Co LeDahu goes south on his motorbike during July and August 2007.
through Belgium, Luxemburg and France
last picture before I head her on the highway
Thursday, July 26, 2007
To turn a motorbike's throttle isn't that difficult, just a twisting operation of the right hand and pulse. But to start a motorbike trip to France, Spain and Portugal with this simple movement is nevertheless much more different. I always have wanted to make a trip that far on a motorbike.
At the time I have no physical problems anymore since my left lower leg amputation so I want to go for this challenge and, according to Larry McMurty: "?If you wait, all that happens is that you get older" I'm too old to wait any longer!
My wife Mieke encourages the plan as well and grants me the experience. I'm lucky to have such an understanding wife.
Luggage rolls are attached to the steering bar and buddyseat, with tent, mattress, sleeping bag and luggage for a month. Weather is cloudy, the temperature far below normal in August.
I slap my visor down and with the desire to unknown roads waiting for me, shimmering landscapes, meeting people and more biking adventures, I wring the handlebar for more speed.
From Apeldoorn (The Netherlands), direction south over well known, but at this moment somehow unfamiliar motorways: I have been riding here before frequently. But with the unknown lying before me it makes bubbles in my belly today: the travelling in myself. That's what they always say when one's making a long and far trip... "Heart of Darkness" and that kind of stuff. In what way? Don't know exactly at this moment and have to meditate over this question more.
The unexplainable cramp in my residual stump which impedes me since last week, makes sitting on the bike painful. I feel that perishing pain become slowly more terrible and after 100 km the decision becomes clear to me: I better just simply ride back. Moreover I feel a sore spot on my stump which I haven't felt when riding away and forgot the bandages for that.
Would my planned motorbike journey to Portugal of a month finish with just a couple of days stay on a camp-site in Luxembourg?
To change plans by unexpected incidents: I know this and can handle it well.
Fast adapting to changed possibilities, to suddenly risen restrictions. It has become part of my life since my amputation and years of rehabilitation afterwards: regularly adjusting plans and living further with the possibilities of the moment. Like now, the planned trip of a month becomes a couple of days at last. The decision to change my journey of a month into a weekend trip gives me the rest to keep on riding.
Some time later while I experience considerable crosswinds, the magnetic map holder on my gas tank with a part of the routes, camp-site addresses and road maps is blown away when I overtake a lorry combination.
Whaha, to have been thrown back on just memory and capacity to improvise, this excursion gets more and more a challenge. Grinning behind my visor I start feeling real fun.
This journey ?s eventually getting how I always want it: live by the the day, with the available possibilities and improvise with what still is possible. I all of a sudden I feel very happy, crazily enough... just go for it and see how far my bike and I will come!
The rest of the road trip is relaxed, enjoying the Harley motorbike and the well-known roads to Luxembourg.
End of the afternoon I kill the bike beside the terrace of motorbike camp-site "High Chapparel": now first a cold "Bofferding" beer.
The unaccustomed operations of unpacking the luggage and set up the tent is uneasy to me but the tent stands firm. On the camp-site preparations are made for a Rock&Roll weekend with live bands. Seems a good expectancy for me, if I want to remain here a few days.
After a meal and a couple beers I sit at the bar and a fellow beside me tells why he is here: he is dent-doctor who repairs dents in cars after heavy hail. So he travels behind hailstorms to repair the cars afterwards, hailstorms only occur during summertime... didn't know that! A surprising tale which makes me forget pain and doubt.
I crawl in my sleeping bag and decide to simply continue my trip the next day direction Dordogne, France.
There I can still turn the bike back to Holland, the first couple of hundred kilometres went well after all and I enjoy myself. I punch my leather motor jacket into a pillow and with a warm satisfied feeling I lay my head down to rest.
got up the tent first time in Luxemburg
Friday, July 27
Camping owner Emiel puts a fried egg in front of me and after a cup of strong coffee I turn the bike and my back to the camp-site, looking for the motorway to France. The pain in my stump is somewhat reduced and riding is not a big problem. First some fast kilometres asphalt to burn, to keep ahead of imminent downpours. Riding straight-on along the motorway bores me after some time and I leave the P?age to ride a pallet of more exciting winding back roads direction Auxerre through the Meuse and Champagne districts .
The Harley-Davidson Dyna Street Bob which thunders under me is my motorbike for five months now. Nevertheless I already added more than 7000 km on the tripmeter. To get used to the Dyna, I rode some weekends on the smaller roads in the hilly surroundings of Ardennes, Sauerland and Eifel (Belgium and Germany). I had a lighter H-D Sportster before, which I could throw easily into every bend of the road. The heavier Dyna is more difficult but in the mountains of the German Eifel I have mastered that ponderous bitch after all.
A secret dream of earlier days started to become reality: to ride through Europe with my motorbike and a tent, completely on my own. I do not have clear plans, "Young riders pick a destination and go... Old riders pick a direction and go": I'll take the days and ways how they come before the wheels.
Portugal: never been there and I'm curiously to the inlands of Spain too. Motor bikers camp-sites seem nice to me, to share experiences, plans and interests with other bikers.
I have some printed addresses from the internet with me, if not blown away by the lorry. I think I can get more, underway from other bikers.
Exactly that's what happens when I ride into the municipal camp-site of Varzy and stop beside the tent and motorbike of Henk from Holland.
Henk Carstens is a sympathetic guy. An older, cautiously speaking man who watches me with a serious but lively sight from under bristly eyebrows. He is on transit to visit his daughter who lives in the Dordogne region and to make trips in the surroundings. His wife follows later by car.
Oh intangible, unfathomable chance: the previous year Henk made a bike tour on his Yamaha Drag Star through France, Spain and Portugal.
Enthusiastic by his beautiful memories, with a map between us he designates me the places which I definitely have to visit and the most beautiful roads to ride with my bike. The inspiration bubbles in my blood. He gives me golden tips for steering pleasure because he is like me: bike riding is not racing fast but intensely enjoying the roads and the landscapes.
Splendid how Henk chooses his own manner and paths for the pleasure of riding on two wheels. An example for contemporaries with bicycle racks on on their cars whose lives only roll on along bored and well known paths.
I eat a pizza in the village, gazed after by the local population if I ride through the narrow streets with a thundering sound.
Tomorrow I go on, I can stil handle the inconveniences and want to reach Dordogne anyway.
Moreover: I already had this pains and they're not the result of riding my bike, nor it increases form biking. To be at home in bed or lazy chair won't improve anything. So I much rather ride on now with the the same misery than stay home with it!
Saturday, July 28
Henk gets up and has breakfast without a rush, but I break down the tent rapidly to remain in front of the imminent rain again and we wish each other good travel. The roads through Yonne and Nièvre, Cher and Indre regions are both strikingly beautiful and straight-ahead boring. To be able to ride the 500 km this day to motorcycle camping-site Dordogne I have to make some distance by toll-motorways in between
The splendid Corrèze unfolds itself before me under a grey deck of clouds and I leave the Péage with its flow of hectic English caravan tourists, to ride along the back roads. Small showers accompany my travel along the views and panoramas of the Dordogne region and after some delay by busy Saturday traffic I reach the neighbourhoods of moto camp-site Dordogne. My route description lies rotting along a Dutch motorway somewhere. No sweat, after searching around for an hour in the fairy-like surroundings around the flower village Domme, I the climb the steep path that leads to the camp-site. I register and set up my tent among other bikers and I decide to stay here a while longer before continuing direction Spain. A while rest for man and machine is maybe not a bad idea and time is still on my side anyway. Good for the condition of my stump and my morality as well. The weather looks good and the atmosphere here is relaxed due to the pleasant welcome by managers Pieter and Renske, with employee Errol.
Sunday, July 29
I enjoying the feeling not have to leave and pack the motorbike at early hours. I have a nice conversation with Walter, a good-natured and humorous trucker who, together with girlfriend Hennie enjoys riding through Dordogne on a H-D NightTrain and Shadow 1100. Hennie's captivating eyes are perfect to be sketched with pencil and paper. But don't have my sketchbook with me and have no rest for that. End of the afternoon the sun breaks through the clouds and we take a swim. That evening at the campfire the insatiable ears of two wonderful children absorb all tales and characteristics concerning my artificial leg. They want to do a lecture the next school year. Do you best, kids.
Before going to sleep I check my stump for damages,decide to ignore inconveniences and continue my journey to Spain. I am already too far away from nursing and care, so I choose for the unknown perspective of day-to-day. Continue with the excursion, if need be to the fateful point where either traveller or vehicle will possibly strand... or not!
Monday, July 30
Early packing and after a quick breakfast once again I try to escape to the threat of rain. Lourdes is my next destination, maybe I can taste the religious expectations which brings fellow handicapped to this place. Will I be able to obtain a Gods wonder in the busy cave where, almost 150 years ago the virgin Maria showed her tits to millers daughter Marie-Bernarde?
I ride southbound along boring straight asphalt ribbons, but also along nice views in the Tarn and Garonne regions, now and then sprinkled by small showers.
Lourdes has a healthy handicapped industry. Long processions with scout-pulled carts, filled with pitiful figures suffering from visible or unknown inconveniences pass me by. I myself too am incorporated between the pilgrims. Some astonished examine that remarkable biker in black leather with his artificial leg. An occurrence which is perhaps just as rare as the flashing Maria.
My stump problems limit the walking distances. Resting on a bench in front of the church I watch the busy crowd and decide to look for a camp-site after a café-au-lait on a terrace. In the motorbike parking place I meet Nienke. A small but brave Dutch woman, very humorous. She rides a canary yellow CBR600RR sports motorbike through France and Spain for five weeks, with in between two courses of para-sailing. Nice girl she is and we share a place on a large luxurious family camp-site at the foot of steep mountains wrapped in clouds: the Pyrenees. We eat duck hearts, we internet, drink and talk together concerning life&biking. A relaxed and inspiring meeting, more so because I learn some tips&tricks from her many years' motorbiking experience on long excursions such as these. With Nienke, I draw again a couple of promising routes more on my maps.
transport for the handicaped in Lourdes
for more pictures about the journey: weblog with piccas
Spain and Portugal, a tour around the Iberian peninsula
Col d'Aubisque, Pyreneeën
Tuesday, July 31
I open my eyes and cannot keep them from that high wall of Pyrenees mountains which fills the horizon this beautiful morning, crystal clear and outlined sharply against a sheer blue sky.
I must no longer keep them waiting, those roads which lay beyond, the adventure, the unknown!
Leaving Nienke behind, who is lazily packing, I ride the bike up the mountains through small villages and gradually balder landscapes.
Loosely wandering cows make driving on these roads exciting. A suddenly appearing, heaving sea of wool on the road stops me abruptly in my brakes. Unattended sheep in a large herd, which do not pay any attention at all to the thundering sound from the Harley pipes and they force me slowing down to ride in their own trotting tempo. After some time I am caught up by the shepherd himself in a 4-wheel drive. Wildly crying he hunts the pluche animals into the verge and I can open the gashandle again.
The promising asphalt ribbon meanders far down in valleys and up again over the peaks. I'm able to look more then a hundred kilometres far and see France with the pack of clouds above that has teased me so long with the threat of rain. Smiling I turn my back and cross the Col d' Aubisque, into warm and sunny Spain. So far my poorly French could save me with communication, but from Spanish I can't understand a bit. Strange feeling to be thrown back in my own Europe to hand-and-foot communication.
In the middle of the rough and barren Picos the Peña lies motorcycle camp-site Anzãnigo.
I already met the Dutch guys Jon and Martin at the Dordogne camp-site and I encounter them again here. In the evening there's a common diner with the twenty present biker guests, sitting at a long table where language differences are brightly laughed away with wine and a delicious meal. Satisfied I roll myself up in my sleeping bag, my physical inconveniences today have luckily become less and for the first time I'm fulfilled with faith, that my planned four weeks excursion could possibly be accomplished according to plans, what a glorious feeling this is!
Wednesday, August 1st
Can you believe, this morning announces itself with a thick pack of clouds again?
Quickly I'm on my way again, further into Navarra and I turn onto the autovia to come at the Picos Europe quickly and dry. The coast comes closer, but hanging above I see imminent dark clouds. In Cantabria, at the village of Comilla the coast road along the Atlantic reminds me of Bretagne. Here I set up my tent at an impersonal camp-site. I'm being examined with suspicion: you'll never know exactly with gypsies and H-D bikers after all.
This day again I have been stronger than the pain, although it's getting better. I have to be careful however, walking not too far distances: my stroll into Lourdes caused a stump blister.
I had a conversation with the only other motorcycle guests: Berend and Jeannet who travel around with a Goldwing sidecar combination. Later, sitting on a terrace at the small harbour I meet them again and we eat calamaris together during a nice conversation concerning motorbike experiences.
Stories, which they have plenty available. Almost thirty years they are motorized with two and three wheels (they even don't own a car) and travel through Europe and Asia for vacation. At first the two of them and later with their children. Berend with his grey locks of hair and quiet character knows a lot about motorcycle technique. He keeps eight in the barn from classic to modern models which, if necessary he maintains, repairs or overhauls himself. At his work he is the technical authority, who has internationally recognised inventions on his name. Jeannet rides both a solo motorcycles and a sidecar combination. During this ride however she is Berends sidecar passenger, she makes the routes and devours novels on the way. Wonderful and inspiring as these two sympathetic Dutch people can tell. I learn a lot from them and we say farewell. Perhaps we'll meet again at a common destination Toca da Raposa, the motorcycle camp-site in the north of Portugal.
Picos de Europa
Thursday, Augusts 2nd
A week on my way today and luckily my problems have become less, my faith that I can continue the planned excursion further into Spain and even Portugal, increases. With a local map and Henks tips I follow a splendid route through the Picos de Europe mountains. From time to time I misinterpret the signposting and find myself having chosen the wrong way.
The logic of the Spanish road network will remain unclear for me during the whole trip. Tom Toms or Garmins GPS-systems are a possible solution, but too vulnerable for me and not appropriate in my manner of travelling. Moreover I have enough time and am never tied up to my route. At the most I have a finishing point for a day. Just simply riding back at doubt, check the map and continue, sometimes gamble.
The roads through the Picos are mega-beautiful, along mountains and gorges. Henk certainly did not exaggerate with his praise song over these steering roads. It is a motorcycle dream come true which is not to describe. Also not by all the photographs I take. Must imply myself not to stop each kilometre to step off the motorcycle, draw the camera from the case for a digital deposition.
How can one tell about ones squeezed-together buttocks from joy, riding' through each bend of the road in this moto-salsa rhythm?
But everything comes to an end and as soon as I leave the Picos, the plateaus of the Castillo y Le?n district is hot and barren. In the city of Le?n I get lost after taking a coppa coffee in the centre on a terrace. Takes me searching and driving around for an hour before I get the proper direction. It's after five, I have to look for a camp-site and I find one along the pilgrim path ?Camino Santiago?, leading to Santiago the Compostela. The pilgrims walk with long sticks and heavily packed in solemn step behind each other to the west, towards their pilgrimage city. I expect to meet them on the Spanish family camp-site take, but not one of them stays there. Later I find out that they sleep in special pelgrim lodges along their route.
long hot Portugese roads
Friday, August 3rd
Without breakfast I leave early from this cheerless camp-site, to go on for the Portuguese border. It costs time to find the correct road and once riding in the good direction the view is broad, bare and dull, many kilometres long. I'm glad I followed Henk's advise to ride along the Spanish North coast through the beautiful green Picos instead of these barren inland countrysides.
Before crossing the Portuguese border I take a vast and delicious Spanish brunch. The border passage to Braganza that lies waiting is a fabulous serpentine of 50 kilometers long over superb asphalt. I enjoyed myself but: if I thought to have had al the beauty today, a full gulf of pleasure from winding and bended roads pours over me in the Portugese Trasos Montes region. Head shaking I keep on enjoying the uncountable curves. Once on the country roads direction south, hairpins, rising and descending, alternate with long straight roads. It is hot and the sun burns mercilessly on the black matte helmet. To save the brains from boiling I take regular stops to ventilate the overheated head.
Having reached the Beira Alta region I arrive at the motorcycle camp-site Toca da Raposa around seven and I'm welcomed warmly by Mieke with her sons Matte and Seth. The kids help setting up the tent. Later I meet husband Joost. Together they own this splendid, sociable camp-site in the Serra Estrela, the highest mountain chain of Portugal.
My night's rest is disturbed rough and unpleasantly around 4 o'clock by a group of Portuguese bikers, setting up their tents with loud chatter and a compressor to blow up their air mattresses... damned!
Saturday and Sunday are resting days and my thoughts go astray to home. Daughter Margot leaves for a camping holiday and Mieke has her free weekend. Hopefully the weather is nice back in Holland, so she can recover from a week work. Mike rests from of his work as well.
I'm doing the washing and study "Portuguese for beginners", but most of the words slip my mind.
The Harley is standing at ease today, taking a rest too.
Sending SMS reports to the home front does not succeed from this location for reasons unclear to me. A pity because I like to inform everyone who is concerned about me yhat I'm doing well and they do not have to worry.
I have a conversation with a Dutch family who want themselves to establish in the neighbourhood. They already own ground, the house is under construction and until it's ready they live in a camper to which they travel regularly from the Netherlands. But their little 5 year old daughter Angela has to attend a Portuguese school. Does she like that very much? Don't know but she has to because mom and dad like to live here rather then in Holland.
I talk a time-long with a Belgium woman too, who stays here with her family. She has travelled in India and tells an interesting story about a girlfriend of hers who one time fell in love with a man of a nomad tribe in India and got a child from him. But he was unable to leave his people and had to remain there. She went back to Belgium with their child and from time to time they see each other still. But if the man is in Belgium for a month, he is digested by homesickness and desire to the desert tent with its own family... beautiful story I think.
I play with the children in the swimming pool, they are very interested in my artificial leg... as always. To my pleasant surprise at the end of the day Berend and Jeannet enter the camp-site with their GoldWing sidecar. We eat together and their wonderful tales of more then 25 years of biking through Europe, Asia and Africa roll over the table until late that evening.
Sunday starts lazily for me and I eat breakfast with Mieke and Seth. The noisy Portugese leave and just later a Dutch couple on a H-D Road King arrives: André and Els. We are now the five only camp-site guests and swim, chat, eat and drink relaxed with each other.
Berend and I study the maps and routes, to draw the most beautiful roads of Portugal and Spain. I promise to see Berend and Jeannet again back home in Holland at their motorclub in Genemuiden when a band plays. But then together with Mieke, seems fun to me. I get to my tent early.
Monday, August 6
On this day I always think of the terrible thing that happened sixty-two years ago, Hiroshima suffered from the first nuclear bomb as a destruction weapon ever, which fell on 8.15 hours in the morning.
An hour after this time I leave Toca, waved good-bye by the bikers who stay longer, to continue my trip direction south. The roads I steer are beautiful but I get lost at Lous? in the Beira Beixa, what costs me an hour (don't care) and a nice road (pity). In the pilgrimage town Fatima I take some rest outside the church and in Dutch I am addressed by a Portugese granny. She's there with granddad and grand children, who are born Dutch. They have returned from the Netherlands to Lisbon, children and grandchildren still live in Holland. This kind old woman stuffs me with all kind of tropical fruits, which I greedily accept. The church of Fatima does not bulge my pants and after a long piss I steer the Harley direction Monsaraz, my next travel destination, again recommended by Henk.
The landscapes of Alentejo district which I cross now are less beautiful and not so touristic. It's already 5 o'clock and I hope to see a camp-site in the next hour. Finally, after about 100 km I enter one and set up my tent on a cheerless spot. After having assaulted a hotdog and hamburger, I lay my head to rest.
on my way in Portugal
Tuesday, August 7
An early rise, quick coffee and be gone. It looks like it's going to be a beautiful day of riding' through nice landscapes and picturesque villages and it is indeed.
Splendid turns in narrow and empty roads, with dozens of kilometres cork oaks on the sides, varied with vast descended areas. Wonderful houses painted white with blue, in small villages where the population looks up surprised and a little disturbed as that black-dressed motor rider thunders through the small streets. The medieval Monseraz dooms up, proud on top of a mount.
In the heat of high noon I stroll the quiet narrow alleys and make photos of picturesque see-through panoramas; dream away on a deserted bench. Full view over a huge reservoir lake which I cross later after leaving the beautiful village of Montsaraz and following the banks of the lake for several kilometres further into the south.
It is here that suddenly I feel a hard punch on my chest, followed by a ferocious sting: a collision with a giant wasp. Due to the warmth I leave my leather jacker open during the ride. In an instant I feel pain and cold shivers all over my chest. But I can't stop among the traffic and ride on in spite of the pain. Ten minutes later I see the dead animal and the bright red spot in my neck. It stays painful for several days but luckily I didn't get any other complications. From that moment on I kept my jacker zipped while riding. Later, in Spain I got stung once again, but then in the face under the visor.
The landscape changes, cork oaks become more sparse, trading their places for green whine yards which are able to grow in this yet more wet ground.
Closer to the sea the land becomes more fertile and cultivated, the villages larger and the traffic heavier. The camp-site Corgo do Pardieiro I found on the internet, managed by a young Dutch couple lays at the end of a 3 km long, tiring gravel path. Around 7 o'clock I kill the bike on a very quiet and basic camping ground.
Not very motorcycle friendly or inviting to me so I won't stay here for longer than one night.
But the welcome of owners Bas and Reineke with their 3 children is pleasant. Reineke has stomach problems but nevertheless she prepares a tasty vegetarian meal which we eat jointly.
In spite of hospitality and good intentions this place is certainly not recommended as a motorcycle camp-site.
Wednesday, August 8
Waking up and packing the bike today can happen in a relaxed way. I'm only at a distance of about one hundred kilometres from my next and most far away destination: the quinta owned by Theo & Inge in the Algarve. To go there I take as many remote roads as possible and the result is a sometimes very high curves ratio of twelve to fifteen a kilometer.
Two hard-working and serious Portuguese policemen stop me in the middle of a road: they demand me to show documents. As soon as they see that I'm foreigner and handicapped they are more interested in the motorbike and the way I shift gears with a prosthesis. I explain and demonstrate, they ask no further and I can keep my passport and the rest of papers I in my pocket: they believe me. A sideway leads to the viewing point on the Monchique, the highest mountain in the Algarve region. Over a cup of coffee I get in conversation with a Dutch mother and her two young daughters who tell me hotspots of the tourist town of Albufeira.
I SMS these to my son Mike, who flies there in a couple days with a group of friends.
Back home, in an enthusiastic mood I agreed to take a drink together with him on a terrace there. Now, it seems more and more plausible I will succeed!
The road down again is of great beauty and after some looking around in the of village Odiaxere I finally find the country house of Theo and Inge: the Quinta da Alfarrobeira. A large land house, splendid situated on a hillock with a full view over the surrounding lands. But unfortunately the occupants themselves, Theo and Inge are not there at the time: they're on holidays.
My own fault because I didn't make any appointments to come over in advance.
The caretaker who opens the door for me, a Portuguese woman wants to send away that dusty biker. Luckily there is JanTon, a pleasant Dutch holiday guest at the quinta, who listens to my story and after some sms-messaging with Theo and Inge I can use the old Unimog camper which stands on a remote place on the property. There's even a bed, refrigerator and a cooking place available, an unprecedented luxury. I'm happy with this offer, I can enjoy this place as a rest point and I have an operating base for rides in the surroundings.
wonderful Quinta da Alfarrobeira
Eventually my stay on the Quinta lasts for five fantastic days. I re-establish my contact with Isabel, the most beautiful Portuguese woman I've met with her remarkable and enjoyable 5 years old son Gui. In the absence of Theo and Inge she takes care of business at the Quinta, helped by the English couple Shawn and Carry who stay there as well with their son Jack.
All very kind people to me. Isabel is very busy in and around the house with cleaning and attending the guests. She shows me around and tells me how she takes care of the animals and plants. It is clearly that she loves to be at the Quinta and apart from her yoga study, Gui and the Quinta are the only things on her mind. I try to help her if I can with burying a dead chicken, feed the horses (although I have no affection at all with these animals), cleaning the swimming pool and sweep the terrace. Her son Gui is a lovely boy of almost five with whom I enjoy myself very much. With a smart mixture of Portuguese, English, couple words Dutch, but especially with his gestures and face expressions he makes himself perfectly clear. Very intelligent and wonderful to see, he is a born actor and entertainer.
I do not have a chance to cook for myself. Isabel cooks too much (by accident?) all the time and there's always enough left for me. Due to her I had a very good time at the Algarve and I'm glad to have met her. She's a very inspiring person and I hope I will see her again some time. I wish her luck and happiness on her half-year journey to India next month.
My stump gets time to rest. If I step in my prosthesis in the morning, I still feel pain, but later on the day this decreases.
I make small trips with the Harley in the vicinity and Sunday afternoon I meet with Mike, who's partying in Albufeira two weeks with his friends, approximately 40 km to the east.
To see my son in South-Portugal all of a sudden walking towards me on a sunny square, is a strange and moving moment. And again, when we part after some time with a "see you back in the Netherlands", take care, boy!
A pleasant stay means an emotional departure. Very true with leaving Theo and Inges splendid Quinta in Odiaxere. Thanks to all the nice people: Isabel and Gui; Carrie, Shawn and Jack. But Co is "on the road", therefore farewells are inevitable. From now on the roads carry me back in northward directions. An idea which changes my travelling mood considerably, from this moment of departure from the Algarve.
my temporaly home at the Quinta da Alfarrobeira: a rugged Unimog camper
for more pictures about the journey: weblog with piccas
sun in the back: on my way home
H-D on the famous bridge in Ronda
Monday, August 13th
I've seen enough of the Algarve coastline and want to make kilometres to create distance from the Quinta with the nice Portugese people I'm so reluctant to leave. This departure is more difficult than to simply drive away at a camp-site. They really want me to stay and I myself feel the same. But there is both a time of coming and of leaving.
My travel aim is Andalusia, the village Ronda in particular. Along recently mowed, gold yellow cornfields with tufts of green I ride my bike, over steep tops in swinging hairpins and down again. Certainly: Spain is a dreamland of bends and curves of which I will rise awake at night in wet dreams for a long time ever after.
Coffee with a piece of pie are as important as gasoline: while resting after a tank stop I talk with a friendly English guy on a H-D FXR Police. He is on his way to Santander where he takes the ferry back. Has attended to a country house in the Algarve and had some trouble with his motorbike. A flat back tire had been incompetently replaced by a H-D dealer in Faro, Portugal and because of that, afterwards his secondaire belt and alternator broke down as well. Expensive repairs after all! We wish each other a safe trip and ride together for a while, until he goes his own way direction north.
Along back roads to Ronda, also a tip from the box of Henk. Ronda is a busy touristic town where I drive through on the motorbike and at the last rays of sunlight I take some nice photographs of the famous stone bridge which links the two town parts, divided from each other by a deep gap in the rocks.
On the noisy Spanish family camp-site, I set-up my tent. A friendly old lady offers me her camping chair. I think she has seen me moving around with difficulty. The Spanish are nice people too.
Tuesday, August 14
A simple Spanish breakfast (what do I want more, for 2 euri) and I'm underway along the Sierra Nevada, following narrow and nice meandering roads eastward. Those are designated on the Michelin maps by green rimmed lines. I just connect them with each other to a longer route with in between the more convenient, but less touristic National roads. I take the smallest yellow coloured roads in the mountain ranges because they are nice and winding with many turns, bends and altitude levels. Only when necessary I choose easier provincial roads to make kilometres, otherwise it takes too long and I wouldn't be back home before Christmas really. Sometimes I steer as much as three hours and have still less than 100 km added on the odometer. But beautiful it is!
On a national road I flatten some asphalt in higher speeds to make more distance quickly. To continue the last piece of the route with a slalom of bends on back roads again. I cross plains, as dry as moon landscapes, barren canyons as in America, green-blue dam lakes, endless plantations of olive-trees. Only: little camp-sites here... not one! Finally I decide to drive to Cazorla, the next larger village and take a pension. But hey... wow, a camp-site sign on the right side: I follow a steep path upwards and arrive on a splendid green camping site owned by Dutch. More Dutch guests welcome me and I am invited straight away for a cold beer at Rogier and Helens camper. Two very friendly people, Rogier speaks Spanish fluently and has good contacts with the other, mainly Spanish camp-site guests. I also meet Ron and Petra who come from Apeldoorn and teaching on the school of our kids... "Europe is small" they say.
Rogier is married with Helen and together they love Spain very much. For Rogier the Spanish language is his first love. He already could sing along South-American dancing music at young age but without understanding what he was saying. He learned Spanish and finally even became travelling guide in the north of Spain.
He likes photography and we change ideas about this, camera's and motorcycles. It is a pleasure to watch him between the Spanish. He animates the children, looks after a self-made bar for the adults and it's always very busy around the camper of Helen and him.
Tomorrow is Augusts 15 and Maria Ascension, a holiday in Spain. I decide to remain that day, it pleases me a lot to stick around in this nice place with lovely people as Rogier and Helen.
camping near Cazorla
My stump inconveniences are a lot less and during riding I don't feel it that much anymore. Only when I don my prosthesis. The resting periods have worked out well. I have breakfast with Rogier and Helen, have fun with them and the others, update my internet blog on the camp-site computer, read and sunbathe on this Spanish holiday.
At night we enter the village, me on Ron's bicycle because it is too far to walk for me. We eat tapas and enjoy the Spanish families who sit on the terrace and walk around laughing and shouting. The exciting mixture of sounds, smells and colours: Spain is a delicious and beautiful country!
camping near Cazorla
Thursday, August 16
A farewell to two nice Dutch people this time which I would like to know beter: Rogier and Helen. But then again: Co is on the move. I ride away after a joined breakfast and the promise to eat tapas together back home in the Netherlands.
It takes some time to find the right road I want to follow because this must be a very beautiful one and finally I succeed after an hour. Not in vain because it really is wonderful to ride. More than 40 km of swinging splendidly along the bends of the Rio Guadalquivir.
Quick a short distance of autovia and I go on for the next back road through this touristic surroundings.
At last, the end of the day I enter the town of Cuanca but am not inspired to stay long. The camp-site is 7 km outside the city, a tourist-industry of 1500 camp-places. Very large, crowded and noisy, with distances to restaurant and toilet-house too far to walk for me. Therefore I take the motorbike to wash and eat. I go to sleep early to be able to leave this tourist-ghetto tomorrow at an early hour.
on my way through Spain
Friday august 17
According to plans, I start the Harley-Davidson at eight o'clock, the sun is not yet shining over the mountain tops. Knees in the breeze, sunflowers are astonished and they twist their bright yellow heads to the Big-twin thunder that disturbs their morning rest so cruelly.
It is cold, it is cloudy but dry. Steering pleasure breaks loose immediately and the landscape of Castilla la Mancha district, where I throw the bike into left and right curves, is splendid to oversee in the low spreading rays of early sunlight. A scenery of a fairytale-like beauty. I drive along a slowly meandering road following the Rio Júcar riverside, a road which proceeds later in climbing and descending sharp hairpins.
Then some stretched motorways again to put distances on the map and drive to Cataluña district, which according to the maps of mr. Michelin must be very beautiful.
I'm not being disappointed by any means. From Mora the Rubielos I enter the Sierra the Gúdar and goosebumps swell on my arms in spite of the afternoon heat in the leather motor jacket.
I'm passing crevices and ride along rivers, over bridges and mountain passes. Drunk from curves, dizzy from steering, as if in a dream become true I ride my beloveth Harley-Davidson on my most beautiful road ever... really the truth! I experience this all on both new, plain asphalt as well as battered concrete roads of only one narrow lane.
I look down below, right into deep slopes, without fence or crash barrier in between. Better watch out carefully in the uncountable sharp turns, because the locals claim their driving space without hesitating! Even if I encounter very few in this barren and deserted region.
A slight correction to the side of the road in a sharp bend? Forget it, there is hardly room enough and you will end up some dozens of meters lower. End of the holiday!
What I think: this unique road must be moved to Bikers-Heaven to be able to ride on in holy eternity, amen.
Steering along goes in a trance meanwhile. Fatigue flows off me as well as the feeling for time and space. Never before I felt myself so strongly one with machine, asphalt, surroundings, with the world.
After three hours continuously steering and having rounded hundreds of bends in the road, at last I arrive back into the real world. Saturated deeply with pleasure and happiness in the knowledge that today I have been enriched with an unique piece of bikers happiness. A mind-expanding experience, unable to pass on to non-motorists, to transmit to motorcycle ignorance people.
Very deep feelings, emotions of loneliness, vulnerability, my possibilities and physical control, in my faith and lucky stars. To become one with machine and landscape. Amalgamate of love for action, for nature, for finitude and perpetuity at the same time.
All this you can feel yourself, this you can feel in the Sierra the Gúdar... but: do not wait not too long, because without doubt this track-of-dreams will be moved to higher regions very soon. Reserved for that separate piece of heaven, especially there for the real motorcycle fanatics.
I settle on on a rather small-scale camp-site and meet the Dutch couple Tommie and Hilde. Talking about Holland we have a person who we know in common: Alex, which worked at an former customer of mine. Tommie will fish in the reservoir lake nearby, what happens to be the almost largest carp water of Europe. Hilde will dive later at Estartit, Mediterranean Sea.
At the bar I eat a fast pizza with coppa viño tinto and again I have an interesting meeting. Now with Henk and Nancy from Ghent, Belgium. They organise exclusive wedding party's and other events for select and rich public in Belgium. They do not need publicity because it all takes place in discreet environment and they have acquired a good reputation since.
Many kilometers done today, hard work and little eaten, not rested but energy enough!
During the day I made a phone call to my H-D dealer concerning the right engine oil for the Harley: this must be 20W50, but definitely no synthetic. Glad to know for sure and now: I fall in a satisfied sleep over this memorable day of biking.
homeward bound through France
Saturday, August 18
When I planned my route from Algarve through Spain to the French border, the distance seemed incredibly far. Had no idea how much time I needed. Now, after a week of riding it turns out less far than expected and maybe I'm able to reach Lunas in France this very day.
Although I never have planned distances or destinations for a single day in this journey.
My plan is always: "to ride each day as long and far as I like, up to around 5 o'clock and find a camping site? But okay, I leave early and want to cross the Pyrenees East of Andorra and continue up south into France. First part of the route is quiet, but closer to Andorra it becomes crowded with tourists. I haven't known this since I travelled in Spain and Portugal with all the deserted back roads.
The heavy traffic remains and enjoying the beauty of roads that lead across the Pyrenees is a lot less, unfortunately. Once in France I take smaller back roads again, less crowded and I can steer more intensively. Lunas comes within the range of a one day drive, especially the last part does not roll very smoothly under my wheels because of busy traffic. But no worry: the pleasure of biking remains still strong. Around seven in the evening I enter the famous party moto camp-site Rendez Vous at Lunas, wild stories from other bikers have made me curious.
I get acquainted with Munt and Elfriede, the relaxed owners couple. With Carlos and Tamara on H-D Shovel and Sportster; with ?dirty? Peter and Froukje on an old H-D Shovel.
Peter: bold head and a heavy moustache, is a splendid and multi-coloured character, albeit by the many tattoos on his body. He looks into the world with fierce eyes, but behind hides a pleasant fellow with a good heart. Grown up on the Dutch island Terschelling he has done a lot of different things in life such as: owner of a pub, on a oil rig at sea and bouncer. Because of his filthy language and tales he got the nickname "dirty" Peter. He laughs and keeps on talking the whole day long to everyone around him. He travels on his Shovel Rat bike where all superfluous components either have been taken off, or spontaneously have fallen off. Very basic, but the Shovel Head engine runs smoothly and reliable (and with heavy, loud sound). One and a half month through the south of Europe on that bike, girlfriend Froukje and caddy at the back; respect man! I hope you have a good time fine and will both return healthy on that Dutch home-island of yours.
Together we eat dinner and afterwards we drive to downtown Lunas in Elfriede's car to enjoy the local summer feast. Peter and Froukje shine in splendid Caribbean party outfit. It gets late with drinking firmly.
The next day I awake drowsy, but intend not to leave today anyway. I want to experience a day more at Lunas. And what a day. Standing at Peter's tent whereas he continuously bakes eggs for everyone. After beautiful tales of him we come to reciprocal acquaintances and Andries "Lüger" Sluiter and eventual Cor Kuytert belong to them.
Cor, a friend from my time as a taxi driver in Utrecht, with whom I experienced many adventures. Cor, the tough captain of old brown wooden fishing ships. This Cor appears to own a camp-site on 50 km distance for already 11 years... here in France! I step on the Harley and have an unfortunate encounter with a pole along the road. The engine protection bar and a footrest are bended. Together with Carlos and Henk we repair the damage and eventually I set off to Les Therondels, Cors camp-site.
It's about an hour riding and the overcast gets darker. The thunder of the motorbike does Cor frown and with his impressive appearance of over 2 meters tall this remarkable character walks towards me. When I take off my helmet he does not recognise me at once. but after some heart beats he takes me in a bear-hug. We recall memories of 25 years ago and we walk across his camp-site. Cor lives there with two women: his own wife and his former captain's mate. One night with one, the next night he sleeps with the other. Seems nothing to me, life with only one woman means so much work and attention already. Life with one more, and the two of them have to live with each other as well: must make things very complicated.
The first raindrops fall and I ride back Lunas. After a splendid dinner prepared by Munt, I crawl into my sleeping bag early, tired but satisfied from again a most exciting day.
Froukje, Carlos and Peter at the Lunas camping site
Cor on his camping site Les Therondels
Monday, Augusts 20
After a relaxed breakfast with Munt and Elfriede, I leave for Crest along back roads through the beautiful Cevennes and Ardèche. Splendid to steer along the Cirque the Navacelles with a rather high mountain pass after. Here I can feel the higher altitude because of my cold hands, this is a weird holiday in the south of France: no sun and cold!
There are particular parts of the route I still can remember from a camping holiday by car two years earlier in the Cevennes. Later this day I frequently encounter heavy traffic and my travelling speed reduces because of slowly climbing and decreasing lorries. After a day of rather intensively steering I meet Carlos and Tamara again, near the town of Crest. Fortunately so, now I can ride behind them to the camp-site, the route description lies somewhere in a Dutch motorway verge.
Le camp-site Moto at Crest, perhaps France most popular motorcycle camp-site, is managed by Pieter and his wife Jantje who are Dutch. It's well maintained, clean and perfectly organised. Here are a lot of neat guests.
At night I hear the rain clash on my tent and I decide to remain here the next day.
After getting up slowly and having breakfast, I get in touch with a Dutch pensioned couple, who live in Benidorm, Spain. They both have a Harley-Davidson on which they ride a lot. We go through their routes on the Spanish map and I have sufficient ideas for for another month of motorcycling in Spain, including Mallorca.
From four guys on sport motorbikes I get the tip of the Motor riders Inn La Mouche in the Vosges. Owned by a young Dutch couple who started beginning this year. Situated exactly between Crest and Luxembourg, this seems a perfect place for the next stop-over on my way. Even more now the weather is rather unstable. I read a bit, talk with Carlos and Tamara. At the beginning of the evening it brightens up and the weather is dry. From the speakers sounds the Canned Heat song "On the Road again". Right on, also for this guy... tomorrow.
H-D on a Col somewhere in the Drôme region
Wednesday, august 22
I take a wonderful route through the splendid Drôme, and start with a mountain pass of more than 1200 meters high, partly veiled by low clouds, but through them I have a breathtaking view.
Swinging asphalt ribbons lead through splendid green highlands, followed by a the passing of gorges with high rising rocks... topnotch steering pleasure! But I have to hurry a bit: I telephoned earlier with Anselma from La Mouche to have dinner with them this evening so: I have some faster roads to take. However, I cannot skip the wonderful panoramic back roads along Lake d'Annecy and I desperately get lost in tiny villages, with road constructions and diversions. The time slides me through the fingers. Nevertheless I enjoy the routes but I haven't experienced this time pressure before during my trip.
After 650 long, beautiful but tiring kilometers I arrive at the bikers Inn La Mouche, in a hazy and cold twilight. Inside it's cosy and warm, dinner is splendid and a bit drowsy from a long day of steering I sit and listen to the tales of the bikers at the bar. Outside is it cold and foggy, this night for the first time in four weeks, I crawl not in my sleeping bag, but under a warm coverlet in a real bed and sleep deliciously.
Thursday, August 23
Today I'm exactly underway for a month, I realise myself slowly awaking. I dismiss plans to ride into the Vosges today and make a last stop at campsite High Chapparel. It is dry with a weak shining sun, but I don't trust it. Weather can change every moment into a pouring rain.
What I'll do: ride that last part home today. Breakfast and farewell to Jos and Anselma from the Inn and I steer northbound for the remaining route. Indeed: underway I feel the first splashes and I get into my rain overall for the first time this holiday. Not really necessary afterward, the dark clouds are only threatening without real showers and without problems I ride the Big Twin mainly along highways on the 700 kilometres long last part of the way back.
After 29 days and 8200 km, around six thirty pm I put the Harley in front of the house. To the great surprise of my wife Mieke and daughter Margot, who don't expect me home as early as tomorrow. They rush from the house to greet me enthusiastically and it feels great to be home again. Tomorrow Mike will return from Portugal and our family ends up complete and healthy together after a month.
Friday, augusts 24
Time to sleep in and to tell my stories to the family. Time to look back on a fantastic trip in beautiful countries. Time to think back to all those nice people I met. Time to oversee my experiences and lessons of life. Time to write down travelling impressions.
I upload my photographs on the PC and complete the weblog. Had little chance to place messages during the ride. On the smaller camp-sites in Spain and Portugal no Internet connection is available and I rode around the larger the cities with their internet caf?'s.
Not because culture does not interest me, it was difficult enough for me to ride around cities such as Santiago the Compastela, Lisbon, Granada and Madrid without visiting. But my walking capacity is very limited and I must pay for only a short distance walking with blisters or sore spots on my painful residual stump the next day.
I cannot take risks like that on my trip, therefore I remain in the saddle of the Harley motorbike as much as possible. Moreover, if I add visits to cultural city highlights to this trip, it would last certainly two limes longer and would be twice more expensive as well.
I saw a lot much of landscapes and beautiful nature. With of course the unique experience of motor riding on all those narrow winding back roads. And, not to forget: I have not met a lot of very differently people with whom I had so much fun on the camp-sites.
The Harley-Davidson motorbike did fantastic and apart from riding the profile from the back tyre, without any problems. The Dyna Street Bob is good with ample engine capacity and torque. I can sit on the saddle the whole day without sore buttocks. For the next trip I want another steering bar and more luggage possibilities. But that's just for next year, I'm afraid.
What have I learned on this long excursion is that my brave Mieke is a very understandable wife with much patience and trust in me. She has let me depart for a long and far away trip in a considerably vulnerable situation without being difficult to me.
For me, to turn my back to everyone who, and everything that has looked after me the last 6 years, has been a new step in my (part-time) existence as a disabled person.
I mean: this period after my amputation I have always been surrounded by doctors, therapists and prosthetics. The house full of crutches, wheelchairs, prostheses and elevator on the stairs. Without taking with me anything other than a band-aid for my stump and an aspirin, I step on a heavy motorbike with only a tent and sleeping bag to ride through half of Europe.
After all, as I thought that frist day on the road to Luxembourg: this has been an important journey inside myself as well, to explore borders, discover my old adventurous and indefinite life again, from before my close encounter with the man handling the saw.
That has not entirely succeeded me yet of course, but I have come very close!
Even more important: to appreciate what you can experience again, enjoying adventurous events again is much more intense if you have to fight hard to gain back the possibilities you once had, but lost.
Co 1b1 on his H-D
for more pictures about the journey: weblog with piccas