vrijdag 23 augustus 2013

GR2013 Day 1 & 2: Bastogne & Schwarzwald

So here we go. Day-of. Zero hour.

I slept surprisingly well the night before. No nerves, no nothing. It just felt like it was another one of those days, strangely enough. I was just going for a ride, taking a detour through Greece. No biggy.

Before loading the Beast up, I decided to have a quick run down the petrol station to get the tires up to pressure... but predictably, the digital pump refused to cooperate normally, leaving me unsure of the correct pressure in the rear tire. Too late to realize I really should've bought one of them pressure gauges...

Riding buddy Heiko Spaans came by to shoot some 3rd person imagery, and followed by my parents we set off from Project-HQ to the formal start line, at Gate 13 of the Feijenoord Stadium in Rotterdam. A few snapshots here and there, and I was on my way.

It all went well up until Eindhoven, where I got my first test with the fully-laden Beast. A traffic jam. Normally these are a piece of cake, but with the panniers (and subsequently, the extra weight) it's always a different matter. Still, I managed to zig-zag my way through, and lots of people kindly made way as they saw me approaching. No sweat.

The first (and only) stop of the day was the War Cemetery in Margraten, near Maastricht right in the southern tip of the Netherlands. I had always thought of going to a cemetery like that someday, as I feel you can only really grasp the devastation of war when you see just how many lives it takes. And that's exactly what such a sea of crosses does to you. Awe-inspiring.

Mind you, the Beast seemed to have a similar effect on some passerby, as they gawkingly turned their heads at the sight of the multimiling behemoth... something which would happen alot more in the weeks to come.

Using some B-roads I worked myself around the terrible traffic around Maastricht, and continued down the motorway to Bastogne. Just when I took a break right before the border though, I spoke with a family on a motorcycle trip as well... and subsequently, they were the first to sign the helmet. One of them rode with a huge backpack (he's the guy up front) - my back hurt just by looking at it!

I found my way to Bastogne pretty quickly - around Liege, I got into a single-lane (thus unfilterable, shucks) traffic jam, but thanks to a bus full of schoolchildren all was well.  It never bores to see kids go mental whenever they see a biker.

The campsite was pretty good too - I had all the space in the world, the ground was soft enough for the tent pegs but hard enough for the bike (something I would sorely miss later down the trip), and I even got to camp under a tree. And ofcourse, trees are awesome!

The panniers got their first fresh sticker addition (just testing my counting qualities here), and after cooking dinner I talked with another biker who had just arrived from the UK. Another helmet signing!

The one thing I could've done without was that there were 2 people on a golfcart riding around the site, announcing something in incomprehensive French through megaphones pretty much the entire evening. I knew I would miss my rocketlauncher at some point - didn't figure it'd be this early...

Anyhow, time to hit the sack, because tomorrow 3 bordercrossings awaited! If you just look at the maps I used, it all tells the story by itself really.

Now, whenever you camp in Summer, you pretty much tend to go to sleep whenever the sun sets (around 21.30), and wake as soon as the sun rises (around 6.30am). So you start pretty early, which from my point of view is quite nice - the temperatures aren't as high, and the roads aren't as crowded. Onwaaaaards!

The next day was a case in point. Early rise, get some grub and get on going. Sometimes I left so quickly, I forgot to activate the GPS and/or the camera. Because of this, the first picture of the Drift's timelapse for Day 2 was this:

Not good, at first glance. However, the more eagle-eyed viewer will see that the bike in the picture is not the Beast.

I was gunning down the motorway toward Luxembourg, when I saw a pack of Belgian bikers on the emergency lane. I pulled over, and asked what was wrong.

As it is, the bike was a chopper. Now, before you start: No, the bike was fine - it was a Honda Shadow. After close inspection we learned the problem was of a more embarrassing nature - the guy had simply run out of petrol. I asked whether they had any with them, after which we shook hands and I went on my way again.

This was one of these days that proved to be pretty demanding - not only did I cross 3 borders, but in the process I racked up over 400 kilometres.

And when you are riding that much, there comes a point where you need to fill up. Oblivious as I am to the international fuel prices, I pulled into the next petrol station... which was in Luxembourg. And boy, was I in for a shock.

Because petrol is 50 cents cheaper per litre in Luxembourg than elsewhere, what awaited me was carnage. Cars, caravans, campervans, everything was waiting in line in the searing heat to save money. Oh dear.

Instead, I opted to have a sandwich on the carpark. Oh dear.

On to France then, where before long I came across yet another traffic jam. And unlike the Netherlands, filtering is illegal. Ou derrière.

But no, I chose to abuse my status as an ignorant tourist. Mais non, cordon blue de la baguette!

By this point I also was on the look out for country stickers. I missed Luxembourg as I didn't feel like weeding through the maelstrom of people at that petrol station, but now, I wanted one for France too. And I also needed petrol, still. Time for un check de map de Michelin, sacre blue de bourgeoisie!

As usually most towns have got a petrol pump of their own I headed down the road you see here. I also looked for a France sticker here, and not even the local Tourist Office had any. I had expected more from them patriottic French! Chansoniere de la Mayonaise!

During a break I met a German on a KLR, who was on his way back home from (I think it was) Spain. Another helmet signing! As I am a sucker for the KLRs ruggid reputation I asked whether I could feel its weight... and goodness, the Beast felt like a GS in comparison! Quelle un miracle extraordinaire!

Before long though, I was out in the open again, with the next hurdle being the French tollroads... and with it, the nervous drivers behind me that don't seem to grasp it takes a bit longer to pay toll on a motorcycle. Merde la vache qui'rit!

And still, I was without a France sticker. This became a mission of unprecedented importance, but neither the petrolstations nor Haguenau had anything on offer. Avez-vous un sticker de France? Non?

No, strangely enough my struggle lasted all the way to the border. The point where I wanted to cross was near the German town of Achern, and the border is a river, crossed by a bridge. Just before the bridge there was  a French tourist office. Would it...? Could it...? S'il vous plait de croissant boulangerie...?

No. 'But,' so said the receptionist behind the desk 'maybe the petrol station on the German side of the border has some'. So I crossed the border, parked the motorbike... but in my sticker-craze I didn't fully extend the sidestand. This is where the Beast had it first lie down... you can still see where it spilled its drink!

 Thankfully, the petrol station I pulled up for offered solace. Vast, obscene, unadulterated amounts of hardcore X-rated solace. Stickers!

France, Luxembourg and Germany in one fell swoop. Das war einfach supahtoll!

Even one of my tent poles snapping didn't get me off my good mood. My randomly selected camping spot (I only saw the number after unpacking) backed me up in my moment of fabelhaftiges Awesomekeit! (also note: tent under tree, yet again!)

After the Russians beside me had put their loved ones on the helmet, it was time to hit the sack again. Tomorrow, Switzerland awaited!

Here's a small video. I'll make one for each report, using random outtakes from the two days in question. These mostly include random encounters, signings of the helmet, cool scenes and/or me behaving like an idiot. Today I've included Margraten war cemetery, Bastogne city centre and the Luxembourg carnage. Enjoy!