Too many highways

Sunset at the gas station
One for the road, almost in Prague

I have been speeding through Western Europe in order to reach predefined destinations at predefined dates. 150kph in France to get to Metz, 150kph in Germany to reach Dillenburg. It’s not funny, I get tired a lot faster at these speeds. Now it’s finished, today I arrived to Prague from Dillenburg and I had decided that even if it took me the entire day to get here, I would not speed through it. It was a lot more pleasant! I did get tired, after all I rode for the whole day but the road was much nicer: no turbulence in the helmet, a lot less vibration in the handlebars and if it’s not too windy I can ride the helmet visor open and smell the road… The fields, the woods, the other vehicles exhausts. Ok, that last one’s not so exciting but the other too are really worth it.

I set off from Metz quite late on Wednesday (it’s becoming a habit) still with this idea in my head that I should get an off-road helmet only to find out 20 meters later that I had broken the zipper on the right leg of my riding pants. Instant budget reallocation happened there and I no longer need an off-road helmet. All the shops were closed in Thionville because I arrived 10 minutes into the lunch break. The shopkeepers were all there in the shops but refused to open the doors. Bye bye France!

I arrived in Luxembourg too late for lunch with Boris so I wend straight to the bike shop to get new pants and the Portuguese sales guy tipped my decision to the no off-road helmet needed camp. And this is were I sped my way to Köln in order to arrive before off-the-road closed its doors and get  the last tools in my kit: tyre levers and chain breaker+rivet tool. I also tried to get a new air filter and brake pads but off-the-road doesn’t take anything but cash at the shop. Bikers beware, place your orders on the web or pay cash. Unfortunately the guy at the shop was too much in a hurry to wait for me to go to an ATM or place a web order. Thus, I decided to come back the next day. Little did I know (or remember) that Köln and Dillenburg are 125km away :(.

Sarah and Hugo were waiting for me so I sped again and there they were. More good friends, this is a great way to start an adventure. They had delayed their otherwise Germanic-scheduled 6 o’clock dinner to eat with me. They are so nice, I bet they were starving. The next morning, after breakfast with Hugo, I set off to Köln. This time more relaxed, I knew I had time and after getting my stuff from the shop I wanted to see the Cathedral. I saw it’s backside, it’s right side and I even saw it from across the river but I never got to see the façade, never managed to get there and I was cooking in my riding gear so I stopped for a brat wurst and I was on my way back to Dillenburg through the small roads. This was a good and a bad idea. Good because I enjoyed the road a lot but bad because I first had to get out of the city through what seemed like 50km of suburbs full of traffic lights and pedestrians and cars and I was still cooking like an egg in the microwave inside my jacket: about to explode!

Some nice roads later, in Dillenburg, I installed the headlight cover and the foam air filter. The bike’s first reaction was to not start. Panic! Alright, it only lasted for a few seconds until I turned the throttle a bit and kept it on until the correct air flow was re-established. But I did panic for a moment, it’s my first mod that gets so close to the engine. Then I was dragged to the neighbors’ living room to see a football match. I couldn’t say no because they said I could bring my laptop and play anti-social (anti-football actually). Yay! I had 90 minutes to put music on my phone, now my phone is full of Argentine music, ready for the road ;-), which takes me to today.

In Dillenburg
With Hugo, just before leaving Dillenburg

Alice is waiting in Prague for our 2-day trip to Budapest where she will take a bus back to Prague so I woke up a bit earlier than usual and still set off only at 11am. What’s the problem with me and early morning? :-P. Anyway, after breakfast, while I was preparing to leave, Hugo prepared me a lunch box. Thanks Hugo! I ate it at 2pm by the road, it was very nice. Actually, thanks Sarah and Hugo for the wonderful welcome you gave me.

This is the road I did almost completely without leaving the 95kph-105kph range, a very pleasant experience with a bonus. I have finally experienced the fuel autonomy that Yamaha promises in their brochure. Whilst in the city sometimes I have to fill the tank after 280km, today I could ride 420km without hitting reserve. I filled the tank only because I was getting nervous that the gauge could be malfunctioning. It wasn’t, there was still 1 or 2 liters left before the reserve.

Now I’m lying on my hammock at the camping in Prague, hesitating whether to sleep on the hammock or get into the tent. I think I’ll go for the tent, there are mosquitoes here and although they don’t usually like my blood, I don’t want to tempt them. So happy to have brought a hammock :-D.

 

Prague, Prague, Czech Republic

Paris-Metz

It’s funny how travelers sometimes end up in the same places for no reason. Yesterday on the road to Metz, I met the same German hitchhiker at two different gas stations more than a hundred km away. The second time I just had to talk to him, he was just hitchhiking his way back to Germany and needed to be there at the latest on Wednesday. It sounds to me like something from the Middle Ages to think that one could travel at that pace and with that (lack of) urgency. Then again, it’s just what I’m about to do, albeit a bit faster.

Moselle
Missing Paris already?

Yesterday was a pretty nice day, after all the things I had to do in the “morning”, I set off quite late but finally vaccinated against yellow fever, typhoid fever and difteria, tetanus, polio. Yes, I had left that for the last moment, that’s just me and my just in time planning. Since I was so late and didn’t want to reach Metz after dark, I decided to take the toll highway. Not the best “roadseeing” (road sightseeing, I’ve just made that word up) option but I really didn’t want to ride for 6 to 7 hours because I was already thinking of taking a nap. And that’s what I did.

I had my first roadside nap 100km before Metz. I had been dreaming of a roadside nap since my trip to ski in March when the elements (all of them) didn’t let me have a nap. It was just a technical stop, lay on the curb and close my eyes. It was sunny, naps in the sun are the best, you wake up completely recharged and ready to take on the rest of the road.

When I arrived to Metz, I was greeted by my good friends Boris and Tzveti who provided me with a couch and a nice dinner and of course some rakia. I was so tired that it completely knocked me out, although the wine may have contributed to the TKO.

Big cathedral doesn't fit the lens
The beautiful Metz Cathedral

Today was Metz visit day and working on the bike day. See, I have this Scottoiler that I had bought off the internet and that I still hadn’t installed. So, after noon I went out for a stroll and next to a city map I ran into this George guy, he’s a tattoo artist and he is traveling by bicycle, from Leeds in the UK to Portugal via Rome, from one tattoo parlor to the next one. Haha, yes, via Rome, that’s what he said. We talked for a while about the road and how he was managing on his 2-gear bike and then I took him to the street he was looking for, a little advantage I still have while I’m in France: 3G.

Now it’s the end of the day, the Scottoiler is installed and seems to be working alright, I’m finally going to bed. We’ll see tomorrow when I start riding if it works as good as it looks :). I was scared of doing the installation because I had to cut a pipe, an engine vacuum pipe in order to install it. It’s done now.

Scottoiler
My Scottoiler if fitted and primed

Going to bed

Going to b…

Going t…

Goi…

G…

PS: I had to go to Castorama during the installation because as it turns out, I didn’t have any tool allowing me to remove the rear wheel. Good one…

Metz, Lorraine, France

Lock, stock and China

Saturday – Garage sale

The living room
Lots of leftover flotsam and jetsam

This was a big success. I wanted to let go most of my things but I didn’t want to just throw them away, I wanted other people to use them and reuse them so I set up everything I wanted to leave behind in my living room and invited the whole building and all my facebook contacts in Paris to come and choose and pay whatever price they wanted to leave with my things. I enrolled the help of 2 wonderful ladies, Alice and Renae so that at times I could sneak out and start loading the truck I had rented to move the things I wanted to keep into Caro’s basement. What I didn’t count on was that Renae would bring along Léo (I should have suspected it though). Léo instantly felt that he had a mission that day: to sell all of my things at the right price and he instantly took over the management of the garage sale. It was pretty funny seeing him become the manager of his own bazaar, he was obviously having a lot of fun and there was no reason to stop him. He was just great and I had time to load the truck with Cleber, Dan, Florian, Khaled and Salim. Still at the end of the day all the big stuff was gone and a lot of the small things too but now I have a lot of work to remove everything.

Sunday – The move

Me and my sfuff
My life now fits in 6 cubic meters

I woke up early to take care of the big mess in my room, and I didn’t. To say that I did nothing would be unfair, I prepared all the soft luggage containing most of the clothes that I won’t wear anymore in the coming week and put them all outside while I waited for my friends to come so that we could set off to Caro’s. Little by little they came, except Salim who was exempted on account of a sort of intoxication and Khaled who was still sleeping on account of another kind of intoxication. Lucky I had called for backup and that Cleber was nice enough to stay and help when he had only come to pick up some stuff from the garage sale he couldn’t carry with him on Saturday. With the full team assembled, the Avengers set off: Adrian, Cleber, Dan, Renán, Santi and yours truly left Paris around eleven to move my most cherished things into a basement. Nothing left to say except that it all went well, my stuff fit alright in the basement with a lot of leftover space for the owner to still keep some stuff.

Monday and Tuesday – China welcomes me

Despite all that I had left to do in the apartment, the most important thing today was something else. After the LOI, it was time to pay a visit to the “China Visa Application Service Center“. A bit nervous about the whole thing, I went up the stairs and asked for a form and started to fill it when my number was called. Oh my! They are already calling me and my form is almost completely empty. “Never you mind, this is not the US embassy, we are not here to humiliate you, just go fill the form over there and come back when you are ready”, the smile of the lady behind the counter seemed to say. And so I did, came back and then the dreaded question came “your plane ticket, please”. No, you see, I arrive by the road… Oh, just wait. [phone call] Ok, go to counter 15. On my way! To the journalists counter! Now I was nervous, I had just been sent to the same counter as the journalists, what am I going to do? What will they ask me? A statement from my insurer actually, that was the only thing :D. And all is well that ends well, today I went to pick it up, here’s a photo.

Passport picture
My Chinese visa!

PS: Yes, 1 day, I was so impatient I paid for the express treatment.

PPS: I also received confirmation of the apartment checkout date: June 25th, Monday. Now I have a definitive departure date, I leave on Monday right after the apartment inspection. It’s ON!!!

Paris, Île-de-France, France

Finally, the LOI

It’s been a tough wait but I’ve finally received my LOI for China. Now I can plan my departure accordingly. I have an appointment with the visa office on Monday so, depending on the apartment checkout date, the most probable departure date now is Friday the 22nd when I’ll go camp with the Couchsurfers one last time and then leave directly from the forest. It seems fitting to leave from a camp :-).
Here is the happy email I received today 😀

Email with LOI
Happy email from Ms Liu

Aulnay-sous-Bois, Île-de-France, France

A mother’s gift

At Decathlon the sign said “Try me”

Yesterday I went gear shopping with my mom. Yes, my mom wanted to say goodbye before I embark on my big adventure and so she came all the way to Paris to spend a week with me and spoil me one last time before the rough year ahead. Rough? Well, I don’t plan for rough but for sure I won’t be living in luxury.

So we were shopping for the last bits of my kit that I’m still missing, like a sleeping bag, a small foldable hammock, a medkit (still have to get that one) and some more bits and bobs. Renán joined us for our second visit to Décathlon, he was in the neighborhood and I know he loves to browse that store.

First visit to Décathlon was to the big one in Bibliothèque (map) for information and just because I really like that shop, 2 whole floors of sports and camping gear goodness. From there we were off to Au vieux campeur, the legendary Parisian outdoor shop. It’s not so much a shop as 27 different same brand shops in one neighborhood, each with a specialty. We started with the guide and maps shop just because you need to start somewhere, especially to ask where the one shop you are looking for is. The plan was to buy my sleeping bag there but their prices are so high I ended up just buying a sleeping bag liner and decided to go to another Décathlon to get the Quechua bag, a lot cheaper for basically the same quality.

But there was one thing I had seen on TravellingStrom’s blog that had attracted my attention. Everyone knows (or is it just me?) that my biggest geekery, the device I would by a million times over and never stop enjoying and using is GPS. Everything GPS-related just automatically attracts my attention, some time later, Paul posted it on my wall “you need to get yourself one of these 😀 SPOT Tracker thingies (that’s an affiliate link there)” and so I ended up at the GPS and binoculars branch asking about the SPOT. As the sales guy explained how this tiny orange box tracks your every move and enables you to send an SOS message to rescue services wherever you are in the world with you GPS-calculated coordinates by simply pushing a button, my mom understood that this was the gift she wanted to give me for my trip.

Brand new SPOT
GPS goodness and security all-in-one device

Really, what else can your mom give you as a gift when you are about to embark on a motorcycle RTW trip during 11 months if not the possibility to come back home safely if anything goes wrong or worse. And this is how I got a SPOT :-D. Shopping concluded, let’s go back home to activate it.

PS: I don’t really want to post from home anymore. I want to leave now!!

PS2: That’s me getting impatient. There’s still a lot to do before leaving.

Paris, Île-de-France, France

Days in the mud

I have just come back from 2 days in the mud. Not really, day 1 was quite dry and that’s great for learning the basics. When I started planning this

Nacho on G650GS
Dry, smug and ready to ride

trip, one of the things I wanted to do was to get some off-road training. Having a trail bike and not taking it off-road from time to time is like having a 4WD in the city, and I hate those.

After much hesitation (it’s quite pricey), I enrolled for BMW’s Off-road Skills Level 1. No, I don’t own a BMW, we all know I ride a Yamaha Ténéré. No, it doesn’t matter. Yamaha doesn’t offer this service, neither does BMW France FWIW so I had to enroll in the UK course and that’s good news in a way because the school is run by Simon Pavey, a guy who got to the finish line of the Dakar rally at least 6 times, one of them while riding in Charley Boorman’s team for the Race to Dakar TV documentary.

I had no idea what to expect of the course and it exceeded my expectations. Not only I got to trial ride the whole BMW range of bikes, albeit some for a very short period but I truly enjoyed myself while learning. Day 1 was quite dry and it gave us time to soften up a bit. Off road riding is done while standing on the bike and although I had stood on the pegs before, I would always sit back to turn and do stuff. The idea of turning, or switching gears, or stalling the bike while standing on the pegs wasn’t something I was looking forward to. During day 1, we learnt some basic skills that would become very useful on day 2. We did some trail riding too.

Now, day 2 was something else, day 1 had started sunny-ish and had been mostly dry. Day 2 was typical Welsh. Rain, rain and more rain. As a result the same trails we had ridden the day before had become big muddy pools. Lots of fun. Really, we had fun, I didn’t think I would but I did. I fell off my bike only 3 times during the day (stalled), broke the brake lever (only need to put 2 fingers on it anyway), got my buttocks in the mud and my orange jacket is now brown and orange (I hope it will go back to orange again someday). I spent the whole day with my trousers completely drenched but it was a great day. Seriously, who comes to ride in Wales without his waterproof pants? Me, of course!

Me with my feet in the water and my soaked pants on the G650GS
A lot wetter but still no butt in the mud

In the end it was all good fun, didn’t break anything (although I twisted my ankle on the first day) and had a great time with cool people. The crowd that this course attracts is a pretty nice bunch, mostly bikers wanting to expand their skills and adventurers preparing for their trips. I had a great time.

Tomorrow, I’m off to Brussels again in order to collect my passport at the Kyrgyz consulate and then it’s back to Paris one last time.

London, England, United Kingdom