14th September 2012
Stephen Benson and his friends finish their trip across Europe on 60 year old Sunbeams. On the final leg, disaster strikes...
We had been to one rally in Sweden; had a second in our sights, and had been on the road for ten days. So we were all getting tired and I really wished I had bought a gel cover for my seat. I was starting to suffer and I did not like standing up on the pegs at 55mph to get some blood back into my rear, but I was having to as the others seemed to be able go further between stops than I would have liked. We had a big push towards Malmo and the bridge across to Denmark. I must admit to being very sore by the time we got there. Sadly, we couldn't get a good shot of the bridge and our bikes - something we had hoped to do.
Coming through Denmark I picked up a slow puncture but we had to keep going, using Peter's supply of air cylinders to keep up the pressure. I was impressed by them and they will be added to my emergency toolkit in future. We couldn't stop to fix the puncture or we would miss the ferry. Once off the ferry in Germany we only had 20 miles until we could camp. I stopped at a garage for some tyre sealant but it only lasted a few miles… it was getting late, and we were having trouble finding a campsite. The stress levels were mounting.
Then we came across a camping sign which led us by a very torturous route to a site … that was in fact closed! My tyre had had enough so I was going nowhere. A long standing resident of the camp pointed to a patch of grass and said we could pitch our tents there. I was hoping for a hut but least I had chance to fix my puncture.
And then one of my saddle springs snapped while I was moving the bike into position.
We were just about to make camp when the site owner turned up. He seemed very impressed with the bikes and our journey so far. He opened up the office and gave us a really good price on a static caravan - and even turned up with a crate of beer! This was just what we needed; fantastic, we were saved again.
With help from the others I fitted my spare tube so made a start on the beer crate. The caravan was lovely with plenty of room for us and we all slept soundly. Peter decided we all deserved bacon and egg for breakfast so went out foraging. He came back a little while later with the much anticipated supplies and a wry smile on his face. It seems he fulfilled the shop assistant's personal picture of a stereotypical Englishman. When he asked for bacon, the assistance replied 'for ze bacon and eggs' in a heavy German accent.
A proper breakfast was just what we needed. We thought it would not be an easy day. We had another 300 miles to go to the German Sunbeam Rally and our hotel. In fact it turned out to be much worse for poor Andy Thompson… he was not going to make the rally and would be flying home that evening - but that comes later.
After breakfast things started to go wrong. The bikes were playing up and demanded some TLC, but TLC was not going fix Chris's S8 silencer. The securing stud had pulled, stripping the thread and it needed helicoiling. Now nobody brings a helicoil set with them in their holiday toolkit, do they? Well, Andy Briggs does! What a star.
We knew it was going to be a head-down motorway day. We would be travelling along the A1 past Hamburg, one of the busiest roads in Europe. We were making good progress for quite a while but then the traffic started to back up and it was about 30 degrees-C. One of Chris' plugs oiled up so AndyB and I stopped to help sort it. AndyT and Peter were up ahead. They had pulled in to wait for us, a little way from each other. Before long Chris's bike was running again and ventured back into the autobahn traffic.
We soon passed Peter, then we passed AndyT. It was the last time we three saw Andy, as very soon thereafter Peter came across Andy's bike, lying in the carriageway. We all leave a good distance between ourselves and the car in front, but this can work against us as sometimes a fast moving car will scream past and then pull in front, while braking hard. This happened to AndyT. He missed the car in front but hit a glancing blow off the car at his side, breaking his arm.
Peter was with him and he was soon joined by the police, then the ambulance team. We knew we were due a petrol stop so had pulled into a service area about 10 miles ahead, and got a text from Peter telling us the story. By now the traffic had ground to a slow crawl and there was no way back. We decided to abandon the motorway and make our own way to Gronau across country. That was a very lucky decision as another accident further up meant that nothing was going to move on the autobahn for another four hours.
It was actually very pleasant using the B-roads. It took forever to get to Gronau but it did not matter - we were off that awful motorway. The lower speeds were much easier on the posterior, the scenery was lovely and we were touring Germany properly… but poor AndyT was never far from our thoughts.
We got to our hotel very late and parked our bikes in their underground garage just before the heavens opened and a huge electrical storm developed. We learned that Peter had not stayed over, as we supposed, but was in fact trying to make it to the hotel through all this weather. He turned up like a drowned rat… we four had made it and AndyT was on a plane back to London.
The German rally was very different to the Britti rally. They were both equally friendly but they diverged dramatically. The German rally was based around a beautiful modern hotel; we had special rates but it was not cheap. We enjoyed sit-down evening meals which were very good value and even had canapés half way through the Sunday run. The runs themselves were very closely organised through gorgeous countryside but very slow; 20 to 30mph was the norm. There was a procession of cars, vans and trailers taking up the rear to quickly gather up anybody who broke down - not really what we were used to.
But it was never the destination that made it for me. The journey was the thing; and what a journey! I learned so much about myself, my friends and what makes or breaks a touring holiday. Needless to say we all made home OK even though ride to the Hook of Holland was very wet indeed. Irish Paul and Paul Stabler stayed with us and guided us to the ferry when we went wrong, then the ride back home from Hull was dry and bright so we soon dried off.
When I look back on the trip now, a great big grin comes right across my face. Fantastic!
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