July 01, 2009 GMT
First Mud

The Horizons Unlimited meeting at Ripley the other weekend was a brilliant affair, a chance to do a minor dummy-run on all the equipment and systems.

Firstly the luggage. I wanted to take all that I would be likely to carry on the Africa trip, so I loaded it all up.
I left out a few items, that I hadn’t yet had time to acquire, or sort out the best way to carry. But that didn’t amount to much.
When loading was complete, I had:
- all camping and cooking gear,
- most tools,
- a lot of spares,
- clothes (too many for three and a half days),
- ten litres of water (well, what if there was a drought in Derbyshire??),
- music system (MP3, mini speakers, 12v adapters),
- and quite a bit of unused space.
Then a phone call, from Caroline.
“Could I take my spare tent as well. Caroline and Beau might find it handy if their tent proved to be too small to house all their boots and jackets and helmets and stuff?”
And, “Could I take my old (and large) sleeping bag as well. ‘Cos Beau hasn’t had time to buy his own yet?”
I loaded those onto the bike. But I still had unused space. Maybe I have a Tardis here.
Well, I had run out of time to look around yet again to see what I had forgotten – I must have forgotten something – so I filled the rest of the space with four pint bottles of best Kentish beer and a bottle of English red wine from Brighton, and set off for The North.
And my conclusion is that the TTR’s luggage-carrying set-up is about right. It certainly seemed to be over the Ripley weekend.

And Caroline’s Serow

Secondly, the off-road capabilities of me and the bike. I was looking forward to the off-road ride-outs, a feature of previous HU meetings, but it seemed on the Thursday evening that no local ride-leaders would be attending. And I didn’t know the area nor had any maps, so couldn’t really go out on my own.
But on Friday morning a local hero turned up to lead a ride, and off we went.
It (and he) was the star turn of the weekend. We bounced and jolted and jumped and slithered and slid around the lanes of Matlock and Bakewell. It was the first time I had ever been off-road on the TTR, and the first time on any bike for maybe five years. I left all the luggage-carrying stuff on the bike (box, rear panniers, tank panniers and tank bag), and a few things inside like tools, spares and cooking gear.
And it all went wonderfully well. I surprised myself at some of the terrain we tackled successfully. And even more when, having dropped the lot on some tricky deep ruts, I could pick the whole thing up on my own. So quickly in fact, that I overdid it and the bike sailed right over and fell down into the mud on the other side. So in one little fall I got practice in picking it up from both the left and the right. Not bad.

Little Yammy amongst the Big Bruisers…..
Ah! THERE it is!

So I returned from The North with quite a bit more confidence that this bike and rider may well succeed on the trip south.

Packing up for home

Posted by Ken Thomas at 05:17 PM GMT
July 05, 2009 GMT
Good News And Bad News

We’ll have the good news first.

At last, we have a new arrival in our little paddock.
After much searching and viewing and rejecting and searching again, Beau has just chosen and brought home his bike for this great trip.
A nice little TTR250, as planned, that looks ready to take on everything that Europe, Asia and Africa can throw at it.

New and Old Owners engage in a spot of horse-trading, behind the horse.
And the Deal is Done.

So, as of now, we all have transport.
And the bad news:
This means, sadly, that Beau’s attempt to cross the Sahara Desert riding a drum kit is temporarily postponed.
For now.
But fear not! One day in the future you’ll read about it here, first………
Now, to allow this new acquisition to be fully prepared for the journey ahead, without me interfering and proving that too many cooks – etc, I’m disappearing for a break from all this oily workshop stuff. On a little adventure motorcycling trip of my own.
To the glorious beaches of the Baltic coast of Schleswig Holstein:


Riding – not a drum kit – but this:
My faithful old Dominator, ready to go.

I have to go right now, as McCrankpin has just told me that Caroline is about to pinch the box off of it, and Beau has his eyes firmly on the panniers.
See you in a couple of weeks. Photos to follow.

Posted by Ken Thomas at 10:48 AM GMT
July 26, 2009 GMT
Out, Damn'd Spot!

My memory being like a happily gurgling drain, it's no longer capable of handling this adventure. Toooo many things to remember and to think about.

So I'm employing what might be called the 'Classic Expedition Planning Method'.
Everything that needs to be done or remembered is written on a huge wallboard, all instantly visible without having to turn a page or press a button.
Everything that needs to be taken on voyage is laid out on the floor, all instantly visible without having to rummage through tons of other stuff.
My great idea of having a big box in the hallway and just chucking everything in it that sprung to mind has been a miserable failure.
For instance, I'd realised that I couldn't find the spare handlebar levers - anywhere.
"Are they in the box I wonder?"
After chucking everything out, there they are, right at the bottom!
- Chuck everything back in.
"Hold on, I didn't see the spare spokes in there!"
Chuck everything out again. No, they're not in there.
- Chuck everything back in.
Where are they? Three hours later, there they are, still on the shelf in the garage.
As Mrs Macbeth said, "Out, damn'd Chuck! out, I say!"
So, here's the new 'Voyage Situation Centre':

The Wall.

and the Cape Town Inventory:

Stuff Required On Voyage.

Right now there are 50 days left to departure, and 79 items pending on The Wall. And the bike's in bits - I'm fitting a new starter clutch. So must get on......

Posted by Ken Thomas at 04:27 PM GMT
Isle Of Man Part Two

I’ve had a kind request to reveal the full story of our visit to the Isle of Man International Six Days Trial many many years ago. Which would link in nicely with all the debate on the HUBB about soft luggage v. hard luggage, and the danger of the former bursting into flames if too close to the bike’s exhaust.

Well, it’s not only soft luggage that can have that problem.

You see, a few days after our escapade up to the top of Snaefell mountain, we were poodling about the tracks on our trail bikes somewhere up in the north of the island, where we encountered quite a lot of river crossings.
The Isle of Man is quite a rainy place, all year round, so the rivers are healthily full and fast flowing, witness the number of watermills there. Indeed, the largest working watermill in the world, at Laxey, gathers the huge quantities of water running off of all those bogs up the sides of Snaefell to turn this behemoth at a magnificent speed of three revolutions per minute, originally to pump yet more water out of the old lead and copper mines below.

Laxey Wheel

At the time of our trip to the Isle of Man, simple trail bikes with Villiers engines were not the most waterproof of devices, and magical potions like silicon sealers were completely unknown.
All we had to keep the water out of electrics and engines was……. Plasticine.
And a pretty good job it did – for about two and a half days.

But it was about eight days after re-Plasticine-ing my engine that we were splashing through deeper and deeper rivers. Until, in the middle of a particularly fast-flowing one, I and my Greeves wandered off of the line of the ford, dropped about a foot and a half into the flow and came to the same sort of steamy halt as a few days earlier halfway up Snaefell.
Except the engine stopped dead as well.
Never to fire again until safely back home in south London with new crankcase seals fitted.
The river had fought its way past those Plasticine seals to the electrics, and to the primary drive, and invaded the crankcase seal with fatal results.

Luckily, one of our party, Geoff, had the good sense not to believe in two-strokes and rode a good solid BSA 350cc 4-stroke trials iron. This was, he was confident, capable of towing me and my Greeves up the mountain road over Snaefell and back to our hotel in Douglas.
Except we had no tow-rope. Nor string nor even strong thread. But we did all have Belstaff jackets and trousers which, as everyone knows, come with belts strong enough to tow the Queen Mary.
Graciously, everyone donated theirs to this great cause, for which I am eternally grateful, and we set off up the mountain road at a slow pace, not to put the line of belts under too much strain.
None of us had panniers, so the idea of something burning on an exhaust couldn’t have been further from our minds. And even further from my mind as my exhaust was stone cold.

But halfway up the mountain road I noticed a strange misty smoke coming from Geoff’s BSA, labouring just ahead of me. I assumed it was a spot of oil burning in the engine, not uncommon under load and Geoff’s bike was under considerable load, hauling him, me, and my Greeves up the mountainside.
His brother John saw this from a different angle, being just ahead of me and alongside the tow-rope of Belstaff belts. Suddenly he accelerated ahead to reach Geoff, who stopped, showing immediate concern at something happening on the right hand side of his bike.
Then the flames appeared. Geoff leapt up into an entertaining German thigh-slapping dance and I couldn’t quite tell if he was trying to fan the flames or beat them into submission.

Anyway, his burning trousers were extinguished and cigarettes were lit, and we had an immediate inquest.

No one had a belt on their jacket; and when you don’t have a belt on your jacket, your trousers also get a bit blown about in the wind.
Geoff’s bike was working mightily hard, and the exhaust had reached a mighty high temperature. His Belstaff trousers were made of cotton and wax, just like a candle, and had become stuck to the hot BSA exhaust right by his right leg.
And sadly we had nothing to cook on the resulting flames.

Well, Geoff managed to beat the hell out of that fire and rig something up to keep the remains of his trousers out of danger – but it was not only them that were under strain. We still had some way to go and I don’t remember now how many of the belts broke on that journey, requiring regular stops to knot the broken ends together. I think it was all of them. Whoever said that you could tow the Queen Mary with a Belstaff jacket belt – well – never buy a second-hand motorbike from him!

So, we may have rescued our boots from the bogs of Snaefell, which tried unsuccessfully to suck them off our feet and into oblivion, but we all ended up beltless, and more seriously for one of us, trouserless. For which, again, I am eternally grateful.

So, HOW do you decide what to take on an adventure trip for spares and emergencies??? I’m going to add extra Plasticine to my list.

Posted by Ken Thomas at 05:18 PM GMT

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