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  #106  
Old 21 Dec 2011
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12/8 Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple and Ride to Thanjavur

I woke up feeling better this morning, so I decided to skip the next Azithro (the dosing information for Azithro says to take one pill, and if that clears it up, you can stop. If it doesn't clear it up, take one more each day for the next two days). After having some fruit in the room, we rode across the Cauvery River to the Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, which the Lonely Planet described as “quite possibly the biggest temple in India,” and was going to “knock your socks off.” Well, it was big, but honestly, it was quite underwhelming.



The vast majority of everything interesting is apparently closed to non-Hindus, and while the gopurams were indeed impressive, you would need binoculars (which we left in the room) to truly appreciate the plethora of colorful characters that covered them.



After touring the temple for a couple of hours, my tummy let me know it was time to head back to the hotel quickly, and that I would indeed be finishing my course of Azithromycin. Heavy sigh. We made it back to the hotel in time, and after several games of spider solitaire on the iPhone, we loaded up the bikes and hit the road for Thanjavur about 1:00 pm.

Today's ride was a hard couple of hours. No more four-lane road, we found ourselves wandering through small towns, bouncing over speedbumps, and dodging homicidal buses for most of the 55 mile ride. Once we reached Thanjavur we made a beeline for our preferred hotel, which was supposed to have wifi and reasonable rates. Well, they had wifi, but the rate had nearly doubled, so the search continued. Out came the phone, and we called three other possibilities. At our second choice, we ran into a tiny, little parking guard with a whistle and a Napoleonic complex. When we pulled up in front of the hotel, he came out, blew his whistle, and pointed for us to park in another place. So, we moved to the other place, which was in front of a small eatery on the ground floor of the hotel. Here, another man came out of the eatery and pantomimed eating, pointing at our bikes and the restaurant. We shook our heads no, and he gestured for us to get the hell out of his parking lot. So, we rode the twenty feet back to the hotel parking lot, where the little dictator tried to shoo us away again. We pointed to ourselves and to the front of the hotel, and he finally got the clue. He then decided that instead of us staying where we were, we needed to snake our way up over a 6- inch high sidewalk at a 45-degree angle between cars, a power pole, and the building. Since Re was ahead, she went before I could stop her. The little dictator decided that blowing his whistle loudly and yelling would somehow ensure success. I had the very bad feeling that this was going to end in tears, but Re seemed confident that she could make it. But she didn't. When her rear tire slipped off the sidewalk and dropped the 6-inches back to the dirt, her bike lurched sideways toward the wall and in her attempt to save the bike from going over, she twisted the throttle. Oh no. The rear tire caught traction on the edge of the sidewalk and Re and her bike ended up hitting the wall of the hotel. The good news is Re was not injured (other than her pride), but the bike didn't fare so well. The good news also was that the little dictator stopped blowing his whistle and yelling and actually just walked away. After we extricated the bike, the damage assessment revealed a cracked mirror, cracked front fender, cracked turn signal lens, and a pissed off wife. I think the little dictator was wise to leave when he did, or he may have found that whistle wedged where the sun don't shine. After all this, Re went into the hotel, only to find that they would not honor the rate they'd given us over the phone just ten minutes before. Sigh.

On to choice number three, which was a few more rupees, but was very nice, except that while checking in, the rate suddenly jumped by nearly 6 USD. Even though Re asked several times if the original price included tax and was assured that yes it did, suddenly it did not include tax. So, back on the bikes and on to choice number four. Finally, we made it to a place where the price was what was quoted on the phone. The room was nice enough, but the AC did not work, so we changed rooms and headed out to repair what we could on Re's bike. After thoroughly cleaning the fender inside and out, we dipped into the toolkit for Superglue and Gorilla tape. We glued the cracked fender and backed the repair with Gorilla tape on the inside for good measure, and also glued the cracked turn signal lens. While we had the tools out, we also straightened the turn signal mount, but the cracked mirror is just gonna have to remain cracked. With that done, we went out to check email at an internet cafe and get some dinner. When we returned to the room, it was cooler in the hallway than it was in our room. To make matters worse, the man at reception spoke little English and we had a hard time explaining what the problem was. Eventually we changed to a third room in time for bed, where the AC was blissfully cool and went to sleep.

64 miles in about 2 hours. Re really has to start taking it easy on the equipment or she's walking to Australia...
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  #107  
Old 21 Dec 2011
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12/9 Touring in Thanjavur

Woke up feeling significantly better this morning but took my last Azithromycin as per instructions. One of the other possible causes of my distress could be giardia. When we were at the internet cafe last night Re looked up the symptoms and treatment and found that Azithromycin won't touch it. The list of symptoms of travelers' diarrhea and giardia are similar, but one symptom particular to giardia is fatigue, which is one that I am experiencing. Since giardia is also known as "beaver fever" in the United States, I was excited about the treatment possibilities, but then I found out that it's just a different pill. Pout. If my problem reoccurs, we will have to find Tinidazole at a local pharmacy, but meanwhile, I will continue with the “homeopathic” remedy.



Our plan for today was to see the sights that Thanjavur has to offer, so we walked the half mile to the Brihadishwara Temple and Fort. This temple is different in that the sandstone is natural rather than having every surface plastered and painted. Between the natural stone surfaces and the excellent carvings, it reminded us a bit of Angkor Wat.



Also notable is the humongous statue of Nandi (Shiva's ride) that is carved from a single piece of rock and is nearly 20 feet long (that's a lot of hamburgers if they made hamburgers in India. I would like a hamburger.).



This temple is also different from all we've seen so far in that the central tower (vimana) is the tallest structure, whereas, in all the others, the gopurams have been the tallest. Here the vimana is nearly 200 feet high.

After the temple, we hoofed another half mile to the Thanjavur Royal Palace and Museums. The palace was once a grand place but has fallen into a state of decay. It is a huge complex of many different halls, some of which now house tiny “museums,” and a 7-story bell tower.



We dutifully shuffled through the complex and admired what remained. We were both puzzled, however, that apparently nothing is being done to even preserve, let alone restore, what was an important site of south Indian importance.

After the palace, we hoofed our way back to the hotel, and after bypassing all the obvious lunch options, stopped at a sweaty little hole in the wall near our hotel. This was a very basic, local restaurant that normally wouldn't have caught our eye, except that every time we walked by, virtually every seat was occupied no matter what time of day. While we stood outside looking in, the waiter gestured us inside and found us two seats at a common table. There were no menus, and apparently no one spoke English, but we ordered our lunch by pointing at other patrons meals. We were served some spicy (not too spicy) rice, curd rice, green stuff, onion raitha, and an egg and onion omelet and as quickly as we ate, our banana leaves were refilled with more yummy goodness. At the end of the meal, we went to the counter to pay, and the cost for two lunches was a total of 37 rupees (75 cents). We had a delicious, cheap lunch and our fellow patrons seemed tickled to have us there.

Since it was a hot afternoon, we went back to the room to enjoy some AC and continue my "course of treatment" before heading out to find an ATM and check out the local motorcycle shops. Across the street from our hotel was a small motorcycle shop we had spotted the night before and that had a stack of likely looking tires out front. Back when we were planning this trip, and I believe in one of my first posts here, I said that the world rolled on 2.5 x 17 tires. I was wrong. It turns out the world actually rolls on 2.75 x 18 tires, at least both in India and Africa. Fortunately for us, the Bajaj M80 runs a 2.25 x 17 front and a 2.75 x 17 rear, which we found at the local shop. We still have the new fronts that we purchased in Namibia, but the Michelin Gazelles rear tires we installed in Zimbabwe (this set has lasted much longer than the first) will need replaced soon. The shop had two Dunlop M80 rear tires with a more aggressive tread pattern than the Gazelles, and they were 22 USD each. Other Symba riders have reported that 2.75 rears will fit, but that the 3.00 rub on the center stand. These Dunlops have a deep tread, so hopefully they fit. We also picked up two new tubes and two new spark plugs, for a grand total of 50 USD (gotta love little bikes!). The shop owner seemed happy to help us and even sent his assistant out to get the spark plugs that he didn't have, and threw in three of his shop logoed keychains to boot. We returned to the room with our stash of shiny new bits and then worked on ride reports for a while.

Later that evening, we went out to an internet cafe with the intent of posting some photos and RRs, but our plans were derailed by news from home. Rant mode on: I am really tired of people ****ing with our happiness. Re and I try to enjoy life. We don't always succeed, but we try. Other people in our families live for the drama, which is fine, because we're halfway around the world, so it shouldn't effect us. But somehow, people make sure that it does. Neither Re nor I is the favorite child in our respective families, and we know that. But somehow, people feel that they need to remind us of that occasionally. Since before we left the States, the favorite child in each of our families has been sowing hate and discontent. While I am aware of my situation, I have chosen to studiously ignore it and hope that the situation will reveal itself for what it is. Re's family, on the other hand, can't let her forget their situation, and it reared its ugly head again today. Why are we 12,000-whatever ****ing miles from home, and somehow, my wife is crying over some dumb bullshit which she has no part in? Another perfectly good time, ruined by family members. If you can't escape the bullshit on the other side of the world, where can you? On the other hand, it is making our decision as to whether to ever return to the US a little easier. Rant mode off.

0 miles of riding, 2 miles on foot.
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  #108  
Old 21 Dec 2011
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12/10 Ride to Puducherry (Pondy)

After last night's news, neither of us slept very well of felt particularly cheery this morning. To add to the fun, it apparently rained overnight and the humidity was astronomically high. Since our new Dunlops would ride in place of our used Gazelles, I took the used tires and donated them to a local tire repair business before adding a few psi to the bikes. The early morning humidity meant that we were soaked by the time we got on the bikes, and that plus the bad roads and heavy traffic did nothing to lighten our moods today. After several easy days of riding, India returned in spades. The highlight of the ride was when both Re and I had to ride off the road into the dirt at speed to avoid being hit by an oncoming bus that was passing another bus. Grrrrr.



It was unfortunate that the traffic and roads were so bad, because what we could see of the scenery was beautiful. This is an agricultural part of India filled with the fresh green of new rice in the paddies. We also crossed several wide rivers and made our way across two dams. And then it started pouring rain. And then the rain stopped.

And Re pulled over with a flat rear tire. Fortunately she was next to a weigh station, so we had a convenient, level place off the road to change a tire, and of course, an audience. Under the watchful eyes of a rotating group of six to eight men, we removed the rear wheel, found the 1 inch long piece of nail(?) through the center of the tread, removed the tire, and found that the tube had an approximately 2 inch long tear, making it unrepairable. At this sight, the crowd groaned but cheered up when we produced a new tube from our spares kit. Re found an empty whiskey bottle in the ditch in which she mixed some water and liquid soap we had for tire lube, greatly impressing the crowd. We quickly put the rear wheel back together, and after a mere 270 strokes of the air pump, we were back on the road.

We finally made it to Pondy at around 3:00, at which time Re disappeared in search of a room. While she was gone, I compared rides with a local autorickshaw driver who spoke excellent English, and he even bought me a cup of tea while we talked. Re eventually returned and we headed to our new digs for the night, which turned out to be right on the water in a very nice little guesthouse. I was surprised by the price when I saw the room, but then realized that it was discounted due to its peculiar non-ensuite bathroom setup. The room had its own bathroom, but it was located across the lobby, behind the reception desk. The very best thing about Pondy is that it was formerly occupied by the French and is technically not part of Tamil Nadu. This means that there is excellent western food and that is very cheap and easy to find.



After a walk along the promenade, Re and I went to a lovely French restaurant for some really excellent steaks, mashed potatoes, and the coldest Kingfishers we've had in India. After briefly considering getting another steak for dessert, we instead found some ice cream along the promenade and grabbed a couple more s before turning in for the night.

120 miles in 6 hours. 1 rainstorm, 1 flat tire, 1 near death experience.
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  #109  
Old 21 Dec 2011
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12/11 Wandering Pondy

Another day, another symptom. I woke up today with a very congested head and itchy eyes. If it's not trouble coming out of one end, it's trouble coming from another. After blowing my nose twenty times, I took an antihistamine from our first aid kit and went out to greet the morning. It was a sunny day, a bit warm and humid, but the ocean breeze kept it comfortable. We walked north along the promenade and stopped at a small French cafe for breakfast. We enjoyed our coffees and almond croissants at a table with a view of the water before continuing our walk to the Sunday market. Since most of the shops in the central business district are closed on Sundays, small vendors set up their wares on the sidewalks, and what an odd assortment there is. From new clothes to used blenders, and everything in between. We were able to find a new funnel (since the spout on the old one has worn away from rubbing on my rear wheel). We also found an open pharmacy that had Tinidazole. I decided to buy the 2g dose for giardia just in case my trouble returns, especially since no prescription was required and it cost less than 50 cents. While we were there, Re also found some fancy new powder that will hopefully prevent our butts from getting so chafed.



Since it was lunchtime, we made our way to a place known for its wood-fired pizzas. I ordered mine with the first bacon that I'd had since Swakopmund, Namibia. Deeeelicious.



After lunch, we did a walking tour of the old section of town and admired the architecture of the French Quarter. Next, we made our way to the least inspiring botanical gardens we've ever visited. One of the nice things about visiting a botanical garden is usually the signs identifying the plants and trees. Unfortunately, there were almost none here. We also paid our 10 cents each to visit the aquarium, which had fewer tanks and fewer fish than most WalMart pet departments do.

Since the afternoon had gotten very warm and my nose had started running again, we went back to the room to cool off. While I did a little research on our upcoming northward travel in India, Re worked on blog posts. Later that evening we found an internet cafe with extremely fast connection, which allowed us to upload about ninety photos to the Smugmug account and to post some updates to the blog. Hungry, we went off in search of dinner. On the way to the restaurant we were amused to see a small herd (okay, four) of water buffaloes cruising down the street. Even though they looked delicious, we decided to have salads for dinner. After dinner, we once again enjoyed our favorite dessert of and ice cream before calling it a night.

0 miles. 1 new symptom.
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  #110  
Old 21 Dec 2011
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12/12 Ride to Mamallapuram

Same same, but different. I woke up this morning, still congested and with a lot of drainage, feeling vaguely feverish. We loaded up the bikes for our short ride to Mamallapuram, another temple town farther up the coast. While I checked over the bikes, I grabbed the thermometer from the first aid kit and found that my temperature was normal. Time to suck it up and ride. The first ten miles or so leaving Pondy were tough- lots of broken pavement and heavy traffic. Once clear of Pondy, the road turned beautiful, and traffic dwindled to a trickle. Another pretty ride through the agricultural countryside. The new feature today was the large number of oxcarts plying the roads.

Since we left Pondy at 9:00 am, we made it to Mal by 11:00, and were checked into a room by noon. While we were unloading the bikes, I decided to check my temp again, and my fever had arrived. While my temperature was only a little high, I did not feel well. I did feel well enough, however, to enjoy a lovely lunch of pasta with cream sauce and chicken. At least with whatever I have now, I still have an appetite.



After lunch, I returned to the room for a three hour nap, while Re went sightseeing. She woke me up when she returned, and I felt remarkably better. Not great, but good enough to get another steak for dinner.

68 miles in 2 hours.
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  #111  
Old 21 Dec 2011
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12/13 Touring Mamallapuram

I woke up feeling much better this morning- no fever and my stomach was feeling pretty good. Mal is a big tourist town for foreigners due to its proximity to Chennai and laid back atmosphere. This makes for decent food and some familiar faces. Before heading out to tour the sights, Re and I stopped for breakfast a couple of doors up the street at the oddly named, “Freshly, N Hot,” where we had a lovely breakfast of real coffee, fruit salads, and croissants. The French influence of Pondy seems to extend this far north.



Since the sights in Mal are spread over more distance than we wanted to walk, we saddled up the Symbas and hit the road. Our first stop was the Five Rathas, a group of five shrines that were hidden in the sand until rediscovered and excavated by the British 200 years ago. Though the Rathas were impressive in that each one was carved from a single piece of stone, we were a little underwhelmed by the small size of the site. From here we rode a short distance to a group of mandapams situated on Mal's main hill. The hike through the rocks led to several temples carved out of the hillside.



We then rode the bikes down to see Arjuna's Penance and Krishna's Butterball. Arjuna's Penance is an enormous relief carving on the face of a stone temple and was the highlight of the temples in Mal.



Krishna's Butterball is just a giant rock that appears to be improbably balanced.

Having seen the sights on the south side of town, we returned to the hotel, where we dropped off the bikes and found some lunch. After lunch we walked down to the beach and made our way to the Shore Temple. This temple was again, small, but magnificently carved, and with an ocean view to boot.



We continued south along the beach and found ourselves at a funny little beach carnival. It consisted mainly of a couple of “pop the balloon with a BB gun” stands and the saddest kiddie rides we've ever seen. While we may not have been impressed, lots of local people seemed to be having a pretty good time.

Re finally found hair bleach in a color besides brown and decided now was a good opportunity to do her hair. The box said it was golden blonde, and yet 30 minutes later, Re is now a redhead. Hopefully some of the color will wash out over the next few days. Later that night we went to the local French restaurant for a delicious dinner.

3 miles.
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  #112  
Old 21 Dec 2011
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12/14 Lazy Day in Mal/One Month in India

After breakfast we worked on ride reports and blogposts in the room. We made our way out for a lunch of cheese omelets and frites. In the afternoon, we worked on ride reports some more, and I uploaded the results and a few photos on the frustratingly slow and intermittent wifi while Re hit the town and came back with two paperbacks and a watermelon. Since our plan was to hit the road for Vellore tomorrow, we decided to have a big dinner of salads, steak, and grilled calamari.


0 miles.
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  #113  
Old 21 Dec 2011
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12/15 Ride to Vellore

The power went out overnight, so no AC and no fan made for a crappy night's sleep. The power outage likely was due to the huge rainstorms and high wind that went on for most of the night. When the sun came up, it was still raining. Since the ride to Vellore was only a hundred miles or so, we decided to give the weather until 9:30 to sort itself out. The rain stopped during breakfast, so we headed back to the room and loaded the bikes. We questioned the wisdom of heading out from such a nice place into potentially bad weather but decided to go for it anyway.

While it was not raining when we pulled out of the hotel, it was very dark in every direction, and the cloud deck was solid as far as we could see. Approximately two miles down the road, it started raining again. The rain continued on and off (mostly on) for the entire trip, but it did stop once we reached the outskirts of Vellore. Today's ride was really a tale of two different rides.



The first 50 miles was made up of intermittent, very heavy rain and some of the worst road, if not the worst road, in India. It took us three hours to make the first 30 miles.



We spent about 20 of those minutes under the awning of some business, where we chatted with the local people hiding from the rain. The last 50 miles were on 4-lane divided highway with excellent paving and light traffic (and only the occasional rain shower).

Vellore is a strange town. It's main business is medicine. The Christian Medical College Hospital and Vellore Fort dominate the city, but fortunately, we were here for the latter. Our hotel was directly across the street from the hospital, and the streets were filled with patients and their families. We wandered around the main street and a few back streets, taking in the sights, when we heard drums and firecrackers coming around the corner. Being a fan of loud noises, we headed toward their source. We found a procession of drummers and marchers pulling a large, flower covered float, and periodically someone would light a string of firecrackers. As the procession passed, the flower covered float made its way in front of us and it was then we noticed the dead person riding in the float. It must have been some sort of funeral procession. One side benefit of being a “destination” town is the large number of restaurants. We had excellent Indian food for both lunch and dinner and s for dessert.

While we enjoyed lunch and dinner, one of the most difficult elements of long-term travel for Re and I is lack of choice in food. Re is an excellent cook and is happy to make whatever we want for meals. We are used to being able to say, “hey, I'd like...” and either make it or go out and buy it someplace. But that choice doesn't exist on the road. It's one thing to be limited to the often excellent local cuisine for a two-week vacation, but after 4.5 months on the road, I do really miss being able to choose what I want for dinner.

100 miles in 5 hours.
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  #114  
Old 29 Dec 2011
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Brilliant
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  #115  
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12/16 Touring Fort Vellore and Ride to Erode

We left the AC and fan on overnight in order to dry out our boots and gloves, and we were happy to see that they were nearly dry when we got up. Since we got into Vellore late yesterday, we decided to visit Fort Vellore this morning before riding towards Ooty. After having some fruit, we walked down to the fort and toured the grounds.



The fort is grandest from the exterior, where the high walls and wide moat are an impressive sight. The buildings in the interior of the fort have, on the other hand, seen better days. Like much of colonial-era India, they are returning to nature. The highlight of the fort was the beautiful Hindu temple within.



The Jalakanteshwara Temple was built in the mid-1500s and is a spectacular example of stone carving.



The wedding hall in particular is made up of a large number of columns, all intricately carved from floor to ceiling.

Another site checked off the list, and we headed back to the hotel. On the way, we stopped for a breakfast of masala dosa and coffee. We loaded up the bikes and hit the road by 11:30 am. The first 120 miles or so was easy riding, and we made good time.



Once again, it was four lane goodness through farmland and rivers, with hazy mountains in the distance. Since Ooty was nearly 300 miles from Vellore, we knew we would not make it in one day and instead, decided to head for Erode for the night. My GPS stubbornly insisted that we take the long way, but the sign on the roadside promised that if we turned right off of our four-lane goodness, it would save nearly 20 miles. While Re and I stopped to discuss our options, a taxi driver assured us that the shortcut was the way to go. Shortcut, my ass. Shortly after we turned right, the road fell apart. The road surface alternated between shitty and nonexistent and our average speed plummeted. This road also went through dozens of small towns, all with their own set of speedbumps. Eventually we rode past the nuclear plant (?) and made it to Erode by about 5:30 pm.

Erode wasn't listed in our guidebook, but a quick check of the GPS found a cluster of hotels listed near the bus station. Re shortly found a decent room for cheap money, but we later discovered that the room was filled with mosquitoes. We found dinner at an outdoor restaurant set in a nice garden before heading back to the room to make war with the mosquitoes.


195 miles in 6 hours.
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  #116  
Old 29 Dec 2011
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12/17 Ride to Ooty

Last night's sleep was particularly poor due to the apparently never ending supply of mosquitoes. Before we went to bed, we killed at least 40 mosquitoes between us, and yet, somewhere in the room, there must have been a tiny, mosquito clown car, because they just kept coming. Since the room only came with a wool blanket and it certainly wasn't that cold, we slept inside our silk sleepsacks, and I tried in vain all night to keep my head inside the sleepsack.

We hit the road by 8:30 for the hundred or so miles left to Ooty. The first 10 miles or so were through the extended urban area. About 6 miles into the ride, the law of averages and bad drivers caught up with Re. While riding through a commercial area, I passed an autorickshaw parked on the left side of the road and saw in my peripheral vision another motorbike rider shooting blindly out of a side street into oncoming traffic, as is pretty standard here. Unfortunately the oncoming traffic was Re. No, nononononononononono. I glanced in my rearview mirror in time to see Re t-bone this fine gentleman. She was able to get on the brakes momentarily, and fortunately we weren't traveling fast at the time, but she did center punch the other bike. When I spun around, I saw both bikes in the road and a group of people helping both riders up. When I reached the scene, Re and her bike were upright, and Re was fine, just pissed. The assembled crowd helped us get her bike to the side of the road, so the now backing up traffic could go. Apparently the other rider decided not to stick around for the ass-kicking Re was ready to dole out, as he had left the scene. Amazingly, a quick once over of Re's bike revealed no new damage! From its time on its side, Re's bike had flooded and took a bit to start, but we were back underway.

The roads today were under construction and will eventually be four-lane highway, but for now, they are stretches of paved road connected by dirt and rock. In one particularly bad pothole that I missed avoiding, I re-bent my rear brake lever all the way back to the footpeg again and also dinged the corner of my chain case to the point where it was dragging on the chain. After fixing the chain case (the rear brake lever will have to wait) we again continued towards Ooty. As we rode, large mountains appeared through the haze and got closer and closer, until we reached them. The final thirty-five miles to Ooty was a serpentine road that rose from 1600 feet to 7500 feet. Unfortunately, Ooty is a popular place to visit, and so this thirty-five miles was a near-continuous conga line of slow buses and trucks. We joined our Indian two-wheeled brethren in making blind, stupid overtaking maneuvers, until I nearly paid the price. On one steep section, I very optimistically tried to overtake a bus and made it about halfway alongside, when a line of small trucks came around the corner towards me. Unable to complete the pass, I attempted to slow down and get in behind the bus, but was unable to before the trucks arrived. The roads here are very narrow and I found my left mirror scraping on the side of the bus while two of the trucks clipped my right mirror as they passed. Considering that our mirrors only extend about an inch beyond our handlebars, that was really way too ****in' close. Part of the problem is that the bikes are not enjoying the altitude and are running very poorly, and the other part is that there is a dumbass riding my bike.

We eventually made it to Ooty (alive) and found the YWCA, where we are staying overnight. The novel thing about Ooty is the temperature. When we arrived around 1:30 pm, it was only about 70 degrees. After unpacking the bikes and getting situated, we walked into town for a late lunch at a restaurant that serves meat other than chicken. I dined on some lovely lamb sheesh kebabs while Re had the tandoori chicken. After picking up some snacks for later, we made our way back to the room and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and being thankful to still be alive.

100 miles in 5 hours. The bikes are very unhappy with the altitude and we had too many close calls today.
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  #117  
Old 29 Dec 2011
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12/18 Working on the Bikes in Ooty

It was downright chilly overnight, and the thermometer said it was 61 degrees when we woke up. The rooms here have no heat, but fortunately we had a pile of blankets on the bed. The cover sandwich was made up of a top sheet, followed by a fleece blanket, then two wool blankets on top of it, then another fleece blanket, and then, another sheet on top. We weren't sure this would be enough, so we rented two more fleece blankets from reception for 20 cents. The weight of all these blankets reminded me of the lead blanket they put over you at the dentist when they're taking x-rays of your teeth. Honestly, once we lowered the covers over us, it was extremely difficult to roll over; they were really that heavy. But they were warm, and by the morning, we both were both pleasantly toasty. Since it was cold out from under the covers, we were in no hurry to get up and instead, found a reason to stay in bed a little longer. We eventually braved the morning chill and got up for a hot shower. We then walked into town for breakfast, and most importantly, to pick up two quarts of oil. Our plan for the day was to do some much-needed maintenance on the bikes, so around 11:00 am, we unrolled the tarp and got to work.



We started with Re's bike, where the first order of business was changing the rear tire and tube. We picked up new 2.75 x 17 Dunlop tires in Thanjavur, and I was a little concerned as to whether they were too big to fit under the bikes. Once installed, we could see that they cleared the center stand by approximately 1/8 inch. As long as there's daylight, I figure we're good to go. While we had the rear tire off, we inspected the rear brake, cush drive rubbers, and the previously problematic hub bolts. Everything looked good, so we adjusted and lubed the chain and moved on to the engine compartment. After removing the leg shields, we removed and cleaned the incredibly filthy air filter, changed the spark plug for a new Indian plug that looked about the same, and reinstalled the original “leaner” pilot jet we changed while still in the US. We changed to the original pilot since the plug in the bike was black, since the bike has been running too rich.

After an oil change, we buttoned up the bodywork and started on my bike. In addition to everything we did on Re's bike, we also changed my front tube, as it had been losing 4-5 psi each day. After we put my bike back together, it refused to start. The engine would turn, and the spark was strong, but the spark plug was dry. No fuel, huh? We pulled the float bowl back off and found that it had fuel, so I removed the recently installed original pilot jet and found that it was plugged. I had been storing the jets in a small plastic box that also contained some other odds and ends, one of which was some safety wire that I had wrapped with a rubber band. Somewhere along the way, the rubber band melted and had apparently gotten into this jet. Since the work on the bikes had already taken much longer than anticipated, I reinstalled the fatter jet with the promise that I would clean this one someday soon and try it again. After we finished the oil change on my bike, it was time to fix my rear brake lever. The saga of my rear brake lever began between Morogoro and Dar Es Salaam, when I struck a rock and bent the lever back to the footpeg. While in Dar Es Salaam, I was able to get a long piece of pipe on the lever and bend it halfway back to its original position. Then yesterday, I hit a big pothole (or something) and again bent it back to the footpeg. Since I didn't have access to a big piece of pipe, I decided to instead remove the lever and beat on it with a hammer. The rear brake levers on the Symbas run underneath the right side of the engine, and the pivot for the rear brake lever is also the pivot for the center stand. In order to remove the lever, we first had to remove the exhaust. In order to remove the exhaust, we had to remove the bracket that holds the footpegs and sidestand. We put the bike on the center stand, removed the sidestand/footpeg bracket, removed the exhaust, reinstalled the sidestand/footpeg bracket, took the bike off the center stand, put it on the sidestand, and then removed the brake pedal (and the sidestand). Once we finally had the brake pedal in hand, I could really see just how ****ed it was.



Unfortunately, the hammer I brought is only a ball peen hammer, and not a very heavy one. But since I did not have a torch and a vise, it was ...STOP...hammer time. We found a rock to beat it over, and while Re nervously held the lever, I whaled on it as hard as I could and eventually partially returned to its original curvature. The tube was starting to flatten, and I was afraid that it would crack, so I stopped short of ruining it completely. After wrestling with the center stand spring, we finally reinstalled the brake pedal and saw that it was about two thirds better. At least there is room for my toes now, and it does not hang down underneath the engine as far.

By the time we picked up the tools it was nearly 5:30 pm, and the sun was going down. I had never imagined it would take this long to finish the work and also forgot to put on sunscreen. The day was nice and cool and I guess that's why I didn't notice the sunburn rising on my knees, face, and neck. Ouch. The soap we had didn't seem to be doing much for the grime on our hands, so we resorted to gasoline to clean them before showering and heading out to dinner. After a delicious pasta dinner, we returned to the Y and our 47 pounds of blankets. Before sealing myself in bed, I decided to take the giardia medication just in case.

0 miles. 35 days in India at a cost of 1922 USD = 54.91 per day
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12/19 Ooty Botanical Gardens

After another good night's sleep, another chilly morning, and another excuse not to get out of bed, we eventually hopped on the bikes and motored to the Ooty Botanical Gardens. The Gardens here were established in 1848 and it shows in the grand, old trees and expansive gardens. Re and I always enjoy botanical gardens and this was one of the nicest we've visited.



It was very well maintained, well signed, and had an enormous variety of flowers, shrubs, and trees. Since it is winter here, many of the plants are not in bloom, but many were.



We wandered the extensive grounds for several hours before stopping for coffee and to pose for many, many pictures. It was another cool day, so Re and I sat in the sun and talked for quite a while. Later, we made our way back to the Y to write some more ride reports and blog posts. Before dinner, we went to an internet cafe with the intent of posting our results, but the connection was so painfully slow that we gave up and just responded to a few emails. I won the coin toss, so we went to Dominos Pizza for dinner. Mmm, mediocre pizza.

3 miles.
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12/20 Ride to Mysore

After another chilly night, we had to get up early to get on the road and braved the cold once again, on the way to the shower. After all the work we had just done on the bikes, I just checked the tire pressures to make sure they were okay, and then we started loading up the bikes. While we were loading the bikes, we met a couple from northwestern Idaho who are living in Chennai for three years and chatted about our experiences in India and the Pacific Northwest. We hit the road around 9:30 and quickly found out that the leaner pilot jet was the way to go. Re's bike was running well where mine was still wheezing a bit, so I leaned out my AF screw 3/8 of a turn, and it helped some.

The morning was cool and cloudy and made for a very comfortable ride except for the somewhat choppy pavement.





The first part of the ride was absolutely breathtaking as we wound our way through misty pine forests and tea plantations, all with a backdrop of distant mountains. Later we rode through a tiger preserve, where we saw elephants, spotted deer, monkeys, and a mongoose, but no tigers. Since we were making good time, we decided to actually stop for lunch and had a quick bite at a Cafe Coffee Day.

We made it to Mysore around 3:00 pm, where my GPS did its best to send us the wrong way up several streets. We finally gave in to the pressure and rode counter-race up the street with the hotels we were interested in. Re returned shortly and led us to a very nice hotel that had a nice view of the Royal Palace gardens and free wifi in the room. Since we were unpacked by 3:30, we went out for a walk to the local bazaar. This may have been the nicest market we've ever visited anywhere. It was full of delicious looking fruits, tons of beautiful flowers, and assorted small housewares. While at the market, we picked up the best watermelon we've had in India so far (and we've eaten many). The Lonely Planet did not contain many food recommendations, so we opted for a room service dinner. The hotel restaurants had a good menu and reasonable prices, and I didn't want to tear myself away from the laptop for even the time it would take to eat dinner. We hadn't had usable wifi since we were in Goa, and I was enjoying catching up.


112 miles in 5.5 hours. My bike is running better at lower altitudes, but still not as well as Re's.
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12/21 Touring Mysore

Mysore's big attraction is the Royal Palace, but it doesn't open until 10:00 am, so this morning we hoofed the 1.5 miles to the Railway Museum. The weather again, was beautiful, and we sure needed the exercise. So far, India has been remarkably free of scam attempts, but Mysore is proving to be the exception. On our way to the Railway Museum, I noticed a man hurriedly trying to catch up with us and then match our pace. Sure enough, he began a friendly, casual conversation and eventually asked us where we were going. When I replied that we were heading for the Railway Museum, he informed us that is was a very long way away, and we shouldn't walk there. Having heard this line many times before, I laughed it off and assured him that we could make it. He then looked surprised and informed us that the museum was closed today, which actually made me laugh out loud, since we've heard this one many times before as well. Seeing that he was getting nowhere with us, he stopped smiling, gave up, and left us to continue on our way.



Funnily enough, when we reached the museum, it was open, and it really wasn't that far. I'm sure if we had taken the bait, our new friend would have had a nice shop he could have taken us to instead. The Railway Museum had several steam engines and some vintage rail cars for us to climb in and on.



The centerpiece of the collection, however, was the Maharani's saloon. This car was built in 1899 to be used by the Maharani when she traveled and was a beautiful example of rail travel in a grander time. We are not train dorks, but we did thoroughly enjoy the museum.

Since it was nearing lunchtime, we walked back to the bazaar area for a thali lunch at a recommended restaurant. Re ordered the south Indian thali since she still is enjoying the hotter food. I however, went with the north Indian thali, figuring it would be less spicy. Oh, how wrong I was. Every individual dish was delicious, but Re was gracious enough to swap some of my bowls of magma for her delightfully mild ones. Tummies full, we made for the Royal Palace. On our way we ran into an autorickshaw driver who assured us it was at least two kilometers to the entrance, but he would be happy to charge us triple the going rate for a ride to the front gate. Since it wasn't two kilometers, and I'm not stupid, we declined his kind offer and soon found ourselves at the entrance.



The Mysore Palace was the former residence of the Wodeyar maharajas and is an awfully impressive piece of architecture. The old palace burned down around the turn of the last century, so the one we toured was built in 1912.



It's completely over the top, but while it's not my style, I can certainly appreciate the incredible craftsmanship and grand scale of the place. We spent several hours wandering the extensive grounds and oohing and aahing as we made our way through the palace itself. Later that evening, I saw that my parents were on Skype, so I chatted with them for an hour or so before Re and I headed out for dinner and then back to the room.


0 miles. It's good to be royalty.
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