On trucks & cows

Wednesday 11th May

Borovets, Rila Mountains, 70km south of Sofia, Bulgaria

After three long days and some 1,500 miles in the saddle from London, I concluded that the convoys of trucks ploughing the motorways, autoroutes and autobahns of Central Europe behave in a very similar way to cows.

My plan for this trip was quite simple – kick off with some big miles to get to south-east Europe, to then get a boat from Burgas on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast to Batumi in Georgia for a three month loop around the Caucasus republics, and then back home, spending time in eastern Turkey and the Balkans en route. And I wasn’t expecting things to get too interesting until getting there to be honest.

There were two things about the trucks that reminded me of the cattle – first, and the most obvious one, is their huge, lumbering nature, which their drivers all too often either didn’t know or didn’t care about, like the proverbial bull in a China shop, their size placing them high-up in the Darwinistic pecking order of motorway travel. That much is the same as back home.

But there was something else too. The closer you get to Central Europe, then so their number on the road grows in proportion to other vehicles, causing them to congregate in long convoys in the slow lane, nose to tail – just like a herd of cattle sauntering down the road, sometimes content with driving in line astern, other times jostling for position with one another, like some kind of heavyweight, real-world version of Mario Kart.

Passau, Germany

There’s the thrill of seeing an evolving, vehicular smorgasbord of different numberplates and trailer markings, which grow in diversity the closer you get to Europe’s main east-west motorways in south Germany, Austria and Hungary, Dutch, Polish, Spanish, Hungarian, Slovakian, Ukrainian, Bosnian, Czech – you name it, it’ll be there.

It gives you the feeling that you’re on your way, with whatever opportunities might lie on the road ahead – one of the great joys of travelling by motorbike. Riding motorways can be (and usually is) dull but spending days riding in the thick of Europe’s trade arteries fires the imagination and fuels wanderlust.

Chemical tankers from the Rhineland, washing machines going to Serbia, Bulgarian car transporters packed with second-hand cars – and of course, the ubiquitous courier trucks going to and from any place you can think of.

Then there’s the assault on the senses.

Approaching these convoys to overtake, the wind buffeting starts about a hundred yards out or so, with the airflow from them reverberating around the helmet, like leaving the car window open when driving quickly.

The buffeting steadily increases as you close the distance, going from the one side of your head to the other, eventually beating at your upper body, grabbing at any loose clothing, causing the unfastened collar strap on your jacket to snap with a whip-like crack against the side of your helmet.

As you pull alongside, things move up a notch; the roar of the trailer wheels on the road, along with thrill of being almost close enough to touch them. You can smell the diesel, oil and exhaust fumes in your face. You’re deafened by the roaring wind and slipstream, the monotonous drone of engines and endless clattering.

When you reach the front half of these behemoths, forty tonnes of flat-faced truck at fifty miles per hour doesn’t so much carve through the air as bludgeon its way through, forcing it out from the front to the sides in an invisible v-shape. Ride too close and at too similar-a-speed and you can feel yourself being pulled into the side of the wagon. A nudge to the left to give you a bit more space, and a few extra revs up to 4,000 rpm, and you’re through.

Finally, there’s the sense of place. Despite the ever changing landscape surrounding it, whether it be winding its way through the wind farms of Flanders or crossing the oil seed rape fields in the plains of northern Serbia, the motorway is a constant, with a personality of its own.

A fairly boring one, admittedly, but enough to provide the kind of insight that I hadn’t really appreciated before. Motorway life is a destination in itself.

Passau, Germany

The truckers at rest stops living on the road, the families in cars, the caravans, other motorbikes, the flash cars, the old cars, the boring cars. The number plates, makes and models might change, along with the language on the road signs, the currencies used or the food served, but formula behind the paraphernalia is a constant that acts as a platform from which you can observe these changes as they happen, rather than a boring bit of the trip that is to be written off.

This part of the trip was meant to be more of a liaison, a means to an end which was the ferry terminal at Batumi in Georgia. Maybe it’s just the relief finally getting away on a big trip for the first time in 6 years, but even writing as someone who has many motorway miles under my belt from previous trips, it’s already been a bit of an adventure.

Next stop, Burgas.

Rita Mountains, Bulgaria

2 thoughts on “On trucks & cows

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