Tag Archives: motorbike adventure

1,200km, Wild camping, Wales & Wonderings

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.

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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.

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We could not resist stopping at a cafe called the Lazy Trout!  turns out it is the oldest transport cafe in the UK.

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

 

Please support us on Patreon:  https://www.patreon.com/AfricaWithAutism

 

 

Working Behind the Scenes

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!

Thank you for you continued support!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Familiar Territory

The principle reason for choosing Africa to travel is because I was born in Africa.  Whilst I’ve been in Europe for over 30 years now, it is still very much a part of who I am, and where I feel safest.   An important factor when undertaking a journey like this.

As soon as we entered Zambia, I was starting to feel familiarity with my surroundings.  The Msasa trees and kids in khaki school uniform.  It had been raining, so the vegetation was lush and the ride in the truck down to Lusaka was dotted with abundant produce, there was so much I felt sorry for the sellers, I don’t think they could give it away and wondered about how much would rot before they had a chance to sell it.

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Picking up bike from workshop – Me, Ginty Melvil and Bobby van de Merwe
The bikers of Lusaka gave as a warm welcome, and we were well looked after (esp. Ginty the President of FIM North Africa who accommodated us in his lovely guest cottage).  Bobbie did a fantastic job fixing our structural problem, in fact, he improved upon what we had been riding with, which was great!  and together they raise $1000 USD to help cover the costs of the fix, which left a little left over in much needed cash to help us on our way.

Our troubles were not to be so easily fixed however, and a new twin coil later we continued to Kariba for Easter, and a needed break on home turf of happy memories and great weather.  Crossing Kariba Dam Wall has been a bucket list item since I was a child and there we were in our less than reliable sidecar outfit actually doing it!   At the other side, I stopped to take it all in and were immediately surrounded by an audience, shocked to hear that we were travelling from England.  It is funny how the shock gets bigger and bigger the further south we go!

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Easter was spent on the lake where Sofia landed her first fish, and for the first time actually put her face in water.  Something she has always been too afraid to do.  She was also very nervous about getting into a small speed boat, but once out on the waves bouncing she couldn’t keep the smile off her face.

We set off from Kariba in time to make World Autism Awareness Day in Harare where the bikers were organising a ride out for us to visit local events.  But even this journey didn’t go without hitch as it was discovered that the rear wheel bearing that had been done in Lusaka had been done incorrectly!  the whole assembly had started to fall apart!

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It took a while to work out what all the broken pieces of the assembly and where they belonged
Aside from being utterly livid because I had said that they should check the correct assembly before doing it as it was different, I was distraught at having yet another problem to deal with.  I was still running with an intermittent power problem that was a total mystery, so this was just about finishing me off.

Fortunately I discovered this parked outside a hotel where we had stopped for breakfast.  The manager as an absolute angel, and very calm and confident that a solution would be found.  He drove me around town find bits and people, and finally at 8pm at night we had finished the fix.

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Well met by the bikers of Harare – such a huge relief after such a difficult journey!
So next morning, once again we set off. I was determined this time we were going to enter a capital city on our own wheels instead of a truck, like the last 3.  We stopped 3 times due to power, but persisted, and were happily met by Natalie and the bikers to be escorted in.  Such a happy moment, and wonderful that others could observe what was happening with the bike.  It was embarrassing then to discover that reason for the next to power losses, were due to no petrol!

The main things was, that we made it.  Limping as we were, we arrived in Harare on our own wheels, and even better, surrounded by new friends ready to help sort out our problems.  It was a time to celebrate!

 

 

 

Kenya – The Low Point

We spent a 4 weeks in Kenya, and almost all of it was in Nairobi!  One would think that this would have been a great time to relax and unwind, but sadly the opposite was true.

When your mode of transport becomes inoperable, it is stressful, and crossing borders in this condition only compounds this, so it was with relief that we arrived at Jungle Junction, on the raving recommendations of travellers, to rest up and have the bike fixed.  Indeed, the bike was worked on, and the primary fault fixed within a number of days, however, it became apparent that more needed to be done, and this is when we hit a wall.

Jungle Junction has a constant flow of overlanders with their various vehicles needing attention.  Sadly however, any bike that requires more that superficial attentions tends to go to the bottom of the priority pile.  And so we waited. I did some work on it and resolved a fault, desperate for progress. And the stress started to build.  The head mechanic, and owner of the establishment, eventually pulled out the stops and worked on a Sunday to resolve the problem.  But it didn’t help my levels of stress to hear the bike being referred to as scrap metal!  Negative attitudes to a job invariably lead to negative results.

The fault was found and resolved.  And despite the sound not being 100%, the machine worked and I wanted to get back on the road.  I don’t remember why we delayed the test ride a couple of days, but finally on the Wednesday we were riding to Nakuru, a good distance to ensure that any further problems would have a chance to show.  The results of the test told me all was not perfect, but the expense both in time an money thus far was too high, and it would be better to start moving South again.

The Saturday morning, I started to get ready to leave, checked the oil and tappets, the latter because after the still recent (in terms of kilometres) rebuild and suspected valve not seating properly.  This is when I discover they had been redone for the compression test and done incorrectly.   This was too much for me! utterly desperate to get going, and risk that damage had been done to a valve!

I freaked in a thousand directions, burst in to tears a few times, and generally looked decidedly unstable for about half an hour as I contacted a new mechanic to check the valves, get them ground in properly which we didn’t have the kit to do in Addis.  Things that had actually been requested and not done, and whilst it still clearly needed doing had decided to stop wasting money waiting – but now was an absolute necessity to do.

It turns out later, in conversation with another waiting motorcyclists, and perhaps as a result of what was going on with me, that the head mechanic was now saying that he was not prepared to take responsibility for taking apart cylinders and doing valves.  Well I wish he had said something like that to me when I arrived!  We would have been on the road 2 weeks sooner and saved a lot of money!

The new mechanic, Rick, did a fantastic job with the valves – and thankfully the unseated valve showed no signs of damage and was once again reseated properly. Although the prognosis was a cylinder head replacement would be needed at the end of the trip as a seat was worn.

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A window opened in the clouds and showed us the summit of Kilimanjaro – beautiful!  
Finally we found ourselves back on the road and heading South, with an engine that has never sounded so smooth!  There were a couple of concerns as we headed for the border to Tanzania, but ultimately my fear of spending any more time in Nairobi kepting biting our heels and we kept going, with Rick accepting my panicky phone calls and putting my mind to rest.

We spent one more night in Kenya, and then crossed the border, an exact month to the day that we crossed the border into Kenya.  I have never been so happy to leave a country, and yet so sad that we never really had an opportunity to explore it a little.

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We spent our last night at a lodge owned an run the local Masai.  It was a beautiful spot!

A Mazungu in a Mutatu

We have now been in Kenya for almost a month and practically the entire time has been in Nairobi waiting for the the bike to be good to get back on the road. I hope now that in the next few days the wait will be over and we will no longer be mazungus (white skinned) in a mutatu (mini bus public transport)

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The inside experience of a mutatu! blurred as it raced over bumpy roads, and packed to the rafters with people – thankfully it was only a short ride to the local shopping centre!
So what has happened in this last month? From an autism perspective, we have met with a couple of charities in Nairobi. The founder of Autism Society of Kenya and principle advocate in Kenyan government, Felicity, met us for lunch and we found out about the remarkable progress that she has made in the last 10 years in terms of getting recognition for Autism in the Education Ministry, and on the day we met, how she received her first email from the Health Ministry acknowledging the need for a committee to be established to identify the needs presented by autism. Felicity has also been involved with outreach programmes but is constantly struggling to find sufficient funding to continue this work.

Knowing the struggle to get any recognition for autism in Africa, it was nothing short of a miracle to hear her story. She puts much of her success down to her previous involvement within government (from a nutrition education standpoint) which has helped her to understand the process, and effectively identify the contacts, follow the right processes, and use her her existing reputation as an expert to ensure that she is heard. Behind all of this however, is her drive an commitment to establishing an effective support system for autism that springs from her grandson’s diagnosis. Indeed, it was only through taking him physically to the registration office to register the charity, that she was able to convince the registrar that autism was real so that the charity would be registered.

I also had the opportunity to meet (albeit briefly) another star on the autism scene in Nairobi, James. Having worked with children with autism in New York, he returned to Kenya committed to helping families affected by autism. Setting up the Autism Support Centre, James works to help parents by bringing them together, providing information, and helping to apply pressure to get more support for their children. I was kindly invited to attend a parents group on a Saturday morning to speak a little about what Sofia and I were doing. I wasn’t the only speaker, as other parents where also invited to speak with the subject of discussion being Autism and Sexuality.

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A full house of parents in attendence
It was a wonderful experience and really interesting to hear about the cultural challenges that parents were facing and wonderful to see a couple of the speakers being fathers, as well as a number of fathers in the the audience. On this particular subject line major concerns included sexual abuse of the child due to their increased vulnerability, and accusations of harassment (perhaps hugging strangers, or staring inappropriately) in a country where very few people outside the community have any knowledge or understanding and the law does not take any account of disability when considering a case should it be brought to court. The primary message however was hope, hope for the mothers who’s husbands refused to be involved, hope for parents concerned about the future and how they will cope, hope that despite autism, that into adult life there was every opportunity for their children to experience normality – as one parent put it: I am still hopeful that my son will find love and get married, even if it means his wife will live with us I will be a very happy man.

 

All in all, this time in Nairobi has been about interesting people. We have been staying at a major overland rest stop and mechanic shop, and whilst Sofia has been doing her utmost to make up for lost TV time both past and future, I have been regaled with wonderful travel stories – from the guy who was asked for the police report for his stolen car because he may have stolen it from himself, to the couple who seemed to have more than their fare share of break downs and improvised solutions like using margarine as grease, draining a pond of water because they were stuck in it, and a ranger vehicle running out petrol on them as it was coming to rescue them from the bush! But the time has definitely come to leave, as I become more frustrated with the stagnation and concerned about the finances, and judgements are starting to be made about my lack of control over Sofia’s TV obsession by the longer term punters of the Jungle Junction establishment. Judgemental strangers is part of what it is to be a parent of autism, as few people take the time to find out more about why things might be the way they are and even less interested to accept autism as a valid reason to any behaviour that they personally disapprove of. Yes I definitely feel it is time to go! 😀

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Taking the carburettors apart and fixing the issue of petrol flooding into the cylinders

Please donate to help us raise awareness from autism – with the cost of fixes to the bike we are now very low on funds, so please donate even a couple of dollars and it will see us getting a few extra kilometres down the road – http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/charity-web/charity/finalCharityHomepage.action?charityId=1005498