I was delighted to receive a personal invitation from Christian Lehnen to a private rally in Argenschwang, Germany. The rally was to be organised by Christian and his friends and would be their first. The site they chose was the local swimming pool in Argenschwang some 70km west of Frankfurt. The pool used to be run by the council but when they decided to close it the villagers formed a co-operative to keep it open. It is the only social centre for the village of 600 people; no shops, no pubs, nothing to do.
I have tomorrow off work and planned to leave first thing in the morning but on the spur of the moment I decide to leave this evening to get the boring part of the journey over in the dark. This leaves Friday free for a more relaxed ride taking in the interesting part of the journey. The distance from home to the rally will be over 500 miles due East and more than half of that will be non-motorway riding.
I leave home at about 19:00 and ride motorway all the way to the port, reaching Folkestone in time for the 21:51 Shuttle. There is one other bike on the train, a well worn Pan European (ST1100) ridden by a couple who will be spending three weeks in Italy. Losing an hour during the crossing, we arrive in France around 23:30. I take the motorway to Cambrai and pick up the N43 which will take me all the way to Luxembourg tomorrow. I find a campsite in a town called le Cateau at about 2am. The site is deserted and the office and gate are closed. Manoeuvring in the gravel area out front, I lose concentration and drop the bike _again_. This time I know there will be nobody to help pick it up so I decide to try a different technique. At the ABC Rendezvous another RT owner said he just heaves on the handlebars. I remove all the luggage from the bike and try to lift it, finally managing it on the fourth attempt. The trick is to lift it by the handlebars to the point where I can get my backside under the tank, then push up and back with my legs using the standard technique. Pushing against the seat doesn't work for me because I can't get under it enough to get the necessary purchase.
I ride across the grass by-passing the gate, find a pitch with some light and put my tent up. By the time I've eaten my dinner it must be after 3am, but I can sleep in tomorrow and still reach the rally before dark without having to rush.
After a shower and breakfast I'm set to leave around 11:00 so I go down to the site office to pay my bill. The site manager informs me proudly that the showers are free. I explain that I know because I've already had one. The bill is just FF20 which is about GBP2. At this point I'm itching to leave but the manager wants to tell me about how many English people stay at his site, how he has received a thank you letter from one couple inviting him to visit them in Canterbury, how they danced and drank and partied every night when they were here, how the showers are free (again). Eventually I get away half an hour later in blazing sunshine, looking forward to the day's ride.
At first the road is pretty straight but soon it begins to snake up into the hills. I have a picnic lunch in a field with a view down across a lush green valley. More sweeping bends take me past a town called Montmedy which has what appears to be a fascinating ancient citadel perched on top of a hill. I wish I had more time to take a look around but I don't want to be searching for the rally in the dark so I keep going.
My route takes me through Luxembourg on the motorway, and as I head towards Trier I pick the wrong lane at some roadworks which takes me back onto the side roads. Looking for a place to stop and check the map I see a sign for a Roman monument. I follow the tiny lane and discover an Ancient Roman burial site with stone sarcophagi. There is nobody else here and despite being very close to the motorway the tranquillity is total. Someone has gone to the trouble of training a grape vine along the south facing wall and I sample the goods. Back on the motorway I enter Germany for the first time since I was in my teens. There are no longer any border controls here in the EC so there are no delays when moving from country to country. It feels quite strange riding through empty customs posts.
Leaving the motorway I discover how interesting it can be trying to navigate in Germany. In my tank bag map pocket I have a carefully prepared list of place names and road numbers. The problem is that not one of the places on my list is on any of the signposts. I have to stop and check the map but this gives me the opportunity to take in a spectacular view of the Mosel valley. What I really love about the scenery here is the vast expanses of forest which cover the mountains all around. I've never seen so many trees in one place. Later Christian tells me the forest areas in Germany are growing at 2% per year.
It turns out I will have to begin by following signs for Mainz, a city 40km East of the rally site. I set off and enjoy an interesting mixture of roads. There seem to be two types of road in Germany; wide, smooth main roads and very bumpy single-track side roads. In the towns and villages you don't get signs to the next place until you leave the one you're in, which makes navigating tricky. You have to leave each place on the right road to have any chance of finding the next.
As I ride through a forest on a back road half a dozen deer cross a few hundred yards in front of me. Passing the place where they crossed I see one of them glance back at me before bolting deeper into the trees.
Eventually I see a sign to Argenshwang which is now only 4km away. Reaching the village I stop to check the instructions. The swimming pool is on the right-hand side leaving the village coming from the direction of Bad Kreuznach. I overshoot and turn round to see Christian standing in the road waving me in. He just arrived twenty minutes ago. There is one other Brit here, Ric, who was also at the ABC Rendezvous. He left home at 2am, just as I was pitching my tent last night and by the end of the evening he will have been up nearly 24 hours. I'm glad I did it my way.
The site is flanked by hills and perfectly sheltered, with long grass for our tents and a shelter where we can take cover if it rains. The swimming pool and showers are heated by solar power which is not operating at this time of year so we will be washing with gritted teeth. A barbecue has been prepared and there are crates of beer available. We are asked to pay for our food up front but we will mark a list for our beer and pay before we leave. Delicious marinated steak and a noodle salad is very welcome after a day's riding and we all settle in for an evening of German pilsner and biker chit-chat. Riders continue to arrive well into the night and altogether there are close to twenty people in attendance.
Christian will lead us on a ride today and we set off late morning. As the group of about nine or ten bikes winds its way along the twisty back roads Christian becomes concerned that we are getting too strung out. We re-shuffle the group moving the slower riders to the front and things go much better. We wind our way through the forests and over the hills, mostly through sweeping bends with a few mountain twisties and some fast straight sections too. In one of the villages some children come running out of a house to wave as the group passes and everywhere we go people stop and stare at all the bikes. Ric bumps a curb in one village and I discover later that he was falling asleep; this is not my idea of a smart way to ride.
During the afternoon we stop for coffee at a very smart cafe in Morbach and enjoy waffles with cream and black cherries. This place is very plush with marble everywhere and you have to ask for the key to use the toilet, but they seem totally unperturbed by the presence of a group of bikers.
At a brief roadside stop the rider of a Yamaha Super Tenere runs up the lane to pee. Her location around the corner is just visible because her knees are showing but otherwise she is out of sight. Then I notice people are laughing and turn around to see a couple of people on horseback riding down the lane. We give our lady a round of applause when she returns to the group.
We ride through the town of Idar Oberstein and pass the most unusual church I have ever seen. Imagine a vertical rock face made out of a vast lump of clay moulded into soft contours. While the clay is still soft, take the mother of all catapults and fire a church at the face so hard that it is completely embedded in the clay with only the front wall exposed. That's the church in Idar Oberstein.
Back at the site more people have arrived, some just for the day. The barbecue is lit and we look forward to another evening of marinated steak, German sausages, German beer and good company. The manager of the co-operative arrives with his family and the children are thrilled to get a ride on one of two very impressive trikes. They are built by Boom Trikes and powered by flat opposed four cylinder engines, like double boxers.
I get my maps out to plan my route home for tomorrow and realise that I will have to spend the whole day on the motorway if I am to get home in time for work on Monday morning. My choice of route is dictated by the desire to avoid the Luxembourg Grand Prix at the Nurburgring. I head for bed before it gets really late, aiming for an early start tomorrow.
I'm all set to go by mid morning and start the goodbyes. Christian announces that Ric and I have been given long distance awards in the form of a bottle of local wine. This will make the perfect souvenir of the trip and I'm really touched. We are all asked to sign the rally book and I notice that the youngest attendee is 30, making me the second youngest at 32. The oldest is over 70 - I hope I'll still be fit enough to enjoy riding when I reach my 70s.
I finally leave the site around 11:30 and set off towards Gemunden where I should pick up signs for the motorway to Trier. Thence to Luxembourg, Brussels, Cambrai, Lille, Calais and home. When I reach Gemunden there is actually a sign back to Argenschwang 21km away. Why couldn't they signpost it from the other direction too? I stop in Luxembourg for fuel which is dirt cheap here because the taxes are so low. I make the mistake of stopping on the way out of Luxembourg instead of the way in. This means I have to join a long queue of people doing the same thing, squeezing as much cheap fuel into their tank as possible.
The journey to Calais is uneventful but does pass through some pleasant scenery on the road North from Luxembourg to Brussels. Cruising at 75mph results in excellent fuel economy and my range is limited by aching buttocks rather than the reserve light. The RT is so stable I can sit back with the throttle held between thumb and fingertips, left hand on my knee and back straight. I begin to consider the idea of a throttle lock to give the right hand a rest. I've never had one because it's only in the last month or so that I've ridden more than about 300 miles in a day and I've never spent so much time on motorways before.
I reach Calais after only one fuel stop since Luxembourg and check in. The attendant says I will be on the 19:06, boarding in fifteen minutes, but as I ride through the terminal I realise that by keeping my boarding letter out of sight I'm going to get on the 18:51. Mine is the only bike on the train and I have to share a carriage with two cars - huh!
Back in England I've gained the hour lost on the way out. It's raining and I pull off the motorway to put on my waterproofs by a roundabout. Two riders stop separately to check if I'm OK. I must have good karma from stopping for others and I thank them both with a thumbs up. When I reach the New Forest the rain is been replaced by mist and fog. It's not too dense and I get home safely before 22:00. I unfold my soaking tent to air and settle in to watch the Luxembourg Grand Prix on tape but I'm too tired to get past the first commercial break and go to bed.
I had been planning to join a ride to Wales on Sunday but changed my mind when I received the invitation from Christian. The ride from the New Forest to Wales would have been 120 miles, described by the organiser as 'a long way'. Instead I have travelled through five countries and covered over 1200 miles, just a few weeks after a 2500 mile tour of France. Einstein was right, everything is relative. These distances seem long to me but I live on an island where the sea is never more than 175 miles away, which is why we call the R1100RT a tourer and the ZZ-R1100 (ZX-11) a sports-tourer :o)
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