Alps 2008

Day 02

June 20


It seems that my shoulders are a bit too wide and every time a flight attendant passes me, I get a bump. I've been 'hit on' before, but this brings a whole new meaning to the word. So there's not a lot of sleep to be had, but I grab what I can. Before long we're on the ground and I gather my bags. Fortunately the river bag has back packer straps on it, so I can hoist it on the back which frees my hands to carry my other two bags. Going through customs is a nonevent and soon I make my way to purchase the train ticket to Clapham Junction. I usually use the machines, but I'm a bit foggy headed so I head for the line to deal with a real human. With ticket in hand, I make my way slowly toward the platform as best as I can read the signs. To get there requires navigating some pretty steep steps which is a real challenge with my load and my knees. I see one of the railroad attendants and ask her if this is the platform for the train to Clapham Junction. She directs me to the next one over which means I get to go up the steps and down the steps one more time. When I get to the second platform, I ask the attendant there if this is the platform. He tells me -

"No, you need to be on the platform over there."

I guess he sees the frustration and perspiration so he does some checking.

"However, if you don't mind waiting 30 minutes there will be a train through here that will take you there."

I thank him and decide that a 30 minute wait is a lot better than another 2 sets of stairs only to find out I just missed the train! The rest does me good and gives me a chance to try to collect my scattered thoughts. Finally the train arrives and I score a seat close to the door and the toilet.


The mass transit system in the UK is quite good and I have done this drill before. As we make our way to the destination, another train whizzes by and you can feel the additional rocking from the passing blast.

  Once I'm in Clapham Junction, it's more steps to navigate to get out. I sure will be glad to deposit this luggage on that ST1300 and let it tote it about! As I make my way out, I see the stop that I need across the street. The bus drivers are not particularly fond of receiving fares in cash, so I spy a little market that sells bus passes. I pick a one day pass up and soon the bus I am waiting for arrives.
  It's short ride from Clapham Junction to AboutTown in almost a direct shot. The bus stop is only a half block down the street so I have one last walk to make with my load. Mike is working with a customer, so I give them room until the deal is done and take a much needed breather. It's good to be back and we talk about where I'm headed. Just as we are finishing up the paperwork, I hear the sound of a ST1100 and Dave pulls up. I give him a big hug and we comment on our excellent timing. With the paperwork out of the way, Mike pushes the white ST1300 outside the shop so I can load it up. Every time I see him move bikes in and out I am still amazed at how he can maneuver them in such tight quarters.  

As I sort out my gear and pack up, Dave and Mike chat a bit about the trip we are going on and the places we will be. Soon I have things somewhat stashed for the road. Mike asks me -

"Do you need to store any of your bags here with us?"

"No, I've got everything on the on the bike. But I sure do appreciate the offer" I tell him.

He is just that way - doing everything he can to make sure you have what you need and your ride is a good one. He smiles and says

"Well, I know you know how to operate one of these, but ..."

then he goes into the standard briefing that he must do for all operators. It is still a good reminder for me even though I've been riding almost 40 years.


Dave asks me -

"Are you very hungry?"

My response - "Enough to eat the sole off a pair of shoes."

"We'll stop along the way somewhere then."

I am amazed that a London bus stops and lets us cross the street in front of them. Soon Dave and I are knee deep into the London traffic. It has taken him over an hour just to get into AboutTown so I am prepared for the worst. Having study the maps around London, I've got a pretty good idea how we will head - up East Hill, around Clapham Junction, onto the A205 circular to A20 then M20 to Dover. At one of the stops in the heavy traffic, Dave asks me -

"Are you up to filtering?"

"Sure man, go for it" I tell him.

In London, filtering - or lane-splitting as they call it in California - is an accepted practice. However, it does not mean that it ain't close quarters in a lot of places. You just have to grab a root and growl and make your way through. In many spots, you probably couldn't fit a sandwich between my mirrors and the adjacent car mirrors. But it gets us out of London a lot quicker than staying in the flow. Once we are out on the motorway, Dave pulls into the first service area that has food. And it turns out to be a Mickey D's.


Dave is a bit apologetic about the culinary choices, but I tell him -

"Well, the first time Guy and I were here, Tim took us to a McDonalds. So I've kind of come to expect it. But now don't do like Tim and tell me you don't have any money.

We both laugh as we settle down to the same consistent mush that I have eaten before. One thing you do have to say for McDonalds, they are consistent wherever you go. With that bit of business done and a proper hydraulic break, we're back out on the motorway headed for the ferry at Dover.

  Pretty soon the traffic comes to a screeching halt. There are thousands of folks (or so it seems) that are planning on riding the ferry also. So Dave takes the lead on filtering and I am right behind him. It's just as tight as London, but it works like a charm. Pretty soon we are in sight of the gate near the front of the line.  
  Once we're there, Dave collects the tickets we will need. Because we have been able to make such good time, he manages to get us booked on an earlier ferry. Or else it could have just been his award winning smile and charm ...  
  We just arrive at the staging area when they begin loading. It's an easy jaunt into the belly of the ferry where they have a special parking area for bikes. They provide a ratchet strap and a cushion so I quickly get the ST1300 ready for the journey.  
  With that taken care of, Dave and I make our way up to the top deck for some fresh air. I'm still sagging and dragging a little bit so it does me good. I watch as the white cliffs of Dover recede in the distance. I'm sure for many military pilots in W.W.II they were a very welcoming sign.  
  As we make our way across the Channel to Calais, France Dave and I can't help but notice a strange sight off in the distance. A chopper is hovering near a ship and we wonder what that is all about. But I guess some things you will just never know.  
  As we leave the ferry and I see the France signs, I can't help but laugh. Me? On a motorcycle riding in France on the way to the Alps? Who would have thought this old barefoot hillbilly would ever be doing this? Soon we make our way into Belgium and into the city of Ieper. Moff and Pete are supposed to be be waiting on us at a cafe in the town square. So we check checked into the Hotel Ambrosia, stow our bags and make our way there. Sure enough, it doesn't take long to spot the motley crew.  
  Before long, Luc and Toni arrive from nearby Ghent. Luc is putting Dave and me up for a night on our way back through and doing a BBQ for us too.  

Then lo and behold, Pieter shows up from the Netherlands on his unique BMW Cruiser. I tell him -

"Well, the more the come, the worse they get!"

and I give him a big hug. We rode together on the UK 2005 Ride through Scotland and England.

  We all place our orders for dinner and catch up on times gone by and where Dave and I are headed. The food is good and the conversation is better. It's fun to swap stories and such with folks who share a common passion for riding. Once we demolish the vittles, we realize it's about time for the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate.  
  This memorial commemorates the thousands of fallen UK soldiers from W.W.I who died defending this ground from the German forces, The names of over 50,000 fallen ones whose bodies were never found are inscribed on tablets lining the walls. It is certainly holy ground and a fitting memorial for those who 'counted not the cost'.  

Once the ceremony is over, we wander back to the square to enjoy some more time of telling tall tales and kicking tires. As we pass one outdoor cafe, I notice a Korea veteran from the UK. I stop and shake his hand and tell him -

"I appreciate your service to your country and mine."

He thanks me and we proceed on our way. We pick another cafe and spend some more pleasant time together. I'm really starting to sag badly as my body is trying to figure out what time zone it is in. So we part ways and head back to our hotel. The evening is quite late and the museum which was once a cathedral stands a majestic watch over the deserted town square.

  I bid Dave good night and collapse on the bed, savoring the beginning of an incredible journey for me.  

Totals For The Day -

Countries - 3 (England, France, Belgium)

Miles - 140

Passes - 0

Hairpins - 0