Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Good bye Jack, California, Disney, Grand Canyon,

There are places in the Atlas that have sparked one's imagination, and for me the Californian Baja Peninsula has long been one of them. What is apparently the second-largest peninsula in the world that runs 800 miles down beside Mexico, has intrigued me by having both Pacific ocean on one side and inland sea the other.  I am here now and I think my imagination has done a poor job of this extraordinary part of the world. In a couple of weeks time I will have moved over to the mainland and will report on my findings.

Not long after my last post I received the saddest e-mail that I can remember getting. It was from Veronica, Jack's wife, saying that he had very sadly died. It was about a week after I had left their home, which made it all the more unbelievable as he was in such good spirits and about to leave for a US business trip. Jack was a huge star to me and his hand of friendship, know-how, can-do attitude, and great company will remain with me for ever. To others who have known this wonderful man it will be a true blow and my condolences to Veronica and the rest of the family are most profound. Jack was internationally known and respected in the sports fishing world and here is a link to an obituary that I think expresses his contribution and how he will be missed. http://www.fishingworld.com.au/news/jack-erskine-tribute-to-an-aussie-fishing-legend .
Jack Erskine, RIP my new and godsent friend .
A few weeks on from when I last wrote, I look back and realise that I had worn pretty thin and all the delights that my journey presented were not really being appreciating properly. It's probably perhaps inevitable after a prolonged trip that one goes through stages of inert feelings and questions about carrying on etc. I was lucky because Cass and Jazzy flew over from Edinburgh and over the course of a two-week, 2300 mile Californian road trip I feel fully restored and I'm so looking forward to South America.

However before Californian fun, there was a party in New York State that Arjun and Maxine had...poor picture, sorry, but the bar Arjun is manning hints at the game plan. A real bonus was that Darius and his son Kyan, who had looked after me so well in Hyderabad, were fellow house guests and we enjoyed a very fine night of it.
Cass and her family I have known since childhood and Jazzy is her daughter and my goddaughter. They had left Archie and Harry holding the fort at home whilst the girls came over and joined the adventure. It hadn't been particularly planned, but the notion of a road trip in a camper van had been an idea, so off we struck in a camper van from Lostcampers.com which is run by a charming Australian called Nick in San Francisco.
As luck would have it I found a travel book from a publisher called Moon, almost exactly describing the trip we had vaguely planned, which made life much simpler and all the more interesting.

I haven't planned to write much about the 2 weeks, as it was a holiday, however Cass is a great photographer and thought it would be appropriate to share a few photos from our travels.

We called it "The Consumption Tour". Not only did we drive a gas gusseler, we ate far too much (which my belt is telling me), we also saw parts of America that typifies human mass consumption beit at Hearst Castle, DisneyLand, LA, or Vegas at it's greatest. We also enjoyed huge amounts of jaw dropping natural beauty on a world class scale, very friendly folk....all amazed that we were not in London for the Olympics.....
Hearst Castle at San Simeon on the 101 road between San Fransisco and LA (photo from their website)

Hearst Castle Pool. David Niven wrote about spending weekends here as a guest of it's owner and builder William Randolph Hearst. It was designed by architect Julia Morgan between 1919 and 1947 for the newspaper magnate, who died in 1951

One of the best guided tours I have been on, showing many of the treasures bought from Spain after WW1
Beautiful coastline
First time behind the wheel...Disneyland

Spot the wimps
Grand Canyon

Las Vegas...at the Hard Rock Cafe
Death Valley, hottest place on earth, 190ft below sea level and 120 degrees

Sierra Nevada range
Over Mono Lake

After a picnic supper by Mono Lake
Back in SF, the end of a very happy and stimulating fortnight.

 Goodbyes can be hell, and waving my 2 companions off was a hard one.

 For many years the idea of having the Olympic Games in my home city, in my lifetime, was a dream. When we won the selection I was delighted.....so when I find myself thousands of miles away watching what has to be one of the finest events ever, and with my fellow countrymen putting on one of the most creative and entertaining opening ceremonies, and furthermore to achieve extraordinary sporting goals, I feel rather dumbfounded by not being there. That said numerous people that we have spoken to have praise what Britain has done and I'm sure that the positive consequences will be profound and long-lasting for the British. I don't think I have ever felt so proud to be in that number, albeit absent.

I biked hard for the next 3 days down to Mexico. I stopped in San Diego to get a couple of spare parts from the great guys at Rocket motorcycles who then kindly helped me tighten up the few bits and pieces on Batty.  I may have made a bit of a mistake crossing into Mexico as I was waved straight through without any passport stamping etc, as was every other vehicle it seemed. I guess I'll find out when I leave.

I have spent a couple of days by the beach in a place called San Felipe on the east coast of the peninsula. It is 100° and too hot really to go out. That said the beer is cold, the tacos tasty and have enjoyed a night out with a fellow camper, Peter, who has an RV (large Recreational Vehicle...more like a 40 foot yacht on wheels).  It has also been an opportunity to do  some more Spanish lessons on my iphone audio thingy. My brain seems to be completely nonabsorbent, and it will take many months before enjoying any form of conversation. I was put on to the idea of taking some Spanish lessons in Guatemala, which I will do for couple of weeks when I get there…… Maybe a pretty SeƱorita in front of a blackboard will engage my grey cells more?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Cairns to Vancouver to Seattle. 4th Engine!!!

I am writing from a small town in Oregon called Eugene. This wasn't a planned stop, but Batty, by dint of her owner's failings, has cracked a crankcase and I am awaiting a new engine. Number 4.

I last wrote from Queensland and had a couple of relaxed days north of Cairns with some scuba-diving on the Great Barrier Reef thrown in. This was very much one of my boxes to tick, or my bucket list as I regularly hear it termed here. As it turns out although an amazing place to dive, I went in a boat with 40 other divers, and although the safety and equipment were all very much of a high standard, one felt like a number and it was not the joy of diving with a small group that I had enjoyed before.
On a Ferry crossing into the Daintree reserve north of Cairns  that sees the Great Barrier Reef blend in with the Rainforest...a beautiful area

This is sugar cane area, And there are literally hundreds and hundreds of miles of sugarcane as one drives in Queensland. they use about 10% ethanol in petrol, so the migration to contemporary fuel is beginning.

 Looking down on Port Douglas, where I went diving from

 an amazingly beautiful road that hugs the ocean, rainforest one side, the Great Barrier Reef the other.

Back in Cairns my ever enthusiastic and generous hosts Jack and Veronica, let me get started stripping down the engine, with the plan to rebuild it. This we did and before long I was putting it back together again having harnessed all of Jack's good friends and contacts to expedite the process. I don't cry very often, but when I broke the final cylinder head nut off I have to admit to some wailing and blubbing. Luckily my mechanical angels descended and what with Max's know-how and strength, followed by Steve's kit and his own formidable know-how the day was rescued.
 Jack and Dan

 Max drilling out the broken head bolt, he was just about to go off on a hunting expedition with his bow and arrows. I tried to pull it back, but such was the strength of the bow, I could hardly move it. He goes deep into the bush for weeks at a time living off the land in pursuit of Buffalo and Deer.

 Steve, who had worked on the crank, turned up to see the bike, only to find the engine out and a broken head bolt.

It always takes a few days to organise the bike's shipment but I was lucky to find a very good shipper called Ellen of TLC International, who not only $500 less than the nearest other quote, but were a joy to work with.

Australia has been a bit of a mix for me. On the one hand I have met and reacquainted with nothing but the finest examples of the human condition, and enjoyed hospitality and help beyond any dream of expectation. However Batty was not reliable and I am sure I limited my adventures by sticking to pretty populated areas and thus missing out on some of the famous outback and probably the true flavours of the country. I have been making up for it by reading any few Neville Shute stories which romanticized a time from the 1950s. The other lingering feeling I had was that it is much more of a nanny state than I would have ever imagined. It took a while to realise it, and I'm probably saying this from a narrow perspective that doesn't reflect the total. That said every few miles on the road there are huge signs, ordering you to do that or to do this or you will die, every bar has huge signs with the house rules, no one ever walks a cross an empty road if the signs telling you not to. There are probably many other examples, but I was rather surprised. Maybe right from the word go there were lots of rules being made to manage the convict population, and it became a very much accepted way of people management?

Vancouver turned out to be a 30 hour trip, not uncomfortable or particularly tiring, but when I was selected from the passport queue to be taken in for special questioning by the border police for 2 hours, it made to feel like a most unwelcome criminal as they delves through every element of my luggage and private life.

It was pouring with rain for the 5 days I was in Vancouver waiting for the bikes to clear. Most of that time I spent in bed suffering from a bug caught on the plane. Plans to visit friends of friends did not materialise and I wanted to head south as quickly as I could.

Kathryn Rathke lives in Seattle with her husband Barry, and is a staggeringly brilliant illustrator. Kathryn has been with the agency for some 5 or 6 years and has visited us in the UK, so meeting up with her was a joy. It coincided with a party they were throwing for their wedding anniversary and 4 July.
 The burning of an effigy of George III on Independence Day. It was all done very much tongue in cheek. Which combined with mocking of much of the American nationalistic foreign policy mindset, gave this visiting Brit an alternative view of Americans from that which we see from their politicians etc. I'm sure it is a minority but it does offer a more worldly perspective.

Kathryn and Barry

Kathryn on Batty, outside her lovely home, where I stayed for one very comfortable and jolly evening

Part of the Rathke tour included the world class public library. Breath takinking architecture, both in and out

Kathryn very sportingly came on the back of Batty for a local trip around where they live and introduced me to a Seattle that was unique in terms of any tourist guide.
Brian and Shirley Hardy. www.aussiesoverland.com.au/, amazingly they were staying at the same motel as I in Seattle, they had just driven up from South America, and were a great source of information. Great company and far too fleeting a meeting.
 I enjoyed half a day at the Boeing flight Museum. Here is a replica of the Wright Brother 1st powered plane

Kati and Jens, www.boomer.de,  another around the world couple who turned up at the motel...what a meeting place
It was on the trip south from there that I 1st noticed an oil leak, I could not spot a casuse at that stage, but an hour or 2 later there was a great deal more. Then I started noticing that some of the crankcase bolts were missing. I tightened up what I could but it soon became apparent that I was in trouble again. A foolhardy 60 mile journey to Eugene, where the nearest engine agent was, put the lid on the life of this engine. Hindsight is a marvelous thing but oh how I wish I hadn't been taking the engine apart all the time to try and make the vegetable oil experiment work. Not only has it been a huge absorber of time, frustration and worries, it has been very expensive. The saving grace has of course been those that I have met on the way as a result.
Oregon coastline from Route 101...stunning road, even if one is worried about oil leaks and the like
From here I am going to San Francisco where I am going to fly across to New York to spend a few days with Stacey in the office, catch up with a few friends before returning for a 2 week campervan trip around California with my old and young pals Cass and Jazzy, who are flying over from Scotland.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Gold Coast, Bike Gangs, Brisbane, Hitchhiking, and Cairns

Sarah and Chad
Sarah Beetson moved over here about 6 years ago, following her heart which had attached itself to Chad. They live on a farm near the Gold Coast and apart from being important friends to catch up with, they were also the keepers of my tent, which they had since I sent it to them from Greece nearly a year ago. We represent Sarah as a top illustrator, she also worked in the office for some time before she made it over to Australia. She still works for us beyond her amazing illustration work, by being our talent scout and managing the 5000+ applications to join the agency from artists that we get each year.
Sarah with her the family budgie perched on her hat
Where they live is an oasis surrounded by extraordinary development that they have been resistant to. The farm is in a valley and bordered by a sort of national park they can see very little of the new building work that is only minutes from their gate. David and Heather, Chad's father and mother, own the farm which is a mixture of beef, macadamia nuts, delicious custard apples, avocados, lemons and tangerines to mention just a few of the richness that the land provides them. They have been there since the mid-1800 when their forebear left Somerset. All around them their neighbouring farmers have sold out. By and large they ended up sad and in many cases grossly cheated by developers. To David the idea of selling equates to selling his mother and although multimillions probably could be theirs, it would not be worth the loss of a way of life and a land deeply loved.

David about to take Batty for a spin...he came back ashen and was shaking his head in disbelief and amusement that anyone would be mad enough to ride a bike like Batty anywhere, let a lone around the world... He is use to Harleys and Triumphs
David is a member of a local infamous biking club, who are rather like the Hells' Angels. Although he now has a lot less to do with it, the tales of parties and great extremes by him as a club member (and treasurer and chief party venue host) are enough for a book or 2. What I liked, apart from the entertainment and insight, was how all their 4 children are pretty straight-laced comparatively. I suppose if you've heard your father talking about antics and abuses of all shapes and sizes, any teenage rebellion and the like would never compete.

We went to the Brisbane and visited the GOMA (Gallery of Modern Art). Some amazing work and is Australia's most visited Gallery....That fact has to speak volumes to those that knock modern art.

David looking down over his valley
Chad walked over the whole farm bare-footed. David and he took me on a tour of the farm and all the work he was doing to clear the Lantana weed from the higher ground

Just over the hill and the Gold Coast creeping fast
I did fly down to Sydney to discuss possibly setting up the agency there with someone who would be great. That has yet to be formalised, but the economy is pretty brisk here and we seem to be doing more more work for Australia as well as representing a number of great artists from Australia and New Zealand, so it does make sense to look into.

If it is boring me, I hate to think what readers are thinking….bloody fool (batty), is my emotion half the time. Yet again I have gummed up the piston rings, and this time using just 10% veg oil. I am surprised as much as disappointed that I seem to be spending half my time in oily circumstances fixing the bike, but as I've mentioned before each time it happens I get to be the beneficiary of great kindnesses and experiences that just driving around would not ever produce. I broke down this time at a garage long way from a large town, but luckily the lady who owned the garage, Joyce, let me take the bike back to her hotel and use her shed, some 30 km away. Her boyfriend put Batty on his trailer and I booked in for a night or 2. Unfortunately I broke one of the piston rings, so I ended up hitchhiking 800 km to Cairns in a 60 ton truck, driven by the chatty and generous Kevin.
Kevin strapping down the curtains
  This was a novel and enjoyable experience. Truck drivers have been my constant road companions and to see the road from their perspective was illuminating to say the least. They have a very bad press, and they feel like victimised part of the community, of course there are 2 sides to this but they feel they are pressurized by the consumer ultimately, to keep long hours delivering our demands and of course when anything goes wrong the other vehicle nearly always comes off worse. They are heavily regulated now and the days of speed (as in the drug) and ridiculous hours behind them, there is still heavy police interference that they feel is over the top.

Jack in his workshop
24 hours later I was in Cairns and in the very good care of Jack Erskine. Jack has a worldwide reputation in the sports fishing world, having come to Cairns as a young man with a love of fishing and an engineering mindset had him making some of the world's finest fishing reels and other tackle. As well as this he also enjoys Royal Enfield motorcycles and was a contact and customer of Henry, and who built Batty. After a few days I had the parts from all of the Jack's great contacts in the city and started my return.

As luck would have it Kevin was driving south so for the 1st quarter of the journey I was with him. Then, much to my frustration and his delight, a girl in a passing car flashed her  apparently beautifully proportioned naked top half at him. Alas I was out of view….. that was the 3rd time it had ever happened to him in 30 years on the road.  Kevin had to drop me at Townsville as he had a collection to make  in a different direction, so I ended up trying to find a lift for a couple of hours. It is very disconcerting not known when one might find a lift, but at 9 o'clock at night salvation came in the form of the Devil. Devil, or Lloyd as his passport denotes, reminded me that 'devil' spelt backwards spells 'lived'. And this man certainly had including 7 years in prison for various acts as a gang member of the Bandidos, a worldwide biking gang. Although this gives an impression of a pretty outlaw type character, it is balance off against his wish to build a community for disadvantaged children, as he was, so that they could have opportunities that he did not.

I got back to Carmila at 4 o'clock in the morning to find a key in a room from me. The next day I got Batty going again with all the help and spare parts that Jack had provided.

A vague plan in New Zealand with Miriam, the CyclingDutchGirl.com, to try and meet in Australia was all of a sudden a reality, as a text message reported that she was only a day away, and roughly en route. She cycled 90 km to Ravenswood, and Batty drove about 500 km, both over 10 hours ...I was a lot more knackered than she. It was great catching up and hearing how her tales on the road that found her at rodeos one week, and helping out at a properly the next, all linked by her quest to find remote and wild trails through the Australian bush.

Our respective steads in front of the Imperial Hotel

This was the other option in Ravenswood.....
I loved this sort of sculpture park of rusting iron machinery from the gold mines over the years
 I am now in a place called Cape Tribulation, that was recommended to me by Lee in Melbourne it is a beautiful spot north of Cairns. It is where the Great Barrier Reef meets the rainforest and I look forward to some lazy days and a bit of a diving.

At the end of next week I need to get back to Cairns and spend a few days with Jack who has kindly offered to help me get some more engine work done. Although that is running okay, there have been some consequences of all the dismantling and troubles to the big end bearing and as he is so well-connected and happy to help, it makes sense to do that here rather than in places unknown. Not only will the company be great, it will give me hopefully some peace of mind for the next few countries, particularly as I will be running only on diesel and not any veg oil. This now inevitable situation is humbling to say the least, having started out with such intent, named this blog about it, have kind friends create a fitting logo, and a wish to carry a message about the use of near carbon neutral and sustainable contemporary fuels is all down the pan. If only I had carried on using the 1st engine…..