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

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Pete's Iceni Rally

Iceni Rally 2015
With all of the Rallies that I like to compete in being in the spring, I was delighted that Mark Fowler offered a new Rally in September. Pitched as a rally for novices or veterans who wish to hone their skills, I did feel that I still fall into the former category as I dont feel like a veteran and dont seem to have much skill but Mark insisted that after two Brit Butt Rallies, I am indeed a vet!
Mark very generously sent out the Rally books early but due to pressure of work and so on, I didn't actually get to sit down and concentrate on a plan until a couple of days before the start. Mark had owned up to a couple of typos, so I was very careful to make sure that I had the right detail in my plan, ( I went for a bonus in Devon that should have been in Cornwall on the South West Peninsular Rally because of not reading the information properly!) although the electronic information was correct, so if I knew how to enter that into my satnav, I could have saved a lot of time and trouble, as you will see later. I linked all the combo bonuses but when it showed an 8 1/2 hour loop without other stops I could see it needed trimming, so I chopped out Southend as I know that can be a pig to get to. I had spotted that Mark had a very clever bonus in Norwich by using the time shown on the station clock when you arrived, to my mind this meant that 1259 points were potentially available; this was very cool and soon after working that out a very do-able ride emerged, even though it would cost me 200ish points at the end by being late.
Happy that I had a plan that I could ride, I set off for Cambridge. This means a blast along the 303, onto the M3, around the M25 and up the A1M, three hours door to door. The only problem was that firstly, it was the opening night of the Rugby World Cup and most of the south of England was heading for London, secondly someone decided to play bumper cars just by Fleet services and the tailback from that eventually stopped; I had seen but ignored the warning signs thinking that I could always filter through but not this time, I was well and truely stuck. After 20 minutes and checking that my stepson Tom was okay as he left an hour before me on the same route, the traffic started moving and they sent us off through Hook! Hook is not capable of taking 3 lanes of motorway but again I soldiered on and headed away north to the M4, which was packed but again I soldiered on and after 5 hours travelling, I arrived at Papworth Hospital?! I double checked co-ordinates and realised I was no where near Histon, so tapped that in and 10 minutes later got there, phoned Mark when I got a signal, got the correct co-ordinates for the HQ and arrived for signing on. I then went to the Hotel to much amusement from John Young, Martin Buck and Roland who all questioned whether I was actually cut out for navigational rallies at all!!
My plan had been tight but became tighter still when I heard the rules surrounding the time on the clock in Norwich; by rounding up the minutes, the maximum points were actually available at 12:45 not 12:59! Okay still do-able but very tight and then....Duxford Airshow was on and the tank at Duxford was my first bonus!! The Gods were conspiring against me but I decided to push on regardless and maybe drop Norwich if not achievable and extend my route later on. Also Mark offered 100 points per county border sign so it was possible to cancel out any lateness penalties, so barring cock-ups and by pushing on I decided to stick with my plan but I must confess the anxiety levels were high.
Well after the start, the first cock-up wasn't long in coming! Instead of taking the M11, I misread my satnav and went straight on! The problem was that once I had looped back around again, taking 3 extra minutes, I did it again! I really couldn't believe myself this time as I know exactly where Duxford is having visited before for a Trident and Rocket 3 Owners club meeting. Anyway, hoping that was the days cock-ups over I pushed on and arrived to see a packed road, I did spot that the VIP lane was also the motorcycle lane into the park so took that and it took me straight to the tank, phew!

I pulled away from there and cut through the cones, to see a very grumpy looking bloke in a hi-vis jacket waving at me, so I gave him a cheery wave back hoping that may cheer him up a bit. My times of arrival had already slipped, so I was doubtful of Norwich being an option now but I had a couple of hours riding to do so I would see how things panned out.
I met Matt Champion at the Greyhound, a fellow TR3OC member and veteran of a SS1000 organised by John Young; I did it on my Tiger, John and Matt did it on Meriden triples, heros!

I then stooped at 12, the Adventure Bike Shop and 36, the Angel Hotel in beautiful Lavenham, owned by Marco Pierre something? A celebrity chef anyway. When are they going to have celebrity welders?! I then went to 05, the Centre Parcs entrance and 14 the Desert Rats memorial, that luckily, I remembered to include my bike in!

By this time I was keeping a close watch on time and thought that Norwich may be on if there were no more cock ups. So I pushed on to 34 and luckily had an offer of a photo taken for me so didn't have to resort to an embarrasing 'selfie'.

Many thanks to the lad who took this, I'm sorry if I didn't stop for a natter but I was on a mission by now! Norwich was now in my sights but I had to be a bit rude and make 'reasonable progress' through the ever thickening traffic. I had decided to skip Norwich if in doubt but it was tantallisingly close as I turned off the dual carriageway and took my chances. I really could not believe it when I got there at 12:40 and was on cloud 9. I was also slightly paranoid and didn't want to risk losing this at the scoring table, so took two or three shots before the deadline of 12:45 so there was no argument.

To say I was ecstatic at this result would be an understatement; in my mind I was dusting off the top step of the podium!!
Such was my euphoria that I didn't notice what crap progress I was making out of Norwich; the traffic was diabolical and time was slipping rapidly. I pushed on up north to the Harrier (I had to take this as I've made parts for these!)

I also took this for John Young!

Anyway, enough time wasting and time to push on to 32, a memorial in a churchyard BUT at somewhere called Cley the traffic stopped!! Literally gridlocked! It only started moving when someone got out of their car and waved other drivers back. Apparently this happened a lot as other riders experienced this as well at different times. Anyhow I got to Sutton Bridge 26 and took this, after visiting 20 and 32.

Just before I got here I had spotted the border sign for Norfolk and of course it's neighbour Lincolnshire on the other side of the road, so that was my 200 points that I was going to be late dealt with.
I knew my 690 point option of Rutland Water was no longer an option, so headed off for Peterborough Lido to find this!

I checked and double checked the co-ordinates but knew deep down something was wrong; either that or I had discovered the reason that nobody went to Lidos any more.
I pushed on to 'Grafham Water' to take this.

A gate yes but no bleedin water!! I left with that sinking feeling and just made sure I made it back on my sheduled time, which I did and maybe the realisation that yet another cock up had occured showed in my face?

Or had I fallen asleep!
At the scoring table I discovered my mistake; we were Rallying around East Anglia and therefore around the meridian, so what I saw as an insignificant minus sign in front of a zero, actually meant I should have been t'other side of the bleedin meridian. Spooky thing was that the last one was by a gate as well but even I couldn't blag that one as genuine! Suffice to say, that knocked me clean off the podium (I hadn't made it anyway) but I did end up in 9th place, so rode back to deepest, warmest Dorset with a seriously warm glow, if not chilled slightly by another dose of the 'what if's'!
I will include this shot of John, wearing his Vetter T

shirt while his bike wears his Vetter Windjammer in support of his good friend Craig, who is thankfully on the mend after hitting a deer. Get well soon Craig!
Great Rally Mark, well done and put me down for next year!

Pete Churchill

Tuesday, 4 August 2015


For the past 12 months, myself (Mark Towler), my wife Claudia Towler and David Meredith have been meticulously planning our attempt at the 4 corners gold UK ride for our charities, Together Trust and North West Blood Bikes Lancs & Lakes

We were joined later in the year by David Cox, Margaret Derricott, Haydn and Angela Williams and Kevin Sansom, so now we are 5 bikes (Including 3 pillion).

Time rolled on, we spoke about the route, some of us did GPS routes, we compared these, edited them and settled on a final route along with the fuel stops, trying to work them to the maximum distance for the smallest tank (about 200 miles), which would give us more time on the road.

We had a couple of rides out as a group to get to used to each others riding pace and to get to know those we didn’t already know. After a top box flew open on the move and a ton of 4 corners advert leaflets went missing we decided that radios between us all might be a good idea.
Most of us had some of the kit, the rest of us got busy on eBay collecting all the other bits required so we could all talk to each other and keep ourselves entertained on the long miles ahead.

The one thing some of us didn’t plan for was the severity of the challenge and of course the normal weather we get each time we plan one of our rides

We decided that we should take it easy on the way up to our start point of John O’Groats – no point rushing up there and knackering ourselves up. Our first day was from NW England to Inverness through Loch Lomond and up the A82 through Glencoe and along the shores of Loch Ness. The sun was shining, ideal riding weather and we made steady progress up to Inverness. Whilst in Scotland and we had the time we also made a detour to Glenmorangie distillery in Tain – if its on the way, why not? We took the wee dram of amber nectar with us instead of drinking it in order to toast our success when we reached Lands End. Hopefully….

Saturday 13th June dawned- challenge day. The previous days sunshine had been replaced with more usual Scottish weather- constant drizzle and a stiff breeze. Forms were stamped and signed to log the challenge and we set off – first stop Perth 225 miles away. Dave M’s bike wouldn’t make it that far so we knew we would have to stop at some stage along the way and fill up from a jerry can. The first part of the A90 were usual Scottish conditions, cold, drizzly and damp, a theme which would continue for most of our trip in Scotland. We arrived in Inverness fairly quickly and then headed down the A9 towards Perth.

The authorities in Scotland have recently installed average speed cameras along the A9 between Inverness and Perth and we thought these would be in sections, not the whole length of it. There is nothing more irritating than wanting to get somewhere, see an open piece of road with a car bimbling along and want to overtake and tick down the miles. Most of the time we would catch them up somewhere difficult to get all 5 bikes past so had to grin and bear it. At around 180 miles we stopped in a lay-by so Dave M could top up. It certainly was cold and miserable – some of us felt it more than others. There was even the remains of snow on the hills surrounding us. A quick splash of fuel and we set off again for Perth. On arrival in Perth some of us were frozen so we decided to have a longer stop than we had planned just to thaw out with a hot brew. Next stop was down the A66 just after Carlisle, after yet more average speed cameras first all the way to Stirling. They line the road for around 140 long miles so take it easy.

It always feels like you are rolling downhill when coming out of Scotland – the weather also decided to buck up and even though we didn’t see much sunshine, we stopped getting wet. This motorway section seemed to pass fairly quickly and we arrived at the next stop bang on schedule. A quick top up of fuel later and we headed off down the A66 towards Scotch Corner and further on to meet the A1. As we were now running towards mid afternoon, the traffic was slowly reducing giving us a clear run and enabling us to keep up our average speed- which was vital to us maintaining our schedule.

We joined the A1 and then started heading south again to join the A17 at Newark heading towards Kings Lynn. The A1 was thankfully fairly quiet and short spells of dry weather punctuated the steady stream of drizzle all the way down the A1. When we were on the A17 we were back on single carriageways of Lincolnshire – smelling of cabbage and veg growing in the fields at the side of the road and also smelling of diesel on the wet slippy roundabouts as we went along the A17 and A47 past Norwich. Even though it was nearly mid-summers day, by 8.30pm we were starting to home in on the East in East Anglia and it was starting to go dark.

At around 9.30pm we arrived at our second Corner – Lowestoft. We had been going for just under 12 hours now and some of us were feeling it – tired and hungry. The petrol station didn’t offer much in the way of haute cuisine and neither did it offer any toilet facilities. The ladies amongst us headed off in the direction of town to a local hostelry whilst the males amongst us made do with the nearest bush- then the police arrived……

… fill up his panda car before he finished duty for the night. He told us that there are only 9 speed cameras in the whole of Suffolk, none of them were on our route and as the local bobbies were more concerned with patrons of the local pubs being a little over exuberant, there was nobody on the road ahead, towards Royston and the tedium of the M25.

Preparation the week before told us that there were no roadworks on the M25 that we need be concerned about- many of us has been caught out with night time closures of the motorway – there was one contraflow but as it was now approaching the witching hour there wasn’t much traffic. Next stop – Reading West services.

By now we were well into the ride and the friendly banter that was coming across the radio was becoming less and less – those of us with pillions making sure we were OK and the riders concentrating on what they were doing. By the time we got to Reading services in the pitch
darkness, a couple of us were starting to struggle. Stopping for a short  while to stretch our legs, have a quick drink every couple of hours was now a real priority when we stopped. We all knew this would be a great adventure, and now concentration on the road ahead was a real priority. 

We now headed into Wales, over the Severn crossing in the pitch black on towards Morrison's petrol station in Haverfordwest. It was at this point I started to wonder why on earth I or anyone would take on this challenge for fun. My MP3 player which had been left off, now I really needed it playing some motivational high tempo tunes with both myself and my good lady wife bobbing our heads in time to the music.

Haverfordwest was about 200 miles away, further than what we thought Dave M’s tank would reach. He hit reserve with about 40 miles to go- we decided to plough ahead until we either got to Haverfordwest or he ran out of fuel knowing full well if we stopped for an additional time not on schedule we would lose even more time as we were now starting to slip behind schedule. Fingers and toes were crossed and we were jubilant when we got to Haverfordwest – only to realise that Morrison's wasn’t a 24 hour petrol station. A quick check of the Garmin showed there was a Tesco across town. It was now gone 3am and all the nightclubs in Haverfordwest had closed and their clientele were slowly making their way home, throwing up in the gutter or falling asleep on wooden benches. The sight of 5 bikes with slightly bedraggled damp riders and pillions must have been the last thing they expected. Tesco was found,we topped up and headed the 15 miles to our next Corner – the cathedral city of St David’s. The road there was quite winding and undulating – quite a few times I lost sight of the edges of the road as their were no street lights and it was just starting to come light. We found a bank cash machine and got the required printed receipt and headed off back along the road we came down.

This was the bit of the trip I wasn’t really looking forward to – the return trip along the A40 and the M4 back to the M5 to head south again. Being honest it wasn’t that bad – it was fully light now at around 4.30 a.m and the roads we travelled down were totally different in daylight where we could see our surroundings. We finally hit the M5 again and headed south towards Devon and Cornwall to our ultimate destination.

We were a long way into the ride by now – I was feeling fine after my into Wales M4 ‘wobble’ and even though the finishing line was miles away, hitting the psychological 1000 mile marker was a reason for some celebration at least. We had been going for around 18 hours by this point. We had a very clear run out of Wales without much traffic and heavily speed restricted areas so we were able to keep up a very good average pace. This was vital in getting us back somewhere near our schedule to finish in the magic 24 hours. 

The M5 was relatively quiet when we got onto it but as we headed towards Taunton Deane services the roads were becoming increasingly busy. As we thundered down the M5 it had been dry for some time now and we had all finally dried out. We filled up at the services at Taunton Deane. Kevin then admitted that he was finding it tough- little did we realise that he had lost his MP3 player a lot earlier in the previous evening, his radio equipment had packed up and couldn’t hear us or communicate with us and as he didn’t have a pillion had nobody else for company but his own mind. how Kevin had managed this far was a miracle. This was the last fill up before Penzance – Lands End was only 10 minutes from there so it really felt like we were on the home stretch.

I have to admit now that the last 140 miles to Penzance were probably the most tortuous 140 miles I have ever ridden. Occasional glances at the clock and seeing the miles count down watching the GPS were now steady glances praying for the mileage to count down. It has to be the longest 2 hours of riding I have ever had to do. The A30 undulated through Cornwall and we came across the odd cyclist either heading to our destination or heading away, wondering how on earth they could pedal over some of the hills. What we were doing was tough – theirs is a herculean task. Every credit to them.

Just after 9am we finally arrived in Penzance – we stopped at Morrison's- there wasn’t much chatter or excitement about finishing now we just wanted to get the trip done. We filled up and had a very short stretch – 10 miles to go now until the ordeal was over.

We all headed out on the road to Lands End Haydn and Dave M quickly overtook a couple of minibuses headed to the same place. At this point it is extremely difficult for anyone else to overtake so they held back at a slow place till the rest of the team got past- we had all started this together, a few of us had some serious wobbles on the way, but we were all going to finish together.

We had all got past the minibuses when Lands End loomed into view. After congratulations from the car park attendant on finally finishing our challenge we rode round to the cliffs next to the famous Lands End sign post. There was a feeling of great relief and one of Mark’s friends was waiting for us with a couple of bottles of cold fizz. It was great to finally get the challenge out of the way and actually sit down for more than 10 minutes and finally relax- once we had finished our paperwork of course.

Our official time was 23hrs and 58 minutes so we only just made the standard for 4 corners Gold.

There haven't been many people that have attempted this challenge and I can see why. It certainly wasn’t easy, but with the right preparation and with a group of friends it’s a great challenge. I can look back with fondness at the whole escapade, At 10am on Sunday 14th of June I just wanted it to be over. I never did drink that wee dram of Glenmorangie I had saved. I was too knackered after the customary team photos had been taken at the Lands End signpost.

Did I think we would be able to do it when we set out on this challenge? To be honest at times I had serious doubts we would make it in the 24 hrs, but what I hadn't factored in, was the support we received from our mates and the people I am proud to have ridden with this weekend. Each one has given so much and has had their own battle to overcome. Fitness is 99% mental, your body won't do what your brain doesn't tell it to, It is a state of mind, We have been cold, tired, in pain and at times just wanting to stop. But when you want something badly enough you dig deep into reserves you don't know you have and pull out that little bit extra to see you through.

We rode through the most amazing scenery from the bleak wildness of the Scottish highlands, the gentle greenness of North Yorkshire, through the flat lands of Norfolk, through the valleys of South Wales, down to the craggy shores of Cornwall and just about every type of road surface in between.

By now you are probably wondering what wise words we could offer to those brave (or foolish enough) to attempt this challenge- this is what we would suggest.

1. Ride in a group to keep each other motivated but make sure it’s a small one, there was 5 of us and any more would have been difficult. If you don’t know each other, get to know each other but more importantly what the pace of each of you is.

2. Decide where in the group you wish to ride – Haydn always like to lead, some like to follow and some like to sweep up. Do whatever you are most comfortable with.

3. Communication is VITAL. Either invest in bike to bike radios and come up with a system of warning for things you spot up ahead but most importantly when the people behind are clear of traffic being overtaken so the leader can moderate the pace until the group is back together. This is especially important at night when its impossible to see behind you. A bit of friendly banter doesn’t go amiss either to keep you motivated.

4. An MP3 player is a good idea, make sure it isn't loaded with Lana Del Rey or James Blunt or any other music you would slit your wrists to. Something like Iron Maiden or Motor-head does wonders at keeping you awake after 18 hours and 1000 miles.

5. Fuel stops should be at the side of the road – the extra pence per litre you will save by finding a Tesco in the middle of town wastes loads of time on what is already a tight schedule. Also keep an eye on the time. Fill up with fuel, stretch, walk around, eat little and often and carry all food with you so you are not disappointed when the local Esso station doesn’t stock your favourite treats.

6. Finally, keep safe. Don’t ignore your body – if you are feeling it then tell someone. They will always offer to help and as part of a team understand how you are feeling. You will go through a different range of emotions – elation, depression, anger, melancholy, crying, in some cases chafing pain when you don’t wear the correct pants (talking about you Dave C…)

Bon voyage!!

Saturday, 25 July 2015

SS2000 + End to End Gold + Four Corners

I planned the ride, did it, submitted the paperwork and Mike has provisionally said that I did it correctly (although Phil has to agree it - see below). I promised Phil a ride report so here it goes.
For various reasons I struggle to get many free weekends to do long rides; a combination of work, family, part time university study, and refereeing basketball around the world means I don't have that much time.
As a result I thought I would try and do something a little special. I have completed four SS1000's up to now, but lost my paperwork for one of them so that does not count. I have however learned a lot, one of which is to get duplicates of ALL receipts and keep them in separate places.
The End to End appealed and was not too long - I figured I could do that within the time at the end of a working week. I also liked the idea of the Four Corners, if only because I have visited all four locations in the last year for other reasons and doing all four in one go seemed like fun. In the end I decided to see if I could complete the two at the same time as a combined ride.
Starting at John O'Groats involved a 570 mile ride to the start point so that meant I could also do a SS2000, assuming I could do everything in time. A quick email to Phil said that would be ok in principle so I planned my route out in detail.
I purchased a SPOT tracker so my wife knew where I was and could help in an emergency, but also because it meant I did not have to call in so much. A constant track is created and every so often I can send an 'I'm ok' message. As another point, it also creates a pretty picture of the ride.
I planed to start on the Saturday morning and finish Monday morning, taking advantage of the Summer solstice to get as much daylight time as possible and reduce the chances of stray dear in the Highlands; a few work issues meant that I had to bring it forward 24 hours. So on Friday 19th I planned a 0300 start to avoid the M6 traffic and have an easier run in daylight.
The best-laid plans never survive contact with the enemy… In this case my wife had to be somewhere else on the Friday morning for work at last minute so a minor delay was a good start. After the school run (driving in my leathers and getting a few odd / admiring looks from the other parents) I set off at 0855 to the local Sainsbury's to get fuel and two start witnesses.
In an interesting example of time travel, my bike said 0900, the clocks in the Sainsbury's said 0900 and the printed receipt said 0850… Two happy start witnesses, being kind and cheerful meant I had five people asking to sign my paperwork, although most of them thought I was mad.
To avoid the traffic around the NEC and Birmingham centre, I thought I would take the M6 Toll, just as well as it turned out (see later). An uneventful run up the M6, with only light traffic, meant I was out of England and into Scotland just after midday. First fuel stop of the day, 10 minutes later and I was off again.
A nice run up to Perth, all motorway and good A roads came to a sudden and unhappy discovery on the A9 towards Inverness. Average speed cameras set at 50 / 60 / and 70 with a mixture of forward (good) and rearward (bad) facing. This slowed me down and meant I started to run behind plan, given I had planned on the road being a mixture of 60 and 70 (so 65 and 75 in practice).
A quick stop to refuel in Aviemore (and given I got married on the top of Cairngorm, I also picked up a rock to give to my wife (don't ask)) and then back on the A9. 150 miles later, and through some of the most stunning scenery in the UK, I arrived at John O'Groats pursued by 15 cyclists completing their own pedal powered end-to-end.
Short break for food, witnesses for the start of the End-to-End and the Four Corners, a freshly brewed coffee, and off I go again. Fastest fuel stop of the ride at Wick Tesco and then off again but this timing heading South towards St Davids and another battle with the A9 speed cameras. Get to Perth four hours and 215 miles later, plan to refuel and get some food, only problem being I left my card in Wick… Time for the spare card and a call to my wife to get my card cancelled - problem solved within 15 minutes and already heading towards Stirling.
Starting to feel the ride, I remember the advice I have been given before so I stop for a 20 minute powernap at M74 services - strangest looks from a group of students when I get off the bike, lie down, and go to sleep. Even stranger ones when I wake up, mount, and set off as they are leaving 20 minutes later.
On the M6 I eventually reach Tebay services and time to refuel - the best services in England I think - great scenery (in daylight but not at 0230), friendly staff, and good locally sourced food. A quick 20 minutes asleep in the saddle on the bike at the night pay station and I am off again. Keep heading south and turn off the M6 towards the delights of Wales in the early morning. Not sure why I planned it this way with hindsight, but the twisty country roads route I took made the riding a little more fun than I needed at this point. It did however keep me fresh and my mind working.
Getting to St Davids was easy enough, quick refuel, and off again towards Lands End. Nice mixture of A roads and Motorways takes me past Cardiff and Swansea and then over the Severn Bridge and back into England.
 A straightforward run down towards Lands Ends along the M5 and A30 - the only interesting part of note was being followed for 10 miles by Devon and Cornwall's finest on the A30 whilst sitting at 70. Once I hit the inevitable roadwork's they were not bothered and turned off. A little filtering through the roadworks and alongside the inevitable traffic was stopped by a gentlemen who pulled his Astra into my line to stop me getting through - fair enough, it had been a long tail back and he was frustrated. The Policemen getting out of the unmarked car in front of him and telling him to move and let me through really made my day. A friendly wave to the nice gent in HV and I am off again.
At Lands End, I get a car park ticket to get the End-to-End final point evidence and also a stop point for the other rides, it would have been free as the bloke did not want to charge me but I thought that £1 was going to be cheaper than anything else there! The two ladies in the visitor centre sign off the Finish Point witness whilst I grab a quick bite to eat - no receipts available so the car park worked out for me.
Off to Penzance for the fuel receipt and a quick sleep in the forecourt. 1000+ miles - 21 hours, 18 minutes - later and an End-to-End Gold is complete.
Again, the Police are there (is it just me?) and watch me sleep before waking me up after 20 minutes (a sign on my bike asking somebody to wake me and also an alarm as a back up). Obviously a very quiet day for the Police, or they wanted to make sure I got out of their patch as soon as possible…
Now the final leg of the Four Corners starts, across the bottom of England to Lowestoft. This was just a long slog, only broken by awful planning that meant I was going past Stonehenge on the evening of the Summer Solstice. Lots of traffic and Police in the area - the Police on bikes were friendly though - lots of waves and nods and a little bit of banter whilst refuelling.
A night-time ride around the north of the M25 and then onto the A12 for a run to the East - the plan fell over at this point as the A12 was briefly closed for an accident. A small delay walking up and down the road whilst the road was re-opened and off again, a very quick re-open means I just have time to pull my helmet back on but not set up properly. As such I have to stop again after a short while as the wind is now coming in around my neck and I am feeling uncomfortable. A stop, some water, brush my teeth (it really does make you feel better), and off again.
The country roads in Suffolk are generally good from my memory, but at night in drizzle, and after close to 1900 miles they are not. I arrive in Lowestoft just before 0200 on the Sunday. No manned 24 hour fuel stations, but an ASDA automatic one. The first three pumps have no receipts but number 4 does - success! Now I need to find witnesses, at 0200. I ride to the seafront where the bars and clubs are; thinking that I may be able to find a doorman or something. Better still, there is a Police van parked up with probably the only two working Policemen in Suffolk sitting in it. A quick chat, a quick odometer reading, and paperwork signed. Job Done. 1400+ miles, and 31 hours, 31 minutes I have completed the Four Corners.
Now I just have to try and make sure that I get the mileage in to be over the 2,000 needed for the SS2000. I make it 2025 at this point but advice says to get a cushion just in case. I head off towards home, the A47 and A14 beckon so off I go. Unfortunately the fatigue is really starting to catch up on me as I reach Cambridge. I get to Cambridge services and decide that discretion is the better part and call it a day (or morning). I think I have enough, even if Mike can find a shorter route so I am done, get the paperwork signed and have some food. I have plenty of time and could have made it home within the 48 hours and got another 100 miles but better safe than sorry.
A short break later and I feel great, so head home and encounter the closed A14. A little detour, with my map reading skills shot, and I finally make it back on track. A warm bed is calling me but my wife insists, in her own subtle way, that a long shower is needed before I get anywhere near the sheets. The traumas of long distance riding! Total time was 45 hours door-to-door.
A week or so later I have sorted the paperwork and wait on the verdict of Mike. I received an email saying that I completed the rides but that my first submitted receipt (the start one) did not have a time on it, as such; I only started at the M6 Toll pay station. I had completed all three rides but officially the first 30 miles or so did not count - I offered to resubmit the full receipt, including the back of the first one that had the printed time on it. He was however kind and said I could do, but that it was not an issue as I had completed the rides even without the extra distance.
It is also interesting to note that that Mike calculates the route on the shortest possible distance basis. For point to point that is not an issue but for the SS2000 it was. If I had not built in a contingency and also documented all stops then I could have had problems. Particularly towards the end when fatigue set in.
My ride was three separate rides completed at the same time, you need to be careful when doing this because if they have to completed to do another then only the bigger one is allowed. I checked with Phil prior to the ride to be sure; he will have to take a view after the event and I think that is right - it stops people like me taking the michael.

Lessons learned:
  • Prepare a checklist for fuel stops, probably make it slightly quicker to complete paperwork on the move and also prevent losing my cards
  • Sainsbury's receipts are two sided to save paper - the time is on the back. I know what the receipts say, but make sure I photocopy everything correctly so that Mike knows as well and I don't get docked
  • I live in a area that has lots of Police (and Airport, the NEC, Warwickshire force headquarters, and West Midlands dog training school all with a 10 mile circle), but on a long ride you see lots of them and they are really helpful and supportive. Some will even act as an alarm clock if you ask them
  • Make sure you have a spare card and enough cash for a couple of refuels (to get home). Silly mistakes and / or haste can otherwise create problems
  • The IBA Archive of Wisdom is well named (although the toolkit list is beyond my competence); read it, follow it, and you will have a good start to your ride
  • The SPOT trace is helpful when trying to remember what you did, especially on the final stretch when you are tried and the roads are closed. There is no logical reason for me to have taken the very roundabout route I took to avoid the closed stretch of the A14, but it did make sense at the time 

 Ian Pursglove

Monday, 6 July 2015

Greece via Italy

After some consideration I decided to ride the Euro RTE to Thessaloniki via Italy.

Day 1
I left home on Thursday the 25th June at 01.30am wondering if I might be delayed at the tunnel due to the ferry workers protests in Calais the previous day. In the end there were no hold ups and I arrived in France at about 05.50am local time.

My first days ride was a route across France & Switzerland to northern Italy of 834 miles. The hotel I had booked was just southeast of Bologna in a small village called Castel San Pietro Terme. I had planned the route with all the required fuel stops but gave up on these as I was getting much better mileage than expected. Not sure if this was due to the constant speed of 130k (80mph) that I was riding on the auto routes or the cruise control on the bike anyway I was happy.

This was the first time that I had ridden in Switzerland and was impressed how scenic it was, beautiful lakes and mountains. And tunnels lots & lots of tunnels (they did tend to spoil the views). There was on tunnel that was about 16k long, I think it was somewhere near the Swiss/ Italian border. Shortly after I rode in I could feel the temperature rising, so I pressed the temp sensor button on the bike to find the temp had risen 5 degrees to 25C. As I continued through I could still feel the temperature rising, 27C. In the end about just over half way through it reached a whopping 36c degrees. I thought if this carried on I would be cooked by the time I reached the far end. There was not a lot of traffic running through the tunnel, but I think the heat build-up must have been caused by exhaust gasses especially from the big trucks. As you can really feel it as you ride pass them. It was much warmer the Italian side of the tunnel.

I eventually arrived at my first nights stop the Hotel La Torretta, had a slight problem identifying the hotel as the sign looked like it said Hotel La Corretta, then realized that it was just the way they had written the T on the sign, I was pretty tired and hot. Parked up got my bag off the bike and put the padlock and chain round the front wheel and went and signed in.

I had just about finished checking in and was about to go to my room when a lady came up to me and asked in broken English that the hotel owner wondered if I would like to put my bike in his private garage for the night? I graciously accepted and said I would be back down after I had a shower. The young man on reception said that would be OK and would show me where to go when ready, The shower was much needed and I had it almost cold, a theme that was to carry on for most of the trip. When I was ready I went down stairs to move the bike, the chap on reception told me where to go with hand directions which was just to the back of the hotel. Again very little English here, guess I was off the tourist route. As I rode down the ramp into the basement garage he opened the doors and parked inside there was another beautiful black Goldwing GL1800. It turned out the young receptionist's father owned the hotel and was a Goldwing fan.

I then went onto the restaurant patio and ordered what I thought was Chicken soup for starters, It wasn’t what I expected. Little packets of pasta in a clear broth, very tasty through. Followed by a nice healthy salad, then a fruit sundae with ice cream and whipped cream (isn’t that what they call a balanced diet?) off to bed for an early start tomorrow.  

Day 2
Left about 07.30am for the ride down to the Port of Bari. I had been warned by two people how aggressive the Italian drivers can be. I found them to be very predictable, If they wanted to overtake you even if you are riding at the speed limit of 80mph they just sit at about 1.5 meters behind you, until you move over. I did brake test one driver but it didn’t make any difference. There was one incident when paying a toll where as you can imagine on a bike it takes a little longer. Pull up at toll, take gloves off, find ticket, insert ticket, and toot from impatient car driver behind. Get out note to pay toll, pick up change from chute, put change in pocket, and start putting on gloves. Another longer toot from car driver behind, show him I am putting on my gloves. Another toot, now getting annoyed and thought about getting off the bike and explaining that I will not be long. But then decided it would be a bit pointless as he probably would not understand a word I was saying. I think he would have understood though.

The rest of the ride that day was fairly uneventful, I was thinking I would be nice to have a touring holiday to the south eastern area of Italy, but to be honest I thought the roads were a bit boring. 2 to 3 miles of dead straight flat road, a slight curve then, 2 to 3 miles of dead straight flat road with a curve at the end, you get the picture. I blame the Romans. There was one moment that broke the boredom. I came across a fire engine with a Landrover firefighting vehicle trundling along probably at their top speed of 60mph. on a section of  2 to 3 miles of dead straight flat road. My dilemma was should I over take them as I was doing 80mph, not a hesitation.  A few more sections of 2 to 3 miles of dead straight flat road with a slight curve at the end. I spotted a plum of blue smoke, with a police car sitting at the side of the road with his blue lights on. The vegetation on the center reservation was well alight and sending a cloud of blue smoke across my side if the road.   Again should I pass him? As the car in front of me done just that without a hint of slowing down. I did just the same, I thought this is just like to see it on formula one when there is an accident. Highlight of the day over.
Arrived at Bari to catch the overnight ferry to Igoumenitsa in Greece. Well Bari is not what you would expect an International ferry port to look like, I will leave it at that. When I eventually made it to the correct terminal building, I checked in and had about a 2 hour wait to board the ferry. This is the sight that greeted me.

My ferry was in much better condition

They really pack the trucks on.

I had booked a reclining seat in sleeping lounge (much cheaper than a cabin) hoping to get some sleep. This turned out to be a false hope, mainly due to a large group of young Americans that also booked recliner seats but had different ideas about what to do half the night. We arrived in Igoumenitsa early morning.

Day 3
Left Igoumenitsa at approx. 05.30am for the short 200 mile ride to Thessaloniki, the port is very similar to Bari, I will say no more. But the road leaving is fantastic, the Greeks must have spent millions? A motorway of two lanes in both directions that looked fairly new. As the countryside in the first 2/3rds of the journey is very hilly. There are a lot of tunnels and viaducts with great views. The weather here was not as hot as Italy. And it was a little cloudy but I decided not to put any waterproofs on! A short while later after exiting a tunnel, I noticed that the road was wet and there was a little spray being thrown up by the traffic in front of me. That’s OK I can ride through that with the screen & fairing protection the Goldwing offers me. As I went into the next tunnel there were another couple on bikes stopped at the side of the road putting on waterproofs. When I emerged from that tunnel it was raining a little harder and a lot more spray was coming up. As I have to remove my boots to get my waterproof over trousers on. I decided that I would stop in one of the safety lay-by's that they have in the tunnels so I can keep my feet dry. I had just completed putting on my waterproofs when a motorway patrol van with all his yellow lights flashing pulled into the lay-by.
Now I am not sure if you are allowed to stop on their motorways let alone in the tunnels, so I decided to act like an ignorant tourist. The passenger casually strolled up to me as he rolled a fag, and asked if I had broken down. I explained that I was just putting on my waterproofs. Ahh because it is raining he asked? I nod in agreement. That’s OK he said and casualty strolls back to his van lighting his cigarette. I get on my bike and ride off before he can change his mind. Now this tunnel turned out to be quite a long one. And when I eventually emerged out the end, it was into brilliant hot sunshine and bone dry roads. I rode the rest of the way in waterproofs.

I arrived at the RTE Madirno Hotel at 10.50am and got checked in, with no sign of Coxy or JB as I knew they were also riding down through the Balkans. After getting the bike parked in a secure underground garage only 100 meters from the hotel for the sum of 6 euros a day. I had another cold shower, its hot riding in waterproofs when the sun is out!!!  Then after having a very pleasant Greek salad with coffee for lunch. I had found out what to ask for if you wanted a Latté this time. The first time I asked in Italy I got a glass of hot milk, again it wasn’t what I expected.  

I went to reception and found out the wifi pass word and settled down to see if I could track down where the other two were, on Coxy spotwalla, as I knew they were riding together. It turned out they were at the Macedonian border with Greece and shortly after texting them I got a reply from Coxy saying they would meet me at the Zoo at the allotted time of 4pm. 

I left the hotel at 3pm, giving myself plenty of time to find my way through the city to the Zoo which wasn’t that far away on the outskirts. I had a stroll around the area outside the Zoo which is situated on a hill overlooking the city and bay.

Pictures of Thessaloniki.

The only thing that spoils the moment was the rubbish that was laying around.

Anyway after treating myself to several bottles of water and an ice cream, (did I mention it was hot.) Coxy and JB arrived at 3.40pm treated them to a cold bottle of water and after a short chat took the required picture at 4pm outside the zoo entrance with the flag. At one point we needed a volunteer to take the picture of all three of us. So Coxy decides to try and stop a passing Greek motorist. Now bearing in mind that the guy was on a bend in the road and had no idea what a mad Yorkshire man was saying or doing in the road. I thought he was polite and done quite well to avoid him. In the end we got the guy who had been flogging me water and ice cream for the last hour. 

Pictures of flag

Then all of a sudden Wilf appears out of JB’s pannier. So he hitched a ride home with me.

Official photos & patches given out, it was the short ride back to the garage to get the bikes parked. Then stroll round to the hotel to get them booked in and showered. There was a decent café next to the hotel so we agreed to meet in twenty minutes for a bite to eat and a few beers. After a good meal and 2 beers each we asked for the bill 23 euros each and that included a good tip, very reasonable.
As the others were leaving at 7am they decided to have an early night 8.30pm local time 6.30pm UK. There was nothing else to do so I decided to join them (we all had our own room by the way, JB was even in a different hotel just over the road so don’t get any ideas)

We were just about to go into the hotel when loads of police turned up and set up a road block at the junction of the main road that our hotels were on the corner of. It did not seem threating in any way and everyone around seemed very calm, so it was off to my room on the 8th floor overlooking the junction. A short while later a small group of protesters came chanting down the road.
Time for bed.

Day 4
I did not have to be back to the ferry port of Igoumenitsa until 11.30pm so this morning was first chance to have a bit of a late start. After breakfast I went for a stroll along the main shopping road. It was still very warm, after about ½ a mile I came to a construction site where they had dug up about a 100 yard section of one side of the road. When I looked down the hole which had a retractable cover and lights fitted. I was amazed to see about 25ft down the remains of the ancient Greek city that was built thousands of years ago. I took some pictures but I am not sure if they will work as it was a little dark down the hole.

Pictures of remains.

I strolled on a little further and came to a small park with benches under some trees giving some shade. There were some stray dogs laying around and they were all very large, they were not bothering anyone. And people just ignored them. Then suddenly a small car pulled up by the side of the park. And two of the dogs leapt up and ran over barking furiously at the owner. He tried to get out of his car but the dogs would not let him. Other members of the public just carried on strolling by, who the dogs completely ignored. The chap in the car even drove another 50 yards up the road, but the dogs just followed him. He eventually drove off. 

It was now time to head back to the hotel as the checkout time for the hotel and car park was 12 noon.
As I had almost 12 hours to make my way back to the ferry port. So I decided about ½ way back that I would get and check for non-toll routes through the hills. I stopped to pay the toll for the section that I had just ridden. When I felt some very heavy drops of rain hit me. I looked up and there was a fairly small but very dark black cloud just to one side and above me. After what had happened on the way to Thessaloniki, I decided not to bother to put my water proofs on. I rode off and almost immediately the rain stopped justifying my decision. About 10 minutes later as I rode through a tunnel as I came up to the entrance it was just a sheet of white, I rode into a torrential down pour of biblical proportions. Within seconds I could feel the water trickling down my chest into my crutch area. I rode on. No longer than 2 or 3 minutes later I came out the rain in brilliant sunshine, I carried on for a further 20 minutes drying rapidly in the heat & wind. When I spotted on the satnav that the small village I was approaching had a couple of restaurants.  I decided this would be a good time to have a bit of lunch and check out different routes. After having probably the best and cheapest Greek salad so far with a monster slab of Feta cheese. As I sat there enjoying the sunshine and a good meal I could hear the rumbling of a thunderstorm in the distance with the odd flash of lightning, I wondered if I had made a mistake in stopping and the rain was going to catch me up.

I set off in the dry and turned off the motorway onto a small bendy road that looked to be heading in the right direction. After about 10 minutes riding I came round a bend and there in front of me about a mile away, was a huge black cloud and sheets of rain. I checked the direction the road I was on and it was heading straight for it, so it was turn round and back to the motorway.

I arrived at Igoumenitsa with a 7 ½ hour wait. Had a bit of trouble finding my way to the correct ferry terminal as they have built a new one, and the road that the satnav kept trying to direct me down was closed due to being all dug up for resurfacing and new pavements.(it needed it!!!)

It was still very hot outside and the terminal building was air conditioned, so it was time to settle down in a bar/café for the long wait.

I was not the only one making use of the air-conditioning. Again there were a few stray dogs about all large. Must be survival of the largest?

Later in the evening when it had cooled down a little, I decided to go for a short walk about around the local area. There wasn’t much to see and it was still hot, so I stopped in a bar that was empty apart from the barman/owner, to buy a 1lt bottle of cold water. When I came to pay the 1 euro price, I found I had no change and only a 10 euro note. The owner said he had no change so just gave me the water. I said I would probably by something else later and pay him then. As I was sitting there I realised that I was on the road that was closed, but there were quite a few cars and bikes driving down it in both directions. It seems that I was the only one who took and notice of the barrier and no entry road closed signs. I went to pay the owner for the water. He still had no change so said not to worry. I saw he had a 5 euro note, I gave him my 10 euro and told him to give me just that. He was a little reticent about taking 5 euros but I explained I wanted him to have it for trusting me and for being so generous.

Eventually the time came to make my way to the gate for boarding the ferry. When I got to the ramp there was a young Italian couple, who had spent the last 10 days touring round Greece on a 600cc Ducati.The chap only spoke a little English but his girlfriend was very fluent and translated. It took me a while to get him to understand that I had ridden from England to only spend one night in Greece and then ride home. But when he did he showed his respect. (Not bad for an old geezer).
We chatted on the ship which arrived 1 hour late, and agreed to meet in the morning as it was now time to try and get some sleep. As per the trip coming over it was far too noisy in the lounge, so I gave up to find a spot where I could get to sleep. I found the Iron butt hotel on one of the landings on the stairs up to the sundeck. On the landing just above me there was another couple of bodies fast asleep. As this was an overnight trip I guessed that not many people would be visiting the sundeck. I did manage to get a couple of uncomfortable hours sleep.

Day 5
When I woke up it was daylight. I crept up stairs past the other couple, to have a look outside. Only to find that the other bodies on the landing, was the young Italians. It was still very early in the morning with no land in sight. So I went back to the lounge to my seat where I could at least be comfortable. Later I meet up with the Italian couple and they asked why I was not going to ride the Amalfi coast as I was so close. I had already looked into doing this and it would have just taken me too late to get to my hotel in Brescia northern Italy that night as the ferry only arrived in Bari at 10.30am already an hour late. They did convince me to ride across Italy to Naples as the roads were much more scenic. I road with them knowing that when we got close to Naples I should see Mt Vesuvius, after one or two false alarms I spotted it, another one to cross off the bucket list. Just north of Naples we stopped for coffee and it was time to say our good byes. They took my picture standing by my bike, and I took theirs. I did suggest that they stood by my bike as it would make a better picture, being Italian and a Ducati rider he disagreed and preferred his Ducati.
We swapped phone numbers and agreed to meet up if either of us were in Italy or England. They were a lovely couple and very friendly I do hope we meet again.  

It was time to press on up the A1 motorway that was a very fast road 130k. But not fast enough for some drivers who continued to tail gate even if you were at the limit and overtaking slower traffic. Eventually made it to the hotel at I think it was 10pm. I was too late for the hotel restaurant to get anything to eat and did not want to get back on the bike to go and look for anything. The receptionist took pity on me and found me a couple of what I can only described as Croissants with a custard  flavoured filling, two bananas, and a couple of packs of what looked like dry toast, it was delicious. I slept well that night.

Day 6
The ride today was from Brescia to Verdun in France, I had not paid for the road tax through Switzerland on the way to Greece. So I thought about diverting through Austria. But after checking it out on the satnav, again I would just get to my hotel to late as it was a Ibis Budget and check in closed at a certain time after which you needed a pass number to gain entry which at this point I did not have. So I decided to chance the most direct route through Switzerland. I got to the boarder at Chiasso just north of Como, only to be stopped and made to pay the 45 euro road tax that motorcycle pay for the year. Apparently their road tax runs from January to January so I still have six months of valid tax if I want to go back. At first I thought this was a bit steep. But when I thought about it, I must have paid about 70 to 80 euros in road tolls just riding up and down Italy. And would have to pay the same again if I went back and used the toll roads. Switzerland worked out at 22.5 euros each way, and I can still go back for free. It was also the most stunningly beautiful part of the ride. There was a massive space in my spot tracker at this point as the batteries had run out as soon as I left  Brescia and I did not notice that it had stopped until I was in one of the darker tunnels near Lucerne.

Here are some pictures of Switzerland.

I wanted to get a picture of an Alpine stream and when i got to a rest area that had one running along side it this was the best that I could do as it was fenced off. (and this was on maximum zoom)

Once I was in France the Satnav detoured me off the auto routes at Selestat towards Nancy on non-toll roads. This made a pleasant change and a chance to see the real countryside. I arrived at the hotel which looked very new and on a site just outside Verdun that was still under development and got booked in. Went to my room had another cold shower. After a bit of a rest it was time to go and find something to eat. There was a pub with a veranda just 100yards up the hill that looked fairly busy so off I went. My first priority was a drink so I asked if they had any local beers apparently 1664 is local there and they had another. I asked if they had any dark beers. The waitress said they could add a flavoured orange drink to the beer to make it dark. I had a little taste and it was OK.


 I was shown to a table on the veranda overlooking Verdun. Where I had a very pleasant meal.
This was probably a family orientated pub as there was a group of small children playing with free balloons they had been given when they arrived. One balloon came my way so I knocked it back to the child. Unfortunately it went over the veranda fence and as the dad tried to retrieve it. It popped on a thistle. I apologized and became the immediate centre of attraction for the children as I spoke English.       

 Well after my second pint of orange flavoured beer I felt very light headed and just a little wobbly as I stood up to pay the bill and wander back down to the hotel. It was then that I checked the flavoured and found it was 18% proof.
I slept well that night !!!

 Day 7
Woke up and found a message from Eurotunnel advising me that the police were keeping a dedicated route open for Eurotunnel customers, and not to queue up with the freight traffic. As the French ferry workers were still causing problems. I had plenty of time to get to Calais so I decided to have a little look at the centre of Verdun.

I arrived in Calais with about 2 hours to spare just in case there were problems, and immediately came across a long line of Lorries waiting to get on the freight trains. I was waved on by the police to continue. This is how it continued for about 8 or 9 miles straight into the check-in area with very little traffic. I was booked on the 4.40pm train but was offered an earlier train at 2.40pm which I accepted (train H). I rode on to the point where you split to the train or the waiting area. The train that was currently being call was train J. The lady asked me what train I was booked onto. I told her train H, she said you may as well go on this one and waived me through.

 It was very very hot waiting on the platform for all the cars to load but I was very grateful to be able to get on an earlier train. In fact it was one of the quickest times I have ever managed to board a train on Eurotunnel.  


Popped in to see a relative in St Marys Bay and a couple of cold drinks gratefully received, then the short ride home.

Checked my front brake pads yesterday and found they were worn down almost to the metal, I guess that riding approximately 8000 miles in just over a month will do that.

Thanks for reading this.
Steve (wingliider)