What I Learned on a Solo Motorcycle Trek Across Europe Without a Phone or GPS


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What I Learned on a Solo Motorcycle Trek Across Europe Without a Phone or GPS

Cancer Bats singer Liam Cormier on what you lose and gain from travelling the old-fashioned way.

All photos courtesy the author

Go with the flow. Roll with the punches. Go where the road takes you. We've all heard these classic sayings before. On every road trip, there will always be that constant shifting of plans, routes, and schedules and my last trip from Norway to England, was no exception. When you lose your only source of navigation and communication on a solo motorcycle trip through a number of foreign countries you really have no choice but to "go with the flow" and hope that people will be helpful.


I'd already rode a motorcycle 28 hours across from England, via Dirt Quake in King's Lynn, to Malakoff Festival in Nordfjordeid, Norway, where my band, Cancer Bats were playing. Throughout Norway, every highway and side road was filled with some of the craziest riding I had done in my life. Each winding road opened into a postcard view of a valley, and every town was at the base of a giant waterfall, with sets of rapids running right through the centre of town. With no set route other than a festival destination in a few days, I just picked what looked like the most scenic route, assuming that my phone's GPS would lead me back to where I needed to be and I'd managed the entire trip without getting lost once.

Along the trip, I was also shooting photos and writing a couple of pieces for Harley Davidson UK, who'd lent me a 2016 XL Roadster 1200 CX. Heading back from the festival to England, I chose to cross the highest elevation in Norway as I figured that would be the most scenic. What I didn't know was that the first mountaintop I encountered would change the entire rest of my journey.

While I filmed a quick selfie clip of crossing the mountain plateau, I started feeling some rain drops and placed my phone back in my jacket pocket. As the rain got heavier I zipped my jacket and started my winding descent. Within the first few turns down the mountain road my jacket started to open itself from the bottom up, due to a broken zipper. With traffic behind me and no spots to stop, I tried my best to keep my flapping jacket together, as I worked my way down the mountain road. Once I made it to the bottom, I pulled off to the side and realized my phone was no longer in my jacket. I laughed to myself: "Did I seriously just lose my phone?" After riding back up the 10 kilometres to where I last used it and then 10 kilometres back down, I was 1,000 percent certain I had.


What also dawned on me was that I had lost my GPS, all of the details of my ferry crossings, trains, flights, and even where I was staying. This will be fine, I thought, calming myself. Those details were only slightly lost: I had already booked a hotel but only knew the name of the town it was in. I just had to be reunited with the internet and I could easily solve this problem.

As I drove down the highway, it was starting to get late and I passed three closed gas stations before I found one that was open. I went inside and asked the teen working behind the cash: "Do you have a computer I could use?" He looked at me like I had arrived from the 1800s.

I quickly explained the broken zipper and lost phone. He shrugged apologetically as he showed me his Nokia flip phone. Turned out, we were both existing in the dark ages. Only knowing the name of the town I needed to get to, my new friend's face lit up: he knew the town I was mispronouncing horribly and was confident he could direct me there. There were no road signs for my destination, however, only ones for the town before it. But it sounded easy enough. Out of fear of the hotel closing before I arrived, I ignored the speed limit and drove as fast as my skills and the new Harley could handle, only slowing down when the curves demanded it and to dodge the sleeping sheep, who were enjoying the heat of the asphalt and didn't even move as I drove by.


I rolled into the small town to the only open hotel to ask for assistance and further directions, and the giant dude at the front desk pointed me towards a mountain lodge at the top of a ski hill I'd apparently booked myself into. Twenty minutes of switchbacks later, I was checking in and again explaining my journey and my new lack of technology to the girl at the front desk. That's when it occurred to her to mention that there were no clocks in the rooms. She said, "I'll set a wake up call, and it'll be the first one I've ever done."

The thing is, I had traveled through Europe many times before with no phone while touring with my band. It wasn't until about 2009 that Canadian cell phones could even get service in Europe. The biggest difference was that I had been prepared for the situation back then. We had an alarm clock to wake us up from the punk squat; there were old PCs in hotel lobbies for the public to log on to their AOL accounts; international phone booths in internet cafes; hell, there were even internet cafes, instead of just cafes with WiFi. I never realized how much all that accessible technology had been replaced by smartphones, until I had mine taken away.

So far, however, just asking for directions was serving me well, and the trip seemed like a pretty straight shot through Denmark and Germany—surely a Norwegian map, and some rough notes would be enough to get me there. Plus, I'd be able to meet more folks like my flip-phone guardian angel, who'd be happy to help.


Norway was a piece of cake, and ripping through Denmark was easy, so my confidence was brimming as I rolled into my late night hotel in Flensburg, Germany. I entered the key code to the robot front door and fell asleep excited for my next day of technology-free travel.

Unfortunately, Germany didn't share the same excitement to help me out as Norway had. Leaving the hotel, I looked at the space where the coin operated internet machine used to be. Just wires sticking out of the wall. I ask someone working if there was a computer there I could use. He looked at me with a blank face and said, "No. Is that OK?"

"Uhhhhh, no. That's not OK for me," I told him. He shrugged and walked out of the building.

I tried my luck at the gas station. Even less helpful. The car wash suggested I "Go ask at casino." I found someone who worked inside the casino, which was full of sleep deprived truck drivers slumped in front of digital slot machines. This woman was friendly but when asked for help, she showed me a Nokia phone even older than the Norwegian teenagers (WTF, Europe). In frustration and disbelief, I just got on my bike and started riding towards Hamburg. At least I could remember that was roughly the direction I wanted.

After asking (unsuccessfully) a few different people en route for access to a computer, I came up with a new plan: I walked up to a woman smoking next to her car and asked if I could look up an address on her car's GPS. She thought about it for a second, and told me I… "should go to downtown Hamburg and someone could help there."


I felt very alone at this moment. My fun adventure was no longer filled with helpful people, excited to be a part of my quest. Instead, I stood in the parking lot of a German service station, by myself. I could feel a dark depression slowly start to wash over me. Then for some reason I looked into the store. There it was, beside the magazine rack of car magazines and pornography. The answer was right there all along: road maps, obviously! Fuck everyone, I was going to use this low tech, old school fucking map. I took my Sharpie out of my pocket and started to write each set of highway directions across my hand. I glared at unhelpful dude behind the register, so he knew full well I wasn't going to pay for this map. I was learning all its secrets and taking them for my own. With a newfound energy, I blasted off down Das Autobahn.

I finally arrived in the Belgian town of Mol. I rolled through the quiet streets, looking for an open hotel I could possibly use a computer in to MapQuest (kidding) the last of my directions. I was coming up short when I noticed a group of teenagers walking around all looking at their phones. POKÉMON GO! These youths had access to the World Wide Web!

They looked at me with disbelief as I told them my tale of no phone in 2016. They couldn't comprehend my journey from far off lands, left to my own cunning and skill. Once they had helped me search the directions to my friend's house, they offered to email it to me or upload the information into my motorcycle's GPS. I smiled at their young faces: "If I had a fucking GPS I wouldn't be talking to you nerds." We all laughed and I said goodbye to my Pokémon saviours.

After arriving at my friend's home, I was able to Google the last of my directions to the Harley Davidson headquarters in England. We chatted about my trip. We had both traveled and navigated the world before the omnipresence of location-based technology and made out just fine. But now that the internet is so portable and readily available, there's an assumption that everyone is similarly connected. But with the increased portability, the public access points have been taken away. In my experience on this trip, it was easier to find a fucking pay phone than a public computer.

When it comes to my own habits, it's more about how this technology simply made things too easy. I didn't pay attention to any of the directions my GPS was telling me on my route to Norway, I was too excited to get there and I was confident in my phone to help me get back. It didn't even occur to me to think of a back-up plan if things went south, I was just focused on making sure I could fake it enough for my photography gig.

Luckily for me the only thing that did go wrong was losing my super computer. My bike worked great and nothing really truly happened. But this has changed my perspective on traveling and especially on planning my next solo motorcycle trip. Packing tools in case your bike breaks down seems so obvious, but packing an extra internet machine is just as handy.