Monthly Archives: October 2009

Day 147 – Home!

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Harrogate, England, Friday October 16th, 2009.

That’s it, done it, finished, all over. 19,000 miles around the world by motorcycle in 147 days. OK, it’s probably actually 146 if you account for the whole international date line thing, but technically I started a day early too, so 147 it is. Feels good to have accomplished a complete circumnavigation after all the effort that went into it, but I wish I was still going. There is something indescribably wonderful about stopping for a rest on a dirt road in the mountains, hundreds of miles from civilisation, with no-one else there, gazing around at a jaw-dropping view, knowing that you’ve come half way round the world and still have half to go, wondering where’ll you be that night, who you’re going to meet next, what drama is going to be thrown at you, and being at once as serene as a Buddhist monk yet as excited as a child. It has been a life-changing experience, in so many different ways.

In May 2007 I signed up to take an exam for a qualification to help me get a better paying job. That was the first concrete action specifically working towards this trip. Two jobs and almost exactly two years later I set off on what I hoped would be great fun. Now I’m back from a trip that turned into something so much more meaningful and memorable than I could ever have hoped.

A thousand thank yous go to the many incredible people who have helped me along the way. If any of you ever happen to be in this neck of the woods, be sure to look me up. There’ll be a beer waiting for you!

So, I hope to do something bigger and better, the sooner the better, but realistically in a couple of years.

In the meantime, does anyone want to employ a Java programmer?

And that’s all. I hope to add many more photos, some video, and various bits of info about bike preparation, route planning, navigation, etc, so check back sometime. For now though, thanks for reading!

Day 140 Toronto, Ontario

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I wake to torrential rain. It looks too bad to go anywhere, but I set off anyway, and the rain isn’t too bad, until I get to Canada.

The border crossing is the fastest since Europe, and then I’m into the really heavy rain. I ride slowly, trying not to crash, wondering when the bike will get too wet and cut out, but it doesn’t, and with unexpected ease I navigate to the hotel, and that’s it. Done. The trip is pretty much over. It feels weird.

After a day of such unpleasant conditions, apart from the stunning autumn colour, I’m so glad to be in a surprisingly nice hotel and able to enjoy room service, a bottle of wine and a bath. It’s nearly over. I’ve almost ridden all the way round the world.

I’m pleased with what I’ve achieved but I just wish I wasn’t stopping. I know a couple of guys who are continuing south to Argentina and then up through Africa, and I wish I was doing that too. But I need to return, re-plan, and prepare for the next trip. This will just be a temporary break, and before long I will be back on the road. I think I’m always going to be on the road or just taking a break. I don’t think I could ever stop doing this.

Day 139 Altoona, Pennsylvania

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While confirming arrangements for the flight from New York I discover that it will take 10 days to clear the bike through customs before it can fly. From Toronto I can be out in 48 hours. It’s only a bit further to Toronto, so I change tack and head north, through the rain into the beautiful Pennsylvania countryside, rich with fall color (that’s American for “autumn colour”).

Day 138 Harrisonburg, West Virginia

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Before setting off I adjust the wheel to tighten the chain, again. It’s pretty bad now. Not long later I stop for gas and notice that the chain is once again very slack. It’s badly stretched and the rear sprocket is almost totally worn away. I do my best to stabilise it, and ask in a petrol station for a bike shop. There’s one 25 miles up the interstate.

Gingerly I ride there, mulling over my options. I have a spare at home, so worst case I’ll be stuck here a few days waiting for it. It’s annoying after thinking I’d pretty much made it to the end. There are some loud noises from the rear as some sprocket teeth meet their demise and I slow even more.

I make it to the dealer, despite being almost eaten by several big rigs as I dawdle along. With the help of advice from Dave Lambeth by phone, we discover they have a suitable sprocket in stock at their wharehouse, so I could be out of here tomorrow. Then, incredibly, they announce that they’ve measured up and found a sprocket in the shop that will fit. I could be out of here today! Even more amazingly, they have a new rear sprocket, my spare front, and a new chain, fitted within the hour, and I’m on my way with almost no delay. Amazing! Suddenly I’m very glad I carried a spare front sprocket almost all the way round the world.

The bike rides perfectly until the sun gets low and I stop at a motel. With 340 miles to go, I’ll be in new york in another one or two days. It’s hard to believe I’m so close! I’m really grateful and impressed by the guys at Mark 4. It was almost as good as the service and desire to help that you find in Russia!

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Day 137 Johnson City, Tennessee

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I pass through the last time zone change that will happen on the bike, into the very pretty countryside of North Carolina and the blue ridge parkway, where I get stuck behind slow moving RVs. The parkway has nice views with the trees changing colour, but feels artificial, like the driveway of a country estate. The traffic annoys, it’s wet and misty, and I’m concerned about being stuck far from the possibility of repair if the chain gives out, so I escape towards the interstate as the rain starts.

I find a motel and sit in a bar, listening to the southern drawl and casual racism. This feels like redneck county. There are churches everywhere and signs on people’s lawns saying simply “Jesus”.

The best sign was one depicting a conversation between God and a worshipper:-

“Dear God, please send us someone to cure cancer, aids, etc.”

“I did. You aborted them.”

This wasn’t one of those church signs, it was just on someone’s lawn in really small country town. I would have stopped to take a photo but today’s soundtrack was the duelling banjos from Deliverance so I didn’t really feel like stopping.

In the bar there is a sign for Newcastle brown ale. First it reminds me of seeing the picture of the Tyne bridges in the Baku hotel room, then it makes me realise I’m nearly there. New York, home, the end of the trip and a full circumnavigation by motorcycle.

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Day 136 Chattanooga, Tennessee

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It’s a cool, grey, overcast day, but no rain. The ride through Tennessee is easy, and the scenery is nicer than recent days. Nothing spectacular, but nice houses and lots of trees. I stop for more health food, KFC this time. The drumsticks are the size of baseball bats, the wings must have come from an Albatross. What the hell does America feed its chickens with? I’m sure it can’t be good for you, and I’m sure I’ve put on weight in the past few weeks in America and Canada, but it’s almost impossible to find healthy food on the road. Everywhere you look there are a million different fast food chains, but even in proper restaurants the salads are drowning in mayo and everything comes with “cheese”. Seriously, America, what don’t you understand about making cheese? This molten yellow plastic vomit you have is not cheese, it’s barely even cheese flavor (that’s American for “flavour”). Although, I am getting quite adept at navigating the menus of all these different establishments, and I have to admit being quite partial to an A&W cheese and bacon Uncle Burger, hold the mustard, and a sausage, egg and cheese homestyle-biscuit breakfast sandwich from Tim Horton’s. But only because there’s nothing else. And I’m still always confused by the barrage of questions fired at me when I order something. Have here or take out? Small or large? How would like your fries? What kind of sauce? Do you want dips? Which colour bag would you like? Shall I hand it to you with my left hand or my right hand? Good grief, it’s worse than the horribly insincere and impossibly cheerful “Hi, how are you doing today?” that is the standard greeting in any American fast-food joint. How would I like my fries? Erm, I dunno, fried maybe?

I’m starting to feel like I’m into the final stages, heading for home, and starting to really focus on the bike. Will it make it? Will I make it? So close now, it just has to hold together for a few more days. But it’s lost more oil, and the chain needs another adjustment, and the headlamp bulb needs replacing.

Day 135 Little Rock, Arkansas

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I came south to escape the record low temperatures and have run straight into record rainfall. The southern states have been suffering a bad drought for months, now we have flooding. The cold and snow was bad, but rain is worse. It’s no problem for me, I stay dry on the inside, but the bike is becoming increasingly allergic to water and in the heavy spray kicked up by the big 18-wheelers on the interstates it often sputters and dies. A quick spray of WD-40 revives it soon enough, but it’s quite nerve-wracking navigating busy intersections knowing I might lose drive at any moment.

I’ve seen a lot of RVs driving along towing cars behind them, but today I see a coach-sized RV towing a Jeep towing a speedboat with a quadbike in it. That must be a pretty big pension fund!

I arrive in Little Rock where it seems that I really can’t understand a word anyone says (apart from “Gee!”, which I hear a lot), and everyone thinks my quaint little accent is swell and lots of people wonder if I’m from Australia and one person asks if it’s spring in England right now…..

Day 134 Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

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A long boring day riding under cloudy skies trying to cover enough distance to escape the rain coming up from the south to meet me now that i’ve eluded the northern snow. Just a long, long day of nothing but riding.

I stop for gas (that’s American for petrol) and notice that the bike is leaking oil. All I can do is keep fingers crossed that the bike will hold up, but I’m pushing it hard every day. It now has 35000 miles on the clock and I’m doing more than 400 a day. 18,000 miles since leaving home. I’m glad I started with a brand new chain and sprocket, otherwise I would already be in trouble.

I stop for a burger (that’s American for health food) and notice that the chain is slack again, and the sprocket is wearing badly. I start to mentally compare the wear rate to the remaining distance to New York but I can’t help fiddling the numbers to make it fit the answer I want and I calculate I’ll probably make it. There’s nothing I can do anyway, I just have to ride and keep checking it.

I very often have song endlessly looping in the back of my mind as I ride, usually an irritating pop-song or something of which I only know one or two lines. Predictably, today’s soundtrack is Amarillo, and for a while at least, yes, actually this is the way.

Day 133 Clayton, New Mexico

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A beautiful sunny morning but very, very cold, below freezing. No point starting early, I need to wait for the day to warm up, it’s going to be very cold in the mountains. Being right next door to the Colorado ski resorts of Vail, Aspen and Breckenridge, there is a resort TV channel showing nothing but MTB videos, including loads of stuff I recognise from Whistler.

When I finally go outside I discover that another adventure biker has left a bottle of beer on my bike. This is the kind of thing that I love about biking. Someone who has no idea who I am has bought me a beer simply because I’m riding a bike. There is no way you can be in anything other than a great mood when something like that happens, so adjusting the wheel in the bitter cold is carried out in good spirits.

Whoever you are, cheers! Thanks not just for the kind thought and your generosity, but for bestowing upon me not your average everyday Budweiser, but rather a fine gourmet micro-brewery autumn special pumpkin ale.

There follows a really nice ride, much warmer, some nice scenery thorough the mountains, easy going. The day disappears. I cross into the wide open spaces of New Mexico and enjoy the effortless cruising as the sun sets.

Then I relax with my benefactor’s beer, perfectly chilled by the cool weather. Nice!

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