Where to begin? So much time has passed and so many things have happened. I suppose we pick up where the big enduro day left off.
I returned to Tehran and got set for another exploration. This time I would ride to the beautiful village of Masuleh via Qazvin and then decide where to from there. I spent a day in Tehran procuring some essentials from the moto district including indicators (replacing the one’s I’d broken even though I had spares), some nice fake KTM gloves (that I would later discover have an annoying rub on my knuckle) and getting my air filter cleaned. I also managed to find Motul brand spray on air filter oil and chain lube. (Probably should have had these items already, but we’ll just mark that down to adventure novice oversight.)
I got busy working on the bike ably assisted by the building’s security guard “Peace of God”. Well, that’s what his name means, I just can’t remember the Farsi version. I only wish I could speak Farsi so I could converse with him as he is the nicest man, but men have a way of getting along just fine working on a project without saying too much. His three old daughter would also hand me tools in between fun and games and her initial reservation toward a stranger soon turned into constant play.
Side note: Peace of God and his family are from Afghanistan and given their unofficial status in Iran, the daughter can’t attend school (when that time comes). But there are ways and means and I’ve been assured that the residents have a plan in place to help the family.
With everything in order, I set off for Qazvin on the 20th August (packing a lighter load) full of excitement. That excitement lasted all of 2kms. The mid-morning traffic of Tehran was getting the better of my bike and despite my weaving in and out I simply could not get the pace required to keep the engine cool. The bane of my existence was back. It actually never left. Twice I stopped to cool the engine down hoping I could hatch a miraculous escape from the intense automative mayhem but it just seemed hopeless. For good measure a cop pulled up behind me and blasted me on his megaphone. I got off the bike and walked over to explain my predicament, but already I could see his pained expression saying “what is this clown doing coming over, I’ve just told him to bugger off and not pull up on the highway”. He wasn’t interested in my reasons although his partner was a decent chap so I punched on. And so with an hour of “travel” under my belt, I’d accumulated the grand distance of 10kms. And so, I decided I’d turn around and try to resolve the situation once and for all. I called Ali to inform him of my change of plans (to which his usual response applied “my house is your house” – can’t begin to describe the immense hospitality Ali has shown. Truly grateful) and I was battling traffic the other way. So round trip: two hours and 20kms. Living the dream. Needless to say I was at my wit’s end trying to manage the overheating engine feeling exasperated at the thought of dealing with this forever.
I decided the time had come for an oil change (in the hope that this would be the miracle cure). I also emailed Greg in San Diego, Rob the legend in Brisbane and Jon from KIT690 in the hope they could enlighten. They all offered excellent tips, but overall Jon’s knowledge of all things KTM 690 Enduro was like no other. A number of solutions were proposed and a few rejected (mine) and the end result was a resolution to change the radiator fan switch (so the fan comes on at 90-95 degrees instead of the standard 105 degrees) and an engine remap!
Explanatory note: Ok, a lot of you may not be interested in this, but it has become my obsession, so you can either skip this italicised section or indulge me a little longer. So basically, I’d read a bit about this dark art of engine remapping and it is not something to mess with casually. Basically, you plug your bike into a computer and change the engine characteristics so it runs better. Why is this necessary? Well, thanks to EU emissions regulations, the bike is designed to run extremely hot so that the catalytic converter can operate at the optimum level and maximise the reduction of emissions. I know what you’re thinking? Why can’t the E bloody U focus on some filthy factory instead of my poor little bike? No? Anyway, the consequences of an incorrect remap are… shall we say… serious. You basically can blow up your engine. Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking – yes, that is something that Shane would do. Well, as much as you may be hungry for more excitement on the blog, rest assured, Jon has offered phone tech support when the time comes. So for the interim, my mission was to find a new fan switch (apparently one that goes on a Suzuki Baleno – which they don’t have in Iran), downloading the software (that will be fun with this Internet speed) and finding a cable to connect the bike to the laptop (potentially DHL’d from Jon in Romania). As an added bonus it only works on Windows and I have a Mac so that’s another download required in the land of low speed surfing.
So back to the moto district I went. Amazingly, I found the Motul oil quite quickly and I was pretty stoked. The last thing I wanted was a low grade oil making things worse. The next item, an oil drain pan or a bucket, would be easy. But it wasn’t. As I walked past hundreds of moto shops selling gear, oils, parts, doing services, not a single one had a pan let alone a bucket. Half the time I couldn’t even explain what I needed even though I had photos of oil draining from a bike into a plastic container! And so, I couldn’t find a pan nor bucket. No, I’m not an idiot. Everyone else is. But I did find a funnel and that meant some plastic water bottles would be cut up and improvisation would be at it’s finest.
With the help of Peace of God, the oil change, despite being messy, was done successfully. I think my oil was also a bit low, so my hope was this would be yet another factor for previous heat levels. Sore, tired and dehydrated I went to bed after a long day and I would attempt the new leg for a second time.
Well, let’s just say, the heat issue was not resolved. But it was better. And once I’d made my way out of Tehran things were back to normal. The short jaunt to Qazvin was a pleasure and I was immediately charmed by this beautiful city. The Behroozi Traditional Guesthouse was also an absolute pleasure and I fell in love with it instantly. The domed brick style with its central garden and subterranean rooms was a place once could easily feel at ease and at home in.
I freshened up and headed out for a walk. I entered the most beautiful bazaar. It was almost a boutique bazaar in that it seemed more geared toward upscale items and tourists. Each shop front was presented beautifully and the walk through was far from the usual madness of most bazaars. It was there I met the lovely Mahdiyeh, an Arts student who plied her trade as a copper engraving artist in between studies. Her work was exquisite and she was very informative about the craft. She asked if I should like to catch up later as her guest and I keenly accepted.
The next day I headed off for a day trip to Alamut Castle, famously known as the Castle of the Assassins. I’d heard a lot about this place and was quite excited by the prospect of coming face to face with this impenetrable fortification (even if it was largely only ruins nowadays). The ride was yet another amazing one. Tearing up the mountain and then winding my way slowly down it, stopping from time to time for photos. As I approached the castle, I gave some guy a lift. I don’t think he’ll forget it. The 690 probably has a bit more power than the local bikes and I was absolutely gunning it to keep the engine heat down. Once I neared the mountain, the sight was something to behold. Perched on top of the steep rocks was the castle and immediately you could get a sense of just how difficult it must have been to attack. I parked at the entry way and began the climb. It may have been only 30 minutes, but it was steep and I don’t recommend doing it in moto boots with cut feet. But it was worth it. The views, the structures, the serenity, such a great spot. Whilst the castle may be greatly diminished, it still had the atmosphere, the precarious edgeways and the magnificent views to do it justice. It even had some basements in the cave atop the mountain. Moments like these are definitely highlights. The ability to appreciate history and nature in seemingly perfect union is what makes trips like these all the more awe inspiring. I find myself quite reflective at times like this and most of all, at peace.
And then of course I tear off on my motorbike. Back in Qazvin, I caught up with Mahdiyeh who showed me Iran’s first street! Yes, can you believe it? We also had coffee and I was able to again get an insight into the life of a local – a very talented, wise and beautiful one at that.
The three night stay in Qazvin was a pleasure, but Masuleh was calling and so it was that I headed off into mountains yet again. I was punching along nicely when I started to notice the wind seemed to be getting more and more extreme. I hate wind. And I really hate cross wind. When you’re on a bike and you’ve got strong cross winds, you can almost be like a flapping sail. You have to lean into it and then if it relents ever so slightly you find yourself veering off course rapidly. And then when it reappears back you go the other way. I couldn’t help but think “What is this? Some kind of friggin’ natural wind tunnel???”
Turns out it was. Or so my observation is led to believe with the 50 or so wind turbines perched to my south next to the lake. Well, at least it’s not going to waste I thought. I’ll bet their return on investment is pretty decent. Getting closer to the Caspian meant more moisture in the air, but before long I was ascending and like walking into an air conditioned shop on a hot summer’s day, I soon felt the coolness surround and invigorate me. Pretty soon I would be in Masuleh and seeing something different in Iran… yet again.