The month of May has been the most frustrating month so far, mostly because the bike has been indisposed with a set of problems which I couldn’t just solve on my own! Fiercely independent as a person, it has been hard (though it may not feel like it to those on the receiving end of my calls!) to be constantly be asking people for help. It is impossible to climb that learning curve without it though, so had to get over my own inhibitions and just go for it. The bike being visible to the world is important to raise money for the trip, so it is a case of – get it fixed!
And fixed it now is! it took time to identify the problems, the battery was definitely one and was replaced, but as that seemed to have zero effect on the bike being able to respond, so it clearly wasn’t the only problem. With some very generous help from F2 Motorcycles and Barry Barber from Portsmouth and countless others who patiently received my calls and helped with suggestions and instructions, we got to the point where is was the timer (unit now replaced) and a relay – not picked up before because when I bought a new one I had no idea that is was the wrong type!.
So there we have it, my first foray into the world of greasy hands and frustrating hours with awkward screws and lack of know-how, I can now safely say that I definitely know my bike and how it works much better than I did a few weeks ago. I feel really lucky that the bike has taken me on this journey, not just for the learning process, but also got to understand the tool set needed and start to get a grasp of what will need to be contingency planned. There is one area that I’m still a little nervous about, and that is the valves – I suspect that the bike will take me there too before we leave!
Unfortunately this month we have not managed to set the launch day, and this may end up being unidentified until September/October time. Sofia’s application process for schools will be a defining factor and we won’t have a clear way forward until next term.
We are out there looking for a single sponsor to help with the funding of the trip – if you are interested or know someone who is interested please use the contact form on the Sponsors page of this site or message me through our FaceBook Page
One of the main questions I have received is, why have I chosen Africa? surely it would be safer to go to Asia or the Americas. And a good question considering that we rarely see positive information about Africa. People are either dying of an epidemic, or being exploited, or at each others throats about money or some ancient grudge. Put that way, I don’t think I would much want to spend time in Africa either.
I do have insight, however, as I was born in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), and lived there until I was 11 years old before my parents moved to the UK. I have visited Zimbabwe, South Africa and Mozambique since, however, after 30 years of european indoctrination, I can safely say that I am very much a Brit. What hasn’t left me though, is that insight into the continent that very few people get to see unless they stay an extended period of time.
People in Africa are generally no different from any other place on the planet. You will find good people and bad people in equal measure (what ever your parameter of measurement) to the rest of the world. However, that said, the bad can be really bad very quickly and for this reason, it is not a continent I would recommend to anyone who wants to travel nomadically off the beaten track. A reasonable amount of travel experience is necessary to be able to anticipate situations, and be savvy on how to deal with them appropriately should the need arise. Even with my history, we will still be doing expedition training with Trail Quest so we are well versed before we set off.
What is undoubtedly true about Africa though, is that who ever goes, in what ever capacity, ends up falling in love with it. It is to great credit to the people who live there that this happens and for no other reason. So my question would be, why anywhere else?
It helps that I know people out there, and this is important and what really makes Africa
stand out for me, because when you are travelling with autism, having back up is going to be important. Sofia’s autism is argumentative and contrary, and this will wear thin for both of us, so knowing where there will be points along the way where we will be with friends and family is going to be an important aspect to getting through the trip. It will not be possible to achieve this level of support in any other part of the world, and it is critical to making the journey possible for Sofia.
Yes, there are only 7 months left to plan! I don’t know if I’m super excited about leaving, or super terrified at the prospect of everything that still needs to fall into place in this space of time.
The main thing, however, is that we now have our bike (see post: Transport has been arranged!) and in one sense I feel like we are ready to go, that all the things between now and December are loose ends that need tying up. If only it were that simple!
Another achievement of the month just gone (feels more like evaporated) is that the National Autistic Society have endorsed the project and we are now going to donate excess funds raised for the project to them. I am really happy about this, not least because Sofia and I have benefited enormously from the organisation. Without the support they provide through courses like the ‘Early Bird’, and the local support group which arranges coffee mornings and special trips, I would not be here today talking about taking a journey with my daughter across Africa.
Certainly when you are a parent of a child with autism, nothing can quite equate to having the opportunity of meeting other parents who know and understand exactly what you mean, who don’t judge your child, and will always be ready with ideas on new ways of looking at situations that might help with understanding and finding solutions.
With these two outcomes this last month, I am hoping it is a down hill ride to December. We still have lots to do in terms of raising sponsorship and donations, and will we be selling window stickers at a biker haunt near you over the summer. These will also be available on our GoFundMe page – there are no limits to where I can send one!
Still to come is the bike getting a paint job, and we need to start readying it for the trip. Thoughts about petrol carrying capacity weigh heavily on my mind these days and so a new more detailed level of planning needs to start taking place. Maintenance training will need to be done soon as well, so far I have only topped up the engine oil, apparently there are 2 other oil wells which take different oil, and I can’t even find them at this point.
I have to say though, all is working out perfectly. Even more so now that we have the bike and sidecar. Sofia loves riding in the sidecar, and I love driving it, so with these very big boxes ticked, I am now certain that we will not slip our leaving date of December, in fact, in the coming month I hope to set the date specifically and start to work on our launch location.
A few weeks ago the project was progressing nicely, though I had no idea how the next step regarding actually having a bike and side car was actually going to happen. And then one day a cunning plan utilising other bikes for a filmed training session, fell apart and it became clear that ‘now is the time’, and who knew that the Universe would agree entirely!
There she was posted a few days previously – the perfect bike. Registered in the the UK (in 2003) with a right side car and 2 wheel drive and a pre-modification model ensuring it really is the easiest to fix without a shred of software in sight!
Without the sufficient funds being raised yet, and Ural US being mysteriously silent, an epic effort was made, and thankfully no friends were lost in the process! suffice to say, I saw the bike advertised on the Wednesday and the money was in the bank by Friday! Was the Universe on my side? Hell Yes!!! I am completely humbled by the support I received in this process, not to mention extremely grateful!
At this point I have to say that mentally I entered into a state of limbo regarding the project. It is a strange transition to experience between the planning something to happen, and a big shift forward in terms of it actually happening. I’m not sure even now that it has fully sunk in.
The owner of the bike would not release it to me with out arranged training and so we arranged that he would drop it off at Motopodd Motocycles so that I could train on the bike before taking it home.
Rod Young at Motopodd did a wonderful job of taking me through the paces in an empty car park, and what a revelation it was. You hear that driving a sidecar is very different from riding a motorcycle on it’s own, but nothing can quite prepare you for the sensation of that difference. I got to fully appreciate why the previous owner would not release bike without training! Suffice to say that I managed to have my first (an hopefully last) prang because I completely forgot the sidecar was there and scratched up a car on my first run around the block. Pleased to note that the outfit won hands down without so much as a mark on it!
The ride home was pretty hairy though as it was 5pm when I hit the M25 (London circular road). whilst it was nice that the traffic was slow, as the bike was slow, I was presented with a whole new problem of getting used to drum brakes. With people trying to cut in, and random braking of traffic ahead, I have to say that I have never been more thankful for the existence of the hard shoulder where I ended up on a least one occasion!
I’ve now had the bike for over a week, and in that time I have been riding it every day. As my confidence improves, so my appreciation for the choice I have made escalates. It really is the right bike for the journey we are planning. And the best thing about it, is that Sofia absolutely loves it! A whole day out with a local biker group, and she didn’t complain about being bored once. For those reading with kids, I’m sure you will understand what a huge win that is!
We still have some work to do on the bike, changing the colour being one of them, as army colours may not work out well for us in Africa. Also making ready with storage space and spares. We have the bike now though, and feeling like we are almost set to go!