Start: May 2nd,
Madrid, Spain Stop: June 2nd, Porsgrunn, Norway
Distance: 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
The back roads of Axarquia in Andalucia offers great variety and
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
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.
Making a king size Paella on the San Isidro festival. It tasted
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 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
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.
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.
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,
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! 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
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 and fields in Castilla La
Somewhere in some village in Spain on a Sunday afternoon.
La Mesquita, Córdoba.
Our hotel street in Córdoba
A happy flamenco dancer on the San
Devils dancing through the streets
on the Feria de Córdoba.