Wookie was ready for the long ride home after doing both Vespa World Days and the EuroLambretta events earlier this year. After a stop in Prague, he was ready for a steady bimble back across Europe but it got out of hand.
One flippant comment on a Facebook post was all it took to fire Wookie up and push both himself and his bog-standard Vespa T5 Millenium to the absolute limits. Prague to London in one hit? Hmm, think not…
No stress, no strife, just loving life. Sort of…
So there I was enjoying a few 65p beers in the evening sunshine on a barge along the Vltava river in Prague with my wonderful host and tour guide Jennifer and ScooterNova’s finest head-honchos. It had been a magnificent couple of weeks on the road and thoughts of home were hitting hard, as well as my 1000+ km journey home, I was due to leave the next morning, and leave I did…
The morning after wasn’t a manic one, my head felt clear and I was focused on heading west as much as I could that day. When I say focused it was more of a guideline or even necessity but all the same I knew I had to get to the Czech border and into Germany then I would try to plan something from there. After a few procrastinating coffees I finally loaded up in the 30+ degree heat and headed out of Prague at around 11 am.
The first few hours were pretty slow and very hot. Upon reaching my first fuel stop I was already feeling the strain as I felt I’d hardly made any progress at all, the beautiful Czech roads are super smooth and clean with fantastic views, but they are slow roads. Nearly four hours later I finally reach Cheb and I’m finally into Germany – only the width of that bugger to go then, oh and the width of Belgium, and a gnat’s private parts of Francais. I had two full days and a good chunk of a third to get home. I was thinking of a nice bimble across Germany, sampling some more of the fab hospitality, food, water, and scenic roads that I’d experienced previously on this journey and on past excursions to this country.
Head for the sun
Sticking to my guns about not using motorways I continued my way into the German countryside not really knowing where I was going, except towards the direction of the sun which I knew was coming down in the west. As long as there were no shadows in front of me, I was going the right way. The single carriageways through the hills are open, smooth and move quickly (insert German efficiency joke here) and before I know it I’ve made twice the progress in half the time. Signs for Frankfurt appear, I’m aware that it’s on my route home so it’s just a case of following the signs, no stress, no strife, just loving life.
Time’s getting on now so I stop for fuel and have a proper feed myself, possibly the most civilised I’d ever been on my own on the road. After consulting a map for the first time today, I was pleasantly surprised that after such a hot and slow start, I was pretty much halfway home! I took stock of the situation, I was halfway home (always sounds good no matter the mileage), the scooter felt fantastic, weather was great, and more importantly, I still felt good. A somewhat cryptic post on FB was made, merrily quipping about making it home in one hit from Prague and comments came back in quickly, including one that doubted the quite frankly outrageous concept. That was enough for me, I was going home, IT WAS ON!
The odds were stacked against him
After gathering up a few essentials I ventured out on the road once more with the aim of getting to Liege in Belgium then we would take stock once more (we, being my scooter and I. I’d practically been wearing the thing for over two weeks and every decision was ‘ours’). Out into the rolling hills and forests, the traffic started to build very quickly but in a way I hadn’t witnessed before, it was all articulated lorries! Every way that I seemed to go the traffic was just as bad heading through the outskirts of Frankfurt, I conceded a minor defeat here and almost had no choice in joining the Autobahn to help get away from all this traffic. It was blocking two lanes out of four, plus the hard shoulder on that as well. It wasn’t until very recently that a German friend of mine informed me that it was to do with the backlog at the harbour and these were all the lorries ‘stacking up’ to get into the port.
Anyways, approximately 50km was carried out in the outer two lanes of one of the fastest roads in the world on my little scooter. Whilst this annoyed me the thought of being stuck in all the traffic less than ten minutes after making the decision of a lifetime wasn’t very good either.
Popping out the other side of Frankfurt and onwards to Koblenz it started showing signs of getting dark soon, it was also the trickiest looking part of the journey as I was back onto single carriageways trying to navigate my way to the border with Belgium, and the flies, don’t mention the sodding flies.
It was now dark, really dark so there won’t be too much more on any scenery, but at least the thick haze of flying bastards had dissipated slightly. Splash and dash fuel stops came thick and fast. I had been stopping around 100kms at a time but realised quickly that I had to make up a few stops if I was to stand any chance. My original calculation of arriving in Liege before dark was now well out the window (or visor?) and it was now a battle to keep in the right direction, look out for fuel, keep on the road, and try to make serious headway.
Yep, it was pitch black, approaching midnight, and I was lost, oh and the fuel light was flickering on when I went round right hand corners. Anxiety levels were building. I just kept plodding forwards although less exuberant with my right wrist, the fuel light had been on solid for a while now. I had passed four petrol stations in close succession and all had closed at 10 pm. To be honest with you all I felt a few tears roll down my cheek as my personal war, as it was now becoming with every kilometre, was looking like ending in defeat. I’d stopped on the grass verge of a T-junction, I needed to consult the dreaded Google Maps to try and find fuel, no signal, at all, flatter than a kipper’s codpiece. A car came along the road, of which relief, fear and strangely confusion waved over me, I hadn’t seen another vehicle at all for well over an hour.
The car stopped behind me and must have recognised the British plate and possibly my GB sticker. A gentleman got out and spoke to me in English straight away. I explained what the problem was and he was stumped as to what I was to do as well. He offered me a lift to the nearest 24hr garage to get a can of fuel and bring me back, how nice is that? Thinking on my feet, I realised that there must obviously be a 24hr garage somewhere if he was going to take me, so enquired as to where it was, it turns out it’s on my route in the next town, however it was 10km away and I guesstimated that I had less than 5km’s in the tank, quite possibly much less. This was it, do I get the lift and add an extra hour or so to my journey? Sleep at the side of the road and wake up to find the unleaded fairies had not filled my scooter up overnight and still be in the same predicament only in the daylight? Or option #3?
I politely declined the very kind offer of help and decided a slow crawl for 10km was the option #3 for me. I spend most of my life on the road in one vehicle or another, either 2 or 4 wheels, locally, nationally & continentally, and the practice of trying to achieve higher mpg from any vehicle has always appealed to me. I fired up my trusty steed, waved goodbye to my (almost) knight-in-shining Renault, and set off slowly. At least I didn’t have to worry about directions as it was on my way anyway. With sensible revs and lots of coasting at any slight decline, the garage appeared as if from nowhere, it was open, I made it! Another sense of dread came over me, as although I was well and truly back in the game I now needed to carry on with this mammoth task. I’d been thrown a huge lifeline and thought it stupid to stop now, however stupid it was to actually carry on.
The kilometres over the border, up to and including Liege were nothing to write home about (pun intended). It was still dark, the airborne creatures of dusk had now gone to annoy someone else, there were no dramas with fuel and although I was starting to feel very jaded I figured that it was no worse than riding home after a heavy weekend at a rally in Liege (as I’ve done in the past), so a five hour ride to Calais was certainly on the cards now.
I was coming to get the doubter on Facebook. One thing that was a welcome distraction was a fella approaching me at a fuel stop about 3am with no shoes on, just shorts and a vest, and asking me if he could hitch a ride into Namur. Luckily I still had enough wit about me and enough knowledge of Belgium to lie about my destination and say that I was going in the other direction. The ride across Belgium was a very boring slog that kept me near to the motorway in case of fuel issues but it really was a long series of straight roads with less than perfect surfaces. More splash and dash stops occurred, some I can’t even remember to this day. I do remember taking all of this very seriously though and being prepared to stop and rest if I had to, I wasn’t going to be silly enough to seriously risk life and limb… only slightly.
Bandits at 6 o’clock
With the clock at around 6 am, the sky now a shade of deep velvety purple due to the impending sunrise, the first signs for Calais/Francais start to appear, I’ve made it surely? I was now totally shattered, riding the scooter was not too much of an issue but getting off it to fuel up and pay were most probably a sight to behold. And so onto the coastal route down for my final approach. What looked like becoming another nice morning very quickly turned into a truly nightmarish electrical storm with rain of biblical proportions. This was the part of the journey, and in life generally, that I do regret. I felt it was reckless carrying on riding through that awful storm. I had to fuel one more time and when I did, got chatting to a Welsh lorry driver who informed me that there were lots of ‘bandits’ around the garage that would wait in the bushes and steal what they could when you went to pay. He kindly waited with me and my scooter whilst I fuelled and paid. When I returned to the bike he was brandishing a baseball bat and said we were being watched. I didn’t waste any time as I was eager to get back out in that lovely rain with lightning crashing down around me, not!
The experience did fire up the adrenal gland in me and helped me get out of there sharpish which certainly helped with what was about to happen…
Lightning doesn’t strike twice
CRASH!! No not me but a bolt of lightning struck the signpost I was alongside as I was riding over the viaduct style turning for the Tunnel sous la Manche. I hadn’t really thought too much about it, just that I was here – Calais. As I approached the border control kiosk, two British guards stuck their heads out of the window with one of them enquiring as to how close that lightning strike was to me. After informing them that I was probably six feet away from having deep fried Wookie balls they just waved me through without checking my passport!
After all that I had a real stroke of luck in that I didn’t have to stop from the customs booth until I got on the train, another first I’m sure many Eurotrippers will agree. Although I did stop purposefully to take a photo of me at the port for the obligatory two fingers up pic on FaceAche. On the train I was talking to a French policeman who was coming over for work, he simply did not believe what I’d done. Especially the fact that I’d started the day in Prague and was now on the 06:23 chunnel telling him about it. I knew I couldn’t sit and rest on the crossing so proceeded to slowly hobble around our empty carriage for the 35 minutes that I couldn’t ride my scooter.
Emerging into the daylight and drizzle of good ol’ Blighty I was seriously tired now and faced quite possibly the longest 60 miles of my life. This was certainly, without doubt, the hardest 60 miles of my life, probably (hopefully?) never to be surpassed. I had to make four stops along the way and to top it all off, deal with the morning rush hour traffic that consisted of God and his dog trying to get into London.
The last roundabout, about 150yds from home was, and always is, dangerously busy and I stalled on approach. With what seemed like an entire nation behind me honking, shouting, and swearing at me and my clear incompetence to ride a scooter, I fired it back up, pulled an unintentionally but rather impressive wheelie getting away and then made the last 150 yards unscathed.
Pulling into my driveway the unmistakable sound of my dogs going ape and my mum appearing, casually asking if I want a cuppa like I’d just popped to the shops was very emotional. I gently rocked the scooter back onto its stand, looked down and clicked the ignition key off, bent down, kissed the headset and had a few private words with my beloved scooter about what we had achieved…
It took me far longer to get over the mental side of this ‘ordeal’ than it did physically. Maybe I haven’t got over it, maybe I never will. The real hero of this story is of course my scooter. I’m just the organic matter making it do silly things, and the scooter in question? A completely standard Vespa T5 Millennium, save for tubeless rims and upgraded lights. Upon servicing recently (when I finally changed the spark plug,) it seems that even that may have been the original part. Oh and the distance involved in this story? Well in the 21 hours I was on the road since I left Prague I covered 855 miles or 1385 kilometres, that’s just over a million wheel revolutions.
Prague to London in one hit? Done it mate.
Words and photos: Wookie
How tough is your backside?
Have you come close, or even beaten that mileage on a scooter? I’m sure not many of our readers have but we’d like to hear about your exploits. If you’ve made an unsuitable mode of transport do something extraordinary we want to hear about it. Email us at: Editorial@ScooterLab.UK
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