At least life is not boring

Yesterday was an amazing day. I had been upset with the GPS, which kept suggesting big roads and even highways despite using the “avoid highways” setting. Therefore, I took control and aimed for Trier and the Mosel valley. I’ve been there many times in the early years of my motorbike travelling but never in such perfect weather. I was thinking that things really could not get better when I saw a sign for Polo to the left and Louis to the right. Lucky coincidence again, my two favourite shops in Germany. I always try to pass at least one of them to see if there is something I need – most of my gear is actually bought in Germany. For this trip I had tried to find the addresses for Louis shops in particular, since I wanted to exchange my boots that have been leaking since I got them. Unfortunately, their website wasn’t working so I couldn’t obtain the addresses and their customer service said that I couldn’t exchange the boots, only send them in to them – they would then send them to the manufacturer for analysis and repair. Since they are my only boots, that couldn’t happen unless I bought a new pair.

Riding along Mosel again
Riding along Mosel again

So, I started shopping. In Polo, I found a first aid kit and new rain trousers. Onwards to Louis, I provided myself with free coffee and started trying on boots, unfortunately I made a mess and spilled the coffee all over the floor and a bit in my helmet but no one was angry and everyone was very nice and helpful. I explained that I needed to buy a new pair of boots so I could send the old ones in since they were leaking. No problem, they could help with that. Now, I don’t know if it was something that got lost in translation but they did an exchange for my old boots against my new boots and even refunded the excess cost for which I could buy luggage straps. And yes, would I like some coffee while they sorted out the payment.

Now I would like to mention that I am an extremely honest person, but I believe that I had the right to get new boots since the old one had been malfunctioning from the start. Also, I would like to mention, as an example of my honesty, that when the Ducati garage in Spain forgot to charge me for a tyre that they changed together with the service I went back and notified them and paid the 150 euros they forgot to charge. With the boots sorted I rode Mosel feeling incredibly lucky. I even decided to celebrate with a proper meal, the first after two days with raw food and beans. I had a yummy scrummy falafel in bread and a beer (alkoholfrei of course) and then I rode on. At this point I analysed my new boots, how they felt, stiff for sure, a bit tight and did they let the vibrations through more than the old ones? I am super sensitive for vibrations after some nerve damage a few years ago and I feel everything with my feet. Maybe the new boots were punishing me and my luck was running out– now, of course, I had to remind myself that I don’t believe in bad omens.

That evening I found a campsite by Mosel and life felt perfect. However, it was mighty difficult to tighten the chain, the tension was uneven and when I thought that I had got it right and screwed back the bolt, it caused the chain to go super tight. After a lot of work, I thought I had managed and went for shower and beer enjoying my book until the sun set.

Tent is up and laundry is done, it is time for ein Bitburger - bitte ein bit! :)
Tent is up and laundry is done, it is time for ein Bitburger – bitte ein bit! 🙂

This morning started of wonderfully with coffee in the sun and some twisty roads through the mountains. My left foot, which is my most sensitive one was really suffering from the vibrations. I had to hang it off the bike regularly to not go numb. When I started to think back on when it last was this bad (usually this is not happening in speeds lower than 90k/h) I got a flash back to the Grand Tour when my Ducati had a chain catastrophe and my leg got totally numb from the vibrations. Well, I had to stop hand check the chain. Despite having tightened it just the night before it was slack… and tight, and slack again… One spot was so slack that I thought the chain could jump off. It was not like this yesterday. I unloaded the luggage and tried to get it sorted but it was impossible. I was pretty much pulling my hair out when a man on a scooter showed up. After concluding that we couldn’t sort it out he decided to guide me 3 kilometres to a good garage he knew.

The chain could not be salvaged and to make a long story short I have now a new chain on the bike and the new sprockets in my pannier. Amazingly enough, they went off to collect a kit for me but had only time to replace the chain since they were very busy. I am forever grateful that they spent a couple of hours helping me on a Friday afternoon. I’ll try and ride carefully to Hungary and hopefully I can replace the sprockets there.

Now this all sound easy peasy in retrospect but it was a very stressful day for me. With everything that has happened lately (ie. Brexit) and the uncertainty in life that is the effect of it (about Christopher losing his status as a European Union citizen and what that will lead to for us) I really needed a peaceful holiday. I was barely coping with the GPS messing about and finding places to charge my phone, let alone major breakdowns.

In the end all was good. I went for a run, then a beer and salad. Now I can wait to get into my sleeping bag. I’m glad I didn’t know this when I sipped my morning coffee looking out over Mosel. I hope tomorrow is less eventful and more full of countryside roads than anything else.

At this point, when writing the above, I was just going to collect my phone which was left to charge in the women’s changing room. However, someone had taken it away to keep it safe in the restaurant – which was closed until next evening. Again, long story short – I had a very long morning drinking coffee with a Romanian seasonal worker while the right people were located and things got sorted out. He even gave me his old sat nav. This would simplify my continued travels, at least while I stayed in the four countries covered in the maps.

Proud to pose between these beautiful boys
Proud to pose between these beautiful boys, only slightly frightened.

Delayed again I continued and had a very good ride. In the evening I struggled to find a campsite and ended up being invited to camp with a canine agility club. Amazing, friendly people who invited me for dinner and beer and I even got to pose with their dogs. It was great to spend this time with them and get a glimpse of their hobby. Happy, I continued – little did I know what this day would present.

Along the Danube in Austria
Along the Danube in Austria

Using the GPS I rode on beautiful roads through Bavaria and into Austria following the Danube and the Romantische strasse and I had a fabulous day until I entered Hungary. First thing I saw was the police gathering evidence after a traffic accident. Later the sun set and it got dark. There were lots of insects out and about and I collected a fair bit of them, on the bike and myself. I had to stop frequently to wipe the visor, quite unpleasant. Then my phone died, in Hungary I had to use my phone as a GPS since the GPS gifted to me by the Romanian guy didn’t have a map of Hungary. So when my phone/GPS died I was in trouble. I had to get myself a map, which I did, and try and read it in the dark. Under these circumstances I decided that the easiest way to get to Eszergom was from the Slovakian side. If I would have known that the road was narrow, without road markings or light I probably would have thought differently. I rode for 50 kilometres in darkness, being cold but too afraid of the dark to stop and put more layers on, feeling stressed about being alone and of being followed… In general I was just trying not to panic and I was extremely tired after over 12 hours riding. When I finally reach the bridge to Esztergom it was closed because of a bomb threat. The only other way was to go back where I came from. No way! In Swedish we have a saying, that one needs to break down to go on. This was such a moment, I sat down and had a little cry, then I pulled myself together and considered my options. Having done so, I realised that the best alternative, considering how tired I was, simply was to sit down, eat some sweets and wait for the bridge to open. At least I was safe, after all there were lots of police, and while I was waiting the phone slowly charged up to 2%, (which is the limit when I can send text messages) and I could report that I was safe. After a shade over an hour, the bridge was open and I could continue. My friends were waiting for me and after an evening snack I rolled out my sleeping mat in the back of their van. Zooink! What a ride – I’m in no hurry to do that again.

Upon arrival I was given Bumm chocolate since I had a bum journey
Upon arrival I was given Bumm chocolate since I had a bum journey

International WIMA Rally in Australia

After our fantastic weekend at the Moto GP circuit we relocated down the road to The Shearing Shed, which was our rally site. However, first we had to get some wheels. We hitched a lift to Melbourne to collect the rental bikes at Garners, who kindly had offered WIMA a discount. Arriving at the shop was great, it was full of WIMAs who were being equipped with bikes and ready to roll. It took some time for us all to be sorted but in the meantime I could chat and catch up with friends from past rallies, so, as the Aussie say, “no worries”. My Estonian friend, Anneli, is worth a special mention here: she came strolling down the street, not showing a sign of having run the Melbourne Marathon the day before, she is a true super woman! We met in Japan 5 years ago and stay in contact for both riding and running. In the shop was Anna from Perth, who I met for the first time in New Zealand, 10 years ago, and we travelled together for 3 weeks back then. I also met with Tina, my very first WIMA friend, who I met at my first rally, in Sweden 2005, on a ride out to Store Mosse National Park and we ended up having heaps of cake for lunch at a café with all-you-can–eat cake buffet (I think it is a Swedish thing).

At Garners to get bikes, Fokje and her husband Eivert will be our road masters for the day
At Garners to get bikes, Fokje and her husband Eivert will be our road masters for the day

After meeting and greeting, prepping and packing we got ready to ride. I had rented a BMW 650 GS – a lovely old bike – and so we made our way back to Phillip Island. There, we met up with the rest of the WIMAs and I was happy to meet up with more friends I had not seen for years, as well as friends I saw last rally in Sweden in July. The evening started with a delicious welcome dinner and an official opening of the rally with a welcome speech by the Australian President, Moira, and our International President, Claudia. After this, it was mingle and party, lovely to catch up with friends and to meet a few new faces as well. I have to confess that I was rather tired after the weekend and turned in early. I slept beautifully in the cabin, shared with Estonians, Japanese and Germans – it was an international house, which is the way I like it!
On Tuesday, most of us rode to a botanical garden, led by local guide Kathy, to look at flowers and plants and say (in her own words): “oh, that’s weird”. I also saw a little mousy animal, quokka, which made me feel that I had accomplished something that morning.

A very tall flower and 4 Estonian friends in the botanical garden
A very tall flower and 4 Estonian friends in the botanical garden

On from this, we continued to an old farm. It never stops to amuse me when Aussies point out that something is very old, i.e. 100 years. Well, western culture is young in this country. I walked the farm with Liv and Margareth, both Australians, who related back to things from their childhood and their grandparents, and actually, these things seemed quite the same as things that my grandparents had on their farm. Funny thing this, culture. On the farm we could also see wallabies, and I was ruthlessly informed that the kangaroos I had seen 10 years ago were, in fact, not kangaroos, but wallabies. Imagine, during 10 years’ time I have treasured these memories of seeing wild kangaroos during Christmas in Australia. What a disappointment. I don’t know how I could have missed this, but honestly they all look the same to me, I just thought that the small ones grow to become big ones. Pretty much like small children regarding mice and rats 😮 Needless to say, this realisation made me feel silly!

Kangaroo imposters, i.e. wallabies
Kangaroo imposters, i.e. wallabies

Tuesday was also trash night. This is something that I try to avoid getting involved in and since I was the only Swede I had thought that I would be excused. However, there was no mercy, humiliation had to include everyone so I did an improvised tiger hunt, very similar to what I do with the 2-4 year olds when I’m teaching, but in English. Amazingly enough, people seemed to love it, WIMAs are a cheerful lot. Other countries contributed with stories or dance and song performances and everyone was making a real effort so why shouldn’t I!?

The Japanese trash dance was a success! They are all dressed as Japanese mascott, which name I forgotten but it is apparently the new Tamagochi
The Japanese trash dance was a success! They are all dressed as Japanese mascott, which name I forgotten but it is apparently the new Tamagochi

On Wednesday it rained, and then it rained a bit more. Nevertheless, Kathy guided us safely up to the wildlife reserve where we could see all Australian animals – now I was going to get this kangaroo problem clarified. However, that proved to be optimistic, they still look the same to me, I can’t really see the colour difference and it was not possible to line them up for comparison. I decided that kangaroos are not all that interesting, my favourite Australian animal from now on is the wombat. In the nursery I could pet an 11 month old baby. He was being brought up by a carer who worked professionally with this and he would return to the wild when he was ready, in a year or so.

Baby wombat, I could pet him, the fur is not at all soft, more like a pig actually
Baby wombat, I could pet him, the fur is not at all soft, more like a pig actually

In my opinion, animals should not be kept in captivity and on display for our amusement. I was in two minds about going but in the end I was happy I came. This wildlife park seemed to work well and they were, for example, working on preserving the Tasmanian devil, which risks going extinct due to a virus. However, I thought some animals did have very small areas, and I was glad to learn that, for example, the Dingoes rotate between the display yard and a private one to not become nervous. Regardless, there is only so much time I can spend looking at animals in captivity. I decided to hit the road and ride, after all that is what I came to Australia for. This proved to be a problem, an embarrassing one. I had left the parking light on by mistake and drained the battery, or so I thought. Luckily, there were other WIMAs there, Keiko and Tei (Michiko’s husband) helped me push start, which didn’t work, and then Tei unscrewed the plastic covers to get to the battery so we could jump start the bike… well, we got this far before he noticed that the kill switch was on. Oh, if only the earth could open and swallow me. How embarrassing! I never use this switch, I always turn the bike off with the key. I reckon that someone had tried to be helpful and intended to turn off the lights for me. So, we assembled the bits again and I could get riding. I had a lovely ride back to Phillip Island, I rode twisty roads in mountains with tall eucalyptus trees that smelled lovely, and then I rode twisty roads over green rolling hills with a view that stretched far. The only animals I saw were sheep, quite a lot of sheep – but the riding was fabulous.

The beach at Wilsons Promontory, the weather is a bit chilly so I think I'll skip swimming and stick to riding for now
The beach at Wilsons Promontory, the weather is a bit chilly so I think I’ll skip swimming and stick to riding for now

Another destination was Wilsons Promontory National Park, with offered stunning nature and wild animals – I saw emus, nothing else but the view was fantastic. Mountains, fields with gnarly trees, swamps, steppe, there seemed to be a bit of everything. The view was so good that I didn’t bother to try capture it with a photo, I knew I would be disappointed. This was a place where you could spend days hiking – I had to do with a ride through, it was a beautiful ride so I’m happy with what I got. The following day I spotted an animal, an echidna, next to the road while riding out with Angie, brilliant with a local guide again. I was just following her tail light and riding in a meditative way and there it was, like a present. This sums up my experience of Australian wild animals, after this I only saw birds. However, if I need to make peace with the kangaroo issue I have an invitation to Anna in Perth for a visit at her friend’s kangaroo sanctuary – good to know that there is a solution if the issue starts gnawing on my soul 
As the Swedish representative and stand-in for our Swedish WIMA president Carola, who was unable to come, I took part in the presidents meeting. I’ve done this before and it is always interesting to take part in the discussions, besides, I get to go to the presidents’ dinner afterwards and eat yummy food. This year, the meeting was extra exciting since I was standing for the position of Vice President. The votes were in my favour and I’m happy to be part of the international committee and contribute to WIMA International’s development over the next few years. Wow, exciting stuff! And please, don’t think I do it only for the dinners – even though the Italian restaurant Moira had booked served marvellous food. Well done Moira. It was a good choice – if Rossi eats there it has to be delicious and nutritious stuff, or!?

Presidents dinner in Cows. On the wall there's a range of photos of the sons of the resturant owners posing with different racing ledgends.
Presidents dinner in Cows. On the wall there’s a range of photos of the sons of the resturant owners posing with different racing ledgends.

After this, the only major event that remained was the parade, which also happens to be my favourite event! We all prepped our bikes with flags and other national accessories (like inflatable kangaroos, some go all out). Together, we rode through Cowes and I believe our appearance was impressive, people stopped and waved at us. After all, it was a parade of 60 or so female bikers from 13 countries (Australia, Austria, Britain, Estonia, Finland, Germany, India, Japan, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, Switzerland and the USA). After the parade we had lunch at the workers club in Wonthaggi. I love this Australian concept of clubs, there seems to be a club for everything.

We're getting ready for the parade
We’re getting ready for the parade
Elsbeth from Switzerland and Syl from the USA, ready to ride and shine
Elsbeth from Switzerland and Syl from the USA, ready to ride and shine

Following this, I experienced something new: I went geocaching with the Finnish WIMAs. I got initiated by some real pros, they even had a GPS to track the location of the geocache. Amazingly fun. It is like a treasure hunt, but without the hassle of finding treasure. I believe this is a great way of getting out and about seeing different locations, especially if the locations are as beautiful as this. Thanks to the expert geochachers Mari and Taru for enriching my life.

I look at the view, they look for a geocach-thingy
I look at the view, they look for a geocach-thingy
We found the thingy! Great excitements, my very first geocach-thingy!
We found the thingy! Great excitements, my very first geocach-thingy!

Lastly, there was a farewell dinner and party. Yet again, we were served yummy food so special thanks were given to the chefs and the staff at The Shearing Shed. Next year’s rally in Hungary was presented with a video as an appetizer and an invitation letter from Emeze, the president of WIMA Hungary. Other things that took place were the presentation of this year’s Ellen Pfeiffer Award to Uli from Austria for her accomplishments within the local WIMA branch, and Keiko, former VP, and Sanna, former web manager, were thanked for their service in the international WIMA committee. We also collected 256.20 Aus $ for the Motorcycle Outreach, which will go towards setting up a repair shop at their location in Tanzania. This last evening was more a wind down than a party, most people were going to continue their travelling in Australia for some time to come. I was going to spend another week in Victoria but more about that later.

I could hardly wait to fill those panniers up and load my camping gear and head out, I've been waiting 10 years for this ride... the Great Ocean Road
I could hardly wait to fill those panniers up and load my camping gear and head out, I’ve been waiting 10 years for this ride… the Great Ocean Road

WIMA in the Local Newspaper “Smålänningen”: Freedom on Two Wheels

My translation of the original article which was printed in Smålänningen on the 24th of July 2015

Smålänningen 24 juli 2015
Smålänningen 24 juli 2015

Headline: Freedom on two wheels
Internationall rally brought two hundred to Sundet.
Caption large picture: “Two hundred motorcyclists gets ready for the parade to the car show in Tydinge in Skåne

SUNDET Two hundred motorcyclists have gathered in Sundet outside Vittaryd for a week. Apart from the interest in motorcycles, they have something else in common: they are all women.

“It is such an amazing feeling to look around when we ride in a row. All you see in front of you and in your rear mirror is women. It is such a cool feeling, real power.”
Smålänningen is sitting together with Inger Sjölander-Eson on a field in Sundet, between Vittaryd and Dörarp. Shiny black motorbikes are parked in a row in front of us, in between colourful tents. Two hundred women – and a few men – have gathered here for Women International Motorcycle Association’s annual rally.
“The official rally is actually in Australia but since it is so far from Europe – not everyone can afford to travel there – we can meet here for a week instead.
We meet and have fun together. During the days we ride motorbikes and the evenings are filled with dance and games. Among other things, we have a lottery where all the money goes to the Cancerfund. First, we thought that we would donate to the Breastcancer fund, since we all know someone that has been affected, but since we have our husbands with us here and they can also be affected by cancer, we decided on simply donating to the Cancerfund.”

Women International Motorcycle Association, WIMA, was founded in the USA in the 50’s and is unique since it is an international motorcycle association. The association has existed in Sweden since the 1960’s and today it has between 75 and 100 members. Inger Sjölander-Eson has been a member since 1981 and she says the thrill of riding a motorbike is not just the obvious feeling of freedom but so much more.
“You can feel the wind and the smell. You are not shut in a car, so if it rains it is extra fantastic when the sun comes out. It is such an incredible joy.” On the question if you need to have mechanical skills, she answers with a laugh.
Power and freedom
“I don’t know anything, I just fill up and ride.”
Smålänningen takes its farewell from Inger just as two hundred motorcyclists – and almost as many women – leaves Sundet in formation to ride to the car show in Tydinge in Skåne. When the riders swoosh past in between cheers and fumes, you can not but feel anything else than – yeah, right – power.

Left photo caption: Violetta Ivanora from Bulgaria has ridden 4 days and 2500k to take part in the Sweden rally 2015.
Right photo caption: Michiko Hitomi and Hitomi Kamiya from Japan flew to Stockholm and rode from there on rented bikes to the international rally in Sundet.

The original article, as seen in the picture, was published in Smålänningen, Lungbys local newspaper, on the 24th of July 2015. Text & photos by Tanu Mehta.