Up to Scandinavia : stage 6

Copenhagen, Denmark -> Gothenburg, Sweden
505 km dep: 09:38 arr: 19:00
Date: 27/07/2012
Weather: Sunny

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Today, I dropped my motorcycle. It was a stupid accident due to a lack of judgment and could have costed me my trip. I had stopped over by the side of the road to lubricate my driving chain (something that is to be donne every thousand kilometers) and had raised my bike on its center stand so the rear wheel could rotate freely. However, I had overlooked the fact that there was a slope in the pavement so when I took it of the stand, I lost balance and the bike went down on the pavement with the engine still running.

Dropping a motorcycle is not like dropping a bicycle, it is a big deal. The machines are so heavy that they might very well sustain some damage and so do you if you try to stop one from going down. But that is just half the problem, raising it back up is incredibly hard and in my case took a fair amount of adrenaline so much that my hip and my arms are still aching right now.

Once I got mine up, I noticed some oil had spilled on the road but could not find any dripping part under the bike. When I attempted to restart the engine, nothing happened. At this point, I started to get really mad at myself for letting such and incident happen and just went on cursing for a few minutes when I remembered that when the machine was on the ground still running, I had hit the engine kill switch and had forgotten to reset it. With this done, the engine restarted and went on running like nothing ever happened.

When you thing about it, motorcycles are certainly not meant to be dropped (with the exception of trial bikes maybe) but on the other end, it is something that is expected to happen at least a couple times within a machine’s lifetime so manufacturers must take this into consideration in their design. It does not mean that it should come unscathed, there is a real danger of bending many parts, but the most critical one are kept of out harm so that if it happens, you will make it to a garage.

Later on that day at a gas station, I was wondering what E85 fuel was (40% cheaper than normal fuel). I knew it contained ethanol but I wanted to know what quantity. Then another motorcyclist parked beside me so I tought it to be good idea to ask him. We both went to ask the cashier but he did know so that leaves the mystery whole but while waiting in line, I told him about my earlier incident and he jockingly replied “Welcome to the club!” and went on saying that it happens to everyone and that those who have never ever dropped their bikes are usually newbies. Somewhat reassuring but I would very well had prefered it happening at home rather than 2000 km away.

I would not call this a lesson learned in using the center stand but more a usual case of overconfidence gone wrong. I know perfectly well that when changing tires on cars, you have to be on even ground, so I it was just idiotic on my part not to have verified that the pavement was flat because with cars, I know I always do it.

Onto the road now. I left Copenhagen quite early and made it to the Oresund bridge in no time. Interestingly enough, there was not traffic at all this morning; in Copenhagen, everyone commutes using public transport or bicyles. I really enjoyed my time there and would have gladly spent a few more days. The Danish have an history that while strongly related to that of southern Europe, finds its roots in the Vikings and as most of us are aware, Vikings are cool stuff.

The tip of Sweden was mostly agricultural fields, but about 50 kms south of Gothenburg, it starts to really look like the canadian shield: rocks, lakes and forests. This makes for some really fun driving but not for straightfoward roads. I got lost a few times so I ended up doing about 100km more of distance than Google Map’s estimate.

The man I spoke with earlier told me that Bruce Springsteen was in town but still getting into downtown Gothenburg was not problem at all. I walked around the city for two hours or so and left its premises in order to find a place for the night which, even tough Sweden is packed with wilderness, turned out to be harder than expected. Everything that is flat has constructions on it and with the night falling, it was not a good idea to go venture too deep in the forest roads. I settled for a grassy fields; comfortable but with and unobstructed view of the highway.

It is midnight and there is still a bit of light on the horizon.

Up to Scandinavia : stage 5

Flensburg, Germany -> Copenhagen, Denmark
327 km dep: 09:50 arr: 16:40
Date: 25/07/2012
Weather: Sunny

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Even though that was the shortest distance I have covered so far, Denmark is so densely packed that I spent huge amounts of time going through villages. There is a notable change in architecture between Germany and Denmark I found. Some houses here even look a bit canadian.

The most interesting sight on the road was definately the Østbroen, a massive bridge that links the island of Funen to the island of Zealand (where Copenhagen is). The crossing happens in two part with both of them totalling over 13 kms. I obviously had to take it, but it was not cheap, about 15 Euros. According to my map, the only other way to get across the straight was on a ferry, which probably would have been more expensive and certainly less convenient.

Since the trip was so short I did not get to spend time around in a danish city yet. I just arrived in Copenhagen so I’ll report back on that later. So far, it looks promising. I also get to spend a day here, which is a welcomed break. Although I feel fine energy wise, my behind is in no good shape and in dire need for a day of rest at least.

Up to Scandinavia : stage 4

Groningen, The Netherlands -> Flensburg, Germany
474 km dep: 09:20 arr: 18:45
Date: 24/07/2012
Weather: Sunny

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The german country is a beautiful as the dutch one and also very similar, in fact, had it not been for the sign, I would have never known I had left the Netherlands. This time over, I was luckier with the road layout and managed to spend most of my time out of highways; I even had to cross a river (the Elbe?) on a ferry.

Overall the day was pretty uneventful, everything went according to plan and I got enough time in Flensburg to visit the city a bit. According to wikipedia, it is an independent town, which means it is not part of a more general form of government (like Monaco for instance). However, it does not form a country and most people I encoutered spoke German as far as I know. The only peculiarity was that prices where displayed both in Danish Crowns and Euros and that most written signs were bilingual. Flensburg being so close to the border, I can understand why it opted to remain independent: to get the best of both countries.

As soon as I exited the city, I stopped at a beach to take a swim, which ended up being only a footbath because the water was full of jellyfish. I still got to take a shower, which is honestly what I was looking for the most because unlike in France, the weather for the last few days had been really hot. The border was so close to the city that in no time I got into Denmark and found a nice and quiet rest area near Aabenraa.

There I am, in Scandinavia.

Up to Scandinavia : stage 3

Brussels, Belgium -> Groningen, The Netherlands
412 km dep: 13:50 arr: 20:30
Date: 23/07/2012
Weather: Sunny

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Its a good thing this was a short day because I ended up leaving really late; last night certainly is to blame here. I met a Canadian, an American and a Cypriot at hostel and since we were all travelling alone, we decided to spend the night toghether. We spent most of the night at the Delirium Café, a bar with a selection of over 2000 beers and then we got beers and drank them right in the middle of the grand place. Afterwards, I went to bed like a rock and when I first opened my eyes, it was already past mid-day. That being said, I really enjoyed my time in Brussels, there is a lot to do and see and the city is dense both in history and culture; I will definately come back if I get the chance.

Getting out of Belgium was no trouble, but sadly, I had to take the highway for my map did not indicate a straighforward way through smaller roads. Because highways have a toll in france, there is always an alternate route that follows it through roads that are usually smaller and go through villages. In Belgium and in the Netherlands, this is not the case since highways are toll free. Still, I did manage to find a way to Groningen through the countryside.

In the Netherlands, everything is pristine, urbanised and modern whereas in Belgium, overflowing thrash cans are a common sight and so are abandonned buildings. When I arrived in Groningen, I went straight to the city center and walked around a bit. As I was eating a sandwich on a bench, what apeared to be an homeless person came to me and asked if he could share a conversation. I was not hoping for much but it turns out this man had a really interesting story to tell. He emigrated from Aruba to the Netherlands a couple of decades ago and had a career in restauration. A few years ago, while working in Germany, he interveined to stop another man from beating his girlfriend but ended up sending the man to the hospital with brain damage. The German justice system found him guilty of aggravated assault and locked him up with a sentence of two years. After serving 18 months in Germany, he was sent back to the Netherlands because of health issues and served the rest of his sentence there. When I met him, he has just been released.

It could have been another variation on the african prince hoax, but the man was clever, respectful, old, sober, polite, humble and most importantly ashamed of being homeless. He told me a night at the Salvation Army costs 4,85 so I gave him five Euros. While inside, he got in touch with his relatives back home and as soon as he gets his papers back (the prison threw him out with nothing but a few pieces of clothing), he will fly back to Aruba.

In the Netherlands, you get fined for sleeping outside apparently, so I left Groningen and stopped at the first rest area for the night.

Up to Scandinavia: stage 2

Bourges, France -> Brussels, Belgium
610 km dep: 07:55 arr: 19:50
Date: 21/07/2012
Weather: cloudy with localized rain

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Woke-up rested from a good but short night of sleep, packed everything in record time, had a coffee and then left my camping spot. The road almost all the way up to Belgium had a lot in common with what we usually find in Canada: straight and bordered with fields and forests; and I tought I would be passing through a lot of population … Quite boring but on the other hand faster; I rode more than 600 kilometers that day but it did not felt like it.

Near Reims, I encountered a few spots of heavy rain. I had rode through light rain before, but never in that scenario and believe me, it is as shitty as it is dangerous. My helmet was fogging up all the time and even if I had rain gear, I could feel the wind forcing water through every zipper and exposed area in my equipment. On to top of that I had to double up on attention because a wet road, as we all know, is more slippery and balanced on two wheels, aquaplaning is a serious threat.

In Picardie (Montcornet), I ran out of gas because I overestimated my tank’s reserve. The yellow light had been on for a while – I tought there was a good 100 k left in the tank – but while going downhill to the village, the engine stopped. Luckily, that was the village with a gas station in. Unlike North-America, France does not have gas station everywhere and in some cases, they can be as most as 50 kilometers apart (which was the case here).

Not looking forward to pushing my motorcycle to the gas bar, I managed to restart the engine at the bottom of the slope. It turns out there was a bit of gas left, but because of the incline, it could not get to the injectors. Lesson learned!

Since there are no border controls in Europe, it is always a surprise when you cross from one country to the other. I hit Belgium all of a sudden and was pleased to discover they had no tolls on highways, which because of an already long day of riding, I decided to take.

In Brussels, I quickly found myself stuck in heavy traffic and having absolutely no idea of how the city was layed out nor where my hostel was, I decided to leave my motorcycle in a covered parking, packed my bag and continued on foot. I knew the hostel was at the Grand place (its not named Grand place hostel for no reason) but after walking around like an headless chicken for an hour, I set my pride aside and asked a few locals. One even let me surf on her iphone (that earned her a beer later), but it was the pub-crawl guide that finally pointed me to the right spot and even gave a map of the city (called USE-IT, very good and resourceful map/tourist-guide).

Tomorrow, I will be giving my ass a break and putting my legs to work visiting Brussels.