21 Riding Dorothy from Sydney to London
Life can lead you to some funny places if you let it. Like your last day at uni when you're contemplating your future and wondering where it all goes from here. So many different directions you could take. So many opportunities and fears. I was the same, never quite sure what I should be doing, and making some wrong turns along the way. Until one day,somehow, I found myself in Australia with a visa that was about to expire and a strange idea to ride a motorbike all the way home to England. For reasons of adventure, for reasons of escape, for reasons of wanting to undertake a terrific test.
The bike I would be riding was a second-hand Honda called Dorothy. Dorothy could only do 40mph. With only two weeks to be out the country, I would have to ride the 3000 mile from Sydney to Darwin almost non-stop if I was to catch the boat to East Timor in time. The documentation to do something like this is a little fiddly , but worth every bead of sweat when you see your first Outback sunrise. It's incredible, playing David Gray on your iPod as you ride across it at 5 a.m. Good times!
We made it to Darwin with a day to spare and off Dot sailed on a cargo boat, while I flew overhead, to Dili, the capital of East Timor. I rode a tiny motorbike along the jungle roads, across the rest of Indonesia, in a pair of Converse high-tops and floral board shorts. Apart from Bali, Indonesia is an untouched wilderness. The people scream "hey mister" and hassle you wherever you go. That's why I started camping out in the wild,across Java and Sumatra, in a cheap Kmart tent and the rain that fell at night.
Then to Malaysia. Across the Strait of Malacca there are no vehicle ferries, meaning Dot quite literally had to sail on a banana boat , being held hostage on the other side until I paid the captain more money. I immediately loved Thailand when I got there. I spent more time in Bangkok,a great city, especially on a motorbike which you can race around flat out , then north to Chiang Mai, a jungle region where the mountains grow, staying in wooden shacks, eating phad thai , meeting the great, generous, smiling people of Thailand.
By now me and Dorothy had been on the road for three months and ridden 8000 miles. I was loving the challenge, and the simplicity of it. Never having to question what I was doing with my life, I just got up, and rode, all day, and sometimes all night. The only problem was Myanmar. You can't ride through it, meaning you either have to go up and over through China, or over it in an aeroplane. Surprisingly the second option is cheaper. We flew from Bangkok to Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. It wasn't my favourite country, but it was fascinating to see Everest on the horizon, snow and rock all around.
Then down to India. Riding in India is like being on the dodgems , everyone aiming for you, lorries, trucks, cows, bikes, and everything is a threat. Roasting hot too, almost fifty degrees. Pakistan surprised me because it was so very different to India, the people more respectful of personal space, and friendlier. Truth is you have to be prepared for the worst or else you'd never cross the border. On a campsite in Islamabad I was guarded by soldiers with machine guns, armed police give me escorts on the road.
The road from Pakistan takes you over the Himalayas, along the Karakorum Highway, peaking at almost 5000 meters. That's great altitude for man and machine but somehow Dot made it, climbing up the steep hills in first gear for hours on end , in the snow, in the freezing cold, with a banging headache. Until we hit the top and freewheeled down into China, the soldiers checking my laptop, insisting I ride with a guide. Sadly I was only there 7 days but I'd like to go back and see more of China. The people are lovely, the food great, and it still feels largely untouched.
Kirghizia, the country sits below Kazakhstan and is an incredibly pretty place. Nomads live in tents in the wilderness; there are beautiful lakes and a growing tourist industry. If you want somewhere off the beaten track , to hike, to explore, go there. In Bishkek, the capital, stay at Sabrybeck's Guesthouse. It's got a kitchen table around which backpackers from all over the world sit and drink tea while sharing their stories.
It had taken me eight months and 19,000 miles to get this far. Man and machine were both knackered : she was leaking oil, and I was worn out. But we were on the final push. We had ridden across the world at 40mph, seen some amazing countries, and met some amazing people; now the horrible realisation that it was all about to come to an end. Through Russia and Ukraine and Poland, I was riding at a terrific pace, not showering or changing clothes for weeks on end. Just riding for the love of it. Then the EU, and the German autobahn . Just surviving, hanging on in there, sleeping by the roadside in bushes and a tent with a missing pole.
But I and Dot had made it; we'd ridden across the world in nine months and 23,000 miles. And we were pooped . Now to get a job!