Cross-country motorcycling - Part 2 (2001)

Day 7 – Tuesday, 6/12/01

Up early and manage a call to Jerry, who hasn’t been able to reach the warden. He says

wait. Either way I’ll be leaving, so I go out and load my gear on the bike and watch the

8-year-old son of the proprietor as he rides his new, tricked-out mountain bike back and

forth across the slanted asphalt parking pad. The motel is on the side of a hill above the

highway and the parking area in front is in pretty bad shape, but the kid makes the best

of it. Pretty soon he overcomes his shyness and is asking all about my bike and we’re

deep in conversation when his father and sister come out. Another couple had noticed

me as they were leaving and told him, so now he wants pictures with his kids.

He’s very pleasant now; must be the daylight. As we’re talking and I’m getting things

buttoned up, the phone rings. Jerry says it’s no go. He gave them the whole shpiel

about my having been part of the defense team, visited Joe on death row, etc., but they

won’t let me come in. They have agreed to a compromise, however, a phone call, so I

should just wait while they move him into an office with a phone.

After a few minutes, the phone rings and a woman’s voice asks if it’s me. It is. She asks

me to hold the phone and then Joe is on. He is amazing, this guy. He maintains,

somehow, an easy going attitude and sense of humor in spite of almost being executed,

being shunted all over the country by a system trying to hide him, and now, back home

in Virginia, being in Super-Max “lock-down,” in his cell 23 hours a day, most days, with a

possible hour out for a shower or “recreation” in another concrete box a couple of times

a week. He has educated himself and developed an ability to deal with his situation,

manage apparently good relations with the guards, help other prisoners with legal

questions (communicated through smuggled notes, the air vents or the toilet) and

maintain an amazingly positive attitude. He’s become quite a legal scholar and

philosopher, which is astonishing enough in itself for one who was a victim of childhood

abuse, a drug addict and alcoholic from 11 years of age and was barely literate when

imprisoned in his early twenties.

Quite a guy. We’ve developed a meaningful relationship over the years and I –

sometimes Shelley and I – have visited him in many different situations as well as having

maintained a fairly regular correspondence. On the phone, Joe twits me about calling

Jerry. “What the hell did you want me to do, come up and knock on the door?” “They’d

have let you in,” he responds, “you’re a movie star.” He says the way the system

operates is that when you go through channels they always say no. If I had come up, he

assures me, and asked to see the warden, they’d have let me in. I think he’s full of crap

and tell him so, but then he finishes me with the news that the new warden there is

Major Braxton, a guy I had gotten to know at another prison Joe was in years ago.

“Braxton loves you,” he goes on. “No question he’d let you in.” Well, crap, maybe I

should just go up now? But no. “Once they’ve said no, it’s no. You get ‘em to change

their minds they think they look weak.”

After a pretty good talk we sign off. He goes back to his cell and I get to climb on my

bike and go wherever I damned well please. God, what a world.

Saying goodbye to the kids in the parking lot, I pull down the steep drive and back onto

the highway. Having taken a good look at another map, it’s now clear to me that

however I got the idea that it was 1,000 miles from New Orleans to Toronto, it was very

wrong. I’ve got some distance to travel in order to get there and have the time to

reconnoiter that I’ve counted on.

So it’s up out of Virginia and into Kentucky, then northwest across the mountains to

West Virginia. God, John Denver really knew what he was talking about! Miles and miles

of beautifully wooded Appalachian hills (‘hills’ being the appropriate term – these are not

the Rockies), a feast for the eyes.

One of the things I love about motorcycling is the feeling that you are where you are.

Unlike the air-conditioned cocoon of a car or train, on a bike you get the feel of where

you are at the moment. If it’s hot, you’re hot. If it’s cold, you’re cold. If it’s raining,

you’re wet. And the assault on your senses doesn’t end there. There are aromas, some

of them great, some quite unpleasant, that help identify where you are at a given time.

Wild animals, when you see them, are often close enough (as in Australia) to be a

concern, but always a wonder. Even the bugs. Sometimes one will smack into the

helmet or face shield with a “thwack” that is startling. And stopping for gas every

couple of hundred miles always entails using the offered facilities to clean off the helmet,

face shield, little windshield, headlight and the backs of the twin rear-view mirrors. (All

of which will have to be washed thoroughly, I was warned, before shipping the bike out

of Canada because of concern about bringing bug-borne disease from one country to

another.) In these hills, at any rate, the temperature fluctuations as I gain and lose

altitude are quite dramatic. It’s cool up high and getting very hot in the valleys.

Down low the heavy jacket I’m wearing becomes a bit much, but between the needed

warmth in the higher altitudes and the protection it provides from that which flies into

me, not to mention the question of where to put the bulky thing if I take it off, I opt for

keeping it on.

Across a lovely river I pull into Charleston and look for a health food sign (Shelley swears

they have a magnetic attraction for me, somehow pulling me down odd streets to their

door). No luck here, though. I do find a place that claims to trade in health, but it’s

simply a pharmacy that sells vitamins. Inside, however, a young man tells of a good

health-food restaurant he’s heard about in Morgantown, just south of the Pennsylvania

border. A couple more hours, but what the hell? Goodbye Charleston.

It’s getting into the late afternoon and hot as hell by the time I roll into Morgantown, a

small college town off the road north toward Pittsburgh, so I have to scramble a bit to

figure out which road goes where. Finally I cross another bridge and am in downtown

Morgantown, a colossus of about three streets, but can’t find anything resembling a

natural food restaurant. No one seems to know anything about it, so I’m thinking of

heading on into Pittsburgh and seeing if I can find the little Italian restaurant Marvin and I

discovered when we shot “Dominick and Eugene” there. Then, suddenly, right in front of

me is “The Mountain…” something. Can’t remember the exact name, but it’s a little

joint with a deli-case full of salads and goodies, a few small tables and a couple of hippies

behind the counter. I love it!

I order a sandwich and a couple of healthy drinks, then find there’s a health food store

connected, so go wander and look. I love health food stores and can’t leave one without

buying something, so pick up a couple of snacks for later (in case I end up in a dump like

Pound again).

Back to my food and drink, I’m a happy guy. Once out into the heat I find the road north

and decide to bypass Pittsburgh and continue north on Highway 79.

Even with the wind blowing on me it’s too hot to wear the heavy riding jacket, but given

the bugs and the fact that I only have one long-sleeved shirt, I’m happy to spot an outlet

center in Meyerstown and pull off, figuring to stop for the night. There are a few motels,

but none with outside doors directly from the rooms and I’m reluctant to leave the bike

just sitting in a parking lot, so pass. The outlet center has a Levi store where I pick up a

couple of shirts, put one on and wrap the jacket in a kind of embrace around the bags

behind me, its sleeves pulled around and under the bungie cord in back. Feeling

considerably lighter as well as cooler, I figure I can hold the jacket there by leaning back

on it and take off down a side road in search of an inviting little inn I’d seen advertised

on a sign in town.

The little inn turns out to be a hell of a ways out, in a beautiful spot by a river in the

Pennsylvania countryside. Problem is, though it’s a lovely little place, it’s not an “inn” in

the sense I was expecting, but rather a restaurant. It’s dark now, and the wind has come

up, so instead of heading back toward Meyerstown I aim north and then cut east toward

the Interstate, figuring I’ll stop at the next town I find.

Coming over a rise by a field, a huge gust of wind hits me and, as I must have

instinctively leaned forward against it, the jacket behind me took flight. I quickly hit the

brakes, thank God, and pull around to see where it has gone, but can’t spot it. The bike

seems to be running strangely as I try to pull forward, so I stop and discover that the

sleeves of the jacket had stayed firm, held in place by the bungie cords and the velcro

on their cuffs while the jacket had flipped up and over, hit the back wheel and been

pulled up beneath me. It was now crammed into the small space between the rear wheel

and the seat.

I’m not sure what might have happened if I hadn’t noticed the jacket fly and stopped.

Maybe nothing. Maybe the jacket would have simply been shredded by the tire and gone

on through. But it could have jammed or caught on the chain and caused the back

wheel to freeze, a notion that gave me chills as I rolled the bike backward and pulled the

scuffed jacket out, vowing to tie it down more securely if riding without it on in the

future.

At a small town about 30 miles south of Erie I spot a motel and pull in for the night.


Day 8 – Wednesday, 6/13/01 –

Loading up in the morning a guy packing up a van, traveling with his family, nearly wets

his pants when he hears what I’m doing. It’s an interesting thing to see the envy in the

eyes of so many of the men I run into. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I’m envious of

me too.

Cutting off south of Erie I take the Interstate east toward Buffalo to cut around the

eastern end of Lake Erie. Nearing Buffalo I find myself thinking of Timothy McVeigh’s

father, who must be going through the tortures of the damned right now. God bless

him, and God bless Bud Welch, who has tried to find a way to help him through this.

Quick stop at a little diner and store to see if there’s a short-cut I can take without going

all the way into Buffalo, but a highway patrol officer says there’s pretty much only the

one way. A man sitting in his car gets out to talk. MASH and now Providence have

eliminated any hope that I can go anywhere in this country anonymously once the helmet

comes off, but this man’s self-conscious struggle to articulate the most mundane

comments is somehow touching. The fact that people can be so moved – some to say

amazingly kind and generous things – just because someone they’ve seen on television

happens to be in their vicinity can be disconcerting. It makes me feel a huge sense of

responsibility, but it also raises for me the issue of invisibility, of whether people feel

that their own lives are somehow less significant than they should be, might be, ought to

be, and that those of us whom the media dub “celebrities” have a more heightened

importance that will somehow rub off by contact.

On down the highway, through the rising heat, to Buffalo and up and over the Peace

Bridge into Canada. There’s something about Canada and Canadians that I like. There is

a sense that things don’t have to go at such a crazy pace here and there seems to be an

almost palpable sense of decency, or civility, about Canadians in general that makes me

feel comfortable.

Now I’ve got to figure something out. Through Hamilton and toward Toronto I have to

keep an eye on the gas situation. Unlike most motorcycles of my experience, this one

has no ‘reserve’ tank. Most bikes – actually all of them that I’ve owned prior to this one

– have a little petcock you pull down when you run out of gas that gives you access to

an extra gallon. Since most motorcycles get 40+ miles per gallon, this usually allows you

to get to a station. This bike, though, has a warning light that comes on when you are

down to your last gallon. It’s actually more convenient this way (unless you miss seeing

the light), but my problem is that they’ve told me that I can only have 1 gallon of gas in

the bike when I ship it, so I can’t fill the tank between here and Toronto or I’ll have too

much gas. (I suppose I could siphon the excess, but having gotten a mouthful of

gasoline in the past I’m not anxious to do that again.) Anyway, it becomes a dance: ride

until the light comes on, then get enough gas to go until you either get to the city or

the light comes on again. And of course, as I pull into the first Canadian station, gasoline

here is sold by the litre, multiples of which add up to an Imperial gallon, so I have to try

to figure out what that means in terms of what I’m accustomed to.

So I struggle along, buying a couple of litres of gas at a time and following the signs to

Toronto’s airport. Once there I spot a sign pointing toward the cargo-loading area and

follow it. Arriving and feeling very smug I ask around for what I remember the

company’s name to be and can’t find anything. I’m reluctant to dig into my bags to find

the paperwork because it takes so damned long to pull everything down and then put it

back together, but finally am forced to do just that. And of course I had the name

wrong. The airline is ATA, a Montreal-based Canadian airline, and its loading dock was

right next to the place where I was asking.

Finally inside the right office I find they’re expecting me and all is well. I have to have

the bike in here by 4PM tomorrow and the flight leaves at 11PM the next night. One

gallon of gas is all that’s allowed, the positive pole on the battery has to be taped off

and it should be washed down. No surprises, so I head over to a Days Inn Hotel just

across the road and check in. The nice folks here let me park the bike in a no-parking

zone just outside the door and I unload and haul everything up to my comfortable, airconditioned

room. Pulling off the last of the bags I notice that a strut is broken on a

device connected to the rear axle. It must have happened when the jacket flipped and

caught in the rear wheel. It’s not critical, but if the broken piece were to get into the

spokes it would quickly become that way, so I go in and grab a phone book to find a

BMW dealer.

After a frustrating round of telephone-chasing I finally find a dealer who does have the

necessary piece and race off. Turns out to be a nice bunch of guys who haven’t seen

many of these Dakar models yet and are delighted to learn of my trip. They’re very

helpful and, when I mention needing to clean off the bugs, give me the necessaries and

let me wash the bike down right there.

Back at the hotel I find that there are a couple of vegetarian restaurants in town but

none close by. Because there is another Laker game to watch I head down to a local

place and am delighted to learn that they have a veggie burger on the menu. It’s served

with a huge slice of onion and I smile as I slap it on, realizing that under normal

circumstances I’d probably pass for fear of offending someone. Here, I am on my own

with nobody to offend.

Back to the hotel for the game, which we win, a good phone call to Shel and to bed.


Day 9 – Thursday, 6/14/01 –

Up early to take advantage of the hotel’s laundry room and get myself caught up. I

really have too many clothes and have to figure out what to carry on the plane and what

to ship, so run over to a local mall and pick up, among other things, a small carry-on bag

that the saleswoman insists is waterproof.

Take the bike over to the cargo loaders in the afternoon. Turns out they’re all MASH

fans and very helpful. The bike weighs in at about 195 kilograms (approx. 430 lbs.),

which is fine by them, but it’s too tall for the crate, so they ask if I can take off the rearview

mirrors. No problem. That done, the gas issue is next. I had evidently over-filled

last time because even though I rode around quite a bit I still couldn’t get the reserve

light to come on, but when the guy comes to check the gas level I tell him it’s about a

gallon and he takes my word. (I’ll feel terrible if it explodes mid-flight.) Next comes

disconnecting and taping off the positive pole of the battery. That had me worried

because it involves removing the cowling (on this bike the battery is inside the round

thing that has traditionally been the gas tank on a motorcycle - the gas tank on this

model being below the seat.) and that means first taking off the seat, then removing

about a dozen strategically placed screws, some of which are difficult to access, and

that in turn involves taking off the turn signals. I’m a bit intimidated by all this because I

don’t want to foul anything up, but go at it as if I don’t have any choice – which I don’t.

About a half-hour later I’m covered in sweat and the mission has been accomplished,

wire taped off and lights, cowling and seat replaced. I’m feeling very Zen and the Art of

Motorcycle Maintenance. Then, paperwork completed, I give it a pat, turn the bike over

to the guys for crating and walk back to the hotel.

Later I take a cab downtown and find that the vegetarian restaurant is in fact one I’ve

been to before. Nice place, kind of an English coffee-shop feeling, and very good food.

Rather than take a cab back I ask directions to the subway, which is about a mile away,

and take off. This part of Toronto is very much middle class, the street lined with twostory

duplexes. It’s a pleasant walk, if still a bit warm. Confirming the directions with a

man on the sidewalk in front of his house I’m again struck by how decent and courteous

Canadians always seem to be. He goes over it a couple of times to make sure I’ve got it

right and almost seems as if he’s going to walk me there to ward off any mistake.

Finding my way on subways and buses is great sport and this system is particularly clean

and well-maintained. The subway fare covers the connecting bus ride, so I get a transfer

and make my way to the street at the appropriate stop, wait a bit with a distinctly

mixed-race group and then we head north toward the airport. One of the passengers

knows me from “Providence” and makes a big deal out of finding me on a bus instead of

in a limousine. He’s nice, but a bit loud about it, so I try to answer calmly and eventually

he brings down the decibel level. I have one more transfer to make, so soon get away

from the fan to wait on another corner. It’s now dark and when the right bus pulls up I

climb aboard as a young woman who is standing talking to the driver turns to me and

says, “Mike Farrell! What are you doing here?” She’s so friendly and pleasant that for a

minute I think I’m supposed to know her, but she quickly makes it clear that she just

knows me from TV. The driver is also very friendly, telling me how much he loves

“MASH,” how meaningful it’s been to him, etc. When I tell him where I’m headed, he

says the end of the line is about a mile short of the hotel. No problem, the walk will do

me good. A bit later he leans over and says, “When we get to the last stop, just sit still.

I’ll take you on to your hotel.” I try to tell him that’s not necessary, but he won’t hear

of it. “I owe you,” he says, “consider it my way of saying thanks.” So a little while later

my personal bus pulls up in front of the hotel and lets me out.

They have Internet access at the hotel, so I check and find 288 e-mail messages waiting.

Jesus! I’m going to bed.


Day 10, Friday, 6/15/01 –

Up early and again I’m packing and sorting. No room to pack the boots, so wear them

and pack the shoes. Toilet article kit and books in the new bag, plus everything else that

won’t fit in the others. The side bags (which I tie together with bungies) and the other

handbag are chock full. Tight squeeze. I’ll have to wear my regular jacket and carry the

new bag, the helmet and the heavy jacket.

They kindly arrange a late checkout, so I grab the bus downtown for another meal at the

vegetarian restaurant. Who knows when I’ll find another?

The bus ride back terminates (as last night’s technically did) at the airport’s Terminals 1

& 2. AirTransat (ATA), my airline, goes out of Terminal 3, of course, where the bus

doesn’t venture. But a tram does, so I decide to check it out even though the flight

isn’t until 11 PM and check-in time 9. To my surprise, when I locate ATA, a huge line is

already checking in at 4 PM. This looks to be a bit of a zoo, so I collar someone and find

that there has been a cancellation and one first class seat “may” be available (having

booked coach I decided last night that this was a silly bit of economizing but feared I

was too late to do anything about it). A quick dash to customer service and another

MASH fan (bless them) gives me the last first class seat.

Walk to the hotel to gather gear and check out. Tram back to Terminal 3 and check in

what I can, then shlep everything else through security and up to the gate. There is a

snack stand not far from the gate with an attached bar, so I go in and ask the proprietor

if he’s willing to turn on the basketball game in a couple of hours. He seems cool with it,

so I go back and sit and read and start on the crossword puzzles I’ve stashed while the

crowd gathers around me.

ATA, it turns out, is a charter airline and feels a bit like Mrs. Johnson’s Airline and Barn

Door Company. People are jamming into the waiting area and I watch as those with too

many or too large bags are told they must send them back to be stowed with the

luggage. This makes me fear for my helmet and jacket – and I’m not all that sure my

new ‘smaller’ bag will fit in the dinky rig they’re using to check sizes.

Ambling back to the snack stand, the barkeep remembers and turns on the game. I’m

glad to get to watch the first half, anyway, but the price I hadn’t figured on is having to

sit in a thick haze from the smokers who fill the room.

The flight is called and getting back into fresh air makes missing the second half less

painful. They’re boarding first class when I get there, so I casually wrap the helmet in

the big jacket to try to make it look less like I’m carrying a body and step up. No

problem, I’m shown right in…

…to a dinky seat. First class on this airline is a bad joke. This would barely pass for a

coach seat on a normal airline, and to top it off they’ve got me stuck against the

bulkhead so I can’t straighten my legs.

Oh, relax, dammit, next stop London!

Relaxdammitrelaxdammitrelaxdammit. Six hours and twenty minutes. Read, do a

crossword, read more, eat, try to sleep, read, try to flex my legs, relaxdammit! I think I

actually got about 20 minutes of sleep and, finally, we’re coming down at London’s

Gatwick Airport!


Day 11 – Saturday, 6/16/01 –

This is exciting! The flight happily forgotten, I fight my way out, go through passport

check, grab a trolley and get the bags, load all of the gear aboard, get a cursory glance

from customs, change some money and find out where the cargo docks are.

Outside at a tram stop it’s hot, actually steamy. The wet streets indicate it’s been

raining, but is holding off now. Two buses pass, not going to the cargo area, so when a

cab unloads at the curb I grab it. Getting all the gear (four bags [the bungies came

loose and the side bags are no longer together] the helmet and big jacket) in the cab is

a pain, particularly since we can’t be going far, but he seems fine with it.

In five minutes he stops at a row of warehouses. Not wanting to duplicate my mistake in

Canada I have the paperwork out and point to the one marked ‘GHI.’ He pulls over, I pull

out all the gear and find a dry spot to set it on, pay him and off he goes. The stuff is

heavy and I’m already sweating, so I leave it piled where it is and walk over to an open

door, find a man and tell him I’m here to pick up my motorcycle.

“Not here,” he says. “This is export. You want import. It’s over there, beyond the red

truck.” He points to the next warehouse, about 40 yards away. “Aha,” I say, thinking

about shlepping the bags, “Once I’m done there, will I be coming back here?” “Nope,” he

smiles.

“Uh huh. Thanks.” Pick up the bags, can’t get the jacket and helmet; pick up the jacket

and helmet, can’t handle the bags. Finally, three bags in one hand, the jacket, helmet

and fourth bag in the other, I make my increasingly sweaty way over to the truck, past it

and into an office marked “Imports.” After a bit of a wait there a pleasant looking man

appears behind the plexiglass window and I give him the papers I have and explain that

I’m there for my bike. He nods, looks them over and disappears. A few minutes later he

comes back and hands me the form, saying, “It’s not out here yet, but you’ve got to go

to Customs and get them to sign off on this anyway. By the time you get back the

motorcycle should be here.”

“Okay. Where would that be?”

“Not too far,” he says, coming out from behind the window. At the door he points,

“Down at the end of these warehouses there’s a car park. See it?”

“Uh huh.” It’s about 100 yards away. Maybe150.

“Beyond the car park. Not the first building, the one after.”

At least 150. “And then I come back here?”

“Yes.”

“Sure. OK if I leave my stuff here?”

Shakes his head. “No, sorry.” He points. “See, it’s not too far.”

Not too far if I don’t have to carry this load. “Can’t I just stick this stuff in a corner here

somewhere?”

“No. Sorry.”

“Sorry?” You piss on my date and you’re sorry? Two bags in one hand, two plus the

helmet in the other and the jacket tossed precariously over my shoulder I trudge out

into the heat.

Unbelievable. As I pass ‘Export’ this stuff is really getting heavy and as I sweat I’m

getting more and more pissed. In the next warehouse a woman is sitting at a desk by a

window. I drop everything, explain the situation and ask, “Could I possibly leave this

stuff here for a few minutes?”

“Sorry, sir,” she shakes her head. “Security.”

Of course. Bombs, etc. This is London, isn’t it? Shit. I guess I can understand it, but it

doesn’t make me like it. And it might have made it a bit easier if the guy at the first

place had at least told me it was against security regulations instead of just smiling

stupidly and saying “No.” Shit.

So I stumble along in the heat, the jacket slipping, the bags banging. Before I’m 30

yards further on I’m soaking wet and puffing, giving serious consideration to having a

heart attack. That’ll show the security-conscious bastards! Shit.

After stopping twice to catch breath and rearrange jacket and bags, a guy about 50

yards behind me whistles. As I turn he points down at my helmet at his feet and yells,

“Is this yours?” Shit.

By the time I crash through the door of the Customs Office I’m wringing wet and ready

to jump down someone’s throat. Thank God the room is air-conditioned. And of course

the woman behind this counter is very cheery, very helpful and perfectly nice. She takes

care of everything, has me fill out a form promising that I’m not bringing animals or fruit

or guns or bombs into the U.K., gives me the necessary document and says, “Now you

take this back to the man…”

“Yes,” I say,“ managing a smile. “I know. Thanks for your help.”

Flipping the heavy jacket over my back I pull the sleeves around in front and connect the

two cuffs by their velcro flaps, as I had done when the jacket flipped off and almost did

me in. Picking up the helmet and bags I work my way out the door and back toward the

warehouse. It’s not as hot, it seems, so the sweat doesn’t come quite so soon. I

discover why as it starts to rain. Shit.

This is so nuts I’m finally beginning to see the humor in it. If a truck were to run me over

now it wouldn’t be a surprise.

Back at Import, now rain-soaked, I drop the gear, present the papers, pay the 31 pound

fee and wait. Soon the guy comes over and tells me the bike is in the warehouse.

Outside, another man pulls the big door open and beckons me in, opens the container

and there it is. He loosens the straps and we roll it out onto the ramp, though still under

the overhang to avoid the rain.

The mirrors are in my bag, so I put them on, then pull off the seat, get out the tool kit

and take off the cowling and lights. Having gone through it once before I’m a bit less

intimidated, which is good because I now have an audience. A couple of truckers have

come to watch, not believing all this stuff will fit on the bike. Good guys, they’re full of

questions about the trip.

Cowling off, I hook up the battery, check the connections and put it all back together,

feeling very much the mechanic. Once it’s all tight I pull my rain gear out of the bags,

put it on and gear up. Side bags go on, rain covers in place, then the tinfoil sheets,

which seem to have worked so far. Those set, I wrap the red bag in plastic and tie it on

the back of the seat with bungies, put the new black bag in plastic, place it on top of the

first and hook it with more bungies. One more check of the map, which I’ll have to put

away to keep dry, then the helmet, gloves, a quick check to make sure everything is

secure, a wave to the guys and out into what has now become a steady light rain.

One of the truckers had recommended the Ring Road, which is a by-pass that circles

London. Gatwick is south of the city and I have no need to deal with all the traffic in the

city on my way north, so decide to loop around it to the west and once at the top of the

ring take the M-1 north toward York. Pulling into the street I keep telling myself,

“remember where you are. Left side of the road; be careful of the roundabouts.”

Roundabouts are a great, if sometimes confusing, English addition to driving. Major

intersections – and some not-so-major ones – have a circle in the center so that instead

of having to deal with traffic crossing in front of you one comes into an intersection and

goes around the circle (to the left, I remind myself again and again) and pulls out of it in

whichever direction is desired. A bit confusing at first, roundabouts are actually a much

more congenial method in that you’re merging with other traffic instead of fighting your

way through an opposing stream.

Excitement at the beginning the European leg of this adventure has adrenaline cutting

through the fog of jet lag, sleeplessness, rain and riding on the wrong side of the road.

I’m doing OK, but have to maintain focus. And oh, yeah, gas! As soon as I’m out on the

Ring Road the warning light pops up to remind me that I’ve only got a gallon left.

“On the Ring Road” is clear. Which direction I’m going is not. There’s no indication of

east or west on the signs, in fact no indication of anything that I recognize, so I’m

hoping I’ve chosen east, as one of the truckers suggested, but resigned to the idea that

if I’m going the wrong way I’ll still end up north of London and will find the M-1. It is a

ring, after all.

“Remember where you are,” I remind myself. It’s not so hard to stay to the left on the

Ring Road, which is essentially a freeway. It’s turning corners and maneuvering through

traffic that can get tricky. Signs whizzing by tell me of roads going other places, but I

don’t see any communities immediately at the side of the road, so keep going and

looking, hoping for a sign that tells me gas is available somewhere.

“How the hell did I get out in the country,” I wonder aloud into my helmet. No towns, no

homes, no businesses, no gas. I pass a sign before a turnoff that says services are 8M in

one direction and 34M in another. 8M is 8 miles? I thought they showed everything in

kilometers here. Can’t be 8 meters, I guess. Is it something else? Shit.

Finally, concerned that I’ll run out of the diminishing gallon I have left, I pull off and head

down some beautiful, if wet, country roads in search of a community. After an

increasingly worrisome ride (I don’t want to start this trek standing in the rain trying to

bum a ride to get a can of gas) a sign leads me to Leatherhead, a small community that

at first appears to be all residences, no businesses. Shit. Then, finally, businesses! But

no gas stations. Is this possible? Riding in the rain, watching for cars coming at me,

staying on the left side of the road, going around the roundabouts and I can’t find a

damned gas station! Through to the other side of town, apparently, and no gas station.

Turn around and go back. Take another road. No. Finally I spot a cab and flag him

down. “Go to the roundabout, stay to the left, first turning.” Thanks. I do as he says

and end up at a train station. I said gas station, not train station! As I look around in

desperation I see the cabbie coming up the street behind me pointing back to the last

corner. The other way. Back down the road, under a trestle, again the “first turning”

and there’s a blessed sight. I coast in, practically running on fumes.

Thankfully filling the tank I look to my sopping boots and rue the fact that moving into

warmer weather in the States caused me to forget to look for boot covers. The man in

the station says it’s Saturday, nothing is open in town. Ah well, the boots are already

soaked. And at least I’ve got a full tank of gas (all four gallons), so it’s back to the

highway.

Back on the Ring Road the rain lets up for a while and the signs to Heathrow make me

know I’ve been heading west instead of east, but no big deal. Passing the Heathrow

turnoff the road curves north and then towards the east and the M-1. And it starts to

pour. Think cats and dogs, turtles, alligators and crocodiles.

Onto the M-1, it’s now early afternoon on Saturday and everyone in England who owns a

car has apparently chosen to head north. Amazing. The traffic is stopped, jammed as

far ahead as I can see. Literally sitting still. Then creeping ahead. Then stopping. This

is ridiculous. It’s worse than the 405. And I don’t know any ‘alternate routes.’

Well, I hate it when those guys on bikes go buzzing by me on the freeway at home,

riding between lanes of stalled cars, but by the time the third bike zips past me and

makes its merry way along I’m very tempted to do the same. Problem is I don’t know if

it’s legal here or not and I really don’t need to get pinched.

Now the rain, which had let up for a bit, is pouring down again and when the sixth or

seventh bike goes tearing past me I figure ‘what the hell?’ and go for it.

Picking my way carefully along, convinced everyone I pass hates me and everyone I’m

about to pass is either going to change lanes or open his door and knock me down, I

note that this is the longest traffic jam I’ve ever seen. It goes on for miles! After a bit

there will be some slight movement and I move back into the traffic lane, but then it

stops again and I sheepishly move over onto the line and slip ahead.

And there never seems to be a reason for the stopping. There is the typical accordion

nature of car traffic, one slowing in front causing a ripple effect for miles back, but

there’s usually an accident or some disturbance visible somewhere down the line.

Nothing here.

As the traffic opens up for a bit and we can make some time the rain comes down even

harder. Then it comes so hard as to be astonishing. It crashes down so hard it hurts,

stinging my arms and my thighs, where it hits most directly. It’s not excruciating, of

course, but it’s the hardest rain I think I’ve ever experienced, certainly felt.

Another jam and I pull off, thinking I’ll look at my map and figure out an alternative

route. In a small lane I pull over and try to get under cover to look at the map. Pulling it

out of my pocket I find what I’ve been suspecting: my jacket is not as water-proof as I

had thought. The map is soaked, as am I. Trying to open it is futile, as the sopping

paper just comes apart. So back in the pocket it goes and back on the M-1 I go.

Ride, stop, move over between the lanes and slide through traffic, ride again. Finally it

eases and we’re out onto the open road. By now I’m worn out from the combined

stresses of the night and day, so decide to quit trying to make it to York and pull off at

a sign pointing to Northhampton. Once nearing the town I follow signs indicating the

Town Centre and look for something like a hotel or motel. Up a road I see a sign for

what looks like The Moat House. Around a block and back and I see it again. Looks like

it says hotel all right, but I can’t find an entrance. All one-way streets and none of them

seem to provide a way in.

Amazing! How the hell do you get in here? Going around this place makes me think of a

trip years ago with Shelley and the kids. We were in Manchester, England, on a big Ring

Road and I could see the hotel we wanted but couldn’t get off to get to it. Thought I’d

go crazy as we went around and around the damned thing. Everybody else thought it

was funny as hell. And they’d sure be laughing now, as I circle this joint. Finally, I find a

small alley-like road that takes me to what looks like the back of The Moat House, but

it’s in fact the front. Once there, an electric gate bars the way, and after sitting there in

the rain for a moment I realize the bike apparently doesn’t have the mass to set off the

electric eye to open it. So, wet, tired and disgusted, I turn around and ride up over the

curb, onto the sidewalk, past the stupid gate and down to a covered area in front of the

hotel.

I’m sure a lake formed beneath me as I trooped through the lobby and stood at the desk

inquiring about a room, but by this time I was too tired to care. The place is veddy

British and a bit stuffy in appearance. There’s only one young man at the counter taking

care of guests, answering the phone and dealing with what-all, but he doesn’t blink an

eye when he turns my way. And he has a room, bless him, so I sign in and slosh my way

back out to unload the bike, wheel the gear in on a handy trolley and am just barely able

to squeeze trolley, bags and wet self into one of the tiny elevators European hotels tend

to feature.

Sixth floor, small room, but warm and dry. I peel off and hang clothing everywhere I can

find, placing the already wet trash bags beneath the wettest things in order to catch the

worst of the running water. Toilet tissue sops the water out of my boots and then I set

them upside down on a radiator in the hope they’ll dry out overnight. Gloves, too. The

other trash bags had done their job for the most part, so I do have dry clothing to put

on for the trip back out to move the bike away from the front door.

This is the first opportunity to check the international cell phone I’ve rented for the trip

in order to be able to stay in touch with Shelley and I find it won’t work! Very

frustrating. A message I don’t understand comes up and won’t allow me to either check

for messages or call out, so I schlep back downstairs and happily find they have an

international phone in the lobby.

Shel is OK, but a bit concerned about some redness and what appears to be slight

swelling around the one tube remaining from the surgery. She insists she’s OK and that

the liver coordinator assured her it was nothing to worry about, but I’m glad to be able

to give her the number here so she can reach me if she wants to.

The Nextel person is friendly and tries to be helpful, but it’s very frustrating. He takes

me through some maneuvers with the phone, but it’s no go. He says because it’s the

weekend it’ll be difficult, but he’ll figure out what the trouble is and get back to me.

Getting back to me won’t be easy, I explain, because I’ll be heading out tomorrow and

until I land again the only way he’ll be able to reach me is on the phone that won’t work.

Get the bike locked up out of the way and when coming back in I run into a group of

Americans, a Rap group called Gangsta here for a rock concert. They’re quick to invite

me to sit down, so I do for a bit. They’re having a big time on this tour and for all their

street-talk, seem to be pretty good guys. They tell me the Lakers won again, which

delights me, but the leader is heavy into knocking Shaq. He’s too big, too rich, too full

of himself, etc. We spar for a few minutes, have a few laughs, then I beg off their

invitation to have a drink and go up and fall into bed.


Day 12 – Sunday, 6/17/01 –

Wake up early after a long, sound sleep. God, I needed that. Call Shel again from

downstairs. Because of the time difference she’s about to go to bed and is more

concerned than when we last spoke. I’m ready to turn around and head home, naturally,

but she calms me down, reminding me that the doctor insisted that anything unusual

had to be noted and reported. They have people who can answer questions and she has

a call in. She’s not panicking and is sure she’ll be OK; she just wants me to stay in touch

until she understands what’s going on. She knows we’ll both feel better if we can be in

touch every few hours until this is resolved. OK. What’s frustrating us both is that she

can’t seem to call me, so I call Nextel again and get a different guy, tell him it’s critical

that this phone gets working. He can’t seem to do it either. Again, someone will call me

back. Really? Where?

It’s cloudy and gloomy but not raining yet, so I load up. The Gangsta guys are loading

into their van, as well, so we talk a bit more. One of them cops to being knocked out

about having met a guy from MASH; he’s really sweet about it and it touches me. Hardass

kid’s not such a hard-ass at all. Finally they jump in the van and I climb aboard the

bike and we take off. Being Sunday not much is open but I do find a little shop where I

pick up a cheap plastic raincoat to pull over my heavy-but-clearly-not-waterproof-jacket

when the need arises. Again, no boot covers. On the way out of town I’m surprised to

find a motorcycle shop open. There I’m able to get a good, lightweight rain jacket to go

over the heavy one, plus a rig that will keep the rain from running down the back of my

neck and inside my coat, but still no boot covers. Fellow says there’s a big bike shop in

Nottingham that might have them.

Electing to stay off the M-1 I’m able to ride through some beautiful rolling countryside.

A field of incredible red flowers fills the side of the road at one point. Later I stop to

watch a flock of birds play as they follow a farmer on his tractor, apparently either

feasting on what he’s turning up or devouring much of the seed he’s putting down.

Riding the little roads is great, but “remember where you are.” Now and then I pass a

biker going the other way and discover that the “salute” here is apparently a rather staid

British nod. Occasionally there’s a wave, but usually I find it’s just the most modest dip

of the head. Funny.

After lazing my way along through some picturesque countryside and small towns I

decide to make some miles so follow a sign pointing to the M-1. Once back on the

highway I’m quickly confused. I’ve got a good sense of direction and it appears to me

I’m going the wrong way, so after puzzling it for a bit I get off and check out the signs.

It says M-1 North all right, so back I go. Again, I’m sure it’s wrong. Finally I realize that

I’m just not used to these signs. This isn’t the M-1 North but is taking me to the M-1

North. Like the roundabouts, the signs are great once you understand them. The things

listed show what’s coming up, but in parentheses. I thought it was telling me that this

was the road I was on. Now a bit more relaxed, I ride on and sure enough the M-1 North

comes up and on I go, heading for Nottingham where I’ll get some gas, call Shel again

and see if I can find that bike shop.

The Nottingham turnoff takes me past a nuclear power plant. That always gives me the

willies. I find myself holding my breath as I go by, as if that’ll make any difference.

Nottingham is a good-sized city. Like many English cities, it’s not on a grid, is threaded

with one-way streets, is short on street signs and is very confusing. And again, there

are very few gas stations. I ride through the City Centre and around again, then out and

can’t find one. Finally, the reserve tank light on, I ask a driver and am pointed down a

road where, after a search, I finally find a BP station. Tank full, I look in a phone book

and find a motorcycle shop. The gas station attendant gives me directions, I take off

and am almost immediately lost. Round and round I go again, looking in vain for the

names of streets, pulled this way and that by one-way routes, continually reminding

myself to stay on the right (left) side of the road. Finally, through a patch of

construction work, I find the proper street and the shop, which is closed. Screw it, I’ll

just hope it doesn’t rain again.

Back in City Centre I stop at a hotel and call Shel, who is feeling much better. The

redness and swelling have receded and there is no soreness, so she’s pretty clear there’s

no infection to worry about. She’s much more calm about it and insists I stop worrying

and just check in once in a while.

Relieved, I head north out of the city, staying on the smaller roads. Once away from the

hustle-bustle it’s wonderful. The day is dark and overcast but dry, so far, and I find I’m

riding through Sherwood Forest! No Robin and his Merry Men, but it’s gorgeous.

Once out of the forest the countryside is a succession of undulating farmland, green

fields and flowers, dotted with the occasional small town sporting the inevitable pub.

Picking my way carefully along I’m soon on the outskirts of one of my favorite English

cities.

The walls around York take me back hundreds of years. Cobblestone streets, turrets,

narrow lanes, short doors, the very old mixing with the occasional new building and cars,

trucks (lorries) belching fumes. This city bustles with people and traffic, but does so

without losing its essential grace.

Just at the river (The Ure?) in the city center I find, of all things, a Moat House Hotel, so

of course pull right up. They have a room with a view back across the river to more of

the old city, so I check in, unload the gear and put the bike in their car park.

Checking with Shel I find she’s up and feeling very well. Checking with Nextel I get yet

another guy who also can’t figure out the problem. A technician will call me, he says.

“Wonderful,” I respond. “But I’m only here until tomorrow morning. Otherwise, I’m on a

motorcycle and will be on a ship tomorrow night, so there’ll be nowhere to call.”

The natural food restaurant I remember is still here, but only open for lunch, so the

woman at the desk suggests another, The Rubicon, just across the river in the heart of

the old city. It’s a great walk through streets reeking of history. Beyond a great square,

The Rubicon is a nice place in a quiet lane. It offers an imaginative menu and, since it’s

Sunday and things are pretty quiet, I can just relax and take it all in. After a lovely

dinner I walk back to the hotel. It’s odd to come out of cobbled lanes through buildings

hundreds of years old to a street of modern stores with window displays featuring the

latest British fashion, but here it is. I walk slowly, enjoying the sense of quiet, the

warmth, the luxury of freedom as I spend Father’s Day in York, England.

Back at the hotel I grab the lobby phone to again check with Shel, who is still doing fine.

She has a call in to the Liver Coordinator to get her opinion. I’ll stay close to the phone,

I reassure her, then hang up and put in a worried call to Nextel and reach the same guy,

who says the technical experts won’t be there until Monday morning. I explain once

again that this won’t work for me and he says he’ll see what he can do. Frustrated, I

climb back up to my room to find the phone ringing. It’s the fellow from Nextel, who has

thought of something. He walks me through some steps on the little phone and Voila!, it

works! So relieved it tells me how tense I’ve been, I thank him voluminously and then am

thrilled to be able to pick up messages and then call Shel to tell her the phone is now

working. She’s still feeling OK and she too becomes a lot less anxious, knowing she can

reach me at any time.

Smiling, I’m able to go to bed relatively anxiety free.


Day 13 – Monday, 6/18/01 –

After a sound sleep I’m up early. Thinking that Shel is going to be in touch with the

medical people this morning I put in a call. She says, “Honey, it’s a little after midnight

here. I just went to bed.” Ah, yes, the time difference. Trying to keep it all straight has

me goofy.

It’s a bright, sunny day and the river looks beautiful below the window, so I go down for

breakfast, check out, load up the bike and head west. My lovely daughter Erin, who

studied and worked in London, has suggested that I should be sure to see the Yorkshire

Dales if I have a chance. With most of the day ahead of me before I have to make the

ferry in Newcastle, I figure I have the time to take a look.

Passing through York toward the west involves going through a residential area I’ve not

seen before. Tree-lined streets, substantial homes, nice neighborhoods. I like this city.

Once out of the city I’m quickly into farm country, but across the M-1 and into The

West, as the signs say it’s called, it quickly becomes more dramatic. Rolling hills roll

higher until steep cliffs and green grass-covered heights border the road. Sheep abound

and the land is dotted with precarious old stone buildings, some falling down but

nonetheless lovely, all fairly bursting with a sense of history.

Cutting north into the Yorkshire Dales proper is stepping back in time. It’s a huge sweep

of fields of green, patterned by stone fences and separated by the occasional lane.

Sheep and cattle abound, crops too. The narrow road fairly swoops along through rolling

hills, then dives into an unforeseen dell that houses yet another little stone village. A

fairyland, it’s perfect for a motorcycle ride, though it would still be enchanting on foot or

in a car. Picking my way along these lanes the sense is that one could spend days here,

investigating and discovering.

Coming into a section of homes there is a ‘diversion’ and a barrier sends me off onto an

even smaller road just behind a truck almost too large for the available space. Oncoming

cars, though there are few, have to back up to find a wide enough spot to manage

passage.

More farms, horses, cattle, beautifully tended crops, stone fences and lovely little

homes. Nothing is particularly showy in and of itself, but you get a sense of pride in the

community, a feeling that those who live here know what they have and treasure it.

A fork in the road offers the opportunity to head back out toward the east and north for

my ferry ride, so I grab it and race along wonderful country roads, sometimes between

tall hedgerows, then again suddenly diving into hidden dells to discover small villages and

on up the other side. What a wonderful spot!

Back to the Midlands I find the A-1 and figure the M-1 doesn’t come up this far north.

Apparently the M-1 is more of a freeway that denies access to intersecting roads. The

A-1 is a regular highway that allows access as well as cross traffic.

Within a couple of hours I’m headed into Newcastle-on-Thyne and the City Centre.

Looping around a bit in mid-city I determine to quickly get out of the confusion and ask

directions from a cabbie who steers me to a road with a series of signs, one of which has

the outline of a ferry. Following the trail I’m soon at Tynemouth, through a gate and into

a large asphalt area delineated with lanes. A question tells me that the long line is going

to Amsterdam, the shorter one is for the ferry to Bergen, Norway, so I move into that

one, shut the bike down and wait.

We’re up high and the wind coming off the Tyne is cold. Clouds are behind me in the

west, so there’s sun, but the blasts of wind are bitter, so I pull out some of my cold

weather gear, put it on and nestle in for the wait. Getting out a book will be a hassle and

it’s too cold to take off my gloves, so I just let my thoughts wander. I think about where

I am, what I’m doing and who’s at home cheering me onward. I’m clearly the luckiest

man in the world. After about a half hour the line begins to move forward, but it’s only a

re-shuffling. I’m then pulled out of line and moved to the front of another, this one for

motorcycles. Soon a man and woman on a big BMW pull in behind me. It’s got about 11

or 1200 cc’s, so has nearly twice the power of my engine, and they’re loaded for bear.

Two people, a lot more bags than I have – they’re stacked on a rack behind the woman,

on the tank and hanging off the handlebars – it’s a miniature wagon-train.

An English couple, they’re friendly and open. He’s hoping to be able to get above the

Arctic Circle and as far as Murmansk. Says she’s not too excited about getting that far

north so he’ll probably drop her at a bed and breakfast somewhere along the line. He’s

full of stories of trips they’ve done together and is delighted to hear of my adventure.

When he asks where I’m headed and I tell him I’m not all that sure, he laughs, pleased.

“Go where the front wheel takes you, eh?” He offers “Don’t speed” in Norway and

“Don’t drink and drive.” They’re evidently very tough on both. Good to know, and

another example of bikers taking care of one another.

Before I lose the ability to connect I call Shel and find her up and feeling well. She’s

going to get in touch with the Liver Coordinator this morning and, if necessary, go in to

see her, but she feels that things have sorted themselves out and there’s no problem

now.

We’re waved aboard and the bike and I are starting our first ferry ride together. We’re

directed to a spot on the starboard bulkhead near the bow on the main car deck where

there are straps and cinches to tie the bike down. As our two bikes pull in we're joined

by two more, these ridden by Englishmen in their late 60’s or 70’s, also headed for the

far north. Hardy bunch, these folks.

The very existence of the straps and cinches indicates the possibility of rough seas, so

even though I figure it’s unlikely to be the case during the summer months It’s

intimidating enough to make me tie the bike down as securely as possible. While figuring

out how to do that an announcement tells us to take everything we need into the

passenger area because once the car decks are sealed there will be no access until we

put into port. Shit. I’ll probably need a little something out of every bag, so I’ll have to

unload everything and schlep it one more time.

As I’m rigging the bike the car deck is filling up. Automobiles, vans, trucks, buses, even

semi-tractors with big trailers load in and are arranged in lines. Once our level is full

huge ramps come down and the rest of the vehicles proceed to fill the deck above. This

is some craft!

OK, bike secure I grab everything and work my way through the rows of cars to a

hatchway and struggle up two flights of stairs (“ladders” aboard ship) where I find a

directory that shows the layout. The cruise to Bergen takes 23 hours, so I’ve booked a

little stateroom. The bike is on the starboard side near the bow, so of course my room

is on the port side near the stern. And one more deck up. Once onto the passenger

levels, though, the stairways are actual stairways, with carpeting and pictures on the

wall, so I schlep my load under more esthetic conditions.

This ship is quite something for a ferry. Turns out it’s seven decks high, offers

entertainment, seven restaurants, video games, slot machines, stores, the works. It

even has elevators, I note belatedly, finally reaching the level my stateroom is on.

Down a narrow passageway in search of the number, I’ve worked up a pretty good sweat

by the time I stumble onto cabin 2715. The key is in the door so I push it open and fall

in. About 11 or 12’ long by 7 or 8’ wide, the room has a pull down bunk over a bench

sofa, a desk, a bit of hang-up space beside the desk and a tiny bathroom with sink, toilet

and shower. It’s a nicely compact little joint and looks like heaven about now. Cramped

heaven, granted, but heaven nonetheless. The bed is long enough, a quick check

reveals, and I can gaze out of my very own porthole. About 12’ down, it appears, the

water looms, but how can that be? I’ve come up quite a ways, I think. Hmmm.

After getting things set out I decide a look-around is in order. People are all over,

staking claims to lounging seats, playing the slots, shopping, strolling. No one seems to

pay me the slightest attention, which is a great feeling.

It’s pretty cold out on deck, but finding a place out of the wind and in the sun keeps the

chill off as I watch them untie us and then see the loading ramps slip away astern.

Goodbye England, hello North Sea. Next stop, Norway!

Since we’re still near land I try Shel again and find her in good humor, fairly clear that the

swelling and redness was either an anomaly or something she imagined, but, she agrees,

it’s best to be on the safe side and will check with the doctor.

Roaming, I find that one can make a near loop of the ship on the promenade decks, but

for some reason going up forward isn’t allowed. An astro-turf-like matting keeps one

from slipping on what are probably pretty slick surfaces at times and the rows of life

boats and lockers marked “life preservers” are either comforting or disturbing,

depending upon one’s point of view. I find you can’t go to the top deck, which is

reserved for crew members only, but I guess that’s fair; they’ve got business to take

care of. Most of the passengers braving the cold are on the large, three-level, astroturfed

viewing area at the stern and the rest, the majority, are inside gazing out through

the wide windows lining the walls (bulkheads) of the restaurants, casino and passenger

lounge.

After a while I decide to eat, so head back down to my stateroom to peel off a few

layers of clothes, enjoy the opportunity to simply sit and read for a while, then put on

civilian shoes and a clean shirt and go see what’s offered.

Walking through a crowded, garish spot designed as their idea of an American diner I

think I hear my name mentioned through the general buzz, along with the word MASH.

But no one looks my way or seems to be paying the slightest attention, so maybe I’m

hearing things.

An adjoining small Italian restaurant looks promising. It’s snug, quiet, has linen-covered

tables and subdued lighting and looks just right, so I ask the uniformed maitre-d’ – a

ship’s officer by the braids on his shoulders - if I can get in there dressed as I am (jeans

and a shirt, no coat). When he assures me it’s no problem I ask if they have any

vegetarian dishes and am delighted to have him produce a vegetarian menu. He takes

me to a small table, takes my order for a glass of Chianti and leaves me to look over the

menu.

After a very quiet, very pleasant meal and a couple of glasses of wine I ask for the

check, which is immediately brought by the maitre-d’ who calls me by name, apologizes,

tells me he’s a great fan of MASH (says it’s on every night in Norway) and wants to

know if I’d mind signing an autograph. Surprised, I say it’s no problem and then am more

surprised as he produces a print-out of a picture from “Providence.” Utterly flummoxed,

I ask about it and he explains that after seating me he had gone to his computer, found a

MASH site and printed out the picture.

It’s all done very quietly and quite respectfully, which reminds me that only a few days

back someone had remarked, “Oh, they know you all right. They’re just more reserved

over here than the Americans are.”

Take a stroll outside and sit for a while. It’s very cold now, and quite beautiful. Nothing

but the North Sea in every direction. Try to call Shel but can’t get through. Long days

up this far north. It’s a fabulous sunset at about 10 PM, with Old Sol dropping behind a

string of gorgeous red clouds. And, I note, if the sun sets in the west we’re going due

north. Colder soon. So, to bed.


Day 14 – Tuesday, 6/19/01 -

Morning. For all the romance of it I didn’t sleep worth a damn. As is too often the case,

since it’s cold outside they use more heat than you want. Because there’s no

thermostat to control it and you can’t open the damned porthole, you live with it. The

pillows are huge and like bricks. How the hell anyone sleeps with the aid of one of these

things is beyond me. And, over here they favor duvets rather than blankets. It was too

hot under the duvet and just a bit too cool without it. I finally figured out that I could

pull the cover off and use it as a light blanket, which worked OK.

Looking down from the bunk through the porthole gives the impression of looking into a

washing machine, but the sea really can’t be all that rough or I’d be feeling it. Once

down from the bunk I see no sign of land, so step into the tiny bathroom. A curtain

makes a shower area out of 1/4 of the room, but given the size of the whole place

you’re lucky to shower without stepping into the toilet or falling into the sink.

Ablutions completed, I’m getting ready to find breakfast when an announcement tells me

that we have to vacate the rooms by 1:30 so the staff can clean them for the

passengers who will come aboard after we disembark. We’d already been told we won’t

have access to the vehicle deck until an hour before we put in, and that’s at 6:30. Does

that mean I’ll have to carry all that crap around for 5 hours? Can’t be.

The best breakfast possibility appears to be the American-style diner, so I grab a seat.

The place is incredibly kitschy, with a large plaster statue of a car-hop on the order of

the old Stan’s Drive-In at Sunset and Highland, a Statue of Liberty, murals of the

Manhattan skyline next to New Mexican mesas, an old Indian motorcycle, street signs

from New York’s Little Italy and cans, signs, bottles and paraphernalia everywhere. But, I

can get a couple of scrambled eggs, toast and a glass of orange juice, so I’m in good

shape.

Out on deck it’s a bit warmer. The sea is calm. No land in sight. Go down to the cabin

to get my gear together and the young woman who is to clean up says once I pack the

stuff it’s OK to leave it here until the car deck opens, which is a big relief.

Shortly an announcement comes that the car decks are opening, so I must have

misunderstood. But the young woman says I can still leave the big jacket and the helmet

here, so I do. Schlep the bags down below and make my way between the cars, buses

and vans to our bike area. Big space, kind of like a warehouse. Cool down here. Dank.

Smells like machinery. Odd to think the ocean is just beyond the walls (bulkheads).

The bike came through fine, didn’t move a bit, so I only untie a couple of the straps,

leaving it secured to the deck while I load the bags. Once everything is loaded I head

back up to the above-deck, where I now see land off the starboard side. We appear to

be working our way up the coast of Norway and low islands or spits of land are all that’s

visible. They’re rocky and barren, nothing like the huge and dramatic fjords I had

envisioned. As we get closer I can see mountains – snow-topped mountains, actually – in

the distance, but the coastal topography, at least in this area, is strewn with these spits

or islands that appear to be simply huge, smooth chunks of rock.

As I’m standing there at the railing a man approaches. He’s a huge fan of MASH and

can’t resist saying hello. He’s all apologies for bothering me, but is a nut for the show,

etc. He’s a Brit who trained as a doctor in Canada and married a Norwegian woman so

now lives here. Sort of a one-man United Nations. Says he worked as a flying ambulance

medic, a service the government provides for outlying areas. Simply loved MASH and

can’t contain his admiration for the show and all it meant to him. Kept him going

through pretty rough times. So rough, evidently, that he’s left medicine. He says

because it was government run it meant they told him when to work and where. The

pay was good but he finally found himself exhausted and bitter, so quit. He’s now an

engineer.

Frank Sager is his name. Sweet fellow, he’s fairly bubbling with energy about meeting

me, to the point that it begins to feel like a religious experience. Shows me a picture of

his wife, whom he calls “Hot Lips,” and says they saw me at dinner last night but

wouldn’t approach (given his behavior now they really are reserved). To calm him down I

ask what would be a good thing for a visitor to the country to see. He thinks for a

moment, then suggests Voss, a town a couple of hours out of Bergen, where there is a

tour available called “Norway in a Nutshell.” It‘s a day trip over a circle that gives, he

says, a snapshot of what the country is like. He offers a room at his house, says I can

store my gear in his garage… It’s a bit overwhelming, so I thank him, take his card and

say I want to just look around a bit, but may call him if I decide to stay in Bergen.

As said, a nice man, and the thought of having a local show me around is somewhat

enticing, but I’m enjoying the freedom and it feels a bit claustrophobic to have to deal

with being so adored.

An announcement says we’re nearing port, so I head below, grab the jacket and helmet

and make my way down. Everyone is scurrying to get set, so I free up the bike, check

the gear and, as the hatch lowers, fire it up. We’re among the first off, over the ramp

onto the pier and into a new land.

Pretty day. Brisk. The line of vehicles proceeds slowly along the wharf and stops. We

each have to have our wheels sprayed with something, probably a germicide. Hoof and

mouth concerns, I assume. Quick stop for a passport check and we’re off. “Remember

where you’re not,” quickly becomes the mantra. Drive on the right side now and, oh yes,

they have roundabouts here, too, just to confuse me more.