Martyn Cleaver: Tour of the Baltic on a Triumph Speedmaster July 2005
The initial trip plan was to go to the FIM rally in Tartu, Estonia, but after researching the event agenda & costs, we decided why not go the whole nine yards and do a complete tour of the Baltic.
So on Monday the 11th of July, 5 people (including my 17 year old son riding pillion with me) set off on 3 motorcycles and a trike on Monday 11th July from Maidstone to catch our 08.15 ferry from Dover to Dunkerque.
As I had covered all the planning and research for the trip, it was left for me to lead and navigate! Volunteers would have been nice, but that's group politics for you!! When I did eventually get someone else to lead, he got lost getting out of the Motel car park!
The first 2 days through Europe were fairly uneventful but very hot. Then we crossed the border into Poland. I swear I will never ever complain about the state of the roads or other drivers in the UK again, after negotiating the cobbles, pot holes and suicidal Polish drivers. On a two lane road on a brow of a hill or on a blind bend with double white lines you are confronted with a forty foot lorry or a car overtaking coming straight at you! - two choices: do I stand my ground and possibly hit them or do I ride towards the ditch! Err tough decision! I think the ditch looks favourable, must remember to avoid the roadside vendors selling honey!
We eventually arrived in Gdansk in one piece and after a slight detour, found the campsite in Stogi, near the beach as recommended by the Rough Guide. The campsite turned out to be a forest in the sand with just enough space in between most trees to pitch a tent. A two up fully loaded Speedmaster does not like sand! For one horrible moment, I thought I would have to dig the bike out, but thanks to the low down torque the bike has, I managed to ride it out with the back end sliding madly with sand flying everywhere. That night, I think everyone was hot and bothered and some were even thinking of not completing the whole trip.
The next day we got on a tram and went into Gdansk and spent a relaxing day seeing the sites including the shipyards and the Gdansk old town.
Friday saw an earlier start, with everyone being packed and rolling by 09.30 as we wanted to visit the Stutthof Museum in Sztutowo just outside Gdansk on-route to Elk in the lakes. We arrived just after opening in bright sunshine, parked the bikes, paid our money and entered. Words can not express the emotions that I felt after going around the camp! I had to sit down next to my bike for twenty minutes before I could continue. I will never understand as long as I live, how human beings that are capable of such great things, can be so barbaric and inhumane to their fellow man.
We left the camp around midday and rode to a campsite in the Lakes near Elk. Here once again, group politics reared its head and it seemed that not everyone wanted the same thing and some were finding the distances too much and were not enjoying the trip.
The following day we de-camped and within half an hour it started to rain heavily, so on with the wet weather gear and try to avoid the pot holes that were now filled with water! Once we crossed over the border into Lithuania we stopped at the first roadside cafÃ©, where we saw first hand the shady side of the former communist countries. Two guys came out of the cafÃ© and went over to an old red Skoda, took out 3 large packs the size of aÂ duty free cigarette pack wrapped them in black backs with duct tape and then proceeded to lie down on the floor and tape them to the inside of the rear bumper!
That evening we stopped at a petrol station in Kelme, Lithuania which had rooms & a restaurant. The Manager let us put the bikes in his workshop overnight for safety. At Â£5 per person per night, that's great value in my book.
Whilst sitting eating our evening meal two S class Mercedes with blacked out windows pulled up and out came two burley guys draped in gold jewellery whilst along the road an old horse drawn cart, with the whole family aboard trundled up the road. The contrasts were so wide, one minute you are watching people milk cows by hand in the fields and the next you are overtaken by a by a blacked out Hummer!
The next day after cake and coffee for breakfast, we set off for the "Hill of Crosses" one of the places listed in the Rough Guide as "to see" Well we saw it! and I still didn't get it.! Maybe coming over the brow of a hill on one of the main Lithuanian E roads and being confronted by a women in a wheel chair doing a three point turn in my lane was another sign I still didn't get.
We crossed the border into Latvia and arrived in Riga the capital by mid afternoon, where we booked into an old Russian style Hotel with secure parking. After sorting our kit and rooms out, mine had no windows! Which is a strange experience on its own; we got on a bus into down town Riga.
Riga is beautiful, with a mixture of the old and new married together and so are the women! The national pastime for them seems to be getting dressed up to impress and then walking up and down the main streets. There was also a free open air folk concert playing in one of the main squares.
Navigating out of Riga the next morning was interesting as there are no roads signs!
By mid afternoon we were only 100 kilometres from Tallinn and at a roadside cafÃ© with bear skins hanging from the wall, I decided that I didn't want to go straight to Tallinn, but wanted to go off towards the Estonian Islands. Some of the others wanted to go to Tallinn and get a ferry to Rostock in Germany and miss out Sweden. As I had arranged to meet the Bonneville America guys, my son and I took the road to Haapsalu on our own.
We found a great campsite owned by a chap from Finland and for the first time on the trip, I felt at peace with myself and my surroundings.
When you travel in a large group you don't tend to inter-react with the locals, but when you are on your own you have too, to me that it what travelling is all about.
The next day we rode into the town to find an ATM and get a coffee and met another father and son from Sweden on their bikes going to the FIM rally, so we chatted admired each others bike for half an hour or so.
I dropped my son back off at the campsite and went exploring the town and Baltic coast line for a couple of hours on my own. In the evening I emailed Bengt in Sweden to let him know what time we should be arriving on Thursday in Stockholm.
Wednesday saw us on the road to Tallinn with torrential rain that felt like someone was sticking needles in your legs even with leathers and a waterproof over-suit.
Once again the road signs were non existent; the first sign for the ferry was 500 metres from the port! While we were waiting for our ferry there were hundreds of bikes coming off the ferries heading for Tartu. A German couple riding a Harley & a custom Yamaha were wearing Triumph one piece waterproofs the same colour as my Speedmaster! I did try and swap my black waterproofs for theirs but they wouldn't have it!
After a sixteen hour sea crossing we arrived in Stockholm where Bengt was waiting on his Triumph America in the rain to take us down to VÃ¤tterbygdens MC-klubb biker campsite in Jonkoping to meet up with Johann another Triumph America owner. Both of these guys came away from their family vacation to meet us! - You meet some of the nicest people on a Triumph, they were top guys.
Sweden is beautiful and the roads are a bikers dream, I am going back with my wife for two weeks next year.
We said goodbye to Johann at the Elk Museum and rode across the spectacular bridges into Denmark and stopped in Nyborg by the sea.
The plan on Saturday was to find a Motel or Hotel in Holland or Belgium & get an earlier crossing back to Dover on Sunday. As it turned out we couldn't find one that had any vacancies!! Could it have been the leathers & the bike?? So we rode on to Dunkerque, arriving at 01.55. Nearly 700 miles and sixteen hours of riding and she never missed a beat and my backside was fine! - Thanks Triumph for a great touring seat.
We caught the 07.30 ferry from Dunkerque and arrived back in Dover at 09.00 to yes you got rain! Half an hour later we pulled into my garage with 3251 miles on the clock.
P.S it took me 3 days to get the bike as clean as when I left!
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