Pilot Error

On July 18th, many things happened. Many important things: friends had babies, other friends moved to foreign countries and, by far not the least important, at around 8:30PM, Central European Time, my mom asked my dad if he had any news from me because she was worried.

On July 18th, I woke up tired (1). I hadn’t slept well for no particular reason and the sun woke me up through the windows of my room in the basic but acceptable Hotel Pacífico 2 in Choluteca, Honduras. I went for a local breakfast of “baleadas” on the main street and had a lot of fun when the breakfast lady started telling other customers that I was going to “put a baby in her” so that he would have my blue eyes and blonde hair. She was joking though. Passing by the Wendy’s at the corner, I checked the internet, the hotel didn’t provide any wi-fi. At 9 I was ready to leave on my way to Santa Rosa de Copán and so I did. A bit later on the road, a bee got stuck on the bracelet I was still wearing from the Masaya National Park in Nicaragua and stung me (2).

Drive-thru ATM
They have drive-thru ATMs in Honduras!

At around half-past eleven, I was riding the outskirts of Tegucigalpa and decided to get into town to look for an ATM, I was low on local currency and my stop for the night may or may not be in a small town. While I was at it, I thought of having lunch and I did (3). and I took the chance to use the free internet at the restaurant.

With a full belly, at around 12:30PM Honduran time, I set off again, determined to get to Santa Rosa de Copán, a bit of an ambitious goal but I would cross into El Salvador from there. Just wondering how many hours I would have to ride to get there, I looked down to the GPS screen (4) and when I looked up I realised that the Honduran police had put some cones on the road for people to slow down (5). On a curve!!! I’m not trying to blame them for this but, who puts cones in the middle of a fast bypass on a frickin’ curve! I freaked out and instead of swerving or deciding that fuck the cones and I would ride over (or in between) them, I pulled the break, very hard (6).

The next thing I remember is to be skidding on the ground, with my right leg pressed down against the asphalt by the bike and my right hand rubbing the ground too, both in great pain. Somehow, I was separated from the bike and I stopped, the bike continued for a few more meters. I got up, checked the landscape and sat on the kerb while the police and some soldiers gathered the contents of my map pouch that were scattered on the road. I seemed to be alright, I asked one of the cops to tell me if I was bleeding anywhere around my face and since he said no and I was conscious, I removed my helmet and started checking the rest of my body and bike.

Right after
Right after
I had a big scratch on my leg and a smaller one on my arm, a blister was forming in my hand. I asked them to help me pick up the bike and where was the closest hospital.

They helped me
They helped me
I rode to the Hospital Militar a few blocks away and got my wounds cleaned, an antibiotic and some other stuff injected and was released with instructions on meds to take and things to wear. I followed most of it and stayed in Tegucigalpa for 2 nights to kickstart my recovery. Now I am in Antigua Guatemala, resting and trying to fix the bike.

I read somewhere that for a catastrophe to happen, there has to be concourse of 7 bad or unusual little accidents. Until today, I had only identified 6 of them:

  1. I woke up tired
  2. A bee stung me on my right wrist
  3. I had lunch (I almost never do when I ride)
  4. I was looking down at the GPS screen
  5. The police put cones in a curve on the road
  6. I pulled the brake while my front wheel was not straight

With José, my uncle's friend
With José, my uncle’s friend
I suspected what the 7th cause was but I wasn’t sure. Today I went to a Honda garage where are friend of my uncle Lucas works and had the bike looked at. After finding out that the right fork arm is bent, we ended up changing the front wheel bearings, they were due for a change, the axle being a bit loose and one of the bearings not turning properly.

There you are:

  1. The front wheel bearings needed changing

7 little accidents that got together to cause the big one. 3, 4, and 6, can be considered pilot error. Maybe also 7, since the pilot is also the usual maintainer.

Checking the fork
Checking the fork
Of course, if I am writing this it’s because I am alright, just a bit bruised so you needn’t worry and ask me if I’m alright. I appreciate attention but not repetition.

Oh, and the bike has no windscreen anymore.

Sunset over La Antigua
Sunset over La Antigua
PS: 12:30PM Honduran time is the same time as 8:30PM Central European Time.

Antigua, Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala

My GPS takes me on adventures

It just happened. I didn’t ask to go into the jungle, yet here I am.

I recently purchased an Android application for my phone, an annoying little piece of GPS software that keeps telling me to turn around, go back to a random point on the road behind me and then to come back where I am to be on my way. Sometimes it also tells me to take a longer road but I usually disregard that sort of nonsense and follow my map and road sign.

But, on the morning (more like noon) of a sunny day some 10 days ago (was it on the 5th?), I left that great place that is the Rider’s Corner determined to do my own version of the Mae Hong Son loop. I knew it’s a famous road with 1864 curves and figured it wouldn’t hurt to keep some of the curves for later and stray a little bit on a smaller road, maybe do a bit of dirt so instead of heading directly to Pai, I turned left at Mae Rim and pointed the bike towards Samoeng.

On the road to Samoeng
On the road to Samoeng

Arrived at a random intersection, I must have been in a pretty stupid mood because instead of looking at the little arrow on the GPS that tells me which way to turn, I tried to figure it out by turning the map in my head (it never works) and of course turned the wrong way, turned around and then took a wrong road again. The only difference with my usual random riding style (a fancy name for getting lost a lot) is that this time the GPS recalculated instantly and I didn’t notice. I didn’t notice the recalculation happening and I didn’t notice it had chosen a “trail” type of road, the kind that appear in dashed lines on the map. In the beginning it seemed like an OK small Thai road but pretty soon it turned to a dirt road and I still felt it was alright because I was planning to do some dirt that day anyway. The dirt road turned to a two-rut track up until a small sort of village. Not really a village, just two houses where the people gave me strange looks. I understand them, how would you look at a stranger that comes by your house where the road ends in a monstrously huge bike (compared to their scooters it is humungous)? Would you tell him not to go there? In what language? Yes, I thought so.

After that, it all went downhill. Hum, not really downhill but it got worse and worse and worse. The two-rut track turned to a one-rut track. I guess I missed that first clue. The one rut grew fainter and fainter as I go deeper into the forest and the obstacles became more frequent. Here a tree stump that knocked my pannier and half of the newly acquired rideasia.net sticker, here a fallen tree I should go around and here and there a little mud puddle that had me scared that if my bike should slip, fall and tumble down the hill, I would never be able to bring it back on my own. It reassured me only a little that there was a fresh wheel track in the mud. It meant that once in a blue moon, someone actually used that trail and I could get help if needed. That was just unfounded hope., in all the time I spent on the road, no one came.

It looked a bit like on the following video, only worse.

I don’t know at what moment I realized that it had become too narrow to turn around but I do remember thinking a couple of times about turning around and remembering how the other times I had turned around, it had set me on a bad mood for no less than three days so I didn’t. I should have. This time I should have turned around. I dropped the bike a first time on the right side and thanks to the slope I had no trouble picking it up. To be sure, I did smash my right foot under the pannier. But I kept going.

And then I dropped the bike in that muddy track from the first video. If you go back, I’ll tell you where. In the video, you will see a tree leaning onto the road. That’s where I’d come from. I had the choice of a very steep rocky little path and a very muddy tough not so steep rut with a tree. I chose the tree and never got to the tree. I dropped the bike before, smashed the front fairings against the rock wall and trapped my pants under the pannier. The slope, the position of bike and the space I had for leverage were all wrong and for a moment there I was scared I would have to go into Bear Grylls mode for the night and sleep in the jungle while I recovered my forces to try and pick up the bike. I didn’t have nearly enough water but surely I had seen enough episodes of the series to know where to find some. Or I could just walk to the stream that my GPS showed 2km from the place.

Finally, I gathered my wits, managed to pull the bike by the front wheel into a bit of a better position and shouted S.H.A.Z.A.M. while raising my fist to the sky. I didn’t get a shiny white cape or a red costume but Hercules at least must have heard my prayer because the next thing I knew, the bike was in the upright position. So upright that if it had been the back of my seat before landing, no air hostess would have complained. Without my helmet or jacket or the luggage I had removed in order to be able to pick it up, I moved it come 200 meters ahead, checked the road, decided that I was too committed to turn around and came back for my things and did that little video.

Out of the woods
Out of the woods

After that it became much easier and very soon I was back on a sort of civilized road. A dirt track but a road after all. Someone came while I was admiring the stream where I had come out of the woods and asked me a couple of questions and tried to indicate me which way to go. He also asked me if I was travelling alone, or so I understood. He spoke only broken English and the question was “You travel no my-friend?” and some hand motion completed the meaning. I said yes, no my-friend was travelling with me and wend down to the stream to wash the sweat from my face..

I thought that would be the end of my troubles but it would have been too easy. The road was quite good with some dirt patches and some muddy patches but nothing I couldn’t handle… by day. The last 10 or 15 km I rode in the dark. And it’s always darker under the canopy of course.

Finally, I reached the main road to Pai but I was still 62km away and in no shape to continue. The first hotel of sorts I found asked for 87 euros for a night. I decided that I still had some strength left and went on to find a 20 euros room. Not my preferred price in Thailand but I really was exhausted.

Results of my little adventure:

  • My right foot hurt for more than a week and still hurts a bit when I ride. My socks smell of Tiger Balm.
  • The front of the bike looks a bit more like a road bike than the straight face out-of-the-factory a Tenere should have
  • The high-beam flick switch is blocked in the off-position
  • I tried to smash the front back into shape in Koh Samui and now I have no low-beam

Was I in a bad mood for 3 days after it? NO WAY!!! I can’t say I enjoyed every minute but now when I look back it’s all fond memories. I came out of the woods in one piece and that’s enough to make a good day.

One last little video. If you listen carefully, you can hear me talk and be happy to see people and civilization again.

Krabi, Krabi Province, Thailand

Raining on my beach day

It was already August 24th, only 5 days before China and I wanted to spend a couple of days by the famed Issyk Kul lake so I headed back on the Eastern road, the same I had taken to come from Song Kul, on my way to Richard’s camp site from the previous days. I had the coordinates so it should be an easy job, if only my GPS and my phone charger hadn’t broken somewhere in Uzbekistan (the GPS maybe before, Astrakhan I think). But there I was, speeding through the Kyrgyz roads, not fearing any policeman. I had already been stopped once and I had been let go with a reprimand and an instruction to go slower. And then I see once more, the orange rod pointing at me and telling me to pull over. Since the police officer spoke a bit of English, the following conversation ensued:

Police: What speed were you going?
Me: 70
P: It’s too fast
M: What’s the maximum speed?
P: 40
M: Oh, maybe I was going 40
P: No, cars are going 40. You overtake cars, you going faster
M: Oh… (you smart, me not like)
P: You pay shtraf?
M: What?
P: Money
M: No
P: Why?
M: Because I didn’t know
P: Oh, go slowly then. Where are you going?
M: To Issyk Kul
Police: From here to Issyk Kul, maybe 50 or 60 km/h
Me: Thank you! – I said while I accelereated back to 70 kph

Lorraine and Dozer
Met Lorraine on the way to Issyk Kul
Issyk Kul was still more than 200km away so it was out of the question that I follow his instructions. Somewhere along the way I met Lorraine so a brief stop was mandatory to introduce ourselves, she’s also part of the China group and the 5th I meet, still 4 to go. We had a short chat by the side of the road, she was on the way to Bishkek to get a bigger gas tank for her new bike and I was going the opposite way and still a long way from my destination.

I did get there around 5PM after stopping for some late lunch on shore, only to find the supposed camp site occupied by locals enjoying the lake so I decided there could be no better activity than some exercise and I dropped my bike in the sand. That always implies some sweating and swearing.

Bike nap
My bike decided to take a nap in the sand
Not happy with the result I asked some locals to help me pick it up and started turning it around so that I could get out of the sandy area and wait for Richard and the other on a harder surface but not before bogging down the bike in the sand so deep that I had absolutely no idea of what to do with it.

In too deep
Deep trouble
Not long after, Richard finally appeared and he knew what to do: push it to the side, cover the hole and then put it back upright. The others (Chris and Neil) had stayed at Iain’s camp site not very far from there. We set up camp and were almost ready to start cooking and enjoying an evening by the lake when a huge storm hit the lake and we had to move the tents from the shore to a sheltered spot in between some bushes and go to bed without supper (and with wet clothes).

It’s not the first rain I’ve seen and it’s certainly not the first time it’s rained when I have decided to take a rest at the beach (remember Sunny Beach and Sinop). Maybe I’ll be luckier in South East Asia?



Bangkok, Bangkok, Thailand

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