The Achievable Dream 5-part series - the definitive guide on DVD for planning your motorcycle adventure. Get Ready! covers planning, paperwork, medical and many other topics! "Inspirational and Awesome!" See the trailer here!
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Ladies on the Loose! For the first time ever, a motorcycle travel DVD made for women, by women! These intrepid women share their tips to help you plan your own motorcycle adventure. They also answer the women-only questions, and entertain you with amazing tales from the road! Presented by Lois Pryce, veteran solo traveller through South America and Africa and author of 'Lois on the Loose', and 'Red Tape and White Knuckles.'
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My bike: 1993 Honda XL600V Transalp
My dad’s bike: 2009 Honda XL700V Transalp
Total Miles: 2848.
Total Fuel: 282
Average: MPG (UK): 56
Highest MPG (UK): 65.8
Lowest MPG (UK): 41
Scottoil used: 300 ml
Engine oil used 800ml
Countries entered: 5
Chain adjustments: 1
The time had come to set off on with my dad on our increasingly traditional, annual bike tour. The hurdle this involves is that he lives in West London, and I live in Tallinn. Previous trips had been to Sweden, France and this time Poland: midday between the two of us.
One thing I crave is mountains and that is a hard itch to scratch when the highest point in the Baltics is a slight swell of 316m above sea level. So needless to say, given we didn’t make it to the Pyrenees last year, I wanted to reach Poland’s south, and no question!
Preparation began about two weeks before when I started trying to figure out my packing arrangements after trying to manage bulging panniers and a stuffed hold-all across the back seat in France last year. The bike has an E45 Givi topbox and 2 smaller Kappa (Givi in disguise) E21 top-loading panniers.
Topbox: Approx 10kg
Tent poles, sleeping bag, two pots, GPS, various loading cables/chargers, pair or trainers, pair of flip-flops, tarp, toiletries, couple small LED torches, waterproofs, puncture repair kit, leatherman and waterproof gloves
Pannier 1: Approx 7kg
Some tools: mole-grips and short torque wrench, multimeter, engine and scottoil, cable ties, spare front and rear inner tubes. On top of that 2 litres of burning spirits, some more cooking gear, some dry foods, my wood/meths burning stove, a back up MSR pocket rocket and gas canister.
Pannier 2: Approx 5kg
My tent (only fitted because the poles were in the TB) and pegs, my small pillow, and my ¾ length thermarest.
Pillion seat: Approx 4-5kg
Small rucksack with clothes, poncho, small rollbag, bungees, cotton sleeping bag liner, maps and a good book.
Tooltube 1: Spanners, sockets, ratchets and screwdrivers to remove the fairing, wheels, brakes, seat and tank: if it needed more than that, I couldn’t fix it by the road anyway. (tyre levers hose-clamped to the rack)
Tooltube 2 (sealed off drain-pipe) 1 can of emergency tire repair spray.
Day 1 & 2:
So on Friday 5th August, I got on my fully laden bike and followed my wife’s car, with our two dogs peering at me from the boot window, to a friend’s farm house where we relaxed for an evening, before bidding my lovely wife and our dear canines farewell the next day at about midday. A lightly sprinkled ride of 90 mins saw me filling up in Pärnu, Estonia’s summer resort town (although not that day!) and then I started the ride south, crossing into Latvia 45 mins later. I arrived in the lush suburbs of Riga at about 5 pm and met two of our friends who not only put me up for the night and garaged the bike, but also took me out for a nice meal although I did manage to get garlic butter on my only shirt within 3 minutes of getting my éntrée…, followed by wine and cheese back at theirs!! What a great start to the holiday!
The next day, I felt a little fragile and wasn’t encouraged given the distance I had in mind! So with one slice of toast and a splendid coffee, off I set by about 10.30 that Sunday morning. Filled up then started the 50 mile ride to the Lithuanian border.
Allow me to digress for a moment with a study of Baltic driving standards. I am often critical of Estonian driving where indicators are an aesethetic, at best, and your rear wheel is apparently for cleaning their front bumper, tail-gating being a national sport. Latvia is a different story and makes Estonians look positively Swiss on the driving front. Overtake into oncoming traffic: no problem as they just have to drive in the dirt by the side of the road, blind corner coming up: no problem, it’ll all work out and Lithuania is no better. What my strong morning coffee couldn’t do, riding in those two countries did!
Back to the trip: by about 3 or 4 in the afternoon I now crossed into Poland. My first time and ringing in my ears were the stories my friends had told me of scoundrels lining the road to Germany, waiting to pounce on unsuspecting travellers like crocs waiting for the wildebeest to blunder by. On the other hand I thought that if it was as bad as they said, no one would go there and indeed cavalcades of mad-max wannabes weren’t waiting in every other lay-by and the most I saw were grannies selling chanterelles (could be a decoy!!), and in grannie-free lay-bys there were pretty young women in very revealing clothes, trying to catch the eyes of passing truckers. Students trying to hitchhike back to town I surmised! Yes, that’s it, just innocent students trying to hitch a ride…. It’s the only explanation. With a rucksack on the pillion seat, my wife will be pleased to know I couldn’t assist, and so rode on!!
I got to Augustow by about 5.30, got my first cash withdrawal of Zlotys and bought a few supplies for my planned camp that evening. I carried on along the E67, a road number I would learn to hate of over the next 24 hours!! I angled down toward Warsaw, having plotted in the coordinates of a campsite about 50 miles north of the capital.
I never found it, nor even saw any signs of it and by 7.30 pm, having seen a few motel signs for beds at about 60 Zt, I saw a sign at the next left and followed it. 500m down the road was a nice little hotel. (Hotel Wiatrak N5247153 E02108156)
I parked up and asked the staff how much it cost. “110 Zt!” came the answer.
I was a bit surprised but then two things happened. Firstly I worked out this was only about €28 inc breakfast and a garage for the bike, and secondly the heavens opened and thunder shattered the countryside calm: “110 Zt sounds fine!”
The bike was parked up, and I called my wife whilst drinking the complementary I got whilst they sorted out room number two! That evening I sat down to dine on the covered terrace, with some other guests and several hundred mosquitoes and had a huge honey-roasted rack of pork ribs that looked like they had belonged to a water buffalo, and another fine local . The hotel was clean and pleasant although all the bed sheets were made of fleecey material and within minutes I had accumulated the static charge of a 9V battery, and was sticking to everything: out came the cotton sleeping bag liner that I had packed on a last minute whim.
The next day, by 8.30 am, I had paid up, eaten, packed and said goodbye to the puppies they had lying in the flower bed. I hit the road… and the road hit back! By 10.30 I had already begun to experience what would become characteristic of road travel in Poland and would only get worse after navigating the orbital of Warsaw and heading south west:
By now I had christened Poland the land of Trucks, Tractors and Road-works. All three were in abundance, no, … excess!
Poland is a BIG country by European standards, and huge by Baltic standards. It is central and is an inevitable route for vast quantities of freight traffic from both the west and east, being part of the Schengen free trade zone. It also has next to no motorways and the roads it does have are usually a single lane for each direction.
This means you are on essentially a UK “A” road, or French “Nationale” all the time, and about 40% of the vehicles are freight lorries. Add to that the frequent roadworks with low speed contra-flows, and single-lane traffic light controlled sections, not to mention the “perpetual village”. This is the near constant urbanisation along these trunk routes where when a sign says you’ve left one town, and can go up to 90km per hour, within the next klick, you enter the next: back to 70 or 50. It was like this for all 600km south!!
I developed at least 3 nervous ticks during the course of that day. I’m sure two of them were the result of the 100km, yes 100km, contra-flow along the E67 leaving Warsaw. So for the whole of that day my average speed was about 70kmph (45 mph). Things only got interesting when I got past Wroclaw and spied my first high ground. Over the next hour the horizon got bumpier, the roads twistier, and the traffic lighter. Something also happened to my face: a large grin appeared as I realised I hadn’t completely forgotten how to take a corner!! So the last 80km/50miles were a blast and by about 6.30, I pulled up in Bolkow to greet my dad with a manly hug. Having reached Dresden the day before and having arrived about 3 hours before me, he had chosen a nice pitch, set-up his tent and waited. I followed suit, got changed and before long we were walking into town for a meal, leaving the loud, ASBO deserving Dutch family to have domestics by the washing hut and generally trash the campsite in our absence.
I slept like a log that night, and was a little saddle sore the next morning. We had breakfast in the same restaurant and then went for a tour of the village’s own zamek, or castle. From there we got good views before walking back to the site. There I found myself looking at my dad’s dry chain and the mal-adjusted scotoiller that his dealer had assured him was set-up correctly. I cleaned the dispenser, and set it at an adequate drip rate before we set off for the nearby town of Jelenia Gora. After a “spirited” ride through twisty lanes where I continued to address my bendy road deficit that had built up over the last year, we got to the town, went for a gentle walk and a shop in the supermarket, before heading home. On the way back my dad took it easy and I didn’t. This meant that somehow, as I waited for him at the turning for our site, we missed one another. I waited and became convinced he should have arrived. Fearing the worst the way only my masochistic imagination can, I rode back the way I had come, even faster than before. I was becoming quite worried, expecting a cluster of cars or a bike in a ditch around every coming corner before noticing a text on my phone that I was charging from the accessory plug on my dash-board. “Where are you?” it read. I called the number and asked “Where am I!? Never mind that: Where are you?!”. “At the campsite, of course!” Somehow he’d gone passed me, without me noticing!
Back I went, slower and more relieved but also a bit miffed. I got back and after a lot of <where did you go?>, <no, where did you go?>, we settled down to a BBQ, salad, s and a screaming Dutch family before hitting the sack: me in my tiny tent and he in his palatial new Vango Halo 300: Eez good, eez beeg!!
The next morning we packed up (some faster than others ) and made a first stop at another castle that was on the hilltop behind the campsite. Less visited and frankly nicer than the first. From there we travelled a modest distance to the small town of Polanica Zdroj where we found a fairly plain but , clean, organised, flat and quiet campsite (that is such a middle-aged thing to say…. dammit!), pitched up and jumped back on the bike. We plotted a route heading south into a little peninsula of Poland that stretched 70km into the undulating landscape of the Czech Republic. We followed the major road till we were about 6 km from the border, before looping back on a minor road we had noted on the map.
This minor road turned out to be a minor track, up into the steep hills, with more dirt and gravel than tarmac. Although no M-X god, I was fine with this, but my dad on his heavier TA, was not as relaxed resolutely following the thinning strips of tarmac!! We crossed beautiful, dense forest, coming down the far side into a really nice little vale, hugging the Czech border to the west where we saw deer leap across the road ahead of us.
The road soon became much improved, the pace picked, the curves got smoother but the temperature also started to drop to the low teens. I stopped to put on my waterproof jacket which also makes a great wind break and I was instantly more comfortable than in my airy summer jacket. Eventually, we completed our loop and arrived back in the town just before dusk. Having parked up we opted for a restaurant as our food stock was far too dull. The town had a nice little river, complete with lazy ducks, cutting through the pedestrianised centre which was clean, with lots of eating options fountains and benches. We walked back to the campsite where the residence had settled down, brewed a tea as we listened to a group of teens party in one corner: nothing my earplugs couldn’t take care of!!
During the course of the preceding day’s ride, I had noticed that my Dad’s taillight was dead and so had ridden second as a precaution. This morning I nipped to a garage from whom I had asked for directions the day before and bought two bulbs. A replacement and a spare. Accessing the old one was fiddly due to an accessory being under the seat, but we got there, wrapped up the other one in a plastic bag and wedged it under some cables in case it happened again. That done, we finished packing and set off, heading for the Czech border, although along a different road to the previous outings’. We crossed over and were immediately met by seemingly calmer driving and evidently better road surfaces. What followed was a manically fun ride south east including a lunch stop in a lovely, albeit touristy, village called Karlova Studanka which seemed a mecca for the hiking-lite trail lover. We got going again and ended up near Novy Jicin at a friend of my wife’s home in the idyllic Czech countryside where spent the night after an evening of fine Czech s, grilled sausages and chat.
Following our hosts’ advice we headed for a UNESCO site in the town of Stramberk which is home to an imposing, fortified hilltop tower. After a copious lunch and climbing all the steps of the tower we had splendid views of the surrounding countryside. After this very nice break we got back on the road, being mid afternoon by now and started back on our road toward the Slovak town of Zilina. The E442 that we joined south of Novy Jicin gave me 50 of the most manic and irresponsible miles of the trip and my poor Transalp had to work exceedingly hard. Despite this, it never missed a beat, apex, or chance to impress. What a great bike I have!! All this lunacy came at a price and I hid my face in shame at the abysmal 41 MPG consumption (about 8 litres to the 100km!!).
Still it was a “You are awful, but I like you!” moment as I still wore a big grin for most of the afternoon and evening that followed. I also redeemed myself later as more leisurely riding in the days ahead gave my all time best of 65mpg!! (4.3 litres 100km). Not bad for a fully luggaged 600 on mountain roads!
We rode more sedately for another hour or so and arrived in the mountain resort town of Terchova only to find that its hillside was coated in tents pitched on its steep slopes as it seems we had arrived in time for Glastonbury, Slovak style. A moment’s eye contact with my dad on the bike next to me told me what I already knew and we turned back and booked into a nice campsite 3 miles back down the road that would be our home for the next 3 nights. Once pitched we got ready to go hunting for food. On arrival we had noticed a bike on French plates and as we got ready to do the shopping run under a degree of pressure (it was late and Slovak stores close early!) the owner arrived with a rapidly diagnosed case of verbal diahorrea. I’m sure he was a nice chap, but he clung on like a limpet despite the subtle messages of lid on head, sit on bike, start engine and still didn’t take the hint when I said “sorry but I have to go…” so in the end, the message was made “crystal” by selecting first gear, feeding the clutch and riding off…. Sorry travelling dude, wherever you are!
We bought what provisions the rock fan teens had not stripped the local Lidl of and went back to camp. Amongst our purchases were some grill trays and coals. I eventually got the coals to take, using my wood stove as a BBQ and placing our beef steaks on a grill tray above. I could only cook one at a time, but holy **** they came out well: possible the best steak I’d had since Mendoza 5 years earlier!! Feeling chuffed we stuffed ourselves with the other 3 and went to bed.
Last year my tent had leaked, partly due to lazy pitching and partly a leaky groundsheet. I had treated the groundsheet late last summer and cut down the footprint as well pitching judiciously every time since. So when a small lake’s worth was dumped on us during the night I was only slightly worried. As it turns out I shouldn’t have worried at all: the tent was dry and the water logged area of the campsite stopped a foot from my tent flaps. Phew!
That day we decided to explore the area and proceeded to go one a 220km/125 mile loop of the region, starting northward and then east taking us briefly into Poland. I say briefly as it was only a short stretch but the volume of traffic through the resort town of Zakopane was immense and we crawled through the city centre since, like every other town I’d come across in Poland, there was no ring road… Having got through that we turned south along a very well made road that was marked as scenic on the map. So far our search for the “real” Tatra mountains had not borne any fruit but that changed as we rounded a bend little after Poronin and saw a breathtaking vista of the jagged Tatra peaks all shrouded in ever shifting leaden clouds. Instantly, we knew we had found the place to stop for our lunch. From there we crossed back into Slovakia and along the way I picked up Mr Audi A4 with a point to make who was most displeased that I managed to over take the cars ahead, whilst he couldn’t. Mostly just lucky timing with oncoming traffic and given how he was a couple of feet from my back wheel in the sections before that, my dad and I agreed it wasn’t just a bit of playfulness on the mountain roads. Some weird people out there: so many axes to grind and I have to wonder why…
Still we got back into the campsite, after another shopping trip. Given the previous nights successful menu, we cooked the exact same thing again and weren’t disappointed.
The previous evening we had dined under a wooden roof that sheltered a long picnic table. At the other end were some students from Brno who were on a hiking holiday. They had told us about their outing that day, as well as where to find that trail. They way they described it, it had seemed to be a wild, inaccessible mountain, so I packed enough to make some tea, with water and stove, as well as a tarp in case we needed shelter in the unpredictable unknown! So we rode our bikes for about 6 mins before parking up in a hotel car park in Biely Potok at the foot of a very well marked track that was host to dozens of hiking families. So much for my Edmund Hillary/Tengsin concerns. Most of my stuff, together with both our M/C jackets were all dead weight in the 40lb/17 or so kg pack on my pack for the rest of that day. Even the tea was overkill as there was a really nice little chalet café half way up in a mountain meadow. Still, the walk was great fun and a nice change from a motorcycle saddle as I could stretch my legs and arms as we walked steadily up a small gorge following the stream up into the mountains above. When a steep section came up there were narrow and rickety steel ladders and gangplanks to get across gaps or up sheer rock faces. All in all, it was a barrel of laughs and despite some great riding, one of the highlights of the trip. I just love mountains. Someone remind me why I moved to flattest of the flat? That evening, for a change, we grilled sausages. Then bed as the next day we moved on
Despite being up at 8, somehow we did not leave till midday! We finally did, though and headed due South, fully laden, toward Bratislava to go on another mountain circuit. This took us further into Slovakia than we had been and in the foothills to the south of the Tatra’s. Suddenly we started to pass through villages, visibly much poorer than the tourist region we had left behind, whose residents we really dark and swarthy. Whilst I don’t know, my guess is they had roots in the Roma people. There didn’t seem to be much of a mix. Some villages were of these people, others were the more fair skinned that we had seen previously. In this region there were also more road side sellers with mostly berries, veg and mushrooms.
At one point I decided to take advantage of this and stopped off to buy half a kg of chanterelles. We negotiated €4 for the lot. Given the speed with which the young guy agreed, I guess it was a decent price. Still, he was happy, I was happy so the rules of good bargaining were satisfied. We and some of his mates, who magicked out of nowhere, chatted a bit about my bike and then I set off to meet up with my dad who decided to film me as a I crawled round the hairpin below him that felt like it was covered with gravel mixed with lard, and then proceeded to pull the most pitiful wheelie, even by my pitiful wheelie pulling standards. The camera was NOT my friend on that one.
We headed north again and stopped off in the small town of Poprad, home to both a Whirlpool white goods and Kia car factory, but more importantly had a great supermarket where I stocked up on my planned menu ingredients.
We rode on and by now both dark clouds and sunset were bearing down on us rapidly. Despite the information on our map, it seemed the two towns we stopped in did not have campsites, so we made a slight detour west to Tatranska Lomnica, at the foot of the majestic high Tatras that had captivated us so two days previously. There we found a large but largely empty campsite. More expensive by €5 per person but with the weather flexing its muscles we bit the bullet and rode in. We found a nice spot, and pitched with the mountain peaks as our window view. Then it was food time. Not liking our BBQ odds, we used the campsite kitchen. Bear in mind none had had one so far!! I examined the mushrooms and found that half were wormed or looking ropey and had to be binned. My €4 was looking less of a bargain but, once mixed into an omelette in the brand new frying pan I had bought, I didn’t care. That and a fresh salad and surprisingly good French baguettes made for a splendid dinner. The sausages were surplus and would do for breakfast. We went to bed with plans to head back into Poland the next day.
I slept well… until about 1.20am when an almighty thunderclap woke me up. So I lay in my tent listening to the torrential rain hitting my tent, more confident than I had been a few nights earlier of my tent’s waterproofing. Then, as I experienced the purpling criss-cross image of the tent poles on my retina after a very bright flash of lighting above the tent, I found a new concern: how effective were six lightweight poles as a Faraday cage! Guiltily I remembered my dad’s tent was bigger: what a bad son!! All the same, it was quite a spectacular storm, the way only massive mountains or massive plains can create!
I awoke and emerged to a dichotomy: grey forbidding skies, yet warm air and a mostly dry tent. I packed my gear and slowly dismantled my tent, letting the fly dry on my bike. In the meantime I grilled sausages for lunch, broke out the pastries for breakfast and, as with every other morning in a campsite, dealt with brewing up coffee for me and tea for my dad. We headed north, back into Poland and straight into the ubiquitous road-works!! Progress slowed, but we eventually reached Krakow, after a short stop in a cute village called Lanckorona. In Krakow, I used the GPS for what it was designed for the first time that trip and let it plot a route to a… wait for it…. hotel!! Yes, we decided that urban camping was not our ideal and found a French chain called hotel Etap: as cheap as the Formule 1, but much nicer, with secure parking. We got settled and showered before jumping on a bus into the centre. Being quite late we decided to forego the sightseeing and simply find some place to eat. That we did, before returning to the hotel to sleep.
Today was “be a tourist” day and so we gathered our map, and cameras, and set off for the old town. My place of residence has a splendid old town, but even I must admit that Krakow is im-press-ive. We visited the castle ambled through the streets, crossed the Wista to see the site of the old Jewish Ghetto that was quite moving, as well as the famed Schindler factory. We then turned back to the charismatic Jewish quarter before, once more entering the old town where we entered the huge old town square. There we found a restaurant and ate a nice meal. Krakow really struck a cord with me: a great mixture of life and history, culture and action. The Poles seem a gregarious and lively bunch, with lots of chat and laughter in the air at every turn. They are also very friendly. It helps that Krakow is a Uni town but, being summer, the buzz must be even greater in term time.
As a Y chromosome custodian, I can also mention the following, but I’m typing it quietly as my wife is about! Polish girls are, generally speaking, quite stunning which meant that after a day in that town, in nice sunny weather, I had severe neck strain come evening time!! That is not to say they weren’t in Czech or Slovakia. I can say they, too, also ranged from only “very pretty” to “classically beautiful” and “OMG she’s stunning – I’m going to crash into that bus and I don’t care!!”
Back to the trip: After dinner we headed home to sleep.
The next morning I got up, started to pack and then stopped…. Where TF was my wallet? Despite doing these things on autopilot, I still had no recollection of putting it on the counter, or in my jacket pocket. I searched but, deep down, I knew I’d either lost it, or had it nicked. I told my dad, warning him that our plans for an early departure weren’t going to happen, but not before calling my wife and asking her to cancel my cards. Luckily, I had earlier redistributed others, so I was not “plasticless”, but still… With the help of the hotel staff, rode to both the restaurant to see if it was there, retraced my last steps, especially where I had run for the bus and finally went to the police station and reported it where all the details were duly logged in a… notepad. Somehow I didn’t think that my wallet dilemma would make to the computer systems of Interpol…
Still annoyed/worried/embarrassed I rode back to the hotel. I checked my oil and adjusted my chain, as well as my dad’s whilst the tools were out. We set off 2 hours later than planned. At the beginning of our trip we had thought to visit Auschwitz, but time had run out and, truth be told, I wasn’t sure I wanted to see another monument to human cruelty. We had visited Oradour Sur Glane the previous year and that had depressed me. I knew that I didn’t need to see a place like Auschwitz to know the evil done there or the suffering people endured. Doubtless, I still lack a knowledge of the depth or scale of that cruelty, but I know it existed…
In any case, we didn’t have the time as we needed to head north so that we both had a reasonably manageable journey home, especially for my dad who had a date with a ferry 3 days later. So ride north we did, for a little over 200 miles arriving in the city of Poznan, once more using the GPS to find the soviet throwback that was the Orbis Polonaise hotel, complete with under-lit dated foyer, dim corridors and abused, collapsed mattresses. I met my dad in the corridor, ready to go for dinner and we exchanged a look that said it all: “ next time we pay more and stay in the Ibis!!” Still the staff were friendly and helpful and the adjoining carpark was guarded all night. Despite the dour outskirts, nestled in the middle of this city was a really charming Staro Miesto or old town and once more we found a vivacious town square with restaurants and bars in equal measure where I had a and potato sausage. Yes: a sausage made of potato! Although not exciting by neither name nor description this proved tasty and I slept well that night.
As agreed we got up and were ready to hit the road by 9 ish. Equally agreed was to have breakfast in the first decent service we found rather than in the depressing hotel. We did just that, after which we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. It was strange to be riding alone again, and I had a lot of it ahead of me.
This was now a Friday morning and by 11ish I was filling up and sheltering on the outskirts of Torun. A thunder storm hurled down rain but it soon abated. Unfortunately, I later found out that the storm was following exactly the same route as me, so either I caught up with the tail end of the rains, or I got constant road spray from the omnipresent trucks. This continued for the next 7 hours, that being the time it took me to reach Augustow and ride beyond to the Lithuanian border. I was pretty soaked; having never found any waterproofs that could keep constant rain out over several hours. I could feel dampness in the seat of my trousers, my collar, sleeves and the foam of my lid collar too… L. I was also pretty tired: 7 hours to cover about 350 miles, being the result of negotiating trucks and cars on the small roads I had chosen to straighten my route east as much as possible. The previous day my wife had called, telling me that if I could arrive before the following evening (Saturday evening), I would be able to attend the Independence Day concert that was on at the singing grounds near our flats. I’d said I would bear it in mind. I’d thought about that during the course of my ride, as well as the fact that I didn’t feel comfortable, didn’t want to set up a tent in the rain nor put on the inevitably cold, damp gear the following morning. All that coupled with the fact that I hadn’t seen any signs for a campsite by the time I filled up and checked my oil outside Kaunas at 9 pm it was decided: Tallinn or bust! Bust it almost was!
Well, day 15 and day 16 blurred into one as, having left Kaunas with a full tank, I followed signs for Riga, capital of neighbouring Latvia. By now I was slowing down and taking lots of breaks to shake off the sleepiness that was always hanging over me. I crossed the border at about 01.30 on Saturday morning, passing my Riga friends’ district at about 02.30. I decided not to swing by. I rode on with new bouts of rain, taking even more frequent stops to pace about a bit, finally crossing into Estonia at about 4.45am, filling up just north of the border with a bewildered yet typically stoic attendant watching me. By the time I reached the same resort town of Pärnu, I realised that I may have bitten off more than I could chew: on the 10 miles stretch into Pärnu I had fallen asleep at the bars several times. Only for a moment, but there had been nothing I could do: it happened regardless of how much I willed myself awake. So I stopped and rested. I was 130km or 80 miles from home. Those were the longest. Dawn had broken at about 5ish and the Pärnu road was largely lined with splendid forest. The forest watched as every 15 km or so I stopped to rest and pace. It listened as I screamed and shouted in my helmet to stay awake, count to ten and back down to one repeatedly in a raised voice: anything to stave off sleep.
Some may be flummoxed by how hard it was for me, but I don’t do big distances easily: I struggle. Previously my longest journey in a day I had done was about 800km across the Provincia de Buenos Aires. That had been hard. This was longer, harder and at night. It would finish up being a total of just over 1350km (in excess of 800 miles). Good as the TA is, over long distances it is more demanding to ride as the GS had been in Argentina 5 years earlier (Back then, I was also a bit more spritely perhaps!!)
Nonetheless, I broke through my sleepiness, and felt a bit more with it as I hit the dual carriage way 30km outside Tallinn, ride fast the last stretch. I entered the city and crossed it to reach my part of town, occasionally feeling my eyelids turn to lead. I rode on, counting the turns to my own street and finally seeing my flat’s balcony where my wife waited having been holding a vigil since 4 am that morning. I arrived, 7 am and 20 hours after parting company with my dad, parked and dumped my boxes in the storage room for later sorting. I kissed my wife and hugged the dogs before crawling under divine covers and sleeping a dreamless sleep for 5 hours. Later than day, I showered, dressed up and went to see a fantastic concert!
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