Riding Full Circle: faux husband and wife fight their way around the world

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by ridingfullcircle, Mar 27, 2016.

  1. ridingfullcircle

    ridingfullcircle Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2013
    Oddometer:
    114
    Mar. 4, 2017—One day Dave and I found a distillery selling delicious gin. We bought a bottle then returned outside to find I had a flat tire. At that time it was my second in a few weeks. I’ve since had a third.

    Dave spent some time working on that while I made lunch then we carried on. It was our plan to stop for fuel in the next town but when we got there it was a ghost town with only a handful of destitute-looking folks sitting along the road.

    There was nothing to do but coast along slowly. My bike will show me info on how many miles per gallon I’m getting. I tried to keep it in its sweet spot. Dave rode behind me with his flashers going. We were in the desert. It was hot and there was no shade. I would run out of fuel before the next town. When that happened I’d be stuck on the side of the road and Dave would have to ride ahead, find fuel, load up our fuel bag and return. That could be hours.

    I suggested we flag down the next car and see if by chance they were carrying fuel or would offer to dash ahead and get some.

    We were in luck. A guy stopped and after Dave told him the problem, offered to syphon fuel from his fuel line. Dave got under the hood and unclamped the line. The guy got into his truck and tried to start the engine, which of course didn’t work but it did project fuel into a bottle we were carrying. After a few tries we had about three litres. We offered the guy money but he wouldn’t take it. He did mention we might be able to find fuel at a farm 40 km (25 mi) down the road.

    We found the farm and stopped. Coincidentally, the guy had a BMW 1200 adventure bike as well. He fuelled my bike to the top and wouldn’t accept any money. In our travels we’ve had our tanks filled for free over half a dozen times. I’m beginning to think we could save some money here if we just ‘ran out of gas’ everyday. We bought some biltong and dry wors (dried sausage) and carried on into a small town called Aus where we spent the night.

    After this episode, we decided to buy a Camel Tank for my bike, which we’ll order and have waiting in Europe before heading to Russia, where we’ll have very long distances between fuel stops.

    On Mar. 5, Dave and I made our way along hundreds of miles of teeth-jarring, sandy roads deep into the Namib desert to visit Sossusvlei National Park.

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    Best way to deal with a bumpy road? Go faster. Photo: Heather Lea

    The orange sand dunes were what I had very much wanted to see in person. Once Dave and I arrived we learned we could not take motorcycles into the park.

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    No motorcycles in Sossuvlei :( Photo: Heather Lea

    Some dirtbags in the recent past had ridden all over some of the dunes, which are considered sacred. Thanks for ruining it for everyone...

    So we had to make a new plan; either we pay $55 CAN ($40 USD) ea for a tour on a bus into the park or we could hitch. There were many private vehicles going into the park but most of them had no extra seats or were crammed full of luggage, as in the safari vehicles.

    We walked around our campsite that night but either no one had room or they had already gone into the park that day.

    In the morning, we rode through the park gates and parked our bikes then hung out at the permit area. Within five minutes we found a couple from Sweden who had plenty of room in their truck. We sat inside and immediately felt the gratitude of air conditioning.

    We drove together the 65 km (40 mi) into the park. It was hard not to ask them to stop every three minutes for a photo.

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    Photo: Heather Lea
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    Photo: Dave Sears
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    An oryx stands under the dunes in Sossuvlei National Park. Photo: Heather Lea

    The last 5 km (3 mi) is very deep sand and horribly bumpy. We were very glad not to have the bikes here for the sand but they would have handled the bumps better. I hit my head on the top of the truck a few times before learning how to sit so I wouldn’t break my neck.

    The name Sossuvlei means dead-end marsh. There seemed to be nothing ‘marsh-like’ here now but at one point, there was a pan full of growing trees. The spot is now actually called Deadvlei as the trees are all deader than dead. But they do offer very cool photos with beautiful backdrops.

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    Deadvlie is a pan of dead tress that once prospered in Sossuvlei National Park in Namibia. I absolutely love the drastic photo opps here. Photo: Heather Lea[​IMG]
    Photo: Dave Sears
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    There's still sand in my shoes.
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    Photo: Heather Lea

    We took some time to hike up one of the dunes, which was definitely a must-do but maybe not in the afternoon heat of the day. We were all absolutely fried within 1.5 hrs and felt sick most of the evening from heat exhaustion.

    But it was worth it, as you can see by the photos ☺
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    Photo: Heather Lea
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    Photo: Heather Lea
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    Photo: Heather Lea
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    Photo: Heather Lea
    #61
    NSFW likes this.
  2. ridingfullcircle

    ridingfullcircle Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2013
    Oddometer:
    114
    [​IMG]
    Namibia Part Three

    More Namibia! Taking advantage of good internet...

    During our travels last year Dave and I would often run into the same people. It seemed everyone was more or less on the same route when travelling through the Americas. It was great and sometimes came at a time we were feeling homesick or grumpy.

    The tradition seems to continue even way over here in Africa. We met a young couple, Magnus and Tina, from Sweden in Solitaire, Namibia one evening in our campground. We were impressed because they had a cool rented safari truck with roof-top tents but also because they were travelling with their two young girls: My, 7 (pronounced me) and Ella, 4.

    Solitaire is as the name implies. Even the cars have shrivelled up and died. But it has the best apple pie :) Photo: Heather Lea[​IMG]
    Photo: Heather Lea
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    Photo: Heather Lea

    In return they wanted to know everything about our motorcycle travels. We left them that morning after exchanging contact info, saying if we somehow could include Sweden into our travel plans we’d call them for sure.

    Dave and I had planned to leave Solitaire and head to Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, then from there to Rundu, which would take us across the Caprivi Strip into Botswana or Zambia, eventually making our way back north-east.

    But Dave really wanted to see the Skeleton coast, which ran north up the west coast and we decided to go for it, which meant taking a different route from Solitaire. The day we left will be a fond memory for years to come, the ride was absolutely beautiful; a red sandy gravel road (a little slippy but manageable) that neither Dave nor I expected to turn into a pass that would give us great views of the road below we’d ridden for miles.
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    Our route out of Solitaire, Namibia was one to remember. Photo: Heather Lea
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    Giant Land Turtle takes over Namibia! Tough to spot these guys while riding but glad we did. Photo: Heather Lea[​IMG]
    This ice cube doesn't stand a chance in hell... photo: Heather Lea

    From Solitaire we spent two nights in Windhoek staying at Urban Camp, a very cool relaxing place right in the middle of the city designed to look like a safari camp.

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    Urban Camp in Windhoek. Stay there. Photo: Heather Lea
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    Urban Camp in Windhoek. Stay there. Photo: Heather Lea
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    Urban Camp's outdoor shower. Love it! Photo: Heather Lea
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    This was out safari tent at Urban Camp in Windhoek. Photo: Heather Lea
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    Good sense of humour in Africa. Who's going to want warm beer? Photo: Heather Lea
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    Our safari tent up close. Photo: Heather Lea

    I love the outdoor living Africa affords: outdoor showers, open-air restaurants, poolside bars and the big canvass tents, like the one we slept in. We had our own tent but this one we could stand in and it had real beds.

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    A good old-fashioned pit toilet in Africa. Photo: Dave Sears
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    Joe's Bar is a great place to have dinner in Windhoek. Photo: Heather Lea
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    Joe's Bar is a great place to have dinner in Windhoek. Photo: Heather Lea
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    Joe's Bar is a great place to have dinner in Windhoek. Photo: Heather Lea
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    Joe's Bar is a great place to have dinner in Windhoek. Photo: Heather Lea
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    Don't judge me, I actually ate the house meat special, including some of the animal friends we've seen in all their living glory on the side of the road. In order left to right it was: springbok, oryx, zebra, crocodile, kudu. Sorry but it was one of the best meals of the trip. Photo: Heather Lea

    After a few days off, we started to make our way west. We stopped at a gas station and I noticed familiar faces. It was the Swedish family having lunch at a picnic table. We filled up then rode over to talk to them. They were surprised to see us as we’d said we were headed east. What good is travelling though if you can’t change your mind once in a while?

    After we’d eaten with them it was decided we’d travel together for the next few days as we were all going to the same places. Dave, Magnus and the girls took off in the truck to a nearby store for steaks as they had all the stuff needed for a braai, (BBQ). Tina and I stayed behind and girl-talked. We very much enjoyed hanging out with these guys and their adorable little girls for three days. We visited a humungous seal colony (over 50,000 seals and yes, it smelled horrible!).

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    Visiting a seal colony on Cape Coast along the Skeleton Coast, Namibia. Photo: Heather Lea
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    Cape Coast along the Skeleton Coast is home to over 250,000 deals. Photo: Heather Lea
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    It's really fun to watch these guys flipping and diving into the waves. Photo: Heather Lea
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    Baby seals. Photo: Dave Sears

    Together with our Swedish friends, we also traversed a section of incredible random patch of mud just after the Skeleton Coast park gate, which I got nice and stuck. But so did other people in trucks for the record. For my part, I suggested after repeated attempts to throttle my bike out of the suction-cup mud, that we use the tow-strap on Magnus and Tina's rented 4x4. That worked fine.
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    No side stand needed! A random section of mud can really throw off the day. Photo: Heather Lea[​IMG]
    Photo: Heather Lea
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    This is what I call an adventure; having to take all the baggage off your bike in order to free it from mud in Africa. Photo: Heather Lea

    After we were sorted, Dave noticed a passing 4x4 with a winch and he and a half dozen people worked on pulling out the truck that was also stuck. I actually love this kind of stuff; it's part of the adventure.

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    Our Swedish friend Magnus with some others stuck in the mud along the Skeleton Coast. Photo: Heather Lea[​IMG]
    Score! Finding a 4x4 with a winch to pull out the truck that is stuck. Photo: Heather Lea
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    All it takes is a winch. Photo: Heather Lea
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    After all that mud, little Ella washes the truck off under the supervision of Magnus. Photo: Dave Sears
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    Lest we leave all the cleaning mud fun to Ella, someone decides to help. (P.S. love the t-shirt, my dad says this all the time.). Photo: Dave Sears[​IMG]
    Tina setting up home of the night. Photo: Heather Lea
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    The cutest kids ever, My (pronounced Me), 7, and Ella, 4 in their roff-top tent homes. Their job each night is to make the beds before sleep. Photo: Heather Lea

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    Home sweet home for our Swedish friends and Dave and I along the Skeleton Coast, Namibia. Photo: Heather Lea[​IMG]
    Tough choice! Magnus and My picking out a salt crystal along the Skeleton Coast, Namibia. Photo: Heather Lea [​IMG]
    Our Swedish friends in their sweet safari truck somewhere in hot, hot Namibia. Photo: Heather Lea[​IMG]
    Other than the first 100 metres of mud, this is pretty much what the Skeleton Coast looks like, except add a lot of side winds and blowing sand (as you can see in the photo.). Photo: Heather Lea[​IMG]
    The view from one of our campsites. Sigh! Photo: Heather Lea

    We were quite sad to leave Magnus, Tina, My and Ella once Dave and I decided we really did have to start making our way back east toward Namibia's Caprivi Strip into Botswana to see Victoria Falls.

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    Beware indeed. Photo: Heather Lea

    They were off to Etosha National Park to go on a safari. Dave and I couldn’t do that as they don’t allow Meals on Wheels in these parks. Dave and I left about a half hour earlier but a few hours after we all split up, we were pulled off on the road to air up our tires, adding some PSI as we were now back on pavement. We were feeling lonely and had just had a frustrating experience at a gas station where a bunch of local guys were trying to sell us stuff and were crowding in too close to us and our bikes.

    We heard a honk and a couple we’d met a few days ago from the U.S. who’d given us cold water on the side of the road, waved and jumped out. They were concerned something was wrong with our bikes. As we were all talking, another safari truck pulled up and honked. There were Magnus, Tina and their girls.

    It was fun to have a little party on the side of the road and Dave and I left feeling like we had friends everywhere.

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    The Skeleton Coast get its name for a reason but if you look hard enough, you'll find life everywhere. Photo: Heather Lea[​IMG]
    This little guy wouldn't smile no matter how hard I tried. I think I even tried juggling... Photo: Heather Lea[​IMG]
    Salt crystals are for sale along the side of the very barren Skeleton Coast roads. I was intrigued and happy to see no one manned these stations even though a money jar was kept out for those interested in buying. Trust is a very important thing in life. Photo: Heather Lea
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    Something we came to see. Shipwrecks have turned up along the Skeleton Coast due to high winds, shallow waters and fog limiting visibility. Photo: Heather Lea[​IMG]
    Photo: Dave Sears
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    Photo: Dave Sears
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    Photo: Heather Lea
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    Photo: Dave Sears
    #62
  3. ridingfullcircle

    ridingfullcircle Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2013
    Oddometer:
    114
    Home Is Where We Are

    Mar. 13—Coordinating days off on our trip is a challenge sometimes. When we stop for a few days and have a choice, we'd like to be somewhere nice, relaxing and with amenities like wifi so I can work on the website and air-con so Dave can be comfortable lounging around in our room. We spend time looking at AirBnB, booking.com or iOverlander to find a nice place to re-energize, which on a trip like this is important.

    We aren't as picky about where we spend one night but when it's three or four, more thought goes into our accommodation. The other side of it is I like to have more days off than Dave, so when something actually forces us to stop for a bit that doesn't involve me asking him to stop, I consider myself lucky.


    In this case, it was my drive chain forcing a few days off the bike. The F800 is the Almost Perfect bike for the type of trip we're doing. They're tough off-road and fairly comfortable during long distance rides. I often marvel at how we can come straight off a dirt road onto a paved highway without even so much as the push of a button or maybe an adjustment to the air in our tires.


    The downside with using BMW bikes for a round-the-world trip is trying to find parts in places like Africa. Since Fairbanks, Alaska, I've put over 11,000 dusty, muddy, sandy miles on my bike (my odometer is in miles, so that's 17,700 km), and now my drive chain was toast.


    In a small town in Namibia called Grootfontein, Dave happened to notice a motorcycle shop at a gas station called Northern Bike and Quad. My drive chain was making considerable noise by now. Not only was it disconcerting (if the chain broke it would cause engine damage), it was also embarrassing when riding through towns; clank, clank, clank.


    Northern Bike and Quad was owned by a father and son team, who said they definitely didn't have BMW parts but if we could give them an hour, they'd phone around.


    Dave and I found a place for lunch then returned to the store. The bad news was there were no stores in all of Namibia that had parts for my drive chain. The good news was Cape Town, South Africa did. The bad news was that was another country. The good news was they could courier it to us. The bad news was it would take five days. The good news was we were sold the parts for cost. The bad news was there was a 16 per cent import fee.


    Despite the state of my drive chain, the owner, Johnny, was confident I could make it another 800 km (500 mi) or so, which would take us to Katima Mulilo, a border town between Namibia and Botswana we thought might be quite nice for exploring as it was on the Zambezi River. Riding on to Katima meant we could eat up some of the days waiting for parts, travelling.

    Johnny and his son spent a lot of time repairing the chain as best they could to stretch it out those few extra miles.


    It only took us a day and a half to arrive in Katima, however. Namibia's Caprivi Strip is mostly interesting due to how it looks on the map—a long, skinny arm of land that meets Zambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe all at its tip. There was a dirt road that paralleled the highway from Rundu along the Zambezi River, which seemed like a lot more fun for travel but we woke up in Rundu one morning to an incredible downpour and in town there were signs of flooding. We didn't trust being off-road in the mud with a barely-working drive chain so were forced to ride along the paved road to Katima, which went fast.


    We arrived around 7:30 p.m., later than we'd have liked. My drive chain was still entact. Dave had booked us a nice-sounding hotel for three nights ahead of time but the GPS coordinates took us on a wild goose chase through dusty residential streets where we definitely stood out. Some guys took photos of me on their cell phones while I rode by struggling for traction in a sandy corner full of people.


    I didn't like Katima so far. It was rundown and felt sketchy but the bewitching hour of evening can lend an eerie feel to an unfamiliar place.


    We pulled into a Shell station to phone our hotel. We had a SIM card in Dave's phone for Namibia. The owner said he'd come get us so we could follow him back. We told him what street we were on and that we were sitting here very obvious at the Shell station. He said he'd be right there. A few minutes later he phoned back asking again where were we. Dave told him and we waited. Twenty minutes went by. There was a lot of traffic coming and going into the station. It was now dark. We were getting a lot of looks but people were mostly just curious. We struck up a conversation with two security guards.


    Dave phoned the hotel owner back asking if everything was OK. He said he couldn't find us. We passed the phone to one of the guards. The hotel owner told him we could walk to the hotel from where we were. So... if we could walk, why couldn't he find us?


    It turns out they have two hotels in two different cities; he was in the other city. Sometimes when we travel we question the logic around us. But in the end, what can you do?


    One guard offered to walk with Dave to the hotel while the other would stay with me and the bikes. Dave returned twenty minutes later looking disheartened. He told me not to get my hopes up about the hotel.


    I followed him down a dusty road full of broken glass and other garbage. This was the least attractive place we'd seen in Namibia. We pulled into the dirt parking lot of our hotel. It looked like it was still under construction. With no choice for the moment, we unloaded our stuff and tried to get comfortable in our room.


    First thing is to have a shower after riding all day. But the shower didn't really work unless you kept one hand on the button to activate the shower head. The taps at the bathroom sink yielded no water whatsoever and the toilet would only flush about half its contents.


    We were paying $32 CAD ($24 USD) per night.


    There was nowhere to buy food as it was now after 9:00 p.m. I made us what we had left in our kitchen bag: spaghetti noodles with salsa. That night we moped a little.


    The next day Dave spent a few hours riding around town trying to find us other accommodation. For one night we wouldn't have cared but we were using the time waiting for the parts to relax, work on the bikes and get some computer work done. There were also a few game and national parks nearby.


    While Dave was out, I did laundry, or rather I tossed our clothes into a machine upstairs under the direction of a young woman who appeared to work there. I checked all the pockets but right at the end, I threw in a pair of Dave's shorts absentmindedly as the young woman had already gotten the machine going.


    Dave came back from town saying there were a few nice hotels but they were all well over $100 CAD ($75 USD) per night. We could camp on their grounds but we'd be out of town and forced to eat in their expensive restaurants everyday for all meals. We liked being central so we could walk everywhere, use grocery stores and I definitely needed to limit using my bike until the new drive chain was installed.
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    Where we would have liked to stay... the hotel of people we met along the way. Photo Heather Lea[​IMG]
    Where we would have liked to stay... the hotel of people we met along the way. Photo Heather Lea
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    A croc profile made out of glass bottles. Love it! Photo: Heather Lea

    We were sitting in our room trying to make friends with it as we would likely be staying, when there was a knock on the door. The young lady who'd helped me with the laundry was holding some Namibian bills totalling about ten dollars Canadian. She'd been hanging our clothes and said she'd found the bills in the machine. I took them from her, immediately thinking how honest she was for returning our 'laundered' money. I thanked her profusely. When Dave counted the bills, however, we appeared to be short one 200 dollar Namibian note, which added to about $20 CAD ($15 USD).


    There was no point in accusing anyone; we had no way of remembering if we'd spent it, although Dave was certain he'd put all our money in his shorts that morning as he'd gone out looking for a tool. We could do nothing but remain positive that we had somehow overlooked using the money.


    This aside, the staff at our hotel were great. We mostly spoke with a woman named Sonnet, who had beautifully muscled arms and made us breakfast everyday, which was included in the hotel price. She would very proudly set the table with a bowl of instant coffee, tea bags, a hot water urn, two apples, some yogurt and cold toast, eggs and sausage. After our first breakfast she remembered we liked milk in our hot drinks and that I didn't eat the sausage.


    The staff did what they could to help our comfort levels, though they weren't plumbers, which this hotel desperately needed. On our second day, Sonnet took matters into her hands and told the front desk girl to give us another room. Here the internet worked much better, the toilet flushed and at least one tap in the sink worked. We're not sure why we didn't ask to move sooner. We were the only people in the twenty room hotel.


    Also in our new room, we could plug in our fridge due to an extension cord. Our initial room had a fridge but the cord didn't reach the outlet. This was pretty hilarious as the fridge was enclosed in a compartment obviously made for this exact fridge during construction. But the fridge's cord was about a foot short of the outlet.


    That evening, we pulled cold beer from our fridge and lay on our single beds under the air con. We were learning to accept. We could easily walk everywhere, we had cheap beer in our cold fridge, our room had air conditioning and we had breakfast made for us each morning. It was more than a lot of people had at that moment.


    One day when Dave went to look for a tool, he ran into a couple we'd met in Grootfontein while having lunch. They were staying in one of the luxury camps outside of town and invited us for a boat cruise on the Zambezi River that night. When Dave returned and told me I was so excited to get out on the water. We had a great night with them. (Pieter and Caroline, if you read this, we realized after paying our dinner bill, you must have paid for our boat cruise. Thank you.)
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    Pieter and Caroline on our boat cruise along the Zambezi River in Katima Mulilo. They're not in the Witness Protection Program, I just thought the backlighting would make a cool shot with Pieter holding the sun. Photo: Heather Lea
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    Dave and I on a boat tour along the Zambezi. Photo: Pieter Slabber.
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    Our smiling guide, John. Photo: Dave Sears
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    When choosing your boat tour along the Zambezi River, be sure it includes Gin and Tonics. For mosquito control, of course. Photo: Heather Lea[​IMG]
    Other boaters along the Zambezi. Photo: Heather Lea
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    Scouting for hippos or crocs. Didn't see them but saw lots of colourful birds. Photo: Heather Lea
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    The birds were tough to photograph. They're small and move quick. Photo: Heather Lea
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    Flower ID anyone (like my horticulturist sister)? Photo: Heather Lea
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    Sunset along the Zambezi River. Or is that a G&T glow? Photo: Heather Lea
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    Sunset on the Zambezi. Photo: Dave Sears
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    The interesting thing was over the four days we spent in Katima Mulilo, the town and our hotel grew on us. Our room became our temporary, familiar home and home was wherever we were.


    Sometimes you just need to sit back and realize you have everything you need.


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    Dave offers a construction worker to sit on his bike parked out front of our 'hotel' in Katima. Photo: Heather Lea[​IMG]
    While waiting for parts, Dave checks over our bikes. This is my air filter. Perhaps it needs a clean... Photo: Heather Lea
    #63
  4. ridingfullcircle

    ridingfullcircle Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2013
    Oddometer:
    114
    Briefly Botswana After A Namibian Exodus

    Mar. 15—Some days a fire is lit under your ass.


    The parts for my bike were due to arrive the morning of Friday, Mar. 17. They were being couriered a few thousand kms and through two countries to the very tip of Namibia, where we waited for them in Katima Mulilo.


    By chance one day Dave noticed our visa entries for Namibia expired also on Mar. 17. They had only given us two weeks in their country, which was a surprise but in any case we needed to hustle.


    Only we couldn’t do anything until the parts arrived. We were pushing it if anything went wrong.


    On the afternoon of Thursday, Mar. 16, Dave and I rode two-up to the Namibian/Zambia border post, which was a mere six km (3.5 mi) from our hotel in Katima. We waited in line for about 10 minutes before we got to a window for an immigration officer where we asked if we could extend our visas for 24-48 hours (just to be on the safe side). She told us we needed to go to the police station in Katima (which didn’t really make sense). We asked if it would be a big problem if we were a day late in exiting the country.


    “You’ll be arrested,” she said bluntly. Ok, so yes, a big problem.


    We rode over to the police station. An officer there looked at us blankly when we asked about extending our visas. He said we needed to go to the immigration office in town. Ok, so now where is that office? He gave us directions and amazingly we found it, even though it was down a block with a dirt track and looked to be someone’s house. There were about a dozen locals waiting outside under a shaded seating area but they didn’t seem to be in any kind of line, so Dave and I opened the doors and walked inside.


    One lady sat at a computer under a sign that read Birth Certificates. She looked at us then back at her computer. We walked over to the immigration window where there was no one. From there I could see the birth certificate woman was looking at Facebook. Dave walked over to her and politely asked if anyone could help us. She didn’t look up from the screen and mumbled something to Dave. He asked her to repeat, which she did but even more quietly. She seemed bored and irritated with us. This is the kind of thing that sparks a little rage inside me. Dave left the window frustrated and I marched up asking pointedly who could help us. She said they were on lunch. I asked when they got back. She said “It started at 2:00 p.m.” It was 1:50 p.m. I asked if she meant they returned at 2:00 p.m. or if they didn’t start lunch until then and if so, how long could lunch potentially go. Her answers to everything was a no-eye-contact, “I don’t know.”


    I went back to my seat and we sat for a few minutes. The doors opened and the dozen people from outside filled in. They looked at us. We quickly removed all our motorcycle gear strewn over various seats so they could sit down. We wondered if we’d jumped the line but in fact they were all there for birth certificates and other ID stuff while we simply wanted an immigration officer.


    We noticed a sign on a wall, handwritten and barely legible. It said Immigration. An arrow pointed down the hall. We walked down this hall and knocked on the officer's door. He waved us in and nicely told us we needed to go down the hall to another office. Once there, the lady behind a desk piled huge with paperwork told us we were too late to extend our visas and besides which it would cost $40 each.


    I assumed that because we’d done our best to try and extend the visas but couldn’t, that everything would work out with getting the parts on time.


    The next day, the courier called us at 8:00 a.m. and we had our parts by 8:30 a.m. Dave had the new drive chain on my bike in less than two hours including chatting with a local as he worked. We were packed and ready to go before noon.


    We had decided to visit Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe through the Botswana side instead from Zambia, so we rode off to that border, which was about 40 km (25 mi) from Katima.
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    There are nine different species of Baobab trees, of which two are found in Africa. Their trunk diameters reach 23 to 36 ft (7 to 11 m). Photo: Heather Lea[​IMG]
    "Get a room!" Photo: Heather Lea

    From there we entered into Chobe National Park. It was the first time we were allowed to enter a park on bikes (game parks call us 'prey'), which meant it was the first time we would see elephants basically right by our elbows. It was a very cool experience.

    Soon after entering Botswana we arrived in Kasane. We try not to plan large mileage days when there are borders involved. We booked into a campground at Chobe Park Lodge, which was a gorgeous building with a pool, spa, gift shop, bar, huge lounging area and dining room. It was also situated right on the Chobe River, which runs into the Zambezi and eventually over Victoria Falls. Even though we were camped, we were still allowed to use all the amenities.

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    The pool area at Chobe Park Lodge. Photo: Heather Lea
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    The fancy dining room put on a huge buffet, which we were more than happy to participate in. Photo: Heather Lea[​IMG]
    Entry at Chobe Park Lodge. Photo: Heather Lea
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    The path toward our campsite. Photo: Heather Lea
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    Dave and I paid $9.50 CAD ($7 USD) each to camp but had access to everything the same people paying $150 CAN ($112 USD) per night had. We stayed two nights just to enjoy the scene for longer. During our first night, we heard elephants trumpeting around us.
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    Some of the warning signs in our campground. Photo: Heather Lea

    On the second day, Dave got up early to go on a morning game drive where he saw a lot of cool stuff.
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    The game drive was so early even the hippos are still yawning. Photo: Dave Sears
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    Photo: Dave Sears

    I booked a massage, which was one of the best I’ve had in ages. Both nights we had a huge buffet in the dining room, which served about 5 different kinds of meats, vegetables and deserts. Sadly we were only at this lodge and in Botswana for three days before heading into Zimbabwe for Victoria Falls.

    If we felt sorry for ourselves eating noodles and salsa in a hotel room with barely functioning plumbing the last several nights, we were making up for it now.
    #64
  5. ridingfullcircle

    ridingfullcircle Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2013
    Oddometer:
    114
    Victoria Falls Zimbabwe

    Mar 19, 2017 —Victoria Falls was named after Queen Victoria of Britain after David Livingstone discovered the world's largest sheet of falling water (measured at 1,708 metres (5,604 ft) wide and 108 metres (354 ft) high) in 1855. While Vic Falls is neither the highest nor the widest waterfall in the world it is known for being the largest based on its combined width and height.

    When Dave and I got to the town of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, it was a bit of a culture shock. It was the first time in our travels around Africa that was extremely touristy and we were continually accosted by street vendors selling anything from shoes to wooden carvings to the former and now-unvaluable Zimbabwean currency in denominations of billion dollar bills. Sometimes it was tough to remain polite when declining.

    Also surprising was the cost of everything, namely the fee to see the falls, which, for its size, is surprisingly obscure and impossible to see from any vantage point that doesn't come with an entry price tag.

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    One foot in Zambia, one in Zimbabwe. And one wet shirt from the spray. Photo: Dave Sears

    The fee to enter through the gates to see Vic Falls is approx. $8 CAD ($6 US), if you're a local. If you're a foreigner, you'll pay $41 CAD ($30 US). That's per person and a single-entry fee, so if you'd like to come back at sunset for better lighting, you'll pay another $41 CAD ($30 US).

    Despite this, Dave and I obviously had come a long way to be there so we paid the fee and walked the very beautiful, lush walkway to the falls.

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    It took some effort but I was finally able to bend this tree. Photo: Dave Sears

    I felt we had one big advantage for seeing the falls. It was the rainy season in Africa and surely that meant the falls would be extraordinarily full. They were and in fact they also spit out a ton of spray. So much, in fact, the water from the landing droplets creates its own mini-falls within a certain radius. This may also be hard to believe but in our camp site over a mile away, we could feel mist ever so slightly on our skin.

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    A hotel over a mile away from the falls. Here you can see the off-misting from the tremendous amount of water coming over Victoria Falls. Photo: Heather Lea

    When we entered the falls, there were people renting out rain jackets. We had thought ahead and brought our GoreTex jackets but we should have brought my waterproof point-and-shoot camera as well. As we walked closer to the falls, those walking toward us looked like they'd been in the rains of Africa. We thought maybe they were just hiking down to an area that had more spray but as we approached the edge we got absolutely soaked. It was nice to be cooled down in the heat but this and the fact that the falls hide shyly behind a veil of its own spray, made it hard to capture some good shots.

    Nevertheless, the falls are quite something and we did get some photos.



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    Photo: Heather Lea
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    Using a dramatic filter on my camera, the falls looks pretty intimidating. Photo: Heather Lea
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    Wherever we walked along the path to Vic Falls, there was a rainbow. Photo: Dave Sears
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    Tough to see Vic Falls through all her misty glory. Photo: Dave Sears
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    A good view. Photo: Dave Sears
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    Vic Falls is know locally as The Smoke That Thunders. Photo: Dave Sears
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    A view of the end of Vic Falls after the bridge separating Zimbabwe and Zambia. Photo: Heather Lea
    #65
  6. ridingfullcircle

    ridingfullcircle Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2013
    Oddometer:
    114
    Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

    Mar 22, 2017—We stayed two nights in Vic Falls then headed over 400 km (250 mi) south to Bulawayo to stay with Tom and Heather, who are old friends with our friend, Neil in Sagle, ID. Tom and Neil had fished together in Zimbabwe many years ago, then Heather and Tom had been invited to spend some time in the US with Neil. It was nice to make the connection and we very much appreciated having a house and real bed with laundry for a few days, along with, of course, their friendly company.
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    Dave with Tom and Heather, whom we stayed three nights with in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Photo: Heather Lea

    With Heather and Tom, we were invited to Wine Night Wednesdays with their very entertaining friends, a dinner at home with their kids, who have a great sense of humour and a day out in a beautiful park with giant rocks we could hike up and hear the baboons going at it with each other.

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    Taking photos of butterflies. Photo: Dave Sears
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    Dave's the strong, silent type. Photo: Heather Lea
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    We hiked to a cave and found these ancient drawings. Photo: Dave Sears

    The best part of this day was seeing the very rare white rhino, protected to the point where park wardens are forced to cut off the rhino's horn in order to save it from being killed through poaching. In fact, if you see a rhino, the rule is don't tell anyone the location, not even a warden, in order to keep its presence strictly secretive.

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    The elusive, coveted and rare white rhino has its horn removed from park rangers in order to save it from being poached. Photo: Heather Lea[​IMG]
    Photo: Heather Lea

    The days we get to spend with people living in places we've dreamed of travelling are important to us. We love to learn about their lives, even though it's not all rainbows and roses. Years ago, Tom heard someone break into their house in Bulawayo. He told Heather to stay in the bedroom while he grabbed his .38 Special and hide behind some curtains. When he saw the intruder, he shot him. Tom missed but for some reason, they've never had another break-in attempt since ;)
    #66
  7. ridingfullcircle

    ridingfullcircle Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2013
    Oddometer:
    114
    The Riding Life in Africa

    Mar. 26, 2017—Over the course of the past several weeks, Dave and I have ridden from Zimbabwe into Zambia, over to Malawi and up to Tanzania. We are now staying with friends of Dave's uncle in Moshi, situated at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest peak at 19,341 ft (5895m).

    To here, we admit there have been less highlights than our earlier travels in the southern countries of Africa and more than a few moments wondering what the hell we are doing riding motorcycles through Africa in the heat and chaos.

    It is now we've begun to understand why someone we met living in Cape Town, South Africa said they'd never travel through Africa.

    "But, don't you live in Africa?" we asked, puzzled.

    Lately we feel like we've been travelling through Real Africa. That's not to say all of Africa isn't 'real' Africa, but it's likely the Africa you might imagine it to be; the blazing sun in juxtaposition with thunderous rain showers. The hundreds if not thousands of people, goats and cows we pass everyday, sometimes by mere centimetres, who use the highway as walking paths, as though speeding vehicles are no more of a danger to them than toy guns. The rounded village homes made of mud and thatch roofs built in circles behind surprisingly sturdy twig fences. The communities surviving along the road with outdoor classrooms and kids running to school in green or white or blue uniforms. The incredibly well-balanced women hauling home buckets of water that must weigh 20-30 lbs on their heads. The two year olds waddling along the side of the road holding hands with their 'guardian', a four-year-old brother or sister. The shacks made out of corrugated tin that act as unlikely stores lined up side-by-side by the dozens selling anything from car batteries to cell phone top-up cards to bottles of Coke, hair accessories and bags of chips with questionable expiry dates.

    The way goods are bought, sold and transported here never seizes to amaze me. Along with buckets of water, we've seen women carrying stacks of 2x4, huge bushels of foliage and even a long, fat tree limb, on their heads. It's a skill learned in very early years but that doesn't lessen how impressive it is. (I can barely carry my 3-pound helmet on my head). We asked once why it is usually the women carrying things this way. Traditionally, the family man would go first leading his wife and children into the wilds of Africa, slaying whatever threats might come between him and his family. His hands (and head) needed to be free for cat-like reflexes and for carrying his weapon of choice; a spear, a machete... The female, travelling behind and worry-free of such threats, would carry her baby on her back and the family goods on her head to free her hands for, well, more carrying.
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    What an African woman can carry on her head is impressive and unimaginable. Photo: Heather Lea

    Also impressive are men on bicycles hauling everything from tree-bushels to plywood to furniture, like coffee tables. Needless to say, the load is usually lashed down precariously and perpendicular to the cyclist, which can lead to some interesting moments on the road when trying to gauge how much room you and your panniers have to thread the needle between a load-bearing cyclist and the inevitable bus coming head-on in your lane.

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    It's not just the women defying gravity. Photo: Heather Lea
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    I've come to think of Africans as having 'like charges,' as in the ends of magnets when you try to touch them together. They won't come into contact unless forced. This can be the only explanation why they don't all crash into each other in the chaos. I'm not sure how we manage to stay clear of it ourselves but when I took motorcycle riding lessons three years ago, my instructor told me to always be as conspicuous as possible. Although I was nervous Dave and I would look flashy on our bikes with all our gear in a place like Africa, this has been to our advantage; everyone notices us whether they're trying to or not. We stand out, therefore we are seen. And being seen on a motorcycle is a good thing.

    While riding through these fascinating road-side African lives, we encounter hundreds of waving kids, their perfectly round, dark faces and pink-palmed hands come out of nowhere and wave frantically hoping we'll wave back. Sometimes I would see the subtle ones too late and feel a pang in my heart not having been able to return the wave. They look so sad realizing you've passed by without acknowledging them.
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    "Please wave at me." Photo: Heather Lea

    Often it's too much. We try to return the wave of every hand darting out from behind a tree or from a house several metres off the road but our arms almost fall out of their sockets, waving like the queen for miles on end. Occasionally we'll find a bad egg in the mix, mostly kids, who pretend to shoot us with guns or actually throw rocks (they always miss), but often it is just friendly faces with heart-stopping smiles. I've taken to beeping my horn with a little melody just so I can keep my hands on the bars and also hopefully acknowledge everyone's presence within a wider radius.

    Our travels during this part of the trip have been thrilling and exhausting. Sometimes we go less than 200 km in a day. Although the roads are mostly paved they can be full of potholes big enough to hide a girafe. Each village has a speed max of 50 kmph (35 mph) and sometimes it seems there's a village every five kilometres (3 mi) down the road. The never-ending stream of humans using the road by foot, bicycle, car, bus or donkey cart, can be nerve-wracking. When they have a plan to get out of your way, you're not privy of it until the last minute. Many times we have been shoved off onto the 'shoulder' to let an oncoming vehicle pass by in our lane. This can be more thrill than you want when going 80-90 kmph (50-55 mph).

    We are often pulled over by police, who jump out of wooden shacks built on the side of the road, claiming we've been speeding or wanting to see our third-party insurance, which we didn't know was mandatory in some countries (they let us go after we pleaded ignorance although Dave did have to pay a speeding ticket once for a whole whopping amount of approx. $15 CAD ($8 US). We've been ripped off by street money exchangers near borders for a third of what we should have gotten back, (luckily we realized after some quick head-math and demanded our money back) and spent a small fortune on entry visas in each country. But on we ride.

    In Lusaka, Zambia, we spent two nights staying with Sherry and Frank, whom we were hooked up with through Tom and Heather, our friends in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. They have a very relaxing home on a farm away from the city, with two baby cows that would try to come into the kitchen (until their cook slapped their hides back into the yard). In their very cool bar that contains a great collection of eclectic artifacts like skulls of various animals and the cracked motorcycle helmet of Frank's late dad, who crashed into a bus trying to beat his own time through a round-about (this is not how he died), we would drink ice cold Zambian beer and tell stories of our travels. Frank and Sherry would like to retire and import their super cool, decked-out Land Cruiser to the Americas for their own journey within the next ten years and we had no hesitation encouraging them.

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    Frank and Sherry's Land Cruiser awaits its big adventure to the Americas. Photo: Heather Lea
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    Dave and Sherry in Lusaka, Zambia. Photo: Heather Lea
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    Frank and I near their farm in Lusaka, Zambia. Photo: Dave Sears
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    The worn-out front tire Dave donated to Frank and Sherry's bar. Photo: Dave Sears
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    Love the baobab trees of Africa. Photo: Heather Lea
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    Selling goods on the streets in Zambia. Photo: Heather Lea
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    It's big and warty. Yuk! Photo: Dave Sears

    After our full days, we cling to the hope that our accommodation for the evening is an oasis of sorts and many times it is. When we aren't staying with newfound friends, we find mostly inexpensive gems up rain-ravaged backroads that lead us to a camp site with a flat place for our tent and homemade pasta made by the Italian owners. We've stumbled upon modest guest houses situated along the waters of Lake Malawi, whose profits from patrons like us go to supporting orphans living on the premises.

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    Love the thatch roofs. A camp site in Tanzania. Photo: Heather Lea
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    These safari tent sites are fun. We arrived here in Morogoro, Tanzania in the pouring rain so it was nice to have shelter and hang out our gear. They can be expensive though. This tent was $50 US per night. Photo: Heather Lea
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    Our host at the camp ground in Morogoro. Photo: unknown
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    It's a sign... we should stay here. Photo: Heather Lea
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    This little rasta man loved Dave's 'beard'. Little did he know how much bigger it can get. Photo: Heather Lea
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    He also loved Dave's boots. I wouldn't go near Dave's boots. I've shared a tent with him for a year and a half, I know what they smell like. Photo: Heather Lea[​IMG]
    The beautiful Lake Malawi. Photo: Heather Lea
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    "Let us out! We want to go to the beach!" Photo: Heather Lea
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    Sun setting over Lake Malawi. Photo: Heather Lea
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    Whoops. One guy's naked. Lake Malawi shower time, I guess. Photo: Heather Lea
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    A young fisherman gets ready to head out onto the lake for the evening. Photo: Heather Lea
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    Grandpa, son and grandson making fishing nets on Lake Malawi. Photo: Heather Lea
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    Rocks used to weight the nets on Lake Malawi. Photo: Heather Lea
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    This guy was selling rubber balls he made from the rubber trees in this forest. Unfortunately, we had no use for balls on our bikes but he was interesting to talk to. Photo: Heather Lea[​IMG]
    Can you spot Dave? This is the line up for the ATM in Mzuzu, Malawi. When we finally got to the ATM, it only gave us $50. The bank charged a foreign fee of about $4 and my bank at home charges me $5 for the cash advance. Welcome to foreign travel! Photo: Heather Lea
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    It's always good to find people crazier than yourself. This couple was riding across Africa on a different two-wheeled adventure. I can't imagine exercising in the heat of Africa. Guess that's why they were leaving at 6:00 a.m. Photo: Heather Lea

    One evening, Dave said all we do is eat, sleep and ride, why are we always so tired. He doesn't summarize the day like I do in my nightly trip notes. For example, one entry reads: "Today, I avoided a few head-on collisions, dumped my bike doing a u-turn, waved at about 700 people in gusty winds at highway speeds, saw a lot of blood coming out of a flayed toe after a guy on his bicycle was cut off by a car, and walked a few kilometres in the heat trying to explore town. Dave had to pick up my dumped bike, deal with highway winds with his helmet visor (which whips his head back and forth), likely also avoided head-ons, helped pick up said bicycle of guy with flayed toe that weighed a ton because he had a giant rice bag full of rocks or something strapped on the back, and fixed something on his bike. Oh, and we rode 340 km as well."

    So there's that...

    Once we arrived in Tanzania, we spent a few days in Dar es Salaam before stashing the bikes at our Air BnB and taking the two-hour ferry over to Zanzibar, a Tanzanian island.

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    Our surprisingly fast, modern ferry to Stone Town, Zanzibar from Dar es Salaam. Photo: Heather Lea

    We had hoped for a little beach time in Paje, Zanzibar to slough away the stresses of the past few weeks on the maniacal roads but instead we endured two nights of non-rest at a hopping rasta hostel on the beach that played non-stop reggae approximately 18 hours a day.
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    Our hotel was a little noisy but it had great access to the beach across the sandy road in Paje, Zanzibar. Photo: Heather Lea[​IMG]
    Time for some beach. Photo: Heather Lea
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    Our beach in Paje, Zanzibar. Photo: Heather Lea
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    This is about as much 'beach' as this guys gets. Dave's not a beach guy due to the fact he hates heat and most bodies of water. Photo: Heather Lea[​IMG]
    Always fun to people watch. This lady wanted us to buy her octopus. Photo: Heather Lea
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    "Hello. I'm a crab that runs sideways and has eyes like fog lights." Photo: Heather Lea
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    Forgive me if I'm wrong but I think this guy is a Maasai. Love the finer-snapping. Photo: Heather Lea[​IMG]
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    Not much is cooler than an ice-cold beer and a handshake from a Maasai guy with a spear. Photo: Heather Lea
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    The colours of Africa are my favourite so far. Photo: Heather Lea

    We did go snorkelling, which was a highlight for me but not so much for Dave, who's not a water guy.

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    Our snorkelling guide takes us out to the stormy seas. Photo: Heather Lea
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    Our dugout canoe that'll take us out for a snorkel. Photo: Heather Lea
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    Heading out snorkelling in Paje, Zanzibar. Photo: Heather Lea
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    Going for a snorkel in our hand-crafted dugout canoe. Photo: Dave Sears
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    At least he tried. Dave lasted about 6 mins in the water. Photo: Heather Lea
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    So many pretty fish! The majority in this photo are called zebra fish. Photo: Heather Lea
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    What a great find! Photo: Heather Lea
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    Two more nights were spent in Stone Town, where, despite the very active street life, we finally had some sleep in a quiet hotel. Here, at a street market, we drank freshly squeezed cane juice, bartered for plates of food at the market and walked the dusty streets bustling with activity no matter the time of day or night.

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    No apparent strata rules here! Photo: Heather Lea
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    Yep. It just works. TIA (This Is Africa. ) Photo: Heather Lea


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    Starting to see more muslim culture in Stone Town, Zanzibar. Photo: Heather Lea
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    Selling roasted maize in the streets of Stone Town. Photo: Heather Lea
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    Street life in Stone Town, Zanzibar. Photo: Heather Lea
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    Local kids grabbing a snack out of the rain. Photo: Heather Lea
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    Some interesting architecture in Stone Town, Zanzibar. Photo: Heather Lea
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    Nice to see the true artist at work. Photo: Heather Lea
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    Travel so you too can have the best fresh fruit you'll ever taste! Photo: Heather Lea[​IMG]
    A walk in the tunnel. Photo: Heather Lea
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    Shore life along the water in Stone Town, Zanzibar. Photo: Heather Lea
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    Street market in Stone Town, Zanzibar. Photo: Heather Lea
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    Is this boat lady-free or free for ladies? Photo: Heather Lea
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    It was somewhere in Zambia that very dark skin started to mix with lighter tones. Hookah pipes appeared in restaurants and the (very) early morning, afternoon and evening calls to prayer for muslims filled the neighbourhood through loudspeakers attached to nearby mosques. It is interesting to have ridden so many miles through a continent to see cultures merge.

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    Our hotel had a great roof top. In the mosque tower beside me, you can see the speakers used to belt out the Call to Prayer five times per day for the muslim religion. Photo: Dave Sears

    Dave and I are now into our final travels through Africa. In a week or so we will be in Nairobi, where we plan to book our flights to Europe. After nearly three months of riding through a very modest chunk of this fascinating continent, we are looking forward to the next phase of our travels.

    But there is just one more thing we want to attempt before leaving Africa...
    #67
    roadcapDen likes this.
  8. ridingfullcircle

    ridingfullcircle Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2013
    Oddometer:
    114
    April 25, 2017—Dave and I are currently in Nairobi, Kenya. This is where our travels through Africa end, which makes us both happy and sad. Happy because it's always exciting to start a new chapter of our round-the-world journey. Sad because we would have liked to have ridden all the way through Africa into Europe but time and travel logistics make that impossible.

    We will, however, always hold Africa in our hearts all because of one special day. On April 19, two great events happened in mine and Dave's life.

    As per our last post, we mentioned there was something we still wanted to attempt in Africa before we left the continent to continue our travels in Europe.

    Two weeks ago, we found ourselves in Moshi, Tanzania with all the tools necessary to attempt a climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest peak (one of the seven summits) and the world's largest free-standing mountain at 19,341 ft (5,895 m). We had an excellent crash pad in town to sort everything out. Dave’s uncle had hooked us up with friends of his, Peter and Rose, two lovely Tanzanian's who welcomed us into their relaxing home and offered us more than we needed. Here we could store our bikes, get rested up, arrange the climb, have a place to recover afterward, all with the added bonus of spending time with this gracious local family.
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    Peter and Rose's welcoming home and garden was a great place to relax while we sorted out our climb up Kilimanjaro. Photo: Heather Lea[​IMG]
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    Peter and Rose have a helper in their home, who's little girl is so damn cute! Photo: Heather Lea

    I’d like to say we trained for fitness and thought this one out carefully before agreeing to climb Kilimanjaro, but the truth is Dave and I basically rolled off the seats of our bikes, paid our money and started walking uphill. We didn’t even need to find a guide, which is mandatory to climb Kili, as it is affectionately known—that was done for us through Peter, who generously spent his time before we even arrived finding us one of the best guides in Moshi. (Karibu Adventure)


    Some of you may know the list that comprises the world’s highest peaks across the seven continents:


    Everest (Asia): 29,035 ft (8,850 m)
    Aconcagua (South America): 22,831 ft (6,959 m)
    Denali (North America) 20,320 ft (6,194 m)
    Kilimanjaro (Africa): 19,341 ft (5,895 m)
    Elbrus (Europe): 18,510 ft (5,642 m)
    Vinson (Antartica): 16,066 ft (4,897 m)
    Carstensz (Oceania): 16,023 ft (4,884 m)

    Dave has summited both Denali and Aconcagua in earlier years, and, although it is not one of the seven, I have climbed Huascaran, which is Peru’s highest peak, at 22,205 ft (6,768 m).


    The first time Dave and I met face-to-face was three years ago in April, 2014. Our first date was backcountry skiing at Mt. Baker, a volcano in Washington state. Although we certainly have riding motorcycles in common, our first love and passion is for the mountains.


    It seemed fitting, then, that we attempt to climb Kilimanjaro, which, when defined in the region’s tribal language of Chagga, means The Impossible Safari and doesn’t quite inspire confidence in the wanna-be summitter.


    On the morning of April 15th, Peter and Rose waved us off with well-wishings and perhaps saddled with some of the doubt Dave and I kept shrugging off our own shoulders. I had a recent problem with my right knee I was making light of around Dave and also a shoulder issue that has bothered me for well over a year.


    Dave, unbeknownst to me, had a plan in the works that placed considerable wear on his nerves and involved much pressure on him ensuring we reached the summit together.


    As we sat back in the seats of the 12-person van that had come to pick us up, Dave and I shook hands with the 11 (!!!) local Moshi men hired for the two of us to hopefully succeed in our mission. Being the low season (a.k.a. rainy season), there were no other climbers with us.
    [[​IMG] The van is ready with all our gear needed for our climb. Photo: Heather Lea[/caption]

    As mentioned, it's mandatory to hire a guide for climbing Kilimanjaro. Dave and I had a previous experience hiring a guide to climb a mountain in Guatemala and it was not a pleasant experience, both because the guy was a buffoon and, admittedly, Dave and I have mixed feelings about being guided up mountains. But if we wanted to do Kili, we had to abide by the rules.


    The cost to climb Africa's highest peak is high; $1,120 CAN ($830 US) per person for park fees, (yes, a little steep!) and $1,013 CAN ($750 US) per person for the guided trip that would take six days. The latter price tag may seem like a lot, but once divided between 11 people, it's only about $30 CAN ($22 US) per day per person. This is why the porters and guides also rely heavily on tips, which they undoubtedly deserve. We did some research before the climb and found out the customary tipping was approx. $20 US per day for the guide, $15 US for the assistant guide, $10 US for the chef and waiter (yes, we had a chef and waiter!) and $5 US per porter. It really adds up. But when you put it in perspective, climbing Everest comes with a price tag of about $50,000-$75,000 US.


    Although Kilimanjaro is in fourth place among the world’s seven summits it gets first place as the world’s largest free-standing mountain, meaning it starts to climb directly from the banana and coffee plantations around Moshi at around 2,300 ft (700 m) and rises to its full height without the aid of sub-mountain ranges to prop it up in gradual levels, like, for example, Everest or Denali.
    [​IMG]
    A stock photo of Kilimanjaro, which rises straight from the ground without help of sub-ranges, giving it status of the world's largest free-standing mountain. Sadly, the weather was too cloudy for us to ever get a shot of the full mountain.[​IMG]
    Denali, with its sub-ranges to help hoist the mountain to its full height. Photo: Dave Sears

    Of the 11 people joining us for the week was our guide, August (Kidu), the assistant guide, Good Luck, (his real name in Swahili is similar sounding so everyone just calls him this. We hoped he was a good omen), Clety, our chef, Riziki, our waiter and then came the porters, Calist, Hamad, Richard, Geofrey, Pendael and Nicolaus, the last of which was our ‘tent man.’ This meant he erected our tent everyday before we arrived in camp. Guided trips? Maybe not so bad.


    After meeting the team, Dave and I became increasingly sure climbing Kilimanjaro would be more like a long but leisurely stroll, seeing as we were only responsible for carrying light packs with enough food and water for the day and maybe a camera and rain jacket.


    At the entry gate into the park and the start of the Machame route, Kidu told us that if we wanted, either he or Good Luck could carry our day packs if we got too tired. Dave and I assured him we’d be fine carrying our 15 lb packs without a problem.


    After a half hour of bustling activity around the van as the porters lashed together impossibly huge loads to carry on their backs and heads, Kidu and Good Luck came to find Dave and I, eating a provided boxed lunch containing baked chicken, muffins, juice, veggies, fruit and yogurt. If this was any indication as to the food we’d enjoy over the next 6 days, well, it only helped us believe even more in our chances of success.
    [​IMG] Who the HELL gets to carry the propane tank? Photo: Heather Lea[​IMG] All the gear from the van gets sorted into extremely heavy packs for the porters to carry. Photo: Heather Lea[​IMG] First days' box lunch. This guided trip stuff is allll right! Photo: Heather Lea[​IMG] Here we go! How hard could the next 40 km be? Photo: Kili assistant guide, Mr. Good Luck[​IMG] There goes the first porter. Photo: Heather Lea[​IMG] Well, thank you. Photo: Heather Lea

    Around 11:00 a.m., our climb began.


    The first three days were inspiringly easy. We’d walk about 6-10 km (3-6 mi) per day taking lots of breaks and walking at a sometimes agonizingly slow pace. But Kidu and Good Luck reminded us frequently in Swahili that pole pole (slowly) was the only way to help the body adjust to the altitude. Dave and I felt we could have hiked faster and still feel well at the end of the day, but we did what we were told.


    At the end of the day, camp was always a welcome sight, especially when we’d arrive to our sleeping tent already in position and our eating tent, complete with a table and two chairs (!!), containing hot tea and fresh snacks, like popcorn and watermelon. It was also a nice reprieve from the rain.


    This was the rainy season in Africa and it did rain. Everyday. We’d taken a chance trying to summit such a high peak at this time of year. But the advantages were we had some chance of summiting without freezing to death waiting at the bottlenecks that occur around the summit in high-season. In fact, the only time we ever saw another party was at our camp below the summit on Day 5 and only for a few hours as they were headed down.
    [​IMG] Who's idea was it to climb Kilimanjaro during the rainy season? Photo: Dave Sears[​IMG] Kidu and I throughly soaked. Photo: Dave Sears[​IMG] Staying out of the rain in the warden's cabin while the porters put up our tent on Day 1. Pretty cush! Photo: Heather Lea[​IMG] The porters and our guides, (one with an umbrella—love it), hanging out in the rain while our tent is put up. Photo: Heather Lea[​IMG] A soaking wet Dave hangs out by a groundsel, a beautiful plant that does not need a seed to germinate. Once it dies, it starts to regrow close to the same spot.[​IMG] Our lead guide, Kidu, shows us Shira Caves at one of our camp sites. You used to be able to sleep inside the caves but one year a cave collapsed nearby and sadly killed the people inside. Photo: Heather Lea[​IMG] A reprieve from the rain in Shira Caves. Photo: Dave Sears[​IMG] A shot from inside Shira Caves. Photo: Heather Lea[​IMG] The camp robbers here are called the white-necked raven. Photo: Dave Sears[​IMG] I never found the name for this incredible plant found in the moorland area of Kilimanjaro. If you look closely, you can see how the inner bud collects water at its base. Photo: Heather Lea
    [​IMG]

    A Gladiolus Watsonides with rain drops. Photo: Heather Lea
    [​IMG]
    Known as the Red Hot Poker. Photo: Heather Lea
    [​IMG]
    Love this flower named Impatiens Kilimanjari, with its elephant tusk-like features. Photo: Heather Lea

    We did have some clear patches in the weather, though, and it was great to be able to see far and wide.

    [​IMG]
    Our first glimpse of the summit on Day 2. Photo: Heather Lea
    [​IMG]
    View from camp on Day 2. Photo: Dave Sears
    [​IMG]
    Among the Giant Heather. At home this stuff is teeny, tiny. Photo: Dave Sears
    [​IMG]
    Starting out in the sun on Day 3. Photo: Heather Lea
    [​IMG]
    Strongest necks in the world. Photo: Heather Lea
    [​IMG]
    A line of porters carrying everything from fresh pineapple, to folding chairs to propane tanks—all for Dave and I to climb Kilimanjaro. Our chef, Clety, is in front. Photo: Heather Lea[​IMG]
    A line of blue bags atop necks much stronger than mine will ever be. Photo: Heather Lea
    [​IMG]
    But starting to cloud over again in Day 3's camp. Photo: Heather Lea
    [​IMG]
    Can't believe the amount and quality of food Clety would cook out of this little tent. Photo: Heather Lea

    In order to acclimatize well, we were part of what is a common practice on high peaks, which is to climb high, sleep low. On this day we hiked to Lava Tower Camp, 15,092 ft (4,600 m) only to then hike 2,624 ft (800 m) back down to camp Barnaco at 12,795 ft (3, 900 m).

    [​IMG]
    Ascent to Lava Towers. Photo: Heather Lea
    [​IMG]
    Some of our porters on the trail in the distance. Photo: Heather Lea


    [​IMG]
    We arrive at mid-day at Lava Tower Camp, 15,092 ft (4,600 m) only to hike over 2,000 ft back down to sleep. "Climb high, sleep low." Photo: Heather Lea[​IMG]
    Descending from Lava Towers. Photo: Heather Lea
    [​IMG]
    Camp at end of Day 3 with south-west summit in background. It looks close but we have a big detour to make. Dave is standing at our eating tent and our sleeping tent is to his right. Photo: Heather Lea

    This was the first time I felt somewhat disheartened. Both knees were sore and once in camp, we had clear enough weather for a sightline to the peak, which seemed impossibly high for our summit quest the following night. I couldn’t help but think a few hours earlier, we were much higher than now. This night the weather also came in. From our lofty perch, we watched a spectacular lightening show at eye level across the valley and lasted well into the night. In fact, when I got up around 5:30 a.m., it was still in full swing.


    Day 4 started out lovely, however. We had clear skies in the morning and enjoyed one of the most fun parts of the climb walking among hundreds of groundsels, an impressive plant/tree that does not need seeds to germinate but rather starts to regrow in almost the exact same spot after it dies.
    [​IMG]
    The self-germinating Groundsels. Photo: Dave Sears

    After a scramble up a rocky wall just outside of camp, we felt we’d really gained some height. We also had great views of Mt. Meru, 14,977 ft (4,564 m), another large volcano 70 km away, and the valley containing Moshi far, far below.
    [​IMG]
    Starting to get some height. Dave looks over at Mt. Meru, 14,977 ft (4,564 m), 70 km off in the distance. Photo: Heather Lea[​IMG]
    One of our herculean porters, Photo: Heather Lea
    [​IMG]
    Here comes the furniture! Photo: Heather Lea

    Kidu informed us we’d have some ups and downs in elevation today but we didn’t really care, we were enjoying the day very much. After some photos from this vantage point, we carried on. The trail did descend considerably as we could see some porters, who passed us everyday, even though they left camp well after us and carried tons of weight, off in the distance with their giant blue-bagged heads the only spot of colour in the alpine desert, now devoid completely of any greenery.

    Dave and I hiked along between our guides, who regularly chimed out pole pole and hakuna matata (no worries). One decent was done and we started climbing up again to gain a long ridge that looked excitingly close to the elevation we wanted to be at that night. But Kidu stopped, pointing to a sign that read: “This trail is now prohibited.” Large rocks and boulder scattered about the trail indicated a fairly hefty rockfall that had happened in the past. The trail, which was an excellent short cut to base camp just below the summit, was unsafe to climb and hence the new trail took off in a heartbreakingly huge detour to our right, only to gain the ridge and break our hearts again when Kidu informed us we were plunging down into the valley below and up the other side. Then we could have lunch, he smiled.


    By the end of Day 4, the fun and games were over. We arrived at base camp (Barafu Camp), 15,331 ft (4,673 m) at around 4:00 p.m. after a much more difficult day. We’d only travelled about 10 km (6 mi) but after so much up and down, our bodies were starting to feel it. And this being Day 4 meant that at midnight, we were starting our climb to the summit. Dave and I immediately fell into our tent for a nap but were soon roused from a deep sleep by Riziki, our soft-spoken waiter, who came to our tent each morning and evening at various times to announce he had hot water for us to wash with, or tea in the mess tent or that it was dinner time. His relaxing voice was usually a welcome sound, even at 6:00 a.m. but right now, we only wanted to rest. We had just seven hours to convince our bodies to work for the summit.


    Still we needed to nourish ourselves so Dave and I got out of our tent. And almost cried. While we were resting a light snow had fallen. We dared to glance up toward the summit, which was barely visible behind a thin gauzy curtain of cloud and mist. It revealed much more snow on our route. With little appetite, we choked down a few bites at dinner, despite the delicious pile of food Clety had made us, and crawled back into our tents hoping some weather miracle would happen over the next few hours.
    [​IMG]
    Not looking good for an easy summit ascent starting in four hours at 11:00 p.m. from base camp. Photo: Dave Sears

    Although we had four hours after dinner to sleep before our summit wake-up call at 11:00 p.m., Dave and I found it almost impossible to rest and only got about 30 mins. At 11:00 p.m. Riziki’s soothing voice came muffled through the tent asking us how we were and to come have some tea. With huge effort, Dave and I dragged ourselves out of the tent, noticing nothing had changed in the weather except we could see not a single star or any light from the full moon.


    We drank our tea, trying to warm ourselves to the very tips of our cold toes, and barely said a word to each other, sure that Kidu would come into the mess tent and tell us we couldn’t go up because of the weather. It was hard not to focus on what this summit had cost us financially and how much we wanted to succeed emotionally. But surprisingly our guides arrived and with well-rested smiles on their faces, asked if we were ready to go.


    Twice a day, Dave and I were tested for heart rate, oxygen levels and overall mental and physical wellness by Kidu and Good Luck. They would bring the first aid kit into the mess tent during breakfast and dinner and take down the info on a piece of paper. Dave and I had never been monitored like this while climbing and enjoyed tracking the numbers, almost making it into a competition.


    “What was your oxygen reading?”


    “92.”


    “Haha! Mine was 96!”


    This info showed we were fairing well with the altitude and helped us feel confident in our fitness levels. You can’t argue science, after all!
    [​IMG]
    Kidu tests our heart rate and oxygen levels with a finger clip. Photo: Heather Lea

    Despite how we felt now on Potential Summit Day, seeing the snow and having had a half hour of sleep before attempting to climb Africa's highest peak, the numbers proved we were in good shape to head up, so on Day 5, April 19 at 12:00 a.m. we threw on our day packs and, with headlamps turned on bright, started walking. Who would have ever thought we'd be hiking through fresh snow in Africa?


    I don’t think I can put into words how surprisingly difficult the next 6 hours were, but I’ll try. Somewhere around 16,400 ft (5,000 m), everything started to shut down. Energy levels were sapped. Our stomachs felt off. I wanted to cry just for the relief. Dave started to feel like he was gong to be sick. Our feet, in light hikers, were frozen. Our down jackets, usually reserved only for break time when we’d cool down, were zipped to our chins, the hoods tugged tight around our faces. It was very hard to believe we were in Africa, hiking through snow and in temps hovering around -10 °C (14° F). When you’ve spent the last 11 weeks sweating various body parts off in Africa, - 10° C feels like -30° C. It was dark and the sky showed no light, which meant we were still at the mercy of bad weather. If our lack of training seemed hilarious down in oxygen-rich Moshi, it was anything but that now.


    Adding to what was beggining to feel like our inevitable defeat was the unchanging environment; the middle of the night did nothing to disguise the massiveness of what was still ahead. The face we were climbing was not technical in the least but it was vast and just kept rising to meet the dark sky. It never seemed to end, there was just snow-covered rock. No view, no change, just staring at the boot heels in front of you hour after hour.


    At around 5:30 a.m. we were only about 2 km (1.2 mi) from the summit but there was still 1,300ft (400 m) of elevation to gain. Dave started to feel really awful. We’d both climbed to altitudes higher than this but A) we were much younger and B) we’d spent more time acclimatizing. Four days was minimal and in hindsight, maybe not enough for us, coming off the couch, so to speak.


    It was a tough moment. I didn’t want to push Dave in any way if his health was at risk but I also knew he would have a hard time getting over not making it to the summit, should he decide to go down from here. He was struggling with his decision; was it a health risk or was it just mental fatigue? Neither Kidu nor Good Luck seemed to feel it was anything but lack of energy and they gently urged us on. It may have been the first time we'd felt this exhausted but they saw it all the time. They also saw how happy people were once pushing past the barrier and succeeding.


    Despite not being favourable to guided climbs, there were plenty of positives to having these guys with us; morale, professional opinions, not having to do anything but walk... it was pretty cush in all manners of speaking.


    Dave kept walking. At this point I thought he was tougher than all of us. We may have been fairing better but he was the one who had to push through feeling like hell.


    I started counting my steps to pass the time. One thing that adds to feeling fatigued is boredom. I played games with myself like estimating how many foot steps it would take to get to the next landmark.


    Sometime around 6:15 a.m., the relentless drudgery of snow covered rock ran out and we were on the summit ridge. Although we still had a bit to go, this felt monumental. We had a teeny surge of new energy realizing we could allow ourselves to feel the summit within reach. Kidu and Good Luck were in high spirits and helped feed our energy with their sense of humour and genuine wish for us to summit.
    [​IMG]
    A beautiful sunrise starting to light our way to the summit. Photo: Heather Lea
    [​IMG]
    Photo: Heather Lea
    [​IMG]
    He might be feeling like shit but he looks pretty happy. Only a few more metres to the Roof of Africa. Photo: Heather Lea[​IMG]
    Sunrise on Kilimanjaro. Photo: Dave Sears
    [​IMG]
    The glaciers on Kilimanjaro are unlike any glacier I've ever seen. They rise tall like buildings instead of smearing out flat like at home. Photo: Heather Lea[​IMG]
    AL. MOST. THERE. Photo: Heather Lea

    And so it was that on April 19, 2017 at around 6:45 a.m., two great things happened: Dave and I stood on the Roof of Africa in an incredible sunrise, and, through chattering teeth and shaking hands (which I’ll chalk up to the cold and not nerves), Dave asked me to marry him.


    There was no hesitation when I said yes as many times as my starved lungs could spit out. (Dave likes to say he waited until I was in an oxygen-deprived state of mind to ask.). It was three years almost exactly to the day since we’d met, also surrounded by a volcano. This kind of symbolism pretty much melts my heart.

    [​IMG]
    Our official engagement photo on the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. For so many reasons, I'm glad we did this together. Photo: Kidu

    Our starry-eyed news was shared with Kidu, Good Luck and one of the porters, who "came along for the ride." None had been part of a proposal on the summit of Kilimanjaro before and they quickly got us in place for a congratulatory photo.



    [​IMG]
    Thanks to these guys, we made it to the top. Photo: Kili porter

    Dave told me later his plan was to literally sweep me off my feet by lifting me up on the summit but given the fact both of us were lurching around like drunks from exhaustion, I'm glad he didn't perform this act of chivalry as we would likely have been carried off the peak on two stretchers.

    Although come to think of it, that might have been a more preferable way to descend. Despite, the sudden and signifiant elevation in my status, my body still seemed to be crushed under gravity and it wasn’t much easier descending, even on this high. Because of more weather rolling in, we lasted only 10 mins or so on the summit before we had to begin the long trek down. This is one of the saddest things about climbing high-altitude mountains; after all that work, it's not likely you'll be pulling out a picnic at the top.


    The descent back to camp took just over two hours. In the light of day, I was entertained by my surroundings and giddy from my first marriage proposal (the dozen or so I got from local men while travelling solo in Africa 10 years ago don't really count.). Regardless, it was a gruelling couple of hours for us both. Our knees were killing us and soon my focus was only on getting back to base camp where I could lay down on my sleeping bag. We'd eaten only a few bites of cookies during the climb and probably not enough water. I was staring to get a pounding headache, which was really crushing my good mood.


    Finally, blessedly, we could lay in our tent. But the pleasure would be short-lived; we weren't allowed to camp here overnight, due to park rules. Base camp was only for resting and making a summit push. We had to go down to the next camp, which was a knee-jarring 4,920 ft (1,500 m) lower. This was almost 650 ft (200 m) more than what we'd just done coming off the summit.


    Dave's left knee was giving him a lot of trouble. He could barely bend it and walked with a considerable limp. My stomach still didn't want any food and my head was crashing, despite taking Ibuprofen and two mystery pills that Kidu pulled from the first aid kit.


    We were, however, allowed several hours to rest. It was only 9:45 a.m. Dave and I fell into a deep sleep. A few hours later, Riziki came to gently shake our tent. My headache had dissipated considerably and we both had huge appetites.
    [​IMG]
    Tired after our summit morning but happy in our mess tent with all this food! Photo: Riziki

    At some point in the late afternoon, Dave and I followed our guides down to a lower camp, but we'd requested one between base camp and the lowest camp as we just didn't feel we could push it that far.


    A few hours after leaving base camp and struggling down about 2,300 ft (700 m), we were snuggled into our tent listening to an intense thunderstorm dropping buckets on our tent. We were back in the rain forest and we were glad not to be up top.


    Despite the initial worry of weather, we had very good weather for summit day. It didn't rain or snow on us at all and once at the top, we could see far and wide. Sadly, we never got a great shot of the full mountain but we do have this exceptionally fantastic image of us on the summit.
    [caption id="attachment_3845" align="alignnone" width="1024"][​IMG]
    Bad weather kept us from getting a shot of the actual mountain. So we had to improvise.

    Day 6 was our final day of the climb. It started early seeing as we'd chosen a higher camp to stop at the night before, our day hiking out was very long, even though it was only 13.5 km (8.3 mi). We were excited to get back to Peter and Rose's place for a real bed, shower and to tell them of our news.

    Some stats of the climb:
    Using the Machame Route for the ascent and descending via the Mweka route, our total distance over the 6 days it took to climb and descend Kilimanjaro, was 69.76 km (43.34 mi). We had 16,660 ft (5,078 m) of elevation. Accounting for the days of ups and downs, our total elevation was 17,946 ft (5,470 m). Over the two days it took to descend, we dropped 14,500 ft (4,422 m) from the summit to the exit gate.


    So hell yes our knees were sore!
    [​IMG]
    Thanks to our good-natured guides, August (Kidu) and Good Luck. Photo: Clety, the chef.
    #68
    roadcapDen, NOTAGAIN and Saso like this.
  9. ridingfullcircle

    ridingfullcircle Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2013
    Oddometer:
    114
    Goodbye Africa

    May 21, 2017—Africa was some of the best yet hardest travelling we've encountered so far on our trip. Sometimes it was impossible to love. Other times, we couldn't believe the beauty we were seeing and feeling. But on April 27, our time for this exciting, crazy, hot, scary, bustling, frustrating continent, was up. We wanted to visit a lot of places in Europe before positioning ourselves for Russia and its very short riding season. That meant flying our bikes out of Nairobi, Kenya, which is where things got all African-y.

    But first, some facts and stats about our time riding through the continent:

    80 days
    12,104 km (7,521 mi)
    178 hours and 1 minute, actual riding time
    9 countries: South Africa, Lesotho, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya
    $1,300 CAN ($1,000 USD) approx. in visas, carbon/road taxes and mandatory insurance
    $60 CAN ($45 USD) in speeding tickets
    $0 in bribes
    1 new front tire for Dave
    1 new chain and sprocket for Heather
    0 sick days
    56 doses of Malaria pills (we recommend Malanil/Malarone—no side effects!)
    42°C (108°F) hottest day riding, Namibia
    3 flats, all Heather’s front tire
    Best Experience: climbing Kilimanjaro, getting engaged
    Worst Experience: arranging the shipment of our bikes from Nairobi, Kenya to Glasgow, Scotland.

    At first, we hoped to fly from Kenya to Morocco, Spain or Portugal but in the end we settled on the U.K. It was cheaper and we were planning to ride to Scotland anyway. Both Dave and I have two very good friends we wanted to visit in the U.K. Andy is living in Edinburgh with his wife Rachel and their 10-year-old son, Francis. He and Dave had worked together at Marmot in the U.S over 15 years ago and in 2000, had climbed Denail together.

    My friend Jenny lives in Penrith. She and her husband Martin had had two kids, Lewis, 7 and Isla, 9, since I’d last seen them 10 years ago. Jenny and I used to work together at The Alpine Club of Canada in Canmore, Alberta, 22 years ago and we developed our abs laughing for hours on end about things we made up and thought were really clever.

    Dave and I booked a passenger flight to Glasgow, Scotland for Thursday, Apr. 27. The bikes would fly separately as Dangerous Goods. In all three cases of air freighting our bikes over the past year and a half, the bikes arrived a day or two later than us. We had always had a good experience with flying the bikes, but this, our fourth time, would prove to be tremendously aggravating.

    Many things added to the two-week gong show, during which time we had no idea if we’d ever see our bikes again, but mostly it was just a colossal lack of communication on the part of Renex Logistics based in Mombasa, Kenya—a company who apparently had in fact shipped bikes before but, A) didn’t have a warehouse or facility to crate the bikes and, B) staged everything out of a café in an industrial part of Nairobi.

    Although it was a process that likely shaved a year or two off the lives of Dave and myself, it would be boring for you to read about every last detail so I’ll just offer the ‘highlights.’

    - 36 hours before our passenger flight to Glasgow from Nairobi the bikes still hadn’t been crated or fumigated or cleared customs or been scheduled for their own flight
    - We took hours breaking-down our bikes so they would fit into smaller crates so we could be charged on a smaller volume. In the end, Renex charged us by weight. This was the result of over-building the crates out of solid oak!

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    Showing up with the truck full of solid oak to build the crates for our bikes. Photo: Heather's crappy iPhone
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    The crates were made completely by hand. This poor guy took seven hours to build them, hand-sawing and nailing everything together. Not a power tool in sight. Photo: Heather's crappy iPhone.[​IMG]
    Dave's bike is rolled onto the frame. Now what to do about that front tire? Photo: Heather's crappy iPhone.
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    Hopes are dashed as we see the tie-down 'straps'. Photo: Heather's crappy iPhone.
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    Sure, maybe use a few more 'straps.' Photo: Heather's crappy iPhone.
    [​IMG]
    Dave's solution to the front wheel problem. Looks like a sketchy block of wood but it was solid. Photo: Heather's crappy iPhone[​IMG]
    Handlebars off, windscreen removed, front tire stowed. Dave's about to remove the frame that holds his wind screen on and that about does it. Too bad they ended up charging us for weight instead of volume. Photo: Heather's crappy iPhoto.
    [​IMG]
    Frame built a little excessively. There was a lot more frame before the final plywood that encased the bikes. More weight = more money for Renex! Photo: Heather's crappy iPhone


    - Dave went to the airport in a truck with Joshua, a Renex shipping agent, the truck driver, and our crated bikes and returned to our hotel 8 hours later. Just 3 hours before our flight, because it took that long to get the bikes cleared through customs in Nairobi and because there was no forklift so 9 African men had to hand lift the crates out of the back of the truck and then back in after fumigation.At the airport they at least had a forklift.

    - The bikes didn’t show up in Scotland when they were supposed to. Dave phoned the cargo office at the airport in Nairobi and was told the bikes hadn’t been put on the flight. When Dave asked why, he was told Renex hadn’t paid the airline yet. No one bothered to tell us this. How long the bikes would have sat there if we hadn’t inquired, we’ll never know.
    - We spent over $45 in Skype credit calling back and forth to Irene, the snappy dragon-lady who apparently owns or runs Renex, and whom I imagine sits in an at-home office drinking all day while stroking a hairless cat and forgetting to do things like work.
    - Irene insisted we pay for our shipment, which was the horrendous price of $6,621.22 CAN ($4,862.52 USD) in cash only. We ended up doing four international bank transfers that came with a fee of $13.50 CAN ($10 USD) ea and was done prior to our passenger flight.
    - On May 1, five days after we’d left our bikes behind in Africa (bad moto-parents!), we were informed the bikes wouldn’t ship out of Africa until May 8, as that was the next available flight.
    - We found out the bikes were only flying to Amsterdam then being put on a truck to cross over the ocean to Scotland, which was not what we’d paid for.
    - May 8 came and went and we still had no bikes. When we called yet again, because no one called us, they were still in Nairobi due to confusion about the bike’s owners (us) having an address in the U.S. but the bikes being shipped to the U.K. It was hard not to start screaming at this point.
    - We finally talked to the right person who put our blessed machines on the next flight out of Nairobi.

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    The tracking message we've been waiting for for two weeks. Photo: Heather's crappy iPhone.

    - The bikes actually made it onto U.K. soil on May 10 but we found out it was mandatory in the U.K. to hire a freight-forwarder to clear the bikes through customs, which we’ve never had to do before (we used Air Sea Scotland. They were awesome). We paid over $65CAN ($50 USD) to ride the train one way from Edinburgh to Glasgow, expecting to ride back on our bikes.
    - The bikes could not be released to us. No one knew how to handle our carnet de passage as we never intended to use it in the U.K.
    - Dave and I had to rent a car and drive back to Edinburgh. Still with no bikes.
    - Customs told Air Sea they had never seen a carnet like ours before. We tried to explain it was because one wasn’t needed for Canadian’s in the U.K.
    - On May 12, we finally had the bikes in our possession. We rode to Dalkeith, Scotland where we’d done a presentation at Motorrad Central, a BMW dealer, the week before. They very generously serviced our bikes for us at the last minute.
    - May 14, we were finally back on the road, travelling again on the bikes!

    It might sound materialistic but our bikes are the closest thing Dave and I have to kids. We are strongly attached to them because of the places they have taken us. When we saw them again in their crates, which were in great shape surprisingly, I almost cried.

    During this waiting period, we were very lucky to have friends to stay with. Andy and Rachel were generous and caring about our situation. We could get our minds off our bikes and go camping, hiking and climbing with them. We owe them a lot for this as we could have been stuck in a place where we didn’t know anyone, paying for a hotel each night.

    Dave and I never did get the hang of Africa. But even as I write this, three weeks after arriving back to the amenities and working order of a first-world country and our bikes safely parked outside, I’m nostalgic for our time in Africa. Nothing feels as much like true adventure than travelling through the only continent stretching through the northern and southern temperate zones with its diversity of environments, economics, historical ties and government systems.

    Africa will be forever in our hearts as the place where we saw a fantastic collection of wildlife on our first-ever safari, traversed the Namib desert in temperatures over 40°C (105°F), learned how to ride in shifting sand and corrugated gravel, rode up and alongside incredible scenery and wildlife, climbed the continent’s highest peak and, of course, got engaged.

    Thanks for everything, Africa. Especially the memories.
    #69
    68vette likes this.
  10. ridingfullcircle

    ridingfullcircle Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2013
    Oddometer:
    114
    From Africa to Scotland

    May, 2017—While Dave and I were waiting for our bikes to arrive from Kenya, we spent the time staying with our friends Rachel, Andy and their son, Francis, 10, in Edinburgh, Scotland. We were bummed not to have our bikes in this beautiful country as we couldn’t go off exploring the twisty roads lined with their world-famous stone fences, but we did get the chance to go climbing, hiking and camping during our two-week stay. Dave and I were pretty wimpy with the cold winds of Scotland. After coming from Africa, we didn't leave the house without a toque. I had to borrow a sweater from Rachel to add some layers as all our stuff was with the bikes, including my beloved down jacket. We only had our carry-on luggage with us and lived in the same clothes more or less for two-weeks.

    I wonder why Rachel kept asking if we wanted to do any laundry?

    During our visit, we also took the opportunity to do a presentation of our trip at a BMW dealer in Dalkeith. In return they serviced our bikes, which was much appreciated after 12,000 km (7,500 mi) on dusty African roads!

    Here are some pics of our travels in and around Scotland.

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    The Edinburgh International Climbing Area is Europe's largest climbing gym. We spent two Sundays here climbing with Andy while Francis took a youth climbing course.
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    Dave and Andy at the climbing gym.
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    Francis doing some hard-core bouldering moves.
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    A nice hiking spot inside the city of Edinburgh.
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    Can't stop this kid from bouldering!
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    Beach walk near Edinburgh.
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    I really got into the stone fences in the U.K. So much labour goes into these walls.
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    A hike up a mountain I forget the name of.
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    We had amazing weather during our two-week stay in Scotland. Kind of unheard of!
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    It was exceptionally windy at the top but we all managed to hide behind this rock. In the direct sun, it was very warm. Everyone except Francis had a nap while he was launching off the rocks around us telling us he was bored :)
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    Another one of my favourite features in the U.K. This one was in the mountain area surrounding Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the British Isles.[​IMG]
    Crazy Andy jumping into the ice cold stream near a place we camped.
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    Andy climbing a route he eyed up without a guide book. When Dave and I followed we got completely trashed. At home, Andy looked the route up in his guidebook and it was a 5.10c, not easy.[​IMG]
    Dave has a go.
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    I asked Dave to get this photo out the car window while we were driving by with Andy. It's rape seed and despite its unfortunate name, it is beautiful.[​IMG]
    I gave Rachel some of the cinnamon, cloves and cardamon that was given to us by Rose from Tanzania when we stayed with her and Peter in Moshi. Rose had collected it all by hand and laid it out to dry while we were staying there. I remarked that it smelled amazing and I loved it and she gave us a huge bag of it when we left. Once we'd gotten our bikes delivered, all my luggage in the pannier where I stored the bag smelled great.
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    #70
    yamalama, CanuckCharlie and i4bikes like this.
  11. pzvt

    pzvt Adventurer

    Joined:
    Aug 30, 2010
    Oddometer:
    63
    Awesome photos!


    Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk
    #71
    ridingfullcircle likes this.
  12. ridingfullcircle

    ridingfullcircle Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2013
    Oddometer:
    114
    May 14 was our first real day back on the bikes after having them shipped over from Kenya. We rode from Edinburgh, Scotland to Penrith, England where my friend Jenny lives with her husband Martin and their two kids, Isla and Lewis. The last time I'd seen Jenny was a decade ago so it was obviously great to reconnect, go for some hikes, get to know their kids and laugh at the same dumb jokes we laughed at 20 years ago when we first met in Canmore, Alberta. My only regret was that we couldn’t have stayed longer. Five days just wasn’t enough!

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    Jenny and I near Penrith, England.

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    Jenny and Dave hiking near Penrith, England.

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    Hiking near Penrith, England.[​IMG] Climbing with Martin.
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    The concentration grimace of a true climber!

    One day from Penrith, Dave and I rode the bikes up into the hills to visit England’s highest pub. It wasn’t much of a day for views and unfortunately the café was closed but there was a take-out window open, so Dave and I ordered a couple beef pies and ate out on the picnic tables.

    [​IMG] England's highest cafe outside Penrith.

    Many riders came and went as it’s a popular place for motorcycles. At one point we struck up a conversation with a guy named Ron and his friend Harry. Ron was a very excited man exclaiming over everything around him. He walked me over to a viewpoint telling me about the area. Somehow in a matter of minutes our conversation went into a full explanation of the trip Dave and I were on complete with mentioning our engagement.

    Ron stopped in his tracks, then yelled across the parking lot over to his friend.

    “HARRY!" Ron motioned for me to follow him. "These kids got engaged on Kilimanjaro! Harry!”

    Harry was talking to Dave.

    “Harry!” Ron was still yelling even though Harry was right beside us now. “This young man proposed to this young woman in Africa! On Kilimanjaro! And they're travelling around the world! What an adventure!”

    Ron’s enthusiasm was contagious. Dave and I were already smiling hard at being called 'young' but then busted into full out laughter when Ron enlisted a complete stranger, who’d just rolled up and had barely swung his leg off the seat of his bike, to take our photo. The guy took one but Ron kept insisting he take another and another. The guy finally gave Ron his camera back and walked off shaking his head.

    Ron and Harry were heading in our direction, which was to continue up and over the hill, dropping down into some little towns and villages on the other side and loop back to Penrith. They suggested we join them for the afternoon, so we did.

    The next stop was another café, where Harry bought us all cappuccinos and where Ron inadvertently insulted the café owner by bringing food from a fish and chips take-out to eat at the café. In Ron’s defense, we were sitting outside on the sidewalk but the owner came out, looked at Ron’s lap where he was trying to hide the take-out bag, called Ron cheeky then told him to eat somewhere else. Ron went over and sat on his bike to eat alone.

    I got the feeling Ron accidentally insulted people on a regular basis but he had a heart of gold. In fact, while were sitting at the cafe, Ron disappeared for a bit. When he came back he gave me a box. Inside was a beautiful hematite bracelet.

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    Another good-luck charm to add to my collection.

    I love hematite and was sincerely touched and surprised all at once!

    Dave didn't get a present but he did get to ride both Ron and Harry's bikes around the block, which to him, was better than a bracelet for some reason.

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    Harry (left) and Ron, far right, don't have to try too hard to encourage Dave to give their bikes a ride.[​IMG]
    Dave's off on Ron's bike.[​IMG]
    Finally coming back after a not-so-short jaunt around the block.[​IMG]
    Now let's try Harry's bike.[​IMG]
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    As it should be! Dave riding beatch and me at the throttle.

    From the last cafe we simply just rode to another one. Here, there was a cool old castle and a dairy farm selling ice cream, which Ron treated us to.

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    Old castle on a dairy farm.[​IMG]
    Ron, left and Harry, our surprise tour guides for the day.[​IMG]
    Ron and Dave at the dairy farm.

    We won't forget our afternoon with Ron and Harry!

    Our time in England concluded with a welcoming stay at Jenny's husband, Martin, parents’ house, a night with Adrian and Laura, friends I knew from Vancouver now living in Leeds, some backroad riding to admire more stone work, and a stop in London as Dave had never been there. It was a gorgeous day, which made this city especially fun for people-watching and activity.

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    A railway bridge along some of the quieter roads of England.

    A railway bridge along some of the quieter roads of England.
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    Multi-level bicycle racks in London.
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    The 'no-jito', a booze-free version of the mojito.
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    Grown-men playing in the sand for money.
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    What's with the super lame, boring London Bridge? I grew up to this nursery rhyme and THIS is all it is?
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    Oh, you know, just juggling while riding a bike balanced on the handlebars.
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    Parliament.
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    Seriously. He can barely see with that fur hat and isn't it incredibly itchy?
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    This is one full circle we didn't ride.

    We have to thank the universe for the great weather we had during most of our three weeks in the U.K—I know this is unheard of!

    Next post—The Alps!
    #72
  13. ridingfullcircle

    ridingfullcircle Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2013
    Oddometer:
    114
    Riding in the French Alps

    Jun 10, 2017—After four months of driving on the left side of the road, it was refreshing to get back on the right side where things felt more familiar. Europe!


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    I think this is lavender.
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    This has to be the cutest dog on the planet after my parents' dog when he was a puppy.

    From the White Cliffs of Dover in England we took the ferry to Calais, France and made a beeline for the Alps.

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    Waiting for the ferry in Dover, England to take us to France.
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    Thing down the bikes inside the ferry deck.
    [​IMG] England's White Cliffs of Dover.
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    Maybe we should go around the world again in one of these.

    I have a friend, Karen, who I know from Revelstoke, staying with her friends, Judy and Serge, in a small village named Montmin, situated between the busy city of Annecy and the dramatic landscapes of Chamonix. Originally we planned only a few days in Montmin but once we’d ridden away from the traffic jams in Annecy and rode the twisty corners high into the beautiful village, found Karen and saw the true Alp-style chalet where we’d be staying, we couldn’t leave so quickly, especially after we saw the view.

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    Arriving in Montmin. Photo: Karen Glen

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    Montmin in the evening the night we arrived and found Karen! Looks like a swell place.
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    The view from Judy and Serge's deck in Montmin.
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    Judy and Serge's house (right) in Montmin. Quite the backyard!
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    Karen grilling up some dinner.

    During our week in Montmin, we did Pilates on the beach, swam in Annecy Lake, toured old town Annecy and volunteered for the MAXI Race that Karen and Judy had helped to organize. The MAXI is a running race up to 110 km (68 mi) long that some people attempted in one go as an overnight marathon. Over 7,000 people had registered from all over the world. The race goes up and down some very steep valleys and mountains, gaining and descending thousands of feet in elevation. Not at chance in hell I'd ever do this.

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    Morning Pilates on the beach at Annecy Lake.
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    Lake Annecy from the col near Serge and Judy's house, which is more or less at the same elevation as this shot.
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    Swimming at Lake Annecy.
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    Can't be in France and not eat a few croissants.
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    Walking around Old Town Annecy.
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    Oh those French!
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    Boats in Annecy.
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    Dave and Karen convinced me to buy a new dress, made in Paris. How could I refuse? A girl gets tired of wearing the same thing again and again. Sadly, I've sent it home as I didn't want it to get stained in my panniers like all my other clothes from the trip.
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    We met a guy in Montmin hand-crafting skis from local wood. He does a nice job and got Dave pretty interested in maybe doing this when he gets home.[​IMG]
    A cutie we had dinner with in Montmin.

    While sitting on the deck at Judy and Serge’s house one night, we saw some paragliders. I mentioned always wanting to try this and the next thing we knew, we’d booked a 40-min tour for the following evening. Karen hiked to the top to get photos of us taking off.

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    Dave gearing up for some paragliding around the alps. Photo: Karen Glen
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    I have to run off a cliff? Photo: Karen Glen
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    Photo: Karen Glen
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    Me on the left in red and Dave to my right—off into the sunset! Photo: Karen Glen

    From here the guys we flew with had Go-Pros that captured this great experience, which was pretty much all I’d hoped for except the part where I threw up. Yeah. After coasting seemingly inches from cliffs and catching updrafts to get above the mountains, my (flyer guy? Guide?) asked first if I wanted to fly the paraglider, which hell yes I did, and then if I wanted to do some tricks, which hell yes I did (after handing back the reins).

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    I get a turn at flying the 'big kite' over Lake Annecy.
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    As we came in for a landing, we spun corkscrew-like down into the valley. Although it was heartstoppingly fun, it also brought the contents of my stomach up my throat rather quickly. My flyer guy seemed to deal with this regularly and sort of yanked me over to the side, twisting himself in the opposite direction. Despite going from feeling elated to quite terrible in an instant, I couldn't stop myself from an evil smile thinking of how many windshields I might have targeted on the freeway below.

    Dave laughed a little too hard when I told him. He faired better during the spins.

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    Dave flying over Lake Annecy.
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    Dave out for a solo ride near Montmin.
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    Mount Blanc on a gorgeous day.
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    A great view of Mount Blanc from a nearby ski resort.

    After we pried ourselves away from Judy and Serge's hugging Karen 'bye for now, Dave and I rode onto Chamonix. Dave had been there before and was looking forward to going back. It's a beautiful village and much less crowded than I thought. We spent the afternoon walking the streets and I tried escargots, which were delicious but tough to eat while still in their shells. I should have known when the waiter brought tools to the table. We had to ask him to show us how to break into the puppies, which involves cupping them with one tool and scooping with another sharp tool. And they're slippery.

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    Serge and Judy on their driveway seeing us off after a week of their hospitality.
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    Goodbye Montmin!
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    The dramatic backdrop in Chamonix.
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    Ten days in France is certainly not enough but we were excited to move on and meet my seven-month old godson, Eliot.

    Next stop, Switzerland!
    #73
  14. ridingfullcircle

    ridingfullcircle Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2013
    Oddometer:
    114
    Sweet Switzerland

    Jun 17—We spent about 10 days in Switzerland, 8 of which were in Neuchatel. I was excited to get here as my cousin Alison lives in Neuchatel with her husband Daniel and their two boys, Leo, just about 2, and Eliot, seven months and to whom I've recently been appointed godmother.


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    Leo supporting our sport of choice with a bad-ass t-shirt.
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    Looks like Eliot likes his new elephant toy we brought from Africa.

    Alison and Daniel have a great apartment up high on the slopes of the city that overlooks Neuchatel Lake and a picturesque church. We loved hanging out on their huge deck, having dinner and playing with the kids.
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    View from Alison and Daniel's deck in Neuchatel.
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    Many evenings were spent eating dinner and drinking adult beverages on this deck.
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    Dave's birthday dinner on June 2.

    While staying in the area, we did some hiking and walked around the city, eating fondue, crepes and ice cream, of course.

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    Daniel hiking with Leo (in the backpack).
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    Alison and the super cool Eliot Baby, complete with sunglasses.
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    Hiking around the Swiss Alps is not disappointing.
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    Old cabins left behind.
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    Can you see the hut?
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    We hiked down to the lake then up left and over for a great two-hour loop. If you look closely you can see a small hut in the green area.

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    This cabin is built on a slope that surely gets smoked by avalanches all winter from the left. But the rocks piled up divert creeping snow around the cabin and if an avy hits, it just goes up and over the roof—no drama! You'd never see a building in the path of an avy zone in North America.
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    A water break and sessing out our path (above Dave's head.)
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    Tripping on an untied shoelace here would be a pathetic end.
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    Mountain man! Hiking less than an hour out of Neuchatel.
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    Switzerland is a beautiful country but very expensive. We were lucky to have a place to stay and great company!

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    Me and cousin Al in Neuchatel.
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    Getting the fam together for a walk into the city.
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    Another Irresposible Adult takes the stroller for a spin.
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    An area in downtown Nuechatel.
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    Leo eyes up a big toy.
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    The courtyard of the church we can see from Alison and Daniel's house.
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    Alison told us she and Daniel visited Neuchatel and came to this church. They sat inside and talked about moving here. I asked her if she saw this stained glass window with the name 'Daniel' at the bottom. She hadn't.
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    That's quite an organ!

    When we left Neuchatel we didn't venture too far: only an hour and a half away and we were in Basel, where I was reunited with an old travelling friend of mine, Heiko, who I did some hiking with twenty years ago in Peru. We haven't seen each other since that 3-day hike so long ago and have rarely kept in touch, but when I saw him again and met his great family, it was like no time had passed. We had a great evening at their house before moving on.

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    Heiko with his wife Anne and their three kids in Basel.

    Next up: Germany!
    #74
  15. ridingfullcircle

    ridingfullcircle Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2013
    Oddometer:
    114
    More German Than Germany

    June 29, 2017—When we left Switzerland, we rode into Tübingen, Germany to visit a young guy named Johannes (Jo), whom we met in the middle of the Namib desert in Namibia several months ago. There, we had exchanged info and he invited us to stay if we were passing through Tübingen, Germany, which we did on June 6. It happened to be close to a Touratech Travel Event Dave and I wanted to see in Niedereschach, Germany a few days later.

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    Our German friend Jo we met in Namibia.

    Jo is a super nice guy who showed us around his university town and made us some great homemade bread and fondue.

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    Cocktails to go? Public drinking? Sign me up.
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    On Jo's recommendation, we went for a hike the next day to a viewpoint overlooking a great castle before riding to the Touratech event.

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    Touratech (TT) is a manufacturer of all things shiny and tougher-built than many stock items on most bikes. Herbert and Ramona Schwarz have built a huge empire here in Germany out of supplying bike modifications through their company. We’ve spent many US dollars on their high-priced but solid products at their distributor in Seattle, WA.

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    Touratech HQ in Niedereschach, Germany.

    The event was free and therefore huge. We rode to Niedereschach on a Thursday afternoon, 24 hours before the event started and there were already hundreds of locals and travellers setting up various tents beside various modes of transport. We found a spot and went for a walk around. On the way back to our tent Dave noticed a British Columbia plate on one of the bikes near our tent. Another set of Canadians (and another Heather), Ken and Heather, also travelling extensively on a Suzuki 1000 V-Strom. We hung out with them a lot over the weekend and hope to ride with them in the future when they return to Kelowna, B.C.

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    Free camping means lots of campers!
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    Heather and Ken from Kelowna, B.C.!

    Dave and I also got a few of our malfunctioning items looked at, like our Sena communication systems that were having issues our whole trip thus far with not actually connecting to each other. Mirko from the Sena booth spent a lot of time with us fixing them up to run properly. There are still glitches but at least we have a much easier time connecting the intercoms now. Mirko also hooked us up with a distributor at Metzler tires, who said he could donate a free set of dirt tires to our Russian leg.

    We also use Scott oilers to auto-lube our chains. Dave’s has always worked perfectly but I had to replace mine and the replacement didn’t work any better. We found them at the TT event and Dave took my bike over to have the guy in the booth fix it. Sadly it still has issues not oiling the chain, adding, I’m sure, to the considerable wear-and-tear my drive chain and sprockets go through. We have since disconnected the auto-oiler and manually clean and oil the chain now.

    The weekend in Niedereschach was really fun. We enjoyed hanging out in this environment with 15,000+ other riders and travellers, going to various travel talks, watching trials contests and visiting exhibit booths.

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    Leaving our mark on the wall.
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    It was hard to get a good shot of this BMW truck but it was a semi with a slide out showroom and roof top terrace!
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    Over 15,000 people came to the event and most of them were camping as it was a small town.[​IMG]
    It was also the GS Trophy Challenge German qualifier. Very hard to get a good perspective for photos as there were so many people.
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    This trials guy below makes it fine on the first try. Second time? Not so good. Watch until the very end when he takes out some Indian showroom bikes.


    There was one more stop in Stuttgart, Germany before making our way to good friends in Wildalpen, Austria. We spent a few hours at the Porsche museum. This was entirely Dave’s idea and I went along reluctantly but once there found it pretty freakin’ cool.

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    This was Dave's favourite. I wouldn't object. It's also a hybrid, so a much better option to the Toyota Prius ;)
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    But he'll have to settle for this one.
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    Check out the bubble gum pink one. Apparently when they designed it someone said it was a pig so they made it pig coloured. Not so pig-like on the race track though.
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    The photo below explains this.
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    Was taking photos of this Porsche when I looked up and saw a more fun angle.

    It is quite something to learn about the people who have built empires from their own hands like Herbert and Ramona Schwarz and Ferdinand Porsche.
    #75
  16. ridingfullcircle

    ridingfullcircle Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2013
    Oddometer:
    114
    Curves, nakedness and riverbugs in Austria

    July 1—From Niedereschach, Germany, Dave and I found our way to Wildalpen, Austria, looking forward to seeing Don and Sabine, friends of mine I met 12 years ago while working as a rafting guide in Murchison, New Zealand, where I literally lived in a van down by the river, arriving to work everyday with a spork and some kind of tinned food in hand.

    Don had started the NZ company I was working for, Ultimate Descents, and Sabine was his significant other, now wife. They both spent a winter in Revelstoke nine years ago with their son, Oscar, then just a toddler, but after that I never saw them again until Dave and I rolled into Wildalpen, where Don and Sabine were currently renting a house across from the very river on which they were running their riverbugging company.

    Wildalpen is a magical place; an outdoor person’s paradise. We were told by Don they could ski-tour right from their house in the winter and, during summer, throw some mode of transport into the river so conveniently located steps from their house. Here, the water is a spectacular green where you can see every fish and stone. Sabine and I spent one lazy afternoon on a beach tossing bits of bread into the water and watching the trout come to the surface. During our week in Wildalpen, Dave and I went for a hike above town, looking down on the fairytale scene below.

    [​IMG] Wildalpen, Austria. Not a bad place to have friends!
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    This bridge is part of the aqueduct to supply water to the city of Vienna.
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    Yes the water really is that perfect.

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    Austria also has a great sense of humour.
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    This church sits up a trail from a dead-end road on Sabine and Don's street. A lady comes here every day to change the flowers. The trail is part of a pilgrimage route and people are welcome to sit and rest here.
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    I think this is elderberry before it's an actual berry. Sabine uses it to make a syrup she adds to water. It's delicious.

    [​IMG] Learngin how to make kasespatzle from scratch with Sabine. http://www.austria.info/uk/things-to-do/food-and-drink/favourite-austrian-recipes/kaesespaetzle
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    Sabine and Don have two sheep in the adjoining property. I forget their names.

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    Don and Sabine's son, Oscar, now almost 11.

    We also had a chance to use the river bugs. My inherited skills from river-guiding and spending years in a kayak actually did me quite a disservice riverbugging. I couldn’t get the concept of hitting everything backwards and looking over my shoulder to leave the eddy, which was opposite to how I’d set up my line in a kayak. It was still a lot of fun. Have a look at their website to have a better understanding of what river bugging is.

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    Don gets some river bugs ready for us to head down the river.
    [​IMG] Keeners! Look at our webbed hands.
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    Trying to get the hang of this.
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    Sabine tries to teach us some cool moves. Which we can't do.
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    "What's going on over there you two?"
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    We felt much more cool than we actually look in these three photos.

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    Some other people cooler than us playing at a surf wave.
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    THIS is how we meant to look....

    But I can’t say enough about how it felt to be back on the water after so many years away from my boats. Also, being able to scoop up a bunch of water and drink straight from (webbed) palms was also a huge plus. I’ve never been sure where in the world, aside from some places I’ve lived in the mountains back home, a person can drink straight from a river or stream. Here was one such place. It’s moments like this when I realize we haven’t fucked up the world too badly yet.

    After a day spent in glacier water, what better way to top it off than an evening at the local sauna? This was where we all got naked. The spa has a ‘no bathing suits’ policy. It begs the question, how would the phrase, "no shoes, no shirt, no service" read here. Perhaps it would be something like: "Naked? Service!"

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    NO bathing suits, please!

    While three of us de-robed with little thought and joined the mostly old men in the sauna (aside from a younger version with a spectacular eagle tattoo across his back sunning his parts immodestly on the grass outside), one of us was a little more reluctant. I’ve noticed Dave’s lack of enthusiasm to bare all in front of others before when I took him to a natural hotspring in B.C., but he found some nerve here in Austria soon enough and left his towel on the hook outside before entering the sauna.


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    The sauna cabin situated idyllically in the forest.
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    Sabine resting out in the fresh air after a hot sauna.
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    The sauna is very hot so here's a great pool full of freezing ice water for ya!
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    The plunge pool leading from the sauna.

    Another great thing about visiting Don and Sabine was that Sabine has a sweet retro-coloured Honda Africa Twin that’s about 20 years old and still givin’er. She, Dave and I went for a loop ride one day through villages filled with elaborate churches, lederhosen and ice cream shops. It was a 9 hour day even though we only rode about 200 km. Austria, at least in this area, has much in the way of scenery. It’s hard not to stop around every curve.

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    Should have lifted my sweet robo-cop shades for this photo.
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    Sabine and I on a bridge near her house.
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    On the quest for ice cream.
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    Gotta have some colour under all that black.
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    A scene from our nine-hour tour.
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    The retro Africa Twin, circa 1997 and still up for a road trip.
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    After my paragliding barfing episode in France, I'll never knowingly stand directly under one of these things again.
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    One of the churches on our tour with Sabine one day. Some incredible work went into churches in those days.

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    Aww, father-and-son lederhosen.
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    The perfect travel hat—folds neatly and doesn't wrinkle! Sure, you might look like a creepy garden gnome but...[​IMG]
    Protected drinking water.
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    And curves there were! We really got our cornering skills tuned here riding through the deep valleys to and from Wildalpen. What a great part of the world to have actual for-real road tires on the bikes. These were put on in Scotland as we figured it wasn’t much use having dirt tires if we were doing several thousand kms of tar all the way to Russia.

    On June 18, Dave and I rode 50 km (30 mi) to Eisenerz to watch the Red Bull Hard Enduro Hare Scramble, which was phenomenal to watch but it deserves a post of its own.

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    Packing up to leave Wildalpen.
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    Don, Sabine, Dave and I at their home in Wildalpen.
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    Goodbye Wildalpen! (Wait, is that Dave's middle finger?)
    #76
  17. ridingfullcircle

    ridingfullcircle Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2013
    Oddometer:
    114
    The Red Bull Hare Scramble in Austria

    July 9, 2017—The Red Bull Erzberg Rodeo Hare Scramble might not be everybody's thing and I wasn't so sure about joining Dave but once we got there, I was blown away by what these guys (and one gal!) were doing on their bikes. But I don't know the lingo about anything motocross so I'm going to pass the 'pen' over to Dave now.


    I have always wanted to attend an event like this or one of the many others Red Bull sponsors like the WRC (World Rally Championships) and the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) downhill race series. So while on this trip I'd been following their schedules and locations hoping that it would work out and while we have been close many times it hadn't worked until now.

    While visiting Don and Sabine in Wildalpen, Austria I learned the Erzberg Rodeo was only 50 km (30 mi) away. We had to go. So after looking at the course layout the choice was made to get to Carl's Dinner, (yes dinner and not diner), an awe inspiring section of the course where the riders have to navigate a boulder field (see below) for many miles. Riders had to traverse the bench through the centre of the photo in both directions and the lower bench once.

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    Course traverses bench in middle there and back as well as bottom bench.

    For many reasons Carl's Dinner was the perfect spot because the riders would be going slow here, which meant more photo opportunities for us. As a result I took almost 900 shots that day. Also the access was outside of the village area, another few miles up the highway so parking was far easier. It took a long time to edit 900 photos but here are my top favourites from the day.

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    Johhny Walker of the UK was the first to enter Carl's Dinner and was having a great race so far.

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    Alfredo Gomez of Spain was hot on Johhny's heals.

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    Johhny Walker as he "rides" past.

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    Gomez chasing Walker through an easier portion of Carl's dinner.

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    Billy Bolt was third to enter.

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    Interesting how fans can be actually IN the course, close enough to touch the riders. But we learned later they are not allowed to help riders in any way.

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    See vinyl wrap on the Red Bull helicopter.

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    Pre-race air show.

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    This rock high-centred a lot of riders, like it almost did here to Wade Young from South Africa.

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    Not sure how these guys don't break their legs.

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    Many riders had assistants running ahead to point out the line. Because it sure as hell wasn't always obvious.

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    Gomez around the midpoint of Carl's Dinner had passed Walker and amassed a substantial lead.

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    Carl's Dinner was starting to take out some riders.

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    Manuel Lettenbichler being fed a banana from his dad, Andreas “Letti” Lettenbichler.

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    It's as steep as it looks, no wacky camera angle needed.

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    Starting up the steep gravel section to the Red Bull truck at the top.


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    Some of the riders are just stoked to be in the race, and, at this point, alive ;)

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    Clutch problems, poor guy is out of the race.

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    In case you're curious on the times for the event:

    First place: Alfredo Gomez 2h 17 min 6 sec

    Second place: Graham Jarvis +3 min 22 sec

    Third place: Cody Webb +5 min 4 sec

    Fourth place: Wade Young +9 min 31 sec

    Fifth place: Johnny Walker +10 min 41 sec
    #77
  18. ridingfullcircle

    ridingfullcircle Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2013
    Oddometer:
    114
    The Five Country Loop

    July 10, 2017—While waiting for a package to arrive at Don and Sabine's (which never arrived, don't get us started but do note that Austrian post is horrendously lengthy), Dave and I decided to do a loop tour that would start and end in Wildalpen, and would traverse five countries in a week-long 1500+ km (900+ mi) ride. We both wanted to see the Dolomites in Italy and maybe a piece of the Mediterranean somewhere along the way. Of the five countries—Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Italy and Switzerland—three could be added to our list as new, thus bringing our country count to 33 since we began our trip in Sept. 2015.

    Leaving Wildalpen on June 20, we rode to Ptuj, Slovenia and stayed the night in a huge campground right in the city. We hadn’t left Wildalpen until well after noon, so this was a day of riding well into the evening for us before we found our home for the night. Nothing really exciting happened this day so moving on...

    The next day we rode into Croatia. Dave has a good friend, Pred, who was born here but we weren’t able to get a hold of him to ask his advice on where to go. We were only in his country for a day anyway. Sorry Pred. On this day, in fact, we rode from Slovenia into Croatia, then back into Slovenia by evening. European countries can be much smaller than many states and provinces in North America, so it’s easy to get across quickly. Croatia, however, was the only country in Europe so far where we had to stop at an official border crossing and get stamped in and out of the country. It was very fast, though, and we got our passports stamped while still sitting on our bikes, like going through a toll booth.

    One thing we wanted to make note of while in Croatia was one of our lunch stops. We found a building that had some umbrellas out on a patio. Inside was a few little stalls selling food we couldn’t translate so I went into the grocery store next door to buy some stuff to make sandwiches. In the line-up I had a green pepper and the cashier didn’t know the code to weigh it. There was a lady behind me wearing a uniform similar to other people working in the food court. She ran over to the produce isle and called out the number. When she came back I smiled, gestured a thank you, and she put a motherly hand on my arm, smiling back.

    When I brought everything to the table where Dave was sitting, she came over and gave us menus. We thought it meant we couldn’t sit there without eating something from the restaurant so we ordered cold drinks, which she brought over right away. Then she took our green pepper and left. We wondered if she’d stolen our pepper. We started laughing but soon she came back with the pepper. It was washed and she had a cutting board and a knife for us. Then she felt our water bottle, which was as hot as tea from being on the bikes, and came back with a huge bowl of ice. It’s great when you don’t need language to communicate. Although it’s not considered a tipping culture here we left her something extra after paying our bill as she had clearly gone over and above.

    Back in Slovenia for the evening, we found a campground online that looked great as it was right on the harbour. But we were a little disappointed once we found it as it was another monstrous place packing in as many people as possible with no definition of where one campsite started and the other ended. Everyone wanted to be near the beach, which didn’t look too inviting anyway, with its floating, overly-tanned European bodies lying leathery-belly up and no small amount of garbage drifting around. This side of the campground was more expensive because of its proximity to the beach but Dave and I happily chose the less-expensive, more desirable real estate in the shady trees farther away.

    The days had been very hot, around 38-40°C (100-105°F). Although the water didn’t appeal, the patio from the campground’s bar did, and we spent the evening there having a beer and eating food we were allowed to bring in from our own stash, watching the evening turn into night and the lights across the harbour light up.

    On the morning of June 22, we rode into Italy. The day was a scorcher and we thought it was funny how many days in southern Europe were much hotter than almost any of our days in Africa. Even entering into the Dolomites didn’t cool things down.

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    Our first look at the Dolomites.

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    First day in Italy, gotta have the pizza with the view of the Dolomites.

    This day’s ride included San Boldo Pass, a very exciting pass where each switchback is a tunnel drilled up the inside of the cavernous belly of a mountain like a cork-screw. Traffic can only go in one direction at a time, so you have to wait at either entry for a light. The tunnel is extremely tight, barely wide enough for a mid-sized car, and very steep. It would be somewhat of a catastrophe to slide off your bike inside this tunnel as everyone’s waiting for you to get out, which could take a while if your friends don’t see you go down and no one’s behind you. Even worse as the traffic light is on a timer and figures you’ve had enough time to get through so starts the oncoming traffic!

    We found another crowded campground for the night but this time on a very nice lake great for swimming and watching kite surfers, which we did while eating dinner on the shore.

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    Kite surfers in Italy.

    The next day was Stelvio Pass, located in northern Italy at an elevation of 9,045 ft (2,757 m). There are 48 switchbacks running up the north face of this highest paved pass in the eastern Alps.

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    Just a few of the 48 switchbacks of Stelvio Pass in northern Italy.

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    Dave riding up Stelvo Pass.

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    The hotel we stayed at way below.

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    The view of the rest of the switchbacks from our hotel.

    Halfway up is a nice lodge located at the base of some mountains. Dave and I were tired by this point and looking up from here we could see several more switchbacks waiting for us, so we called it a day and, using some of his birthday money from my parents, bought ourselves a night at the hotel with breakfast and dinner included. Dinner, by the way, was a four-course fancy meal. We appreciate a splurge every now and again, thanks mom and dad!

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    Fancy food. We had to shower for this.

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    After breakfast the next day we rode up to the summit of the pass with about one thousand of our closest friends (it was a weekend) only to discover it was barricaded off because of a cycling race, so we couldn’t roll down the other side. I tried to ask around but nobody spoke English until one guy figured out to hold up a sign for me to read which said 8:30-2:00, so we had to come back if we wanted to continue down the other side into Switzerland.

    We rode back down to the hotel, cranking our fully-loaded big bikes around the 90-degree corners avoiding head-ons with fancy race cars, motorcycles and cyclists coming up. The weather was gorgeous, so Dave and I went for a little hike then used the opportunity to do some computer work in the hotel before heading back up at 2:30.

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    Hiking around our hotel, view of pass in background.

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    Hiking around the hotel.

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    Not the easiest hut to hike to.

    The pass was now open and there was no small amount of farkling on the road while everyone tried to get around each other to continue their trip down the other side of the pass, which is far less steep and hair-raising but also very beautiful.

    After three times up and down Stelvio Pass, we were getting slightly better at taking the curves a little faster but couldn’t outrun the race bikes that sped past us like bees and hornets most of the way.

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    Saw many fast rides like this 'domestic' car at the pass. They love the curves too.

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    "You're all going the wrong way!"

    That evening we found a more peaceful campground in Austria and learned we could do a via ferrata the next day as they rented gear. We were excited to do this but when we woke up the next morning, June 25, it was pouring rain. It was very hard to get motivated. Had we been in a hotel, we likely wouldn’t have left in such conditions but when you’re in a tent, what’s worse? Staying in its damp dome-like squalor or getting on your bike and immediately having the wet-diaper feeling? (Not even Gore-Tex works in this kind of wet.)

    We rode all day in the rain until the evening when we found yet another campsite. Although we were only about an hour from Wildalpen, we were now in a beautiful national park and wanted to at least spend the night now that the sun was out.

    On June 26, we rode back into Wildalpen, had lunch with Don and Sabine, whittled our gear down to the bare minimum and left the rest there for them to send home in a big box for us. Dave got rid of 12 kgs of camera gear and I’m now down to one pair of pants, one t-shirt and one sundress for hot days. We wanted our bikes as light as possible for our ride across Russia, the beginning of which was only a week or so away now.

    Next up: eastern Europe!
    #78
  19. ridingfullcircle

    ridingfullcircle Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2013
    Oddometer:
    114
    Eastern Europe by way of Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland

    Posting July 20, 2017—I wonder where else in the world we could ride through four countries in just over six hours? That’s the great thing about Europe; no border crossings!

    On June 27, Dave and I saddled up our steeds and rode from northern Austria into Czech Republic and Slovakia then landed for the night in Poland. For most of our hot 400 km (250 mi) ride, the scenery was of barren farm lands and we moved quickly but once we crossed into Poland, we had a scenic surprise. The flat land suddenly gave way to deep, rich forests and mountains. We came into a busy resort town with billboard ads for skiing and fancy looking wooden cabins, not unlike what we would see at home. The area was obviously for tourists and recreating city folks from nearby Krakow, only 100 km (60 mi) away.

    Dave and I spent the night in a small, nicely run campground right in the middle of town run by a friendly older man with a giant belly contained behind his overalls. While we were there, he sat contentedly for hours in his lawn chair watching the comings and goings of the campground and the street outside his gate with a big smile on his face. It was a great introduction to the country of my heritage. I’m one quarter Polish and have always wanted to go to Poland.

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    Sometimes the GPS takes us on a little trip outside of our trip. Here it diverted us off the main highway to take us along this more scenic rode. At first we wondered why until we saw the nice scenery. I only wish the detour lasted longer than a few kms.

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    A very elaborate church in a small village we rode through.

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    Caught the white horse looking at the camera at just the right moment.

    Sadly, schedules dictate even a two-year trip and within 24 hours we were already at the border between Poland and Ukraine, which was likely one of our longest crossings on the whole trip. There was a massive line-up when we arrived that stretched out onto the highway. Cars and transport trucks were lined up four lanes wide waiting for a light to change to green indicating you could move forward to the next holding lanes. At first it looked quite orderly but once the light changed it was every man for himself; if you were tardy starting your engine, cars would drive around you with squealing tires. Looking for something in your trunk? Too bad, you lost your place in line, sucker.

    With the sudden acknowledgement of what this meant for us on bikes, we tested our luck at passing a whole bunch of people and deeking in well down the line where there was a space between bumpers. We waited for a cacophony of angry horns but none came. Everyone was settled peacefully back into their waiting mode, engines off, checking their cell phones. No one cared we had just cut the line by about 30 cars so when the second advancing came to get to the actual border patrol kiosk, we did the same lane-cutting method and got in under the shade of the buildings. It was a very hot day.

    We went through the regular motions presenting our passports at a window we had to get off the bikes and walk to. But sadly, all of our newfound extra time was swallowed up when we inquired about where to get our Carnet de Passage stamped. As this would be our exit from the EU, we needed to get the bikes stamped out as well. When we arrived in Scotland the import broker insisted on using the carnets for entrance, which added a whole other set of problems there and this was now coming back to us leaving the EU. The border guards had no idea what the carnet was so they told us to get into the truck line, where they may know what to do. We asked if we could cut the huge line there as we just needed the little stamps. The guards said “you can try” with something like a smile/sneer.

    This meant leaving our coveted place in line. As we did so one guard came over and said he’d let us through the Ukraine side without the stamps for our bikes. But at the moment we had hopes we could do things the right way and still be ahead of the line so we exited, which caused its own problems as the next guard didn’t understand why we were leaving only to turn around again and ordered we go to the very back of the semi line, which was about 100 semis long now out on the highway. We said, please can we just sneak into the front of the line as we just need this stamp. He said, no, everyone’s been waiting, they’ll be angry. We told him we had also waited in the same line-up (leaving out the fact we’d cut in past several cars). He asked where we were from and when we said Canada, he let us through the gate. This was only partially good as we still found ourselves in the second holding area behind about 20 trucks. As we waited none of the trucks moved or even started up. Dave got off his bike and walked along the line of trucks to the kiosk, where you get a stamped piece of paper required to exit the area, and asked about the stamps. They told him the line was only for commercial trucks.

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    Trucks lined up at the border between Poland and Ukraine. It's gonna be awhile.

    We had been at the border for over two hours now, even after cutting in line. It was over 30°C (85°F) and we were sitting in all our gear under the sun. We could easily get heat stroke so we decided not to get the stamps and worry about it later. We turned our bikes around and again rode all the way to the front of the line. I got off my bike and walked up to the same guard who said he’d let us through. He politely told me to wait where I was. After 20 mins of standing there, I walked back to the bikes and we waited until we were called up like everyone else.

    For some reason we had to go all through the procedure again, handing over our passports, answering all the same questions. Then finally we could leave Poland, after a thorough search of our bags.

    But that was just one task down, we still had to enter the Ukraine next. As we were leaving, Dave asked the same border guard again if we could cut the line ahead into the Ukraine. There were about 15 cars lined up. He smiled and said it’s not allowed but that he didn’t ‘see us’ so off we went to the front of the line. Again no honking from disgruntled people waiting. While in line the time seemed to pass quickly as we spent much of it talking to a local guy who was interested in our trip. He told us a few days previously, a cyber attack by way of ransom ware had initiated from within the Ukraine so they were being extra diligent.

    In the end it took us about 3.5 hours to leave Poland and enter the Ukraine. It had been a long day as earlier that day, Dave and I accidentally got separated on the highway. He passed a few trucks that I couldn’t get around and the gap got wider and wider until we both started second guessing what had happened. I thought he’d merged off the highway and tried to reach me on the intercom to tell me he’d turned but they didn’t connect, which we often had problems with. I envisioned him waiting on the shoulder, seeing me pass and then trying to find a place on the freeway to turn around and come after me. This would then mean he was behind me, so I pulled over and waited a few minutes but realized that was futile. I needed to get somewhere with wifi so I could check our online tracking through inReach and see if he was behind me or ahead.

    I had to ride several kms off the freeway to get into a small town where I’d hoped to find internet. Of course it had to be a tiny town with no wifi anywhere. I stopped at a deli and asked if anyone inside spoke English. They all shook their heads but luckily a young guy was in the shop and overheard me. He could turn on his smart phone and give me a wifi connection. I logged in to our inReach account and saw Dave was waiting ahead on the highway only about 5 km (3 mi) from me. I thanked the guy who helped me and jumped on my bike to dash off to what looked like a truck stop, hoping Dave would continue to wait and not ride off to the next town also in search of wifi or turn around looking for me.

    I found him at the rest stop, typing a message to me on his inReach. He was a little bewildered as we’d been separated for about an hour but we got it all sorted out. He thought I’d turned off to use the bathroom or something and had also been unsuccessful with the intercom.

    Things like this happen. We’ve been separated in Guatemala City, somewhere off the interstate in the U.S. and in Cusco, Peru. We both carry cell phones and could easily clear up a situation like this but when we left on the trip, I thought my phone was unlocked, therefore allowing SIM cards to be used. We found out in Africa it wasn’t so I’ve never been able to get a SIM for my phone. Dave gets them for his phone when we’re somewhere long enough but as we were in Poland only 2 days it didn’t make sense.

    So there you have it; even a somewhat boring day riding the freeway can have its challenges :)
    #79
  20. ridingfullcircle

    ridingfullcircle Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2013
    Oddometer:
    114
    You Should Really Visit Ukraine

    Posting July 22, 2017—After our quick tour through eastern Europe, I had thought I’d missed the opportunity to see where my grandpa on my mother’s side, had been born. I’d grown up thinking he was from Poland so when I first googled Bolechow, Poland, the pin’s landing point dropped somewhere random, unnamed and a few hundred kms out of our way so we didn’t pursue it. Although I’d had an interest in visiting Poland while on our trip, I hadn’t planned to search for my grandpa’s village, per say. He had passed away over 15 years ago and I was just happy to see any part of his country as we rode through.

    But e-mails after further investigation from several family members found that Bolechow, also spelled Bolekhiv, or Болехів in the Cyrillic alphabet, is actually a village in Ukraine. It had originally been part of Poland pre-WWII but after 1945, Poland’s borders were redrawn during a territorial evolution. This was in fact the village where my grandpa, Jan Pawel Wolański, was born.

    With this new information, I opened Google maps and found out we were within 100 km (60 mi) of Bolechow. No reason not to go! My grandpa’s history is remarkable. He was taken prisoner during the war and escaped. When he returned to Poland in 1972 to try and visit his family, he was not allowed to cross the border, which was heart wrenching for him. Thus he could not visit members of his family. My grandpa spoke every broken English, even after living in Canada for several decades. I remember him continually talking about the war when I was young. It sounded terrible so didn't want to listen.

    Now, so close to his birthplace, it became important for me to understand more and see the place he had survived having his family torn apart and losing his home during the terrible years of his young adult life before he was finally able to see some relief after the war ended, meet my grandma, whose parents were also Polish, though she was born in England, and start a new life in Canada.

    When Dave and I arrived in Bolechow, we found it very rundown. Some of the main streets were full of potholes and broken pavement. Transport trucks passed through the small downtown area stirring up mini tornados of dust. The buildings needed care and churches seemed forgotten about. Still, it had no small amount of charm seeing as it was a place of my heritage. I knew my grandpa had grown up poor and so I wasn’t deterred. In fact, it added to the mystic of his history.

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    I bought some cherries here at the market in Bolechow—one of my grandpa's favourite fruits.

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    We found an old church I like to think my grandpa may have attended, and parked the bikes in the shade. Three girls, aged 11, approached us shyly at first then with growing excitement and in limited English began asking my name, where I was from, how old I was and if they could take photos of me on my bike. Dave didn’t get any attention at all ;) They were adorable and added to my good feeling of the town’s people.

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    We parked our bikes in the shade beside an old church in Bolechow.
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    The cute little girls in Bolechow who wanted to take photos of my bike.

    Dave stayed with the bikes while I enjoyed walking around for an hour or so taking photos and videos I later sent home to my family. In front of a statue commemorating heroism, I sent a silent message to my grandpa apologizing for not listening to him more. He had some amazing stories of survival and I wish I’d been more appreciative of what he went through to seek a more appealing life in Canada.

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    Here I sent a silent message to my grandpa for everything he had to go through during the war and being pulled from his birthplace here in Bolechow.

    The Ukraine isn’t on many people’s travel list these days but after leaving my grandpa’s village, our good feeling about Ukrainian’s increased when a few days later we stayed with a couple near Kiev whom we’d found on couchsurfing.com

    Ramon and Elvira were very welcoming and helpful. They made us a late lunch when we arrived, along with another traveller from Germany, who was hitchhiking to India over the course of a year. We had some delicious borscht, a sour soup popular in eastern Europe, Ukraine and Russia, and later a huge meal of meat and veggies on the BBQ. Ramon and Elvira informed us Ukrainian vodka was much better than Russian, a theory we were only too happy to test out. (So far, we can’t tell the difference—it’s all good!)

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    Our steeds resting in the grass at Ramon and Elvira's house near Kiev, unsaddled and ready for a rest.

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    Getting ready for a feast with Ramon and Elvira.
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    Dave and Ramon talk with Killian, from Germany, who is hitchhiking across Europe to India.
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    What's an evening in the Ukraine without your 'water' of choice? Testing the vodka in Ukraine so we can compare it to Russia's later. Also, those stuffed green tomatoes were AMAZING.

    During the evening, Ramon said reflectively while turning the meat over a flame: “I think there is a lot of stereotyping that Russians and Ukrainians drink a lot.” He paused long enough to give us all enough time to conclude this was an unfair assumption. But Ramon turned to us and with a completely straight face, said, “It’s true.”

    We all laughed and toasted each other with more homemade vodka.

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    Ramon, Elvira and their son with Dave and I out front of their house near Kiev. We met them on couchsurfing.com
    #80