Saturday, June 28, 2008

A watched pot...

This is getting silly now. I still have 20 days before I get to leave NZ, and I'm starting to get a bit tetchy. I just want to get underway, even if that just means starting my 2 weeks in the UK. Anything's gotta be better than killing time at work (never thought I'd hear myself think that! I love my job!). I haven't even got my bike to play with any more. Probably just as well, given my kak-handedness. I have two short stories of ineptitude where learning about the bike is concerned, for those that are interested, and here they are.

The first centres around the inner tubes. I was reasonably successful at taking the wheels off the bike, and the tyres off the rims, all be it with some grunting and groaning over the back one. Mark the mechanic very wisely tried to recreate 'the side of the road' in the workshop for realism, so tyre irons only were allowed...until the back tyre wouldn't budge, so he used his fancy machine to get me started. Anyway, all good: tube off, new tube back on, and in a first-attempt show of generosity, Mark even let me balance the wheel on a small steel drum to give me more leverage to get the tyre back on, while the other guy in the shop showed me how to bash the tyre on with a judical mix of leaning on the bead with one hand and a knee, and bashing the other part on with a rubber mallet. All going well, until I started to get a bit tired (ahh, those puns again) and managed to clout my supporting arm instead of the bead. While all my weight was on it. Leaning forward.

It was, I suspect, one of the more graceful manoevers ever performed in the workshop, as I fell in an elegant forward roll, perfected in the ninja dojos of the world, over the top of the wheel, onto my head, while carefully protecting the not-so-delicate yet surprisingly hard and pointy sprocket with my groin. Or maybe the sprocket protected my groin from the ground, its hard to say. Lets just say, they weren't tears of joy at my first success that were coursing down my cheeks...I learned a lesson.

The front was easy after that...except I managed to dig 3 large holes in the new, expensive, heavy duty inner tube as I tried to put the tyre back on. I learned some more.

The other tale of woe was the new battery, which only asked to be filled on a level surface, so I picked one of those optically illusional level surfaces, and so managed to spill a quantity of the acid on the ground. Probably got enough in there though, should be I just have to charge it (easy!). Except the charger wasn't working, so one of the guys moved it to another plug, one without an adaptor to regulate the in-going current (can you tell I have no idea what I'm talking about? No? How kind of you...). Shortly afterwards, the carefully inserted, impossible to remove black plastic caps used to stopper the filling holes were firing across the workshop like some kind of low budget special effect. Needle in a haystack doesn't come close. Those caps did not want to be found amongst the Frankenstein's laboratory of bike parts. Never mind, just think how powerful my battery will be now, with all that extra electricity in it...

Well, I hope its enjoying its trip in the box, it'll only be a few weeks out of Valparaiso by now. Closer than me anyway. Is that what they mean by 'bike envy'? Hey ho, on with the Spanish lessons. Hasta luego....or something...

Thursday, June 5, 2008

How it all began

Hi. Welcome to my blog. Come on in, pull up a chair and make yourself comfortable. Can I get you a drink? Tea? Or something stronger? Help yourself to a nibble....

So this is it. The start of my blog site, set up solely as a record of the preparation undertaken for my trip to South America, and ultimately an account of what happens when we get over there, but you'll have to be patient, that's not until 6th August. Hopefully my writing style will improve with practice, so bear with me through the early days, and I will try not to bore to death anyone misguided enough to be reading this!

I meant to start something like this ages ago, and today, 5th June, I finally pulled finger! Hoorah! So I’ll try and kick off with a quick summary of what it is I'm actually going to be doing and a few pre-trip thoughts and stuff. Hold on tight...

Well, on 6th August I'll be arriving in Santiago, Chile where I'll be meeting up with hardened, veteran, global biker Richard Humphreys, a mate from way back in the UK. We (that'll be Rich and Me from now on) will then spend (if things go to plan) the majority of the next 10 months traveling about the place on our motorbikes - his is a Suzuki DR650, mine a Yamaha XT600 (yes, yes, get it out of your system now, his is bigger than mine haw, haw. I expected better of you, I really did!). Without having a rigid schedule or route plan in mind, we will head vaguely north towards Bolivia, then east through Paraguay, into Brazil, down to Uruguay, into Argentina, then south as far as time allows, back up through Chile, maybe into Bolivia again, then into Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and, again if time allows, into Central America, with the ultimate goal of shipping out of Mexico some time in May next year. 16 countries in 10 months. Marvellous! Of course, many a slip twixt cup and lip, as they say, so who knows what the final score will be, but I'm as interested to find out as I hope you are!

Along the way we'll be stopping here and there to enjoy the countries, and, hopefully, working on a voluntary basis for the Bruce Organisation (check the link on the left) at various times on our travels. In addition to this, we are offering you, the discerning reader, the esteemed visitor to this blog site, the opportunity to donate to any or all of the 3 charities listed, as many times as you like over the next 10 months and, indeed, beyond. They are Helen and Douglas House in the UK, the National Burn Centre in NZ and the Bruce Organisation, who work throughout South America. Please take a few minutes to check out their web sites and find out more about what they all do, and please donate as much as you can afford on our behalf, through the charity donation links provided.

Anyhow, enough of the business stuff, back to the trip. So far, we've not done much but planning, and if I’m honest, not much (surely not enough) of that! We have had a few meetings and discussions about bikes and routes etc, but that’s about it really. Makes me laugh.

I have watched training videos…OK, I watched the DVD of Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman go round the world and the one where they go down through Africa, which I found pretty good training in some respects - it gave me an awareness of some of the social dynamic issues that we might encounter at least. Put another way, we are bound to piss each other off, probably quite regularly, but at the end of the day we’re there to have fun, so build a bridge and get over it. It was reassuring in a way to see it happening to other people and a bit of a heads up for me. Also, I found the shows useful for seeing just how rough the riding could get, but also how amazing the trip is going to be, if I hadn’t already worked that out for myself…which I think I had.

The thing that disturbed me most was the amount of planning they did for a 3 month trip, where as we are going for 10 months and seem to have done bugger all. I guess it becomes a bit moot after x amount of time, though. It won’t be much different whether its 3 or 10 months I don’t suppose. We’ll smell, be tired, see crazy stuff and want time off from riding, regardless of how long we keep riding, and I dare say we’ll take it all on the chin. Still, we haven’t been to the geographic office to check maps, we’ve only briefly been in touch with embassies to check visa requirements and we certainly don’t have a warehouse full of fancy free gear. I actually have a small cardboard box in the corner of my bedroom that has some bits and pieces of stuff that might come in useful. And as for the bikes, well I have spent most of the last couple of weeks down at Boyle's Kawasaki bike shop getting a crash (pardon the pun) course in basic bike fixing. Its been great and I have learned heaps, most of which I will probably have forgotten by the time I need to use it! Thanks Mark, you did your best, if it all goes to custard, its down to me!

Nonetheless, I have changed my fuel tank for a long-distance one, swapped on new brake pads, sprockets, tyres and inner tubes, a chain and got a big horn (oo-er). When I collect the bike in Valparaiso, I'll attach a loobman to keep me greased up (double oo-er), and I should be set. I still need a bit of practice, obviously, and seem to get through more inner tubes than I have wheels, but I expect cold dark nights on a high mountain top will prove to be an effective teacher. You can see the before-during-after photos by following the link (no donation required there, I promise!)

So, South America, huh? Not long to go now... Am I excited? Definitely. Scared? You bet. Questioning the wisdom of the decision? Why, certainly. Still going to go? Try and stop me!

So why am I doing it? Simple question I guess, and probably deserves an answer of sorts. South America has always been somewhere I’ve wanted to go, though I never expected to do it quite like this. The opportunity arose, thanks to Rich it has to be said, so why not take it? Initially, his plans were to go earlier in the year so I wasn’t able to join him, as far as my career was concerned. Then a few things changed, like his timetable and me passing exams and courses, and it suddenly seemed possible. I thought I’d join him there a few months in to his trip, but it seems I’m in for the whole shebang now, so that slightly surprised me. Obviously I’m going for the incredible experience its going to be, but we also discussed how we could make it about other people too. So, we decided to try and do some voluntary work in Peru for the Bruce Organisation, to which I'm really looking forward, and also we are going to try and raise some money for them and for a couple of other charities too (check the links at the top) - one in the UK (cos we’re Brits) and one in NZ (cos we both live and work there). That way most people we know, regardless of where they live, will be able to donate to a charity in their country, and a few can pick one or t'other or indeed all three. We have set up online donation sites for them, so we won’t be handling any of the money ourselves, or have the hassle of sharing it out, which is great. 100% of money donated goes to the charity of your choice, and if you tick the right boxes on the donation pages, both you and they can claim back some tax on it, which has got to be good, right? No idea if anyone will give anything (our sales pitch will be via this blog and an email along the lines of ‘we’re off having a fantastic time, if you’re jealous, or think we’re mad, or are just generous by nature, give money to our cause and help others not as lucky as us’. Could work...its down to you...), but I reckon this internet thing is a bit magical in some ways, and the message will be passed around (I hope) and potentially reach thousands of wallets - I mean people - and we could end up raising thousands. Or nothing. But at least we tried!

Well, that'll do for now, its an introduction of sorts, and its got the blog underway. Tune in next time for a run down of how incompetent I am at bike mechanics. Unfortunately the fun stuff about South America will have to wait until I get there. So, until then, you stay classy, San Diego.