If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Denmark Trip Day Eight

D'n Toerstop to home, 550 miles

I had prepared everything the night before, so I was ready to leave by 7 am. I had told Hansel and Gretel of my plan to leave as early as possible, and they warned me "Do not any noise make, we will sleeping are." As a common courtesy, I would have been as quiet as possible in any case, but I wondered now if revving the nuts off the bike and showering their tent in grass and mud might not have been a bad idea. I decided to be nice. Sliding and dropping the Pan on wet grass, and having to ask them to help me get it back up again, would not have helped my composure one little bit.

The journey towards Calais and the Tunnel was pretty uneventful, except for Antwerp. I was approaching Antwerp on the E34, and was about ten miles from the city ring road, when traffic started to slow and then stopped. As I said before, the Belgians are brilliant about allowing bikes to filter through traffic, and many of them moved to one side to allow me through. But I could still only move at about 10 mph, at which speed the Pan is a bit of a handful. It's heavy (about 350 kg loaded) and it's wide, and the last thing I wanted to do was to have to exchange names and addresses with an angry Belgian for scraping his nice Picasso with my footrest. So I filtered where there was a good space to do so, hung back when there wasn't, and moved aside to let the Belgian bikers have free rein when they came up behind.

This went on for what seemed like hours. It was made worse by the road construction. The road was made of concrete slabs, and in between the lanes there were channels, perhaps an inch wide, which made the front wheel tramline like hell and the bike wobble and shake, because that's exactly where I had to ride. In places, there was also a vertical difference between the slabs too, with one side half an inch higher than the other. Once or twice I thought it was going over, only to rescue it a moment later with a bit of trials-style Body English.

The Pan has a fairly high idle speed, and at 5 mph it needs the clutch pulling in to stop it romping ahead. This isn't a problem in normal traffic, but after half an hour my left forearm was pumping up like a weightlifter's and I was getting pretty uncomfortable. Eventually, I decided to be really baaaad and I moved onto the hard shoulder and cruised slowly up that, past the traffic and the hard stares of the drivers. A few others were doing the same, but they were generally young men in scruffy old cars. Still, needs must. I made it to a service area and decided to take a break and see how things worked out. As I had left early, I knew I had plenty of time.

I parked the bike and started chatting to a man who had also parked his car and was standing next to it, having a cigarette. (Is smoking in your own car illegal now? I saw lots of this in Germany too.) He told me that there had been a big accident on the Antwerp ring road, and the traffic in all directions was backed up for miles. He had been waiting in the queue for over two hours, and was resigned to being very late indeed for work.

I had a munch of trail mix and a drink of water, and then pressed on. Fortunately, the jam only lasted for another few hundred metres, and then things started flowing again.

I made the Eurotunnel check-in at about 11.40, in time to catch the 11.50 train (my booking was for 14.20, but they are helpfully flexible). Despite the warnings against flash photography on the train ("it interferes with our fire safety systems") I took a final shot of the Pan as we were setting off.

The only other bike on the crossing was a newish Yamaha FJR1300, ridden by a couple who had just done a short visit to Verdun. They were as different from the couple on the outward crossing as could be - friendly, chatty and thoroughly nice. He was in his late 60s and looked retired; she was around 50 and charming. They used to be die-hard BMW owners, but recent experiences with reliability issues (you stop at the péage to pay your toll on a 2-month-old bike, and the bike won't start again - in fact, it takes repatriation on a flatbed and a week in a main dealer's workshop before it could be persuaded to come out to play again) have made them fans of Japanese reliability. They knew D'n Toerstop well, and had stayed there many times. Small world - by which I mean to say that this bike-touring business is a world, and it is quite small, and the same people are bound to crop up from time to time.

When I got onto the M20, my nose really was turned towards home, and I let rip. I must have kept it around 110 all the way to the M25, until I realised that the last time I filled up was in Holland, and that the numbers on the fuel display were ticking down again. Also, it had started to rain.

The Pan's weather protection is awesomely good. Despite riding in drizzle and showers occasionally on the trip, I had never needed waterproofs. The fairing kept my body, legs and arms dry, and the only things to catch the rain were the tips of my boots (already waterproof) and my hands, which got damp eventually. But this rain was getting harder by the minute, and soon I was staring to feel water creeping where water shouldn't, and my jeans and jacket getting damper and damper. When I stopped at Clacket Lane sevices for fuel, I decided to tog up, and I was glad I did. The rain turned into a steady downpour, and for the next 50 miles, all I could see were the roofs of the cars around me; the rest was hidden by spray.

In these conditions, warning bells start ringing, and I stayed in the slow lane, with my speed at around 40. The Pan ploughed on, never missing a beat, and being on such a big and stable bike gave me a lot of confidence. There was no drama with the weather - it was just a minor inconvenience. By Swindon, the rain had eased, and I stopped at another service area to take off the waterproofs and allow my jeans to dry out naturally in the wind.

I could feel myself almost home by now, and I didn't want anything to spoil the trip at the last fence, so stuck to an almost-legal 80-85 and pottered my way towards Wales. I filled the bike up a couple of miles from home, then pottered the last stretch and drove onto my drive at about 6 pm. I was tired, but not stupidly so, and ready for a proper sleep in a proper bed.

It had been a great trip, with a lot of 'firsts' ticked off - first holiday alone, first holiday on a bike, first time I'd ridden a bike abroad. Worth it? You bet - I am already planning the next one.

Well, that's the story of the trip. I still have a lot of thoughts, which I will no doubt put down here as they occur to me, but they will be general things. Eight days on a bike allows you a lot of thinking time.

If reading this has made you want to do something similar, be my guest. It's far easier than you think. And we all need a new challenge now and then.


  1. Hello again my good friend.It sounds like you had a trip that many other people should have. Well come on over and see our nice girls and lovely cows. http://www.mctouringclub.dk/
    We come to see you and Anna next summer so just start collecting beer. Greetings from the biker-vikings.

  2. I'll start collecting the beer from tomorrow, but I warn you it is nothing like what you can get in Denmark. To call it tap water would be too kind.



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