Belgium - Australia on an BMW R1100 GS motorcycle, solo.
Report #1 - May 19th to 24th 1998...
Today it is May 24th 1998 - about 5 o'clock, and I am drinking a not so very tasty cup of tea (Lipton Yellow label) at the Garda lake in northern Italy. The Dutch world broadcast is on the radio, the Formula One race has been decided at the expense of Michael Schumacher. I feel like I have a hangover, but that's not because of a party last night.....
May 19, 1998: Departure from Belgium. Lots of highways, of course. Until Dijon, that's where Klaas and I took the nice N5 to Geneva. Klaas gives me an escorte the first week of my world trip. Klaas doesn't like camping, so it's only hotels for us this week.
Our plan is to go from Geneva to the Alps, to be in a good position for a route from the Big Alps to the Cote d'Azur. After a bit of searching (and also because I misinterpreted the directions of a helpful employee of the SAPRR) we arrived in Petit Bornand. Before that we made an involuntary detour, just to learn that higher up the mountain there are only more deserted wintersports villages...
May 20, 1998: From the Alps to the Big Alps: We intended to reach Nice or Cannes using as many and as high as possible mountains. In itself a nice plan, except when in the midst of May there hasn't been any spring of significance. So: the Col de l'Iseran was closed. To be absolutely sure, we assured ourselves that the pass was still covered with icy snow. After such a discovery one has to turn around, something I'm not particularly good at (I rather drive on). This costed me a busted signalling light.
And that was just the start... Later on we discovered that I had taken out my very expensive ear protectors while we were on a pass, and I hadn't stored them away. At the end of our break op this Col de la Cormet de Roselend we drove off, and I either left the ear protectors, or I lost them. We did go back (for 2 hours), but we couldn't find them back. On top of that we were 'helped' by lots of rain.
At last we settled in Albertville, in a big, but almost completely deserted hotel (there were 4 rooms occupied with a total capacity of several hundreds). There we had yet another pizza and went to sleep.
Our initial plan to go to Nice did not work out - we did do about 276 miles in almost 13 hours, but we traveled a mere 31 miles on the map. But we had a lot of fun in viewing the high mountains covered with lots of snow.
May 21, 1998: This morning I took things more seriously, so firstly I called around to find out which passes were open. Only the Col du Galibier dropped from our wish list. Via a small detour we reached the Mediterranean Sea - Klaas and I on our way.
Finally we reached Barcelonette at about 5:45. I wasn't ready to call it a day, but fortunately Klaas was there to slow me down. Finding a hotel with a decent bed took a while, but at 7:30 we sat at a table (again a pizzeria, but this time no pizza for us).
May 22, 1998: To the Mediterrenean via the Gorges de Verdon, also called the Grand Canyon of France. Nice ride, but very warm. We stopped a couple of times to change socks and take off some more clothes. We started with a pass almost 7000 ft high (Col de la Cayolle), we barely reached 10 degrees Celsius. After the lunch in Castellane the temperature had risen to 25 degrees. Lots of traffic, all of which were thos damned tourists... (of course we don't think we are tourists ourselves).
After a fast ride we arrived in St Raphael - a typical Cote d'Azur seaside resort. Hotels everywhere, but all of them full!! As close as we were to the film festival of Cannes and the Grand Prix in Monaco, this was to be expected. Finally Klaas found a place in an apartment behind some hotel. It turned out for the first time this week we had a decent bed! Even the food was different than usual: Vietnamese. Very nice.
May 23, 1998: The coastal road to Monaco took quite some time, we finally saw why everything was booked solid. If we could have made it, we certainly would have watched the qualifying session for the race, but after a lot of hassle we only arrived in Monaco at 2:00 PM. We decided to go on to Italy, and have lunch there.
Near San Remo we found a restaurant, and had a really terrific meal (spaghetti aglio/olio/pepperoni, followed by... a pizza!). After this 'lunch' (4:00 PM) refreshed back on the road, our goal the Como lake (also to recuperate in a Grand Hyatt or whatever). We had to stop to put on our rain clothes, but we made good time. During the rain we decided not to go on, but to get ourselves a luxury hotel room with bath, great bed and room service in Alessandria.
But after rain there is sunshine, and gesturing at almost 100 miles an hour we decided to ride on. Near Voghere Klaas' tank was almost dry, and an Agip gas station sign came in sight (one of the Formule 1 sponsors, so good stuff :-)).
Europe is far away from total integration - in Germany the highways are equipped with on- and offramps which you can take at high speed. France places speed signs if the construction of a turn didn't work out well, but Italy does nothing (yet).
Klaas approached, and saw the impossibly sharp turn to the gas station too late. He braked with all his might, locked up one of his wheels, even let go of the brake a bit, but finally had to decide to ride over the with bushes covered shoulder. That could have worked out well, if the mess from previous crashes had been cleared. There were some bags, fallen off some truck, containing dried-up cement. Later on it turned out that several cars lost (part of their) fender (and left it there).
Klaas' bike takes a hit, and Klaas, who wasn't riding that fast anymore, falls off. He falls down, but is already on his feet before I had a chance of parking my bike. He has a strange lump between his neck and his shoulder, but he says it doesn't hurt. Together we lift his bike from the bushes and check out the damage. The carter leaks oil - continue riding now seems out of the question. After about 1375 miles a big disappointment.
After half an hour Klaas eventually asks for a medic, we arrange an ambulance. Also, we see to it that his bike gets to a tow-away company. Klaas is transported to a hospital in Voghera, where doctors find he has broken his collar bone in 2 places - an operation is necessary. Klaas prefers to be treated in Holland, so he can recuperate there as well. We sleep in the hospital (a first for me), the journey back is professionally taken care of by the SOS guys.
May 24, 1998: The hangover. It all went so fast, I am left behind at 12:00 without my motor buddy. Up front we wanted to say goodbye at a time chosen by us, preferrably atop a high mountain....
I tie up my things on my bike, and start off towards Milan. But the inspiration is gone, and I am not concentrating. When I miss a stop sign placed at a connection between two highways and almost flatten a little car, I'm done.
I put up my tent, and I'm going to sleep a very long time. Maybe things look better then. I've called
Klaas - he was home at 6:00 PM. The operation probably will take place May 25.
Report #1, update - May 24th to 27th, 1998...
When you write a report, hot from the press, you risk that the mood of the day (in this case, a sense of loss) flows through the whole story...
Many thanks for the comforting and uplifting messages sent by the readers of this mailing list! I'm doing really well, the rest at the Garda lake has done me well.
Luckily (or is that unluckily ?) Klaas doesn't have to undergo surgery - in Holland they do not normally put plates and screws on a broken collar bone. If (_if_) Klaas keeps quiet, things will heal by themselves. Let's hope he does stay put....
Klaas by the way had the nerve to tell me after our first day that he found there was no difference in turbulence riding behind a cargo truck on the highway, or riding behind me... I did find out that people in cities give way faster if I ride standing up. I then can look the average trucker straight in the eyes, and I impress the common driver enough for him to steer clear...
Do you know what was very amusing? Klaas' height compared to the height of the attending nurses in the hospital (short in height, not in width...). When I had just arrived, Klaas got up from his seat, and thereby scared the nurses that entered while Klaas was still seated. After that, they warned him for every doorway. Isn't that sweet ?
That it had to be Klaas to suffer this accident is odd - I am the one who has to prove every time that an old man on a BMW _can_ go fast. After Klaas found me waiting after yet another race he said he expected to see a big red thing (that's me) passing by when he saw a belly brusher <-- literal translation - NJ --> in a hurry coming on the road. It was a Yamaha YZF (for the motor freaks), and the driver indeed was in a hurry. All the more so when he got a BMW on his heels, and he couldn't shake me off. He even started to cheat: waiting to overtake so there was no room for me to pass as well. But after the next turn I was at his tail again. When it all was over, he didn't even waive at me.
It now is May 26 and I am in Croatia, in Pula, the southern-most place in Istria. My tent is placed on the southern-most tip of Pula, and I just witnessed a beautiful sunset. Today went very well, I went from the Garda lake to Trieste in record time.
In Trieste I attempted to obtain new ear plugs. North-Europeans are softies apparently, because the audiciens never heard of ear protection. I started off in a regular drugstore, and after 5 minutes I was in the center of Trieste with 2 ladies in white, who feverishly attempted to point out which way I had to go.
There I met with 2 ladies (one from Italy, the other from Argentina), and they listened with disbelief to my babbling in French en Italian. At last they consulted the yellow pages and contacted other companies in their business to find out if anyone could make the opposite of what they usually construct (they normally make hearing aids, not sound mufflers). One of their competitors was willing to make them, and they even employed a lady with a fair knowledge of English. To cut a long story short: this afternoon new imprints have been made of my ears, the ear protectors are on their way....
Now I'm sitting in the sun, it is May 27. In Pula there is a coliseum like the one in Rome. I will check it out later. This camp site is littered with Germans - are the connections Germany-Croatia from the second world war improved ? With a little imagination I find myself in Greece. White cliffs, clear sea, temperatures in excess of 25 degrees. But first I have to cross former Yougoslavia, followed by Romania. Especially the latter concerns me: the corruption is said to be gigantic. I talked to someone in Chamonix (a Scottish fellow, on its way to India) who said that if you are stopped by the police, they make something up, search your stuff, and then offer to settle things in exchange for your jeans. After that I met another person with a similar story. I am not looking forward to this.
Tomorrow I start with the coastal route along the Adriatic shore, first northwards to Rijeka, then southwards as far as possible. What follows I cannot say yet, but again this is one of the charms of this trip.
Well, it is getting too hot here in the sun, time to blow away the cobwebs on the bike....
Greetings from Croatia !