I was very fortunate to have been selected to attend the first GTR Club Europe Rally held in
Aalborg, Denmark recently. The following is my account of this trip. - GBY
The Plan Develops
Back early in the year a note was sent to the COG List by member, Hans-ove Gortz, COG #3465, of Sweden. If you attended any of the three 2000 COG National events, you will probably remember Hans as the gent who had his bike sent over from Sweden, then attended all three legs of this rolling rally. The note was an introduction to what Hans called, "A Plan." Ted Adcock, COG #4154, described The Plan in detail in a subsequent Concourier (See Volume 14, Issue 1), but I will provide a little additional history as to how it all came about.
As you are aware, COG's primary membership base is located in North America. There are, however, a few members located in Europe. Last year someone on the COG Listserver had the great idea to try and bring someone over to the COG National being held in Klamath Falls, OR. Money was collected, names pitched about, and the lucky recipient turned out to be George "Boomer" Garratt, COG# 3242, from England. Boomer also attended the Eastern Event of the 2000 National, but on his nickel.
Recently, one of those European COG members helped start a sister club that is closely associated to ours. GTR Club Europe (GCE) was founded in the summer of 2001 by none other than, Hans-ove Gortz. GCE quickly developed a substantial membership base and was growing rapidly, so rapidly that they decided to hold their first rally this July in Aalborg, Denmark. It was to be held in conjunction with one of the largest, and oldest, international rallies in existence, the 57th FIM Rally (Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme). See: http://www.fimrally2002.dk/ukindex.html
At some point, it was decided to try and reciprocate last year's kindness by 'sponsoring' a North American member of COG to travel to Denmark to attend their rally. As Hans aptly put it, to bring a Yank 'Over the Pond.' Solicitations went out for contributions on the List, the nominating (16 people nominated) and election process took place, and after all was said and done, I was the lucky individual who was selected to attend. Doug Grosjean, COG #4346, was selected as the alternate JIC I couldn't go.
I need to make it absolutely clear that COG proper had no affiliation what so ever with this event, either in namesake or monetary support. All contributions were done on a voluntary basis and given purely in the spirit of the generosity. This I can guarantee, for I was one of the earlier contributors. Little did I know . . .
Unbelievable! Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be offered an opportunity such as this; it would be the trip of a lifetime. There was, however, one caveat. I would have to partake of a couple of Danish delicacies during my visit, complete with witnesses: eat pickled herring, and sample a traditional drink called Akvavit (reported translation - water of life). This became the topic of much cajoling and mild-mannered harassment over the weeks that followed.
And as luck, coincidence, or fate would have it, several weeks after the announcement I wound up with a bottle of Aalborg (location of the rally) Akvavit - AND - a couple jars of pickled herring (one nekked and one in a creme sauce). This came about due the to the generosity (?) of a local member, Mark Graham, COG #2761.
He had dropped me a note about replacing the star spring in his bike. He felt he had the affliction so he pulled the cover and found that one of the tangs had broken off. He also wanted to know the best way to get the big k-nut off, so I says, meet me at work tomorrow morning around 6:00 a.m. and I'll have my electric impact wrench and socket with me. Sure enough, Mark pulled up just as I was opening the office. We chatted a bit, and he's off to do the deed.
Fast forward to lunch. I am back from doing my noonday chores and champing away on a loaded hot dog from a local burger joint when my cell chimes away. It's Mark and he informs me that he's got the new springs in place, the nut clinched up, and is bringing back the tools. And, by the way, do I have access to a 'fridge?
I meet him in the parking lot and he greets me with the tools AND two jars of herring and the Akvavit. Whoa dude!! I'm (almost) speechless, but I'm also beginning to get a little nervous. Guess it's time to p_ _ p or get off the pot; put up or shut-up, etc. . . . all those things one says that are appropriate at the moment, for I see a dress rehearsal coming up in the immediate future.
Seems that the Akvavit was a rare find in this neck of the woods. Mark stopped by an ABC store on the way back with my tools, and not finding any on the shelf, asked the clerk about it. He initially said he'd never heard of the stuff, but then remembered that someone had ordered a bottle just before Christmas, but never came back to pick it up. Lucky me.
🙂Sooo, while the rest of the family was eating a traditional American dinner, I popped the top on the jar of the plain herring and (cautiously) sampled the Akvavit. Let’s just say at this point that there was NO comparison between the herring I sampled here, and what I had in Denmark. Explanation to follow.
After posting a couple of notes on the List, a lot of legwork by Hans and others, and some personal email correspondence, things started happening pretty quickly. The end result was that a number of people stepped forward to provide places for me to stay, both here and abroad, and to also make a bike available during my stay in Europe. Things were starting to fall into place. A search went out for the best airfare, the passport was dug out (to check the expiration date), an International Drivers License secured, my International voltage converters were located, and a rough itinerary worked out.
The key players in this little adventure:
Hans-ove Gortz, COG #3465, Gustavsberg, Sweden - Plan Instigator
Ted Adcock, COG #4154, Houston, TX - Plan Administrator
Spencer Farrow, COG #2014 - Plan Fund Administrator
Carl Thomte, COG # 1613, Denver, CO - Home stay/accommodations in Denver,
airport transportation, keeper of my bike while overseas
Sean O'Donovan, GCE #15, Birkenau, Germany - Initial contact in Germany, home stay and
accommodations, airport transportation
Steve Schneider, COG # 3277, Ramstein AFB, Germany - Provider of a loaner bike
Berten Steenwegan, GCE #45, Aarschot, Belgium - Home stay/accommodations in Belgium
Daan Zeydner, GCE #24, Breda, Holland - Home stay/accommodations in The Netherlands
I had already made plans to attend the National in Montrose and a 2-week vacation request had been turned in, and approved. When the Pond thing came about, my plans had to be changed somewhat. The intent was to have the recipient of this honor attend the GTR-FIM Rally in Denmark (July 2-5), then present a report at the, subsequent, COG National at Montrose, CO. With a letter attached explaining the situation, I turned in a revised request asking for an additional week. Fortunately, my boss at the time was a (sympathetic) biker so I was able to get three successive weeks of vacation so I could fulfill that intent.
My Master Trip Plan:
June 21 (Friday - after work): Depart Richmond, VA for Denver, CO (on my bike)
June 23 (Sunday a.m.): Arrive Denver area, store bike
June 24 (Monday): Depart Denver for Frankfurt, Germany. Pick up loaner bike
June 25 - July 5: Travel to Aalborg, Denmark for the GTR and FIM rallies
July 5 (Friday): Travel from Aalborg back to Frankfurt. Drop off loaner bike
July 6 (Saturday - early): Depart Frankfurt for Denver
July 6 (Saturday - late): Arrive Denver, pick up my bike
July 7 (Sunday): Leave for the COG National in Montrose
July 11 (Thursday): Depart Montrose, “meander” home to Richmond
July 15 (Monday): Return to work
February through June may seem like a relatively long period of time to prepare for things, but this year was especially hectic in the Young household and time slipped away before I knew it. My older daughter was graduating from college and on a search for a graduate school (all were out of state - of course), my younger daughter was planning on having knee surgery done, and both had to be moved out of their dorms and back home. In addition, the company I work for was going through a major transformation, which included the consolidation with three other companies and a physical move. Throw in an anxiety factor because of questionable job security, and it was nuts. Sometime during all of this I had to get my bike ready for a 1-2 day blitz to Denver (see Centerstand Chronicles, this issue).
About a week before I was scheduled to depart, I called my travel agency just to confirm my tickets (which I was holding). I mean, airlines have been known to drop routes, or for that matter, go out of business. The lady I reached, which was not the same person I had made the original reservations with in February, seemed a little confused. She said that she, or her supervisor, would call me back.
The following day I get the following e-mail note from her supervisor:
"Good Morning. My name is Leanne and I am the supervisor in the Individual Department. I am sorry about the confusion with your tickets. I have contacted Lufthansa. They are trying to reinstate your reservation. Here is what I think happened. Lisa (Very new agent) issued your tickets on Feb. 22, then for some reason cancelled the space on Feb. 26th. As I said, I have contacted Lufthansa and they will keep working on getting your seats back. I will check on it everyday and contact them daily until its fixed. Thank you for your patience."
I couldn't believe what I was reading, so I called to find out what was going on. She said that the original agent did this to a number of people, and that they thought they had identified everyone and fixed the problem. Somehow they must have missed mine - AND - that it was a good thing I called.
A short time later I received a subsequent email from her saying that the tickets had been reinstated, confirmed, and that everything was OK. The weird thing was that there was never a credit issued back to my card when things were canceled. That would have been a dead giveaway that something was amuck and prompted me to do something then.
Imagine if I hadn't have called, and showed up in Denver expecting my tickets to be OK? They thought they were having problems with wildfires? The eruption that would have ensued would have destroyed the town!
Quite frankly, I'm getting too old for this type of excitement!!
My immediate mission was quite simple: head west and keep going. Street Atlas says that 28 hours and 57 minutes after leaving Richmond I will have covered 1682 miles and should be in front of 2690 S. Norman Court, AKA, Carl Thomte's house.
The game plan was to leave directly from work on Friday evening, jump on I-64 west (a mile from the office), and stay on it until I hit St. Louis, MO. There I would pick up I-70 west and stay on it all the way to Denver. A 15-30 minute gas / nature / water / snack / cigarette stop was planned every 250 miles. My bike typically gets +/-50 mpg at steady interstate speeds, so that was well within the bike’s range, assuming I didn't run into any major headwinds.
Have you ever been through Kansas?
One deviation from the routine was to take place in St. Louis. Penn Carr, COG #3256, had extended an invitation to stop by for coffee, breakfast, shower, nap, etc., as I made my way westward. Since I would be passing within a few miles of his home, I decided to take him up off on his offer. I begged off on the shower and nap, but decided to take him up on the breakfast and a nice cup of coffee. If everything went as planned, we should be there sometime around 8:30 a.m., Saturday morning.
Yes, we. I would have a traveling companion for a part of the way, at least. Rick Miller, COG #3000, and I had been in discussion during a Mid-Atlantic Region overnighter at One Wheel Only (OWO) in the spring. He asked if he could tag along just for the helluvit so that he could collect some pictures for the 2002 AWSHIDT contest. This year’s goal was to collect as many pictures as you could here in the US, of sister cities abroad that shared the same name. He had picked out 5 or 6 that he would hit on the way back. His anticipated turn around spot would be Topeka, KS. Rick’s '01, Mr. Freeze, sports an IBA (Iron Butt Association) license plate frame so he is no stranger to runs of this type. He'd mentioned, that with my intended pace, I could qualify for the Saddlesore 1000 (1000+ miles in 24 hours), and/or possibly the Bun Burner Gold (1500+ miles in 24 hours), and why not go for it?
My primary goal was to get to Denver as quick as possible. While the prestige of sporting one of these frames would be nice, I didn't want to be burdened with having to worry about gas receipts, pictures, and looking for a police station for a signature. Besides, I already have a nice license plate frame.
With Rick coming on board, a new route schedule was put into place. I would meet him in Lexington, VA on Friday night, we’d grab a quick bite to eat, and fill up the bikes. All subsequent 250-miles stops would start from there. I must have been really concerned, because I forgot the route and stop location map. Rick requested one quick stop while passing through Kentucky. He wanted to make a stop at exit 53 so he could run into Frankfurt to take a picture of the city sign. This would keep him from making a 250-mile ‘detour’ to get this shot on his way back. I wonder if he has figured out yet that the capitol of Kentucky is spelled “Frankfort” with an “o”? The sister-city in Germany (ironically, where I would be flying in to) is spelled “Frankfurt” with a “u.” AWSHIDT rules are clear that the spelling MUST be the same. It was a nice stop anyway.
The Monday before I was to depart I sent a suitcase full of clothes to Carl’s house. There was no way I would be able to carry three weeks worth of ‘stuff’ on the bike, plus, I also had a number of giveaway items I wanted to take with me, so they went into the case as well. All I would carry on the blitz were the bare essentials, JIC I did decide stop somewhere. All of this seemed like the logical thing to do.
The week I was to leave turned out to be the ‘week from hell’ at work. I was ‘volunteered’ to be a part of a process improvement ‘Kaizen’ event. These usually consist of a weeklong series of meetings that start at 8:00 in the morning, and continue until late afternoon. There’s always at least one a-hole in the bunch that needs to dissect everything that's occurred up to some point, inject his counterpoint on one of the topics. The end result is that you debate the issue and hear the same old rhetoric and over, and over, and over. We had such an individual in our group, who also happens to be my (new) immediate supervisor. As a result of such ‘interruptions,’ you’re lucky if you can get out of there much before 5:00. Forget about all the regular things that need to be done throughout a normal day. You take care of them when you can . . . meaning you work overtime. I still had some maintenance stuff I needed to do to the bike, plus, a crisis with the rear brake popped up that needed attending. Somehow, I managed to maintain my sanity and work through it all, and by Thursday night before departure, I was ready to roll. I even managed to wash and shine the bike. The Horkster would be proud.
Friday arrived, like it always does, and I awoke at my normal 4:45, did the routine two cigarettes on the back porch, S, S, & S, then awoke the family, one-by-one, to bid my bon farewell. With all the requisite smooches done, I headed out the door. This was going to be a very long day, for the next time my eyelids hit one another for any length of time, I would be in Denver – or so I thought.
D-Day - Finally (June 21)
The Kaizen event ended fairly early, I conducted an interview for a some would-be employee, finalized some schedules for projects that needed to be completed during my absence, then managed to scoot out the door sometime around 4:30 p.m. In short – I was outta there!!
Rick Miller was waiting in Lexington, as planned, when I arrived. After having a nice meal at the local Burger King (is that possible?), we hit the pumps, then headed west. Quite frankly, a lot of the remaining miles done throughout the night are a blur. I had been mentally prepping myself for this trip for a very long time, so I’d already managed to be able lot of the nonessential stuff zoned out. We made a number of stops along the way to hit the pumps (pretty much on mark), did the photo shoot at Frankfort, Kentucky, and continued westward on into the night.
One memorable thing that does stick out was a near deer-strike in, I think western Kentucky. Rick was riding lead in the hammer-lane at this point, and I was following to the right rear in the other lane. All I remember seeing was this black silhouette thing, in the form of a deer, just off to my left front - moving from the center of the two-lane towards the median. It had no detail what so ever, sorta like one of those black-painted cowhands you see leaning against a post that people stick in their yard. I wondered at the time if what I 'saw' was just a hallucination, or was it really there? I also wondered if Rick saw it. He did; it was real.
At some point in the early hours of morning, my eyelids were beginning to close involuntarily on a regular basis. No matter what I tried to do I kept dozing off. It must have been evident to Rick, riding in the rear again, because he made a comment at our next stop, that it appeared as though I was having trouble maintaining a straight line. Boy, was I. As much as I hated to, it was decided that we would pay a short visit to the Iron Butt Motel. Little did I know that the top of a picnic table could be so comfortable. 30 minutes later Rick’s Screaming Meanie clone did its job and brought us back to life in the early dawn. Once we were back on the road, I was amazed a short nap could have such an effect, then, and how I would feel throughout the rest of the day.
Saturday (June 22)
We made into the St. Louis area around 8:30 a.m. and found our way to the Carr’s with no problem. A helmet was hanging on the mailbox to help us identify their house. Penn and his wife Erika warmly greeted us as we pulled into the driveway. The fellowship was immediate, like we'd known them most of our lives.
After shucking our riding gear, Rick and I just relaxed, enjoyed the friendly conversation, and made short work of a much-needed cup of coffee (actually, we each had our own cup). Penn's wife fixed us a wonderful breakfast that disappeared in record time. She also made some delicious breakfast rolls, but I limited my intake to one. I feared that an over full belly would bring on another case of the drowsies, and I didn't need that. There was still a long way to go.
After breakfast I freshened up a tad and we got ready to hit road again. After suiting up, we thanked Penn and his lovely wife for everything and said our good byes. He then led us back to I-70 west via some of the back roads he was familiar with. He waved off near the junction of the I-state and we were back on the slab in short order.
Several stops later we were in the Topeka, Kansas area, Rick's turnaround point. We had a quick lunch at one of the full service rest areas, said our good byes, then headed off in our respective directions. Unknown to me at the time, one of the worst parts of the entire trip lie dead ahead. In retrospect, I honestly don't remember passing through Indiana or Illinois to get here, but I will always remember this next stretch of Kansas.
Somewhere west of Topeka I began running into a quartering headwind coming in from the SW, which caused the bike to run skewed; I was always leaning to left. Caution was needed here because when I use the Audiovox cruise control, I usually ride with just one hand on the bars. Not here, the wind gusts were so strong at times that they darn near took me off the bike. My gas mileage went way down too. At one of my gas stops I asked an old timer if it was always this windy. His reply, "You mean that little breeze out there? The wind always blows here."
I find out that the wind is 20-25 mph, with gusts up to 30, and because of the rough aggregate pavement surface, I'm beginning to see that it is starting to wear the dickens out of the sides of my tires. The chicken-strip that had formed on my new D205’s from the previous 1262+ miles was starting to get distorted. It wasn’t just me who was being affected. I ran into a couple fellas on new ‘Wings a little later in the trip and they were having the same problem, only worse. Their tires were really getting chewed up. I mutter to the Kansas winds to go ahead and do their thing. I’ll even up the tire wear on the way back when the wind is hitting me from the opposite side, with maybe a little tailwind thrown in for good measure (you’re probably way ahead of me here; I wouldn’t make a good weatherman), so I plod on.
This is one part of the country where déjà vu occurs every 15 to 50 miles. You’ll see a couple of grain elevators on the horizon, an overpass, and eventually the buildings of a small town come into view. Ride another 15, 20, or 50 miles, and you’ll come across a couple more grain elevators, an overpass, and a small town. Ride, yet, another 15 to 50 miles, and you’ll come across a couple more grain elevators, an overpass, and a small town. This cycle repeats itself over, and over, and over. AARRGH! Maybe the winds are stronger than I anticipated and I’ve been spun around a couple of time. The names on the town signs change, but the view remains the same. I’m starting pay a little more attention to gas too. With the headwinds I was fighting, the gas mileage isn’t what it used to be and some of these little communities have no services what so ever.
There were several areas I passed through where a familiar scent permeated the air – crude, as in crude oil. A glance around the landscape often revealed dozens of walking beam (oil) pumps. Cripes! They were everywhere, like dinosaurs nodding their heads up and down sucking the juices of their ancestors out of the ground! Going strictly by what I seeing around me, I had no idea that Kansas was such an oil producing state.
The towns come and go as I continue my westward travels. Every now and again I had a problem with the eyelids staying open, but a quick visit at a rest stop to splash some cold water in my face seemed to take care of it. Somewhere along the line I decided that once I got within 200 miles of Denver, I’d stop for the day. I didn’t have any assurances that Carl Thomte would even be home. He was scheduled to lead a weekend ride so he’d probably be gone. He told me that he’d leave a key by the back door, but by the time I got into Denver it would be dark, and I had NO idea how hard it would be to even find his place. I sure as hell didn’t want to be traipsing around in some ones backyard after dark – hoping that I even had the right house. I know, that’s what cell phones are for, but who was thinking straight at this time of the day?
So, after riding for approximately 28 hours and traveling 1546 miles, I stopped in Goodland, Kansas and grabbed a room at a Super 8. And yes, the town had a couple of grain elevators, an overpass over the interstate, and the requisite small community – complete with a McDonalds, Pizza Hut, and a convenience store that carried my favorite brew. Everything was right with the world, and I just knew that the wind would die down by the time of first light.
Sunday (June 23)
I awoke the next morning at my normal 4:45 a.m. LOCAL time, without the help of an alarm. The ability to do this seemed to stay with me throughout the entire trip regardless of what zone I was in, here or abroad. I poked my head out the door and the damn wind was still blowing, although it didn’t seem to be as bad as the day before. It was, however, still puffing away from the SW.
I hit the motel breakfast bar, grabbed a couple cups of coffee, and retreated to the room to do my 3S routine. I finished up, checked out, and was back on the road shortly after 7:00. Once I crossed the border and was 20 or so miles into Colorado, a strange thing happened; the wind shifted. Although not as strong as before, it was now coming in from the right. The landscape began to change too. It went from basically flat plains, to slightly rolling hills, to even larger hills. Every now and again I was presented with some very impressive mountain scenery. Although rumors persisted that the entire state was on fire, the visibility was pretty clear; I never did smell any smoke. Electronic highway signs that flashed their ominous fire ban warning message were commonplace.
Denver seemed to appear out of nowhere, and before I knew it I was on and off the bypasses that would take me in to Carl’s house. So just shy of three hours since leaving Goodland, Kansas, I pulled up into the driveway of 2690 S. Norman Court, known in these parts as The Heartbreak Hotel.
Expecting to have to search for a key, I was surprised to find the garage door open and someone puttering around inside. That ‘someone’ turned out to Carl. Seems like there was a ride and no one showed, so he decided to come back home. We introduced ourselves, engaged in some typical biker chit-chat, and I began to start unloading the bike. It sure felt nice to have a place to call ‘home’ for a bit, even if it was for just a day.
My suitcase, and some other things I had sent there, had all arrived intact. The decision now was just how many pairs of underwear, socks, tees – stuff – to actually take with me overseas. I finally sorted it all out and had things pretty much to go within a couple hours or so. I think I was ready to go.
By this time it was around noon and Carl's, housemate, Dusty showed up. The three of us headed out to a pretty good Mexican place for some lunch then ran some errands to pick up something for dinner. It kinda felt nice to have someone else do the driving.
A couple of Carl’s friends dropped by a little later (Heartbreak Hotel, remember?), and we just hung out shooting the breeze, sucking up a few beers, and eating a great dinner that Carl. Life just doesn’t get any better than this. Later in the evening, Carl and I took a short ride up into the hills overlooking Denver. A haze blocked the view somewhat and a storm was rolling in, so we decided to retreat back to the Hotel for the evening – and – more beer. Dusty's new love showed up and all of us just hung out watching TV, generally doing nothing in particular. Like I said, life just doesn’t get any better.
The BIG Day Arrives (Monday - June 24)
The day has finally arrived that has put me where I am now in this tale, and to move into next segment of Han's Plan to bring a yank Over the Pond. In a few short hours I will be climbing on a plane that will carry me off to a whole new adventure. Admittedly, there is a little apprehension in the air as I come to the realization that I will be leaving the comfortable surroundings of the U.S. of A., to a place where I am the "foreigner." It's too late for language classes now.
I go through all my stuff - again - to make sure I have everything I'll need on my journey, and make sure Carl has my flight information so he can pick me up at the airport when I return. After zipping up the suitcase for the last time, I accompany Carl as he runs a few errands before we head off to Denver International where I will catch my flight.
This is a completely different Denver International from the one that I had visited a number of years ago when I came into Denver on business. The new one is a sprawling expanse that was mired in much (political) controversy as it was being built and just before it opened. All of that made no difference to me at this point, all I wanted was a flight that left on time, and would carry me safely to The Old Country.
Carl dropped me off at the curb, I grabbed my stuff, and I was off to find the Lufthansa ticket counter. The line was relatively short, so I was able to check my bag, get my boarding pass, and head off to security in pretty quick order. Before passing through the metal detector, I removed all metal stuff from my person, including my belt, so I wouldn't trip the danged thing. That worked, but I could hear the fellas who were monitoring the x-ray questioning one another why a helmet would have wires in it. Once I told them there were speakers and a mic in there for communications, they let it go and I was on my way.
In due time we were called to board, and I found my way to seat I would occupy for the next 8 to 9 hours. I'll comment later on the seating arrangements of an Airbus A340, but suffice to say they suck.
Over the Pond – Officially (Tuesday - June 25)
The flight, altho' long, was uneventful and I arrived in Frankfurt pretty much on time. After clearing immigration, I made my way to the baggage claim area where I was greeted by Sean O'Donovan - carrying a helmet, no less. Since we had never met, I/he had no idea what each other looked like. He figured that the helmet might help identify him. And since I was also carrying mine in a helmet bag, he identified me first and called out my name.
We exchanged greetings and I thanked him for meeting, and picking me up at the airport. After wrestling my HAS suitcase to his car, we were off to his home in the little village of Birkenau (NOT the one associated with Auschwitz), approximately 65km (40 miles) SE of Frankfurt. Since this was my first exposure to the Autobahn (motorway) system, Sean filled me in on the dos, don'ts, and local laws once I began driving on them myself. Little did I know that I would get first hand experience a little later in the day, in a cage, no less!
Sean's Connie developed a problem earlier in the month and he had to put it in a shop. Since it was doubtful that it would be finished by the time I would arrive, he made arrangements for a 'loaner' bike, at a nominal fee, of course. Since nothing else was pressing at the moment, we thought we'd take a run down there (wherever ‘there’ was), and see about picking it up. The plan was to take a ride the next day that would better acquaint me to the different driving styles, roads, road signs, etc., before I took off for Belgium on Thursday.
"It" turned out to be whichever one he chose to take. Since this was a Honda dealership, this ranged from an Africa Twin (think of it as a 750cc "Transalp" with moxie), to a Pan European (ST1300). What amazed me was that these were basically new bikes, and they were, by all accounts, being leased out on a short-term basis. Don't try this at home; you'd be laughed out of the shop.
Sean settled on the Twin, so the plan was that he would ride that home while I followed in his car. Uh, ok. So we head off out of this town and on to the motorway. Since I had no clue where we were, or what the name of his village was for that matter, my primary focus was just to keep him in sight. This worked out OK and we managed to get back without incident. I learned real fast that you always maintain vigilance on the hammer lane (more so than here), because it may be clear one moment (literally), but not the next. The speeds that some of the cars run in the ‘over take’ lane are well in the triple digits, as in serious km/mph triple digits.
With both of us safely back at his house, we figure it was time so stock up on some beer (sold in crates there), and get something to eat. We wandered down to a local restaurant/inn, The Engel (The Angel), that is owned by some relatives and had a delicious meal that consisted of a fresh salad, homemade bratwurst, and a potato salad. Oh yeah, we also had a few Henninger Pils. It was excellent.
We eventually stag . . ., uh, headed back to his house and I finally had a chance to meet his wife, Sabine. She had been working late and wasn't home when I first arrived. Sean and I got into the crate of beer and had a few to top off a perfectly enjoyable evening. I might mention that the bottles in a crate over there (like a BIG milk carton here) are not 'our' normal 12-fl. oz. size, but seemed to be considerably larger. Maybe it was the time, or the count that’s thrown my perspective outta whack?
My ride for the trip was a 1999 US model Concours owned by Steve Schneider, COG # 3277, who is stationed at Ramstein AFB in Germany. Steve was being sent to Albania for the summer and was most generous in allowing me to use his bike during his absence. He also left me some gas tickets (Esso – remember them?) that would get me part of the way through Germany. It also turned out that he and I were close to the same physical size so he left me his Hi-Viz Yellow Aerostich suit to wear. This kept me from eating up valuable luggage space to get my own suit there. I took my (blue) bib converter with me to avoid having to take the entire suit off and on at stops, and this worked out great. The color clash was readily apparent when I had the jacket off, but nobody seemed to care.
Wednesday (June 26)
The next morning Sean and I headed out, taking some very nice back roads that took us around the surrounding countryside. We eventually stopped at small roadside restaurant that catered to bikers and had some breakfast. He told me that you could hardly get into the place on the weekends because of all the bikes. Once the plates were cleared and we’d swilled down the last of the coffee, we were back on the road again and heading into Heidelburg. Sean had a couple things to take care of at his office, and while he took care of business, I caught up on some of my email. One he finished, we hit one of the main attractions in the area, the Heidelburg Castle.
Resting on the slopes above the city, it is the most famous castle ruins in Germany. The local ruler began the red sandstone castle in the 13th century. During the following centuries the castle was often destroyed, rebuilt and enlarged. Since each addition was made in the style of the day, the castle is a museum of various styles of architecture. At the end of the 17th century the French partially destroyed the castle (gunpowder cracks still. appear in the base of the walls); however, it was rebuilt only to be destroyed by lightning in 1764. It was not until the 20th century that it was partly restored, as a monument. A moat, high towers and great stone walls encompass an elegant courtyard. Construction of the east wall was begun in 1556 and finished 3 years later. It is said to be the most beautiful piece of Renaissance architecture, in Germany. It is named the Otto-Keinrichs-Bau after the builder. The north wall (1601-1607) has 16 statues of rulers of the Palatinate (early name for the area around Heidelberg). The castle is a beautiful monument to the past.
One of the shots I took from the castle shows an old bridge that crosses the Neckar River. This was our next stop. The bridge was under restoration and traffic along the road leading to it was a real bear, so we pulled the bikes up on the walkway so I would have a photo-op back up towards the castle. Once I was through with the Kodak Moment, we headed back out on the road and wound up at the same restaurant where we’d had breakfast earlier in the day, and stopped for a late lunch. Once the hunger pangs were put to rest, we made a stop at a biker hangout along a local reservoir just to see the many bikes were sitting there at rest. I didn’t do a headcount, but a close guestimate would put the number up around 75. Realize that this was the middle of the week. Zoning in on what Sean had said about the restaurant, I can’t imagine the numbers that may come and go here over a normal weekend. Once we satisfied our desire for all the eye candy that adorned the bikes, we made our way back into Birkenau from the opposite direction from whence we left. I didn’t keep score, but I estimated our day ride to be somewhere around 250 miles in length.
During the ride I had to fix a couple of things on the bike: replace a burned out turn signal lamp (water in the housing), and then a tail light bulb. Both had gone kaput in two separate incidents. No big deal since both were readily available at gas stations along the way . . . which brings up a point. ALL, of the stations I stopped at during my visit abroad were very well equipped for minor roadside emergencies, and had a good assortment of bulbs (including headlamp), radiator caps, tire plugs kits, etc. Back home you’d have to go to an Auto Zone, Advance Auto, Pep Boys, etc., to find such a wide assortment of stuff. Me thinks we’re doing something wrong.
Sean’s wife managed to get off a little early this night, so the three of us went out to a Greek Restaurant and had a very nice German-Greek meal. Or, was that a Greek-German meal? Who really cares? The food was great and the company terrific. What more could you ask for?
When we got back to the house I went through another one of those 'what to take and what to leave' routines. I would be leaving in the morning for Aarschot, Belgium and the suitcase was to stay behind at Sean's. I brought my bag liners and a backpack with me to make it a little easier to carry stuff, and managed to get everything packed that I felt I would need for the next eight days. I also had some tee's and small gifts I'd brought from home to give away, and they tucked away nicely in the backpack. I do miss is my tank bag, however. Besides carrying some of my crucial spares, I've found that the bag is very difficult to live without in my everyday ride routine back home; I jokingly call it a biker's purse. But, I'm not home so we'll make do with what we've got.
With my bags packed, Sean and I tried to do additional damage to the crate of beer and go over the route that would eventually take me to Aarschot. Sean decided he would accompany me and we would work our way up along the Rhine River Valley, famous for all of its castles (Castles along the Rhine). At Köln we would head northwest and he would go as far as the Belgium border, then turn around and return home.
Thursday (June 27)
The next morning we were up fairly early and puttering around the house just sucking down coffee and engaging in good conversation. Sean took care of some last minute business while I loaded up ‘my’ bike, then we were off in pretty short order. I must admit that my nerves were starting to come into play a little as we headed down the road. In just a few hours I would be on my own, in a ‘strange’ land where I was the ‘foreigner.’ Believe me when I say that all sorts of things go through your head. What if the bike should croak? I didn’t have my stash of spares to reply on, so I really felt kind of naked. And I knew that MOTOW didn’t have a European counterpart. Shoot! I didn’t even have a cell phone at my disposal. I want my m-o-m-m-y!!
We headed north out of Birkenau on the motorway and hadn’t gone much more than 30-40 miles when I notice that the speedo stopped working. Poop! Ok, is the cable broken, or has it just come undone – and is it ready to spit the inner piece out on the ground never to be seen again? We eventually pull into a little town, and after roaming around for a bit to take a look at some of the Gothic architecture, we pull into a parking lot across the street from a really old church. Repair time. It turns out that the top cable connection has come undone from the speedo, so after pulling the LH inner panel we manage to get it reconnected and tightened somewhat with the pliers in the bike’s tool kit. With the cable fixed we head out again.
After traveling through some really beautiful countryside, we did a brief stint on another motorway and eventually hit a road that runs along the west bank of the Rhine. After a brief stop for a breakfast bratwurst and some coffee, we’re back on the road under threatening skies that promised a downpour at any minute. And yes, my friends, there are ‘Castles along the Rhine,’ quite a few of them, I might add.
Most of the castles were built back in medieval times by robber barons that stopped passing ships to collect tolls. The castles, which are romantic and evocative now, were a pain-in-the-wallet back then. The castles were strategically placed so there was a clear view up and down the river so as to effectively control traffic. There was absolutely no duty-free shipping on the medieval Rhine. In fact, the Rhine was just one of the links in a major trade route originally established by the Romans way back when. Many castles adorn the hillsides along the roads as well, all built for the same unscrupulous task of collecting tolls. And we think we have it rough. After stopping for lunch and several photo ops along the way, we eventually reach Köln and head to the northwest, leaving the Rhine and all its castle far behind. It never did rain.
The miles, uh kilometers, seemed to fly by once we got on the motorway. In a pretty short period of time we crossed over into Belgium so we pulled off into a rest center. After a light snack and we had said our good byes, Sean headed back the way we came, and I headed west into uncharted territory – alone.
Let me say something about the route markings you will see over here, uh there. In Germany, all of the Autobahn Routes are designated with an “A,” such as A6, A1, etc. Local routes and secondary roads simply have a number with different colored backgrounds (local or secondary). At the borders between countries, just like states here, the route numbers may change. However, since the formation of the European Union and the signing of the Schengen State agreement, a lot of the major routes that interconnect the various countries have been designated with an International numbering scheme, much like our Interstate System. Instead of an “I,” they use an “E.” Unfortunately, some of the countries weren’t as diligent in making sure all of these routes were properly marked in some areas. To make matters worse, some of the mapmakers hadn’t done their job either. This would bite me twice as I made my way from place to place.
The first foopah occurred shortly after I left Sean. I came across a junction that bore a similar designation to the one I was supposed to be following, so I took it. Wrong! Based on the name of a city I appeared to be heading towards, it was readily apparent that I goofed. To compound matters, there wasn’t any easy way to get back to the road I needed to be on and in the direction I wanted to go, so I had to back track several miles before I could do an off/on to get back into the other lane. Once I was headed in the right direction, I soon passed the same junction and saw the error of my ways – the background color was different. Hmmm? I’m not colorblind, but I wonder how those who are handle this sort of thing?
I had one more major junction I needed to contend with as I headed towards Aarschot, but that one was plainly marked with the “E” designation that I needed to follow. Within an hour or so I was at the exit I needed to take to get to Berten Steenwegan’s place, my next home stay. Finding his house, however, was another matter. Actually, it was his house AND his studio. Berten was a professional photographer (http://www.berten.be), and he and his family live above it.
Prior to leaving the States, I used several international map programs available on the Internet to zero in on the places I needed to go. I had the addresses and simply plugged them in, not unlike Mapquest, or some of the others that accommodate domestic routes. In this particular instance, I had used www.viamichelin.com to locate Berten’s home, or so I thought. Well, it put me on the right road all right, but in the wrong place – an obvious industrial area - and his place was nowhere to be found. After making several laps in, through, and about this very old and lovely village, I finally pulled into a gas station to see if I could get some help.
A phrase that would be repeated over and over came from my lips, “Do you speak English?” The person whom I addressed appeared to be the manager, but he shook his head no. He directed my attention to a couple of younger boys who had been chatting with him as I entered. They looked at the address on my PDA screen, then the three of them engaged in a very animated discussion to try and come to a consensus on where I could find Berten, which they apparently did. Once I got all the lefts and rights sorted out, away I went – right back to the same industrial area I’d been to previously. By this time I was starting to get a little nervous because it was getting late and darkness would be settling in pretty quickly. If I couldn’t find the place in daylight, I knew I’d really be in deep doo doo once it got dark.
So, back down the ‘correct’ street I go when suddenly I pass a video store. Ah hah, I thought. I just knew the people there would be able to speak English (movies), which they did. They were very helpful and sent me to a studio about 1000 meters away down the street. Whoops, wrong studio, but I sensed I was getting close. I came across a fellow playing a trumpet in the back of a garage next door and asked if he knew where Berten Fotografie was. He did, and 500 meters down the street a little further I was ringing his bell. Relief!! Dummy me had passed the place on my first lap through the village, but somehow managed to miss it.
Berten greeted me at the door, and after we introduced ourselves he directs me to a back entrance for his place on the next street over. Adorning the back gate was a large poster-sized image of the picture that won him the Kodak Professional Portrait Award for 2001-2002. Kewl! My younger daughter has a very keen interest in photography and just about flipped when she found out I would be staying with someone who actually makes a living doing what she loves. Maybe next trip.
I started carrying my stuff inside, and as I was making my way up their back stairs, the family dog, Rolex, greeted me. Berten told me that he gave the dog the name so he could honestly tell people that he owned a "Rolex." I like this guy's sense of humor. I think we're going to get along just fine.
While I finished unloading the bike, Berten left to attend a town meeting. He returned a short time later and we headed out to a small, quaint local restaurant in the town square to get a bite to eat. I was starving. I don't know if it's the atmosphere, excitement, or a combination of both, but I have not had a bad meal the entire time I've been here. Everything has been spot on - prepared and cooked to perfection.
By the time we finished dinner and returned to his home, the rest of his family had arrived and I finally had a chance to meet them: Katelijne his wife, Julie their 15 year old daughter, and Brecht their 13 year old son. His wife apologized later for not being around much. She is a counselor at one of the local schools and it was the end of the school year, so she was pretty busy. No apologies necessary; I understand completely; Come to my home sometime and witness our schedule. We sat around for several hours shooting the breeze enjoying each other’s company, until we eventually called it a night and headed to bed.
Friday (June 28)
The next day Berten had a couple of early photo shoots he has to take care of in the studio, and when he was done we rode our respective bikes into Leuven, an academic Mecca that sits in between Aarschot and Brussels. Berten had informed me that Leuven has approximately 30,000 permanent residents. In addition, there are another 30,000 college students living there that attend the many colleges and universities. I think I will ‘meet’ about half of them in the next couple of hours. We’re going there because Berten has a wedding to shoot at the Grote Markt (Market Square), the location of one of the most interesting pieces of Brabantine Gothic architecture I have ever seen: The Town Hall. Since no 4-wheel vehicular traffic is allowed, it is a major thoroughfare for bodies, most of which seem to be a goodly portion of those 30,000 students. Scooters and bikes are continually flitting back and forth and square is constantly abuzz with young people doing what young people do. For this aging old man, this is terrible! It was also a time I had one of those major brain-poots before we left Berten’s; I didn’t bring my camera. I never do that. As a result, I have no shots of this masterpiece whose first stone was laid in 1439. The accompanying shot(s) were pulled from the Internet. For those of you who are wired, the following link has some interesting facts about this building:
After enjoying a brew in one of the town market areas, we took a quick walking tour of one of the universities, then returned to Aarschot. Berten had some things to take care of in his shop so I decided I’d enter a few notes in my PDA about my journey thus far. I’m merrily pecking away on the touch screen ‘keyboard’ when a ‘Protection Fault’ error message suddenly comes up on the screen; “Push Reset to Clear.” What the . . .? I know that hitting the reset will dump ALL the memory, so I try the ON/OFF switch and it does nothing. The last resort was to simply pull out one of the batteries. That killed the display, but when I turned it back on in was like it just came right out of the box. ALL, and I mean all of my data was lost – including addresses and phone numbers of people I needed to be in touch with as I continued my travels. I was not a happy camper. Holland was my next stop and I seriously considered pitching the damn thing in the Zeider Zee.
That evening, the rest of his family is gone so we’re considering our options for dinner. Berten gets this craving for mussels, and after calling a number of restaurants he finally locates one that has a fresh batch, so we head off. This quickly develops into a walking tour of this very old town as we wend our way along the narrow streets and alleyways. Berten tells me this and that about the many places we pass as we make our way towards our evening meal. Some of the buildings and roads look vaguely familiar, as they should; I passed this way yesterday (at least once) trying to find his house.
Both of us order a pot of mussels and they eventually arrive, having been steamed with onions, a variety of salad greens, and some type of a tender nut. And by pot, I mean a POT! Incredible, I say to myself. Never, in my life have I had mussels prepared this way, or in this quantity. I was ready for a stretcher by the time we were ready to leave.
Back at the house, I started collecting my things together, for tomorrow I would continue my travels north as I left Aarschot and headed out to my next home stay at Daan Zeydner's place in Breda, Holland (The Netherlands). After kibitzing around for a bit doing nothing in particular, we all decided to call it a day and turn in.
Saturday (June 29)
As usual, I was up before daybreak and tried to quietly take care of some last minute packing without wakening the rest of the household. Sometime during the night it had started to rain and any hopes of a dry ride north seemed completely out of the question. One by one other bodies starting appearing and we all sat down for a nice cup of coffee, with me keeping a wary eye on the skies that didn’t look all that promising. Just about the time I was preparing to haul all my stuff out to the bike, the rain stopped. The Gods are just messin’ with me, I thought. I’m going to get on the road and the skies are gonna open up in a torrential downpour. Fortunately, that never happened.
I finished loading up the bike, thanked Berten and his family for their kind and generous hospitality, he took a couple of parting shots, and I was on my way out of town towards Breda. I needed gas so I stopped at a Shell station on the outskirts of Aarschot to fill up. Turned out it was the same station, with the same manager, that I stopped at a couple days earlier to ask for directions. Funny, the surroundings just didn’t look the same.
With the bike filled with go juice, I was on my way again. Feeling a little more confident in my euro map reading and navigational skills, I decided to take a couple of secondary roads that would lead me up to the motorway I needed to take towards Antwerp. There I would find a bypass around the city that would eventually spit me off in the direction I needed to go. The maps and routes on this segment of my trip were very well marked and easy to follow, and before I knew it I was on the outskirts of the city. Using the directions that Daan had sent earlier, I didn't have any problem getting to the area where he lived. I did miss a turn on to a side street because it was rather narrow and looked more like an entrance into a parking lot. A quick u-turn put me back where I need to go and I was in front of his house in no time.
I arrived there considerably quicker than I thought I would, so I was early. After a couple of stabs on the doorbell it was apparent that everyone was still asleep, or not home. It turned out to be the latter, so I wandered across the street to a little neighborhood park that was situated in the middle of this square of neat and tidy row houses, to await someone's arrival. Within a half an hour a car pulls up and it turns out to be Daan and his 3-year old son, Theun. They had been out to a local lumberyard picking up materials for the finishing work Daan is doing to the upper floors of their house. It's very apparent that honey-do's are commonplace and universal in nature, regardless of where you live.
Just about the time I finished unloading the bike, Daan's wife, Mira, and their 4-year old daughter, Minne, returned from a shopping trip. We had a light lunch, then Daan, his daughter, and myself walked down to the town square to witness some of the "Pink Day" celebration that was going on. Better known in the U.S. as Gay Rights Day, a 4 or 5 block area was absolutely jam-packed with people of every sexual orientation and was quite a sight to behold. Every corner seemed to have a live band playing and just about every type of music was represented. It was kinda neat.
We passed through that area to one of a more of a peaceful park-like setting where the waning days of a major town celebration was being held. Breda was celebrating its 750th anniversary this year. As I found out later, the city was granted certain privileges in a charter signed by Hendrik IV, Lord of Breda, in 1252. Although tales exist that Breda should date from the ninth century, existing archives haven’t verified this. There are, however, some archeological finds that date back to those earlier periods. To date, excavations have proven permanent habitation since the twelfth century, which means that a settlement called Breda existed well before 1252. Folks, this is one old city. Kid-type carnival rides were still going strong and Daan’s daughter had to do kid-type things and jump on a few of them. Us older folk just sat back and enjoyed the moment through her joy and excitement.
After a quick stop at a booth selling our equivalent of cotton candy, we wandered back through the zooey area and headed to Daan’s home. It was about dinnertime, so while they slaved in the kitchen, I jumped on the Internet to check my mail and let my family know that I was still alive and doing OK. While connectivity in each of the countries I had been to thus far was pretty much universal, the keyboards I encountered changed; each of them was slightly different. I was also jumping from Apple-based machines, to MS-based machines. I’m not a touch-typist, but keys you expected to be ‘there’ weren’t, and I had to pay close attention to what I was actually putting on the screen.
After a wonderful home-cooked meal, the ‘parents’ did their thing and got the kids ready for bed. I’ve been ‘there’ a number of times before (5) and all of this really made me feel right at home. This would be my last home stay, and, although a complete stranger, I have been truly blessed to be invited into these people’s homes and made to feel like I was a part of the family. In the grand scheme of things, the overall adventure is turning out to be a memorable event, however, when all is said and done, these little things are what one really remembers.
Sunday (June 30)
In the morning I pulled all of my stuff together and joined the family downstairs for a traditional Continental breakfast – basically sandwiches to us. The family had planned on leaving to visit his wife’s sister about the same time I would be pulling out, so Daan was going to lead me out of Breda, then come back home so they could be on their way. Nonsense, I said, we’ll all go together. They were heading out in the same direction I had to go, so I would wait around until they were ready to go and just follow their car. This worked out great, and once again, I was on my way. I didn’t have any home stay lined up for the night, so I planned on riding the 410 miles to a little town just south of the Danish border (Flensburg) and find a place to stay for the night. The plan was to meet Hans the next morning at a ‘big’ truck stop 80 miles up the road, just south of Vejle, Denmark. ‘Big,’ turned out to be a relative term, but a couple of other ‘problems’ popped up as I made my way to the Danish border.
The second lack-of-route-designation incident reared its head on this particular segment, with almost dire consequences (my feelings; you had to be there). After leaving Breda on one of the E-routes, my next major route change was to be near the town of Osnabrück. This ‘new’ E-route was to take me up to Bremen, but the junction sign never appeared, nor did any other sign with that city’s name. I blindly pressed on until it became obvious that I was not where I wanted to be. I was also pushing 260 miles on the bike’s fuel supply (my last fill-up was just outside of Aarschot) and I had no idea how far the bike would go on a tank. An exit finally appeared that had a gas pump symbol, so off I went on to this secondary road. I finally found the town, and the station, but it was closed. Oh poop! With no maps that showed any of Germany’s secondary roads, I headed off in ‘some’ direction until I came to an intersection in a small village. I had the stop, so I was sitting there pondering my fate when a woman with a small German flag painted on her cheek and a very young girl (daughter?) crossed in front me on their bikes. I hailed them down and used my, now familiar, “Speak English” routine to see if she could help. I got an “eh” motion back, meaning she understood just enough to get us both in trouble. “Gas?” I asked. “Melle,” she replied (pronounced mella), motioning back in the direction I had just come. “Closed,” I said. “Not closed,” she fires back. After getting left, left, right, left, right directions, I headed off again. Sure as shoot, a station finally appeared that was open. With 280 miles on the tank, I acknowledged the Man above with a thankful nod, then kissed the pump. Oh yeah, did I mention that you could get a ticket and fine for running out of gas on a motorway? You can: “You should have managed your fuel stops better.”
After paying the attendant, whom spoke almost no English, I dragged out a map and asked, Bremen?” “One,” he replied, directing me back towards Osnabrück. After backtracking on the secondary road and getting on the E-route, I head back to find this illusive route. Coming from this new direction there are route markers (old numbers) this time and a sign that clearly indicates the way I need to go, route 1. I changed maps; bag this “E” stuff.
I make my way past Bremen and just before Hamburg I run into a heavy rain that would stay with me all the way to Flensburg. The only reprieve would be the tunnel that carries me under the Elb River. I pressed on and as I approached the Flensburg exit I’m finding no “bed” symbol listed with the other services. I’m sure there were sleeping accommodations there but they certainly weren’t apparent, and I didn’t feel like going into a strange town, in the rain, looking for the local equivalent to a Motel 6. So I press on figuring I’d find something a little further up the road. I hadn’t gone very and before I realize it, I cross the border into Denmark.
Now there’s another potential problem; I have no Danish Kroners, just Euros and US Dollars. I found out a little late in the game that Denmark was one of the countries that had not accepted the Euro. Altho’ I have plenty of the local currency waiting for me in Aalborg (US purchases for a couple of the rally attendees), my plan had been to stop before the border, spend the night, then hit a bank early the next day to make the exchange. When I blew off Flensburg all of that went out the window, however, I’m smart enough to know that there is usually a ‘banq’ just after you make border crossings where you can do the exchange. And there is. The first little town I approach I see a bed symbol, and a Banq sign. I find the ‘bed,’ which didn’t look very enticing, but not the ‘banq.’ I also find that the exit I took has no re-entry to the northbound lanes. Others were facing this dilemma too, because there were several cages wandering back and forth doing repeated u-turns, obviously looking for a way to get back on the main route to the north. I find a secondary road that seems to parallel the ‘big’ road, and before long I see a route marker that points to an on-ramp. I press northward.
Once again I need gas, and with 260 miles on the tank I pull into a full service rest stop. I walked in and asked the attendant, “English?” In almost perfect English, “Yes,” was the reply. “Do you take Euros?” “Yes,” again. “I also take VISA, Mastercard, American Express, US Dollars . . .” I stuck my finger in the air and said, “I’ll be right back,” as I head out to the bike and the pumps. With the bike topped off, I go back in to pay the bill. The attendant tells me he can also do monetary exchanges as well. Seems as though I was taking the word ‘banq’ too literally; all the stations along this major north-south route were ‘banqs.’ Good deal, so I bought a ham salad sandwich to ease my hunger pangs and picked up enough Kroners to last me to Aalborg. After finishing off the sandwich and enjoying a nice conversation with this very amicable attendant, I head off again.
By this time it’s getting a little late and I still need to find a bed for the night. Several miles up the road a bed symbol appears on a roadside marker, so off the main route I go and head into the little village of Vojens. Following the ‘bed’ symbol through a series of turns, I find, what appears to be, a small two-story house with some parking spaces in front. I parked the bike, walked inside and, once again, went through my normal routine (I find that I can drop the “English?” business, because just about everyone I meet speaks enough of it to get by). The very pleasant lady replied “yes” to both of my questions, with the latter being that she did have a room. I also notice as I’m talking to her that there is a small dining room just off to the side, which was a restaurant that was still open.
She directed me to my room, which was located in a separate building situated out back. As it turns out, this place wasn’t as ‘quaint’ as it originally appeared, for the Torning Kro had 16 rooms to accommodate the weary traveler, and it has been doing so for a very long time. Originally established in 1852, this peaceful little jewel, sitting off the beaten path, has moved into the cyber-generation and has its own website:
The room, although somewhat plain, is very comfortable. Its two single beds were situated along one wall with a nightstand separating the headboards. A slightly different arrangement, but it maximized the rest of the space in the room. The bathroom had no separate tub or shower stall, rather a (flexible) shower head protruding directly out of the wall with a drain situated in a depressed area directly underneath. The entire floor is tiled, and heated. This felt absolutely wonderful and turned out to be a pleasant escape from the cold and dreary rain that was falling outside.
I took what I needed from the bike for the night, freshened up a bit, and made a bee-line for the dining room. The same lady that had checked me in also served as my waitress. After I was seated she was gracious enough to ask if I minded children. When I said no, so replied said that was good, because the family that was about to be seated at an adjacent table had six, ranging in ages from about 2 to 9. The mom looked tired.
The menu selections, which were printed in several languages, seemed very enticing, and the prices seemed quite reasonable. With Denmark being surrounded by water, I figured I couldn’t go wrong by sampling its bounty and settled on the fish fillet and shrimp salad dinner, which was also served with french fries and a separate green salad. A delicacy, I was seeing more and more of throughout my travels surrounded the shrimp salad. It is very delicate, has the pronounced and distinct flavor of Asparagus, but it was opaque and almost white in color. I never did find out what it was, but it was delicious and rounded out whatever it happened to be served with. Once again, all is right with the world as I begin to feel more and more like a traveling food critic. After securing a couple of bottles of a local brew to serve as nightcaps, I retreated to my room. After flipping through the stations and watching several programs on the TV, none of which I could understand, I turned in for the night.
Monday (July 1)
The next morning I awoke to patter of a light rain that was still falling, went through my ‘routine,’ and went to breakfast (included with the price of the room). This was being served in an adjoining room from where I had dinner the night before, and the food was laid out buffet style. There were several types of breads (some of which you sliced yourself), a platter of various sliced meats, cereals, hard boiled eggs, juices, rolls, fresh fruits, several different types of cheeses, tea, and coffee. This was the traditional European Continental Breakfast at its finest, and very similar to what I would find during the rest of my stays at commercial establishments (read: hotels). I was truly getting spoiled.
During breakfast I struck up a conversation with another fellow sitting alone who turned out to be from Finland. He was also a fellow biker, an auto body mechanic by profession, but also owned a dog-breeding kennel, which he ran on the side. After breakfast our conversation continued outside in a light rain at the back of his ‘Benz wagon, where he had a couple of his dogs that were going to be shown at a dog show somewhere in Germany. The dogs were a slightly different breed of Golden Lab, none of which I had ever seen before. They were absolutely gorgeous and very friendly in the traditional Lab manner. It’s a good thing I had no way to carry one of them with me, because I would have taken one off his hands in a heartbeat, even though we already had two at home. As I would find out later, that was to change.
We both had to get on the road, so I wished him good luck in the show, we said our good byes, and I went about the task of loading up my stuff on the bike and checked out. After making my way back to the main highway, my next stop was to meet an old friend at a ‘big’ (Shell) truck stop just south of Vejle, 35 miles, or so, up the road. That ‘old’ friend was Hans-ove Gortz, instigator of The Plan.
In a light rain that seemed to come and go, I soon arrived at the Shell Plaza, on time, where I ‘thought’ I was to meet Hans. Expecting a monstrous place similar to the T/A (Truck Stops America) places we see at home, I was surprised to find that it rather small in comparison. It looked very similar to one of the larger gas stations we might have along our Interstates. Having never been through this way before, obviously, I was beginning to question whether this was really the right place at all. I went inside and asked the girl attendant if there were any other similar plazas further up the road. She assured me there wasn’t, so I just milled around hoping that Hans would eventually appear since our meeting time had come and gone. He was definitely running a little late. Do I stay, or do I go?
I’m inside contemplating getting a cup of coffee when I see a familiar bike pass by the window. It was Hans. Turned out that he’d run into some delays due to road construction. I met him in the parking lot and after we exchanged greetings, we went back inside for a quick snack, some coffee, and to catch up on old times. The last time we’d seen each other was at the 2000 National in Natural Bridge, VA. After a couple of quick shots in the parking lot, we headed off towards Aalborg in a light drizzle that refused to go away. Approximately 110 miles up the road we stopped for gas then got off the main road. We were on our way to meet Fleming Stuhr at his home in the little village of Stövring. We got there in pretty short order with no problems, and sat around enjoying a nice cold beer just shooting the breeze. The rain continued to fall on and off intermittently but eventually came to a stop and we were left with nothing but overcast skies. In due time it was time to leave, so Fleming led us in riding his pristine ’86 model GTR, through a series of back roads, to the town of Aalborg, and we eventually wound up at the Gigantium complex (http://www.gigantium.dk/), site of the FIM (and GTR) Rallies.
Think big folks. Sitting on several acres of land that are partially filled with the tents of FIM Rally attendees, the building itself is big, very big. It is divided up into several sections, with the largest housing masses of tables and chairs neatly lined up to accommodate the anticipated 4000- 5000 who would attend. At one side of this area are three full-sized stages. These would all be used in a day or so for the opening ceremonies, and for the various bands and musical groups who would perform. On the opposite side are a string of bleachers that contain enough seats to satisfy any overflow. Behind the bleachers is another large area where several companies have set up displays of their wares. There is also a complete grocery store for the many that chose to camp. A large number of tables fill the empty areas and serve as convenient seating close to the bar. Another area separated by a wall, houses all the registration and check-in tables, better know here as the Secretariat. One area off to the side had 5 or so computers set up as a mini- Internet Café. Service was free IF you could ever get the kids away from the machines and the obvious non-serious stuff they were using them for (read: games).
Once we kind of got a lay of the land, we decided to check in. The registration lines were set up by country and had small flags hanging above the line you were supposed to be in. I had preregistered through the AMA before I left, and was signed up for Hotel “B.” This was priced in between the top-of-line 5-star, and the youth hostels. Even on this non-official day the lines were significant, but we moved along OK. Once we had our designated hotel packets, Hans and I decided to go check them out, as they were in town, well away from the Gigantium. Han’s had also pre-registered for a Hotel “B” whose name sounded pretty straightforward – Park Hotel. The name on mine was a little more obscure, and certainly didn’t sound like a hotel.
Han’s place was pretty easy to find and appeared to be pretty up-scale. After he checked in we were hanging out in front talking to some other people when we see (and hear) a couple of hooligans wandering up the street waving their arms and hollering our names. One was immediately recognizable. It was George “Boomer” Garratt, someone Hans and I had both met at the 2000 National in VA. He was with Steve Patriquen, former editor of The Concourier, and someone I had chatted with many times during his tenure as editor. It was nice to finally get a chance to meet him. The two of them had come over from England on the ferry. Boomer was camping back at the Gigantium, and Steve was staying at another hotel down the street, the name of which had no significance at the time.
After a short while we decide we’d better try and find my place. From the name on the packet, it seems like I would be staying in the dorm of some athletic training center that was some distance from where we were now. We eventually find the area, but no one we could find knew anything about any arrangements with an ‘FIM.’ So we head back to the Gigantium and get in line again. I eventually cornered one of the officials and she said that she’d check. She was back shortly and said that she had just talked to someone down at this place, and the accommodations were available. Back we go. This time we found the building, and the door to the room with Sean’s (he was originally planning on attending) and my name on it. The key I had worked, so in we go. The best way I can describe this place is bleak. The sleeping arrangements consisted of one couch – period. Without hesitation I told Hans that they would find me a hotel representative of what I was led to believe I’d be getting, or there would be an instant refund – period. I was not staying here. I’m suddenly beginning to feel like The Ugly American.
So back we go again. After several conversations with others at the registration table, I finally get the ear of the Rally organizer, Niels Hansen. He listened to my tale of woe and said he’d see what he could do. I went back a couple of times and said that he was still working on it. He finally admitted that he had received other complaints about the same accommodations and, quite honestly, hadn’t looked at them himself. He had been assured by others that they were OK. I reminded him that it appeared that I had been the first to complain, and would he be sure to see that I was the first to be moved into suitable accommodations. He said he would.
A short time later Niles came over to where we were sitting and asked if I would consider taking the place at a reduced rate. Thanking him for the offer, I politely refused. He said that he had to ask, and that he understood. He then said that he did have one cancellation that had the same departure date as mine (Friday), but it was only a single. I told him that would be fine since Sean wasn’t able to come anyway. About a half an hour later one of his co-workers came over to the table and told me that I had been moved into the Prinsen (The Princess) Hotel and all I had to do was go check in. Finally, because it was getting close to 8:00, and we’d been messing with this since 2:00. This was the same place Steve was staying, and Hans’ hotel was right up the street.
With the accommodations finally sorted out, the plan was to ride into town together, park the bikes, I’d check in, and then the four of us would try and find a place to grab something to eat. I was famished. Once we got back together, we walked several blocks to a narrow street lined on both sides with eateries, bars, and pubs. The area was an obvious favorite because it was jampacked with people of all ages. An FIM Rally banner hung at its entrance between two buildings, so the organizers were very aware that this would become a popular hang out. Each of the restaurants had their menu prominently displayed out front, and all of them had sidewalk tables available. We picked one, for no reason in particular, and settled in at a sidewalk table so we could enjoy watching the stream of people who were continuously passing by.
After a wonderful meal and Steve had finished his ‘glass’ of wine (he wound up with a full bottle by mistake), we headed back to our respective hotels and Boomer took off for FIM Rally HQ and the comfort of his tent. Tomorrow we would the official GTR Rally Day and there were a lot of activities planned to keep us busy.
My room turned out to be most comfortable and very well appointed. I found out later that the Prinsen had a 4-star rating, which turned out to be well deserved. The place was great and was certainly a far cry from the original accommodations.
Day of the Herring (Tuesday - July 2)
The next morning I wandered down to the small restaurant for breakfast and was greeted with the same Continental spread I had found at the Torning Kro. Many different breads, meats, and cheeses were in abundance, and were all laid out in a very attractive manner. I was working on my second helping when I was approached by a fellow who asked if he could join me at my table. It was apparent that he was struggling with his English, but I motioned for him to join me and we struck up a conversation as we finished our meals. His name was Richard Reinke from Germany, who was also there for the GTR Rally. As is turned out, he lived just a short distance from Sean in a little village on the outskirts of Frankfurt. Since his (broken) English was far better than my German, which was none, we had trouble communicating on occasion, but somehow managed to get by. Richard was pleasant company and he and I would hang together for the rest of the trip.
On this particular morning I excused myself and went back to my room to suit up and head out. I was to meet Han’s in front of his hotel at 8:00, and we would go back to the Gigantium for the GTR Rally. After getting a little disorientated initially and making a few wrong turns, I eventually got to the Park, met up with Han’s and we headed off. The GTR contingent was to assemble in a corner at the rear of the building where a tech demonstration was planned a little later in the morning. Boomer was going to replace the front rotors on Han’s bike with a new set of EBCs. Once underway, there was some good-natured ribbing about the bike never rolling again, but this is commonplace at this type of thing and was taken in good stride. Boomer’s off the wall comments had people laughing and everyone seemed to be having a good time. By the time he had finished, 14 or so GTR Club members, and interested bodies, had gathered.
Tradition has it that at FIM Rallies that campers are grouped by country and each country’s area is well marked by large numbers of their respective flag. Patriotism abounds, and many of the bikes, and people, are well adorned with their country’s colors. It’s really quite impressive. While Boomer and company were cleaning up, I spotted Old Glory flying in the camping area and wandered over to see who they were. Prior to my leaving the States, I had been told that there were to be a total of 5 Yanks in attendance, two other couples, and myself. This particular couple, Rick and Jean Shrader from Oregon, were apparent veterans of the FIM Rally scene. I believe they said this was the10th they had attended. We chatted a bit and then I excused myself and headed back over to the GTR area to get ready to go. Fleming, who was working as an FIM official at the rally, scheduled some time off so he could lead us on a ride around Aalborg and the surrounding area.
We assemble in an upper parking area then head out on a very leisurely pace, something we could take a lesson from back here in the States. We eventually wind up in the little village of Rebild, site of the Danish-American Society’s annual celebration on July 4; the Queen of Denmark would be here then. This has been going on since 1912 and we’re on hallowed ground, an area that is to be preserved forevermore. This is also where we’ll have lunch.
Fleming had made reservations for us at a small restaurant that sits on this site. Named the Tophuset, this small inn has catered to travelers that made their way through the area since the early 1900’s, and although modernized somewhat, serves in that same capacity today. The building itself is constructed of thick stuccoed walls and come complete with an authentic thatched roof. Pictures from the past adorn every wall inside and provide a historical view of the life of the building and area. Once we are seated Hans stands, with a large tobacco-like looking can in hand, to address the attendees. In Swedish, he is explaining the events that have brought me to this place and why he is holding this container. “Gift wrapped” in a clear cellophane cover, I can plainly see the word, Surstromming (Translation: Swedish sour herring) on the side. I have also seen the word ‘sour’ replaced with ‘rotten.’
I didn’t understand a word of what he said, but I suspect the literal translation went something like this: The American is in deep sh - -! So outside we go, the traditional place this food is eaten; I would soon find out why. The fermenting (rotting) process is ongoing so the cans often have a bulge to them, meaning they are constantly under increasing pressure. A bucket of water appears and Hans submerges the can and gingerly proceeds to puncture the top. Once the pressure was relieved, the can is removed and the top removed. Quite frankly, I can’t describe the odor that emanates from this, seemingly, innocent can. Suffice to say, it is strong enough to knock down any creature the smell may overtake. Fortunately, there was a slight crosswind so the worst of it was harmlessly blown away from my nose.
With the precision of a surgeon, Hans deftly guts the fish and prepares the edible (?) morsels. So, with cameras clicking, I fulfill my commitment by eating several pieces of the herring. Quite honestly, it wasn’t all that bad once you got past the smell. Han’s later separated the roe from a couple of the fish and we tried that too. Strange texture, but it still wasn’t all that bad. Once the show was over we moved back inside for a very nice lunch.
By the time we were ready to leave it was sprinkling again. After a brief run along a stretch of Denmark’s eastern shoreline, we made a beeline for our next stop, an air base outside of Aalborg. Fleming had arranged for the use of a long desolate stretch of road on the base so the group could do speedometer calibration runs. Apparently this is a regular event at cycle outings over here. The process is simple: A known distance is marked off and monitored by two people, the last one with a stopwatch. The subject bike would run through the known distance maintaining the speed they wanted their speedo checked at. As they passed the first mark, the person there would motion the second to start the watch. The watch would be stopped when the bike crossed the second line. With the distance and time known, the speed could easily be calculated. A number of passes were made to insure some semblance of accuracy. Once everyone had made all of their runs, we scooted back to our respective hotels to get ready for the GTR dinner that was to be held at a restaurant down on Aalborg’s waterfront.
Once everyone freshened up, we met at the Park Hotel and piled into a cab to get The Kompasset Restaurant for, what else, a delicious meal. Hans gave a little talk about the GTR Club, and when he was done I took a moment to thank everyone for their hospitality, and for making me feel welcome in their part of the world. And I did feel welcome. I’ve been very lucky to be a part of this.
Wednesday (July 3)
We were to meet Hans at 8:00, but he popped in the restaurant as Richard and I were eating breakfast to say he had to scoot over to the Gigantium. Today was the day that the individual countries were to line up and ride under escort into the Parc Fermé in Aalborg. There the bikes would be impounded, registration checked, then finally be released. It seemed more like a traditional formality in name only, because I never saw the first bike being checked for anything. Sweden was the first country scheduled, which is why he had to leave a little early.
Richard and I headed on over to watch when we were done, and the entire upper parking lot was crammed with bikes when we got there, most of them bearing the colors of Sweden. The U.S., all five of us, wasn’t scheduled to leave until 2:15 that afternoon, so Richard and I just kinda hung out watching the bikes of the different countries stream out of the parking area as their turn came to leave.
When it was time for me to go, I headed up to the upper lot and finally met the second couple from the U.S. They were Bob & Mary Beth Alexander from Minnesota, and they were also newlyweds. They had gotten married shortly after their arrival in Europe. They also brought some tee-shirts they had printed up with “Da Yanks are Comin” on the front. One sleeve was covered with stars, the other with stripes. By this time the Shraders were also there and Bob presented a shirt to each of us. They had also brought a couple of floppy, mad hatter-like top hats decked out in red, white, and blue stars and stripes that they would slip on as we approached the park.
In order to accommodate the large number of bikes that were there from some of the countries, and to be able to line them up single file, we were to move out to a desolate stretch of road several miles from the Gigantium. So under threatening skies, we headed off. The officials at the site lined us up behind a contingent of several other countries, and when our time came we pulled out, being escorted to the park by a local rider on a Nimbus, the only bike ever manufactured in Denmark. When we arrived at the park, each group stopped before entering, the name of the country represented was announced, and the national anthem of their country played. It was really kinda neat, and quite touching. Once our National Anthem was played we moved into the park and just kind of milled around looking at all of the different bikes in attendance. After the FIM officials checked our paperwork, we were presented with several gifts and a sandwich lunch.
At some magical hour they released us all and there was this instant throng of bikes heading towards the gates all at the same time. Tonight was the formal opening of the FIM Rally back at the Gigantium and everyone was trying to get back to their hotels/tents to get cleaned up before heading out to take part in the celebration. Some of the people had been at the park since early this morning.
We finally made it out and back to the hotel. We would meet up at the Park Hotel and take a bus out to the Gigantium, which was free to Rally participants. It seemed like the smart thing to do since it was assumed that a lot of consumables would be, uh, consumed. Oh boy, were they.
The opening ceremony was quite a sight to behold. Richard and I joined Boomer and Steve, and sat with Hans and the group from Sweden. After all the pomp and circumstance, including speeches from several dignitaries from the City of Aalborg, the music began with the first of several rock and roll bands taking the stage. The music and celebration were still going strong past midnight and we missed the last bus, so we caught a cab back to the hotels. The bus/cab thing was a smart idea.
Thursday (July 4)
Once again I awoke at the crack of dawn and eventually made my way down to breakfast. Hans, Richard, and I planned to get out of town and take a ride up the east coast to the northern most point of Denmark and the town of Skagen. We would return by coming down the west coast.
After breakfast we rode up to the Park to meet Hans, but Hans was no where to be found. His bike was still there, so we knew he hadn’t left. We finally called his room and found that he had, uh, overslept. Richard and I settled into the restaurant to have some coffee while we waited for Hans to get his collective together.
He finally made it downstairs, and after he had his breakfast we mounted up and headed north out of town. During the ride up we passed through several village situated along the coast, most of them quite picturesque. We eventually reached Skagen and stopped at the local wharf to do a little shopping and have a fresh seafood lunch. The smells along the waterfront were very familiar, and similar to what I remember during the years I was working on commercial trawlers back in Virginia.
After lunch we made a quick visit to the lighthouse at the point, then headed west towards the other coast. We hadn’t traveled all that far when dark storm clouds began appearing on the horizon. Before we knew it, we were in a heavy downpour that seemed to stay right with us. The desire to remain a tourist soon waned and we decided to head back to the barn. We eventually rode out of the rain just north of Aalborg.
Later that evening we collected at the bus stop to head back to the Gigantium for the evening’s festivities. The crowds were just as heavy as the night before and several different bands did their thing over the course of the evening. This evening we left a little earlier and caught the return bus to the hotel. This would be my last night in Aalborg, for I had to return to Sean’s house tomorrow so I could catch my plane home on Saturday morning. I said good bye to Hans and thanked him for everything. His Plan had worked out perfectly.
Friday (July 5)
I was up pretty early, collected all my stuff and loaded it on the bike, then went back in for breakfast and to wait for Richard to come down. He and I would ride south together since he lived just outside of Frankfurt.
Richard finally appeared and after breakfast we checked out and headed out of town and into a steady rain shower. Just after crossing into Germany, Richard motioned that my headlamp was not on. We stopped at the next station, and sure enough, the low beam was kaput. I picked up a bulb, and even though it was supposed to be a 70/70w, it sure didn’t look very bright. I probably should have returned it, but didn’t, and we pressed on. The longer we rode the more I became concerned about the bulb. We kept running into heavy holiday traffic, which was slowing our progress considerably. I suspected that we would be getting into Sean’s house after dark and this bulb wasn’t going to cut it. I finally picked up another bulb at a later gas stop and it worked like it should.
Richard peeled off as we approached Frankfurt and I pressed on. Approximately 13 hours and 628 miles (1010 km) later I arrived at Sean's place in Birkenau. I just happened to pass him in his village as I was heading towards his house. He had some runs to make that evening to a couple of U.S. bases to pick up people at the USO's for a trip into Paris, so I accompanied him. Afterwards we went to a really neat biker bar in Heidelburg and had a few brewskies.
Saturday (July 6)
We returned to his home a little later (2:00 a.m. ?) and I started packing for the trip back to the U.S.A. I didn't even bother going to sleep - no point. I awoke Sean sometime around 6:00, and after several cups of coffee we were off to the airport. We said our good byes and I headed in to start the ‘process.’ For some reason I had to go through the security checks - twice. Can't explain that one. Maybe I fit some profile?
Once I arrived at the gate it appeared that the entire Indian population of Germany was migrating to the US. I have no idea what the occasion was, but the throng was complete with several screaming kids that kept up a steady blast throughout the entire trip. The plane took off pretty much on schedule and arrived at Dallas/Ft. Worth, Texas approximately 12 hours later. Having flown back and forth to Europe twice on an Airbus A340, I can only recommend that you try and find some other arrangements. These planes are better suited for cattle - not humans. They are extremely cramped and offer NO people-room what-so-ever. Regardless, I managed to catch a couple of hours of sleep scrunched up against the forward bulkhead of Economy Class. So much for the request for an aisle seat.
After going through Customs/Immigrations, the transfer was made for the short trip to Denver, Colorado with no problems. Carl Thomte met me there, as expected, and we promptly headed off for a wedding reception, no less. He wanted to meet a flame of his there who was attending.
We eventually made to his home several hours later. I was tired but a couple of beers had me rejuvenated enough to transfer clothes from suitcase to bag liners for the trip to Montrose, CO and the COG National in the morning.
Sunday (July 7)
We left Carl’s place Sunday morning and met up with several others outside of Denver for the approx. 300 mile trip to Montrose. This was the first time I have ever been to Colorado to ride and the countryside is W-I-D-E open, unlike anyplace I have ever seen before.
The National Banquet (July 10)
Rallymeisters, Anne and Don Simone, were kind enough to give me a few minutes to talk about my trip during National banquet. At the conclusion I requested that future endeavors, such as this, be supported - regardless of which way some lucky traveler may be going. I just happened to be the fortunate person to make this particular trip. Hopefully, Han’s Plan will remain alive and others will follow for future GTR/COG events.
Thursday - Saturday (July 11 - 13)
I left Montrose Thursday morning with Bob Dombrowe and Mark Graham for a 'leisurely' ride back home. After spending the night in Colby, Kansas, Bob split to go visit relatives; Mark and I continued eastward. We made one other stop at Mount Vernon, Illinois. I arrived home on Saturday evening around 8:30.
Other than hitting solid rain from the Indiana/Kentucky border all the way home, the trip was pretty much uneventful. My bike ran fine the whole trip and had no problems at all. I figured I rode approximately 3972 miles here in the US, including the 1745 mile, day and a half blast out to Denver, and a best-guess estimate of approx. 2000 miles while in Europe.
It goes without saying that a special thank you needs to go out to Hans, whose vision of a 'Plan' just made the world's motorcycling community a little smaller. And many thanks to Ted Adcock and Spencer Farrow for all that they did in helping Hans pull it all together.
The final, and most sincere, thank you needs to go out to the contributors. This includes all of the people who invited me into your homes, and to Steve Schneider for the use of his bike. All of you ‘contributed’ in one way or the other. You are the best.
It’d be ridiculous to think that any one person could have much of an effect the status quo of global relations, and how we should, simply, see each other as human beings. The opposite, however, is quite true, for this individual will be forever changed by all that he has experienced during this great adventure. Thank you all for giving me the opportunity to see the world from “Over the Pond.”