My mum’s nagging me now because I’m sat on the sofa still in my dirty riding trousers and the same t-shirt I’ve had on since Saturday. She wants to wash them but I’m hanging on to them for dear life. To see myself in new clothes is going to be weird. Same with the beard. Everyone’s saying shave it off if ever again you want to get laid and I’m sat here thinking ‘but if I do that then the trip is over, I’m home.’ And I don’t think I’m quite ready for that settlement yet so I reckon I’ll keep it for the time being and continue my life of celibacy until the day I have it off and err.r…. have it off.
I don’t know if I’ve already told you this, I don’t think I have, but coming across Belgium I got on to this single lane road having finally accepted the motorway as too manic and saw all these scantily clad ladies waving from their neon windows.
The first one I went past I thought ‘she looked real’ thinking it was just an attractive dummy. So I turned around and went back. By this time the magnificent brunette in the suspenders had pulled a different pose and I was left wondering what the hell was happening. It was midday, the sky was blue and along the same road were schools and bakers, and yet here I was staring right into the eyes of a lady offering what turned out to be sex. I know that because I went into the newsagent next door and asked the teenager behind the counter what the lady next door was offering.
‘Sex’ he said, adding that here in Belgium it’s all quite natural. “Do you think she’d mind if I took her photo?’ I asked. ‘Yes’, he said, ‘I think she would.’
Sadly that means I’ve got no pictures of the most wondrous views of this entire trip. Bugger.
That was on the Friday, the day before I got the ferry to England. I’d camped at the Nurburgring that night and thought I’d have no problem riding the 450 kilometres to Calais on European roads. But no, in the end I reckon it was one of the hardest days of the entire trip. It was cold, raining on and off, I tried riding the motorways but found them more frightening than the autobahns so kept pulling off them to find a map shop to navigate us the back roads. Only every petrol station had maps for everywhere but Belgium.
I finally found one and realised immediately that I was never going to get to Calais by night fall. And I didn’t. At about 7pm, just as it was getting dark, a guy at the petrol station who’d ridden the Dakar four times invited round to his bike club for a drink so I had a few coffees there and didn’t get back on the road til 10. By then I still had the rest of Belgium to cross and a bit of the French coast. In the end I got into Calais at 2am and had nowhere to sleep but on the floor of the terminal carpark.
Before I got in my sleeping bag I went to the ticket office to check my reference number was correct. “I’m a bit early”, I said. To which he replied, ‘no sir you’re actually three days late.’
Turns out I’d somehow booked the ferry for the 23rd, not the 26th so I had to pay again.
But that’s alright, my mate had called the ferry company in advance so that when I boarded one of the crew was waiting with a glass of champagne and a free breakfast. They even let me sit in Club Class, though I felt a bit out of place so went for a walk around. It was then the captain announced that he had a very special guest onboard who’d ridden his moped from Sydney. I turned red, tried to hide but it was too late, the woman in the breakfast queue wanted to hear all about it. So did the Serbian lady serving the sausages. So we all sat down for a natter until the ship finally sailed in.
At the other end I came down the ramp and rolled through customs, where just after my mum and dad and aunty and uncle and cousin were waiting. My mum came running and did the whole embarrassing mum thing before I’d got off my bike. My dad said exactly what I expected, ‘So you made it then,’ and it all felt very weird. But weird because it didn’t feel like I’d been away that long or that I’d been riding my bike that long at all. It was just another bonkers scenario, no more daft than the countless others I’d got used to on this trip. I suppose that’s the problem with these things; they make you kinda used to weird shit happening.
Then I rode around the corner to where my friends and the incredible folk from either this site or Londonbikers were waiting. They had banners and t-shirts and everything. It was incredible, so incredible that even the two policeman who’d just watched me ride backwards down a one way street decided not to book me. Again it was just real surreal. Everyone looked the same and we all shuck hands as if I’d just got back from a weekend trip. I liked that, how you can be away for so long and just carry on where you left off. It’s a weird old world. I also got to meet the strangers on bikers whose faces I didn’t recognise but whose profile names I did. If any of those are reading this now can I just say a huge huge magnificent thankyou. I will never be able to explain just how warm a feeling it is to to meet people who will travel all that way just to meet a stranger they’ve read the words of on a website. What an absolute privilege to ride with you all and I would be grateful if all of you could drop me your contact details so I keep in touch.
After that we rode up to McDonalds. Actually that’s not true. We crawled up the hill at a struggling 50kmh with all these people behind. I think those not in our convoy thought they were following a funeral procession until we turned in for a Big Mac. In the carpark even more people were waiting to greet us and buy us cups of tea. Paul – the greatest friend anyone could ever hope to have – had organised the day so I only had 30 minutes or so to say hello to everyone before we hit the road with what looked like 20 bikes in the rear view mirror.
The sun was shining, Dorothy was still alive, we’d only gone and made it.
And speaking on behalf of Dorothy I have to say how magnificent she was this day. Since she started with her troubles back in Kazakhstan I’ve took her steady so as to extend her life, but now, with no worry for if she should go pop, I lit a bigger wick and cranked her all the way up to 65km/h… then 70…. then 75kmh. It was Paul in the van who was doing it with his slip stream. I just pulled in tight, laid flat across the handlebars and for a 100 kilometres or more just sat there smiling.
Crossing London was a bit crazy. The traffic was backed up and with cars in the convoy we didn’t split any lanes. But gradually we worked our way in from the south east and slowly, oh so slowly picked a gridlocked path through a city I have to say is more spectacular than any I’ve crossed on this whole damn adventure. There’s so much soul about the place, especially on a hot day like the one we had. I suppose you take these things for granted when you it’s your doorstep, the capital of your country.
But to pass through the place now, with so many visions of the rest of the world burned on your eyeballs, made everything seem so spectacularly new. I loved the place, got giddy at one point and had the greatest of times rolling through the heart of the place with three great old friends in the van in front, and six new friends on motorcycles ridden all the way from Dover alongside me.
They thought it was their pleasure, actually it was mine.
Eventually we made it to the Ace Cafe where the owner got his ramp out to lead Dorothy up the steps in to the restaurant and up on stage. They’re my Dorothy came to a rest and a small crowd gathered around. I don’t think they really knew what they were looking at for a while but enough questions were asked and answered until Dorothy’s achievement had been realised. We had some pictures taken with even my dad reluctantly joining us for one. Camera shy you see. Friends from places I’d used to work with arrived and it was incredible to stand there catching up with half a pint in my hand hearing and telling stories in a language I could now understand.
It was the same when we rode into London. All of a sudden I realised i could read everything, understand everything. Later than night when I was a bit lost in traffic on the way to Walkabout I turned to the cabbie next to me at the lights and said, ‘ey up mate, is it right here to Shaftsbury Avenue?” The man turned and in a foreign Cockney accent I’d not heard in a long time replied with sentences and words I recognised from the past. It felt weird not to be using pens, paper and flapping hand signals to get my question across, but at the same time so lovely. I still felt slightly foreign what with my face fungus and dirty clothes, yet at the same time I thought, ‘I could get used to this.’
The plan for Walkabout was always to have the bike in the bar but when I got there I just felt a bit silly with it all. It was a central London bar, it was busy, it was dark, the AFL was on the telly and I was supposed to wheel a bike through it all. In the end I changed my mind and instead put Dorothy in the back of Paul’s van where she slept soundly for the night in an underground carpark.
By this time I was absolutely pooped. I’d only got 2 or 3 hours sleep on the Calais car park floor the night before and by 10pm my eyes were red and heavy. New friends turned up who’d been following us from the website which gave me a new burst of energy and excitement. It felt so weird having strange faces quote me from the website. They’d read every day, posted every night, turned out in the middle of London just to meet me and Dorothy. A nice and incredibly strange feeling. A humbling one as well, because on several occasions I’ve said all I’m really doing is riding a motorbike a longer distance than usual. When you’re doing it every day you never really think how daft it all is because it becomes your life, it’s what you do when you wake up everyday. So to meet someone who snaps you out of that normality and reminds you just how privileged you were to be living this way of life is a lovely experience. I can’t even begin to explain it.
I just love it when I hear about their plans for travelling because I know now just how much fun they’ll have. A few weeks back someone said it’s alright me saying everyone should go out and ride their Dorothy’s but not everyone has the time to do so. They have other commitments like wife’s and kids and jobs and mortgages. I’d been meaning to respond to that for a while because what this trip has really taught me is that you don’t have to ride eight months across the world to experience your Dorothy. You can do it in a week, in a weekend, in a day, in an hour, in a lunch brake. If Dorothy is the spirit of adventure there’s no reason you can’t have one of those anywhere. Bizarre that it’s taken this great long trip for me to realise this.
I can’t wait to get Dorothy back down to London so I can race around the backstreets and strange suburbs exploring all the things I’ve never had my eyes open to before. Same with the country lanes and forest trails around my parents house that have always been there but never with me on them. I’ve taken them all for granted and always thought I have to travel much further afield to feel I’m having any meaningful adventure. But I don’t. In fact me and Dorothy are going to have one tomorrow once she’s had her oil changed.
That said, when Dorothy arrives in Alaska for the pan America please don’t remind me of that.
(picks to follow)