Wednesday, 6 August 2008

She Says - The First Month of Planning

Before going to work on Monday July 6th, I started a list of pros and cons for going on the trip, or staying in the UK for another year and doing UK/European travel instead. Did I really want to give up that opportunity? Europe is a long way away and the opportunity might not come again to see it so easily. All Monday, we had trouble concentrating on work, were emailing each other about the possibilities, and had independently started making preparation lists.

Xander also contacted his parents and asked if money held in trust for him for his first house/wedding present could be used for travel instead, as it’s looking ever more unlikely we’ll get a house! At least it wasn’t just for some frivolous holiday, but a useful career break that would help build experience and employability for both of us. Xander also asked them to help with selling the collectables he still had in the US – an unhappy decision but something we’ve figured would have to happen for a while now.

By the end of Thursday 9th, I think we’d pretty much decided we could do the trip, and my pros and cons list from Monday was now ignored! Xander had made a spreadsheet for us to start trip planning, compiling our two separate lists. I’d started telling people in my office we were thinking about travelling. However, we made a promise we wouldn’t stagnate for the next year, as there were still things to see in the UK and we should enjoy the time we have left. It would mean bike travel as much as possible (considering the rapidly rising petrol prices!), camping instead of bed & breakfasts, and no more pub lunches on days out but grocery supplies instead! So we put this into practice straight away that weekend on a day trip to the Peak District, where we enjoyed salami sandwiches on the roadside for the first time in a long time.

Things started kicking into overdrive after that. Xander’s parents agreed to give us the money. We altered our savings and immediately cut back on unnecessary expenditure – no more takeout dinners! Xander ordered a bigger tank and the pro-oiler, and repadded the bike seat once again. I don’t think it’s going anywhere this time but time will tell! We started really listing all the things we could sell (a surprising amount of stuff!), and I made my first clothing and junk cull (I expect to get harsher!).

Xander launched into making a website for us. We discussed linking with a large conservation organisation so we could do fundraising for a worthy cause, and find good volunteer projects and maybe reduce some daily costs, allowing us to travel for longer. We thought about how to approach an organisation, what would they get out of working with us, and whether this link would help us gain sponsorship for things we need to buy in return for advertising. We realised we had our experience to offer, and publicity through fundraising and media opportunities. We could offer the organisation extra promotion through articles we hope to write and sell as part of the trip. This is something we’ve talked about for a while, since our Spain trip last March and more so with this year’s Romania trip. Xander particularly wants to work on his photography, and this trip would be a great way of finding unique subjects. Great photos would be a nice promotion for any conservation project we worked on, so another thing to add to our credentials!

The lady who told me they travelled on £20 per day said that before the trip, every time they went to buy or do something, they thought in terms of ‘how many days’ travel is that worth?’ to make them decide if it was worth buying or not. Grant and Susan from Horizons Unlimited also noted £20 per day in their talk at the meet. Both concepts, correct on cost or not, are something we’ve quickly adopted. We use it as a bit of a joke (at least for now!) because we’ve been trying to get our heads around whether this is really going to happen or not, and just how tight we have to be to make this a reality. Now that it really does seem to be happening, I think it will become more seriously used!

So, a month on and where are we at? Xander has the bare bones of the website ready to launch, having bought the domain name and hosting package over the weekend. I’ve created an uber-spreadsheet detailing all the things to do, buy, sell, plan, etc. I even have the beginnings of a planning timeline, as we need a plan of action. We immediately sold the old panniers, seeing as the trial run of the new panniers at the HUUK meet went really well. That went straight towards buying the new tank. We’ve sold some old camping gear we replaced last year, and a remote control boat a former work colleague left when he moved. So we’ve already made £55 - that’s 2.75 days travel! ;-) Anything sold in aid of the trip has to go into our new ‘no touchies’ savings accounts. We’ve got extra money thanks to Xander’s parents. We’ve got the savings and cost-cutting under way, cleared our credit cards, got the new tank nearly paid off, and still managed to bank a little extra savings after pay day. Nice one!

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

He Says - Why the Africa Twin

Why the Africa Twin? There is more debate on about which bike to take travelling then there is any other debate in the entire rest of world. The main reason for this is that there is no correct answer it is completely subjective and truth is any bike can do it BUT every one has their own reasons and think they are right. Of course we are right by choosing the AT, every one else is wrong, okay not wrong just not right, well not .. “not right” but…. ahh bugger it..

All makes of bikes have strong points and weakness, each and every bike is a compromise. The bike you chose is depended on what compromises you are willing to make and which ones you are not. So back to the question of why the Africa Twin. The answer is simple.. it is a simple bike and I love it. I love the ride I love the looks and feel.

I will play fair and discuss the negatives first. It is way way too tall for my pint size pillion to ride alone, so I have to do all the riding (wait is this a negative?). It is only a 750, so is a little on the low power side for two-up touring, this means we have to go slower (slower means we can see more.. again is this a negative?). It is rather heavy by today’s standards, which means I have to work hard to ride it sometimes. It is a bloody big bike! The Africa Twin is known to have a few faults including rubbish fuel pumps that need to be tossed out and replaced, the rectifier can fry, and the worst of the bunch is the out-put shaft is unforgiving of a too tight chain and will strip. The Honda OEM seat was created by an S&M fanatic that was dating Satan at the time. I am sure there are more negatives but I cant think of any more, and as all who know me know I hate to concentrate on the negative aspects of anything.. Oui you! Keep your mouth shut!..

The up sides of the Twin:

It looks amazing. I love the feel of it…yeah okay I already said this.. moving on

It is not the best Dual sport, I would give this to the Tenere’, it is not the best big rally dirt bike, (KTM Adventure gets that). It is not the best long-distance tourer (don’t know maybe BMW GS, or Goldwing??), it is far from the best roadbike (way to many to chose from), not the fastest (does the hyabusa still hold this title?). However the AT can jump from road to dirt without down shifting, on the dirt it is my skill not the bike that holds us back, it can sit on the road for hours on end and keeps going, it is fast enough to scare me. So all in all it is not the best at anything, but it is the best do anything bike.

The Africa Twin is an “old technology bike”, runs on carburettors! There are only two bits of electronics on the bike, the trip computer that is really only useful as fuel gauge, and the rectifier/cdi. The latter two are solid state.. so they are either working or not end of story. This means that I can fix most things, and if I cant the local mechanic in some small town probably can. The more modern bikes may be lighter, faster, more efficient.. but you need a computer science degree to change the spark-plugs… do they even have spark plugs? I wont even get into the fuel mixture controls, I have a screw.. they have a computer chip. What about idle, I have a tumb-screw.. the new bikes have a ahhhh… satellite controlled positronic brain for all I know. I have hydraulic disk brakes, some new bikes have ABS.. if a sensor goes pop in ABS.. bike stop, bike no go till new chip is mortgaged . If my hydraulic brakes go pop.. I have no brakes.. but I can still go forward (notice I did not say stop going forward). There are hundreds of examples where the Africa Twin is behind the times, but this means it is simple and when travelling the KISS principal is key, it means that MacGyvering is possible, it mean we can fix things and it is unlikely to cost 6-million dollars.

Less of a driving force was the plethora of toys available for it, if you can think of something you want for it, someone already has though of it and is selling it. I made many of the toys for the bike, but this is predominantly because I am a tinkerer and cant stand not to play. It is an illness but I like it.

Finally it is a Honda. I have been riding bikes since I was about 8 years old. I have owned everything from a Triumph to a Suzuki, to a Harley to a Yamaha and several Hondas. I have found that of all the bikes I have owned you can abuse a Honda and it will keep going… I have never found this on any other bike. (yeah yeah your is good too mate, but we are talking about me here..). Honda reliability is not just a advertising slogan.

She Says - The HUUK and the Idea

We went to the Horizons Unlimited UK national meet from Thursday 2nd to Sunday 5th July 2008. This gathering of 500 mostly motorbike travellers is an incredibly informative, and I have to say, intimidating event. For an entire weekend, I essentially attended a conference of people talking about their amazing ventures in world travel by motorbike. Everywhere I walked, I heard people talking about trips they’d made. Not being a particularly social creature, I found it daunting to approach people about their travels, how they’d done things, but what I also feel is rather too personal to ask – how much did it cost?! I’d being feeling really proud of us after our three-week trip in May across Europe to Romania and back, feeling that we’d really tested our mettle as motorbike travellers. However, being amongst all these people, I had doubts about our worth!!

To be honest, while the idea of world motorbike travel had been mentioned in passing (a number of times by someone in particular!), I really thought it was a flight of fancy that we had no option of following. We’re both trying to establish careers, we want to move back to Australia and get our life settled there, and we’re still somewhat trying to decide what we want out of life. While Xander had joked, over email one day as we neared the start of the Romania trip, about the next trip being, “Next year…Australia…via the WORLD!”, it really was just a joke to me.

So somewhere within the first day and a half of listening to other people’s fascinating journeys, I started thinking about some of the things they said – total costs of trips of various lengths, costs of shipping/flying bikes to other countries, etc. One lady I spoke to noted their 5-year trip cost about £7000 per year, with a budget of £20 per day. I quickly realised that Xander’s contract was going to end in exactly 12 months’ time and my UK visa would run out shortly afterwards. Hmmmm, 12 months is a nice long period of time in which to save and plan for a big trip…During the talks, I started some quick calculations about how much we were saving, how our savings would need to change to get anywhere near £7000, what we could sell, etc. But how good a trip could we really have on that? And then what about all of the things we had to buy – GPS, laptop, bigger tank, tank panniers, etc – and that didn’t include transporting us over oceans. How on earth could we afford to even try this?

We had already started talking that our next trip could be Morocco for Xmas. It crossed my mind that would be a nice celebration of a decade together. It later occurred to me that July 2009 would be exactly 10 years since we last took a big trip – 5.5 months travel round the world as backpackers in 1999. Now there’s a nice anniversary present – doing it again but by motorbike and trying some new ground!

Xander and I didn’t get to much time together that weekend, as he was helping with the talks, but we met for most meals and late evenings, and grabbed enough time to start toying with the idea. We talked about using the trip to work as volunteers on conservation projects, something we’ve talked about before, but not in terms of long-term travel, just individual trips. We realised this would be particularly valuable to help Xander get his practical conservation career boosted. For me, well, definitely a boost, but if I just got the chance to work on really cool animals like jaguars or leopards, my life would be made!

We had touched on but pretty much avoided the ‘where’ side of things. We both knew each other’s desires – Xander’s dead keen on going to Africa, and I really want to see Central & South America. At £20 per day, the costs of flights/shipping and our expected savings, it looked like we could only go for 6 months. Would 6 months be enough time to do justice to either continent?

Monday, 4 August 2008

He Says - The weekend that changed our lives

Well this trip has been a long time in the coming; Nine years ago Tam and I went backpacking for several months and did a RTW “on foot”. Since then we both have had the urge to do it again, but could not see how to maintain a career and have the money ect.

Three years ago I got a job in the UK, and within days of landing I was on the look out for my dream bike. This bike was to be an African Twin, I had had one before during a brief employment in Germany but unfortunately they were not ever imported into Australia. So this purchase had two motives beyond simply having the need for a bike. The first was to bring it home to Aus, the second was to travel with it, with the dream of an around the world trip. Although due to work arrangements and finical constraints, I did not buy one for almost a year. It turned out to be a low mileage 2000 RD07a model.

We agreed that any and all modifications I made to the bike must be practical and for improving its tour-ability. I stuck to this with almost religious zeal, if you simply ignore all the fun I had making this and that and modify that to improve this. See religious zeal: i.e.- only paying attention and admitting to the parts of the story that prove me right. In true religious fashion we endowed the inanimate object with a name ANUBIS, and powers. (Truth is the naming was far less interesting … 1st time I rode home on the bike.. Tam looks at it and says “it looks like a big black dog, lets name it Anubis”. This was because we both always wanted a big black dog named Anubis, and my last Africa Twin was Dar Hund, so the dog theme fit.)

Tam and I have done a few trips on Anubis, out of the UK and a few with in the UK, and were getting very used to travelling on the bike. We talked about the idea of an around the world trip on the bike as well as just an overland trip back home to Australia. However, I always got the impression that it was more of a “yes dear that would be nice” , a pipe dream that neither of us thought would ever really happen, not really a plan. At the Horizons Unlimited meet 2008 everything changed. Due to a host of reasons, I had been extremely unhappy with my job for several months. I always felt that I was meant for more or meant to do something that mattered. Just prior to the meet my job hit rock bottom and it took arbitration to rescue it. The irony was that I fought for a job I no longer wanted. I won this dubious victory, only to feel like I lost far more.

Tam and I went to the meet with in a week or so later. This was to be my second meeting and Tam’s first. As I had volunteered to help (work) at the meeting, I by and large I left Tam alone. It was extremely interesting to watch Tam’s progression though out the weekend, when we could talk about what we had seen and done that day. Day one (Thursday night): Tam reported to me that she felt ” really out of place, around all these bikers”. Day two: she felt comfortable but intimidated by all the “really serious travellers and bikers” (she is not really a biker just likes to travel that way). Day three: really like it and felt everyone was extremely nice; Day four: although we have only done some shortish trips together, she felt “that the long trip was possible, and lets start to plan it!!”

That was it. That one weekend, that one sentence, and our lives changed! Over the next week or so ideas were bounced around (our jobs were taking 2nd or 3rd place in our heads and hearts. We discussed many ideas and realised that this trip does not just have to be fun, but we could and would use it to try and make a difference to ourselves and used our skills to help conservation efforts (not to mention start me on my new career path).