I set off after work on Wednesday. I’d spent 4 days doing the impossible, a Dunkirk Little Ship called Breda needed her entire Garboard plank replacing. This is the first plank to be laid on a wooden boat, right up against the keel. To do it you need to slide ya self down the concrete, into the dirt and the dead muscles and squeeze yourself under 50 tons of boat and between the trolly it was pulled from the water on. There is only just room for a person down there. To make them is easy, to fit them is a challenge. There is no space to get any weight behind it to lift it in into the hole so you have to lie on your back holding one end up with your feet, the other end with one arm whilst using ya spare arm to aim the sledge hammer at the bottom edge until it agrees to go in. I did 100ft of this, working my way all the round the boat. I weilded sledge hammers so hard against the concrete it created sparks.
I spent my evenings packing and re packing Butch. My Honda Cx500 is commonly refered to as a plastic maggot so I lovingly renamed her Butch so that I can be the Sundance Kid. There were many shakedown rides as the sun was setting after a hard days graft.
Because I’m half the weight of the intended rider it’s imperative that the luggage was distributed evenly. If the rear rack was loaded with too much heavy gear then the head stock wobbled like jelly and she tried to throw her front wheel in the air. It took a few goes to get this right. The god send was the tool bag I had bought for the front handle bars. Filled with every spanner I owned this weighed the front end down enough to compensate for the extra load at the back without me having to eat too many cakes.
By the time I set off on Wednesday evening I was exhausted and filthy but full of niaeve enthusiasm. I stayed over at a travel lodge in Dover, made use of the showers to scrape off the filth and made a fresh start on Thursday morning eager to make it to Germany in time for The Petrollettes Festival.
I only had two days to make it from Calais to Berlin. 583 Miles.
I decided to brave the motorway and stop over in Dortmund which was roughly halfway. I’d love to tell you some amazing stories to get you hooked at this point but it was just me n Butch ploughing down the autobahns at a 100mph feeling slower than snails smoking a blunt on Friday afternoon. BMW’s raced past at speeds I’ve never seen before. Despite the fact the whole world seemed to drive faster than the speed of light, once I’d gotten the hang of fast and slow lanes on the left side of the road it all felt surprisingly safe. Much safer than the M25 at rush hour.
The roads there are much less regulated and in turn the people seem to drive with a lot more common sense. It reminded of when too many rules are imposed upon a teenager and they rebel where as if ya just leave em to it they soon realise whats right and wrong and use their own instincts. The English are the teenage rebellion. We need to grow the fuck up and the government need to take down some nanny cams and let us be.
The first day was a success. I’d made it halfway. I was still alive, my mum hadn’t sent out any search parties and Butch was still running. I checked the forecast as I was settling down in my air bnb and there were warnings of 43 degree heat the next day. Fuck.
The second day was not so successful. Never ever ever ride in 43 degree heat. Its fucking horrendous. I set off at 3am in the morning to try n avoid the sun but failed miserably. By 6am it was roasting hot. By midday it was torture. I’d reasoned with myself along the way that maybe I could take my gear off and ride in shorts….it would be safer than heat stroke. In the end I decided i just wasn’t confident enough on the roads to ride with no protection, not on the motorways. I was still going round roundabouts the wrong way and taking junctions on the wrong side ( I should add for those that don’t know me, I’ve never done this before in my life and have only been riding on a full license for a year). I pulled over and took my socks, my t,shirt and my buff off. I still had my leathers on there was just nothing underneath em.
I didn’t have a proper satnav, just my phone strapped to the handle bars with google maps on it. The case I had put it in was clear and had started heating up like a greenhouse. My phone overheated n turned itself off so I tried to carry on without getting too lost.
I stopped at the next fuel station, feeling a bit queezy at this point. Took my jacket off as soon as my key had flicked off the ignition. I stumbled into the station shop in kevlar jeans and a sports bra. I was a mess. Red hot. Sweating. Covered in goose bumps and shaking like a leaf. I stood as close as I could to the fridge cabinet without actually climbing inside and waited till i felt like i could ride again.
Apparently my own health should have been the least of my worries. I checked Butch over in a shady spot under a tree. She’d been running a bit funny and hadn’t felt quite right. The poor girl is 40 years old and it turns out that those speeds and that heat had caused almost all of her gaskets to fail. The straw that broke the camels back. She now had several oil leaks and a blown head gasket, the tyres were so hot from running on the black tarmac that I could mould them like putty with my hands. I went back into the station shop and stocked up on fluids for both me and Butch, cleaned both spark plugs with an old t.shirt n a wire brush and we set off again.
We weren’t too far from Berlin now, it was only day two and we’d already ridden through 4 countries and we’re heading for number 5.
100 miles to go and we could settle into a hammock and watch the bikes roll in. Thinking back on those first two days of riding if it hadn’t been for the heat nearly killing both me and Butch it really was quite spectacular. Most adventure bikers like to avoid motorways where possible and I totaly get that. Now I’ve done it once i probably wont do it again BUT there is something very eye opening about doing it for the first time. Cutting through the lanes from one country to the next, living off red bull in gas stations and attracting numerous wierdos as you casually do a topless oil check, propping the bike up level with one arm and unscrewing and dipping ya stick with the other. The motorways abroad are not as boring as English ones either. Rather than flattening everything in a 10 mile radius and replacing it with concrete they seem to be kind of carved into the existing landscape, you’re still riding through the hills and the wind farms you’re just doing it really straight and really fast.
Finally we made it to Ferroppolis. About 2 hours south of Berlin. The Petrollettes Festival was waiting for us! I was dripping with sweat and had run out of water, Butch had gotten worse, developing an array of knocks and rattles and spraying oil all up my left leg and boot. She’d burnt, drank, and spluttered through 5 1/2 liters of oil so far. Not good. We needed to stop.
The place was fucking incredible, I’d been transported to the Mad Max film set. All around me was the roar of women revving engines, it filled every space. The atmosphere was like nothing i’d ever seen, to my left was huge old mining machinery 30 or 40 feet high, beautifully industrial with a steam punk kind of a feel. To my right was a huge expanse of water, a man made lake that had been dug when the mining site had been moved. An attempt to create some kind of natural landscape after bleeding the ground dry. It was fucking spectacular.
Down by the lake was a bunch of old shipping containers all stacked up 4 high and turned into a makeshift hotel for the event. I found the girls I was sharing with and we set up camp for the weekend. Val had come from Finland on a bike built for her by her husband( a cafe racer based on a Kawasaki 650 and a Yamaha XS). Line had ridden on her KTM 650 Enduro and Alice had been riding for 3 weeks on her annual rode trip from Marseille, France on her Harley Davidson. We immedietley hit it off and spent the rest of the weekend dancing, riding, swimming and soaking up some rays. On Sunday there was a drag race, anyone could take part after a brief mechanical safety check. Me n Butch never would have passed any kind of safety check regardless of how “brief” it was. Plus I was just a bit scared. So we watched from the sidelines as the girls rocked up, burnt rubber, threw wheelies and disappeared into clouds of dust and smoke. It was fucking epic.
I’d lost a bit of confidence on route to Petrolletes, Butch didn’t feel so safe any more. I was struggling with the whole left side of the road thing and the heat had made me question my riding ability. But all the girls at the show soon picked me up, dusted me off and told me to get the fuck on with it. So I did.
I set off from the festival in high spirits, with a pocket full of maps and suggested routes from the girls. I headed for Berlin first. It seemed crazy to be so close and not go and visit. Everyone back home in London raves about how Berlin is the big party central, the cool place to be.
I ambled around for the day, I went to the Berlin wall on the east side, walked along the river. It reminded me of a cross between, Brighton, Camden Market and Bristol. It was quite a sad place really, lots of my generation still seemed very angry about the past and their was an atmosphere of guilt that hung over the place that I found quite unsettling. The pavements were the same as Camden Market, littered with semi-homeless people in their early 20’s who were high as a fucking kite.
I found a wierd little market and met a really nice old dude who looked a bit like Gandolf. I asked him if he knew of anywhere that sold any food that wasn’t a schnitzel. We ate falalfels together perched on a picnic bench for a couple hours, he told me how he thought it was a sad place too. He told me how people should be forgetting the past. People should be happy. To not move on from these things is a waste of youth. He was very right and I was pleased I wasn’t alone in my observations. We parted ways and he gave me a halfpenny with a boat carved out of the centre. I wear this round my neck now, along with the dog tag my sister bought me before i set off, in case I die n they need to know where to send my body.
I stayed with a friend of a friend in Berlin. The next morning I set off in search of a GPS. I got a TomTom Rider Pro. It was the fucking best investment I’ve made. It didn’t overheat and die like my phone. It told me which way to go round the roundabouts and gave me a new dose of confidence on these roads that seemed so far from what I was used to.
This is the end of this chapter. In the next blog things start to get really exciting. I’ll be heading from Berlin to La Vosges in France. I discover a new found love of mountains, pushing both myself and Butch to the absolute limit and quite frankly just doing some stupidly dangerous shit.
Ride safe and Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do 😉
P.S Apologies for the spelling mistakes. I can’t figure out how to work the spell checker on this new laptop.