After all the slow miles I’d done through the Alps I treated myself (and the bike) to some autobahn for the final leg. I thought it would just be a case of sticking headphones in, listening to some German music and watching the miles slip by. In reality it is a very fast way of getting from one tangle of congestion to the next. Though I did discover, on a clear stretch, what the top speed of an SV650S with a big top box is…
I stopped for a few days near Cologne to stay with Jan and Jana who I met grape picking in Australia. We caught up about the months passed, ate good food and swam most every day. It was lovely and strange to see them half a world away yet so close to home.
Towards the end of a long trip the homing instinct activates. Everything reduces to numbers: 46, 57, 120km/h speed limit through Belgium and 219km remaining to Dunkirk, A67, A10, 240km on the trip counter, need fuel, A18, 14:00 channel crossing. Before I knew it there was M25, junction 16, A40; the world narrowing back down to familiar corridors.
I arrived with no sense of achievement. I had lived the trials and delights of each new destination, but home is no destination, it is a beginning—of this trip and whatever is next—and I felt nothing.
* * *
Two weeks on and the trip has caught up with me enough that I can finish its documentation. In total I covered:
Each of those numbers exceed what I expected from this trip yet kiss so lightly the surface of what was done and can’t be undone. I’m glad to have this record, but I don’t think that it’s important to squirrel away the memory of every day in preparation for some winter. To have known is enough: it means it is possible to know again, of some other place, at some other time, tremendous and impermanent.
It was also a harder trip than I expected (not that it is any grand achievement, certainly not beyond anyone willing to work towards it). While Australia taught me how to travel with nothing, relative to life’s usual menagerie of possessions, this trip was about learning to travel with nobody. At the longest stretch, from Bordeaux to Provence, I spent eleven days without seeing anyone that I knew. But to travel alone allows one—that final number—to flicker, just occasionally, so that for a moment it is gone, and all that remains is everything.
* * *
I would like to finish with a huge thanks to the friends and family that I visited. Without your kindness it would have been a much more difficult and much less interesting trip.