The wheels nearly came off the good Friday agreement on the first day out of Bangalore. Marcus is riding an old Royal Enfield with comparatively little power, even less braking ability and all the handling characteristics of a cross-channel ferry on account of a very worn head-race bearing and some front forks which don’t appear to be mechanically attached to the handle bars. Lawrence, being a little OCD in his BMW, was playing mother duck and wanted all his ducklings in a row on the road, the KTM contingent had other ideas and forged ahead. This caused some consternation and the following morning, at Camp Canyon a referendum was called. A new bill of speed, time, direction and distance was proposed. After negotiating Newton’s second law (the one about unbalanced accelerating forces), Einstein’s general relativity theory (the bit about rotating masses dragging along the space-time around them) and some profound profanities from the Viz Profanisaurus (the different derivations of fucking, for fuck’s sake, what the fuck?) we agreed to move slowly towards Hyderabad. This didn’t go well. The KTM delegation got bored and after a couple of hours in formation a couple of people stopped to photograph a lake, a couple of others took a break and David and I took the opportunity to stretch our engines and have a bit of fun on the country road which wound around the lake. And so starts salutary tale No2.
It was already not a good day. It started with the discussion about making progress on the road (including debating the lack of both progress and road); whilst preparing onion omelette breakfast in Camp Canyon I sliced off a chunk from the end of my left ring finger, blood everywhere, Savlon, Steristrips and a gauze dressing required; and an hour into the ride North of Camp Canyon an acrobatic wasp flew over my screen, under my visor and behind my sunglasses at 80kph, it then got trapped next to my eye, got cross at being trapped behind my sunglasses and stung me – “luckily” on the face not the eye, but my cheek started to puff up, time for some antihistamine. So by the time we reached the lake David and I were a bit bored and I was agitated. A good blast on the bike round this fun looking lake road should take my mind off the wasp sting and throbbing finger. In any other country on any other day having a bit of fun in the sun on a winding country road is what bikes are all about, but India is not any other country and today India decided to prove that. I led David through some nice S-bends with clear sight of the road ahead, no traffic, no animals, no problems. Except half way around a 120° left hander the road surface stopped being tarmac and started being shiny stone slabs which had been polished to an impressive sheen by decades of trucks. The shiny stones shone beautifully brightly in the hot sun, at an angle which, on reflection, was laid at an adverse camber to the corner. So I’m on a fully loaded bike weighing in at about 300kg accelerating across a stone slab with all the adhesive qualities of a mirror, leaning quite hard down on the left side while the shiny stones angle away to my right. It is little wonder that the back tyre made a break for freedom and overtook the front wheel. For the second time in two months I became a passenger on my own bike, spinning on completely the wrong axis as the bike slid sideways across the road. It looped around a full 360° on its side and came to rest with the back wheel still driving hopelessly along, spinning in the air. I let go of the bike half way around the grinding slide and was dumped unceremoniously into the verge. Fuck it. At this point, I don’t know whether to curse the 33 million Hindu Gods for allowing someone to put stone slabs on the apex of a corner or thank them for three significant considerations: 1 – there was nothing coming the other way so I didn’t get squashed under a truck; 2 – all my protective gear did its job and I am not hurt other than a skin abrasion where my elbow hit the inside of my jacket; 3 – Brett and David are with me, who calmly assess the damage to the bike, and set about resetting the bent handle bar. I opt for the three homages to the multi-million deities on the basis that I’m alive and mainly well, and the bike is essentially OK, it’s got some more scrapes and knocks and now it’s got a bent handle bar, but we are confident that we can sort that out in Hyderabad. The aluminium pannier box took most of the impact and has a slightly new shape as the road shaved a couple of corners off the bottom. It took nearly an hour in the sweating heat at my crash site to remove and reset the handle bar risers and clamps, and putting the levers and mirrors back into position, then we make a leisurely approach to Hyderabad and head for a bunch of guys who have offered David some free couch-surfing accommodation.
It turns out that David’s couch-surfing contacts in Hyderabad are massive bike fans. They run a variety of track days, a bike luggage fabrication workshop and other general motorbike-obsessed activities. This is good news; we park up in the courtyard of their shared house and they help as we set about loosening the triple clamp which holds my front forks in place. The impact with the road has twisted the forks in the clamp so I’ve spent the last 200km steering slightly right in order to go in a straight line. Not ideal, but it should be fixable. It’s a good opportunity for some photos and to relive the moment when David watched a 150bhp KTM adhere to the laws of physics and despatch it’s idiot helmsman into the ditch. And David didn’t have his Go-Pro on so there is no footage. Not sure if I’m happy about that or not!
The European / Antipodean Biking Summit splintered in Hyderbad; Brett, Lawrence, Marcus and I stay only one night in a hotel whose management insist on a half-hour long photoshoot with our bikes when we arrive, then refuse to give me WiFi access. The lack of WiFi didn’t last long as Rupert, already agitated from a severed finger, a wasp sting, an unpleasant impromptu twirl on the tarmac and a bent bike put on his “I’m not impressed” voice. The next day Aussie Brett and Swiss Lawrence headed straight for Kolkata to get their visas sorted. Dutch Marcus (who isn’t coming through Burma) decided to take a more leisurely trail North and follows his own route and speed – a very good idea. Swiss David broke ranks with his countryman to continue couch-surfing with the Hyderabad biking guys for a few days before making a dash Kolkata to get his Burma visa. And I kept to my plan of going the long way up India; I want to go to Jaipur, Agra and Delhi, so I headed off towards the great Indian interior, aiming for a huge meteor crater turned lake, about 300km outside Hyderabad, then on to some troglodyte-style caves, then to Jaipur. So that was the best laid scheme of this bike and man (to bastardise Burns).
All was going well. Outside the hectic Hyderabad traffic I got on a nice country road which the Sat-nav said would take me the next 180km towards my meteor lake. The road meandered across the arid sea of dust, through small hamlets where I was viewed like an alien life form, past road-side Hindu shrines where travellers stopped to light candles and pray to Vishnu, Shiva, Ganesh and all their compadres. I wasn’t going fast, no need, I had songs beginning with S on the mp3 player so after a couple of hours of S-songs, the open solo section in Sweet Home Chicago (Blues Brothers’ version) put a smile on my face, as it has done ever since I first heard it, over 25 years ago. But every silver lining has a cloud, and so starts salutary tale No3. I wasn’t surprised when I saw a huge rusting articulated lorry barrelling towards me, you get a lot of 20-ton scrap-heaps rumbling around the roads here. I wasn’t really surprised when it veered towards my side of the road to avoid a huge pot hole as I leant into a right hand bend (officially Indians are supposed to drive on the left, as in England). I just allowed my bike to straighten left a little to give the big rust-bucket some space, I was getting close to the verge on my side though. In hindsight I shouldn’t have been surprised when, around the side of the rust-bucket a typically insane Indian guy possessing little else than a death-wish and an old Honda 200cc was trying to assert his masculinity by overtaking the 20-tone bucket despite not being able to see further than the driver’s cab. I had nowhere left to swerve, I was already at the far edge of the road doing about 65kph, the lorry driver typically didn’t care for the lack of life-expectancy in the crazy biker trying to get round him so he kept pushing us towards my edge of the road. The idiot on the Honda hit the brakes which stood his bike straight up making it change course and steer straight on, straight into me. I swerved enough to avoid him hitting my handle bar, but his engine-mounted crash bar ploughed into my right side, we were probably both doing about 50-60kph towards each other when he hit, the force ripped off my right footpeg and dramatically altered the shape of my luggage box. An impact speed of over 100kph causes some unusual behaviour in a bike, even a big one like mine. Both bikes cartwheeled and I was instantly neither a rider nor a passenger anymore, I was now a projectile flying through space, time and air until Newton’s universal gravitation law did its thing and for the second time in two days my protective jacket, trousers, boots and helmet got tested. Seriously tested this time.