In some places I felt safer sleeping with the bike. The mosquitoes here (just outside Sobibor extermination camp) were the worst I'd ever known, including in the jungle. I chainsmoked until dark.
Sighishoara, capital of Transilvania. King Charles owns several B&Bs nearby, and when he visits he stays in the Stag Hotel, at right. Dracula's birthplace is the yellow house.
Around Europe on a motorcycle
One day in 2006, I woke to find that a small patch of my lower lip had turned a numb white. I visited three doctors, and they all peered at it and adopted serious expressions without saying why. I consulted Dr Google, who said, “Cancer. With the amount you drink – and don’t forget you used to smoke – you’re going to die. Soon.”
Well, if I was going to die soon, the only sensible thing to do was to fulfil a long-held dream, which was to motorcycle from New York to Los Angeles on a Harley Davidson. Two obstacles presented themselves more depressingly than the cancer diagnosis: that I had no Harley Davidson and no money.
Plan B was to buy a second-hand BMW and, since I was clearly going to die soon anyway, get Messrs Visa and Barclaycard to pay for me to ride round Europe instead. The 20-year old 1000cc RT I chose, despite having a staggering 184,000 miles on the clock, seemed sound enough, and for the rest, well, I would just last as long as I could.
I spent six months saving enough to cover the mortgage while I was away, and planned a route that would, starting in April 2006, take in 20 countries, starting in Poland and ending in France, encompassing Norway’s Polar Nord Kapp and Greece’s 40C heat wave on the way. I had no particular aims or sights to see or distance to cover. I would just follow my front wheel and see where it took me. It took me further and showed me more than I had hoped for.
What interested me in the meantime was that every single man I told of the trip said how much he envied me and how much he wished he could do the same. Since the journey would not likely take more than five months (it took 15 weeks), a proportion of the men’s wives would certainly say, “Fine. You go. But my turn next year, okay? And you look after the kids while I’m gone.” Moneywise, all the builders I worked with – I was a builder then, you see – had cars worth far more than the ancient bike I’d just bought.
There are two punchlines to this story: one is that I discovered that Germans have a sense of humour after all, and the second is that – and you’d need a sense of tumour to find this funny – when I got home, within a fortnight my doctor called and said that Britain’s top oncologist was visiting my local hospital (literally across the road from my house) the next day and would I like him to examine my suspected cancerous lip? I duly went along. He spent twenty seconds examining me, and said, “Leukoprakia. Harmless. Gone in a week.”
It was. Leaving me with a more than $10,000 credit card debt. No worries. No regrets. Job done. Whether I die tomorrow or live until I’m 100, I lived a dream.
If you think that adventure is dangerous, try routine. It is lethal – Paulo Coelho.
Everything you want is the other side of fear – Jack Canfield.
More chapters coming soon...
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