Now I have a new bike, suddenly I am thrown into a whole new world and the realisation that less than two months to prepare, I may have bitten off more than I can chew!
The last time I rode a big solo motorbike was for my driving test over 2 years ago. Since then, I have been on a motorbike with a sidecar which is a completely different driving style not to mention a different driving ‘space’.
With the sidecar, the obvious thing is that you never have to worry about tipping over, so whilst I have not done it yet on the solo, I’m very aware of the weight of the bike and the inherent instability of 2 wheels when I put my foot down and stop.
What is also really strange for me is that I don’t control corners with acceleration and de-acceleration anymore as you would with a sidecar – I catch myself constantly doing this, it is automatic for me now, and it raises my awareness that I’m on 2 wheels especially when I de-accelerate.
It feels surreal to me that I don’t need to make an effort to hold the steering – with the sidecar the vehicle has a constant desire to turn, so you have to hold onto the steering to keep it straight, with the solo there is no such effort so I feel like I’m missing something or doing something wrong, missing something important.
I will of course adapt and all will be well, but what is really disconcerting is that despite the many miles I’ve done, suddenly I feel like a novice again. So to counter this I am hoping to get onto a course with the BMW off-road training centre in Wales. I’m waiting hear back on this as there is only one date where there maybe an openning and if we are really lucky maybe they might be able to make a plan for Sofia to get some off-road pillion experience as well.
I took Sofia for a ride on the bike today. She sits really well on the bike and really enjoys the experience still (the last time she sat pillion was in Zimbabwe). The only thing I have to get used to with her is that she likes to look around her as she is sitting and it feels disconcerting, I told her about it and she said that is what she does in the side car – I had no idea that she was so engaged with her environment. I love that!
Siding solo is going to be a completely different experience for us and with that will come a whole new set of challenges for us to look forward to.
Having made the decision to sell the Ural I walked away thinking about 650 BMW, v-Strom or a TransAlp – the seller being the seat height. BMW chalked up the best on the seat hight, whilst the v-Strom best all round, and TransAlp as bullet proof reliable.
I didn’t go any further as would like to sell the Ural first and know my budget, however, I want to do some work on it first and waiting for Mick (our mechanic) to be free so no advertising as yet. The clock is ticking if we are going to turn it all around before dead line for getting the papers for Russia sorted out and as time passes it is requiring greater levels of optimism!
A stroke of luck over the weekend, however, as a friend says they are hoping to pick up a Bandit 600 (road bike) for peanuts and said I could borrow it for our Europe trip. There is only one snag though, the owner is a nightmare to contact. This could be for a number of reasons, one of which it is possible he hasn’t used the bike in such a long time that he can’t find the keys! I wait hopefully that something will pull through, though the hope fades as the days go by.
In the mean time I’m chatting to Mick about it and he gives me a push to sit on a few bikes to get a better idea of seat heights. Not something I wanted to do because, naturally, once you start sitting on bikes you are taking your first steps in wanting something that maybe you can’t have…. I hate that!
But he was right though, so today I went down to the local dealer. Sat on a SV650, which is probably my max height and comparable to a Bandit, a Bonneville which had a horrible custom seat and a Shadow.
Hmmm the Shadow 750, super comfy cruiser with a shaft drive! Sofia would love it!
So now I’m talking myself into the prospect of buying a bike rather than borrowing one (eeek! I’ve not sold the Ural yet and the money is already spent!) I start looking into prices. Shadows hold their price around the £4000 mark, it really doesn’t matter the mileage or the year. I ask Mick to keep an eye out and he comes back with a Kawasaki VN800 (chain) for £3000, now we are getting closer to what I can expect price wise.
Cruisers are great comfortable bikes, but if I’m buying, I’m not just buying for Europe, I’m buying for around the world – and I have to think about the cruiser capability. How would it be on gravel? or worse – sand? as a lower bike, there is less visibility to see pot holes and other horrid road hazards that can cause damage or a fall. Certainly there would be no standing up if in an off-road scenario.
So now I go back to adventure bikes, and double-check the seat heights. Yes, the BMW of the 650 size is the only bike that comes comfortably into my seat range – there is one for sale right now in Worcestershire for £2400.
I’m driving myself insane. I wish I had not gone to the bike shop today!
Dead line for getting documents sent off for Russia is 3 weeks!
Whilst it would be great to go to Russia on the Ural, it has to be said that now I’m looking at a different riding experience, I am now wanting it more than the Ural in Russia experience – I have to prepare to be disappointed.
Travelling through Europe is going to be a different experience to Africa, mostly in terms of the costs involved. When you are looking at camping grounds in peak season charging extortionate prices to pitch a tent, and that is even if they have a pitch in peek season, then other options have to be looked at to bring the costs down. Wild camping is the obvious solution.
I had planned to do wild camping in Africa, but when the chips were down, we only did one night in the wild in Sudan, so I can’t really say that I’m savvy with the experience. And whilst Africa doesn’t necessarily demand that you ask someone where you pitch your tent, one can’t get over the feeling that it may be inappropriate to do it and it is that feeling that I needed over come. I want to be able to feel comfortable, whether the situation required permission or not, to pop up a tent with out paying a penny in return for the space being taken for the night.
So with Sofia on Easter holidays from school, I put together some kit, bought a new tent, and set of in a geneneral direction of Wales via Mick the mechanic to pick up a new battery for the bike, to get some wild camping experience under my belt.
The first night, Mick pointed me in the direction of an old Roman road. We parked up just where the traffic was stopped, at the entrance of a field. It was a beautiful spot if not a bit exposed to the wind. It was about 6pm when we arrived, so thought it would be polite at least to only put up table and chairs and wait to see if anyone would take humbage at our presence. As it was, we had one dog walker pass, a dirt bike rider who stayed and chatted for a bit, and what was likely the farmers wife who rolled up turned around and left with out saying a word – just checking to see what was going on.
It was really cold that first night. We slept reasonably though once we employed the sleeping bag hoods, pulling them so tight so that only small holes were left to allow air in. I had not done any shopping, so in the morning, we simply packed up to warm up, and moved on towards Shropshire.
We stopped in Ludlow for a lovely hot drink in the town square, and then I proceeded to get lost trying to leave as the road that took us in the right direction north of Ludlow was closed, so instead we found ourselves heading south down small country lanes. It was at this point that I noticed that the rear tyre was quite flat. One might wonder why I had not noticed it getting soft earlier, but to be honest, despite the many thousands of miles travelled, I’m still not confident enough to say that it is the bike and not my driving!
A very soft tyre in the middle of nowhere, but still going, the best solution was to keep driving finding the shortest route out and to a garage. Hoping we would make it. But no sooner onto a main road, and the tyre finally gave way. Main road was better than a narrow country lane, although, someone did point out that help would be at hand from a local farmer. As it was we waited a couple of hours for help to arrive and changed the wheel as the all the spokes on the rear had come loose.
Deflated whilst waiting for help – elated when back on the road, all was well again and we were moving. I headed towards a really cheap campsite for the night as it was getting late, but on the way, saw a chap cleaning his car and asked if he knew of a nice farmer who would let us camp in a field. He pointed me in the right direction, and before long we found ourselved in another lovely location.
It was another very cold night, and the need for a hot shower to warm up was beckoning. So after a slow start we headed off to Wales and this time in search of a camp site with showers.
The riding had been fantastic since we had left the M5, but as we entered Wales it got even better. The roads are a real joy of twisties. We took a back road and I pulled into a campsite. £24 for the two of us! this was far too much so kept going. The next one was a more reasonable £17 and yet again a wonderful location beside a lake, and the enormous campsite was virtually empty. I made a big meal to sustain us and then went down to the pub for some wifi, hot chocolate and a fire.
The night was less cold and in the morning we were up early eagerly ready to warm up in a lovely hot shower. 6.30am no hot water, 7am not hot water, 7.30 am not hot water, finally at 8am the water wasn’t freezing, but hot would have been a gross exagerattion – we battled on, sorely dissappointed.
I had by this point a message from Rik in New Quay suggesting we come down and meet his local Mencap organisation who are a locally run charity providing much needed services to the community. So through broken data reception, I said we were on our way.
We had another great ride, if not for the rain at the beginning and the wind in the middle, the sun came out and warmed us up at the end. It was lovely meeting Mencap Ceredigion over Honey Icecream, a local speciality and very nice!
Rik then gave us 3 options: camp site; wild camping; sofa bed and a real hot shower.
Of course we jumped (Sofia far more than me!) at the sofa bed and hot shower! It was a fantastic evening meeting his daughter and very talented artist wife, Yats. Warmed up and with full bellies from real home cooked food (camp food never quite makes the mark) we then set off along more winding roades to Devon to meet up with Max (www.traveldriplus.com) and a prearranged stay with his family on their lovely Devon cottage farm in the middle of nowhere.
Max is an avid adventure rider, and always off the far flung parts of the world riding bikes so it was great to sit down and chat about what I had been thinking about and of course the recurring question, first raised at the MCN bike show, did I want to continue on the Ural or was it time to do something different.
We wieghed up the pros and cons, and really it boiled down to two very simple points. First was that Africa became a story about the bike instead of Sofia, and whilst that was perhaps not such a bad thing as Sofia was content to hide behind her helmet, it was likely that it would be a trend going forward, and that really wasn’t what my intention was, I wanted the focus , mine in particular, to be on her not on the bike. The other salient point was that the cost of the bike far out weighed its value in terms of Africa as a whole. We ended up having to curtail our expenses to cover the costs and whilst there were some lovely upsides to that in terms of people we met, that really wasn’t something I wanted to continue going forward. I want more money spent on Sofia seeing the world, and less on surviving another fix to the bike in terms of time and finances.
It is now time to sell the bike.
I had had many of these thoughts, but it was nice to hear them coming from someone else who understood all the ups and downs of adventure travel, a kind of permission slip to move towards and to different experience. An experience that would have a different set of challenges for Sofia and I. It was time to go on a solo.
We talked about kit and organisation for a solo bike and I was glad that Sofia was there listening in and taking on board that she would be taking far more responsibility for her own stuff, and chatted about potential bikes to consider. We ended up staying another night!
Finally we headed off home the following day, invigorated with a new plan and the potential of new experiences, I wanted to start the ball rolling – I actually don’t mind what bike we end up doing Europe on, and with such a tight timeline, it is likely to be the Ural, but still, my head is now on pastures new, exciting possibilities, and it is unlikely I will not rest until they are realised.
What am I excited about? Planning a round the world trip to start next year. Sofia will be the first kid to do it pillion on a motorbike.
A glorious spring is upon us here in the UK (for now!) and as the bones warm up, and we emerge from our caves, the first thing I start to think about is getting ready for summer.
With a plan of actions in hand – I have paused.
Once again I ponder the value add of doing a journey through Europe much in the same way as we did Africa. Whilst the challenges are there no doubt, the question that keeps coming back to me is:
What is the real value to be gained for Sofia?
It is very nice to see amazing places and interesting cultures different from her own, to learn about trusting life and her own ability to live in it – In large part however, these goals were achieved in Africa. I would like to build on that rather than to simply repeat and run the risk that it becomes meaningless for her – a banality that she can otherwise choose to avoid because it is too much effort.
Don’t get me wrong – I love the idea of travelling for the sake of travelling, however, I don’t see this as a holiday, I want it to have purpose and meaning, and Autism Awareness is not enough on it’s own to see this journey through on its own as there is limited opportunity through language barriers to meet Autism organisations in Europe.
For me, it needs to have purpose and meaning for Sofia in some measurable way that she feels she has been challenged, over come the challenge and has grown as a result.
A couple of months ago – with the same nagging feeling, I started looking into making it a physical challenge, however, Sofia wasn’t ready for it and I wasn’t quite ready to give up on the ‘big journey’ idea.
Today, however, with the sun shining and the prospect of getting into action and ready for a journey, I am now looking at the question with new eyes. I am now thinking about what it is that Sofia and I can do, that piques her interest in a positive way, but is a challenge for her to achieve through the insecurities of autism. That once achieved, she will be a more confident about her own talents and more committed to them because she will start grasp that actually she has something of value to offer the world.
I have been quiet for the last few months as I ferreted away on setting up a new blog (current affairs, political, common sense, non PC – The Hungry Rabbit) that will hopefully sustain us in the future for more adventure travel to raise awareness for autism. I have almost finished with the initial setting up, and my focus is now returning to our next travel project – Europe.
Having decided that Europe was the next destination in the new year, I then had the thought that perhaps we should make it a bigger challenge and instead of a motorbike, that we should try a tandem bicycle. A really great idea and challenge to be done, but I have realised that now is not the time. Sofia is not ready to make that type of journey, coupled with the fact that at this point I think cultures will be a better learning for her than working through a physical punishment – and a physical punishment it would certainly be!
So we remain on the motorbike for this journey and will cover approximately 1000 miles a week, hoping to camp the entire way (peek season availability allowing) and taking in as much of the various cultures of Europe as possible.
As I think about this journey and I start to plan, I can feel that there will in fact be an enormous challenge in it for both of us and I wonder how I thought that it might not be enough! Not only will we dealing with many different languages yet never staying long enough to really get to grips with them, but cities will most likely become a major feature of our travels. This will present a challenge for me driving as I don’t like cities and have a propensity to get lost (yes really! if it wasn’t for basic navigation knowledge of North and South we may have ended up in the Arctic in stead of Africa!), but also Sofia, who will now have an opportunity to develop her map reading skills, and her camping skills, both of which she was only just starting to get to grips with on our journey through Africa.
The Plan of Action:
We do our first event of the season next week at the MCN Show at the Excel in London (17th-19th) where we will hopefully pick up some kit sponsors for the trip and sell our T-shirts and stickers. Expect a blog post, as this will be first time for me driving with a trailer and no doubt I will find myself in a pickle somewhere in London!
Start detailed planning – border controls for Ukraine and Russia; peg the definite destinations with time scales and sections where we can go off the beaten track. Ensure that I have Ural knowledge bases fully mapped on the route as well!
Start planning kit – we will have to halve what we took with us to Africa, partly because Sofia has grown and partly because in hindsight I think the Zambian bikers were right, we were too heavy in Africa. With Sofia also being older now, it may be easier to achieve this as well as I will feel less need as a mother to horde food and clothing!
Fundraising – This year I have set up an account on Patreon so that supporters can subscribe $1 per month (or more if they so choose). Through this I hope that we achieve a regular support base upon which we can plan future events as well as start creating grants for other children with Autism and Autism organisations. Please visit us on Patreon and become a patron now – https://www.patreon.com/AfricaWithAutism
Recording the event – This time I will be investing more time into planning the video recording and picture taking and hopefully get Sofia involved in the effort. It was my biggest regret in Africa that I hadn’t had time to do this before hand and made more of that aspect of the journey. So in Europe, I plan to make up for it. I have also found a great app for turning speech to text and will make an effort to create book as we go. I am currently using this for the book about the Africa journey, but sadly with so many other things on my plate it is not happening at the speed I would like!
2016 has been a remarkable year with many changes that will reverberate for years to come. It feels like what ever follows this year will have its roots in this year and as we say good bye to it, I can’t help but appreciate that significant effect that it has had.
For Sofia most notably it has been a year of expansion of awareness and confidence. The results of which I got to experience full force at the schools parents evening a few weeks ago. Every teacher was so complimentary of her, her enthusiasm, her engagement, and her manners. It was such a joy to hear that she was doing so well. She is not ‘cured’ of autism, there is no cure, her brain still functions in particular ways that is obvious to those that have experience, however, her ability to cope and function in the world is allowing her to experience it more positively and to interact with out fear of failure.
For me, the change has been one of liberation. We don’t realise how much our environment in the western world erodes our confidence and prohibits us from experiencing life to the full. It was a huge step for me to drop everything and embark on adventure that showed a completely different side to life and prove how safety is one that we create for ourselves rather than an existential given that can be taken away. I stand in a place of appreciation for all the people on our path who helped us realise this truth – and I particularly appreciate Sofia for coming into my life and being my inspiration to do something that added value to so many others as well. It has been wonderful to hear how we have inspired people to travel or make changes in their lives or do things they didn’t feel able to do before.
For 2017, whilst there is plenty happening on the home front, I am hoping that we will get an 8 week ride in the summer. For now the decision is definitely Europe which will see us travel up into Russia and then down to Gibraltar and back again (map embedded below). The world of Europe is becoming dangerous and it may not even be viable by the time we get to summer, so the USA is our back up plan and we will do it 2018 if Europe is a go for this year. I wish I could be more committed, but things are changing fast and it is impossible to have a crystal ball to know how things are going to look in 6 months time. All I do know is that once Europe starts to collapse into violence, it will be a long time before travel is going to be possible with any degree of realistic safety. The violence is inevitable now, it is just a question of when.. this coming year, the next year, or the year after – all are possibilities. So I think we go now whilst the going is still good.
Thank you everyone for following our adventures this year, and I hope you stick around to watch us in 2017! if you would like to donate, please feel free to do so at the Virgin money giving link on the right had side of this page.
I really didn’t have a plan or even an idea of what the end of the trip would look like, but some how in the final two weeks it all started to fall into place with the key issue of bike transport resolved with Econotrans. With the help of Antoinette who heads up the local branch of Autism SA, in the couple of days we were in East London, transport was arranged for the bike to Cape Town courtesy of Kargo, ‘the’ national logistics company. Flights arranged and a week after arriving in East London SA, we were landing in West London UK.
As part of preparing for the journey we had moved out of our rented house and into a caravan, and on return, the caravan was wheeled out again until we found a permanent address. I thought this would take a couple of months, but after a week and a half, I was done with out-door life and creature comforts were calling me very loudly. Again, thinking that it would take time to find somewhere we would like, I was surprised that the second appartement we saw was perfect and empty and a week later we moved in.
It was strange having all our stuff out of storage, and so much of it as well – one of the wonderful side effects of travelling for a long period is that you let go of material attachments and keep only those things you actually need. So, as I started up packing boxes, I started throwing stuff away. I would say about three-quarters made it down to the dump. Of course I have kept a few sentimental items, but even most of my books made it into the trash, and I love my books.
The bike arrived in port a few weeks after us, and Mick took it straight to his workshop to give it a work over and MOT so it could be taxed for the road. The list of work was long, and mostly associated with the wheels which had become a main issue at the end of the trip. The engine was fine, but the timing had been set incorrectly by the South African mechanic, and the gear box is having to be reworked as the efforts of the South African mechanic made the 3rd gear issue we experienced in Ethiopia return. The side car alignment was also incorrect as well as the rear wheel alignment – the two may be connected, an expert would know, sadly the issues they created all appeared after the bike’s ‘overhaul’ in South Africa. All in all, it seems sending the bike to South Africa for an overhaul was a massive mistake. Whilst there may have been pre-existing wear on the bike that may have contributed, that they didn’t make note of it and warn me of any potential future problems after releasing bike leads me to assume that there were no potential issues other than those that they had created. And with out a doubt, a missing collet and a broken universal joint, incorrect timing and gear box problems would have all been avoided if the bike had not been in their care.
Sofia has settled down really well since moving into the apartment and started school the week after. Her emotional well being is remarkable, and even now after 4 weeks, she is still positive, optimistic and looking ahead. I hear last week that she will often apply her travel experiences to what she is learning in the class room which is wonderful. I had originally wanted her to go to a more specialist school and had stopped the appeal process because I couldn’t find the mental space to focus on it whilst on the road, so I was really worried about how she would cope being on a large campus with a lot of students. I’m please so say though that the special unit to which she is attached is making sure that she is fully supported in finding her way around and ensuring that she uses the unit as base between lessons.
On a personal level, the change in Sofia has been something I get to appreciate every day. She is no so easily upset by change, personal hygiene has improved, contributing to the house by doing a few chores is no long a world war 3 scenario. Generally her fight with me is 20% of what it used to be and I would say, it have moved into a more normal range of what you would expect of an 11 year old girl. I am so proud of her, and every second of the journey we have taken across Europe and Africa has been worth every ounce of increased confidence she feels in herself and every inspired effort she makes to challenge herself.
For my part, I have not settled so well. Once the first several whirlwind weeks of our return died down, I felt myself left wanting and not entirely sure why. The sense that I was living in the real world and now had to return to a surreal world was confusing, and being at the Overland Event saw me starting to plan another trip with the idea of being back on the road in 6 months. I had heard from other travellers about this, but I had not expected it to be so overwhelming and such a fight to redefine my identity. None the less, I started to write, notes mostly so that I could start to get to grips with the story we had just lived. A couple of weeks ago I found a starting point and now the first draft is under way. I am still struggling to make sense of on my new static identity, but it is not nearly as distracting as it has been, and the more immersed I get into the book writing process, I’m sure it will eventually dissipate.
Going forward – I hope to post photos with stories of our travels, some might make it into the book, but many sadly won’t and yet still need to be told. I hope you enjoy them and thank you for continuing to follow us. We are still raising money through Africa With Autism (see donation links in the right column of this website) – I’ve not decided on what we will do with the money just yet, but will keep you posted of any progress on that front.