Having ridden some off-road trails in Poland and crossed the Czech Republic and Slovakia on paved roads (it turns out, riding off-road in Slovakia is illegal), I found myself longing for some dirt again. Luckily, the Trans Euro Trail, or the TET, provides countless off-road routes in most European countries, and stopping on the Hungarian border, I downloaded the GPX track for the Northern Hungarian TET. It seemed like the trails weren’t going to be too technical here, as Northern Hungary is more hilly and forested rather than mountainous and rocky. Mostly, I was expecting forest trails, gravel roads, and some mellow ascents and descents here and there; nothing too challenging, seeming more or less perfect with a loaded bike.
For the most part, that’s exactly what the Northern Hungarian TET was like. Meandering across farm fields, woods, and densely forested hills, the TET trail was mostly either hard-packed dirt or soft forest tracks. However, there were a few muddy sections here and there, a little single track thrown in, and some sandy stretches cutting across vineyards, plus some deep-rutted meadow tracks with the long grass covering the holes and bumps underneath.
And while I managed everything the trail threw at me, including one off in a deep rut and a clutch-incinerating moment stuck in a muddy creek, I realized there simply was little joy in riding all this on a heavily loaded bike. On fast gravel tracks and broad dirt roads, where all you need to do is keep the throttle steady, it doesn’t matter much if the bike is fully loaded. But whenever the track gets narrow, muddy, steep, or deeply rutted, the fun stops: my DR650 is more of a pack mule than a powerful hunting horse, and while it can even do a rally race unloaded, with all the luggage on, it becomes a game of plowing through things rather than riding technically.
In addition, Hungary is hot in August; by 12 pm, the temperatures get up to 35 Celsius, and when you’re sweating your socks off in the dirt, it feels more like 40+. Still, I didn’t want to give up and bail from TET, yet riding it with the bike fully loaded in the intense heat was work rather than fun.
So what’s a girl to do?
Setting Up Base Camp
Giving up on the idea to tackle the TET with all the luggage on and struggling with heat, I decided to try another approach. Riding south on paved roads, I found a charming little village in Hungary’s southern wine country, smack in the middle of the Southern Hungarian TET. This section, I’m told, is mostly sand, and because I am still plagued by persistent delusions of racing a desert rally someday, I feel like this could be great practice. Instead of simply traveling along the TET, however, I’m dumping all my luggage at a small village guesthouse, getting up before dawn, donning my racing gear instead of the heavy ADV suit, and riding the sandy sections on an unloaded bike. The plan is to have the kickstand up by 5 am, ride the TET until it gets too hot, then loop back to my village on paved roads; rinse and repeat until all the sections are done.
If I had the talent and the resources of packing extra-light, was an exceptional rider, or if I was on a Husky 701 instead of the DR650, traveling the entire TET from Hungary to Greece could be the right kind of an adventure. As it is, however, I’m planning to do the off-road trails in sections, setting up a base camp along the most scenic TET routes and riding it in loops and figures of eight with all the luggage and heavy gear off. That way, I’ll still eventually end up in Nafpaktos, Greece, for the Hellas Rally, do a lot of the TET trails, and won’t have to struggle with an underpowered but overloaded motorcycle day in and day out. I’m hoping that spending more time in each place will also allow to explore the areas in more depth, get way off the beaten path, and do it all relatively safely. As I was huffing and puffing to drag the fallen bike out of a deep rut, a thought about how it could potentially have been a pretty close call did cross my mind: I was completely alone in a forest clearing, miles away from the nearest village, town, or farm, and had I injured myself, it would have been tough to get help. Of course, anything can happen with an unloaded bike, too, and riding off-road solo isn’t exactly the safest activity by nature, but I’m hoping traveling lighter and having a base nearby will increase my chances of completing the scenic TET routes without getting yet another concussion.
In a way, this is a lot like riding around the world in installments or doing a fly and ride with the locals.
Do you think setting up a base and exploring off-road trails on an unloaded bike is a good solution, or would you ride the entire TET with the luggage on? Let me know in the comments below.