flash past i can test my short term memory and try and work out what they said.

Over and out for now, hope to do an update from Chita in a couple of days before we hit the the 5 day dirt marathon....  Pray for dry.

"Enter the Barbarians"

We've failed to adapt.  < xml="true" ns="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" prefix="st1" namespace="">Russia completely baffles us, but not for the reasons you might think.< xml="true" ns="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" prefix="o" namespace="">

 

Most westerners return from their time here with tales about the backyard, plebian Russia.  Everything is inefficient and disorganized; service is terrible and corruption is rampant; nothing works.  Our experience has been the complete opposite.

 

After Iran, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan, Russia seems ultra-modern and slick. Our problem is that we spent so much time adapting to deprivation that we are now experiencing reverse culture shock.  Having stepped back into a material westernized culture, we are so completely out of our element that it wouldn't have surprised us if they had flying cars. 

 

We should have seen it coming.  We rode into Almati after seven days of off-road adventure in the remote Kyrgyz wilderness.  Along with the bikes, we were caked in mud.  We reeked of wood smoke, petrol and body odour.  Wild toothy grins often flashed from our dirt smeared faces.  Our spiky unkempt hair matched the crazed look in our eyes.  On meeting us for the first time, one of our local hosts gasped when we roared up to meet him in the parking lot.  He later commented that we looked like "a couple extras from the Mad Max movie".  We should have heeded this as a warning us that we weren't ready to reenter civilized society, but by then it was too late.

 

In the supermarket, we found ourselves at the front entrance standing and gawking like slack-jawed yokels.  The selection of goods was unbelievable.  Not only did they have candy bars and potato chips and ice cream and roast chickens in an oven, they had different selections of these items.  In our state of absolute awe, we couldn't even walk down the aisle never mind go about the difficult task of choosing WHICH particular items we were going to buy.

 

We still drive like 3rd world lunatics.  While Russian drivers signal their turns, follow the well marked road signs and only overtake when safe, we still zoom for any available space that will move us an inch forward and when we do signal, it's usually only after we've completed some suicidal manoeuvre. 

 

We still bring our own toilet paper when go to the bathroom.  With our current lowered expectations of excretionary hygiene, the discovery of a porcelain throne complete with seat and dispensable toilet paper is a cause for celebration.  We do a little dance of glee before we drop trowel and when we're done we run out to share the goods news. 

 

Of course, there's less and less reason to run for relieft.  Russia confirms our suspicion about the correleration between healthy bowels and decent toilets.  If there is a seated, clean toilet in range, then you're inevitably so gastrointestinally intact that  you could be a spokesperson for Metamucil.  So the wonderful toilet opportunity is wasted.

 

On the other hand, if the only toilet within a 50km radius is a squat toilet hole in the ground with errant bits of scattered feces and enough flies to block out the sun, then chances are the food in that same area has caused you to urgently require that facility.  Possibly because the chef of such food was the last guy to use the toilet and, note above, there is no toilet paper.

 

Finally, and most embarrassingly, I found myself in a Russian general store asking about the price of nectarines.  I began by asking "skolka stoit..."  (how much for...) pointing at the nectarines.

 

The lady cheerily lifted her calculator and banged out the price of 100 Rubles per kg ($3).  On instinct, I went into bargaining mode.  My eyes widened in amazament.  My jaw dropped in such atonishment that you would think she'd just quoted me the price of buying Alaska back from the Americans.  I clutched at my chest as though I had just suffered a mild heart attack and then reached for the counter to steady myself before the dizziness overcame me.

 

Her reaction wasn't what I expected.  Rather than the typical shrewd pinching of the face that most of my potential vendors display, the poor lady became distraught about the state of my health.  Hmm, it appears I may have overdone it a little.  Time to move onto step two. 

 

I regain my composure and parry her initial opening.  I punch a 50 Rubbles offer into the calculator.  Her expression changes from one of concern to one of confusion.  She doesn't understand what I'm trying to say.  Hmmm, this is not going as planned.  I begin to motion that her price is too high and I want to pay less.

 

Now she understood, and she was not pleased.  She went wide-eyed in shock, quickly followed by reproach.  She looked at me as though I was some neighbourhood urchin who had just tracked mud all across her shop.  Her words dripping with disdain she matter of factly stated "ti barbaskii" which translates to "you are a barbarian". 

 

I sheepishly skulked away, but smiled at the idea of barbarian tourists invading Russia.  Forget cold war missiles, the real danger to Russia is mad motorbikers roving the country.   

 

Thursday 24 July. Hello from Novosibersk in Siberia!!

Dan. A big hello from an excited pair of bikers in Eastern Russia! It is still sinking in that we have successfully made it into Russia, the last planned country on the Asian continent. It feels like a year ago and a different universe that we were battling for our visas in London (with 40,000 football fans), and here we are!

We hit the road from Almaty and cruised north 820km in the first day, discovering along he way that Saskatchewan is in fact also a large province of Kazakstan. We camped in the steppe and the next day made the border, almost running out of gas and money in the middle of nowhere.  We passed the town of Semey (Semipalinsk in Russian) which was the base for the development of the Soviet nuclear weapons programme. Beside it is an area of a few hundred square kilometers, known as the Polygon, where they detonated no less than 467 warheads in 50 or so years. The radiation in the area is pretty excitable, and we didn't hang around. There are lots of abandoned factory-type buildings and according to the guidebook, they used to grow and can food for the Soviet army here. Feeding your army on food grown in the fall out area of your nuclear testing ground is an interesting policy.

We were a little nervous about getting out of Kazakstan smoothly as we didnt have a customs declaration form from our entry (the offical wouldnt give us one, insisting we didnt need one - setting up his comrades on the way out for a bribe we feared), but it was our easiest crossing yet. Immigration into Russia was also easy. Figuring out customs and insurance was less so - long forms in Russian only, and an impatient lady barking at us. We had been warned the default period they validate the forms for is 2 weeks- which would have led to serious problems down the road. She went balistic when she realised she had to re-do the forms when we spotted this, and it took all our courage to stand our ground and not move till she gave us a full month. Shipping the bikes out will be hard enough without an expired license to be there.  And then we were free!  

Eastern Russia - Siberia - has been quite a surprise. The countryside is very green and lush, lots of irrigated wheat growing as well as forest, and the towns are very large and developed. Barnault looked like a dot on the map but was huge - and very green with trees everywhere. We arrived late one evening - with a new friend Alexey, on a Honda from Almaty(!), and tried to figure out the last big hurdle - a requirement to get registered within 3 days with immigration officals. Hotels are meant to do this but there is some sort of scam where they force you into expensive (expensive in real terms) rooms and make it very complicated.  Whilst i was battling with a hotel receptionist, Mike was with the bikes and as usual made some new friends - who invited us to go stay with them. We had a brilliant evening with Alexey, Natasha and Nickolay, and stayed much of the next day, and they helped us with a few things, not least of which a police report, see below.

We are about to leave the next town Novosibersk after a great time with a wonderful family we had been put in touch with - Anya has been (literally) an angel, sorting out the registration problem amoungst other things, and her mother and grandmother feeding us mountains of wonderful russian food to stengthen us up. Novosibersk has been a great stop - as we were riding into town, a biker pulled up beside, honked and we pulled over. There is quite a biking scene in the city and he took us to where they hang out in the eveings and introduced us, and then next thing we knew we were in an Irish bar sipping a Guiness! We proudly displayed our helmets with their Irish flags. Our new friend Anderson also works in the largest local bike shop and they sorted out a few things on the bikes - big thanks to HBC Motors! My rear tyre with a big hole in it finally died on the highway (16,000 hot, laden, rough km is pretty good!), and we now have fresh tyres and oil in our bikes, ready for 6000km+ of the worst Siberia can throw at us :)

We had one unfortunate incident where i was relieved of my beloved camera along the road. Strangely the friendly and tipsy guys also took my pocket first aid kit (!), maybe one of them had a cut finger. Anyway having been very upset at losing some great photos on the memory card, and feeling like i'd lost a limb, i have a new one! Yes, i never guessed i'd be able to walk into a camera shop in Siberia and buy basically the exact same camera and lens, and pay for it with my UK bank card. A painful unplanned expense, but grateful for credit cards and i cant stop with the photos - hope to get more up at the next stop.

A big focus for us here has been planning the hop from Russia to Alaska, and we are greatly relieved to have been put in touch with some agents and it is looking much more promising now that we can fly us and the bikes to Anchorage, from South Korea, so we will have to ferry from Vladiovostok to Seoul.

Au revoir from us both for another few days.

 

Friday 18 July. Dan in Almaty, Kazakstan

It was Mike's 29th birthday on Wednesday, and we dashed across the border to Kazakstan to meet up with our (new) friend Dave who had offered his appartment to stay in. He was working late, so in the meantime Mike and i had a birthday beer with a couple of very friendly big Russian guys. Much hilarity ensued with the usual language barriers which faded as beer turned to vodka, and it was the beginning of a great birthday night.  We have spent the next 2 days busy on admin and getting organised for the next stage - its a big push now up to Russia and then across Siberia to Vladiovostok - 8000km or so, including 1600km of dirt road currently impassable due to a mini cyclone. Eeek.

How we then get to Alaska is still uncertain, we wish the BMW's could swim, but the great news is that there are a few bikers ahead of us with exactly the same plan, and online discussion forums (HUBB) are a life saver - thanks to those sharing information.  It has the potential to take quite a bit of time to sort out, which will put great pressure on the N America leg, and be eye wateringly pricey.  

Enough of that - the long silence was due to an incredible time in Kyrgyzstan. It blew us away - alpine scenery, people, crazy mountain roads - a real highlight of the trip, and very different to the other Stans - well they are all unique in fact.  Internet time is always the problem, but i have done a few Photo pages - enjoy :)

Photoblob- Kyrgyzstan  ; Adventure time in Kyrgyzstan ;  People of Kyrgyzstan ; Kyrgyzstans beautiful Sary Chelek alpine lake

We think internet wil be sparse again for some time - maybe next in about 3-4 days from Novosiberk in Russia - if they let us in. We cant believe we only have 3 countires left (but half the distance to cover!).

As always, any donations encouraged! Huge thanks to those who have donated already - we are getting towards half way mark.

Charity http://www.justgiving.com/ukcan20

 

Wed 9 July.  Dan in Tashkent

We were so close but in the end failed to gain access to Tajikistan. Having left Samarkand at 5am after a few hours sleep, we got to the embassy in Tashkent by 10.30am and would have been able to get an express visa in one day, but the problem was getting a special permit for the remote Pamir region. The relevant man at the embassy was on holiday. Grrrrrrr.  Well, we tried, the Pamir and KKH passes will have to wait for another time. We set off east today to the Fergano Valley and then into Krygistan we hope tomw - we are v excited about it - stunning natural beauty with mountains and lakes etc - NO MORE DESERT!

I have also just added the FIRE CRATER photos - see Turkmenistan photoblog page.  Photoblog - Fire Crater

Monday 7th July.   Dan.   Salem from Samarkand in Uzbekistan! 

Samarkand is a name that conjures up the very spirit of the great old silk routes - a highlight of our trip and a fitting place to be HALF WAY. Hard to believe it, but we are half way through our time, quite a bit less than half way our distance, but on schedule. We have long and tough miles to do across eastern Russia and Siberia, and crossing North America at the end will be a race.

Plug for charity: half way through and a lot less than half of our target... this is a plea to jump onto our Justgiving site and put in a  donation. Many of you may be waiting for us to finish, but we'd love something sooner. This isnt a 10k run, rather a 4 month 30,000km marathon! Those long miles at the end will be a huge challenge, and just crossing from Siberia to Alaska is a hurdle not yet solved, so some encouragement would be great (there is no rule to say only one donation, and no guarentee we will finish!). This trip is partly about personal challenge and seeing the world, but we are genuinely trying to raise money for an inspriational project that needs it! We have both spent long periods volunteering, made no small commitment ourselves and are suitably passionate about it :)  so be a star and jump onto:

Charity http://www.justgiving.com/ukcan20 

News from Uzbekistan is below, and the photoblog is updated with Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.  Photoblog- Asia- Turkmenistan;    Photoblog- Asia- Uzbekistan

Iran is still under development - but dont miss Mikes stories - and make sure you get to the last one involving a midnight clash with desert nomads featuring viscious dogs, raining rocks, steel pipes, a scythe, and most worryingly, a gunshot.....  Mike&#39;s Stories from Iran

Uzbekistan update: Stan number two is fantastic! We had a heart stopping moment on the border getting in from Turkmenistan when a curt Customs lady demanded to see our Carnets. Carnets are a sort of bond document that guarentee you will not sell a vehicle in the country you are transiting.  Of all the 20 countries we are visiting, only Iran requires it - which cost us 200GBP each, ouch. So as soon as we were out  of Iran in Asgabat we posted it back with DHL so the bank bond is cancelled - proud of our efficiency.  That is until just 2 days later we are at the very next border being asked for it. Our minds are whirring - can we get them back mid air from DHL? This is going to be awkward. Turkmenistan wont let us back and we dont want to go into Uzbekistan without our bikes. Being stranded in a  'no mans land' is the stuff of good stories but a serious pain and we heard of one person stuck for 2 whole days camping in the middle.

We havent seen another biker for a while but at the border one zoomed up (he rode a fancy new 990 KTM so of course had a back up vehicle, hehe).  They were in fact the official Greek delegation going from Athens to Beijing as Olympic ambassadors, and Kostas Mitsakis turns out to be something of a motorbiking legend - sponsored by BMW for 15 odd years doing transcontinental adventure rides for their publicity magazines etc. (www.roadsoftheworld.gr)  He has just been poached by rivals KTM after BMW Greece told him their target market is now rich folk who use their bikes to go get a coffee. Makes us livid.  Anyway, we had a great time hearing stories - nowhere he hasnt been. Anyway, he was in front and when he heard us say "we dont have Carnets", he came over and said "How did you get through Iran?"

"oh no problem" we said, "we did have them and we just sent them back!"

What i would give to have captured the look on his face. Not meant meanly, he was clearly thinking 'you stupid stupid stupid boys'.  Anyway, we got through fine using our best smiles.

We checked into a great little B&B type place near the main square, and low and behold met a guy (Giampiero Pagliochini  www.motorbiketravel.it) who rides professionally for KTM, and doing a big tour testing a new bike. We said "you must know Kostas!" and he said "no!".

So we proudly brokered an historic dinner where we introduced two legends, promoting the same company, and witnessed the duel of story outdoing. It was fantastic! There are a couple of pictures on the blog under Bukhara. 

We loved Bukhara - smaller with a preserved 'old town' with narrow streets etc, it was a real oasis after the deserts. Samarkand is grander with somwhat more impressive monuments, but less cohesive.  Both are remarkable, and we cant believe Uzbekistan isnt more heavily promoted as a destination. See photoblogs re people and experiences.

Photoblog- Asia- Uzbekistan   ;    Photoblog- Asia- Turkmenistan

Tomorrow we leave at 5am for te capital Tashkent. We dare not get excited but we are going to try and get another visa - for Tajikistan - we cant get enough of the Stans. There is a fabled mountain pass there called the Pamir Highway  (up there with the KKH - Karakorum into Pakistan)  and to pass so close.... we have to try. This will add to the pressure in Russia and leave no time for Kazakstan, but as long as we meet Borat we are happy.

Stop press: guess who walked into the internet cafe - Kostas! They had a bad car accident rolling 4 times, destroying the car, and ending the trip. Eeek. Fortunately only cuts and bruises, but very sobering and a warning for us. They met an oncoming car on their side as they went over the brow of a hill. The others are flying out tomorrow and Kostas is trying to figure out how to get reverse visas to get out on his bike.  A warning against complacency if the professionals ...  donate now! 

 

Friday July 4th

ReadMike's Stories from Iran.  Relive how your heroes survived an attack by marauding visitors, but later failed to withstand the torture of Chris de Burgh.  Finally, read Mike's thoughts on the international pressure cooker that is Iranian politics and culture.

  

Tuesday 1 July   Dan. Big hello from Ashgabat in Turkmenistan!

Ashgabat must be one of the more interesting capital cities in the world - censored internet (also slowest in world) means shall stop there. More glorifying white marble monuments and gold statues than u can imagine, its very surreal.  

On Sunday we ignored our Transit visa which has a map with the 'direct' roads we were allowed to ride on marked out, and headed out 300km in the opposite direction into the middle Karakom Desert (hottest in central Asia) to a town called Darvasa. We couldnt find it - turns out it was flattened and had its wells filled in by the govmt and relocated. Hmm. The attraction was a flaming crater we had heard about. Apparently the Russians found this gas reserve, someone flicked a cigarette into the crater, and it has been burning for decades ever since!  We searched for a local guide as it is way off the road over large sand dunes and multiple 'paths'. We were also told a 4WD vehicle was needed. In fact we found an enthusiatic man who assured us we could make it on the bikes.  We were a bit dubious, but the big test was if he would put his money where his mouth was and ride as passenger...and he did! We shifted the gear (left a lot in Asgabat fortunately) onto Mike's bike and i acted confident and gestured for him to leap on. Initially he complained about the fact he was sitting on plain metal, so i donated a small bit of roll mat. Once we started weaving around in the sand in a terrifying fashion i noticed the metal seat had dropped down his priority of concerns as the roll mat was stuffed away.  Pictures will follow.

 It did not disapoiont - imagine a HUGE crater in a desert valley blasting flames. We planned to sleep the night beside it - it is more impressive by dark - but this meant waiting 8 hours through the midday heat. We had left Ashgabat at 5.30am worried about the road and distance but straight empty decent tarmac roads meant we were there a LOT earlier than expected - 'Darvasa' before 9am and crater by 11am - and hence had the whole day to wait! We set up the tent and lay flat on our backs panting and trying not to move as the temp must have reached 50C++ (why did we not bring a thermometer??) - and when the wind changed, with the occasional furnace blast from the crater to spice it up.  By 7pm it was bearable to venture outside and it was truely amazing sight - all the more so as not many foreign people make it here. Got some great photos that will appear when we find a decent connection.

 Mike's front brakes stopped working yesterday so we tackled the job oursleves, trying to 'bleed' them, under the instruction of Haynes workshop manual. Something just wouldnt work for us and we ended up with hydraulic fluid everywhere - one of the more unpleasant substances out there. It melts plastic and paint and we wonder what it did to our skin.  We gave up around 9pm as our family hosts were cranking up a family feast-party, and decided to have a Vodka toast in honour of better luck tomorrow. We woke up today and low and behold the brakes are working again!!!  We are contemplating throwing out Haynes and replacing it with a case of vodka.

We leave Asgabat today heading for Mary and Merv (v significant ancient civilisation site rivalling egypt, china, india and mesopotamia) and then plan to cross tomw into Uzbekistan - all on track.

Photoblog update: no chance since Turkey updates. Photos for Iran are ready to upload when get a decent connection.

 

Tuesday 24 June, Dan in Tehran

wow 10 days goes by quickly....and lots of news indeed. I am currently working on a big update of the photos for Turkey and Iran so i hope they will be up in a few hours. We have had a fantastic time in Iran- we had heard about the incredible hospitality, kindness and generousity of Iranian people and it really does have to be experienced to be appreciated. Iran is a country with amazing countryside (from paddy rice fields to forested mountains over 5000m high to the preconceived scorching deserts) stunning ancient architecture, wonderful people and great food. It is also pretty easy to get around.

After crossing the border we looped round the NW corner of Iran to the Aras river valley bordering Armenia and Azerbajian with dramatic red cliffs and ancient biblical sites, then looped down over high mountain passes out to the Caspian sea (for a swim - and anyone know if it is a lake or sea?), then to a remarkable mountain village called Maseuleh where we met a wonderful family - we are staying with their son in Tehran. A piece of great news is that i managed to get the little laptop i have been dreaming about here in Tehran, so am back in action for the photos.

From Tehran we decided to have a bit of a holiday and do a loop south by coach to some of the more famous sights - which are in the scorching heat. Feeling a little guilty and with a tear in our eye we left our faithful bikes for a mutual rest and jumped on an airconditioned coach. The first drive was a numbing 1000km 13.5hr overnight blur to Shiraz (cost: US$10), and we got off the bus and went straight to Persepolis (one of the ancient wonders of the world). 4 hours walking round that in raging heat left us with a raging thirst that took hours and a cocktail of several litres of water, tea and coke to quench. After relaxing in the park people watching (in Iran the whole city heads to the park at dusk) we got straight onto a night bus to Esfahan (only 500km and 7hrs) where we arrived a little giddy. A couple of hours nap brought us nicely to the heat of the day again and we hit the town and walked for hours, developing a raging thirst. Esfahan is a truely stunning city with ancient architecture, mainly mosques, and the breathtaking Imman square. I feel like im writing a travel brochure, but superlatives are necessary - check out the pictures.

Esfahan was also the scene of 2 young men deciding to each buy a persian carpet which would be our one memento from the trip. Little did we realise it was a 2 day operation- 2.5 days if you include the time trying to post the damn things home from Tehran - never written an address out so many times ever. They better arrive. We made good friends with the carpet vendors Abed and Essi and the whole thing was v amusing.  

Another 7hr 500km night bus brought us back to Tehran and our friends Said & flatmates. Three night buses in 4 days with non stop sight seeing and activity in between in baking heat is not what a lot of people would call a holiday. Time became a surreal concept, at times my head was spinning and i felt detached from my body, but we sure saved cash and enjoyed the break of responsibility of the bikes and gear, and a chance to read a bit. 

Tehran traffic needs to be experienced to be believed - riding and navigating on a micro and macro scale is a noteworthy adrenaline rush and test of skill - and we plan to leave at 5am tomorrow to have any chance of getting out.  We'l loop north east to Sari then Gondon and plan to hit the Turkmenistan border on the 27th June. Three months ago we had to commit to the day we would arrive there so fingers crossed.... We will head to the capital Ashgabat and will hopefully update the blog then.

  Photo blog updates: i have re-arranged the Photoblog a little so that updates are more obvious.

 As always, it is great to get feedback or comments back so please do email (ukcan20 or individual addresses).  Also, no pressure, but it would be great to boost the donations to the charity.

http://www.justgiving.com/ukcan20

 

Sat 14 June  Dan

We have made it into Iran! Very excited, had a great start, border officials were most helpful, and going through the quiet southern crossing was great advice - very quiet. Just figuring out how to buy petrol - may need a 'card' but apparently very cheap - what a joy after exhorbetant Turkey petrol..

Just thought-  if anyone knows anyone flying to Tehran in the next week or so that could bring me a tiny laptop, that sure would be wonderful...

friday June 13.  Dan

a hurrıed entry: Exactly month after we left London, we are about to set off for the İranıan border. Pretty excıted, ıt feels lıke a new stage. Europe and even Turkey are easy to travel ın wıth plenty of ınfrastructure set up for the traveller.  From now on paths are a lıttle less trodden. We covered around 4000km across Europe and over 3000km ın Turkey alone - countrıes are a bıt bıgger now.

We spent our last nıght ın a town called Van ın East turkey. Optımıstıcally bılled as 'Van ın thıs World, Paradıse ın the Next' - take a huge pınch of salt but the HUGE lake is beautiful, it has its own Lock Ness Monster, and for any cat lovers, it is home to a highly prized fluffy cat with eyes that are different colours. For a small fee place your orders. 

There have been amazıng sıghts ın the last few days from Cappadocıa wıth underground cıtıes carved ın volcanıc ash thousands of years old, to Nemrut Dag where we camped on the peak (a UNESCO world herıtage sıte) 2 nıghts ago. Close to 2000m tall ıt was chılly to say the least, but vast amazıng vıews and sunset and sunrıe (up at 4am). It seems the odd meglomanıc ıs a good thıng - as they tend to create thıngs that thousands of years later, people travel huge dıstances to see. One such chap convınced hıs merry men to extend upwards thıs mountaın wıth bıllıons of small stones, and carved huge statues of the gods, and placed hımself wıth them.

Another bıg landmark for the bıkes was we sent ahead fresh tyres, and to our utter amazement they we sıttıng here last nıght at 7pm when we arrıved - not a hıtch. Tıme to hıt the road agaın.

 ps. My laptop dıed after ı attempted open heart surgery on ıt, so sadly the photoblog ıs goıng to slow down. 

 

June 6 - Mike  "The White Man Must Be Crazy"

We've been in Turkey for roughly 2.5 weeks now.  So in that time what have I learned?  I know what something should cost, what the best meals are, what Turks like to do as passtımes, etc.  Really though, I know very little.

Language is a good gauge of my cultural integration.  When I got here I was like a deaf and dumb adult.  I had no way of understandıng others who spoke to me and no way of communicatıng my thoughts to them.  I was pretty useless and prone to try to communicate by what I call expressive charades, but others would call an epileptic fit.

Now I've progressed to roughly 15 words.  Hence I've gone from deaf and dumb adult, to mentally challenged 3 year old.  Laugh all you want, I'm savouring my progress. 

So I'm bumbling along bazars and tourist traps feeling pretty good about being able to say good afternoon, how are you, how much for the lucky goat testicle on a key chain.  Today, this feel good fluency came to a crashing halt when I was faced with a truly odd and complex endeavor.

As a background, for all you bıke riders out there you'll know the pain of sitting in the saddle for hours on end.  The vibrations of the engine gradually coarse throw your body and create a pain ın the upper legs and your bottom.  It's very simılar to the pain you get sitting in an airline seat without moviıng for long periods of time. Now imagine that, but on a cheap charter flight using a 1970's plane where the cushion has worn out and instead of a lıfe vest under your seat there's an active jackhammer.

Anyway, we knew about this going into the trip but in our minds we're real tough guys so we decided we'd just tough it out.  After all we'd heard that's what tough guys are supposed to do, tough it out.

By week 3 the tough facade had vanished and we were openly complaining and stopping far to frequently for breaks.  The best way to elimınate this problem is to place a sheepskin your saddle that will absorb the vibrations.  So we set out to find cheap sheepskins.  When it comes to sheep, Turkey is like a bigger more arid version of Ireland.  Sheep are everywhere. 

So we thought it'd be easy and cheap to fınd a sheepskin.  Were we ever wrong.  For reasons that we don't understand they're hard to come by (maybe all the wool goes to the all mighty Turkish carpet industry).  We were forced to follow faint tips, clues and word of mouth through various towns that were off our route.  Somehow we always ended up in yet another carpet shop where we did find one or two sheep skins, but the price was always completely outrageous.  We would inevıtably make an overt show of walking out saying we'd find a rural sheep farmer with one, or failing that İ'd pull my bike over to the side of the road, hop a fence and finally put that sheep skinning tool on my leatherman to use.

Fastforward to yesterday.  I'm riding along and see a field of sheep with 3 sheperds watching over.  I pull over and get off my bike.  The sheperds are confused and curious. They seem to have a quick huddle and then one of them comes over to me.  We exchange the basic hello, how are you, at which point my language skills are nearly exhausted. 

I then have to launch into the more complicated request.  I'd been told that the word for sheepskin was "Postaki".  So I blurted out "Postaki".  I tried to make ıt sound lıke a questıon and then gave the sıgn for "how much?"  Thıs attracted a blank stare.  With nothing else to say I stupıdly just kept repeatıng "Postaki"

What I now know is that Postakı doesn't mean sheepskın, it just means "sheep".  So thıs confused sheperd is faced wıth a strange whıte guy on a motorbıke standıng by the sıde of the road and repeatıng the word "sheep, sheep?, sheep!" over and over agaın usıng dıfferent inflections.

With language failing me, ıt was tıme to resort to my old tricks - expressıve charades.  I clımb over the fence and tackle a sheep, I poınt to the back of the sheep and say Postaki.  So to the poor Turk I've just vaulted the fence, pointed to a sheep and make the obvious statement that thıs is indeed a sheep.

A some poınt they understand that I don't actually want to have sex with the sheep.  They think I want the wool, so they cut a bit off.  Sensing progress I then pınch the skin on my hand tryıng to show that I need the skın of the animal as well as the wool.  I then try to demonstrate that I want ıt to sıt on. Thıs goes no where.  Fınally I act lıke I'm cold and want to wrap myself ın a sheepskin.

Success! The cold clothıng act works. They then poınt me to the nearest Bazar market where there's carpet shop.  DAMN IT!.

As I get on my bıke and ride away, it dawns on me just how ridiculous the whole must have been from their poınt of vıew.  The whıte man must be crazy.

 

Wed 4 June , Selcuk.

PASSPORTS HAVE ARRIVED.

No longer a Canadıan and a Brıt, you now have 2 proud Irısh cıtızens wıth passports stuffed wıth exotıc vısas. Tıme to hıt the road.

 

3 June 2008 - Dan.

Dum de dum. Ho hum. Tra la la.

We contınue to awaıt the passports. Called DHL today and apparently they landed ın İstanbul on Frıday, were passed to a 3rd party who do 'rural turkey' but apparently not rural enough as they passed ıt onto yet another gang. Gettıng  alarmed (dont they uınderstand how ımportant these are?! Not to mentıon valuable - they have ALL our 6 vısas ın them and represent almost USD1000 EACH and 4 months of runnıng round london.)  Anyway ı found the local agent offıce, a hole ın the wall, and they dıd have a computer that found our number, and vıa sıgn language ı belıeve they wıll be here by 1pm tomw - we wıll be ready to hıt the road ımmeadıately - too much sıttıng around and bıkes rarıng to go after all the TLC.

 

1 June 2008 - Dan.

We are sıttıng tıght ın Selcuk ın SW Turkey for a few days to weld up bıkes (see photos on Bıke page) and waıt for our Irısh passports wıth all our vısas to arrıve (please look after them DHL as there ıs no more trıp ıf they go mıssıng).  As a sıde note, ıt would have been ımpossıble to do thıs trıp wıthout 2 passports - as well as a 3rd team member ın London (thk u Tara:)   Some countrıes wont gıve you vısas untıl you have vısas for the countrıes on each sıde, others not longer than x months ın advance, requırıng a complıcated order, whıch we planned carefully. Apart form the Russıan footbal fınal, the Iranıan vısa arrangement agency (not embassy) really delayed us, and for no understandable reason, grrrrr.  So we left wıthout the passports wıth all the vısas, makıng the most of the EU, and hoped the last one would arrıve before we hıt Iran.  Fıngers crossed ıt wıll arrıve JIT.

Anyway we have made the most of a pause to do work on the bıkes, vısıt the beach, vısıt Ephesus, observe Turkısk lıfe ın the delıghtful small town of Selcuk, and catch up on websıte/emaıl etc.  Check out the Photo Blogs on Bıke maıntenance, Faces of Turkey, and Campıng/food. We value any feedback on stuff or photos that ıs ınterestıng or that you may want to hear more about.  We check our usual emaıls or use the trıp one-   ukcan20@gmaıl.com

 

May 26th – Mike ‘Ours Paths Diverged’

A quick summary of post-Germany.  Our days in < xml="true" ns="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" prefix="st1" namespace="">Austria and Croatia were filled with world class riding.  In Austria the tiny roads wound through majestic mountain passes. In Croatia, we rode 150 km of pristine tarmac that wound along the Dalmation Coast under the brilliant sunshine.

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Our dreams of a rest on island beaches in southern Croatia were dashed by bad weather.  Generally, I’d say Croatia is a bit dull without sunny skies and heat, but there is one prominent exception to this – Dubrovnik.  It is a stunningly beautiful city with fortress walls jutting directly out the sea, encasing a medieval city with cobblestone streets so polished by hundreds of years of traffic that they gleam like an ice rink. We wandered around the city, glad to have an afternoon off the road.  The city streets, coastline, city walls and seafood were fascinating for a day.  We capped off the day in appropriate style by ducking into a hole in the main defence wall that led to an open-air bar with little perches on the outer wall that hung over the ocean.  Too many beer there and we’d end up going for an unexpected swim.   

 

Time for the bad news.  It didn’t take long, six days into the trip, and we had to separate.  No, it wasn’t because I couldn’t stand Dan’s company any longer. I had received the unfortunate news that my aunt in London had passed away. This was a complete shock to the family and I simply had to be at the Funeral in 4 days time. 

 

We decided that the best course of action would be for me to race ahead to Istanbul, fly to London for the funeral and quickly return.  In the mean time, Dan would gently drift to Istanbul and we’d rendezvous there when I returned.

 

I shed some weight from the bike, filled the 43L tank and set-off from Dubrovnik at 5am.  What ensued was an endurance race.  Two days of starting at 6am and finishing at 8pm.  No breaks for food, bathroom or fuel (although there was one stop to top up the oil).  I unwittingly crashed in an Albanian pseudo-brothel on the first night and a Turkish university dorm on the second.  A great chance to meet with a few locals, share a few drinks, engage in lots of charades, and discuss the upcoming Man. United vs. Chelsea match.  Anyway, I made it to Istanbul, caught the flight, shared some precious time with my family and flew back to meet up with Dan. 

 

In the mean time, Dan meandered through Montenegro, Albania, and Macedonia.  The highlight by far was Montenegro.  By all accounts the ocean and the mountainous forests were breathtaking, prices were cheap and the people were extremely friendly, proud of their new country and keen to talk about it.  He shared weekend camp barbeques with local vacationers, had a brief conversation with the new Premier of the country (who Dan mistook for a bodyguard/hitman at the time), and was showered with gifts including Italian designer sunglasses.  In short, UkCAN20 highly recommends that you visit Montenegro while the getting is good and before the rest of the world discovers it.

 

We’ve just spent 2 days in Istanbul enjoying the amazing sites, soaking up some sun, smoking sish and meeting loads of other travellers in our hostel.  After 2 days it’s time to move on.  The bikes are packed, we’re ready to go, the R100’s blown its horn.  It’s time to leave and see what the Turkish coast has in store.

 

May 13 -18th - Mike "Auspicious beginnings.."

And that was it.  The day had finally arrived.

It takes a while for it to sink in that 18 months of planning is
finally being put into practice.  The irony hit us that the planning
phase was 4.5 times longer than the actual trip.  Having said that,
you would think that we´d be organized and have everything in place.
NOT EVEN CLOSE.  Your trusty heroes Mike and Dan we´re true to form
and winging-it as they go.

We still had our passports somewhere with the Turkmenistan embassy.
So for now, we´re travelling on our Canadian and UK passports until
the Irish ones are mailed to us in Turkey.  My bikes is missing some
key parts so for now it´s held together by duct tape, nylon straps,
wine cork, a camping foamy mattress and zip ties (our African overland
trips are well represented by this make it work using anything on hand
attitude).  Since all the parts we need are made in Germany, we´re
going to Germany.  We´ll pick them right off the assembly line and
throw them on the bikes.

As we boarded the chunnel train for France is sunk in.  This
completely freaken nuts.  We´re supposed to go around the world.  How
does one really grasp such a massive concept?  Fortunately, the start
of any trip is pretty much the same routine with the same feelings.
It could very have been us just going for a weekend foray.  One day,
one mile at a time.

Highlights so far: 1. the people who have helped us  2. The scenery.

1. We spend the first night in Belgium where we met up with Dan´s
doctors friends from the Zambia days.  Filip and Olivier were the most
gracious and generous hosts you could ask for.  They stored our bikes,
then took us to the canal where they dug out chilled champagne and
glasses to celebrate the start of the trip.  We then took a quick tour
of Antwerp followed by delicious Belgian beers, steak and fries.
Filip then generously put us up at his place complete with loads of
chocolate for breakfast.

In our experience, German generosity and helpfulness knows no bounds.
If you motorbiking anywhere near Germany, you must visit Stefan Knopf
in Heidleberg.  He put us for the night at his house and gave us
instructions on how to find incredible biking roads.  He has
accommodation and dozens of bikes to rent, so anyone thinking of
motorbiking Europe, think www.knopftours.com

Thomas Nick at BMW/Touratech got us sorted in Aachen.  He arranged the
parts we needed, fed us and helped solve a major, but elusive problem
with Dan´s bike.  Without this advice, we´d probably be stranded in a
desert somewhere in 2 months time. He is justifiably well know - super-helpful great guy with impressive motorbike touring stories himself.

Klaus Pepperl at HPN is like a new father figure.  He and his
associates run a brilliant shop out of his own home in the country
side (thank god for sat nav or we´d never have found it).  Out of this
little shop they customize the best off-road BMW bikes in thew world.
Their success at the Paris-Dakar rally proves it.  He and Alfred
sorted out my fuel tank issue (so no more nylon straps, foamy and duct
tape).  They were so generous they even donated the parts (clearly
felt these two hopeless kids would need all the help they could get).
If you want to serious work done on a bike, or just want to visit an
amazing bike shop run in a family-like atmosphere, check them out at
www.hpn.de

2. Scenery

Belgian cities, German (especially south) and Austrian countryside are all breathtaking.
I won´t bore you with my weak descriptive prose.  Come see it yourself
on a sunny day, and check out the photos soon uploaded.

We´re currently on the South Austrian border (Austria was on the
itinerary I know (life is what happens while you´re making other
plans). We´re about to head to the Balkans. The last 4 days have been
incredibly fun and the worry have is about how fast time is already
flying.
 


 

May 5th - Mike "Training Weekend"

Just got back from a 2 day dry-run to Cornwall.  Good chance to test out the bikes and gear (better to learn about problems now rather than during the actual trip).  We met up with an outfit called Trailquest www.trailquest.org.uk to get some tips to improve our off-road riding and general survival skills (see Photos - Training Weekend).

Dan dazzled on-lookers with his bike riding skills.  I on the other hand puttered around a lot and generally just got wet.  Fortunately, I made up for it at the pub later on, slamming pints and telling ridiculous stories while Dan fell asleep in a corner of the room.  It's become clear we each have our complimentary strengths and weaknesses.

Also, big shout out to Tom and Enice Bell for the Africa reunion party on the way down on Friday and the incredibly generous hospitality.

 

April 26th - Mike "London Driving"

Just went for my first ride on the bike that I bought on EBAY!!  That purchase may prove to be the stupidest risk we take at any point in the trip.  For now though, she's running great and I'm very happy.  

Wish I could say the same for riding in London.  It's bad enough that the city street plans were drafted on an etcha-sketch by an insane 8-year old suffering from ADD, but all the drivers insist on driving on the wrong side of the road.  No matter how many times I tried to pioneer a new path to drive on the RIGHT side of the road, the English stubbornly stick to their idiosyncratic traditions.  Maybe they'd pay more attention if I was driving a Hummer instead of a bike.  

 

April 24th  - Mike "Russian Visas"

Just arrived in London.  The plan was for me to to get our Russian visas the moment I got here.  (April 20th was the earliest we were allowed to apply because the Russians only allow a 3-month window between application and entry to the country which for us will be the end of July.)

You wouldn't believe the bloody terrible timing.  Today was the day that the European Champions Football semi-finals were set.  For the first time ever, it may be an all English final.   Of all the rotten luck, the final is being held in Moscow this year.  Hence, the Russian Embassy was inundated today with applications from 40,000 miserable English football hooligans.  

In response to this onslaught, the Embassy now refuses to process anyone planning to enter Russia after the  match (which is in late May).  The problem is we'll be on the road in late May and Russia insists that we apply in either England or Ireland.  Looks like bad timing has left us up the creek without a paddle.

Update - within a few days I'd sorted an official way around the temporary ban.  By paying an insane amount of money, we can get express service.  There's no reason why the ban should not apply to all services, but when you waive $420 for 2 visas, Russian bureaucrats perk up.  The clerk looked at my application, furrowed his brow at first, then looked me in the eye and said "Express Serveece?".  I replied "Express Service".  He smiled, "that, we can do".