The Dekatria Project - Greece 2013: Ride to the Underworld
Thousands of miles through Europe, from the Netherlands to Greece and back
For the uninitiated, let me just tell you what this is about.
In 1996, when I was 10 years old, my best friend from the neighborhood (aged 11) committed suicide. When something like that happens at that young an age, you’re sad for a few months, and afterwards you go on happily with your life. Just like everything else happening to you as a kid you reckon that something like that is normal to happen, and don’t give it any further thought.
Until you become an adult, that is. Thirteen years later, in 2009, I had to do some college research into mourning high school students. I had picked the subject myself as I figured that with my own experience, it would be a doddle to do.
However, as I spoke to school counsellors about the subject, I came to realize that a death of someone close at a young age is not something normal. I suddenly understood I had been wrong for the past thirteen years, and that what happened in 1996 wasn’t done with me yet. Subsequently, a bomb went off inside my head, and eventually it threw me into a deep depression. This period seemed so endless, I more than once thought of putting an end to it myself.
Thankfully, both my close friends and family gave me all the love, support and attention I needed... it took lots of hard work and perseverance, but in May 2010, six months later and just weeks before my older brother got married, the storm finally settled. I had been lucky enough to go through hell, and come out the other end unscathed and stronger than ever... all thanks to those dearest to me.
Because of this, the number thirteen (the amount of years I lived in ignorance about probably the most important moment in my life) has become a symbol of endurance to me. To never surrender, to celebrate family and friendship, and commemorate those who haven’t been able to live their lives as they wished to. After all, it’s when the going gets tough that we really need someone close to us... and there’s alot of people out there who aren’t as lucky as I have been.
Final camp in Harwich, during the 2012 Tour of Great Britain
Now, ever since I was a kid I’ve been inexplicably obsessed about everything Greek, and subsequently it’s been a dream of mine to see the country itself one day. So coming out of that darkest of times, I thought it was about time I went and did something about it. I was going to get my motorcycle license, and ride to Greece. This became The Dekatria Project - “Dekatria” being Greek for 13.
The project took off in October 2010 when I passed my Theory Exam. Almost exactly one year later I passed my final Driving Test, in July 2012 I did a 3500km (~2200 miles) training trip through Great Britain and now, it’s time for the big one. It’s time to bring all this preparation into practice, and turn the dream I almost took away from myself into actual reality.
The route will take me from my home in Rotterdam (the Netherlands) through Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Germany, Switzerland and Italy to the southernmost point of continental Greece: Cape Tenaron, the mythical gate to the Ancient Greek Underworld where people would go if they wanted to visit the deceased.
After that I turn around, to go back home through Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, Switzerland and Germany. Altogether the journey will be around 7000km (or 4400 miles) in length, but I’ll probably go over it. I’m departing the 19th of July, hopefully entering Brindisi in Italy around the 27th. I then board the ferry to Greece, and from there on in I’ll probably take as much time as I want to, probably spending the first week of August in Greece before crossing the border into Albania.
Cairngorms National Park Scotland, during the 2012 Tour of Great Britain
More than meets the eye
I also wanted to let the project always be part of something bigger than just my own dreams. I did the Tour of Britain in honour of my grandfather whose last wish it was to see Scotland, and for this trip, I contacted ‘To Write Love On Her Arms’. They’re a non-profit foundation from the US, dedicated to providing help to those struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. On the trip, I’ll ask the people I meet to write the person they love most in their lives on my helmet. Upon returning home, the helmet will then hopefully have become a written map of the journey, and it will subsequently be auctioned off during an auction night on Friday the 13th of September. The proceeds will then go to To Write Love On Her Arms.
Now, I’m aware that getting to this auction is a pain in the backside for any people overseas (which most of you probably are), so the week prior to auction night, I will also auction off three different project shirts on Ebay. Likewise, all proceeds will go to TWLOHA. (Further info will be posted on the site and in this thread in due time).
So, now that you know about the whole shebang, I hope you’ll enjoy reading the lead-up to (and report of) what has thus far proven to be the largest and most definitive undertaking of my life. As I’ve said to my own friends and family on numerous occasions: Thanks for being here, I really appreciate it.
Visit the website for The Road So Far, the Route, pictures and videos... or just hump this thread for fresh updates! Updates on the road will probably be also posted on the Facebook page :thumb
Oh, and if you live somewhere on the route and would like to tag along (or you have a couch to lend), feel free to send a PM :D
All the best,
The project website
The project on Facebook
The project planning thread here on ADVrider
The Ride Report of the 2012 Tour of Great Britain
To Write Love On Her Arms
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Training Trip no.1 - Northern Netherlands - 2nd to 4th of May 2012
My first preliminary trip, which was a 700 kilometres in total divided over 2.5 days. It was good fun I gotta say, really enjoy just being out there, riding around :D
In preparation to the longer journeys to Great Britain and subsequently Greece I thought it would be wise to make a smaller trip in the Netherlands. As I have to average around 250 kilometres a day in Britain, a destination somewhere in the north of the Netherlands was an obvious choice. It coincided with the birth of my brother's baby boy as well, so the first stop would be his home, around halfway the route. On the 2nd of May, I set sail for Northern Territory.
The road to the North went pretty well. The sun was shining, I was in my element, and because of the nice spring temperature alot of insects were in their element as well, before burying themselves into my visor, helmet, panniers and motorbike. Thank god I didn't open my visor anywhere on the route, hahaha...
Thanks to a decent preparation, the navigation went pretty smoothly and before long I found myself riding through the entrance on the camping site of Motorcamping 't Witveen in Friesland. Earlier, I had phoned them to check whether they had any space, but as I arrived it turned out to be an irrelevant question. As it was a normal working day for most Dutchmen, the field was deserted, so I could pick any spot I wanted. The owners (and both avid riders) Jan & Hinke were really hospitable, and even welcomed me into the warmth of their own home since I was the only customer for the night.
The night itself was cold but doable, and the next day (after accidentally deleting all footage en photos from the day before, d'oh!) I set out for the next stop - Motorcamping De Motorschuur in the aptly named village of Gasselternijveenschemond. The route towards it was a bit complicated even though I'd carefully planned it, and soon enough I lost track of where I was. But that didn't seem to matter at all... I enjoyed just being out there, riding around through curiously named villages with everything I needed on my beast. It liked the basic, explorer-like feel of it all... and after consulting a road-side map, I rode towards my destination.
Upon arrival at de Motorschuur, I was greeted by the two dogs of owners Gijs & Madeleine. I could once again pick any place I wanted on the camping field, and soon enough, Dekatria-HQ was up and running again. I had no fuel as of yet for the Primus stove, so after a much-needed afternoon nap, I put the topbox on the Alp and rode towards the nearby town of Stadskanaal to get the necessary supplies (and to find out the football scores, as I'd been living in a TV/internet-less bubble for almost two days). Primus stoves work on pretty much any flammable liquid, so I got some methylated spirit from the convenience store and rode back.
Upon returning to the camping site two Danish men had arrived on Yamaha XJs - Jřargen and Fleming. They were travelling from Denmark to the Morgan factory in the UK, and up until supper time we kept one another entertained with a plentiful amount of stories.
Then, it was time for dinner... so time for FIRE! After some fiddling I got the Primus working, which resulted in a victory-lap through the premises. LOOK WHAT I HAVE CREATED! Both me and my sense-of-self-accomplishment joined the rest at dinner, and afterwards, we talked by the fireplace until it was time to sleep. A good end to a good day.
The next day had rain, which was exactly what I had ordered. This may sound weird, but as I expect to be riding through rain in the UK (because well, it's the UK) I wanted to get this bit of fully-laden riding experience in as well. I shook hands, and went on my way.
However, the entire road back home I got mullered by a strong head-on wind, which eventually wore out my right upperarm despite taking frequent breaks. I chose to stop at my brother's place for half an hour as the pain had gotten unbearable, but 20 kilometres after continuing my journey, the pain was back. I wanted to avoid rush hour though, so until I reached my hometown of Rotterdam I soldiered on, riding 80 km with an arm that felt as if it was going to fall off.
Despite this, I really enjoyed the trip. I got to do everything that I wanted (which includes riding through rain with the fully-laden Alp), the bike's layout turned out to be nearly as good as it could get and doing 250km a day was less exhausting as I feared it to be. All in all, it was a right success, and I'm really looking forward to July.
A full photo gallery can be found on the project's Facebook page. Here's a small vid compilation too :thumb
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Training Trip no.2 - Great Britain - 13th to 22nd of July 2012
To fully fullfill the training, I also wanted to do a 'dress rehearsal' of sorts; this became the tour of Great Britain. Within 8 days I rode through the entire island, crossing the hearts of England, Scotland and Wales on a 2200 mile adventure.
Just like with the trip to Greece however, I also wanted to give this trip a bigger meaning. My grandfather was 83 at the time, and he'd always say that seeing Scotland was his last wish. However, the doctors denied him, saying his health had detiorated too far for him to survive the trip.
Therefore, I chose to do the tour in his honour. Along with all the luggage, I also packed a Scottish flag - the plan was that I'd ask everyone I met on the way to put a message to my grandfather on the flag. Upon arrival back home, I'd then give my grandpa the flag, so he'd meet everyone I had met on the way.
I'll be posting a daily report of each leg of the trip the coming days, with extra footage and pics :thumb
Day 1 & 2 – Friday the 13th + Saturday the 14th – Departure & Arrival
The days prior to launch I entered a state of near neurotic psychosis. I knew everything was pretty much in tip-top order, but still I drove myself crazy upto the point of also tightening every spoke in the wheels. All you really want is just to get going, because the waiting was just slowly driving me nuts.
My boat would depart at half past 2, with check-in limit at 45 minutes prior to that. However, I got so anxious I eventually ended up half an hour early, entering check-in way early.
On ferries you have to tie your bike down ofcourse, and for that purpose I'd brought a few straps (they supply straps for you, but I don't like being dependent on supplied material). In my psychotic mode I purchased another strap however, because it had hooks on it. This ended up being a smart move – not because of the hooks, but the German straps were too short to tie the beast down over the seat. The bigger one I'd bought days before the trip however, had room to spare.
With the beast in gear, a jammed-on front brake, chocks at the wheels and three straps holding the Alp in place, the boat could've probably entered a wormhole without the bike moving as much as an inch. Just when I was going to go to the living deck, I stood back and looked at the beast, smiling to myself. After everything that had happened, I was now finally on my way.
On the boat I met a Dutch family, which traveled with three kids through the midlands toward Liverpool – alas, the first candidates for signing of the flag! Coincidentally, their return ferry-trip was the 22nd as well. I busied myself with doing the roadbook for the first day, and whilst doing so I was joined by an older man, who asked to show me where I was going and immediately told me where to go and what to miss. He had just completed a trip with his son, going with a campervan from England to Poland and Denmark. And thus, the flag was signed once more.
There was plenty of sun upon arrival in Harwich, and as I rode off the ferry, a Dutch couple with a hacked Harley rode in front of me. It even had a suicide-shift, how cool's that? With some luck, I found the overnight stay pretty quickly, and before long I was joined again by another dutch couple riding their bicycles from Holland to Land's end before taking a ferry to France.
During the night, it started raining, and just when I had finished packing my tent the next morning (I just wanted to get going, actually) it sort of stopped. Nevermind then! The proprietor's reaction to my destination the next day was quite simple: 'Focking hell!' Little did I know what he meant with that.
The first miles went pretty well, but after Ipswich...well, let's just say that if you see the sign 'Welcome to Suffolk' for the third time in yet another different location, you know you need to go find the motorway. And that's what I did. Things went pretty smooth from there on in... and before long I was really close to my destination. I also noticed that I'd also miss the one sight I'd planned to see on this day were I to continue the way I did... so I took a detour, to see Humber Bridge.
And I didn't regret it. Coming from the South, you can only see it just when you're about half a mile near it, coming over a hill around a bend. Awe-inspiring, that's a good word for what I thought of it... I almost thought I was in San Fran. And there's no toll for bikers too! :deal
Going into the final stretch towards my first accommodation, I noticed that the further North I got, the more impossible people's English became. I thought that, being a teacher of the language, I'd be used to one thing or another... but one fuel-pump attendant had to repeat herself three times before I understood what she was saying, hahaha.
After a bit of a look-around I found my camp site: Squires Biker Café. It's basically a huge bikerpub where you can eat, drink, play pool and (in my case) also camp. Very good location, and lots of bikers too... quite ideal, from my point of view.:evil
On the camp site behind it I met the British couple – marathon runners Gary and Hazel, who came from Ipswich and who were just away for the weekend on their (immaculate-looking though thoroughly-used) GS. Gary was affluent with stories of the trips they'd made – I liked the one where they visited Spain and Andorra on the same day, returning again because of the crap weather... thus giving them a pic of the bike under a palm tree and in the snow, taken on the same day.
They also signed the flag, and being an avid collector of country stickers on his panniers the project sticker soon find a new home as well.
Myself, I was totally wrecked after over 500km on one day. That much in fact, that I didn't know whether I would be able to do the entire island in the week to come. No, my morale was pretty much shot to pieces... though two cans of Coke seemed to bring me back to life again. I knew that tomorrow would be better, since both Holy Island and Scotland awaited. Gary advised me to fill up in Scotland whenever I could, since fuel-stations were few and far between. A useful piece of advice, I found out a few days on.
But more on that the coming days. In the next report, the Sunday of the trip, entering Scotland going toward Edinburgh! :clap
Pictures can be found on the FB page, along with a short video of Squires below.
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My respect and admiration
Very cool Greg, not all have the will to sublimate the feelings of depression and it is inspiring to see them channeled in this manner. Hell yes I'm on board! :clap
Training Trip no.2 - Tour of Great Britain - 13th to 22nd of July 2012
Day 3 - Sunday the 15th - Holy Island & entering Scotland!
Waking up at the Squires camp site I noticed that it had gotten quite warm in my tent... and as I exited my tent my suspicions were correct: sun! Gary and Hazel had already been out to run a few miles - I gotta say I admired their discipline whilst being on a motorcycle-camping trip. I had myself a good breakfast in the pub (for a good price, I must say), worked out my new hi-tech nav-system for on the road, said goodbye to my neighbors before mounting the beast amidst a sea of bikers, and riding on.
Eventually, I came across a traffic jam. This presented me with a problem - normally when there's traffic in the Netherlands, I filter through without a moment's pause. But this time ofcourse, I had two aluminium boxes mounted to either side of my bike, making it alot wider. Would it even be possible to fit the beast through the gaps this time around? I quickly decided the best way to find out is to try, put on my hazards and went for it. And it went as smoothly as always - I just stuck to the golden rule of not going through a gap I doubted was big enough to fit through, and all was well.
That well in fact, that when the going got pretty narrow and another biker on a sporttourer (wthout panniers, mind you) was waiting in line behind a car, I just passed him as I filtered through, as if I was to say 'Go on then, there's plenty of room!'. He agreed so it seemed, because when I looked into my mirrors a bit later, he had joined the biker convoy I was leading through the traffic jam.
Eventually I made it into Scarborough, where I filled up both the bike and myself and also checked tire pressure. Just took some time to relax, before setting off to Whitby... and the roads leading upto Whitby (situated in a national park) were a small taste of what awaited me later on in the trip. Hill after hill, turn after turn, and biker after biker. I chose to check out the centre of the beautiful town, but after spending a few minutes in traffic with a painful clutch-hand, I took a turn into a suburb and asked at a house whether I could go to the bathroom. No problem!
I worked my way through Middlesbrough and Newcastle, and then the first real destination of the day beckoned. Holy Island. It's one of the few places on Earth only accessible by a tidal road, so I just had to pay it a visit. As you approach the junction on the A1, you can see the island in the distance in the sea. Turned off the A1, and a small country road eventually brought me to the road submerged by seawater when tide is in. As I rode over the bottom of what normally would be the North Sea, I was overcome by the power of the moment, and found myself cheering inside my helmet. It was one of those moments where everything you've done just falls into place, and you see all the trials and tribulations become worth their while
I didn't stay on the island for long though, knowing I still had a long way to go. Just made a few shots with the Drift, gathered my thoughts again, and headed back. A truly beautiful place, which you should really visit if you're in the neighborhood.
After Holy Island, the border with Scotland was so close I could smell it... so I gunned it, and eventually I was standing beside a huge sign beside the road welcoming me into Haggis-land. This was the second powerful moment of the day... and the weather was very nice as well!
(I swear I have no idea how that sticker got there)
For the rest of the day, I just wanted to get to Edinburgh, going 70mph for most of the time. At one point I was reminded why to be vigilant though, as a group of cars in front of me suddenly braked - the cause being that a few gardenchairs had dislodged themselves from the roof of one of the cars, and were now lying in the middle of the road. I thankfully saw everything in time, braked, carefully steered around it and powered on.
I was relieved to eventually make it to Edinburgh, but doing over 600 miles in 2 days had taken its toll on me. My ass was sore, and my left leg had fallen asleep. As I filled up at a petrolstation inside of Edinburgh, I didn't feel like looking for the camp site and setting up my tent - it seemed that I had now reached (and surpassed) the amount of daily riding I'm comfortable with.
Luckily, the fuel-stop was sided by a hotel... so I informed whether they had a room available, and checked in. I had enjoyed myself as I'd hoped, and tomorrow, I would ride further North, through Cairngorns National Park to John O'Groats. But it would also be the day of the crash...
Further pics are ofcourse at the project's FB page. Here's a vid of the tidal road of Holy Island, riding from the village across the sea-floor towards the shore.
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Enjoy, and see you tomorrow! :freaky
Training Trip no.2 - Tour of Great Britain - 13th to 22nd of July 2012
Day 4 - Monday the 16th - through Cairngorms National Park, toward John O'Groats!
Waking up in Edinburgh, I was glad I had chosen to stay in a hotel for the night. I could get everything in sync again, and prepare myself for the final push towards the North. The route today would take me from Edinburgh to Perth, through the Cairngorms National Park past Inverness to John O'Groats, at the very top of the British isle.
Yesterday, I'd spoken to the lovely hotel receptionist Natalie, who didn't know something to write on the flag - we agreed she'd think about it, to write her piece the next morning - and so she did, in Gaelic no less! I said my goodbyes soon after, and powered on. In no time I was at Forth Bridge - another awesome piece of engineering.
We haven't got bridges like these in Holland. And this was my second one on this tour.
Going past Perth, I found myself slightly diverted from my original route - no matter though; I turned off (at one of those periless junctions that all of those A roads have in Britain) and a small country road eventually brought me in the heart of Cairngorms National Park. The fun had started - I experienced that most of these swooping 60mph mountain roads are basically one giant playground for motorists, filling you with awe with its scenery on one moment only to scare you with some unforeseen tight turns the next.
It was one of these turns that got the better of me. Just after a stop in the nice small town of Tomintoul (where I met a bunch of other international riders - more flag signing!), one turn jumped me when I wasn't expecting it. The road made a sudden 20% drop, a sharp right turn followed by a sharp left - I managed to keep the beast upright after the first turn (albeit slightly going offroad), but the sharp left came too soon. I shot across the road, into a muddy ditch.
Just 29 seconds before the crash, everything being as fun as ever...
...and then this. "You moron," I thought, "now it's all over". The very nice man driving behind me with his family stopped immediately, and helped me get the 450 pound bike upright. All the people passing by stopped as well, and with a crew of 7 we pulled the Alp out of the ditch. On the moment itself you're certainly not smiling, but as I'm writing this it's one of those Dakar-like moments I'll never forget.
I tried to start the bike, and after some hesitation (the bike had been on its side, ofcourse, and the bike relies on gravity to fuel the engine) it fired, as if the beast was saying "YOU CALL THIS A CRASH? ONWARD, YOU PUSSY!".
At the top of the mud trail is the place where I went off. The man driving behind me offered to stay behind me, so if anything would be wrong with the bike, he could take me to a garage.
But after some miles of looking, feeling and listening, I couldn't find anything out of the ordinary... so I pulled our convoy over, thanked the man wholeheartedly and let him continue on his way. Thankfully Jeremy Clarkson, not all Audis are driven by cocks ;) I had a walk around on the bike, checked switches and lights, but apart from my left pannier rack being bent inward rendering the left pannier stuck and my frontwheel taking some Scottish soil with it as a souvenir, the bike was fine. Let's hear a hurray for Japanese reliability!
As I continued, I was glad I had tightened all spokes in the wheel before departure, making the wheels as strong as possible. They probably would've looked alot worse if I hadn't done that. Also, the crash bars at the front also saved me alot of damage as well... gotta love'em ;) Anways, time to continue, on to John O'Groats!
Yet more moutainous roads... this time at the coast!
Mind you, I was still shaken up over the crash. If the muddy ditch had been a brick wall, rock face or something else immovable, I probably wouldn't have been riding where I was. Only when I arrived at my destination had my thoughts calmed down a bit, and could I continue to enioy my trip again.
I probably haven't ever been as glad to make it somewhere as I was when I rolled into John O'Groats. The day had been a testament to the nature of the Scottish people, and the perseverance that got me there in the first place. I had done a massive stretch of road today, but setting up camp hasn't ever been as easy as it was in John O'Groats.
Tomorrow, I would go across the very North of Scotland, toward Durness, and then back South toward Loch Ness and Kinlochleven. Little did I know that I had yet to encounter the Scottish terror of the midges, and that scenery-wise, the best had yet to come...
Mind you, Cairngorms got pretty close - here's a clip of one of the many wonderful views. Further pics are ofcourse on the FB page.
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Training Trip no.2 - Tour of Great Britain - 13th to 22nd of July 2012
Day 5 - Tuesday the 17th - through Durness toward Loch Ness and Kinlochleven
I have to say I felt pretty relaxed, waking up at the edge of the Atlantic after 9 hours of complete comatose stasis. And yet again (opposite to what I was expecting) the weather was kind to me. I cleaned up camp, let my neighbors and the people who ran the camp site sign the flag, and set off in a westerly direction.
But as the roads rolled into the mountainsides, my luck with the weather just sort of... ran out.
Still, a few raindrops don't get the better of me... and the scenery just kept on improving.
By this point the single carriageway had dumbed down to a single track road, with passing places every 100 metres. This didn't seem to matter a whole lot thought, as I would go miles and miles without seeing another soul or house.
I must say this kind of remoteness might've frightened me before, but on that moment, the freedom of it all felt like a warm blanket. Being out there, away from the hectic shenanigans of daily life, the real spirit of adventure riding (or motorcycle riding even) was almost palpable. Here's a clip illustrating this - I was going up a hill, and figuring that the sight at the other side must be worthwhile, I let the camera roll for a minute. Let's say I wasn't disappointed.
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That petrol stations were a sight for sore eyes didn't bother me either. I filled up just outside John O'Groats, but after that... well, just read my tripmeter (the lower counter) to see how many kilometres it took me to come across another petrolstation. The one after that was even further.
The appearance of the fuelstops themselves also quieted down, going from the normal services back near Edinburgh, to a pump with a wooden door in a garage, till the only thing I came across was a station with 1 pump for Unleaded and 1 for Diesel, sided by a wooden shed. The guy running it just read the amount off the pump, and you had to give him the money. Still, great service (he did the pumping for me), so I couldn't let the flag go unsigned here as well!
After Durness, it was time to go back South again. I eventually entered a road (still, single track with passing places like the below pic) which was also used by logging trucks, so you can imagine my surprise when at one time you're casually ooh-ing and aah-ing at the scenery at a steady 60mph, only to get scared to death by a several tonne behemoth carrying someone's future furniture the next. It wasn't helping that it's so easy to get distracted around here.
Still though, after some thorough riding entertainment, I found myself riding past Inverness, to take a break beside the home of a monster. Loch Ness!
The roads siding the Loch were also a dream to ride, the only downside being that being a single carriageway in an area with alot of trees, blind hills and sharp turns, you can't really pass any slow traffic without defying death.
I also got pretty hung up about my rear tire - as the roads are pretty bad up North (and I like gunning it through them turns, heehee) the profile was going faster than I thought. I checked tire pressure again, and hoped for the best. The road into Kinlochleven was a treat though... so I got tempted to give it another twist. Wheeeee!
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When I arrived in Kinlochleven, the first hotel/camp site at the side of the road seemed pretty appealing. They had everything I needed - food, a place to camp and internet, so I rode through the entrance still oblivious to the perils that laid behind it.
As I parked my motorcycle, I checked in, paid, after which I saw the entrance to the camp site - a small wooden bridge, totally impossible (and thus probably illegal) to cross with my beast. I got the impression that my decision to stay here was to become the biggest mistake of the trip so far.
And I wasn't wrong. As I brought the bike around and parked it near the bridge, I got my first taste of what would be (and which still was 3 weeks on) the greatest terror Scotland bears within its realm. Midges. Up until now, I had always stayed at places where there was wind, so there'd be no midges. But this time, I was smart enough to stay in a valley between two of the highest mountains in Scotland... so there was no wind, be it for a weak breeze. No wonder then that within seconds of putting the bike on its side stand, the bastards were all around me.
Midges are basically mosquitos the size of a fruit fly, which don't attack you individually like the regular Dutch mosquito, but do it in swarms. In the first few minutes, you don't really mind too much... but when after 5 minutes you find yourself unable to think of the next step in setting up your tent because each time you stop walking you're surrounded by a swarm of pestering diabolical inventions, you tend to lose your normally Zen-like patience somewhat.
I eventually got so fed up, I picked up my half-finished tent from the beautiful side of the lake and dragged it to higher (thus slightly windier) ground. I put up the rest of the tent from inside, just to stay out of harm's reach... and it worked.
Then again, the midges had probably noticed I possessed the kryptonite to their existence: a Snickers bar.
No wonder then they were nowhere to be seen within the realms of my sleeping confinement.
But ofcourse, I surrendered to my one vice. I got hungry, and I ate the Snickers... enabling the Midges to deliver their wrath tenfold the next day. Probably the second biggest mistake of the entire trip, as I would soon find out... but more of that tomorrow, when I'm going further down towards the Lake District![
More HD pics are once again on the FB page!
Training Trip no.2 - Tour of Great Britain - 13th to 22nd of July 2012
Day 6 - Wednesday the 18th - Kinlochleven to the Lake District, passing through Glasgow
The next morning bode well from my point of view, since I heard the clattering of raindrops upon the blue veil of my tent. And rain usually means, no mosquitos to worry about!
Yet, something inside me told there was lurking something more sinister outside the safe walls of my tent, carefully laying out a trap for the moment I felt safe enough to venture outside again.
For precautional security purposes, I readied the heavy artillery.
What followed was... well... a war. Now being Snicker-less the midges saw their chance, and the very second I stepped outside the swarm double-timed their offensive. I still had to pull down my tent, and even though you can do that at a walking pace dampening the midges' offensive capabilities, I ofcourse had to put the rolled up tent in its sack.
Now, my tentsack is one of those few things in the world that is perfect. It's perfect in the way that it has the exact dimensions of the rolled up tent it contains. And by exact, I do mean exact - only when firmly squished to a near vacuum-state will the tent fit inside of it, making the task of putting the tent in somewhat time-consuming, though satisfying upon completion.
But this morning, there was no time, no space... and no mercy. Because of the midges' relentless attack, I first forgot that my sleeping bag was still in the tent when I rolled it up, making the roll far too large to fit :fpalm.
I took it out, rolled it up again... after which I figured that I probably would not survive taking the time to squat down and put the tent in its bag. I thought not to bother, put the binders around the tentroll, strapped it on the bike, threw the sack in the topcase and fled the scene.
And when I say 'fled', I do mean 'fled'. It was ofcourse still raining, and backing up a fully-laden Transalp on loose gravel whilst midges rain terror from all sides, your three layers of clothing make your insides boil and the rain itself makes your visor fog up can only be described as nothing short of a nightmare :becca
Still, the Blackwater area left me some spectacular sights...
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Only when I had found a spot with wind did I take the time to put the tent in its sack again. This was in the southern end of (the very beautiful) Loch Lomond, over 60 miles away. Only then did I realise I had already paid for breakfast at the accommodation I had just gunned away from. My priorities, so it seemed, laid somewhere other than a filled stomach.
Nearing Glasgow a bit later, I thought it was wise to make amends with my stomach, and pulled in the parking lot of an M&S. I was running low on cash, so I asked the lady behind the counter where there was an ATM somewhere. "Are you from around here?" she asked. "No, I'm Dutch". "Yeah, I gathered from your accent that you weren't local". She pointed out one near a big nearby intersection, which seemed a bit complicated but, as she put it "You're braver than me since you're on a bike, so you'll probably find it".
And indeed, I found one soon after. Time for me to go through the city centre, and find the one thing I wanted to see in the Glaswegian realm...
...the stadium of the forlorn Rangers FC. A beautiful stadium I must say.
From there on in, it was time to say goodbye to Scotland. It had been (save the midges and uh.. one sharp turn) tremendously good to me, and if I have a say in the matter, I'll be sure to return one day. Those lands are a biker's dream.
Back into England then, where I noticed at a motorway services that (probably because of the plentiful rain and gunk on the road), my Scottoiler had temporarily stopped working. I cleaned it as well as I could (no easy feat as the unit was behind the panel blocked off by the stuck pannier), and lubricated the chain with some WD40. For the remainder of the trip, I kept a close eye on things... but later on, the system seemed to be back to normal.
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Time for yet another bunch of beautiful biking roads lined with scandalously soothing scenery: welcome to the Lake district! Both left...
..and right the perfect place to sort out your chickenstrips. Yumyumyum.
And then you're in Ambleside! A small town in the middle of the park, where I asked directions to my camp site to push the final stretch. And this was harder as it seemed, since the map the Tourist Information shop supplied me with wasn't particularly helpful. And when I say 'not helpful', I mean 'this is the town, you have to take this road out towards it but then you have to take another turn which is not on the map nor will we tell you about it'-not helpful.
Needless to say, it took me some time to find my destination. Located at the side road of a side road of a B-Road. Or more like, located at the walkway at a car park at the side road of a side road of a B-road.
Still, that didn't matter to me. In fact, the remote-ness was quite welcoming, as this camp site in particular must be one of the most beautiful I've ever camped at.
My arms now resembled to countryside I camped in.
Still, I was ofcourse oblivious to what would still follow. I cooked up dinner, and went to sleep... this time, with no midges or mosquitos in sight. Whoo!
Tomorrow would be the shortest leg of the tour, going towards Liverpool and Wales into Snowdonia National Park!
Training Trip no.2 - Tour of Great Britain - 13th to 22nd of July 2012
Day 7 - Thursday the 19th - from Lake District through Liverpool, towards Wales!
Upon waking on Low Wray camp site, I felt as if there was something in my left eye. I tried to rub it out, but to no avail. I aso found it hard to open my left eye fully, so I took out my compass, and used the little mirror on it along with the flashlight of the Sonim to shed some light on the situation.
What I saw was the product of the over 150 midge bites I suffered back in Kinlochleven, the far majority of which was on my face. My eyelids were swollen, as well as my ears, turning me into the long lost brother of Shrek.
Still, despite a tiny bit of rain during the night the weather had cleared up beautifully when I stepped out.
I highly doubted though whether I would be able to continue in this state - morale reached a low point for the second time on the trip, and reluctantly I informed at the reception desk whether there was a physician nearby who could help me. The guys seemed indifferent at my mutilated face - they had probably seen this hundreds of times before and here there was once again one of these stupid foreigners thinking he had the black plague.
They gave me some antihistamines, and I was on my way. My face was so swollen I barely fit my helmet, but I took some of the medicine, and set off hoping I would be alright.
And I was, eventually. The rest of the roads in the Lake District gave me a brilliant parting gift....
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...before turning onto the M6 and set off toward Liverpool. Things went pretty quickly from there on in, and after a stop at some Lancaster-services...
...it wasn't long before I was standing in front of Anfield Road, the stadium of Liverpool FC.
Time to get cracking towards Wales! Just over the border, I checked the oil level, and my timing was spot on - I had topped up the engine before leaving Holland, and now that I had done nearly 3000 km the engine had used roughly half a litre, requiring another refill. The weather was so-so (I could even see my breath), but yet again the scenery made well up for it.
(I just had to visit this particular town. I was glad though nobody from the homefront called me to ask me where I was...)
After this, I entered Snowdonia National Park, riding into yet another biking playground. Wheee!
Even the fuelpumps started to look a bit like those in Scotland!
And best of all, my face was back! Time for a party on arrival?
...but no, I was on medicine.
Around three o'clock I rode into Beddgelert, right in the heart of Snowdonia. Beautiful little down.
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I checked into my hotel, and I finally could take some time to just wander around town for a bit and be an annoying tourist for once.
Time to take on Wales fully, tomorrow!
Tomorrow, the rest of Snowdonia awaited, as well as Cardiff and parts of Southern England. It would be the last scenic bit of road of the tour before the liaison toward Harwich... but my supply this trip had been that plentiful, I didn't really mind.
Training Trip no.2 - Tour of Great Britain - 13th to 22nd of July 2012
Day 8 - Friday the 20th - from Beddgelert through Cardiff and Bath, towards Chiseldon
Waking up in Beddgelert my room pretty much resembled my face. A warzone!
Still, as the sun was still shining and the midge bites weren't bothering me as much as they had before, I felt good starting another day of riding through themes you usually only see in Windows desktops.
As I brought the beast around from the car park at the rear of my hotel to set off again, the hostess was awaiting me at the front of the hotel. She'd heard me telling about the flag the night before and also signed it, so this morning, she stopped me, and gave me the flag of Wales (which you can see in the palm of my right hand in the below pic). A very nice gesture - I'll be sure to return to the Saracen's Head one day if I'm in the area!
Snowdonia was... well... another playground, basically. Single carriageway, swooping through mountainsides and foresty valleys.
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With alot of roadworks, sadly... but who wouldn't want to have a wait here?
I didn't mind, for sure. Perfect moment for a sip from the waterbottle.
I eventually also got two other bikers, touring through their own countryside. I stuck behind them for most of the way
until I had to pull into the next petrolstation, that is. Just up the road, I found them stopped at a cafetaria. I salute you! In this petrolstation I paid with pounds I'd gotten back in Glasgow - the Scottish pound bills got a few second looks from the cashier, which was pretty funny to see.
Going from there, I thought most of the scenery was now done for... little did I know though, Wales wanted to go out with a bang.
Enough to make you speechless, yet again.
But things went literally all downhill from there, sadly.
But still, the riding was pretty good.
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I even got into a traffic jam as I entered Cardiff! I wanted to refill my wallet again at an ATM, but as I entered the Welsh capital I quickly found this on my way: an unfilterable sludge of cars. This was all due to a road being blocked off further down the road. It took me alot of patience, clutch work and some more patience...
..but eventually I found a bank. turned out of the traffic, and zipped through the capital. Freedom!
And after a delicious sammich...
I rode into Southern England, with the beautiful city of Bath! Sadly though, the traffic wasn't as beautiful...
and after my dose in Cardiff, I took some solace at a petrol station. As I returned to my bike after paying, I saw that the Gods of Gasoline tried to comfort me as well. Pump no. 13, could this be a coincidence?
Time to leave Bath, the quickest way possible. It was casting over anyway.
Outside of Bath though, things were looking up again!
Much to my enjoyment, ofcourse. I noticed I'd taken a bit of a detour, so I figured out a route towards Chiseldon, and got cracking.
This eventually led me onto the B3098... yet another surprisingly beautiful riding road, the last thing I had expected in these parts. Warp speed, captain!
Damn, those hyperspace thingies work well.
Things went so well in fact that eventually, my beast thought it was time to quote Inglourious Basterds...
...as our blitzkrieg through the South had finally brought us to our destination - the lovely town of Chiseldon! I sought refuge at the very nice Rossendale B&B, where my hosts Anne and Geoff took great care of me.
And even better care of the beast. Nighty-night!
HD versions of the pics are at the Facebook page. Tomorrow the final report of both the liaison from Chiseldon towards Harwich, and the ferry back home :clap
Good luck with the last preppy bits and enjoy the ride.
Someone in Greece told me to say Hi:
Hi Steven! Awesome trip you had man, good thing you made it the entire way round :clap
Here's a shout back to Giannis :thumb
A grand ride and a well documented trip. Take care
I wish all the good luck for u!!!
Have a great trip and enjoy the experience!!!!!!
If u need anything and i can help u please send a PM.
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