Hell hadn’t quite frozen over but it was a close-run thing. As we journeyed to Hell (just outside Trondheim in Norway) it was becoming obvious that winter hadn’t really given up its hold on the country. Rivers had blocks of ice tossed to either side as if they’d been moved by a giant snowplough, some fields were still blanketed with virgin snow and the precipitation that fell on us on numerous occasions went through the full gamut of the chart – right from mizzle, through torrential rain, hail and occasionally snow. It was lucky that we’d had the foresight to don our waterproofs and plug in the electric gear.
Sitting on the back I’m quite well protected from the worst that can be thrown at the bike. Sometimes I comment to Kevin that “It seems to have stopped” when it’s still pouring. My mantra on this trip was definitely “It looks brighter ahead”. Unfortunately the ‘brighter ahead’ was often elusive and we managed to stay firmly planted under the heavy clouds. Once we even had a ‘brighter to the side’ and still managed to miss it.
The FHB48 ride was conceived by Chris McGaffin of IBA Ireland and he called for volunteers to try-ride it. The idea was to ride to the following towns F*cking (Austria), Hell (Norway) and Bach (France) in 48 hours, starting at either Hell or Bach. Before any ride can be validated as an IBA ride it has to be ridden and for some reason this one caught Kevin’s eye. I can’t remember what I’d been drinking when he asked if I fancied doing it but whatever it was, I said “Yes”. We’d already ridden Nordkapp to Gibraltar and this was only about two-thirds of that ride so I thought it would be OK and it was something different. What I didn’t realise was that Kevin had it in mind to attempt it at the end of March, for his birthday. Work commitments put that plan on hold and we eventually managed to take a week out in late April to do the ride. As it turns out I’m glad we had to postpone the trip as the weather wasn’t that great and it had been even worse during the week we’d originally planned to do it.
For various reasons we haven’t ridden a lot this year, apart from our ‘warm-up’ Wales SS1000 the previous weekend, so we took a few days to get to Hell, stopping at Eindhoven, Malmo and Aldval (where it was snowing when we got up the following morning), with each day’s ride being longer to get us used to the miles. It was an uneventful ride up apart from all our auxiliary electrics cutting out at one point in Sweden just after Kevin turned his heated jacket on – no intercom, no SatNavs, no heated clothing, nothing. As everything had gone it was obvious the problem was the main fuse to the Fuzeblock (excellent devices). After removing a panel Kevin inspected the fuse and changed it although it looked fine; nothing. He then progressively removed bodywork to see if there was another fuse he wasn’t aware of but couldn’t find anything (unusually he hadn’t wired up the auxliliary electrics on this bike himself). Then, what’s this? Ah, another fuse, tucked down behind the battery, which had blown. It was only 10 amps so couldn’t cope with the added current for Kevin’s jacket. Fuse changed, bodywork back on and we set off again. I’m not sure what it is with Sweden and our bike electrics but the combination definitely seems to give us some issues – see our Nordkapp to Gibraltar ride.
Our final day’s ride to just north of Trondheim, where we stayed about 8 miles from Hell at the Stav Hotel, was a short hop so that we could rest before the start of the ride. That gave us plenty of time to reconnoitre Hell to find the garage where we would get our start receipt and Hell railway station where our first photo had to be taken.
I should mention at this point that on top of testing the ride we were also testing some alternative methods for proving where we were at certain times. Usual IBA rules are for a timed and dated start receipt and a finish receipt similarly notated (plus fuel logs, witnesses etc.). However, as this ride had a specific start, middle and finish Chris wanted to see some evidence to prove the three ride locations had been visited at the times stated. In addition to the usual receipts we were going to 1) Take a photograph of both of us at the location showing a specified landmark, 2) Obtain a timed/dated receipt from a suitable near-by establishment and photograph it together with the GPS co-ordinates from our SatNav and finally, 3) Use our Spot device to send an ‘OK’ message to Chris from each of the locations which would give him lat/long and time in the text message.
After a nice relaxing day and a not-too-bad night’s sleep we were ready for the off and left the hotel for the short ride up to Hell just before 6 am.
Following a quick stop at the petrol station to get the all-important start time receipt – 6.10 (a nice easy time to remember) – we rode down to Hell’s railway station to get the photographic evidence and send Chris the Spot OK. “Grab a dustbin for the camera” Kevin said. Not knowing what he was on about I ignored his rather bizarre request until I saw him pick up a wheelie bin and drag it along. Ah, all was clear. Kevin quickly set up the camera on top of the bin then ran round to be in the photo. Done! Now, photograph the receipt and the GPS. Done. Spot OK sent? Yes, ‘ting-ting’ my phone buzzed as it received the OK as well. Then Kevin got a ‘Message received, Good Luck’ text from Chris. Right, everything has been done, let’s go. Oh yes, put the dustbin back, mustn’t leave a mess.
And we were off!
At this point we hadn’t quite decided which way we were going to go. You may think that odd but on the way up our route had brought us along the ‘3’ road (which Mrs SatNav called ‘today’ for some reason) which was great. It was a cross-country road through some spectacular scenery with lots of nice, long, sweeping bends. There were a few lorries but on the whole not too much traffic and a couple of sets of road-works for which the GS would have been ideal but nothing major that we thought would hold us up. However, on the way up as we had turned off on to ‘3’, the main road (E6) that we’d been on continued up towards Trondheim and we wondered whether we should have continued on that. At the end of ‘3’ the route re-joined the E6 for the last 50 miles or so. The E6 was clearly the major route to Trondheim and the receptionist at the hotel said that was the road she would use.
Should we respect local knowledge and go the main road route or go with our hearts and take the fun route? We had been expecting a quiet start to the ride but there were more lorries than we had anticipated and in the end that helped make our decision for us. As we approached ‘3’ we slowed, the indicator was turned on and into the bends we went.
The scenery was still spectacular and we only passed a handful of lorries which did not hold us up at all. The second time down the road we remembered where the road works were and made better time. The weather hadn’t improved though and we spent most of the ride under thick black clouds aiming for the ‘bright bit ahead’; it started sleeting then snowing at one point.
After a couple of hundred miles we stopped for our first fill-up and Kevin stopped outside a ‘cards only’ pump. No problem, I use these all the time at home. Unfortunately I didn’t press the union jack properly to select English language so the instructions were all in ‘Troll’ and I didn’t get a receipt. I took a photo of the pump instead for the record then we moved off to find a McDonalds for breakfast. It was gone 14.00 by the time we found one and I was practically eating my crash helmet by then.
By now the weather had improved and the scenery, which was as interesting as monochrome snow-scenes can be, had become bathed in colour and I was reminded that the area we were riding through is at the same latitude as Scotland. To be honest, if I put some of my Scottish photos in here you might struggle to notice.
We had a good, dry, run down through Sweden, where we had another McDonald’s stop for Kevin to have a coffee and a rest and for me to use their facilities (told you!) then, as we approached the spectacular Malmo bridge, the clouds started to converge again. The sun was trying hard to burn them off but at this late stage in the day it was wasting its time.
Just as we got into Denmark the heavens opened up and dropped a Kentish-year’s worth of rain on us in the hour or so we were riding. In the distance the elusive ‘dry spot’ was taunting us again and by the time we reached the Rodby ferry we had caught it up and were riding in the dry. After wringing out Kevin’s neck warmer we discovered Dyson hand dryers are very good for neck warmers too.
As dark descended on us we were on the German motorways heading south. We had a good run and were just anticipating our stop when we were held up by a long queue of traffic. Making our way to the front it became obvious that there had been a major incident. Whatever the vehicle had been it was now just a pile of parts. We parked up amidst the lorries and cars and waited for the all-clear. The police and fire brigade finally started to wave us through and we could smell something very chemical on the road that they had been sweeping up. Was it our imagination or were they watching us particularly closely to see if they’d done a good job of clearing up the diesel?
The FJR does not seem as swift as our GTR was but we made good time and got to Leipzig for our planned hotel stop just after 2am. Unfortunately the road was being dug up so we had about a 10 mile detour to get to the hotel, where the night porter was charming. At least I think he was, neither of us speaking each other’s language.
Our room was very swish and I’m sure we would have really enjoyed staying there if we’d had more time. This is the point where serious negotiations take place. Kevin wanted to allow the full 24 hours for the next day’s ride, I wanted to have more sleep. In the end we decided to set the alarm for 6.40. We were on the road by 7.20 and I was hoping that my extra hour in bed was not going to cost us the ride.
Day 2 started off looking bright and dry although it wasn’t particularly warm as it was still early. We’d decided not to use our waterproofs but I still had all my electrics turned on. We have just changed from our old Gerbing jackets (which had not been particularly reliable for us and the UK importer less than helpful) to Warm ‘n’ Safe. I had jacket, trousers and gloves and ran them just enough to keep myself not-cold. I’m definitely turning into a wimp! Kevin and I had quite a long conversation about the effectiveness of the gloves as they do not seem as hot as the Gerbing gloves (mind you, this has the advantage that they don’t burn me, unlike the Gerbing gloves); we think our gloves may be too big which won’t help. We agreed that whilst they don’t feel warm, if you switch them off you soon notice the cold so they must be doing something.
F*cking is only a tiny place so we needed to get a receipt from Burghausen which is near-by. Burghausen was signposted on the main road but Mrs SatNav suggested a side road which looked interesting so we took it. After riding some excellent roads and through a lovely village we came to a grinding halt where a bridge was being rebuilt. We ended up doing a rather long diversion but it was worth it.
Once in Burghausen our plan was to get an ATM receipt but the one I tried only distributed money, no receipt. Kevin said any receipt would be OK so I bought some hand cream from the local pharmacy and that gave me a good receipt.
You’ll have to excuse me here but this location offers numerous opportunities for immature humour. We spent the next 5–10 minutes giggling to ourselves at some of the names for villages, stores, roads. You name it, an innuendo or downright sexually rude word was contained in the names. One of the IBA UK members (and you know who you are John) always photographs the ‘unusual’ names and we would highly recommend this area for a trip if you are similarly inclined!
Anticipating that other riders may arrive here after business hours we tried another ATM to see if it would give us a receipt; it didn’t. In the end we decided that time was a pressing and we really needed to get a move on. So, to F*cking we went and took our photos, sent the Spot OK then turned round for part 3, our journey to Bach.
To get to Burghausen we’d come off a motorway and on to a series of ‘B’ roads that were horrendous. They reminded us of Poland with lorry after lorry after lorry all moving very slowly with next to no overtaking opportunities as there is another queue of traffic coming the other way. Our average speed for this section was very slow. After F*cking we had to go back along these roads and were beginning to wonder if we had left enough time.
We stopped to fill up with petrol and get some food (no McDonald’s, so we ended up buying two ciabatta rolls of which 80% ended up in the bin) and we were texted by one of our IBA friends saying it was ‘looking tight’. He was not wrong. We had a further 800 miles to go and 15 hours to do them.
We were on a good motorway and our two SatNavs were disagreeing about the next route. Should we go with the 660 which was pulling us off the motorway onto a ‘B’ road or with the 550 which had us staying on the motorway for a further 5 miles? Based on our earlier experience we decided to ignore the ‘B’ road, go with the 550 and continue on the motorway.
Suddenly we found ourselves facing a sign talking about vignettes. Vignettes? Germany doesn’t have vignettes…we were in Austria! On a trip in 2008 we had been fined 65 Euros for not having a vignette but by now it was too late, we were here and on the motorway. Oh well, if we got stopped we’d pay the fine and get going as quickly as we could.
Now where were we? We were entering a Zoll/Douane area which was full of traffic. Filtering through the chaos we saw a man in uniform who waved us through impatiently as if we were holding up his smooth operation. We rode over the bridge, turned right, then realised we were in Switzerland. Switzerland? Our planned route didn’t take us to Switzerland. Now we were on a Swiss motorway heading for Zurich…yet again without a vignette. I commented to Kevin that if we were actually going through Zurich we would probably hit it at rush hour. Prophetic words.
Sure enough, Zurich in the rush hour is not somewhere you want to be if you’re in a hurry. Kevin thought we’d probably get pulled for the lack of a vignette as it appeared we were about to ride the length of the country on motorways.
As we were getting towards the exit the SatNavs disagreed again. It looked like we were going to be going through Basle. Neither of us is particularly good at geography and as we were off our carefully planned route we could have been being directed via Timbuktu for all we knew. Taking a big risk we went with the 660 and its ‘fastest’ route which did indeed take us straight into Basle.
But hey, what’s this? The border! Suddenly we were through and in France, our target country. No-one even glanced at our bike – we’d made it.
The weather was still quite nice as we skirted round yet more Alps, heading south west. I was convinced that it was motorway all the way but Kevin knew we had quite a long drag on ‘N’ roads. By now it was beginning to rain and was very dark. Visibility was a challenge. Why don’t they use cat’s eyes elsewhere? We crawled along, overtaking lorries as we could, sitting in their cloud of spray when we couldn’t. We occasionally got onto motorway-type roads, but on the whole it seemed that we were on slow local roads.
For the last couple of hundred miles or so the rain was torrential, like someone was pouring buckets of water over us, but we did eventually get back onto a motorway. Visibility was getting worse and worse, not helped by our misaligned headlight which meant that 90% of the lorry drivers coming in the opposite direction flashed us. Even after being shown that our lights were actually dipped 50% of them kept their main beam lights on, presumably ‘to teach us’.
Finally we turned off the motorway for the last few miles on D roads to our final destination, Bach. It had stopped raining and as we came down the road we saw two small deer on the side of the road. We slowed down a lot to give us some chance of stopping if anything ran across our path. Our final timed receipt was to be from an ATM in a village called Lalbanque. Concerned in case it was like the ATMs in Burghausen I was delighted to see someone else’s receipt sticking out of it. I put that one in the bin, tapped in my details and got some cash and a receipt. It was 03:32. All we had to do now was find our way to Bach, a few miles down the road.
I don’t know what the residents would have thought of us as we drew up alongside the cross in the centre of their small village in the middle of the night, set up our camera, and took a photograph. We’d finished and were rather pleased to have done so. All we had to do was get our receipt/GPS picture and send our final Spot OK message. Chris must be a light sleeper as we had an instant reply: ‘Message received well done guys’.
Now all we had to do was ride 117 miles to the ever-excellent Riders Rest where we had booked in for some well-deserved sleep. Those 117 miles seemed longer than all the other 2300 but despite it being 05:30 when we got there Tony heard us arrive and got out of bed to make us a hot drink; thanks Tony.
|We didn’t do a lot for the rest of that day but we did have a nice ride to Rocamadour the following day. Being able to amble down tiny ‘D’ roads taking in the fresh air and scenery with no time pressure was a luxury.|
Finally, on Saturday we set off for the IBA UK RTE in Colmar and the day got hotter and hotter with the air temperature gauge on the bike showing 30°C. That evening we dined outside in t-shirts enjoying the company of our friends until well after 22:00; very pleasant.
The following day we rode home and managed to miss most of the rain, if not the high winds.
We’d been to F*cking, Hell and Bach during our time away and it was a very enjoyable nine days. We rode just under 5000 miles through ten countries – England, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Austria and Switzerland. We saw all sorts of weather extremes with temperatures from 1-30°C. The only conditions we didn’t have suitable clothing for was the hot day in the sun which was very unexpected.
Thanks Chris for allowing us to participate in more of your madness.
Postscript. The route we downloaded to the SatNavs took us round Munich then North towards Karlsruhe; not back into Austria and then into Switzerland. On checking our track afterwards to understand what went wrong we realised the 550 had obviously decided it knew better and, to be fair, that does seem a more direct, albeit slower, route. Oh well, we’d never ridden in Switzerland before and now we have. We definitely didn’t see the best of the country though.