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Ok. So I'm finally ready. I leave tomorrow for a trip from London, England to Bangkok, Thailand. I'm riding with Marcin, a Polish rider who has been living in England for the last 11 years and is now emigrating to Australia. I'm stopping in Thailand, at least that's the plan.
I'm travelling on a BMW Rotax single, the G650x Country, my companion is riding a KTM 990 Adventure. Chalk and cheese really, I want to travel as light as possible, he wants more power and is carrying a lot more gear than I am so it should be interesting to see what happens.
Along the way we're hoping to catch up and meet up with other riders doing the same journey but there aren't many people travelling this time of year. It's going to be cold, probably wet and generally unpleasant.
I've left a lot to the last minute and while I'm sailing tomorrow at 2 I still have some things to do before I leave like get money sorted out and even add things to the bike.
Today I did, with the help of my baby brother a service, oil change, new oil filter, new spark plugs and a general tidy up, this afternoon I fitted two new tires, Continental TKC80s. I've been using them before, they're great off-road and decent on it but a bit slippery in the wet. My last rear has put up with nearly 10 000miles and still had some life in it, my bike is not powerful and not heavy and my treads last well. Spark plugs were Iridium because again, they work well and help her run smoothly. Every little helps.
It's been an uphill struggle getting this far, Visas are a nightmare and I'm burning through money at a shocking rate. By tomorrow, I should be ready to leave on time with no hassle.
I'm crossing into Dunkirk and then riding into Kassel, Germany. I've booked a low-cost F1 hotel there for the night. I've been to Kassel before recently and so I can find the hotel easily. I don't expect to arrive until quite late so I can do without the usual blundering around I do looking for things in foreign countries so I'm doing this to make my life a little easier.
So the bike is ready, pretty much. Today I bodged on a screen and it looks a bit crap but should work nicely. I prefer naked bikes but not for doing hundreds of miles a day in windy, wet conditions. The screen comes off in a minute or so so if I get a chance to ride for fun then I can whip it off and dump it in my tent/hotel room.
I'm riding from London to the Oakdene cafe for breakfast with my brother and best mate and they're coming with me to Dover to see me off. I use the Oakdene a lot so this is a like a spiritual farewell for me. Farewell to greasy junk food served on chipped plates maybe but I love the Oakdene. I should have thought it through a bit more and left on Thursday so I could go up there on Wednesday night when the bikers meet. Oh well.
I'm completing a blog too as I go. Nothing special but the link is here
Amazingly I caught the boat on time. That would actually be amazing for me at any given time but was made even more amazing by a sequence of events that at once made me glad to get away from this country and made it allmost impossible to leave.
So I had to be at my mums this morning for around 8.30 to collect the rest of my gear and even do some last minute modifications to the bike. I couldn’t find a suitable way to mount the screen and in the end my eventual solutions it highly unsuitable but it involved me hacksawing lumps off this morning before leaving. Because of the high likelyhood of dropping the bike I didn’t want to mount the screen entirely on the headlight support for fear of transferring damage to a critical part. My solution was two exhaust hanger brackets fixed to the bars with a galvanised steel roofing bracket each holding on a threaded rod. Two light alloy strips hold the bottom secure. It looks uglier than a Ukranian prostitute but it works, it’s secure and it was literally all my time would allow.
One of my oldest friends was coming to see me off today, following on his own bike. To thank him for this I nearly killed him when my number plate broke free and shot across the road at him. Luckily I had a new one. I bought a small, illegal one to take with me which is too small for the UK but the right size everywhere else. Of course... I couldn’t find it. We turned the garage upside down when we got to my folks and ate up a valuable 20 minutes before finding it exactly where we’d been looking. The upshot was I didn’t get to tidy away my extensive use of my dads tools so he might never speak to me again. I also didn’t get time to pack so my bike is currently wobbling under the weight of far, far too much crap.
I was planning to see another old friend to say goodbye but time turned against us and we went straight to the Oakdene cafe for breakfast to meet my brother on his shiny new bike. Of course his bike had broken down. Presumable it was too shiny or too new or maybe one trip to the Oakdene yesterday was simply too much for it and it crapped out rather than having to face another such indignity. We chatted with the staff who know us well and the stress of actually getting away from this country started to peel back to allow a slight regret of all the things I’m leaving behind. On top of my friends and family who I’ll miss a whole lot there are the little things. The Oakdene cafe is a little bikers place in Kent I’ve been going for years and know all the staff. The trip starts becoming real when your bike is piled high with crap, you’re massively unprepared and you look back on the little things you never really thought you’d miss.
After a quick but substantial plate of healthy food was rejected in favour of a mountain of fried junk it was time to head off. Our second coffee was a stark reminder of why I should be leaving.
My mate Ade has a peripatetic job and travels to the Kent coast regularly so I told him to lead, jump on the M20 and we’ll trolley on. I followed him as he missed the “Dover” turnoff and carried on in the opposite direction. I blasted my horn and shouted at him but it was too late, he rode up the slip road and was gone. I circled back to the cafe and sent a text and then waited. Nothing so I headed off to Dover with a heavy heart. I stopped to refuel and got a text saying he would meet me in Dover so I headed to the port and waited in the bookings car-park. I checked with my ferry and unlike Seafrance and P&O they offer a free transfer service so at worst I would have to wait until 4. I didn’t fancy that as I have a long journey ahead of me on the other side, through Belgium and into Kassel, Germany. I checked on the latest time I could board and found I had 45 minutes so long as I wasn’t held up at customs control. I took my chances.
It was a tense time indeed and I jumped up every time I saw a bike until suddenly I saw him with a strong sense of relief. With 10 minutes to spare he made it to the port after a slightly over the limit blast along the M20 via the wrong port, apparently. If he hadn’t made it then it would have been a real kick in the teeth. Ade is like a brother to me, we’ve been flatmates many times and I’ve been staying with him this last week before I left. He’s a through and through good guy with a laid back patience I’m envious of and good guys are hard to find these days wherever you look.
So we parted ways awkwardly. I want to do this trip but I’ve had to compromise. Ade would have been the perfect travel companion and that was always the dream but he’s kind of settled now with a great girlfriend, decent job that he hates and a nice flat that’s probably costing too much.
I got to customs control and the guys only made eye contact because I stopped for them, they just nodded me through and carried on reading the paper so that was a result. I got to the booking gate and my code didn’t work. I was shocked that something might have gone wrong! She told me the code was not one of theirs and took my registration number instead. She laughed when she typed it in because my ferry was actually booked for 2am, not 2pm. Luckily that free transfer came in handy and I made the ferry with 2 whole minutes to spare. So not an auspicious start. I’m sitting on a ferry watching England retreat in the distance on one of the last bright sunny days in England this year. The stress levels for making this crossing have been so high I’m not even thinking about this trip yet as something that should be fun, it’s just something I have to get done. On the other side I have a long ride so hopefully that will give me time to get my thoughts together and get into the mindset for this trip.
A guy met up with me on the boat. He recognised me from loading and wanted to chat about the bike. He was 10 years older and has been thinking of doing the same kind of thing. Seemed like a nice bloke and it’s always cool how the bike attracts plenty of interest and conversations.
So the Garmin sat nav basically did its job and i headed off for Kassel. Needless to say I’m sitting here writing this a fairly long way shy of my target. The roads are pretty fair and my previous experience served me well but when night finally fell it fell like a builder crashing through a roof. The roads were suddenly wet and icy with no warning and the cold clamped down with a vengeance. I trundled on as best I could but the cold got to me. By the time I gave up it was 5 degrees and i’m wearing only a summer jacket and summer gloves with no lining. To be fair i could tolerate that, the problem was the visor and screen were fogging up so I just couldn’t see where I was going. Along the way I tried to get some fuel and found a miserable cow who didn’t like bikers. She grumbled about having to speak English and said I had to pay in advance. All protestations of not knowing how much the bike would take were met with a knowing grin and a shrug. I offered to leave cash as a deposit but she just said there was a queue and I had to leave. Eventually she said it was only the pump I was on, all the others would work. She lied, none of them worked for me. I went somewhere else and the story was completely different. A nice girl was extremely helpful in explaining how they worked. Simple.
In the end I spotted an Etap hotel and I knew there was nothing cheaper nearby because it was full of international lorry drivers so i stumped up the cash and got myself a room. I’m disappointed in myself that i didn’t get further but Marcin only made Hanover and he left 7am. I boarded the boat at 2pm and made Aachen which is fair enough really for my little bike. The wind was howling but I made an average speed of 70-75 fairly comfortably so the screen must be working. The service and other work have done the trick, she feels free and smooth. I feel as rough as a dogs hind-leg. I did my daily exercise routine and stretched out some of the stresses of the day. I have another long one tomorrow. Roughly 9 hours ride into Poland but I’m not going to leave until around 10. If I do it will still be cold. Instead I’ll take it easy and see what happens.
So my first day on the road has left me wondering why I’m bothering. It seems everything wants to go wrong. I spent a lot of time in similar hotels in Europe with my girlfriend and it seems odd that she’s not here now. I miss her more than I thought I would. I miss my friends who seem to miss me more than I thought they would. I hope it’s just first-day blues. I had that in Europe too and it passed pretty quick. I’m just not dialled into this yet. I guess we’ll see.
T-stick, T-stick, T-stick! Welcome to the HUBB. Why are you not here? It's stressful, cold, damp and icy, the people are rude, the food is expensive and of low quality, driving standards are poor, road lighting is sketchy and the roads are full of slow moving Polish trucks who like to overtake one another even though they can only go at the same speed before parking en-masse in motorway carparks and masturbating to internet porn by the dim illumination of their map-lights. It's like a utopia for people with poor imagination who are loaded with self-hatred after a childhood full of emotional abuse.
Also, after taking a wrong turn I almost drove into a panic stricken oncoming car while trying to occupy her side of the road. Ooops. These foreigner types like to drive on the right... Must remember that.
Ha ha! Good to hear you're still scaring those unprepared foreign drivers. Flitting between this and the travelog. From my window I can see the lights and buildings of London in the distance. Uber FTS. Shame the ever alert customs wallahs didn't find that scag I put in your exhaust pipes..
Relax and enjoy fellow! You just need to get the hang of it. There are some people envious of you! (me for instance) You've got lousy weather but it will only get better. What happened to your mate? Did he decide not to come after all? What route will you take?
Which mate do you mean? I'm meeting a Polish guy in a few days and we're riding together but the mate I left behind is all Thunderous and Sticky. All being well he's going to join me in SE Asia next year for a slightly more organised trip through some slightly less organised countries.
After a good nights sleep in a warm bed I did feel a lot better this morning. Today I had to face the horrors of the efficient German road system which is not efficient, barely follows a system but did seem to be a road... of sorts.
What the big problem is, from my perspective is the roads are all over the place and to get onto the main ones you go through a random twisted lane so your GPS points one way then by the time you get on the road you think you want you’re point in a totally different direction. Also my European map, Google, GPS and the German authorities have very different ideas and senses of direction so my progress was slow, so slow in fact that it barely qualified as progress.
I had lunch today around half past 2, (European time) somewhere between Essen and Hannover. It was such an easy ride according to the maps but directions dried up as soon as I got on the road. Talking of getting on the road, I got out of a nice warm bed, wrapped myself up in multiple layers and even added wet-gear as a wind breaker and by the time I actually reached the main road it was cold. The wind cuts through my gear like it’s not there and around 9.30-10 when I headed out it was only 4 degrees and by lunchtime it had risen to 12. Add the wind blast and the outcome was a sorry little Jack freezing off his favourite bits for hours. On the plus side, I’m carrying bottled water and it’s like getting it out of the fridge, actually it’s a little colder than I usually like it. There were a few places with no trees by the sides of the road and some even had sunshine on them but without cover the wind blasted across the relatively flat fields and into me. It almost felt like Germany was picking on me.
The German drivers are arrogant to the point of it being ridiculous. They have no empathy whatsoever for other people. They see you indicate to pull out after a truck decided to pull out on top of you and they just head straight for you with no consideration of your continued survival. This happened more than once today.
My first encounter with the police was a mostly positive one. The police are not like they are at home in London. I pulled in to check my map and got chatting with some locals and a copper came over to help. He filled out a list of directions, shook my hand and stayed to chat with the pair of local builders. In England they would have tried to arrest me for crimes against humanity just for the horrific crime of owning a bike. The only drawback was that his directions were almost but not totally incorrect. They did get me back to the main roads and after that a mixture of common sense, directions, maps and GPS pink arrow got me heading in the right direction.
After hours of heading in the right direction the cold was starting to get my mind wandering. I was having a bit of trouble focusing and remembered I hadn’t eaten yet. I resolved to stay on the road until I found a place with something to eat and fuel for the bike. No point making more than one stop. By then I was wearily resigned to making an early stopover in Hanover tonight at the local F1 hotel with a mad dash into Poland in the morning. I should make Hannover by late afternoon so I think I’m going to do that. I can dump my gear and sort things out, find some local shops and get some relatively healthy food without any meat (I’m a vegetarian) and get an early night. I can then make an early start and blast through Berlin. I don’t mind going through there fast as a month ago my girlfriend and I spent three days in Berlin so I feel like I’ve “been there, done that!” If I remember rightly I couldn’t wait to leave although there was a few nice Kebab places and that might be dinner if Hannover decides to be nice to me.
So I found the F1 hotel with no real problems although my Garmin sat-nav has now completely packed up again. It played up badly during my trip to Europe and is up to its old tricks. Tomorrow is an almost straight ride into Poland so I’m not overly concerned at this point but I wouldn’t recommend owning one to anyone I liked or might ever meet again.
The weather added some intermittent showers because that might be some additional fun. After I arrived at the hotel it actually got a bit worse so luckily I missed most of it. Once the sun went in it got worse, the roads got icy in a matter of a few minutes. When winter properly takes hold then this route is not a fun one to take. I dread to think what’s up ahead. Behind us is Damon, a dude we met in London. He’s following us out in a few weeks but the journey is going to get harder every day he leaves it. Winter is coming here and it’s going to be rough.
So I asked the guy if there was a supermarket and he gave me directions to a local Aldi. I grabbed some bits and they told me they don’t take Visa. I queried the fact that they have a card machine on the counter to take payment and yet they don’t accept the most common form on the planet. He didn’t speak the most common language either so we were onto a loser with this conversation. I went on and found a “Penny Market” which is more or less the same thing. They didn’t take it either! I was told there was a cash machine somewhere and then a guy found me on the street and showed me where it was, my faith in humanity strengthened if not restored to previous levels. Try as I might I don’t like Germany. It’s too like England but with all the bad things amplified. Riding here on the motorways is like circling the M25 but with never ending German-made estate cars flying up behind you at 120mph. I was riding today at an average 75mph and was a slow mover by their standards.
Interesting question... What has a Virage 535, a BMW R1150gs and a black R6 got in common? They were all on the road today. They were seriously the only motorcycle I’ve seen all day, a stark contrast to the summer when Europe is swarming with them. I guess the cold relegates them to the garage while their owners go and vent their frustrations by trying to knock over weary travellers with the sporty family cars driven flat out until the top end bursts.
What is it with this shatnav of yours? It seems determined to lead you to your doom. Maybe it needs compromising with: it gets you in the general direction in which you wish to ride and you allow it to feed from the power cells on your beast. Or the bike. If you're in the mood to, share some details about the grub you're on..this will be interesting when you get to the deserts and mountains of Nowhereistan. Are you listening to your 3-track random player?
Today I made an early start, got on the road around 7.30, that’s an hour earlier by the clock I’m still set to. It’s pretty cold here at that time of the morning, it was showing a meagre 4 degrees and even the bike started hesitantly and grumbled at me for pressing the “go” button. I pulled straight into the petrol station at the end of the road and was nearly wiped out by a van who didn’t bother to look. Luckily I’m dialled into the German attitude now so I’d already given him space to be a total ***** and no harm was done. He just looked at me and drove on, no emotional impact whatsoever from his act of arrogance and stupidity. This lack of consequence is glowingly apparent in the entire spectrum of German driving and in other areas of the culture. As I pass briefly through it’s rare that you’re smiled at for holding a door open or nodded to for some other act of courtesy. On the other hand there are just as many gestures here of genuine warmth. Clearly suffering from the weather a petrol station attendant offered to pour me some coffee to warm me up, unloading the bike a truck driver ran to help me with the door. The attitude here sucks but the people don’t. In England the manners are maybe more superficial and the people, once you scratch the surface have little substance, here the manners are virtually non-existent but there is a real empathy with some of them which makes up for the shortcomings of the drivers.
Once on the road the temperature climbed to 6 but the wind chill made it feel like a lot less. My muscles burned like a million red hot needles were being poked into my joints and I could feel my reactions slowing as the cold robbed my fingers of mobility and controls were sluggish and awkward. The sunrise before me painted the sky a dull effervescent orange as the brilliant light caressed the few white clouds that dotted the morning sky. The orange faded to yellow while growing brighter and then to white as morning broke on the horizon before me, lighting my way with the optimistic promise of whatever might lay ahead. It also hurt like **** as the light dug into my eyes like needles. Unlike a car or truck the only sun-visor I have is what nature saw fit to equip me with so I managed an hour on the road squinting like I was fighting out a gutful of german sausage.
I made good time, averaging, I guess around 73mph but I was a slow nuisance on the crazy German Autobahn. I more or less live in the middle lane, the right being full with a convoy of never ending slow trucks on a journey to everywhere and the fast lane full of old German drivers belting past in cars with so many electronic gadgets it’s a wonder they even bother with a driver. Even at 75mph cars were flying past me like I was an old woman driving a clapped out green Nissan Micra up the hard shoulder of the A2 back home.
I stopped for a passable coffee at a petrol station at 9am and let my gloves thaw out on the exhaust pipe and hoped that 10 minutes might warm my fingers through and allow the sun to take a little of the edge off the weather.
I bought a pair of fabric working gloves to wear under my unlined summer gloves and while it made it a bit tight it made the weather far more tolerable. I made good time for the next few hours and proceeded without incident. The roads were clear and the route couldn’t have been much more straight forwards because it was straight forwards. There are no turns, no deviations, I just keep going until I get to Poznan. It couldn’t be much easier.
I stopped again for more coffee and by then the daylight was warm and fresh but at 10 degrees it was still not biking weather. By then i had not seen one other bike on the road so only the crazy and the stupid were out on two wheels today and I guess I must fit in there somewhere.
I’m starting to get into the spirit of this mammoth road trip now. By this evening I’ll be meeting up with marcin and planning the first leg of our onward journey. I want a day off to work on the bike, I’m considering moving the auxiliary fuel tank to the front where it was before only this time directly drilling the mounting holes to the bash plate. That will free up enough space to safely clear the wheel in an emergency stop. There’s a slight vibration showing in the rev range and it worries me it might stress the alloy mounting bracket. I’ve experimented with moving the tank bag to the rear. It is actually a tail pack anyway and it seems to be working. I like having the tank free as it makes the front feel cleaner but it makes the back heavier. I worry for the subframe but all the weight is not balanced on the crossbeam where it’s designed to take the weight of a pillion and has done successfully for thousands of miles. I went around Europe with my partner on the back with no problem so I’m pretty confident she can take it.
It was a relief to finally cross into Poland, everything is a bit cheaper and easier here. Poland is also not really Europe, it’s different, different enough to be genuinely interesting. Riding through it is an experience, the people, the buildings, everything looks a bit different and it’s a welcome and refreshing change to the ceaseless, endless drone of monotony on the motorways. I made good time in Germany and seeing as how I was following the exact some road called the exact same thing I foolishly expected the same thing would follow. Of course it did not. The road in Poland is superb, or it will be if they ever get around to finishing it and until they do it’s a country lane behind endless trucks with blank fabric covers who, if the clichés are accurate are either coming back for some more illegal migrant workers or unloading stolen goods. In any case they don’t move fast unless they’re overtaking and coming straight at you which continues to be a disconcerting experience. Eventually I arrived at Poznan via a toll for a few miles of unfinished road which seemed cheeky at best. Poznan is pretty nice, plenty to look at and do but I must have come at a bad time. I agreed with Marcin to meet him tomorrow in Wroclaw and hunted around for a hostel/hotel. There was no space anywhere and even more worrying the bike went to reserve after only 115 miles when normally it delivers close to 200. In town and with a hell of a lot of sitting at traffic lights I was still expecting 160. I discovered the breather hose was twisted and the tank was mostly full so that was a relief. I eventually ended up in a slightly upmarket hotel outside of town and was warned it was expensive. It ended up costing me £35 with free internet and breakfast so everyone who thinks that is expensive should ride through France and Germany... and England, come to that.
So tonight I am pretty shattered. 531km plus hours of searching for a hotel and that on a 7am start. Tomorrow sees an easy ride into Wroclaw to finally hook up with Marcin. I gather from an email that his bike is stuck with KTM for a service. I don’t care, I like Poland and I’m happy to stay her for a few days.
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