Friday, February 03, 2006

Scooter Trip!

After travelling 832kms I have just arrived back in London with my Zoomer. The trek took a little over 3 days in total.. going on a slow bike you need to choose a very different route so it ended up being a lot longer than expected.

Overall, it was cold but fun! Especially going through Holland was like some sort of "Ruckus Adventure Themepark", with every possible trick you could do being required at least once. But let's start from
the beginning: After taking delivery of the bike in Bad Kreuznach on Saturday morning, my first trip on it was to the outdoor sports store next day to buy some snowboarding pants. This turned out to be the best investment of the whole trip as it was COOOLD. On average it was about 0C (32F) with the coldest being way lower than that.

So, if you ask me, what kind of clothes should I be wearing driving a Ruck across Europe in January? the answer would have to be "All of them". On top of each other. I was wearing a pair of pants under my snowboard pants, a t-shirt, fat sweater, windproof jacket and snowboard jacket over the top and at times I still got stiff... but I made it without serious discomfort and/or getting sick, after all!

After leaving Bad Kreuznach I went the scenic route over smaller roads north-west. I have to say this must have been easily the worst day of the trip because it wasn't only cold, but also WET. Just cold is fine but cold + wet is deadly. The moisture will creep into your gear andslowly rob it of its insulating properties leaving you freezing todeath. There was snow on the ground in some places and overall the scenery was pretty cool, lots of forest, rivers and going up and down hills. At the end of the day I stayed in a little guesthouse in a little town in the mountains near the famous Nurburgring. The hot shower felt like heaven. I partied it up a bit in the bar with some locals who were singing along with the radio and waving sparklers in
the air and buying me round after round.

The next morning I set out early and made it up to Aachen in the afternoon. Before I could get going I had to wipe the ice of the seat of the Zoomer. At times it was so cold there was also some ice on the speedometer -- I'll post pictures of this later. In Aachen my buddy wasn't in unfortunately, and I was dismayed to find out my favourite place to eat had folded!! I carried on west over the border into the Netherlands, and stopped in Vaals to have a fockink coffee at De Fockink Cafe. The next couple of hours were pretty shitty, going through a piece of Belgium. Generally Belgium just sucks. The people
were rude as shit. Some assholes shouted obscenities at me out of the window of a wannabe gangster BMW with tribals in the back window. I gave them the one fingered salute.

Way after dark I finally made it into the Netherlands again -- and this is where the best part of the trip starts. The Dutch are mad about bicycles. Bicycles get their little lane everywhere, with their own little traffic lights, bridges, and everything. And: small motorcycles get to use the bike lanes as well! So going up towards Eindhoven was a breeze. There was a designated cycle route in the forest running alongside the main freeway going north. Trees on the left and right and a smooth paved path right down the middle where you could easily go flat out.. what fun!

Later that night I arrived in Eindhoven, tired, cold and in need of a warm place to stay. After some hunting around I got a room in a place called Benno's, which was funky and inexpensive. I had a few beers and hit the sack.

The next morning I had some coffee and set out towards Rotterdam/Hoek van Holland. Leaving Eindhoven to the west I found an awesome mud trail again running along the freeway. Zooming through there with trees on either side and flat frozen mud was a blast and really woke me up. At the end of the trail I had to go down a 45 degree vertical slope, which I barely managed braking with my feet and holding both brakes. For breakfast, I stopped at this AMAZING McDonalds just west
of Eindhoven in a place called Best. Outside, they had a 20 foot statue of Michael Jackson (ahem) and inside it looked a bit like "Jack Rabbit Slim's" from Pulp Fiction.. Old American cars hanging from the ceiling, an old Vespa and a statue of Marilyn Monroe perpetually getting air blown under her skirt. Pretty amazing attention to detail for a fast food place for sure..

Going further west the journey got easier and I got to see firsthand to what the extend the dutch are bicycle crazy. Where in Germany going on two wheels at this weather elicted stares and "you are crazy" type opinions, in the Netherlands EVERYBODY WAS OUT RIDING. And I mean everybody. Mothers with the children in a kiddy seat in the back, all bundled up. Old women. People on tandems. People on other scooters. People on weird bicycles you sort of lie in and pedal a wheel in the
air. And where people looked at the Zoomer, it drew smiles.

Late in the afternoon I was closing in on Rotterdam and this is were the Crazy Stunts section of the trip was. At some point the bicycle/moped path went up about 4 flights of metal stairs onto a bridge to cross a river. To facilitate this, there was a sort of metal guide rail going up the middle the stairs you can slot your wheels into while pushing the bike up. Even though the Zoomer tires were a bit too fat for the groove, I managed to get the thing up the stairs by walking next to it and gunning the throttle. Picture that!

Once I reached the river I needed to cross to get into downtown Rotterdam things even got more insane. I followed the signs all the way to the tunnel where I expected to be able to cross. Only: there was nothing there except for some weird building right on the waterfront. I inquired to a local and he pointed me towards the building. Inside, there were 3 big long wooden ESCALATORS where people were holding on to their bikes on the way down into the tunnel. I asked the local security guard about if its okay with the scooter and he said "Yes. Just don't drive it when you get to the bottom onlypush. And hold the brakes on the escalator".

So head down first I crammed the Ruckus on the escalator and half expected it to go tumbling down the stairs. Somehow I managed to get to the bottom and warmed up nicely pushing the thing down a 2km long tunnel while all the bicycle riders sort of ride past you grinning where you passed them grinning on the scoot 5 minutes ago on the cyclepath. On the other side there was another escalator I had to get the scoot up and this time I managed to get some cool pictures of it
as well!! You really have to see this -- stay tuned for the "A Ruckus on an Escalator" pics.

Back at the surface the path was extremely nice, following along a canal with barges passing by, the sun beginning to set and many cool little elements like cycle-only bridges. I reached the ferryport in Hoek van Holland and booked a ticket on the 10pm ferry to England and killed the remainder of the time shopping for tasty Dutch food to bring back home and chilling at a local coffeeshop where you could buy ready-rolled joints for 3 euros.

At around 21:00 I drove the scoot onto the ferry. They let me cut in front of all the cars and trucks and get in there as one of the first. On the boat the Ruckus got tied up by an old English guy who said "how far do you expect to go on THAT THING?" When I said I already rode 600kms on from Germany he got pretty quiet.

On the boat I had some dinner, smoked the doobie I got in Holland on the deck and went to bed early in my cabin, which was pretty comfortable, if somewhat claustrophobic because it was on the inside of the ship with no windows.

I got woken at around 6am by the announcement that all drivers please get on the car deck for disembarkment. I had overslept and cruised off the ferry as one of the last vehicles out and started the wobbliest part of the trip.

England overland, in sharp contrast to Netherlands, SUCKS on a scooter. Most of the roads are dual carriageways and you are within inches of your life riding on them when people are blowing past you at a hundred miles an hour. I had some close calls when a normal 2 lane blacktop I was on all of a sudden turned into a freeway and I was stuck on the shoulder. After a while the shoulder ended and I had to ride on the mud/grass on the side -- it was very hairy indeed.

Eventually I found a nice route using B-roads through little English villages most of the way to London. Then closing in on London centre something funny happened. Up to about Ilford everybody was passing me. After Ilford I tended to pass them, sitting in queues with me just breezing by next to them.

Central London was really fun -- you never really reach your 30mph top speed and pass people left and right. I snapped a pic with the scoot at Big Ben for good measure, and drove to the office to work the rest of the day.

Some conclusions: The scoot rules for central London and Holland, but overland Belgium/UK it is just too slow. Make mental note to organize a ride over to Holland with some other UK peeps. Overall, what an adventure. Stay tuned to this place, I'll upload the pics asap -- and you're gonna want to see them!

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