Team Poland Tour of The Southwest: Part 3

June 29, 2016

This was my last day to ride with my new Polish friends. It had been a long time since I rode with anyone else, and it felt strange at first, but I was enjoying the past few days, not only the riding and the scenery, but the companionship. My lack of language skills didn’t create a barrier — at least not as much as I feared it would, thanks to Michau and Lukasz’ excellent english — and we were able to enjoy each other’s company.

After packing up our camping gear, we rode a short distance to a bath house.

 

The water here is supposed to be very good for you, so we all drank some. Well, all of us except Ela. She had tasted it before and knew better. It has a very metallic taste, and almost seems a bit carbonated as well. But, when in Rome, er, Poland…

We continued on to a huge fortress in Kłodzko.

Kłodzko Fortress

 

This fortress has existed for hundreds of years, changing hands between the various ruling factions in the area. During WWII, it was used by the Germans as a prisoner of war camp, as well as an extension of the Gross-Rosen concentration camp.

 

The fortress has a large labyrinth of tunnels beneath it as well.

 

As you would expect, the views from the fortress are expansive.

 

 

After Klodzko, we rode together across the border into Czech Republic for a typical Czech lunch. I had a beef goulash. Some of the others had Smaženy Syr, which is fried cheese. Think of fried mozzarella sticks, but in the size of a large piece of toast, and typically with Edam. It looked so good I ended up having it for dinner later.

At this point we both had about 90 miles to get to our respective destinations — mine in Czech Republic, and theirs home near Wrocław.

Saying goodbye to a great group of new friends: Paweł, Marcin, Lukasz, Michau, and Ela. I know I’ll see Lukasz and Michau again in Texas or in Poland; I’m hoping the others decide to join them in the States, and if I’m around, I’ll ride with them for as long as I can.

 

It was a great few days hanging out and riding with this group. And the advantages of having local tour guides who speak the language and know the history is priceless. I hope I’m able to reciprocate in the future if these guys come to the States.

As odd as it felt to be riding in a group, it now feels odd to be riding alone again. But I’ll adjust quickly.

Team Poland Tour of the Southwest: Part 2

June 28, 2016

There are now eight of us on seven bikes: Ela is the sole woman, riding on the back of the V-Strom with husband Marcin. We’ve taken to referring to our group as The Princess and The Seven Dwarves after the gnomes in Wrocław. (“Snow White” isn’t used here).

After breakfast we travel to another place that defies description: this one hidden in the forest. We ride a short distance to a parking area, then hike up a trail into the forest.

Beautiful road through the woods.

If it wasn’t so well marked today, you would never expect to find this:

It looks like a fairly small entrance to a mine or cave in the mountain. However, once you enter, the enormity of it is mind-boggling. This is Osowka, part of the “Riese” (German for “Giant”) project initiated by the SS during WWII. A series of seven individual underground complexes that were intended to be joined together, but were never finished. The intended use is still not known today, but it is theorized that they were to be used for manufacturing. The tunnels are large enough to easily drive large trucks through.

 

The complex is so large that parts of it have not yet been explored. This huge complex, with all of its’ tunnels, caves, rooms, etc, is part of what supports the legend of a “gold train” that is rumored to be in one of the tunnels. The story is that the train was loaded with 300 tons of gold, jewels, weapons, and works of art, and was then placed in the tunnel and buried by the Nazis. In 2015, two men claimed to find the train using ground penetrating radar. Later exploration by a Polish team of scientists discredited the “find”, but nobody has dug down to the tunnel as of today. There seemed to be a lively discussion amongst our group — some believers and others naysayers. As Michau put it, regardless of whether it exists or not, the rumor is good for tourism and the local economy.

We left the Riese and headed towards the Table Mountains and further into the Sudety mountains.

A very wide variety of motorcycles, and the Table Mountains, a bit like our Colorado mesas. L-R: Michau (Honda VT650), Lukasz (BMW F650), Paweł (Kawasaki ER500), me (Yamaha XT250), Grzegorz (BMW 1200), Mariusz (KTM640), Marcin (Suzuki V-Strom.

Further on we passed a ski resort, and then to Kudowa-Zdroj, and the Kaplica Czaszek, or Chapel of Skulls. This small church (The Church of St. Bartholomew) is adorned with the skulls and bones of over 3,000 people. Another 21,000 skeletons rest below the church, and you can see many of them through a trap door in the floor of the church. The bones were collected in the late 1700s from mass graves of people who died of cholera and during the Thirty Years War.

 

They didn’t allow photos inside, so I had to borrow these off the internet, but yes, it looks exactly like that.

 

Looking through the trap door to the skeletons in the basement.

After the Chapel of Skulls, we stopped for a great late lunch of local fish (trout) & chips, and then said goodbye to Grzegorz and Mariusz as they were headed home.

Lunch break.

 

Fish & Chips, Polish-style, with sauerkraut.

 

Saying goodbye to Mariusz and Grzegorz after lunch.

Down to five bikes, we headed for our camping destination in the mountains. We had been riding along the border with Czech Republic for a while, and the road now followed the river that was the border, so we stopped at a short bridge for some border crossing photos.

Entering Czech Republic

 

Re-entering Poland. No guards, no official documents needed. Takes about two seconds to cross the border. Much different than in the past, or in present-day Latin America and Africa.

 

Friendship Border photo.

At this point I handed my camera to Ela and she took some photos while we were riding to our camp.

 

 

This is the first time I’ve seen how big I look on the bike. It is way more comfortable than it looks in the photo.

In the evening we camped at Zajazd Gosciniec, a beautiful spot in the remote mountains. Our campsite was decorated with mannequins and Halloween decorations. It was a little weird to step out of my tent in the middle of the night and have people looking at me. Each time I was startled before I realized they weren’t real.

This is as close as I came to picking up Polish women. 🙂

 

Don’t ask. I have no idea.

 

There were these cool old ruins behind our campsite.

 

Right next to our campsite we noticed was a depiction of the Princess and the Seven Dwarves. So we made Ela pose for us.

 

Pietr showed up from Czech Republic (which is actually only about 30 yards away from here). He rides a Honda VT500 and attends a lot of rallies in Poland and Czech Republic.

We had another great BBQ dinner, cooking kielbasa sausages over an open fire. And more vodka, of course. Including Lubrowka Bison Grass vodka, another first for me.

Team Poland Tour of the Southwest: Day 1

June 27, 2016

Up early to do a little bike maintenance before heading out on the first of three days riding through Southwest Poland with a bunch of great guys from the local area. I needed to change front and rear brake pads, lube my chain, add some oil, and update my gps maps.

All done, and the first of the riders shows up to meet us at Michau’s house. Grzegorz is riding a heavily modified BMW 1200GS. I hesitate to call it a GS, as not even the frame is from a GS, but from an R model. The front forks and wheel are from a KTM. Every single piece that isn’t necessary to ride the GS offroad but still be street legal has been removed. It looks more like a large but proper dirt bike, and he rides it like one as well. It was great fun to follow him on some two-track dirt roads through the fields.

Sporting a 2RideTheGlobe sticker on the pannier…

We picked up Ela (Lukasz’ sister-in-law) and headed off towards Lubiaz. On the way here, I had passed through Lubiaz, and by this absolutely enormous building. I had to go back and see what it was all about.

It’s impossible to get the whole place in one photo. It’s just massive.

 

 

For centuries, this was a Cistercian monastery. Parts of it dates from 1175, and it is one of the largest Christian architectural complexes in the world. During WWII it was used by the Germans as a laboratory and for production of components for V1 and V2 rockets using prisoner labor. Much of the building was damaged after the war during occupation by the Red Army, and it fell into disrepair. Only a portion of it is open to tour today, and renovation has been ongoing since around 1990.

Considering the enormity of the place.

 

The Prince’s Hall.

 

Interesting artwork: the entire ceiling is painted, but there is one body painted on the ceiling that extends out of the painting and onto the surrounding facade (just above and to the right of my head) in an “illusionist” style.

 

 

In 1997, Michael Jackson toured this massive complex, considering purchasing it as his residence (a European Neverland). Apparently the renovation expense was too great for even him, and he passed. I’m not sure how a place like this would fit in the hands of a private celebrity owner, especially considering that there are 98 mummified former dukes buried under the church in the center of the building.

Next stop: KZ Gross-Rosen. This was a WWII concentration camp that housed up to 100,000 prisoners. It was a hard-labor camp, where prisoners were forced to mine stone from a nearby quarry. The stone was used to build roads and buildings during the war.

I had been to Dachau many years ago, and was prepared for the experience of touring a Nazi concentration camp, but it is still a very emotional experience. Prisoners here survived an average of three months, due to the hard working conditions and poor nutrition. The average weight of the prisoners was around 35 kilograms, or 77 pounds. Built in 1941, the original small crematory quickly became overwhelmed and three larger ovens were built just to keep up with the death rate.

 

Two to a bed.

The German companies Blaupunkt, Siemens, and AEG all operated laboratories and manufacturing facilities during the war at Gross-Rosen using prisoner labor. Among notable prisoners, Simon Wiesenthal was an inmate at Gross-Rosen.

At Gross-Rosen, we were joined by Mariusz on his KTM640. Marius led us to Świdnica, and to the Peace Church. This large wooden church has an interesting history.

 

 

After the Thirty Years War ended in 1648, the Roman Catholic church allowed the Lutherans to build three churches, but under strict conditions:

  1. The churches had to be outside the city walls, in less prestigious areas.
  2. They had to be built from perishable materials, such as wood, sand, straw, and clay.
  3. There could be no belfry or tower.
  4. The exterior had to be atypical of a church.
  5. Construction time had to be less than one year.

All of these conditions were met, and three wooden churches were constructed. These became the largest wooden religious structures in Europe.

From Świdnica, we rode to the small village of Jarkowice, where we spent the night at a guest house, and I was introduced to Pigwowa, a fruit-flavored vodka that tastes a lot like Choya, or Japanese plum wine. I tend to drink about one alcoholic drink every one or two months, so as Michau said, Poland is “practice for Russia”. I’m not sure how much practice I can take!

At Jarkowice, we were joined by Ela’s husband (and Lukasz’ brother) Marcin, on his Suzuki V-strom, and Paweł, who was riding Ela’s Kawasaki ER500.

Wrocław

June 26, 2016

Michau and Lukasz had clearly put a lot of thought and effort into showing me around their part of Poland. For our first day, we headed to Wroclaw for a walking tour.

Wroclaw was known by the German name Breslau prior to World War II, as it was part of Germany prior to the war; throughout history, this city has been part of the Kingdom of Poland, Bohemia, Hungary, the Austrian Empire, Prussia, and Germany. After the war, it became part of Poland and officially adopted the Polish name Wroclaw. Both names sound very similar when pronounced properly, even though they are spelled completely different.

We began with a walk around Ostrow Tumski, or Cathedral Island. This is a beautiful spot on the Oder River.

 

 

Lovers place these locks on the bridge pledging their commitment. This bridge looks like it weighs twice what it was supposed to.

 

 

 

In several places there are these photographs on the walls showing the location just after WWII. I tried to take a matching photo of some of these to compare the war-damaged buildings to today’s rebuilt structures.

 

Same as above, but rebuilt.

 

 

Same general area today.

 

Next we walked through the old market square and past the old Town hall.

Old Town Hall

 

People keep making fun of the small bike I’m riding….so I got a bigger one.

One of the more odd sights that I was interested in seeing in Wroclaw was the Krasnale, or Gnomes. It all started with the “Papa Smurf”, a gnome-looking figure that was placed at a location where the Orange Alternative, an underground anti-communist movement, met in the 1980s. Much later, these small gnomes began showing up in various locations around the city. Eventually, they became an attraction themselves, and today there are over 200 of them around Wroclaw. It’s very easy to walk right past them and never even notice, but if you want to search them out, one easy way is the Gnome Finder app. I downloaded this free app and it shows the location of every known gnome in Wroclaw.

A bit hard to see in this photo, but there are three gnomes in this piece. They are inside an ATM machine, and are the actual inner workings of the ATM. Placed just next to the real ATMs.

 

Another one on a window sill.

 

This guy is on the steps of a church.

After a bit of gnome-watching, we stopped for a lunch of traditional inexpensive Polish food at Setka Bar. This place had a great atmosphere.

Great food, and cheap. Oh, and Polish-style means your lunch comes with a shot of vodka. As Michau put it, “Poland is great practice for Russia”.

 

Usually pictures on the menu help when you can’t understand the language. Not so much here.

After lunch we did a quick sprint up the spiral stairs of the tower at St. Elizabeth’s Church for a great view of Wroclaw, before sprinting back down and over to the Racławice Panorama. This incredible painting is over 45 feet tall, and over 7500 square feet of total surface area in a circular presentation that you stand in the center of to view. It was originally painted in 1893, but was hidden away during WWII to protect it, and spent many years in storage before a new home could be built to present it again. It depicts the battle of Racławice which took place in 1794. By adding special lighting and three dimensional items, the painting really comes to life. I found it difficult in several places to distinguish where the painting ended and the 3D pieces began.

Part of this is a painting, and part of it is actual materials. For example, a portion of the fence extends out of the painting into real fence materials and sand. It is done so seamlessly that it’s difficult to see where one ends and the other begins.

 

 

Again, part painting, part real materials. It’s so well done, it reminds me of the Pageant of the Masters in Newport Beach, California.

After viewing the panorama, we took the train back toward Jary, and Patricia joined us for dinner at the house of Lukasz’ brother and sister-in-law. His dad was also there, and I had a great time talking with him, even though he speaks limited english. He was very excited to have an American come to visit in their small town, and was interested in my travels. He had a large World Atlas and we spent some time talking about my route through South America and Africa.

Dinner with the Dobrzanscy family. Just another example of great friends, great food. I would have a lot more of these experiences before leaving Poland.

After dinner it was back to Michau & Patricia’s to rest up and prepare for our riding tour of southwest Poland over the next few days.

 

 

Moto Jary

June 25, 2016

Bear with me a minute to give a little background…

A little more than two years ago, an Australian couple, Glenn and Leanne, came through Texas on their Triumph Tiger XC. They were touring North America, and I offered them a place to stay for a week or so while Glenn did some maintenance on the Triumph. 

While waiting for some parts to arrive, they decided to go camping in the Texas Hill Country west of Austin, and invited me to come along. So I loaded up my Super Tenere and met them at a public campsite near Llano, Texas. 

During the night, I heard two other motorcycles pull in and set up camp next to us. In the morning, I walked over and introduced myself. The two bikers were Michal and Lukasz, and they were from Poland. They were on one leg of their journey they called “MotoAmeryka”. Each year they worked for eleven months, then took one month vacation and flew to wherever they had left the bikes the year before. They would ride for a month, leave the bikes again, and fly home, returning to work until the next trip. 

When I met them, they were headed from California to Florida on the “Easy Rider” leg of their trip, where they planned to leave the bikes until the next leg of their journey in 2015. I gave them my card and told them if they were in the Austin area and needed anything to call me. 

Fast forward to September 2015. I’ve sold my house, my car, and most of my possessions, and placed what remains into storage. I am now on my XT250 in Central America, when I receive an email from Michal. He and LukDob are headed back to Texas and looking for a place to store their bikes until 2016 (or later) when they plan to ride into Mexico. I offer some space in my storage, and they accept. We’ve met for a total of about ten minutes in a park in Texas, and they’re leaving their bikes with me. Well, technically not even with me, since I’m in a different country. 

So now their bikes are in Texas, and I’m on my XT headed to Jary, their hometown in Poland. So, back to the present trip.

As I was headed across Germany, I received an email from Daniel & Joey offering a place to stay in Daniel’s hometown of Dresden. They had been in Dresden for two months — the first time home in two years — but left a week or so before for South Africa to begin their ride north. I told them thanks, but I was going to head on to Poland. They then offered to connect me with a friend of theirs in Poland, near the border with Czech Republic, who had a farm there and would put me up.

Soon after, I received an email from Mathias, Daniel’s friend, who offered to let me stay with him on the way through.

It was a short detour through nice countryside to Mathias’ farm in Wolimierz. He has a large place (it looked like about 25 acres) with a farm house on either end. Mathias has been living in Mexico part time, and Poland part time. We shared stories about Mexico, and he gave me some suggestions on routes through Czech Republic and Poland.

Mathias is a BMW guy, with a K1300RS and a 1200GS, but doesn’t have a problem with a smaller bike for the right application either.

In the morning I headed toward Jary. I had GPS coordinates, and it was only about 90 miles away.

About half way there, I rode off the map.

It turns out I had been a bit stingy when downloading my last map to my GPS, and left out part of Poland. So I was without a map. As usual, I was able to find a McDonald’s with free wifi, and proceeded to download a new map.

“Time remaining: one hour”.  Nope, not going to sit here for an hour. I decided I would download the map for Poland on my Maps.Me app on my phone and use that instead.

My phone then said “Time remaining: one hour”. Ugh. Okay, never mind. I pulled up Google Maps on my laptop and studied the route, packed up and headed out.

I was able to find Jary fairly easily, but as I approached the small village, I began to wonder how I would find the right house. Then I remembered Michal had emailed me a photo of the house. I pulled it up on my phone, and easily rode right to it. No gps necessary.

I was able to find the house from this photo Michal emailed.

Michal, his wife Patricia, and LukDob were waiting for me. We had a great lunch, and I settled in.

Patricia, Lukasz, and Michal

In the evening, they had planned a party with a lot of local friends and several other motorcyclists.

Great backyard BBQ with lots of new friends.

 

Hanging out in the garage with the bikes, like guys do. The guy on the far left is Leon, who rode his beautiful R100GSPD with “basket” (sidecar to us) to the party. Leon is also a huge punk rock fan, and introduced me to some Polish punk bands.

 

Lukasz in the back. Front, left to right: Michau, Michau, Michau, and Me. (Three Michaels. A bunch of really cool guys. The Michael on the far left plays guitar and sings in a rock band called Trzynasta w Samo Poludnie (a mouthful for a non-Polish speaker — Google them…lots of YouTube videos). The Michael on the right and Lukasz play in a band called Jary (after the town, obviously). the Michael in the middle isn’t in a band, as far as I know, but he’s a great BBQ cook!

 

They even made nachos, salsa, and guacamole for me! Wow.

Tomorrow we head to Wroclaw to visit some of the local sights.

Autobahn on a 250

June 23, 2016

As I ride along through eastern Germany’s wind farms, I am feeling pangs of guilt. Interesting sights beckon from all around me: a castle on a hill, a church steeple in a small village, a narrow road through the trees alongside a river. I am trying hard to ignore them, but I’m not liking it.

I am not where I want to be. I am on the autobahn, and neither me nor the XT are particularly happy about it. But at times it is necessary to make up some time and distance. I tell myself that there will be time later to return and explore here. I hope I am right. I feel like the people I met in Latin America. The ones who ride the Pan American Highway day in and day out, with a singularly focus of getting to Ushuaia. They never see the amazing sights I saw: Semuc Champey, Cañon de Somoto, the beaches and jungles of Central America, Huascaran National Park in Peru. Only highway. It seemed a shame to me then, and it seems a shame now.

The last time I was in Germany, I was driving a rental car. The motorway or “Autobahn” experience is a bit different on a large motorcycle or a powerful car when compared to my XT250.

For those of you who haven’t had the experience, here’s a brief explanation:

Most of the motorways outside of the cities are two lanes in each direction. The right lane is typically signposted somewhere between 100 and 130kph (62 and 80 mph). The reality is that the right lane is full of “lorries” (big trucks) and their typical speed is between 80 and 90 kph (48 and 55 mph). The left lane is for passing only. (I am tempted to spin off here into a separate rant about Americans and their inability to grasp this concept, insisting on driving in the left lane, but I won’t. Yet.) The left lane is typically occupied by cars moving between 80 and 130 mph. As with most things German, it is a very structured and adhered-to system, and it works very, very well.

Moving into the left lane on the XT to pass a truck is like playing Frogger. It’s the equivalent of pulling out of your driveway directly into 60mph traffic. At 55mph, I have very little acceleration. It takes a while to get past the truck, and by the time I reach the front of the truck, I’m usually up to about 66mph, and it has taken about 15 to 20 seconds. In that same time, the Mercedes behind me doing 130mph has covered a little more than 3/4 of a mile.

Here’s what it takes to make a pass on a German motorway:

  1. Look in the rear view mirror.
  2. Look up.
  3. Look in the rear view mirror again, as far away as you can see. Is there even a dot in the left lane or a glimmer that could be headlights a mile behind you? Because if there is, by the time you pull out and get even with the back bumper of the truck you are passing, there will be a guided missile with flashing headlights closing behind you and approaching so fast it will punt you down the freeway. 
  4. When you think it is clear, downshift if you are doing less than 50mph, turn the throttle to the stop, pull out, and stay in the right edge of the left lane, because the car you didn’t see will pass you at 130mph whether you are in the lane or not, so give them enough room to do it safely and they will give you the courtesy of not blowing you into the truck in return. 
  5. As soon as your rear wheel clears the front bumper of the truck pull back into the right lane, and hope the truck doesn’t suck you backwards (the truck won’t hit you, but it won’t be happy about having to slow down either). By this time, there will likely be a line of five or six cars behind you in the left lane, all trying to accelerate back to the 100+ mph they were doing before you wandered into their path like a deer in the headlights. 

 

It’s not always this bad, but there are a lot of trucks heading east with license plates from Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, and more. And they are all going just slightly slower than I would like to go. 

As crazy as all of this may sound, it still feels much safer than the buses and trucks in Latin America.

I mentioned before that the only downside I have found to riding the 250 around the world is passing a line of trucks going up a mountain. Still true. And if you’re patient, and pass one or two trucks at a time, it’s really no big deal. 

It’s actually a bit funny, and ironic. Before I left Texas, I was apprehensive and hesitant to ride the XT on Interstate 10 between Houston and Austin, or Interstate 35 through Austin, often looking for alternative routes, not because I was looking for interesting scenery, but simply because I feared the lack of acceleration and speed limitations. Now, fifty thousand kilometers later, I wouldn’t think twice.

Just the same, droning along on the autobahn is not my idea of riding. It’s another reminder to get off the motorways and see the country. Unfortunately, I have to make up some ground this week to get to Poland, so I’m spending much more time than I care to on freeways. 

The countryside has turned to rolling forested hills in eastern Germany, and I’ve found a nice campsite on the edge of a lake for the night. The sun is out, not a cloud in the sky, and the temperature is up to 32 degrees C (a bit over 90F I think). 

Kelbra Lake.

I’m headed for Poland tomorrow. I must be close: the campground hands out a complimentary bottle of Schnapps with each campsite. 

Okay, one more:

I stopped at McDonald’s again today to use the free wifi, and yes, I actually ate lunch there. So, to paraphrase John Travolta from one of my favorite movies: “What do they call a Quarter Pounder in Germany?”

Perspectives, Part 2

June 22, 2016

Turns out fuel in the Netherlands isn’t much cheaper than UK. I paid US$6.97 a gallon today. 

Just after filling up, I stopped at an ATM to get more euros, and had this brief exchange with a local guy:

“Are you traveling the world?”

“Yes”

“Your father must be a millionaire”

Interesting, on so many levels. That he attributed any expense to my father, even though I am clearly not a young man. And that he assumes it is prohibitively expensive to travel. 

And if I was traveling on Daddy’s money, would I really be riding a 250?

Maybe.

Probably.

Yes.

Oui! Ja! Tak! Moving through Europe

June 21, 2016

For the first time in several months, I am driving on the right side of the road. Not the “correct side”, just the right side. I find myself having the same problems now as I had in Cape Town, South Africa when I switched to the left side: intersections require thought. Left turns now are the wide turns. I have to constantly remind myself of that as I approach. I know it will all come back quickly, but I still fear pulling out onto the street into oncoming traffic. Driving on the left had finally become “the norm” and required less thought. 

Along with the switch in driving comes the switch in language. I spent the past month in the only English-as-a-first-language country I’ve been to in the last year. Although much of it was as hard for me to understand as Swahili. Yesterday was French. Today Belgian. Tomorrow German. Saturday Polish. Suddenly seven months of Spanish seems relaxing. 

The rain stopped yesterday and I was able to navigate my way out of London, slowly.

“Ton-up”? Not on the little XT, I’m afraid.

London is the second largest city I’ve been through since leaving home; Buenos Aires being the largest by far. Aside from those two, I pride myself on the fact that I’ve avoided nearly every population center on the last several continents. Los Angeles has nothing on London when it comes to traffic. On a motorcycle, you can “filter” (split lanes) and use the bus lane on city streets, but with my wide panniers I am somewhat limited. I understand why there are so many scooters in London. It took me nearly two hours to go twelve miles this morning. 

The Channel Tunnel from England to France was a bit of a disappointment. I don’t know what I was expecting, but for £48, I guess I was expecting more than standing next to my bike in a subway car with no windows for 30 minutes. Luckily there were three Belgians returning from Ireland on two BMWs onboard on the train with me, so we had something to talk about. One of them was headed to Assen for the MotoGP race this weekend. If I didn’t have plans already, I would have followed. 

Lining up to load onto the Channel Tunnel train to Calais.

 

Looks like a subway car with the seat removed and bikes in their place. After loading, an attendant came through and told us that they had loaded us onto the wrong car. This one did not have the “suspension”, so we were to not leave our bikes for fear they would fall over. I’m not sure where I would have gone if I had left my bike; it’s just a long garage.

The best thing about Europe, at least most of it, is crossing borders. No two hours of dragging through immigration and aduana (customs) to exit one country and again to enter the next 100 yards later. No hassles at every border paying fees, buying separate insurance, visas, etc etc. If it weren’t for the language difference, I never would have known when I crossed from France to Belgium. I never even saw a sign. Crossing countries in Europe is like crossing state lines in the US, although I’m uncertain which country contains the rednecks at this point.

I’ve been through much of this part of Europe before. I don’t have a lot of things on my “must see” list for this area right now, so I’m moving across fairly quickly. Europe is expensive compared to Latin America, so I have to be more cautious, and perhaps more creative, about how I spend my time here.

I stopped to use the free wifi at a McDonalds in the Netherlands and met these two guys from England on their way to a Lambretta rally in Germany. They’re riding 50 year old scooters, and running faster than I am.

Without a doubt, the UK has been the most expensive place I’ve been on this trip. Gasoline is £1.28 per liter, which is about US$7.12 per US gallon. Campsites are typically US$20 a night, and the Travelodge budget hotel is US$84 a night. At the same time, Scotland and other parts of the UK have been incredibly scenic. So wild camping in Scotland (free), and buying groceries and cooking meals can keep the daily expenses down to about US$25 a day or less. 

I knew when I planned this trip that I needed to be cautious in Europe, Australia and the United States, as those would be the most expensive places. With my knowledge and ability to live more simply and still be comfortable, I feel like I’ve eliminated some of the need to avoid these places, and can spend a bit more time practicing “sleeping cheap”.

After all, practice makes perfect. 

Social Status Among the Homeless? Perspectives on Tent Envy

June 20, 2016

It’s funny how perspective changes with time. In the past eleven months, my perspective of what I need to live comfortably continues to change. 

When I decided to do this trip, I sold my 3,000 square foot, 3 bedroom house and my 5,000 square foot shop, along with most of my “stuff”. The remainder went into storage. I moved into a 900 square foot one bedroom apartment for the last six months. It was a serious downsizing, but it was comfortable. 

In July 2015, I left Texas. I brought along a 2-man MSR “Hubba Hubba” tent. I told people “I don’t know why they call it ‘Two Man’. There’s no way two men could fit in there.” But it was a great size for just me and a bit of my gear at night. In addition to my sleeping mat and sleeping bag, I usually keep my jacket, pants, helmet, laptop, and a few clothes in the tent with me at night; I use the jacket rolled up under the head of the mattress for a little elevation so I can sit and type or read. The rest sits to my side, comfortably. I’ve also got a small “attic” net that I can keep my camera, phone, head torch, and a few snacks in for easy access. I love my tent. It has become my home, and it’s very comfortable. But in some ways, it seems a bit excessive now, in the same way the house was before.

Over the past few months, I’ve noticed solo motorcyclists on both extreme ends of the camping spectrum: a guy on a Triumph that I met in Durness, Scotland, had a queen-size inflatable bed (one of those that is about a foot thick) in his tent, and the tent itself had a separate “living room” that he could park his motorcycle in and still sit in a chair in the same space. On the other end, Allan, my neighbor on the Isle of Man, showed up on a KTM 690 from Aberdeen, Scotland with a one-man MSR tent that was definitely less than half the size of mine, yet it had lots of room inside for him and his gear. For the first time, I began to look at Allan’s tent as a more appropriate alternative for my needs. I was considering downsizing again. 

I’ve spent the past couple of days in a campground north of London. This whole “perspective” thing came to mind again because as I sat in my nice chair next to my “house”, I looked across to a tent that two women were staying in. 

Tent McMansion?

My initial thought was “What do they do with all of that space?” It seemed as large as my apartment. In my mind, I started placing furniture in it, realizing that it was more space than I could fill, or needed. It has a fully enclosed porch, for God’s sake. Then again, it is England. Camping in the rain would be much more comfortable with a porch to sit on in the rain.

I’m sure to them, or to many people who go camping for a weekend or a long holiday, that tent is “roughing it” or at least “primitive camping in comfort”. I looked at it as if I was considering moving across town to a nicer subdivision. 

But in reality, there is no social status assigned to size of tent like there tends to be with the size of your house. People buy tents based more on personal needs, and less on a need to impress the neighbors at the campground.

When I began my travels, the tent was a means of “sleeping cheap”, and some level of discomfort was expected. Now, I look forward to my tent; it is a known quantity, unlike many of the hotels and hostels that are more expensive. I’ve learned the correct air pressure for my mattress and my pillow to allow a good night’s sleep. I can quickly set everything up, and I know where every piece of gear goes. 

I recently, after ten months, splurged and bought a cooking pan and a spatula. Up until now, my entire kitchen cooking system consisted of a titanium mug and set of utensils. I would boil pasta in the mug, drain the water, add the sauce, heat it, eat it, then wash the mug and make coffee in it. For months I had told myself that the pan would take up valuable space that I didn’t have. Then one day I realized that the pan was just slightly larger diameter than my rolled sleeping mat, so when placed in my duffel bag at the end of the mat, it only took up about a quarter inch of space (the thickness of the pan material). Now I’m cooking eggs and bacon, sausage, meatballs, chicken, you name it. 

I now have a pan, and I’m STILL making pasta!

In one year, my entire lifestyle has changed dramatically, and I think it’s for the better. I’m living with less stress. I have everything I need. I’m living cheaper than I was when I was just sitting at home — no mortgage, no utility bills, no homeowners insurance, no car payment — and I’m experiencing the world in the process. Of course, it would be nice to have an income, and to not watch my bank account shrinking every month, but with proper planning, I can slow that to a trickle as well. Or I can work for a while, and save a lot more, now that I know I can live a much more simple lifestyle and still be comfortable. 

Maybe even upgrade to a new tent. 

Nah.

Spending Time With The Bard of Avon

June 19, 2016

I left Baskerville Hall this morning and headed towards Worcester, where I met up with Pat McCullagh of the Shakespeare Bikers. Pat was waiting for me outside Worcester on his immaculate Kawasaki ZZR14. I’m sure we looked like an extremely odd pair as we road toward Stratford-upon-Avon, my little VW Beetle to McCullagh’s Ferrari.

Pat was kind enough to take time to show me around William Shakespeare’s home town, including his birthplace, and the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

Pat McCullagh of the Shakespeare Bikers outside the Royal Shakespeare Company Theatre.

 

Birthplace of William Shakespeare

 

 

Stratford is a beautiful town and full of real history. On the right, with the large American flag, is Harvard House, built in 1596 by the grandfather of the benefactor of Harvard University. Next door, to the left in this photo, is Garrick Inn, the oldest pub in Stratford. Also built in the late 1500s, it has been operating as an inn since 1718.

 

This small feeder off of the River Avon was full of longboats. They make the journey from Stratford to London down the Avon.

 

 

There is no such thing in the UK as “personalized” or “vanity” license plates. But it is possible to buy an official plate that has a combination of numbers and letters that might mean something. McCullagh spent a long time “stalking” the authorities until this plate became available, and then quickly snatched it up.

 

Cool logo. I have a feeling they could sell a few of these outside of Stratford.

The generosity and friendliness of people I meet on this trip continues to impress me. It was great to spend a day with Pat McCullagh and see some of his town. There is definitely a lot more to see and experience in Stratford, and I plan to return on Lap 2.