It’s 6am. Out of the window the morning sun is hidden by dense fog, which is not a welcome sight. We make our way out of the most bizarre hotel rooms in Eastern Europe and down to see the bikes – all packed, set up, cameras and sat-nav systems at the ready. Our faithful R1200GS partners for the next grueling 24hr Adventure. The fog seems not to be an issue any more.
We are in Slavonski Brod, a small town on the border of Croatia and Bosnia, 50 miles or so from our start line – Serbia. I’m in high spirits as we burble along the deserted Croatian streets but an underlying sense of doubt is knocking at my brain about whether this is a stupid idea or a magnificent one. But before I have too long to talk myself out of it, we arrive at the start, the Serbian border.
A quick lighthearted chat about morning poos and Eastern European girls settles the nerves, and at 08:16 we set off. The Akrapovic on the GSA rattles around the customs officers’ huts as we blast off at a racey pace. Keeping the front wheel on the floor – at least for now – seems diligent.
So here it is: 24hrs with nothing but our own thoughts and minds to keep occupied and focused. The aim is to get as many countries under our tyres as we can within 24hrs. Straight riding and only stopping for fuel, a quick nibble on some fruity nuts and a possible panic poo, encouraged by the spicy Eastern European sausage from the night before. And of course dinner.
It’s funny what goes through your mind while riding a motorcycle. Mostly I find an overwhelming sense of peace, connection with the environment around you and a welcome exit from the inane drivel of FaceTwit and Instadick. One could almost go as far as saying is a form of meditation, but that just sounds too much like a load of communal living leftism from a self-help book.
The primary thought going through my mind was about fuel economy: is it better to go as fast as you can and fill up more frequently? Or do you sit at 75mph and rack up the miles? Well, I can say with authority that the latter is more bike-efficient, but the former is the only way your mind will get through these 24hrs.
Next stop – back to Brod and a hop over the river to Bosnia. This was the most worrying crossing for me: in part due to a strange family coincidence involving my father, who in 1969 was incarcerated in this very town…but that’s another story. This is the only destination outside the EU and sometimes they can be a bit funny. The last thing we need is a full bike search and anal probing. But thankfully and with tinted disappointment we are through with ease. Quick U-turn at a police check, which must have made us look like drug runners and back, again, into Croatia for a long blast up through to Zagreb and onward to the Hungarian border 300 miles away. Easy, apart from a long stretch of roadworks and the sat nav having a breakdown.
Slovenia: probably the most unexpected highlight of the trip. As a naive and spoiled UK resident, I always considered Slovenia to be a depressing place in the middle of nowhere with nothing to offer. No. It’s beautiful. And the road networks were probably the best we encountered on the whole trip. Beautifully smooth asphalt, high tech toll checks, which you don’t need to queue or stop for, and service stations, which embarrass me as a UK road user. It was like club Tropicana in there with fresh pineapple, fruits, vegetables and again, not to mention the quality of totty, which was on the seriously high scale of the wank bank.
Onto the sweeping mountain tunnels of Austria. This was a refreshing change from the endless motorways and a much needed injection of adrenaline to perk us up. This was the easiest 100 miles I’ve ever done. Which was shortly followed by the most frustrating. After a huge smile and climbing to 4000ft, the bottom of the valley held a different story. We had decided to take a ‘short cut’ that ended up meaning we were part of the weekly migration of holidaymakers down into Italy – in single file and frustratingly slow traffic. Needless to say this lead to an incident where we were swiftly puled over by the Austrian fuzz and disciplined for overtaking in a ‘no overtaking’ zone. Still, the fine was only 35 Euros which was less than breakfast. In total this excursion cost us at least an hour. #avoid.
Innsbruck, and night is drawing closer. 10hrs in the saddle and this is the part I’ve not been looking forward to – the night. We decide that we have made excellent time so far, so we decide to stop for a prolonged break of 1 whole luxurious hour. I cannot stress just how important it is to give your mind a break on a trip like this. We are just over halfway and our bodies and minds are now starting to feel the fatigue, so – for the sake of your own riding competence – it’s an excellent idea to take time out. Forget about the time ticking away. The challenge and how many miles still stretch out in front of us, and just chat shit for a while and enjoy the moment. After a delightful and rare ham and cheese sandwich, we head outside to the bikes. It is now the night.
Back on the road to Liechtenstein and fatigue is showing just 30 miles later, where I miss a vital turning off the motorway. We have to continue on, then double-back to ensure we actually pass into Liechtenstein, which is easy to miss, physically and metaphorically. Frustration grips me at the lost time after our 1hr stop just 40 mins earlier.
Jump into Switzerland and straight out to Germany. The excitement of speed restriction free Autobahns perks us up. The GS Adventure is not known for its speed but fully laden with the most un-aerodynamic panniers known to man, it’s not long before we hit the 140mph mark. At night. In the fog. After 12 hours in the saddle. Not clever, but the sense of just wanting to just get on with it is welcomed by the refreshing opportunity to actually do so. So we did.
Fuel economy is now out the window. We just want to finish.
Still in Germany. It’s 2am and the fog is heavy. It’s cold, we are tired and starting to lose patience with each other. We still have France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Holland to go. If there was a time on the trip that we both wanted to give up, it’s now.
When you get this tired you start struggling with vision, your body temperature drops and the whole thing is like an inescapable bad mushroom trip. Corners become 50p shaped with constant rider corrections, speed becomes erratic and taillights play tricks on you. This is not safe, no matter how many digital rider aids you have.
So when we stared running low on fuel, it was almost a welcome relief to slow down to 60mph to try and drag up the range a bit. We drive for another 30mins. Still no fuel and I’m down to 11miles range. Time to enter the NAV system and look for fuel off our current route. We’ve done too much to fail from running out of petrol. That would be the lamest face palm fail of my life
Fortunately, the petrol station is still open. We grab some energy drinks and neck them hoping to rid ourselves of the fatigued nightmare and replace it with diabetes inducing sugar levels.
Tempers are short between Charley and I, not saying much unless it needs to be said. We check the map and we are only 6 miles from the French border, so we decide to take a quick detour and knock France off the list before returning to the monotony of the duel carriageways. This is the last stop before our goal. Not long now.
Luxembourg arrived and left without leaving a memory.
Nearly there. Belgium. The energy drinks are doing their job, or perhaps it’s just the revelation that we are going to make it.
100 miles to go. My memories are faded of this section, just relentless, empty roads with comforting sections of fully illuminated street lightning to guide us home.
21hrs. We head out along the river of the last town on the list: Liege. Maybe 3 miles left. We are both counting down the miles and then…. HOLLAND – my most favourite of all the traffic signs. We look across at each other with satisfaction and both twist the throttles hard to send the front wheels skyward, only to find the Dutch plod waiting for us in a secluded underpass. They fail to react. Good. But at this point, we had made it, so my care factor had been left behind and our energy levels took a big upswing. So much so we pulled over to give ourselves a god old pat on the back before cracking open 2 of the tastiest, satisfying beers of our lives. Something I will never forget.