Wednesday 14th September, 2022

Distance ridden 631 kilometres

In mid 2019, one of my oldest friends purchased a holiday cottage in Normandy and suggested many times that we should go and visit him there. Because we were about to embark upon our odyssey in Australia (see details elsewhere) we tentatively pencilled it in for 2020.

Then Covid-19 struck.

My friend, who lives in Norfolk, could not travel to France at all for over eighteen months and then his children started producing children of their own and he was distracted by “grandfatherly duties”.

Quite predictably, when he did finally manage a visit to Normandy – WE were in Slovenia (also detailed elsewhere). He then suggested we visit while he was there in mid September. Almost unbelievably, we had a spare week. Enough time, we thought and started planning.

Our original master plan was to set off early in the morning but, surprise, surprise, life threw us a couple of curve balls at the last moment. So, we rescheduled for a noon start still hoping to cover at least 600 km before darkness fell. As the departure date neared, Lucie’s weather apps indicated that it would rain, most probably persistently, for at least the first two days of the trip. Not a pleasing prospect, but hey, we were committed. Hooray !!

The great day arrived and by a combination of deft time-management and good fortune we were in fact able to leave early in, what was by then, about the ninth version of our plan. But was this good fortune ? Probably not, because although there was not actually a Monsoon happening outside, it was not far away from one. To avoid getting soaked as we packed on the pavement outside our house, we elected to pack everything into Lucie’s SmartCar (a.k.a. “The Bat-mobile” because of its number plate) and head to our garage to load the Harley and to suit up. Hang on. Did I say EVERYTHING ? What I should have said was almost everything ! When we got there, I discovered I had omitted to include my HOG vest. This was critical as, in its pockets were all the motorcycle documents, the keys to the panniers and helmet locks and, of course the alarm immobiliser…….

It was back out into the downpour for me for what seemed like a very long walk to our house and back while Lucie waited in the dry. It was raining so hard that even the Prague traffic was going slowly !

When I arrived back at the garage, we quickly packed the bike. This included shielding our luggage for the rack in plastic.

Lucie donned her luminous yellow waterproofs (which I think, to prevent our neighbours seeing them, is the real reason she wanted to go to the garage !) and we set off.

At around nine-thirty, I rode the Harley up the ramp, Lucie jumped on – and we set off into the deluge !

I think it is fair to say that, by the time we even got to the motorway, after somehow surviving the slippery cobbles and tram tracks as we crawled across the city, that we were both pretty damp – and we had not even driven fifteen kilometres. We crawled down the motorway, the almost total lack of visibility was a bit scary and we eventually stopped for our first break near Plzeň after a nerve shredding ride of just over one hundred kilometres. I was actually surprisingly dry. My biking jeans had kept out most of the water and, perhaps aided by the screen on the Softail, my upper body was dry except for a damp strip down the middle of my chest. Lucie helpfully pointed out that, had I remembered to zip up the waterproof lining of my jacket, I would not have been wet at all … Our cheesy “his ‘n hers” hiking boots were totally useless regardless of sex and we both had very wet feet. As we drank our warming drinks and tried to forget about how (extra) expensive petrol is on the motorway, Lucie’s sister called from Mělník (east of Prague) and felt the need to report that it was raining there. Big deal !

Off we went again. There is not ever very much to see on a motorway and, in those dreadful conditions that was reduced to absolutely nothing ! Even a clear view of the traffic in front would have been a bonus to me. Then, almost as if a tap had been turned off, the rain ceased and out came the sun. What was probably a minimal rise in actual temperature seemed hugely warming and, as the road dried, our spirits lifted. We could not report this to each other because, sadly, the rain seemed to have dealt a killing blow to the “Nag-O-Matic 500i” (my word for our intercom). It was working when we left home– but it is not working again even now ! There was still not much to see, the Germans in Bavaria are big on tree-lined autobahns, but we did at least go about fifty kilometres to our second stop near Nuremberg in the dry.

Things were not really going well. It was not raining, but now roadworks began to plague us. Kilometre after kilometre of the autobahn was dug up and often reduced down to a single lane in each direction. German drivers are, almost invariably, orderly and disciplined. so the complete stops were minimal, but progress, with so far still to go, was painfully slow. The Softail has a really good range, and at those lower speeds really quite a long one, but we did need petrol so we stopped for the second time.

Of course, as soon as we set off again, the wet weather returned with something rather more than a vengeance. Simultaneously, we hit yet more roadworks and the worst traffic jams we were to encounter on the whole trip. The deluge was so intense that visibility, even for car and truck drivers, became virtually zero. Right outside the Hockenheim Ring motor racing circuit, everything stopped completely and the rain now decided to become hail. Not only did this hurt when it hit us, but it also made the road surface so slippery that I was genuinely afraid my boots would slip and we might fall over. Lucie suggested that we could drive on the hard-shoulder, but I rejected that, because then we would have been on the far side of two lanes of completely stationary trucks. In the end, the traffic started to crawl forward and, as the hail became rain and started to ease, the speed slowly increased until we were all doing at least eighty kilometres per hour. It seemed very fast at first but, after it stopped pouring and my visor cleared, our progress became almost normal.

I have mentioned before that, on our treks, we seldom exceed one hundred kilometres per hour, but we did now as I attempted to make up a bit of lost time. Our trusty SatNav directed us away to the west and even on this, more minor, autobahn, there was still a painful amount of roadworks. In the dryer conditions, though, they were not so traumatic and, once we finally cleared the congestion, we drove the one hundred and sixty kilometres to our next stop in comparative comfort. The emphasis there was, of course, on the word comparative. My biking jeans do deflect most water and spray, but only when I am moving. When we were stationary outside Hockenheim, water had obviously pooled on the saddle between my legs. I was more than simply damp in a number of areas I do not care to discuss !

Despite how far we were behind our much edited schedule, we made one further stop even though we were only eighty kilometres from our destination for the day. I have been riding long enough to know when continuing without a break would be foolhardy and I knew I was at that point. We drank our warm drinks in a very leisurely way indeed as the sun began to give serious thought to setting. Finally, we climbed back on the Softail and enjoyed, as far as it possible when you are cold and wet, the surrounding landscape which was not obscured, in this the most western part of Germany, by trees. It had nothing to particularly recommend it, but it was probably the nicest scenery we had actually seen all day.

At dusk, we finally came to Landstuhl, which is close to Kaiserslautern and right next to the massive US Airforce base of Ramstein. Thanks to the SatNav we easily located the Hotel Avalon (Hauptstraße 1c, 66849 Landstuhl, Germany).

We were welcomed by the friendly, if slightly quizzical (I guess we looked pretty bedraggled) staff. In our pleasant little room, we peeled off our damp or downright wet clothes, wrung out the water and hung them on every available peg. In mid-September, the heating was not yet on and I tried not to think about the prospect of putting it all back on the following morning …

We were both ravenous, so we set out to find something to eat. The hotel was very centrally located and it was a fairly short walk to everything. The only problem was that, being so close to a massive agglomeration of Americans, “everything” meant a succession of fast-food places, tattoo parlours and bars describing themselves as “Lounges”. Luckily, we stumbled onto the very pleasant Italian restaurant (although it billed itself as a “Bistrorante”), Garibaldi (Kaiserstraße 39, 66849 Landstuhl, Germany) and by luckily I mean about twenty seconds before the heavens opened yet again, seemingly in an attempt to cause localised flooding.

In truth, Restaurant or Bistrorante, the food was all delicious. I chose a pizza.

Lucie the homemade ravioli stuffed with spinach

followed by a sort of cross between cheesecake and crème-brulée.

I had a nice beer too, the Germans do know how to make that, I felt I deserved it.

The downpour outside had now become a full blown thunderstorm, with huge flashes of lightening thrown in. We had to scamper back to our hotel at full speed.

Back in our room, which smelled more than faintly of damp because of all our wet clothes, I could scarcely keep my eyes open for long enough to find the bed. It was still before ten in the evening, only a few minutes more than twelve hours after we started our trip and I was simply exhausted. Not surprisingly, Lucie claimed I was asleep before my head hit the pillow (a nice firm one, for your information, but I did not realise that until the morning).

Perhaps luckily, I slept far too deeply to dream about the way ahead……