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What I did
Almost crash into an oncoming car
So I had to be at my mums this morning for around 8.30 to collect the rest of my gear and even do some last minute modifications to the bike. I couldn’t find a suitable way to mount the screen and in the end my eventual solutions it highly unsuitable but it involved me hacksawing lumps off this morning before leaving. Because of the high likelyhood of dropping the bike I didn’t want to mount the screen entirely on the headlight support for fear of transferring damage to a critical part. My solution was two exhaust hanger brackets fixed to the bars with a galvanised steel roofing bracket each holding on a threaded rod. Two light alloy strips hold the bottom secure. It looks uglier than a Ukranian prostitute but it works, it’s secure and it was literally all my time would allow
One of my oldest friends was coming to see me off today, following on his own bike. To thank him for this I nearly killed him when my number plate broke free and shot across the road at him. Luckily I had a new one. I bought a small, illegal one to take with me which is too small for the UK but the right size everywhere else. Of course... I couldn’t find it. We turned the garage upside down when we got to my folks and ate up a valuable 20 minutes before finding it exactly where we’d been looking. The upshot was I didn’t get to tidy away my extensive use of my dads tools so he might never speak to me again. I also didn’t get time to pack so my bike is currently wobbling under the weight of far, far too much crap.
I was planning to see another old friend to say goodbye but time turned against us and we went straight to the Oakdene cafe for breakfast to meet my brother on his shiny new bike. Of course his bike had broken down. Presumable it was too shiny or too new or maybe one trip to the Oakdene yesterday was simply too much for it and it crapped out rather than having to face another such indignity. We chatted with the staff who know us well and the stress of actually getting away from this country started to peel back to allow a slight regret of all the things I’m leaving behind. On top of my friends and family who I’ll miss a whole lot there are the little things. The Oakdene cafe is a little bikers place in Kent I’ve been going for years and know all the staff. The trip starts becoming real when your bike is piled high with crap, you’re massively unprepared and you look back on the little things you never really thought you’d miss.
After a quick but substantial plate of healthy food was rejected in favour of a mountain of fried junk it was time to head off. Our second coffee was a stark reminder of why I should be leaving.
My mate Ade has a peripatetic job and travels to the Kent coast regularly so I told him to lead, jump on the M20 and we’ll trolley on. I followed him as he missed the “Dover” turnoff and carried on in the opposite direction. I blasted my horn and shouted at him but it was too late, he rode up the slip road and was gone. I circled back to the cafe and sent a text and then waited. Nothing so I headed off to Dover with a heavy heart. I stopped to refuel and got a text saying he would meet me in Dover so I headed to the port and waited in the bookings car-park. I checked with my ferry and unlike Seafrance and P&O they offer a free transfer service so at worst I would have to wait until 4. I didn’t fancy that as I have a long journey ahead of me on the other side, through Belgium and into Kassel, Germany. I checked on the latest time I could board and found I had 45 minutes so long as I wasn’t held up at customs control. I took my chances.
It was a tense time indeed and I jumped up every time I saw a bike until suddenly I saw him with a strong sense of relief. With 10 minutes to spare he made it to the port after a slightly over the limit blast along the M20 via the wrong port, apparently. If he hadn’t made it then it would have been a real kick in the teeth. Ade is like a brother to me, we’ve been flatmates many times and I’ve been staying with him this last week before I left. He’s a through and through good guy with a laid back patience I’m envious of and good guys are hard to find these days wherever you look.
So we parted ways awkwardly. I want to do this trip but I’ve had to compromise. Ade would have been the perfect travel companion and that was always the dream but he’s kind of settled now with a great girlfriend, decent job that he hates and a nice flat that’s probably costing too much.
I got to customs control and the guys only made eye contact because I stopped for them, they just nodded me through and carried on reading the paper so that was a result. I got to the booking gate and my code didn’t work. I was shocked that something might have gone wrong! She told me the code was not one of theirs and took my registration number instead. She laughed when she typed it in because my ferry was actually booked for 2am, not 2pm. Luckily that free transfer came in handy and I made the ferry with 2 whole minutes to spare. So not an auspicious start. I’m sitting on a ferry watching England retreat in the distance on one of the last bright sunny days in England this year. The stress levels for making this crossing have been so high I’m not even thinking about this trip yet as something that should be fun, it’s just something I have to get done. On the other side I have a long ride so hopefully that will give me time to get my thoughts together and get into the mindset for this trip.
A guy met up with me on the boat. He recognised me from loading and wanted to chat about the bike. He was 10 years older and has been thinking of doing the same kind of thing. Seemed like a nice bloke and it’s always cool how the bike attracts plenty of interest and conversations.
So the Garmin sat nav basically did its job and i headed off for Kassel. Needless to say I’m sitting here writing this a fairly long way shy of my target. The roads are pretty fair and my previous experience served me well but when night finally fell it fell like a builder crashing through a roof. The roads were suddenly wet and icy with no warning and the cold clamped down with a vengeance. I trundled on as best I could but the cold got to me. By the time I gave up it was 5 degrees and i’m wearing only a summer jacket and summer gloves with no lining. To be fair i could tolerate that, the problem was the visor and screen were fogging up so I just couldn’t see where I was going. Along the way I tried to get some fuel and found a miserable cow who didn’t like bikers. She grumbled about having to speak English and said I had to pay in advance. All protestations of not knowing how much the bike would take were met with a knowing grin and a shrug. I offered to leave cash as a deposit but she just said there was a queue and I had to leave. Eventually she said it was only the pump I was on, all the others would work. She lied, none of them worked for me. I went somewhere else and the story was completely different. A nice girl was extremely helpful in explaining how they worked. Simple.
In the end I spotted an Etap hotel and I knew there was nothing cheaper nearby because it was full of international lorry drivers so i stumped up the cash and got myself a room. I’m disappointed in myself that i didn’t get further but Marcin only made Hanover and he left 7am. I boarded the boat at 2pm and made Aachen which is fair enough really for my little bike. The wind was howling but I made an average speed of 70-75 fairly comfortably so the screen must be working. The service and other work have done the trick, she feels free and smooth. I feel as rough as a dogs hind-leg. I did my daily exercise routine and stretched out some of the stresses of the day. I have another long one tomorrow. Roughly 9 hours ride into Poland but I’m not going to leave until around 10. If I do it will still be cold. Instead I’ll take it easy and see what happens.
So my first day on the road has left me wondering why I’m bothering. It seems everything wants to go wrong. I spent a lot of time in similar hotels in Europe with my girlfriend and it seems odd that she’s not here now. I miss her more than I thought I would. I miss my friends who seem to miss me more than I thought they would. I hope it’s just first-day blues. I had that in Europe too and it passed pretty quick. I’m just not dialled into this yet. I guess we’ll see.