Suddenly the time is rushing. In three-month already we have an appointment with some grizzlies and caribou somewhere in Alaska – WOW! A number of our tasks we accomplished, some are ongoing and others are still to do or rather we have to find a solution for.
Last year in October Kerstin did a Spanish course in Alicante and both we are learning vocabularies on a daily base since then. Vaccinations we did not have to do much and meanwhile we have new passports, the international driving licenses and as well motorcycle documentation. Kerstin resigned her job and is counting her last working days. Status of today: 23, wowowowoooo!!!
The parents of our landlord kindly provided us their garage to store our bikes for the winter months as well to do the required maintenance there. When we started to do so in January we had a moment of shock: one of the spark plugs of Sascha’s AT was broken in the cylinder head and Sascha came home with the message: `My bike is fu..ed!´ Thanks to the help of the great AT community and a mechanic in our neighborhood Sascha was able to fix it. It took a full weekend al lot of sweat and tricky moments, several evenings after work but finally the AT was running again!!!
Now we could continue the normal maintenance. All this evenings and weekends in the cold garage resulted in a bad cold and later on we both caught a flu virus additional. This compulsory break of 3 weeks was not really what we needed and made us a little nervous. But hey – back on the track! Today Sascha went back to the garage to finalize some electrical issues and Kerstin is sitting at the sewing machine to finish some additional mash-bags for the top of the cases to store wet clothes/sandals, groceries and coffee cups. Also she is sewing some secret-pockets where we can fit some papers.
On Tuesday we have an appointment at the US embassy in Berlin to apply for our 6 month visa – we will go there with the first train in the early morning; cross fingers they will award it to us!
Beside several small things we have to resolve some elementary things: to find a tenant of our flat for this one year period, we need to find somebody who would like to drive our car or sell it and of course we need to arrange the transport of our bikes to Anchorage and build an appropriate box for them. And least but not last we have to book our flights…
Of course we do spent some time as well about the route – the Pan-American is legend and it is quite a distance to Terra del Fuego. Many options where to stop what to see and where to drive in or not… Shortly we received a note of some friends we made in New Zealand 2011, Chris an Marty, who are planning to come in June to Vancouver and spend some time cruising. We are really looking forward meeting them and hopefully we can work out a couple of days together. As well we want to visit Junichi, a Japanese guy whom we met 2013 in Tasmania and who owns a vineyard now somewhere close to Portland. And we are excited to all new people we are going to meet along this loooong way J If you have any hints, tips or “must see” please feel free to let us know.
Went to the garage (which our landlord made possible for us because he and his wife went to the canaries islands for the winter) and wanted to do the usual maintenance, chain and sprockets, oil, tires, brakes, fluid changes, and spark plugs etc… First the Africa Twin.
Tank off, Spark plug one: done, Spark plug two: Hmmm, doesn´t feel right, hmmmm doesn´t sound right, ARRRRHHHHGGGG I had it in my hand ….. Together with the thread!
OK, don’t panic…
A quick post in the forum (www.africatwin.de) checking possibilities, none of them is promising, except a complete overhaul…and within 24 hours I got a new cylinder head and various offers to help… What a great forum that is!
Now I have to remove the whole engine, about 1.999 screws, change the cylinder head, put it all back together again. There was another option, a “quick and dirty” one, just use a Helicoil and leave the engine mounted while installing it (this is the dirty part NOT the Helicoil itself, I heard only good things about it!). But then you never know if some of the aluminum went into the cylinder and if so it will burn the whole thing soon or later and if this “later” happens somewhere in the Andes we are screwed. So I will do a complete overhaul of the cylinder… must be around 100-1500 hours of work (Ok others may do it in 24h or so – but I can´t). On the other site I have seen the whole bike then from inside out!
Never done that before – so wish me luck! And if some motorcycle mechanic is around Hamburg on the weekend and knows about such things pass by, have a beer and let me know how that works!
Albania, Theth – The day after: To lick our wounds and to repair the bikes.
Luckily nothing serious was broken on the bikes. We all had some sore muscles, Kerstin had many bruises and the bikes little wounds as: Broken Windscreen, Fairing all around, Engine Protection and scratches all over the bike. We spend the day bending, gluing and fixing all parts – remember most important things you need to have with you: Duct tape, superglue, zip ties, some extra screws J And occasionally we relaxed, had a beer and chatted around.
The next day we drove to Koman.
There is a nice camp under the bridge owned by Marco. We spend the early evening straying around and we walked up through the tunnel to the Ferry station. We asked for tickets as we wanted to take the Koman-Lake-Ferry to Fierze the next morning. But the ferry guys asked for an horrendous price and we knew what about it should cost. So, we left and got the tickets from Marco who asked the real price and then nearly did not charge us for the night at his camping; additional he served us a gorgeous delicious homemade grilled fish for dinner.
The ferry trip through this beautiful landscape took about 3,5 hours and we continued afterwards to the Valbona Valley. Actually we were surprised how touristic it is and it seemed half of the French population is around. We found a nice spot for our tents and enjoyed the lovely alpine scenery.
Not planned but the best decision! Short intense visit of an old friend in Greece.
From now on we were zick-zacking south, we made an excursion to Macedonia, to Lake Ohrid.The original plan was to cross over to the Albanian Riviera one of these days. We had a look at the map and recognized that we can make a short cut while driving via Greece as there are not many roads in Albania. The last kilometers from Leskovik to the Greek border there were two road options and Stefan’s and Kerstin’s GPS said it will be off-road. We chose the `propper road´ which was after a few meters already in really bad condition and we were wondering if there will be really a border crossing at all. On the other side of the valley we reached the other `road option´ the off-road one – which was in fact a wide brand new tarmac road J Anyhow we reached the border and Sascha and me we were immediately feeling like home hearing the Greek language. We wanted to continue a little bit and then looking for any place to stay. While doing so we remembered that we have a good old friend who was supposed to live somewhere in here in the northern mountain part of Greece. Sascha contacted some friends to find out his actual telephone number and later in the evening we reached him! Georgios invited us immediately to his place but we had already some beer and Rakia so we promised to come the next day.
Truly it was the opposite direction than planned but Christina and Stefan agreed to skip the Albanian Riviera so we have the chance to meet again our old friend Georgios. How great! – and thank you both once again!
Next day we were crossing the mountains and Georgios picked us up in Ptolemaida with a friend of him. Sascha´s back tire had vanished completely and we asked for a possibility to get a new one around here. They brought us directly to a Honda shop where we got one. But it was older, from 2004, one size to big and we agreed they will put it on and test it while we go for something to eat. We left Sascha´s bike there and enjoyed a wonderful afternoon eating and drinking – greek-style: Ola! Georgios has built a wonderful nature stone house powered by solar and fresh spring water up in the mountain about 25km from Ptolemaida. We picked up Sascha´s bike and spend a lovely evening at the fire and took a trip down the memory lane.
The next day we started with a walk through the forest. In this area wolves and bears are common and we could find their `relicts´ everywhere.
Later all the boys went to get more spring water with the UNIMOG a little fun drive included I guess
Georgios wife, Theodora, is running a family Hotel about 60km north in Florina and she planned a `season closing party´ on the roof terrace. We were all heartily invited to stay and join the party what we truly did. We left with tears in our eyes and we hope this time will we see each other much sooner again! Thank you both so much again!!! pollá filiá kai tha doúme sýntoma!
Time is flying and we had to plan the route back.
Once more we crossed Macedonia. Unfortunately in the Albanian inland a thunderstorm slowed us down but we arrived early evening at the coast with blue sky and sun. We stayed at camping Pa Emer, south of Durrës, which is not the cheapest but has a great location with a beautiful view and a little artificial Island with a restaurant in front.
The weather forecast was not so good and the days were limited now. We decided to pass Shkodra for some shopping as the famous Skënderbeu Brandy / Konjak, Tabaco, bells for the bikes to scare the street trolls off etc. The first part in Montenegro we followed a nice little road along the Shkodra Lake, P16. Later on we arrived at the coast road and noticed how packed it is so we spontaneous decided to change the plan. We drove up and chose the road via Bosnia Herzegovina – actually I think we were crossing 4 – 5 times borders that day and sometimes we were not sure anymore in which country we are currently :) We got very wet that day and gusty winds gave us a good shaking here and there when we were back at the coast in Croatia. We found an apartment with sea view a little bit north of Omiš where we stayed two nights. So we spent one wonderful day with blue sky and sun at the beach and dried all our clothes beside.
Our last night all together we spend in Korana not far from Plitvička Jezera. It is a beautiful quit idyllic valley with streams lakes and waterfalls and not that touristic – somehow a miniature of the famous Plitvička National Parc.
We loved it and the owner of the guest house welcomed us with fresh plums and Sljivovica. The next morning it was time to say good-bye. Christina and Stefan had to go to Karlsruhe and we had to go to Vienna to catch our car train and to visit our friend BigTom.
The ride to Vienna was very stormy; we were nearly pushed `home´ – and we had again a great day with Tom and his girlfriend playing with his new toy: a drone.
The trip was as well a probation period to see if Kerstin is ready for the planned BIG JOURNEY `PanAmericana´ – for sure there is still a lot of room for improvement but hey everybody had to start sometime and we are looking forward to our next trip!
Hey long time no hear… sorry for that! One reason for that probably is we are planning already our next trip: about 12 month from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, starting May 2018. Another exciting period we are looking forward to! Kerstin’s motorbike was pimped during this summer: a big tank, a proper engine-protection and brand new aluminum cases; besides the usual maintenance. Ready to go for the next lesson: On and off-road in Albania, let´s go first to Theth!
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From Hamburg to Montenegro
We took the car-night-train from Hamburg to Austria, Vienna and Kerstin was woken with a kiss from Sascha and got a birthday present. What a wonderful start of the day and the trip! For the evening we planned to meet Stefan and Christina in the west of Austria, 2up on an BMW 1150GS ADV, to spend the evening celebrating Kerstin’s birthday and as well to spend the next three weeks together on the road. Stefan we met already two years ago in Montenegro and we had a great time together.
25th August we started all together driving south. Via the Wurzen-Pass we passed Slovenia and spend the 1st night somewhere at the Croatian Coastline between Rijeka and Zadar. Our goal was to reach quickly a place called `Piva Monestery´ in Montenegro where we were stuck 2 years ago, when Sascha´s motorbike was suddenly out of power. At that time we stranded in this wonderful place next to it there we met wonderful people which we wanted to meet again.
The coastal road was crowded so we picked a route via Bosnia-Herzegovina. A good decision traffic wise but the last 40 km in Bosnia-Herzegovina towards Montenegro was more off than on-road; the border crossing was just a tiny oneway wooden bridge and we reached our target just with the last day light. (Sascha: That was a crazy ride, Kerstin in the front then me and then Stefan with Christina. The “street” got worth and worth, only some asphalt every 10 meters, in between big potholes, all in all maybe 3 meters wide. And Kerstin? Kerstin was giving it a go, unbelievable, she went up to 80km/h, Stefan and I had a hard time to follow. Busses and Trucks in every direction. What happened, suddenly she was going much faster than on any highway before? Ok let´s follow, I kept it quiet on the intercom to not disturb her concentration, but then I just had to ask:” Is your acceleration wire stuck? What happened? She answered: ”I need to keep close to that local driver in front of me, he knows the way and it looks like that he knows each and every pothole here! ME: ”Hmmmmmm, Ok, I will switch the intercom off again, give it a go baby!”
Note: just when we arrived at our accommodation we got a phone call from Joachim with whom together we spend the night in the car-train cabin. He had a business appointment in Vienna and the plan was to meet with his son Jannik, they had the plan to explore Croatia on their motorbikes. We told him how beautiful Montenegro is and spontaneously they decided to come to Montenegro. He called with a fevered voice: “They asked for a green card!!!! I do not want to settle or work here!!!” We were a little bit irritated. In fact they both had no green card and Jannik even did not have his motorbike title with him! Now they were stranded at this little border cross and Montenegro’s customs did not want them getting in and Bosnia’s customs did not want them back… What to say?!? Finally they made it and we spend three days together in this lovely place. We toured Durmitor National Park and joined once more the yearly celebration of the `Piva Monestery´. It is the largest Serbian Orthodox church constructed during the Ottoman occupation in the 16th and 17th centuries and noted for its frescoes.
From Montenegro to Albania
Now it was time for Albania. We said good bye to Zelnik and his family as well to Joachim and Jannik and drove to Plav, close to the Albanian border, where we camped next to a lake looking at the Albanian Alps. From here we wanted to go to a camp site at the Shkodra Lake next day. The same route we took already 2 years ago. We remembered that about 500 meter after the border the gravel road started and we reckoned to reach the camp early evening. But hey! It was a perfect tarmac road now and so we had a nice afternoon at the lake.
The Theth Round
The plan for the next day was to make the well-known `Theth-Round´ which is about 145km in total and approximately 45 km off-road – this is what we thought… and estimated that we will need about 6-7 hours. Everybody was excited in his own way. Sascha was just looking forward having a day full of fun. Stefan and Christina I guess were just animated and I, Kerstin, well I was not really sure how to feel about this up-coming exercise… Actually I do like off-road but I had no real experience with alpine off-road tracks with serpentines, cliffs and honestly I do not like going down-hill that much. But hey! I was intent on doing my best and that I will be able to make it.
To make the whole story short. We started late, around 10am and we were slow (Sascha: hmmmm was indeed a bit strange, I woke up at 5:30 to go to the bath room. I met the neighbors with their “Fully Adventure Stuffed Land Roved Defender for 40grant+”:
Sascha: “Hey what´s up in the middle of the night?”
Them: ”Just leaving for the Theth round!”,
Sascha: “? So early???”
Them “Yep, it´s a hard trip!”
Sascha: (wondering)”Yeaaah right”
They: “When do you leave?”
Sascha: “Don´t know, breakfast around 10 and then we go – I think – let´s see”
Sascha (going back to sleep): “OK, C U on da road”.)
Me, Kerstin, I felt more comfortable with slower speed and Stefan as well asked for more breaks after a while. The track had very steep parts with big washed out rocks and deep gravel parts. Here and there Kerstin had a downthrown (but nothing too serious) and always jumped back on the bike with help from the others. After about 35km off-road at early afternoon we were all sweated and thankful that it will come to an end very soon when we reach tarmac again. At that stage we met another biker who was doing the Theth round the other way around. Actually we were asking the same questions each other like `Is the road becoming better this direction? Does it will end and becoming tarmac again soon? And probably we had the same thoughts: `You should better drive with us in our direction as the part coming now is horrible and you might turn late! ´ In the end we were all a little bit shocked that we still have to make another 40km off-road – no matter which direction; we wished good luck to each other and each one continued the planned direction. Now it was clear we will most likely having trouble to make it back to the camp site before it is getting dark.
In the end of the day we needed 12 hours+ for the complete Theth round, Kerstin crashed 7 times and Sascha and Stefan twice each. The last 3 hours we had to drive in the dark which had the advantage that you could not see the steep cliffs anymore and now oncoming vehicles were earlier visible thanks to their headlights… but truth be told, it wasn´t the plan to drive this track in the dark and we were all very happy when we reached the camp at 11pm.
We enjoyed the late dinner and a couple of drinks and the plan for the next day was: licking our wounds and fixing the motorbikes… Details will come soon.
Maybe one more personal thought here: Me, Kerstin, I am having days I am driving ok and others, well others… Or let´s say I drive Sascha crazy pretty often. Of course you have better days and such which are not that well; and often you know it from the first second when you hop on the bike. After that first week we had some discussion about my `driving style´. Hmmm, it is not that easy to evaluate. The expectation is high and Sascha as well is worrying about me if I will be prepared to manage the upcoming trip. And for him it is even more stressful not only managing his own way but as well looking always after me. It costs him a lot of energy and for example he would have made the Theth-Round easily in the planned time (Sascha: “Doable in 6-7 hours” without me and probably without any fall (Sascha: ”Don´t know about that one…”. I know I still have to learn a lot – but I started to practice driving motorbike when I was older already (42 in fact). And some things you just take that much easier if you are younger. Nevertheless I am really willing to make my way and as well to make Sascha feeling proud. In the end I have to learn to trust in myself and I only can hope Sascha will trust in me as well and he can imagine doing everything a tiny little bit slower – but doing it together with me. (Sascha: ”Will do!”)
I have to say `Thank you!!! ´ for all the patience help and motivating words (only sometimes I would like to ask as well to let me try finding `my way´:). As well I want to say THANK YOU A LOT Stefan and Christina – not only for the good time but as well for the patience – I know there were times I “drove” everybody crazy (except myself around the turns:).
Maybe another personal thought here: Me, Sascha, driving for 30 years plus all around the world in all conditions. It´s hard to adjust sometimes, even harder to understand why something looks that clear to me is not directly understood ;) It makes it harder when I have to look ahead what’s coming – plus I have to have on eye on the mirror at all times to see what´s happening behind me. But to say the least it has been done before and it will be done in the future. And I am sure after the first 10 to 20 thousand kilometers I don´t have to look so much in that rear mirror anymore! One of the most important tips is still, and will ever be: “GAS GAS GAS!!!” (Especially when off-road, I am not talking about speeding here. The right hand gives the stability on the bike in the dirt, it´s not the breaks it´s the acceleration! As soon as you learn this you got it all sorted! And the rest is just floating with the traffic… Theth showed us our limits, or better where we got room for improvement, but as always If you have to do it, you got to do it! And Kerstin did it just great, sometimes I thought “oh oh, what now – and she jsut said, let´s go ahead, we do not hava achoice anyhow! SO GO!!!!” Love you, my dear! ;)