The end of a chapter

It had to end.

Shortly after buying the V-strom I put the kawa ER5 online for sale. There are a lot of these motorcycles for sale and the new driving licence law was no help either. I got a few mails but it took 7 months before someone showed up to take a look. Being the trustworthy machine she was, the kawa convinced him in minutes. That was last weekend.

Yesterday the deal was made. I've got some money in my pocket and the ER5 has a new owner. I know it sounds stupid but I am going to miss her. But most of all I am grateful for the adventures we had together. She was the reason strangers became friends.

I'm thinking of Wim and Roland who taught me to ride her, Jim and Jenny, Nina, Fern, Frank, Ollie, Kris and others who I met at the Horizons Unlimited meeting in Germany in 2012, my friend Carl and I strengthened our friendship as he taught me some mechanical skills, …

She helped me get my driving licence, my geographical knowledge boomed because of the trips we made together, even when crashing on our way to the UK she let me down gently.

I hope I will always be able to remember the joy she brought me.

 

A travel experiment: cruising the Moselstrasse

The boyfriend had to get back to work and I had still two weeks time off from work. An excellent opportunity for an experiment. What happens if I go on my own on the beast to the Eifel region for a few days?

Of course I had mixed feelings when leaving for this trip. I have very little solo travel experience (on/off bike). It was my first solo trip with a motorcycle for more then two days (not taking into account the Horizons Unlimited meeting of last year since that was a travellers meeting).

First feeling: excitement. Finally the chance to go out on my bike and discover a different part of the world. But I was anxious too. A region with mountains and therefore lots of hairpins, my riding skills aren't up to this, what if I drop the bike, what if I don't find a place to sleep, what if nobody talks to me, what if… A whole lot of reasons not to do it were racing through my head. The struggle to get out of the comfort zone. Best remedy I know: stop thinking, just go out and do it. So I did.

First stop: Monschau. A very touristy vibe in the old town centre but it was a great place for a 30 minute rest brake. One thing I'm a bit concerned about when I go riding is “where will I stop for a break?”. I know it sounds stupid but to me it isn't. I want to keep an eye on the bike and I need to find a spot where I can park and ride away easily. The parking bit I had to learn the hard way. Believe me: you do not want to push a +200 kg motorcycle backwards and slightly uphill. That can happen if you have no Obi Wan Kenobi to lead the way… But I took my time and found a great parking spot.

When leaving Monschau I set my GPS unit (Tripy II) in “scenic routes” mode. I rode a whole lot of bends through many small villages linked together by bendy forest roads. Lovely!

Next stop: Dorsel, Ahr. Lunch and a well deserved and needed break. At this point I switched the Tripy II back to the “fast without highways” mode.

About an hour and a half later. Last stop: Senheim (distance: 229,9 km, fuel consumption: 4,1 L/100km). I rode to the camping Holländischer Hof. Yeah, I know. I did it to myself: at a campsite in Germany secluded by mostly elderly Dutch people.

But the location was super! I got to set up my tent at the edge of the river Mosel. On all other sides the campsite was enclosed by mountains covered with vineyards. The broad river and the steep hills were beautiful and overwhelming. They made me feel humble and vulnerable. I parked the beast next to the tent: nose uphill, on the side stand and a crushed beer can underneath the side stand to avoid sliding away or sinking into the grass. It was a good basecamp: close to Klotten (departure of two trips I was going to ride), rather quiet, very clean and the people were friendly.

After a cold beer I took a highly needed shower and cooked myself a simple pasta.

In the evening I went to a wine tasting since I had nothing else to do. Two young local brothers told us a whole lot about the different wines they make. It was cool to hear how they keep the family business alive. The wines were nice but most were very sweet compared to what I'm used to.

I didn't sleep very well. Was it the excitement, the thunderstorm that passed by, …? I don't know. But I could hardly be grumpy about it when having breakfast at this location.
After breakfast I got into my riding gear and I went off for a tour along the rivers Mosel and Rhine.
The ride from the campsite to Klotten was stunning! I was cruising between the river Mosel and the hills with all the vineyards. Too bad I had a hard time finding the starting location of the preprogrammed tour. I went uphill the same very steep narrow streets twice before discovering I didn't need to go uphill at all. Once more I noticed my Tripy II lets me down when navigating in town centers. Yes there's something new for you: a woman blaming the navigation system (it couldn't be me)! On the positive site, I learned a thing or two about navigating with the Tripy II. Reminder to self: switch to map display in town centers.

When I finally found the starting point I rolled on the throttle and headed for Cochem and then Mayen. It was a nice ride. Unfortunately upon leaving Mayen I had to cut off a part of the tour because of roadworks. That made me miss Laacher See, a crater lake. Maybe I'll see it some other time. I stopped at a small village called Alken (no not Cristal) to eat lunch. I sat at a lovely terras next to the Mosel.

After Alken the tour left the Mosel and went on to the Rhine. I didn't get off the bike at Boppard but carried on for Schloss Rheinfells in Sankt Goar. And there I spent quite some time…

Upon arriving in Sankt Goar the weather was okay. I went to the cafe to relax a bit at the terrace with a beautiful view on the river Rhein.

But clouds were gathering, the sky became gray. And then it started to rain. No it started to pour. For about an hour.

So I just sat there, stuck in Sankt Goar, waiting for the rain to stop, typing impressions of the last days on the ipad and wondering what I was going to do if the rain didn't stop. I still had to ride an hour before I would reach the campsite. And I wasn't looking forward to ride downhill hairpins in the rain.

The decision to wait about at Schloss Reinfells was the right one. It stopped raining. Because the sky was still dark I decided to wear my brand new rainsuit over my summer jacket and pants. It fits great and it has served its purpose. Although it didn't rain anymore there was some fog in the woods I was riding through. Imagine being all alone on a motorcycle in dense woods going up and downhill through the fog. It was breathtaking: it was as scary as it was beautiful. The road from Sankt Goar back to the campsite was challenging: lots of hairpins after a tiering day. It took all my concentration. Riding 200 km a day in this kind of terrain isn't easy to me. My riding skills have definitely improved since last year (look far ahead and swing those hips!) but I'm not there yet. As usual I was very ambitious and demanding of myself. I was only halfway through my third motorcycle season and I expected myself to be conquering those downhill hairpins like men who have been riding for fifteen years or more on this terrain. Not that I took unnecessary risks, I'm very aware of what I can and cannot do. I just got to remind myself to relax and take it step by step.

When I got back to the campsite (distance: 220,1 km, fuel consumption: 4,2L/100km) the sun was shining. And if that wasn't enough, my very friendly neighbours Tosca and Thomas invited me to dinner and a cold beer. I warned them I was smelling because I had been sweating on the bike all day but they didn't mind. It was an ok meal but the company was great. Once again, the kindness of strangers…

After the meal I went for a shower and then a big cold beer at the campsite restaurant.

There I decided I wouldn't be riding the beast the next day because lots of rain and thunderstorms were predicted. I decided to take the bus to Cochem instead and do all kinds of touristy things there. Riding the motorcycle is fun but it's also nice to chill and take a restday. I have got to remind myself to do that. This trip has taught me a whole lot. And that's what I love about it. In my head my ideal getaway is taking form and that is the most important thing I will have learned from the trip.

Pleased with my decision I went to sleep. In the morning the sky and the forecast confirmed it was not a motorcycling day.

So I went to Cochem by bus.
Once in Cochem I wandered the streets a bit and then I climbed towards the ancient castle Reichsburg like all the tourists do.
I took the guided tour of the castle.
The guide was very good and I've learned some interesting things. Like why do soldiers salute the way they do? It comes from the knights in their harnesses. They opened their helmet to greet one another. That hand gesture is like saluting. I ride with a flipflop helmet and open the shell too when I greet someone when I'm off the bike.
After descending back to the centre I ordered a beer in the least touristy cafe I could find.
There I pondered about what I thought of Cochem and the region in a whole. The nature is absolutely beautiful, no doubt about that. But some of the towns and villages seem somehow fake and kitschy. Maybe living in Tongeren made me spoiled but sometimes it felt like riding around in an amusement park.
After a few beers I went to the Indian restaurant “Indian curry house Cochem”. I had some paneer in a mild sauce with rice and roti.
It was ok. The waiter (or owner) was very friendly. He came from the Punjab region and goes back to India about one or twice a year. We had an amusing conversation while mixing German and English. He has riden motorcycles in India too and made me promise if I ever get back to Cochem to stop by on the V-strom and show it to him.
When I finished my meal I took the bus back to Senheim. At the campsite I got a bit bored and just lay in my tent for a while. After I had gone for a shower I noticed my Dutch neighbours were back at their tent too. I went to the campsite store and bought them a beer. We talked for about an hour or two and then I went for a pizza at the campsite restaurant.
After dinner I went back to the tent to read a bit and then I went to sleep.
The next morning I broke up camp, said goodbye to the neighbours and left. Since I didn't want to be in the saddle the better part of the day I took the highway. After the demanding terrain of the last days, this was just another test the beast took with ease and grace. I must have taken a detour though since the V-strom had 262,8 km on the clock (fuel consumption: 4,6L/100km) when I got home.
Conclusion: total distance: 713,4 km, fuel consumption: 4,3L/100km. This wasn't a holiday. It wasn't all easy and fun. This was an experiment and I'm so glad I did it. I've learned a lot and my life has become richer because of it. And the beast? Well, the beast turned out to be the loyal companion I was hoping for.

 

Taming the beasts – part two

Before the accident I knew I was going to ride a motorcycle with ABS. The fall (caused by error in braking) just sped up the whole buying process. My friend Carl came along to discuss the price and two weeks later I went back to the dealer and ordered myself a brand new white v-strom.

Ten days after that superdad drove me to the dealer to pick up the beast.

And a beast it was. When I laid my eyes on it, my heart went more than a few beats faster. Two emotions caused an adrenaline rush. First off all excitement: the motorcycle of my dreams, hell yeah! But also fear: what the hell was I thinking? How am I going to keep it upright in slow manoeuvers? Am I going to ride this gigantic monster?

Yes I am.

On the second ride I managed to stall the bike four times. That convinced me to go back to the parking lot where I learned to ride the ER5. At that parking lot the beast and I became friends. We rode the eight figure, we practiced slow riding, starting from a stop, breaking, swerving. I learned to handle gas, clutch and rear brake gently, just as my friends Wim and Roland (www.motorbeheersing.com) taught me.

I was sweating, the beast was forgiving and a pact was made. We are going to ride lots of happy kilometers together. The promise of day trips, vacations and rides to work gets us both excited! We've just passed the 1.000 km mark and looking forward to do many more.

 

Taming the beasts – part one

And then you get up again.

I could have dealt with my accident in two ways. I chose the positive one. And I couldn't have done it without the warm and kind help of so many people.

First of all of course there were family and friends looking for solutions to get the bike back home and even more important just caring and listening to my story. It helped. It helped to talk about the crash, the fear, the pain, the bended (but not broken) dream and I am grateful to each and everyone of you who made some or lots of time. Thank you.

And then there were the complete strangers who helped out. Once again travelling confirms that most people are nice and are willing to help a stranger in need.

Once we got the bike back home (thanks to my very cool uncle) damage had to be repaired. I could deal with the crashbars myself but needed the help of superdad to fix the turn signal.

A new helmet, and what do you know. I was back on the bike.

The first ride was a bit scary but still felt right.

Mission status: two-headed beast named “fear/sadness” tamed. One beast to go.

 

The art of trying to get up again

Proclaimer: this is a “sort of therapeutical self help write it off” post. If you don't like to read that kind of thing, skip it.

It should have been a day to remember, and it will be. But not the way I had planned… On Wednesday May 29th, while on my way to the Hubb UK, I had an accident near Temse. Awful weather (pouring rain), an unkown road, a fully loaded bike, no ABS. Oh yeah and that car in front of me that stopped abruptly. What followed was a panic reaction I suppose. I think I grabbed the front brake too hard, the front wheel locked and down I went. A classic mistake. I fell on my left side, rolled a few times and came to a stop. I am incredibily lucky that I did not hit anyone or anything and that I haven't got run over after I had hit the ground. A truck came really close… the driver must have had a sixth sense or something since he managed to avoid me. I'm going to send him a thank you package although that seems futile. Please send a whole lot of good karma in his direction.

You know how they say you see your life flash before your eyes before you die? I saw nothing. After I noticed I seemed fine (regarding the circumstances), the only thing I could think was “f***, damned, I am not going to make it to the Hubb. This can't be happening! I've been living towards this event for several months. This isn't happening. I must get up and go again.” Of course that was not going to happen.

Lots of people stopped to help me and called an ambulance that got me to the emergency of AZ Nikolaas. The guys in the ambulance and the nurses and doctor in ER were all very friendly and helpfull. X-rays were taken and luckily everything seemed fine.

The hardest thing I had to do was calling my parents. What do you say? “Hi mom, I've had a motorcycle accident, but don't worry, I am okay.” Well I went with that since I couldn't come up with anything else. It was so hard to call them because I felt really selfish. I had to go out to ride a motorcycle (yeah it's dangerous but I'm careful), I had to live my dream and now I am the reason the people I love most are worried sick. Imagine lots more self loathing here.

Of course Superdaddy came to the rescue while Supermom was taking care of Supergoddaughter. Superboyfriend, calm as always, was the first I called to muster up courage to deal with the rest. Superbrother and Supersisterinlaw called to check up on me too.

So now what? Two days have passed. I have some bruises, feel sore and I have a headache (light concusion?). Nothing that won't heal. Physically I am okay. Mentally it will take some time to heal. Tears have flowed and more will follow. I can't get back on the bike since it is still in Temse. The helmet is for the trash of course. Today I have been looking for another one since I do want to ride again. I don't know how that will feel though. I feel selfish for wanting to ride again and leaving loved ones worried. On the other side, it is my life and I am a firm believer of living your dreams. I should be excited because I am okay but I feel sad (depressed almost) and disappointed that I didn't make it to the Hubb. Work has been tough and I had been dreaming about this getaway for months. The Hubb was the much needed escape where I was going to recharge the batteries. Together with my body and the bike those plans were smashed to the ground. That is a hard pill to swallow.

So that is the art of trying to get up again. It means falling happens, lying down for a while is normal and then you try to get up again. That is hard but that's just how it is. I'll be back on my feet and back on the bike. And next year I am going to the Hubb!

 

Testing the V-strom 650 ABS 2012

Yesterday I finally had the chance to test the new V-strom 650 ABS 2012 at the Suzuki test days. It's a bike I've been reading about a lot. It gets great reviews which all come down to “big bang for your buck if you're looking for an allroad motorcycle”. I loved it (it feels a bit like cheating on the ER5)! Excellent riding position: high, upright, wide handle bar, comfortable seat. When I got back on my ER5 it felt like a small toy bike… My wallet may still be doubting but my heart isn't. The question is not will I buy this bike. The question is when will I buy it, with what accessories and in which colour (I like the white but the orange is nice too).

The V-strom 650 ABS 2012

The cockpit

The local Suzuki dealership: nice people.

 

preparation for the camping season 2013

At the end of this month I will be travelling to the HUBB UK. It's a 4 day event for overland travellers: motorcyclists, cyclists and 4×4 drivers. It will be the first time I'll go on a ferry with my kawa. I've also got some new gear and since it was raining all day I thought today was a good day to figure out how I'd get all my stuff on the bike. It took me the better part of the day but it worked out great!

49L Ortlieb rack pack. In it should be everything I need for my overnight stay on the ferry (and not much more) to avoid carrying too much.
Toilet paper, rope, working gloves, WD-40, chain spray, CO2 canisters, headlight torch, spare batteries, flipflops, hiking boots, pacsafe 85L, wash bag, whiz free pack, off the bike clothing, foldable water container.
Ortlieb saddle bags, 26L each
Exhaust pipe side: bag with cooking utensils and food, thermarest sleeping mat and repair kit, rope, primus eta express stove, washing bowl
Footpeg side: towel, camp-a-box, pillow, extra gas canister
Tankbag
Tankbag: tire repair kit, first aid kit, disk lock, ipad, ratchet straps
And then I had to mount it all on the ER5… but not before I'd given my trusted friend a good bath
Rokstraps on both sides off the back end
Two straps on the end
Saddle bags on the backseat
Tent and rollbag strapped on tight with the straps and rokstraps
Tankbag on
And what do you know, there's even enough room left for me to sit and steer comfortably!