Iron Butts Pursuit, 10 March 2010, Sofia so good

DJJ and GH with Transalp 
By Graham Hoskins

Mornings have fallen into a neat little routine. This is mainly due to the fact that Danny and alarm clocks mix like oil and water.  It simply doesn’t happen. As my alarm clock works just as well on the continent as the UK, it is left to me to conduct the daily wake up call for Msr DD-J. Nevertheless, I was still fully loaded and ready to rock and roll by the time my team mate joined me in the first of our cold early morning starts.  It was balaclavas at dawn and the prospect of 500 miles enthralling us. Not. The thought of throwing my leg over the saddle for the early morning stint is about as much fun as the anticipation of rubbing your backside with coarse grade sandpaper while simultaneously applying tourniquets to your lower limbs until the lack of blood leaves you numb. 

Just as I was relishing the prospect of an event-free morning, I realised that the familiar twinkle of Danny’s Tranny front headlamp was missing from my mirrors.  Slowing down the 10mph on a motorway is never a pleasant prospect, but the thought of riding back against the traffic (which I had done in Egypt but that’s about par for the course for them) was worse. Danny appeared in short order but travelling at a significantly reduced pace.  Another kilometre or so further and we pulled into the service station. “You OK?”.  “Yes, mate, but the front end started weaving, which was why I slowed down”.  Danny jumped off the bike and was checking the forks when I noticed his rear wheel rim was somewhat nearer the tarmac than it should have. “Give the back tyre a kick mate, looks a bit flat?” as we all know, kicking the tyre will always tell you if there is a problem.  On this occasion there was – our first flat!

My initial reaction was relief that a) it was his rear tyre that had gone, not the front, b) that he was still with me and not pancaked across the Turkish motorway and c) we had practised changing tyres with Honda three weeks before. As luck would have it, we’d stopped opposite a tyre place but we were determined to sort this out ourselves, which we did with the able help of one of the many attendants and the not-so-able support of every other bugger that stopped and stared or pointed. Had they never seen two Englishmen changing a tyre on a well loaded Tranny before? A mere ninety minutes, two cups of coffee, one repositioned set of brakepads and not very much swearing later, it was done.  We felt properly self-sufficient as we had dealt with one of our biggest fears without so much as a single “oh, crap, what now?”

Thinking ourselves to be so very clever, we set off, now just two hours behind schedule. Our border crossing from Turkey into Bulgaria was significantly shorter than all the North African and Middle Eastern chaotic affairs and we were anticipating a reasonably early stop near Sofia.

If you were to ask almost any biker what their least favourite biking conditions would be, they might say ‘Rain, ice, snow, other fast vehicles and the dark.’ As we came over the brow of hill south of Sofia, we got all of them slammed into our faces like an icy sledgehammer. Within five minutes, we were trying to ride through a driving blizzard with artics flashing their lights like they didn’t understand our genuinely terrifying position. We ended up on the hard shoulder riding with our hazards on. I was contemplating simply stopping and pitching the tent. Unfortunately, out tents would have been within striking range of the aforementioned lorries and we couldn’t risk it. We pushed on along the hard shoulder with the snow and ice beating our faces. Then, like a lighthouse appearing out of the murk, a sign for Services with motel came up in the feeble light cast by the bikes into the blizzard. I’m not a religious man, but I do believe I uttered a few short one thanks to the great motor biking god of the adventure travellers.  I said a few more choice words as we crawled up the icy-covered slip road but we safe. Time: 1030 pm.

Garmin is supporting Red Dwarf star Danny John-Jules and team mate Graham Hoskins in their quest to ride nearly 7000 miles by motorbike for Sport Relief. Their ‘Iron Butts’ Challenge will see them circumnavigate the Mediterranean Sea, covering three continents and 14 countries in 15 days guided by a Garmin zumo 660 sat nav.