Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Petrol, Pork Pies, Pocari Sweat

The bridge at Sur
The Goat last took a huge motorcycle endurance tour in 1986, when he and Mr Lawful Good of Cowplain rode a Kawasaki GT750 the length of France and Spain in 28 hours. Two weeks later they did the return trip in nineteen and a half hours. At that point the Goat declared that he wouldn’t do such a thing again, age having caught up with him.

And then recently D_ asked if the Goat would be interested in an attempt at the Iron Butt. There are a number of challenges offered by the Iron Butt AssociationThe basic entry-level challenge is the “Saddlesore 1000” which, unsurprisingly, involves a 1000 mile trip in under 24 hours. D_ planned a round trip to Muscat. This wasn’t far enough, so the Goat proposed an extended trip 250km further down to Sur.

The Goat’s plan was to run the trip on a fuel of petrol, Pocari Sweat, and pork pies. This would be augmented by water, Red Bull, and Henri Wintermans.

After gassing up in Dubai at 0850 and getting the guys at Classic Motorcycles to witness the time (0908) and start kilometrage, D_ and the Goat headed off to Al Ain. The border at Jebel Hafeet was quiet. This is worth knowing: a trip like this does not need an hour of sitting in air-conditioned comfort for the UAE exit stamp (AED35). It also turns out that a House Elf visa doesn’t count for the purposes of granting Oman visas for GCC residents, so the Goat got a single-entry ten-day tourist visa for Oman for OMR5. 

So much for “There’s a petrol station every 30km.” D_ and the Goat stopped and gassed up in Dhank after seeing a sign that “The next petrol is 105km away”. Turns out that was the next Shell petrol, but now they were good to get almost to Muscat. Stopping in Nizwa to stretch their legs, it turned out that the souq was as shut as a shut thing. This was unsurprising for mid afternoon, and the Goat sat in the shade and was amused by a couple of local lads on mopeds doing rear wheel slides and burnouts.

Both bikes probably had enough fuel to get to Seeb, near Muscat, but stopped on the long downhill from Nizwa anyway. D_ begged for relief: his back was causing him some discomfort. Meanwhile, the Goat had discovered that the prime source of saddle soreness was his Kevlar-lined jeans. The trousers were imprinting Kevlar into the Goat’s thighs. There may be a solution to this involving those kinky cyclists’ shorts, but only if they’re not nylon.

TGL and J live in Seeb, and were happy to provide relief from the ravages of travel in the form of Nespresso, iced water and comfy sofas. Thank you to TGL and J. Regrettably, the time schedule wouldn’t permit stopping for pizza.

And thence to Seeb airport to meet Ahmed. D_ owns a black Yamaha FJR13. Ahmed’s is white, with chrome tip-over bars, bigger mirrors, and a smuggler trunk instead of a pillion seat. After a chat, D_ and the Goat set off for Muscat harbour and got hopelessly lost in the evening rush hour and the roadworks. The Goat noticed while lane-splitting that everyone who shut the space between traffic lanes was yacking on his or her mobile phone. Hanlon’s Razor: Don’t ascribe to malice that which may be attributed to incompetence.

The souq at Sultan Qaboos Port,
A brief photo and ciggie stop at the Mutrah Souq later, and the Goat got lost in the little lanes before finding an escape route on to the road to Sur. This road is truly excellent. It’s so new that it doesn’t appear on the Goat’s GPS. One minor issue was that for 13km the street lights weren’t working. The Goat noted that it was an excellent opportunity to ride on high beam for more than a few seconds at a time. Be careful what you wish for.

The only southbound petrol station was so new that the shop still had tape Xs on the windows and no stock. And it closed at 10pm, apparently. Ah, good point. The Goat resolved to gas up in Sur before heading back, which should provide enough tank range for at least Muscat.

Another failing in the Goat’s increasingly out-of-date GPS mapping is the absence of the bridge over the mouth of the bay at Sur. D_ and the Goat crossed the bridge (which has been constructed at enormous expense with a heavy vehicle ban and a 3T weight limit) and stopped for Red Bull and pork pies. This was the distal end of the trip. Everything following would be uphill. Time 2150, and clearly getting back to Dubai before 0850 was looking doubtful. There would have to be some serious riding with limited stops. They don’t call this the Iron Butt for nothing.

The trip back consisted of looping around the bay and heading back along the new dual carriageway to Muscat. This time avoiding the port, the Goat navigated back to Seeb, and a fuel stop at the end of the road to Nizwa. It was now 0040, early on Tuesday morning.

Fatigue was beginning to set in notwithstanding the caffeinated beverage. Corners, in particular, were being taken with extra care. And on the way back the Goat selected the new bypass road to Nizwa rather than the slightly shorter old road through various villages. It was pointless stopping in Nizwa, and the bikers continued to Bahla where there was, miracle of miracles, a petrol station open at 0315. The only one at  this hour for at least 100km in any direction, apparently.

There then followed around 100km of unlit single carriageway. The Goat likes using high beam, and his wish was granted. The continuous roadworks were merely a courtesy detail, as were the several Hilux pickups that hurtled past at 130km/h and plunged obliviously into the void on dipped beams.

The trickiest part of the trip was the pre-dawn twilight. A combination of tiredness and the rhododactylous conditions conspired to make vision tricky. The Goat scanned constantly for camels wandering on the highway as he and D_ headed for the border. He missed a last chance to gas up with cheap Oman petrol, which is only two thirds the price in the UAE. The last gas station may or may not have been open for business.

Getting back into the UAE was easy, but for anyone planning a road trip, note the need to present a valid UAE vehicle registration on re-entry. Nobody asked for this on the way out; an omission that could cause unhappiness at the border.

The final reckoning
And it was back to Al Ain, and thence Dubai. Any possible tendency to nod off was suppressed by the rising sun. It’s a lot easier to stay awake when it’s light.

According the GPS the total distance logged was 1654.9km in 23 hours and 14 minutes. The Goat’s GPS did switch itself off a couple of times, so the total recorded time, stationary time, and averages are all a bit off. But 0908 to 0813 as witnessed by Classic Motorcycles is definitely under 24 hours.

As for the Iron Butt Association, there may be a problem in proving the start and finish times. Applicants are supposed to provide a dated and time-stamped receipt for each fuel purchase, which is especially important for the start and end. But nobody provided anything but a handwritten receipt except ADNOC in Al Ain.

However, D_ and the Goat both know what they have achieved. Certificates are a detail. As for the bikes? Both the Kawasaki 1400GTR and Yamaha FJR1300 performed faultlessly throughout.



Gnomad said...

I recall the 1986 trip. You managed to get to the villa in Fuengirola before the rest of us, even though we flew. Another triumph ( pun intended) for two wheeled travel.

Mme Cyn said...

Has the iron butt healed yet?

Martín said...

now I'm jealous... =)


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