The new sarcophagus moves into place at Chernobyl

The new sarcophagus, or New Safe Confinement, to use its official name, has finally been completed and moved into place.

24 years after Ukraine called for the need of a new structure to replace the hastily built original sarcophagus, designed only as a temporary containment solution, and 9 years after construction finally began, yesterday the colossal structure sled into its final location.

The 36,000+ tonnes structure was build 180 metres away from reactor 4 to keep workers at a safe distance from radiation, and it started slowly moving into position a couple of weeks ago.

This is not the end of the project, though. Two walls have to be built to cover the ends of the structure, and then work will start inside to demolish the unstable structures of the old sarcophagus.

Related posts:

Chernobyl – The sarcophagus 30 years later

My visit to Chernobyl and Prypyat

Chernobyl – The Sarcophagus 30 years later

Almost three years ago, I rode across Ukraine on my motorbike. A lot has changed since. I travelled through the Donbass region, spent two nights in Luhansk and crossed the border into Russia. This would be unthinkable today, the region has been ravaged by war and the border with Russia is sealed. I do not know when I will be able to visit the area again – soon, I hope, but might still be some time. Far from this conflict zone, to the north of the country, lurks another enemy that will take much, much longer to defeat.

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This week marks the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The night of 26th April, 1986, a fatal combination of human error and design faults led to the worst nuclear catastrophe in history. The story of the exact events that caused the explosion, despite being rather technical, has been told many times. The disintegration of the USSR and the difficulties in doing accurate research meant that less is known about the long term effects that the radioactive fallout had – whole areas rendered uninhabitable, displaced population, contaminated crops and water sources, an increase in several types of cancer, particularly thyroid, genetic disorders… in one way or another, the disaster directly affected the lives of at least 300,000 people.

Unfortunately, as is often the case with disasters that seem to be far from us, the world has long turned its regard away from Chernobyl. The area was put under military control, the remains of the reactor were sealed and we forgot about it.

But the danger is far from over. There are still 16 tonnes of uranium and plutonium inside the reactor, among many other radioactive materials. One milligram is enough to be lethal to a person. You do the math.

In the immediate aftermath of the accident, once the fire in the core had been put under control the main priority was to seal off the remains of the reactor to prevent the spread of radioactive dust and smoke into the atmosphere – remember that the extent of the catastrophe only became clear when the radioactive cloud reached Sweden and set off the alarms of a nuclear power plant there – but it was impossible to work near the building as radiation levels were high enough to kill a person in a matter of minutes and leave lethal long-term effects in a matter of seconds.

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Building a structure to seal a building that was not only enormous, but partially destroyed and surrounded by debris without approaching it more than it was strictly necessary was not an easy task. The area around it needed to be cleared to lay off the foundations to the structure, ways of putting the structure into place without endangering the lives or workers needed to be found, and everything needed to happen as soon as possible.

Remote controlled bulldozers were used to clear the surrounding area. The debris and the first layer of soil were dug up and buried in deep trenches that were immediately covered in concrete. Most of the structure for the sarcophagus was built on remote sites and then transported and moved into position using enormous remote controlled cranes. The display of ingenuity and technology was staggering.

Even so, building such structure remotely still posed high challenges. The roof structure rests not on newly built pillars or walls, but on remains of the ventilation shafts of the reactor, which were damaged in the explosion. The 2000-tonne slab of concrete that covered the reactor fell into an unstable, almost vertical position; if it moved, it would stir up highly contaminated dust or damage the structure around it. The welding and riveting of the sarcophagus had to be done remotely, so they were not as accurate as it would be desirable, and on top of it all the whole structure has been suffering the effects of the harsh climate ever since.

It was designed to last for thirty years and it was supposed to keep radiation levels low enough to allow work in the construction of a better, more permanent structure. However, the disintegration of the USSR meant that the problem was now in Ukraine territory, and neither Ukraine nor Russia had the money to undertake such operation.

10 years after construction ended, the structure showed cracks and gaping holes, and water was pouring in and leaking to subsoil. Radiation levels inside the sarcophagus were still very high and it was concluded that it would not be possible to repair it from the inside.

As soon as 1992, the Ukranian government held an international competition for a design proposal of a structure to replace the existing one, but it was not until 2004 that the design was completed. The start of actual construction work on the site would have to wait another six years, until 2010. In 2006, the Designed Stabilisation Steel Structure, which had been built next to the western wall to relieve some of the roof’s weight off the damaged concrete wall on which it rests, was extended to support up to 50% of the load. This was said to make the structure stable for another 15 years, but other parts of the sarcophagus were still unstable – in February 2013 part of the roof of the turbine hall collapsed, and workers had to be evacuated. The collapse was later attributed to poor quality repair work and deterioration of the structure.

I visited the site in July that same year, and progress in the construction of the new sarcophagus, called New Safe Confinement, was well underway, even though the project had been originally announced to be completed by 2005. The NSC is designed as an enormous arch that will cover the old sarcophagus completely. It is more than 100 metres tall, 150 meters long and has an inner span of 245 meters. It contains two cranes and all the necessary equipment not only to seal the old reactor, but to start dismantling it and removing the remaining fuel inside. Once complete, it will slide on two rails into its position over the old sarcophagus

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A 180 meters to the east of the construction site of the NSC, the old structure stood much taller than the photographs I had seen might lead to believe. We were only allowed there for a few minutes, but it was enough to appreciate how badly needed a new sarcophagus is.

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As I write these lines, construction of the NSC has been completed. All that remains now is for it to be moved into position and permanently sealed, 30 years after the catastrophe.

Here are some links to interesting material:

The Sarcophagus on The Charnobyl Gallery – A photography website of Chernobyl and Prypyat

Documentary on the disaster and the aftermath

BBC documentary Inside Chernobyl’s Sarcophagus

Some figures

Here’s my trip in numbers:

–          22,271km

–          70 days (48 days of riding)

–          464km a day on average

–          Longest day: 783km

–          Shortest day: 237km

–          About 1,100 litres of fuel

–          2 front tires (last one still in use)

–          3 back tires (last one still in use)

–          1 transmission kit

–          4 spark plugs

–          1 air filter

–          1 set of rear brake pads

–          2 oil filters

Things that broke:

–          An oil leak from the chain tensioner seal; fixed in Volgograd.

–          The GPS mount and the chain guard bolts vibrated loose and got lost.

–          The rear rim was badly bent in Kazakhstan; fixed in Astrakhan.

–          The front left indicator was smashed in Norway.

–          Not a single puncture!

Things I lost:

–          A watch

–          A razor

–          A towel

–          A nail clipper

–          Two bottles of all-purpose concentrated soap

–          A pair of summer riding gloves

Things that got stolen:

–          The right pannier inner bag containing:

–          A tool kit

–          An air compressor

–          A spare oil filter

–          A can of chain cleaner

–          Spare chain links

–          Straps

–          A small tripod

–          A GoPro camera

–          A puncture repair kit

–          A Coleman multifuel stove (broken)

–          Maps

Thanks

I spent 70 days on the road and during that time I met a lot of wonderful people to whom I am very grateful. They helped me, took care of me, entertained me, kept my company, gave me advice, food, drink, a place to sleep and generally made this trip the experience of a lifetime.

I would therefore like to thank them all, one by one, here.

ON THE ROAD:

Thanks to

Mattia and Danilo for their hospitality, a wonderful risotto and directions on the best road to Slovenia.

Metka and Franci for their hospitality, for the tour of Ljubljana and for showing me the beer shop, for a memorable dinner in great company with your friends, for all the bike travel stories and especially for the CrampBuster, which proved to be invaluable on the long stretches of road in Russia.

The staff at the car wash out of Ljubljana, for banging my pannier back to shape.

The staff at BikerCamp in Budapest, for having such a nice place for bikers to stay and for lending me the tools to fix my panniers.

Dalina, at Terra Mythica in Ighiu. I was very happy to see you again, and you all made me feel at home. Thanks also for a wonderful dinner out, and I hope you enjoyed the ride up to the lake. Thanks also to your family and all the rest of the staff. Tell your father I’m sorry I could not stay one more night to share some Palinca J

To the guy in charge of the car park at the top of the Transfagarasan road, who did not charge me once I told him about my trip.

To Igor and his mother their hospitality, for finding a secure car park for my bike in Lviv and refusing to let me pay for it and for a nice conversation on his balcony.

To Luda and Sofia for their hospitality, for a wonderful traditional Ukrainian dinner, and especially to Luda for meeting me on the outskirts of Kiev, taking me around the city, translating for me, washing my clothes and making me feel at home.

To Denys for his hospitality, his tasty organically-grown vegetables and the tour in the forest by his house, I’m glad to have helped with your Spanish, which by the way, is unbelievably good (remember, “abejas”)

To the Luhansk MC for escorting me to the city center (is there a better way to enter a city?) and calling my host and arranging for her to meet me.

To Anna for her hospitality, for letting me stay a day longer in her apartment and showing me her city, the train factory, the military pilot school and the planes there, for a lovely dinner out and generally for turning what was going to be just an overnight stay in a city I did not know anything about into a great weekend.

To Andrey and his girlfriend for their hospitality and for an amazing night tour of Volgograd.

To Lex for some inspiration and great stories on adventure travel, for his company in Volgograd and Astrakhan, before and after the rim incident, and for coming with me on a Saturday night expedition in Astrakhan to try and find some local bikers to help fix my bike. I’m glad you completed your trip and are back home, good luck on your next adventure.

To Martin for being such a nice riding companion, for the great time we had crossing into Kazakhstan and camping on our first night in the country. I hope the Stans were an amazing adventure (yes, I’m a bit jealous), I’ll want all the info I can get off you on that route, I’d love to attempt it sometime in the future.

To Kate and the guys at BikerCity34 who serviced my bike in Volgograd and invited me to stay for lunch in the workshop.

To Vitali from the Volgograd Ferrum MC, for recommending the workshop. I am really sorry I did not have the time to meet you in person and share a beer, your advice was really helpful.

To Valentin and Marina in Astrakhan. I cannot say how grateful I am to you for letting me stay in your apartment until my bike was fixed and I could go on with my trip. Marina, thanks for all the meals you cooked for me, Valentin, your help translating both on the phone and with Arkan was invaluable. I will always be in debt with you.

To all the Ukrainian and Russian truckers who stopped to help my by the side of the road in Kazakhstan, for letting me hook my bike to their trucks and inflate my tire.

To Dasha for making my long wait in Astrakhan much more enjoyable, for the beers, the swimming in the Volga, the henna tattoo, the night out with your friends, introducing me to some nice Russian music and for translating when we found Arkan.

To Arkan for helping me fix the bike. Without your help I would not have been able to continue my trip, let alone take my bike back home with me. I am eternally grateful, and I must say, meeting you was quite an experience!

To Ivan for his hospitality and for taking me on an exhilarating climb up a 120-metre high chimney in an abandoned power plant in Volgograd. That was quite an experience! I had a great time with you and Sasha.

To Ilia for leading me through horrendous traffic between Volgograd and Voronezh, one of the hardest bits of the trip, and for hosting me in his apartment in Moscow and showing me the city. I am really grateful for your hospitality and your taking time off work to take me around, and I hope to meet you again sometime in the future, maybe in the Altai mountains!

To Sami for a nice in Finland along the border with Russia and for a tour of the Winter Battle memorial and some interesting history lessons (and for making me want a KTM so badly!)

To the cyclist I met in the campsite near Ivalo for his advice on places to visit off the beaten track before heading to the Nordkapp, definitely worth the two-day detour (and broken indicator).

To Alf Tonny for his hospitality, midnight barbecue with his friend Bjorn and introducing me to some great music.

To Lenna for her hospitality, for taking me to a nice music festival on the beach, for showing me a place where I could service the bike myself, and for some great late-night conversations about the things that matter in life.

To the staff in the bike shop outside Stockholm for taking my bike late in the afternoon without making an appointment and staying after business hours to change the tire and the chain kit.

To Andrew, the Canadian guy in my room in the hostel in Stockholm, for the great time we spent in the city and the beers we had on Saturday night.

To Andrés, the Colombian who worked in the hostel, for the barbecue he organized at the weekend and for washing my clothes at the hostel for half the price the laundry charged.

To Nadia, our host in Sarajevo, for taking care of us as if she was our grandmother, for packing us lunch for our journey to Belgrade, and for sharing her family story during the war with us in spite of the language barrier.

To the woman who found us cold and looking for an affordable place to sleep in Sta. Maria after coming down from the Stelvio and offered a room in her beautiful home.

AT HOME:

Thanks to:

Stehpen Stallebrass and Walter Colebatch for their advice and inspiration.

The staff at Suzuki official dealer Hamamatsu Motor for their technical advice and support.

Ignasi Calvo for his advice on Mongolia and Kazakhstan.

To all the people in V-strom Club España, Stromtroopers, Adventure Rider and Horizons Unlimited for their technical advice and know-how. Those forums are an endless source of knowledge.

To Montse, at work, for letting me go for two months and making this whole thing possible.

To Paulina and her family, for putting me in touch with their relatives in Lviv and Kiev.

Diana, for putting into words the idea for a trip like this, which had been sitting in my mind for too long and encouraging me to do it.

To my flatmate and all my friends for patiently listening to me go on and on about the trip, the route, the bike, the preparation…

To my parents and my sister, for their encouragement and support, and especially to my dad for his help and advice on all things mechanical while we were preparing the bike.

To Nat, who came into my life once this project was already started, for her love, support and understanding, for joining me on the road for the last three weeks and enduring extreme hot and cold, long riding days, rain, hunger and sleep with no riding experience.

Home

Day 70 – Monday 2nd of September – St. Thomé to Barcelona (611km)

I could have left the campsite without paying. I got up early, but I did not think it was so early that both the reception and the bar would still be closed. I imagined it was because we were already starting the low season, at least judging by the atmosphere in the place. There was an air of post-summer melancholy to it, there were only a few caravans left, scattered amongst the trees here and there in the vast camping ground, no kids playing around, no cars full of holidaymakers coming and going. Even the air felt colder than on the first mornings of my trip, but maybe that was just because it was early morning and my mind was playing tricks. Be as it may, my feelings were overcome by the looks of the place and I felt melancholy creep into my soul. I knew every little gesture that would follow that day would be the last one – packing the bike, rolling out onto the road, smelling the fresh morning air riding country roads, looking for a place to have breakfast, stopping later in the morning to take off a layer of clothes as the day would grow hotter, finding a petrol station, looking for a place for lunch, stopping to check the GPS for more scenic routes if I was making good progress…

The door to the reception/bar area was open, but there was only a young girl there cleaning and getting things ready to open the place later. When I told her I was leaving and I wanted to pay she told me that reception was not open yet, nor was the bar, which meant that if I was to wait, I had to do so with an empty stomach, which I did not want to do. I gave her the money for the night, told her I had spent the night in plot 83 and asked her to give the money to whoever was in charge.

Motorbikes have a discount on French motorways, and as I had decided that I did not want to enter my country through the motorway along the coast, but through the Pyrenees, I took the motorway for the first part of my way back home. Shortly after I got back onto the autoroute, I stopped for breakfast at one of those great French service stations and was soon reunited with my old friend, the wind.

I had sat out on the terrace of the restaurant to enjoy my breakfast in the sun, but once I had finished my sandwich and juice, I was only able to enjoy a few sips of coffee before the wind blew away the plastic cup. Well, at least it did not blow it onto me…

I had not had such strong winds since the start of the trip except for the beginning of that sand storm in Kazakhstan which blew away my leather gloves. A few hours of fighting the wind on the motorway later, I found myself thinking that after all the weather conditions I had ridden through, I was surprised that this was the one I was hating the most. The strong winds were made even worse by the turbulence created by trucks and vans, and I got so sick of it that in the end I turned off the motorway much earlier than I had planned to and went back to country roads, as I would me more sheltered from the wind there and travelling slower would mean less turbulence from other traffic.

It was not much better… France is a great country with many things to see but unfortunately, most of those things are not in central France. I rode through miles and miles of small sleepy towns, fields, some industrial areas, more fields and more sleepy towns, still accompanied by the wind and having to endure hundreds of old people trundling along those country roads on their Citroën Berlingos at 20km/h. If you go to France as a tourist, there are wonderful things to see. In my case, I was going on a very long tour starting in Barcelona, which meant that France was a country I had to ride through before I got to the interesting bits. If I ever do something like this again, I think I will just take a ferry to Italy and then to the Balkans and just bypass it.

I finally made it to Perpignan, where I wanted to turn west and head for the Pyrenees. It was already lunchtime, so by the time I had left the big town and the industrial parks that surrounded it behind I started looking for a place to eat. I wanted to find a nice small town restaurant and enjoy one last meal on the road, but it was not to be. I wonder if it was a national holiday or the French simply do not like to work on Mondays, but I did not manage to find a single thing open in the towns and villages I rode through. I also needed to fill up again, so I was heading to a supermarket petrol station I had found on the GPS, and since I had not seen an open restaurant or bar, I thought I would buy something there and just find a nice spot by the road now that I was closer to the mountains. That option was quickly discarded as I rode onto the supermarket car park. Not a soul in sight, all shutters down and only a couple of credit card-operated petrol pumps in the scorching sun to greet me. I filled up, and as I was still wearing the inner lining in the jacket and pants –it was cold in the morning- I started to take them off without even pushing the bike away from the pump. Sure enough, as I was in the middle of my striptease, not one, but three cars, a motorbike and a guy on foot carrying a jerrycan turned up to use the damn pump. Where did they come from!? I had ridden across the whole town and it was completely deserted! I moved the bike away and finished changing clothes while a middle-aged mademoiselle tested the other four people’s patience by taking her own sweet time to figure out how to use her card to pay for the petrol.

I rode on trying to find somewhere to eat, and in the end had to give up and stop at the only place I found open. A McDonald’s restaurant. Yes. A McDonald’s burger. In France. On my last day. I could not believe it either.

At least the day got better once I rode past Prades and up the N116 heading for the border. I had been on that road countless times coming from my side of the border, as I normally go skiing in that area, and it is an amazing road, but I had never been any further than Mont-Louis. On clear days you can look down the valley from there and see the sea in the distance, and I had always wanted to do that last part of the road leading down to Perpignan. What a road and what a way to get back to my country! I rode up the winding road all the way to the part I already knew, enjoying the beautiful afternoon and the stunning landscape that these old familiar mountains offer. Down in La Cerdanya, I crossed one last border and finally entered my dear home land.

As I said, I usually come up to this area to go skiing in winter or hiking in summer. Coming from Barcelona, there is a tunnel that gets you here faster, but you have to pay a toll to use it and it is not cheap. However, most people, myself included, prefer to take that route than the mountain pass above, as it takes too long and is tiresome to drive it. It had been quite a while since the last time I took the pass, and I had forgotten what a great road it is. Since it was a Monday, there was nobody on the road and I had it all to myself. I had a blast riding up to La Collada, taking the engine to the red line with every gear change, leaning into corners enjoying the perfect tarmac, the flowing road and the breathtaking scenery.

I stopped at the top of the pass and as I took in the views I thought that there was no better way back home.

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It is funny how travelling such long distances puts things in perspective. When I come here, the journey home at the end of the day usually feels long, you are near the border, in the mountains, a long way from Barcelona. When I got back on the motorbike I saw that the GPS indicated I had 140km to my flat. All throughout the trip, when I saw that I had 150-100km to get to my destination on the GPS I had the feeling that I had already made it and that I only had to ride the last few km into town and find the place where I was going to spend the night. I laughed and took the first corner down that familiar road.

I made it to Barcelona very quickly and run into the late afternoon rush hour. My motorbike and my riding suit were covered in dirt, dust and insects from the last 14 countries, my face was unshaven and sunburned and I had a stupidly big grin on my face. People looked at me in traffic lights as if I had got lost on my way to Dakar. I took the Gran Via to get to the center, and there is a big elevated roundabout where it meets the Diagonal. The sun was already low when I rode up onto it, bathing the city in a warm orange glow. I stood on the footpegs, looked at the sun going down beyond the Sagrada Familia, closed my eyes for a second and thought ‘I’m home’.

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The beginning of the end

Day 69 – Sunday 1st of September – Interlaken to Geneve to St. Thomé (559km)

Today the long way home started. We packed up and tried to get an early start, as I wanted to cover as much distance as possible after dropping Nat at Geneva airport in order to avoid a long ride the following day, as I did not want to take the motorway on my last day on the road.

We decided to avoid the motorway going to Bern and cut across the mountains on road 11, which took us to Aigle, and from there we rode along Lake Lehman’s southern bank to Geneva. It was a beautiful morning and the traffic was quite light, allowing us to enjoy our last few hours together on this trip.

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We made it to Geneva airport in good time, and kissed goodbye in front of the terminal. I looked down at my GPS and instead of entering the coordinates for my next destination as I had been doing for more than two months, I pressed “home”. Set to avoid motorways and toll roads, it showed I had a long way to go, but I had two days ahead of me. I waved goodbye and rode off. Having Nat with me for so long had been a very pleasant surprise, and I felt a bit lonely as I hit the road out of Geneva.

I was running low on fuel, but I thought that I would stop to fill up once I was out of the city. It turned out to be a mistake. I rode for a long while without seeing a petrol station, and I was getting a bit nervous – the tank was practically empty, and I did not have any fuel in the jerrycan, I had put what was in it into the tank once I was back in Europe, thinking I would have no problems here. I set the GPS to find a petrol station even if it meant leaving the road I was travelling on, and it sent me into a sleepy French town where I found a deserted supermarket petrol station after some backstreet riding. Luckily enough, the pump accepted my credit card and I was able to fill up. However, when I got back on the bike I saw that the GPS was now giving me a much longer route back home than before. I tried to reprogram it, but then it said that the route was too long and it was not able to calculate it. I rode out of the town in the general direction I knew I had to go, hoping I would be able to program it further along.  It was hopeless, it refused to give me a way back that was not on the motorway. I did not have a paper map, and navigating French back roads can be a nightmare if you do not know where you are going. By early evening I was too tired to travel like that and decided to take the motorway, go as far as I could that day and then find a campsite.

I made it past Montélimar, where I stopped once again for petrol. I checked the GPS and voilà! There was a campsite just 12 km from where I was. I was not expecting anything great, just somewhere to spend the night, but the area around the campsite was quite beautiful, and once more, I regretted not having enough time to see a bit more. It was almost dark by the time I had finished setting up the tent, so I ordered a beer at the bar, had some dinner and went to bed.

It would have been easier to walk up to the Jungfrau

Day 68 – Saturday 31st of August – Interlaken (0km)

The number one tourist attraction in Interlaken is the Jungfrau. The tallest peak in the region, it stands 4,158m above sea level, and about 600m below that there is an observation center that offers visitors a unique view of the surrounding peaks and that glacier that extends at its feet. What makes this place special, aside from the fact that it is the highest building in Europe, is that tourists do not need to climb up the mountain to get to it, there is a railway that reaches as far up as 3,454m, travelling inside the mountain to Jungfraujoch station, an underground complex that would not look out of place in a Bond movie. From there, a short elevator ride takes people to the observation center.

It is an astonishing place and one definitely worth visiting, but there are a couple of things to take into account before deciding to go there. First, it is not cheap. A return ticket will set you back just over 160€. Second, the weather is very changeable at that height, which means that you may end up paying a small fortune just for a fancy train ride and get zero visibility once you are at the top.

I had already been there years ago (it cost about 60€ then, which was still expensive for a student on an Interrail trip), so we decided to do something different with our last day before heading home. The campsite rented kayaks, something I had never tried before, and we thought it would be a great idea to explore the lake.

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We were given a couple of life vests, a water-proof barrel to keep our stuff dry and were told to keep close to the left shore as the various ships and boats we would be sharing the waters with were not very considerate towards tourists drifting onto their paths. We dragged the kayak to the cannal, launched it into the water, strapped the barrel onto it and then managed to sit in the thing without tipping over, which I considered a great success already.

We pushed ourselves away from the shore and started paddling up the canal leading into the big lake. We had decided to go for a tandem kayak, as we thought it would be funnier than getting individual ones, but it soon became clear it had been a mistake. With zero experience, the damn thing was impossible to keep straight. We tried to coordinate the paddling, but it was hopeless, we were just wandering from left to right, from right to left, all the time trying to keep away from passing boats.

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Every time we got the thing going straight for a few metres, either Nat or I would paddle to fast once or twice, or even just give a small push with the paddle on the wrong side, and the kayak would start turning fast to the wrong direction. After some exhausting experimentation, we discovered that if only one of us paddled it was quite easy to go on a straight line, and I also discovered that Nat paddled harder on her left side, meaning that left to paddle alone, she would go round in big clockwise circles. We also discovered that we had both been trying to paddle and steer the boat, while the right thing to do is have the person sitting at the front just paddle and the one at the back paddle and steer.

Having learnt the lesson and having had to stand a few condescending smiles from other more experienced kayakers sailing past and from people watching from the shore and enjoying the show, we managed to make some progress and started to enjoy the scenery. The shores of the lake were lined with quaint wooden houses half-hidden in the trees, and most of them had a jetty and a boat. It was a beautiful day and there were a lot of people sunbathing by the shore or diving into the lake from their back gardens. After a couple of hours we made it to a public swimming area with a floating platform and decided it was a good place to go for a swim before heading back. The water was quite cold, but it was a pleasure to swim in such crystalline waters.

On our way back we kept the kayak heading straight and true, like real pros, and we made good progress, which was all the more surprising when after about an hour we realized how far we still had to go. We had the feeling that we had not gone very far from the campsite to the swimming platform – true, we had taken a couple of hours to get there, but we had been going on a very erratic line, struggling to go straight – and now we were becoming aware how how much distance we had covered, which made us feel kind of proud.

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We took a few pictures before handing the kayak back and then went for a walk in Interlaken for the rest of the afternoon. In the center we saw a convoy of old Nissan Skylines that were taking part on a rally going from Kuwait to Morocco via Europe – it looked as if they were having great fun!

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We bought some food and a couple of beers for dinner and headed back to the campsite to sort out all the gear and decide which things would stay on the bike and which things Nat would take on the plane.

As we were packing I realized that was it – the journey was coming to an end. Nat had originally planned to join me only for the Swiss leg of the trip because I thought I would be back in Europe much later than I was and not wanting to do so many kilometers on her first trip on a motorbike, she had decided to fly back to Barcelona, so I was going to take her to Geneva the following morning. In the end though, my change of plans meant that she had joined me in Helsinki and we had travelled for about 4,400km on the bike together. Not bad, taking into account that she did not have proper riding gear and had to wear several layers of clothes and a waterproof jacket underneath a summer riding jacket I had lent her, as well as a pair of hiking boots that were not exactly waterproof. She was very, very brave.

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