I was still exhausted when the alarm woke me on Thursday morning but managed to pack my kit up and drag myself downstairs for a simple but enjoyable breakfast (the cheeses were excellent).
Yesterdays long ride took a lot out of me. The concentration required on the tight roads was taking its toll. My body was also beginning to ache. My knees get a little sore on the Family Truckster on the long days but yesterday my hands were bad, my right thumb in particular. Could be the onset of arthritis - who knows (probably P)?
The view from my hotel in Beuil was peaceful and the hotel looked most quaint in the early morning sunlight.
Today I took it easy and found somewhere early - no need to push hard every day. This part of France is nice so I'll stay in the area and leave it until Friday for the big push towards Spain.
Not far west from Beuil was the ski resort town of Valberg - it looked nice - but I pressed on to Guillaumes and then south west through Les Gorges de Daluis. Now this was some different country to what I'd previously seen of France. Some parts were even vaguely remiscent of Capadoccia. There was one very scenic stretch of 17 tunnels cut though the red rocky gorge, high abaove a river below.
I was enjoying the ride so much I neglected to stop for photos. Shame about that. It was most spectacular but I did have the Go-Pro HD video camera running so I have some great video footage of this part of the ride. A tourist brochure I picked up at the hotel in Beuil described this region perfectly as the "Colorado of the Alps, hidden in the back country of Nice ... a spectacular deep and narrow red canyon unique in its kind ... " It was all of this.
France is a huge country and I've explored quite a bit of it now. It continues to throw up the unexpected and offers far more than Paris, the Tour de France, skiing, champage, wine, rich food and stinky soft cheeses. These alone are reason to come, but this vast country of 551,500 square kilometres is incredibly diverse in scenery with abundant natural beauty, culture, style and history.
The other highlight of the day was travelling on the Route Nepoleon. Even though I managed only a small section of the total 330km on offer from Canne to Grenoble it lived up to its claims as a great motorcycling road. I will have to come back and do all of it another time.
There is nothing remarkable about Digne-les-Bains - except its location. On the Route Napoleon, and an hour and a half from Nice ie beaches, and the Alps ie skiing. This could just be the perfect place for to live.
As I push further west towards London it becomes time for reflection.
I've been on the road for more than 9 weeks. I'm accustomed to my own company now - and are used to passing the time absent interaction with others. Not that the people I've met on the way weren't important. Sharing a meal with another peroson should not be taken for granted. Certainly my interactions with the locals and fellow travellers were memorable, and the highlights of the journey. But most nights I dine alone and this blog has become my converation of the evening - mostly one way - even though the email feedback received along the way has motivated me to keep going.
I didn't set out to find anything really but just to experience new countries and cultures. I didn't become a hippie or take illegal substances (none were even offerred to me), nor get a tattoo or body piercing (there were plenty of shops enroute offerring thses services).
Maybe I know a little more about me now, and most of all what is not best for me.
This has been a journey of research and experience. Of learning. To find my passion.
Many people never get an opportunity like this. To disregard reality for 10 weeks and to live for the day, tonight's hotel room, tomorrow's road. For this opportunity I am grateful and hope I am better for it. Time will tell.
But the longer you do it the scarier it gets to return to reality. To conform to the norms expected of you.
The next great road to ride continues to be a goal. Even though I've now done over 10,000 miles on this trip there are many more roads, countries and places where I'm yet to go.
I now realise I've never really been good at anything.
My lack of natural talent has been hidden by loud talking, arrogance, bluff or top quality kit. But deep down there is a lack of confidence, anxiety about acceptance, about not fitting in, not being good enough and hyper-sensitivity to criticism. My self relection is a burden - but it is me.
The Family Truckster is a great example - I get the best and most powerful touring bike, to compensate for my lack of riding skills. But they still passed me on their Massey Fergusons. But it doesn't really matter does it? Yes to me in some ways even though I tell myself it shouldn't.
There have been plenty of other Family Trucksters on the road since I made it to the Dolomites. They are certainly itimidating beasts. When they pass you in the other direction or when they come up behind you. The headlights are most distinctive - and because they are so big, there is simply no other bike with quite the same road prescence.
One passed me the other day - I couldn't keep up. And he had a pillion. A much better example of a skilled operater on great kit. Not a pretender trying to be something he isn't.
There is a movie with Clint Eastwood featuring a line where Clint's character says " ... a good man knows his limitations ...". I know more about mine now. And I'm not ashamed of them really - they will be what they are.
Even after 9 weeks I don't tire of climbing aboard the Family Truckster. Even though I'm a little sore at present it is still an absolute pleasure to be in control of such a precise, powerful and highly engineered machine. To make it do what I want it to.
Perhaps I am a control freak after all. But it doesn't hold against me the way I simply ask it to do what is was engaged for.
When all is on song it is such a delight. Being in-sync with the machine and the road it a great experience and everything just flows. It's like everything happens in slow motion, the next turn is apparent, brakes are hardly touched and the sound of the engine revving is pure. There is hardly a moment when the bike is vertical but it is just so stable.
But even in these moments I am only using about 2/3 of the capability of the machine and I'm not sure why. It's not due to the speed limits, sometimes the conditions dictate temperance, but mostly I'm tentative, holding back, scared of something.
Perhaps this is why I haven't come off the bike yet. But riding the Family Truckster has almost become a metaphor of my approach to life. Try and stay in the middle ground and don't push the limits of what could be possible. Do what is right and what others expect, not necessarily what makes me happy.
The problem is that on those few occasions I have tried to do something different in life or career it has backfired. Sometimes this has just been bad luck, but poor judgement has taken me there on occasions also. Poor judgement on the road could have dire consequences.
Tomorrow is another day. Perhaps I will give the Family Truckster some more gas or see if I can get my knee down in the corner. But perhaps not. Either way I will give it my best and enjoy the experience.
After all, a good man knows his limitations. And my best may be better than some others, but certainly good enough for me.
The first 250 miles of this ride was simple. Another short section of the Route Napoleon before a motorway blast west loosely following the Mediterrainian Coast.
I've got to hand it to the French. Their motorways are great - and not completely boring like those in the UK. If you need to get somewhere quick in France take the motorways. There are plenty of tolls though - but they are not as frequent as they are in Macedonia. And they are all automated - no people to collect your money. But paying tolls when riding a motorcycle is a pain. Gloves make eveything hard. They make you super clumsy. I take mine off when there is a toll to pay or else it's impossible. Sometimes the cars behind me back up - but that's their problem.
There were quite a few tolls today but they were worth it. I made it almost right across the south of France to Carcassone by 1330. Time for a break and a sandwich, then the Pyrennes.
Today was another high mileage day. I did about 380 miles (610km) by the time I parked the bike up at the end of the day. But the last bit was in the Pyrennes - my first time in this part of the world.
The climb was gradual - not like the Alps which are immediately steep. And the scenery was different. France is very diverse. Before I knew it I was at 1,600m.
It was a shame the road surface was not better. There were elements of Turkey here and caution was necessary - meaning the last 100 miles took much longer than suggested by the GPS - but these roads were trecherous - almost like the locals had put fine gravel on the corners to slow the bikers down. If this was the case they had achieved their desired result.
And it was hotter today in comparison to my recent experience in the Alps. High 20's most of the way. And with only winter gloves now it was a little uncomfortable. Sweaty hands are terrible, making the gloves almost impossible to get on or off. I'll have to get a new pair of summer gloves if the temperatures stay like this.
Finally I got to the border with Andorra. Wikepedia describes this as a principality but I'm not sure what this means. I'll take it as a new country. It's only small but first impressions are good. The road surface is first class, like in Spain. There are plenty of ski resorts and tunnels like Austria. But this place looks more modern and very clean - it must be incredible in winter when covered in pure white snow. I went through one tunnel and skipped the next to be rewarded by a high mountain pass.
Not far now to the capital Andorra la Vella. I'm looking forward to this. Some pictures tomorrow.
Imagine the biggest duty free shop you've ever seen. Or maybe like at a big international airport once you clear customs and security.
Well, multiply that by about 100 and you have Andorra. The capital, Andorra la Vella is simply a small town comprised of many duty free shops. Electronics, prefumes, cigarettes, high fashion brands. Andorra le Vella has all of this in abundance.
But something else also. Something you will not find in duty free shops or in airport shops. And that is motorcycle shops. On my way out of town today I saw what seemed like a whole street of them, selling parts, helmets, leather suits - almost anything you could want.
And I did. I got some new summer gloves.
And this prices were good too. Just like the electronics shops. In a bar I saw a cigarette vending machine selling packs for about one quarter of the price in the UK, not that I got any.
But this city is more than that. There were not many locals but plenty of day trippers from France and Spain. I'd come back here - probably to go skiing. There were sculptures, public spaces, plazas and parks. Not much history although there is an "old town".
But most of all, like all of western Europe it was spotlessly clean. Eastern Europe has much catching up to do in this regard. There was no litter anywhere.
So I had a day off the Family Truckster and simple wandered around town. It is very Spanish and the official language is Catalan. But everyone spoke English - lucky for me.
Here are some of my favourite images from Andorra la Vella.
It wasn't far from Andorra la Vella to the Spanish border. I'd long wanted to ride through the Pyrenees and had several routes already plotted in the GPS software. I opted for the Spanish side of the Pyrenees, heading west to Pamplona.
Traffic was fairly heavy on Sunday morning and the ride to the border was a slow one. The traffic headed to Andorra from Spain was much heavier though, with a long line of cars waiting patiently at the border.
It seems they stop all vehicles departing Andorra for Spain, probably to check that any duty free purchases are not in excess of allowed limits. I pulled over in case they wanted to search the Family Truckster but was waved through.
I'd ridden in Spain before and was looking forward to reacquainting myself with high quality road surfaces and polite, motorcycle friendly drivers (they all move over to the far right of the road allowing bikes a clear and swift passage).
It wasn't long before I was on a typical Spanish road. Even though I was in the mountains these road were not as steep or tight as they had been in the Dolomites and the Alps. But there were some great sweeping, fast bends begging for me to get my knee down. Today, particularly after stopping for an espresso in Sort, I was in sync with the terrain and road, and riding well. This is when it is most enjoyable. Within the first 100 miles I'd been over three passes of 1,700m, 2,000m and 1,600m.
There were a few sections of switchback, hairpin turns but not too many and because the terrain is not as steep, the turns are not to tight and in many ways a doddle compared to what I'd ridden in the past week or so. Perhaps I was well practiced so at least it felt like I leaned the Family Truckster over further, even though I didn't quite get my knee down.
Even though I enjoy the high Alpine passes like the Stelvio, Grossglockner, Col de la Bonette and Col du Galibier, I probably like riding the fast bends a little more. Spain has more of these on offer and a few tight, high bits also just to make sure you are on your game.
The scenery was very different to the Alps also. Not better or worse but just different. No unmelted snow adjacent to the roads but I recall seeing something that might have been a glacier in the distance - but only once. Even though Spain is broke, it seems they can still maintain their roads and keep petrol taxes low. When you take into account Spain's great food and good value accomodation (in Western Europe at least), it could still be the premier motorcycle touring destination in Europe.
The road from Sort to Vielha was fantastic and had absolutely everything. I'll come back here again one day to do this ride again, and to experience the French side of the Pyrenees.
I hadn't really set a target destination for the day. I planned to just ride and stop when I'd had enough. At around 1540 I stoped at Broto to consult the map and consider the location of my overnight stay. Jaca perhaps - it wasn't too much further.
I arrived there at 1635 and saw a sign for Pamplona - only 107km. That's not much more than an hour. I always wanted to visit Pamplona, so I'll press on. Can still make it with enough light to have a quick look around.
And I need to get some photos for the blog.
I hadn't stopped much today even though the scenery was excellent. Once for coffee late morning and then for a late lunch. But after so many days, all these mountains were starting to look a bit the same to me. So no photos of mountain passes or scenery today. I didn't even stop or later research the names of the passes I crossed. I just wanted to enjoy the riding experience. How slack have I become!
Not that they weren't worthy of the same respect and attention I'd given the Dolomites or the Alps.
At least I had the video running so I have a record - just give me some time to catch up on the editing and posting on You Tube.
I took the short road to Pamplona from Jaca - more like a motorway but at least there were some good bends from time to time. And I passed a huge dam; Embalse de Yasa, also known as the Sea of the Pyrenees.
I arrived in Pamplona arounf 1750 and within the next 30 minutes had selected and checked into my hotel for the night. By 1900 I was out on the streets walking around.
Pamplona is famous for the running of the bulls and I'd often seen the images of this highlight of the annual San Fermin, held in July, broadcast on the TV news in Australia. Not that I would ever have the courage to run with the bulls.
So I had a mental picture of what Pamplona would be like. But it was so much more. This is a very old and large fortress city. The old town has narrow cobbled streets lined with 3-4 storey buildings on either side, occasionaly making way for a plaza or square. When the bulls thunder through these narrow man made canyons it must be terrifying with nowhere to take cover.
But as with many cities I've passed through in the latter stages of this adventure, I simply haven't allowed enough time to take in all the sights and history on offer. After it became too dark for photos I parked up in a bar for a few beers and then wines - at the same time sampling several Pincho's, a Basque version of Tapas, but typically spiked with a skewer or toothpick.
Pincho's are great and much better value than Tapas in my view (I had tapas for lunch in Andorra la Vella). At about 1.50 or 2.00 euros each these cost little more than a packet of nuts/chips and 3-4 are all you need. I'm a big fan and had them for lunch yesterday, dinner last night, lunch today and dinner again tonight. They are great with beer, wine, coffee, water etc - why haven't I heard of these before?
So, true to form, I've written more today to make up for my absence of photo's. Here's a few gimpses of Pamplona - defintely worth a visit to this part of the world. I certainly be back.
I really should have got up earlier and taken another short walk around Pamplona. But I didn't. I slept until 0800 and was packed and on the road around 1000, distracted by Top Gear repeats on the TV dubbed in Spanish.
Bilbao was the target today - or thereabouts. But my GPS programming let me down today. I should have split the route from Andorra la Valla into two smaller routes to be sure I passed through the roads and towns I had wanted to.
Unfortunately it ended up being a motorway slog - but good Spanish motorways - so I ended up missing Hondarrabia, San Sebastian and the coastal road to Bilbao.
I stopped enroute and contemplated a detour but ended up heading straight for the ferry port. I'd booked the ticket last night so it was locked in now. Tuesday at 1030 the ferry would leave headed for Portsmouth. By early Wednesday morning I'd be back in the UK and only a few hours from London.
Perhaps being a little anal, I just wanted to see where I'd need to be in the morning. And it ended up not being where the GPS took me to. Apparently it had recently moved. This knowledge could be the difference between making or missing the ferry. As far as I'm concerned this validated the recon mission.
The ferry terminal is some way out of Bilbao, and much closer to the coast (this makes perfect sense). Bilbao is a big city and likely worthy of more attention than I'd allowed. But I was on the home straight now. No distractions.
Now I needed to find somewhere to stay tonight, close to the ferry port. I took the coastal road west towards Santander. After about 30 minutes of coastal meander with nothing promising on offer I arrived at Castro Urdiales. Now this place was more like it. Only about 20 minutes to the ferry in the morning on the motorway, nice town right on the Bay of Biscay - perfect.
After settling into to one of the few hotels in town (this was a little surprising but at least they had a room available and parking for the Family Truckster), I took a walk around town. Here's what I saw.
I left the UK on 28 July and since leaving the train in Calais the Family Truckster and I have travelled 10,883 miles (17,514km). We been abroad for a total of 68 days of which 51 have been spent riding at a daily average of 213 miles (343km).
Enroute, we passed through the following countries:
Netherlands (transit but only just and confirmed by the GPS tracks)
Czech Republic (3 nights)
Poland (3 nights)
Slovakia (overnight again)
Romania (9 nights)
Turkey (29 nights)
Macedonia (2 nights)
Bosnia and Hetzegovina (overnight)
Croatia (2 nights)
Ferry (1 night)
Italy (2 nights)
Germany (overnight again)
Switzerland (2 nights)
France (2 nights)
Andorra (2 nights)
Spain (2 nights)
After tonight, my last on continental Europe, I will have another night aboard a ferry in transit from Spain to the UK.
When I return to London on Wednesday afternoon I will have been away for exactly 10 weeks - just what I told P I'd allowed for (lucky guess, that's all).
So in summary, 21 days to reach Turkey, 29 days in Turkey and 20 days to get back to the UK travelling through 21 different countries, 15 of them for my first time.
And the star of the show was the Family Truckster. Even though I had to replace the front wheel, it did not miss a beat. Mechanically and electronically it was faultless. The new tyres I put on in Poland will be replaced on my return to the UK with all but 10,000 miles on them in tough conditions including high temperatures and a bad puncture (there is still a slow leak). There are a few scratches but this is to be expected. The 3M paint protection I put on before my departure was a good investment although it appears I have scratched through this in a couple of places through my carelessness more than anything else.
You simply cannot take a bike on a journey like this if you are scared of scratching the paintwork.
It hasn't had a wash since Antalya in Turkey on day 43. It looks a bit tired now with about 500 species of bugs smashed all over the lights, windshield and fairing but it should clean up ok and look as a good as new again. Some sections of the paint protection film may need replacing as they have bubbled and lifted, but only a little. No rush to get this done.
Even though I don't want to count my chickens yet, I've made it unscathed. No real days of sickness (one day in Capaddocia I felt a little average) or worse, injury. The bike and me remained upright all the way (touch wood).
The most used tech was the integrated Navigation and audio system. I would never have made it all the way and not died of boredom without it. Next was probably my camera - a Sony NEX-5 compact DSLR camera, closely followed by my phones (HTC and Samsung - Android Smartphones) which helped me find hotels on numerous occasions enroute. Finally but by no means last was my HP Laptop and Go-Pro HD video camera.
Then there were the phone apps I used, Booking.com and Tripadvisor were the most useful from a touring perspective but also a handful of others than enabled me to stay in touch with news and friends.
Over the course of the trip I have all but filled up a 1TB external hard disk that I brought along specifically for the raw digital media. I probably have between 150 and 200 hours of HD video which I plan to edit and post on You Tube to show other touring motorcyclists the fantastic roads and scenery Europe and Turkey has to offer.
Also invaluable was my relatively low tech puncture repair kit and electric pump. It really got me out of trouble in the middle of nowhere in Turkey. I will probably carry this with me wherever I ride now.
Somethings I carried weren't worth the space they took up as it turned out but its probably good that they weren't. In different circumstances they may have been as critical, so I would probably choose to carry most of them again.
I have a certain amount of pride in completing a journey like this, even though many of the hard heads will say I did it the easy way. All on-road, not venturing into 3rd world countries, staying in hotels, new bike, good dealer network, lots of unecessary trinkets, too much junk etc.
I don't really care - each to their own. If you want to make it tougher then great for you. I have still achieved something that a few years ago I would have not even thought about and many would not undertake - but it is easily achievable.
A very good friend of mine once said about university that the only prerequesite for graduation was enrolment. This is true. I think the same can be said about a trip like mine. Once you make a start you are bound to finish it in one way or another. But unless you start the trip will always remain in your dreams.
I remember my first trip to the continent a few years back. It was an organised tour to the WW1 battlefields in France and Belgium. I was so scared and on reflection such a novice rider. Just riding on the other side of the road was just about more than I can handle. But now it is second nature. It's much easier on a bike then in a car anyway as all the controls are the same - you just need to remember to start out in the right lane and then just stay within the lines.
My riding continues to improve and I know my way around most of Europe now but there are still some new countries out there for me to visit. I doubt I'd want to travel through Africa though on a Massey Ferguson. Just not enough safety nets in this part of the world but all respect to those that do it. I'm a bit soft and know my limitations. I'm happy to stick to surface roads.
South America would be good and possibly middle Asia also. But I'm not about to start planning my next motorcycle adventure as soon as I get back to London.
I have some different adventures and challenges that will require my attention and focus for the next few months in the same way as I needed it to ride in the dark in Bosnia and France and on the terrible road surfaces in Turkey. There will be some borders that will not let me pass and darkness may cloud my judgement. There will be wrong turns and sometimes the GPS will lead me astray or even not have details of the roads I plan to travel on. But in the end you always make it to the hotel or back home, and I am confident the next adventure will be as succesful as the last - I wouldn't have it any other way.
I arrived safely at the ferry terminal this morning with plenty of time to have a chat with a few of the other motorcyclists who were also waiting to board. It's always good to hear stories of where people have been and the most interesting was a couple who'd been travelling around Morocco on a Massey Ferguson. It sounded a lot like riding in Turkey although they did some off road riding also.
Anyway, the wait gave me the chance to get some photos of the very dirty Family Truckster, including some shots of the dash and switches/controls on the handlebars.
It's not long now before it will be clean again though!
The ferry's engines have just started up so I'll be on my way very soon. This could be a very long and boring day but time to edit some videos I guess.
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