Being a university student, and so tied to one place for most of the year, it’s easy to get itchy feet. After our last minute decision to ride our motorbike from Wales to Marrakech last summer, my girlfriend and I decided this year to be more prepared: more savings, more planning, and most importantly, more time. The question is, will three months really be enough?
Of course, on a motorbike adventure, being the master of your own destiny only works as long as the bike does, and in a wet and windy petrol station near the Belgian border with Holland, the bike stubbornly reminded us of this. I must admit that I am probably a bit biased when it comes to singing the praises of travel by motorbike, and if you were to ask me to list all the reasons why travelling on a motorbike is the best, you’d need an hour or two to get through them. Despite this, mechanical failures are definitely difficult to big-up.
As Charlotte lacks the finer mechanical knowledge I pretend to possess, she sat on the kerb and kept my temper from boiling over while I hunted for the problem. Tool roll spread out before me, it did not take long. Under a side panel that covered the battery, I found a wire broken clean in two, the metal underneath the plastic rotten through. The problem was infuriatingly small, but I didn’t have the tools to fix this simple problem. After a quick think I was out of ideas and just sat down on the floor, willing the wire back together with my eyes. Of course, the wire stared back at me, broken as ever and laughing at my incompetence. I could almost hear the bike saying “Ten thousand miles in three months? No chance, mate.” There’s nothing like a breakdown to remind you that that what you’re doing is foolhardy at best, downright stupid at worst.
Rain, wind and a breakdown: it’s hard not to lose hope when you’re on the road in these conditions! (Photographer: vijay chennupati; Flickr)
Accepting that we would need some expensive help, I went into the petrol station to borrow their phone.
“Bonjour, ça va, j’ai un probleme avec ma moto, parler vous Anglais?” I said into the receiver when a breakdown company answered.
“Hello Sir, unfortunately I only speak a little English, I will put you through to an associate who will be able to deal with your problem,” came the calm, collected voice on the other end. Just a little English then!
When the mechanic arrived he too only spoke “a little English”, before launching himself into a tirade against Brexit and recommending us some roads to see in Italy. Still, he had the bike running in ten minutes. We rode away whooping and hollering, and it wasn’t until we reached a campsite over the Dutch border that we realised we’d lost our tent pegs somewhere during the day. We spent a shaky night with the tent tied between the bike and a tree, and hoped that we’d had all our bad luck in one go.
Dümmer See is a large lake in southen Lower Saxony, not far from Bielefeld and Münster. (Photographer: usteinmetz; Flickr)
After our breakdown, the next few days were spent making up for lost time. One night was spent in a wide open field ringed with caravans, our solitary tent in the middle. An old man and his dog braved the morning rain to come and say hello to us. When we told him of our plans his bushy eyebrows disappeared up and under his hood, and he hurried back to his caravan, returning a few minutes later with two cans of Fanta for us. At Dümmer See, a lake in northern Germany, a receptionist in the tourist information centre let us hide in her office from the rain for an hour, helpfully informing us that it was sunny now in Holland where we had just come from.
Spending whole days outside, we slowly observed the landscape change from the flat panoramas of Holland to the forest lands of Northern Germany. Charlotte had lived in Germany for the past year however had never made it as far north as Hamburg, and so we planned on stopping there for the weekend. We pressed on now, aware that we were blessed with time but wanting to spend it elsewhere, further into the trip. Everywhere felt too familiar, too close to home, and we were eager for the adventure to begin properly. Continue reading