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Oct. 8, 2022

TAMPodcast does the Trans Euro Trail (April 2018)

TAMPodcast does the Trans Euro Trail (April 2018)

Our TET adventure began in January 2018, well it didn’t it, started for real in April 2018, but we spent 4 months planning and discussing what, where, how and when we were going to go.  Having a small trail bike, with very limited luggage carrying capability certainly challenges the mind when you need to pack for 10 days and you need to include everything you need for camping, cooking, spares for the bike, tools, clothes for when you are off the bike, some food and water, wet weather gear, spare glasses, front and rear spare inner tube, oil and filters, camera gear, drone, tyre levers, bivvy kit, USB power pack, extra fuel carrying capacity, satnav etc.  You get the point.  

We didn’t need to spend 4 months thinking and planning, we could have just packed our bivvy kit, passport and credit cards, satnav loaded with free TET GPX files from and jumped on the ferry, but where is the anticipation and fun in that?  The reality is we did very little planning.  Once it was decided that we would jump on a ferry from Newcastle to Amsterdam, ride south through Holland, Belgium and west through France, before hopping back over the channel and riding as much of the UK TET as we could in the remaining time we had before we all had to get back to the family and work.  

Kit though. Boy did we talk about kit.  We agreed a tool share programme, who was bringing what spares, and which were communal.  We agreed not to share tents and not to carry any of Greg’s cooking gear even though he bleated on endlessly about all the extra camera gear he had to carry.

Speaking of Greg, it is probably worth introducing the rest of the crew;

  • Clive, me, a dad, I do something in IT, which isn’t IT, which nobody understands or cares about.  I carry a comb and I’m not afraid to use it
  • Davy is a navy aircraft engineer turned building magnate, dad and strong man, usually a reliable drinking partner on these trips of light weight adventure bikers
  • Greg is a film maker, goal focused hippy, dad, and media guru for Adventure-Spec and the TRF  
  • Joe is an eternally optimistic engineer, dad and long-distance trail rider who would happily have ridden all night if we didn’t make him stop
  • Noel is a very handy handy-man with extreme views on guttering, he is an ace photographer and is enjoying a burgeoning career (non-profit making) as a motorcycle adventure chronicler

We had quite a comical last 24 hour build up to the trip.  Greg mentioned on our Facebook chat group that the cheap 12V USB charger he had fitted and fully drained his battery.  Unfortunately, we had all fitted the same cheap 12V USB chargers and all had flat batteries!  Except engineer Joe who had done something engineery and had a very lively battery indeed.  Then Greg’s kick start broke, then Davy’s side stand snapped and then his luggage started to melt on his exhaust.  Seriously, 4 months of preparation!

Surprisingly we made it to the ferry on time, even though the spares budget took a bit of a hit on the way there.  We took the overnight ferry which was when Davy mentioned the health kick he was on and he wasn’t really drinking anymore.  That was disappointing. We’re going to Belgium, it makes the best beer in the world, definitely.

We arrived in Amsterdam nice and early on a Saturday morning and decided to take a detour into the centre to capture some interesting, out of context, fully loaded dirt bikes in the city over bridge type of footage.  

We stopped on a random street in the centre of ‘The Dam’, near a café.  Coffee only readers.  Within minutes a chap approached us and started asking what we were doing with dirt bikes in the centre of the city?  A nice guy, it turned out Tijs Groot was an adventure biker himself having travelled extensively by bike throughout the world.  “Sorry what’s your name again?” “My name is Groot.”  I thank you.  It turned out he knew several of Noel’s biker buddies and even paid for the coffees!  Small biking world.  Thanks Tijs.

We were using a variety of luggage combinations, we all had Kriega rucksacks (and KTM’s) apart from professional contrarian ‘Honda Noel’;

  • Noel – proper pannier and rear rack using Mosko Moto luggage
  • Clive – Kriega OS Base plus old Wolfman panniers and small Enduristan roll bag
  • Davy – Kriega OS full kit
  • Joe – Giant Loop Coyote, plus a Kriega 20
  • Greg – Kriega OS full kit

Once we had had our fill of the city, we headed back out of town in search of the 100 mile + liaison to the start of the TET proper.  The first sighting of a gravel track was really quite exciting, and necessitated the retrieval of numerous cameras and the drone to record the moment.  We managed another 30 miles or so before the trip elders, myself and Noel, ruled that it was time to find a campsite, much to the exasperation of ‘the boys’ who were happy to ride until in got dark and then worry about a campsite.  Oh, the folly of youth.  They were magnanimous in capitulation, much like you would be after repeating yourself for the 15th time to your deaf grandad.  “I SAID WE’VE STILL GOT FUEL IN THE TANKS!”

We had been told to look out for ’kliene campings’ (little camp sites) for a more rustic camping experience.  The first night didn’t disappoint.  We were on working farm, with a supermarket down the road and a trust bar stocked with booze and edible produce from the farm.  Lovely.  

We used a combination of Garmin Montana and Etrex satnavs to follow the TET GPX routes, and backed those up with smart phone based CoPilot and the brilliant Galileo Pro road satnavs to find campsites and other points of interest when we need to.  We didn’t plan campsite stops in advance, just found them when we need them.  4 of us had GPX capable satnavs, and took it in turns to lead, in a very random and arbitrary way.  Incidentally, my £130 pound Etrex 20 did as well as a £400 Montana, other than the fact that it runs off batteries, has a smaller screen, and has a much smaller processor that takes ages to load the route.

The weather forecast was not good.  It looked like it was going to rain for the next 2 days.  Oh well, we are prepared for anything.  Part of our mission was to test and promote some of the goodies sold by Adventure-Spec, hard work, but somebody has to do it.  First up, most of us had bought (at cost price) and fitted a range of Motoz tyres which are a new company to the UK based in Australia.  The main attraction was the longevity of the tyres, they should be good for at least 3000 miles, which would more than cover our most optimistic planned route.  The tyres worked out really well, have a look on the Adventure-Spec site for more info.  They also supplied us with some of their new clothing range which has been developed over the last 4 years as a layering system to cope with the vagaries of the trail biking environment.  I was given the base layer range to try out over the 10 days.  I must admit I was doubtful.  I am a big fan and exponent of merino wool base layers for their climate control capabilities and the fact that you can wear them for days, and they only smell slightly funky.  I actually took a spare set of merino base layers, just in case.  I ended up only wearing the merino stuff for one day whilst the Adventure-Spec stuff dried after I washed it at the half way point.  The AS kit worked very well, it did everything that merino does, but will undoubtedly be much harder wearing than wool, and it works as compression wear too, at least it did on me.  It makes your moobs look like proper pecs.  Bargain.  I also had an Adventure-Spec Baltic Insulated jacket which worked brilliantly as a mid-layer on the cold and wet days, and as extra warmth at night when the temperatures were nearing freezing.  Speaking of kit;

Should have left at home

  • Extra fuel container.  I have a range of 140 miles, which is more than enough in northern Europe.
  • A bike lock – never used
  • Too many non-bike clothes – there was very little time off the bike
  • Bivvy, tarp and tarp pole – one or the other, make your mind up!

Should have brought

  • Chain lube
  • Woolie hat for cold nights
  • Warmer sleeping bag
  • Puncture repair kit

We headed off in the rain on section 2 of the Dutch TET, heading south.  Holland and Belgium are particularly flat, but the trails were very enjoyable, they are well looked after and vary greatly in nature, from wide open sand to wooded muddy single track.  There is something special about just being in a foreign country.  The afternoon was a little drier, but we were warned via social media that a serious storm was heading our way in the evening.  As we were approaching the campsite Greg’s KTM ground to a halt, it didn’t look good.  Fortunately, the engineers spotted the problem within minutes.  The electronic fuel pump connection in Greg’s new large tank wasn’t fitting as snuggly as it should, so fuel wasn’t getting through.  We just had to trim the connection a bit and off we went.  Great team work, except for the fact the cameras and sarcasm were retrieved far more quickly than any tools, assistance or sympathy.  The banter ratcheted up each day, culminating in open ‘Facebook Live’ mockery.  Childish, but funny, and still available on the TET Facebook page.

We had a relatively long day in the saddle, riding from 9am until 7.30pm.  We were up every day by 7am, if not earlier.  

We asked at the campsite if they have any cabins or anywhere else that would protect us from the worst of the storm.  They had one cabin left but that would only sleep 4, but they also had an abandoned event marque in which we could pitch our tents and wheel our bikes.  We’ll take it!  Sadly, they had stopped serving food, so Joe got busy on his phone and ordered a Deliveroo of massive pizzas.  Not only that but the bar served my favourite Belgian beer Grimbergen.  It was as if we’d died and gone to Holland.

During the next day we reached Belgium and managed to out-ride the rain.  By lunchtime it was miraculously dry and sunny.  So pleasant in fact that we had lunch outside by a roadside frituur (chip/sandwich shop).  They serve a big variety for food, including broodjes (sandwiches) all with excellent Belgian chips.  

Just as we were sitting down to eat a chap approached us and introduced himself as Stef Stockmans, one the team that had worked on the Belgian TET route.  What a coincidence!  He had seen us pass and pulled over to come and say hello.  It was great to meet him and thank him in person for the work he and all the Linesmen do.  It’s all done on a voluntary basis.  It is not just a one-off job either, there is a constant need to keep up with changes in legislation and any local alterations or issues.  

The TET is an amazing achievement, done by a group of approximately 30 voluntary linesman and coordinated by the remarkable John Ross, with support from the chaps at Adventure-Spec.  You cannot underestimate the effort required to complete and pull together an ever-evolving route of 38,000 kilometres, remarkable.  

John is a keen biker, a GP by trade, he has a rally’d up 690 and a Tenere 3AJ which is going up for sale if you are interested?  He has worked with the British army in Germany and it was there that the idea of the TET has been growing and evolving since 2008.  John has been a keen rally raid competitor over the years.  But it was while he was working for the British Army that he and a few friends and colleagues from the army base came up with the idea to ride as much off-road as possible from their base in Germany to Tarifa, the most southerly part of Spain. The TET was born.  John used the Internet and contacts made over the years to build the route, and he has continued to make those connections over the last 18 years to build the TET into what it is today.  

John sees the TET as being more than just a repository for GPX files.  He wants it to be a community of like minded people who are bought into and believe in supporting the efforts of what the TET is trying to achieve, to embed a sense of responsibility to maintain our rights to ride in these amazing rural areas.  It has been about 9 months since the TET website went public.  The Facebook page alone has grown from about 1500 people to around 12500, and it is increasing by 950 per month.  John sees this first year of the TET being public as a period of consolidation, and a year of spreading and maintaining the responsible riding ethos.  

One of the key drivers that we should all be championing is the extra cash that the TET brings into rural areas.  We kept a log of expenditure.  Between 5 of us we spent over 3000 Euros on our 10-day trip.  That didn’t include Davy’s spend of about £2k on camping and other kit.  (Davy, please tell me you’re your wife doesn’t read the TRF website?)  John has several exciting initiatives in the wings, but they are for another story…  Chapeau John.

My own experience of community on the TET has been very positive.  Every time we posted about a mechanical gremlin, we received numerous offers of help and support and ice-cream.  I was particularly impressed with the folk that turned up to help the guy recover his GS that had fallen into a ravine.  Good work team TET.

At one point during the day we passed a homemade TET sign on a house on one of the lanes.  How exciting!  I decided to stop to investigate.  Unfortunately, my stopping was not anticipated by Greg who was obviously travelling too close behind and wasn’t paying sufficient attention to where he was going, seriously any more arguments and we will need to let the insurance companies sort it out!  Anyway, Greg went down quite hard on the cobbles.  It was like Rossi and Marquez for literally minutes.  Fortunately, nothing was damaged, but I don’t want to see Greg’s cross face again I can tell you!

Today was not without it’s share of technical issues too.  I managed to pick up a 3-inch nail puncture.  I normally run mousses, but the long distance and lack of cash meant I was using UHD tubes.  I repaired it badly and had to replace the tube again, sorry gang and thanks for the help, and yes, I do remember that I owe 2 of you a rear tube.  I had a second puncture a few days later.  Noel had a slightly more challenging issues with his Honda and it took a good hour or so to diagnose and fix what was wrong.  To be honest I was too busy taking the piss to camera and getting the drone to land on my head to listen to what the problem was, but I do remember something about not changing or cleaning his air filter for 8 years.  I guess you don’t normally need to worry about such things if you ride a Honda, until you do.

It was at about this point I began to feel properly unwell.  Diarrhoea, extreme tiredness, a fever and I was shaking like a shitting dog.  Not good when you are on a moto trip and sleeping in a tent a good hike from the toilet block.  It could have gone one of two ways; a 24-hour bug that disappears before you know it, or 3 days wallowing in your own stink unable to move a muscle.  Thankfully it was the former and I was able to pack the bike and get back on to ride.  I wasn’t exactly chipper for the next few days, but you just have to get on with it, or be responsible for holding everybody back.  Thankfully nobody had to make decision to continue a man down or hang around for a recovery.  What a brave soldier.  I’d like to thank the guys for all the support and care they gave me.  Except they didn’t, so I won’t.  Apparently, the food that night was the best they’d had all week…  

Without fanfare or border demarcation we made it to France, on the outskirts of Dunkirk.  We had three days left of our trip, so it was now time to decide about either continuing our TET journey into France, then have a mad dash up the English motorway system to reach our respective homes in Newcastle and Kendal or hop on the channel tunnel the next day, have an unpleasant day on the motorway and then have two fine days riding the northern part of the English TET from the Peak district.  Joe was still convinced if we’d put a few more hours in each day we could have done the entire southern England and Wales loop and still made it home in time for tea.  We went for the Peak district option.  

After a very dull 300-mile slog on the motorway we were struggling to find a campsite as it was a Bank holiday in England, and we were in a real tourist honey-pot.  Social media came to the rescue and suggested an out of the way wild camping spot not too far away.  I was not keen however, after being ill and not having had a shower for two days, I wanted a bit of home comfort.  It was getting late and it all got a bit confused.  I eventually found a campsite that had space and opted for that.  Davy had waited with me and I sent a message with him that I would meet up with the rest of the crew the following day.  To cut a long story short the guys ended up coming back to find me after an aborted attempt at finding the wild camping spot.  They got to the campsite at about 11pm, tried to check in but nobody was about, nor did anybody answer the mobile phone number on the reception window.  So, they rolled silently through the campsite to find a spot near to where I was camped.  Moments later an angry campsite manager appeared with 2 heavies and asked them the leave immediately.  Goodness me, in all the years of moto touring in Europe I have never experienced this level of blatant anti-motorcyclist prejudice.  That is exactly what it was, I have no doubt.  We managed to calm the situation and he agreed we could stay as long as we didn’t make any noise or disturb the other campers.  We decided to put the bacchanalian orgy of animal sacrifice and hell raising on hold for the evening, fed ourselves and went to bed.  Welcome back to little Britain.  

We awoke to glorious sunshine, and despite the irritation of the previous evening set off in a good frame of mind to enjoy what was left of the trip.  Davy and Joe decided they would ride for the day in the Peaks, and then head home to see their young families.  It was a gorgeous day weather-wise and The Peaks never disappoints.  Even a second puncture couldn’t dent the mood in the team.  We had another long lunch in a lovely pub garden.  We guessed we might have trouble finding another campsite for the night, especially as the Tour of Yorkshire was passing by.  We found what looked like a great campsite on the Internet, but when we got there it looked like a music festival, which is great is you want to enjoy a music festival type of thing, but we didn’t.  So, we found another site, which was on a working farm again, it sounded great, except when we got there we found out it didn’t open until the following weekend.  No problem though, if you don’t mind roughing it with the sheep and sheep shit you are welcome to stay.  Brilliant, we had the campsite to ourselves.  It was at the top of the valley with unspoilt views to the valley below.  We found a fire pit and cooked food over an open fire.  After 1300 miles we had found camping nirvana, right on our doorstep.  The following morning, we had a leisurely breakfast and decided to take a direct route home.

What an amazing trip.  1400 miles and everything about the trip worked, sure, we could have chanced upon some nicer campsites, probably taken a bit less stuff to lighted the load, been a bit luckier with the weather, but the thing that has stuck with me was the quality of the people I did the trip with.  We were laughing from the moment we met until the minute we parted company.  There was enough compromise and flexibility that we usually came to a consensus that didn’t piss anybody off.  I know the younger guys would have probably ridden for longer if we didn’t encourage them to stop, but I don’t think it was a burning issue.  There was minimal stress, everybody got stuck in if there were any issues with the bikes, it just worked.  

So never mind the latest and lightest tent or sleeping bag, the most important thing you need to bring on one of these trips are your mates.  Actually, you need to get some bar muffs as well.  I have been so rude about bar muffs for so long.  Davy found some on eBay for a tenner.  What a revelation, I will never go anywhere without them ever again.