28 Oct 07 - 6 Nov 07
Some days are just merciless.
Still emotional after Sarah and Mike’s wedding, and a little sad at saying goodbye to Sarah, Mike and Nick, our run to the Channel Tunnel was always going to be an ordinary day. When it started raining heavily during breakfast we put on our resigned-determined faces and broke out the wet weather kit.
Although our riding suits are “100% waterproof”, bitter experience has taught us that the 100% part of this standard is negotiable. As a consequence we keep a fully waterproof outer layer for the seriously wet days. Apart from the pants and coat, this includes a pair of over-boots to keep the little pinkies dry.
We don’t like wearing our wet weather gear because it is too hot. But this day, there was no alternative. We pulled on our gear and got out in the rain before we got too hot.
Jo puts on her over-boots. Great for fancy dress parties.
The rain was swirling and buffeting around the trucks on the motorway and there was no alternative to getting the throttle open and getting on with it. We just hammered on through the weather. It is 230km to the terminal and we were there in a little over 2 hours non-stop.
Jo with inner and outer waterproofs on. The gear is too hot on some days but we were glad of extra warmth on the run south from Calais.
We are now experienced at getting through the Tunnel’s automatic entrance gates and passport control. The necessary paperwork was kept where we could get it without getting off or undressed. We got through quicker than some cars, accepted the offer of an earlier train, had lunch at the terminal, and drove onto our train after being waved through security.
We spent the trip chatting to a Dutch-Anglo couple who are into bikes so the journey was over quickly, but not quickly enough to stop us getting hot in our suits. Off the train we rode straight to one of the tunnel hotels and booked in. We were both tired even if we were still dry!
It was still raining as we unpacked. Some days are just like that.
South from Calais the next day we rode into a maelstrom. The semi-trailers churned the rain into a blinding storm of water that buffeted us constantly. At times I could see little through my helmet visor. Cold water seeped in and splashed into my eyes. It seeped into the helmet pads and soaked in around my neck. Our gloves were spongy with cold water and I wondered why I had bothered with the waterproof model gloves and what waterproof actually means anyway.
We didn’t say much through the intercom. There wasn’t much to say. Well, we could have talked about the weather, but that might have been a little depressing!
I kept the throttle open and we punched into the water hammering our way through each knot of semis to some clean air beyond. I could feel Jo tucked in behind me trying to keep out of the blast.
We were able to make up time on the hills where the auto-route had an extra lane for passing. With the throttle against the stop in 6th, the Beemer pulled like two bastards thundering passed trucks, little Citroëns and Mercs alike. We had no respect.
The 430 km took us more than seven hours. In Orléans, we found a hotel, food and wine, and set about drying our gear.
Some days are just bastards.
Our third day in the rain climbed onto the central plateau with altitudes up to 600m. The temperature plummeted. It was wet AND cold. How good could it get!
Wet and cold! Getting dressed takes time if you want to be comfortable.
On the 540 km run from Orléans to Montauban, we tried the last 200 km on the back roads. Our only excuse for this is the streaker’s defence: it seemed like a good idea at the time. The route took us through small villages with indifferent grip on the local roads. There were lots of those slip ’n’ grip moments that bike riders find character forming. Fortunately there were no slip ’n’ slip moments.
Eight more hours in the rain had left us stuffed. We found a pizza joint and splurged on a $3.00 bottle of red (who said we were on a tight budget). We dried our gear again.
Our next day was to take us over one of the passes through the Pyrenees. This didn’t seem like a good idea considering the weather (streaking or not), so we spent some valuable sleeping time planning an alternate route around to the east and down the Mediterranean coast. In the end we were just too tired to make a sensible decision and decided to sleep on it.
We awoke to find the morning of the 31st was dry. To be more precise, it wasn’t raining! We checked what passes for a weather report on French TV, sized up the sky, and decided to stick to the plan and run for the mountains. We raced south on the toll road, perhaps hoping that if we went quickly the weather gods might not bother about us for a day.
The mountains rose up in front of us, white caps and all, but the roads started to dry and the rain stayed away. We wound up through the hills until they became mountains and then wound up some more. The road climbed through the snow line where it became wet, and ploughed through a 5.2km tunnel built at a time when cars and trucks were smaller.
I was wearing my old RayBans for the ride up but there was no opportunity to remove them before plunging into the half light of the tunnel. To make matters worse, the headlight on the Beemer is so poor that you need to strike a match to see if it is on. In the gloom the trucks seemed to be inches away on one side and the tunnel wall touchable on the other. I kept the bike pointing straight and relied on the Beemer’s suspension to soak up the pot holes; no room for fancy riding!
We burst out into the bright mountain light with a blast of icy air and me making a mental note to take off the sunnies before the next 5km tunnel. The GPS put the altitude at 1683m. The snow had started at 800m.
The only parking area on the mountain is only “open” during summer for the walkers.
We hadn’t been able to stop on the narrow road anywhere up the mountain and by the time we got through the “tunnel experience” we were both uncomfortably over due for a piss-stop. Neither of us was in any condition to wait until we were below the snow line. As soon as a parking area appeared we pulled up. The conveniences were closed for the winter so we exposed some bare flesh to the elements (not as easy as it sounds in our riding suits) and took the chance to snap a few quick photos of the mountains.
Jo rearranges her dress after a comfort stop on the mountain pass.
Over the watershed, we tumbled down the mountain roads into Spain feeling pretty good about ourselves, chatting about the changed landscape on the southern side of the mountains and enjoying the winding dry mountain road and warming air. Finally, we were putting some wear on the sides of the tyres and enjoying it!
The side winds on the run into Zaragosa were the strongest we had ever experienced. Probably stronger than those that had forced us to stop overnight in Yass 30 years ago. (Many would say that no cross wind is so strong as to justify an overnighter in Yass, but we couldn’t possibly comment.) But this minor distraction only served to heighten our anticipation of Spanish adventures.
Zaragosa was our first Spanish city and we were greatly impressed. The city has beautiful public spaces, a lovely and lively city centre and enough tapas bars to sink a ship. We tried a couple, drank some cheap beer and a bottle of wine, and ate all manner of interesting stuff.
By the time we crashed into bed we were tired but content. We had one more day down to the coast, the Moto GP weekend and a week off in Calpe. The challenges of the preceding days had left us quietly confident in the bike, the gear and ourselves. We were not afraid of wet weather, cold, crazy drivers, crowded cities or mountain tunnels. It was that sort of satisfied feeling that always precedes a crisis.
At 6:00 am on Thursday 1 November 2007 our global roaming mobile woke us from deep sleep. It was my mother to tell me that my father had died 3hr earlier.
We started our little computer, purchased some WiFi time from a local provider and started to reorganize our lives. By checkout time we had airfares booked from Barcelona to London and on to Sydney, some of our accommodation was sorted and we had the germ of a plan for storing the bike. We paid the toll on the autopista and charged out town like one of the Spanish fighting bulls the area is famous for and forgot about the fuel economy for a rocket-run to Barcelona.
With the sort of timing that we only appreciate in hindsight, 1 November was a Holy Day holiday in Spain and everything was closed. I mean everything in the sense that it used to apply to Christmas Day in Australia years ago. CLOSED!
In a new pub we got back onto the net and prepared for the next day. We had worked out four options to store the bike starting with the local BMW dealers, followed by the local BMW club, then a self storage locker and finally an appeal to the police to impound the bike for a few weeks. We also found the contact details for the Australian Consulate in case we needed it.
We got the addresses for the two BMW dealers and did a careful reconnaissance of the routes to each. The first one was posted with a sign saying (if our Spanish could be relied on) that the business would be closed the next day, Friday, to make a 4 day weekend of it. The other was a combined car dealership and looked like it might be open on the Friday.
Back in the hotel we had dinner early (in Spain “early” means 8:00 pm), checked our lists of addresses and telephone numbers and tried to get some sleep. We also made sure all our gear was packed ready for a quick departure as we could only get one night in that hotel because of a big conference in town and would have to change pubs somewhere in the process.
Thanks to the route recce we were parked outside the BMW dealer at 8:30. Jo stood guard on our worldly possessions while I found the moto part of the business and a mechanic who spoke some English and, eventually, the Moto Service Manger, Marc, who spoke a little more. I told him the problem in a few words. Yes, that would be OK. He would service the bike and hold it for us until we returned in three weeks. Deal done! It was 9:15.
The Beemer waits with more usual local transport outside the BW dealer.
We spent a few hours riding around in the traffic getting a feel for Barcelona before cruising out to the expensive airport hotel that had a room available. We repacked the side and back boxes with stuff we would leave on the bike, left our carry bags in the pub and headed back to the BMW dealer.
Parking on the footpath with the locals.
The Barcelona waterfront during our quick look around. We need to be back in 3 weeks to recover the bike so there will be more to see then.
Handing over the bike took only a few minutes. We left our helmets and jackets in Marc’s locker and handed him our Moto GP tickets in appreciation of his support. He was still grinning and thanking me for the tickets when we walked out into the streets of Barcelona without the machine that had regulated our lives for the last two months. We felt a little naked.
The next two and a half days were just travel: airplanes, trains and buses. Our hasty escape plan rolled out with only a few hitches. We misplaced a day and landed in Sydney at 2100 on Monday night. From a standing start in the middle of Spain on a public holiday, we were back inside four days. Sombre and tired, but back.
Some weeks are merciless.
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