My wife is a witch. But lucky for me, she’s a white one. She can look down in a field and instantly find as many 4 leaf clovers as you want. She collected some for me to give to my riders and I locked them away in a very safe to keep them from catching any stray crap or bad karma but now they have to see the light of day and take their chances against the shitstorm. Them and my little orange travelling companion. He has a huge smile on his face.. we’ll see how long that lasts.
There is nobody home today. Close the door, get on and go, down to meet rider No 1 at Cobham on his old Africa Twin.
And down to a cheap.. and not particularly cheerful B&B in Folkestone. Folkestone doesn’t really seem to do cheerful from what I can see. Certainly the drunk bloke I’m watching pissing in the street from my window doesn’t seem that happy. Go out for some ruinously expensive fish.. we I say fish .. but I don’t think a tadpole wearing 25 coats of thick batter really counts.. and chips then back through the time portal to the B&B where I fully expect to find Rigby arguing with Miss Jones.
Steve is an old mate that I’ve known since I met him riding the Pan American back in 2010. He’s a very very good rider and a really nice bloke. I’ve not shared with him before though and there is always a slight awkwardness.. which I decide to break with a small fart.. and he double trumps by continuing to chat whilst having a massive shit with the door open.. oh happy days.
I’ll be picking up riders as I go south and the next ones are waiting at the eurotunnel when we arrive. New gleaming tyres, perfectly packed luggage, clean boots and shiny helmets. That usually lasts about 10 minutes
My old helmet smells like a 90 year old’s slippers .. including dribbles.. and skin flakes.. .. so I’ve got a new one and Lisa helped me break its virginity on the train.
And so it begins .. first stop is Metz. I would usually just lie back and let the GPS lead me by the hand the whole way. Trying to find interesting stuff in Northern France is like me digging into my leathers with numb fingers in the middle of the night in the freezing rain and -stupid degrees cold after a 10 hour ride and trying to find my tummy banana/witchetty grub .. its dam near impossible, but we’re going to try. We get off the motorway.. and I dont remember a thing until we get to Metz. Memory is a curious thing, I didn’t make any conscious decision but these were thown in bin and deleted. The hotel is near a shopping complex as usual but all the food outlets have failed to survive the COVID reset so we fan out and raid the supermarket instead.
From Metz it’s Munich. My riders are all motowayphobics and will need daily courses of more interesting fare it seems. Throw a problem like this at 6 different GPSs and you’ll get 6 different answers. I think I could make a lot of money by starting a company to mediate GPS ‘discussions’. To put it politely its a fucking nightmare. At least this time its being done at a nice cafe with a barmaid capable of writing in less than 64 font unlike the last 2.
I’m sure we’ve all been there. Sitting round for hours staring at little screens .. backing our little buddies decisions against the others. We choose a route via a section of the B500. More memories for the bin I’m afraid. I know what you’re thinking. I’m a spoilt brat. And you’re right, but I can’t help it. My brain is completely full and now I’m only accepting upgrades.
Some instantly climb to the top of the pile
Especially when they like a rocket under their crotch
At the start of these trips I have all sorts of demons along for the ride. This time I’ve got the shitstorm devil as well as all his little mates.. all throwing doubts at me.. all shouting things that could wrong with the bike.. or with the people.. or a million other things. I always have this fight with myself and it’s a fight I have to win. We are a team of 6 and we’ve got a long long journey ahead of us. I look in the mirrors and see the others and wonder what they’re thinking .. I don’t think Steve is thinking about much at all .. I can almost see his smile from here.
We’re on the outskirts of Munich. Another hotel room to build a mental map of. Another one to navigate in the dark at bladder o’clock. Most hotel memories are destined for the bin, but not this one.
Go Greek for dinner at a little Taverna and give the shitstorm devil an hour to set the scene back at the hotel.
Steve goes back early because he’s feeling a bit tired. We sit and eat, sun is going down, eyelids coming down, time to hit the hay.
I open the door and walk back into the room to find Steve tell me he’s dying and I have to get an ambulance. He’s in a right state, he’s freezing but boiling, he’s almost incoherent and he’s telling me he cannot get out of bed. He’s breathing really fast and starting to panic. I’ve only ever phoned the emergency services once in the uk and its not something anyone does on a regular basis. I tell him I’ll get a taxi and take him to A&E but he is convinced he cant get up. So.. 112 it is. This is Germany. In 10 seconds we will see the searchlight of the air ambulance and medics will appear up the stairs and through the windows, syringes in hand, ready to turn this boiling body in the bed next to me back into my mate. But no. ‘Hello’. ‘Hello’. It sounds like I’ve interrupted somebody’s Netflix and pizza evening, not like an emergency services response. I tell him I’ve got someone that is obviously in a great deal of distress and I need help. He decides that because there are no bones sticking out and all his blood is still inside his body that he can get a doctor out to the hotel. Great. Lets do it. ‘Ring this number.. goodbye’. What? I’m looking at the phone wondering what just happened. So I phone the number. Doesn’t work. Phone 112. ‘Hello .. could you just wait a moment when I pause the TV’. Same bloke, which is a surprise for a start. ‘OK, try this number instead.. goodbye’. Try the new number, same result. 112 again.. same bloke again. Do they really only have one bloke responding to 112 calls? ‘Oh.. ok.. I’ll put you through myself then’. WTAF? I hear the connections being made.. I’m getting somewhere now .. the doctor is looking for his car keys .. he’ll be leaving any time now .. the connection goes through, and its an automated call service, all in German, with no ‘press 5 for english’ option. Fuck this!! I go downstairs to ask the receptionist for help.. or rather the receptionist’s chair. Reception is unmanned until the morning, and the barman is absolutely not going to help me. Back up in the room I think I’m detecting a slight slowing in the breathing. The brain is a strange thing. If it thinks help isn’t coming any time soon I reckon it knows it has to sort something out itself. He doesn’t want to go to A&E and he’s beginning to relax a bit. I’ve never seen anyone have a panic attack, and its not what this turns out to be in the end, but whatever has caused this episode looks to be subsiding. He falls into a fitful sleep and I spend the night half awake listening to all sorts of random outbursts as he bad dreams his way to morning.
I wake up early and Steve is asleep. His breathing sounds normal and he’s kicked off the covers. He slowly comes round and sits up in bed. He’s looking tired but whatever he had last night seems to have passed. But he’s going home. We both know it will only get more difficult to sort anything out the further we go. There is something wrong and it doesn’t look good. Day 2. I good man down.
Go for fuel, and as I get back on the bike the shitstorm devil makes me slip on some spilt fuel and kick my chain oiler, fracturing the plastic oil reservoir. I’m getting grudgingly more impressed by his ingenuity .. but my patience is wearing thin now ..
We’ve got to do a bit of autobahn this morning before heading south through Austria. My bike is feeling a bit odd in the wet. Like it’s steering from the back. And whenever I hit even a small bit of over banding its getting well out of shape and scary.
We’re riding along at a steady pace and I’m just wondering whats wrong when I see traffic backing up on the other carriageway. It’s a downhill section and its busy. There is a big group of bikes and my eyes are drawn to one in particular.. it brakes .. looses the back end.. then heads straight for the barrier on the inside.. smashes into the barrier sending bits of plastic and bike everywhere .. it all takes just a few seconds. The riders behind me see more.. and another bike that smashes into the central reservation.. and people running over looking shocked .. the finger of fate could just have easily pointed to us at that moment. I’ll take any number of small inconveniences and problems over accidents like that. I hope they were all ok.
We’re aiming to go over the Grossglockner pass, but firstly, and more important, cake.
God I love cake. And cake ladies .. I never eat cake at home .. or cake ladies.
Find the pass. Give the wallet its first raping to get through the gate and over we go.
I’m really not happy with the handling at all. Bike wont turn and its feeling odd. As we’re coming down the other side there are lots of concrete retaining walls and it sounds like I’m being followed by a Kamaz truck.. all I can hear is tyre noise and lots of it. So I stop and look at the tyres – they look ok to the naked eye. Check the pressures.
The rear is a bit soft. 9psi soft. Buggery tits arse and farts.. it looks like the rear band is faulty too now. These MotoZ have such stiff sidewalls that not even the other riders around me had noticed its so soft. I cannot easily fit the tube because of the offset valve so I’ll have to keep pumping it up and see how it does. That will be fun for the next 6 weeks.
Still, the ride down to Ljubljana is a real joy now I know the cause of my handling problem. The last two riders are waiting when we get to the hotel. One is a mate that has ridden to China with me before, and the other is Brian. Both have made their way here from different directions and new we’re complete. We’re in formation. Ready to go and play.
Its great to ride for a few days, knock on a random door in a random hotel and suddenly feel back at home with an old friend. We have a lot of shared memories, a lot of which will never see the light of day, and some of which we’ve both agreed to bury completely. And now it’s time to make some more.
We’re not doing massive daily miles this trip and today we’re aiming at Zadar down on the Adriatic coast. Why? I like the name.. what more excuse do you need?
We cross into Croatia and get to Rijeka. Its coffee and cake o’clock and I’m sure there must be loads of it piled up somewhere in all the concrete I can see from the motorway so I put my super sensitive dog sniffer nose on and take a random dive into the maze. Its not looking good.. a bit residential.. my head is spinning round like a GoogleMaps camera and my nose is trying to isolate the scent of pastry amongst all the flowers and fumes. The riders behind me know in this situation that at any moment i am likely to break any road rules and just find the shortest path to my quarry and so it is today. I catch a glimpse of an open door on the opposite side of the road and my brain instantly concentrates on calculating the shortest distance between me and a cake.. which seems to be via a tight U turn onto the pavement and up a narrow pedestrian ramp.
With the calorie and caffeineometers both showing full it’s and easy, fast and beautifully bendy ride down the coast to the ferry at Prizna.
We go join the bikes at the front. There is older bloke on a BMW scoot with a face that looks like it is lived in by at least a dozen people. The resting face belongs to a cagey old boxer but get talking and after a while The Joker suddenly steps in and takes over.
Turns out he has had a big accident and he can’t ride the geared bikes anymore, hence the scoot.
The ferry is just a quick skip across the beautiful blue bay and then it’s a race along the water’s edge to an old hotel with a friendly nana and a strangely haunted feeling about it.
Ever since my mum died years ago I have for some unknown reason associated her with butterflies. I’m walking into the hotel and up some old stairs with the rays of the warm sun casting shadows all around when a single butterfly decides to accompany me on my journey. I get to the top.. it stays and hovers for just moment, then it’s gone. Maybe I’ll be a butterfly myself one day ..
Oh I do like to be beside the seaside ..
On the road out into the morning light and let the sights and the sounds and the smells take care of occupying my thoughts and entertaining my mind. Keeping my brain entertained and happy can be hard work when I’m at home and a road trip is a chance to hand over responsibility to the ever changing world around me. Stimulation is usually everywhere but when its not, then I’m happy to be bored too. To count down kilometers on the satnav. To eternally convert kms to miles. To have a simple goal to get the next junction, to that next corner. Things just to pass the time and not think too hard, to keep my mind from running down dark alleys. On these trips the future is today.. possibly tomorrow and no further than that.
Get into Bosnia and stop at a cafe that looks to specialise in recently released violent prisoners. The Bosnians do a good line in death stares and intimidation but the older I get, the less I’m bothered. Go in and order some coffees and it turns out its a biker hangout. I find getting my helmet out can often break the tension so it I put it in the hands of the barmaid and a smile makes its way first to her eyes then her mouth, and then her voice. The blokes seem to see I’ve passed her vetting and their faces soften, heads nod, like dogs sniffing each others arses, they’ve decided to accept us rather than kill us.
I really do like Bosnia. Every time I come it’s dragged itself a bit closer to the rest of Europe, but not close enough to have lost its soul. I hope it stays that way.
Get to Sarajevo and rock up at a hotel that Brian stayed at with his wife many years ago, and we get the room right next door to where they slept. Take the camera out and let it eat up the atmosphere in the old town. This place has history oozing out of every pore, and the acne of war all over its face.