Rocinante goes North
The day had finally
arrived when Rocinante was going to Norway for her new life in the cold
North. I wanted to make the trip along with her instead of sending the
bike on a boat or truck, simply because the trip sounded tempting. The
idea was to do as many kilometres as possible each day and then just see
how many days I needed to complete the 3200km journey from Malaga, southern
Spain to Stathelle, southern Norway. Bente chose to stay home. She had
her work to attend, and we agreed that, with this scenario, the trip was
better done alone. It proved to be both challenging in unpredicted areas
and a lot of fun.
The journey took me straight north to Pamplona, then
along the west coast of France, further in a almost straight line from
Bordeaux to Trier in the Mosel valley, then finally north to Kiel where
a ferry brought me to Oslo and not to Gothenburg as planned.
The flight from Norway took me back to Malaga airport
once again, in the evening on Monday the fifth of April, 1999. I jumped
in a taxi and soon after stood in the workshop of Antonio Luis Motor,
for the last time I guess. The bike was ready to go, except for the thick
layer of dust that covered her from head to tail. Before I managed to
protest, one of the mechanics had taken off on Rocinante to clean her
up at the local petrol station. I held my breath and regretted not stopping
him. I didn't like a stranger running away with the only mean of travel
I had. What if he crashed it on the way? What would they say - 'Relax,
we'll fix it in a matter of days!'? No way, I was ready to start the next
The bike returned safe and I drew my breath in relief. A
few more items were sorted out and at six thirty in the evening I left
the dealer with best wishes for my journey. I quickly decided to make
a last visit to Nerja for the night and start the drive in the morning.
Beatrix and Derek, our expatriated Mexican/British friends,
greeted me with incredulous smiles when I arrived on their doorstep, saying
'you're not supposed to be here'. I explained the trip I was making and
stayed for dinner.
Day one, sweat pours down
It was ten o'clock in the morning when I hit the road
with San Sebastian as goal for the day, 1000 km north. The breakfast at
hostal Miguel starts at nine and I just had to wait for it, remembering
it as delicious from earlier visits. The Swedes who run the place gave
me more good wishes and finally I started a journey I had wished to do
for so long and at the same time feared for the shear length.
The road turned north at Motril and I made a good first
leg, with about 150 km before my first coffee break. The weather was a
bit too good this early and I anticipated temperatures well over 30ºC
later in the day.
It got hotter as the day got older and in the high plains
that surrounds Jaén I started to feel pretty boiled. This part
of the trip went through known terrain and it wasn't before Ocaña,
close to Aranjuez, that I left the motor way and entered unknown territory.
I chose this route to avoid the heavy traffic around Madrid and to get
off the high speed road for a while.
The heat really got to me now and I was in a foul mood,
thinking thoughts like 'What the hell have I got myself into'. The first
500 km was done and I was totally exhausted, feeling my head was going
to boil over. My new BMW helmet helped me a little since it is possible
to open up the front. Whenever the speed got low enough I opened up and
let the air cool my face.
The frustration I felt lasted for a few more hours. Strangely
enough, when it started to rain in the evening and I cooled down, my mood
raised again to stay up for the rest of the day. At about 750km I had
more or less decided to stop for the night. The rain made me do another
220km and at ten o'clock in the evening I was in Pamplona. San Sebastian
was not far away, but in the wrong direction, so I decided to stay.
One whisky in the bar and a short stroll in the street outside
was enough to knock me over. I fell asleep before I hit the bed.
Day two, France in slow motion
I woke up at seven and realised
my neck was stiff as hell. Pain was radiating out into both shoulders
and I could hardly turn my head to the right. An small and stupid accident
some 13 years ago had weakened my neck and twelve hours of fighting the
winds the day before had clearly left it's marks.
It improved a little over breakfast which consisted of a
sweet cookie and coffee in the hotel bar, but I was a little worried how
this would affect the driving the rest of the trip.
The sky was dark so I dressed for rain and set off north
into the Pyrenees knowing I was going over a couple of mountain passes
before entering France. Not to my surprise my buttocks started to ache
after a few kilometres. After all I hadn't driven the bike for a couple
of months when I started. So with all my small pains and worries I climbed
the cold looking mountains at eight in the morning. The cold was actually
my least worry, I had clothes enough for a trip to the Himalayas.
I drove slowly and enjoyed the mountainous terrain and the
several villages I passed through when my forehead started to itch like
I never had felt before. I felt very stupid stopping every few kilometres
to remove the helmet and scratch my head. This was not a lucky start.
A village in the mountains called for a short stop so I
could have a look at the souvenirs in the last Spanish shop before France.
The owner was in his fifties with a hunchback and a maddeningly twist
in his neck every other second. He sold me a bottle of Moscatel wine and
a piece of Jamon Serrano and we spoke for a while about my trip and the
winter they had this year.
France came without any signs or remnants of a custom gate.
I didn't know I had entered a new country before the next village showed
signs in French. Neither did I have a road map of the country, so the
first task of the day was to get this. The guy at the local petrol station
shook his head when I asked if he spoke English or Spanish. When I pointed
at a roadmap of France and said 'Pesetas?', he shook his head again and
I left disappointed and a little annoyed, a few kilometres across the
border and it was like Spain never existed.
The course was set for Bayonne on the west coast. I knew
roughly where to go and planned to drive towards Bordeaux and find a road
map on one of the service stations along the motorway.
The mood was good, in spite of the never ending itch. My
neck was a lot better and I hardly felt any of the pain from the morning.
I didn't make much progress though, after three hours I had made about
180 km. If I continued like this it would take me weeks to get home.
This part of France was a disappointment to me with never
ending straight roads, heavy traffic and the forests screening out any
I passed Bordeaux and got off the motorway towards Angoulême
and further towards Limoges and Bourges for the night. The N10 was packed
with traffic and progress was slow. At a coffee and lunch stop I had to
create a temporary head band to deal with the itching on my forehead.
This may sound like a trivial problem, but I can assure you that it wasn't
to me. My forehead skin had dried out on the first day and the fabric
in my new helmet was not yet worn down enough. The head band solved the
problem immediately and I was once again a happy, smiling biker driving
through new terrain, singing along with a voice only a mother can love.
Fortunately the helmet protected the people I passed from the terror.
As day turned to night the weather got worse and heavy,
dark clouds surrounded me in every direction. But I stayed dry. At times
it felt like I had to draw my elbows closer together to avoid the showers
on both sides.
The mood had dropped a little again. This country wasn't
made for communication, unless speaking French. I didn't and was left
alone on my breaks when people realised I was completely incompetent in
When I drove in towards Bourges around eight in the evening
I had covered another 740 km and felt reasonably satisfied. A small hotel
on the outskirts of town glowed with red neon signs, just telling me to
get in there. It suited me perfect, not having to enter the town and throw
away more time than I wanted. I got my room, parked Rocinante just outside
the entrance, the manager promising that the bike was safe, and had a
long chat with Bente back home. The dinner was consumed with three bottles
of Guinness. I was dead tired for the second night, but I was also happy
that I'd made so much progress despite driving on backroads the most of
Day three, entering high speed Germany
The morning light and a telephone call from the reception
woke me up at seven. A short walk around the room revealed more neck pain
and an extra tail bone. I anticipated a painful day. The reflection from
the mirror was that of a Mongolian male, both my eyes were swollen from
the many hours of driving. None of this took my good mood away, though.
I was ready for day three and planned to get at least 800 km more on the
clock. If I did I would have no problem catching the seven o'clock ferry
from Kiel to Gothenburg the next evening.
At eight I was on the road again. This time I drove through
nicer scenery than the day before. The road led me through many small
villages in the direction of Troyes, Metz and finally Trier in Germany.
It seemed to me that the neck pain and extra tail bone were
fading away after a while. I started to feel adjusted to the bike again
and were really able to enjoy the nature around me. The route I had chosen
for the first part of the day was more back roads with varying traffic.
At times it was heavy and after a while I got more aggressive, passing
hundreds of cars in a few hours. This culminated in a near miss that could
have ended in a fatal collision. Ahead of me was a straight stretch of
road and I saw twenty odd cars where three of them were signalling that
they were going to overtake the car ahead of them. The first two cars
changed lane while the third seemed to hesitate. I was ready to overtake
this one even though the car was still signalling. Very stupid indeed.
The car never intended to overtake anyone. He was making a left turn into
a small dirt road that I had missed. I hit the brakes hard and stopped
a few meters from a frightened old man in a small Renault. He looked at
me with angry eyes. All I could do was to signal with body and arms that
it was all my fault. I drove on and after a little while my heartbeat
was back to normal. That was the third time during my nearly 10 years
on bikes that I made the same near miss. Maybe I've learned now.
I drove slower the rest of the trip to Trier where I made
a new stop to call home. I had now made enough distance to say for certain
that I would catch the ferry the next day from Kiel to Gothenburg. Bente
would book me in. It started to get dark and I hit the road again after
a chocolate bar and a cigarette.
I got myself through Trier and onto the German autobahn
in half an hour. Finally on the high speed road again, I crept behind
the windshield, put my sore butt halfway up on the pillion and opened
the throttle. I calmed down around 160 km/hour and stayed in this speed
for the next hours, interfered only by short stops to loosen up muscles
and refill the petrol tank and my nicotine level. At nine in the evening,
on a fuel stop between Köln and Dortmund, my eyes caught the familiar
and tempting red neon sign from a hotel up in the hill above the gas station.
I gave in to the temptation and got myself a room. The target for the
day was made, 800 km in 13 hours.
Bente informed me over the telephone that the seven o'clock
ferry to Gothenburg was fully booked, there wasn't even space for a lousy
motorcycle. Damned it. Our brains worked overtime to find an alternative.
Could I possibly go to Fredrikshavn in northern Denmark and take the night
ferry from there? The trip would add another 500-600 km to the next days
ride and I would probably not get there in time. I could go up to Helsingborg/Helsingør,
but this wouldn't give me a night ferry which meant another night in hotel
and a lot more kilometres. What about the Kiel-Oslo ferry the day after?
The only problem was that the ferry left at two in the evening and I was
550 km away with swollen eyes and exhausted from the three long days I
had been on the road. We discussed the different options and finally agreed
that I would go for the Kiel-Oslo ferry, if I felt ready for it in the
morning. Bente would book me in as soon as the ticket office opened on
Friday. The ferry company had already confirmed that there was plenty
of vacancy. I said goodbye with promises of 'safety first' for the next
days ride. The reception promised to wake me up at six thirty. My eyelids
shut and it got dark.
Fourth day, sprinting towards Kiel and the ferry
I woke up to a screaming sound. It took several minutes
before I realised it was the wakeup. After a quick breakfast I felt surprisingly
ready to go. My eyes were swollen as never before, but my butt and neck
seemed to have adjusted, the pains were less now than on day two.
Rocinante was at this stage dirty with Spanish mosquitos-terribles
decorating the front and a chain that desperately needed a tighten up.
I double checked it to be sure I wouldn't get into problems. Both tires
were worn down a lot. They would be replaced once in Norway. The screw
behind the generator which had loosened and was replaced on warranty -
after god know how many man hours of searching for the problem, even though
I told the garage what the source was - had loosened again and the familiar
screaming metallic noise was back. This time I knew at least what the
sound was and didn't have to worry about it. All in all the bike was worn
but had no serious problems. I decided to go for the two o'clock ferry.
At seven forty I was on the road, soon doing 160-170, riding
position down behind the screen, ear protectors on, warm underwear - shirt
- wool sweater - another sweater - warm inner lining and finally the Bullson
suit. It was no more than 10-11ºC but again I was dressed for the
I stopped for a coffee and a cigarette after one hour. The
speed had varied between 140 and 195 - which was the maximum Rocinante
would do with saddle bags and top box - and I had made 155 km in exactly
one hour. I was impressed. Never before have I even been close to such
a number. I was convinced I would be in Kiel in time.
I continued doing around 160 km/hour and made three more
stops. It was more convenient and even felt safer to drive in speeds around
160 than 130. On the two lane autobahn the trucks did 100-110 in the right
lane and the faster cars did 150-200 in the left lane. If I did 130 I
had to switch right and left all the time, making the drive look more
like slalom. But if I did 160-170 I could stay in the left lane most of
the time. Sometimes however, small insect sized cars in the mirror would
grow to huge dimensions in a matter of seconds. I had to look out for
this all the time and do a small detour to the right lane to let the car
At twelve o'clock I stopped the bike outside the ferry terminal
and walked in to buy the ticket. I had made the 550 km in less than four
and a half hour. I wasn't even extremely exhausted, just plainly crashed
out after being exposed to hurricane winds for half a day. Before one
o'clock I was in my cabin and called Bente. When she picked up the phone
in her office I simply simulated the sound you make after the first sip
of an extremely tasteful beer has passed your lips and said, "That's the
sound the guys in the bar will hear from me in ten minutes time". She
didn't believe I was calling already and wasn't quite happy when I told
her about my drive. But it was soon forgotten and we were both glad that
we would see each other again the next day.
My thirst for a cold beer led me through the ship to the
only bar I found that served Guinness. The bartender smiled at my sound
so I told him why the beer tasted better than anything I could remember.
I had two more. Then I went upstairs and crashed out on the bed for the
next four hours.
I woke up hungry and went for a huge dinner at a steak house.
The lamb did wonders for my body along with the bottle of wine and the
coffee and cognac afterwards. I was in a good mode, thinking back on the
three exhausting but adventurous and fun days since I started in Nerja
Tuesday morning. I was also happy because I had made the longest trip
ever and shattered all my previous trip records. I know it might sound
childish, but this was part of my thing regarding this trip. I wanted
to try to stretch my limits and see how much driving I could take without
it affecting safety. I felt I had come through on top of it, with the
near miss in France as the only - although a little scary - exception.
Final day, a short trip to Stathelle
It felt strange to take Rocinante off the ferry and onto
Norwegian soil. She didn't belong here, but rather in the Andalucian highland.
I wondered if she would see it again.
The custom office was filled up with people, and I almost
freaked out in my armour when the two French women in front of me told
the officer that they had thirty-two dogs with them from France. Luckily
they didn't have to check every dog, but still it took me almost one hour
to get to the desk. I filled out the declaration form and had three days
to take the bike to the local custom office in Skien.
The drive from Oslo to Stathelle, 165 km south-west
of the capital, was done in two hours and at mid day Rocinante was parked
outside our house and Bente opened the door.
We kissed and hugged for a long time before I started to
unload the bike. Then we fired up the fire place and talked for hours
about my trip.
It was over, done in only a few days an it felt slightly
unreal. I had left Stathelle on Monday morning. It was noon Saturday and
I was back already.
The strange thing is that I could do it again any time.
Even as I talked about the trip to Bente I realised that I wasn't tired
of driving, not even temporarily. It's a good thing, I guess.
wedding picture, Frigilliana, June 1st 1998
Foto Studio Baldo Ramirez, Nerja
On Two Wheels In Spain ends for now. Hopefully we
will have stories to tell from a northern Spain adventure within the next
year or so. Thanks for the ride.