Friday, 9 December 2016

The Full Monty

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'The Full Monty'
(The lot, the whole lot, and nothing but the lot)

Ride report by Mark Fowler

In 2015 I contacted the IBA UK President with an idea I had for a new certificated ride. I'm not a fan of riding for hours and hours around the UK motorway network for the sake of it so remembered back to 2012 when I rode my first 4 Corners ride.  

Those that have not ridden a 4 Corners ride may want to give it a go as the nature of the locations means there's a bit more variety in the roads ridden, plus it takes a bit more planning so you can get receipts when you arrive at each place.

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In the rules for a 4 Corners ride there is some leeway given if a rider isn't able to get a receipt from either Land's End or John O'Groats if they arrive outside normal working hours.  A receipt from Penzance will be accepted but when the ride is verified 20 miles and 30 minutes are added, likewise a receipt from Wick will add 32 miles and 40 minutes.  

My idea for this new ride still encompasses the 4 Corners but has a few subtle differences:

1. A rider may start their route from any location they wish. Currently the clock starts for a 4 Corners ride with a receipt from the first one.  This means riders often have to ride many miles and hours before even starting the ride.

2. A rider must visit each corner in either a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction once the first corner has been clocked. Currently you can ride the corners in any order you choose. I know some riders start at Lowestoft, head back west over to St.Davids in Wales then go down to Land's End before blasting north up to finish at John O'Groats.

3. A rider must get a receipt from every single corner location. As mentioned above you can currently get away with a receipt from Penzance or Wick during a normal 4 Corners ride.

So after creating my own rules for this ride I sat down and worked out how far I would ride and how long it would take.  I did a few random routes starting from different places around the country and discovered that regardless whether you live in Birmingham, London, or Edinburgh if you start your ride from where you live,  then go to your first corner, ride in either direction from there on and come back to where you first started you will always ride well over 2000 miles. So that fits nicely with the current 48 hours for a Saddlesore 2000.

I then sat down and started some serious number crunching to calculate what time I would need to start from Norwich near where I live to get me to three out of the four corners that don't have 24 hour receipt options.  I also wanted to build in a rest stop half way round and this also helped me to be at every corner during normal working hours.

Next I looked at when to do the ride.  Nearly two and a half years after my serious bike accident and I still struggle riding long distances due to niggling pain in my hip joints. Probably an after effect of my Pelvis almost being split in two! Despite this year's mishap after the Brit Butt Rally I find the planning and riding in rallies more rewarding due to the stop start nature so I knew I was in for some pain with this ride.

Early September therefore looked like a good time to do it.  The weather is still usually very good and it's my birthday on the 9th so a weekday ride looked like a sensible choice with the ride taking place on a Thursday and Friday.  This also meant I would have the weekend to recover before going back to work.

I took the Wednesday off work too and took time to prepare and load the bike, get some rest and try and relax.  I ended up going to bed a bit later than planned at 7 p.m.  My alarm then quickly went off again at 01.15 and I was on my way to a nearby 24 hour Esso garage ready for my start receipt.  At precisely 02.00 hours I was off and heading to my first corner which handily for me is only 40 minutes down the road at Lowestoft.

I pulled onto the petrol station forecourt and brimmed the tank. When I checked the receipt the bloody time was wrong by exactly one hour.  It said it was 01.39 not 02.39!  Their clock setting must have still been on winter time.  Hopefully as I can't ride to Norwich from there in 21 minutes I hoped this would still be accepted when verification checks were done.

I never usually use the A12 when heading south as the first part to Ipswich is slow single carriageway but at three o'clock in the morning there was virtually no traffic apart from the odd lorry and van.

I reached the M25 and intended to go south over the bridge round to the M3.  Shortly after joining though there were signs up saying the M25 was closed ahead! I did a u-turn at the next junction and headed off anti-clockwise instead.  As I passed Heathrow more bad news came in the form of warning signs that the M3 was also closed between junctions 2 and 4a.  I turned onto the M4 then headed south to Basingstoke to rejoin the M3 then A303.

My first fuel stop after Lowestoft was at Wincanton in Somerset. I was now 10 minutes ahead of schedule so nipped into the Morrisons store to use the toilet and grab a hot sausage roll for breakfast. It then got light and my mood improved.  The further I headed into Devon and Cornwall the sunnier it got.  Unfortunately the dualling road works the other side of Bodmin slowed things down and on the approaches to Penzance the traffic brought things to a standstill.  I eventually reached Land's End 30 minutes behind time and only had a short stop for my receipt and food/water.


Next fuel stop was at Oakhampton and there were no more delays on the A30 or M5.  I got held up a bit waiting for the queues at the Severn Bridge toll booths and around Cardiff.  By the time I pulled into the Texaco garage on the outskirts of St.Davids I was now an hour late.

The route north through Wales was a wet one and I was thankful to follow a fast van driver along the winding roads on the approaches to Oswestry where I could join familiar roads once again up to Chester and across to the M6.  

I'd previously booked a cheap Travelodge at the Lancaster M6 Forton Services but by the time I arrived I was and hour and a half behind schedule.  I decided to have an extra hour here and was in bed at eleven and up again shortly before three o'clock in the morning. I did a another fuel up and was heading north again with all the lorries at just after 03.30 hours.

My original plan was to take the scenic route via Fort William and come down the A9.  I knew the A9 should be quicker so changed my plan and did a quick fuel/breakfast stop at Pitclochry.  It was still raining.  The A9 north of Inverness is one of my all time favourite roads and it was virtually dry so made good progress. I got my John O'Groats receipt from the Post Office at just after 11.30 which was now only 30 minutes behind my schedule.  

The A9 up to Inverness had been dreadfully slow though because of all the average speed cameras and road works.  I'd quickly calculated that the journey south via Fort William was only a few miles different so thought I could make some more time up going that way back instead - WRONG!!
I ran into rush hour traffic crawling into Fort William and the rain had set in once again.  I did a short stop at the Esso garage and decided to put my over suit and winter gloves on as I wouldn't be stopping again until Gretna Services. The traffic continued to be busy but now the wind and rain picked up.  Going up Glencoe and across Rannoch Moor was dreadfully slow with gusts of wind and rain.  To cap it all a traffic warning pinged up on my Zumo 590 through my phone app and heavy traffic had added 19 minutes onto my arrival time at Gretna.  I took a gamble and headed down to Glasgow via Calendar instead of Loch Lomond. Mistake number two.

I hit the tail end of rush hour and joined 8 miles of gridlock on the M80.  I managed to filter for 5 miles before it slowly picked up and then I joined the M74 South.

The next few hours were the most nerve racking I've ever spent on two wheels.  The weather worsened considerably.  The daylight went, the winds became gale force and blustery, the rain became heavy and don't even get me started on standing water.  Cars continued to wang along at 70-80 but I had to slow to more like 50 or 60 to keep the bike upright.  It was at this time I seriously considered binning the ride, especially as my arrival time at Gretna had slipped by 2.5 hours.  I only had a 3 hour fiddle factor time for the whole ride so thought the game was up.

The one good thing about very long rides is you have time to re-calculate and think about what to do to improve things.  My fuel up distances were around 270 miles which were nice and comfortable as my GSA has an easy 300 mile range.  After Gretna though I was planning another fuel stop at Kings Lynn but calculated If I pushed on to Penrith I wouldn't need to stop any more and would still be under the 350 mile re-fuel limit.

So I pushed on and got my last fill up in Penrith and headed over the still wet and blustery A66 to Scotch Corner.  My finish time at Norwich was now 01.45 so only 15 minutes to spare which was never going to happen considering you only lose time and rarely make it up.  I then had a panic thought. They close the A1 at Scotch Corner for more road works.  This would scupper me, having to divert over onto the A19.

When I reached Scotch Corner there were no signs about closures so my morale went up a gear as I headed south on the A1.  The weather also improved and the further south I rode the warmer it got.  The finish time also started ticking down too.  I had a quick stop south of Doncaster somewhere and removed my over suit and changed my wet winter gloves and neck tube for thinner and drier ones.

By the time I reached the A17 turn off I actually thought I might do it.  I know the A17 like the back of my hand, even in the dark and the later the hours got the lighter the traffic became.  It was a dream riding back the last 100 miles and I even took great delight in flashing my Clearwater Krista's at anything that thought they were bright when on dip beam and at their lowest power setting.  That usually shuts them up :-)

By the time I got back to Norwich I knew I was easily going to make it and got my finish receipt at 01.14 hours. Yippee! I took a leisurely ride the short distance back home and crawled into bed at two in the morning.

Later that day when I eventually rose from my pit I reflected on what I'd just done.  I ached all over, especially my knees hips and shoulders.  The sat nav had said I'd ridden 2174 miles. My maximum speed was 82 mph, moving average was 56 mph with overall average at 53 mph.

The bike went like a dream although I think I might have a tiny leak from a seal on the bottom of my final drive unit, but it was only a black mark and not wet with oil so I'll see how that goes.
It's only when we ride these sorts of distances in the time we do that we truly appreciate just how congested and roadwork ridden this country has become.  This certainly makes riding the plan far more difficult to achieve, and it was certainly the hardest ride I've ever done. From now on I'll mostly stick to rallies I think.

'The Full Monty'

2127 miles in 47 hours 16 minutes

8 - 9 September 2016

Friday, 29 July 2016

RBLR 1000 2016

  1. Here I am first out the starting gate at Squires cafe waiting for the start at 0500 weather forecast rain and fog most of the day 'oh deep joy!!' along side is a lad called Dale on a Honda Gold wing whilst waiting for the off we decided to do the ride together mutual support and all that.

    As there was delays likely on the north bound A1 due to long running road works Dale took us North via the A19 and the Tyne tunnel then back to the A1 North of Newcastle, by this time the weather had got into it's routine that is rain that nasty persistent drizzle.

    The first stop was Berwick-on-tweed fuel quick drink and a snack then on to Dreghorn on the Edinburgh bypass the second stop a top up and get in the traffic for the Forth road bridge while we were waiting we had a grand stand seat for the construction of the second Forth road bridge.

    North on the A9 average speed cameras from Perth to Inverness it does get a bit tedious and the rain was no help as the bulk of the A9 North of Berwick is on the coast we had sea fog to contend with as well by the time we got to Inverness it was time for a break hot drink and a hot snack.

    I changed my bike in January from a 1999 BMW R1100 GS to a 2007 R1200 GS now it is more refined, faster and lighter and nicer to ride, two irritating niggles with the bike.

    The saddle is uncomfortable so my poor arris was getting grief again (see the Three corners write up)
    The bike only has a 20 Ltr tank which give a range of 175 miles against the R1100 GS 25 Ltr tank with a 200+ miles range.

    I had the seat recovered after the ride as it had ordinary upholstery foam for motorcycle foam which is much firmer a couple of test rides later problem solved. I have acquired a 33 Ltr GSA tank that should give approx 300 miles range that is being fitted soon I was reluctant to fit before the RBLR ride as it is unknown so it will be fitted on the 24th June ( I should have got a GSA in the first place)

    That's enough moaning back to the ride.

    North of Inverness the A9 is free of cameras as is the A99 to Wick but as both roads follow the coast the rain was taking it turn with the fog at one point rain and fog North of Helmsdale on the A9 there is an uphill right hand hairpin bend which due to the rain and fog I almost missed threw the bike over scraping the foot peg all the way screaming like a girl after a stop to get the water off the inside of the visor and regain my equilibrium we continued North.

    The rain stopped as we turned right on to the A99 and we had a good run up to the third stop Tesco's at Wick at this point Dale and I got separated riding through Wick town centre it transpired that he had stopped for fuel at the garage in the town I carried on to Tesco's just outside the town we did not see each other until we got back to squires.

    South bound to Inverness thankfully rain free I had a good fast ride to the fourth stop at Fort William Tea and a sandwich a quick scrub with wet wipes change the by now wet neck tube and gloves south on the A82 in company with three other riders we caught up with rain at Glen Coe.

    I lost the other three as I had to stop at Teabay services on the M6 for fuel and a tea (I should have got a GSA) continued on to Birch services on the M62 the fifth and last stop before Squires the rain was on and off like a tap.

    The final fifty odd miles was through road works on the M62 my first RBLR ride was in 2013 and there was road works on the M62 then do they ever stop??

    Got a bacon roll and a tea at Squires most welcome finally fell into bed at 3 am

    I completed the ride in twenty one hours thirty minutes and raised £100.00 pounds for the Royal British Legion.

    Thanks for looking

    John Morning

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Lost keys, Romania

Ride To Eat - Castle Bran, Romania - 25th June 2016

Executive Summary

Poorly planned and poorly executed ride to the middle of Romania; rider turns to gibbering idiot on arrival, has to cancel rest of trip and kick his heels for two days waiting for a mate to fetch his spare keys; aimless ride home across six countries. Multiple stays in Iron Butt motels, no certified rides. Long, rambling, trip report containing mind-numbing details and some photos.

Planning & Preparation

When the schedule of ERTEs for 2016 was announced this was the standout destination. What's not to like? Dracula, Transfagarasan, Transylvania, 1500 miles each way. Who wouldn't want to make such a ride for supper with your mates?

During planning it became obvious that Romania wasn't going to be a BunBurner ride, a SaddleSore to Budapest was definitely on but further east achievable progress just wasn't up to BB pace. Unfortunately that's about as far as my planning got. For a variety of reasons I didn't plan the ride in my usual amount of detail and I didn't prepare myself as I normally do, I opted to just wing it. I decided not to bother recording any rides and I even went to my local for a couple of pints the night before leaving.

Day 1 - Thursday

On Thursday 23rd my planned 0800 departure was executed promptly at 0840 and I was soon filtering through rush hour traffic past Farnham, filtering along the Hog's Back, filtering past Guildford, filtering up the A3 until I turned onto the M25 where I filtered gently through traffic moving at around 25mph for a short while before reaching the flooded section which halted the traffic. I then had to do some serious filtering to get past the holdup and that's when the forecast heavy rain started. The forecast was for heavy rain in Kent followed by heavy rain in France so I was wearing my boil-in-the-bag rain suit from the off.

On arrival at Eurotunnel I was greeted by the friendly check-in terminal giving me a ticking off about arriving too late and offering me a 90 minute wait for a train. The noticeboards all apologised for the 30 minute delay so I went for the traditional waiting for a train Burger King. Venturing outside again, still wearing the rain suit, I noted the further, strangely precise, 14 minute delay and chatted to a pair of rather cute Scotties guarding their master in the sun.

When my train was called I rode through the police and passport checks and joined a small group of bikers in lane 7. Two were off to Assen for the MotoGP, one Englishman returning home to the French Alps on his Harley. They told me that another rider was also heading to Castle Bran and, thinking he's probably one of us, I went to speak with him. "This Saturday? I'm hoping to reach Bran next Thursday". Not one of us then.

Emerging in France it didn't look much like heavy rain but a plan is a plan so I kept the rain suit on. The temperature was gently climbing and the skies continued to look a bit on the blue side but the plan called for me to retain the suit until Brussels so that's what I did. 36 degrees on the Brussels ring road when I peeled it off. The temperature stayed there for the rest of the ride, all the way to Bran.

I needed petrol and this was the wasteland. Rather than do their silly dance with card payments I decided to pay cash and only draw a predictable amount of fuel. I walked in to the cash desk and asked for, paid for, and got change for, 15 litres. She told me to return afterwards for a receipt. I didn't see the point as I didn't actually need a receipt but I thought I'd just return anyway. The pump clicked off at exactly 15 litres, the exact amount I'd paid for and got change from. I returned to the cash disk and she gave me more change!

Intending a long first day, I'd booked a motel room in Linz, Austria and when I left Calais ETA was showing as 2345, late but manageable. By the time I reached Cologne it had slipped into the early hours and was looking much less manageable. Eventually, just outside Frankfurt I decided enough was enough and checked into a motel, had a shower, rinsed out all my clothes, then slept for a few hours.

Day 2 - Friday

When I woke up and checked the BBC and discovered that the referendum had produced the worst possible result, a slim majority for Leave. (a large majority would have been ok but a slim majority would produce the largest possible amount of dissent and dissatisfaction). The night manager was just going off duty as I packed the bike and expressed surprise at the result and concern for the wellbeing of the UK, sympathies repeated several times along the journey to Romania.

On crossing into Austria I stopped to get a vignette when my son phoned wanting to chat on his long coach ride from Portsmouth to Grimsby (all things are relative). Several minutes standing around in bike leathers in that heat meant that when I was done I scurried along a few hundred metres to the services where I was introduced to the sheer delight of iced coffee. How had I reached this vast age without encountering that before!

Riding along the motorway I noticed that the standard of driving in Austria was quite a bit lower than that routinely found in Germany. Even cars bearing German plates seemed unable to remain in the correct lane or to use their indicators. I also noticed the signs telling, not advising or suggesting, telling drivers to form a lane for emergency vehicles in the event of traffic jams, with diagrams even. How sensible is that! Of course they shouldn't need to be told, they should just know to do that anyway but, on the other hand, it wouldn't work in England where large numbers of drivers are unable to stick to really simple rules like use lane 1 unless you're overtaking.

On the approach to Vienna I opted to follow the road signs to Budapest rather than my satnav. After recalculation, ETA had slipped by one minute - sometimes the computer knows best!

The Austria/Hungary border is a busy location even at midnight with several kiosks apparently all involved in the sale of vignettes. I say apparently because they all appear to be slightly different and I couldn't tell whether that reflected functional differences or merely appearance. Priced in Hungarian Forints, exchange rates were offered for US dollars, three quantity bands for Euros and British Pounds although the rate for this was blanked out - volatility in the market I imagine. Anticipating a process similar to those in Austria and Slovenia I was surprised to need my passport and bike registration number. I was given what looked like a slightly fancy Tesco till roll but with my details and bike registration. I went to a different kiosk, with no queue, and asked about the sticker for the bike. No need in Hungary, the motorways are covered by cameras and the system is fully automatic. Once I registered at the border the system knows about me and that's that. I feel a little cheated actually, how's anyone going to know where I've been if there's no sticker to prove it!

Sometime after passing by a darkly slumbering Budapest I decided that it was bed time so I pulled into a rest area, parked the bike, then lay down in front of it and went to sleep. The temperature was still in the high 20s and some car drivers also decided that sleeping outside was the thing to do.

When I awoke just before dawn I was able to appreciate the provision of outdoor washing facilities. (There were indoor facilities as well but when in Rome ...) Much fresher!

Day 3 - Saturday

A very pleasant early morning ride through the countryside to Szeged and on to the Romanian border where I encountered the first traffic holdups since the M25.

Filtering to the front of the line at a border checkpoint really would be the queue-jumping that some accuse us bikers of so I used the time waiting in line to remove my night-riding layers ready for a warm day's ride. Some van drivers weren't bothered about the queue-jumping thing though and just filtered anyway.

After travelling only a short distance in Romania I started to fret about my tyres. In the UK or western Europe I'd consider them to be just fine but I was starting to feel less sure-footed now and I knew it would only get worse. We've all seen the pictures of the Transfagarasan highway! Passing through Arad I kept an eye out for a tyre shop but that only led me to rougher and rougher surfaces. After riding pretty much all around town and finding several places selling car & truck tyres I decided that I was just going to have to stick with my worn Bridgestones.

I needed to be in Bran by 1600 for the photo or I'd never hear the end of it even though I'd reached Verdun with 20 minutes to spare. ETA was now showing 1450 so I rejoined the A1 motorway heading south towards Timisoara then eastwards. I stopped for fuel and lunch with views across open countryside to the mountains. Baguettes were the order of the day and where the pump attendant was desperate to talk to me but had no English and I had no Romanian. Obviously I tried the old speak slowly and clearly in English thing but I've found over the years that that method doesn't always work as well as you might think.

The motorway continued as far as Deva when it was suddenly closed. We were diverted onto a single carriageway running largely parallel to, and with a clear view of, the motorway. After 12 kms we rejoined the motorway. Absolutely no idea what that was all about, perhaps they were keen to mimic the Germans who also seem to randomly shut stretches of motorway, although in Germany they're mostly doing roadworks at those points. ETA was now 1540.

I came to the city of Fagaras in Brasov county. The cathedral can be seen quite far out and it is a real eye-catcher with its shiny golden crucifix and domes and ornate workmanship. I stopped to take a photo but traffic made it awkward and, in any event, my limited camera skill means that I wouldn't be able to do it justice. I have searched the internet for images and found none which, in my opinion, properly convey the majesty of this iconic church. Visit Fagaras and see it for yourself.

From Fagaras the roads become decidedly "interesting". They climb up into and over the mountains and twist and turn quite a lot. The surfaces appear to have been laid 80 or 90 year ago and subjected to many patchings ever since. It's not uncommon to find tarmac, concrete and gravel within a few hundred metres. Then there are the road users: modern 40 tonne lorries, 1930s tractors, cars, vans, touring motorcycles, horse-drawn carts, bullock carts, goats and cows as well as small children playing football and old people riding bicycles. ETA is slipping back ...

Castle Bran - 1558

I turned onto the main drag in front of the castle with two minutes to locate the other attendees. Fortunately one of them was flagging me down and I pulled over and parked up. We were shortly joined by the only other punctual rider and we set about taking the official photograph. With no flag, we had to improvise and agreed to use my cap badge. I was tasked with capturing the image: the three of us, the cap badge, castle in the background.
As you can see, I nearly managed that.

The next task was to check in to my hotel, the Transylvanian Inn, two kms out of town. This entailed offroading up a 750 metre, 30% gradient, loose chalk track made for use by qualified advanced mountain goats. Alright, there was some exaggeration there but I was very hot and very tired, my bike was loaded with camping, walking and swimming gear (I'll explain later) and I stopped in the middle because of cars coming down the hill. I had three goes at restarting the climb, stalling each time, before shamefully handing the bike over to Mike who just made it look easy :(

I trudged up the hill carrying my luggage, removed to make the bike lighter, and by the time I reached reception I was on my last legs - I'm quite old you know - I staggered upstairs to my suite with this view ===>
I then returned to my bike to retrieve the satnav and generally make it secure. Oh dear!
I fumbled and dropped my bike keys into the gap below the handlebars. I reached in to fish them out and they slipped through my fingers and disappeared into a parallel universe!

The keys are lost

I couldn't believe it. I put everything down and examined the scene carefully. I poked about and shone a torch in the hole. I checked the ground all around the bike. Mike returned and he and I repeated the whole looking, poking and questioning my sanity thing. "Where are your spare keys?" "Safe, at home on my desk, let's go have a beer".

We adjourned to the other hotel where we were due to eat. There were now four of us and we discussed options, whether or not to call the breakdown service and, especially, getting the spare keys couriered from home. The V-Strom key is a bit of a critical component: coded ignition with immobiliser won't start without a key; can't dismantle fairing and fuel tank without removing seat, secured by the key. The four of us returned to inspect the bike again. We "dropped" the bike on either side, we bounced it on and off its centrestand, we poked and rattled and shone torches - nothing. I emptied all my bags and pockets just in case I'd "forgotten" that I'd rescued the key. A theory was developed that the key had fallen through the bike onto the ground and been spotted by a sharp-eyed potential bike thief. We considered turning the bike upside down but decided that would a) risk injury to ourselves; b) damage the bike; and c) be unlikely to improve the situation.

So, arrange courier in the morning then. Back to the other hotel to welcome the latest arrival who'd left Bristol after work on Friday and would be leaving at 0400 to return in time for work in Bristol on Monday.

Day 4 - Sunday

All the proper riders, those who carried spare keys and didn't drop them in stupid places, left at the crack of sparrows so I got on and started the process of having mine couriered from home. The first step - get my wife to have the keys in her hand. That was a bit of a problem because my wife is a very tidy person and I'm not. The keys were on my desk where I said they were but she needed some persuasion to actually locate them. The second problem came later when I called to find whether she'd handed them over to DHL yet. Apparently there was some problem with the computer systems at the particular pickup location I'd sent her to and it couldn't be sorted until Monday.

One of the reasons I couldn't strip the bike while all this was going on, apart from needing the seat out of the way, was that all my tools were secured under the seat - no key, no tools. In addition to the several times I ventured out to the bike to "just check" (perhaps the keys might have rematerialised through the timewarp again) and the time I spent seeking advice from various forums - none of whom correctly predicted the actual location of the keys - I walked into and around the town of Bran in the hope of buying some tools that might help. No, there weren't any.

By late afternoon, with all options closed for the day, a miracle occurred. The IBA is widely known for the insanity of its members and one such, another Mike, thought he might just fancy a ride from his home in Scotland. I called my wife to confirm that she still had physical possession of the keys, warned Mike about the hazards of the journey then he set off to fetch the keys from my house in Hampshire.

I once again visited my bike to check that the keys hadn't magically reappeared then retired to the hotel's restaurant to enjoy Romania for a while.

Day 5 - Monday

I woke up before dawn on Monday and checked Mike's SPOT. Major disappointment, he hadn't even left England yet! C'mon Mike, what are you playing at? Then I looked at the time, deducted the two hour timezone difference, calculated the distance he'd travelled from Scotland, calculated how long that would have taken me and decided that he was doing ok. I went back to sleep for a while.

When I next checked his SPOT, he was making pretty good progress so I inspected the bike once again then set off to explore Predelut, Bran and the surrounding area. With the temperature easing slightly and way fewer tourists it was a very pleasant excursion. In the park I found some children aiming field guns at the west, they train them young in Romania.

I walked far enough to encounter a homeless man having his lunch in a bus shelter being interviewed by a local policeman. I also watched two middle-aged men with shirts off in the heat using long-handled spades to dig graves in the local churchyard.

After saying "good morning" to several people and getting no response I mastered the Romanian "Buna dimineata" which caused people to cheerfully acknowledge my presence.

Predelut is a fairly pretty village with all manner of gardens and houses. Construction seems to focus on "breezeblocks", different from those I've seen before, with various kinds of cladding.

In summer it's a hot and dusty place, high 30s, in winter clearly very cold. Many houses had very large wood stores for use with wood burning stoves.

In addition to swanning around town I considered and ultimately decided to cancel the rest of my planned trip itinerary. It had been my intention to head due west from Bran spending a couple of days riding to Annecy in the south of France. In 1966 I had swum the width of the lake there and last year I decided that as it would be 50 years since that event around the time of this RTE I'd go back and see if I could still do it. Despite not swimming for many years I had been slowly building up and a few days before leaving for Romania I'd managed to swim 3.2kms in my local pool. Lac D'Annecy is 3.2kms at its widest point so I should be ok. Anyway, I'd brought with me camping gear, walking boots and a wetsuit - yes, a wetsuit, it's a lake, the water would be 12-15c, I'm old now, I don't need to be tough anymore. I cancelled the hotel booking and arranged for my wife to cancel her flights to/from Geneva. I'll have to swim the lake some other time.

Day 6 - Tuesday

Waking early on Tuesday I checked Mike's SPOT and noted that he was only a couple of hours away. I set off on foot to buy beers for him (and more water) and eventually reached a small mini-market in Bran where I had a choice of two: one that I'd sampled myself but came in large, heavy, glass bottles and needed a bottle opener and one that I hadn't sampled but which came in light plastic screwcap bottles. I opted for the plastic bottles as I would have struggled to carry the glass ones back (see, I really am a lightweight aren't I!)

I returned to the hotel to get things ready. I was just starting to pack up when the sound of an FJR alerted me to Mike's arrival 15-20 minutes sooner than I expected him. I went out to the carpark and presented him with a bottle of beer which he thought would be welcome right away. He handed over my spare keys and then spent several minutes trying to locate the lost keys, without success.

While Mike retired to my room to shower and sleep I stripped the bike. This was a fairly slow process, one that I'm not good at, and as each piece was removed I inspected the newly exposed areas for any clues as to the location of the keys. I was optimistic about finding them behind the radiator, perhaps hooked around the inaccessible spark plug but, no, still no sign or sound of them.

Finally, when I had the fuel tank completely unbolted and propped up, I could see a little chink of light reflecting off the keyring up in the central hump of the tank wedged against the frame. I rushed in to see Veronica, the receptionist who'd been fretting about me for the last day or so, and she managed to find a long piece of bent coathanger. I gingerly retrieved the keys and could properly relax for the first time.

I put the bike back together (apart from the three fasteners I had left over at the end, apparently Suzuki had used too many fixings when they originally assembled the bike) while the day's forecast rain started gently. Having completed that task I waited patiently for Mike to wake up.

Riding out of the mountains

Eventually we were both saddled up and ready to go. The weather forecast was for "heavy rain showers" followed by "heavy rain" then more "heavy rain" then "heavy rain showers" followed by "light rain showers" so boil-in-the-bag time! I led carefully down the 300 metre, 5% gradient, track to the road then through Bran and out onto the road to Fagaras. I did that in a very tame manner as I was concerned about things I might not have tightened properly, I was concerned about my tyres, I was concerned that I'd been off the bike for a few days, I was concerned about the weather. I needn't have been concerned, I still haven't gotten round to replacing my tyres or refixing the additional fixings.

We stopped for fuel in Fagaras where I once again declined the opportunity to photograph the cathedral and some way further on we split up, me heading for a Subway because I was fading fast and Mike heading for the coast cos he's tougher than me.

I don't normally frequent Subway because they're just way too annoying with their "what kind of bread do you want?" "Do you want this?" "How about that?" - I just want something to eat but that day location was everything and Subway was there when I needed to eat something. They said it was a B.L.T. I'm not so sure but I didn't care, I just needed to eat.

At the border the nice young lady at Romanian passport control checked my passport and asked for the bike's documents. I gave her the whole folder and she seemed happy enough so I escaped into Hungary again.

Around 60kms before Budapest I parked up and enjoyed another pleasant stay in the Iron Butt motel.

Day 7 - Wednesday

My Chunnel home was booked for 2300 Friday, almost three days away but I decided to just ride back to Calais at a reasonable pace and just see what happened. In fact I had a largely uneventful and rather pleasant ride home, passing through Budapest in daylight and noticing the widespread use of English on billboards and traffic signs.

I spent the whole day riding firstly in Hungary then across Austria and finally Germany before deciding to call it a day near Cologne. I pulled into a rest area bearing the bed sign indicating the presence of a motel but discovered that only the Iron Butt flavour was available. Many trucks parked up, many cars with sleeping occupants but no actual motel. I considered carrying on until I found an actual motel but decided that this place was as good as any. I checked the weather forecast and noticed that "light rain showers" were due early Thursday morning. I thought about pitching my tent on one of the grassy areas but in the end I just lay down on the tarmac and went to sleep.

Around 2am the rain on my face woke me up. It was only raining gently but it was enough. I was still sleepy so I thought again about pitching my tent. No, just put the rain suit on and small tarp over my head, back to the tarmac for a further 90 minutes. It had stopped raining when I woke up the second time and I decided to get back on the road. ETA Calais was showing as 0730, almost a sensible time to be crossing the channel. I rejoined the motorway and almost immediately regretted it: pitch black with at least two metres of spray.

I continued on into Belgium and found a rest area that looked more comfortable than the one I'd left earlier. I parked up intending to go and sit in what looked like a cafe. Too early though and the door was locked so I sat on the pavement, leaned on the door and went back to sleep. When I woke up I realised that the entrance on the far side of the building was open so I walked round and poured myself a large cappuccino and drank it sitting in a comfortable armchair.

Day 8 - Thursday

With a simple enough run down to the Calais I set off westwards towards Brussels eventually joining the ring road just in time for rush hour chaos. A relatively tame filterer at the best of times, I gently made progress through the massed ranks of commuters and when I saw a bike rapidly approaching from behind I pulled over to let him through. Belgian plate and off like a rocket. Not long after another bike came through, Belgian plate, off like a rocket. I decided to follow them - when in Rome ... - but they were gradually losing me. I looked down and found that I was travelling at well over 100kph through the all but stationary traffic. Great fun :)

And so, down the final stretch to Calais where the friendly Eurotunnel check-in terminal offered me the next available train at 1150 +£45. What was I going to do? Pay £45 and go home or ... what?

So home again, 3140 miles all told, time for a hot bath and a washing machine full of laundry.

Lessons learned

  • Not all rides need careful planning, sometimes winging it works just fine.
  • Your best mate is another IBA rider.
  • Having spare keys at home is all very well but closer is sometimes better.
  • There's always a vacancy at the Iron Butt motel.
  • You're never too old to do stupid stuff.

Bob Stammers

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

2016 Brit Butt Rally - by Mark Fowler

This would be my sixth Brit Butt Rally and my second on my BMW GSA since my RTC in 2014. I arrived at the Premier Inn Rally HQ in Leicester late on the Friday morning and was able to get a ground floor room after a short wait. This gave me the opportunity to grab some lunch and chat to the other riders who'd arrived. Others started arriving in dribs and drabs after lunch and as soon as registration was open I got my bike checked over by the technical inspection team (Rick & Tom) then set off up the M1 for the obligatory 20 mile Odometer check ride. Being a Friday afternoon it was busy around Leicester but everything flowed and I was soon back and able to get my rally book and coordinates from the rally team and get back to my room to start planning. It was now around 3p.m.

This was the second year that rally books and locations were available after the Odo ride so another very good reason for getting to the hotel early and everything done as soon as possible. Detailed planning was best left until after the Rider Briefing in the evening just in case the Rally Master threw any spanners into the works, as was the case in 2015.

I was able to re-code all 89 bonus locations on my Garmin Basecamp programme and colour code everything so when looking at a map of the country it was easier to see where all the high scoring bonuses would be. Every waypoint was transferred to my two Garmin sat navs then I started looking at the various groups of bonuses and plotting everything onto a laminated atlas I keep in my top case.

The map below is the coded Basecamp map I created on my laptop. The numbers are the various combinations i.e. the two number fives form part of combination number 5, etc. I find it easier to view where they are in relation to everything else. I grouped all bonuses into 3 categories as shown below:
Low value (black blobs) 0 - 1500 points
Medium value (blue blobs) 1650 - 2950 points
High value (red blobs) 3200 and over points

It was evident that the biggest points this year were all down along the south in Kent, Devon and Cornwall. Brilliant, just where you don't want to go during a Bank Holiday weekend when mostly great weather has been forecasted. Oh well, that's why this is a tough rally.
At the Rider Briefing we were hit with 3 envelopes containing further requirements and opportunities for extra points. Briefly they were as follows:
  • One compulsory numbered bonus location had to be visited on a choice of four islands: Isle of Wight (BP 01), Isle of Sheppey (BP 16), Isle of Skye (BP 65) or Anglesey (BP 37).
  • A mileage bonus where you gained extra points for every mile over 1000. More for finishing with 1215 miles. And points deducted for going over 1300 miles.
  • Extra points for finishing as close as you could to 4 p.m. But this took into account preparing all your paperwork ready for scoring not the time you finished back at the hotel.
This all added considerably to the route planning but is what we've come to expect from the devious 'Rally Bastard' over the last two years. Thanks John!!!!
So back to my room and re-look at where to go. Scotland as usual had big scoring locations but to get the compulsory location on the far side of Skye and pick up decent points going there and back would have meant a 1500 mile ride so a great loss in penalty points. Next up was Anglesey then up as far as Edinburgh and back and traffic wise this would have been an easier option, a nice two day ride but not be as competitive.
The only option left was down south. I'd had bad experiences in Devon and Cornwall in two previous rallies so knew that going there during the day on Saturday would be a nightmare. In the end my plan was to go down and in to/out of London first thing then across to the Isle of Sheppey for my compulsory bonus location followed by Kent, hopefully the Isle of Wight, then over to Devon Saturday evening.
By going to Sheppey if I then had problems and had to drop the Isle of Wight I would still finish the rally. After a bit of number crunching I decided to go on-line and book my ferry crossing. The earliest I could get that worked was the 5 p.m ferry from Portsmouth then off the island from Yarmouth to Lymngton at 7.10 p.m. Taking into account the 40 minute ferry trips I at least had an accurate time from Lymington to calculate my timings in Devon and Cornwall.
At a short rider briefing before the start on Saturday morning we were also handed a shopping list of items we could bring back for extra extra points. Each item had to be accompanied by a receipt from a different shop. By the finish of the rally I accumulated just three items; a bike magazine, a tube of Smarties and a pack of sanitary towels!
At 6 a.m we all headed off on our merry ways. Next stop London.
Below is my first stop, at Regents Park gates. There was a second location 5 minutes away on the other side of the park. At 7.45 a.m London was nice and quiet.
After one more London location, Sheppey and another couple of locations it was off to Dover lighthouse. The last mile was down a rough gravelly, bumpy, and muddy track. At least the GSA handled it with ease but my thoughts went out to other riders on less suitable machines :)
At this point and for several other locations that morning I was mirroring another Rider Gordon who had done well in previous rallies so this made me feel better with my route choice.

The next location was one of the worst I've ever had to park at. The Mermaid Inn in Rye was up a hill on a proper rounded cobbled narrow street. After just about managing to park the bike without it rolling away a friendly tourist offered to take the picture with both me and bike in it.

It was coming away from this Bonus Location that I bumped into Gordon for the last time.

Another two locations were followed by my arrival spot on 30 minutes before my ferry from Portsmouth to the Isle of Wight. This and the ferry trip gave me a nice break to rest and take on food and drink. A quick shot of Carisbrooke Castle followed, then off to Yarmouth for the ferry off the island.
On my trip along the South West coast the heavens opened and it chucked it down for about an hour or so with lightning storms. Thankfully this was the only rain during the whole weekend and temperatures were in the high teens and up to 25° both days.
A lot of the bonus locations this year were available daylight only so this added to the planning element and I was able to get four locations bagged Saturday night before stopping for my rest break. The downside to the high daytime temperatures was that now it was cooling down again so thick fog covered the last few hours of the journey through Cornwall which when you're tired doesn't make concentration very easy.
My rest break start receipt was at 1.28 a.m from a 24 hour Shell Station near Hayle then followed by about 3 hours sleep during my 4 hour rest break. My £12.49 bargain Amazon tent worked very well and I found a quiet spot in a field a mile or so up the road. When I woke up at 5 a.m I bundled the tent back to the fuel station and binned it (quicker than trying to neatly fold it all back into my pannier).
At 5.31 a.m my rest break finish receipt was tucked away then I was on my way to the Lizard lighthouse for a daylight only bonus shortly after 6 a.m.

Next up was the Bodinnick ferry across the River Fowey. I was there in plenty of time to catch the first trip of the day at 8 a.m with a photo of the bike on-board and a receipt to match.

And from there on in was where things started to slip. I went from being 30 minutes ahead of schedule to ultimately being 1.5 hours behind when I finished. This is purely down to the crappy little back roads in north Cornwall and Devon and the fact that the Garmins will always route you off the obvious roads down a dirt track because it has a 60 limit, Grrr!!!
After a photo outside the famous Jamaica Inn I was off to take a photo of the picturesque Port Isac. It was while I was parked there that my phone alarm rang as it was time to send a text-in bonus within a 30 minute time window to get an additional 3000 points :)

A long slog back north up the M5 was followed by my second from last location which was was the old BSA factory in Birmingham. This was another cock-up on my part and seems like despite my best efforts there's always something I get wrong each year. I got the wrong side of the factory in the shot and so lost the 500 points it was worth. Worse still I also lost the 2000 points that formed the combination bonus with the Meriden Triumph factory memorial.

Overall with having to drop three other locations through running out of time plus the 2500 lost at the BSA factory I calculated I would have got an extra 5450 points.
When I arrived back at the rally hotel the complex finishing procedure coupled with my general knackeredness added to my need to get checked in to my room, finish my paperwork, hand that in to get the clock stopped then rush back to my room to grab a shower before being called for scoring.
What happened next was the worst part of my rally career. The bath in my room didn't have an anti-slip floor and no rubber bath mat was provided. I'd just got in and started to run the shower when I slipped backwards catching my lower back on the edge of the bath as my feet slipped from under me. As I crashed backwards I smashed my head on the edge of the sink close to the bath.
After many F words and a great deal of panic I managed to pick myself up off the floor and felt a deep gash in the back of my head complete with a handful of blood. I managed to ring for help and the Rally Master duly sent help in the form of Bob to give me first aid. After a five hour visit to the local A&E, 2 stitches and a CT scan I managed to get back to the hotel just in time for the late start to the finishing ceremony around 10 p.m.
Although my loss of bonus points meant losing out on a place on the podium I still got my best ever result with 4th place. Get in :)
After a delicate sleep that night and feeling much better in the morning I managed to safely ride home after being one of the last riders to leave on Monday morning.
2016 shall always remain one of the physically most gruelling rallies I've entered due to a combination of the hot weather, the small roads and concentration needed, not to mention the shower-gate incident. It was however my most successful rally and apart from only a few missed locations everything went to plan and I had a really good two days riding.

Thanks as always goes to the incredibly hard work of the Rally Master and rest of the volunteer rally staff. Without their support these and future events can't take place so I take my (sore) hat off to them.
Roll on 2017!
Below was my Spotwalla trip which could be viewed in real time so friends could follow my progress, or lack of it!

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Zagreb Zoo, October 2015

IBAUK Euro Ride To Eat to Zagreb Zoo, the final ERTE of 2015, on the weekend before my birthday, why not? So far I’d not managed the photo @ 1600 on any of the ERTEs so I was determined to manage it this time. In fact, a trip round the zoo itself was planned for 1400 so I’ll aim for that then!

Reader advisories:
  • I am slightly unkind about Belgium
  • It goes on a bit, you might consider sitting down
  • I use multiple tenses and multiple persons, just remain calm, the world won’t end
  • Despite carrying a camera I didn’t take pictures - use your imagination instead
  • I am somewhat critical of British driving standards

I spent a little while with BaseCamp figuring out the route and timings then booked Chunnel tickets for Friday morning and the early hours of Monday morning as well as a hotel in Augsburg for a stopover Friday night.

Friday 16th October Left home 0820, arrived Eurotunnel Folkestone 1010
The weather forecast suggested that southeast England would be mild and dry whereas northern France would likely be pretty wet. I set off dressed accordingly, planning to add my top rain suit in the Chunnel. Getting to the Chunnel is a routine two hour trip up the A3, round the M25, down the M20. Just outside Guildford the matrix signs started showing “Channel Tunnel Long Delays” oh dear, well press on anyway. The weather forecast seemed pretty spot on until I hit the M20. For some reason there is often a dramatic change of weather around Maidstone and on Friday the “northern France” weather made an appearance in Kent. Lesson learned, next time top rain suit from the off. My Hein Gericke gear is all waterproof but I’ve found that the rain suit makes the difference between ‘ok’ and ‘snug’. Despite the inclement weather, little traffic meant that I made good progress and I arrived at J11A comfortably early to find the slip road was full of HGVs queueing to get in.

Filtering to the check-in I was relieved to be given a hanger for the 1050 crossing but too soon of course - the 1050 train didn’t actually leave until 1250! When I checked in my hanger read ‘X’ and the info boards were summoning ‘R’, ‘S’ & ‘T’. Let’s not mess about, I was just told ‘1050 train’ so I joined the queue for boarding, cleared the police checkpoint only to be turned back by the Eurotunnel jobsworth who pointed out that I was too early. C’mon, I’m just a bike but no, I must complete the ride of shame back to the terminal.

I didn’t know how long the delay would be but decided that I’d take the chance of getting something to eat while waiting for my letter to be called. I once took a girlfriend on a double-date to Heston services on the M4 (and yes it all went very well thanks for asking) but quite frankly Eurotunnel Folkestone isn’t that good, there’s not a whole lot of choice and none of them leap out and say “me, choose me!” and I randomly joined the lengthy queue for Burger King. The queue was lengthy because there were many trains’ worth of people held up in the terminal and, despite that, only one of the six cash registers was manned.

I kept a beady eye on the info boards but no change, no change, no change and the BK queue moved at a rate approximating to that of molasses in January. The board now showed ‘S’, ‘T’ & ‘U’ - surely it’ll be late afternoon before I get away at this rate - still at least 10 feet from the counter. Nearly at the front now and the board changed again ‘T’, ‘U’ & ‘W’ - goodness, ‘X’ will be next, should I even stay in the BK queue?

So Whopper meal. Yes I know it’s not good for me but life’s too short. I consumed it calmly and the board calmly remained unchanged. I finished up and walked back to the bike, no change yet. Then a sudden flourish of vehicle movement alerted me to ‘X’ being called - yes, we’re finally going to France!

Friday 16th October Left Eurotunnel Calais 1425 (two hours late)
BaseCamp plotted the route through Reims and Strasbourg but the Zumo chose Brussels and Luxembourg. There’s not much in it but worth remembering that, having plotted a route in BC, if you really want to follow that particular route, you need to include enough waypoints to force your device to go that way. I fretted about it for a little while - I was thinking about Reims and it was telling me to ignore the Reims turnoff, what to do? Did I set it correctly? Ticked the right boxes? Oh well, let’s just see what happens.

ETA was showing 2238 as I left Calais; I’d told the hotel to expect me before 2300 so that was going to involve some progressive riding. In fact, when I’d glanced at the ‘house rules’ page on their website it said something about check-in closing at 2300 so I’d better get a move on.

Luxembourg seemed as good a place as any to stop for food and add a fleece layer ready for the transition to night. I set off again with the temperature gauge showing 9c and falling with a little over 300 miles to go before bedtime.

Up in the hills somewhere between Stuttgart and Gunzburg, temperature dropping with height, light drizzle and low cloud drastically reducing visibility I fluffed a gear change and OMG I’ve broken the engine! Calm down, it’s just the ice warning coming up on the dashboard, the scariest light ever on a motorbike. And of course the light drizzle had now turned to actual snow. There are times during these long rides, and this was one of them, when the question “why are you doing this?”  becomes hard to answer. Fortunately when this happened I was already on the way down so I was only tip-toeing for 20 minutes or so before normal service resumed.

ETA was now showing as 0038, a little after the 2300 cutoff and I spent some while considering options. If check-in really did close at 2300 should I give up now and find a nearer bed? I decided that I would just go to the hotel anyway and, if I then couldn’t get in I’d do something else.

The last 70 miles or so seemed to take forever but at last I reached exit 74A and could see the hotel over on my left. Just a few minutes more and I’d either be tucked up in bed or finding a warm ditch, no more riding tonight. That would have been the case if I hadn’t missed my exit off the roundabout and rejoined the A8, still heading east instead. 5.6 miles on I took the exit, joined the westbound carriageway and 5.6 miles later very gingerly negotiated the exit ramp and roundabouts to reach the hotel at 0130.

Of course the hotel was closed up and everyone was in bed but the hotel had helpfully provided a computer terminal outside the front door. Yes, it knew about my booking but 195 euros! I tried a few buttons but was unable to alter the room rate. I decided to take the room and argue the price some other time - smart move. The room was perfect and I slept like a log.

Saturday 17th October Left Augsburg 0815, ETA Zagreb 1420
The receptionist laughed when I mentioned the 195 euros “no, no it’s 79 euros”. A waiter then pointed out that I’d left my [only] gloves on top of the computer outside overnight, oops. I knew that I wasn’t going to make the zoo visit as I’d calculated that I would need to leave at 0600 but 1600 for the photo was definitely on.

The route took me round the Munich ring-road and on to the border with Austria where I stopped to get a vignette. Five euros for ten days, compare and contrast with the £3 cost of a single journey on the M6 toll! The roads in Austria are wonderful: comfortable volumes of traffic, fast sweeping bends, beautiful scenery and then there are the tunnels. The route crosses the Alps and rather than having to climb each mountain and descend into each valley a network of tunnels, some as long as 8-10 kilometres, allows the motorway to just continue. It’s interesting to watch the temperature rise through the tunnels and also the satnav’s recalculation of ETA: on entry to a 6km tunnel ETA was showing 1500, just before exiting ETA had slipped to 1630 reverting instantly to 1500 once satellite access was restored.

Stopping for fuel near Spittal I bought a vignette for Slovenia, 7.50 euros, and some while later crossed into Slovenia which is like a less mountainous Austria, pretty countryside, open spaces, sweeping bends, passing close by the resort town of Bled and the capital Ljubljana before approaching the border with Croatia. Curiously, as both Slovenia and Croatia are EU members, I had to produce my passport to leave Slovenia. Crossing into Croatia (no passport check), the most noticeable change was that I saw my first pothole for many hundreds of miles and the landscape was generally less picturesque.

As I entered Zagreb, ETA showing 1538, I consciously switched into foreign city driving mode: slow down, watch what other vehicles did, look around to discover architecture, pedestrians out exercising their dogs, city layout and so on. Zagreb was pretty much what I’d expect from a former communist bloc city, a little shabby seen with western eyes but obviously moving towards capitalism like the rest of us. Many posters advertising either “Italian lingerie” or “Italian legwear”.

The chequered flag icon appeared as I reached a major crossroads and I looked around for either some sign of the zoo entrance or a crowd of bikers but neither appeared. I decided to go straight across the junction still scanning for signs but it soon became apparent that this was the wrong way. I used a small roundabout to come back on myself and turned left when I reached the major crossroads. As soon as I did so I saw the bikes in an unmarked entrance across the street but with much traffic including high-speed trams on either side crossing over was going to prove difficult. I waved to make sure they’d seen me - at 1554 I had only a few minutes before the deadline - then carried on until I was able to cross to a petrol station and return to join the group. My first inclusion in an ERTE photo!

Saturday 17th October 1605 Hotel Residence
We were all booked into the Hotel Residence about half a mile away and we rode down together, parked in the offstreet carpark at the back of the hotel and checked in. The staff were expecting us and made us welcome straight away. While collecting passports and allocating rooms I was “Mr Bob”. The standing instruction is “seven o’clock in the bar” but after a couple of hours of showering, resting, & TV channel hopping I descended to the bar and was unsurprised to find most of the group already in place.

We mostly drank the local bottled beer before moving to the dining room and ordering some local red wine - very nice - and were about to start reading the menus when our host suggested we might like some chicken wings followed by steaks and he made it sound so attractive that we all just returned the menus unread. One of the best meals I’ve enjoyed and with fine company!

Sunday 18th October Left Zagreb 0910, ETA Calais 0128
I decided I’d attempt an SS1000 on the way home and duly got witness forms signed by two of the Johns. Including a Chunnel crossing made the venture iffy but I had to go home anyway so what the heck.

I had been a little cold at times on the ride over and I wanted to ensure that I’d be able to comfortably ride into and through the night on the way back. I may be the only rider who hasn’t yet resorted to heated gear so I dressed carefully:
Top: Merino wool baselayer, Swedish army sweater, EDZ Pertex microlite layer, Hein Gericke textile jacket with insulated liner.
Bottom: EDZ Micromate baselayer, Hein Gericke waterproof leather jeans without insulated liner.
Feet: thick knee-length woollen boot socks, Alt-Berg boots.
Hands: Hein Gericke waterproof claws

plus of course an IBAUK winter neck tube AND Held rain suit. Yes it worked and I remained warm and dry throughout the trip home.

I left the hotel in search of petrol and a starting receipt. I was handed the receipt by the smiling but non English-speaking attendant and looked at it to check the time. Oops, no glasses within easy reach; I turned to ask him to read the time to me but - no common language - well, it’s probably ok, let’s go.

I navigated by telling the Zumo to take me to Eurotunnel Calais and it chose a different route out of Croatia, almost due north towards Maribor and Graz.

I should mention the tolls I encountered, not covered by the vignettes. In Austria some of the longer tunnels are supported by extra tolls which apply to all vehicles; in Slovenia I can’t remember any applying to me although I passed through several toll stations which did apply to heavy goods vehicles. On the way out of Croatia on the A2 motorway I passed through a section resulting in a charge of about 29 kunas. Actual toll payments on motorcycles are always inconvenient because cash is hard to handle with gloves on and taking gloves off results in a disproportionate delay but all the tolls I encountered would also take cards without wanting PINs.

When leaving Croatia I had to produce my passport and again when entering Slovenia. I think this must be connected with the constant streams of migrant/refugee influxes we keep seeing on the news.

The ride westwards was thoroughly enjoyable with ideal weather conditions, 14c, sunny, dry; lovely scenery and fast roads. After a particularly progressive stretch in eastern Germany I found myself needing fuel a little sooner than I’d planned, in fact I really needed fuel quite quickly, in fact I’ll just get off the motorway right now and find some fuel. An unexpected bonus was that, having diverted the Zumo to get me some fuel, I told it again to take me to Eurotunnel and its ETA changed from 0139 to 0028 - I’d saved over an hour just by stopping for fuel.

In Germany they don’t mollycoddle about road closures the way they do in England. There are no advance warnings of road closures, there are no diversions posted and there’s no information about the extent of the closure so, while sailing quite happily along the A60 motorway at a comfortably progressive speed and with Calais ETA showing well ahead of schedule, I was dismayed to be confronted with the dreaded road closed red ‘X’s in the middle of nowhere close to the Belgian border.

The right thing to do at that point is to press the Detour button on the Zumo but I chose the more traditional get off the motorway and look for a sign of some sort instead. Of course none of the available signs helped at all so I wasted some time letting the Zumo take me back to the point of closure then wasted some more time driving in a straight line so the Zumo would be forced to reroute me. This was all doing serious damage to my ETA and within 30 minutes or so it became highly likely that I would miss my train. Never mind, I still have to go home and there aren’t any local hotels available so just press on. I started following the Zumo’s new route, hoping that I’d gone far enough that it wasn’t just taking me back to the closed motorway. I decided that if it did take me back I’d try the Detour button and if that didn’t impress me I’d find a suitable ditch to sleep in for a few hours.

When I crossed the border into Belgium I stopped fretting about being led back to the closure but started fretting instead about how I wasn’t merely passing through a series of out of the way villages, I seemed to be using only the back lanes of those villages. Eventually I came to the small town of Malmedy (actually a city, the site of a famous massacre during WWII) and found signs to the E42 motorway, ok now we’re cooking but then I turned the corner to find - road closed! Lesson learned, press the Detour button - wait - yep, new route this way. Having followed the new route for about ten minutes I found myself on what might have been someone’s back yard with an incline of about 10% and was just going to climb further onto a farm track with a rather steeper slope disappearing round a corner into a field.

It’s 1am, I’ve been riding for a long time, I don’t know where I’m going and I really don’t fancy an offroad course. I did a careful, less than flowing, U-turn and chose option ‘B’, brute force and ignorance. I rode down to the point of closure then picked the next available exit. I carried on in broadly the same direction, not necessarily obeying one-way streets or “access only” restrictions until I found more signs for the E42. ETA had slipped about 90 minutes by the time I joined the motorway, no chance of catching my scheduled train now and that almost certainly meant no SS1000 either but at least now I could make progress.

Belgian motorways have one saving grace in my book, they’re always lit. Not the E42 at Malmedy which was extra dark. The ordinary darkness associated with a lack of lighting was greatly enhanced by having actual rainclouds at ground level, visibility was practically nil, and wet. This condition continued for several miles - hard work! I decided I should make a late supper stop, no fuel just coffee or juice and some sort of snack to be enjoyed sitting down inside out of the rain. I found a suitable stop, attendant behind security glass as usual but I wandered around making up my mind and also deciding whether or not to invest a further 70c to use their toilet (it’s never a good idea for anyone over the age of 50 to pass a working toilet). A bottle of Oasis, a Belgian waffle and a banana revived me and I zipped up and ventured out for more of the E42. Further west the lights came on and the rain stopped, normality returned and I started making good progress towards Brussels where I’d stop for a final tank of petrol.

One of the reasons I hate Belgium is that you have to pay for petrol before drawing it. Everywhere else in Europe, apart from Liverpool obviously, you ride up to the pump, fill to the neck, go and pay the smiling attendant, get a receipt, write up your fuel log and ride off but in Belgium that’s far too dangerous. Presumably they’re scared of people taking fuel and driving off without paying, probably to hasten their exit from the wasteland into civilisation so in Belgium you walk into the attendant glaring out from behind his bank clerk glass barrier and he declines to help because you’re paying with a card and have to return and locate the hidden chip and pin authorisation terminal. The instructions have all been worn away years ago but it’s not rocket science so insert card. Machine condescends to speak English and asks for a pump number, then your PIN after which the pump is authorised and you go fill up. Normally I’d want a receipt. I wasn’t particularly fussed this time as I’d abandoned the SS1000 but I thought I should get one anyway. The machine really should have just asked if I wanted a receipt when I re-inserted my card shouldn’t it? Because, really, that’s the far and away most likely explanation for my action isn’t it? But, no, first it wanted a pump number then it wanted my PIN. I just couldn’t be arsed with it anymore so I pulled my card and got back on the road. (Yes, I’ve bought petrol in Belgium before; no, the procedure isn’t always the same; yes, it always aggravates me; no, I don’t learn)

Rejoining the motorway for the last few miles down to Calais I was starting to feel tired. Not tired enough to warrant stopping for a nap but tired enough to let the lorries do the trail-blazing until, maybe 20 miles from Calais I overtook the lead lorry and pressed on ahead. Unfortunately, the waypoint I’d used for Eurotunnel Calais marked the large retail park attached to the port rather than Eurotunnel itself and by the time I realised my mistake it was too late, I was committed to the road and, despite it being the early hours of the morning, found myself in amongst several groups of, presumably, migrants wandering the streets. Eventually I reached the ET check-in at around 0650 to be advised that “you have arrived too late for your scheduled train” [0420] and offered me 0720.

Monday 19th October 0710 Eurotunnel Calais
As I rode up to the embarkation roundabout I noticed a lack of marshals, a surfeit of cones blocking the path to the trains and info boards all showing [sorry] notices. Yet again the tracks had been invaded by a wave of migrants and all services were immediately suspended.

A few of us discussed the situation in the terminal carpark and decided to move the cones and go to the forward lines. The ET man at the gate told me that they had no idea how long it would be before trains resumed and I’d be better off returning to the terminal where I’d be warm and dry. I pointed out that I was already the warmest driest passenger and would remain so even if it rained throughout and he let me through.

I parked up behind two carloads of French police who were fully occupied standing around doing nothing. I noticed that in the next line were two carloads of UK Border Patrol who, if not in uniform, might be mistaken for south London gangsters: all short haircuts and unsmiling silence with occasional short conversations among themselves. In the next line were two coachloads of students from Czech Republic including Stefan who came over to talk to me and ask about England and which countries I’d visited by motorcycle. Next two lines were fully occupied by various white vans.

At about 0915 an ET van appeared bearing packaged breakfasts for everyone in the embarkation lines and shortly after that they opened the barriers and boarding commenced.

Every other time I’ve taken a bike through the Chunnel I’ve been loaded after all other traffic in the last carriage but this time they had me ride right through the train and join the police and BP people. Last vehicle in that carriage but a long way from the last carriage. Another change since my last trip is that ET staff walk through the train after boarding now and scan each of the hangers so they know who travelled on which train.

Emerging at Folkestone and travelling up the M20 I became increasingly embarrassed. Not by anything I was doing and I felt particularly sorry for the east European lorries I was passing. They will have crossed many hundreds of miles of fast clear roads occupied by drivers who understand lane discipline, following distances, signalling protocols and other basics of driving. The M20 traffic on Monday morning included some of the most clueless behaviour I’ve witnessed including:
  • Lane 1 empty, lane 2 empty, lane 3 nose to tail at 60mph
  • High-speed in lane 3 followed by sudden braking and forced traverse of lanes 2 & 1 to exit
  • Signals switched on as afterthought once lane change is underway
  • Lane 1 empty, lane 3 empty, plonker in lane 2 can’t use mirrors and get out of the way
  • Despite highly restricted visibility, driving with no lights
An hour and fifty minutes later I reached home safely so I must have done something right along the way.

So 2,248 miles through seven countries but no pretty pictures, no GoPro footage to impress the non-riders; I didn’t get to visit the zoo and I didn’t see that much of Zagreb. What was it all about?

It’s about the ride, and meeting up with other like-minded riders. The journey is the destination.

Bob Stammers