White Desert, Egypt

Disaster on the Western Desert Highway

| Egypt

My small petrol tank has been on my mind for many months as I can only travel 220km before I hit reserve. I actually managed to get a slightly larger tank before I left Australia, but for Africa, where the distance between petrol stations is growing, my slightly larger tank isn’t going to work. The Western Desert Highway was my first African petrol obstacle. On the first day out of Cairo, I had to travel 400km before the first Oasis, where there is a known petrol station.

I had been thinking for months how to carry extra fuel. I’ve tried several companies to get sponsorship, but like most companies you try to approach, you never hear back from them.  So, I had to go back to basics and carry an extra two 5L plastic containers and have my 4L fuel bladder as spare. This would be a total of 300km on top of what is in my petrol tank.  Now I had to work out a way to carry these two containers.   When I was in South America, I met a guy called Nic, he was also riding a DR350 and carried two 5L containers strapped over his petrol tank. This seemed to work for him, so I decided I would follow suit and try this method.

This is my new fuel carrying system – I hope it works!
As soon as I attached the bottles and filled them with petrol, I noticed my front dropped slightly under the weight. Then as I tightened the strap to secure it around the two containers to stop them from flapping sideways, it inadvertently put pressure on the fuel tank, and squeezed fuel out through the breather hose. Loosening the strap just enough to stop that from happening, I pulled out into the traffic and gained enough speed to put the bike into second gear, but I couldn’t get my boot under the gear lever! My driving position has completely changed with my knees now resting on the containers, forcing my legs to bow around just in order to place my feet on the pegs! Boy, this isn’t going to work! But I thought I would give it at least a day and rearrange tomorrow.
While riding deeper into the Western Desert, following a beautiful flat newly constructed asphalt road, I looked down pondering about my petrol carrying technique, when I noticed oil splattering onto my pants and Wolfman bags. Pulling over I look under my petrol tank and see oil completely covering my cylinder head. It wasn’t enough oil to stop and do roadside repair, but I will need to look at it before I leave tomorrow. Boy, my ‘helmet time’ is filling up with problems, and thinking of causes and solutions to these problems…As I was thinking about this at 180km from Cairo, I flashed past a petrol station. Himmm, so I didn’t need this extra fuel, I guess times have changed and maps get outdated.
When the road is easy, there isn’t any crazy traffic to deal with and the scenery is boring, I tend to drift off into what I like to call helmet time. This was turning out to be one of those days, where my mind wanders off and I start thinking about the problems I have currently. I’ve been on the road now for 14 months, at first all you can think about is your old job, your friends,  your family, things you regret saying or doing, but eventually you work through all these issues, one by one they drop off your thoughts list and your mind is virtually empty. What do you think about then, you ask.I sing. I sing ‘She will be coming around the mountain when she comes…’ When I’m not singing, I think about all the chores I have to do, blog writing, sorting out my photos, any issues with my motorcycle or ways to make things better, what do I need to clean or fix at the next guest house…
Today, my mind was filled with this petrol issue and now, why was my bike starting to leak oil around the cylinder head! What a complex helmet time I was having! When will the scenery get interesting so I can have a break from helmet time!

 

 

 

We arrived late, in fact in the dark, to a camping ground at the first Oasis on the Desert Highway. I was going to have to take a look at my engine problem in the morning. The next morning, we both had to look at our vehicles, so I didn’t feel any pressure or felt as if I was holding everyone up. I pulled off my petrol tank and seat to get a better look and access to my cylinder head cover.

 

Wiping the oil off, I pulled out my number 8 spanner and systematically tightened each bolt, placing my finger over top of the bolt, to make sure the spanner didn’t jump off the bolt and round off the corners of the bolt head. All of them were loose, but one was looser than the others, and as I gently turn towards the right, I couldn’t feel the bolt get tighter. My heart sunk as I then knew then I was dealing with a stripped thread.
I stood there and looked at the bolt, what was I going to do? I know at home, I would have removed the cylinder head cover and cylinder head (the problem piece) then pulled out my uncle Len’s tapping set, cut a slightly larger new thread and placed a ‘Heli-Coil’ inside then ‘Wallah’, you are now able to put the whole thing back together and have something for the bolt to grip once again. But in a small village, in the middle of the western desert, 400km from Cairo and more than 600km from Luxor I really wasn’t going anywhere or get anything fixed here.
MacGyver Wim pulls out a box of all types of bolts, nuts, threaded rods and all sorts of bits and pieces. We try a slightly longer bolt, but it wouldn’t grip. We then tried a threaded rod, it seems to grip onto something, but now we had a problem with locking it on there, as it was just a threaded rod. We grabbed a nut and threaded it down, but we couldn’t get enough pressure on the rod and it would just turn. So we carefully pulled the rod out and I hold the hack-saw against a rock and Wim slid the rod backwards and forwards to create a slit on top of the rod so we would be able to hold it in place when we use the nut to lock the cylinder head and cover together.
I carefully un-wound the tight washer on the original bolt, and place it on the rod, we also got some semi set gasket sealant off the hole on my new  5L petrol containers and smeared it under the nut. We then held the rod with a flat head screw driver, and turned the nut down with a spanner. At this point I think we were both glad to have an extra pair of hand to hold and turn everything! Once it felt strong and tight but not too tight, to break anything any further, before putting it all back together, I thought I better test it and see if any oil comes out now.  The bike feels small and naked and I kicked the bike over without the seat and fuel tank on.

 

Letting the bike run on the amount of fuel left in the carburetor, only a small amount of oil squeezed out through the nut.  This wasn’t 100% perfect but enough to find someone to fix it in Luxor or further down into Africa. I put the bike back together and loaded up. I still needed a different system for the 5L containers. I turned my blue waterproof top bag around and sat one 5L container on each side of it, and on top of my Wolfman Luggage. Strapping it all together, it couldn’t move anywhere. But I was now worried about fuel spilling not only on my luggage but if it accidentally catches fire from the exhaust pipe. Just another thing to think about during my helmet time on the road.

We pulled off the road into the white sandy desert just as the sun was setting. Wim, Annalies and Herbert went off to find some firewood to make a fire for the night. I stayed behind as I didn’t fancy the idea or riding back into the desert in complete darkness through some thick sandy dust.I stayed behind and found a good place a little be further off the main road and set up my MSR tent before complete blackness.
I grabbed my torch and climbed up a white mound just off the road. I started to get cold while I waited for the Dutch team to return, but no one was coming from that direction, so I waited for what seemed like ages and ages until I saw two bright headlights and a large dark block shape behind them. I turned on my torch and set it to the blinking setting. Within seconds, I had a reply from the Dutch team and I turned it off in case I attracted other unwanted attention.
In the short time we had been apart, they had their own small adventure. Trying to find a camping site noted on their GPS, they came across white looming statues in the darkness, then as they were turning around they were stopped by the police and almost fined for driving off the marked track. They were asked if they had a ticket, which of course they didn’t and had to buy one on the spot! Not finding any camping ground with wood for sale they turned around and headed back to me.

New Years Camping in the White Desert.

It’s New Years Eve, Annalies whipped up a great dinner with canned chicken meat. Wim, Herbert and I set up the shelter around the camper. Then Herbert made a fire using BBQ fire starters and coal and Wim had the DJ booth ready. I couldn’t have asked for a better location or better people to spend the evening with.  At midnight, in true Dutch tradition, we set off a paper balloon powered by a small fuel packet, up into the dark blue sky, with our wishes for the New Year written on it.

 


Dutch wagon and a few tourist interested in our travels