Fjords to Sahara - Day 1 getting to the boat

Published: August 31st 2008
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Saturday 30st August

And so it begins - the nostalgic last ever ferry to Norway complete with stragglers on the shore waving the Norwegian flag and a captain blasting the loudest horn I've ever heard the entire passage out the Tyne - honked like a man who will not get the opportunity again, which of course he won't. I am typing this on my eeePC looking out at the Tyne and Newcastle disappearing behind me, together with the setting sun. I haven't quite gotten my sea legs yet so perhaps typing now is a bit premature - in fact if this blog never makes it to the internet it will be because I barfed all over the eeepC and trashed it on its maiden entry. Its actually pretty cold on deck - the wind blasts you as soon as you leave the mouth of the Tyne and the swell likewise picks up. I thought I heard something about gale force 8 on the tannoy - well cheery.

I remembered driving to Newcastle before and the A1 having some time dimensional capability in that it never seems to end. If we built Hadrian's wall to keep the Scots out of the south then we surely built the A1 to keep the Geordies out. What a boring b*stard of a road - its like that station in the Matrix that you can never leave. I have to admit that I did engage in the rather worrying habit of talking to myself in a daft voice like some insane idiot en route. A choice activity reserved for long motorbike journeys - I am pleased to report that I do not do so, or feel like doing so in a car. Actually only the second time I have done so (I think anyway), the last was riding solo up to North Yorkshire to meet Bruce for a couple of days in the Yorkshire moors, but no less concerning for that. Having confessed to such strange behaviour to Bruce on that trip he admitted doing the same thing, but I still don't think it is normal, more like early dementia. I am hoping it is just something to do with Yorkshire and will pass - because I always end up rabbiting the names of the places in a daft pseudo Yorkshire accent, like Barnsley, or Donny (Donnington) - all the place names in Yorkshire are hard to say without a fake accent, much like Dudley with a Brummie one. That and a couple of Eee-by-gums, and you end up with a daft sentence such as “oooh Barnsley, I'm from Barnsley, eee by gum” in your best Geoffrey Boycott take off. Passes the time until it dawns on you that you're not the full socket set. What a f*cking nutcase!

The journey was relatively incident free although the bike is about as nimble as Chandler or Fieldy, nearly as heavy and wider than both sat together. I left late Friday night for an overnight stop in Castle Donnington and promptly smacked some poor girl in an MG's mirror at the first set of lights in Bristol, not realising the width of the panniers. “If the handlebars go through so will the panniers”, claimed Mr BMW man - yeah right. This girl was so nice and grateful that I stopped I was quite taken aback - after all it was 110%!m(MISSING)y fault. The width of the thing has tamed my filtering ways and in heavy traffic on the M1 I moved not much faster than the cars. And the weight... On the slightest camber the bike pivots on its side stand as if to fall over on it. Even on the flat the bike leans precariously onto the stand, too much I think. I nearly dropped it outside a shop as it pivotted off the stand and en route to an embrace with the pavement and it took all my strength to hold the thing up. Its fine on the move but about as stable George Bush at low speeds. Did I pack too much - maybe, but not clothes. Camping gear takes up loads of space, more than half. I hope I use it. I took quite a lot of tools - nice to look at whilst I wait for roadside assistance I thought. Torx key sets: Like Allen keys but star shaped - BMW love these star screws, the bike is held together with them. If anybody needs to buy a folding torx key set then screwfix is your place - I tried everywhere before finding them. Spindle keys - again a b*stard to find, Hein Gericke for those wanting one. Tyre levers, tube puncture kits, cannabilised parts of my socket set, duck tape, cable ties, CO2 cannisters, glupe for sealing inner tubes, pliers, adjustable spanner - all came along for the ride. Camera gear - I took a digital SLR, 2 lenses, a snappy Canon Ixus and a helmet cam. GPS, was TomTom which has such a crap electrical connection I may bin it and get a Garmin. And guide books -something like 6 guide books are not light. (Just moved inside - it is freezing outside and more to the point no matter where I sit the PC is getting drops of water on it.)

So anyway I made it to Newcastle - Bah to all those who were convinced I'd miss the ferry. Newcastle - famous, for Newky Brown Ale, a wannabe Sydney lookalike bridge (pop your balloon Chandler and co. I know Newcastle's came first, but can you really argue it is as iconic?), a half decent footy side and not much else really, apart from being really really far away from everywhere. I am sure it is quicker to get to Scotland. I must admit to my views on Newcastle being unfairly shaped as a yoof by the superb original Get Carter movie - Michael Caine's finest (well in my opinion anyway.) I don't even know if it was Newcastle it could have been some other northern delight such as Hull, but I think it was Newcastle. Wherever it was, the Northern tourist board should have gotten the film banned - that and the cheery signs up the A1 signposted “The North”. Well enticing! The images of the slum streets (filmed in the sixties), chilling music and Caine, aka Carter, dispatching Eric and his bottle of scotch into a slag basket to be dumped into the North sea, a compelling vision do not make. If that wasn't enough Caine's dialog of “...the only reason I came back to this sh*thole was to find out who killed Frank...” kill any tourism opportunities dead. Anyway great film - forget the remake this is the real deal and it took till Pulp Fiction to better it for a gangster flick. Of course I know that Newcastle is having a renaissance and is the venue of choice nights away, but any rejuvenation of the centre hasn't permeated out to North Shields and the docks. The culinary revolution that has occurred in the UK over the last 20 years (of which Mr Poole is a proud part) obviously also passed North Shields by. The haute cuisine on offer extended to chips 'n' curry sauce. Fine after 7 pints - but when you're sober? Still of course I had some. Beggars and choosers and all that. So if I turn into a fat James Hunt this trip - that is how it started.

I am generally happy with the bike, as long as I am careful where I stick the side stand out fully loaded, with one major exception. The screen. I thought the whole point of the screen was to deflect the wind off you, but Mr BMW seems to have designed it to generate maximum turbulent and deafeningly noisy air directly at your helmet. In a bid to alleviate this I have fitted a Metal Mule taller touring screen, but other than making the bike look like one of those daft BMW scooters with a roof it has made little difference. 8 inches taller means squat if it is angled the same, it just gives you a bit more room to duck under but you cannot comfortably sit in the wind draft for long. I think I am just going to remove the screen altogether and sit in the wind, if it is not turbulent it will be quieter and I don't really cruise above 90mph on this bike anyway - else you get vibrated to bits. I need to do something, else I will be deaf at the end of the trip. Despite screwing earplugs so far into my ears they touch across the void, the tinnitus when you get off the bike is not good and you can feel your helmet being punched around. So the screen will come off when I hit Bergen. Sounds trivial because I love the way the bike handles, but if I cannot sort the noise I will sell the bike when I get back.

Two pages on not a lot. Still very cathartic writing drivel, rocking in the North Sea swell. No barfing and I seem to have settled into the rythym of the boat - my home for the next day or so. Apologies to non-bike types, I know this entry was a bit bikey, but then it is a blog about a bike trip - what did you expect Gary's top fashion tips (now that would be a short blog). Till the next episode, adios....


2nd September 2008

The big trip
You finally made it then, we had doubts about you reaching the ferry. Glad you didn't heave on the Asus turning your blog into a bleurgh. As for Newcastle I think Mr Chandler is from Sunderland, but those Geordies and Mackams get on so well anyway...

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