13th May the last day and coming home

13th May This is the last full day of riding. Last evening a red bearded young man arrived on a bicycle, pulling a trailer with an Ortieb bag. He set up near me and we talked.
German cyclist
He is from a German town near the Czech border and is riding to Iceland and around Norway, riding till September I think he said. We were both traveling down to Kristiansand that day – its about 60k but his work was cut out to cycle there, for me it meant going an extremely roundabout route. At the end of the day I had ridden 150miles. I wont detail the routes I took but I don’t think there is a boring road in Norway, apart from when I found myself on the main roads by the coast. A downpour had me retreating into a conveniently placed shopping centre for hot chocolate and a chicken roll. Afterwards my GPS wanted to take me straight into Kristiansand and given that I was soggy I was tempted to call an end to my travels and head straight for the campsite ‘near’ or so I thought to the ferry terminal for tomorrow’s early boat. As it happened I persisted in searching for one final enjoyable route. I have to conclude that Norway is an ideal country for a motorcycling trip. Finding the campsite took ages and the GPS (more about that later) sent me in mad directions, but by 3.30 I pulled into a swanky site in mid refurbishment into something of stellar quality.
Kristiansand campsite
Some of t was already done. Everything is going to work by a card which happy campers charge up and swipe to use the stove or the shower but not thankfully to flush the toilet. The toilet and shower block was astonishing with slate floors and beautiful sinks though they are far too small and the incredible number of spotlights seem to stay on permanently (how easy it might have been to install movement sensors. I set my alarm for 5.45 but in the event I was awake before then – it got light long before – and set up packing up my damp tent and other belongings. I rolled out by 6.15, passed around the barrier and, not getting lost this time, was checked in at the Colorline terminal by 20 to 7. Having learnt from the last trip up to Norway I found myself a comfortable seat, with my book (The Devils) and a supply of food which you have to hide from the food and drink police who are employed to tell people off if they are eating their own food on board or have taken drinks onto the deck. Sitting next to me were 12 or so highly international students, from a Bible college it turns out in Norway, who had a free trip on the ferry. I talked at length to James from Zambia about this and that. He was very earnest. Its easy to imagine him as a Christian. They seemed a nice bunch but without irony.
Once off the boat I headed down the E25 and the four hours or so to Esbjerg to catch my 8th ferry of this trip, the final one and the longest back to Harwich, arriving Sunday. On route in poured and I pulled off to a deserted picnic area and struggled into my waterproof suit as I was getting wet and cold. It took about 10 minutes to get into and by that time the weather was already improving. However, the screen on my GPS which I had damaged last year by dropping it let in water between its two skins. It has guided me back to Esbjerg but despite trying to dry it out with the hair dyryer in my cabin (how nice it is to have a bed and a shower and somewhere to sit) the screen seems to have had it and I cant get today’s stats from it.

Waiting for the ferry were a bunch of people with bikes, a couple riding a Honda Gold Wing and two men from Denmark on their way to Scotland, one on a lovely bright yellow Laverda which he maintains getting scarce parts from a specialist dealer in Koln and the other on a vintage v twin Honda. One of them riding a 1994 BMW k1100, the others told me was a man ‘with no hobbies’ so when he was 60 learnt to ride, now he’s 62, and rather large, a friendly slightly bumbling giant wearing a high vis vest stretched extremely tightly over his jacket. Another man, a Brit who runs a bike courier company in London rode a 1200gs which he has had a few surprising and expensive problems with. The more I talk to bikers the more I see that they get into scrapes with their bikes i.e. being stuck half way up a curb on a street in London and having to wait for a passer by to help them move, or having to be careful about wear to park because they know they can’t move the bike backwards or up an incline. So its not just me. There were also two (separate) eccentric cyclists, one from Denmark with a bg mustache completely coving his mouth, a battered Tasmanian hat, smoking a pipe which he repeatedly appeared to put,, still lit into his trouser pocket. He plans visiting Oxford and Cambridge (pubs he says – and Oxford because he is a fan of inspector Morse) and another man who is originally from New Zealand but has been working in Denmark for many years. He said he was in his sixties and he appeared to be wearing make up. How different this bunch of enthusiasts and eccentrics is to the other – or some of the other – travelers. On the stairwell I just overheard a bunch of retired Brits comparing notes about exotic places in the world they have been to, ‘Fiji, been there done that’ one of them said, describing how they stayed on a gated compound. These ferries seem to wage war on passengers bringing their own food and drink (which is the obvious thing to do as prices are hugely inflated). On this ship there are signs everywhere and on ColorLine they have their own security people who go round telling people off. There seems a trend in accommodation nowadays to once you’ve got people in, and they have already paid for entry, then milk them for as many extras that you might consider should come as part as what you’ve paid for. So these ships seem designed so that every public space is a restaurant or bar and in posh campsites every facility, including wifi sometimes, seems to require an extra charge. It seems the cheaper campsites often just don’t bother with the extra trouble of setting up systems for paying – so wifi was nearly always free for example.

I am on deck 6, level with the cars and in fact only 15 feet away from poor Bertha. The captain has come on and told us we are in for a rough night -which is unusual. This time tomorrow I will be plunged in to going through the backlog of work emails and preparing for another conference.

We’re on the home stretch now on this Sunday morning, with the coast of Suffolk (I’m sure that is the white dome of some power station) in sight as we sail slowly down it. Its a bright day though there are clouds in the sky. It was a quite rough night as the captain warned us and again I could not sleep much. With every lurch my heart was in my mouth. First I thought we might capsize, then when we failed to do that, I worried about Bertha and whether I had secured her properly. This is something some of the others have said they worry about.

What worked well: having some dehydrated food so that I didn’t have to find a shop if I turned up at a remote campsite; when I did buy meat or fish locally to cook it was delicious; having a really toasty sleeping bag helped me get a good night’s sleep in quite chilly climates; generally all the camping equipment worked well; the overall route and timescale was just right; nearly all roads in Norway are stunningly beautiful; taking a waterproof suit was a great idea; fitting extra lights paid dividends for the long dark tunnels; the BMW bike gear was good – not too hot and reasonably waterproof even without the liners; I had two really good books.
What didn’t work so well: some campsites in Norway were set in surprisingly ugly settings, i.e. next to big petrol stations and there was no one there to welcome you – or sell you shower tokens; learning that the bits of old rope hanging around on Norwegian ferries are to tether your motorcycle; I was optimistic in how far north I would get – I only needed one of the three maps I took; I never used the wire mesh Pack Safe nor the water carrier nor the Ortlieb folding bowl.

Day 2

3rd May Phew today was tiring as expected. Just over 300 miles from the Hoek to here, about 25 miles south of Hamburg. I arrived at about 3.30 or so. These ‘biker hotels’ are an enigma. They market themselves in this way, and even have some bike mags around but everyone is so unbikerish and uninterested in my travels or in putting Bertha away for the night that I genuinely began to think I had turned up at the wrong hotel. After fussing about for a while in this strangely shaped room in a hotel that looks beautiful from the front but inside looks and smells as if nearly a hundred years of continuous smoking are being disguised by doses of air freshener, I crawled under the contienental pancake duvet and fell asleep, feeling a bit feverish but perhaps its just tiredness. Last night I slept poorly, I wwoke with my heart pounding in panic that the ship would capsize, the sea seemed rough and horizontal with my eyes closed I could feel every movement, both the regular ones and the sudden shocks. Once asleep I dreamed that I waas constantly battling to keep people out of my room. A stream of young people wanted to come in first to sleep and then as the dream wore on to use my room as an art resource room. I swore at them viciously but they took no notice. At 6.30 the Ddutch woman woke us all up and I got vertical and made my way on the still rolling ship to one of the bars where I paid about #7 for two coffees and a dried croissant with 5 mls of disgusting jelly passing for jam. Preparing my bike to go once on the car deck a man came out of nowhere and asked me where I was going. Norway – eventually I replied. Wow, he said, I feel jealous. These are the nicest moments.

The ride for the first few hours was freezing and I was shivering on the bike and eventually pulled into a service station and had a strange bacon and egg and cheeze and mustard roll and a hot coffee. I put on more layers and soldiered on. Eventually I crossed into Germany which seemed to take an age this time. The ride on the A1 (the aah einz) was uneventful apart from seeing the results of a huge two lorry crash o the other carriage way with the fire brigde in attendance and a long and quickly growing tailback. I
m so glad it wasn’t my side.

So now I am here, showered and with my socks washed, plucking up courage to go down and sample the food. This place markets itself as quite a restaurant with an impressive wine cellar and home to lovely beers, so lets see if it really is.

On asking the apron clad waitress for a table for one I was responded to with wide eyed and speechless shock as if the last thing she expected was someone wanting to dine here. I notice she has a plaster over a vein in her forearm and conclude that doctors have been taking blood trying to work out why she is so stupid. However the rest of the meal went well and I was served a tasty schnitzel washed down with two glasses of refreshing beer, followed by more gifts from Mien host who inquired about my journey to Norway which he must have remembered from my booking. I ended the evening in the car park, now crowded with the smart cars of the well heeled and middle aged diners, smoking a cigarette leaning against Bertha who is waiting for me to continue north tomorrow via Hamburg to Odense. I am so tired despite my earlier sleep and my muscles in my forearms are already beginning to ache.