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Published: September 23rd 2008
Tuesday 23rd September
I knew it. I've become addicted to this f*cking blog. The trip is as good as over (well at least on hold) and here I am typing up an epilogue from my hospital bed. What a sad MF!!
Truth is having been here 3 days, where the highlight of activity is the slow 5m journey to the loo, I am bored out of my skull and so for something to do I thought I would add an epilogue, with dos and don'ts, kit summary and my next steps. - typed one handed mind. That is how bored I am. Sorry no decent pictures for this, you'll just have to make do with a mug of yours truly in my hospital bed. However now I have been re-united with the SLR I can at least update my last 2 days with better pictures. Final trip mileage was 2926.
My initial plan was to be discharged this morning, go back to the hotel with Wen and get a cab to the airport in the morning. When Wen (sounds like a renegade GPS rival device to TomTom - it would certainly be more reliable) saw how pathetically mobile I am she figured we should go with the hospital's advice and for me stay here and cab straight from hospital to the plane. As boring as that is, unfortunately I had to agree, I can only manage a few metres.
The medical care here is exemplary and embarrasses our overstretched efforts. There is no pressure on bed availability as in the UK. I need follow up treatment for my scaphoid fracture (wrist) and maybe an operation and I could choose to stay and have it here in Innsbruck. Given this is one of the best hospitals in Europe for broken bones I was tempted, but instead am still flying home tomorrow.
As I write this my Beemer is being loaded on a truck to be shipped home. Probably my number 1 tip, would be buy a BMW! They have been absolutely superb, the best customer service I have ever encountered. Not only are they repatriating the bike they are flying me back too. Which leads me to number 2 tip. Do check the small print of your medical insurance! There was an exclusion clause in my annual worldwide policy for riding motorbikes >125cc. Idiot. OK this is too verbose let's do as a list. Those not interested in bike trips can just short cut out these 20 points
Big(ish) Bike Trip Tips (or Do's and Don'ts)
1. Check your health insurance covers you for accidents on the bike.
2. That when you take out your bike insurance the insurer will cover you for all your planned destinations, e.g. Tunisia. Most don't. (I did do this surprisingly.)
3. Have European breakdown cover. I had this twice over. A big but is to check whether the cover includes repatriation if the bike is fine and you are not. Often repatriation only kicks in when it is cheaper than fixing the bike abroad. The cost of fixing you is irrelevant.
4. Get an EHIC E45 card. This entitles you to full medical cover in the EU for free. The card is free too. It is a no-brainer. If I did not have this, given my medical insurance exclusion I would be facing a bill of thousands of pounds.
5. If travelling alone be sure you are comfortable with your own company for days on end. It's not a backpacking trip, you won't meet lots of people. Moreover when it goes tits, you obviously are on your own. For me this is/was fine, but it is not for everybody.
6. If you are taking a tent, strike a balance between weight and size and liveability. Yes obviously you want the lightest and smallest, but if you set off with just a bivi then you are not going to have much fun taking your bike kit off and have nowhere to store it. Get a 2 man, unless you're a midget and preferably one with a porch. I researched this quite a bit and would highly recommend the tent I took. A Vango Spirit 200+. Only weighed 2.7kg, quite small to pack yet was roomy and with a porch area. Take a liner as well as a bag. The whisperlight stove was superb, but don't try the siphoning fiasco. Either take a long tube, or better a siphon pump, or just fill it at the garage giving you an emergency fuel ration. Very useful in Denmark! Take an ipod unless you really are a hermit. I also had folding speakers, perfect for the tent and drowning out your tinnitus!
7. Before this even, be sure you will camp. It takes a lot of bulk carrying a tent, roll mat, sleeping bag, liner, stove, pans, light. If you don't use it you will feel a mug for lugging it round on your trip. If you are, test all your kit before you go. I did at least do this, but perhaps I should've slept in a freezer to check the bag!
8. Buy the bike more than a month before you leave. Suss out wind noise etc. As Eddie says, everything is a compromise. If you will never go near dodgy surfaces and don't camp, a hyper-tourer (or sports tourer) with luggage is the most comfortable, practical option, e.g Blackbird, VFR, ZZR1400, FJR1300, BMW big toury things. Despite the, at times, unbearable wind noise from my bike I would still recommend it as the right vehicle for my trip. But you did question it in the p*ssing rain stuck at 80mph on the Autobahns. Do not go for BMW's expanding luggage though. It implodes at the slightest impact. Go for aluminium, Touratech or similar.
9. Electrically I had a nigh on perfect setup, which you would expect from a geek. Kit comprised: Nikon DX40 camera with 18-55mm and 55-200mm zooms (multiply by 1.6 to get old optical equivalents, i.e approx 28-300mm. I could have done without the telephoto. (I reckon I may have needed it in Tunisia to snap Ay-rabs without them thinking it was some homosexual green light, else I would've sent it home.) Snappy - Canon Powershot A580, really useful for quick pics on the bike as I kept it in my pocket. Also because a snappy shows you the image on an LCD screen, you don't even have to take off your helmet. Both cameras took SD cards which were readable directly from the eeePC's SD slot - I reckon the eeePC is a must. It allows you wifi internet access, word processing, email, video skype calls to friends and family and internet radio. I also took a large flash drive - a 16Gb corsair waterproof one. Each night I backed up all my photos to this (in case my camera got nicked etc.) It also had a scanned in copy of all my key documents: Passport, V5, driving licenses etc.
10. Get a Skype account setup before you go and test it on those you will Skype. Apart from free “make you miss home” video skype calls to your kids, you can call anyone for buttons. Considering I have spent £80 in a couple of days on my mobile in 3 days in hospital, it will save you a fortune.
11. My plan of scanning in the relevant sections of travel guides onto my memory stick, again was a great weight saving idea, relieving you of heavy (and in most cases useless anyway) travel guides. Again time got the better of me.
12. You will need tools, but I probably took more than my ability - that'll be a single screwdriver then... Seriously, as a minimum you will need to be able to fix punctures on the move (inc. CO2 refill cannisters) and be able to tighten etc most key bolts on the machine. For a BMW that means a Torx key set. Folding sets are handy. I took Duck tape and cable ties and did end up using the tape on my busted pannier. But tools to access the head, when I wouldn't have a clue were woefully optimistic. I did try and get on a City Guilds type mechanics course before I went, but they were booked a year in advance. Still probably a good idea. As is a Haynes manual, or failing that a DVD rom workshop manual - copied onto a USB stick.
13. My riding kit was OK - just. The Tuareg suit was alright, but for ultimate waterproof-ability you can't beat PoorTex - the old fashioned overalls. These on top of the Tuareg would have kept me dry. If I was going to Norway or similar again I would try and find room for them. Also I would look for a cooler suit - one where the GoreTex layer was in the outer suit. The gloves were crap - you will need 2 pairs though. Hard to be harsh to the boots, but if you suspect they are no longer fully waterproof then don't be a moron like me, get a new pair in plenty of time.
14. My original plan of walking shoes (not boots, they are too bulky) as a compromise that were wearable in the evenings but also better for hiking than trainers was a good one. Again I left it too late to get a pair. You will not have room for more than 1 pair of shoes, so for this sort of trip they were the right footwear.
15. Wicking sports (running etc.) tops, long and short sleeve, are perfect for the bike. You can then save your T-shirts for the evenings and make 1 tech top and 1 T-shirt last 4 days, or more if desperate!
16. Walking trousers roll up small for packing for the night ahead and also detach into shorts. A must. Jeans were a luxury. If you really never planned on meeting anyone or socialising any evening you could do without them, but I didn't regret having them.
17. A hat. If you're a bald headed chicken f*cker like me (old Northy quote - charming wasn't he?) then you will need one for the ferries (and cold nights in the tent.)
18. I took a soft shell jacket. Like a fleece but less bulky. It was my only warm layer, aside from a Berghaus GoreTex shell, and served me well.
19. Despite my continual bemoaning of it, a GPS is exceedingly useful. But I would go for the Garmin Zumo. The electrical connection, well lack of it, on the TomTom drove you mad. It is a problem well documented on the web. Also the tracks and waypoints features of Garmins means when there are no detailed GPS maps for an area, i.e Tunisia, you could download someone elses waypoint routes. I had fully detailed European mapping, but for Tunisia the GPS would only be useful for reporting absolute position should I get lost.
20. Take chain lube (I lubed the chain almost every other day when doing big mileages), a side stand end extender (the beer mat type things that go under your side stand in wet ground). I took a 1.5m chain and padlock that I could detach as a disc lock, but then I am paranoid. The bike was alarmed but you can't beat chaining it to something immovable for piece of mind. If I slept near the bike, i.e when camping, I just used the disc lock.
To be fair, apart from a couple of major f*ck ups - health insurance and buying 30 screens and helmets on the move, I didn't do too badly, but please learn from my mistakes. In particular do not underestimate just how long it takes to get sorted. Many excellent ideas I had, I just did not have time to effect.
I am a bit morose about my near term future, but I am thinking of finishing the trip in the Spring. Probably just a 2-3 week dash to the Sahara and back, probably on the longer ferry from Marseille. This means missing Croatia and Italy/Sicily from the original schedule but will have included many of the highlights.
Norway was superb. Austria likewise was a great highlight. Nearly as stunning, but a lot more accessible. As the sun sets over the mountains visible from my hospital bed, so does it set on this leg of the trip. But I think will be back....
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