Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Epilogue

Guybrush: I'm on a whole new adventure.
Bart: Growing a mustache?
Guybrush: No. Bigger than that.
Bart: A beard?!?
It’s rare to sit back, cup of tea in hand and realise that the dreams, planning and effort of the last 5 years have brought you to a place and time where everything has paid off. Curiously that place is exactly the same spot where I was 11 months ago, in the kitchen in a house in Tunstall in North Yorkshire. 

The trip of a lifetime is over, and people are fond of saying ‘it must be tough adjusting back to a normal life’. Initially, as you’re setting the alarm cock for 7am to get up for work you think yeah, it is, but importantly I have no emotion or regret for the trip being over. I made a dream come true, something a good number of people will struggle to achieve in a lifetime, and there is nothing whatsoever to regret about that. Life for 11 months was awesome, not always easy or particularly fun at times, but always interesting and if for the years ahead I can put as much effort and enthusiasm in, it will continue to be good. I now have new plans which are backed up with the confidence and experience from knowing that if you want something enough, you can make it happen. 

There's plenty of stuff in my thoughts that I'm looking forward to cracking on with. And, oddly, I'm looking forward to actually doing some work. Real work. For money. Life will continue, with thousands of photos and videos to treasure, friends across the world to keep in touch with and a smile on my face.

As Terry Pratchett recently said, “peoples whole lives do pass in front of their eyes before they die. The process is called ‘living’”. Looking back over all the living I’ve done recently I get a bit misty-eyed thinking about it all, and images go through my mind with a melancholy Stereophonics soundtrack. 

Leaving Tunstall and taking the Chanel Tunnel to Europe and beyond, riding through an abandoned school building, meeting some of the friendliest Poles you could ever hope to at a family BBQ, climbing Mt. Triglav in Slovenia, riding the Alps and Stelvio Pass, late nights with Martin Peterca in Ljubljana, crazy nights in Croatia, riding the Transfagarasan highway – Top Gear’s current ‘greatest road in the world’, swapping stories with other round the world bikers in Istanbul, a birthday ride out and BBQ with a group of new friends, bizarre rock landscapes of Cappadocia; Sensory overload on arriving in India, seeing the Taj Mahal appear when riding into Agra, the manic atmosphere at the India v England cricket match in Mohali and the beautifully decorated boats at Nainital.
The big day - leaving Tunstall
Leaving home
BBQ with Kaja's family in Poland
Martin Peterca - former speedway rider, current all round great guy
Party time in Croatia with old friends Klara, Tina & Katka
Italian biker Michele - met in Greece
With Brummies at the cricket in Mohali
Casually riding past elephants plodding up the roadside in Nepal, hiking through fresh snow to Annapurna Base Camp, riding through the back streets of Kathmandu on the back of Suraj’s scooter, dancing with strangers at a Nepalese wedding, meeting random strangers in Busy Bees cafe every night for a week in Pohara. And New Zealand, from top to bottom, east to west, motorcycling heaven, beauty and friendliness beyond anything I’d ever expected. 
Having reached Annapurna Base Camp
with Asia
Team Orange - riding as two changed my trip
Happy times with Sara and Suraj at Eagle Export
 At times my blog has descended into a moaning and wining section which doesn’t tell the whole story, or at least a balanced one. Most travel writing is retrospective, books are written long after the events have taken place. The writer puts ‘problems’ into context with all that has happened. Writing a blog on the go sometimes means it can be difficult to divorce the good from the bad, genuine problems from ‘what if’ scenarios that are on your mind. I don’t often re-read my blog because I groan at trying to write things above the level I can deal with, but after all is said and done, you remember the hard days and the felling of having got though it and onto better things fondly.

Having only been back for a few weeks though, knowing the ending to the story, makes looking back all the sweeter. My bike, bought from one careful lady owner (who had clearly bought it from a succession of several suicidally reckless ones) made it more or less in one piece. The bodywork is ready to fall off like a comical clown’s car, but the engine goes when you press the starter button, every time, despite running off irregular batteries, being run almost dry of oil and generally being dropped, battered, boiled and mistreated.

The early part of the trip was a riot, across Europe to Croatia was easy enough, catching up with old friends and making new ones through couch surfing and random chance. Things became less familiar and more challenging as the road headed through Eastern Europe, adding capital cities like Bucharest and Sofia to the list of tricky places I rode through. Turkey came as a complete surprise which apart from the mad traffic into Istanbul was all pleasant.  

For me it was in Turkey, India and Nepal that the trip really came alive. At times they weren’t easy, with extreme temperatures, sickening pollution and deathly traffic. There was great poverty in India with kids from babies to teens eking a living begging under bridges and living off marginal land. I know this because I regularly saw it through the visor of my £200 Nolan helmet. These are also the places you’ll see some of the most beautiful sights in the world, man-made in the Taj Mahal and natural in the Himalayas. When you enter Nepal and first see the Annapurna range, you find a moment to rest and say ‘holy shit, I’m really doing this’.

You realise travel is sensual, lines on a map you were looking at pre-departure change entirely. The 73 from Darfield to Greymouth becomes the awesome mountainous glacial scenery of Arthur’s Pass, the little wiggly line from Mut to Ermenek becomes one of the freest flowing fun motorcycling roads through sun-backed Turkish mountains and the H10 brings you to Snow View, many people’s first sight of Annapurna and Everest.

You can balance that against minor set-backs where a Lonely Planet will promise “strolling around the streets will spirit you into the past." It doesn't say whereabouts in the past exactly. Sometimes, the world seems stuck in summer 2008, where Coca Cola umbrellas adorn tables outside cafes, there’s a HSBC bank around the corner, and every other shop sells souvenirs. On the whole though, there aren’t many places that make me regret my route. The only huge disappointment was paperwork based because India’s ‘no return in 2 months’ rule meant I couldn’t get to Bangladesh to see the ship breaking yards which offer some of the best photographic opportunities anywhere on the planet. 

I do now feel qualified to use the golden phrase ‘when I was in’, pronounced ‘whenIwasin’. Four words that sound like one word, that comes out of the mouth of someone with tedious frequency when they've recently been travelling. I say it a lot. With pride too.

What’s the last thing to write about this trip? There can be only one, long, long, list. I’ve hung out with some great people over the 11 months. For making my trip everything it was, thank you to these and many more besides; Mum, Dad, Pete, Stacey, Freya, Allen, Kate, Mike, Ashley, Ady, Mike and Charlotte for the send off; Steve & Jo, Lien, Wendy, Kaja, Marcin, Wojtek & family, Asia, Wolfgang, Maude and Radi for being great couch-surfing hosts, ambassadors and much more besides; The Peterca’s for making Slovenia my favourite place in the world and always having an open door, and the late, late nights; Klara & Ibo, Tina & Katka for bringing some glamour and lots of Jaegermeister to Croatia, Corina, Michele and Luiga for ganging up to tackle Istanbul together, The Istanbul Bikers Club for friendliness and practical help way beyond the call of duty including a birthday ride out – Mehmet, Adil, Apo and Taylan; Everyone at home for the birthday video! Fellow round the world bikers Harry and Roland; Ashwani and Praveen for their kindness of complete strangers that still touches me more than most; Big Tom – Big inspiration and motivation popping up a just the right times, the Brummies at the cricket for a fun filled day to lift the spirits; Asia for making Nepal even more special than it is anyway and proving riding in a pair is far better than alone; Jens, Damon - photographer extraordinate and a hell of a laugh, Suraj and Sara from Eagle Exports for endless food, drink and hassle free shipping in a part of the world where that’s not to be taken for granted; Natalie, Colin and the Lusseys in Auckland for the best welcome to New Zealand, Sebastian at BMW, couch-surfers at the Tongariro Crossing walk; Chrissie, the van Dorresteins; John and Matthias for the single best two weeks on a motorbike and being so easy going for my first time group-riding buddies, Suzi and Allen & Kate for sharing their time in NZ that wrapped up my trip and for the greatest thing of all, for having a hot cup of tea on and a group of friends round as soon as I was off the plane home. 
Too many to mention - bikers in Istanbul's club
Ashwani, Praveen & Big Tom
On the road then rounding off 2 weeks of awesome riding with Matthias and John
Rounding off this trip with Kate & Allen
 Oh, and you! There are a lot of words on this blog because I enjoy writing it because you seem to enjoy, or at least dutifully stick at reading it. To the folks who’ve pushed it over 10,000 page views I have just two things to say, thank you, and get out there yourself, it’s easier and better than you could ever imagine. What this trip has really taught me is that you don’t have to ride eleven months across the world to have your adventure. You can do it in a week, in a weekend, in a day or in an hour. For me the spirit of adventure is just jumping on a bike and riding anywhere. There’s no reason you can’t find or indulge your own thing that brings out that spirit. Bizarre that it’s taken a great long trip for me to realise this.

The bottom line is that even with any physical and mental changes I've undergone in the last 11 months I can't have changed that much because I’d choose to do this all over again given the chance. For now though it’s time to pack away the maps and hang up my travelling boots. There will be cake, warmth, comfortable beds, showers and home.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Leaving New Zealand

With the tail end of a storm that had ravaged Fiji and the islands blowing in, my ride down to Christchurch was swift and fairly non-descript, rain and driving wind don’t make for memorable riding conditions, you just get your head down and keep moving as much as possible. Arriving a few days before friends Allen and Kate from England arrived, I took an apartment type room in the Christchurch suburb of New Brighton whilst the last of the poor weather blew itself out. The only chance I had to go for a ride as the clouds broke was around the Banks Peninsula which proved well worth it as I tried some different roads to last time and found them all fun to ride with stunning scenery.

Riding past Auckland on the way south before the weather
turned
Riding through Auckland with the Sky Tower ahead
Autumn colours coming out on the Banks Peninsula
Riding quite roads near Christchurch

Hills and lakes as is much of New Zealand
With almost unbelievable timing, Allen and Kate stepped off the plane late at night to find the following day blazing with sunshine and autumn colours as we took a walk around Christchurch until their camper was ready.  On Tuesday 17th, with camper van loaded and my bike packed and ready to go, we met outside a supermarket in Christchurch ready to make the mammoth 480kms journey to Queenstown, just before the heavens well and truly opened. Unusually for New Zealand the east coast of the South Island was getting deluged, however almost exactly half way across, just in time for the best of the scenery, we rode out, almost literally, of a wall of water into bright blue skies and within two minutes, dry roads and warm air saving what could have been a terrible first day on the roads.

Ongoing demolition work in Christchurch CBD
I’m always happy to find myself anywhere near Queesntown, to me it’s the most perfectly situated beautiful small town anywhere in the world. Booking two nights in the YHA, with Queenstown bathed in warm sunshine and golden yellow trees I set about writing some job applications whist Allen and Kate set off on another monster, almost 600kms ride to Milford Sound and back. As it was a washout last time I was there, anticipating the same again I wasn’t too hesitant not to go, however it turned out to be the most beautifully clear day, and was such a beautiful spot that Allen had proposed and my returned the future Mr & Mrs Brindle.
With the poor weather behind, the ride across the South
Island is as scenic as ever
Beautiful Queenstown
Autumn colours just outside the YHA

A couple enjoying the view from Queenstown's small
pebble beach
For the next few days we split our itineraries heading north as I was trying not to ride at night as it’s no fun on a bike, but the camper could manage it with few problems. Meeting up again in Wellington we spent a night on town eating in a nice restaurant where the talk was of Hobbiton,  the one remaining ‘in-situ’ set from Lord of the Rings, and of the ‘Hobbit’ films yet to be released. I’ve heard it derided as over-priced and underwhelming, by most, something that would prove to be unfounded. We travelled up the North Island past Mount Tongaririo stopping for a brief night at Lake Taupo, before pressing on to the start point of tours to Hobbiton.
Allen and Kate driving up a hillside
Heading up the South Island
Parting company for a while as I write a job application
Heavy mist lifted as morning broke and our small convoy reached the hills around Hamilton where the farm which serves as the starting point was bathed in sunshine. After a quick coffee, a huge tour bus, totally out of place on a small rural farm arrived to drive us 5 minutes down a track through fields to the set. The set is protected fiercely by the film studio so nobody is allowed to drive anywhere near it, a fragile peace with the farm owners means they are allowed to run tours so long as nobody drives there independently everyone is supervised at all times. The camera crews can return at any time to film extra bits and pieces and the set must be exactly as it was left last time.

Our guide was interesting and as laid back about how long we took to get round as everyone in New Zealand is, we took hundreds of photos and moved from one hobbit hole to the next. The whole site had recently been spruced up for the new film and up to 6 gardeners kept it looking amazing, each hobbit house had its own character and rustic rural charm with beautiful planting and little props.
A small Hobbit house
Bag End, home of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins
Hobbiton lake
Hobbiton watermill
More rustic charm
Kate, Allen and myself at Bag End
Hobbiton hill-side
Leaving the site which was a genuine highlight of my and our time in New Zealand, we headed up to Auckland where I’d stay and get my bike shipped home while Allen and Kate turned round to head back to the South Island and home.

What happened next flew bye, in just a few days in Auckland I contacted a shipping company who can send my bike home by sea for a fraction of the price I’d expected, and handled all the crating and paperwork completely stress free! Jenner Cargo – my friends and yours!

With all that tied up painlessly, and so quickly I pretty much forgot to take any photos or video of the momentous occasion that my bike (plus all assorted bits and pieces of riding kit) and I parted company after 11 months on the road together. Auckland being a large sprawling city isn’t the best place to be without transport, so I booked a last minute flight to Wellington, the most compact city in NZ and easiest to walk. Finding a decent hotel at half price (a hotel room for less than a campsite hut – bargain!) I stayed for a few nights just relaxing and strolling round the city picking up a few little gifts that would fit into my one remaining bag. The weather was a mix of strong winds and rain which ruled out much walking, however as everyone knows, the last few days of a holiday pass at a frightening pace, as these did!

The last day of my time on the road was spent with friends in Christchurch where I’d flown to ready for the 36 hour monster flight home. A meal out on town soon passed and an early morning ride to the airport saw the closing of eleven months on the road which have been the time of my life.

This post will be long enough, so I’ll take some time, have a flick through thousands of photos and videos and write a final post in a few weeks to close things off.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

22 Mar - 4 April Cape Reinga to Christchurch


The problem with being busy doing really great things is this blog gets a bit behind, then it becomes harder to write because I forget most of the little details! It’s been a common problem in New Zealand and continues to be that way!

So picking up from Auckland, somewhat shamefully, over a month ago I left to head up to the northernmost point of the North Island, Cape Reinga. The weather still hadn’t calmed down and the riding was cold and not as enjoyable as it should have been through another lovely part of the country, so a few days stay in Whangarei, the last decent sized town on the way north was called for.

Letting the weather pass, which it does pleasingly quickly here, on the 26th I set off to Ahipara, a little beach village with a YHA hostel, and the perfect departure point to the long ride alongside 90 mile beach to the north point. On the way across two awesome things happened. Firstly, I passed along the first toll road in New Zealand, which happily is run automatically by cameras registering your number plate, then you go onto their internet site and pay the toll electronically. Fortunately number plates here only have six digits, and mine is seven long which boggles their computer’s mind and lets me travel toll free! It works, I called to ask about it, bonus!

Secondly, as people all say the good motorbikin’ is on the South Island, I was surprised to find the most enjoyable and downright fun road you could imagine passing over a small mountain in the middle of nowhere. Not particularly steep, but very twisty, the road engineers decided to elaborately bank a series of several hundred corners that gives you the sensation of being on a rollercoaster dipping and rising around bends for about 50kms. It’s awesome and I actually felt motion sickness at the end of it. It was even worse an hour later after I’d turned round and rode back and forth along it again just to check it was as good as it seemed the first time round.
The awesome banked road
Twisting and turning on the road north
The following day with perfect weather and bike running like a dream, I set off up to Cape Reinga. As with many parts of New Zealand, there’s only one road there and it’s the same road back. That said, apparently parts of the beach are used a highway which you can ride/drive up when the tides out. Sadly at that time, it would have meant leaving so early in the morning it wouldn’t have been worth it, so I stuck to the road which was more than perfectly pleasant.
The road to Cape Reinga
Nice scenery along the coast
Riding down a track to the dunes
Being New Zealand, they do dune surfing!

following the beach north
Almost there, above a bay looking south
Cape Reinga in comparison to Bluff down south is a delight to ride to, a long narrow spit of land stretches through green fields with huge yellow sand dunes poking up along the west coast making an odd looking scenery of rolling green hills with the odd yellow one thrown in perfectly in place. The north point is marked by a small lighthouse and the ubiquitous yellow sign pointing to various places. Notably busier than Bluff, people mill around asking each other to take photos and read all about the Maori history of the area which is known as the  place where souls travel to after the person dies.
The path to Cape Reinga lighthouse
The very north point of new Zealand
The yellow sign
Cape Reinga was another little milestone of my time in New Zealand and was soon to give way to the next and final one, my friends Allen and Kate visiting from England for a few weeks. This meant a long ride down to Christchurch that was best done in a few long days with some time off to relax on arrival. I picked a spot in New Brighton on the coast called strangely the Purple Der, a purple painted home in an area badly damaged by the earthquakes but was itself fine. The motel as such was someone’s home to which they’d added three guest rooms in an annex off one side which were both cheap and incredibly comfortable.
Catching a ferry on way south
Crossing a river on the North Island
It was a delight to stay somewhere that was within my budget but was basically my own small apartment with private bathroom, kitchen and a huge TV. The long beach at Brighton was just a few minutes away with a little town centre and library, it was the perfect place to relax for a few days before my final big ride back up to Auckland from where my bike will head home by ferry and a few days later I’ll be overtaking it on a plane.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

13-21 March: Christchurch to Auckland


I was heading back to the North Island to get my bike serviced in Auckland and take a chance to ride the often recommended Forgotten World Highway and head up Cape Reinga at the top of the island, all things I’d missed in the rush to get south while the weather was good. 

 Look in any good driver’s atlas or list of best roads in New Zealand and toward the top will be Arthur’s Pass. The main and only road from Christchurch to the West Coast cuts through the Southern Alps and some of the South Islands most awesome scenery. Wonder what I was up to this day last year?
Starting across Arthur's Pass
Arthur's Pass
The road is about 150kms long and highlights the one main difference between biking in New Zealand and England. In England you’ll happily ride 100 miles to find 10 miles of good roads, here you’re never more than 10 miles away from 100 miles of awesome, lightly trafficked and well laid super twisty tarmac.
Arthur's Pass
Winding down the West Coast side of Arthur's Pass

Spending the best part of a full days riding along Arthur’s Pass with improving weather all the way led to a choice of two towns at the far end, Westport or Greymouth. On the way down, we’d stopped in Greymouth, a small industrial town with not much to shout about, so I took in the extra 100kms to Westport to find a smaller industrial town with even less to shout about. In complete contrast to Wanaka and Queenstown, two of the most beautiful little towns half way down the West Coast, these two were where the business of fishing and mining is done, but with the distances involved, everyone touring the South Island ends up staying at one or t’other.
Riding to Westport
Near Westport - a rock overhangs the road
Deciding not to hang around, it was all go to Picton for the ferry north. Stopping in a small, cheap and extremely new and clean motel on the way (a key? Well if you insist, but most people don’t use them... there’s no crime here!) The ride to Picton can be fairly plain, but the short twisty Queen Charlotte Highway is an awesome way to arrive in another funtional little town. 
Queen Charlotte Sound
Just outside Picton
I was on the early ferry to Wellington to get a good start slogging up the North Island. There’s only one main road up from Wellington for 100kms or so and it’s not the most interesting, coupled with strong winds it made for a long day in the saddle. The main break from the long trek was meeting Harry, a Brit touring the world on a vegetable oil and diesel powered Enfield Bullet, an interesting looking bike and experiment in what might be the future of bike engines, vege oil! 
Boarding the ferry as the sun rises
3 hours later exiting to Wellington
Harry and his vege-oil powered Bullet
Once you get over that hurdle though, from New Plymouth there’s another 151 kilometre road that had been recommended and recommended over and over by almost every biker I’d met, the Forgotten World Highway, something I’d somehow missed on the way south first time. Starting as a road between Stafford and Taumarunui that was never quite completed and has a stretch of gravel road in the middle amongst several ‘ghost towns’, now deserted with the decline of a railway that runs though.

True to its description, you fuel up in Stafford (there’s none along the way) and shoot through to Taumarunui which takes forever because you’re chopping up and down gears winding around hillsides and through gorges.
The Highway begins innocently enough
The road starts twisting
Through a tunnel
Typical section of road - spot the trafic!
Onto gravel
More twists and turns
Dropping down to a sort of hairpin
Highway ends, 151kms later
After camping in Taumarunui the plan was to head around Coromandel, apparently a pretty beach-y peninsula. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t playing ball at all, heavy cloud with on and off rain meant a loop around wasn’t all it could have been, so I cut it short and headed up to Auckland to wait out what was supposed to be a poor few days ahead.

True to the weatherman’s word, the heavens opened as I sloshed into Auckland, for a soaking wet few days, the lowlight of which was riding back from the garage in a torrential downpour... wet now dry later. For every lowlight though there’s two highlights, finishing second in a pub quiz with a crack English / Kiwi team, and sorting out a solution to ship my bike home.

That last one was really the last major problem sorted which was a huge relief. Shipping by sea turns out to be relatively cheap with almost half the price set aside for making a crate. Mentioning this to Sebastian at BMW in Auckland turned up an offer of a free BMW shipping crate, improving things further. With all that taken care of, it was time to get moving up to Cape Reinga.