At the very outset of the Arctic Camel Project I had it in the back of my mind that there was a likelihood someone would drop out for one reason or another, and because of this I had given everyone a deadline of February 2nd 2004 to confirm that they would definitely be coming a long and that they would have all the resources required.
Two weeks prior to the February deadline we had a training weekend in Derbyshire; my patience was wearing a bit thin at the time because I was receiving little or no constructive help from the rest of the group. Martin had compiled a fairly comprehensive fact sheet on Scandinavia but that was about it. In a damp and very cold bunk house on a snowy hillside I expressed my frustration without too much diplomacy. At the end of my enthusiastic tirade I asked if there was anyone planning to pull out of the trip, not one person expressed any reservations at this point, two weeks later it was a different story!
A couple of days before the end of January I found a small envelope post marked Staffordshire waiting for me on the door mat. It was from Andy confirming that he would be joining me on the trip and that all the necessaries would be in place. On February 3rd Andy’s letter still remained the only confirmation, I was devastated to say the least; everyone knew the deadline and only one person had bothered to let me know their intention. I called Martin, Adam and Herm, each one had decided to pull out but hadn't had the balls to tell me and all of whom stated their other halves as the main reason for the change of heart, this drew absolutely no sympathy with me, not only was I the only married one of the group but Jen was expecting our first baby in March 2004.
The next few days were agony as I tried to come to terms with the news. I felt it was only fair to give Andy the option to pull out of the trip given the change of dynamics. Andy assured me that he was up for the trip whatever happened, this gave me a much needed boost to dust off the disappointment and rethink the trip. It was no longer going to be emulating the Mondo Enduro adventure but at least it would still be going ahead!
Now that there would only be Andy and myself heading off on the trip, we re-evaluated what was achievable. The imminent arrival of a bouncing baby was also weighing heavily on my mind; Compromises would have to be made!
The biggest change to our plans was to reduce the length of our trip from three to two months, in the main this was because of the baby and me struggling to justify abandoning Jen for three months when the baby would be just over a year old. The other reason was that now there would be only two of us things would more expensive individually; we were less enthusiastic about rough camping and now intended sleeping under canvas on campsites where possible and no doubt the occasional night in a hostel, cooking for two was not going to be that much cheaper than for five.
With the change of time scale came the change of route, I spent many hours pondering what was possible before finally deciding we would need to omit North Africa completely, with this the new route would be:
Norway – Russia – Turkey – Greece – Macedonia – Albania – Croatia – Slovenia – Austria – Switzerland – France - Belgium
I consulted Andy, he gave the new route the thumbs up and we were back in business. I buried the hatched with the ‘Jibbers’ and we arranged to meet up for another trip to Derbyshire
On a cold February night in 2004 I arrange to meet my close buddy Baz in the local. As I bored him with plans of my trip and the tale of Adam, Herm and Martin’s decision to drop out, Baz told me he would loved to have been involved himself but with limited funds and commitments elsewhere there was no way he could do the whole trip, enthusiastically he suggested sailing out to Switzerland and meeting us on our return journey, I pointed out Switzerland was not the easiest place to sail to but it got us thinking. By the time last orders had been called we had hit on a daring new plan which would see all the jibbers being given a second chance to be part of the adventure.
The plan was for three riders to share one bike in a relay, starting with Baz who would ride from home to northern Norway, he would then hand the bike over to Herman and fly home. Herman would ride the Russian leg and then swap with Adam in Turkey, Adam would then ride the final stage back through Eastern and Western Europe.
I called Andy the next morning to see if he had any objections, like me he was still a bit miffed with the lads dropping out as they had, he agreed to the plan and I called the guys who were all immediately sold on the idea. Because the boys had already dropped out once it was decided that Andy and myself could not let our trip be jeopardized by anyone doing it again, with this in mind we had to insist that the third bike was not reliant on us. This meant unlike the original plan to have all the spares, cooking equipment and other essentials spread between all the bikes, the third bike would need to be self sufficient. This would mean that if there were any complications with the relay or anyone failing to show Andy and I could continue and the third bike and rider would not be relying on us.
Baz was now firmly on board, the boys had agreed on Adam’s bike being used because he had already had the Dave Lambeth treatment. It was decided that Herman would do the Russian leg, in part because for all of us this was unknown territory and Herman had always proven to have a cool head in a crisis and was a lot braver than the rest of us!
Once the finer details of the relay team had been ironed out it was all systems go and everyone busied themselves with preparation. By the end of 2004 everything seemed sorted, the bikes had all been through Dave Lambeth’s fingers so we were all feeling confident that they would stand up to the challenge. We’d been doing a great deal of riding on and off road; we were frequent visitors to Derbyshire and were getting quite used to picking our bikes up after numerous falls.
I was in the final stages of rebuilding my bike ‘XRT’ and decided it would be a good idea to mount a sidecar onto my spare bike, the Tenere 3AJ I’d been using while XRT was off the road. I modified a trial bike sidecar to fit and my first ride out was terrifying, I ended up on the wrong side of the road more than once, I persevered and with a few tweaks and a five gallon drum of water strapped over the wheel I mastered it, or so I thought. One Saturday at the beginning of January I transported Ad’s ammunition boxes to a fabricator to have some brackets made and on the way back the wheel bearing on the sidecar seized up, it snapped the stub axle clean off and Bang I was off, the bike was thrown sideways, I was launched earthward and then the bike and sidecar which were now upside down landed on top of me, it was like a guillotine coming down across my back. Fortunately Adam was following me and called for help, unfortunately the two Ambulance men would not veer from their sat nav directions and although they could be seen and were being directed over a mobile phone by a Samaritan who’d stopped to help me, they still insisted on continuing to follow the electronic idiot. A full 15 minutes after the first sighting and following some choice words from the guy on the phone to them they turned up. Once in hospital it was discovered that I’d punctured my lung and broken five ribs. I spent 2 weeks in hospital and a further 4 weeks recovering at home.
By March I felt fully recovered and completed the work on XRT, it was ready to be run in and on a cool March night I set off for work in London, 80 miles from my home in Ipswich. I gave myself plenty of time and keeping my speed below 50mph with plenty of gear changes I was enjoying the leisurely ride. After about 40 miles I felt the engine begin to labour, I snatched the clutch in and the engine nipped up solid…I didn’t make it to work and following a couple of hours in the cold got recovered. I took the bike back to Dave Lambeth and left it with him, it turned out I hadn’t put the sponge into the air cleaner and Dave put the seize down to the engine running to lean. I took I on the chin, paid up another £450 for his troubles and a new piston and collected the bike. Time to run it in again, by now I only had a month before we were scheduled to leave.
On June 16th 2005, following three years of planning and preparation we were finally going to be on our way. Maisy was just over a year old and was fully mobile and beginning to talk, I lay in the garden with her on a gorgeous summer morning with less than an hour before we were due to leave. She pulled the top off a daisy and with a big smile she gave it to me, now for the very first time I had grave doubts about what I was about to do and wanted to hold onto this moment for ever.
The bikes were loaded; Baz had already made two last minute dashes across town and now assured everyone gathered that he was ready. Adam had come along to see his bike off with Baz at the helm; it would be Trabzon in Turkey before he would be reunited with it. We wheeled the bikes out onto the road for a final photo shoot and I gave Jenny and Maisy last minute hugs and kisses, pulled my helmet down over my head and we were off. The first three miles or so were spent choking back the tears and sobs as the huge emotions got the better of me but soon the heat of the day and the unfamiliar handling characteristics of my fully laden bike soon had me focusing on other things.
Herman had also been there to see us off and would ride for a while with us before heading south for Enfield down and then hopefully reappearing a two week’s later in Norway. For once we were having some fantastic summer weather in the UK and today was the hottest yet with temperatures reaching the mid thirties, great for a day out at the seaside but not so good if your £2000 rebuilt engine has a tendency to heat seize, which mine seem to do!
With less than 50 miles covered the engine started to labour, I whipped the clutch in and the engine died instantly, I freewheeled to the kerb. Now then, was I being over cautious? Was it really a heat seize or possibly something else? I let the engine cool for a while and then gingerly kicked it over, it felt normal enough and so maybe I was being a bit over cautious after all, I gave it a good kick and I was back in business. Baz and I waved farewell to Herm as he took the M11 exit. I was taking it very easy but couldn’t help but think back to the previous seize which was put down to me omitting the air filter when reassembling the bike, that was a really cold night and I was barely doing 45mphat the time. These thoughts were very much still on my mind when the oh too familiar feel of the engine struggling happened again, this time I left it a little longer before pulling the clutch and sure enough it nipped up. Again I let it cool and then nursed it into Newark Services, this time there was no doubt, there was a trail of blue smoke following me.
I was not happy, I knew that this was trouble, I also knew that first seize a few weeks before was sod all to do with the air filter. I was on the phone to Dave Lambeth before Baz had pulled up; I got the answering machine, luckily for Dave. I left a comprehensive explanation of what had just happened complete with every expletive I could muster. I then did the most logical thing I could think of and called my Dad for advice and sympathy, he managed to calm me down a little and suggested a healthy dose of RedX in the tank and to continue as best I could, in the mean time we’d try to come up with a contingency plan between us.
By now I was not in the best of moods and was a little anxious that Andy, who was traveling from Stafford, had not made the rendezvous at Newark as planned. We finally made contact with him and found him at a completely different service area; nerves were a bit frayed to say the least and poor old Andy got an earful for the slight inconvenience.
The temperature began to drop the further north we went and then the heavens opened; at least the bike was still running albeit slowly with a smoke trail worthy of the Red Arrows display team.
Luckily we had a planned stop over at Newcastle before catching the ferry for Norway on the 17th from North Shields. Things were looking up as we tucked up in the Travelodge for the night, my bike seemed to be running ok, still smoking but at least it was running. I spoke to Adam back in Ipswich and asked him to be ready to drop the engine out of the Tenere I’d had the sidecar accident on and if necessary dispatch it to me somewhere en route. The overnight stop also gave us time to make some adjustments to the bikes and the luggage; we ditched the litre of saline fluid (2 years out of date) Herman had included for emergencies, not sure what he had in mind, and a few other useless items from Adam’s bike.
Sometime after three in the afternoon we were on board one of P&O’s finest and finally leaving the UK. The ferry was a very pleasant surprise; very bike friendly with plenty of room and straps to secure our machines, the economy cabin we’d booked was air conditioned and very comfortable and the shared facilities spotless. We had dinner and a couple of drinks before hitting the bunks around 11pm, we all slept soundly and were feeling great as we rode onto Norwegian soil shortly before 10am on 18th June.
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