Danny John-Jules and Graham Hoskins are reaching the closing stages of their Iron Butts challenge, as they look to raise money for Sport Relief.
There have been plenty of trials and tribulations over the past few days, with problems at border control points, currency issues and breakdowns – all part of the Iron Butts adventure.
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Danny’s Blog: Sunday 7th March
Sunday we were leaving Cairo to go to Taba heights. I was a bit emotional at breakfast. I won’t go into the details but Egypt is very close to mine and the Mrs’ hearts. Let’s just say that ashes have been scattered on the River Nile at sunset by us from a boat some 5 years ago.
I spoke to her that evening and she told me that she was having lunch with our friend Caroline from our local church and coincidently had become emotional too. It probably looked to the other guests at the hotel that Graham and I were having a lovers tiff, what with me dabbing my eyes with a napkin while he looked on serenely.
There were loads of African people having a conference on Science and Technology. They were the brains from all over the motherland getting together to “Make loads of important decisions that nobody takes any notice of”, as one of the delegates joked. I have never seen so many black geeks before and it was good to see them trying to make a troubled continent work better for the good of all of us. We were given a wonderful send off and we headed off to the Sinai Desert to get casseroled.
Luckily I had brought all the fruit with us that the hotel manager had placed in our room the day before and even though Graham had some to, he always likes to travel light so he left his behind. Once I started cutting into my mouth watering supplies with the ratchet knife that our Libyan guide, Salem, had given to me as a keepsake there was no way Graham wasn’t going to want to indulge… and he did.
We saw what looked like Obi One Kenobi tending to his sheep in the distance and wondered what anyone would be doing out here. He was probably saying to himself that the two dopy limeys over there are probably going to be found dehydrated and sunburned a couple of miles down the road with handkerchiefs tied round their heads. We took photos and some footage and headed off to a spectacular descent through a carving in some mountains that took your breath away. It was now offensively dark and I was now just offensive (under my helmet of course).
Graham’s throttle was stuck on full (purposely) and I was fearing for my life he had that look in his eye that said “I’m getting there by hook or by crook”. I wanted to just get there, even if it took all night. All of a sudden, rubber was burning in front of me. I couldn’t see it but I could smell it. Graham’s bike was snaking and I thought he was riding off the end of a cliff. In the blink of an eye all road markings had disappeared and so did my valour. When I got up to Graham he looked like Casper the Ghost. I nearly said “I knew that was going to happen!” but I was too tired and we still had a long way to go.
We pushed on, well Graham did I was hanging back as I knew my bike couldn’t fly and the road we were on didn’t look like no normal road. I noticed what looked like a power station and hung back a bit more. I could see up ahead was some sort of checkpoint. A soldier approached with two nervous colleagues, Kaleshni and Kov. He had rolled up on one of the Israeli borders which we had been trying to avoid like the plague as not only were carrying British passports that could be used in an assassination but If the Arab countries we were due to visit found out that we had been fraternizing with the Israelis they would not have let us in to their countries. With his gun semi levelled with a nervous grip the soldier pointed Graham in the right direction. Good job I wasn’t in the lead, eh?
When we got to the final checkpoint before Taba a flash border policeman checked us out Graham went first and when he’d done with me he rushed me off with a, “Go Danny, Go”, well me being so tired, I’ve only knocked over his little wooden table that he writes on. He picks it up and repeats, “Go Danny, Go.” I kid you not.
Graham’s Blog: Tuesday 9th March
Our morning was another early job but this time after less than 4 hours sleep. We pushed our pasty faces into the lids and rapidly exited Aqaba straight up into the 1200m high desert plateau. Jordan is like a breath of the proverbial after the dirt and dinge of Egypt. The roads are better and everything just has a cleaner feel to it. The comment from our Italian ‘uber overlander’ that the Middle East ‘is no more problem’ was so true. Or so we thought…. my enthusiasm with the better roads and the total lack of respect for any road rules that we had started to pick up on in Egypt was giving me a little Mad Max syndrome.
I should have learned my lesson after I passed one policemen loaded up with speed trap gun and got away with it. The second time was not so lucky. I was duly taken the unmarked police car and told in no uncertain terms ‘Speed, you, violation, speed 110km, you 128km!’ whoops. I was desperately hoping that I would walk away with the bike and not find myself in the clank with a dozen dodgy Arab crims but just got a swift £15 fine. Of course, any official process must have a ream of paperwork to go with it and this was no exception.
Whilst waiting, I turned on my ‘winningist, please don’t take away my motorbike sir’ smile. I got about as warm a response as Max Mosely at McLaren headquarters. Not to be beaten at the first try, as I walked away, I asked using the now familiar hand signals, if I could see the radar speed trap. Danny and I ended up both speed trapping approaching lorries and as if that wasn’t a big enough turn around, one of the plain clothes coppers asked Danny ‘You, work, movies!’ He’d recognised him even with his crash helmet and balaclava on. So in the space of ten minutes we went from speeding fine to pictures with the coppers – didn’t let me off the fine though!
Our border crossing into Syria (after Libya and Egypt) would be like comparing Harrods with Happy Shopper. Better organised, better looking, more light, less rat droppings in the offices and very importantly, far less pong. Surely it shouldn’t be beyond the wit of man to put all your different offices in a logical row – maybe even with numbers and clear signs. Instead, the Libyan and particularly the Egyptian border authorities have turned make busy, jobs worth, paperwork and red tape into a priceless art form. Self-important, unfriendly and on the take describes many of the officials we came across. If it wasn’t for the Tourist Police who genuinely wanted to help and do the best by us, I don’t how any new visitor with a motor would know where to start.
So back, to the Syrian border. The marked improvements made the whole experience far less stressful and thankfully about 3 hours shorter. However, our happiness was short lived as we approached the yellow smog enshrouded melee that is Amman. We had just about got used to city driving techniques common to this neck of the woods but combine it with thick, choking smog and we were well on the road to killer headaches. Danny was about to get off and give up for an hour but we pushed on through.
Today also rewarded us with more of the spectacular scenery from sandy mountains to more rolling desert. And, I’m getting a biker’s tan – from the upper lip to just below the eyes and nicely topped off with a cheery tipped nose.
Graham’s Blog: Wednesday 10th March
One of Danny’s pals at the BBC pulled a great one out of the bag today. Picture us riding round the Bayern Munich Stadium and half time on one of their league matches. No buzz at all from riding in front of a 60,000 strong crowd of soccer mad
Graham’s Blog: Friday 12th March
Mornings have fallen into a neat little routine by now. This is mainly due to the fact that Danny and alarm clocks mix like oil and water. It simply doesn’t happen. As my alarm clock works just as well on the continent as the UK it is left to me to conduct the daily wake up call for Mr DD-J. Nevertheless, I was still fully loaded and ready to rock and roll by the time by team mate joined me in the first of our cold early morning starts. It was balaclavas at dawn and the prospect of 500 miles enthralling us. Not. The thought of throwing my leg over the saddle for the early morning stint is about as much fun as the anticipation of rubbing your backside with coarse grade sandpaper while simultaneously applying tourniquets to your lower limbs until the lack of blood leaves you numb.
Just as I was relishing the prospect of a event free morning, I realised that the familiar twinkle of Danny’s Tranny front headlamp was missing from my mirrors. Slowing down the 10mph on a motorway is never a pleasant prospect but the thought of riding back against the traffic (which I had done in Egypt but that’s about par for the course for them) was a worse one. Danny appeared in short order but travelling at a significantly reduced pace. Another kilometre or so further and we pulled into the service station. ‘You OK?’. ‘Yes, mate, but the front end started weaving which was why I slowed down’. Danny jumped off the bike and was checking the forks when I noticed his rear wheel rim was somewhat nearer the tarmac than it should have. ‘Give the back tyre a kick mate, looks a bit flat?’ as we all know, kicking the tyre will always tell you if there is a problem. On this occasion there was – our first flat!
My initial reaction was relief that a. it was his rear tyre that had gone, not the front, b. that he was still with me and not pancaked across the Turkish motorway and that c. We had practised changing tyres with Honda 3 weeks before. As luck would have it, we’d stopped opposite a tyre place but we were determined to sort this out ourselves. Which we did, with the able help of one of the many attendants and the not so able support of every other bugger that stopped and stared or pointed. Had they never seen two Englishmen changing a tyre on a well loaded tranny before? A mere ninety minutes, 2 cups of coffee, one repositioned set of brake pads and not very much swearing later, it was done. We felt properly self-sufficient as we had dealt with one of our biggest fears without so much as a single ‘oh, crap, what now?’
Thinking ourselves to be so very clever, we set off, now just 2 hours behind schedule. Our border crossing from Turkey into Bulgaria was significantly shorter than all the north African and Middle Eastern chaotic affairs and we were anticipating a reasonably early stop near Sofia.
If you were to ask almost any biker what their least favourite biking conditions would be, they might say ‘Rain, ice, snow, other fast vehicles and the dark.’ As we came over the brow of hill south of Sofia, we got all of them slammed into our faces like an icy sledgehammer. Within 5 minutes, we were trying to ride through a driving blizzard with artics flashing their lights like they didn’t understand our genuinely terrifying position. We ended up on the hard shoulder riding with our hazards on. I was contemplating simply stopping and pitching the tent. Unfortunately, out tents would have been within striking range of the aforementioned lorries and we couldn’t risk it. We pushed on along the hard shoulder with the snow and ice beating our faces. Then, like a lighthouse appearing out of the murk, a sign for Services with motel came up in the feeble light cast by the bikes into the blizzard. I’m not a religious man, but I do believe I uttered a few short one thanks to the great motor biking god of the adventure travellers. I said a few more choice words as we crawled up the icy covered slip road but we safe. Time: 10:30 pm.
Danny’s Blog: Saturday 13th March
I woke up looking like Ricky Hatton’s uglier brother after a whooping from Floyd Mayweather. Eyes swollen and my body racked with pain caused by a room that was being heated by an electric heater that I had fallen asleep with. My sinuses were shot. I looked out of the window and I nearly cried. When I opened it, I did. It was about below eight. Scott, Peary, Ranulph Feinnes or the nutty Brian blessed would have been seen dead out in this. But we were going to ride 550 miles it and before I could say
“Mummy?” There was Graham, punctual as ever knocking on my door ever so politely, “Downstairs in half an hour?” “Ok”. In my mind cussing his very existence. We get down stairs and before I can say, “Sunny side up”, we’re out the door. Whatever possesses a man to go out in Arctic conditions without as much as a cup of tea? I think he has a massive bet going on with the travel agent who organized this trip, yes. The very same one who said it couldn’t be done. Anyway I sulk over the motorway bridge with G’ and the bikes are at the top of what is now an icy ski jump ramp.
We loaded up and gingerly inched down this hill… bobsleigh run, to the motorway. I think the only way we got down was through divine intervention and once in motion the wind was like Phil Taylor throwing darts in your face through the helmet visor from three paces. On we trekked, freezing water intermittently rearing its ugly head on the road trying to catch us out.
Once through Sofia where our journey should have begun, we passed through the eastern side of the Alps where it was so bitter it felt like the inside of our kits felt like they were littered with razor blades. Man it was cutting! My hands and feet no longer existed and I can tell you, on an empty stomach I was ready to kill. All the way down all I could see were thing that made me want to quit from fear, ‘slippery road’ signs, a burned out juggernaut, abandoned cars and snow everywhere.
At last we arrived at the Serbian border which we sailed through. I warmed my frozen hands next to the engine and they froze back the moment we rode off. Graham had a eureka moment and reluctantly stopped for breakfast at a petrol station.
There was a cop car parked outside and an old Kawasaki GPZ 1000 RX which 20 years ago was the dogs bollocks but now looked like the dogs dinner. We were welcomed a lot better than the Belgian eatery the night before. One cop ate food whilst the other one looked like he was looking at porn on the net. Both had guns so we pretended not to notice them. We ordered coffee, which I had three and these cheesy, sausage rolly things that looked like the beanstalk ogre’s fingers from the hand that he picks his nose with. Needless to say I didn’t finish mine but G’ ‘The Burger King’ took the glaze off the plate. We hit the road again feeling a bit better.
The weather got warmer and the roads safer and faster. We were making good time, until we got to a toll booth before the Hungarian border. Big G’ had no cash money, well none that anyone would accept anyway. Whatever you do in this world do not travel with Bulgarian money because nobody will take it. The toll guys visa machine wasn’t working and we were stuck. I never spoke and just lay my head forward on the tank and warmed my hands. I couldn’t even be bothered to ogle the blond who went through driving a rather large BMW. Still no joy with the machine. One of the guys told us to turn around and just squeeze through the gap between the barrier and the wall. Graham pondered. The guy reassured him. “All the Serb guys on bikes do it”. I smelt trouble.
We turned around and went steaming towards the toll. A car was at the raised barrier and Graham roared through it which triggered it to come down missing my head by inches. I was pissed.
We got about a mile down the road overtaking cars over the double unbroken central lines only seeing the Serb cop standing by his car when it was too late. I had visions of this guy kicking the crap out of us in a cell for ‘international crimes’ committed by ‘The same Brits who let our people get slaughtered during the Kosovan war’. I was even more pissed. G’ made us stop at a petrol station as we needed gas. It must have been owned by a cockney because it was called ‘Elp’, (Euro Lux Petrol) which is exactly what we would have needed if that cop caught up with us.
We filled up and went in to pay. Walking out I noticed a bag of sweets called ‘Negro’. This was getting silly. I bought three packs to embarrass my white friends when I give them as Xmas presents and we went to eat. We zoomed down to the Hungarian border and passed through painlessly and in what seemed like a relatively short time (Two hours) we arrived at the Intercontinental Hotel where not only did G’ get his Bulgarian money changed but we were looked after like real guests as we took advantage of the steam room where we let the carbon monoxide, soot and the smell of fear ooze out of our blocked pores
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