Belgium - Australia on an BMW R1100 GS motorcycle, solo.

Report #4 - June 2nd to 16th 1998...

Menno and Miriam

From the Adriatic coast in Croatia to ... Holland! Because I could not pass up on one of my best buddy's wedding. I happened to be travelling northbound anyway, and wanted to make the stop in Switzerland that was planned the first way around.

I reached Rijeka at 10:30 AM to reclaim the money I paid for the reservation for the boat from Split to Rijeka. That was refused - that's 41 Runa less to spend...

I really enjoy travelling unprepared - no worries about where to go next. And so, without asking myself what the distance is I decided to go to a small village in the neighborhood of Bern, Switzerland. It is called Farnern, and it is the place Jory lives. I met Jory through Lydi, they grew up together. Jory and I get along very well, hence the visit, although Lydi is no longer the linking pin. But, the jorney is long.....

It starts off with Rijeka - Austria. This trip involves Slovenia, and therefor borders. Not that they cause any problems by themselves, but every time you need different currencies, even if you thought you wouldn't spend any money. The toll booths require an money exchange trick, and that takes time. As said, first off I stopped in Rijeka to reclaim my money, then a stop because a truck toppled in front of me (the driver just climbed out, the whelles were still spinning), then crossing a border (nothing noteworthy), then a lunch. In short - the first part of this trip took quite some time and I didn't generate the desired speed.

Austrians are a peculiar people when it comes to traffic. It was Salzburg where I had to control the traffic I passed using my steel-tipped boots. And it was an Austrian in Slovenia who tried to teach me that owners of an Audi and bike riders should wait their turn, while I thought bikers were allowed to pass anything anytime...

I ended up in heavy traffic which I passed, mostly after car drivers made room for me by driving on the right-most side of the road. This Austrian however steered left when I attempted to pass him. I dropped anchor, and waited for the next turn... There I could slip passed him, he had no other choice. There he (and maybe the whole family in that car) thought it prudent to bump into me. My rear wheel swung about a bit, I accelerated. I didn't stay to check out the dent in his fender, that would only mean additional delay. And my trunks aren't brand new anyhow, with my trunk-against-the-wall parking technique...

So in a hurry to the Austrian border. From there on to Italy, driving south of the Alps (going over the Alps would mean going into the kind of weather North-Europeans seemingly love so much - rain). Avoiding the beautiful passes in the Dolomites I took the transit route and used the Brenner Pass. Why is it I hear this song in my head? ("With burning wheels I race through the Brenner Pass" - Henk Wijngaard <-- yep, another typical Dutch thingie: Henk is a well-known trucker producing sing-alongs telling tales of long journeys in his truck through Europe - NJ -->). From there it's on to Liechtenstein, and from there to Zurich and Bern. But it's long! Thirteen and a half hours of steering, with only stops for gas. Finally my bottom got sore. But the reception Jory gave me was very heartwarming indeed.

Thursday night I finally arrived in Lierneux, didn't unpack, but only searched for my suit and tux. Next day on the road again at 7:00 AM, this time in an MG. Sometimes I couldn't suppress the waiving at bikers. Once in Amsterdam I almost drove to the front of the line waiting for a traffic light. Arrived way before schedule, so I went out to look for an audicien who knows what an ear protector is without having to describe the thing in detail. I found one, but he wouldn't size them up because the used ear plugs had left some pieces in my ears. So on to see a doctor.

"Are you registered here?" - No. "Do you have an appointment?" - Nope. "What do you want?" - told the whole story - the secretary called the doctor out of a meeting with a registered patient who did have an appointment. Because cleaning one's ears to fit ear protectors, while on the way to a wedding as part of a world trip has top priority. The story really does its magic everywhere - hence the joy of travelling.

The audicien was very surprised to see me back so soon. Time to tell the whole story once again, because it would take 3 weeks to get them ready. The imprints of my ears were sent off to the laboratory that same Friday, and I arranged to have them shipped to a foreign address supplied by me. Poste restante Brindisi, Athens - all possibilities and time shifts taken into account. Until the audicien (doctor Hein - reccomended) told me the protectors could be ready within one day. Where would I be this Tuesday? Somewhere in the Alps, I think. "Do you know the address?" No, of course not. But I could visit Jory once more. Called her, and gave her address.

Menno and Miriam were pleasantly surprised with my arrival. Pim, being the one arranging all festivities at the wedding, apparently had a hunch (or had overheard something), because he sent me an email asking if I would attend. Miriam looked beautiful in het wedding gown and hat, and Menno really hadn't seen her in these clothes. In an American convertible (a Parisienne) they drove from his home to the town hall of Baarn. On the question: "You probably were very nervous when you asked Miriam to be your wife on top of the Empire State Building, weren't you ?", he answered: "Yes, because of the height!"

After that we went to the church in Soest. I found the vicar a mope from the start, solely because of his looks and silly little movements he made. On top of that he announced to have forgotten his papers. Lucky for him he could remember the plot to the 2 stories used as metaphores (about wine, water and a combination of them). He then raced through the ceremony without a glimpse of improvising talents. Short of the preach that is. That one came out like a breeze, eyes closed, hands folded. Now I'm not a regular church visitor, and people standing at the altar telling me what is good and bad always give me the creeps. I hope Menno and Miriam know what to do with the devoted words which primarily were meant for them anyway.

Next everybody returned to Amsterdam for a dinner trip on a boat, after which the wedding party took place on that same boat. I know the parties Menno and Miriam throw, so I used the pause to book myself a hotel room. The food aboard was delicious! Even Menno assured me he didn't know a FireBlade could taste so well. The guests were numerous - it was a great party. At the end Menno and Miriam wished everyone well, including me. It became an emotional moment - after a year of very intense contact and the founding of a succesful company it was time to say goodbye. This time no return for anything.

Behind the train station in Amsterdam I found the backdoor to be locked, so I had to walk around the station, dressed in tux. I was addressed by someone holding a filled beer glass asking if I knew what would be the shorter route: going left or right. I told him I didn't know, but I was going to try left. "I'll walk with you", he said, and put the filled beer glass in his shirt pocket to light a cigarette. His name was Martijn, a medicine student, member of the student fraternity (and therefor experienced with beer, handling beer glasses and ingesting beer) and he was on his way to a pub where the other club members should be. "I'll come with you," I said, and that seemed fine with Martijn. I ended up in a joint where the golden stuff was 50 cents cheaper than elsewhere, and it was fully loaded with fraternity members. 30-year old students, "already" into their fourth year, braggy types with too-expensive clothes, mainly the non-sober types. So I had another drink as a salute to the ending of the wedding party. The (drunken) talk was about ... the choices to make involving getting children.

The next day (a Saturday) I visited JC and Sandra in Driebergen - very nice to see each other again somewhat unexpectedly (somewhat, because my parents accidentally mentioned it when JC and Sandra stayed at my home the previous week). The first few days of my journey saw many things go wrong - lost my ear protectors, broke my cell phone charger, my tooth brush is broken. I found a shop in Driebergen that sold Braun toot brushes, but no old models. So I bought a new one, and the next day I took it apart to alter it. I also had the first few films developed, and stocked enough APS film to last until Singapore.

For the techies: such a tooth brush has a voltage transformer with one part of it embedded in the lower part of the brush, and the other part is in the charger unit which needs 220 Volts. When you remove the coil from the tooth brush, you can recharge it with 6 volts DC as well. That is: the older models could do that. The new one seems to be capable of the same, although one of the parts got very hot. Then I glued a connector in the tooth brush en Bob's your uncle (I already had a 12-to-6 volt DC/DC converter built on my bike).

Another important reason to travel 30 hours (from Sarajevo to Amsterdam) was to visit Klaas - I wanted to see how he was coping. According to the Dutch doctors, it's difficult to put together a collar bone using plates and screws, because especially in a collar bone this material immediately sets off reactions in the wound tissue, making additional surgeries necessary. Therefor in Holland one has to keep the arm still, and the broken bone should heal by itself. (Which Grand Prix motor coureur broke his collar bone last year during the training but still competed in the race the next day?)

Meanwhile Klaas is in trouble - with one lame arm (read: immobile arm) a lot of ordinary chores get to be impossible to do or at least very difficult. It starts with dressing and undressing, but also impairs car driving. Poor Yvonne has a full day's work bringing Klaas (and the children) to work (and to the schools). But mentally things are OK with Klaas and the family, and that's the most important part. Even the boring jokes from non-bike riders about side wheels were lessening. For now, he will need his positive attitude for about 4 weeks more... because that's the amount of time it will at least take. The last set of x-ray pictures still showed a collar bone in 3 separate pieces.

From Klaas back to my home in Belgium takes a 2.5 hour drive. I was planning on leaving early, but I had trouble getting away, as is often the case with Klaas and Yvonne. And so I was still present when there were a couple of visitors: Niek and Anja. Again surprised faces at my appearance (well...). It turned out Niek had taken on the job of translating these reports into English, specially for my girlfriend Carolyn. I've asked Niek to continue translating (despite the amount of work it takes) and sending the English versions to the English mailing list. Niek is now the officially designated translator! That's great, because I find it hard to set aside the time to just write the Dutch report. Hooray for Niek! To top it off: he has put the stories on the Internet as well: for the Dutch version, and for the English one. <-- Nope, no bribes were offered for these statements ;-) - NJ -->

Spent all Sunday taking apart the broken phone charger (it ran so hot the solded contacts of the coils and diodes melted and came loose) and rebuilding the beloved tooth brush. (OK, I also spent some time doing nothing at all.)

Monday morning I took my very dirty bike to Bastogne for a major overhaul. Bad news: it would take more than a day and so leaving Tuesday was out of the question. I took care of some financial business, collected a new credit card, got very annoyed about the cell phone from my parents working badly from a beach in Spain (my dad was authorized and had the secret code of my card, and I had his code. My old credit card and code were already blocked...)

My motor bike was ready, all cleaned, with new oil, tyres, spark plugs, filters and tuning. What a nice change it is to meet a BMW dealer who is not arrogant, gives you a free loaner and cleans your dirty bike as well! Tuesday I repacked all my luggage after removing the gas tank to hide away the new credit card numbers and other xerox copies of important documents in a secret place above the battery.

Early wednesday morning I left for Switzerland, on my way to Jory again. Arrived there late in the afternoon, enduring a few heavy rains along the way (filling up with gas, combined with emptying my boots).

On rare occasions it happens that a tyre causes a twist in the wheel, although the tyre is correctly balanced. You'll feel this one coming: my steer trembles heavily when riding between 60 and 100 mph. Especially in the rain this causes decreasedod stability - very uncomfortable. Jory knew a great motor dealer - Grogg. So it was off to Robert Grogg, who turned out to be a world champion side-motor cross! Of course he knew Benny Jansen and Frans Geurts. (They too are world champions side-motor cross, but they now try to compete in the road races using a new engine from Egbert Streuer. Sub-sub sponsering: me...) And the two brothers Lejeune from Bastogne, Belgium (that name is printed below my license plate as being 'my' BMW dealer) were known as well (as world champion solo motorcross - I keep forgetting which of the two, I think it is Eric Lejeune). We felt right at home, and I keep ending up with world champions for maintenance on my bike.

Grogg knew the problem - it cannot be solved, but it can be moved. By turning the tyre half way and rebalancing the problem now manifests itself between 15 and 40 mph. Still not ideal, because it gets worse when you put stress on the tyre if you brake, and in going down mountain passes you do that all the time. In the mean time I have put behind me over 600 miles, the chances of reclaiming or replacing is small... We'll see - when I'm fed up with it I'll buy a new one. Grogg refused to get paid for his work. Instead he wanted to hear the whole story about the trip.

The bad weather continued, and the ear protectors seemed to have catched that mood, for they arrived not earlier than Friday. But Jory, the kids and I had a great time together while it kept raining cats and dogs. I left Saturday, on my way to northern Italy. It was a beautiful day, no rain, but very cold indeed. That night it actually snowed above 5,000 feet. It seemed like winter time on top of the mountains. I only took the smaller roads, crossing Switzerland (beautiful country by the way) and settled at the Como Lake.

I still felt very cold waking up Sunday morning. My muscles were sore and I felt lousy. I thought this might be the result of sleeping in a strange position, so I went on my way anyway.

Snow on the pass

I committed a traffic violation again on the Passo della Stelvio (that one is about 7,400 feet high): all signs coming up the mountain indicated the pass would be open, but on top there was a sign 'closed for all traffic' with a sub-sign 'danger of avalanches'. This was caused by the freshly fallen snow, combined with the fact that on Sundays the very Catholic Italians don't clear away the snow. I talked a while with an Austrian, who just arrived coming up the mountain. So it should be possible - and I started the descend, although I'm no hero in the snow. And my indicator light had just been replaced with a new one.

Bikers help each other - they were waiting for me - with the help of five others we dragged six bikes through the heaps of snow that had fallen on the road because of mini-avalanches. The stupid part of it was that I forgot to take a picture of this unique fresh snow situation in June (too busy with the bikes and the snow I guess).

I kept feeling very cold, even in my insulated outfit and despite the physical strain. And besides the headache I developed a sore throat. So I contracted an inflammation of the throat. I found myself a hotel at 2:00 PM and was fast asleep at 2:30 PM.

That night I battled down some food (if you don't eat you grow even weaker) and resumed sleeping until next morning. The weather forecast predicted rain in the afternoon, and indeed I stayed dry for two of the four Dolomite passes. Again it was very cold on top of the passes (8 degrees Celsius) and when it started raining the fun quickly washed away, So on to Venice, and from there to Ravenna. My throat is still sore, but it is improving.

Im at a camp site called Adriano, in a place called Lido Adriano, at the Adriatic coast in Italy. Me being Adriaan, I couldn't resist that many things in common with my name. Today is devoted to getting rid of the ache in my throat, answering email and writing this report.

Erik had left a voice-mail: two weeks without email, was I still alive? And what to do with the bottle of whisky he would drop off in person in Australia because of a bet? So I quickly emailed a keep-alive packet (tech talk meaning a life sign). During sending this message it became apparant that others had sent messages of the same nature. Sorry! I'll promise to keep better track of time and I'll try to obey the two-week period. But I'm having a such great time I sometimes loose all notion of time. Now and again I even have to check this little computer to see what day we live. But it sure is a great feeling knowing so many care!

I want to wrap this report up with a couple of words about Kosovo. In a private email written some 4 days ago I wrote: "I get very angry about the pace in which military plans for intervention in Kosovo are developed. Again we are wasting our time, while people are slaughtering each other, like they did in Bosnia. Now they say this is a different war than the one in Bosnia, but meanwhile we don't do anything. Just talking about sanctions against Servia. And Milosovic is laughing, because with the Russians in front he again succeeds in putting up the parties against each other."

Today (June 16) Slobodan Milosovic went to Boris Jeltsin, or so the world broadcast tells me, and the announced statement turns my anger into rage. It is going to happen again! Servia says it will be helpful towards the contact group, they will negotiate, they will allow supervisors (you remember, Sebrenica - those you can use as hostages), they will act, but jst a bit too little: Servia will not retreat their special police forces. Friends of Boris and Slobodan have got things worked out again: the UN will probably not come forward with a resolution under the threat of a Russian veto. In the mean time the stories about concentration camps rear their ugly heads again. NATO: do something! NOW!!

Ah. I needed to get that out of my system as well.