EUROPEAN MOTORCYCLE TOUR - THE ROUTE
European motorcycle tour - How it all started
Our European Motorcycle Tour
It was early winter in 2015 and an old Army friend called Mick Ingham got in touch. He’d been following trips that I’d done for RMT Motorcycle Training to France and Portugal via Facebook, asked me to organise a European motorcycle tour to France for him and a club he was associated with called ‘Castaways’. They were a bunch of misfits who’d broken away from another motorcycle club – probably been booted out!
They were all into riding their bikes, did their own thing, had no riding rules as a club, and usually got split up or lost every time they went out for a group ride. They wanted to go to Normandy in France 2016 to celebrate D Day and I was only too happy to help. I found out that the Chateau Le Mont Epinguet, near Cherbourg (a quaint and very old chateau that I had previously used on a number of occasions), was available for the dates they wanted to go.
Numbers confirmed, things booked, including the ferry, it was just a matter of time before we’d meet up in Portsmouth for the departure to Caen. Mick, who I hadn’t seen since 1986 had also invited some old Army friends called Fletch and Ginge, whom I hadn’t seen since around the same time. It was going to be our own little ’13 Squadron, 8 Regiment, Royal Corps of Transport (RCT)’ reunion.
Unfortunately, when we arrived at the ferry, we were informed that Mick, who’d instigated the tour wasn’t able to make it as his wife had an eye problem and needed an operation. So Fletch turned up alone and as he didn’t know anyone else in the Castaways felt a bit out on a limb, but was made to feel welcome by everyone and fitted in straight away.
As Ginge lived in Germany, he was going to ride down during the day to meet up with us in France the following morning, once the ferry arrived in Caen, as it was an evening ferry crossing. True enough, Ginge was waiting as we disembarked. We’d had a few text exchanges to ensure he was in the right place to meet up and when we rode out of the port he was ready and waiting to join the group.
A quick “hello” and a with a fist shape we touched knuckles as a greeting. There was some shouting of “how you doing and great to see you” over the engine noise of the bikes and we were on our way without stopping. Pegasus Bridge was our first opportunity to talk to one another and have a proper catch up. It was funny when Fletch remembered Ginge as ‘The nice Corporal’.
It wasn’t long before we were back to our old banter with each other, as if all the years hadn’t been between our last meeting and this one. We told each other of our military days and what had happened to us since being in civvy street.
Ginge was a self employed financial advisor with a very nice passive income, and Fletch was now a serving police officer on the bike unit in Essex. I’d left the Army in 1996 and started my own business running a motorcycle training school in Redditch, Worcestershire. I’d had an employment opportunity in Hull, where my girlfriend lived at the time and had enjoyed my early months of civilian life in Yorkshire, before the hard slog of setting up a new business from scratch.
Get a copy of ’20 Countries in 20 Days’ HERE.
It was great to catch up and we enjoyed each other’s company for the remainder of the trip. It was apparent that Ginge was well into his riding and ‘stumpy’ was his latest BMW R1200GS. He’d toured a few times and he’d also ridden to Africa and had a great time. He spoke about his new and latest challenge and that was a trip to Istanbul or somewhere else but I couldn’t recall where, as the wine had been flowing extremely well as we chatted.
It wasn’t until a few days later over a beer, that Ginge asked me if I’d like to join the trip that he was going to plan. It would be some time the following year.
I’m sure he’d waited a few days to see if I could ride and I reckon he was checking me out before offering the invitation. Of course I said yes I was interested, as trips like that, with decent guys don’t come your way very often.
So, I had now registered my interest but I had lots to sort out if I went. I’d need a new bike, have to sort out work and have enough time off to be able to do the trip justice. I had said yes but didn’t think anymore of it, and certainly at that time just thought Ginge was being polite by inviting me, as when he’d mentioned it I must have looked interested.
I was interested in doing a big European motorcycle tour (20 Countries in 20 Days) and something that not many people actually have the opportunity to do. I was proficient at riding abroad and had done regular trips to France, Spain and Portugal, but this was a whole new animal to me and the chance of a lifetime.
In late March 2017, I received a phone call out of the blue from Ginge. “Right all systems go, are you ready for the trip?”
Oh My God, it wasn’t just a drunken invitation, he meant business! I went along with the phone call saying that I was interested but I really needed to get lots sorted out before I could commit properly. And besides I didn’t have the right kind of bike to be joining the tour, as there was talk about off road sections in Albania and possibly other places too.
The 'phone call' -European motorcycle tour
I had said yes of course, but not really been 100% committed because I wanted to do it but was not in a great position to be able to. I had a Kawasaki ZZR1400 motorcycle and not an adventure bike that would be needed for this journey. I had a business that was just about ready to launch (or so I thought) and a motorcycle training company that still needed some of my time, even though I had a manager manning the fort.
Our discussion was to sort out a prospective timeframe. I was doing a tour to Portugal mid to end of May with a group of people, so there was no way the trip to Asia could be before that as we were almost in April now. July and August would be far too hot for riding in Eastern Europe and would be extremely uncomfortable and Ginge couldn’t do September as he had a wedding to attend.
I was informed that a guy called Mike Whitehouse would be going too. He was an old friend of Ginge’s from 8 Regiment RCT in Münster Germany. Mike had been there from 1976 to 1981 and Ginge from 1980 to where his time overlapped with mine when I arrived in 1985. So Ginge was the common denominator here as he knew both of us for the European motorcycle tour, but at different times.
Get a copy of ’20 Countries in 20 Days’ HERE.
Mike hadn’t ridden a bike for some years and had recently purchased one ready for the trip, he was busy getting some miles in, to get used to riding it. I didn’t know Mike, but by the end of 3 weeks, we’d get to know each other pretty well and being ex squaddies at 8 Regiment RCT, had lots in common anyway.
8 Regiment RCT had been a very difficult unit to be in as a young and new soldier. A tough place and not for the faint hearted, demanding at times and extremely hard for even the toughest of young men.
We’d work hard and play even harder whenever we got the chance.
Mike had to be back by early July so by the powers of elimination we concluded that June would be the best time to go. Early June it was going to be but it couldn’t be until after 5th June, which was my wedding anniversary and being as I wasn’t usually around for it, I’d said I would be for this one. So the date was set for the 6th or 7th June for Mike and I to leave the UK and meet up in Emsdetten, Germany with Ginge before the long journey southbound to Asia.
Right, now to start worrying about how I was going to get ready for such a huge trip in June, after a two week tour to Portugal in the last 2 weeks of May. There would only be a one week gap between arriving back from Portugal and departing for Istanbul (European motorcycle tour). At the beginning of May I made the decision to go, and had just under three weeks before my departure to Portugal, things were going to be a little tight to say the least!
Meeting at Mikes House
Less than 2 weeks after the first phone call (mid April), we had our first meeting with all three of us together at Mike’s house. Ginge had travelled over from Germany on his way to Bridlington (to visit family) and detoured slightly to give his presentation of the trip to date.
We arrived around 10:00 am for a cup of tea and a hearty breakfast and had a quick catch up on what we were all doing now. There was lots of reminiscing about old times and who we each knew or remembered from our army times, before getting on with the main agenda.
Ginge had a very well prepared presentation in true military style, I think he still prefers to be called Corporal Dooling to be honest! He gave a full overview and general outline of the tour (with pictures and humour) before breaking it down into the outward and inward prospective routes and distances.
The only objective for Ginge was to ride to Asia, take some happy snaps and get video footage before starting the route back. He advised that ‘Top Gear Rules’ would be applied to the trip, which meant that if you broke down you were on your own. This was fairly normal for this type of trip, although you wouldn’t be left alone until you were sorted out or had help at hand.
During the outbound trip Mike and I were to head over to Emsdetten to meet up with Ginge, stay the night at his place and head south to Austria the following morning. This was going to be two big days riding, Ginge would lead the first and second days routes, as that would be heading south through Germany and he already knew the roads. Then we’d ride over the Grossglockner Pass in Austria which he’d also ridden before.
Then on a rotational basis we’d do a route each per day after that, so that we’d have a day leading and two days off. That way we could choose our own routes and things to do, in each of the countries we were travelling through.
It was at this stage that I said I was only 90% sure I would be going ahead with the trip. I didn’t have time to do any routes or preparation, as I was extremely busy at work at this precise moment in time. Because of this I said don’t rule me in properly but don’t rule me out either, if I’m in I’ll tag on and if I’m out then you won’t be left in the lurch with unplanned routes.
The route would be through Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Albania into Greece and then finally Istanbul in Turkey. Once in Turkey we’d go across the Bosphorus River and into Asia. Then we’d turn around and ride back via Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Poland and then back into Berlin in Germany to finish the tour, and back at Ginge’s for a late afternoon cup of tea!
Get a copy of ’20 Countries in 20 Days’ HERE.
Both Ginge and Mike said they’d take the responsibility to organise the routes each day, as they both had lots more time on their hands than I did. I said I’d be happy leading a few routes if they gave me the sat nav gpx file prior to leading a particular day, I was more than happy to help out with navigation and leading, to give the others a break. But I didn’t want to say I could do the route planning if I didn’t have time, or worse still not be able to go at all.
We ended the meeting with a good brief and continued to discuss the finer points on our recently opened WhatsApp Group. This was to become the main source of communication for the tour.
As I hadn’t met Mike before this meeting, I said I’d pop over to spend an hour or two with him so that we could get acquainted and not be complete strangers before embarking on a tough journey. He only lived an hour or so away from me, so it was a good reason to try out my new bike that I’d have to purchase for the trip.
How we all knew each other
Mike is about 10 years older than me, around 60 years of age and Ginge is halfway between us both. He was posted to 8 Regiment in the late 70’s to early 80’s. Being in a Corps in the Army meant that you didn’t move from place to place as a unit like Infantry Battalions did, instead the unit stayed where it was and the soldiers got posted in and out every 3-4 years.
Ginge arrived at 8 Regiment in the early 80’s as a new recruit. Mike had already done his time there and was an old sweat (which meant that he was well established), was well known and had a certain amount of respect for the time he’d already done. These guys tended to guide the younger, more inexperienced soldiers and it was how the knowledge was passed down, with their education and the odd slap to keep newer, younger soldiers in check.
It was a very tough unit to be in as a young man on his own in a new environment. 8 Regiment RCT had a very close working relationship with the local American Army, our role was to support them and carry their nuclear warheads around Germany during the Cold War. We worked hard and played even harder in those days, young men without any real responsibilities and pretty free spirits really.
By the time I arrived in 1985 Mike was long gone and Ginge was now one of the old sweats and I was one of the ‘NIG’s’ who had just been posted in. Being ‘New In Germany’ gave you the nickname NIG, until a new lot of young unsuspecting and naive guys were posted in. So the common denominator of the trip was Ginge, he had known Mike from the early 80’s and then knew me from the mid 80’s. Our (Mike and I) paths had never crossed as he’d been and gone many years before my time. In fact I was still at first school when Mike was posted to Münster in Germany where 8 Regiment RCT was based.
Both Mike and Ginge had worked hard since leaving the Army, they had both been in the financial advice business and had been very successful in their civilian careers. I felt like the poor relation when they talked about their salaries and what kind of money was involved in the passive incomes that they both enjoyed.
Perhaps I went into the wrong game when I left the Army! I am not saying they’d had easy lives, things just looked pretty good for them right now. (read more…)