June 2008

Picture of the Autocom logoWelcome to all the staff at Autocom Specialist Communications.

If you have been following our planning and preparation for the journey you will know one of our main concerns involved having an on-bike communication system for Cathy and myself which functioned in the way we needed it to. If virtually all of your information comes through your ears (apart from the vibrations through your derriere!) then you need to be sure of a system which you can rely on! We have to be able to talk to each other clearly, handle mobile telephone calls on route and be able to record our conversations for the web as we pass through the world. All of this had to be done without killing our ears through background noise and volume changes.

We had already bought and installed a Communication System from a company and tried it on both of our previous trial runs. These occurred through the Alps and Pyrenees to begin with (back in 2006) when our first thoughts had already formed about the journey. We had persevered with it as we completed our final run from Land’s End to John O’Groats (in 2007).

For large chunks of time we would have to turn it off and give our ears a rest from the amplified noise. This left Cathy isolated on the back of the bike. So it was we turned to another manufacturer (Autocom) who are specialists in mobile communication technology. Within 15 minutes of the email leaving my phone rang and it was Paul Wallace from Autocom.

Over the next 30 minutes he patiently explained everything around what we needed to be able to do with a system and several weeks later myself and Cathy decided to buy the system. We rang to order and spoke to Paul again to confirm (as I worry!) it would do everything we needed it to do. To cut a long story short they very kindly offered to give one to us to use throughout the journey. And so it is that we welcome Autocom to our merry band of believers. 

Picture of Cathy up in the trees attached to a safety harness

Cathy at Go Ape in Delamere Forest, Cheshire.

From Cathy

The involvement of Autocom has been such a boost to us and I really cannot thank them enough for operating so quickly. They were even willing to change the circuitry in the unit to fit in with our perceived needs. We really look forward to using a system which will give us what we need in terms of communication! No longer will our poor ears by buffeted by wind noise and stray sounds which Bernard spent hours trying to resolve! He would read the manual, twiddle with screwdrivers and off we would go down the road. Then we would stop. Off we would get. More rustling of pages from the manual, then twiddling would then occur. Hours and hours of stop, start, read, twiddle, twiddle. At times he would give up and turn the system off to give us a rest from the noise. This left me very isolated with only my thoughts and the wind noise to keep me company. All being well that problem is now over.

Thank you Autocom!

A couple of months ago I commented on the amount of times I could hear “Ouch” from the computer as Bernard continued battle with the demons of capitalism and his quest in buying equipment. This month the ‘ouch’ component is even more apt as not only has there been many financial ‘ouch’ type events but also physical outcomes to the dreaded round of ‘inoculations’.

Now when we say inoculations neither of us are just talking the odd needle or the odd ‘You’ll feel a sharp scratch’ comment from a kindly person – usually – wearing a blue uniform.

What we are talking about is needle after needle after needle. Inoculations and the ‘it’s only a scratch’.

We are talking Hepatitis A jabs (1) Hepatitis B jabs (3) rabies (3), Yellow Fever (1), Typhoid (1), and Tetanus (1). So far!

Yes the great land of needles has descended upon us. From my own point of view it has all gone swimmingly well. From Bernard’s point of view he has returned to the land of “How much!” I must admit to having some sympathy (well, just a little but I will not tell him that) with his comments on the costs.

For anybody who is thinking of going off on a mad-hare-brained journey like this then leave several hundred pounds (each person) for the jabs alone. To give you our example – the rabies jabs alone were £45 EACH (and there are three of them) and the same amount for the Yellow Fever inoculation.

Your first port of call should always be your own GP surgery to check which inoculations are available on the NHS. This may well save you some pound coins in the long run.

Neither Rabies nor Yellow Fever inoculations are available through the NHS and so you have to go to a ‘Travel clinic’ which may or may not be attached to your local surgery. It’s funny really that the NHS would treat you if you return with Yellow Fever but they will not prevent it at the start without charge? I always thought prevention was better than cure? Must be just me!

Malaria

The big question we are wrestling with at the moment is what type of anti-malarial tablets we should take with us. Some of the tablets are daily and some are weekly (space savers we call them!). We have to try the weekly tablets for a couple of weeks as there are several side-effects we have to look for (mood changes, upsets in balance – not good on a bike!) To date we have been on them for two weeks and have had no problems. Again, a private prescription from your GP will allow you to buy them for about £21 for eight tablets (two month’s worth). Travel clinic costs are usually higher. Over the coming weeks we will see what happens over time – fingers crossed the one week dose will do the trick.

We’ll let you know if Bernard has any wider and bigger-than-normal mood swings!

The same if I arrive home from work riding side saddle with Biscuit due to leg wobbles.

Picture of Bernard and Cathy on a tandem. Bernard is on the front!

Can you ride tandem?

Can you ride tandem?

Recently I had the opportunity to try riding a tandem for the first time in my life. The last time I rode a bike was around 40 years ago! It was certainly fun. I haven’t ridden a bike since I was very young and it was at a time when I had some limited vision. I have never ridden a bike as a blind person. Shall we say Bernard talked me into it?

We hired the bike in Delamere Forest recently when we were camping with friends who very kindly fed us for the whole weekend as they did bring the – proverbial – kitchen sink. We must admit we did turn up with several alcoholic type beverages clinking and clanking in the boot of the car but, somehow, we forgot to bring food?

Anyway I digress – off we went, wobbling, on the tandem until we both got used to it.

In the end we were ‘thundering along’ and it was great. I loved it. From the front I heard – every now and then – “my bum is killing me” and “are you sure you’re pedalling?” all of which made me laugh out loud.

Up and down hills we went and we even performed what I am reliably informed are ‘skiddies’. This was when Bernard would brake as hard as he could and lock the back wheel causing us to skid sideways. He would tell me when he was going to do it so at least I was prepared for when it happened. Good fun was had and I will definitely be going tandem riding again.

More Equipment has now arrived.

Our new tent and various spares have arrived for the journey. It is the Khyam Biker tent and we have ordered a spare pole system just in case one breaks – as it did with a previous one! The additional storm kit was also requested – you never know.

We have (well Bernard really) installed a new rear suspension unit for the journey (Hagon) and due to this I did try to sneak more weight into my bag but was caught out so it looks like I’m still limited in terms of clothing allowance. The Airhawk seats have arrived and I look forward to the banishment of ‘numb bum’ syndrome for the duration of the trip.

Picture of the red motorcycle named Bertha sat in the garden looking very shiny.

Bertha.

The bike Update (by Bernard)

Well here she is! At long last. My hands are healed (new skin has formed over the scraped and skinned knuckles). My nails are something like clean – and have grown again after being broken and chipped – after weeks of being immersed in oil and WD40.

Pristine and shiny (the bike, not the nails) but probably not for long (the nails and the bike). For all the people out there who will ask the usual question the answer is no.

There was not a single bit left over (pats self on back for such a momentous achievement full of stress induced anxieties at creaking bolts).

New tyres were fitted which should last about 8000 miles for the rear one. The front will last longer and then we’ll have to go tyre hunting. Much like everything else we’ll have to find them as we go along and change them when we can.

The bike has now been through the Ministry of Transport Test and passed with flying colours.

It was like waiting to go into the dentist.

Picture of Bertha. Rear view showing the new panniers.

Bertha and her new cases.

It was like waiting in the maternity wing for the delivery.

It was like penalties in a cup final.

I couldn’t watch.

The testers looked at me something like bemused as I punched the air when they told me it was passed.

If you think about it, so it should pass – it has been completely taken to bits and reassembled over the last couple of months.

It has been fitted with 45 litre panniers (Hepco and Becker Expedition Series) and a huge Hepco & Becker Exclusive 45 litre back box.

The back box will not be carrying anything really in terms of weight. All the materials in this will be light (sleeping bags, sleeping mats etc.) The panniers are huge in themselves and, in some ways, I think I should have gone for the smaller 38 litre ones. They would have been narrower and better for filtering through traffic but it is too late now (impetuous fingers on the internet when I ordered them!) The panniers were unlined when they arrived which was a bit of a disappointment.

Picture of the new panniers taken from above. One has no lining and the other has been adapted.

Pannier lining - care of the local camping shop.

When the contents move around in an aluminium pannier for weeks on end you can end up with something like a fine aluminium powder which covers everything.

So, one Saturday, off we both went to the local camping shop where we bought some thin sleeping mats which were duly cut up and impact glued into place.

Cathy and I chased them around the floor with her acting as the technical director for how not to ‘bodge’ the job with me – as usual – trying to do everything too fast. Job done.

Picture of Bertha with new glass fuel filters inserted into her petrol lines.

Fuel filters

I even decided to install additional fuel filters in the petrol lines just to be sure. I might be over-thinking about things like this but you never know!

At least I can see if petrol is actually running through the pipe and so they will prove useful at some point I should think.

Final thoughts

And so here we are writing the June update in the first week in July.

It feels really funny to realise that when we are writing the next update (for July) we will probably be on the road for the first part of the journey. Biscuit will be with Sandra and Ian who will be looking after her for the time we are away. We have put the separation off until the day before we leave. Neither of us are looking forward to that evening when she will not be bouncing around the house with her squeaking toys. It will feel very strange and very sad – if any Guide Dog owners are reading this then you will understand what this separation will mean for Cathy.

The next morning we set off to say farewell to Cathy’s mum and step-dad in Wales. The ferry at Holyhead is the next destination for the crossing of the Irish sea to say goodbye to my recently married sister (Paula) and her husband (Frank) in Ireland. We return to England (Fishguard to Dover) before going on to Europe.

Nearly two years has gone by since we started thinking, talking and then planning with enormous ups and downs occurring – often in the same day. We have ended up being very philosophical about things that have happened as we continued trying to spread the message of what the journey is about. No doubt we will return to explore this period in the book of the journey which was always set to have the same name as this site.

From my own personal point of view – the story always was, and always will be, about a Blind Woman who is a truly inspirational person. She has never given up no matter what life has thrown at her. If you have traversed the pages of this site then you will know this to be true and you cannot help to reach the same conclusion as me. If you listened to the Radio 4 programme then you couldn’t help but be moved by her experiences and the long path she has travelled to reach this point in her life.

The other person in the story (me – the Taxi Driver as I call myself) worries about everything, is difficult to be around sometimes, and can be as stubborn as a mule.

A Blind Woman, Two Wheels and 25,000 Miles is about to begin.

Who knows where it will end.

C’est la vie.

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