Europe - End of the Line

It was strange to be back in Russia. We'd spent so much time in Siberia that we were now familiar with the food, the currency, the prices, the language and the way things were generally done. Oddly enough, while fuel was never a problem in Siberia, shortages were the order of the day in European Russia. Finding a station that had fuel was often hard work. It seemed that the closer you were to Moscow, the harder it was to find fuel and the longer the queues. The weather was bad and getting worse, and the Russian winter had well and truly set in.

Having crossed into Russia around midday on October 30 1994, we pushed on, driving the 200 kms to Samara through light rain. The weather left us huddled, cold and relatively immobile on the bikes and in no mood to stop and look around. Samara is the largest city on the mighty Volga river, and looked like it was worth checking out, but we needed to push on. Since leaving Almaty, the goal was to reach Vladimir, 170 km East of Moscow. We were only just over 1000 kms from Vladimir, after having knocked down 3000 since Almaty and we just wanted to get to somewhere warm where we could relax, thaw our properly, have a shower and eat home cooked food. I had a friend living in Vladimir and that was where we would rest and recharge after the big push from Almaty.

Soon after leaving Samara, we hit the M5, the first leg of Russia's great east road, running between Moscow and Chelyabinsk in the Ural mountains. This was the first sustained 4 lane highway we had seen since leaving Beijing. We crossed the mighty Volga near Tolyatti, a city named after Italian communist Togliatti and 30 kms further on, in dense forest (and in light rain) we pitched our tent for the night. It was the first night without a fire for a long time and made us realise the importance of fire. With fire we were in control of our warmth and our environment. Huddled in a tent while it rains outside, unable to light a fire, we were at nature's mercy. We felt helpless but tired and went to sleep early.

The light rain continued through the night and was still there in patches the following morning, October 31st. We were in no mood to dry the tents. We still had around 950 kms to go to Vladimir and we just wanted to get on the road [see Russia map 7]. While it was overcast with light rain we were being blessed by the weather gods, though it didn't feel it at the time. Because of those conditions the temperature remained above zero.

A couple of cloud free nights would see the temperature drop way below zero and the roads would be covered in black ice. Although the overcast skies and light rain made it miserable, the alternative was far worse. We pushed on uneventfully that day until the mid afternoon. Having covered just under 400 kms we pulled into the town of Nizhniy Lomov, in search of food, and in search of a telephone to tell Kristina that we would be in Vladimir tomorrow. We found the post office and left a message with her family before asking a guy in his mid 30s for directions to a stolovaya (cafeteria). The guy insisted we follow him to his place, which we understood was just around the corner. The rain had been falling in Nizhny Lomov for several weeks, and the town was nothing short of a mud hole. All the streets were mud. The entire town was a mudbowl filled to at least a foot deep everywhere. The locals trudged around in wellington boots. It took us 15 minutes of wading and pushing through the mud to make it to our friends home on the outskirts of town. He took us in, made us tea and heated up some potato soup. As the afternoon wore on, the rain got heavier and we were about to push on into the misery when our friend insisted the weather was too bad for motorbikes and we should stay the evening with him. We didn't take a lot of convincing. By now we were warm dry and fed in his little cabin, and outside it was wet, cold, muddy and miserable, and we would only be able to do 100 km max before having to set up camp in the rain anyway. Decision was made. We would stay, be warm and dry and head of early the next morning for the 550 km to Vladimir. While we were warm and dry that night, there was no hot water in our friend's cabin, so our first shower in 10 days would need to wait until Vladimir.

Tuesday, November 1st. We awoke with dry riding gear, and dry sleeping bags and left our new friend very early. As wet and miserable as it was, at least we knew we started warm and dry and we would have somewhere warm and dry in Vladimir. Everything else was just filler. With that positive attitude we focused exclusively on the end goal. Vladimir. The M5 wasn't all 4 lane highway. In fact it seemed the nice stretch near Samara and Tolyatti was quite deceptive. It did however sport frequent fuel stops and cafeterias. Every second or third fuel stop had 92-93 octane, so with a little patience we always found the fuel we were looking for and since our first fuel stop in Russia we had run exclusively on proper octane fuels.

Every few dozen kilometres there would be a truck stop type clearing with a cross between a car boot sale and a bazaar going on. For some reason there seemed to be an abundance of glassware / crystal ware for sale. It was hideous crap and we had no interest in it apart from out curious voyeurism. As we headed on down the M5 it became easier to get hot food by the roadside, but increasingly the fuel stops had queues.Russia grits its roads in winter not with salt or sand, but with a mixture of salt and dirt. This means every road is covered in mud. The government does it deliberately. Every car in Russia is in winter the same colour - the colour of mud. After several days of riding along, James and I too were covered in mud, built up from 3 days of mud spray. Overtaking a truck is the wet means getting covered with spray in the best of times; when the road is covered in wet mud, then by the time you are halfway along the truck, your visor is covered in mud spray and you are for all intents and purposes blind. Gloves need to work constantly on the visors, like windscreen wipers just to overtake.Once again, since re-entering Russia, despite our concerns about the GAI (traffic police) we had nothing but courtesies from them. Russians continued to warn us about the GAI extracting bribes from people and advised us how to deal with that when it happened, but in Russia at least, we had nothing but politeness and courtesy from the dreaded GAI.After heading down the M5 for most of the day, we turned North at Ryazan [see Russia map 8], cutting through the back roads to the M7 at Vladimir. Thanks to the early start, steely determination and very few stops, we completed the 550kms, making it our longest day so far, and pulled into Vladimir still with half an hours light left.

Suzdal, near Moscow

We stayed with the family of Kristina, an old friend from a few years earlier. Kristina took us out on an excursion to Suzdal, the religious capital of Russia in the middle ages, and home to Russia's best collection of traditional churches and monasteries. We fitted our last set of proper Honda brake pads. Next time we need a change we should be in Europe. The salty muddy roads had been chewing through the brake pads at an alarming rate.

We needed to do some more trip admin and our time in Vladimir also allowed us to call Moscow to talk to Mars there and to the Australian Embassy. The former was unsuccessful, as we didn't have the correct phone number for Mars. It seems the numbers were frequently changing as the phone system goes through a metamorphosis. We will have to find them physically in Moscow. We had more luck with the Australian Embassy though. They had a storage shed in the embassy grounds and were happy to let us use it to store our bikes. During the two days we rested in Vladimir, a cold front moved in, the skies cleared and the temperature dropped from +5 to -8 degrees and stayed there. As a result of overnight snowfalls, the road to Moscow was covered with black ice.

The cold and the ice made us reconsider our plans. We needed to get to Moscow today, Friday, as we would be unable to make contact with the assorted embassy and commercial contacts we had on a weekend. We took advice from Kristina and her family and decided to bus it in to Moscow, planning to return on Sunday to collect the bikes. Even if it remained well below freezing, as long as it didn't snow any more, the highway would clear of ice just from the traffic. And so we arrived in Moscow thanks to a 5000 ruble (2 dollar) busride that took three and half hours - Not to mention the 90 minutes waiting in -8 degrees for the bus to arrive in the first place. We decided we would take the train back on Sunday.Moscow didn't turn out quite as we had hoped. The contact details for Mars were out of date. We had no idea how to contact them and the day was ticking down. After working out how to use the famous Moscow Metro, we descended down a 100 metre long escalator to the elaborate gothic-soviet stations underground, and took it to the Australian Embassy. Lyall in Beijing had contacted a guy called Gary O'Shaughnessy at the Australian Embassy in Moscow, and let them know we were on the way, but Gary had long given up hope of seeing us in this cold weather. We just caught him before he had to shoot of early but the good news was that they were happy to store our bikes, once the embassy re-opened on Tuesday. By the time that was sorted it was 5pm. 5pm on a Friday at the Australian embassy meant the Down Under club was about to open, a bar in the basement of the main building. It was the most appropriate thing to do, so we went on down, cracked open a couple of cans of VB and contemplated calling Kristina's friend, out in the outer suburbs. Since we never seemed to have enough cash to do much more that buy food and petrol, our strategy in big cities was evolving into one in which we turn up like lost puppy dogs and hope for sympathy or mercy from embassy staff or sponsors. As we hadn't managed to get in tough with the right people at Mars, and as our contact at the embassy, Gary O'Shaughnessy has left for the day, we were pretty much out of options. Kristina's friend Alla was just about to get a call.

As luck would have, a reciprocal arrangement with commonwealth countries embassy bars meant that the guy who walked in and sat next to us was a Canadian diplomat, with their trade mission in Moscow. A few beers later with our Canadian friend Geoff, and we had scored a place to stay for the night. Geoff was having a new apartment refurbished while he lived in an adjacent one next door, and he offered us the refurb apartment. As long as it has hot water and heating, and Geoff assured us it did, then we would gladly take it. After a few more beers we headed out for a pizza, at Geoff's expense, before retiring to the refurb flat. To our surprise it didn't look like a place being refurbished, the refurb job was at least 97% complete. As far as we were concerned it was a brand new expat pad in Moscow. We had struck it lucky.Saturday night was a British Embassy function, and Geoff suggested we go along. It turned out to be a good idea. We met a couple of young British girls who were keen for some company, and one of them, Rachel, offered us a place to stay next week, once we returned with our motorbikes. We really liked embassy functions. Apart from tax free booze, they were great opportunities to meet people who were often keen to help us.

On Sunday the 6th we headed for Yaroslavsky Voksal, the train station from where trains depart to Vladimir. In fact there is a vast square filled with buses going to all parts surrounded by train stations, of which Yaroslavsky was but one. Leningradsky Vokzal was the station for trains headed towards St Petersburg and St Basil's, Red SquareKazansky Voksal also headed east. We all sorts of trouble buying tickets and in the end we gave up and reverted to the buses waiting outside. They were cramped and miserable, but they were privately run. That means you get on and you pay the driver. No bureaucratic ticketing process. The ride back, was of course miserable but we noted that the roads were clear of black ice, despite the temperatures remaining around minus five degrees. Also noted were the long petrol queues. Every refuelling opportunity had a queue several hundred yards long ahead of it. We arrived back in Vladimir and Kristina's place for Sunday dinner.

On Monday morning we headed out with Kristina's family to the "garazh" where our bikes were stored. Her step-father Sasha fuelled us up from his own gerry cans, which would save us having to queue for fuel. We packed up the bikes, said goodbye to our hosts and rode off towards Moscow, 175 klms away. The highway was not 100% free of black ice, but as the roads were dry, it was easy to see the little patches that remained. We rode relatively slowly, not so much to avoid the black ice, but rather because riding a motorbike in -5 degrees at any more than 80 km/h is suicide. Traffic was moving at a similar pace in any case. At least it was sunny.

Once we reached Moscow we had no problem finding fuel and we topped up again. We made straight for Red Square, looking to get the obligatory St Basils cathedral shot. The road runs past St Basils, but Red Square itself was closed to vehicles. Oh well, in the car park on the river side of St Basils we set up the tripods and began snapping away. A police office wandered over to us while we were taking some pictures and asked us where we were from. Then he said we shouldn't take photos here. Damn we were going to get moved along. But then he said "Don't take photos here, you are too far away ... come with me and I will let you into Red Square." And so we rode into Red Square, where only a few years ago the strategic nuclear missiles thundered past goose stepping soldiers every May day, and dismounted right in front of St Basils. A crowd of hundreds gathered around the bikes and in most of the photos we took, you could barely even see the bikes through the crowd. In any case, the light was bad and the sun was on the wrong side, but it was nice to have been invited to ride in Red Square, on Great October Revolution day, 1994.Around the back of Geoff's apartment block were some secure railings and we locked the bikes up there for the night. Tomorrow morning we could move them to the Australian embassy, which would be more secure, so tonight we were taking a little chance, but the bikes were well out of sight of the road and sidewalks, and that's what mattered.

The first mission on Tuesday the 8th November was to take the bikes round the the embassy. We were shown into the storage shed. The shed was nothing more than a bar support system. Cases of Victoria Bitter (VB) were stacked from the floor to the ceiling, several layers deep. We had to manoeuvre the bikes in-between these silos of essential storage, before the whole lot was locked up. We headed for the Canadian mission with Geoff, who by now had tracked down the right Mars people for us. We went straight to their offices on Leninsky Prospekt, met the expats there and got loaded up with 2 cartons of boxes of assorted chocolates and sweets. Each carton was so heavy it was hard for one person to carry. We had one of these cartons each. Inside each carton were boxes and boxes of Mars bars, Bounty bars, Twix bars, Skittles packets - you name it. We would be lucky if we were able to carry 20% of this stuff even if we totally repacked our luggage. There was only one thing for it ... head for Geoff at the Canadian embassy and dump a dozen boxes off with him. Next stop was the British Embassy to meet Rachel. She was still keen to put us up for the rest of the week so we dumped a half dozen boxes of chocolates with her. Next stop the Australian embassy, Gary O'Shaughnessy scored a half dozen boxes of chocolate bars for looking after our bikes. By now we had given well over half the stuff away and it wasnt hard to work out what our diet was going to be for the rest of the week in Moscow. Tuesday night we headed for Rosy O'Grady's Irish bar, a favourite haunt for the Moscow expat. The Mars people had invited us out for drinks, and wanted to introduce us to some western journalists. We dragged Geoff and the two British girls along and had a great night before heading back to Rachel's place. It was huge. We thought Geoff had the huge killer expat Moscow pad, but Rachels place bowled us over. What was the story? It turns out Rachel's dad is the "defence attache" for the British Embassy. That, I suspected, was diplomatic speak for "Station Chief MI6 Moscow". Both parents were back in London, so Rachel had the place all to herself. Any thoughts I had of making a move on her died as the last thing I wanted chasing me round the world was an angry MI6 guy. Wednesday the 9th started with a random hit on Coca-Cola. We were sponsored by Coca-Cola Amatil, then the largest franchisee of Coke in the world, with franchises for dozens of countries, but not the key markets of China and Russia. They were held by the parent company, Coca-Cola Inc. We had an appointment to meet up with the journalists from last night, and a photographer they were bringing around midday and we thought why not hit Coca-Cola Russia up for a few bucks. Amazingly we walked out of their office with $300 jusy 30 minutes later, and stopped off for a McDonalds meal downstairs on the way to meet the journalists. The subsequent story and photos made the front page of the Moscow Tribune later that week.

But not all the Coca-Cola news was good news. We had managed to get in touch with Coca-Cola Amatil's European HQ in Vienna, and from there we had heard that Coke was really keen for us to go to Minsk. We were really wanting to get out to Western Europe as soon as possible, and if we went via St Petersburg (a long days ride away), we were a mere couple of hours from Finland. But despite the cold, Coke wanted us to meet their guys in Belarus. Coke had come to support us after we agreed specifically to go to Belarus for them, so we had little choice but to do the honourable thing and schlep it to Minsk. From there we could turn North through Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, before finally reaching Finland and Western Europe .... where the roads would be cleared and salted; where warm coffee awaited us when we refuelled, where civilisation beckoned. On Thursday the 10th we awoke to overcast skies and light snow. It seemed the warmer weather we had hoped for was just not going to arrive. Realising that conditions were not about to improve, we had no alternative but to push on and try to escape the Russian winter. When we left Moscow it was minus seven and snowing. This was to be typical of the conditions we encountered for the next 4,000 kilometres.

On numerous occasions in the past month, we had been warned about the notorious road between Moscow and Minsk. This highway was infamous for being a Russian Mafia haunt where theft and extortion were rife. We had been consistently advised that we should not stop at any point along the highway, and in particular we must not camp in the woods there. Although the 750 kilometres would make it our longest single day by far, we felt it was imperative that we made Minsk that evening. We had little idea how difficult this stretch would prove to be.

Due to the heavy traffic in Moscow, the roads remained clear of snow and ice, but only 150 kilometres outside the city, conditions deteriorated dramatically [see Russia map 9]. With a strong crosswind and driving snow we were confronted with the dangers of the icy roads. It was snowing so heavily and it was so cold that we had to stop every thirty minutes to chip the ice off our radiators.

Damn Cold Bikes

Ironically the bikes would overheat in the sub-zero temperatures because the radiators would become completely covered in ice. Our helmets would be so covered in ice that the visors were welded shut. This too would have to be removed before we could go on as ice would so form on the inside of our helmets whenever we breathed. Our hands and feet were completely numb from the cold. There were no roadside stalls where we could warm up, nor was there any food available anywhere. The snow and increasing fog made visibility extremely difficult.

Night began to fall with only 350 kilometres completed. The Russia - Belarus border came and went with little fanfare. With no markings on the road riding through the night was frightening as we were constantly blinded by the lights of oncoming trucks. The night seemed to go on and on for ever. As we continued, hour after hour we gradually became riding zombies. Concentration became impossible and the brain was only jolted back to attention each time the rear wheel lost traction and began to slip on another patch of black ice. All we could do was to try and keep the bikes upright and keep going on down the road.

Finally, at 10:30 p.m., after thirteen of the most difficult hours of the whole trip, we realised that in our daze, we had missed the turn-off to Minsk. After another 30 minutes, we finally found ourselves in Minsk and checked into a hotel arranged by our friends at Coca-Cola. We felt no hunger, we felt no relief for by this stage we just couldn't feel at all. Overcome with exhaustion, we collapsed into our room.

We awoke on Friday the 11th November with a call from reception. The Coca-Cola boys had arrived bright and early and wanted to work out how best to introduce us to the media. Eventually we staggered downstairs and just told them that our standard thing was the newspaper story in which we recant our trip for the thousandth time. We were driven around Minsk to meet several journalists but were both still exhausted from the previous day. We did some bike maintenance in the afternoon and then had an early night. Minsk didn't strike me as a town with a great deal of energy or buzz, and we simply could not be enticed to go out and hit the town that Friday night.

The detour to Minsk had really shaken us, and now we just wanted to get out. We left early on Saturday the 12th, and rode to the border [see Europe map 1]. It was perfect riding weather, yet the going was slow. Every 20 minutes we would both have to stop and spend 10 minutes warming up again. Engine grabbing had long since returned as our preferred way of warming the fingers. We passed the Belarusian border and picked up an exit stamp (we didn't get one as we entered) and soon passed through Vilnius. It was the early afternoon, sunny and -7 degrees. We found a cafe, had some hot chocolate and sausages and were soon on our way, only to stop 100 km outside Vilnius, unable to go on. We found a cheap hotel by the road and pulled in.

The actual road conditions through Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were similar to those in Russia. The only difference for us was that we could take three days to cover the 800 kilometres to Tallinn. Most of this section was spent riding in the snow off to the side of the road. The roads themselves were simply too icy and slippery.

We took a wrong turn, only our second wrong turn of the whole trip, and ended up heading west from Panyvezys, instead of North, but made the Latvian border, an hour or so after we should have got there only to find that Latvians demanded a Visa for Australian passport holders. Fortunately they sold them at the border and we were more than happy to follow the border guys into the warm office to do the paperwork. A normal visa would have cost us around USD 30 each, so we just got a 48 hour transit visa instead. We were still fixated on nothing else than getting to Finland, so that was no sacrifice.

On entering Riga in the afternoon of the 13th [see Europe map 2], we were chased an followed by a crazy guy in van, who kept waving for us to stop. Roads were icy and we needed maximum concentration just to stay upright on the bikes, but here was this maniac virtually forcing us off the bikes. We had no choice but to stop and talk to him. His name was Valdis Brants and he had just got back from a round America car journey for Latvian TV in an old Latvian ambulance. He spoke no English and was clearly no fan of Russian, so we spoke in German instead. This trip was proving a real test of linguistic flexibility. He housed us, fed us and took us on a scenic tour of Riga and Jurmala, by the Baltic sea, before seeing us off in the morning and giving us a contact in Tallinn, a Ford dealer, for the following evenings accommodation.

Ever since leaving Moscow we had been looking forward to the time when we could take the ferry from Tallinn to Helsinki where the roads would be cleared and salted, and where we could always find shops and petrol stations by the road to take shelter from the cold. To our amazement, when we rode off the ferry in Helsinki around lunchtime on the 15th of November, it was a balmy seven degrees (it was -3 when we left Tallinn). Our feelings of joy over this warm spell, were somewhat countered by the culture shock of the instant transformation of our surroundings to that of a western country. Having spent five months accustomed to the cost of goods and services in Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Russia, we were overwhelmed by the sudden change to Scandinavian prices. Road manners and driver courtesies had also changed dramatically. People gave way, drove with their lights on and in general drove with common sense, none of which we had experienced since leaving Japan. To this point in the trip we had spent only AU$ 1000 each of our AU$ 2500 cash pot, in the first 5 months of the trip. The last month of the trip would use up the remainder due to the costs of Western Europe.We had received contact from a guy at Alko beverages, the Finnish state alcohol monopoly, that they would like to help us out when we passed through Finland so with the blessing (and at the expense) of Alko, we checked into the 5 star Grand Marina hotel overlooking the harbour in Helsinki. The following day, we added Finlandia Vodka to our list of sponsors and tried to find space to add some Finlandia logos on our clothes and bikes. We tracked down a Honda dealer, Brandt Honda, the first specialist Honda dealer since leaving Japan. The bikes received a full service in Helsinki, a new set of the Dunlop Trailmax tyres (which had taken us all this way without incident and only one flat tyre). Feeling sympathy with a cash poor situation, Brandt Honda did the service for half price parts and half price labour, provided we regale them with tales of riding in Russia and Mongolia, and we happily obliged.

But it sure wasn't getting any warmer and on the 18th of November we left Helsinki, heading North to Vaasa to catch a ferry to Sweden [see Europe map 3]. On the way, just outside Helsinki was a motorcycle magazine based in Hyvinkaa. We spent much of the afternoon chatting to the editor there,... who also seemed to be the reporter and photographer. It wasn't encouraging. He had no money to pay for motorcycle stories. From what we could tell, he spent most of his money on Vodka. We told him that if no-one else wanted the rights to our story in Finland we would let him have it. But the picture was looking like Swedish magazines dominate the Scandinavian bike scene. Finnish service stations (got it was nice to see that concept again ... not just a petrol bowser by the road, but somewhere warm where you could step inside, warm your hands under hot running water, warm your insides with a hot chocolate...) were full of Swedish motorbike magazines. That night we camped in the grounds of a roadside cafe, somewhere just short of Tampere. The tent went up on a slab of ice. We were unable to get the pegs into the ground, so we parked the bikes at either end, and attached the tent with bungee straps. We sat sipping warm coffee in the roadside cafe until 8:30 at night, before trudging out to out home on the slab. At least if it got cold in the night we could go back to the cafe and warm up inside. It was a 24 hour cafe. Amazingly we slept well. The Thermarest ridge-rest mattresses deserve 5 stars. We woke up and strolled the 30 yards to the cafe for a warming coffee. The 19th of November was an uneventful day. We had a ferry to catch in Vaasa at 16:00, so we just put the heads down and did the miles.

Our arrival in Umeå was at 22:30 on the ferry from Vaasa in Finland. The boat was full of young drunk Swedes, none of whom got off the boat in Vaasa. The thing to do, for young people in Sweden apparently, is to get on a boat to Finland, get drunk on the tax free booze on board, and stay on the boat for the return trip. On arrival at the port we were told it was "two miles" to town. OK we figured, thats about 3klms on our speedo's ... we should be there in a couple of minutes in the freezing snowing weather ... we could handle that. 10 minutes go by and nothing. No light, just a pitch black road. no cars behind us, none in front of us, and none coming the opposite direction. No lights of a township ahead. Had we dropped into black hole? After 10 klms of this we began to think we had missed a turn, taken a wrong road or something. The decision to keep going forwards in the freezing blackness was not an easy one. Eventually after 18 klms, signs of light ahead told us we were coming to a town. On the 20 klm marker we hit Umeå, drove up the sleepy main street and into the first store with the lights on - a video hire shop. In there we began to ask the staff guy there where we might find a youth hostel, hotel, or anything like that. He told us they were all closed - its a seasonal thing, and then Swedish hospitality came to the rescue. A pretty girl in the store to hire a video asked us where we were from. On learning we were travelling through Sweden on the way from Tokyo to London she immediately told us to stay at her apartment, only 100 yards away. If that wasn't enough, on getting to her apartment, she showed us round, told us where everything was and gave us the key.... then she said she was off to her boyfriends place for the night and she would see us in the morning. This was a total contrast to the hospitality we got in Finland. There everyone stared at us as we rode though villages hoping we wouldn't stop and talk or ask any favours. The Swedes were clearly the opposite, keen to help strangers. In the morning she came back, made us coffee and explained that in Sweden, a 'mile' = 10 klms ... that explained the long 2 mile road into town.

Because of our interest in Scandinavia, and feeling as if all the hard work was over we were determined to see as much as the weather would allow. Our intention was to head further North from Umeň, and see how far we could get. After all we had been through, what was a little more cold? We only had one chance to ride in Scandinavia.

However we soon found that we could go no further north than Umeå before the snow and ice made motorcycling impossible. Heading south we found the going considerably easier. By late afternoon on the 20th, we were driving through the streets of Sundsvall, when we were approched by a guy in a Volvo (not that uncommon in Sweden). He was a big wig in a bike club called the "North Coast Riders" and wanted us to come to their clubhouse where we could stay the night. Sweden was working out well. Paying for accommodation so far was not something we had to worry about. The North Coast Riders fed us, got us drunk and even gave us a couple of the clubs shoulder badges.

North Coast Riders, SwedenThe following evening was spent in a hut, in the grounds of a service station. The hut was one of these kit garden huts that sell for a few hundred dollars. James and I checked with the young kid doing the night shift in the roadside service station before rolling out our thermarests and sleeping bags in the hut. But this was far all the Swedish hospitality we received. All though Sweden people bent over to help us. We rode into Stockholm on November 22nd, and called up Cecelia. Cecelia (CC) was the very attractive daughter of a Swedish diplomat and a very good friend of Cath, the English girl from the Raleigh camp we met back in Siberia. Cath insisted we call upon "CC" when in Stockholm and we had check this when we were in Helsinki. Cecelia was a load of fun and wanted to go out drinking straight away. Unfortunately she had just got engaged, and her jealous boyfriend didn't like the idea of two Australian guys staying over as well. So CC had arranged with her good friend Malin, to take us in. Malin, it turns out had just split up with an Australian boyfriend, and was more than familiar with te species. She also had a nice big flat all to herself in central Stockholm. The afternoon we arrived was spend washing out stinking clothes. It was by now apparent that after 6 months together, we didn't smell our own body odour, but others could. The whole backpacks were turned inside out and scrubbed. The four of us went our for some live music and beers that night but I was feeling a little tired so returned back to Malin's alone, leaving James to shake out his boogie boots. When I awoke on my sofa, I looked over to James' sofa, but he wasn't there. Had something happened to him last night? Then it became clear ... as I saw his 'boogie boots' outside Malin's bedroom door. I guess that meant he had managed to scrub enough baked on body odour off to be at least semi-human again.Soon enough we were on the road again. Stockholm had been a chance to clean everything, get the remaining visas we needed (for Czech Republic and France) and generally get out of "struggle" mode and into relaxed travel mode. Snow soon disappeared 200klms south of Stockholm and southern Sweden was sunny and relatively pleasant. We had also begun talking to motorcycle media in the counties we had passed though, relaying our story and cementing their interest. It was in Sweden that my bike first took on an ignition problem. It turns out it is a common problem with this vintage of TransAlp as the CDI unit is located directly beneath the seat, which flexes and puts pressure on the CDI contacts, causing one cylinder to fail. The bike occasionally ran on one cylinder for the remainder of the trip. Incredibly enough, one of the reasons we chose the TransAlp was because it was a twin cylinder bike. We figured it would be able to run on once cylinder should the need arise, and that logic proved to be sound, as for stretches in Sweden I was running on one cylinder. A single cylinder bike would have been immobilised.

By the end of November we were in Berlin and we were confident of making London for Christmas. The 5,000 kilometres we covered in Europe before reaching London consisted of relatively easy stretches of only 400 kilometres or so with regular rest days. Our priority was now to simply travel through Europe at a leisurely pace while ensuring that we made London on time. From Berlin we headed to Prague. On crossing the Czech border, the roadside was lined for the first 10 klms with scantily clad young girls waving at all passing vehicles. It took me a while to work out what was going on ... German truck drivers stop off to take a load of their mind on the Czech side of the border and indeed the first town we came to was full of strip clubs. Out of curiosity I enquired as to the price. 40DM would take a load off your mind. Prague itself is a pretty city, and despite being freezing December and back in 1994, it was still packed with tourists. We found a youth hostel, full of young Americans who thought they were on the cutting edge of society by travelling across the iron curtain and hanging out in Prague. One 'cool dude' tried to stamp his coolness on us by telling us he came "all the way from the States" and then "so how far have you come to get here?"... it was a bit of an anticlimax to the trip to be honest.Vienna was next. Coca Cola had its Eastern European HQ here and we needed to catch up with those guys. Amazingly pretty city, but we couldn't stay. From there it was on to Munich, where James had an old flame who put us up. From there to Frankfurt, and this time it was my turn to call upon the little black book. Amsterdam and Brussels followed, before we stayed at the parents of Rachel Mor, who worked from Mars in Moscow. Her parents own the squash club in Fontainebleau, and it was another nice chance to chill out for a couple of days, with fresh baguettes and croissants every morning before heading off to Chartres, Mont St Michel, St Malo, and Cherbourg. On the evening of the 19th of December 1994 we rode off the ferry in Portsmouth and made our way into London. Our historic journey was over. We had made it with both ourselves and our bikes (more or less) in one piece. In the process, we had become the first people to cross China on motorcycles, unescorted.For more details on the guys behind the project and some useful tips for those planning their own ambitious trip, try here!
The Tokyo to London Project would like to sincerely thank Coca-Cola Amatil, Mars Australia, Agfa Film (Australia and Germany), Australian Geographic, Maxwell (Nikon) Australia, McLeod Motorcycle Accessories, Dunlop, Gearsack, Stagg Leather and Mountain Designs without whom the project could never have taken place. Thanks also to Singapore Airlines for letting us get away with over 65 kgs of luggage each, to Honda Australia and Japan for helping us out with spare parts when stuck in Siberia, and to Finlandia Vodka for putting us up 5 star in Helsinki. Finally, a very special thanks to the senior officers at the Shanghai Traffic Police for having the vision to open doors that until then were very firmly closed. For more details on our sponsors, check out the Sponsors Page.

Additional Images of Europe

All text and images copyright © 1997; Walter Colebatch and James Mudie