Our upcoming tour of Africa
My name's Pascal but friends call me Nish, http://picasaweb.google.com/nishounet/PascalLeclerc#
I'm originally from France (Le Mans) but I moved to Hong Kong 27 years ago. I got married there with a local chinese girl and we had two superb eurasian daughters. Then I got divorced a decade or so ago and raised them up myself. Now they're gone to live their own adventures and I just turned 50 last Monday.
I guess I've reached that age when, like Mike Carter says in his "Uneasy Rider", one starts feeling rather puzzled with the whole point of it all. I knew it would come but I had my plans for it, I had always kept that secret hope in a corner of my mind that one day, perhaps, I'd be free enough to go on a big ride, a big trip that one begins without knowing when or wanting to ever come back to "normal" again. And I've always hoped to be able to do it by the age of 50...
Hong Kong is a very small place once one has accomplished ones expectations. Lots of things are forbidden due to lack of room. There's very little space to ride. So one customizes a lot to compensate. But even so, it's very hard to find someone able to create parts rather than just order them from Internet. I was lucky enough to meet Geoff Giles, a Brit from Portsmouth who's probably born on a saddle. http://www.etcustomcycles.com/ He turned my Kawasaki W650 into a true modern classic with unique handmade brass parts that attract everyone eyes in town. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=10TBYtKdd3I
It's so rare to find an artist in Hong Kong ! We became good pals going for a blast on dirt tracks every chance we had.
A few months later and having pretty much given up on local girlfriends, I met the right one, Abby. It's always the same isn't it ? Try too hard and you're doomed to fail. Give it some room and there it comes !
Oh it didn't look obvious at first that she was to become my companion on that huge journey I wanted to plan. She's a talented piano player
and I could hardly tow her grand piano behind my shiny brassy W, could I, even if, somehow, the two things seemed to match pretty good in style. Let alone the fact that she had never been on a bike before meeting me.
But she too was fed up with the labour camp Hong Kong ends up feeling like. She had longed for an extended stay overseas, anywhere, but most probably England. So I told her about my own little dream.
A little earlier, a friend having offered me a novel written by an Italian guy who had crossed his way from Shanghai to Italy on a Virago, my plan was to cross China, from Hong Kong, up to Mongolia and then turn left, back to Le Mans.
The words "simple" and "China" do not match very well when you try putting a pair of wheels on them... the more I tried to investigate the situation, the more it seemed desperate. The entire southern China is simply forbidden to bikes or at least in the cities and on highways. The maximum power allowed is 150cc. So as I was told by a local dealer, sure you can ride in China but er... how do you wanna do it ? Legally or illegally ? What he meant is that he had a way to ship my bike to a remote place in China, fix whatever plate numbers on it and hope that cops wouldn't speak English when trying to stop me, then I would have to find a truck in the North to load the bike in when about to cross into Mongolia and simply disembark it once the border was fading in the mirror. Yeah, sure ! What a way to begin a life trip huh !? I was fuming with frustration.
Of course, we still could ship the bike to Vladivostok and just fly there. Ahem, costly solution and just as frustrating. Nope, there isn't any ferry from Hong Kong to Taiwan even if there's one from Taiwan to Japan and then another from Japan to Vlad. So basically, we're stuck on this ex-barren rock ! Argh !
Then Geoff proved what excellent navigators Brits can be. He came up with the best solution. "Guys", he said, "let me take care of it. I still have contacts in UK, my brother for a start, and surely we can get you a reliable ride ready there for you to pick up. You can't expect to go on such a long trip on your W650 the way it looks now, we'd have to do so many mods on it, it just won't look nice anymore. Why don't you get a proper bike for the journey ? I can get you something cheap like a Transalp or an XR which would be doing the trick far better than a classy roadster. Just do your trip the other way round !"
Abby and I were nodding our heads, meditating for a while. We both had just watched "The Long Way Round" and somehow we weren't too enthusiastic about repeating that very same journey. It just looked too short all of a sudden, too expectable. We needed more. So naturally, we decided that since we were going to start from UK, we might as well take the really long way round which would include riding down all along the West Coast of Africa to Cape Town and then up again by the East Coast to Egypt and then Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Greece and finally head North until the cold would drive us East towards Mongolia. Ha, that would be more like it ! It could take us two to three years to ride all these miles, that's perfect for what we have ! Let's go homeless for a while see what's that got in store for us ! We might end up our trip in New Zealand and settle there or carry on and go to South America. No boundaries ! Yeah, that's what we need.
So while Geoff began searching for good wheels, Abby started taking some riding lessons. I took her to the local MX Club as well so she could get her feel of dirt tracks and she showed a real determination and perseverance which delighted me even further.
Alas Hong Kong had a new dirty trick to play on our little project. Even if Abby was to pass her licence in time, she'd still be on probation for a year and that would prevent her from obtaining her International Driving Licence, damn ! We rushed to Horizon Unlimited web site to ask and see if there was any way out of this one, being even flying her to the Bahamas if required but to no avail... Alright then, no worries, we'll start our journey with just one bike and once we're in Africa, she could still have a go at it on rented bikes so that when we'll reach Cape Town, hopefully a year after our departure, she could get herself some decent wheels as we heard lots of adv bikers sell their bike there and fly home. It should cut our cost too.
It took me a while to get used to the idea that I'll have to ride about 350kg of bike + 2 persons + luggage around Africa's pistes but decided that, at 50 years old, I shouldn't be dreaming of winning the Paris-Dakar anymore but should rather consider taking a look at the landscape instead, for once. That did it.
So we did start looking at the landscape. I downloaded as many documentaries about Africa as eMule would allow me, in French, in English, we got to know a certain Bear who taught us how to eat snakes alive in deserts and sleep in dead camels, we read tons of diaries on the Hubb, tried to find answers to the most obvious questions that popped to our minds, we collected Lonely Planet guidebooks, ordered more novels from Amazon, got maps, searched for visa requirements, freaked out about vaccinations and malaria threats, selected equipment items... and began to feel good, to smile again, to take it easy with life and people, we knew our trip had already started by then and it felt great. We met other adv riders while watching the excellent DVDs produced by Horizon Unlimited and were delighted to conclude that they were indeed the sort of people we wanted to hang around with. Watching them tell us about their own adventures was the turning point I think when Abby and me both looked at each others with a confident smile on our faces: yes definitely, that's what we wanted and no, definitely, we weren't scared, quite the opposite ! And we started suffering from a daily burst of "I just can't wait to be gone !" that's just getting louder and louder every day, the trip had turned into our primary concern. Everything else, our duties, our possessions, our daily routines started to feel secondary and a bit dull.
Geoff found us a Transalp by Christmas time. http://picasaweb.google.com/nishounet/TripToAfrica#
His brother Alan went to pick it up on the other side of England and shipped it back to Portsmouth in his van. Seeing the pics of our wheels felt like a guarantee the trip was indeed on its way and we bought our plane tickets so as to put a date on it: the 9th of July 2010. Geoff will be coming with us. He's in charge of preparing the bike for us: build the panniers, the fairing guards, change a few parts for better long lasting ones, show us the pubs and see us on our way with proper tools and parts. I feel sorry that he can't accompany us further in Africa for he's such a good lad and I'm sure he would love it but he's just gonna have to wait until he reaches my age and raised his two sons, and then remember his dream. Everything comes at the right time. It's like on a bike, one goes where one looks. Just keep looking Mate, life's so short, your turn is just around the corner, trust me on this !
The rumour of our departure started spreading around and an old friend who's a DJ on a local radio station asked me for an interview. http://nishman.multiply.com/music/item/118/Nish_on_Radio_3_World_Vibes
I think we'll be doing that on our way, give interviews to local TV and radio channels. It's probably safer if people have heard of us in advance... just a thought.
We bought a tough laptop for the journey and started getting organised with Google. We set up our blog
and our Picasa account, secured e-mail boxes and posted photocopies of our main documents and pictures. Internet will be our main communication system, we'll post reports and pictures of our journey on our blogs. We've got the GoPro Motorsport cam so if the bandwidth allows it, we'll post videos as well, I like editing them.
Not many Hong Kong girls are daring getting on a motorcycle, let alone drive it around in Africa so Abby will just have to write a book in Chinese about her experience and I'm sure it will have its success. I will do the same. Riding is one thing but I think what I ultimately long for is finding the right place, the right environment to be in the rightest state of mind to write a book that's been in my mind (and on a draft) since nearly 20 years. This trip isn't exactly my first adventure... I was a gold smuggling hippie a long long time ago. http://nishman.multiply.com/tag/nepal
Pierre, my DJ friend, wants me to regularly send him vocal reports as well so that his listeners can follow us throughout our whole journey. That rocks !
Then Abby passed her riding licence. With brio. On the first try. With congratulations from the inspector. That's my girl ! She was so into it ! Took extra lessons, riding everyday, came back with bruises and still rode some more the next day ! Damn, I couldn't dream of a better partner to do this trip with, could I ?! She rules ! Now she takes more lessons, accompanied by an instructor through Hong Kong traffic madness and always returns with an excited grin on her face. I think she'll search for a bike to climb on as soon as we'll step foot in Morocco, don't think she'll be able to wait much longer. Oh yeah, before I'm getting accused of being an unbearable macho who doesn't even want to share handlebars with his own girlfriend, let me just say that Abby won't be able to put her feet on the ground if she sits on the Transalp. We'll have to find her something smaller. Not to worry, she will !
To celebrate her riding success, Abby dragged me to the nearest motorcycle equipment store and decided it was time to get us proper gear. From what we had been reading, there is a very high possibly that we will spill off the bike sometimes a little harshly. We've heard of mad drivers in Congo and Gabon rushing their forest loaded trucks on wrong lanes at high speed and worse... so, even though this is completely new to me, we're gonna wear protections. MX boots, jackets and pants with pads everywhere, full face helmets with sliding sunglasses, well padded gloves, it's almost an invitation to crash so protected it feels ! So that's how the crusaders felt like huh ?! Hmm... but it weighs a ton. We'll have to wear it in the plane because the rest of the equipment, the tent, the mats, the sleeping bags, the cooking gear, the books, the laptop, the cameras and stuff are about as heavy as we're allowed to carry... I bet some of that stuff will have to remain in Portsmouth, we'll see. Abby has already sold one of her piano and will keep the grand one in a rented storage. I can give most of my stuff to my daughters but will have to keep my cinematheque, my bibliotheque and my music in a storage as well along with my vintage leathers and boots which I don't wanna throw away. My beautiful W will remain in Geoff's loving care, thanks to him again for that for Hong Kong tends to be a very humid place... Soon we'll have to cancel our internet accounts, mobile phone plans, arrange a few things with the banks, do those vaccinations and visit the dentist as well as a doctor to sort out our first aid kit. Already, we don't have to pay rent anymore, we're on the two months deposit return period ! Oh yes, it feels good, we getting there. Everyone we meet asks us about our trip. We're in the queue already, all we need is a little more patience but I'm already kick-starting when asleep ! So you know what ?
We just can't wait to be gone !
Nish & Abby
Posted by Pascal Leclerc at 08:00 PM