The Journey

Europe 2015 pt. II

My ferry tickets have been purchased; it’s actually happening. 

“It,” of course, is my ridiculously grand adventure to Italy –– a motorcycle journey through seven countries, covering at least 3,000 miles. On my own.

I have more than 4 months to prepare for this epic ride, but already I can’t sleep. At least I’ve taken the first and most important step: committing to it. On 3 July 2015, I will ride to the other side of the UK and board a night ferry to the Netherlands. Then, I’ll spend the next few days making my way south to the Tuscany region of Italy.

I am planning to visit a friend in Saarbrücken, Germany, on the way, which explains the slightly odd route I’ve chosen. The Google machine insists I should get to the continent via ferries or trains that run from Dover, England, to Calais, France. But what Google doesn’t take into account is the fact that taking the ferry to the Netherlands costs less, all things considered.

I’ll be taking an overnight ferry and have booked a cabin for the journey. That in and of itself feels exciting and exotic. Far more so than just staying in a hotel in Calais, which was my original idea. And, as I say, it’s cheaper –– even with breakfast thrown in. Not to mention the fact that the ferry inherently provides strong incentive to stick to a schedule. On the second day of the trip I should be on the road and riding to Germany by 8 a.m.

A nifty side-effect of this new route is that it means I’ll be spending the bulk of my time in German-speaking countries (Luxembourg, Germany and Switzerland), which makes things easier in terms of language learning.

Just about everyone I’ve spoken to and everything I’ve read (thank you, Gary France, for your very useful European touring guide) has insisted I need not worry about learning the local lingo. The majority of Europeans are fluent in English, they say. And certainly that was true 20 years ago when I was hitchhiking across France. I have no reason to believe things are different now, but my years of living in Wales and knowing just how much people appreciate that I can speak Welsh makes me want to put in the effort.

Not too long ago I downloaded some German learning podcasts and have been listening to them on a daily basis. Obviously, I won’t be able to discuss the meaning of life with Germans and the Swiss, but hopefully I will have enough of the language to at least show respect and get directions to good restaurants.

I’ve had someone suggest that when in Germany I take the time to ride the famous Schwarzwaldhochstraße, a particularly popular route for motorcyclists that conveniently leads to the Weltgrößte Kuckucksuhr, aka the World’s Largest Cuckoo Clock. Because, dude, that is exactly the sort of thing to be checking out on a road trip. How could you even consider passing that up?

Weltgrößte Kuckucksuhr

I’m planning to go to Bern, Switzerland, at some point, as well, for the sake of swimming in the River
Aare, though I’ll probably save that as something fun to do during the trip back from Italy. As my route slowly materialises, I can’t help but also turn my attention to other facets of planning –– what to bring, how to bring it, etc. Those of you with a keen eye will notice something different about my bike in the picture at the top of this post. I’ve finally broken down and bought some hard panniers.

Frustratingly, I will probably need to get a new set of tires before I go, as well. At the moment, the Michelin Pilot Road 4s that I have on the bike are in really good condition, but they’ve already got nigh 4,000 miles on them and I know I’ll be racking up at least 2,000 more miles before the trip. Considering that my European adventure could see me clocking as many as 4,000 miles (not to mention I’ll be loaded down with gear) and I don’t know how long PR4s are supposed to last, I’m thinking it will be wise to just get a new set shortly before I head out.

That’s not a financially pleasant thought, but it makes more sense than pushing my luck and then finding myself having to get a new set put on in Düsseldorf. Similarly, I’m thinking it will be wise to invest in a quality sat-nav. I’ll have to get one regardless, because my existing hand-me-down device only has maps for the UK and Ireland. I’m considering getting the new TomTom Rider, although it’s stupidly expensive.

I’ll need some physical maps, an emergency tire repair kit, perhaps a new visor for my helmet (the existing one is starting to get pretty scratched up), maybe a CrampBuster, and so on. Lots of little things. So many little things, in fact, that I’m not sure of what all I’ll need. And I’m not sure what I won’t need. The tendency when looking at such a daunting task is to over-prepare, to bring too many things.

I remember when I took my 3-month road trip across the United States back in 2009; I ended up hauling around a whole load of crap I didn’t need –– too many sweaters and a pair of boots I never wore. In that case, I was in a car. So, it didn’t matter too much. But everything I carry to Italy will be a thing I can feel the burden of: when I’m trying to accelerate, when I’m at a stop and balancing the bike. Logic says I should try to be as minimalist as possible but emotionally I feel a need to pack all the things.

As always, any advice you may have is greatly appreciated.