The alarm woke us up long before sunrise. I’m told it’s normal for nerves to keep you awake the night before a big adventure, but Maria had to coax me begrudgingly out of bed with a very strong coffee. We’d hastily finished packing the day before – a job not made any easier by the remnants of a hangover reminding us of our leaving bash Saturday night at The Hootananny.
Leaving party at the hootenanny
The party had spilled over to the house, and a few stragglers were still hanging around that morning. In the end we gave up on trying to pack properly and threw the last few bits haphazardly into the panniers.
Something to sort out when we stop for a few days.
By 6am the bikes were ready – piled extra high with bags of things we would be leaving with Maria’s dad in Berlin. One last look around the house to make sure we hadn’t forgotten anything, and I spotted a flash of yellow peeking out from behind a bookcase. Sam! A wooden stencilled smiley face that we’d found while wandering drunkenly around london and adopted. We were planning to put him somewhere but hadn’t found the time, so nothing for it but to strap him to the bike and amuse the morning commuters.
Everything ready then, and we said our last goodbyes and wobbled off towards the rising sun and the start of our journey east. As always we chose to avoid the motorway in favour of quieter A roads, so we had given ourselves a generous 5 hours to get to Dover, in case of rush hour traffic or any unforseen events.This left us with a decision to make 2 hours later when we rolled into the ferry port.
Given that we still had an 8 hour ride to Maria’s brother’s place in Dronten we figured the best option would be to pay an extra 20 pounds or so to get our tickets changed and take the ferry 2 hours earlier than planned.
Rolling into Calais, I set the sat nav up to take us to Dronten. Usually I prefer to work out the route from a map and make some notes, but it was going to be a long day, and the easier we made it for ourselves, the better. While it was a cold spring day, the sky was blue and the rain we’d been promised showed no sign of appearing. That, coupled with the knowledge that we would be heading in one direction indefinitely, with no turning back to face the office, made us a couple of happy little bikers. Time for a fuel stop and just as we were starting to run low an unmanned petrol station appeared on the side of the road. I jumped off, put in my credit card and waited. Declined. OK try again. Declined. I tried my other card, with no luck. Then Maria tried hers. No luck there either. The thought struck us that we may not be able to use our English cards here, and we had no cash on us. Anyway for now, back on the bikes to use the remaining 20 miles of fuel in search of another petrol station. Fortunately the next one I found was part of a bigger supermarket so was happy to take our islander’s currency. And since we were there we bought some bread and ham for a quick lunch with coffee from the thermos. Pulling away from the supermarket car park I stopped at the roundabout to give way, and heard a ‘crunch’ behind me. I looked around to see maria standing next to her upturned bike and wearing bemused expression. To this day I have no idea how she managed to drop the bike while standing still on a flat bit of tarmac.
Anyway onwards, out of France and into Belgium and some seriously flat, straight roads. Not too exiting but you can just put the throttle lock on, slump into your saddle and daydream or admire the passing scenery. Our next fuel stop led to another incedent. I pulled away from the pump and up to the edge of the road. Looking at the gap before the oncoming car I decided that it would be too tight for Maria to follow me out, so I waited for the next one. Evidently Maria had assumed that I would just go and had gunned the throttle while focusing on the oncoming car, running right up my arse! I lurched forward and toppled over to the right, trapping my foot under the pannier in the process. Luckily my boots took the brunt of it and prevented any injury, but I had to lie there while Maria hopped off her bike and came round to help me lift the weight off and slide out. Interestingly in Maria’s retelling of the story it seems I started to pull out and then changed my mind at the last minute! Two sides to every story I suppose. Back on the road and we just weren’t making as much progress as we would have liked so we reluctantly decided to get on the motorway. The setting on the sat nav changed, we were soon zipping through the netherlands and nearing the farm college where Maria’s brother was studying.
There was a hot meal waiting for us when we arrived, made with vegetables from the farm and when we dug out our wine, rum, spices and sugar to make feurzangenboule, the party got into full swing. Gradually more people arrived and the weed and guitar were passed around. Slightly intoxicated by the rum and the hippy vibe, when I heard Michael was planning to hitch-hike to Berlin the following day I said ‘we’ll give you a lift’. Sure the bikes are already over laden, and we dont have a spare helmet or any gear, but these are all problems that will probably go away if ignored. Eventually everyone made their way to bed and we rolled out our sleeping bags on the floor, stretched out, and bought the first day of our adventure to a close.