Round the world by Africa Twin
THERE are two essential items for anyone thinking of travelling the world on a bike. Not Swiss Army knives or malaria pills, not a compass or a 32-piece socket set, not even a get out of jail free card or a bagful of bungees. But two words of priceless international currency: David and Beckham. In that order.
But don’t take our word for it, take it from 32-year-old Duncan Goose, who has just ridden around the globe on an Africa Twin. " I was in Balochistan, in the south-west of Pakistan, which is a well-known kidnap hotspot, " recounts the Londoner, now safely back in civilised Richmond.
" You really weren’t supposed to travel through the pass unless you were accompanied by an armed convoy, as several people had been held up at gunpoint in the previous weeks. I arrived at the checkpoint on a Sunday, but there wasn’t another convoy due for a couple of days. I asked the guards exactly how dangerous things were and they showed me a book you had to sign when you left and told me you had to sign another at the end of the pass when – or indeed if –you got there. So I weighed it up and eventually I decided to go on my own.
" After a day’s ride, I stopped at a tea shack and there were these really dodgy-looking blokes with guns, staring me out. So I started the usual chat and got nowhere – they just continued to stare. "
Goose was wondering whether he had made some horribly impetuous mistake when he steered the conversation round to football. " I casually mentioned Beckham – and all of a sudden they smiled and started chatting back and everything was fine. It was a lifesaver, no question. "
Goose started riding when he was 21. Two years ago he was working at a marketing firm when acute boredom prompted him to ship the Honda to Montreal and join it for a world trip. " I have no idea why I started in Canada, " he says. " You can’t plan these things. You draw up a list of the places you want to go, and then go. "
It was in Canada that he first rode into trouble. Rounding a bend at Lake of the Woods, Ontario, Goose found himself staring into the terrified eyes of a large beige thing with antlers and ended up smearing a large deer all over himself and his bike.
" You know what it’s like when you crash and you remember thinking ‘sh*t, I’m going to have a smash’ and then it’s over? " I ended up in this ditch under the bike and the deer was thrashing around in the road. I thought I’d better put it out of its misery, but I couldn’t get to it. I couldn’t move, and I thought ‘This is bad.’ And then I thought ‘what if no-one comes? That’ll be the last anyone sees of me. "
Mr Posh Spice wasn’t going to help him out of this one, unless of course he’d been holidaying in the area at the time. Which he wasn’t. " I heard this car, so I struggled up to wave and collapsed. The next thing I remember I’m in this neck brace and a cop’s asking me if I have a hunting licence! The nurses in the ambulance were all gagging because of the deer entrails all over me. "
But it wasn’t funny. The next conversation was with a doctor, who told him the impact of the collision meant he’d go blind in one eye. " That was the lowest point of the trip, no question. " he recalls dolefully. " I just sat there smoking cigarettes. Then I sent an e-mail out and people started forwarding them on and I was getting e-mails from all sorts of people saying how you can still ride with one eye and it woke me up a bit and I thought I’d just get on with it. "
Goose didn’t go half-blind, but he won’t be 20/20 again. He doesn’t care. After two weeks convalescing, being plied with food and alcoholic beverages by the citizens of Kenora, it was time to move on – after the local snowmobile shop had fixed up his deer-dented Honda.
It was then the trip gathered a different momentum. Via Death Valley, Yosemite, LA and down through California to Mexico. Cactus, more cactus, black ribbons of baked Tarmac vanishing into heat haze horizons – and, erm, no fuel.
" I’d been warned about the petrol situation. I turned up at this gangster-style hacienda and they told me there’d be petrol tomorrow. And sure enough there was. This bloke turned up the next day with a car boot full of it and off I went. And he said don’t stop because people like their guns around here.
" I thought OK, thanks for the advice, and then ended up stopping outside this derelict shack with no sign of life. So I sit down on a rock... and see a gun poking out of the window. Suddenly there’s a shot. " You never know how you’re going to react to that kind of thing until it happens. I just slowly got up and walked to the bike and got going. There was no panic. If I was going to be dead, I’d have been dead. "
Goose was then advised that if he was riding down Mexico way, he should ride through Chiapas in the south and into Guatemala as quickly as possible, owing to the number of Zapatista rebels in the area. After the gun-shack episode, he was happy to oblige.
If the journey so far had unfolded like The Wild Bunch meets Death Race 2000 it was about to take a different turn. He began to abandon maps and just head whichever direction he pointed. Themes more central to survival and the human condition loomed.
He ended up riding right into the eye of Hurricane Mitch in Honduras. A woman and two children were killed in the village he stopped in as the storm raged. He dug at the mud with broken roof tiles, gave all his clothes away, set up a soup kitchen and then set up a relief fund via e-mail with some other motorcycle migrants he ran into.
" We raised $2000 in the first two weeks and in a month people had raised $100,000. The fund ended up supporting 13 villages that had been hit. You see these things on TV and get numb to it, but when you see it close up, for real, it’s a life-changer. "
After fording a river that trucks towed by bulldozers had difficulty with, he ended up in La Cieba, on the east coast of Honduras with two other Brit bikers, Nick on an XT600 and Sarah on a Dommie. They stayed in a brothel and whiled away the days eating grapefruits growing in the bordello’s yard. When they had enough of eating them, they played bowls with them, then they played baseball with them. Then they left.
But on the chewed-up roads of a poor country ravaged by raging storms, progress was slow. Nicaragua was the destination and it was a long time coming.
" There were log crossings like something out of a world trial, all running lengthways along the bridges. That was fun. I dropped the bike five times in one day, eventually getting it wedged in a gully where there was no way I could get it out. I’d been on my own for two days, hadn’t seen a single soul, then literally five minutes later this truck arrived with three blokes and we hauled it out. Something always happens to get you out of trouble. "
His own instincts diverted him from trouble on occasions. When he was deciding whether or not to cross the Darien Gap into Columbia, he remembered that in 1996 another British globe-trotting rider called Robbie Marshall had done just that and been shot at. One bullet missed, one went through his screen, the other lodged in his lid.
Goose decided survival was the better part of adventure and headed to Peru via Ecuador. But a muddy hell lay in store.
" Right up in the Andes, there was mud up to the crankcases. And it was freezing. I had no warm clothes and I just didn’t think I could carry on. I plodded along and then came up to this train track, right in the middle of these mountains, so I knew there must be a town somewhere.
" I plodded on some more and got to this little cantina and asked if I could sleep on a table or the floor. They said no but you can sleep next door – in a meat-locker full of dead llamas. I was so tired that I started unpacking, but then this local told me there was a town another hour up the road. I said I couldn’t face any more mud, so he took me outside and showed me where the road turned to Tarmac right next to the cantina.
" I did the trip in half-an-hour, found a hotel and stood in the shower for about a day thawing out. Things do turn to crap, but if you keep going something wonderful always happens. Well, it might not be wonderful, but it’ll usually be a lot better. "
The Africa Twin was eating chains and sprockets and Goose was running short of " gifts " for border guards. One lucky guard on the Bolivia/Chile border received a yo-yo, which he was delighted with. Another was taught to say " fire extinguisher " , which with hard-core Spanish pronunciation is much the same as a Glaswegian trying to say " burglar alarm " . Other guards approached during the long wait and demanded to know the meaning of various English phrases they’d picked up. These ranged from " you old goat " to others less printable.
Chile proved ideal paragliding country and the man spent two weeks jumping off mountains attached to a large kite, while a gaggle of kids followed him around packing up the gear for him in exchange for sweets. " The kids’ dad eventually asked me to come and eat with them, so I went along and had a few chicha beers, which is holy beer and pretty strong. I was 12,000ft up and at that altitude you get pretty pissed, pretty quickly. We just sat there among a load of guinea pigs getting caned. His wife then started chasing them into the hut and there was a lot of squealing and commotion, followed by sound which went like this: " weeeeeee-chop, weeeeeee-chop " .
A bit later out came these roasted guinea pigs. I picked one up and bit into it and this green slime exploded all over me. The things hadn’t been gutted or anything and were roasted whole. It would have been considered rude not to have finished it. "
By this stage, Goose needed a holiday and decided to ship his bike to Australia in a lovingly-crafted crate and take himself via Easter Island and Tahiti for a bit of light relief after the physical deprivations of South America.
" It sounds strange, but after South America, Australia was a bit boring. I went out to Tasmania and spent three months getting from Sydney to Darwin. It’s a great place, but comparatively not that interesting. " India proved considerably more entertaining. " People just run each other off the road, so I spent most of the time kicking-in car doors. But I got a bit more relaxed after my one and only opium experience. "
By this time Goose had been carrying on like this for nearly two years. He’d left England in April 1998 and it was now getting on for January 2000. He was on the homeward leg, headed for Pakistan, Iran and Turkey, while the trusty Twin was on its last legs. A desperate sprocket bodge in Pakistan had lasted across the Iranian desert and it was only when he was hauling into Turkey that the Honda gave up.
" These border guards were shouting and pointing to the bike and I looked down and there was oil spurting on to the floor. Then I looked back and there was a slick all the way down the road. Basically, the bottom had fallen out of the gearbox and it was game over. "
After two years, 42,000 miles, seven sets of tyres and the entire world’s supply of chain and sprocket kits for Africa Twins, Goose’s journey had ended. " I was gutted. I really wanted to finish the trip on that bike, and I’m going to. The guys at Denver Motorcycles in Norfolk have done all they can to fix it up for me so I can go back via the Balkans to Turkey and come back again. "
Goose is attached to his Africa Twin after being literally attached to it for two years. So attached he’ll probably never ride anything else again.
It cost him £20,000 all up: £10,000 on the bike, flights, paperwork and shipping, plus £10,000 on living for two years. " I sold my house to do it and now I’m back the last thing I want is a house. So many things happened on that trip, but few were the ones I thought would happen. I met an amazing Dutch girl studying tropical medicine who’s going to the Balkans with me.
" Technically, I’ve ridden around the world, but there are so many ways of doing it, and so many places I’ve still to go to. "