by Mark Foster
I am in the motorcycle industry. One of the shops I worked in did some export business in Europe. Through that I made some friends, the kind that invite you to come to their country and let you take one of their motorcycles for a ride, sometimes for weeks. How do you say no?
On one of those times my wife and I were in Germany visiting Claus, a writer for a German motorcycle magazine. Looking through one of his magazines I spot this photo and story of riders at a rally, in the snow, camping and they were by the looks of it having a good time. It was the annual Globetrotter Treffen. Now, I had done cold weather training in the Arctic Circle when I was in the marines, but these guys were on bikes! I said right then, I am going to go to that someday–ten years later I did and here’s the story.
The Globetrotter Treffen (rally) is an annual event held usually in the area of the Belgium / German border. The rally is held so that riders could have a place to come together and share their experiences of world travel on bike with others. The organizer of this event is a German named Bernd Tesch; he himself has rode around our planet a few times. (Check out his website at www.berndtesch.de) His passion for travel caused him to start a company, Globetrotter Zentral where he not only sells the equipment needed for such travels but also offers classes on survival. The week before the rally he had a major corporations top managers in the field for training and team building skills. He also boasts the largest collection of motorcycle adventure touring books in the world, including quite a few that he has written himself. Unfortunately for us, most are in German.
I e-mailed Heir Tesch last summer and asked if I could come. He sent me a form to fill in. The form was almost like a motorcycle riding resume. What continents have you ridden? Where is your next trip? What do you ride? How many miles do you ride and that kind of stuff. Because of limited space only so many are able to get in. The area for rally camping will hold around 350 people and motorcycles, but the auditorium rented for the slide shows and classes will only seat a little over 300 people. On one of the days of the rally, they have slideshows and educational discussions that riders have put together from their journeys. You may recognize the names Helge Pederson and Dr. Gregory Frazier; both were past speakers at the rally.
I called a couple of Norwegian buddies to see if they were game. Ya, sure. Just so you know, all Scandinavians are not named Sven or Oly. Most, but not all. Bjorn and I did business for a few years, and in the process became pretty good friends. In ’99 he and another Norwegian came over and I set up a Sturgis rally trip. In ’98, Bjorn, Jan (pronounced yon) my wife and I rode up into the Arctic Circle area of Norway and the Lofoton islands together.
Over the next six months we set our plans, and made preparations. The rates to ship one of my bikes was too high, so they set up a bike for me, a BMW R1100GS. Jan had asked a friend if I could use it telling him that if he ever wanted to ride here, in the states, that I would reciprocate the favor.
We would start from their city, Alesund. Norway’s latitude is more north than Canada’s most northern border, brrrr. We all knew snow was a reality, especially in the mountains. The net allows checking the weather anywhere in the world and the closer we got, the more I could see what kind of conditions we would get. Oh good, rain, snow, rain. I have ridden in the mountains there in July and have seen snow and frozen lakes. We would need heated grips and luck. I carried my riding gear and a change of clothes with me. If my luggage was lost there would not be time to wait and hope it would catch up to me. As it turned out everything made it. I arrived Tuesday the 3rd.
Wednesday, April 4th
Riding in Norway again. Man, I love this place! I’ve been in 34 countries and so far Norway is still the most beautiful. The roads wind down the sides of mountains, following the edges of fjords. Narrow, twisting, passing the rugged countryside. There are still some houses using sod for roofing as much for insulating, as for the tradition. It’s cold and there’s snow on the ground making it a pretty ride. We agreed to stop in Lillehammer for lunch and it rained the last half-hour to our stop, McDonald’s. It was not my idea, but at least I understood the menu. In Oslo, we were told the ferry was sold out. Our choices were to ride all night through Sweden, get a hotel in Oslo and catch a morning ferry or wait around and hope they could shoe horn three more bikes onboard. We waited an hour in the rain and lucked out. We got a cabin so we could shower and get decent sleep.
Thursday, April 5th
The ferry arrived in Frederickshaven, Denmark at a quarter to seven in the morning. It was raining and very windy. We had agreed to ride an hour and stop for breakfast and that was good because the rain had turned to light snow after half an hour. What do you eat in Denmark? Yup, you guessed it; Danish pastries and you wash them down with lots of strong coffee. The snow stopped, back to rain, windy. The Scandinavian countries all have speed limits that you should try to observe, and then you cross the border into Germany. Jan and I are both very comfortable and enjoy riding fast, Bjorn’s borrowed BMW K100LT has a broken Speedo so he doesn’t know how fast we’re riding. It’s better that way. We ride just past Munster and find a hotel. The restaurant is playing American folk music from the 60ís. Too funny.
Friday, April 6th
Rain, but that’s no surprise. Its like I had told these guys when we were planning; weather happens, it’s an adventure, enjoy it. Jan and his GPS get us around Dusseldorf and into Belgium through Aachen and south toward our destination of Malmedy. All the while we are riding I think about the world wars fought on this very soil. That farmhouse looks old. If it could talk what kind of stories could it tell? Europe’s rich history is one the reasons I enjoy it so much along with the cool roads of course.
We followed the directions Heir Tesch e-mailed, through the city, a few kilometers in the country and to the campgrounds. We could see a couple of bikes and some tents on the other side of this large stream. We looked for the road only to realize you go through the creek. They must have figured “Hey, it’s a adventure riders rally, what’s a little water?” I find Heir Tesch and introduce us and he greets you like you are long lost friends. You automatically like this guy.
Throughout the day riders arrive. Some coming from far away like we did, others from only hours away. Mostly on BMW GS series like Jan and I rode. The other popular models were Kawasaki KLR650s, Honda TRANS ALPS and Yamaha XT series. Most of the bikes had aluminum type side cases and top boxes, some with GPS and some had stuff lashed to it any which way it worked.
Many of the bikes had stickers plastered on them from the countries they have already toured, kind of like trophies.
As it got dark they lit a big bonfire. People stood around telling lies, just like they do here. There was a tent to buy beer (Germans drink beer?) or food. Many walked around meeting other riders and checking out bikes and equipment. We met Wolfgang (I swear that’s his real name) he was wearing a sweat shirt from a rally in Norway that
Bjorn attends and Bjorn thought he was Norwegian and asked him something in Norwegian. Nope, just been to the rally. He lives in Regensburg, Germany.
Then this British couple wanders in to our group and they look real familiar, but I could not put my finger on it ’til the woman called the man, Sam (Manicom), then it hit me like a dump truck! I turned to her and said your Birget (Schunemann) aren’t you? She was surprised and said yes. I was familiar with them because they write for a British bike magazine called Motorcycle Sport and Leisure and I had for the last six months been reading about their travels through South America. We became friends over the weekend. Sam had some good stories. While he was riding through India, he came in to a small town and as usual, a crowd gathered around. Then a man walked up to him, cleared his throat and said “Sir, may I help you?” Sam thought Great! Somebody speaks English! So he says “Yes you can, first I need some petrol for my motorbike and then if you know of an inexpensive hotel and place to get a bit of food that would be most helpful.” Then the man smiled, looked at the crowd, and with great pride said “Sir, may I help you?” After a second try, Sam realized that was all the English the man knew. Good humor. Many of the rally goers agreed that India was probably the scariest place to ride a motorcycle. India has different rules of the road than we do. In India, the bigger vehicle has the right of way and what are traffic lights? Another rule is: I was here first so get out of my way. Remember that they believe in reincarnation, so if they screw up its no big deal because they will be back next week as something else. Despite all the warnings it’s still on my list of future trips.
Saturday, April 7th
Bjorn snores so loud that he didn’t hear the storm blast through during the night. I eventually put in my earplugs. We got up a little late this morning. The hotel / auditorium where the seminars are held is back across the border in Germany, about forty minutes away, but I am starving, still a little tired and it’s a beautiful day for once. As interesting as the speakers topics and experiences would be, at that moment, sitting crammed inside a room with all these people didn’t seem like where I wanted to be if offered a choice. Even though we had traveled a long ways to attend, it was our vacation. We decided to go into Malmedy, eat and then since Luxembourg was so close that we should ride around and see some of it. This is an adventure tour rally; today I would rather do it, then to talk about it.
When you look at a map of Europe and see Luxembourg, you think it appears too small to bother with. Well, you just believe that and go somewhere else. Riding there has a calming affect. The countryside is so relaxing. Green fields, rolling hills, a castle here and there like viewing a painting from the 1700s. We stopped in Diekirch. It was a Saturday so everybody in the city center was shopping, food carts and vendors were out. We look for a sidewalk cafe. cafe Americana seems fitting to me. The waitress only speaks Luxembourg (French dialect). My French is so bad she sends out another gal that speaks German, now we’re talking. We all agreed that the days riding and sights rated a perfect 10.
We got back to the rally early, most were still at the auditorium, but we ran into Sam (the British writer). He said that before Heir Tesch introduced the speakers, he first said “Where is my friend Mark from America? Mark?” No answer. “Where are the Norwegian Vikings that rode down with Mark? Bjorn? Jan? “When Sam said this I thought, “Yeah right, he wanted to introduce me. You’re joking?” He wasn’t and I felt like, well you can guess. When everybody did make it back, I found Bernt and apologized. He had wanted to give me credit for coming from the farthest distance and maybe to show to those there that he is not only known well in Europe but in America as well. I explained that we did what the rally is about motorcycle adventures. He thought it was odd for me to have traveled so far and then not go to hear the speakers. I explained how the rally was still worth it for me to have come. I am riding with friends that I don’t get to see often. I am riding some areas of Europe that were new to me. I had met and become friends with Birget and Sam. I had finally met the great Bernd Tesch. I bought a few motorcycle tour books I had not seen available in the states. I was having fun and thanked him for creating this rally and for letting us come and be a part of it.
Leaving the rally site on Sunday morning was a fun experience, too. It had rained on/off the whole time, making the mud road out seem more like riding through a mixture half foot deep of peanut butter and mashed potatoes. Nope, I didn’t bail either.
We decided to ride back up through the Netherlands on the coast, we made a wrong turn and went into central Amsterdam, Jan blamed the GPS, yeah sure. Ya know all those cool old windmills that you think would be all over Holland? Well, they have been replaced with newer more effective windmills that look like the Mercedes emblem. Oh, and one more shocker, no wooden shoes either. It’s a tourist thing.
That night we stopped in northern Germany. Then on through Denmark and a quick ferry to Sweden. That night we stopped just short of the Norwegian border and it was way cold along the coast. The hotel manager called back his cook staff to make us something to eat, it was hot and it was good. We were thankful.
The noteworthy things from the ride back through Norway include laughing as we were passing on the double yellow line in two way traffic. I took a photo but it doesn’t quite catch the uh, energy? I found a town called “Dumbas”. I love Norwegians so I decline to add comment on its citizens. The other thing was that I shot four rolls of film from the bike in less than a hundred-mile section, I tried to just ride and enjoy it but had to take the pictures.
We arrived safely back to Bjorn’s house. Later that night it snowed, enough to have been a problem. We had rode through seven countries in six days covering about 2500 miles. You should go.