motorcycle

Overlanding Vehicle Part 1: The Dream Vehicle

I guess I come by the idea of travel over long distances by vehicle honestly. Most summers when I was young my parents took my sister and I on a trip. While most of my friends were on their way to Grandparents houses or off to the cottage we headed out to explore North America which really means we headed south of the border to places in the U.S.A. We would pack up the stationwagon, hook up the pop up trailer and head off. Mom would navigate, Dad would drive and my sister and I would load up the back seat with books and music to spend the time between camp sites. Once a trip my father would get angry at us for having our noses in our books. “I brought you all this way to see this and you are ignoring it!” he would say.

Border between British Columbia and Yukon Territory on the Stewart-Cassiar Highway

My recent trips have allowed me to see more of the world. I still love the idea that getting there is part of the experience and the enjoyment of travel. My motorbike has taken me to Alaska, Vancouver Island, James Bay and all across Europe. Overlanding on the bike is a fanstastic way to experience where you are. You are open to all of the sights, smells and elements of that place. If it is warm outside so are you, if it is raining you are wet. It means that you are very much in the moment at that place.

So should I take the bike to South America? There are many reasons why this would be a good way to go but this time I think that I will go in a different vehicle. All of my past trips have lasted about a month and I find that even in that length of time I do grow a little tired of setting up and tearing down my tent every day. Even if I spend a few days in one location it is hard to feel that my things are secure in a tent and that means I tend to pack a bunch of things onto my bike even if I am not putting away the tent.

What do you think? Travel South America in style? My favorite part of this is the tent!

So the search for the perfect vehicle begins. Type Overlanding Vehicle into Google and you get all sorts of different ideas of what that will look like. There is an amazing range of setups from the very rustic, small and lightweight to the massive truck made to go anywhere in epic style. So if money were not an object what should I get?

UniMog Camper.

Unimog: These trucks are amazing. Mercedes-Benz trucks and chassis are modified into campers by companies all around the world. They are very popular in Europe where the idea of traveling around the world is not new. The massive wheels and hard core suspension can deal with most everything and the campers are designed to be self sufficient for extended periods of time.


Earthroamer:
Unlike the Unimog which is a chassis that many different companies modify, Earthroamer is a company that make high end overland truck campers. These vehicles seem to be very well built and have luxuries that I wouldn’t even have considered. They can even have a tv larger than the one I have at home on the outside of the camper.

EarthCruiser: Just like Earthroamer, EarthCruiser is a company that builds overland vehicles. I would have to say that I think I am most impressed with the design and thinking that go into these trucks. The design that allows for travel anywhere in the world seems to show that the owners actually do travel with these themselves. I would love to see one of these up close some time soon.

So…. what would you want to go in for a year away?

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Carpe Diem

“I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, I wanted to live deep and suck out the marrow of life. To put to rout all that was not life; and not, when I come to die, discover that I had not lived.” (Dead Poets Society, 1989)

Seize the Day. Everyone does this in a way unique to them. Some have families, some dedicate themselves to sport and finally others travel. While I can’t say that I have always been the best user of my time I like to think that I make up for it when I am on the road. In 2010 before I blogged everything, I wrote a journal when I went to Tibet, Nepal and India and as I left each country I wrote a section titled Things Not To Forget, so as I sit in Heathrow waiting for my plane home I guess it is time to reflect.

Things Not to Forget

  • Amsterdam – The city really is one of the most multicultural parties I think I have ever witnessed. The number of languages you can hear in a small area is incredible, almost as incredible as the number of Stag and / or Doe parties that are happening in that same small area. The people who go to that city to celebrate their last nights of single life really do embrace the humour of the city and make me think that my friends got off relatively lightly.
  • Nurburgring – First riding and then being driven around this amazing place. I have never felt so lost on a racetrack as I did there as it is rare that you can see the corner you are about to enter as there is either a hill or other turn in the way. I am sure that it took me 15 – 20 minutes to get around and even then I almost rode right off it at least once. This is contrasted by what is possibly the most expensive and amazing 8 minutes of my life the next day. The ring taxi was a better way to cap off the visit as this guy has been driving the track for years and knew every inch of it. Click here to see a lap in a ring taxi!
  • Riding a Motorbike into Downtown Paris – Driving in Italy had been fun for the most part as I had missed most of the major cities and when I got tired of all the people I had escaped to the Autostrada but Paris was something else. I had no idea where I was going and was blindly following my GPS. As the crush of people and the size of buildings increased my GPS seemed to deliver directions much slower. Add to that a series of driving rules that don’t seem to match how everywhere else organizes their roads and you create chaos. In places you get a green light to turn only to get straight into the intersection only to be confronted by a red light which leaves you stopped directly in the middle. The traffic circles are also a mess as there are no lanes, many are cobblestones and there are endless numbers of streets coming onto or off of them. I am convinced that the best way to move through European City traffic is by motorbike but I don’t have the confidence to do it yet (see below).
  • Filtering – Or as we might say in Canada, lane splitting. I didn’t do it in the U.K. or Paris but I did for a while on the Autobahn (tagged onto the back of a passing bike), Lyon and for a time in Italy along the Mediterranean. The Italian trips were usually inspired after little scooters carrying 70 year old grannies came speeding by and I felt a little like a wimp.
  • Paris Itself – The city is everything that is described of it. They avoid grass so it is dusty, There seems to be a constant protest of some kind going on, people eat inches from cars whizzing by (at least when they can) and piles of people seem to be constantly smoking. I loved the madness of the place and for a person who generally does not like city life that is saying a bunch. What I didn’t experience was the stereotypical French indifference or snottiness. The people I met were wonderful as well as helpful.
  • Roads that never go straight – It was tiring and took entire days to go 250 km but amazing. They started in Germany and didn’t stop until I headed North to Paris. 5000 km later and I happy to say my riding experience has grown a lot this summer despite the addition of a couple of new scratches on the bike.
  • Family – The last few days after the Canal Boat (Part 3 of the trip) have been spent with people I rarely get the chance to see. It has been wonderful to meet up with my Auntie Gill, Jayne, Auntie Glenys, Uncle John and Cousins Mathew and Joanne. After constant movement for the last 5 weeks hanging out and chatting has been an amazing way to decompress and think about things. Hopefully it won’t be another 8 years before I see them again.

For all of my trips I always struggle to answer the question of my favourite experience as all of them add to the story but I am sure I will talk about riding around Europe for a long time to come.

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Bike just about ready to go home.

The Forest of Dean and Being a Little Ape

The Forest of Dean is an area of preserved land on the western area of England. It lies just South West of the city of Gloucester and almost directly North of Bristol. The forest has survived largely unchanged for over 1000 years due to the link with the monarchy and its use for Royal Hunting. The history here is incredible and has been well documented over the years. A story that I had been told a long time ago was that if you were born in one of the villages within the forest you were allowed to be a Free Miner. Free Miners were allowed to go out around the forest and collect coal which was abundant and sell it with no restriction or form of tax. This is of course not really a concern today but for over 1000 years coal has been used in industrial processes and the collection and selling of it did allow many families to have a livelihood.

My connection goes back a little ways. I originally knew this area as the home of my Nana James who was the only great grandparent I ever got the chance to meet. She lived in the town of Cinderford (right on the North Eastern section of the forest) and had moved here in 1920 as a war bride of my Great Grandfather. According to my mom, my Great Grandfather was born and died in Cinderford meaning that he probably did qualify as a Free Miner and in the year of 1888 when he was born that would have been a useful thing. My mom still talks fondly of her going for walks in the forest, with him telling her all about the things that she could see, and many I am sure she could not. He seems like he was a very interesting person.

In a unique twist of fate my Aunt (on my fathers side) has recently moved to Cinderford just down the street from where my Nana James lived and that is where I find myself along with my family for last night, tonight and tomorrow night before we leave for what I am calling part 3 of my European adventure.

Yesterday was probably one of the longer distances I needed to cover this trip by bike and for that reason it consisted mostly of motorway riding. Unusual for me, I got up early and was on the road to Calais to catch the ferry in good time which allowed me to get on an earlier crossing than I had reserved. A few chats with the other motorcyclists waiting in line for the ferry to load and then we were off. After about 5 hours of uneventful and rather boring riding (after this trip) I was in Cinderford for the mass arrival by train, car and motorbike of the Miller’s.

Today was much more exciting. My Aunt’s friend Jane is an exceedingly outgoing person and last night had shown Sarah (my sister) a Tree Top Adventure with a company called Go Ape so this morning we were off to give it a go. Jane, Sarah, Dad and I headed out to the forest to try the challenges up in the trees. After reading the rules, a safety briefing and some low to the ground training we headed off to our first rope ladder and set of obstacles. The course is amazing, full of off the ground challenges, rope swings and zip lines in the trees and we all had an amazing time. After 2.5 hours we completed the last zip line and arrived back at the registration hut very tired and very proud of our accomplishments.

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One of the many fishing holes in the Forest of Dean

The rest of the day was spent picnicking and wondering through the forest. The forest itself is a beautiful place full of a lot of life. It is also very well used especially now that it is summer break for school and there were many mountain bikers around on the trails.

I like this place. I am impressed with how the country has been able to ensure that it remains mostly in a natural state even though there are probably many pressures to develop it and I hope that they continue to do so. It is selfish, but I would like to continue coming back to this place to explore for quite a long time.