On the boat to Bilbao

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May 18th 2012
Published: May 19th 2012
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Outbound route to Erg Chebbi


This blog started as a diary to a semi-credible trip spanning several months – just the completion of the journey dictating its duration, rather than a few snatched weeks in the holiday schedule of someone stuck in more regular employ. It even had a credible strapline – “From the Fjords of Norway to the Sahara”.

Still my abortive attempt at trying to limbo dance under a wire across a road whilst on the bike in Switzerland put a swift end to that. A painful, 3 hour ride on the bike back to hospital in Innsbruck, via Italy, and a couple of X-rays and CT scans later, and I was covered in more plaster than St Paul’s Cathedral. And that was that.

A brief second abortive attempt to make North Africa the following Spring (after limbs had mended) sneaked in before re-entering the world of the employed has really just turned this blog into little more than a string of loosely interconnected holidays, sharing only a common purpose of trying to reach the Sahara – to date in vain. But I don’t care whether it is worthy of a blog or not – I guess I just like writing.

So after a few more ordinary (but good fun) European bike trips in between here we go again – a 3rd time lucky quest to reach the Sahara, with which I have had a lifelong fascination. This is being typed from a drizzly deck on the good ship something or other headed for Bilbao – eventual destination Erg Chebbi in the Moroccan Sahara, via a few other jewels the country has to offer as well as the inevitable torture of importing the motorbikes across the border in Tangier. In contrast to the weather here it was an unbelievable 42C in Marrakech today – nice.

Having made such a pig’s ear of it previously this time I am not travelling solo. I had rather hoped such a travelling companion would be of the female kind. But attractive female bikers tend to be few and far between and with Lois Pryce unavailable instead I am riding with me old china plate Vince. At least then I won’t resort to having to talk random strangers in a tongue they don’t understand, albeit with my best foreign accent (to my kids simultaneous frustration and amusement)! But it did invite Nic, Vince’s long suffering (and lovely) girlfriend, to christen the trip the BrokeBack Mountain tour – marvellous! Still at least with two of us if one bins it, the other can call for a Red Cross camel or something.

Vince has a far superior plan (what a surprise!) in that he is riding down to Malaga in what can only be described as a motorised armchair, a luxurious cruiser in the shape of the Kwaka GTR1400 – a continent crushing machine with awesome torque and such nice touches as electronically adjustable windscreen that would allow him to cruise in comfort at 140mph. Then at Malaga he will swap bikes for the more rugged and far less comfortable BMW F800GS. In contrast yours truly is hammering down the length of Spain on the same model Beemer. A brilliant all round bike it may be, but the wind noise is deafening – despite having tried three fairings, custom ear plugs and ultra quiet Schubert helmets. Being somewhat vibey too, after any distance you arrive feeling like you have sat on a 1600rpm washing machine at full spin for a week, with your hands strategically placed on the drum itself – and all that at a paltry 85 mph. And I bet the most off road action it sees will be a wisp of Sahara sand blown across an otherwise pristine highway that no doubt will put our pot holed tarmac in the UK to shame.

Given his artistic prowess I had hoped that Vince’s mechanical acumen was similarly as developed and that he would lend some much needed mechanical ability to my woeful, albeit enthusiastic, efforts. However when I enthused that I had managed to get a Haines manual for the BMs for the trip, Vince’s quip back “Don’t worry we’ll call The AA – The Arab Autos”, led me to question my initial assumptions. Any suspicions were finally confirmed when a couple of days before the start of the trip Nic texted me in frustration asking what he should take – I quote “…. Gary he has f**k all apart from lip balm…”

The schedule is refreshingly (and unsurprisingly) light on planning. Sounds like an excuse for my chaotic approach to things but I hate the idea of having to leave somewhere at 3.06 pm just to meet some uber-tightly planned schedule. I’d rather see less and enjoy it than cram every sight Morocco has to offer in some American style “doing Morocco” tour. There is one mandatory for me – to finally get to the damn Sahara. The “schedule” is thus:

1. 24 hour Ferry to Bilbao arrives tomorrow evening;

2. Short 3 hour drive to Aranda de Duero followed by a ball breaking ride the rest of the length of Spain on Sunday to pick up Vince’s BM in the hills near Malaga and change bikes

3. Ferry across the Straits of Gibraltar Monday morning

4. Spend 11 days in Morocco – heading first for Chefchaouen, then Fes then at some stage Erg Chebbi, then (perhaps) back across to Marrakech and eventually back towards Tangier

5. 3 days travelling back to Blighty

Saturday Morning

Vince is a lucky MF – The Bay of Biscay is the calmest I have ever seen it. I have done this sailing 4 times and it has never been anything less than ‘kin rough. The last time when I was bunked in the front of the ship, the boat was pitching clean out of the water leaving you briefly weightless in bed as it crashed down with an ear splitting rip as it smashed back into the waves. On another trip my bike fell over despite having more straps than Linda Lovelace. Today it’s calmer than the channel – it looks more like a lake.

I’ve overloaded the bike again. I have developed an obsession about being able to fix a puncture. I have puncture kits for tubed tyres, for tubeless tyres, Tyre levers and spindle bolts for removing the front wheel and parts of my socket set, Endless CO2 cannisters, a pump; plus: 2 (heavy) bottles of slime (basically you fill the tyres with this gunk and it seals the hole – I think it wrecks the tyre, but if we’re stuck in the middle of nowhere who cares) and another self inflating sealing thing. Plus all the other tools, Torx sets, Allen key sets etc and my piece de resistance a full hard back Haines Manual makes for quite a bit of weight. Because the BM side stand is only 3nm long with the pannier weight the bike feels supremely unstable on its side stand – not ideal for ferry transport and I just hope it doesn’t wobble over and take out the rather smart K1300R to its left.

My other obsession is gloves – don’t ask but I have packed 4 pairs of motorbike gloves. I will ditch quite a bit of stuff in Malaga at the bike hire place – for example why I brought a full road atlas for Spain I don’t know. That, my winter riding gear, and as much other stuff as I can will not be travelling with me across the Straits on Monday.

We have an impressive array of tech between us I (initially) am pleased to say. Vince has some uber new Canon GX1 camera, I have an SLR and a snappy, we have two Go Pro head cams (although usefully he hasn't brought an SD card to actually record the video on), this laptop and Vince even has a James Bond style fold out solar charging array that can charge seemingly anything from a phone to a car. We also have Schubert intercoms, Garmin Zumos and enough adapters to list the boat. There is of course a catch in that Vince hasn’t a Scooby how any of it works and I seem to be fulfilling the role of tech support this morning.

Enough for now – not much really to say just an intro for the trip ahead which starts proper in 5 hours time when we disembark at Bilbao.


20th May 2012

Early Days
Delighted to hear that you have both successfully negotiated The Bay of Biscay, or in Gary's case, the Ebay of Biscay. Have fun and ride safely. Can't wait to hear more.
22nd May 2012

Ha ha - you are so right Vincent is a lucky MF as I did that trip with the family once when we drove to Portugal and it was like riding a bucking bronco. Alice and Krsitina didn't get up the whole time, and when Adam and I went up for breakfast he and i lasted a mouthful or two before returning downstairs to our berths past the lads and lasses on the pints, fags and fruit machines. I do remember getting a pint or two in me at some point and then hearing the revellers come back at 4am from the parties - then when you finally berth at Bilbao they say for all those doing the mini cruise please be back in an hour! I just have to mention that ferry again onj the journey back through Spain and France and the kids shut up pronto from thier moaning. Have fun chaps. Am laughing at the amount of tech you are taking out and the amount of gloves - who needs 4!! Then again I would be the same I guess - Andy

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