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01 New York
02 New England
03 Maine to Midland
04 Midland to Sturgis
05 Indians'n Cowboys
06 British Columbia
07 San Francisco
08 SF to San Diego
09 Baja to Canyons
10 Baja California
11 Northern Mexico
12 Mex. to Guatemala
13 Gua. to Costa Rica
14 CR to S. America
15 Ecuador
16 Peru and Bolivia
17 Chile
18 Patagonia
19 Argentina/Brasil
20 The road home
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Norwegian version

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Chapter 20 The road home

Start: May 2nd, Madrid, Spain Stop: June 2nd, Porsgrunn, Norway
5658 km, Total and final Distance: 59456 km [Map]

Our last stretch of road on this journey took us from Madrid to the Mediterranean coast, up through the central plains of Spain where we hooked up with old friends and into the troublesome mountains of Northern Spain. After a couple of pit stops in France, we raced through Germany in a frenzy to get to the ferry in time. Nobody home knew we were that close.

The Axarquia region

The back roads of Axarquia in Andalucia offers great variety and nice views.

The espresso coffee we had in a bar close to Puerta de Sol in Madrid made me withdraw my earlier opinions that the coffee in Argentina was excellent. This was how it should taste, and we realized how unspoiled we had become during the two years we had been away from Spain. We were back in the capital where we married three years earlier, and the only reason we didn't appreciate it like we had done last time, was that we were dead tired of big cities.

Gerald, Bente and I waited for our bikes. For three weeks we had tried - and believed we had succeeded - to arrange a direct flight for both bikes to Madrid on the same date as our own flight. But things did not quite go our way. First we got screwed on the volume weight of the bikes, a mistake that initially increased the total shipping costs with 200 USD per bike. After arguing for a long and loud hour, the agent in Buenos Aires dropped a couple of fees admitting it was their fault. Even so we paid about 70 USD more per bike than we should have. Then the bikes left three days later than scheduled because of another mistake from the agent, and if that wasn't enough to get us annoyed, the bikes were sent to Frankfurt. A few long days later they arrived in Madrid - on a truck.

The Crash Center

Close to our hotel in the center of town was one of many Irish bars. For a price much lower than in Buenos Aires we could enjoy the Irish contribution to world happiness, the beer. For me the Guinness is medicine, food and drug. A couple of Guinness and my I'm calm, the waiting's a breeze and ideas start popping out. This particular night the three of us had just arrived in town and the beer budget hung loose. We drank in happy ignorance of the coming delay, and at some stage I said, "Wouldn't it be a great idea to have a center to get treatment for the problems we are about to encounter when we try to adjust to normal life again." It didn't take long before the center had a name; The Crash Center. It would be a place that focused on adapting homecoming long distance motorcycle travelers to the life ahead. Once admitted, there would be no way getting out before the agreed release date. The bike would come with you, and for the first days you would be allowed to ride it for a few hours on the premises, but maximum one hour with luggage. Slowly the luggage will be taken away, while the bike still can be used for short rides. In the afternoon the "confrontation treatment" consists of rides into town, in a car, where you have to nod and say hi to people you supposedly know, and slowly move into small talk about furniture, gardening, stupid TV series and children. The "Work treatment" starts with sessions where you, through headphones, can listen to recordings from an office environment. Slowly you learn to shave again, use more than one pair of pants, use a kitchen, get up at regular hours, shower every day - using soap and shampoo, put clothes in lockers, eat regularly, and so on. A few weeks is the shortest treatment period, but extension can be given if the patient needs it. We raised our glasses and agreed it could fill a need.

We tried our best to endure the wait, so we hired a car and went for a short trip to Nerja, the little village close to Malaga where we lived a few years ago. Bente stayed in an apartment we rented for a week while Gerald and I returned to Madrid and finally got the bikes out of customs. At a gas station we had a coke and separated. Gerald went home to Austria and I headed for the local Triumph dealer for a much needed service on Rocinante. We promised to stay in touch and planned on meeting in Austria on our way north. It was the good-bye to a good friend and travel companion, and we knew we would meet again some day.

Back to Nerja

San Isidro

The San Isidro Romeria, Nerja.

Rocinante needed a drive chain, cam chain, valve adjustment, greasing, a few new bearings, fix broken screws and find the reason for the high oil consumption. We had started a slightly ironic attitude towards the bike lately. Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to call her Rocinante in the first place. The heroic Don's horse was an old stubborn beast who'd rather do nothing than follow his master's orders. Pretty much like ours. Also, maybe Stumbling Along the Pan American was a bad name for the trip. God knows we had done just that lately.

The mechanics in Madrid did a good job and they found that worn valve shafts or valve oil seals was the explanation for the oil consumption. There was nothing I wanted to do about it at the moment other than fill oil. Anyway, the bike was like new when I left the shop, but later I left it to another mechanic to change the cam chain. The result was that pieces were missing from the bike, some bolts were destroyed and silicon remnants everywhere added a nice touch to the engine head. And then the pick up coil, a minor detail I had intended to carry along as a spare but never did, said good-bye and we got stuck again waiting for a new one. After ninety thousand kilometers this bike started to annoy Bente to such an extent she no longer trusted it to get us home. I said again and again I had more faith in it and that now that we were back in Europe things could be fixed wherever we went. She wasn't convinced.

Driving through Andalucia again was a nice change from South America. Such a thing as a twisty and paved back road is a rare thing over there. Here I was on my own on a fantastic patchwork of a road with switch backs going on forever. And there was nobody on the road but me. From Madrid to Nerja I escaped all the main roads and since most of our luggage was in Nerja, I could thoroughly enjoy a solo ride through the lovely olive fields of southern Spain. I arrived many hours later than planned, and smiled happily when Bente received me with a home made dinner, a bottle of good wine, our favorite whisky and two Monte Christo cigars as a happy birthday gift. I even got a cortapuro, my very own cigar cutter.

San Isidro

Making a king size Paella on the San Isidro festival. It tasted good too.

For the second time we enjoyed the San Isidro festival. In Nerja the whole village goes ballistic during this two day festival in honor of a farmer who received God's help in working his fields. There's nowhere better than Nerja to see this festival, and for a day we strolled around the cave area and sucked in the atmosphere.

It felt strangely natural to be back in Europe. The contrasts are significant even to Argentina, but we only felt it for a few days. Maybe the biggest immediate difference was the quantity of motorcycles in the capital and the much lower interest people showed for Rocinante. But when we where back out in the countryside on a Sunday ride north, the local bar hoppers came out and hang around and over the bike as in any Latin country. Drunk as many Spanish men are on a Sunday afternoon, they treated us to whatever we wanted from the bar and asked all the regular questions about the bike and our trip. In vanity we had written the name of our homepage on one of the aluminum panniers and also added the trips we had done to date. It caught an eye or two.

Meeting old friends

On our zigzagging northbound course we stopped in Córdoba and visited the famous La Mesquita, a visit worth while for the nice Moorish and Christian mixture of architecture. We woke up on a Saturday with headaches and red eyes because of the Feria de Córdoba which had started the day before. We visited the Feria - where an enormous area was devoted to singing, drinking, eating and dancing - together with the local Triumph mechanic and friends. It was a great night where me made new friends and learned how to drink the local Galician coffee snaps. Hence the headache.

Bernt and Ulrika

Bernt and Ullrika arrives at Plaza Mayor, Cuenca.

Bernt and Ullrika, a Swedish couple we befriended in Nerja three years ago, was on their way south on a Honda Varadero, and via their cell phone we arranged to meet in Cuenca, just east of Madrid. We had a lot of catching up to do and headed out of town for a little village where we settled in the bar and chatted into the small hours. They had just started a journey that would probably take them around Andalucia for a few months, and we noticed how different from them we felt, being about to end our own adventure. We recognized the excitement from the early stages of our own trip, and knew even better than before that we needed to go home and recharge our batteries. After we separated and headed for Picos de Europa, Bente and I had a couple of confrontations discussing how long it should take us to get home. I was ready for more but Bente admitted it was very hard to enjoy the scenery knowing how close we were to home. Then the pick up coil stopped working and we changed our plans again. The visit to Austria and Gerald would have to wait, and the Pyrenees would not be seen as thoroughly as initially planned.

But we still had fantastic days. In a small village in Aragón we ended up for a coffee in the only bar in town, where the average age among the clientele was somewhere in the seventies. We were invited to a table and they told us that they were the young guys in town. Everyone else had fled to the bigger cities to find jobs. They passed their time drinking wine and smoke home grown tobacco - "strong enough to kill a horse", nagging each other and gambling in the local club. A sign on the wall said that if you were from the village but not a member of the gambling club, you were only allowed to drink standing in the bar. The tables were reserved for members. Since the tables far outnumbered the guests I had to laugh. Small town Mafia methods to force membership on people, maybe.

Wine and football against Big Brother

San Isidro
Catching up in a small village north of Cuenca. Ullrika took the picture.

In La Rioja, a region well known for the wine, we stayed in another small village and saw Valencia play against Bayern Munchen in the Champions League final. It was then we realized that Europe had changed dramatically since we left. In the bar two television sets competed in getting our attention. In a country where football is religion, the second TV set showed some sort of reality TV show called "Gran Hermano", or "Big Brother". As the match went into its final stages, more and more people turned their head to see an interview with a participant in the show who had just been kicked out of a house. The volume was increased until we couldn't hear the commentators of the football match, but nobody seemed to care. But even if Valencia lost and Big Brother won, we where treated to drinks again. The couple that ran the hotel we stayed in and an old man with dirty jokes shifted on buying, and after a long and pleasant and not quite sober night, we staggered upstairs with a bottle of La Rioja in Bente's hand, a gift from the bar.


One contrast to South America was evident as we slowly moved north. The distances between villages and towns were so short that sometimes we never saw the gap. After the Ruta 40 in Argentina, this was like riding in one big city. No longer did I keep the bike upright when I filled the gas tank, to squeeze in the last few deciliter of gas, and no longer did we fill up the tank at every opportunity. If we did we would make lousy progress. The gas was of high quality and every station carried the Eurosuper. The 84 octane we sometimes bought in the Andes was pleasantly absent. We also had to readjust our minds when looking at maps. In South America we could sometimes ride 2000km before turning the map to the next page, but when we looked at the Spain map and realized we could reach from the extreme south to the extreme north, and hence cover the whole map, in one long day, it confirmed that distance is a matter of relativity. Once I asked in a bar how far it was to ride to Santander. The owner said 125km, and he was absolutely right. It was exactly that. It made me laugh to think back to Peru where most people never drove a car and never bothered about distance in kilometer or miles. Distance was given in hours on a bus, and if a trip that normally took eight hours lasted sixteen hours because of a breakdown, then the distance was sixteen hours. Of course, then they saw the bike and divided that number with three or five, depending on how many of the local people were listening when the brave guess came up. Back in good old Europe, where in Norway they had separated the VAT on restaurant food to whether you ate it standing up, in the street or sitting down, the numbers where given to the millimeter, and they were correct. I kind of missed the Andes.

Picos de Europa

I have a feeling I have seen this before. Rocinante in front of the Picos de Europa in northern Spain.

Spain is a great country for a motorcyclist. If you choose right, you can go on twisted back roads from east to west, from north to south. The people are friendly and in the bars there's no such thing as a generation gap. You see them all, from the baby to the grandmother. They eat, drink, talk and shout and throw leftovers on the floor. The villages are hundreds of years old with streets laid out long before the motorized vehicle came into being. As a result you can easy get lost in the narrow and often steep streets that bends and curls between white washed houses in the south and gray, nature colored houses in the north. We love it here, and Bente stated for the umpteenth time that one day she wanted to move away from the Norwegian winter and establish a life in southern Spain, somewhere away from the tourist traps. The problem is that the tourists are coming in greater hordes every year. In the three years that have passed since we lived in Nerja, the house prices have tripled, and every year the foreign investments moves inland and takes over villages. But what can we expect; if we think like this, why shouldn't others?

Bike, bloody bike

After the pick up coil was replaced in Santander, we entered the Pyrenees and enjoyed some really outstanding roads into the mountains. But again the bike refused to cooperate and became harder to start every day. We turned north and skipped Andorra and the planned visit to Gerald in Austria. Now let's go home. When we woke up in a French village the next day and Rocinante was dead again, I could hardly look at Bente. Her attitude showed how tired she was. In one way we had never been further away from home. Nobody understood a word of English or Spanish, and our French is, well, nonexistent. We worked in the hotel garage the whole day, stripped the bike down and checked everything. The infamous air filter was cleaned again, and finally I took off the cam cover to measure the valve clearances. Before I did, I tried my best to explain to our helpers that I needed a feeler gauge. An old couple, the parents of our hotel host, came to our help. The woman's father had been Spanish so she still spoke some, and translated to French my request for the gauge. It took a long time for her husband to understand, but finally he lightened up and ran off. Five minutes later he came back with an aluminum plate, one meter long, and smiled from ear to ear. I thanked him and tried again.

We got the feeler gauge in the end and a quick measure proved that all the intake valves had collapsed in less than 3500 km. Something was seriously wrong inside this engine. We put everything together, push started the bike, and rode the hundred kilometers to Clermont Ferrand, where supposedly a Triumph dealer existed. We were tired after ten hours in the garage and frustrated over a bike that never stopped giving us problems, even now that we were so close to home. I said over the intercom that all I wished for was a big Triumph dealer with a nice hotel next door, so we didn't have to push start the bike again the next day. After a long search for the address, we couldn't believe our eyes when we saw it. A huge shop with tens of new Triumphs on display lay next to a lovely hotel with a bar and restaurant between them. We smiled happily and Bente went in to get us a room.

French frustration
In a hotel garage in France, the bike in pieces again. We're so close to home, but yet.....

No Vacancies! If the frustration we felt was genuine and strong, it didn't calm down by the fact that there wasn't a single vacancy in the whole town. Michelin had a major factory in town and every hotel was filled up with workers, retired people on some kind of Michelin tour or delegates for several conventions. We hung around a couple of hours, then jumped the bike and fled north. The next city which had a dealer was Dijon, some 250 km northeast. We drove into the night and finally, at one thirty in the morning we found a bed. I had only read and heard rumors about the new hotel chain with an electronic check in. When we stood outside the empty reception and Bente went inside, I called after her that if nobody answered the bell, then at least she could withdraw some much needed cash from the ATM machine inside the entrance. It wasn't an ATM at all, of course, it was the receptionist. We marveled at the progress in the world, at how the human touch could be removed totally to be replaced by a highly efficient electronic wonder. We pulled my Visa card through the slot, said yes to a two person room and no to breakfast, then received a six digit code and a room number. The room was a masterpiece of simplicity. It looked like a cabin on a cheap ferry, only more sterile. A sink, a TV, a bed with linen that could be removed in one pull, an overhead bunk bed, and finally, a bathroom made out of one single piece of plastic. A tube sticking out of the wall indicated how they cleaned it, and the toilet seat, made in plastic and part of the walls and the shower cabinet, didn't even have a lid. But the ETAP hotels served a purpose being spread out over Europe along the main traffic lines and being cheaper than any other highway hotel. But we immediately missed the dirty, creaking rooms we normally stayed in.

Running against the clock

We made it! Schwedenkai in Kiel, Northern Germany.

We arrived in Dijon at two o'clock the next day. For days we had been keen to reach Kiel in Northern Germany by Friday. If we did we could catch the night ferry to Gothenburg and visit Helena and Leif, our two good Swedish friends, for the weekend. Now it was Thursday and the bike needed desperately new shims for the valves, and we were still 1500 km from Kiel. The mechanics in Dijon didn't speak much of anything, except French, so it was back to sign language and praying hands. Finally they agreed that if I prepared everything, they would replace the shims for us. A huge fan was directed towards the engine head when the tank was off, and at six o'clock the job was done. For the first time I saw a marvelous tool that I would sure make myself back home. Instead of doing the laborious and boring job of taking off the cam shafts and hence the cam chain to put a new shim in place, then measure everything again and maybe take it off again, a small tool kept the valve down to make access to the shims a piece of cake. I looked in wonder and asked myself why none of the other mechanics I had seen at work on Rocinante had used this tool.

We headed north again with correct valve clearances and homesickness. Four hundred and fifty kilometers later we rested in another ETAP hotel and jumped the bike again the next morning. After a long day's ride we finally arrived at the Scwedenkai in Kiel and bought our tickets. Several other motorcyclists waited at the ferry terminal, including a German on his way around the Baltic Sea, through Sweden, Norway, Russia and the Baltic states, a four weeks holiday for him.

Helena and Leif had recently told us they stayed home too much during weekends, so even if our mail hadn't been answered we felt reasonably confident we would find them at home. And we did, and were welcomed with a real Scandinavian breakfast, our first in over a year. But good things never last; an hour later they had to leave for a trip across the country to celebrate the sixty year anniversary of Helenas mother. It takes good planning to strike that particular weekend to choose a visit. They invited us to stay in their house a few days until they returned, but we had to decline. We were only a day's ride from home, and we knew we would turn restless if we stayed in that empty house.

Back home

Back home
Back home! Outside my parents home in Porsgrunn, Norway, on the night of our return. This was where we left from 372 days earlier.

We said good-bye and headed towards home. On the Swedish side of the border, hordes of Norwegians filled up the shopping malls to buy whatever stuff they bought slightly cheaper than back home. Then we were in Norway. It was strange to hear our native tongue everywhere around us on the Moss-Horten ferry, and to our surprise - and joy - two motorcyclists recognized the bike from our articles in MC-Avisa. We talked about the trip as we got closer to our home town. On the Horten side we stopped at a gas station and bought two hot dogs, food we had starved through the last hours to eat because of the fantastic mustard we knew they had. Bente waited with about 18 Norwegian kroner in small change, ready to pay the bill. When the attendant said, "That'll be 60 kroner", or about seven dollars, we gasped, and Bente reminded her that we had only bought the hot dogs, nothing more. Welcome home to the most expensive country on earth, or thereabout.

With emotions mixed with joy, sadness and a feeling of unreality, we visited Bente's brother and his family before ending the Stumbling along the Pan American- journey in my parents garden in Porsgrunn. Since nobody knew we came, nobody was home.

The trip was over, after one year and seven days, after 60000 km, the circle was complete. I know we should have danced and sung our hearts out for fulfilling a dream and out of happiness for the fantastic year we had behind us. But we didn't. We found a way into the house and ran upstairs where we knew we had a couple of suitcases with clothes. After we changed we left for a visit to friends, and I ended up in a neighbor town, fruitlessly chasing another friend who I just had received information about having a bachelor party that night. We celebrated him, or us, or whatever, long into the night, and when I got back and my father was home, we continued until the morning. At five o'clock AM on Sunday June 3rd, 2001, it felt good to be home.

Flowers in Spain
Flowers and fields in Castilla La Mancha

Bar hoppers

Somewhere in some village in Spain on a Sunday afternoon.

La Mesquita
La Mesquita, Córdoba.

Our hotel street in Córdoba

Dancing Flamenco
A happy flamenco dancer on the San Isidro.

Feria de Cordoba
Devils dancing through the streets on the Feria de Córdoba.

Next chapter.


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