Me and my motorbike Dot are just on an impromptu adventure across the world from Sydney to London and thought you might like to read about it.
I suppose it's different from most because we did no planning or forward thinking, we just set off and rode at Dot's incredible pace of 65km/h.
We're currently in Thailand about to board the plane to Nepal but thought it best to go back to where it all began... Australia...
(more photos at www.thepostman.org.uk
under stage report)
Sydney to London on a moped. I wasn’t sure if it had ever been done before but the more I thought about it the more it sounded like a terrific idea. I was already in Australia, my visa was coming to an end and I already had the bike. I’d bought her off eBay for $1500, an old postman’s delivery hack nick named Dorris. Flat out she could do more than 80km/h and after just a week of ownership it was clear her bottom-end was already about to fall out.
Could I really ride her up to Darwin, through Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, India, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and on to England, home? How long would it take? How much would it cost? And how the hell was I going to make it the 4500 kilometres up to Darwin and across to East Timor in the fortnight immigration had just given me to get out? After two days to pack and plan, there was only one way to find out…
Blazing out of Sydney with the throttle wide open and Dorris loudly screaming, we had no clue what hurdles we would have to leap along the way. They would be high and frequent - visas, shipping, foreign tongues and exotic borders - that much was certain, and yet for the all this blind ambition and faith in something foolish, deep down we knew we could make it.
After nine months of failing to make jobs and relationships work in Sydney, this was our time, our one big moment in life to draw a line in the sand and scream fuck you. We will
make a stand, succeed in this voyage of discovery and prove to ourselves and to all those who doubt us that we aren't the absent-minded day-dreamers they think we are.
Was I out of my depth and ill-prepared? Of course I was. For footwear I had Converse, for storage a milk crate, for accommodation a tent, for finances my two good friends Mastercard and Visa. But I'm a firm believer that where there's a will there's alway, obsolutely, a way. Besides, we did have the prime minister of Australia’s signature on my helmet. I spotted him in a Sydney bookshop the day before we left and pounced before his security guard could shoot me. ‘Best of luck, Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister’. he wrote upside on the back. We were chuffed, even if I don’t vote Labour.
Telling the parents was the hardest part. I knew that if I told them before I left they’d try to change my mind, talk me round, make me see the false sense in a 29 year old jumping on a moped and riding Sydney to England with no money or mechanical idea. ‘Grow up, wise up, get a job’, they would say. I told them at the end of day three as I sat exhausted in McDonalds eating fries and a burger. It’d been one hell of a day.
In my haste I’d forgot to buy any tyre levers, so when I came out of a chemist with some cream for my sore backside I had no way of fixing the flat tyre that greeted me. Luckily a grisly old man, as thin as a rake and nervously twitchy, came to my rescue in a beaten up jalopy.
Dave was his name. Now a pensioner, he’d backpacked home from London to Sydney when his dreams of being a rock ’n roll legend had bit the dust back in the sixties. “Afghanistan was an amazing place back then,” he grizzled. “Then the fucking Russians ruined the place.” I bought Dave a crate of beer for his help then carried on north for twenty minutes until the tyre went flat again. Same wheel. Same nail.
No punctures the next day, instead Dorris’s bottom-end finally fell out. One thousand kilometres covered, another thirty thousand or so still to go. Fortunately I was in Brisbane when it happened and knew that if I could make it a few clicks north there was a bike specialist who could help.
When we arrived I asked Joe the owner if Dorris would make it to Darwin. He scratched his chin and said he thought she might. “What about England?” I continued. He stopped scratching his chin and looked at me funny. “Mate… there’s no chance”. I knew he was going to say that.
As the sun shone on my troubled mind, Joe graced me with three options.
Rebuild the engine in five days; fit a new one by the end of tomorrow or trade Dorris in for a newer bike and ride away that night. With the clock ticking on my visa I didn’t have the time for Dorris to sit and be tickled with Joe's spanners. There was a bike in the showroom, the same make and model as Dorris - a Honda CT110 - but this one was already set up for what I wanted to do.
She had a long range tank, side panniers and sheep skin seat… it was my God, my Mecca, my strawberry whip. On a scrap of paper I did false sums to convince myself I could afford it. In reality I couldn‘t, but what the hell, I’d got a boat to catch and an adventure to begin. So I bought it, christened it Dot, and got back on the road home... to England.
It was heart-breaking leaving Dorris behind. She was on her last legs, we both knew that. And yet to watch her disappear in my mirror as I sailed away on a replacement bike made me shudder. The bond was broken. her journey over. And yet for all that guilt I have to confess; life on the road was considerably smoother under Dot's steam. My tent fitted on the handlebar rack, my clothes in one pannier, tools and spares in the other and all my electrical gear and paperwork in the aluminium box on the back. The long range tank also meant we could ride 400 milometres without a single stop. Dot was perfect. The oppostite then of the weather…
It was the wet season up north and storm warnings were lighting up every inch of the map. At a campsite on the east coast the owner knocked on my canvas door and broke the news. “The Barkly Highway is out, washed away, there’s no way around but to go back down to Adelaide and come up the centre.” For anyone not up to speed with their Australian geography, that’s a detour of around 4,000 kilometres. I was gutted, heart-broken. I was going to be foiled by a drop of water and a flaky road. Screw you Mother Nature.
But wait, there's a glimmer of hope. If the rain stopped and the sun shone brightly, there was a small, tiny chance that the road could be okay to let light traffic through within the week. To continue in that direction was no doubt a gamble. If we headed north and the road didn’t open we would be stranded, land locked, with no way of getting to Darwin in time. If instead we took the detour south we might, if we slept for not a single night, just make it. But probably not. The coin landed. Heads. We’re going north.
For the next three days we rode from dawn ‘til dusk and covered a total of 1800 kilometres. This made my bum ache and Dot‘s rear tyre bald. Neither of us were designed for this, yet we pushed on giving it every last drop. There was no option. We had
to make it. The road had
to open. We had
to keep on pushing. And so on we rode, not stopping for a photograph with the giant Banana or even for a peak at the girls on Bryon beach. Finally, at Rockhampton we stopped following the coast and headed west, inland, along vast empty highways topped by a huge dome of layered clouds - some light and fluffy, others crisp and dark - with not another soul in sight.
Eventually we’d reach an isolated town or village, hundreds of kilometres apart but a neighbourly knowledge of each other that made you think the two communities were right next door. Here real Australians lived. Not the show ponies from the coast who gel their hair and wax their board, but bread and butter folk who knew the difference between a shovel and a spade.
People like Brody and Sarah, a couple who offered me their sofa one rainy night in Mount Isa. Their flatmate cooked spaghetti and we sat and chatted over the first meal I’d eaten with a knife and fork in ten days. I’d lost weight and my face was burnt a bright crimson. Dot was doing just fine.
The next morning we woke to sensational news; the road to Darwin was ready to reopen. We hit the tarmac before breakfast and camped that night as close to the closure as we could get. Our neighbour for the evening was a violent drunken man who hated the English and played Simon and Garfunkel just a little too loud. The next morning his truck broke down just past the spot where the road had been repaired. We sailed past with a giant grin; that's karma buddy. As for us, the race was now well and truly on.
If I stuck a hand-grenade up Dot’s exhaust pipe and glued my eyelids wide open we might just make the cargo boat that sailed out of Darwin the very same day my visa was up. Miss that one and we'd have to wait a week for the next. That wasn’t an option, so on we ploughed, through torrents of rain that would sit and wait in big black clouds on the horizon. My underpants were drenched, Dot’s sheepskin seat cover - nicknamed Beyonce - was sodden. And still the sky kept crying and the clock kept ticking.
Turning right at the Threeways Homestay, now 1000 kilometres south of Darwin, we had two just days to go. At the pace we’d been traveling it was still possible that we'd make it time. But there could be no more nightmares, no disasters or punctures, breakdowns or roads being closed. Fate would seal it.
Hours passed, the sun soared and then set. Giant road-trains a hundred foot long came bashing past and blew us to the weeds. We were both tired and exhausted, close to collapse.
Yet somehow, despite everything, we made it, the two of us racing in to the city late on Sunday night, her with a bald tyre and in desperate need of fluid, me in a frazzled-eyed state with buttocks I could barely sit on. There was no champagne or party girls, just quiet, sombre relief. We’d done it. Dot was on the boat, I was on the plane. Next stop, East Timor.