Our intended route has been planned to allow us to travel through countries which offer opportunities to enjoy good roads, spectacular scenery and take time to relax and enjoy ourselves – this isn’t supposed to be an endurance challenge after all. We both enjoy trekking and the route has been devised to allow us time to get off the bikes and explore some of the mountainous regions along the way. We’ll not be quite conquering K2 or Everest, but we’re looking forward to being able to stretch our legs and enjoy some of the less travelled landscapes.
The first part of our trip will take us down to Morocco for a 12 day tour where we will be joined by Anne, a friend of Bene’s from University, who has been on the last few bike trips to Corsica, Greece and Ireland. This trip will help us to settle the bikes and get used to travelling with our lives in our panniers.
After Morocco we have allowed a few weeks to enjoy a relaxing time travelling through Spain, trekking in the Pico Mountains and the Pyrenees. We’ll then have a stop-over in Strasbourg to spend some time with Béné’s parents before leaving to head east across Europe and into Asia.
A map of the proposed route is below
Although this is something we’ve been thinking about for some time, some of the trip preparation can only be done closer to the date of departure. We’ve had the bikes for a while already and despite showing over 50,000 miles each, this mileage is mainly from commuting and bike holidays. We’ve been doing the majority of servicing and repairs on the bikes ourselves to get a better understanding of the mechanical side of things and this has given us some comfort and confidence to be able to tackle roadside repairs should they arise.
The major hassle with a trip of this nature is the documentation required in terms of visas and carnets. So far, this seems to be just a case of following procedure and we’re aiming to get as many visas sorted before we leave the UK. This is all a new to us and we’re drawing upon the knowledge and experience of other travelers to help with our preparations.
3 Days to go – Friday 16 April 2010
Last day at work today and as it’s my leaving drinks tonight, I’m getting the train in. Work is busy and one of my colleagues is doing his best to get every last ounce out of me before I leave. I’m a conscientious person, so have been trying to get as many loose ends tidied up so that colleagues aren’t bundled with any hang ups when I’m gone. This colleague however, was a slave driver in a previous life I’m sure.
As well as being my last day at work, almost just as significant for our trip is that I’m hoping we can get our Pakistan visas today. They had been incredible sketchy when I dropped off the paperwork on Tuesday, and even though they said they ‘may’ be available today, the chap wrote on the collection form that it wouldn’t be done until the following Wednesday. So not knowing where I stood I tried phoning, but there was no answer. I tried emailing and again no answer.
The only thing I could do to try and resolve was to go down to the Embassy in Knightsbridge. This being my fourth time there, I was quite happy just to stroll in and I think the security chap saw that I knew where I was going and just let me walk through. As I arrived in the visa section it was much busier than usual and I wasn’t sure whether to queue or try and get a ticket from somewhere. I saw a couple in the corner so wandered over to them to ask what the score was.
It wasn’t until I’d actually asked the question about the queuing situation that I realised that it was Emily and James who we are crossing China with and who we met only once a few weeks back at the Ace Cafe. We chatted away, but I was keen to get to the man behind the counter to see if there was any way I could get my visa today. I’d had to leave the office and was conscious of getting back as soon as possible. After speaking with a few people and stressing that I was planning to leave the UK on Sunday, the wheels of visa processing started to move and after about 90 minutes I was holding our passports with freshly stamped Pakistan visas.
I could now breath a huge sigh of relief – in just over 5 weeks we’d managed to get visas for Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, China, India and now Pakistan. The next place we would need a visa for would be Nepal in September. I head back to the office, with a huge smile on my face. After sorting out the last few loose ends and some very special leaving speeches, we get down to the pub for about 7 pm. By 7.30 pm, I’ve already had a few glasses and on my way to being very merry!
2 Days to go – Saturday 17 April 2010
Well, I know I promised myself that I would control myself at my leaving drinks, as usual that plan goes out the window after about the 3rd large glass of wine. I wake up with a slight hangover, but I know that there is a lot to get done today. The tenant for the house is coming over at 1pm so I can show him how things work around the place. At this stage, I don’t feel like I’ll be in a fit state to do much at all. Oh dear.
After a cup of tea and watching a bit of the Formula 1 qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix, my head starts to come around and I soon kick into action. We’re busy packing our lives away and trying to decide on what we may need to keep aside for the trip. Progress is slower than usual, but we seem to be getting there. Despite not really making a significant impact, we decided that it would be more fun to have a BBQ with our friends Andy & Liliana – this was confirmed when Andy called us from Tesco and was able to get in the provisions, which would allow us to crack on and get more packing done before they arrived.
We didn’t have any time to get prepared for the BBQ, but Andy and Liliana were understanding of our situation and we were glad to have the company. They arrived about 8 pm and we quickly got the BBQ going – although after the previous nights alcohol intake I kept it down to just one beer so I wouldn’t have a repeat hangover on the last day.
1 Day to go – Sunday 18 April 2010
After last night’s relaxing BBQ, all we can think of now is how much of a task we have ahead of ourselves. Not sure what to do first, we opt for the easy option – breakfast. Sitting there, with less than 24 hours to go we’re not quite sure where to start. We still haven’t packed the bikes, or even got the panniers out. Cupboards in the house are still full, and we’re not quite sure how much we’ll be able to pack on the bikes.
We start with getting quite a few things in the loft – this is enormously satisfying as the loft is somewhere that always looks untidy and is great for swallowing up great boxfuls of junk, usually never to be used or seen again. Although in this instance, most of our lives are going up there, so I’ve been as methodical as possible to make life a bit easier when we get back.
Rather optimistically, Bene has selected about a basket full of food products which will expire in the next 12 months in the hope that we can take them with us. It’s only after we start packing the bikes that we realise there is no way we have space capacity for tins of soup and jars of pasta sauce.
The packing process for the bikes goes well. I’m incredibly happy as I’ve just discovered that Tesco have specifically designed their waterproof, tough, eco-friendly re-useable shopping bags to the exact same dimensions as Touratech’s 35 L pannier boxes. More incredible is that they can do that for 35p, as opposed to the £50 that Touratech charge. I’m not saying that the bags are in any way comparable, but I’m happy that the Tesco bags will do the business, and leave me with loads of room in the panniers that a soft inner bag would normally rob you of.
Although my panniers and roll bag seem to be swallowing everything I seem to throw at them, Bene seems to be already emptying her bags of those ‘extra’ t-shirts and bits and bobs to get the lids to close.
Eventually, we have everything on the bikes. They’re much heavier than usual, but I always say to myself ‘I’m sure they weigh less that the pillion and luggage that some people go on holiday with’. And with that in my mind, I’m happy that the bike will be able to take it all in its stride.
Once we’re happy that the bikes are sorted, our attention is diverted back to getting the house in order ready for the tenants moving in tomorrow. This process has an amazing ability of just making time disappear. We slog away packing up drawers, cupboards and furniture, before getting to the cleaning phase.
At about 2.30 am we’re done. I fast forward the Chinese Grand Prix to the last 10 laps and I’m pleasantly surprised to see Button at the head of the field with Hamilton close behind. Although I’ve not watched much of the race, I’m probably safe to assume that I’m not the only one pleasantly surprised by this. Having watched Formula 1 for about 20 years, it’s great to see British drivers back at the top of the field as a pure result of their talents.
After watching the guys cross the line and spray a bit of champagne over each other, we unplug the TV and haul it upstairs into a storage room. I’m asleep as soon as hit the pillow, but Bene has a touch of the pre-trip nerves running through her body and is a bit unwell.