Tag Archives: Touring

Land of Swamp and Sand: The ‘Other’ South Carolina Destination

Spyder motorcycle ride South Carolina
Forest Service roads in the Francis Marion National Forest are ideal for dual-sport motorcycles and even the occasional Spyder. Travel on these roads is limited to licensed vehicles. No dirt bikes. Photos by Liz Hayes.

Each year millions of tourists visit Myrtle Beach or Charleston, South Carolina, searching for beaches, nightlife, shopping and endless feasts of seafood. However, far fewer people venture to the roughly 100 miles of coast located between these two popular destinations, where it is relatively unpopulated, undeveloped and dominated by swamp, saltmarsh and pine savannah. Undiscovered is fine by me, as this “land in between” offers numerous favorite rides where I can walk into my garage, pick a motorcycle (Kawasaki KLR650, CanAm Spyder RT or Yamaha WR250) and then ride road, dirt road or off-road depending on the day and my desires.

On a map, the area of interest jumps out in green, since it’s mostly occupied by the Francis Marion National Forest (FMNF) and its 259,000 acres of multi-use land. I live in Myrtle Beach and get there via U.S. Route 17. The interesting part of the trip begins in the historic town of Georgetown. Eating and history immediately compete with riding as the downtown features the Rice Museum, the South Carolina Maritime Museum, the Kaminski House Museum and a working waterfront with a boardwalk and numerous restaurants.

Spyder motorcycle ride South Carolina
The harborwalk in Georgetown provides good views of the harbor and easy access to numerous bars and restaurants. The harbor is connected to Winyah Bay, a large estuary draining northeastern coastal South Carolina.

A repeating theme on this ride is the rise and fall of a South Carolina plantation culture where products such as rice, indigo, cotton, tobacco and forest products were taken from the land with abundant slave labor and then shipped north or across the Atlantic. In the 1800s Georgetown was one of the richest cities in the southeast.

U.S. 17 out of Georgetown hugs the coast, and heading southwest you first cross the expansive Santee Delta and its parallel north and south rivers. Shortly after, there is a right turn on State Road S-10-857, which takes you to the Hampton Plantation State Historic Site. It features a restored mansion and interpretive aids explaining how rice was once grown here using an ingenious system of impoundments, water control structures and, of course, slave labor. Here I usually stroll a bit to stretch my legs in preparation for the ride to come.

Spyder motorcycle ride South Carolina
The mansion at Hampton Plantation State Historic Site gives one a sense of how lucrative was the growing of rice with slave labor. A stop here lets you stretch your legs and also gain some perspective on the South Carolina that once was.

Backtracking to U.S. 17 and then continuing southwest for about eight miles, look for State Route 45 and turn right, the beginning of a fantastic loop through the FMNF (this is also the place to get gas if you are running low). The road, a well-maintained two-lane, is flanked by extensive pine forests and intermittently crosses cypress swamps. Beware! Road closures are common due to prescribed burning and flooding.

In the FMNF you can choose your riding pleasure. Numerous Forest Service roads branch off, taking you to places such as Hell Hole Bay Wilderness and the Wambaw Swamp Wilderness. This is where I go when I’m wearing my dual-sport hat. Road riders should continue about 10 miles to Halfway Creek Road and turn left. A good place to stop along this road is the Wambaw Cycle Trail. You can commune with the numerous riders who trailer their off-road bikes here and then take the challenge of riding narrow single-tracks of deep sand.

Spyder motorcycle ride South Carolina
Halfway Creek Road provides access to Wambaw Cycle Trail, an extensive system of single-track trails. Deep sand is a real challenge for those used to a hard-packed surface. Definitely not a place for a Spyder.

Continue on Halfway Creek Road about 11 miles and then take a left on Steed Creek Road. Another five miles and you are back to U.S. 17. At this point you can turn right and head southwest toward Charleston. You might even want to catch the Bull’s Island Ferry and explore the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge (passengers only, book in advance and a full day is required). However, since I live in the other direction, I take a left and travel toward the town of McClellanville, about 11 miles northeast. Along the way stop at Buck Hall Recreation Area. It costs a few bucks to enter the site, but the views of the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge are well worth it.

Spyder motorcycle ride South Carolina
The town of McClellanville will make you want to quit your job and find a resting spot under a live oak tree. However, you better not be around when the next big hurricane comes.

A short jog toward water from U.S. 17 takes you to McClellanville (population about 1,000), a quaint and colorful fishing village where you immediately begin entertaining ideas of quitting the day job and retiring to a life of pleasant views and boat floating. But before you make that leap, read the stories about how in 1989 Hurricane Hugo drove most of the inhabitants to higher ground. Many people climbed to the second floors of their houses while furniture bumped against the first-floor ceilings.

The one restaurant downtown, T.W. Graham & Co., is a popular motorcycle destination and the food is cheap, excellent and regionally correct. The Village Museum adjacent to the waterfront boat ramp provides some history about Native Americans and how they periodically visited this area to harvest fish, oysters and clams. The history you won’t hear about, however, is the role of marijuana smuggling in the local economy during the 1970s.

Spyder motorcycle ride South Carolina
The only restaurant in downtown McClellanville is now a popular motorcycle destination for riders coming from Charleston and Myrtle Beach. Seafood from nearby Cape Romain is served in the traditional Lowcountry style.

From McClellanville it is 24 miles back to Georgetown on U.S. 17, where you can find a few motels to spend the night and a few more places to eat and drink.

The beauty of this relatively short ride is that it is possible for motorcyclists to make pretty much year-round due to the subtropical climate. The traffic is always light but if you desire the hustle and flow of major urban areas, it is a short ride to either Myrtle Beach or Charleston. Given the choice, however, this land of swamp and sand is my preference.

Spyder motorcycle ride South Carolina
Map of the route taken, by Bill Tipton/compartmaps.com.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Riding Washington’s Palouse Region

eastern Washington Palouse motorcycle ride
The wheat region of eastern Washington is a patchwork quilt stitched together with outstanding motorcycle roads and interesting farming towns. Photos by the author.

“The wheat field has…poetry,” Vincent Van Gogh once said. The muse the master painter found in wheat inspired dozens of his works. By the end of my recent tour through thousands of acres of the waving grain, I could see the wisdom of the one-eared post-impressionist.

I was the outsider, so I happily left the route planning to the native Washingtonians. My wife’s brother-in-law, Scott, and his brother-in-law, Dennis, discussed the riding merits of different roads leading to, and within, the Palouse region of eastern Washington. You’d think that any activity that begins with two mentions of “in-laws” could be destined for disaster. Not so in this case.

eastern Washington Palouse motorcycle ride
Cow Creek Mercantile in Ritzville is as diverse and interesting as its roof sign indicates, and the food is delicious.

We enjoyed a great meal at Cow Creek Mercantile in the historic farming center of Ritzville. For what it’s worth, I enthusiastically recommend the delectable Kraut Runza. It’s a dish certainly inspired by the area’s heavy Volga German influence. We mounted up and headed northeast on our mixed bag of bikes. Dennis was piloting his red Victory, Scott was on his vintage Honda Gold Wing and I was riding a Shadow that was way out of my adventure bike comfort zone.

I settled into the low, feet-forward riding position as we rolled past the vibrant patchwork of wheat fields that are ubiquitous in the rolling hills of eastern Washington. There is a clear visual distinction between the vibrant, dense greens of the irrigated fields and the muted hues of the “dry” farms. Much of the region looks like a huge, non-geometrical, undulating checkerboard.

eastern Washington Palouse motorcycle ride
There is a concerted effort to preserve the rich farming history throughout the Palouse region. This majestic barn is a great example.

Our first stop on this Pacific Northwest adventure was the quaint farming town of Sprague. I flagged the others down when I spotted a cluster of vintage trucks and farm vehicles on the leading edge of town. With the kickstands down, we discussed the history of the place, and Scott informed me that there was an even more intriguing display of classic trucks on the other side of town. After a ride down Sprague’s brick building-lined 1st Street, his assessment proved true. I spent an inordinate amount of time amidst the patina-rich trucks strolling in a fascinating time warp.

eastern Washington Palouse motorcycle ride
Dozens of classic trucks sit at parade rest in the tiny farming community of Sprague.

Back on the road, we headed southeast on State Route 23 deeper into the Palouse. The predominate theory of the region’s name is that it is derived from the name of a Native American tribe, the Palus, which was morphed by French traders with their word “pelouse,” meaning an expanse of land covered in thick grass. When riding the region, the French word certainly fits. We motored through gentle rolling hills and sweeping corners. The vivid blue sky cut a sharp demarcation above the green hues of the wheat fields and grasslands.

eastern Washington Palouse motorcycle ride
The Palouse Scenic Byway traverses a gently undulating quilt of rolling fields.

At the small farming town of Ewan, we again headed northeast. We stopped at Rock Lake, which to me simply looked like a prime fishing hotspot. However, my local riding companions said there was much more to this deep-blue body of water. It seems that Rock Lake is as mysterious as it is beautiful. There are legends of a sea monster in the cold depths of the lake that some local farmers swear is true. Then there is the story of a train wreck that dumped a load of brand new Model T Fords in Rock Lake a century ago. One thing is verified: the deep, cold lake seems to have a voracious appetite for careless anglers, as many have submerged never to return to the surface.

After several more miles of great riding through rolling wheat fields, we next stopped at a very cool farm equipment shop that had two huge tractors on sky-high poles. As we were discussing the next leg of the route, the owner (and engineer of the elevated sculptures) came out to the road to see if we needed help, and gave us directions on how to get to the centerpiece of our ride, Steptoe Butte. As he wiped the axle grease from his hands, he suggested a “winding” northern route that would add time, but also a new and different ecosystem including forests of evergreens. He had me at winding.

eastern Washington Palouse motorcycle ride
An elevated display takes farm equipment to new heights above the Palouse.

We climbed out of the farm and grasslands into the pines south of Spokane. The air was cooler, and the curves more serpentine. This forested stretch was not long, but it added another layer to a great ride. We took a turn to the southeast onto the Palouse Scenic Byway. Historic barns dotted the vibrant green grasslands that comingled with the muted hues of the wheat fields. On a couple of occasions, we had to pull over to make way for massive farm machinery navigating the narrow country roads, but other than that, the route was virtually devoid of four-wheeled traffic.

Later, from the saddle of his Gold Wing, Scott pointed out a swell in the rolling land that was larger than the rest. I concluded that it must be Steptoe Butte in the distance. As we rolled closer, the butte grew subtly in size, but it was not, I thought in the moment, as impressive as I anticipated. That would change as we started the ascent up its narrow road. The majesty of Steptoe Butte State Park comes on slowly and then grows exponentially with altitude.

eastern Washington Palouse motorcycle ride
The distinct contrasts of farms and fields is on full display from the road that winds up Steptoe Butte.

Once on top of Steptoe, the views were staggering. That patchwork of greens and browns that we had ridden through were on expansive display in a full 360 degrees. Short walks across the summit parking lot afforded long perspectives in every direction. I was told that the view from the butte’s elevated position is about 200 miles. We were lucky enough to be there on a day with blue skies and bulbous clouds, which only added to the natural ambiance.

Steptoe Butte has a fascinating history. At the 3,612-foot summit, the State Park Service has erected some informative interpretative panels with some of the notable ecological and human influences on the area. The first primitive road up Steptoe was cut in 1888. That same year, James “Cashup” Davis completed a two-story, 50-room hotel at the top. Davis died in his hotel in 1896 at the age of 81. The hotel, which suffered a decline in visitors over the years, closed its doors forever in 1902 and burned in an accidental fire in 1911.

eastern Washington Palouse motorcycle ride
Skirted by the vibrant greens of maturing wheat, Dennis leaves Steptoe Butte in the rearview mirror.

After taking in the views from Steptoe, we descended the narrow road back to the floor of the park, and then back onto the scenic byway. The entertaining curviness and undulation of the tarmac continued until we reached our next stop. We rolled into Colfax, which serves as the seat of Whitman County. Again historic brick buildings lined the long Main Street of the town.

We stopped at Eddy’s Chinese and American for some sustenance and to recount the ride to that point. My body was starting to feel the effects of the strange-to-me cruiser seating position, and the constant blast of wind on the unfaired Honda. The sweet and sour pork was tasty, and the conversation was lively as we shared the restaurant with farmers and locals.

eastern Washington Palouse motorcycle ride
Dennis and Scott discuss our route options southwest of Spokane.

With bellies full, we headed west toward our staging point of Ritzville. There were several more tiny farming communities dotting the return ride. We rolled through Endicott, Benge and Ralston. It is interesting to note that no matter how compact the communities in this region, each one has a massive grain silo as a centerpiece. Most also seem to have at least some display of historic farming machinery to pay tribute the region’s lifeblood. Wheat dominates the landscape, the lifestyle and the economy of most of eastern Washington.

My amiable and knowledgeable local guides had certainly traced a wonderful circuit through a fascinating part of the country. The region is unique in its expanse, its importance to the world food supply and its beauty. The natural contours of the Palouse are dressed in a coat of many colors, and the ribbons of tarmac that traverse those contours are a motorcycling playground. I will remember fondly the wide-open beauty of the Palouse. The wheat field certainly does have poetry.

eastern Washington Palouse motorcycle ride
A map of the route taken, by Bill Tipton/compartmaps.com.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Adventurous Streak: Adriatic Moto Tours’ Intriguing Southeast Europe Tour

Adriatic Moto Tours Intriguing Southeast Europe motorcycle tour
The Intriguing Southeast Europe tour is a rider’s paradise, with exploring the region’s beautiful and lightly traveled roads taking priority over sightseeing. With an open attitude and a sense of adventure, it will be two weeks you’ll never forget. Photos by the author unless otherwise noted.

The Balkan region has had a hand in world history more often than you might think. Thanks to its geographical position, it’s always been a crossroads of culture, where farming first spread from the Middle East into Europe during the Neolithic era, and as the convergence point of Latin and Greek influence, Orthodox and Catholic Christianity, and Islam and Christianity. It’s been home to Goths, Huns, Slavs and Ottoman Turks, among many others.

For riders with an adventurous streak, the Balkans are also a fascinating place to explore, well off the beaten tourist track, where surprisingly entertaining roads with very little traffic will carry you through magical forests, along jade-colored rivers, over high mountain passes and past farm fields where workers still till the soil by hand. I first traveled to the Balkans with Adriatic Moto Tours (AMT) in 2017 (read about that here), visiting Slovenia, Bosnia and Croatia, and was smitten by the culture, history, friendly people and, most importantly, the amazing roads. So this time I opted for a longer, even more adventurous getaway that would complete my tour of the former Yugoslavia — Serbia, North Macedonia and Montenegro — as well as allow a visit to two “behind the Iron Curtain” countries, Bulgaria and Albania, and a unique opportunity to get a passport stamp from a rather controversial country, Kosovo.

Adriatic Moto Tours Intriguing Southeast Europe motorcycle tour
The 15-day Intriguing Southeast Europe tour loops out of Belgrade, Serbia, with rest days in Sofia, Bulgaria; Ohrid, North Macedonia; and Sarande, Albania.

The Intriguing Southeast Europe tour begins and ends in Belgrade, Serbia, a bustling city that sits at the confluence of two mighty rivers, the Danube and the Sava. I arrived a day early to acclimate and explore the city on my own, which I highly recommend. Belgrade, like most European cities, is very walkable and there are several interesting museums and points of interest, including an air museum that features pieces of a U.S. F-117 stealth fighter and an F-16 that were shot down during the 1999 campaigns, a monument to the Jewish and Roma victims of a Nazi concentration camp that once sat on the riverbank (Yugoslavia was occupied by the Nazis during WWII but its people resisted valiantly and were ultimately successful in driving them out) and the Museum of Yugoslav History, burial place of dictator Josip Tito. Most of the people I interacted with spoke English, and all were friendly.

The Serbs that I met tended to be very open and matter-of-fact, and it’s clear the events of 1999 are still quite fresh in their memories. At dinner the first night, only hours after I’d arrived, two young men at the next table overheard me speaking English and they turned and introduced themselves. “I am a riverboat captain,” said one proudly. “It’s good money, more than fifty thousand per month.” He meant 50,000 Serbian dinar, which is equivalent to approximately $475. He then went on to give me his opinions on why Serbia was struggling economically and how strong Yugoslavia once was. He thought the U.S.-led NATO bombing was unethical and misguided. At the end of our conversation, he and his companion warmly bid us good night and bought us a round of drinks. If only all discussions were so civilized.

Adriatic Moto Tours Intriguing Southeast Europe motorcycle tour
With AMT’s guides, knowing the local language isn’t a necessity, and many signs in the bigger towns and cities also included English, indicative of the region’s relatively new openness to tourism.

The second night, after a long day of walking and exploring, I met our tour group and guides at the welcome dinner. We were mostly American and Canadian, with a lone Australian, and notably there were two other single women besides myself, a first for me on an overseas tour. We’d been warned that the roads on this tour could be unpredictable — all paved, but in various states of repair — so I’d opted for a BMW F 750 GS (see sidebar here) for its light weight, easy handling and generous suspension travel. In fact, everyone had chosen BMW GS models, with the exception of one guy on his own Honda ST1300 and a couple on a BMW R 1250 RT. 

Our first day of riding brought us into Bulgaria, birthplace of the Cyrillic alphabet and, up until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, a member of the Eastern Bloc. Unlike the former Yugoslavian states, which never fully adhered to the Soviet idea of Communism and instead leaned further toward Socialism, Bulgaria went all-in with Marxism-Leninism and, as a result, has been slower to recover economically than its Yugoslav neighbors. Caution is a must when riding Bulgarian roads, as around any bend could be a horse-drawn wagon, a herd of goats, sheep or cows, an entire family clinging to a tractor or a trundling logging truck belching diesel soot. (I’m fairly certain Bulgaria does not have an Environmental Protection Agency.) As we crossed into North Macedonia, flirting briefly with the Greek border, the landscape started to look familiar to this SoCal resident: low mountains and the vineyards of the Vardar wine region — and in fact we stayed at a working winery that night. Road conditions improved (although, as would be the case for the next several days, we remained vigilant for any surprises) and, best of all, we got our first taste of some real curves. But the best was yet to come.

Adriatic Moto Tours Intriguing Southeast Europe motorcycle tour
North Macedonia’s mountain roads are usually fairly smooth and well-paved, carrying us over low mountains and through rows of vineyards. Photo by Niko Perosa.

The best riding day of the tour, in my opinion, was from Ohrid, North Macedonia, to Gjirokaster, Albania. We crossed the dramatic Gramoz Range on pavement that ranged from smooth and fast to tight, bumpy and technical, eventually picking up a road that pretended to be two lanes wide but wasn’t. It clung resolutely to the side of steep emerald green mountains, at the bottom of which flowed a jade river. Flinging my lightweight GS through its twists and turns, often standing on the pegs due to the bumps, while simultaneously trying to take in the view was a challenge, so I hung at the back of the pack and stopped often for photos. Once nice thing about AMT is that it includes a GPS preloaded with each day’s route at no additional charge, so I wasn’t worried about losing the group.

Adriatic Moto Tours Intriguing Southeast Europe motorcycle tour
Albania was full of surprises, including this stunning road between the Macedonian border and the town of Gjirokaster. The narrow, winding road demanded complete attention, which was difficult given the eye-popping scenery.

I’m not sure what I expected Albania to be like, but it still surprised me. Abandoned bunkers built by the paranoid former dictator Enver Hoxha dot the landscape — about 173,000 of them to be exact — including in places you’d least expect, like right in the middle of town. Roma — gypsies — prowl the roads on small garden tractors with scary-looking buzz saws bolted to the front, cutting trees that they sell for firewood. Yet the Albanian Riviera — the Adriatic coast — is beautiful, with abundant and delicious fresh seafood and luxury hotels at a fraction of the cost of more developed countries. The roads continued to delight, especially alpine Llogara Pass and a brand new, very fast and curvaceous stretch leading into Kosovo.

Tell most Americans you’re visiting Kosovo and you’ll likely get at least one raised eyebrow. It’s true there are parts in the northeast that aren’t the safest place to visit, given continued tensions with Serbia, and our tour route’s detour into Montenegro exists solely because it’s not possible to enter Kosovo from Albania and leave directly into Serbia (war and its aftermath, unfortunately, is a continuous theme in the region). But Kosovars are very friendly toward Americans (we fought for them, after all) and our night in the town of Prizren was memorable at the least for the massive platters of grilled meats presented to us at dinner.

Adriatic Moto Tours Intriguing Southeast Europe motorcycle tour
Kosovo, like Albania, is a predominantly Muslim country. This Ottoman Mosque, built in 1615, overlooks the river in the town of Prizren.

Speaking of meat, on this tour you will eat a lot of it. The cuisine in this part of the Balkans is…shall we say, challenging…for vegetarians, and nearly impossible for vegans. You should be comfortable with pork, lamb, fish, fresh bread and/or the ubiquitous salad of cucumber, tomato, onion and goat cheese. The upside is it’s delicious and can be washed down with local wine, all of it very inexpensive. In fact, one nice thing about traveling the Balkans is that your dollar goes a lot further than the more popular tourist destinations of Western Europe. Of course, as on all AMT tours your hotels, breakfasts and dinners are all included, plus a support van to carry your luggage. But because it’s so inexpensive, two weeks here doesn’t cost too much more than nine days in Western Europe. It’s a big riding vacation bang for the buck. So if you’ve got an adventurous streak and are curious to ride a part of Europe that many Americans have missed, put this tour on your list. 

The Intriguing Southeast Europe tour runs June 13-27 or September 6-20, 2020. AMT has also just released its complete 2020 and 2021 tour schedule; visit adriaticmototours.com.

Keep scrolling for more photos!

Adriatic Moto Tours Intriguing Southeast Europe motorcycle tour
We stopped at the Rila Monastery south of Sofia, Bulgaria, to appreciate its many colorful frescos and unique architecture.
Adriatic Moto Tours Intriguing Southeast Europe motorcycle tour
This “two lane” road’s center line seemed to exist mostly as a psychological barrier to keep drivers from just going right down the middle. With the exception of a couple of stubborn bus drivers, locals in every country were respectful of motorcycles and pulled to the right to allow us plenty of space to pass.
Adriatic Moto Tours Intriguing Southeast Europe motorcycle tour
The Albanian Riviera was another surprise, with turquoise waters, white sand beaches and fresh, delicious seafood.
Adriatic Moto Tours Intriguing Southeast Europe motorcycle tour
The group enjoys a lunch of fresh seafood on the Albanian coast, mere steps from the sandy beach. Photo by Niko Perosa.
Adriatic Moto Tours Intriguing Southeast Europe motorcycle tour
Despite the seafood we were able to get on the coast, meat is a staple of Balkan cuisine, and nearly every meal included it in copious quantities, including this impressive platter of skewers, patties and steaks of beef, pork, chicken and lamb—along with french fries, fresh bread and salad.
Adriatic Moto Tours Intriguing Southeast Europe motorcycle tour
Cold War history buffs and fans of Futurist architecture may choose to ride to the Buzludzha Monument on the rest day in Sofia. This building commemorating the foundation of the Socialist movement in Bulgaria was abandoned after the fall of Communism in 1989.
Adriatic Moto Tours Intriguing Southeast Europe motorcycle tour
Llogara Pass on the central coast of Albania gave us a taste of Alpine-style switchbacks. Photo by Niko Perosa.
Adriatic Moto Tours Intriguing Southeast Europe motorcycle tour
The tour group poses among the red sandstone formations and green forested mountains of northwestern Bulgaria, where we spent the night in the sleepy town of Belgradčik. Photo by Niko Perosa.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Riding ‘Shine Country: The Tail of the Dragon and North Carolina’s Moonshiner 28

Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort
Zeb and Bob Congdon at The Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort before heading up the Tail of the Dragon. Photos by the author.

As I leaned into the corner, a stopped garbage truck appeared just ahead, hugging the stone wall on the right closely enough that I could just squeak by. Doing so revealed the gorgeous sight of a rock-laced, turbulent waterfall directly in front of me. These exciting moments were in the Cullasaja River Gorge of North Carolina’s State Highway 28, parts of it nicknamed “Moonshiner 28” due to its rich history of use by speeding moonshiners evading the revenuers. Everyone has heard of the Tail of the Dragon section of U.S. Route 129 in Tennessee and North Carolina — Moonshiner 28 begins at its southern end and is an even better ride in many ways.

North Carolina Deals Gap Tail of the Dragon motorcycle ride map
Map of the route taken, by Bill Tipton/compartmaps.com.

I wasn’t expecting anything extraordinary riding this portion of Moonshiner 28 after two days of enjoying nothing but amazing riding from where I started in Cherokee, North Carolina. But what had begun as a raw, misty autumn ride soon developed into an unforgettable fall-color riding spectacle.

In Cherokee, I camped in a KOA cabin along the Raven Fork River for two days of fishing. The cabin was a luxurious tent, tailormade for a motorcycle journey. Besides fishing, Cherokee has amenities and attractions like the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, a casino, lodging, eateries, a gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway.

I left the Cherokee campground on a misty, rainy morning, bypassing the elk refuge at the national park’s Oconaluftee Visitor Center and heading north on U.S. Route 441 into the park. It was cold and raw this November day, and the mist limited my vision. Taking the turnoff up to Clingmans Dome, all I could see were the clouds hanging in the valleys — the “smoke” in the Smokies.

View from the Foothills Parkway between Townsend and Chilhowee, Tennessee.
View from the Foothills Parkway between Townsend and Chilhowee, Tennessee.

I left Clingmans Dome Road, got back on U.S. 441 and headed for Townsend, Tennessee, to check out the Little River fishing potential. At Sugarlands Visitor Center I headed west on Fighting Creek Gap Road, becoming Little River Gorge Road. It merges with U.S. Route 321 in Townsend. Normally a great ride, on this day it was overwhelmed with park traffic, and I rode attentively.

Chilled and needing hot food and coffee, I pulled into a roadhouse in Townsend and wolfed down a medium-rare strip with eggs, home fries and coffee. Full and warm I headed off on U.S. 321 to the Foothills Parkway. The sun came out, allowing me to absorb Mother Nature’s continuous visual treats. The colors along the parkway were overwhelmingly beautiful.

The author’s BMW F 650 GS parked at Foothills Parkway Overlook between Townsend and Chilhowee, Tennessee.
The author’s BMW F 650 GS parked at Foothills Parkway Overlook between Townsend and Chilhowee, Tennessee.

Suddenly I was at the beginning of the Tail of the Dragon section of U.S. 129 in Tennessee. I had ridden it from the North Carolina side, but not the other direction. Sports cars and screaming sportbikes ply the road’s endless curves, so you must pay constant attention. Dragon riding is about turns, leaning, weight change, rhythm and smiling through 318 curves in 11 miles. Having conquered the Dragon, now a legend in my own mind, I pulled into Ron and Nancy Johnson’s Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort, a mandatory stop at the southern end. 

Moonshiner 28 starts here. As I leaned and twisted down the Moonshiner I imagined Robert Mitchum’s 1950 Ford two-door sedan (actually a modified 1951 model) from “Thunder Road” screeching around the corners and hauling the moonshine to market. Riding along Cheoah Lake to Fontana Dam is quite fun, a simply enjoyable, sparkling and twisting lake road. I reached the dam and rode across it, stopping for pictures and picking up great riding maps at the visitor center.

Bob Congdon rides Moonshiner 28 along the Cheoah River, between Deals Gap and Stecoah, North Carolina.
Bob Congdon rides Moonshiner 28 along the Cheoah River, between Deals Gap and Stecoah, North Carolina. Photo by Killboy.com

Moonshiner 28 from Fontana to Franklin is not a make-time route; it is a rider’s enjoy-the-feeling route. Arriving in Franklin at dusk, I pulled up to the Microtel Inn & Suites, looking forward to a relaxing cocktail and a good night’s sleep. But I had forgotten that I was in the Bible Belt — finding that “moonshine” was a chore.

The next morning it was onto Mountain Waters Scenic Byway. I have come to love this 9-mile section of U.S. Route 64/State Route 28, but that morning was special. With the trees in full fall color and the cascading Cullasaja River Gorge on my right, it grabbed my soul. I enjoyed sunny, prime fall riding conditions on this scenic, twisty, color-laden river road. The Gorge is a part of the Nantahala National Forest in western North Carolina, and on this part of the Moonshiner 28 the Cullasaja River tears down the gorge interrupted by cascading, tumbling waterfalls like Dry Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, Bust Your Butt Falls and, of course, Cullasaja Falls. Dry and Bridal Veil Falls have large enough pull-offs for multiple bikes. Dry Falls is particularly unique with a falls walkway and restrooms.

Bust Your Butt Falls
Bust Your Butt Falls is one of several waterfalls on the Mountain Waters Scenic Byway section of Moonshiner 28.

At Highlands, I continued down Moonshiner 28, crossing into Georgia and then South Carolina. No wonder moonshiners liked this road. You could quickly hit multiple state population centers!

Turning around, I headed for my destination, my brother’s house outside Spartanburg, South Carolina. I wasn’t about to pass up a continuing ride through the Smokies for Interstate 85. I got back to Highlands, picked up U.S. 64 east toward Brevard, U.S. Route 276, Pisgah Forest and the Blue Ridge Parkway. At U.S. 276 I figured seeing my brother was more important than the Blue Ridge. It would have to wait until spring.

As a senior rider, my bike rides mean freedom, being alone with my thoughts, rugged country and having a big grin on my face. A favorite ride has to have raw beauty, scenic rivers, intriguing history, meandering roads and mountains. It has to be all that to keep me coming back. This ride is a great journey; I appreciate being alive when I am here. I wish you the same in riding Moonshiner 28. 

A dragon stands guard at Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort.
A dragon stands guard at Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Around the world with The Bear | Part 17 | Marseilles to Biarritz

Around the world with The Bear – Part 17

The King of Every Kingdom
Around the world on a very small motorcycle

With J. Peter “The Bear” Thoeming

Last time we left The Bear and Annie after they arrived in Marseilles in France with their XS1100 along with fellow Aussies Neil and Millie, and now they explore some more and head to Biarritz.

There were no laptops back in the day, and I discovered that even portable typewriters are heavy. Too heavy for spoked Suzuki wheels at least….

A major sort-out followed and we sent three large, heavy parcels back home. My typewriter went – sadly missed; I hate writing longhand.

Then we loaded most of the remaining heavy gear aboard the XS which hardly seemed to feel the difference. We were all breathing more easily as we buzzed off along the coast, over the classy motorway bridge at Martigues and on to Arles for an excellent lunch.

It is difficult to imagine how such flat countryside can be so beautiful, but the Camargue, with its waterways, stands of golden reeds and herds of white horses, looked lovely. With the mistral at our backs, we drifted through the meadows and occasional stands of umbrella pine down to Les Saintes Maries with its little chapel that attracts thousands of Gypsy pilgrims every year.

The town centre still felt quite medieval with its winding alleys and little shops, but a huge modern holiday development all around rather spoils it.

In the sandy campsite we did a little more maintenance work on the bikes and I couldn’t understand why it was impossible to get the rear brake disc of the XS back between the calipers after I had replaced the pads. Lots of headscratching later, it occurred to me that I’d refilled the brake fluid reservoir as well. Sure enough, I’d put in too much fluid. The spokes on the GS seemed to be holding. We tapped them every day now.

Around the world with The Bear Peter Thoeming Part

Around the world with The Bear Peter Thoeming Part

Morning in Toulouse. The fog was icy and thick, and never lifted.

There was still aggravation in our little party as personalities clashed, and Annie and I took the opportunity to spend a couple of evenings by ourselves in a comfortable bar by the harbour, drinking kir and gazing into the fire. The bar mascot, a dachshund, kept us company. He had a very simple way of indicating that the fire was getting too low—he would crawl right up into the brick fireplace and look out mournfully.

We moved camp after some days of this rather heavily touristed environment; our new home was ‘La Refuge’, a tiny place in the town of Vias. On the way, Neil once more puzzled the locals by asking where the war was when he meant the railway station. His rather good French always seemed to fail him when he had to differentiate between ‘gare’ and ‘guerre’.

We also met a young German woman on a Honda 400/4, who calmly informed us that she was going down to The Gambia to sell her bike. Carrying very little gear, she had been freezing in her leathers for the last three days. We gave her some lunch and wished her luck.

Around the world with The Bear Peter Thoeming Part

Around the world with The Bear Peter Thoeming Part

A bit of a wander along one of the canal towpaths in France.

Vias proved to be exactly what we needed – it was just a small wine and tourist village in the off season. With friendly people and the ‘Cafe de France’, where we became such good customers that the patron started buying us drinks, the place was cosy. If truth be known the free drinks were a result of his being unable to tell the difference between Australia and New Zealand. Every time we walked in he would burst into a big grin and say admiringly, “Ah, les All Blacks!”

We had a couple of barbecues on the beach and generally took it easy. Our bail bond insurance for Spain didn’t start for another eight days. I also had new tyres, Metzelers, fitted to the XS at the Honda shop in Beziers.

The rear wheel nearly reduced their mechanics to tears, and it took them three times as long as they’d quoted to replace the tyre. They swore they would never touch another XS 1100. I still don’t know why; I’ve replaced a rear tyre on that bike myself and it gave me very little trouble.

Feeling more relaxed, we continued to Biarritz via Toulouse. A sunny morning and pleasant lunch at the very beautiful mediaeval town of Carcassonne were followed by a freezing, impenetrable fog just outside Toulouse. With our heated handlebar grips, electric GloGloves and Motomod Alaskan suits we weren’t exactly cold—but we still couldn’t see. A campsite loomed out of the fog just in time.

Around the world with The Bear Peter Thoeming Part

Around the world with The Bear Peter Thoeming Part

We replaced a couple of dozen spokes by the side of the road.

Our flysheets were frozen stiff the next morning, and we had to thaw them out in the toilet block before we could fold them. The fog was still just as dense as the night before. We crept through Toulouse, visibility a few metres. To this day I have no idea what the place looks like.

An hour later, the fog lifted and we had the sunniest day of the trip so far. Our run that day through the hills of Gascony was nothing short of idyllic. This was the home of cassoulet, Armagnac and foie gras, substantial chalets peering out of the little copses, and the snowy slopes of the Pyrenees blinking away on the horizon.

I kept seeing signs all day advertising ‘Chiens Bergers Allemandes’ and my mind kept twisting the translation to German Dogburgers, possibly competition for the American fast food chains. They were only selling German Shepherds, of course.

In a little village just before our camp at St Sever, we passed a small church called Notre Dame du Rugby. Now that’s taking sports to heart.

St Sever is on the edge of the Gironde and lies peacefully in a wooded valley. Our petrol stove was acting up, giving only a low flame when it would burn at all. We consoled ourselves with a few drinks in the bar/tobacconist/newsagents/shop in the village. Even this out-of-the-way place had an electronic amusement machine, featuring little clowns breaking balloons. I was interested to see that the last ‘human’ score had been twenty, while the clowns by themselves often racked up 30-35. Clever little electronic clowns….

Around the world with The Bear Peter Thoeming Part

Around the world with The Bear Peter Thoeming Part

But France in autumn is certainly not always cold and wet.

It was cold again that night, but not unpleasant, and the next day we were nearly at Biarritz when the back wheel of the GS collapsed once more. Oh dear.

We located a Suzuki shop in Bayonne, but they claimed they couldn’t help until the next day. When we pointed out that this meant our sleeping by the side of the road, they gave us the name of another shop in Biarritz. After much pleading, the chap there agreed to rebuild the wheel for us, but he didn’t think there were any heavier spokes available. We had to face facts. There was little point in laying out more money when the spokes would only break again. We had to buy a cast wheel.

After an elaborate series of phone calls, our friend in the bike shop arranged for the other shop to stay open for us and to accept traveller’s cheques. Neil raced back to Bayonne, bought the wheel, raced back to Biarritz, had it fitted with our wheel bearings, tyre and tube; and we put the wheel back on the bike.

Around the world with The Bear Peter Thoeming Part

Around the world with The Bear Peter Thoeming Part

Hmm, this wheel appears to have disintegrated…

By now it was nearly 10 pm, and we had a great deal of trouble finding an open campground. Tempers flared. When we did find a site, we agreed that we must talk our frictions out.

Annie and I spent a relaxing day in Biarritz, where we picked up mail and had a picnic out on the beachfront rocks. Then we all got together for our bit of group therapy in one of the local bars. It emerged that Annie and I didn’t really think that Millie could cope with this kind of travelling, and that she found me too bossy and overbearing.

We thought she complained and niggled too much; she thought we didn’t listen to her enough. We adjourned after a bit of healthy self-criticism, and things did improve quite noticeably for a while.

Spain is next, and we discovered that Australian passports can be less than useless there.

Source: MCNews.com.au

The Breadbasket of British Columbia: A Sweet Ride in Okanagan Country

Bear's, or Bear Frasch's Farm Market
Bear’s, or Bear Frasch’s Farm Market, holds a special place in my memory. This market north of Keremeos is where I would stop as a kid traveling with family to stock up on peaches and cherries. Photos by the author.

With many rides I have a sense of where I’m going but the details come out later. For this one I had a specific goal: I wanted to explore the roads my parents took me along as a kid in a Ford LTD, towing a tent trailer behind. We would always stop at fruit stands in the Okanagan region of British Columbia and pick up peaches, cherries, berries…whatever was in season. We’d nibble the fruit along the way or wait to eat it at a campsite. I wanted to visit these food-growing parts of my home province again and renew my connection with the roads and farms where the food I eat in Vancouver comes from.

Looking for a riding buddy, I gingerly pushed my BMW F 650 GS down a gear into third before taking the exit off Highway 3 into the parking area of Manning Park Resort, which sits among the colossal Cascade Mountains. My friend David Powell had been exploring the roads of the Similkameen Valley, just east of E.C. Manning Provincial Park, on his Honda CB500X for a week, and I was keen to join him and find out what he’d learned. After a quick bite to eat, we were back on the road.

British Columbia motorcycle ride
Map of the route taken, by Bill Tipton/compartmaps.com.

Before we made our way to Princeton, where we’d sleep that night, David was already suggesting a ride off the beaten track, up the switchbacks of the paved road to the Cascade Lookout. We crossed Highway 3 and proceeded to make a serious climb, the tree-lined edges of the road without a guardrail, before reaching what must have been a new record above sea level for my BMW. What lay before us was spectacular. Dominant in our view was Frosty Mountain, at nearly 8,000 feet. Just beyond was another peak of note on the other side of the 49th parallel. Hozomeen Mountain stands at just over 8,000 feet, among the North Cascades of Washington State. David and I were quietly mesmerized by the view. It was a great start to our three-day journey.

Cascade Lookout
Identifying peaks at the Cascade Lookout can be complicated; Manning Park Resort lies below.

We wound our way along Highway 3, a.k.a. the Crowsnest Highway, a large open pit copper mine to our right declaring our arrival in Princeton. Over dinner at a restaurant suitably named The Copper Pit, I suggested a theme for our ride, one that would begin with some stops at the Okanagan fruit stands I remembered well.

Next day we rode east out of Princeton on what would be one of many secondary roads we would travel, the Old Hedley Road. This windy path following the Similkameen River had us both flicking our bikes back and forth, enjoying the occasional view of morning sunlight reflecting on the water and getting into the rhythm of a road trip of several days. The occasional recreational site with a picnic table and fire pit made it tempting to stop and enjoy a night of camping by the river.

tractor in Similkameen Valley
A tractor with some history bakes in the sun near Bear Frasch’s Farm Market, with the hills of the Similkameen Valley behind it.

Joining briefly with Highway 3 again, we twisted the throttles to get to highway speeds. The increasingly mountainous landscape was dotted with ponderosa pine and bluebunch wheatgrass. We rode past the town of Hedley, the steep slope above displaying the decaying wooden remnants of the famed Nickel Plate gold mine, and would soon stop on the western outskirts of Keremeos, known for its many fruit stands in this community of orchards. One of the standout purveyors of fruit is the Mariposa Fruit Stand. With a big painted sign of a coyote in a hat lounging among a bunch of produce, it coaxed David and me to pull our bikes into the lot and have a look around the shop. It was June and that meant cherry season, judging from the boxes and boxes we saw prominently displayed at the entrance.

cherries on display at the Mariposa Fruit Stand
The first of the summer cherries on display at the Mariposa Fruit Stand.

Back on the bikes, we soon stopped for lunch in the quirky historic town of Keremeos, also not surprisingly called the “fruit stand capital of Canada,” pulling in next to many other motorcycles. Many others cruised by at slow speeds. After picking up wrap sandwiches to go, we were back riding, countersteering left and onto Highway 3A for a brief stop at Bear Frasch’s Farm Market. No camping trip into British Columbia when I was a kid was complete without a stop here. The August peaches hadn’t arrived yet, but there were plenty of apples and more cherries to drool over. With a glance at the abandoned old tractors rusting away in a field, David and I were off to take a side road of his suggestion to Penticton: Green Mountain Road. After a left onto a road that clearly had some history behind it, we plunged into some twists and turns in a wooded area that had me smiling in my helmet. We banked the bikes to and fro and hardly saw a soul, except for another group of four motorcyclists coming the other way. David’s research had paid off. He had been suggesting I take this road for years, and we were finally riding it together. When we started to see the outskirts of Penticton, I wished we could go back and ride the road again, if it weren’t for my low fuel reserves.

BMW F 650 GS at the Mariposa Fruit Stand in Keremeos, B.C.
The author and his 2010 BMW F 650 GS at the Mariposa Fruit Stand in Keremeos, B.C.

Soon we were riding alongside Okanagan Lake on Highway 97, traveling through the idyllic towns of Summerland and Peachland, soaking up the sun’s rays. Riding alongside beaches on a hot day may be the one thing that makes me want to put the sidestand down, strip off my riding gear and go jump in a lake. But I resisted, and looked forward to the next scenic route, heading downhill to the lake. In order to not get caught up in the stifling traffic of Kelowna, David and I pulled off at Westbank onto Boucherie Road, angling our bikes toward a refreshing stop to cool us down.

It may not be a cool leap in a lake, but a stop to picnic in the shade by an Okanagan winery will do just fine. The light glinted off Okanagan Lake in the distance as we nibbled on oranges, glancing out at the rows and rows of vines stretching down the hill to the water on the Quail’s Gate Winery.

Quail's Gate Winery
The rows of vines at Quail’s Gate Winery overlooking Okanagan Lake.

There’s nothing more uncomfortable than sitting in traffic on a motorcycle on a hot day. So David told me of an alternative route he had found that not only avoided the Kelowna snarl, it also took on splendid views of Okanagan Lake (yes, it’s a big lake) and many twists and turns. Lead on, David! Westside Road took us on an odyssey of curves while we stole glances at houseboats and jet-skiing lake users as we geared up, then geared down to take on curves and accelerate out of them, over and over again as we approached the end of lake country and entered dairy farm country. Passing through the Spallumcheen Indian Reserve we crossed Highway 97 to end up on St. Anne’s Road just south of Armstrong, known for its cheddar and other milk-derived foods. David was getting warm so we stopped by a farm for a break, and listened to the tick-tick-tick of an industrial sprinkler spraying water over a burgeoning cornfield.

Westside Road rimming Okanagan Lake.
David Powell checks the map after a brisk ride along the Westside Road rimming Okanagan Lake.

Soon we were riding Otter Lake Road south of Armstrong along the green pastures of dairy farms, cows watching these strange two-wheeled devices speed past them as they chewed their cuds. Tucker’s Restaurant in the quaint town of Armstrong served us dinner before we rode winding Salmon River Road across one-lane, wood-planked bridges with the sun dipping down, dappling our helmets with light through the trees. We were brought to Highway 97 heading northwest, the setting sun in our eyes as we passed through historic towns like Falkland. Sprinklers in vast sunset-covered alfalfa fields threw huge arcs of spray, growing future hay for hungry milk-producing cows.

There was one more secondary road to take, Barnhartvale Road, just north of Monte Lake, which would take us through more farmland south of the Trans-Canada Highway. Rather than take the main highway, it made sense to ride a more scenic and windy passage to Kamloops. As we returned to the suburban sprawl of the city, I couldn’t help but emit a groan and wished to return to the back roads David and I had traced all day, past farms, rows of grapes and fruit and vegetable stands pitching their wares.

Ferrari parked outside of Quail's Gate Winery.
Getting a sense of the clientele…a Ferrari parked outside of Quail’s Gate Winery.

David and I parted the next day. He was going to continue riding (lucky guy) and I was heading back home to Vancouver. But taking David’s advice (why stop now?) I took Highway 5A, also known as the Old Kamloops Road, a much more charming and snaking passage south than the rapid, vapid Highway 5. This way I managed to pass by some lovely lakes, witness Sunday fishing parties cast lines from their boats and stop in at beautiful Nicola Lake near Merritt to observe a family with kids set out from a boat launch for a day out on the lake. It made me keen to return to my own family in Vancouver and tell them about where our milk, cheese, wine, fruits and vegetables come from and how lucky we are to live in such a diverse, plentiful and scenic part of the world.

vineyard British Columbia

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Around the world with The Bear | Part 16 | London to Marseilles

Around the world with The Bear – Part 16

The King of Every Kingdom
Around the world on a very small motorcycle

With J. Peter “The Bear” Thoeming

Travelling two-up on an XL250 is okay for short distances, but for a proper trip you need a Yamaha XS1100! In Part 16, The Bear sets off from London once again, heading for France with Annie.


Scroll forward six or eight months. Annie and I had now enjoyed one winter in Britain, and didn’t want to face another. So the plans were made – we would go to North Africa for the cold months. Yamaha Germany very kindly offered us an XS1100 on loan, and we snapped it up.  It was taken down to Vetter Industries and fitted with a Windjammer fairing as well as panniers and a top box, turning it into the closest thing to a one-bike invasion force I had ever seen.

The Bear Around The World Part

The Bear Around The World Part

Neil and Millie, another Australian couple, decided to join us on their Suzuki GS750. This was fitted with a sports sidecar by Squire and the roomy luggage from Craven; Boyers also fitted their electronic ignition.

Around the world with The Bear Peter Thoeming Part

Around the world with The Bear Peter Thoeming Part

Wiring in the heated grips and the hot gloves for Mrs Bear in Telegraph Hill.

None of us had camping gear for more than the odd long weekend, so we spent a morning with the folk at Binleys Camping Supplies in Kettering and staggered out fully equipped. We were also sponsored by Everoak Helmets, by Derriboots, Nivea and by Duckham’s Oils. Thanks, all, once again.

It had taken a fair bit of work to get sponsorship, but a well-produced proposal and a carefully thought out set of benefits for the sponsors (mentions like this one), swung the odds in our favour, and we got just about everything we asked for. Mind you, the Yamaha, its fairing and luggage, and the Suzuki’s sidecar of course had to be given back after the trip.

At the beginning of November, badly overloaded and not really fully prepared, we rolled aboard the ferry to France. It was dark when we reached Le Havre, but we had little trouble finding the campground. Not that it did us much good for, just four days earlier, the site had closed for the season.

Around the world with The Bear Peter Thoeming Part

Around the world with The Bear Peter Thoeming Part

An experimental first ride all the way to our favourite London pub, Dingwall’s.

We set up camp in the park across the road, dined on sandwiches we’d made from the remaining contents of our refrigerator before leaving London, and slept very well. I always sleep better when it’s free….

The road signs and our maps were rather confusing in the morning, so although we had intended to follow the by-roads to Paris we ended up on the autoroute. It was Sunday and the road was full of pretty bikes, all sharp and clean, and we felt rather out of place lumbering along on our overloaded camels.

The Bois de Boulogne campsite extended its usual welcome, with deep mud and inoperative showers. It’s not all bad, really. There are a lot of trees and it’s quite close to the centre of the city. I do wish they’d fix those showers. About half of them just swallow your token, burp and give you nothing in return.

Most of the others give you your few minutes of hot water, but there’s always one that’s stuck ‘on’ and therefore free. The procedure, therefore, is never to go into an unoccupied cubicle. Wait until somebody comes out of one and ask ‘C’est marche?’ before committing your token. If one shower has a queue in front of it, that’s the free one. Wait for that.

Around the world with The Bear Peter Thoeming Part

Around the world with The Bear Peter Thoeming Part

This time it’s for real – here we are ready to head off on a seven month adventure.

If all the above sounds like too much trouble, imagine the frustration of getting undressed, putting your token in the slot without being rewarded with hot water, getting dressed, plodding over to the office to complain and get another token, getting undressed, putting your token… In 1979 the showers had been like that for at least eleven years, to my knowledge.

It rained during the night, and the top of the Lowrider tent Neil and Millie were using filled up with water, but surprisingly little seeped through. Neil and I spent the next day working on the bikes, finishing all the little things we should have done back in London.

Some people from a minibus camped next door wandered over and gave us the wonderful news that they’d just come back from Morocco and it had rained all the time.

After dinner, I found reassurance in a sip of my duty-free Glenfiddich and we once again donned our Damart gear to go to bed. It was cold enough to penetrate our down sleeping bags. A few days in Paris were fun, but the rain refused to let up and we pushed on towards the Mediterranean.

One of the alterations we had made to the GS was fitting it with GS1000 air shocks. As we rolled out of Paris, these proved to be underinflated, and as we could not work out how to get more air into them without losing oil, we changed back to the old units.

Around the world with The Bear Peter Thoeming Part

Around the world with The Bear Peter Thoeming Part

Neil is all ready for our embarkation on the ferry to France.

A wet day followed, with occasional glimpses of the lovely French autumn countryside as we rolled through the forests. We had a picnic at lunchtime—in an old disused petrol station at Sens. It was the only place we could get in out of the rain.

Somewhat further along and after dark, I switched the XS onto high beam coming out of a tunnel and promptly blew a fuse. A few hectic seconds followed – there was a corner somewhere out there – before I’d stopped safely on the gravel. The original 10-amp fuse was obviously not enough to cope with the extra load of all the lights the Vetter gear features, so I replaced it with a 22-amp one and had no further trouble.

What a ride! In the three days it took us to make our way down to the Med, we discovered just about all of the defects our equipment was to show during the entire trip. The Vetter panniers leaked a little, and tightening the locks only cured one. To be fair, Vetter told us later that our panniers had come from the only less than perfect batch they’d had.

The sidecar hood wasn’t entirely waterproof either, and the occupant complained that it was a little claustrophobic. The GS battery refused to hold a charge and the XS happily followed every white line that presented itself.

At one point I had to make a crash stop on the outfit, and the overloaded sidecar pulled me into the opposing lane, fortunately without dire results. At least the fairings proved their value; the Windjammer was excellent and even the little Corsair on the GS helped a lot in the rain. Tempers wore a bit thin, too.

Luckily we found good campsites all the way. One night somewhere near Lyon we even found a free flat. We had pulled up to ask someone about a campsite when they told us to follow them and took us to a half-empty block of flats. They shooed us into one of them and said goodnight. There wasn’t much furniture, but it was warm and dry.

Around the world with The Bear Peter Thoeming Part

Around the world with The Bear Peter Thoeming Part

Replacing the shock absorbers on the GS750 outfit just off the Paris peripherique.

It was a great relief to find some sun – not much, but some – in Marseille. We camped at La Ciotat after a run along the coast road, where we had another chance to admire the local bikes. Mostly kitted out as endurance racers, they all seemed to be piloted by riders bent on suicide. They were fun to watch.

Our spirits were restored by an excellent if horrendously expensive bouillabaisse, which we consumed with great gusto. Like Charlie’s and my French dinner in Chiang Mai, in Thailand, it was a great morale booster for all of us.

We spent a few evenings in the ‘Civette du Port’, a friendly little bar where we fascinated the waiters by playing Scrabble late into the night. Our campsite wasn’t very pleasant, and it was still so cold that we slept in our thermal wear every night.

A short run to St Tropez wasn’t terribly impressive, either. The coast road is plastered with ‘Private Property’ signs forbidding picnics, camping and even stopping. Ah, vive la France, sure. Renewed sunshine cheered us up again and we set off west along the coast in fine spirits. But France really didn’t seem to be for us.

Just past Marseilles, the GS suddenly developed a very flat tyre. Inspection showed four broken spokes, one of which had punctured the tube. The overloading was taking its toll. Neil and I respoked the wheel as well as we could beside the road, patched the tube and limped to the nearest campsite at Carry Le Rouet.

As if that last mishap had been the parting shot from our evil luck, things began to look up immediately. The campsite was comfortable and had excellent hot showers; a bike shop in Marseilles respoked the wheel for us in a couple of hours; and the mistral started to blow the rain clouds out to sea. I did get lost on the way back from the bike shop, admittedly, and saw most of southern France before I got back onto the proper autoroute….

Next instalment we meet a young woman who’s riding her 400/4 to The Gambia to sell it. Seriously.

Source: MCNews.com.au

Around the world with The Bear | Part 15 | Switzerland, Germany, Wales, Ireland & Guinness!

Around the world with The Bear – Part 15

The King of Every Kingdom
Around the world on a very small motorcycle

With J. Peter “The Bear” Thoeming

In Part 15 The Bear meets Skippy in Wales and makes the home run to the Guinness Brewery, before heading back to London to plan the next leg of his journey.


There was a little hut at the border selling Green Card insurance, so we finally weakened and bought some. Of course, no one asked for it when we crossed. Our camp that night was right on the lake at Lugano, comfortable and quiet, and a pleasant change from the previous night almost literally on the Autostrada.

The Bear Around The World PartI made one of my famous navigational mistakes the next morning. We had a choice between the St Bernhard tunnel and the St Gotthard pass, and I thought: “Who wants to spend such a lovely day underground?”

Around the world with The Bear Peter Thoeming PartThe gentle landscapes of Europe are a bit of a change from Asia.

So up into the Alps we went, past the trucks cleaning the roadside gravel (it’s true! they do, in Switzerland) until it started to drizzle. With wet-weather gear on, we continued. The drizzle turned to snow, and we were still nowhere near the top. Instead of turning around like sensible people we pressed on and finally made the pass in the driving snow.

We were not exactly dressed for this kind of weather, and had even disposed of our visors some time before because they had become too scratched to be safe. Ice formed on our beards and my glasses. I have never been so cold in my life.

On top of all this, the Swiss have a charming habit of cutting parallel grooves in the road surface. No doubt this is useful in preventing cars from sliding all over the place in snow, but it imparts a weave to small motorcycles that is distinctly unsettling. Or would be if I had had any time spare from being cold to be unsettled. A welcome pub supplied coffee and brandy once we were below the snow line on the other side, and we continued to Zurich in the driving rain. What the hell, it was only rain…

Around the world with The Bear Peter Thoeming PartHistory lurks everywhere – no doubt this Italian bridge has seen a lot of it.

The border with Germany was complicated. Our road first crossed to Germany, then back to Switzerland and then back to Germany again, all in the space of about 16km. It was lucky that we had bought Green Cards in Italy, because this time everybody wanted to see them. The Germans also pored over all the exotic stamps in our passports for a while and I thought they might decide to search us. But no, they’d just been curious.

Germany and beyond

It was the middle of September by now, and Germany was quite cold. We slept in our clothes that night and the next. On the second evening, we found a pub which looked convivial and asked if there was a campground within walking distance. Always get your priorities right.

The Bear Around The World Part“Yes,” said the bloke behind the bar. “But it is perhaps a dozen steps,” and pointed at the orchard next to the pub. “It is also free, but only,” and he lifted a finger, “if you drink here.”

Charlie discovered the uniquely German tradition of the Stammtisch when he attempted to sit at it. In most if not all country pubs, the Stammtisch is reserved for regulars – and off limits to everyone else. It was no big deal, but an interesting introduction to a country where rules are rules. Charlie also discovered that bakeries usually served coffee as well, something that has become common in Australia but wasn’t then. We both approved.

After a long day on the autobahn, we arrived in Brunswick and my aunt and uncle made us welcome. They fed us up for a few days and my aunt dropped our clothes into the washing machine. We couldn’t believe that it was actually possible to get the stuff clean again. At lunchtime, my aunt produced what she knew was one of my favourite sandwich toppings: raw pork with salt and minced onions. I have to give Charlie top marks here; he overcame a lifetime of Australian conditioning and tried it – and even liked it.

We visited more relatives in Luneburg and Hamburg and then rode over to Amersfoort in Holland to stay a night with Frank, the Harley rider we’d met in Penang. A marvellous evening followed, recounting woes and laughing about mishaps. All very easy to do afterwards.

Around the world with The Bear Peter Thoeming PartMarkets have quite a different range of foodstuffs for sale, with asparagus here.

After crossing Belgium in something like an hour, we turned down towards Paris. The autoroute is quite expensive, and you can’t get a glass of wine in the restaurants – in France of all places! Our friends in Paris, Campbell of BMW R60 fame and Renee, were away for the weekend. We camped at the big campsite in the Bois and had a look at the famous city. When they returned we moved over to their flat and spent a few days being deluged with French hospitality.

Campbell wanted to go over to London to buy a bike, so when the time came we offered him a lift. The bikes looked like overloaded camels as we transferred some of my load to Charlie and Campbell crouched behind me. We still made good time to Boulogne, through the rain, but then the hovercraft didn’t want us. No bikes allowed on Seaspeed.

We took the normal ferry and actually had a dry road from Dover to London. Just out of Dover we passed an elderly bearded man in a shalwar kameez. Campbell dug me in the ribs and shouted, “Now I know we’re in England, there’s an Englishman!”

England, Wales and Ireland

I bought some new wet-weather gear and we took off again, into a headwind to Wales and the lovely hills above Swansea. Then Charlie’s throttle cable broke. We had a spare, so it didn’t matter, did it? But the spare turned out to be a return cable, which is not interchangeable with the actuating one. Only Honda design engineers know why.

The Bear Around The World PartKevin and Skippy, a young Welsh couple, came to our assistance. Skippy got her name from the fact that she’d spent some time in Australia as a child. They showed me a bike shop where I secured a new cable and then invited us over to their place. We spent the evening in the weirdest pub I have ever seen, the walls covered in comic book characters, and enjoyed ourselves drinking a lethal beer called Colt 45.

Around the world with The Bear Peter Thoeming PartThe stones collected from the fields are put to good use to build walls.

Welsh roads were as much fun as Welsh people, and our enjoyment of the ride was only spoiled by mysterious headaches the next morning. The crossing from Fishguard was uneventful, except that they sprayed us with disinfectant when we rolled ashore in Rosslare. With both bikes running noticeably rough now, we spent a few days exploring the south of Ireland, especially enjoying the Ring of Kerry and a priceless bed-and-breakfast place in Portroe.

This was where we heard the wonderful story of the elderly couple, holidaying in Portroe, who had been kept awake long into the night by some of the local boys fanging about on their bikes. In the morning they went to the Garda, the police, and complained, “What do you think about people riding loud motorcycles around town all night?” The Garda looked at him for a while and then replied, “As long as it’s just the two of you I suppose it will be all right…”

On to Dublin and a hero’s welcome at the Guinness Brewery, where they poured untold quantities of the precious fluid down our throats (including the rare and lethal XXX), stood us a truly magnificent lunch and had us interviewed for radio and papers.

Laden with gifts, we retired to our B&B and tried to come to terms with the fact that the trip, for now, was over. Just as well we were in Dublin. It’s hard to get depressed in a place with so many good pubs.

Around the world with The Bear Peter Thoeming PartAnd here we are at St James’ Gate, the Guinness Brewery in Dublin.

We both returned to England and settled in London for a while. Charlie worked as a despatch rider, possibly the only one with a PhD (then again, possibly not) and I met up with Annie and got a job first in an advertising agency and then a publishing firm. It was almost like normal life…

Uneasy lies the head that’s planning another bike ride; this time a rather different kind. Find out more next week.

Source: MCNews.com.au

Riding Central New Mexico

Astronomy, History and Great Roads

motorcycle ride New Mexico
Central New Mexico is a motorcycling wonderland offering up environmental and cultural diversity only found in the American Southwest. Photos by the author.

I stand over the open side case of my BMW R 1200 GS outside the Black’s Smuggler Winery in Bosque, New Mexico. I carefully wrap the bottle of local cabernet in a t-shirt and pack it in the middle of my left side box. It has become a tradition to bring my wife a bottle of the regional wine from any state I visit without her. If that means packing a little lighter for the ride, so be it. This is early in my trek through west-central New Mexico, so the bottle of red will be my traveling companion for several hundred beautiful miles.

I head south through the arid Southwestern landscape, cutting through a portion of the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge. This terrain lives up to the common perception of New Mexico. However, I know that my ride will encompass much more than desert — on a map my 400 miles will trace a big letter C through the diversity that is central New Mexico.

motorcycle ride New Mexico
Map of the route taken, by Bill Tipton/compartmaps.com.

The first real town on my route is Socorro. The historic city sits in the Rio Grande Valley and is the seat of Socorro County. There is copious history in this region, much of it tied to the strong Mexican influence. The name translates “to give aid or to give succor,” which is a reflection of the town’s early history of importance to the earliest of Mexican immigrants, including the 1598 expedition led by Don Juan de Oñate y Salazar.

The sun is low in the sky as I roll west out of Socorro on U.S. Route 60. The road is just a bit curvier, the grass is greener and mountains emerge in the horizon. Just after I ride through tiny Magdalena, juniper trees and other low evergreens dot the landscape. The Tres Montosas peaks rise out of the high chaparral landscape to my right.

Datil New Mexico
It has been a while since a wrench has been turned in this garage in Datil.

Just as I am getting used to the treed horizon, the evergreens subside and something otherworldly replaces them. Huge, white bowls stand like strange, metallic mushrooms on the expansive Plains of San Agustin. I am rolling into the Very Large Array, a world-renowned astronomical radio observatory. Each movable antenna is 25 meters in diameter. The observatory, which dates back to the early 1970s, has made key observations of black holes, pulsars and other intergalactic intrigues. The white bowls are so spread out as to be on the horizon for several miles of my ride.

Very Large Array (VLA)
The astronomical dishes of the Very Large Array (VLA) rise impressively out of the New Mexican desert.

Once clear of the VLA, I ride up in elevation and vegetation to my stop for the night. Datil is a tiny town sitting at an elevation of 7,400 feet. I walk into the small general store that also serves as the check-in desk for the Eagle Guest Ranch. I am told by the amiable man handing me the room key that the guest ranch serves as the annual encampment for a big Moto Guzzi rally. I shed my gear in my room before heading to the guest ranch’s restaurant, which has the reputation as one of the best steak houses in New Mexico. Not having enough appetite for one of their large, fresh-cut slabs of meat, I opt for what turns out to be a delectable steak sandwich and a cold dark lager.

Eagle Guest Ranch in Datil
A room in the Eagle Guest Ranch in Datil serves as my stopover for the ride.

The morning air is cool as I roll out of Datil to the west. This stretch of U.S. 60 is lined with a mix of juniper and pine trees and the elevation brings a nice green hue that sits in subtle contrast to the desert and chaparral terrains of the prior day’s ride. Long, sweeping turns are a great warm-up to what will prove to be a supremely entertaining riding day.

Signs indicate I am approaching the aptly named Pie Town. I ride into what is basically a two pie-shop town that has garnered national attention for its quirkiness and mouth-watering baked treats. It has even been featured on CBS’s “Sunday Morning.” It is too early for pie, and I am not much of a sweets guy anyway, but I have to stop and visit the famous bakeries. Fun stuff.

Pie Town, New Mexico
World-famous baked goods are served up in tiny Pie Town, New Mexico.

With the aroma of crust and filling still clinging to my riding gear, I head farther west on U.S. 60. Again, the trees subside into high grasslands as I make my way to Quemado. Another tiny, inhabited dot on the map, Quemado features a small hotel, a few restaurants, a school and the Sacred Heart Catholic Church with its twin bells and historic cemetery. The quaint hamlet spells the end of my jaunt on U.S. 60.

I have been looking forward to the ride on State Route 32 since the employee at the Eagle Guest Ranch told me that it was the favorite stretch for the riders attending the Guzzi rally each year. Heading south out of Quemado, the road begins with sweeping turns and expansive views of the New Mexican grasslands. However, in just a few short miles, I climb into a beautiful pine forest. The trees grow larger with the climb in elevation that also brings the most winding and entertaining tarmac of the ride so far.

The beautiful road tops out at Jewett Gap, which sits at an elevation of more than 8,200 feet. After that crest, I start my curvy descent through rock canyons and then beside Apache Creek as I head farther south on my C-shaped New Mexican tour. I think back to the muted browns of the start of the ride as I take in the vibrant greens of this mountain region.

I ride into the small, bustling logging and ranching town of Reserve. I gas up and have a chat with the counter worker who is intrigued by the big GS at the pump. After telling him that I am heading south to Silver City, he tells me that I should take the short ride west past Luna where there is a great view of the entire valley. Of course I’m up for that, and I head west. The ride to Luna is fun, and the end game, that overlook, is all that the gas station attendant said it would be.

motorcycle ride New Mexico
The elevated view eastward over the town of Luna is panoramic and enchanting.

After retracing my ride to the east, I turn south on U.S. Route 180, which will be my route through the Gila National Forest all the way to Silver City. After dropping out of the forest, I come upon the Aldo Leopold Vista Picnic Area. Leopold has long been one of my favorite nature writers and his book, “A Sand County Almanac,” holds a special place in my heart and in my bookcase back home. The views from the vista are massive and their unspoiled nature would make Leopold proud. After a quiet visit to the vista, I am back on the road. As I roll though a beautiful mix of environments, I can’t help but think of some of my favorite Leopold quotes. The most fitting for this ride may be, “Wilderness is the one kind of playground which mankind cannot build to order.” Well said, Aldo.

downtown Silver City New Mexico
Silver City’s central Bullard Street is lined with pastel-hued adobe structures.

The remaining 40 miles to Silver City winds through grasslands, rocky outcroppings and ranches as I trace the bottom curve of the big letter C. I roll into Silver City under the arching welcoming sign to the city’s downtown. In comparison to the tiny towns I have ridden through on this trip, Silver City seems like a metropolis. OK, that’s an overstatement, but the town of more than 10,000 residents is active and vibrant. Silver City is home to Western New Mexico University and, like most college towns, there is an added youthful vigor. That energy permeates the town’s historic ambiance and Southwestern flair to create a delightful cultural mix. There are even stately Victorian homes in the historic district.

Silver City, New Mexico
Silver City is a bustling college town boasting authentic Mexican food and fun lodging.

I realize that it has been a huge faux pas that I have not had a Mexican meal on my tour of New Mexico. I pull in front of the Jalisco Café to remedy that oversight. I take in the colorful Mexican-themed décor as I wait in ever heightening anticipation for my chili relleno. It did not disappoint.

It is with a full stomach that I head out on the final stage to complete the bottom, eastward arc of my big letter C tour of New Mexico. I roll onto State Route 152, and soon realize that I have saved some of the best riding of the trip for last. I carve my way on the narrow and winding road through rocky passes, and juniper and oak thickets before dropping down back into grasslands and big views.

Silver City log cabin
A well-preserved log cabin highlights Silver City’s rich history.

As I end my tour where the winding road meets Interstate 25, I think about the nature of motorcycling. If I had ridden from my start in Bosque to where I am sitting at the Caballo Reservoir on the interstate, it would have been a short, direct, boring two-hour ride. But, in making that speedy letter I into an indirect letter C, I have done what motorcyclists have relished since the dawn of the sport — explore off the beaten path. What could be done on a superslab in two hours took me two days, and that’s just the way I like it. I’ll tell my wife about it when I deliver the well-traveled bottle of New Mexico cabernet.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Around the world with The Bear | Part 14 | Greece, Yugoslavia & Italy

Around the world with The Bear – Part 14

The King of Every Kingdom
Around the world on a very small motorcycle

With J. Peter “The Bear” Thoeming

Europe started somewhat inauspiciously, but then things picked up. Mostly. The Bear has now reached Greece, with the journey continuing on towards Italy in Part 14.


In Greece, as in Turkey, they write your bike into your passport so you can’t sell it and disrupt the local economy. If, on your way out, you can’t produce the bike, they don’t let you leave. With this in mind, and knowing that Charlie would be flying out to attend a genetics congress in Moscow, we asked Customs to write both bikes into my passport. As I would be looking after them until Charlie came back, that seemed reasonable.

The Bear Around The World Part Quote

The Bear Around The World Part Quote

Not to Customs it didn’t. First they were very suspicious of this trip to Moscow, which Charlie had unfortunately mentioned. Was he going off to get instructions from the Kremlin? Then they decided it was against the law to bring in more than one bike on one passport. Then the bank at the border wouldn’t sell us any petrol coupons. Bikes didn’t entitle us to them.

Around the world with The Bear Peter Thoeming Part

Around the world with The Bear Peter Thoeming Part

We had not been used to much nightlife for quite some time.

Our first impressions of Greece were sorted out over a lunch of calamari and retsina in Alexandropoulos, and we weren’t sure we liked it. After the third bottle of retsina we mellowed, and that night in Kavala we decided it wasn’t such a bad place. We spent the evening sitting at a sidewalk cafe, listening to a trio with two clarinetty things and a bass drum playing something that didn’t sound in the least like ‘Zorba’, and had a few beers. Then we dossed down in the vineyards and slept under the stars.

We couldn’t quite work out what was happening in Thessalonica. There were tents everywhere, in parks, squares, even in parking lots. A Boy Scout convention? No, it turned out that there had been an earthquake, and nobody was game to go back into their houses. No wonder.

Greek building codes are honoured far more in the breach than in the observance. We had one building pointed out to us that had begun with three stories, but now had six – one added on at a time, ad hoc.

Around the world with The Bear Peter Thoeming Part

Around the world with The Bear Peter Thoeming Part

Even being able to buy alcohol without searching for it was a new experience.

Around this area bike cops abounded, mounted on machines as varied as Nortons, Moto Guzzis, BMWs and, of course, old Harley-Davidson Glides. The local bikers seemed to favour the mighty 50cc Kreidler Florett.

Time was running out—Charlie’s congress started the next week—so we found ourselves a campsite down on the Halkidiki peninsula and settled in.

I wrote to Annie, who was then supposed to be in Athens. Charlie went through all the Customs hassles that we had hoped to avoid, putting his bike into bond so that they would cross it out of his passport. The bond turned out to be an underground car-park. He even had to pay the parking fee when he came back.

Around the world with The Bear Peter Thoeming Part

Around the world with The Bear Peter Thoeming Part

Interesting case of ‘bollard’s droop’ here on a somewhat neglected wharf.

Once alone, I settled into a happy routine involving eating, sleeping and visits to the taverna, with a bit of swimming thrown in. Annie arrived, looking edible in her Chicago Bears T-shirt, and we spent an idyllic week together.

She had to go back and start her Eurail pass then, and Charlie returned. He had his tent, which an obliging fellow scientist had brought all the way from Australia. He also had a box of genuine Havana cigars and a bottle of Russian vodka, with which we celebrated his return in style.

New tyres, East German semi-trials pattern, went onto the bikes and we moved to Thessalonica to get something done about the stripped threads in Charlie’s cylinder. He had spotted a shop advertising helicoiling. The mechanic took a look at the bike and nodded, sure, he could helicoil that.

Then he retapped it to a larger bolt size. What happened to the helicoiling, we asked. Helicoiling? Oh, helicoiling. They didn’t do that, any more. We went and had another beer. The bolts worked fine.


Yugoslavia looked great at first. Even the autoput, famous for its state of disrepair, was in pretty good nick. On the first night we hid away in a bit of forest, since free camping is not allowed in this country, and set up the tent. The rain started early in the morning, and it became obvious to me as we rode up into the dripping hillside forest before Prizren that my wet weather gear was due for retirement.

The Bear Around The World Part Quote

The Bear Around The World Part Quote

Just after Pec, the alleged main road turned into a gravel path, then a goat track and then it started crawling up and down an endless procession of ridges. It got colder, it got wetter, and I became more and more miserable. Charlie was at least dry! The bikes handled the ‘road’ quite well, but I’d hate to do that stretch on anything but a trail bike. I’d hate to do it again on a trail bike!

Around the world with The Bear Peter Thoeming Part

Around the world with The Bear Peter Thoeming Part

Roads in Greece and the old Jugoslavia were pretty good.

We stopped under an overhang to consider whether this could possibly be the main road. The driver of a battered locally-built Fiat that came along assured us that it was, giving us the left-fist-in-the air and right-hand-on-left-biceps salute to show us how tough he thought we were. I hope that’s what he meant, anyway. We headed back out into the cold rain.

A tiny pub saved us, high up on a ridge top. It provided brandy and hot bean soup, and it was warm. The scenery was chocolate-box pretty, and not much later the road improved as well. The last few miles to Titograd weren’t bad at all and we saw lots of other bikes, mainly touring BMWs with German plates. The Titograd campground had the loveliest lady at reception and hot showers. We camped under the damp trees and, feeling human after the shower, went over to the restaurant for some dinner.

Since there was a ‘music charge’ if you ate in the main restaurant, we settled for sitting with the help in the kitchen and listened to the strains of ‘Ramona’ and ‘Charmaine’ filtering through the door, for free.

The Kotor hill with its hairpins, rotten surface and steep drop impressed us greatly, as did the tour buses using it at breakneck speed. There was another cloudburst just after we left Kotor Bay and we arrived sodden in Dubrovnik. There was even water in our panniers, a most unusual occurrence.

We splurged on a pension to dry out. The pension made a good base for exploring the old walled city. We wandered around the steep stone paths, admired the medieval buildings and splurged once more, this time on a top-notch meal. Despite the heavy emphasis on tourism, Dubrovnik seemed a pleasant place to us. A pity that most of the tourists were so dull and conservatively dressed. The few Americans made a pleasant splash of colour with their bright T-shirts and Bermuda shorts.

Around the world with The Bear Peter Thoeming Part

Around the world with The Bear Peter Thoeming Part

Streetlight in Dubrovnik.

We had clear sky and sun most of the way up the coast. The hills are quite stark here, dry and infertile and the limestone ranges look as though they’ve been hit with a gigantic mallet and shattered. This is an early example of the dangers of clear-felling.

The Romans cut down all the trees, around the time of Christ or before, and the country has never recovered. The goats which were introduced subsequently helped by eating anything green. Jagged rocks are everywhere, and we had trouble finding a flat place large enough to put up the tent. We finally settled on the concrete base of a building that had never been constructed.


Coming up to the Italian border, the temporary circlip Charlie had made in Turkey broke again. He had to use one of the spacers fitted to the bike to make another, which led to a great deal of play in the rear wheel. We jumped the two-mile queue at the border—motorbikes are invaluable for that – and got as far as Trieste.

The Bear Around The World Part Quote

The Bear Around The World Part Quote

No, signore, XLs are not imported into Italy. So there were no spares. What now? The bike was pretty well unridable in its present state, and eventually the rear wheel would of course fall off. Charlie, being an incurable optimist, decided we should make some spacers out of a spare inner tube. Being a decidedly curable optimist, I pointed out that Soichiro Honda would hardly make spacers out of steel if rubber would do the job just as well.

Around the world with The Bear Peter Thoeming Part

Around the world with The Bear Peter Thoeming Part

Riding along the coast was a real pleasure.

Unfortunately I was right. The bike ate the rubber spacers on the autostrada. We got the can opener out and made some more out of the tops of oil cans. Did you know that they use really thin metal for oil cans? We made dozens of infinitely thin oil can top spacers and hobbled along, periodically making more until the hopelessness of that solution finally sank in.

We camped in a layby near Vicenza and slept with our heads inches from the traffic roaring past. A bike shop came to our rescue in the morning; they turned a new, thick spacer and fitted a new circlip, and we had no more trouble. I was so grateful that I bought a set of rainproof overalls from them.

Cheered by all this success, we decided to get an idea of the real Italy by taking the back roads. After a number of suicide attempts under our wheels we returned to the autostrada at Verona. Italy was a bit too hectic.

Tolls weren’t expensive for bikes on the autostrada and we buzzed along in fine style, passing Milan’s enormous suburbs and turning up into the Alps. We forgot to use our last petrol coupons at the last station in Italy. Anyone have a use for a 10-litre Italian petrol coupon?

Next installment we do business with the Swiss and continue to a hero’s welcome at the Guinness Brewery in Dublin. Trip over? Oh, no.

Source: MCNews.com.au