The Wrong Way Round (13th February 2009)
Early in 2008 I went to a camping exhibition at the NEC in Birmingham, England and was drawn irresistibly to a map painted on the side of a Range Rover that had competed in the London to Sydney rally. The map showed a continuous overland route from Europe to South East Asia via Iran, Pakistan China, Laos and Malaysia. I had tried to get permission to backpack through China many moons ago and was denied access. The Embassy told me they were not geared up for tourism but this was way back in the days of Chairman Mao and the gang of four so I suspect China had enough on its plate at the time without having to worry about me. I had thought it was still impossible to do a continuous overland journey from Europe to South East Asia.
The idea of riding a motorbike on a continuous overland route from Calais to South East Asia, then flying on to Darwin to ride round Australia and New Zealand developed. I quickly discovered that it is still difficult, time consuming and expensive to get permission to travel through China. Abandoning the idea of going to China I settled on finding an alternative route to South East Asia before travelling to either Kuala Lumpur or Singapore to fly onwards to Darwin.
After travelling around Australia and New Zealand I would decide whether I had done enough for one trip and fly back to England or get the bike to South America and ride north to Alaska and on to Montreal to complete a round the world trip. I had heard that it was easier to transport motorbikes in or out of Canada rather than the USA because of the increased security measures in the states since 9/11.
I test rode a new BMW F650GS twin cylinder bike at my local dealership, liked it and found it comfortable. The upright riding position and low seat height meant it was the first bike I had been able to sit on and ride since breaking my back in October 2006. I considered getting a new twin cylinder F650GS for the trip but finally decided that the older single cylinder version; being a bit lighter and a bit more economical on fuel suited me better. I donít think I will need the extra power that the twin provides. I am more interested in taking my time and enjoying the scenery on trips these days.
I found a 2006 single cylinder FW650GS with the low seat option and 4500 miles on the clock in July 2008, bought it and set about purchasing and bolting on larger tanks and panniers. The extra fuel tanks are not essential but I like the idea of being able to pass by a fuel stop if it looks suspect or just because Iím enjoying the ride and donít feel like stopping. I have fitted two additional tanks giving a total of 39 litres and a range of over 600 miles if both extra tanks are used. As I hope to do a lot of camping I decided to use one of the tanks for fuel and the other for water. I installed fuel hoses for both additional tanks so that it would a simple matter of connecting the hose to the third tank should I decide to use it for fuel once the trip was underway. Using the original fuel tank plus one of the extra tanks gives a range of 450 miles and I will have up to eleven litres of water for camping. With that much water I may be able to have the luxury of washing at camp occasionally!
I spent a lot of time looking into different route options through Asia in the second half of 2008 and it looked like my original thought about a continuous overland route from Europe to South East Asia was unfortunately correct. China appeared difficult to arrange and expensive as you have to pay for a guide to accompany you. You still have to fly over Burma (Myanmar) as you are not allowed to transit through the country. Through Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and India was my preferred option then flying from Nepal to Thailand to get over Burma. Initial research revealed that travellers would meet up and travel in convoy through Pakistan due to the Taliban and Al Qaeda activities. The army would have check points on the route recording details of everyone passing through so that they would know which section of road they had disappeared if they failed to turn up! Later the check points were supplemented with an armed escort through the Ďbandit countryí. By January 2009 I had read that it was no longer possible to get a Pakistani visa to ride through to India due to the increased danger following the gunfire in the Mumbai hotels on 28th November 2008.
Initially I considered sticking to my original route and hoped that by the time I got to Pakistan the situation would have changed for the better. In the end however I didnít like the possibility of having to fly across Pakistan as well as Burma and made a snap decision to go the other way round.
I started looking into getting myself and the bike across the Atlantic. April 2009 had been the original start date for the trip and I was reluctant to postpone the departure but it was going to be too cold in Canada for a wimp like me in April. The solution seemed simple enough. Instead of flying into Canada I would head for Miami and ride north as the weather improved.
From the East coast of Canada I aim to travel to Alaska then south to the Canadian and American Rockies before continuing to Mexico. I hope to eventually get to Tierra del Fuego then head north again for a flight to New Zealand and then on to Australia.
Unfortunately I will be sticking to good roads wherever possible as my off-road riding capability has declined considerably since breaking my back and having metal plates installed to hold my spine together. I wasnít particularly good at off-road riding before my accident but Iím definitely worse now.
On Way To Leicester
I set off from my home in Newcastle upon Tyne on Saturday 7th February 2009 riding the fully laden F650GS to Milton Keynes in the snow to deliver the bike to the shipping agent, stopping off to spend the weekend with Maddie and Jeff in Leicester on the way. On arrival at the shipping depot I was told that I had been wrongly informed that the bike had to be delivered then. I could have left it until the 3rd March when it might have been a bit warmer. Thanks a lot! The shipper kindly offered to store the bike free of charge and put it on a later ship so that it arrives when I asked for it to arrive in the first place, around the end of March. So the bike is on its way to Miami on a container ship and I fly out on 30th March 2009 to join it. First stops are the Florida Keys because the bridges look good then the Everglades where I hope to avoid being eaten by an alligator.
From Milton Keynes I travelled on to London by train for my visa application interview at the American Embassy. Thankfully they decided to let me in as the bike was already on its way! With the increased security requirements all visa applicants between the ages of 14 and 79 have to attend a personal interview. British tourists donít normally need a visa but I did as I was arriving on a one way air ticket and wanted to stay in the USA for more than 90 days.
I now have a few loose ends to sort out, one of which is to find out how to avoid being eaten by bears whilst camping in Canada. I also have to finish getting my house ready for letting and find some tenants. Anybody want to rent a house in Newcastle?
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