August 07, 2011 GMT
Family News From Kenya

News from Caroline and Beau.

After spending a little while taking their bikes out of storage at Jungle Junction and fitting new tyres, Caroline and Beau met up with an Australian group of overland riders.
That led to them dropping the idea of riding off to Tanzania and instead teamed up with the Ozzies. They rented a minibus between them and headed out to the Masai Mara to see the annual migrations.
This isn't possible on two wheels, so four wheels have to be organised one way or another.

Caroline posted home a graphic account of the river crossings, involving wildebeest, zebras and crocodiles, plus a couple of Beau's photos:



Then, not having a whole load of time before having to be back at work in Khartoum, they flew to Zanzibar to see the sights of the island and of Stone Town. Photos awaited.

Back in Nairobi they found they needed to spend a couple of days hunting down a new battery for Beau's bike, the old one having expired.
That done, and all loaded up, yesterday they departed north for Isiolo and the road to Ethiopia, expecting to be in Addis Ababa by around next weekend.

So we wish them a good journey.

Posted by Ken Thomas at 10:49 PM GMT
August 14, 2011 GMT
Return To Addis Ababa

By hook or by crook, Caroline and Beau are back in Addis Ababa.

There were spots of bother with both bikes, although they completed the Isiolo to Moyale road in two and a half days. An incredible time by my reckoning - must be a record of some sort. No falling off either.

Beau writes from Awassa, south of Addis Ababa: "We made it to Ethiopia, shaken by the bumps and having to do some fixing on both the bikes, but we're now in Awassa.
.......because of the drought the corrugations have not formed as big as before. We camped in a small village 50km before Moyale where a young man brought us to his house and let us set-up in his yard. It was very special, he and his family made us dinner and told us about his village and life."
But he also writes: "My bike has got white smoke and oil coming from the exhaust and takes a litre of oil every day - a couple of mechanics have told us that it's a piston ring problem. We are getting a truck to Addis tomorrow to get the bikes there quickly for inspection and repair. We've got a mechanic lined up in Addis, numbers we found on the HUBB."

The problem, I guess, is the lack of sufficient air-filtering as I've concluded earlier on my bike, resulting in excessive wear in the bore or damage of some sort.
Either way, they have work to do in Addis involving removal of the engine and the cylinder head for inspection.
Hope the repairs go well, more updates when received.
Maybe photos as well, if time allows during this busy interruption.

Posted by Ken Thomas at 12:05 PM GMT
See Mountains Again

"Off on your travels again?
Where to this time?"

"Across the Ganges?
The Silk Road?
The Road To Mandalay?
The Gun Barrel Highway?
You've still never seen Grasmere, have you? Kilnshaw Chimney?
Nor Scafell Pike.
Around the world you go, and never seen the magnificence of your own doorstep!"

"Well actually," I ventured to reply to my friend Michael, "I'm going to Ulverston first, with tent, then a saunter around to Ambleside and to Wastwater and thereabouts."
I explained that with my 'Little Interruption' now added to the proceedings, I've decided it's a good opportunity to see my own doorstep - to give it a scrub.

"And about time too," replied Michael. "And for all that scenery and wilderness that you've neglected all these years, make sure you take a good strong brush!"

Michael is an expert and devotee of the Lake District. Every time I've told him about some new trip or big adventure, he's responded with a big sigh, a wagging finger, and, "Look, it's only a little way up the M6, why are you going two continents away when you've yet to see the best bits of your own country??"

I'd saved up this announcement, and not booked anything, till the last moment.
"When are you going?" he enquired.
He looked pleased and gave me an endless list of valleys to visit, peaks to climb and views to appreciate.

So off I went to see mountains again, in the North West of England.

I thought I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere, when a sign on the road said 'Isle of Man TT'



"No, this is the wrong place and wrong time," I thought. Although The Island is just across the water and more-or-less dead ahead.
Also dead ahead was the Lakeland Motor Museum, with a special display of this year's TT races.


And I learned where the endless debate ends on which tyre to use for mud, for sand, for desert, for rocks, for marbles. Right here:

As far as I can see, the ideal tyre for everything.
No need, even, to remove the wheel to mend a puncture.
Where can I buy one?


A 1909 version of the Panther my Dad commuted to work on daily in the 50s and 60s. Completely different to his in every respect of course. Except, enigmatically, the engine. It's hardly changed.


Round the back, I was surprised to find my old office, nicely done up with fresh paint.


No, I didn't ride a BSA AA sidecar outfit, but occasionally repaired the phones in these things, and in those other similar boxes now referred to as 'The Tardis'.
Fifty years ago you could just about fit a phone, a tool wallet and a stranded traveller in one. Now, they seem to fit a phone, tools and a time traveller in one, plus a huge consol room with power station attached. I've been trying to find out how, so I can do the same with my garage.
Haven't found out yet but am still working on it.

I've had this in the pipeline at home for a while, hoping it will reveal the secret when construction gets underway.

Will let you know.

In Ulverston I stopped here:

Three Minds without a single Thought.

This photo replaces the original one in the posting for 10th June 2009, 'Question Marks'.


And then on to here, a couple of miles south, to pitch my tent:


Or rather, in the midst of the aboretum just below these twin entrance towers of Conishead Priory, on the western side of Morecambe Bay.


There were upwards of five hundred tents packed into this dense little forest, cheek by guy-rope. Squeezed in amongst Douglas Fir, Coast Redwoods, and ancient Cedars, Beech and Oaks.
After a couple of nights of adventure with the stair-rod rain, the tent population fell a bit:


But I was pleased with the performance of my little tent in the deluges, not having used it since the desert of Namibia.

After a week and a bit at Conishead Priory I headed to Ambleside at the top end of Lake Windermere, to stay and explore for a couple of days.

(Not in my tent now, this from my bedroom window)

First was one of Michael's places, the steep twisty back road (known as The Struggle) to Kirkstone Pass, around Kilnshaw Chimney.

A wee chink of Lake Windermere from some way up The Struggle.

Kilnshaw Chimney

Windermere from about two-thirds up the Chimney.

That was enough mountaineering I thought, with the clouds loitering with intent and the wind seeming to carry a message.

Shortly after I got back down, this was the wind's message.

Then on to Ullswater where the sun half came out.



On departing Ambleside I headed west to the Hardknot Pass.

Approaching the start of the pass.

A little way up the pass, looking back towards Ambleside.

Approaching the summit of the Hardknot Pass.

And looking back down again.

Looking ahead from the summit down towards Eskdale.

Heading north-east from Eskdale brings us to Wast Water. The lower slopes of Scafell Pike on the right.

Great Scoatfell, just north of the village of Nether Wasdale.

And the village inn just happened to have a room free for a couple of days.

Which led onwards to....... the next posting.

Posted by Ken Thomas at 06:57 PM GMT
Scafell Pike

A short adventure on two feet.

At the Inn in Nether Wasdale four guests were setting off to scale Scafell Pike after breakfast, equipped with a day's provisions in rucksacks.

So I asked the barman, "That mountain, can you just walk up it, or does it require real climbing, hands as well as feet?"
"No, you can just hike up, it's part of a hiking route."
But this is England's highest mountain, I thought. There must be a catch somewhere.

Anyway, I set off for the Wasdale Head car park at its base, just to do a recce, you understand, just to see the scenery. Carrying nothing, I climbed over the first stile and crossed the first field. I realised I'd left my water behind but had a few Brazil nuts, my camera and jacket. That'll do for a quick recce.

Three and a half hours later, somehow or other, I'd arrived at the top.
Once you get going, there doesn't seem to be a reason to stop, apart from the physical aches and twinges. But I was full of Dharma and Heruka Empowerment from Conishead Priory, and it did a good job.
Plus, there are the motivating people you meet on the way up.
"Hi, you look like you're out for a Sunday stroll."
Well, yes, I did feel a bit conspicuous - no rucksack, water bottle or provisions.

I encountered a couple of serious climbers laden with ropes and climbing paraphernalia, headed not to the top but to the high vertiginous rock cliffs off to the right.
"You're nearly halfway, you'll get there no problem."
"How are we doing for time?" I asked.
"Don't know, but these lads will know."
We asked a group just passing.
"Quarter past twelve."
"There, you've got plenty of time for a nice easy climb to the top."
They pointed out the tricky section up ahead, the 'Vertical Scramble' at a place called Mickledore, up above Hollow Stones.
"After that it's straightforward, except the route isn't very clear. But there are plenty of people on the mountain so that'll be alright. Do you have a map?"
Yes, I had a map.

So onwards and upwards.
Someone said to remember that you can't see the actual summit until you're just five minutes away, "So that's always a nice surprise!"

And it was.
Especially as I had neither intention nor even less, expectation, of undertaking this whole enterprise when I stepped out of the car park a worrying distance below.
On approaching the 'Vertical Scramble' with an aching tiredness setting in, I thought for a moment of Shackleton on his 1908 expedition. He called a halt to his march to the South Pole with just 97 miles to go, after walking and hauling sledges 750 miles from Cape Royds. He turned his men round and headed back, sensing that a safe return would become unattainable otherwise.

But there was a lot of camaraderie on these slopes and the unexpected goal was achieved. Not without disappointment though. A knowledgeable hiker on his way down had assured me there was an ice cream van at the top - you can't believe anything you hear these days.

So, the photos:

Wastwater from a little way up the climb.

Small stream to cross a little further up.

The summit is way out of sight way above this lot.

And only a tiny triangle of Wastwater is left in sight.

The 'Vertical Scramble' at Mickledore. In centre of pic.

Looking back down the scramble.

Shortly after, in the far distance, Sellafield (Windscale nuclear) comes into view, the Irish Sea beyond.

Quite suddenly, the crowd at the summit appears. What a welcome sight!

The dog wonders, "Why??"

The views from the summit look-out. Roughly west, with Wastwater visible again at this height.




Everyone asks one another to take photos.

Eventually it was time to start the long trek down. Chats with other climbers, the appearance of a second route joining my one near the top, and a look at my map, revealed that there are two routes. I'd completely missed the alternative one on the way up. It was slightly longer but avoided a descent down the tricky scrambling path, so that was alright then.

By the time I'd got some way below 'Hollow Stones', a look behind revealed that the low clouds had now descended to these crags a long way below the summit.

Total round trip is a shade under six miles, with elevation gain of 2900 feet (just over 1/2 mile). Very leisurely if you take all day, and an excellent way to spend the day if you find good weather in the Lake District.
That's the key I suppose - the weather. The Lake District is said to be the rainiest part of England at any time of year. Including these couple of weeks. Today's was almost the best weather of my visit, so it's just as well I ventured to the bottom of Scafell Pike and took advantage of it, but even then the clouds descended later in the day (although staying dry).
I'm puzzled though. Touring around all these lakes and mountains, there are campsites everywhere. And a lot of them are full. In the wettest part of the country.
Why's that then?
Well, see below. After my quick first-time visit up here I think I can safely say, like the rain and the campsites, there are more pubs, breweries and tea-rooms to visit than in any other bit of English countryside. There's always one nearby so you can escape the rain.

Back at the Screes Inn in Nether Wasdale I felt a touch of deja vu. Apart from my legs no longer working, the railways and rivers of East Africa sprung back to mind. I couldn't make head nor tail of the London Underground map pinned up in the bar.
Not only was there no Victoria Line, but no Victoria Nile nor Circle Line either:

No, this is an imposter, a map of Cumbrian micro-breweries, guaranteed to confuse Londoners everywhere.
(And the children)

Perhaps they don't know that the Circle Line is actually the shape of a bottle of beer on its side, with Aldgate at the bottleneck end, and The Best 12 in London at the bottom of the neck. Imagine this is the inside of your engine the next time you're bowling along on your bike.....

You'll see here that the Coniston Brewing Company produces an excellent beer called Oliver's Light Ale.

I'll have to have a serious word with that Grandson of mine......

But Cumbria truly has a remarkable collection of independent breweries. In Ambleside I had a superb pint of Laughing Gravy, from Ulverston. It features in the previous posting on this blog and the posting for 10th June 2009.
He's right here, nipping Ollie's trouser leg:

Stan's dog Laughing Gravy who features in the film of the same name.

A small selection of Laurel and Hardy titles now re-born in Ulverston beers.

Right across the road from the Screes Inn is the micro-brewery 'Strands Brewery'. One of their brews is called Errmmm (brewed for the undecided).
I sampled some.
"What does it taste like?"

How come I've never been to this part of England before??
Sorry, Michael.

Posted by Ken Thomas at 09:57 PM GMT
August 27, 2011 GMT
While I Was Away

While I was enjoying the Lake District, riots were going on in London. And elsewhere.

But riots have been occurring in London, and in Engand, for centuries. It's not really a new thing.
But that's no excuse, and it's very sad.
Equally sad is all the rubbish that is said and printed in the media, most of it to serve one of three objectives:
To increase newspaper sales,
To increase viewing figures,
To make political capital.

I was pointed to the following video a few weeks ago, when hoards of people were out on the streets on the Isle of Man and its capital, Douglas, occupying the roads and pavements and completely curtailing normal everyday activities.
It's a video made by an onlooker showing the police brutality they employ, mainly on holiday visitors, to try to make things safe enough for residents to continue their day-to-day lives unhindered.

If you're concerned that similar techiques should be used where you live, then maybe you should write to your MP and local council straightaway.
In the meantime, I was just thinking it's about twenty-two years since I've been to the IOM. This video brings back memories (not much has changed at all in the Island's culture), so it's definitely time to take an adventure up there again. Next year.......

News From Addis Ababa

Firstly, the truck that Caroline and Beau had arranged to take them to Addis from Awasa didn't turn up. So Beau lined up a few clean spark plugs and a plug spanner in a roll of rag, and they set off on their own. A number of 'stopped to make adjustments' sessions later they reached Addis.
Beau dismantled the top-end of his engine and found evidence of serious oil-burning.


Although the cylinder head didn't look too bad for an engine of unknown history.

But a lot of carbon in those inlet ports.

A local mechanic found new valve oil-seals, but drew a blank on piston rings.

So they reassembled everything, tried it out, and found no difference. Still a huge amount of smoke from the exhaust and the spark plug being oiled up in very short order.
The top end was removed again, and new piston rings obtained from Fowlers of Bristol and couriered out.
On re-assembly a bolt broke (don't know which one yet) delaying things a bit more. Which was tricky because Caroline has a deadline to be back at work in Khartoum which required moving on from Addis by Friday at the latest.
As it was, Beau had his bike back on the road by Friday afternoon, running OK, so they both departed for Khartoum very early Saturday.

We wish them well. And hope to hear of their arrival in Khartoum early in the coming week.

Moving on, I've at last acquired the most traditional of biker's accessory. All on the NHS, free of charge.
Tattoos. Three of them. How about that?
I had them done last week, as various technicians and medics took careful aim with lasers, CT scanners and felt-tip pens.
My three tiny dots will show the supercharged beams of particles the correct route to the tumour during daily radiotherapy, just like a GPS I suppose.
I'll assume the accuracy is a shade better than with my fourteen-year old GPS that steered me well enough around Africa.

I get asked now and again about progress.

Firstly I get confused, is it about medicine or astrology? I was born under the sign of cancer - so is the treatment for 'constellations'?
You see how easy it is to get confused.

So I read the leaflet again that comes with the hormone treatment drug. No, this is definitely for the medical complaint.
There's a long list of side effects.
There are so many, they are organised into groups according to the basic nature of the unwanted effect. It gives you a sense of confidence in the navigation skills of the pharmacologists - maybe.
In the top group it says 'weight gain'. Oh dear, always difficult, that.
Further down the long leaflet, in another group we see, 'weight loss'.
"Errrr! Didn't you just miss a turning there? That's the direction we want isn't it?"

No matter, we can always turn round.
It's the side effects that aren't listed that I'll need to mention at the next consultation.
I'm having to fight a serious one already, and I have many months of this stuff ahead.

I feel a worrying, almost irresistible urge, that's becoming impossible to combat.
....... to - errrr - go shopping!
J&S would be bad enough - but M&S!!!!

People who know about the hormone treatment ask, "Hey, how's it going? Can you do two things at once yet?"
"Not a hope. I can't even walk to the exit and chew gum when I suddenly find myself inside Marks & Spencers!"

I'm hoping, as I haven't yet asked, that when the radiotherapy gets under way next week they won't put the same restrictions on me that I had after spending a while in the Department of Nuclear Medicine having my skeleton probed by glowing isotopes. They said I had to keep away from pregnant women and babies for the rest of the day. Well, I suppose that was OK as the 'rest of my day' comprised going to Waitrose (side effect of the hormone stuff) where you rarely bump into another customer who doesn't have the full house of a bus pass and a senior railcard. Isn't senior citizenship wonderful?
Nuclear Medicine, "What's that?" I thought when the appointment arrived. I had visions of a week or so of covert security checks being done on me, like when I used to visit Aldermaston and Dungeness for work. Although no restrictions then on picking up babies.
But no, when I arrived for the appointment I was whisked straight in for the process, no photographing or airport security or anything.
But thinking about it again, when the 'nuclear nurse' was administering the isotopes, she did suddenly exclaim, "Ah, you're wearing the same MBT trainers as me!"
That must have been it..... security clearance by secretly checking my trainers!

Posted by Ken Thomas at 06:13 PM GMT
August 30, 2011 GMT
Hand Over The Money

Caroline and Beau arrived home in Khartoum today, just in time to rush to the bank with a sackful of cash.

I don't have a full report yet, but Beau's bike must be going pretty well now for them to have made such good time.
After departing Addis Ababa early on Saturday, they crossed into Sudan at Metema on Monday, wild camped on Monday night and arrived home around midday today, Tuesday.
The rush, it turned out, was brought about by a short notice announcement that old Sudanese banknotes must be changed for new, by close of business today. Any not changed are now only good for lighting shisha pipes (hubble bubbles). It seems the end date was only recently announced.
The new banknotes were introduced last month, with designs that remove all symbols and illustrations relating to South Sudan, which now has its own currency in circulation.
So they overcame a lot of difficulties since Nairobi, and although needing a good deal of nurturing and attention, the Yamahas brought them home in the end, and in time.

But work schedules have also been turned upsidedown through the birth of the new country of South Sudan.
Consequently, Caroline flies straight back to Nairobi late tonight. Whaaaat!! After overcoming all those mechanical adversities the last couple of weeks, and two African border-crossings, to reach Khartoum???
Yes, the demand for English teaching in the south has rocketed past all expectations, so Caroline is awaited back in Juba (via Nairobi) to meet up with another teacher. They'll start a tour of South Sudan provincial capitals to assess all prospective students and assign them to appropriate classes. Then the British Council can arrange the right numbers of the right teachers to be ready for the start of term in a couple of weeks, by which time Caroline will be back home in Khartoum to start the term with her new class. Not much spare time there then.
Beau has a little more time, starting back at the University next week. But he'll have two bikes worth of stuff to unload and find space for, and I know how overwhelming it can be to unload just one bike after it's been lived on for a year or so.

Still no photos, and I suppose the dust of that lot will have to settle a bit first. There was no internet at their flat on arrival today, and as usual, no real prediction of when there will be.

So well done to them for the speedy and safe ride from Addis, on a loaded 250cc and a loaded 225cc Yamaha. And for managing the fairly major repair in the Ethiopian capital.
I'm reminded of a quotation carried in a recent edition of Bike Bits, the internet newsletter of the US Adventure Cycling Association: "All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware." Martin Buber, 1878-1965.
How true. Never forget it.

To find out if there were any significant news items on the roads while Caroline and Beau have been on their journey, I've been reading some blogs by people recently travelling through East Africa. And it's very sad.
Yes, Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt aren't easy countries to travel through by road on your own vehicle. The cultures and driving philosophies simply cannot be compared to the West in any way at all. The same with Kenya but maybe not so extreme. So it's a little depressing to read accounts that, for example, are blatantly rude and insulting to ordinary Ethiopians just for wanting to walk on their own roads with their own children/carts/cattle/farm implements. This despite the number of intelligent forums on various websites explaining the most fundamental differences that exist between East Africa and western cultures when it comes to the use of the roads. So I hope Caroline and Beau weren't following too closely behind the authors of some of those blogs - the locals wouldn't have been very welcoming towards yet more foreign travellers using their roads so soon after those earlier ones. It's no wonder that locals who are well-read enough to know what's written about their countries are so keen to remind you to tell everyone back home that it's really not like that, at all.

To anyone reading this and planning a journey through East Africa, it's easy. In rural areas where people and animals are all over the roads, with not many vehicles, well, that's why the roads are there. For people and animals to do what they need to do in a day (which will be far more important to them and their families, than for a westerner to do what he/she wants to do in a day). So you have to give way to them. And they won't like you very much if they acknowledge and wave to you, and you don't return it.
So here's another quote from the excellent Bike Bits:
"When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable."
Clifton Fadiman, 1904-1999.
How true. Never forget it.

Finally, another Youtube (there're so many of them!)
Daily Telegraph readers may have seen this already, or maybe the BBC have already carried it - I don't know I hardly watch it.
But can someone offer a clear analysis of the mechanics of this??
I don't understand it. Why didn't another dozen riders fall off just watching it?
And who'll be first to add the new lesson to the marshall's training manual?

Posted by Ken Thomas at 07:11 PM GMT

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