Setting off from Zenith Motorcycles after final checks, I swing by Halfords who sold me a faulty single barrel pump. A shop assitant, Sin, is extremely helpful and replaces it with a working one without qualms. I roll to the border of our neighbourhood escorted by my best friend Yvonne on her Suzuki Van Van. She turns West, I turn East and I am on my own.
The 90 or so miles to Harwich are uneventful. The A12 is an old road and sections of it (those weird yellow/pink/brown/grey gravelly slabs from a few decades ago) feel a little unkind on the new tyres but the Avons manage it.
At Harwich I fill up with petrol just before the port and roll up to the entrance of the ferry. After a cursory passport check and a low key patdown I am ushered to lane 1. Its other occupants are another biker with a Norway number plate, four cars with “Disabled” badges and a couple of cyclists. Hundreds of cars and vans occupy the other lanes. Lorries and coaches queue separately.
Eventually we roll onto the ferry, a gigantic vessel. It feels like one is riding into the belly of some gargantuan beast. I am ushered to the front, alongside the Norwegian biker. The harness system for strapping the bike in is unfamiliar and I ask him for help. He assists, the bikes are secured, and I offer to buy him a beer later in gratitude for his help.
My cabin is a cheap “inside” one, with no window. It’s basic but clean and comfortable with a shower, a bunk and a plug socket. Ideal.
Heading out into the restaurant which sits alongside two bars, a small cinema showing The Incredibles 2, a few gambling tables and a VIP newspaper reading lounge, I order some meatballs with vegetables for a tenner. A conversation with a steward reveals that the crew is largely Filipino, and they live on the ship. The steward is enthusiastic and a genuinely nice bloke who loves his work.
I spot the Norwegian guy and wave to him. He comes over and I go to the bar to get him the beer I promised him earlier for his kind assistance.
We get chatting. He tells me his name and we talk about the travels we’ve undertaking. He is riding back from the Isle of Man TT where he was supporting a Norwegian rider. I tell him my dream ride which I’d been contemplating for at least five years is from Tromso, Europe’s northernmost city to Gibraltar, the southernmost. That is when the miracle happens.
Originally the trip I am on was meant to be the Tromso to Gibraltar ride. But the logistics were too intimidating: getting the bike to beyond the Arctic Circle, planning the route to take in the sparse petrol stations out there, dealing with reindeer.
H tells me he is from Tromso and he knows the ins and outs of getting there and away with a bike: by road, ferry and even via the Swedish railways. He gets a map out. The conversation which ensues is a dream. Here I am, on a roadtrip, being told how to get to and from my long dreamt of destination by a person from there, the first person I met on this ride, the only Norwegian biker I’d ever met and the only person I’d ever met from Tromso.
I did not doubt Ted Simon for a moment when he told me not to overplan or worry too much about stuff, and that as long as you earnestly and solemnly respect it, the road will provide, but I did not expect quite such a powerful, immediate and fulfilling illustration of his prophecy.
H is a good man. He’s ridden all around Europe and hitch hiked through Africa in his time. He takes a moment to think about my idea of the Tromso to Gibraltar trip. He nods to himself says he might like to do the run with me.
We talk for ages. We discuss Norway’s place in Europe, the US and the reasons behind Donald Trump’s victory, recent elections and referenda results around Europe, food, politics, motorbikes, roads, global migration patterns, Africa, Panama, motorcycle adventurers, travel writers. There is no point revealing what his views are: that is for another story or article. But it’s not a chat, it’s a meandering, fulfilling, useful, enlightening CONVERSATION. Ted Simon told me the trip would only be worthwhile if you talk to people. What a start.
Thank you, Road. And thank you H. I’ll see you on that run.