Trans Euro Trail-blazing adventure ride of action man’s life
East Anglian action man Ian Womack – former soldier, ex-firefighter and all-round adventurer – is one of the first motorcyclists to tackle 10,000km of the new, dirt road Trans Euro Trail. In the first of a two-part feature he tells of the thrills and spills of this epic challenge.
The newly-developed Trans Euro Trail (TET) has been a real life-changer. It sounded like a real adventure – I had to get involved!
Roman Bale, who mapped the Balkans route, sold me his highly-modified 2010 Yamaha Tenere 660cc adventure bike in Slovenia, asking me to write a daily blog to share with the TET motorcycle community.
So the rough plan was to arrive in Slovenia and ride the trail through the Balkans, passing through Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Albania and Greece. Catch the ferry to Italy, over the Alps into France, then Andorra and cross the Pyrenees into Spain and ferry to the UK to finish.
It sounds easy but the reality was a 12,000km, five-week solo ride through some of the most remote and toughest terrain in Europe.
Slovenia was a beautiful country with rolling green countryside and dense pine forests.
Croatia is a country of vast diversity, from tourist areas by the coast crammed with German motorhomes to remote farms still using horses on the land, and extreme variation in terrain, from high alpine tracks in rock-strewn mountains to trails through remote, fire-damaged plains.
I climbed a crazy steep trail covered in sharp rocks and, after a couple of hours, reached the summit. Starting downhill, the trail turned near vertical. After 50m I came off badly, twisting my knee as my leg got trapped under the bike.
The reality of what I was trying to do hit me in the middle of nowhere with a 40 degree Celsius sun punishing me.
I tried twice to lift the bike and just fell worse as the rocks gave way. Eventually, I managed to get the bike upright but found the side stand had snapped.
I had to walk it down while trying to keep my balance. I dumped my luggage and hot, heavy riding clothes and walked that bike 600 metres down that steep, unstable hill with a twisted knee in the heat of the day and leant it against a tree an hour later. Heading back up the hill to collect my gear, I couldn’t believe how steep it was.
I patched my bike together with trusty cable ties and tape and set off in search of a welder to repair my broken bike. It had taken me half a day to get 1,000m. How am I ever going to get across Europe?
In the next town a mechanic, who welded my bike back together, brought a tear to my eye describing his tough childhood living through the Balkans War.
I crossed into Bosnia and on trails, through small villages, was shocked to see the devastating effects of the war 25 years later. Complete villages abandoned with the houses destroyed and littered with bullet holes. Many had gravestones in front with memorials on the walls listing people’s names.
Camping in Bosnia was a real issue with the constant risk of landmines, bears and wolves.
Every Bosnian I met was the most genuine, helpful of people. I was won over by a country which has suffered so much yet still tries to give so much to other people.
Next up Montenegro. The scenery is breathtaking, the road network must have cost so much money as all roads are clinging on to the side of a mountain or carved through the middle. Some truly special trails, following shepherds’ herding trails, passing remote alpine churches.
The next country was Albania where, only an hour across the border, I was waiting to turn into a minor road when I was hit from behind by another motorcycle and flung from my bike. I hurt my wrist and bits of my bike were scattered over the road.
The other rider, on his phone, was frantically picking his bike up. Other guys turned up and began running away with him and his bike.
The local cops shouted at me that I was speeding and going to jail. The other rider was brought back then, after discussion, taken away.
The police would not listen to a word I said and the local translator suddenly chose to be selective what he was translating. Things began to get very heated and I eventually gave them my passport. I suddenly felt very vulnerable and a long way from home.
Is this the end of the road for Ian Womack’s Trans Euro Trail challenge? Read the final part of his feature next week.
Ian Womack hopes his adventures will lead to new challenges and open avenues for media work. He hopes to compile his adventures into a book. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or via his personal, Ian Womack Facebook page.
ACTION MAN’S CV
Ian Womack, 32, originally from Necton, near Swaffham in Norfolk, now lives on a crocodile farm in Broome, in the remote north of Western Australia.
He works as an engineer building and maintaining the pearl diving boats while partner Anne Mueller is a zoo-keeper at the farm.
After exploring the Norfolk countryside as a boy and adventures in the Army Cadets, he joined the Army, doing his basic training with the Parachute Regiment before transferring to the Royal Engineers and being deployed on operations around the world including Afghanistan and Northern Ireland.
After six years as a sapper in the Army, he left and returned home and ran a company’s engineering workshop and became a retained firefighter at Swaffham.
In summer he joined friends on motorcycle tours of Europe, often seeking out longer, tougher routes on his own which fuelled his sense of adventure.
In 2014 he moved to Australia, completing some gruelling off-road trips.
PREVIOUS SOLO MISSIONS
2012 – 10-day husky dog-sled tour from Sweden into the Arctic Circle, wild camping in minus 35 degrees.
2012 – dirt bike trip across Turkey’s snow-covered Taurus Mountains.
2013 – dirt bike tour across Sahara desert to Morocco.
2014 – repairing 4x4s on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast in Australia, bought and rebuilt one to drive to remote, most northern tip of Australia and later across the remote top of Australia, ticking off some iconic 4x4 routes for a month before stopping in Broome.
2016 – completed the APC Australia Adventure Rally, 8,000km off-road motorcycle event, crossing four staztes and three time zones. Ian battled 4,000km across desert and flooded, infamous Tanami dirt road to start point in Adelaide with dirt bike on the back of his truck, arriving just in time after rebuilding the rear axle after a wheel bearing failed in the desert. It was a two-month adventure.
2017 – Indee500, Australia’s longest dirt bike race – 500km and two days over tough desert.
2017 – newly-developed Trans Euro Trail (TET). The brainchild of John Ross which saw top adventure motorcyclists map out a trail through remote parts of their country and link it to their neighbours to create 34,000km of dirt road trails, from the Arctic Circle in Norway to southern Spain, available to download free on to a GPS system.