vrijdag 6 september 2013

GR2013 Epilogue: Looking back & ahead

Looking back, I still can't really fathom what I've done. I really can't. Looking at the trip compilation I see the disembarkment into Greece, and I just can't grasp that on that moment I set foot in the country I'd always thought about seeing some day, ever since I'd been a kid. During that moment it felt surreal, and it still does. Like it was all some awesome dream that passed by in a flash.

However, it was by no means an easy feat, this trip. I tend to forget this, but the first couple of days nearly destroyed me. Later on, the immense heat was also a factor starting to interfere - being native to a moderate climate, I'm not used to being in so much heat, and doing so for such a prolonged amount of time was, despite the precautions I'd taken, incredibly tough.

Things I'll change for next time will probably include a beaded seat instead of a sheep skin. Because of the long riding hours, the sheep's fur was eventually flattened to a point where it was just another unventilated layer on the seat, losing its use completely. Because of this, saddlesore became a real issue around halfway down the line.

Anyways, time to sum up the niceties and the not-so-niceties!

The Good and the Bad

Bad things

-Greek tarmac
-Rain in Slovenia
-All the tourists in Croatia and Austria, and the subsequent bad traffic
-One zip of my coat breaking on the second day, rendering 1 pocket useless
-An air mattress terrifyingly slowly deflating itself
-My phone peeling itself
-Montenegrin ridged tarmac
-Bosnian cagers in white cars
-Getting used again to the way more unpredictable West-European traffic
-Camp sites next to a lake or sea, but without any access to them
-That Italians don't speak English 9 times out of 10.
-Swiss city plans
-Everything between Manfredonia and Brindisi
-Not finding a Bosnia sticker
-Paying toll
-Italian siestas. You get to a city centre to get supplies, and everything is closed
-That most petrol stations didn't sell milk
-The customer service in some B&Bs and hotels
-Running into a Dutch colony 1000 kms away from home

Magically conjuring up a Bosnia sticker!

Good things

+Greek women
+The weather. 30 days on the road, 2 of which I rode in the rain. I call that a good score.
+My summer suit. It was perfect.
+My coolvest. Worked like a dream, and it was well worth the investment
+My Camelbak. I could even drink whilst going 120 kph.
+My tooltube. Worthwhile addition.
+Croatian receptionists
+Austrian barmaids
+Greek women
+Albania with its amazing scenery, and its mentalness
+Zooming along in Roman traffic. Riding around like a scooter!
+How Bosnia surprised me
+Mani, Southern Greece. Beautiful remote pice of Earth
+Seeing the Colosseum for the first time at the end of a street
+The nights out in Veria, Kalamata and Igoumenitsa
+and the women durnig those same nights
+The Mediterranean road-credo of Screw the rules, respect each other.
+River camp Bara in Blagaj, Bosnia. Perfect little camp site, with an 8 degree river serving as both airconditioning as well as a fridge!
+Riding off the ferry. Surreal.
+My tires hardly wearing after all the abuse. Only the rear had lost 1mm upon arrival back
+Having lunch together with Konstantinos and Maria. Albania jokes all the way!
+Did I mention Greek women yet?

Now, it's down to the most positively surprising on this trip. In ascending order, they were:


It was the one country that showed why it's a good thing to go on a trip like this without having seen any pictures or videos. Its beauty just blew me away. The people were amazingly kind, and more importantly, it wasn't as hot as everywhere else.

It also harbored the one road in over 8000 km that managed to shut me up, and almost bring me to tears with its stunningness (see this video for a closer look).

To me, this little piece of Earth shall henceforth be known as 'the Scotland of the Balkans'.

Up next in the list is...

Greece and her hospitality
(which also includes the women)

I know it's a culture thing, but that doesn't stop me from saying how insanely humbling it all was for me. People surrendering their own beds, calling a café from work to take care of me, paying for my food even though we'd already left the country... I could go on forever.

It's no coincidence that the one sentence I managed to learn while in Greece is to thank people for their hospitality. Truly amazing. Angelos, Akis, Fotis, Socrates, Dimitris, Maria & Konstantinos and Pavlos & Rachel, my hat goes off to you.

Still though, the real surprise, the real star of this trip was

The Beast

Yes. My '99 Honda Transalp.

It took everything the Balkan threw at it, ate it up and asked for seconds. Not once did it fail to start, not once did it misfire or do anything at all out of character. It went through major potholes that nearly maxed the suspension, incredible inclines on gravel surfaces... and it didn't even flinch. Every time I thought it was totally out of its depth, it easily soldiered on without missing a beat.

It basically proved why I love it so much; it's tough and dependable as old boots and no matter what, it will always get me to where I want to be. Rain, shine, scorching heat or suffocating humidity.

Sure, it's not the quickest, it's not the most powerful. It won't win any awards for styling, it doesn't meet any modern standards. It's got horrible plastic panels that break if you handle them too roughly. It's got a luggage rack that bends if you only look at it. It's got no fuel gauge, and it likes the taste of oil. But it brought me more than 8000 km over Europe's worst roads, without any problems at all.

And then I think of the Austrian BMW I encountered in Southern Switzerland - two years old, and its battery couldn't hold a charge anymore. You could almost hear The Beast laughing in the background. No, if there was one thing on the Beast that let me down, it was the fruitcake riding it.

So what's next?

I'm writing this about 2.5 weeks after arriving back home, and as I said in the final part of the ride report: it's kind of strange how quickly I wanted to go back on the Beast again. I immediately knew I wanted to keep doing this.

It's like a virus, an addiction... I don't know. 10 days after coming back in Rotterdam, I was already discussing the plans for the 2014 trip with two other riders.

These plans are, upon writing this, not set in concrete yet, but as for now the plan is to circle the Baltic Sea coming Summer. The route will be shorter  - a mere 6500km.

This time, I don't plan to do it solo though - my riding buddy Heiko is joining me. From The Netherlands we'll go into Germany, then Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark before riding back into Germany and back home again. 9 countries, in 3 weeks time. I guess I'll be running out of room for stickers sooner than expected.

When the auctions have passed (they start 13.00h CET) and the project is at its actual end, I will make some adjustments to the site to provide room for future trips without making things confusing. Every page will remain though - I like to keep things as they are as much as possible, just because I'm a sentimental bastard. The Project's Facebook page will remain the main hub on FB for updates.

In any case, it's 10 months till the Summer of 2014. I suggest you watch this space!

(but not before the last bit of randomness, ofcourse)