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I had to get to Fredrikstad in southern Norway some time before the start of the Norwegian Camel Rally at 6pm on Friday 31st July. I had not intended to complete the ride in one go but there was so much to get done at home in the week before that i was left with little time to get there. Then I had intended leaving on Wednesday 29th, but the weather across England was appalling and I could not summon up the energy to leave - in truth I was still a bit jaded after the Counties Ride ten days before and organising the Brit Butt Light the weekend before.
It also took ages to decide what to take, needing everything for the rally, plus camping equipment and spare clothing etc. for two people for a week - Stacey was not coming with me but flying out to Oslo the day after the rally and we were then going to tour around Scandinava and make our way home steadily. So, after spending half a day packing the bike, and getting a new front tyre fitted, I was ready to leave on Thursday morning. The only thing I had not got round to doing was arranging any European breakdown cover but I thought I might be able to get it at the port - in the end I didn't bother (I never have in 20 years of riding abroad, except when it came with the GS for a year after I bought it, and have never had a breakdown - saying that will probably be the kiss of death so will make sure I get some next time now!)
I had realised that since I was going to have to do the whole ride in one go, and since it is something over 1600kms from Dunkerque to Fredrikstad, I might as well take the IBA paperwork and see if I couldn't bag an SS1600km. These rides are meant to be for riders in countries which do not use miles but since I would be going through seven of them it seemed fair to appropriate one of their rides!
I left home at 5am on Thursday 30th July and went straight to Corley Services for my usual start receipt. Then it was straight round Coventry on the A46 and down to the M40, around London on the M25 and along the M20 to Dover. On the M20 I came upon a Trocket - a trike made from a Triumph Rocket, which I knew must belong to a fellow IBA rider, Sonia Young. We rode together for a while and at a fuel stop she told me she was on her way to the IBA meet in Berlin. She was taking the tunnel across the channel so I carried on to Dover to catch the 10am crossing to Dunkerque, stopping brielfy to photograph a Round Britain Rally landmark on the front at Dover.
The crossing went uneventfully and I got a guy who was riding down to the Pyrenees to sign my start witness form. On landing in France at 12.40pm I changed the satnav to read in kilometres and set it for Fredrikstad as the destination - since I only usually use it to travel between waypoints it was strange, and slightly disheartening, to see the 2610 reading 1535 kilometres - even worse when I realised this included travelling by ferry between Germany and Denmark - recalculated for the overland route via Kolding had it coming to 1712 kilometres. It was going to be a long 24 hours watching that count down.
It started raining as I got out of Dunkerque and was to continue raining for most of the next 24 hours. I can remember little about crossing Belgium and Holland into Germany, travelling on motorways, or the foreign equivalent being fine as a means to get somewhere in a hurry. but it hardly constitutes an interesting riding experience!
By the time it was getting dark I was in northern Germany, watching the sky ahead being lit up by sheet lightning. I had still more kilometres to go than I had covered and was feeling pretty miserable. I had even considered turning back and going home but reckoned I should at least make it to the half way point so I would have the 1600km ride to show for my efforts! I stopped at a services for a meal and a rest and thought through my options. In the end my stubborn side won out, I hate giving up on something I have started, so I decided to carry on, complete with heated waistcoat and waterproof oversuit to keep the cold out.
In the middle of Denmark I needed fuel and realised I had only seen one service station, about 80 kilometres back, since entering the country but my satnav told me there was one a few miles off the main road and I followed it to this. It was an automatic station. situated across a complicated (to me) junction which possibly explains why I ended up approaching it on the wrong side of the road - fortunately there was no other traffic at 1am in the morning. I tried my debit card in the machine but it spat it out - and did the same to my credit card. I had no Danish Krone, only a walletful of Euros and Norwegian Krone, but remembered the emergency credit card I carry on the bike. Luckily I also remembered the code for it, and even more luckily the Danish machine seemed to like this card as it reciprocated with over 21 litres of fuel for my 22 litre tank.
I crossed the first bridge across the sea over to Funen, passing Odense, and then the longer bridge across to Vestjaelland. The toll bridge at the end of this relieved me of 115Kr and I continued on in the dark past Copenhagen and that was Denmark done with. I hardly saw a thing except the road and lights off it and only spoke to one person, at the toll booth, in the whole of the country. A long tunnel out o Denmark was followed by the long bridge over the Baltic leading to another toll at the entry to Sweden. I had no Swedish currency, but this toll also took euro - 21 of them even for a motorbike!
It was now getting light and this enabled me to see how dreary Malmo looked from the ring road. It was at least dry as I headed north towards Norway but colder than it had been the day before so I kept my heated vest and oversuit on. Not long after getting into Sweden I hit something. I still do not know what it was (surely not a deer, or had my deer whistle stopped working?), as it appeared and disappeared so quickly. I just felt the bang, the handlebars were almost wrenched out of my hands as the bike went into a tankslapper, and I was glad to get safely to the side of the road. I got off slowly, feeling my legs trembling, and looked back up the road but there was nothing there. After sitting down by the side of the road for a while I examined the bike - one of the foglights was broken, an indicator lens was smashed, and the ballast for the mainbeam light was hanging down by the forks. Neither the foglights nor the mainbeam were working (and still are not so I had to manage the rally without them) but the indicator was and I replaced it with the spare cracked lens I happened to have in the topbox. I rode on steadily to the next service station and stopped for a coffee and to get my nerves back under control.
The rest of the journey through Sweden was uneventful except for pouring rain from Goteborg all the way to the Norwegian border but as soon as I crossed the border on a bridge above the trees it stopped and the the sun came out. Norway was unusual in that it was the first country I came to which had a working customs post, with customs officers pulling vehicles over and taking them apart. The other point I noted was the speed limits - nearly every other country had shown three speed limits on entry, usually around 60km/h in towns, 80km/h outside the town, and 120 or 130 km/h on motorways. Norway displayed two speed limits - 50km/h in towns and 80km/h outside towns. There was a higher speed limit on the very short stretches of motorway in the country, of 100km/h. I had already been warned about the penalties for speeding, with fines starting at 4900Kr (around £490) for up to 10km/h over the speed limit, and the fact that being a foreigner was no excuse if stopped. I had even heard stories of the Norwegian police seizing foreigner's driving licences and giving them 6 hours to leave the country and not come back!
So it was with increased caution that I headed the last 30 kilometres to my finish at Fredrikstad. I found a motel near to the start of the rally and got a receipt for that and a finish witness to complete my paperwork. In all I had covered 1755 kilometres, in just over 23 hours, and it had rained for about 18 of those hours. I had six hours before the start of the rally meet at 6pm so got my head down for a few hours.