Showing posts sorted by relevance for query travel. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query travel. Sort by date Show all posts

Sunday 26 August 2018

Elspeth Beard's Lone Rider

I just finished Elspeth Beard's Lone Rider on Kindle.  In the early 1980s Elspeth rode around the world on her already well used BMW.  I'm a big fan of neuro-atypical voices in writing being one myself.  As a dyslexic (who I also suspect is on the ASD spectrum) who struggled in school, Elspeth isn't your typical writer's voice, and the book is all the better for it.

From her struggles with family and friends when preparing for her around the world ride decades before it became a television opportunity, to her honest observations of what it was (is?) like to travel solo as a woman, you get a sometimes painfully transparent look at the emotion and effort stirred up by such a massive undertaking.  The repeated machismo she runs into in the motorcycling community in 1980s London is frustrating.  What's more frustrating is that it hasn't changed as much as it should have in the past thirty years.

The way that Elspeth describes the eccentricities of her dad and herself, I suspect they both live somewhere on the ASD spectrum (something I empathize with).  This atypical way of thinking, in addition to her dyslexia, gives her descriptions of the cultures she is riding through a degree of perspective and originality missing in other travel books.

Travellers tend to throw on the rose coloured glasses when describing India, ignoring the difficulties of trying to move across a continent with well over a billion people on it.  Elspeth's experiences, exacerbated by her gender, along with her brutal honesty, give you what is probably the most accurate description of riding in India you'll ever read; no rose tinted glasses on here.  From the fumbling sexual advances of men stuck in the middle ages to breath taking child cruelty, Elspeth's wide open eyes see it all and she doesn't shy away from telling you about it.

I would highly recommend this book if you enjoy motorcycling, travel writing and/or feminism and aren't frightened off by people who think differently.  It doesn't read like your typical motorcycle travel book, but Elspeth wasn't just riding, she was also elbow deep in keeping an already old, high mileage 1970s BMW running through sandstorms, biblical rain and everything in between.  If you have any mechanical sympathy at all, Elspeth scratches that itch too.

As much as I enjoyed the travel writing, what I missed most at the end of the book was Elspeth's unique way of seeing the world.  Her struggles understanding people and dealing with bureaucracies, especially with her wit and dry humour, are often hilarious, disheartening and hopeful all at the same time.

I'd urge you to give this book a read, it's available on Amazon as an ebook for less than ten bucks Canadian.  When the movie comes out in a couple of years, I hope they give it the nuance and depth it deserves.  Elspeth provides a voice and insight into a lot more than just her gender.

Friday 2 April 2021

Motorcycle Media Review: Itchy Boots Vlog and Social Media Supporting Professional Travel

I can't say I'm a big fan of the YOOTOOB.  I make a point of not reading the comments because they're some of the most asinine on the internet, but something caught me recently and now I"m a regular watcher.

Noraly Schoenmaker started a video blog called Itchy Boots in 2017 and has been a professional traveller ever since.  She has ridden tens of thousands of kilometres on a variety of bikes on many continents:

Noraly hits all the social media portals, so you can find her Instagram and elsewhere, but YouTube is where she video-blogs and what got me hooked was both her personality and her technical expertise.  I can't stand YouTube videos for all the preening and wasted time telling me shit I don't care about.  Trying to watch a how-to video on TOOB is infuriating and ends up with me giving up and trying to find the information elsewhere.

You don't need to worry about any of that with Noraly.  She edits tight and even her music and post-processing work has a professional sheen to it.  It plays at least as well as Long Way Up or another big budget stars-on-bikes production, but it's all just her.  The fact that she's festooned with GoPros and has her audio properly balanced while even throwing in drone footage has me loving the technical proficiency; this is travel video as it was meant to be done!  Even the music's good!

She was in South America when COVID kicked off and ended up getting repatriated to the Netherlands where she attempted to keep travel blogging from home, but you can imagine how that went.  If, like me, you pick this up with her deciding to press on regardless of COVID, you'll start season 5 with her getting herself sorted out and going to South Africa:

As a cure for the COVID travel blues, this is pure gold.  She finds herself a bike in Jo-Berg and before you know it you're with her on South African dirt roads seeing an amazing menagerie of spectacular wildlife in surreal scenery.  If you've missed travel, this'll immerse you in it again in an intimate way.

I had a moment last year in the first lockdown where I was in Google Earth in VR on the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa trying to remind myself that the rest of the world was still out there.  I had a jarring moment when the sign on Google Earth said that the park might be closed due to COVID.  Not only is the world out there, but it's covered in COVID.

Noraly might be taking a risk, but travelling around the world solo on a motorbike is risky and if we only let risk dictate our lives then what tedious and barren lives they'd be.  If you feel the pull of the nomad inside give Noraly's vlog a watch, I betcha you'll get hooked.

Saturday 8 June 2013

Max & Tim's Around The World Expedition

Everyone gets all kitted out with monster adventure bikes to travel around the world.  A monkey could get a big KTM or BMW around the world, and they're all adults with giant production budgets and crews!

I want a challenge!

Max & Tim Around the World Expedition!

My eight year old and I do the long way around from Ontario, across the Atlantic, through Ireland and the U.K., across Europe and Asia, through Japan and back through San Francisco and the Western U.S. to Canada.

The Over Map, you can click on pieces to get a breakdown of each leg


1. Canada East    3223kms
2. Europe           4377kms
3. Russia            4300kms
4. Mongolia        2272kms
5. China             1925kms
6. Japan             1503kms
7. America West 2619kms
TOTAL:             20,219kms on the ground, plus trips across the Atlantic and the Pacific.

Leave Ontario April 1st and put up with some dodgy weather in Canada before making our way to Ireland in May and out of Europe.  Across Russia and Siberia in early summer, and then south through Mongolia into China in later summer.  End summer across Japan and then do a fall drive through the Western U.S. back to Ontario, returning before Hallow e'en.  214 days, 10 days crossing the Atlantic, 20 days crossing the Pacific, so 184 days on the road, which makes for an average of about 110kms/day, which should be more than possible (with some days off too!).  It'll be slower in some places, but easily doable in developed areas.  400kms/day would be a comfortable five hours of riding in Canada, Europe and the States, as well as Japan and most of China.

So it's a big impressive map, but we aren't doing it on a giant adventure bike, we're doing it on what has always been in my mind the toughest looking motorbike there is!

A Classically Styled Bike & Sidecar!

The bike and sidecar has faded into history as a cool means of getting through anything, but I still have memories of seeing them in action on the roads of England in the '70s, and a chance to resurrect the awesome cool of a bike and sidecar on a modern adventure ride is too much to resist.  That it allows my son to enjoy biking without being perched on a saddle is also nice.  I haven't seen too many options for adventure touring with a bike and sidecar so we'd get to explore some interesting new ways of loading up a three wheeler for an expedition!

Engines of the Red Army! The 
classic sidecar and bike!
My weapon of choice would be a Royal Enfield Classic with a matching sidecar.  The Classic is modeled on the old Royal Enfield bikes but with modern technology.  They are easy to get into and take care of, and the modern touches make it a dependable, tough piece of kit.  Besides, everyone and their dog has gone around the world on a BMW, or other big adventure bike.  The Classic with a sidecar would bring an entirely different vibe to the macho around the world trek.

With the bike itself and the sidecar capable of carrying gear we could make some interesting choices for building an expedition ready motorbike.  I imagine a bike that is capable of carrying spares, as well as camping gear and all our kit in a more elegant way than the typically overloaded adventure two wheeler.

If they can hold machine guns and ammo, they can certainly carry what we need for our expedition!  Once we've got our kit worked out and our aesthetic set, we need to work out...


The bike will be kitted out with Gopros and we'll have a video/still camera on hand for video diaries.  The trick will be to create a narrative from the media we create.  As we collect footage from each leg we'll hand off the media to our Production Manager (Alanna) and take a few days with her in each place before loading up for another leg.  Some ideas for narrative might be an ASD father/son relationship as we cross the planet or a look at the history of motorbikes around the world.  No matter what, I'd want to film it pushing what technology can do to capture a live experience.  To that end, I'd like to create a videoblog of the trip as it happens, as well as a travel documentary when we're home.

April to October would be travelling, then the winter would be resolving the footage into a story in post-production.

PITSTOPS (where we meet up with our production team)
  1. Quebec City
  2. St. John's 
  3. Dublin
  4. Norwich
  5. Brugges
  6. Warsaw
  7. Minsk
  8. Moscow
  9. Novosibirsk
  10. Ulaanbaatar
  11. Beijing
  12. Shanghai
  13. Nagasaki
  14. Kyoto
  15. Tokyo
  16. San Francisco
  17. Omaha
  18. Chicago
Our production/travel support team meets us at each pit-stop and takes our media while giving us fresh memory to save stuff too.  We spend a couple of days at each spot touring about and resting up then we're off on the road again as Alanna and team flies ahead of us to the next destination.  Having a travel expert in country ahead of us should ease crossings and make entry into each new area more efficient.

Alanna could also help produce some establishing shots and other footage for the final product.  Needless to say she'd need a production partner... she and I both think... Jeanette!  They'd have a fabulous time.

Back To The Kit

Here's a fun statistic!
  • Royal Enfield Classic 500cc = 183 kgs
  • Classic side car:  80 kgs
  • TOTAL WEIGHT:  263 kgs, or about 88 kgs per wheel
A BMW R1200GS Adventure weighs 260kgs or about 130kgs per wheel, so with a side car and another wheel to share the weight, the Classic weighs about the same as BMW's big adventure bike, but has a much lighter presence on and off road.
Royal Enfield Classic with Classic Rocket Sidecar

With some handiwork we should be able to fabricate a tonneau cover for the sidecar that keeps Max warm and dry in nasty weather, but disappears when not needed.  I'd also look at  putting together a canvas tent that works off the structure of the bike.

The Classic Enfield also has a back deck we could fabricate a rack on for carrying, and the long nose in the sidecar could easily hold soft bags and other equipment.

The bike itself could also hold gear in front of the handlebars and behind the saddle.  It isn't a giant bike, but at 500ccs it would be more than capable of getting us down the road with our gear and would get good mileage too.

In parts of the world where lodging is available, we'd refocus the expedition machine on a lighter load with less food carried and minimal equipment.  In places more remote, we'd reconfigure for camping and be sure to have the kit we need to get by in the rough.

A year off with an epic trip across the planet with Max would be fantastic!  Seeing how he sees the world would be unique.

Sunday 27 November 2022

One Man Caravan: Motorcycle Travel History

You can pick up a reprinted copy of One Man Caravan on Amazon for about sixty bucks, but I did a bit better. For ten bucks I discovered an original 1936 edition in a used book jumble when we went to Pelee Island over Canadian Thanksgiving. The spine is cracked and the pages are stained with almost a century of smoke, coffee and whiskey - intrigued yet?

When you take on a read like this it drags you out of your own context and into a world substantially different from the one we live in, Many people have trouble navigating this time culture shift (they like to bring their current values and fixations with them - it's a kind of temporal colonialism), but not me, I like the dissonance.

One Man Caravan is the story of Robert Fulton, an American student living in Europe who shoots his mouth off at a dinner party, saying he's planning to ride a motorbike around the world. (Un?) Fortunately for Robert, one of the people at the party owned the Douglas Motorcycle Factory and offered him a free bike to do it on. It reminded me of Charley Boorman shooting his mouth off about doing the Dakar... and then having to do it.

Another familiarity with moto-travel history is similarities to Ted Simon's Jupiter's Travels. Fullerton describes his decision to go with a motorbike: "I had considered the matter from various angles, only to arrive at the conclusion that there must be some better method of seeing that world than by the standard processes. On foot and carrying a knapsack? That would be too slow. By motor car? Too expensive. A bicycle? Too much work. A motorcycle?"  Simon says something similar in Jupiter's Travels when he talks about what it takes to ride around the world.

The world Fullerton navigates feels like another planet to most modern readers. No digital anything, nothing like today's transport infrastructure, and industry has yet to force everyone into similar lifestyles. We often forget how much industry defines our lives, but Fullerton comes face to face with that in 1932. The other oddity for the modern reader is just how different the immutable facts of life (like countries) change over time. The world was a very different place in 1932...

The emerging chancellor in Germany was taking it into the future (Fullerton talks about how well ordered and future facing Germany is - unnerving, right?) ! I had to look up Waziristan (modern day Pakistan).

Robert blitzes across continental Europe before pressing on into Greece and finding his way to the 'edge of civilization' in Turkey.

You'll come across a very colonial view of the world because that's how it operated in 1932, but if you can get past your temporal prejudices, this old book does a fantastic job of bringing that lost world to life. Robert finds himself in kinship with Bedouin camel train drivers who live their lives on the road (at least when he isn't being thrown in jail - the preferred way to house an itinerant motorcyclist passing through in the 1930s). He has frequent altercations with local law enforcement and the various 'agents of empire' he comes across, though his American citizenship gives him a useful separation (and a healthy irreverence) for those government interests.

Like many around-the-world stories, the trip itself changes Robert as he travels. His early, furtive forays in Europe are accompanied by a rueful, self-mocking tone, but once he gets into the grind, especially as he's navigating Middle Eastern deserts without roads or even a clear idea of where he's going, you start to get a  sense of how much of a grafter this guy is - he certainly isn't afraid of hard work.

By the time Robert has navigated to India he is in the zone, pushing on into Afghanistan even though every possible barrier is thrown up against him. It's in these places beyond the comforts of civilization where his fixation on trying to capture these disappearing cultures really comes into focus. Robert is very aware of how the industrial revolution is shrinking the world and remaking it in a single image. His observations about being offered tiger cubs for two dollars in Indo-China (a motorbike isn't the best place for a tiger cub) speak to the process of 'civilizing' these places.

Another quality that comes across as Robert's confidence (and writing voice) improve is his sense of humour. He starts off having a healthy respect for the status quo, but by the time he is navigating his way out of China to Singapore with no money, he is fast and loose with how things should work and much more likely to absorb the lessons the road is delivering to him.

His description of how the Chinese measure distance (in terms of ease of travel vs. distance) is particularly funny and insightful and shows you how far he'd come in terms of simply listening to the world rather than judging it:

"...the Chinese method possesses one distinct advantage over all others. It does not deal in distances but rather in 'going conditions.' For example the distance from Kaifeng to Tungkwan might be two hundred li, while from Tungkwan to Kaifeng measures only a hundred and fifty. The reason? Simple enough. It's down-hill coming back."

If you want a feeling of this lost world buried in the history of the past 90 years, the photos in the book will take you there...
Riding the streets of Shanghai in 1932...

Robert's mechanical inclinations kept him in motion
(he went on to invent the skyhook system you see in James Bond and Batman films!)

In Saigon, the 'Little Paris of the East'

Whether you're a motorcyclist, a historian or a lover of travel, finding a copy of One Man Caravan is a wonderful opportunity. If you can find a survivor like I did for a song, then good for you. Right now, the only hard cover original edition available is going for $934USD (eek!).

The best follow-on is that all that film that Robert lugged around the world (and got into all sorts of trouble trying to develop along they way) is out there somewhere as Twice Upon a Caravan. I'll have to do some digging to see if I can find the complete package, it'd be something to see.

The fascinating life of Robert Fullerton:

Monday 28 September 2020

Long Way Up & Valentino: Rage Against The Dying Of The Light

My escape is usually to find some motorcycle media to get lost in but a theme this week in it was 'getting old', which is a tricky one to navigate.  I've started watching Long Way Up and seeing two of my favourite adventure motorcyclists getting old is difficult.  I got into Long Way Round and Long Way Down early on in my motorcycling career and they've saved me from many a long Canadian winter.  I'm up to episode four now and they've hit their stride and are coming close to their earlier trips, but watching everyone looking for their reading glasses and groaning as they saddle up has been difficult to watch.

Many moons ago I read Melissa Holbrook Pierson's The Man Who Would Stop At Nothing.  In it she makes the startling observation that one day everyone realizes they're probably having their last ever motorcycle ride.  It's a terrifying thought that has come up in TMD before in For Whom The Bell Tolls.

Long Way Up happened because Charlie almost killed himself and it prompted Ewan to reconnect with him again after they'd drifted apart when Ewan moved to the US.  Maintaining friendships among men as they age seems to be exceptionally difficult these days.  I recently worked on a charity program for The Distinguished Gentleman's Ride that considered ways to keep men socially connected as they age.  Speaking from personal experience, getting older is a lonely experience.  Men seem uniquely suited to doing it poorly in the modern world.  As I watch the boys figure out their new fangled electric bikes and work their way out of deepest, darkest Patagonia it's nice to see the power of travel and challenge bring back some sense of their former selves, we should all be so lucky.

Harley Davidson's involvement in the program has been fascinating.  I can hand on heart say that I've never once had the remotest interest in owning one of their tractors.  I don't like the brand or the image, but what they did with Long Way Up was daring in a way that KTM was incapable of being way back when they did the first one in the early naughties.  I admire that kind of bravery, especially when it's with such untested technology.  Harley's willingness to chuck an prototype electric bike at Long Way Up is even braver than BMW's has been in previous trips where they provided the measure of long distance adventure travel that had been evolved and refined over decades.  Even with all that evolution those BMWs sure did seem to break down a lot.  That the Livewires the boys are riding appear to be doing so well managing freezing temperatures and doing long distance adventure travel when our battery technology is so medieval makes me wonder why The Motor Company clings so tightly to its conservative cruiser image, they could be so much more than big wheels for red necks.  If I had the means I'd drop forty large on a Livewire tomorrow (I'm a school teacher, there ain't no forty grand bikes in my future).

Between acclimatizing myself to the reading glasses and stiff joints of the Long Way Up I also watched the Barcelona MotoGP raceValentino Rossi is an astonishing 41 years old and still a regular top ten finisher in this young man's sport.  He managed his 199th podium earlier this year and looked like he was on track to hit 200 podiums in the top class this weekend when his bike fell out from under him while in a safe second place.  It was tough to watch that opportunity fall away from him after he lined everything up so well, but old muscles don't react as quickly, though Vale was hardly the only one to crash out of the race.  I'm hoping he can make that 200th podium happen, but it's just a number and if he doesn't, who really cares?  He's still the GOAT and will be until someone else wins championships on multiple manufactures across multiple decades through radical evolutions in technology.  He managed wins on everything from insane 500cc two strokes through massive evolutionary changes to the latest digital four stroke machines.  Winning year after year on the top manufacturer on a similar bike just ain't gonna cut it if you want to be GOAT.

Valentino just signed a contract for another year with one of the top teams (Petronas) in the top class of MotoGP.  He has battled against generations of riders who have come up, peaked and been beaten to a pulp by this relentless sport, and yet he still seems able to summon the drive and discipline to compete at the highest level.  If that isn't Greatest Of All Time inspirational I don't know what is.  I suspect Charlie Boorman might empathize with him.  Charlie's another one who doesn't know when to stop, even when he probably should.  Watching him bend his broken body onto his bike in Long Way Up is also inspirational though it took me a few tries to see it that way.

This all reminds me of a poem...

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
                                                                  Dylan Thomas

Fucken 'eh.

Tuesday 26 July 2022

Exploring The North on Unridden Roads


Finding some roads I haven't ridden before:  this ride involves circumnavigating Georgian Bay (which I did in 2015 on the old Concours C10), but then going north onto roads I haven't ridden before.  This time around I'd do it on the C14 if Alanna wanted to come along or on the TIger if I were solo.

Three nights four days on the road breaks it up into manageable chunks that would allow for frequent stops and off piste explorations.  If I did it in August the temperatures shouldn't be too mad.


Ride The North:

Northern Ontario Travel Motorcycle Routes:

Ontario Motorcycle Tour Routes:

Haliburton Highlands:

Destination Northern Ontario:

Northern Ontario Road Trip:

What to see and do in Northern Ontario:

Friday 18 August 2017

Planes Trains & Automobiles

As I sit here I’m in the middle of a twelve hour odyssey to get back to Canada from the UK. From this cramped seat where I’m constantly being jostled by people, babies burst into full throated song and planes sit on tarmac for forty minutes waiting to unload luggage from two people who checked in then didn’t board, I’m reminded of how much I fucking hate flying. My sinuses are in a vice and I spent ten of the short 90 minutes we had on the ground in Reykjavik trying to clear them of blood and mucus.

At 6’3” and 17 stone, I’m not built for air travel. These seats were designed for people

half my size and the leg room varies from barely sufficient to chronically painful. The only reason I’d subject myself to this hell is to visit somewhere spectacular like Iceland or go home to England for a few short weeks to make any kind of connection with my family and memories from childhood.

It has been over a month since I’ve ridden the Tiger with its infinite headroom, divine wind and singular sense of freedom. The freedom of riding a motorcycle has never felt so far away as it does when you’re human cattle on an airliner.

As a younger man I studied flight and once dreamed of doing it myself, but and older post sinus surgery me finds the pressure changes painful and the increasingly OCD/socially anxious me would rather be walking across the Sahara than sitting on this aeroplane right now. There is no kind of tired like the kind of tired you get from the pressure changes and dehydration of flying. The resting 150 heart rate from the social anxiety is a nice bonus.

I love to travel. Going to new places and seeing all the different ways the world can be beautiful is one of my favourite things, but the emotional cost of doing it this way is extreme. The difference between going somewhere on a motorbike and going somewhere in a plane is like the difference between creating a piece of art and looking at a picture online.  One is Travel with a capital T, the other is utilitarian transportation.
We did nine days and covered over two thousand kilometres in some truly beaten up rental cars in Iceland, and the country begs for another go. It’s a beautiful, expensive, unique place that makes you feel like you’re on the edge of the world. Iceland wasn’t born yet when the Canadian Shield I live on was already ancient. That newness comes through around every corner, and it’s blessedly free of people. The ones you do meet are happy to see you (because seeing you is a rarity) and their sense of humour is so honest and piercing that it’s practically glacial in its purity. If you can afford it, there isn’t much to dislike about Iceland though more than a night in Reykjavik is enough though – head out of the capital for the real thing.  If you want a less touristy city, Akureyri on the north coast is a lovely alternative.

We wandered Iceland in a rental hatchback that looked like it had fought a ground battle

in Afghanistan and then a diesel minivan with no springs left and almost a hundred thousand kilometres on the clock. They did the job, but they did it with no joy. When I returned the black and blue Vauxhall Corsa to the impossible to find rental agency (they are called Flizzr, but you have to go to SixT to get it and they don’t say they’re Flizzr anywhere), it was with minutes to spare. I came screaming in from miles of lava fields in a never ending dusk with whisps of smoke streaming off the car, drove it into the side of the building where it burst into flames, mic-dropped the keys at the feet of the stunned attendant and skipped off into the never-to-happen darkness – at least that’s how I remember it. The car had over 80 known dents and scratches on it (life is tough in the land of fire and ice), yet the attendant still went over it with a floor mirror on a stick and took ten minutes to OK it so I could go. Whatever.  

The best car I've ever driven was a 9/10.  The worst car I've ever driven was a 1/10.  It got a 1 because it actually moved.  I've sat in zeroes.  This Corsa was a 3/10 car because it didn’t strand us anywhere, but the car pulled constantly and sounded like an asthmatic runner.  I've seldom driven a car so beaten and tired and so minimally engineered in the first place as to make driving it so tiresome... and don’t rent with Flizzr, it’s a headache.

The worst bike I've ever ridden was a 9/10 (bikes go up to 15/10, though I suspect an H2 is a 17/10).

The next day we picked up the diesel Citroen C4 Picasso – a six passenger minivan that was supposed to carry 3 adults, 3 teens and all their luggage for a week. Somehow it managed it, which says great things about Citroen’s ability to package a people carrier. It had three times the mileage of the poor, old, beaten Corsa but looked five years newer which says great things about Citroen’s ability to produce a tough vehicle. Other than the shock-less suspension that wallowed over bumps, the C4 was useful, but never enjoyable. It pulled well enough with all that weight, and got impressive gas mileage; it was the best vehicle on this trip, 7 out of 10.   Who rents vans with blown suspension, a broken windshield and almost 100k on them?  Icelandic car rental agencies, that's who.

We drifted out of Iceland on a bus, which was easy enough, only to get stranded at the airport for five hours because Air Canada can’t be bothered to change the tires on their planes often enough. An Air Canada Jazz flight out of Gatwick, where we were headed, blew a tire on take off. A close scan of the runway showed nothing.  Even when we don’t take Air Canada they manage to delay us.

We touched down near London at about 1am only to walk into a massive line at customs. The five hour closure had created a huge backlog, but rather than prepare for the backlog the UK had its customs agents sit there all day doing nothing and then left the night time skeleton crew unsupported. We got a bit lucky and only had a 45 minute wait in line, but the planes coming in behind us filled the massive waiting room with snaking lines. It must have been hours before the backlog was cleared by that exhausted night shift.

We were car-less for nearly a week and made do with commuter trains and the tube in and around London. We finally made our way up to Norfolk on British Rail First Class. It only cost a few pounds more to upgrade and it was the nicest single public transport experience of the trip. Comfortable seats, a quiet, modern train, complimentary tea and big windows were a joy. That the drooling masses weren’t on that car was also nice. Our seatmate was a transport engineer on his way back from interviewing a job prospect in London. We arrived in Norwich feeling ready for the next leg.  I still love trains, I'm not sure why.

My cousin’s car (another ancient Corsa in similar shape to the one in Iceland, but 100%
A week living in my home town? Priceless.
less expensive) got us all over Norfolk. It took a few days for us to acclimatize to no shoulders (ever), roads that often disappeared into a driveway sized single lane and drivers who seemed almost psychotically intent on over driving every blind corner. We were told later that as we drove away from Norfolk things would get more sane, and they did. You have to treat driving in Norfolk like lion taming – show no weakness, never break eye contact and establish dominance immediately. Any sign of weakness is seen as an opportunity to try and kill you. We learned the term ‘normal for Norfolk’ and in fifteen days of living there came to appreciate the intensity of their driving culture. Doing it in an old teal Corsa with Norwich City Football Club stickers on it made us look a bit less touristy. By the end of two weeks we could blend.

We cabbed it over to Enterprise Rental Car in Norwich for the next leg. We were getting a Skoda something or other mid-sized (compact in Canada), but it turned into a diesel Toyota Avensis station wagon (estate in the UK). This car was relatively new (12k miles on the odo), with massive, fancy alloy rims and a powerband about an inch wide. It pulled like a V6 from idle, but if you went over two thousand RPM it would start to wheeze, and by 2500rpm it was like accelerating in reverse.

It had a six speed manual transmission and I couldn’t imagine a car that needed that less.

One of the most perverse things about UK driving is that for a people doomed to sit in traffic most of the time, they are all determined to drive a manual transmission. I love manuals, but there is a time and a place, and a big diesel station wagon isn’t that time or place. The Toyota felt under-powered and guzzled diesel. Conservatively I’d guess that the Citroen with six people and their luggage got at least 40% better mileage than the newer Toyota that would turn off if left in neutral and stopped at a light – which caused quite a panic the first time it happened. That the Citroen managed to feel more lively with an automatic transmission, twice as many people and over four times the miles on it doesn’t say great things about Toyota’s state of the art when it comes to diesel motoring, but that wasn’t the worst part of the car.

I’m a sceptic of integrated sat-nav/GPS systems in cars. I understand how Google Maps and apps like Wazer crowdsource information and generate their map data, but the corporate systems built into cars have always seemed like half-assed, cheaper attempts at doing the same thing. They steer me wrong often enough that I usually take their directions as a suggestion at best. Toyota’s 2017 model GPS/sat-nav was the most half assed I’ve ever seen. A number of times in Dartmoor park we were led onto roads that were more an idea of a road than a passable thing, but it really let us down on our way to one of the biggest tourist attractions in the UK.

The Eden Project is a massive greenhouse science experiment in an abandoned quarry in Cornwall. As one of the largest tourist attractions in the country you’d think Toyota’s sat-nav could get us there. Instead of walking us in the front gate it turned us away into a town nearby and then directed us up a single lane track that almost had us damaging the rental car (with £1000 detectable) while we tried to avoid other lost new Toyotas.  We eventually did a 15 point turn to get back around and followed Wazer on the phone instead. This kind of psychotic behaviour came up so often that I started questioning everything it suggested (“what are you talking about you psychotic bitch?”) We eventually retired the Toyota sat-nav (all we’d need according to the kid at Enterprise in Norwich) and used Wazer, which worked a treat on the heavily travelled roads of the UK.

Our last day with the car had us driving from Dartmoor in Devon to Epsom near London…

during the summer holidays. We spent nearly as much time sitting in traffic as we did trying to get the car back in time. That the on-board GPS kept wanting to drive us through the middle of towns during rush hour (it’s always rush hour in England) didn’t help.

After lining up to get in, lining up to park, lining up to pay, lining up to get into the castle and then lining up to leave again, we ended up with about 20 minutes at Corfe Castle. That’s what driving in the UK is like. You start on a trip and the GPS tells you you’ll get there at 5:00pm and you watch that slip away over the day until you’re frantically trying to navigate roundabout on top of roundabout in London suburb rush hour traffic ten minutes before they close and charge you for another day with the car. Our saving grace was my cousin leading us over there after we dropped off the luggage at his house – you’ll never get lost with a native guide.  I'd give the Avensis station wagon a 4/10 - it's more like a six or seven as it's a big car that carries a lot and is smooth and modern, but that guzzling diesel and murderous GPS mean I wouldn't even give it a pass.

The stress of driving at best meh rental cars in UK traffic meant I didn’t find the energy to go looking for my Morgan3 fix. Perhaps that would have reinvigorated my love of motoring after the diesel miasma.  Dartmoor is a driver’s playground with paved over twisty medieval paths and stunning countryside. As I watched everything from MG-As to E Types and a plethora of motorcycles ride the roads from behind the bars of my soulless diesel prison, I longed to be out there in it.

So here I am, writing this on a flight back to Toronto. That My Tiger has been sitting under a gentle accumulation of dust for weeks in the middle of the too-short Canadian motorcycle season is a source of consternation.  I can't wait to go for a ride again, I just wish I could wormhole my way to Dartmoor to do it.

The vegetation is very mobile in the UK...

Friday 29 March 2013

Pan American Motorcycle Diaries

As I got into motorcycling, I came across Ewan McGregor & Charlie Boorman's Long Way Round.  I HIGHLY recommend it if you enjoy travel documentary.  The Long Way Down is a second trip they took that felt a bit more rushed, but still very enjoyable.

The idea of being on a bike, out in the world, and seeing the world, has real pull for me.  And so... the Pan American Motorcycle Diaries: From Toronto to Rio for the 2016 Olympics.  Courtesy of Straw Dogs (originally published February, 2013):

The North and Central American ride

  • gearing for 500kms a day in the States, 2-300 a day in Central America
  • minimizing interstate/get there fast without seeing anything roads
  • the idea is to get away from the local touring scene as soon as possible and get into the once in a lifetime bit (Central & South America)
The direct route: minimal highway travel in The States

The South American Ride

A much shorter and cheaper ocean voyage, then south through Columbia
 PAMD2.0: from north to west to east in South America
Using the new ferry service from Colon, Panama (on the Carribean side) to Cartegena on the north coast of Columbia.
  • much cheaper than trying to charter a boat down the Pacific side
  • regular, dependable service
  • more than enough space for everyone to go at once
Chilean Atacama Desert & Volcanoes
The South American portion now includes Columbia and an angle through the Atacama desert in Chile. The end result is a more economical, shorter trip (though with more time on the ground in South America) and we still get to add another two countries to the roster.
  • 7000kms in North & Central America (6 days in The States at 500kms a day, 22 days in Central America at 2-300kms a day)
  • A 500km/7 hour ferry trip from Panama to Columbia
  • 8000kms in South America (27 days at 300kms/day)
Even if we reduce the South American mileage to 200kms/day, we're still only looking at 40 days.

With the reduction in time and cost, we could easily leave mid-May and arrive without rushing (including days off and/or diversions) at the beginning of August.

May 17th, 2016 departure from Southern Ontario.

North & Central America: 7000kms

CANADA: 325kms to U.S. border ~ first day - stop in Toledo?
USA: 2700kms to the Mexican border ~ 6 days, 6 nights
MEXICO: 1800kms to Guatamala ~ 7 days, 7 nights
GUATAMALA: 300kms to El Salvador ~ 2 days, 2 nights
EL SALVADOR: 328kms to Honduras ~ 2 days, 2 nights
HONDURAS: 150kms to Nicaragua ~ 2 days, 2 nights
NICARAGUA: 360kms to Costa Rica ~ 2 days, 2 nights
COSTA RICA: 560kms to Panama ~ 3 days, 3 nights
PANAMA: 581kms to Colon (ferry) ~ 4 days, 4 nights

North America:   6 nights
Central America:  22 nights

South America: 9500kms

COLUMBIA: to Ecuadoran border 1550kms ~ 6 days, 6 nights
ECUADOR: to Peruvian border 931kms ~ 3 days, 3 nights
PERU: to Chilean border 300kms ~ 2 days, 2 nights
CHILE: to Bolivian border 288kms ~ 2 days, 2 nights
BOLIVIA: to Brazilian border 1566kms ~ 6 days, 6 nights
BRAZIL: 1866kms ~ 7 days, 7 nights

South America: 26 nights

Basic budget 

  • Gas per day ~ $30 avg (higher in expensive countries, lower in cheaper countries)
  • lodging per day ~ $60 avg each (shared accommodation)
  • food per day ~ $40 avg (lower/higher)
  • ~ $130/day/person
  • 54 day trip = ~$7000 each
Had I the means, I'd offer ten places and budget $10,000 per person and do the trip from May 17, 2016 to August 1st, 2016. The seats would be filled by people willing to document the experience using various forms of media from their own distinct perspective.  I'd want people of various backgrounds who would all bring their own insights into the experience of riding through such a diverse range of cultures and climates.  I'd then take the results and build a travel documentary in multiple media about the experience.

The Pan American Motorcycle Diaries

A two month odyssey along the spine of the Americas.  Out of the Great Lakes basin, across the Mississippi and the Mid-West, through South Western U.S. desert, along the Mexican coast before crossing the back of Mayan Mexico and tracing the Pacific coast of Central America all the way to the Panama Canal. Recrossing to the Caribbean side of Panama, we take a ferry service to Cartegena and trek south through Columbia into Ecuador. Following through the Andes and bouncing off the South Pacific shoreline, we enter Peru and after heading inland to Machu Picchu we skirt Lake Titicaca (I just wanted to say skirt Titicaca) and head south into the Chilean Atacama desert.  Crossing volcanic Chilean Andes we enter Bolivia and finally cross the back of the Andes into the Amazon basin.  The rest of the trip skirts Brazilian jungle on the way to Rio on the South Atlantic coast.

60 days, 15 countries, two continents, 16,500kms!