Here is part 2 of Michael's ride to the MZ Rally Finland.....
Getting to Felixstowe from Heathrow Airport by public transport involves three train connections to Paddington Station, Ipswich and Felixstowe and takes about three hours.
I needed to stay overnight in Felixstowe and I chose the Grafton Guesthouse recommended by Dave Milligan. I’m glad I did because the proprietors Geoff and his wife couldn’t have been more obliging. The next day Geoff stored some of my luggage for safe keeping and drove me the two miles to the shipping depot to collect the bike. It’s a powerful thing to find someone who is
prepared to help you ( a motorcyclist) on your way when you’re thousands of kilometres from home and don’t know a soul.
Felixstowe itself is a popular seaside holiday town noted for it’s Victorian -era buildings. Summer booking for the Grafton and anywhere else in town should be made well in advance.
The bike was waiting for me in a warehouse corner looking just as I had left it in Melbourne. I signed a few forms in the office and the bike was mine. 14 bikes were shipped in one container to Felixstowe and Dave insists on clean machines to avoid any problems with Customs such as mud under wheel guards. I had stored my riding gear in the panniers, my helmet in a bag locked to the bike. Panniers were wrapped in bubble wrap and placed beside the bike .Dave’s UK agents say there have never been any problems with his shipments. My bike had had a thorough shop service at Readfords in Dubbo before riding to Melbourne plus a new battery and a Pirelli Diablo rear tyre.
After a few loud backfires that disturbed seagulls in all directions the 660 single engine started and I rode the few k’s back to the guesthouse to load my gear. Later that afternoon I rode to the 60 miles to the Harwich ferry terminal. It was a sunny day and riding your own bike in a foreign country is a big buzz and the feeling never left me in the four weeks of daily riding ahead.
I would be needing that heightened awareness when the time came to ride off the Denmark ferry and adapt to riding on the right hand side of the road.
While I was waiting to board a group of 100 or so Danish Hells Angels started their engines inside the cavernous ferry. They rode out throwing out a really loud amplified and sustained roar like a squadron of taxying Flying Fortresses about to take off to bomb the ball bearing factory at Schweinfurt. I’d heard that sound often enough before living just 500 metres from the Mitchell Highway as I do, but this noise was much louder. What struck me was how clean they looked. Geez even the Hells Angels look smart in Scandinavia. A sunny Sunday on the Mitchell Highway means the ‘rebels’ and ‘outlaws’ are out in big numbers. If they are such individualists why do they all look the same ?
While waiting I spoke for some time with a fit looking 68 year old ex-policeman from Norfolk riding to Germany on a Deauville to visit his son. He had trenchant views on the current state of his country. I learnt that GB stickers on vehicles stands for George Bush.
Out on the deck of the ferry as it beat into a strong cold north-east wind I wondered what I had got myself in for riding a motorcycle to Central Finland, 800km from the Arctic Circle.
The ferry unloaded passengers , cars and dozen motorcycles at Esbjerg at 1.30pm Sunday. As a non-EU citizen I had my passport stamped and my non-essential International Driving License scrutinised. I had downloaded maps from Multimaps.com and Google Earth , my destination that day was Bad Bramstedt 300km to the south. The weather was warm and sunny, the traffic light so I was able to concentrate on staying on the right side of the road. It’s especially easy to forget when pulling out from service stations and negotiating the numerous roundabouts. Indicating when exiting roundabouts is important.
On German autobahns and French/Belgian autoroutes indicating your intention in a deliberate manner is vital, as are functional mirrors. It is shocking how fast cars come up behind you on the outside left lane and catch you unawares. You are behind a truck wanting to move left to overtake, one second the lane is completely clear, a moment later as you signal to make your move a vehicle is diagonally right beside you waiting for you.
I sat on a cruising speed of 130kph and stayed mostly in the middle lane. The faster cars and bikes, that is roughly one third of the vehicles on the road, including little Smart Cars, cars pulling trailers and cars with upright bikes on the roof were passing me in the left lane like I was standing still.
For all that the general impression I got of the standard of driving was pretty good, I sensed that drivers around me could see me. On hilly roads in Scandinavia, Germany and France truck drivers would move to the inside and wave me past if they were able to.
The feeling of confidence , such as it was , diminished somewhat in the thicker UK traffic where the same number of cars as in France share a much smaller land area. Australian freeways may be duller to ride on than Australian rural secondary roads but in Europe the argument for choosing the freeway is stronger. They are faster of course than Australian freeways and many European main roads and a great many secondary roads unlike Australia go through a village every 5-10kms complete with traffic lights and pedestrian crossings.
Traffic’s a bore but there are occasions when I’ve positively wanted other road users around me. In 1971 I was riding a Honda CB450 on a 130 mile stretch of nothing after dark between Grafton and Casino. There was and still is only one small place, Whiporie, midway. Back then there was barely any signs of human settlement. Most freight went by rail, trucks were small and few in number. I was young and impressionable, read frightened, it was a pitch black night and I imagined I saw a face in the left mirror like the one in the mirror on the wall in the fairy tale.
On European maps autobahns/auto routes/motorways are red or yellow, main roads are yellow ,secondary roads are white, minor roads are uncoloured. I got myself lost in built-up areas a number of times when I missed the turn-offs I needed. Was that turnoff to the D938 before Kittylitter and after Ratsak or the other way around? Eventually I got to Bad Bramstedt while it was still daylight at 7.30pm. Klaus rode up and met me in front of a coffee shop in his MZ outfit.
Nickolas Paetow, aged 9 , outside his father Klaus's house , in Bad Bramstedt, Northern Germany, June 2006.
Klaus and I set off the next afternoon with two additional riders, Klaus on his ex-German army 1980’s MZ ETZ 250 bought at auction, Detlef on a similar MZ and Thom on a 2005 BMW 1200 Roadster. Detlef’s handlebar mounted Garmin calculated the distance to the Finland rally at 1695km. Using the Garmin to find smaller roads we rode north-east through green countryside averaging about 80kph. It was hot sunny Sunday and the German countryside was full of bikes. We took our first ferry, a 45 minute trip to Puttgarden on the northern tip of Germany. From Puttgarden we took a second 20 minute ferry ride to Rodbynhavn in Denmark. The cost was 50 Euros for both trips.
Klaus, Detlef & Thom checking out the route on the GPS while waiting for the ferry to Denmark.
Denmark was green and flat with light traffic on excellent roads and no rubbish on the roadsides. We rode 300km stopping at Helsingborg in Sweden at midnight when it was truly dark. Helsingborg is beautiful city, we crossed the harbour on a small ferry. The dark profile of many historic buildings on the shore front looked great , the harbour waters reflecting the light of a full moon.
The campground the Garmin directed us to was closed so we rode the 10km back through a dark forested mountain road into Helsingborg. Dead tired by this time we stayed at the Stadsmotellet close by the ferry terminal, a nice place but pricey.
The next day was spent riding mostly on highways because we were unable to find quiet roads running roughly in the direction we wanted to go, north through the centre of Sweden. Once again I was impressed with the standard of driving, the traffic was heavy but well ordered. It didn’t feel threatening.
We rode north 300km in bright sunny weather via Jonkoping and Huskvarna stopping at 7.30pm at Hjo a Swedish resort town on Lake Vattern, 135 km and 31 km wide, the fifth biggest lake in Europe .
Detlef’s Garmin led us a to an attractive campground right on the lake. I took a hut for 450Kroner . I didn’t pack camping gear, I was 24,000km from home and travelling light. It was 29c warm but the Lake Vattern Water Monster wasn’t keen on sunbaking that day . According to local lore in 1897 local swimmers fled in panic when it walked on Varamoviken beach on two short thick legs.
A midday rest stop in Sweden.
Swedish sealed roads are in good condition, nice cut clean grass on the verges, no gravel on corners, clean rest areas, no signs riddled with bullet holes. I felt like Jed Clampett arriving in Beverley Hills. Our overall progress was pretty modest however because of the slow 250’s and the number of junctions and roundabouts we had to negotiate. We rode 270km north-east the next day stopping at the campground at Mariefred on Lake Malaren at 3.00pm.
These are the average prices for campgrounds in Sweden ;
Your own tent plus use of facilities ; 55kr(au$10 per person).
A hut with four bunks plus of facilities ; 400kr(au$72).
A hut with four bunks and ensuite ; 450kr(au$82).
The proprietors allowed me use of the laundry to do some much needed clothes washing.
Part 3... Michael is 5 days into his trip and about to enter Finland. Should be posted tomorrow night...