Crossing the Baltic Sea.
There were 62 riders from Finland, Russia, Holland, Germany, one from the UK and one from Australia. The Australian collected a longest distance award and an armful of memorabilia at the awards ceremony on Saturday evening which included a book on the history of the MZ marque written in impenetrable Finnish. The Finns are unassuming and straightforward people and I was treated kindly, they are nice people to spend time with. On Saturday night the women and then the men took a sauna followed by a dip in the lake, the water in the lake was room temperature warm. The sauna after days of riding was just fantastic.
It was good to spend time with my friend Keijo, he is the MZ Club of Finland’s secretary and one of the rally organisers. Finns on average drink a lot of strong alcohol. Drink driving accidents are all too common and the club guys were concerned about the drinking at the rally, not that I noticed that much but probably Finns are quieter drinkers than Australians. Keijo thinks they will move the rally further north next year closer to the Arctic Circle and some distance from shops. Keijo was hit by a drunk driver head-on on the crest of a hill a few years ago. He suffered terrible injuries which he continues to deal with bravely.
I parted company with Klaus, Detlef, Thom on Sunday morning. Klaus is a train driver for German Railways in Hamburg. He was only able to get a short time off work and had to return home the way we had come.
I rode south alone for 300km on freeways and back roads my destination Hanko on Finland’s southern tip to catch a ferry to Rostock in northern Germany. I was now only about 500km west of St. Petersburg in Russia and would have liked to have continued east , the traffic was light, the road and weather were fine but I wanted to see more of Germany and France before riding back to Felixstowe. This countryside had bigger mountains than in central Finland , it reminded me of northern NSW without the traffic and the cops. The big roadside diner I stopped at near Helsinki was really very good too offering high quality food buffet style with a view of green mountains from big windows.
The bike with 50,000km on it was still running OK, the only problems being a slightly weeping fork seal and an annoying worn intermittent rear tail light connection. The oil seal probably suffered as a result of the forks being compressed for three months in a sea container. The petrol cock leaked for a short while too. I stuck a small piece of wood behind the tail light bulb connection.
The Hanko-Rostock ferry cost 600Euros (AU$1007) on a SuperFast ferry run by the Tallink line. At a cruising speed of 27 knots the 1400km journey past Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland on the Baltic Sea took 24 hours. It wasn’t quite as fast as the now extinct 40 knot DevilCat service across Bass Strait.
I arrived at Rostock at 8pm German time and proceeded to get very lost looking for a minor road out of the city. My destination for the night the historic town of Bad Doberan 100km west. Somewhere in the Rostock CBD I stopped at a huge intimidating Police building pretty desperate to get clear directions. The Police were amazingly friendly and curious about my trip on an East German bike with Australian plates. Before reunification in 1989 Rostock had been part of communist East Germany and a major industrial centre with a population of 253,000. The world’s first jet planes were tested there in World War II. When Germany was reunited the population declined to less than 200,000.
I was just 300km north of the MZ factory in Zschopau near the border with the Czech Republic but I chose to ride towards Belgium and France. MZ are the oldest motorcycle manufacturer still operating in the world. The current name Motorrad Zweiradwerke literally translated means motorised two wheel factory. A rad is any kind of wheel in German. Zwei the number two . Werke ; factory or works.
I got to Bad Doberan about 10pm , it was still light but it had been raining . The narrow cobblestone streets were very slippery. A German Bad town is a spa or resort town. One night in the City Hotel cost 66Euros (AU$110.00) . No one I met could or would converse in English which reinforced the olde worlde atmosphere .
I collect old road maps and since I don’t own a Garmin I had brought a few Michelin and Esso maps of Europe from the early 1950’s with me hoping to find roads not included on modern maps. The old maps sold at garages from the 1920’s to the 60’s before the main roads were built up into highways and freeways were generally more detailed than the equivalent maps sold today. A sat nav unit would have saved a lot of tooling around with paper maps however.
I left Bad Doberan following minor roads more or less in a south-westerly direction through green flat countryside the smell of pig farms or biodynamic fertilizer , I couldn’t decide which, in the air and huge wind farms ever present on the horizon. A friendly bike shop in the city of Nienburg fixed my dodgy tail unit for free in ten minutes.
West of the town of Belecke in south-western Germany I found a great mountain road that took me through the Hurtgenwald , the locale of the Battle of Hurtgen Forest in November 1944 -January 1945. I had wanted to see this area. A series of battles were fought there that are mentioned only briefly in the older official American army histories because of the very high number of American casualties inflicted by the dug-in defenders and by friendly fire . The battles could have been avoided by circling around the forest and cutting off the Germans in a pincher movement rather than attacking them directly in the rugged terrain. I saw a small memorial to a German officer who tried to rescue an American from a minefield but died in the attempt. It was erected by the Americans .
Riding on into Belgium an autobahn took me past the turnoffs for Aachen, Liege and Mons. I stopped eventually at Mons for the day, a Friday, having ridden 460km , booking into the Infotel Hotel near the centre of Mons not far from the huge and ancient cobblestoned market square . The cafes and restaurants were full of people enjoying themselves . A line of motorcycles were parked in the front of the medieval town hall building.
The next installment will be the last one in this tremendous trip. Michael can you do another overseas trip please mate? ;-)