April 2008

Latest News April 2008

I can hear Bernard exclaiming “Ouch” from the computer room followed by sharp intakes of breath. “HOW MUCH!” follows shortly. Then I hear the “I’ll give you a call back when I win the Lottery” line he has been known to use. His other favourite is “I don’t want to buy the factory which make them, just the parts themselves please.”

He has a whole list of one-liners to trot out when he thinks capitalism is going a bit too far in its search for profit.

I laugh to myself as I climb the stairs to take part in the inevitable – and latest – negotiation and calming down procedure. As I enter the room the computer chair creaks as he swivels towards me.
“I’m dying here Cath, absolutely dying” he exclaims. “Correction, we’re dying here Cath, call the undertakers please, I’m ready to go now, I can feel my life force being sucked out of me.”

He continues as he’s on a roll now.

“I may as well just cut my wrists.” “The price everything is enormous and this is before we even go. We haven’t turned a wheel yet and thousands are disappearing.”

I usually make various supportive noises at his worries over everything financial. He really does worry.

He worries about parts. He worries about breaking down. He worries about communication, accidents, wrong routes, money, illness, medicines, hurricanes, tsunamis’ and toothache. And he worries about me. Actually he worries about me everything around me really. If he was going on his own he would not worry so much. I know this and we have talked about it. But he seems to have 5000 things to do and he’s trying to do everything as there is nobody else. Just me and him. But we soldier on.

Each time we talk over the latest round of expenditure he grumbles as I convince him to order the various bits and pieces. He resists and tries to find another way around the expenditure. Usually he realises I am right (I am a woman after all) and there is no other way but to the pay the price and get the correct part / bit / of equipment rather than some ‘make do’ alternative.

Picture of an Airhawk seat.

Airhawk

He half jokingly (I think) tried to convince me the other night that bubble wrap would be as good as buying an Airhawk seat. He actually said large bubble wrap would probably be better. He was fine about buying the seat until he found out it cost (“another £130”). At this point the subject of bubble wrap came up. Needless to say, he gave up. I think it may have been due to me telling him, in no uncertain terms, this was a non-starter!

“I going back on the phone to have more blood sucked out of me.”

He sighs as he climbs the stairs back into ‘World Tour HQ’ as we call it. His footsteps are heavy on the stairs and sometimes I can hear the heavy tread of disappointment and frustration in these steps at some rejection from a company whom he has approached for assistance. I can hear the worry and concern in his voice about the latest problem to be solved; about all the things he thinks about around the trip.

From the kitchen where I stand I can hear the sound of the phone being lifted, the beep of the keys being pressed and then his voice starts talking down the phone. So it is that the whole process starts all over again.

Occasionally he will disappear outside to blow smoke rings and calm down before launching into another long call about something or other. He cajoles and tries to convince the person that a charity world ride by a blind woman deserves some financial trimming on the capitalist principles of making more profit than he considers to be decent.

Having listened to this scenario (often) recently I know some he wins and some he loses. At times he considers it a ‘draw’ as some small leeway is given; usually free postage for several hundred pounds bit of kit.

Where will you be sleeping?

People have been mailing us with kind offers of accommodation from around the world and many have asked about this aspect of the trip i.e. “Where are you planning to stay each night?” A small explanation therefore for you.

Due to the fact that all of the costs are being born by Bernard and myself we are seeking to, obviously, minimise the costs as much as possible. Therefore we will be camping as much as possible; much like we did during our trip from Land’s End to John O’Groat. It should significantly reduce the costs. I think it is important to say that none of the sponsorship money people are collecting will be used to fund the trip. Not a penny, not a cent.

Money and documents

The International Carnet for the bike has now been ordered from the R.A.C and paid for (costing £995 for this one document alone). The Carnet is an ‘import/export’ document for the bike which is required for several countries (Iran, Pakistan, India, Australia, and recommended for use all through South America). Each country has a ‘tarif’ which they apply to the vehicle and this generates an amount of tax they would claim if the vehicle was sold while in their country. For example, if a vehicle was sold in India then there would be a 500% Tax applied to the sale! For example, the bike we are travelling on is 18 year’s old. The market value is around £1000. Thus the tax levied would be £5000 if we sold it in India. If it was a £10,000 new bike then it would be £50,000! In this case cheap is good!

Most people take out a specialised insurance policy to buy the Carnet although you can approach it in different ways (if you have lots and lots of money in the bank then your bank will act as guarantee). If you take the insurance route this means you end up paying 10% of the ‘taxable figure’ (in our case £500 instead of £5000) and then you add on other costs. These include the Carnet document itself, Government Taxes at 5% – thank you HerMIt or Her Majesty’s Inspector of Taxes for adding this on as well. Plus there are other, refundable deposits etc. and so you end up with the figure of £995. The R.A.C very kindly deducted some of their costs due to the fact that Cathy is doing this trip for Charity and so they applied a reduction on this basis.

Our sincere thanks to Paul Gowan of the R.A.C for his asistance and help in sorting through the paperwork! He really did make the whole process extremely simple.

The Carnet document itself has a triplicate page for each country where it will be used. The bike is stamped in and out of the country (and pages are taken out at the border – one for in and one for out)  and we will be left with one (our) page. Once we hit the Panama canal then this document is no longer needed and we can post it back to the UK.

Equipment and costs

Picture of the bike dismantled.

Bertha with her gearbox missing.

Many, many parcels have arrived at World Tour HQ in recent weeks. Like an excited school boy Bernard has unpacked them to reveal multifarious parts. These have ranged from motorcycle clutches to small boxes of screws along with various other bits and pieces the likes of which I know not.

I have felt (and had described to me) a motorcycle ‘black box’, sender units, two-phase coils and countless other such like parts; all with such reverent enthusiasm. New panniers (Hepco and Becker 45 Litre) have been purchased along with a similar size back box.

For the motorcycle enthusiasts out there there will be a list of all the items purchased in the last few weeks posted on the site in the coming weeks. We have included costs as Bernard believes this is important information which may be useful for other people planning such an expedition. Most overlanders do not give this sort of information and yet it is important to help others who inevitably ask the question “How much does it cost?” We will keep you up to date and feel free to contact us about any questions you may have not already answered on this site.

Currently we are trying to source a satellite phone for safety reasons which is proving expensive in itself (about £750 for the phone itself plus various connection charges at £7 PER MINUTE!).

At the moment it is Bernard’s main source of concern as he pictures the scenario of being incapacitated himself which leaves me as the our source of contact. Obviously there are accessibility issues involved at the point as my own mobile phone has speech installed on it yet we may (probably) have no signal in some regions. He is still working on this aspect even as I type this. It is another problem to solve!

Carrying of Spares and other paraphernalia (by Bernard)

Picture of Bernard working on the bike with a big smile.

Bernard Smith

It is really hard to know what is going to be useful. I agonise of what to take – I really do. I wake up in the middle of the night and some part pops into my head and I reach for the writing pad beside the bed and furiously scribble away in case I forget by the time I wake up. An emergency dental repair kit was one which woke me up about three in the morning a week ago!

In the end I seem to have cut it down to the main electronic units of the bike, a full gasket kit, spare bulbs, two work shop manuals, an electronic parts manual for reference (on the laptop). Other small ancillary bits will also include a set of HT leads, a carburettor diaphragm, spare jets (different sizes to account for altitude), and two oil filters. Main parts so far have included a trigger unit, black box, and spare ignition coil. I dare say it isn’t finished yet!

The bike currently has a complete new clutch assembly, all new brakes  and in the coming weeks the cylinders will be taken off to renew gaskets and to have various seals upgraded. My hands are starting to look distinctly ‘mechanical’.

Picture of the red Yamaha Bernard uses for work.

The work horse Yamaha

Several people have asked about how often myself and Cathy get out and about on the bike and so a few words.
The main bike for the journey has been in bits for some time now and so we have not been together on a bike since the Land’s End to John O’Groat’s trip last summer. From a personal point of view I use a bike every day for work. I started using the bike when the traffic around Merseyside started to get a bit silly in terms of travel times. Also, once the cost of parking was nearly costing me as much as my mortgage I thought enough was enough! And so it was the Yamaha was dusted off and brought into play.

All I have to do now is dodge the infernal speed cameras sprouting like mushrooms in every hedgerow. Not that I am any form of speed freak but it is SO EASY to get done these days between fixed units, mobile units and CCTV on every lamp post! Food for thought – there are four million CCTV cameras in the UK; more than any other nation in the world. “Well Mr Orwell, what do you think about that?”

Eye findings (by Cathy)

As always life has not proved to be simple. Complications occurred with my left eye operation and several visits have occurred back and forth to the hospital where copious amounts of drops in little bottles have been issued. I am now on drops every two hours but all being well they will finish soon (please, please, please!)

Many people ask me what is happening to Biscuit (my Guide Dog) when we set off on the journey. Usually, it is the very first thing they ask! Before any other aspect of the journey is raised a voice says “But what is happening to Biscuit?” It seems that Biscuit has her very own following out there in cyberland. Soon she will be endorsing products and services and making guest appearances on TV shows; being lined up for articles and then finally an autobiography (entitled “My Life and times as a Guide Dog”) will be planned. You get the drift?

Biscuit and the separation.

Picture of Biscuit looking straight at the camera.

Biscuit

Biscuit and I have been inseparable since she became my second guide dog and the parting will not be easy. In fact it will be very hard. While there is no doubt of this, if you have tracked the updates over time you will be aware that Guide Dogs have very kindly allowed her to go back (for the duration of the trip) to her ‘boarders’ who live in Chester.Sandra and Ian have a special relationship with Biscuit which I will come onto in a minute but first a little information about the role of a boarder for Guide Dogs.Boarders do a vital job for Guide Dogs and are always in demand. Boarders themselves do a range of tasks without which the whole process would be very difficult, if not impossible.Boarders vary across a range of activities from Holiday boarders,Trainee guide dog boarders, Emergency boarders, and to what are called ‘Other’ boarders.It is not always possible (for various reasons) to take your dog with you on holiday as a blind person. For example, several years ago I took part in a sailing holiday and my previous Guide Dog Petra was boarded while I was away. I could relax and I knew that she was safe and well and being looked after in a loving home. It makes a difference when you can relax and know that your dog is fine. The relationship between a blind person and their guide dog is far, far beyond the normal dog owner relationship (which can be profound in itself).
With Trainee guide dog boarders the person is involved in looking after a dog which is in the final 10-12 weeks of its training. This is also sometimes called “bed and breakfast” as you look after the dog in the evenings and at weekends. It’s ideal for someone who works during the day as the dog is completing its training during working hours and returns to you in the evening.
Emergency boarders are very much as the name would imply. In the event of the owner being hospitalised (with nobody to care for their dog) then the emergency boarder would be called into play. This role is usually of a short-term nature.
‘Other’ boarders are people who live near the Dog Supply Units and are able to look after dogs in a variety of circumstances: it could be that the dog was distressed in kennels or hasn’t made it as a guide dog and needs a temporary home until Guide Dogs we can find it a permanent one. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer boarder please contact the National Volunteer Recruitment Office.

Picture of Sandra and Ian with Biscuit sitting on their front step.

Sandra and Ian with Biscuit.

Sandra and Ian

So it was that Sandra and Ian were Biscuit’s boarders during her training and she is so firmly attached to them and has never forgotten them at all! We have visited their Chester home (socially) on several occasions and the same events always happen. When we pull up and let her out of the car she leaps the three steps, races up the path and through the front door like a missile. Rushing around the house she reintroduces herself with a definite “OK I’m here now, let’s play, but first stroke me lots and lots; then we’ll go and investigate the garden. During our two test runs for this journey in 2006 and 2007 Biscuit stayed with Sandra and Ian. They both consider Biscuit to be ‘part of the family’ and they have a real soft spot for her. I can think of no better place for her to be than with them. They board other dogs as well and often comment that having an older ‘Guide Dog’ in the house settles and calms the other dogs they board who are in their final training.

Last week-end when we visited they also had ‘Midge’ (a black labrador / retriever) and were acting as emergency boarders as his owner had been taken into hospital for a period of time. Thus Biscuit and Mitch introduced themselves and then took off around the (large) garden. Happy doggie heaven is the only way I can describe it really. My own Guide Dog trainer (Nick) bases his dogs with Sandra and Ian and he will be working with Biscuit while we are away to keep her skills sharp. Thus she will be surrounded by people who will love and care for her and she will also have lots of company in terms of other dogs.I really can’t ask for more. Biscuit will be happy and cared for and this is all I need to know.

Sponsors

Picture of the Dolphin Compuer Access Logo

Dolphin Computer Access

Our sincere and grateful thanks to Dolphin Computer Access Technicians who have been in contact with us several times by phone and email in recent weeks. Dolphin will be supplying a lap top, specialist software and bits and pieces of hardware for Cathy while we are on the road to enable communication with the world through the internet. I would be true to say that the company have been an enthusiastic (and constant)  supporter of our journey since day one. We cannot thank them enough for their support. This support and encouragement has stemmed right from the top of the company (Chief Executive Noel Duffy) all the way to their marketing division and technicians who are currently sourcing equipment.

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