Sunday May 17th 2009
After a really great stay in the hot cloudless spring weather of southern spain it was time to be heading back home. I had the best of reasons to go - an impending house move and a new baby well on the way, but it was hard to tear myself away from a life of decadance down Malaga way.
I finally got on my way around midday, the bike felt heavy and unwieldy having got used to being unfettered by all the baggage it had faithfully lugged down here some weeks ago. I took the main coastal autoroute past Malaga and heading round the coast towards Nerja then Motril - with stunning glimpses of beautiful coastal scenes at nearly every turn.
I headed over to the scenic area south of the Sierra Nevada that I had missed out on the way down - The beautiful Alpujarras region.
It was after having turned inland away from the coast road that I had the first intimations that something was not well with the bike, a certain vagueness to the handling and on slower corners a tendency for it to 'shake its head' - the bars weaving in my hands. I tried to put it down to the load, but it slowly got worse. I was disconcerted.
I hit the heart of the Alpujarras at Orgiva and immediately took a turning out west to Lanjarron, - the wrong way! Getting to Lanjarron I realised my mistake and hot-footed it back towards Orgiva aware that this was a long day already.
As I neared Orgiva again, the bike started to wobble any time I was cruising, - if i sped up or slowed down it was stable - otherwise it wobbled. Eventually I had to stop and investigate. Well I soon found that the rear wheel was wobbling crazily, - I looked at the wheel nuts and they appeared tight. I guessed that the bevel box had failed somehow. - That's it, the end of the trip!
I limped back into Orgiva and stopped outside a garage. I just sat and cursed for a while. I couldn't believe it was all over, but I had to start thinking about arranging a place to stay and getting the bike recovered.
Idly I fiddled a bit more with the wheel and nuts and then a brainwave! - The nuts were tight but the studs were loose. - They must have backed off somehow. With a glimmer of hope growing I wandered into the garage, where the friendly owners lent me a large wheel brace. I pulled out one stud and behold - it still had healthy threads. I put it back in and it tightened up ok, so I tried the others and they went ok too. So a hint to owners of the earlier monolever BMWs - ST and GS with three instead of four wheel studs - beware they can loosen up with potentially disasterous results. Allright the trip is back on. I returned the brace to the garagistes, loaded up and off I went.
So then the next couple of hours were spent trundling through the breathtaking scenery of the Alpujarras.
In the Alpujarras pictures say more than words;
Trevelez. At an elevation of 1476m the highest village in Spain.
Well from the lows of Orgiva and the heights of Trevelez it was a long ride back down and through the desert region of Almeria to the beautiful (and still unspoilt) coastal village of Agua Amarga.
If I had not been far behind schedule it would have been a fabulously enjoyable experience, but as so often on this trip the time was just slipping away.
I arrived too late for food at the Hostal Family, and here's the state I was in. An exhausting but ultimately rewarding day.
Another carefree day, trundling slowly home north up the coastal roads was the prospect that tore me away from the peaceful idyll of Agua Amarga. It turned out to be a pleasant enough but unremarkable route, with plenty of resort developments that were too prevalent to be low-key, yet not concentrated enough to develop any discernable character.
Later in the day I moved inland aiming towards the Comtat, again the landscape was not particularly thrilling, with miles of sun blasted featureless landscape covered in acres of plastic sheeted greenhouses where imported labour toils to feed the hunger of northern super market chains for year round fresh products.
The last portion of the trip was the best, through Alcoy and heading up through the lovely lands of the comtat to hopefully another night of great wine and food at the Hotel L'estacio at Bocairent. So it proved. Mats remembered me from last time, and as before the bike was stashed securely in the courtyard and I luxuriated in my pleasant surroundings, a long bath and the superb evening meal. Hats off to the L'estacio.
And so to the last full day on Spanish roads. Up early and off up the road. Apart from an uplanned detour into the vicinity of the huge and featureless suburbs of Valencia the first part of the day was mostly anonymous motorway bashing.
At a fuel stop I exchanged pleasantries with a couple of West Londoners who pulled in on Harleys, and left while they were filling up, about half an hour up the road they rolled past me, holding a steady 95mph or so. I gained a new respect for the Harley evo motor, it seems they can do that sort of thing all day long, which is just a touch more than the old 800cc Beemer is happy at.
Eventually and with little regret I leave the costal motorway at the rice fields of Amposta, picking up the C12 that was so joyful on the trip down. Approaching Lleida from the south is a little difficult, but once through it the beauty steps up another gear as the foothills of the pyrenees become apparent.
Of course the closer you get the more beautiful it all is;
And so finally to the lovely little border town of Ainsa my stop for the night.
Another day and some more trip highlights. Firstly the retreat over the Pyrenees. Beautiful scenery, sinuous roads tracing the routes of tumbling mountain streams, why would anyone skirt round all this just to shave a few hours off their race to and from their happy holiday destinations.
I love trundling up and down mountain roads. Always have. This time the Aragnouet / Beilsa tunnel was all uphill. Here is the scene at the top, just onto French turf. What a comparison with the same spot a month ago. And how much more traffic there was.
The Pyrenees in May, fresh and enticing
The same spot as above, but the month before;
Anyway there's no doubt I'm back into France. If it feels like halfway home, then that's because it is, geographically and in terms of some other features, like oh, hedgerows, grass verges, domestic gardens and the like, just silly things that you realise you haven't seen in a while!
I have fond memories of a blast along the fast straightish flat roads leading north from Lannemazan to Auch, mile after mile of very light traffic, and high speeds crouched down and hearing the engine clatter and hum like an angry sowing machine pulling on a thread leading inexorably north.
Sometime around noon I called up Harry. I'd read about his bikers hotel. I heard nothing but good remarks, but not classing myself as a 'biker', rather as just someone who rides a bike along with doing a whole lot of other stuff that defines my life better, I'm not always at home with the more narrow minded sterotypes that apply.
Anyway I decided that I'd give the full on bikers hotel a try and if it was all bandanas and macho posing then I'd only have to endure it for a night. When I called him Harry sounded remarkably normal, soft spoken and reasonable so I made the booking, warned him I was quite well south and wouldn't be arriving until possibly quite late. He was fine with all this and promised to save me a steak for the evening meal.
Thus the rest of the day was set, into the usual format of an ambitiously distant target for the day. Traffic was light and stopping just for fuel, toilet, and the odd swig of water I made Harry's (between Limoges and Poitiers) by nineish in the evening.
Harry's turns out to be a laid back melting pot that is what you make of it. Harry's bikers hotel is based at a secluded country hotel and ex-stables that includes camping facilites and Harry himself is as laid back as they come but with the nouse and social skills to make the best of any mix of clients.
I had a lovely steak served al fresco and dined in the darkening but warm evening air with a selection of guests of varied ages and temperaments, all able to share common grounds that start with a love of bikes and touring and ends who knows where..
Harry's Hotel by morning light;
Well the day starts bright and warm. After a few days on the road I'm a bit slow getting out of my pit. Added to that the bike is showing signs of needing some attention, - peformance down, fuel consumption up and the engine doesn't want to idle.
The morning wears on as I work on the bike without much improvement. When I finally call a halt to the tinkering and go out to fuel up I can't find a garage that's open.
Returning to base, Harry explains that yesterday was a bank holiday and so is tomorrow. But not today? I ask. No says Harry, but they call a normal day like today sandwiched between two bank holidays 'the bridge' and there is a marked tendency in rural France for it to be indistinguishable from the holiday days either side. You have to admire the logic.
Harry clowns for the camera
So when one of my new found friends - a chopper rider on an extended visit to france of some 5 years offers me a beer while I work, the decision gets made. Today will be 'the bridge' for me too. A days rest is called for, and by God I'll have it even if it means a marathon trip to London tomorrow.
Lurking at Harry's
And so the day wears on, people come and go during the day and residents for the night begin turning up, the beers go down well and in the evening a four course meal is prepared by some local ex-pat ladies and washed down with suitable beverages. What a great , relaxing sunny day of rest amongst new found friends.
I retire, bushed, to sleep around 11 but the party rocks on till the small hours. Around midnite I hear one of the Yamaha's fired up, rolled into the bar area where the Kiwi owner performs a bunch of doughnuts to universal acclaim, filling the entire ex-stable with acrid burning rubber-smoke. It's all in the best possible taste.
Well the gang are all off on a ride-out to see the preserved ruins of Oradour-sur-glane, - the village that was destroyed by the SS in a revenge attack towards the end of WWII.
Not for me though, I have to hit the road in the other direction, I have to be back in London by Friday night . So it's a fair bit of motorway bashing, until I branch off to the west to give Paris on a friday a wide berth, before picking up the coastal motorway up Abbeville way.
Trouble is the bike is getting more and more recalcitrant, which adds a certain edge to proceedings, - the closer I get to home, the less it wants to go.
Limping up the peage to Calais and roughly on time for my early evening slot on the Chunnel I have to go through a tricky rigmarole at each pay booth - roll up to booth blipping throttle, else it'll stall, get one glove off, blip, get 2nd glove off, blip, root around for change, blip, pay, blip, glove one on, blip, glove 2 on, blip and away.
At the last booth on the entire road before the last stretch to Calais, as the last glove goes on the engine fumbles and dies. It's raining of course. I push to the side. It won't start. I save the battery, unload and out with the tools I splish around in puddles fiddling with plugs gaps and the like.
It still won't start. By this time I'm swearing in full-on Tourettes fashion. Eventually with a combination of small plug gap and full choke (and if I only twigged a cooler engine) it catches and with more blipping and fooling around securing things I'm back in the game.
The beauty of Chunnel travel is once again apparent as I limp in late and despite missing my original booking simply go onto the first available train.
Thus I'm back over the channel and she fires up with some persuasion for the last leg through the cool and damp English evening back to my roots.
The Blackwall tunnel spits me north of the river, and with my destination of South Wooford in view I'm trundling through Friday night cruising traffic behind a couple of likely lads in shades and a flash convertible BMW car. I have to laugh to myself as their cool scene is constantly infringed by me holding my engine at a constant 2000rpm lest it stall. more than once they shoot me a look of consternation. Good value I think to myself.
And so home. the engine dies finally turning into my brothers street and I coast downhill and into his yard. He appears at the door presently - "I heard you turn into the road then nothing, but christ it sounded rough - have you killed my bike?"
London May 09
Fuengirola May 09, 1600 miles apart or is it a world apart?
Postscript - The engine problem was nothing more than closed up valves on what turned out to be an unleaded head. After a good service that turned into a top end overhaul 'The Duchess' is back pounding the streets of London. I'm back at home some months later with a new house and a beautiful baby daughter. One day I'd like to do the trip all over again.
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