“I have a hangover that goes from here to Tokyo”.
A colourful expression that expresses the remoteness and incalculable distance that lies between Japan and Holland, where it seems that this saying is fairly popular. It certainly is for Paul Van Hoof who, unlike everyone else, took it literally and really did go all the way to Tokyo, departing from the centre of Amsterdam on a 1975 model Moto Guzzi V7.
Let’s make it clear, first of all, that Paul did indeed make it all the way to Tokyo and arrived there on 28 August 2017. This was about one month after we spoke to him on Skype, which is what gave rise to this article, and almost 10 months after his departure from the land of windmills in November 2016, slap bang in the middle of winter, just to make things easier of course!
Born in 1964, with a background as a news reporter and motorcycle magazine journalist in Holland, Paul has a great passion for Moto Guzzis and dreamed of making a living by travelling around. For Paul, this ambition became a reality back in May 2005 when, with 12,000 Euro in his pocket and his faithful 1975 model Moto Guzzi V7 nicknamed Guus, he left on a three-year pan-American trip from Alaska all the way down to Argentina. Since that trip, Paul has set up family in Bolivia and has done a whole series of crazy trips that have become the topic of a book published in 2015 entitled “Man in the Saddle” and subtitled 60-thousand kilometres of freedom”, which will be available soon in English.
For this latest trip to the Land of the Rising Sun, Paul has relied on a crowd funding campaign, which will enable him to turn this adventure into another book, which he tells us could well be entitled “From here to Tokyo”.
«It will be a crazy book » Paul continues, «I have almost died twice already and I’m not even in Japan yet ».
When we contacted Paul, in fact, he was in a hostel in Ulan-Udė, a small Russian village not far from the Mongolian border. He had already crossed through 12 Countries: Holland, Germany, Switzerland, Italy (with stopovers at Mandello del Lario and Tavullia), Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia, Armenia and Iran. Before him lay another 4000 km to Vladivostok, where he and his faithful Guus would board a ferry bound for Japan.
We asked him how many kilometres he had covered since leaving Amsterdam and how many kilometres his V7 had on the clock, but he just laughed: it’s difficult to judge because Guus’ speedometer had been broken for years, like a number of other more or less important parts. This is how they travel and they do so in magnificent style. In any case, the speedometer reading is somewhere around 175,000 but all that really matters is that Guus is totally unstoppable.
Paul almost got a tear in his eye when we asked him to tell us about his bike: «I have owned and ridden many bikes what with my job and all, but this is the best bike in the world. She’s been with me for 17 years. She’s a good friend. She’s a part of my body». «I landed up in the middle of a blizzard in Serbia and I was stuck there in a restaurant for two weeks with the temperature sitting at -30°C and Guus was standing outside in the snow, but all it took was a few seconds to get her engine roaring again ».
Paul told us that after that first trip he had received offers from various other bike manufacturers to use their bikes, but he didn’t even stop to think about it. «My V7 is old and simple to fix and has a large engine that is not particularly powerful but never breaks down. More importantly though is that when you’re riding this bike you look like you’re a good guy and you’re friendly so people stop you and invite you back to their home to have something to eat and spend the night with them».
The secret, and part of Paul Van Hooff’s philosophy, is never to behave like a tourist but rather like a traveller and to «always say yes to whatever the trip may offer you». A natural mindset and physical predisposition to expect the unexpected, which rewards you with unique and unexpected experiences as events and the kilometres mount up and undoubtedly sometimes leaves you somewhat exposed.
«From Armenia through to Iran I rode for days, indeed weeks with temperatures around -25° and without using the drum brakes for fear that the frozen metal would give way». «Also in Armenia, a pack of wolves circled around my tent while I slept».
In Russia, the newspapers hailed Paul as a hero for having saved the life of a young man who had been involved in a terrible road accident. A terrible story, which – he told us – taught him a lot about the sometimes shocking behaviour and habits of the Russian people.
«Another time I was asking for directions at a petrol station in Volvograd, Russia. The guy turned out to be the owners and he told me “you’re not going anywhere, you will stay here and drink with me”. The last thing I remembered was that I had been drinking vodka, or so I thought, at 3 in the morning in a garage full of people and sports cars. I only realised much later that it wasn’t vodka I was drinking but 75% proof alcohol, and the people there were all members of the Russian Mafia. I woke up in hospital two days later, in intensive care with a body temperature of 34°C and pretty close to death. I was in hospital, but I had neither papers nor money on me, yet I was treated like royalty. The police and nursing staff helped me without letting me pay for the medical care I had received and they even gave me money for fuel». «That’s why I continue to say yes to anything, except vodka that is ».
Paul reckons that the people you meet never cease to surprise you. Sometimes they’re temporary travel companions with whom you share stories and emotions and other times they’re local inhabitants who welcome you to their homes and introduce you to their families as if you had always been one of them. Graziano Rossi’s signature on Guus’ fairing as a remainder of an unplanned stopover in Tavullia is proof of this: Valentino wasn’t there but his father, Graziano, spent a long time chatting to Paul about his story and his trip.
«You mustn’t be scared because if you treat people with respect, they in turn will treat you like a king ».
«Many people think that a trip like this one is too difficult, but that’s just an excuse not to do it and not to leave your own comfort zone. When I left on my first trip, I had a lot of work, but I had reached the point where I couldn’t stand the constant deadlines and the daily routine. Anyone can do it and it’s very easy indeed, all you need to do is to get going».
We closed our chat with Paul by asking him if he had a message for the members of The Clan since we all share his passion for Moto Guzzi bikes, for travelling and for adventure:
«Anyone who chooses to ride a Moto Guzzi is someone who chooses to follow his own dreams, starting with the one that is embodied in the history of The Eagle of Mandello. My dream was to earn a living by writing and travelling, and I’m now living that dream…».
At this point we have a question for you all: «are you living your dream right now?».
While we’re waiting for the book that tells the story of this epic voyage to be released sometime in 2018, why not go and find out more about Paul and Guus’ adventures at http://guzzigalore.nl/ or on the video channel. However, the quickest way to keep up to date on what Paul is getting up to is to follow his Facebook page.
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