Discovering the world on $20 per day ......................

Post 341: : It’s a small and weird world …..

...... sorry for the delay .... but normal service and internet connections have been restored .....

…… This morning I resisted the urge to perform Si Baht. Not that I didn’t want to do it, it’s just that performing it yesterday had caused a smidgen of confusion and concern. I’m a guest in my friend Wisa’s family home, a house that her Dad only finished building a few months ago. It’s a very fine house for these parts of Thailand but it still has a few minor snagging problems. One of those problems is creaky doors, especially those doors on the three bedrooms. Magnify the sound of two early morning whining doors in a house with no soft furnishings and you can probably understand why an early rise had caused such concern ….. mai pen rai kap

…. With virtues firmly restored, after breakfast I dragged the Honda Click out of the kitchen ready for its day of underpowered torture. As an Englishman, I love the sun. Maybe that’s because back in Blighty we don’t get enough of it. Here in SE Asia there’s lots of sun, but the Thai’s absolutely hate it. It’s not just Thai’s, it seems that all Asian’s see pale skin as a sign of significant beauty and standing. Perhaps we all yearn for the things that are difficult to obtain, but because of this cultural difference, all thoughts of riding the little Honda were quickly abandoned. Motorbikes mean fresh air, and fresh air means the danger of darker skin for a certain young lady, so the bike had to rest. In it’s place was an Isuzu D-Max, the workhorse of Asia, the Thai equivalent to England’s Transit van or America’s Ford F150. I’m not sure who the D-Max belonged to, or from where it was stolen, but it was shiny new and amazingly cruel for the planet.

In Thai culture, people will never say exactly what they mean. Instead, they’ll talk in circles and hope that you understand. For a Thai this is second nature but for anybody else it’s amazingly confusing. As I started the engine to the gas-guzzling monster, I began to suspect that protection from the sun was merely an excuse for the sudden change of transportation. ’Thunk’ …. ’Thunk’ …. ’Thunk’ … Adjusting the rear view mirror I saw new heads appearing in the back of the pick-up truck. A cousin, three aunties, two uncles and a complete set of parents. It was clear that wherever today would take us, it would be a non-negotiable family adventure. A second thing quickly became clear …… the D-Max was far too bloody small.

The bright red Chevrolet SUV was next, but with its inflexible seating and a very flexible family, it was clearly still too small. The white Toyota Bus was the final hope and eventually everybody was shoehorned into it. I probably left a few people behind but that was neither my fault or my problem. I’d handed over the keys and all personal responsibility for the day ahead to somebody who claimed to know how to drive it …… mai pen rai

“Pee ja pai nai?” ("Where are we going") No answer. Maybe they didn’t know where we were going? Maybe they didn’t want to tell me? Probably both. It turned out to be a temple. A rather nice temple that had some special connection to Buddha. I never did discover exactly what that special connection was, but I’d always assumed that the whole point of Buddhist Temples was that they all had a ‘Connection’ to Buddha.

..... From the unknown temple, we drove along roads that seemed to take us south. A 42” plasma screen prevented me from seeing anything more than Alicia Key’s gyrating arse as Empire State of Mind played over and over again…. for their delight and my annoyance. I guessed that we were heading south because through the side windows of the bus, I could see familiar road signs. “ขอนแก่น” .... which roughly translated means ‘Khon Kaen’. Thankfully, before we reached the outer edges of the city, we turned left along a road that I’d ridden down before. I could only think of two reasons for taking that particular road. The first was the Kranuan Industrial & Community College where I’d spent time with the students discussing world travel and attending their graduation ceremony before accidentally inviting an entire year of students out to dinner at my expense. The second reason would be to visit the ‘King Cobra Club’ and I prayed to every God that it wasn’t that because I really don’t do snakes.

Of course, it did turn out to be the nightmare option. There’s nothing at all funny about snakes, or any other captive creature, but watching a group of Thai’s scare the crap out of themselves is quite frankly one of the funniest things that any man could ever hope to see. To be honest, the whole ‘King Cobra’ show was a little bit rubbish but far from being scared, I found the snakes to be amazingly majestic. Deadly yes, but when compared to the idiot ‘snake charmers’ who deserved every one of their many scars, they were actually quite beautiful.
....... You probably think that I was in a really arsey sort of mood today, but I wasn’t. At that point I was laughing my conkers off and having a ball. Then, we drove out of the “King Cobra Snake Club” with the kids sitting on the roof of the bus. Maybe because they were kids and therefore they could, or maybe they’d also had enough of Alicia bloody Keys. Anyway, we crossed over ‘Highway 2’ on the road to Ubon Rat, one of the most beautiful places in the world and a place that I’d promised never to visit again. Maybe there was something to the Thai’s firm belief in Destiny after all?

I had mixed feelings about returning there, but any worries soon dissolved as we turned left and headed towards the edge of the lake. She was there, waiting on her little blue motorbike just as she always did. She smiled and beckoned our bus to follow her down the dusty track to the restaurant at the edge of the lake. Once stopped, the bus evacuated and being at the very back, I was last out. ‘’Geoff’’ ….. ‘’Koy’’. The family looked on with astonishment as I greeted my old friend Koy, the head and only waitress at Thailand’s finest restaurant.

The restaurant is a series of small platforms built out on the lake and the food that it serves is absolutely fantastic. Lunch van last all day and a party of ten can get fed and hammered for less than £2 per person .. including the tip.

It was great to see Koy again, and to sample her mother’s food, but sadly my usual table was no more. The recent floods had taken their toll and most of her ‘platform tables’ were now little more than bamboo submarines. I offered my sincere condolences but she just laughed. A European restaurant owner would be crying into their consommé, but this isn’t Europe, this is Thailand and life has a very god habit of continuing ….. mai pen rai kap

Delay .....

Sorry for the delay in posting and continuing the events .... but travel and technical difficulties are to blame. At school, some kid's were said to have 'learning difficulties', well I was one of them kids, but I also suffer from recurrent 'technical difficulties' .. and as soon as my photographs can be recaptured from a failed laptop, and I figure out how to connect my new laptop to the internet ,.... we'll be good to go.

Thanks .... Blue88

Post 340: Beyond Tha-Bo .....

I wake up at 5:00am, at least an hour before the sun and but little later than the local monks. I quickly throw on some clothes, raid the families kitchen and head off to the top of the street. The monks are making their way bare-foot towards the temple. As they reach me, they stop and open the lids to their large bowls. Into each bowl I put a small bag of steamed rice, a carton of milk and a custard donut. Pickings must be slim this morning because their bowls were empty, but it’s still very early and a long way to go before they reach their temple. This daily ritual is performed all across Asia by millions of people but I suspect that most visitors to Thailand have never seen it. It’s called ‘Si Baht’ and if you’re ever visiting these parts, wake up early, walk to the end of your street and you‘ll become a part of it.

The sun rises over Vientiane in Laos and a few straggling Krathong float past down the Mekong. It’s a beautiful cool and still morning, probably the best time of day before the searing heat of the sun forces all but the brave into air-conditioned refuge. Except this is Tha-Bo and nobody here seems to be bothered about air-conditioning so I guess I’ll just have to burn.

I buy breakfast from a stall. My favourite dish in Thailand but it’s a local delicacy that only seems to be available along the borders with Laos. It’s a broth with roughly chopped meat, thick noodles and chunks of crispy pork that you eat with small deep fried donuts. It’s called ’kow-pia’ and for the very first time I find myself adding extra chilli. Maybe my mouth has become cauterised from the volcanic heat of the local food, but there is something weirdly comforting about eating very spicy food beneath a very hot sun.

I’ve been loaned a Honda Click to ride during my stay here. I’ve no idea who it actually belongs too but it’s an awful lot slower than it sounds. 125cc of noise and very little else. Along with the Honda comes a pair of sexy little crash helmets to wear. They’ll keep the police off my back but I doubt that they’d be much good in an accident as they seem to be made from rice paper. Wisa refuses to wear her crash helmet, perhaps on the basis that it’ll ruin her hair, so I suggest that she’d better get used to walking. No helmet no ride.

Riding North out of Tha-Bo we visit local temples where we ‘make merit‘ and ramshackled roadside eateries where we stuff our faces for pennies. Fried rice with shrimp, spicy meat with basil and gallons of iced tea. In Bangkok it would be ‘Beef with Basil’, but off the beaten track along the Thai - Laos border they don’t identify exactly what kind of meat and it’s probably best not to ask. Sitting at one such ’Restaurant’, a stream of shiny new BMW R1200 GS Adventures race past on the road. I suspect that it’s a tour group from ’Odyssey Motorcycle Tours’ and my silent advice to them is to slow down. They’re travelling from point to point too quickly and missing all the really good stuff.

Way past the city of Loei, when the sun has reached it’s peak and the air all around is burning, we arrive at Arawan Caves. It’s 200 gruelling steps up to the golden statue of Buddha and the ancient caves that hide behind it. It’s a long hard climb, but I’m told that it will be worth it. Behind the statue, the caves drop deep into the mountain where the air is refreshingly cool. As we walk down and down and down, my eyes gradually become accustomed to the darkness and the unusually large and interestingly shaped stalagmite comes into view. The shape reminds me of something, but I just can’t think what …… mai pen rai

Post 339: Loy Krathong

The ‘Loy Krathong’ festival takes place during the time of the full moon in the 12th month of the lunar calendar, which in Thailand is November. OK, I really don’t know why November is their ‘12th Month’ because they celebrate New Year on the 1st of January. Anyway, here in Thailand the year is already 2554 so I guess that they’re all from the future so who am I to argue with their logic. The Thai’s love their festivals, not just because a festival means a few days holiday, but because it’s another excuse to drink and eat to excess, two things that they do really well.

‘Loy’ means to float and ’Krathong’ is a cup or bowl traditionally made from Banana leaves. The festival involves making your ’Krathong’ and then adding a candle to venerate Buddha and a coin to appease Phra Mae Khongkha (The Water Goddess). You then decorate your Krathong with flowers and joss sticks and after dark, float if off down the Mekong carrying away all of your bad habits and bad luck. I don’t have much bad luck, but I needed to make a big ’Krathong’ for my bad habits. But first, …… I had to eat.

Eating in Thailand is a very social thing, and they’re very social people, so it’s amazing that Thai’s are generally quite slim. I eat with Wisa’s family; Mom, Dad and Grandparents. They know that I’m European or ’farang’ as they like to call me, so they’re kind enough to cut back on the volcanic chilli content of the food. It’s still hot, but after a few days I’ll either be dead or culinarily acclimatised. After eating, we go next door to meet the Aunt and Uncle, and we eat again. Then, the cousins in the next house along the street, where we eat again. The Botmark family all live on the same street in Tha-Bo. It’s not a very long street but they inhabit every house from the top of the soi to the banks of the Mekong. By the time we reach the river, I’ve eaten so much food than is good for me but it’s getting late and I must make my Krathong.

I’m not supposed to make a Krathong because making Krathong is work for women. Screw that, I’m here to learn. I saw through a slice of banana tree for my base and a large lady called ‘Fon’ teaches me how to intricately fold the banana leaves and pin them to the slice of trunk. With a lot of help from every female member of the Botmark family, my Krathong is finally finished, and they all have a final laugh at my efforts. They’re experts and seem to think that mine will sink within a few seconds, but I reckon it’ll get all the way to the ocean.

It’s dark, so another relative cooks another huge meal and every other relative visits the house, eats and then leaves for the festival. I’ve been here for six hours and I’ve already eaten four meals. Proper meals, not snacks. Obviously they think that I’m too skinny, because as I start up the little Honda Click motorbike that they’ve loaned to me, somebody hands me a bamboo stick full of steamed coconut rice called ‘kow-ram’ … just in case I get hungry.

Down on the bank of the Mekong, hundreds of people are gathered. Each carries a Krathong and they walk in a steady stream down to the launching point. I light my candle and joss sticks, recite the only Buddhist prayer that I know and float my Krathong off down towards the ocean. For hundreds of miles upstream, thousands of people have been doing the exact same thing and the Mekong is a constant stream of floating illuminated banana boats. It’s an amazing sight, but the more spectacular event is just about to begin. (My camera stopped working, so the photograph above was actually taken in Bangkok, but cut out the building in the background and you get the general impression of what it’s like)

I always thought that the festival of Yi Peng was Vietnamese, but apparently it’s also celebrated in the far North of Thailand, or maybe it’s not the Yi Peng festival at all. Anyway, one of the most spectacular things that you could ever see is the sight of thousands of khom-fai (paper lanterns) filling the night sky at full moon. I buy a lantern made from rice paper and a wax fuel cell and join the growing crowd. It takes a few minutes for the heat from the burning fuel to fill the lantern, but once it does the lantern takes to the air. Every minute, hundreds and hundreds of lanterns take off and over the space of an hour, the entire night sky is filled with flickering flames …… you had to be there

Post 338: .. Travelling Again ...

The house build above Boonville was well ahead of schedule, but the first leg of my United Airlines flight home was cancelled. That meant that I’d miss my connection in Chicago, but that wasn’t a problem. United Airlines would squeeze me onto the 7:00pm direct flight from San Francisco to London ….. problem solved.

Compared to Northern California, London was cold but that shouldn’t have been a problem. My warm jacket and shoes were sitting at the top of my suitcase, all ready for a quick change before leaving Terminal 1 at Heathrow. Unfortunately, it seemed that United had managed to send the suitcase to Chicago, presumably not on the flight that was cancelled. You know what I like about United Airlines? …… absolutely nothing.

I was reunited with my suitcase just in time for check-in. A few hours sleep between London and the UAE and then a seat next to ‘Miss Chatty’ all of the way to Bangkok. Suvarnabhumi Airport was busy, very busy for eight o’clock in the morning. The Russian’s had landed before me, probably not long before me but there seemed to be an awful lot of them in the queue. They were lovely people but it seems that no matter how many times they were told, they wouldn’t complete their immigration forms until they were standing directly in front of the frustrated, yet still smiling, immigration officer. Eventually I got through, but the immigration process took almost two hours and I managed to miss my connecting flight to Udon Thani. On the bright side, at least my case had arrived in Thailand with me. The prospect of a nine hour bus journey to Nong Khai on the Laos border didn’t really appeal ….. but a hot shower and change of clothes certainly did.

I arrived in Nong Khai a day late, but after a night in a hotel at least my ‘look’ and ‘smell’ were a whole lot better. I was there for the Loy Krathong festival, 21st to the 23rd of November. I’d missed the first night of the festival, which of course is the worst night to miss, but it actually worked out quite well. I was in Tha-Bo, a small town resting on the banks of the Mekong River (‘’Nam Khong’’ in Thai). I’d intended to book into a small hotel, but for two reasons that didn’t happen. Firstly there wasn’t a small hotel in Tha-Bo, nor even a big one, and my ’host’ for the visit insisted that I stayed with her and her family….. no objections from me.

Earlier in the year, I’d tried to visit the factory where Thailand manufactures is own brand of motorcycle, the ‘Tiger’. Now, my command of the Thai language isn’t great, but when I found myself touring a factory producing nothing more exciting than electronic ignition systems for Japanese cars and bikes, I’d smiled, nodded and pretended that it was exactly what I’d wanted to see. OK, I might have lied about wanting to tour that particular factory, but the smile was certainly genuine. An employee of Bangkok’s Shen-Ding-Gen Corporation is Wisa Botmark, and thanks to her enthusiasm I learned more about electronic ignition systems than any reasonable person would ever needed to know. To cut another long story short, since then we’ve spent some time together and Wisa’s family had insisted that I stayed with them in Tha-Bo.

Unfortunately, the past few weeks have been something of an electronic nightmare. Firstly my laptop decided that it will no longer connect to the internet and then my camera decided to malfunction. I’m trying to fix both of those problems but until the laptop challenge is overcome, I’m stuck with an internet café full of kid’s playing games that are as loud as they are incomprehensible. I’ll try to finish this post in the next few days but this Thai keyboard has defeated me and my hour is up …… mai pen rai

.... swift update ......

Ok .. so no 'Post' for a couple of weeks. I left California on the 16th of August and returned to London. Sadly my suitcase went to Chicago. You know what I like about United Airlines? .... absolutely nothing.

I was only in England for a day and then flew out to Thailand to cover the Loy Krathong festival in the North, right on the Laos border. If your going to float boats made from banana leaves flowers and candels down a river, then I guess the Mekong is about as good a river as your going to get.

Sadly my PC is refusing to coperate, as is my camera memory card and this aging Internet Cafe computer ... but I'm in no position to complain. How is the weather in England???

I hope to get my act together soon and update everything properly .... I'm just not sure exactly when that will be.

Post 337: Building Progress ......

Aside from the childhood joys of Lego (other educational building sets are available), this is the first house that I've tried to build. To be fair, my lack of building experience was never a secret but my brother and his family invited me to help them with the project anyway. I arrived in California on 'Day 1' of the project, 25th August 2010, and after nine weeks of building we've just erected the last external wall and 80% of the roof is already in place. There've been several interuptions along the way; torrential rain, various parties, grape harvest, dope harvest and long rides along the Pacific Coast Highway, but nine weeks still seems amazingly fast when you consider that there are only three people working full-time here. Fortunately for my brother and his family, the other two dudes on the project; Steve and Nichola, are at least proper builders. I hope that in all of our haste we haven't overlooked anything major, but with 80,000 nails and 42 screws holding 2,200 square feet of house together, it really shouldn't fall down before I leave town .... 

It all started with an amazing view overlooking modern vineyards and ancient forests of oak and redwood. A road was constructed and then a building platform levelled on what to me appeared to be an unfeasibly steep slope. Foundation trenches were dug and wooden forms erected to create the concrete supporting walls. The walls were reinforced with steel and the concrete was poured in a single session. That initial foundation process took two weeks to complete and once the wooden forms had been removed, the power tools came out and the fun times started to roll ......

Pressure treated mud-sills were bolted directly onto the concrete walls and then garnished with joist hangers. Within two days a floor had magically appeared and we were up above the dirt. The first floor walls, or the ground floor if your reading this in Blighty, were erected within a week using ’SIPs’, Structural Insulated Panel Systems. Each ‘SIP’ measures 8’ x 4’ and is six inches of polystyrene sandwiched between two sheets of OSB (Orientated Strand Board). The strand board overlaps the polystyrene filling by 1” on all four sides. The SIP sits on top of a 2” x 6” pine base plate with a 2” x 6” pine spline inserted into either end of the panel. The second ‘SIP’ shares the vertical spline with the first SIP and the two are nailed together. Add the third, fourth and fifth SIP, turn the corner and continue. It’s an amazingly simple system and the end result seems a lot stronger and thermally efficient than conventional stick-frame building. If we’d been building a square house then we’d probably have been finished after a couple of weeks, but this house isn’t square. It turns at an angle of sixty degrees making certain things slightly complicated. Thus, only 80% of the roof is finished because we can’t quite work out how to the join the two ends of the roof together.

Window and door openings are really quite easy. You either leave a gap in the panels for the bigger openings, such as French Doors, or you get out the chainsaw and create smaller openings for windows. It really is that simple. At three points there will be ’Bottle Walls’ where assorted wine bottles are set into the wall and embedded in cement. The bottle walls allow light to enter the building but also provide privacy. We need 400 wine bottles and we’re working on emptying them as quickly as we can ......

There is no mains supply for water, sewerage, electricity or gas, so the house is classified as being ’Off Grid’. Solar panels will provide the electricity with a back-up propane generator for running heavy equipment in the workshop. Propane will also be used for cooking and all of the Winter heating will come from a large centrally located wood burning stove. Water is pumped from the well using solar power and black sewerage drains to a septic tank. All grey water is collected and recycled around the house while rain water is harvested, stored and used for the garden. It is hoped that once up and running, the property will be self sufficient for all power, water and food. No more utility or food bills. Of course, it’s not practical to produce all of the food that you require, but with the local system of ’trade’, excess meat, eggs, fruit and vegetables will be traded for items that are not grown or reared on the property. It’s hoped that with an amazing 97% of solar catchment, excess electricity will in the future be directed back to the grid to generate an additional income from the land ......

I’m leaving California on the 16th of November and the family hope to be living in the property by Christmas. I assume that they mean Christmas 2010 and while it is possible, I think it‘s a very ambitious a deadline. On the other hand, we’re currently a few weeks ahead of schedule and well under budget, and those are two things that you seldom hear in the same sentence. So maybe they will be living on Lone Tree Ridge this Christmas and my 7 year old nephew Sam will be enjoying the 14 foot fireman’s pole that we installed for him today. 

Post 336: One careful owner ....

It's been four years .... four years since the most faithful bike that I've ever owned finally retired from Despatch Riding ....

"Suzuki Bandit 600, 1997, 7,000 miles, 1 careful owner, starting bid 500"

At the rear of an unremarkable industrial estate somewhere in Middlesex, I lifted a sodden remnant of carpet and there it was. An aging Suzuki Bandit, unloved and uncared for. It was probably once loved, but when it had been reversed over by a rather large truck I guess that relationship had changed. It wore it's shabby black satin paint almost as if it was in mourning, probably for itself. If it was a small puppy then Disney would possibly have made a movie about it. But it wasn't a puppy, it was just a neglected Bandit and nobody seemed to care. Much of it's chrome had long since turned to rust, and its alloy to white fur but with a little coaxing and a lot of damp-start, everything seemed to be working. I doubted eBay's claim of "1 careful owner"  but at just 600 pounds and with the alternative prospect of a cross-country rail journey home, I shook hands with the careful owner and the deal was done.

On the journey home I began to make a mental 'to do list'; brake pads, chain & sprockets, replacement clutch cable, rear tyre, front tyre, heavier fork oil, engine oil, exhaust bandage. It was quite a list, but the longer it grew the less I seemed to care. It was only a Suzuki Bandit, a model that I knew well, but this Bandit seemed quite different from the others that I'd owned. Maybe it was happy to have escaped from beneath the old piece of carpet in Middlesex, thankful to be ridden again and wanting to have some fun. As Middlesex melted in Hertfordshire, and Hertfordshire became Essex, the bikes enthusiasm for the road just kept on rising. For all of its faults, and there were many, that mundane first journey turned into one of the most memorable rides of my life. By the time we'd reached rural Essex, the Bandit had stopped feeling sorry for itself. It had developed a huge smile, lifted its dowdy black skirt and was flashing its Burberry knickers to anyone who cared to look ....       

A good wash, an hour with a wire brush and some polish. A turn of a screwdriver here and the twist of a spanner there. A coat of oil for the drive chain and a few extra pounds of pressure in each of the tyres. The 'to do list' remained undone, but neither of us seemed to care and the next day the Bandit was out on the London despatch circuit earning its keep. Autumn turned to Winter and the rain turned to snow, but the Bandit always started first time and never missed a beat. We carried good and bad news up and down the country often against the elements and always against the clock, but we never missed a deadline ....

As Winter turned to Spring, this old man's fancy turned to the race track. I bought a pair of Metzeler Z6's and a set of race numbers. We rode up to Snetterton and the folks in the paddock with their shiny white vans and tyre warmers quietly laughed. To be honest, we didn't really care what anybody thought of us and as morning turned to afternoon, most of those folks had stopped laughing. As we rode home at the end of that day, I swear I could hear the old Bandit giggling to itself. If it was a horse then it would have been called 'Farlap', but it was just a lowly despatch bike, so it didn't have a name, just a thankless and grueling job ...

As 75,000 miles clicked past, I received a telephone call from Roger Tuson, editor of The Riders Digest magazine. "Did I know what Moto Challenge GB was and if I had a suitable bike, would I like to enter?" I of course lied on both counts and at the beginning of July 2004 we rode out to the Santa Pod Raceway. According to the internet, Moto Challenge GB was an annual competition covering drag racing, hill climbing, short circuit racing and three thousand miles of point to point road navigation across England, Scotland and Wales. The event was in two parts, South and North, and we were entered in both. As the assortment of R1's, Ninja's, Fireblades, Aprillia's and an MV Agusta started unloading their ample kit in the paddock at Santa Pod, my initial enthusiasm had turned to mild despair. It seemed that while I was there for the giggle, some of the other 85 competitors were really taking things quite seriously. As the conversations turned to tyre choice and suspension settings, I just kept my visor firmly down, my opinions to myself and the Bandit tucked away in the shadows. When it came to tyres I didn't have any choice and as for suspension settings, Bandits just don't have any. I decided that I'd ride with the 'just for fun' guys and leave the cock fencing to the dudes wearing their
matching race leathers. However, the Bandit had slightly different intentions ..... 

After ten grueling but fun filled days of competition, we rode down the A1 from Kelso towards Essex. The A1 has got to be one of the worlds most boring roads but on that day my arse didn't ache and my smile never stopped. In the tank-bag was a silver trophy ... 'Moto Challenge South - 3rd Place' .... But if I was smiling then the Bandit was positively wetting it's knickers, because in the top-box was an even bigger silver trophy ... 'Moto Challenge North - Winner'       

As the mileage clicked ever upwards the Bandit just kept on delivering. It had never stopped working, never broken down and never once thrown me from its back. 175,000 miles came and went, 200,000 followed and as another Winter arrived I began planning for its well earned retirement.

It was a frosty morning, clear blue sky and a sun that barely broke above the horizon. We were ahead of schedule and taking it easy. Running along with the early morning traffic and enjoying the air. The roundabout ahead was clear, indicate left and tip in. Accelerate gently to the 40 mph speed limit on Chelmsford's White Hart Lane and ... CRUNCH

Contrary to early witness screams, I wasn't dead. I didn't really understand what had happened, but the pain in my bollocks told me that I was still very much alive. It took the emergency services a few good minutes to prise from the bike but aside from the very personal swelling, I was perfectly ok. Unfortunately the Bandit wasn't quite so lucky. I'd been travelling at the legal speed limit and the silver Ford Focus had been blinded by the early morning sun. Instead of slowing down, he'd just hoped that the road ahead would be clear and accelerated along behind me. He'd mounted my rear end and pushed me for at least sixty feet before finally coming to a halt. The Bandits back was borken, its last package delivered.

The above photograph was my last sight of the bike. After measuring the accident site and taking countless witness statements, it was hauled away by the police and was last spotted at the rear of a Manchester scrap yard. Several months after the accident the insurance assessor informed me that with 48,000 miles showing on the clock he could only offer me a book price of around 1,200 pounds. That was double what I'd paid for the Bandit almost a quarter of a million miles earlier. Of course, the driver of the Ford Focus, who admitted that he'd been speeding, was never charged .. and the next morning I was despatching again on a very forgettable Honda CBF600 N ....   

Post 335: Changing Seasons ....

It's been an 'Up & Down' kind of week, mostly up and down ladders because the house building has reached the roofing stage. Not too shabby for three guys in 8 weeks, but more of that later. Anyway, I was over in Ukiah last weekend, another excuse to ride 'California 253' but I also needed to visit a proper bank. My Nationwide ATM card was twice declined here at the gas station in Boonville and the automated advice was ... 'Please contact your card provider'. Well, the card didn't work in Ukiah either so I had no alternative but to telephone Nationwide in England. Nationwide confirmed that my ATM Card had indeed been declined in both Boonville and Ukiah and they asked if I'd received their letter. Of course I hadn't received their letter, I left England on the 10th of August .... "No".....  "Well Sir, in order to improve our services for the benefit of members, we've provided all of our members with replacement ATM cards and cancelled all existing cards". "I'm in California, my improved replacement ATM card isin  England ...... and I'm really not feeling those lovely new benefits".   

With my financial predicament temporarily resolved, I turned my attention to fixing my Dell laptop computer. A little while ago the 'Windows Defender' icon started appearing and I thought very little about it. It's an anti-virus program and I figured that it'd arrived in some under-the-radar Windows update.  Sadly, although it looked like 'Windows Defender', it is in fact a naughty little virus that's proving very difficult to remove. At first it was just annoying, but now it's taken over my entire PC. I can't open any applications and it's embedded itself so deeply that I can't even manually kill the bloody thing. It's disabled my existing anti-virus software and wont let me access anything within 'Task Manager' or 'Registry' where the root of the problem lurks. Eventually I'll find a way to kill it, but until then there'll be no photographs in the posts.

As for the house build, well as I mentioned above we've just reached the roof stage. It's a 'Barn Roof' with a 'Clearstory' for additional light, but just as we'd completed the short roof-line, the rains came .... and then they just kept on coming. The house currently looks like a weirdly shaped blue wedding cake with blue tarps covering the roof, but at least it's keeping the internals dry. Or at least it was keeping it dry until today. The rain is getting heavier and the tarps are beginning to stretch creating a line of small swimming pools across the roof. Sadly, swimming pools were never part of the original design and we're currently running relays up to the property to empty them. That's not such good news for my brother but for me it does have certain benefits. Before the rains came the 5 mile road up to the house used to be a mixture of sand and gravel, but now it's just a slippery winding mess. That's not so much fun in a Ford F150 pick-up truck ...... but on a KLR 650 it's an absolute joy .... so I'm off to empty the pools 

Post 334: Highway to Heaven .....

It’s Sunday morning and I have a plan. I had a plan yesterday, but that plan rudely unravelled when I realised that I’d left home without my wallet. It wasn’t all bad news though. Heading back to a warm bed in Boonville meant riding ‘The Redwood Highway’ at dusk which is something that I’d never done before. When darkens falls the road seems different, more magical and involving. I wont try to describe it, it’s just something that you really need to experience for yourself.
Today I’m heading south, though for some strange reason here they call it ‘East’, on California 128. Through the Yorkville Highlands and then swing right onto Fish Rock Road. I’ve no idea what a ‘Fish Rock’ is, but somebody’s taken the time to name a road after it and so I’ll take time to ride it. The map tells me that it’ll take me along almost thirty miles of switchback bends before bringing me out onto the Pacific Coast Highway. It turns out to be a fun road that flicks between forests of tall redwoods and spruces. The giant trees are heavy with dew and shedding a deep carpet of bright orange needles onto the road. The sun‘s low and long shards of sunlight flash across the road between shadows. Under tyre it’s butt clenchingly slippery but the bike just seems to get on with it. A pair of young deer dart across the road a few yards in front of me. Except it’s not the road. It’s a forest logging track obstructed by a fallen log gate. The road veers right and I’ve misread the vanishing point. A million bike miles and I’m still making fundamental mistakes. Look where I need to be going and resist the natural instinct to brake. All of my weight on the inside footpeg, a handful of gas at the apex and put all of my faith in Continental Twinduro tyres. It takes all of the road, and a little bit more, but I exit the turn with another life lost and a mental memo to stop being such a prick.

After ten miles, a yellow sign announces the end of the tarmac but unlike my dodgy roadmap, the sign didn’t lie. Fish Rock Road becomes Fish Rock Dirt Track and I’m thankful that I’m riding the KLR and not the Tiger. The track climbs and falls past occasional vineyards and homesteads that are discreetly set back from the road. The KLR doesn’t seem to mind what’s under it’s knobbly tyres, it just seems to get on with whatever I ask it to do. Twenty miles along this road and I haven’t encountered another single vehicle. Then cresting a dusty brow the Pacific Ocean comes into view and the road begins falling towards it.

On a cliff above the breaking waves, I drink a pint of hot coffee. I’d bought the coffee five miles earlier in the town of Gualala and two things surprise me. Firstly, after five glorious miles on the Pacific Coast Highway the cup’s still at least half full and secondly, it’s proper coffee. It seems that normal unmolested coffee is something of a rarity in these parts. Coffee vendors here seem to have a penchant for adding additional unwanted flavours like vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon or mermaid nipples, but I drink coffee because I like the taste of coffee. If I want to taste vanilla, I’ll buy myself an ice cream.

I take my time drinking the coffee, partly because of the wonderful surroundings and partly because I know exactly what’s coming next. At Stewart’s Point, I turn right onto Skragg’s Spring Road. I’ve ridden this road before on the Triumph Tiger and in my humble opinion, after ten fun filled miles of interesting road, it turns into the best fast riding road in the world.

I’m heading West towards Sonoma Lake and the city of Cloverdale. I stop to take photographs at the end of Annapolis Road and then again above the creek at the base of the valley. I’m ten miles along Skragg’s Spring Road and the real fun is about to begin.

Imagine if the young designers at ‘EA Sports’ had designed the perfect riding road for Playstation IV, then this would be it. As the forests give way to rolling sunburnt meadows the road widens and starts to climb. I pass a group of sportsbike that are preparing to pull out of a lay-by and throw them a handsome wave. It’s mostly Harley’s with lots of chrome and Goldwing’s with lots of luggage around here and seeing a group of R1’s, Ninja’s and Fireblade’s is really quite unusual.

I tip the KLR into the first right hand corner and my fifteen mile smile begins. The constant double yellow lines in the centre of the road mark every beautiful bend and the double thickness Armco barriers at either side will correct any minor mistakes, probably permanently. The tarmac is reasonably new and the turns just keep on coming. Sometimes rising, sometimes falling, but always turning. Both cheeks of my arse seldom touch the seat at the same time and my left foot tap dances on the gear pedal. Flicking from left to right or from right to left, I catch glimpses of the chasing bikes in the mirrors that I really ought to clean. They’re not getting any closer but it’s hard work staying ahead of them.

Five miles in and although the sportsbikes still haven’t caught me, the KLR’s really starting to protest. The engine’s fine but the soft suspension must be getting a little warm and the bike shakes it’s head and arse at the same timeon every turn. Maybe it’s not the suspension but the sand tyres? Continental Twinduro’s are fantastic in the mud and dirt but they’ve got the profile of a smiling hillbilly and are probably not suitable for fast tarmac. Also, In the back of my mind I can remember somebody once telling me that fast road riding with mousses instead of inner tubes was not a good thing to do, but it’s too late now and at least I wont get a puncture.

With a pair of mirrors that still show nothing but grime, the road begins to drop sharply towards Sonoma Lake and the valley floor. Going mostly uphill the KLR had been fine but on the downhill second half of the road, I realise that the brakes are really quite rubbish. Or maybe like the suspension, tyres and mousses, they’re just a little bit too hot. In the interests of self preservation and with some respect for the fragility of the above mentioned cycle parts, I back off the throttle and allow both of my cheeks to rest firmly on the saddle. A few minutes later I here the unmistakable sound of race cans behind me and turn my head to see the pack of sportsbikes grinning like Cheshire Cats and raising their thumbs behind me. The road’s straight as we approach the entrance to Sonoma Lake and I notice the rear end of a large black sedan with white doors poking out from the side of the road. To the side of the car is the rear end of a Highway Patrol officer who we’ve rudely interrupted whilst taking a piss in the bushes.

At the first junction I turn right without stopping and then indicate to turn left at the next. Suddenly the dirt on my mirrors seems to have vanished and as clear as day behind me is the patrol car. No flashing lights. He’s just keeping a regular distance behind me and of course, the sportsbikes have already buggered off into the distance and left me alone to face the music. I pass the road sign, ’Cloverdale, Population 1280, Altitude 333 feet’ but judging by the constant smell of marijuana the whole town must be an awful lot higher than that. Perhaps the police officer will leave me alone and chase the dope growers instead ?

Post 333: Highway Heaven .....

“Your listening to Trading Time on K-ZXY & Z .. local public radio for the Mendocino area ….. and on the line next is Jeremiah from up in Comptche”

“Hi Jeremiah ….. what would like to sell, buy or trade today?”

“Howdy … it‘s a great show you‘ve got goin here“

“Well thank you Jeremiah … so what have you got for us today?”

“Well first I’ve good an old Chevy Truck, it’s a real fixer-up-er …. good engine but no transmission ….yep … just needs a new tranny and it’s a real goer …. but it’s free to anybody who can haul it off of my backyard numbers 408-871 .. if I‘m out…. leave a message”

‘”That sounds great Jeremiah …. a free-cycle truck out in Comptche for anybody with the know-how to fix it …… and do you have anything else to trade today?”

“Well yeah ….. sort of …. I’ve got meat-cats .. Lots of meat-cats … $20 for breeders and $15 for fryers”

“Oh …. are meat-cats a breed of chicken?”

“No …. they’re meat-cats …. cats for eating … real good eating”

“Oh … Oh .. But I think that’s illegal … even here ….. Next caller please”

Boonville’s a great place. Maybe I’ve said that before, but it’s true. If Boonville was a wine and I was Oz Clarke off the telly, then I’d probably be getting hints of aging hippy and early morning redwood. I can see why the hippies flocked her in the 60’s and 70’s and I can also fully understand why they stayed on in the hills long after the music had stopped playing. Nowadays they’re more concerned with food miles and ecology than they are about free love and LSD, but it just goes to show that old hippies never die, they change causes and chemicals. Boonville is like a comfort blanket made by your favourite Grandmother and you only notice it’s qualities when it’s gone. The good news is that leaving Boonville going East means riding ’California 253’. In my case, I actually got to ride it four times but only because my aging brother forgot to pick up the papers for the Kawasaki and I had to return for them. It’s a mighty fine road to ride on any bike, but the bad news is that the road terminates in the city of Ukiah. I get the feeling that ’California 253’ isn’t the only thing that terminates in Ukiah, it’s just that sort of place. I wouldn’t say that the staff at Ukiah DMV (department of motor vehicles) were rude or unfriendly, because that would actually be a compliment. Enough of the dissing, because after two pointless visits and one successful one, the Kawasaki KLR 650 is now road legal and sporting a natty little Californian license plate. In the UK the police fine bikers for having small license plates but here in California they actually issue them …. mai pen rai

No more dodging the local sheriff and his able deputy, I’m legal and free. A full tank of petrol, tent on the back, a cool bag full of cold beer and I’m off. At the end of Ornbaun Road, current home of my brother and his family, yours for $500,000, turn right directly onto Mount View Road. It’s a beautiful thing. Climbing all of the time on beautiful tarmac, the road seems to snake and coil forever. The redwoods cast flickering shadows across the surface and it really feels like the giant trees are actually moving. For a glorious twenty-five miles an unbroken parallel line of yellow spaghetti tells you exactly where each and every bend is taking you. Never are both cheeks in the saddle at the same time, right, left and right again. It’s a never ending smile of a road that reminds me just why I ride a bike.

Just as I begin hoping that this road will never end, I crest a rise and get a birds eye view of the Pacific Open. Like a tweeker running for his next fix of crystal meth, I turn right onto ’California 1’. How can any road or any coastline be so amazingly beautiful? If there is a God then I’ll probably forgive him or her for most of the crap that’s happening around the world because this is simply amazing. I’ve been here before, several times, but you can never get bored on a road like this ….. engage first gear and disengage reason.

The Pacific Ocean changes colour as dramatically as the temperature drops and rises between fog and sunshine. The morning sunshine persuaded me to leave my riding jacket at home but here along the coast I’m wishing that I’d brought it with me. It’s bloody freezing but who cares, I’m Hunter S Thompson heading down to Big Sur and nothing can take away my smile.

What’s the point in trying to write words to describe how this road feels? It’s an impossible task, so just look at the pictures and turn green with envy ….

As night begins to fall, I turn back onto ‘California 128’ and the Redwood Highway. I love the giant redwoods and the snake of brand new tarmac that runs between them. It’s cold and I really wish that I’d brought my riding jacket with me. Not because of the cold, but foolishly because it has my wallet in it. I’ve got no money to camp for the night …… so I guess I’ll just have to keep on riding … mai pen rai

Post 332: A Day in the Life ....

The cockerel rises at 6am and that’s still an unholy hour before dawn. He rules the roost and I guess if he’s awake then he believes that everybody else should be up and about their own business too. The cockerel has at least two dozen needy hens to service so I guess that his ‘Business’ is quite self-explanatory and the number of small chicks recently seen running about the garden suggests that he’s really quite good at it. But then again, if all I had to do all day was crap, eat and screw, then I guess I’d love being on top of my game too …. mai pen rai

It seems that by the time I’ve brewed my second pot of strong coffee the cockerel has stopped calling. Everybody’s usually awake by then so I guess he’s just saving his strength and preparing to get busy with his ladies. When it’s light enough to walk outside without treading onto anything that might try to kill me, it’s time to feed the animals. A bale of alfalfa hay for the highland cows and the one long-legged lamb that they seem to have adopted. I hope they’re not attached to the nameless lamb because I honestly can’t see him making it past Thanks Giving, at least not with all of it’s delicious legs in place. We feed the animals and they feed us. Watermelon, the oldest of the cows, it heavily pregnant and should really have given birth to her latest calf a few weeks ago. Each morning I’m supposed to check her vulva for progress. But hell, I’m supposed to do a lot of things that I manage to avoid actually doing and life still seems to go on. Then, it’s two scoops of corn for the hens, half of whom now seem to be smiling, and a bucket of apples and corn for the wild pigs. One, two three. Overnight, none of them seem to have escaped through the hog wire and it’s time for me to head on up along Peachland Road to the building site on Lone Tree Ridge.

The Kawasaki starts at the first press of the button but coughs and splutters for a few minutes before I’m confident that it’s really alive. It’s wheezes like an iron lung on two wheels, but it’s a 1999 model and in human years that makes it well past middle-age. I can’t see the stars and that means that the fog has rolled in from the coast. It’s cold and it’s damp but the rising sun gives a special hue to the light and it’s really quite magical. The mist is like a thick insulating cloak that keeps every sound close to it’s source and I can here every single protest from the aging bike‘s engine. A little way along the road, just past the home with suspiciously high and well maintained fencing, the rich and acrid smell of skunk is overpowering. I’ve noticed exactly the same smell every morning for the past month and unless there‘s one very nervous skunk in the area, the smell is probably from a crop of ‘Mendocino Skunk‘ rather than any unfortunate mammal. Due to an unusually cool and wet Spring, this seasons marijuana harvest is late, but from the smell of things around here supply is about ready to equal demand. The liberal living people of the San Francisco Bay area can probably breath a heavy sigh of relief, help is on it‘s way. A shortage of supply has apparently resulted in higher prices but the stink of skunk suggests that there’s about to be a little fiscal easing for it‘s users. It’s probably not what Obama has in mind when he talks about ’Stimulus Packages’, but each to their own … mai pen rai

Turning away from Highway 128, the cattle grid clatters beneath the knobbly tyres and the tarmac gives way to dirt. The mist has dampened the ground and settled the dust making me look like less of a knob as I let the bike slide and pretend that I’m really in control. London commuters whine about standing up on the journey to work, but here in Mendocino County, I absolutely love it. For five glorious miles, the track snakes, climbs and falls between forests alternating between ancient oaks and even older giant redwoods. Every now and again the growing daylight floods onto the track and the forest gives way to vineyards. Three miles up this magnificent track, sometimes four but occasionally two, the bike breaks free of the cloud and the temperature instantly rises. I take a little time to look back down the steep hills and stare at the thick white blanket of cloud that rests over the people in the Valley. It hugs them like a ten-tog duvet and in company with the tallest redwood trees, I feel privileged to be above it. Beyond the clouds the dawn light is painting the sky the colour of ripened peaches and it seems that the sun is chasing the still perfectly visible moon away from it’s territory. It’s a sight that I never grow bored with but staring time is limited. I’ve got a house to help build and the coolness of the morning is the best and only time to work.

Higher in the hills a flock of turkey vultures is circling above some freshly fallen meal. I can’t see exactly what it is but I suspect that last night the hunters have been up in the hills and killing wild animals for fun. Hunting for food I can understand, but they shouldn’t call it ‘Sport’ until every deer is armed with a rifle and taught how to shoot back at the dudes wearing the big hats. Then you can call it a proper sport and I’d probably pay good money to watch it.

At around 7am, I turn the combination to unlock the gate and ride the final hundred yards up to the building site. It’s already quite warm, the air is still and silent but the serenity is about to change. Because this not just any building site, this is an American building site and all tools are powered not by humans but by electricity and compressed air. I rip the temporary generator into life and for the next eight hours of my day, I get to play with some of the biggest power tools that I’ve ever seen. If Carlsberg made building sites, then this would certainly be one of them ….. mai pen rai

Post 331: Building in Boonville .....

The plan was, and to best of my knowledge still is, to help my brother Alan, his wife Torrey and their two children Sam and Willow to build a new family home in Boonville California. The new home is located on approximately 160 acres of hillside along a private road that looks down across vineyards and redwood forests into the depths of the Anderson Valley. It’s a large parcel of land that under normal circumstances would be totally unaffordable. But this is not a normal place, this is Boonville and everything happens a little differently in these parts. The 160 acres of land borders an intentional community called ‘Emerald Earth’ (‘Intentional Community’ is a new age name for a commune) and was initially purchased by a Californian whose name I will not divulge. The Californian in question purchased this particular parcel of land in order to protect the integrity of the neighbouring community at Emerald Earth and thus avoid the creation of new vineyards. The production of fine wines is essential to the economy of the Anderson Valley but the establishment of new vineyards deprives the small farms of much needed water during the dry season. The people of Boonville enjoy their wines just as much as everybody else, but they also enjoy their local organic food and it’s one of the few places that I’ve visited in America where the word ’Community’ really applies. It’s a community where people help other people and at a chance meeting in a local restaurant, Alan was introduced to the Californian land-angel. By amazing coincidence, the Californian land-angel was looking for an organic farmer to take on the 160 acre plot and Alan was looking for around 50 acres of land on which to expand his organic farming operation. The intentions of both parties matched perfectly but the numbers simply didn’t add up. Alan and Torrey could never in their wildest dreams afford to purchase 160 acres of land with a million dollar view, but the land-angel made things simple for them ….. “however much you can afford is exactly what I‘ll accept for the 160 acres” . And so the deal was done. It wasn’t quite that simple and certain restrictive covenants apply, but it was certainly a lucky day for the Thomas’s…… mai pen rai

At the beginning of August 2010, Alan approached our good friend and Boonville resident Steve ‘Guitar’ Derwinski and asked him to draw-up plans for the proposed new house at Lone Tree Ridge on Peachland Road. Steve was officially in retirement but instantly agreed not only to draw the pans but to personally manage the build up to roof level. Plans were submitted to the Ukiah Planning Department and the intention is to make full use of ’Class K’ planning regulations. ’Class K’ is a planning system available for building low density dwellings in rural locations and allows for the building of some quite funky and unique dwellings. Under ‘Class K’, once the initial plans are ’Accepted’, you build the house and the planning department will only inspect the building at the end of construction. This avoids the costly process of ’Permits’ and ’Periodic Inspections’ and allows the builder to use ’Free-Cycled’ materials. Being five miles away from the main road, the house is designated ’Off-Grid’ and will be self sufficient for energy. It will have wood burning stoves fuelled by the many fallen trees on the land and solar panels to capture the year-round sunshine. No more heating bills, thank you very much.

On the 25th of August, Steve Mize brought his excavation equipment to the building site and began to make a level platform in the side of the hill for the home to sit in. Once the pad was cleared, foundation trenches were then excavated and the building process could begin.

Wooden forms were then constructed and reinforced with steel bars ready for concrete to be poured for the base foundation. While the forms were being erected, Steve Mize constructed a new road that runs several hundred yards from the existing private road to the new building site. The site is on a steep hillside and the new road had to navigate it’s way up the unfeasible gradient and around ancient oak trees before reaching the house. Personally I thought that it was an impossible task, but two days later the road was complete and the cement trucks were able to gain access and the foundations were poured.

Two days after the concrete had been poured, the form boards were removed and the building began to rise. Wooden plates were attached to the tops of the new concrete walls and massive wooden beams laid down to support the floor joists. The spaces between the floor joists were packed with insulation and then plywood laid and nailed on top to form the floor.

Exactly four weeks after the first shovel full of dirt was moved, all of the ground floor walls have now been build and we’re about to start work on the second floor living and kitchen areas. We’re using a building system called ’SIPS’ - Structural Insulated Panel Systems - and it’s actually not dissimilar to using a child’s building set. Each panel is a six inch thick piece of polystyrene sandwiched between two pieces of eight foot by four foot weatherboard. Channels are already cut to carry the electrical wiring and you simply put the panel in the right place and attack it with a huge pneumatic nail gun. On it’s own, each panel seems quite flimsy, but when joined to the next panel the strength of the structure increases dramatically. That’s just as well, because we’re building one hundred miles north of San Francisco and I suspect that puts us right on the San Andreas fault line… mai pen rai

We’re now four weeks into the twelve week build and we’re on-budget and slightly ahead of schedule. I’ll be leaving Boonville on the 16th of November and hope to leave the building with a roof. The internal finishing will take a little while longer but Alan and his family intend to move in to the new home before Christmas. Every day on the site I can hear Kevin McLoud’s voice ringing in my ears -Channel 4’s Grand Designs- but hopefully there are no major disasters looming on this build. Oh, did I mention that we’ve just had our initial planning permission refused? …. mai pen rai

Post 330: Boonville Fair & Rodeo ....

The house build is going well. Three weeks since we first began digging the foundations and we’ve just started to raise the walls on the ground floor. Structurally everything is fine and my lack of building knowledge is as yet undiscovered, but on Saturday morning a letter arrived. It was from the Ukiah Department of Planning and the letter began …. ’’Dear Mr Thomas, we regret to inform you’’. When a letter begins with those words you just need to sit down with a very cold beer. It appears that the Department of Planning are not entirely happy with the proposed structure and have denied permission to build. Well, the structure isn’t “proposed” it’s actually “half built“, but thankfully not the part that they’ve objected to. The plans will be adapted to suit their administrative requirements and we’ll still build the house that Alan and his wife Torrey actually want. It’ll take a little longer then planned and add a few thousand dollars to the final cost but there’s no use crying over red-tape …. mai pen rai

The disappointment of the official letter was short lived. It’s “Fair Weekend” in Boonville and that means a time for fun and relaxation. That is unless of course you’re a Rodeo Rider or a Bull. I suspect that you don’t need to be amazingly bright to ride 500Kg’s of angry bull, but an honours degree in stupidity wouldn’t go a miss. I think the point of the game is to stay on the bull for seven seconds and the angrier the bull is the more points you’ll receive. Fortunately, the bulls seemed to win every round without problems or injuries, and as for the Rodeo Riders??? …… mai pen rai

They seem to like things big here in California; hats, guns, trucks and bulls included. It’s Halloween in a few weeks time and some kids are going to need strong arms is they’re carrying lanterns made from any of these beauties. The winner of the Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off was 207lbs, which is only a few pounds lighter than my new bike. Apparently the local Messiah of Pumpkins has an example weighing at least 500lbs but is saving it for the State Fair in a few weeks time. Bigger pumpkins for bigger prizes.

On Sunday morning at the main arena, I thought for a second that I was back in Blighty. It was one man and his dog, or in this case, several girls and their dogs. No, this wasn’t anything kinky from the darker regions of Craig’s List, this was just good old fashioned sheep dog trials. I haven’t watched sheep dog trials since I was a kid growing up in Darlington, but it was actually good fun to watch. As the beer tent opened relatively early, I’ve no idea which dog eventually won, but the dog that came home in third place is the full brother of Emma, my brothers dog who you can see inspecting the new house in the photo above.

Sunday lunchtime was spent on the steps of the Boonville Hotel watching the annual parade and drinking a few beers with friends. The parade was led by the ‘Veterans’ and this year there were only three. The proud trio got a rousing cheer from the appreciative audience and everybody hopes that next year all of them will return. To the outsider, Boonville probably appears to be an area populated by fully grown-up hippies, and that’s because it is. People flocked here in the 60’s & 70’s and many of them have stayed and matured here. Where Goa became a little bit twee for the discerning hippy, Boonville continues to provide folks with an environment that allows practical freedom. It’s not perfect but it’s probably about as good as it gets …. mai pen rai