Vincent, BMW and Moto Guzzi Motorbike Trip to France June 2007
1, May 2007 If not Now? Then when?
"Yeah, fine. We're staying at the Moulin as usual, you may end up sleeping on the floor, but I think you'll enjoy the trip"
So says my brother on the phone. We'd talked before about me joining him and his motorbiking friends on their annual early summer trip to the South of France. It always sounded like great fun, especially as there was always one and some times as many as four iconic Vincents involved in the trip. This year I give it more thought than usual and finally say to myself "If not now, then when?"
One slight hitch is that I must be back in a strict two weeks, I have to be back home and down in Dorset for the saturday night celebration of my in-laws fiftieth anniversary. Slight hitch number two is that I wouldn't be able to leave at the same time as the others. Nick would be setting out from London on the Friday and travelling to his friends place near Portsmouth. In the evening they would take the Portsmouth/Cherbourg ferry and the next day start the French leg of the trip, seeking out the quietest roads with the best scenery and taking maybe three days to get to the destination, - a lovely secluded watermill not far North of Montpelier.
I on the other hand could not realistically leave until the Saturday afternoon. My first trip by bike abroad will be on my own.
Never mind, I think, we'll soon see if I'm cut out for all this.
In the meantime there's suddenly plenty to organise and think about. The bike itself is decided - I will borrow my brothers old 1983 BMW R80ST. Very similar to the early R80GS this is a bike I have put some miles on with a couple of shorter trips already. A worthy and capable bike, enough power to get along, yet not too heavy and very stable and comfortable.
However other obvious questions arise, what will I need to take? what will the route be? what might go wrong?
Well I put off compiling the full list of essentials by first working out the route. I decide to take the Euro Tunnel from Folkestone as I'm easily bored by being on a boat. From there I aim to take trunk routes until I get fairly well south - Although I promise myself (and tell my brother) that I will not be rushing to meet up with them, I'm keen to get to the South fairly soon as that's where the weather (and to me the scenery) is. My brother is returning via the Autorail service from Avignon to Paris which promises a two and three quarter hour trip on the TGV, with the bikes coming up overnight on the SNCF milk train, to be collected the next morning.
So I manage to get myself booked onto the Autorail, the helpful clerk even taking pains to get me booked into a seat in the same carriage as my brother. I also book the Eurotunnel online with no problems.
One sunny early evening I sit down in the garden with the Michelin map of France and plot a route. To me it seems that if I'm to make reasonable time towards the South there's nothing for it but to tackle Paris head on. Having only ever once been round the infamous 'Periphique' (their equivalent to our London North/South Circular) I'm the most nervous about this section of the trip - with one slip I could envisage hours of thrashing around lost in Paris, - I don't much relish city riding so this is not an appealing thought. I resolve to get some detailed route plans off the 'net.
So now to compile the list of what to take. Total luggage capacity is to be limited to the optional BMW hard luggage panniers and a tank bag. My brother does not think carrying stuff in any kind of knap sack on the back is a good idea, and I want to avoid stuff strapped onto the rear of the seat or the luggage rack.
Ok then - Passport, bike documents, various tickets. What else - Helmet, boots, jacket, gloves and leather riding trousers. A few T-shirts, trunks, some jeans, flip flops and a pair of shoes should take care of the remaining sartorial necessities. What further bike related items? Well how about the Haynes manual, the necessary maps, a stout chain and padlock. A needle and thread to sow the already splitting leather trousers. I also thought in a macabre moment that they might also possibly be pressed into service in some kind of DIY surgery scenario. A spider bungee. At my brothers suggestion some earplugs to dull the hours of windnoise that are sure to penetrate the helmet. Tools limited to enough spanners to get the wheels off and the plugs out, a leatherman and some zip ties. A spare tube and spare bulbs are also added, but no sign of a footpump. I've since heard it said that a tube of araldite is always a handy item to add and it makes sense, so next time I will. With space at a premium I wash out and collapse a used 2 pint plastic milk bottle. Hopefully this space saving item could if need be used for petrol, water, oil or whatever precious liquid is currently in short supply.
That should do I think, but after further conversation with brother I rustle out and add lightweight nylon waterproof jacket and trousers, and dubiously add my cam-corder and associated peripherals to the burgeoning luggage.
One weekend not far in advance of the departure date I go down to London to visit brother, check over the bike and just mull over the trip in general. We spend a few hours working on the beemer. Twenty three years old and looking weatherbeaten, Nick rescued it as a neglected project and brought it round into a usable everyday machine, but without any cosmetic improvements at all. It looks like it has lived each of it's 70,000 plus miles. The speedo needle is a matchstick, - literally, since that's what was glued on when the original pointer broke off. The left side panelling that doubles as an exhaust guard is held on by only two of its original grommets. No problem declares Nick. You just have to push it on every now and again. One of the panniers has a broken catch. - No problem - Nick finds a ratchet strap to wrap round and secure. The brake master cylinder lid is missing a screw. 'Stripped thread' says Nick. I top it up and replace the cover. A trace of fluid weeps out. Oh well. Anyway the machine basically runs and functions ok and I am grateful to him for lending it to me. Oh and the tires are nearly worn to the limit. I shan't be pushing on anyway. I make an extra mental note not to.
We also take some time to look over Nicks bike. A 1950 Vincent Black Shadow which he bought a couple of years back. The previous owner was an old boy who owned it for many many years and used it all the while. The beauty of its 'oily rag' condition is that it is not too clean to use. Since buying the bike Nick has done an awful lot of fettling to get the bike into a reliable state. Two modern day updates that have proved worthwhile are the fitment of a modern BTH magneto that uses twist-and-scream scooter technology and a more modern regulator, but a lot of other work has gone into getting everything up tight, curing myriad oil leaks and getting the oil consumption into manageable proportions.
On this particular weekend we spent an hour or two getting the fuel levels just right in each of the carbs (these are replacement amal concentrics) and balanced them up. It turned out that this finally cured a rich condition in low speed running. Given that the bike did the exact same trip the previous year we were hopeful that it would make it this year too.
2. 9th June 2007 The trip begins
Eventually the great day comes. It is not until the afternoon on the Saturday that I am able to get away from my house but Victoria makes sure I do so with a large foil wrapped selection of sandwiches and so it is around four O'clock before I roll up to Nick's place. I let myself in and set about getting the show on the road. Packing is a pain. I try to be logical about it - the documents go in the tank bag, and the camcorder. However the waterproofs for some reason end up in the ratchet strap pannier and after a while logic and patience desert me and I stuff the remaining items in any old how.
Finally I'm packed and loaded and it's time for the off. I check and double check, racking my brains for anything I may have missed, but eventually there is nothing left but to go.
Out into the traffic and the long and patient trundle through Saturday afternoon traffic in London, down the eastway and listening to the exhaust burble through the Blackwall Tunnel. Out the other side and mentally wave goodbye to Father Thames and the Millenium Dome for a while. Now it's just a steady cruise, gathering speed for the M25 and checking and checking again that everything seems ok.
As London is left behind and I begin to trundle through Kent I relax a little, but not much, I'm concentrating hard on not messing up so soon into what for me is an adventure.
I like the Eurotunnel and it seems to like bikes. Formalities are minimal and the clever ticket machine needs only your credit card inserting to find your booking. If there is time and space it will offer you the option of an earlier train. After a quick cuppa and a pee it's time to queue up, again motorbikes are favoured by being first to load. Before long I'm down the ramp and into the front of a carriage.
One other bike is in front, a mile stained Ducati twin and with it a tall red eyed German who bears more than a passing resemblance to Rutger Hauer. He tells me he is returning to Stuttgart after an eventful trip to the Isle of Man for the TT races. 'Ya there was one guy killed. Too bad' I offer him one of Victoria's sandwiches. He declines, but we naturally fall into a bike conversation which lasts most of the trip. He has not seen an ST before, 'ach monolever' but tells me of his Ducati, - he has done over 300,000km on it and overhauled the engine twice, 'But only rings, never pistons'.
Soon enough we arrive and the train sneezes us out into the milky evening. Rutger stops to sort stuff out but I head on. Soon enough I peel off for petrol but see the German catching me and wave as I turn off. He returns it with a tired salute. Refuelled, I inexplicably go wrong and start heading off to Dunkerke. I am blessed with a good sense of direction usually, but anyway the remains of the suns rays soon alert me from the left that all is not well. Thus it is that the relish of what I am doing escapes me still.
Now it is necessary to get a move on. The matchstick speedo pointer bounces all around the dial so I have no accurate idea of how fast I am going. I have a room pre-booked at the Formule One in Abbeville but I don't trust any budget hotel chain to keep my room if I arrive too late. The rev-counter is steady enough, so I decide that 800 rpm equals 10 miles per hour and torture myself mentally, dividing with the 8 times table. I conclude that 6000 rpm must be 75 m.p.h. So I stick more or less at that. Everything seems alright, the motors running cleanly, - for now there's nothing to do but get some miles under my belt, so that's what happens.
A couple of hours later and dusk has more or less turned to night but it's Ok I'm at Abbeville. The place is quite easily found and checking in is straight forward - of course they have my room reserved! It's now past 10p.m. So I'm straight out to look for food, but the place round the corner is closing, there's no denying this is late to find a meal in France and I can't face getting on the bike to search around town. So I sit out front of the reception area at some steel tables and eat the remains of Victoria's sandwiches with a cup of vending machine coffee. One thing soon hits me, everyone greets you, - each person that passes me as I sit there munching and slurping says 'Bon soir', which of course I repeat back to them. This pleasntry combines with the food, coffee and a hint of summer warmth in the air which is still missing back home. Only now do I think to myself, 'This is OK, boy'
The Formule One accomodation is astoundingly spartan, but practical in a meccano sort of way and almost stylish. Despite the clankiness of the general surroundings I go off to sleep like a baby.
3. 10th June 2007 Heading South
Next morning I am up with the lark and so is everyone else. I now see that the metal tables outside reception are for getting people close enough to be able to spill their self service breakfast over each other and make it look like an accident. No sooner have I squeezed onto a table with several others than I am springing up again and sprinting over to the bike - Damn! I have left the sidelights on all night!. I rush back to my room, retrieve the keys and back to the bike, switching it off from the useless 'accessory' position that enables you to withdraw the keys with the light on. Dejected I trudge back to my breakfast, pondering deeply as to my chances of the machine starting on the button, and if not, how easy it may or may not be to bump start. How on earth did I not notice that last night as I sat there congratulating myself so prematurely!
So after munching through a doom laden breakfast I return to my meccano room and gather my things. Back to the bike I unchain it, and load it before before trying the starter, not strictly the most sensible order of events, but delaying the inevitable. Then it's time to try the starter and to my amazement the starter slugs it over just enough to catch and run. Bingo!
Feeling instantly better I don helmet and gloves and set off into town to find fuel. I have gone no further than 200 yards when I trickle through to the front of a line of traffic, waiting here for the lights next to me is a gendarme on a more modern Beemer. He starts jabbering and I see that he is not happy about something. It transpires that he is unhappy that my lights are not on! I smile wanly and thank him, turning them on, but I can't help thinking 'They were on all last night, where were you then?"
With no further mishap I secure fuel and take a moment to adjust a few things for comfort including the suggested earplugs. Now it is time to head of to Paris and whatever that may bring.
The weather stays overcast all the way to Paris. As I draw closer I pay the map more and more attention. Somehow the most northerly approach manages to turn into a very nondescript road trickling through the suburb of St. Denis and somewhere in that time I manage to miss the turning for the periphique. With only a modicum of cursing I manage eventually to turn back on myself and eventually get onto this famed inner orbital road.
All is well but not for long, after a few miles the bike starts to splutter. Surely not out of fuel already? I switch to reserve but the bike continues to splutter and soon I am down to about 30 mph and being swept aside by lorries. Finding a place to pull over is impossible. Just as I thinking I am finished the motor starts to clear and pull cleanly, so mysteriously I am back in the game. At the next opportunity I pull off onto a minor road and go in search of fuel. The signposts are referring to St. Maur. With some help from pedestrians ( having forgotten the colloquial for fuel I resort to pointing to the tank and saying "si vous plait?") I find a station. Yes, it seems I was low on fuel, after no more than 100 miles. After a fill the next major challenge turns out to be the simple act of getting back on the periphique. Finding the slip road I had come off was easy enough but it has no corresponding slip to get back on. I find myself pootling around in ever increasing circles and I suppose you could say I see some very nice residential areas, but really it wasn't how I had planned to spend the day. Eventually I hit on a plan, - I would get on the nearest trunk road heading out of town and when that road had a major intersection, turn round. Then returning into Paris there would surely be a choice of joining the periphique in either direction. Well the plan works, more or less - heading out of town on, if I recall correctly the A4, the plan to turn round is acheived only by a tortuous route round one way systems and navigating by the sun. At last however I find myself heading into Paris and with a choice of Periphique clockwise or anticlockwise and able to select the one I want, heading clockwise and south.
So it's with relief that I reach my turnoff for the A6 and start to move decisively South away from the confusion of Paris. The weather is brightening now and warm enough for butterflies to be fluttering around, - I finally begin to relax and enjoy the ride, cruising at a steady speed. From time to time other bikes pass me, usually modern sports bikes. One thing I have been noticing since before Paris is how many of them seemed to have uncomfortable riding positions, - many times as they passed me they would lift their right leg off the peg and stretch it a bit, maybe give the foot a little waggle. Well, finally it clicks. Before I had been concentrating on getting into and around Paris, but now without that weighing on my mind I realise this is a bikers salute, continental style. Why had I never noticed this at home I pondered? Of course, - passing someone on the right you can raise your left hand. When passing on the left you would need to use your throttle hand so in a moment you wouldn't be passing at all. Hence the right foot salute!
Somewhere around Nemours I stop for a breather. The sun is out and I realise the weather is really quite warm now. Checking on the map I realise that the leg from Abbeville to Paris had been around 100 miles. I also begin to realise that my speed calculations were a bit wrong and that frankly the bike was using quite a lot of fuel. Add the circular route of the Periphique and a few wrong turns and it becomes plain that I had been stupid not to fill up before diving into the asphalt maze of one of the worlds great cities.
Turning on the mobile phone, up pops a message from brother Nick. "Heading past Limoges, do you want us to book a room when we stop?". I check Limoges on the map, it doesn't seem too far to achieve in a whole afternoons riding, and if I don't do that then I will have to start looking for somewhere myself in a couple of hours. So I text back saying 'Yep, go for it, probably only a couple of hours behind you'. This turns out to be an optimistic estimate.
On I trundle, the traffic light and the weather good. I seem to be making good time and am still wondering about my speedo. One of the great things about going from a country that measures distance in miles to one that uses kilometres is how soon you get to places. All an illusion of course but those signposted distances seem to fall so quickly!.
Rolling into Nevers I realise that it's again time for a fill, and also that the famous Magny Cours circuit is nearby. Now comes the task of finding fuel on a Sunday in rural France. I eventually find the place that the signs were pointing to, but it's an unmanned supermarket forecourt and people are using the dreaded 'Carte Bleu'. These are a kind of Debit card used to obtain self service fuel, but are reputedly almost impossible to get hold of unless you are a French citizen. I park up and check around, just to see if there's any way to pay with cash, no luck. A youngish rider on a trail bike pulls in so I approach him to ask his advice, but he's unimpressed with my halting French and after a gallic shrug decides to ignore me. I slink back towards my bike, but as I do so about half a dozen more riders pull in and stop close to my bike. These turn out to be more accomodating and better still one of them speaks some English. She's riding a sportsbike with a humungous engine and it turns out she's French Canadian;
'We are here to ride around the circuit, Tomorrow' , 'How about you?'
'Oh I'm going south, to meet up with friends and have a holiday'
'On your own?'
'You must be brave!'
What I feel like is a novice, liable at anytime to do something daft that scuppers the entire trip, so this leaves me momentarily dumbfounded, however my instincts are acclimatising even if my speaking skills aren't - by reflex I reply, with a Gallic Shrug.
She soon understands the fuel issue and gets one of her friends to fill my bike up on his Carte Bleu. It takes something like 13 euro's worth. I proffer a ten and a five. He takes the ten and refuses the five. 'Too much!' He smiles. I am warmed right through by this simple act of generosity.
The nearside panel which had been so loose when I set off, has sunk lower and is now melted and stuck on the exhaust. I set to work peeling it off and pinning it to the rack with my spider bungee. The bikers form up (the Canadian girls' has a dud battery and needed to be bumped) and set off with a rumble, they return my grateful wave. Meanwhile I pondered on the girls comment, - how strange the gulf between how I was feeling and what she thought. I resolved to learn the lesson.
Now comes another text from Nick. "Hotel Ibis, Egletons. Between Clermont and Tulle, you are booked in". I reply "Great, Should be with you in a couple of hours". Time to rack up some more miles. No problem, the weathers great, the roads are clear and the tank is full. Off I go. More tuned into rhythm of the unfurling miles, I'm enjoying the scenery and the camaraderie of the bikers I see. Even though I'm travelling on the Peage I notice it is the rule rather than the exception for bikers to acknowledge you, even from the opposite carriage way in the form of the more familar raised left hand.
Passing Moulins I do a side shuffle onto the N9 and am now done with Peage for the day. It's a pleasure to be on a classic French highway - mostly straight and lined with beautiful Plane trees. I've since become aware that there is a movement in France to massacre these roadside beauties, it seems that bereaved families are blaming the trees for road fatalities rather than accepting that bad driving on someone's part is usually the reason people smack into them.
Anyway it's getting into late afternoon and early evening now and there is no warmth left in the day. Now what's up ahead, my goodness a Petrol Station, and goodness it's open, an old country style place, out of town, just a couple of sheds, bungalow and fuel pumps. The attendant is a shy young girl, you can see she wants to ask where I'm headed, but I don't want to seem presumptious. I pay, a smile and I'm off.
Unnoticed I've been going marginally uphill for a while now. I'm moving into the area that they call the Massif Central, and with it comes a gathering of clouds. Before long it's looking ominous and sure enough as I'm heading for Gannat down comes a cloudburst.
Ever the amateur my failure to respond is, in many ways stunning. I have noticed the darkening clouds, noted that they are directly in my path. My waterproofs are in the pannier that has a defective clasp and is hence ratcheted tightly with a nylon tie-down. What have I done? Nothing at all, except to ride right under the thunderstorm. It bursts ferociously over my head, thunder, lightening, stairrods for raindrops. I pull over in the village of Vernet and try to shelter under a spreading plane tree. No use. I potter around looking for a farmyard with the archetypal straw floored barn in which to shelter. Nothing doing - all the yards are gated shut.
I end up in the last, but classic resort of the fugitive, a church. The bike and I are on the verge of drowning and with little remorse I ride straight into the very porch of the Church.
The intensity of the downpour is impressive, and so is it's duration. It's fully half and hour before it scales down a bit, and a little more until I decide I'd better get on with it. No point in donning the waterproofs now, I venture out and immediately it hammers down again, with added lightning. This time I find a modern bus shelter and again drive into it and just sit there on the bike with the engine running in the hope that it will keep the electrics dry. No point in putting the waterproofs on now, but I do find the last half of a sandwich and sit and eat that whilst pondering whether I will ever make it to Egletons. I text my brother with news of my non-progress and add as before 'Estimate 2 Hours'.
Finally the rain abates and there's nothing for it, I have to go. The next few miles into Clermont are, for want of a better description, squelchy, in foot, glove and groin.
And so, I rumble into Clermont, the motor has shaken off it's dampness and slight misfire. With just a few stops to check the map on the tank bag I navigate into and out of the town, climbing the steep switchback road out of the South West of the town that is the N89.
This part of the ride is through glorious riding country. High, fast, smooth curved ridgeways with jaw dropping views on one side or the other. But at this moment I am tired, hungry and soaking and I'd like to see that Hotel very soon. I'm not too much of a novice to know that these are precisely the occasions when concentration can wander and mistakes are made. So I decide to focus fully on the job at hand and put some miles on. I wonder what kind of spectacle I would have been as I carved grimly through those high wooded miles, squelching through the darkening valleys and dripping by small deserted hamlets. Not a single soul was around to see my passing, so we'll never know.
At last, at last. I see the sign for Egletons. Before I know it here is a clearing and a Hotel. It is of course the very Hotel I seek. I stop. I see no bikes in the car park and in my numbed state I can't beleive this can be the right one. I rejoin and head into Egletons proper and realise that it must have been the right one. I return and park. Peeling off the bike I realise that I am shivering uncontrollably, peeling off the gloves I realise my hands are now dyed black. The girl at reception confirms I am at the right place and hands me a key, - bathtub here I come! I find the room, throw my stuff down and the window open. I hear the unmistakeable plap-plap of a Vincent approaching. I hear another twin as well. My Brother and Max were obviously returning.
Some short while afterwards we are relaxing in the dining area. Nick and Max have been into town for some proper food. Over some rather less appetising Hotel Ibis microwave lasagne I relate my sorry tale and Nick says 'Well you've earned your stripes today' Max his friend appears non-plussed. We catch up on their journey which has been thankfully pleasant - two days easy cruising and then I'm off for a bath and bed, having draped all my damp clothes over heaters. I sleep the sleep of the dead.
4. 11th June 2007 The last leg south
The next day dawns bright, but only in my dreams. But it's not so bad out there at 7.00 am, the cars are making that swishing sound of wet tarmac, but it looks like the drizzle should clear up before morning is out. I check to see what condition my condition is in. One thought towards the end of yesterdays marathon was - how will I face more of the same tomorrow? But the truth of it was that I didn't feel so bad as I expected, - tired yes, a bit fatigued yes, but that was all, no pneumonia and amazingly no aches anywhere. Nick is of course on the 1950 Black Shadow which he reports has performed faultlessly so far. Max is on an 1988 Moto Guzzi Mille GT which he brought from Nick a few years back, another bike ideally suited to a continental tour.
So off we go, a different vibe this - group riding. I've done it before but it takes a certain patience and is best done with people you know well. Also the style differs to yesterday, Nick and Max are into seeking out the road less travelled, traversing the country by small quiet roads, rather than the trunk road stuff off yesterday. But the countryside is pretty good and the weather improving. At first I'm struggling to get into it, but gradually it comes and things look up when we drop into the beautiful Gorges de la Dordogne and cross the river at the dam of Aigle. After a stop in the village Max hops on his back and dissapears over the other side into a hole in the roadside. The bike goes over with him. We rush to help him up and the news is not so bad. Max is ok and the bike has only a broken spark plug cover and a rather bent front brake lever. I thank Max for making me feel welcome by taking the first fall. Moving on we soon arrive in Mauriac and then it is a faster, swooping ride to Aurillac.
On we push, southward. Lunchtime, like so many other parts of the daily routine is rigidly observed in rural France. Simply put, if you're not in a seat and ready to eat by one o'clock then forget it. Past two O'clock you could starve until teatime rather than get a bite to eat. So one bonus of group riding appears - the benefit of their experience in these customs, and the ability to fill our own table with repartee at this pretty little village called Montsalvy where we have stopped. Another bonus is their superior French, - mine is rusted back from schoolboy to infant standard.
The lunchtime fare tends to be a fixed price menu, with perhaps two choices for each course. More or less guaranteed to be excellent eating and we are paying something around 10 Euros a head including wine. Looking out the window I notice Nick's Vincent drawing close attention from the occasional passers by.
Lunch dispensed with, we refuel and press on. Now one of the highlights of the route. We come into the famed Gorges du Lot, a truly beautiful mix of a broad lazy river winding from one picture book village to the next, through steep wooded slopes. We snake our way around and along, the sounds of the engines combining in a mellifluous drone like that of an old Lancaster. This all has to end at Espalion where the river continues due East, and we spur off southeast towards Laissac. After Laissac it is deemed necessary to do some more D-road bashing so we turn off on a shortcut to Millau via Severac L'eglise. This turns out to be pleasant enough, but very twisty and with gravel on the corners. After a fair bit of this we stop for a breather, and with the effects of lunch and warm sunshine it soon turns into an impromptu nap. I have a photo of Nick and Max crashed out on the verge asleep and the bikes resting, sneakily taken after my own unsnapped nap.
Soon enough it is time to get on with it again. Refreshed we dispense with the D road and now it is a straight blast along the D911 to the outstanding Norman Foster designed 'Viaduc De Millac' the worlds tallest bridge in 2004 and quite an experience to cross.
Now we are on fast motorway. As arranged with Nick we calibrate his speed against my Rev Counter. He holds a steady 70 mph and indicates this, then moves up to 80 and indicates that. To cut short the calculations it turns out that I have been underestimating my speed quite awfully in the early stages. Instead of 800 rpm per 10 m.p.h the reality is a shade over 600 rpm. When doing 6000 rpm down to Abbeville I wasn't doing 75 but actually just under 100.
Another effect of the straight fast road is of course that we now give the bikes their head. For a while Nick and Max open up a lead in front of me. The road is arrow straight and downhill.
In my mirror a see a black BMW car far behind but gaining fast. I'm steady in the middle lane, and up front so are Nick and Max. As the car flies past me I see that it's on Polish plates with the driver looking pretty young for such a fast car and that Nick is about to move left into the fast lane with Max like glue on his rear. I see what *could* happen in an instant and it nearly does happen, just at the instant before committing his move Nick finally looks back and sees the car, which has to an extent anticipated his move and slowed somewhat. Nick tucks in and the car then moves past. For some reason I'm not too perturbed, but I wonder why - it had all the ingedients of a big incident and I can't understand why Nick feels so confident riding with no mirrors and no indicators.
Anyway the straight road is intoxicating and Max on his 900cc Moto Guzzi is soon off up the road. Meanwhile I catch and track behind Nick up to a tad over 100 mph which is nearly it for my R80ST. Nick refrains from caning his engine much more than this, a Vincent twin is not a cheap engine to break, but the sound of it working hard is audible over the windnoise and that offbeat, industrious but lazy plapping sound is a joy to the ears.
Soon Nick and I are throttling back and flowing steadily downhill through the sides of the hills surrounding Lodeve, and into the low coastal lands of the Herault. As Nick moves decisively around a couple of junctions it is clear to me that he must now be in familiar territory and sure enough we are soon bouncing up the kerb in a town square that will house our local bar for the next couple of weeks.
A welcome beer is soon furnished, - I do love the way they get all that intense condensation on the outside of the glasses, and it slips down just nicely. Max fails to appear so we reason that he must have gone straight to the Moulin. So after our beer we get up to go, stopping only to chat with a local guy who parks up next to us on a 1150GS and is fascinated by the Vincent.
So we potter out of town and within a couple of miles turn off down the dusty track between two fields of vines that leads after a mile or more to the beautiful Moulin, to be greeted by the owner Rob and his enigmatic assistant Roman. The big trip south ends here. So focussed on it have I become that only now do I allow that the prospect of some serious relaxation round the pool could become a reality.
Being a travel account I won't linger too much on the details of our stay, suffice to say that an excellent time was had by one and all and many old friends reunited, new friends made and enjoyed.
5, June 13th A foolish incident
Only one foolish incident has more than a superficial relation to the journey for me and that was how I managed to fall off a stationary trials bike and in doing so gather a second degree burn on my lower left leg;
In the garage are a couple of trials bikes that came with the house. On a previous stay Nick got one going and it was used on this trip to blat around the place. I couldn't resist having a look at the other one.
First problem was that the kickstarter was cracked through and would slip over the splines. I took it off. Second the carb was gummed up. So after cleaning the carb and fresh fuel I got it going by bump starting it. I ran poorly, wanting to stall all the time and also ran extremely hot. I guess it was in severe need of a decoke. Regardless I pottered around on it for a few minutes in the lower field. I must reveal that I was inappropriately dressed and had on only shorts and some walking boots. Standing on the tiny pegs and slowing to do a sharp right turn I fell off into the corner. In doing so I rested the back of my lower calf against the exhaust pipe and gathered a burn - the sort that goes straight through the first layer of skin and leaves the flesh waxy and clammy. As these silly spills go I just got back on and rode off, wondering how I had managed to come off like that and not even realising then that I had burnt the leg, thinking it was just a graze. After a few more minutes I parked the bike up and wandered indoors.
Later on in the evening I realised I had done a bit of damage. Max suggested some antiseptic cream which was in the bathroom so I applied that. Thinking about the fall I realised what had happened as it came back in slo-mo. I had slowed into the corner using both brakes. As I lifted my right foot off the back brake the welt of my boot had become trapped under the kickstart shaft, jamming the brake on and trapping my foot. I had then toppled right and dragged my left foot over the exhaust.
A friend of Max's, Sonja was round the next day and saw the injury;
"Did you wash it in cold water?"
"No, I didn't realise it was a burn at first, anyway isn't that rinsing just for the pain?"
"No, when you burn flesh, you fill it with heat. That then causes damage to the surrounding flesh that was nowhere near the original heat source. The rinsing in cold water draws out the heat"
So you live and learn, Luckily she knew how to dress it and gave me supplies to do that. I never bothered until the day before we departed. I now know I should have kept it dressed all the while (on larger size burns the formation of a scab is actually detrimental, best practice is to use an open gauze impregnated with medical quality petroleum jelly to cover the burn, which is then covered with a dressing that is shiny-sided to prevent sticking). I'm very grateful to her for the advice and dressings as this meant that I was at least properly 'dressed' for the ride home.
The funny thing is that the burn was no trouble the day after, but slowly went downhill over the course of the next few days. I have since learnt that it's the 7-14 day period that is the worst for any sizeable burn. Indeed fatal cases are often terminal in the second week rather than the first. I must add that my modest couple of square inches of burn were unlikely ever to be fatal, just a big nuisance.
6. 22nd June 2007 The Trip home
The night before leaving I dress my leg as suggested by Sonja so as to save time in the morning. Come the morning we have the usual difficulty in getting everything done in a reasonable time, but eventually we are away.
All we have to do was to get to Avignon and get booked into the train. So we take the scenic route via Vauvert and St Giles that go through coastal wetlands very similar to the nearby Carmargue. From there we headed up to Beaucaire/Tarascon where we stop for a drink and so to Avignon.
Again the curse of French urban signage (or lack of it) is upon us. The theory seems to be that the signs to anywhere are only sited on the best route to it. You can be half a mile from where you need to be, but if you're not coming from where the planners think you should then there will just not be any signs. We flounder for a whole hour trying to find the correct depot and think our frustrations are over for the day when we find it.
Far from it! I'm a little slow in getting off the bike and into the office, but by the time I enter it is to see my Brother pounding the counter and doing his nut. It transpires that the SNCF are on strike. We can get on the high speed TGV passenger train to Paris and be there in less than three hours as promised. However the people that run the milk train that brings the bikes are on strike and no one knows when the bikes will make the journey. It soon becomes clear there is no realistic way round this. I tell them to refund our money and add that this is a poor way to run a beautiful country.
We slouch out to a bench. It looks like we will be riding to Paris. For now all we can manage is to sit there and make a start on our packed lunches. On reflection I am not so unhappy. It turns out my leg is comfortable enough whilst on the bike and the concentration of riding blots out any pain. The problem comes whenever I have to walk. The burn is scabbing slightly and each time I start to walk the scabbing tears painfully. The truth is that I hadn't been looking forward to hobbling around paris in the evening to find a hotel, or in the morning to pick up the bikes. I just hoped that we would come up with a plan of somewhere to stay that night with the bike.
Eventually there is nothing more to do except get on with it. Is is a hot southern day. We rumble out of the useless train depot and into town to gain fuel and bottled water. I notice that the Beemer is beginning to idle a bit roughly, but it still seems ok on the move. Now it is once again time to put on some appreciable miles. As is so often the case this is characterised by a workmanlike type of riding. I offer to Max the chance to go off and do his thing as he has the fastest and most modern bike, but to his credit he agrees that we should stick together. Nick is firmly set that he will be maintaining a steady 80, no more, and that's fine by me. We strike out and travel sensibly but relentlessly.
The rest of the afternoon takes on a certain rhythm. Something over an hours riding until we've knocked up 100 or so miles and then pull into a service station. The drill here is that the lead bike fills up while we queue behind and then take the fuel hose in turn to fill our bikes. Every third time it is your turn to pay the bill. Meantime the others swig some water or maybe half a sandwich and then we're off again, smartly up to speed, merge into the traffic and then line astern into the middle lane, fast lane when necessary.
So this unexpected additional trip gets into a groove, knocking down miles with either me or Max riding shotgun and the Vincent up ahead. I have to say that this is the stage where my respect for that bike really blossoms. Of course anyone with a feel for bikes can appreciate what the marque represents - the undisputed pinnacle of the art, from the thirties through to the fifties. But that cerebral appreciation is nothing compared to the act of physically following in the wake of an original, fifty-seven-year time served example, eating up and spitting out 80 miles of French motorway, not for just one hour, but for each and every of many consecutive hours during a long hot afternoon in southern France and on into a long, cool evening in the relentless push Northwards to Paris and waiting friends. I wondered what bike is there, essentially pre-war designed, that could accomplish this long sustained flight without at some point beginning to show the strain? Here was the Vincent displayed truly in its element - a long distance tourer.
Somewhere along the road to Lyon lies the remains of a Lucas. rear light lens. How many miles it did on that bike we will never know. We know it wasn't on the bike as it was wheeled out of the Stevenage factory in 1950 as they were supplied with the Miller unit. I guess it was probably fitted in the 1960's. By the time Nick came into possession of the bike it was well past it's best, with cracks radiating out from the screw holes and another snaking three quarters of the way across its middle. When he first got the bike I noted it, and Nick noted it. Somehow it never rose to the top of the to-do list. Finally somewhere in the vastness of central France its time was up and it exploded, unseen, into useless fragments scattered down the road. The rest of the bike, made of sterner stuff, plowed on relentless.
We hit Lyon in late afternoon. Max knows the route and carves coolly through lanes of slow traffic. It is a fact that this is one of the best countries in the world to practice 'White Lining'. Most drivers will make room for you if they see you approaching in their mirrors, and if not then a gentle toot will prompt them to make space. There seems to be little if any envious obstruction of the two wheeler here. Regardless, my defensive attitude to riding dictates that I imagine that the worst is possible at any time. What if a wasp flies in Mrs Bouvets' window and down her blouse, causing her to shimmy uncontrollably and barge me sideways under the wheels of the truck next to her? Very unlikely perhaps, but then it only needs to happen once, and once that thought enters my mind, similar unlikely but frightful scenarios spring up to keep it company.
What I'm getting to is that I become conclusively last. To the point that the others have disappeared. Eventually I reel them back into sight, I find out later that this is because Nick sped through to catch Max and order him to cool it down and let me catch up. Again a downside to group riding. I'm never going to be a fast white liner. Not because I can't go faster, but because I have no wish to do so, and absolutely no desire to keep up with others with less respect for the fragility of life.
North of Lyon the traffic is thinning. That's not the only change. The heat of the day is gone. Or is it the heat of the South? For the first time in many days I notice a chill in the air as the road climbs over some hills. I have the very real sensation of the miles we have put behind us, underlining the end of the holiday and the prospect that it may well be cold and dark before we are near finished with this particular trip.
Another hundred miles and another stop. It seems that the darker it got the more my memory has faded. Certainly by the last stop before Paris it is dark and drizzling. We pull into a service station and it's plain that we are back in Industrial Northern Europe. No one smiling here, no one idling passing the time of day. I look at the people queing to pay - all with frowns on their faces, some impatient, some downcast. Max phones his friend Paddy in Paris with whom he plans to stay for the night. I can't help hearing him saying 'So what are you saying - We shouldn't leave the bikes outside tonight?'
Finishing his call, Max explains, - "Paddy says it's the annual festival of the 'Night of Music', he says that there are rumours that some elements are planning to subvert the celebrations into a protest against the new right-wing president, Sarkosy". Me and Nick don't comment. We are unsure where we are staying and too tired to draw conclusions. about what Max is saying. Nick phones Rob and Sophie in Paris and gets through - It's ok for me to stay with them. Good. Another call to another friend and Nick has a bed for the night elsewhere.
We set off, hopefully on the last leg. Most of the time all I can see of Nick is a dot of white light which is the rear light bulb sans lens. After a while I have a scare on the worn out tarmac. There are plenty of scars weaving along the road surface, often twenty or so feet long and maybe a couple of inches wide and deep. My rear wheel gets caught in a particularly bad one and gets dragged well out of line, nearly taking me off. Combined with the high mileage of the day, the darkness and my hurting leg I'm hitting a low point. As we trundle relentlessly into the heart of a darkened city I notice flashing blue lights on several overpasses and my fevered imagination starts to imagine the city rioting and in flames.
The others know the way though and eventually we shunt onto the Periphique, with it's attendant suicidal friday night traffic. Before long we are round to Bagnolet and pierce into the cities Eastern flank, into the 20th Arrondisement. It's midnight. The city is seething but not in flames. The festival is in full swing. Every where are drummers and the police are out blocking some routes in what appears to be ordinary crown control rather than anything more sinister. Max bids adieu at a junction and Nick takes me round to Rob and Sophie's. As we rumble down their cobbled street Sophie is coming the other way, drink in hand, and greets us. Rob comes out and we try to lay the bike up by the house but with the big pots on either side of the Beemer and the narrow pavement it is a non-starter. I take the bike 50 yards up to the top of the street and leave it there, past caring if it becomes the object of night time riots.
A cup of tea! A bath! A snack! A bed made up! After a long days ride covering 570 miles and eating motorway food you would kill for these things! I babble on for a while about our holiday and the trip home and then it's time to collapse into bed. I fall asleep with the sound of drums filtering through louvred shutters.
7. 23rd June 2007 Paris to London and home
The next day is dull and dreary and I wake up as the children are readied for school. I am told to go back to sleep. Later on I get up and eventually I have to hit the road - I am still on a schedule. The trip back to Calais proves relatively uneventful. This time I share a carriage with six excited spaniards from Cadiz who are heading to Derby for the MotoGP. They are loaded with chorizo and tapas which they share with me, while I explain to them in fractured Spanish the route options. Having just reawakened the French speaking corners of my brain it is a struggle to get to the Spanish part, but we communicate, - tengo el punto sobre el Thames a nombre 'Dartford Crossing'! and other horrific maulings of the spanish tongue. Just behind us are a couple of chaps from Lewisham, one on a recent Fazer and the other on a monstrous Yamaha based special. They've been to the Nurburgring and damn near killed themselves, but had fun doing it.
Back to British shores and British motorways and another milky sunset. Thirty miles up the road I hear the thunder of the Lewisham boys, they slow down, wave and then streak away. No sign of my spanish friends though. It's eight o'clock now, so they have their work cut out to get to their hotel in Derby tonight.
Round the M25 and back up the dear old A2 and cripes the motor's out of fuel again! I pull off in Bexley or Bexleyheath or whatever cheerless place and splash some more fuel in, as ever wincing when I have to put my foot down again. That does it though, enough to trundle back under the Blackwall tunnel, with a couple of low geared blips just to hear the sound bounce back and before long I'm back at Nicks. I peel myself off the bike and give it a sincere pat. - you did me well. 1800 miles and no bother at all. The tyres are definitely finished now. Meanwhile Nick and Max are sinking beers in Paris with their friend Paddy, who supplies Nick with a replacement lens for the rear light.
Well, that was the biking side of it done. I have a miserable trip up the permanent contraflow of the M1 and got back to my town at one in the morning. The next day Nick completes his last lap home form Paris to London, but not quite as smoothly as my experience, - his petrol tank springs a leak at the rear mountings, because the little eared spacer which dampens vibrations has worked lose and allowed the tank to resonate itself into fracture. So he has to limp home with no more than half a tank, and a petrol can in his luggage. To add insult to injury it pours down the whole way home.
While this is going on I'm down to Dorset for the In-Laws do. I could have done without it to be honest. On the Sunday I spent over an hour peeling off the three day old dressing, revealing a weeping mess underneath. There was a lot of swelling too by this stage. I finally got to see a nurse on the Monday and, bless her, after a course of antibiotics and two weeks of regular dressings I was back in business more or less, but not really good for any more biking for a while. Nine months later I am pleased to report just a dark discoloured patch that is permanent and a slight remaining tenderness.
Meanwhile on the bike front, Nick's Vincent continues in frequent use and is getting better all the time, it actually used only a litre or so of oil on the whole trip, which is extremely low for that engine. Meanwhile The ST has been rewarded with a lot of work in preparation for the MOT - two new tyres, a front fork rebuild, new headstock bearings, new front brake master cylinder and pads. The bad idle was fixed with a careful carb rebuild. The rear Hagon shock was found to be totally empty of oil. I'm curious to know how it rides after all that work. It didn't seem so bad before, but it obviously wasn't right! I heard the other day that it passed the test first time.
I totted up the fuel I used and it worked out around only a little bit over 40 m.p.g., since me and nick were filling up together for a large part of the trip it seems the Vincent was getting about the same. Max's Mille GT was using appreciably less, maybe getting 50 odd and was faster too. Good bikes them Guzzi's!
I thought a lot about my foolish accident and how paradoxical it seemed that I should have done so many safe road miles, yet had this silly accident in ten minutes fooling around. However I've since read 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycling' for the second time and finally understood it. One of the things that magnificent book revealed to me is exactly why I had that silly accident. But that is a story for another day.
Until such a time as I get the time to do a big trip again, a quick entry on this little beasty. It's a '38 B21 which I spent a year re-commisioning from a ton of pieces. I've been clocking up a few miles, and one weekend in May 08 set off on the longest trip yet, down to London to visit my brother, visiting the old stomping ground of High Beach, and go to the Vincent Black Shadow day at the Ace Cafe.
'Buster' as young Victoria has dubbed 'him' behaved in a very plucky manner, and although it was reassuring to be accompanied by my old mate Wynn on his custom Dr650, there was no need for him to tow me to the knackers yard. 90 miles of devious back road routes to the 'big smoke' were done without much drama at all, except for the rather poor front brake, and a 'quantity' of oil consumed in leaks from the top end.
However when we got to my brothers after a pleasant afternoon at High Beach, I investgated the dimming of the lights. It turned out the commutator of the dynamo had exploded, jamming it up and also burning out the friction drive. So I had to dismantle it and remove the drive gear. I also found one of the rear light filaments had blown.
Sunday was day off for Buster as we went to the Ace on other machines. The battery benefitted from a charge.
Monday I loaded up and just as I took it off the stand to hit the road the rear stand spring broke. This is why we love bungees.
Outside a lovely church, Furneaux Pelham, Essex
The ride back (once I'd stopped worrying about broken genny, oil consumption, broken stand and bad brakes) was again a pleasure, through lovely old villages, and amazingly in good weather. Here's a nice shot. The inscription on the church tower says, 'Time flies' and ' mind your business' which I took as a cue to look the bike over yet again before continuing.
Near Bedford I was weary, so stopped in the pretty Warden Woods for a breather
Eventually I got home, 90 back road miles and a couple of town centres in 3 hours, not too bad. Also something like 180 miles round trip and a few battle scars, not all on the bike, Rigid frames are for young men I'm afraid. But I guess it goes to show that these old bikes will take you anywhere so long as you're not in a hurry. Fuel consumption around the 75 mpg mark too! Oil consumption not far behind.
As promised, a few shots from the expedition to Suffolk to see my folks.
Apologies that this is not exactly RTW, but maybe doing a long ride in one country is an adventure if the bike is old enough?
This was on one of the last weekends in September when we finally got some clear weather.
I set off early on a saturday morning, a bit tired after a weeks work topped of by a Friday nite gig.
I had to zig zag around a lot so as to avoid main roads, as the tug was still running in and anyway is only really good for cruising up to about 50mph. This added a fair few miles and made it a good four hour journey.
I remember getting to one point somewhere after Offord Cluny where the road was bumpy in a particularly annoying jiggly way. No fun on a rigid frame. I pulled over into a layby, had a pee (all that jiggling) sat down an thought, cripes still another 80 miles to go. At that point I wasn't even sure if the bike was going to make it, or me.
Anyway after a while the road surface improved and things started to look up. Basically I did many miles at a relentless 45 mph, a good half throttle blare barrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!!
I stopped for Fuel near Soham. The indian cashier says "What is your bike?" "a BSA"
"Is it, what type?" - "B21"
IS it, what year?" - "'38"
Is it, you are coming from? "Northampton"
Is it, you are going to? "Suffolk"
Isssss it? "Yeah".
So many questions, but it seems he is genuinely curious, anyway a few miles after that I hit the Suffolk border and cheer mightily to myself. Going down the road from Mildenhall to Bury St Edmunds a couple of power rangers zip into my space between two cars, give a low pointy acknowledgement and are instantly disappearing on the horizon, it was like being buzzed by hummingbirds.
Here she is in Suffolk , not far from the destination.
Then before you know it I'm at my sisters hamlet, just as I approach her house I spy an old stroker, a James or something bumbling smokily down the road. I find it necessary to buzz him by blaring past at a good 45mph, thus overshooting her house, and then have to loop round to get back to hers. Such childish behaviour.
Later at the pub;
Anyway a couple of days later it was time to trundle back home. Amazing how much easier the trip was knowing it'd been done once before..
Trudging back across cambridgeshire fens;
Patience required plappa-thrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrum;
Nearing the end of Cambridgeshire and nearly into Bedfordshire
Near the end of the return trip I am held up in a spot of traffic in Rushden, funnily enough outside a tattoo parlour. Of course just as the traffic clears the bike stalls, and some mean looking tattoo'd bikers laugh and cheer as I kick her back into life.
So a bit of an adventure, just under 300 miles and a testament to a 70 year old bike. Top end rebuild now nicely run in and as far as I know still on the original bottom end.
The tortuous route gladdened my heart by reminding me that there's still a fair bit of unspoilt countryside left in old albion, and that the best way to enjoy it is slowly on an old british or dare I say english bike.
Iím lucky enough to have some friends resident down on the South Coast of Spain. Whilst the usual mode of travel these days is to fly there, for quite a while I had an ambition to take the overland option, preferably by motorbike.
Eventually I decided it was time to make it happen, so dates were set and arrangements made. My brother very kindly lent me his BMW R80ST, a faithful and most reliable bike that has previously got me down to the South of France and back without complaint.
Anyone who has done one of these trips will know the mixed feelings of excitement, anticipation and trepidation that precede the leaving day. I always try to channel this nervous energy into sound preparations, and so a flurry of planning and list making was followed by trips to WH Smiths for maps and guides and the friendly local outdoors shop White and Bishop for camping gear, stove and mess tins. Another excursion was to the local Hein Gericke dealer for a nice new one-piece rain suit and a thermal base layer garment.
Come the day I fetched up at my brothers place with rather too much to do, - oils needed changing in the engine, rear bevel drive and shaft drive assemblies. Fun was had with a stripped filler bolt on the shaft drive and it was noticed that the gearbox drain plug was only finger tight, - a close shave that one!
After covering all the bike related points we could imagine there followed the first fit up of luggage. In addition to tank bag and standard BMW hard panniers we strapped a rucksack carrying most of the camping gear onto the pillion seat and covered that with a waterproof cover. In the end it all worked out neat and secure, but it was a real struggle to actually mount the bike. Once seated it was a snug fit for me between tank bag in front and rucksack behind, - although it did make a comfy sort of backrest.
Far too late I get underway for the Channel Tunnel. Iím rather a fan of the Chunnel though, - reason number one is the ability to turn up later or earlier than planned and the automatic system usually just puts you on the next available train. Number two is the lack of paperwork Ė just put your credit card in the machine, it prints a ticket, you take it and off you go. Number three is bikers are usually put together on the train. So it is today Ė my four fellow bikers are from Belgium and have been on an expedition to the New Forest. They have been lucky Ė the weather held Ė and have thoroughly enjoyed themselves. My old Beemer looks shabby next to itís neighbour Ė a Transalp, and I can hardly bear to look at the spanking new R1200GS next door.
Getting in a bit of French practice with the lads, the time flies and we are soon about to disembark, only now do I notice the train is practically empty, us and maybe ten cars, thatís all.
Checking that all is zipped up I head off out the train and wave the boys goodbye, heading off in the direction of the grand A26 motorway, arterial mainline to Arras, St Quentin, Reims and more.
Itís always nice to get on French roads. Itís not just a holiday kind of feeling, although that plays a part, itís also the relative lack of traffic and the usually superb road surfaces. So it proves this evening and so I start to chew up the miles to my evening destination Ė a small B and B somewhere between Amiens and Bapaume.
A quick word now about Michelin maps. I had an old one that seemed to cover most of France. Imagine my joy when on the shelves at Smiths I see it split into two maps Ė one of the North of France and one of the South. ĎExtra detail!í I think to myself and buy with glee. Later on at home I find they are the same scale but only single side prints. What a con. I did pack my ten year old ring bound large scale Michelin and this proves to be a life saver. Without it I would have struggled to find any of the accommodation I use over the next three nights in France.
I guess some would say GPS is the way to go, but I guess Iím just a luddite. Maybe I would use it in a large desert or serious offroad situation, in such a scenario it might prove a lifesaver, but in France? Give over.
Anyway a fuel stop is in order. All simple enough but I struggle to get my leg over, so to speak and nearly drop the bike. This is going to take some getting used to.
As is so often the case, by the time Iím near to my destination for the night the light is beginning to fade and Iím reacquainting myself with the reality of navigating by too large a scale map. I end up getting out the ring bound Michelin and naughtily I sandwich it between body and tank bag, its pages flapping in the wind, and occasionally sneak rather long peeks at it as I trundle the lanes amongst this rather bleak, featureless and somewhat misty landscape.
Eventually I arrive at a rather rustic clap boarded wooden framed building and park up the bike. Iíve got the right place allright, but too late for dinner. There is a large open barn where Iím welcome to park the bike, as rain is expected. Good Ė minimal unpacking of the bike!
Itís a weird scene indoors. The landlady Avril and her two guests Dave and John are at the dinner table discussing in excruciating detail the relative merits of the British, French and German hand grenade. You see Iíve literally stumbled into the trenches. The property stand on the actual location of the British frontline during the battle of the Somme. Behind is the British stronghold of Achonvillers and in front the German fortifications that centred on Beaumont Hamel.
Two hours later Iím an expert in WWI hostilities too. Or so it feels. Whilst Avril has supplied me with beans on toast, wine, cheese and crackers the talk has been of little else and itís all pretty enthralling and at times depressing and moving too.
To give just one example the details and extent of underground, mine warfare is all completely new to me;
During the conversation Dave says to me, ďOf course you know about Hawthorn Ridge donít you?Ē. Iím told of the ridge just opposite where the germans were dug in. At the start of the Somme hostilities British miners tunnelled for more than 200 metres, placed 20 tons of Ammonal (similar to TNT) under their enemies and blew them sky high. Not all of them though, - the Brits then rushed forward to attack, only to be decimated by withering fire from two perfectly operational machine gun positions.
The utter inhumanity and utter futility of it all becomes all too apparent after a while. We agree that mankind should really learn some lessons from this. What are the chances though?
Another thought is personal. I sit here getting on famously with three people Iíve never met, Iíve learnt a whole load of stuff that I would never have otherwise paid any attention to. This is just another great aspect of going out to meet the world and the best way of learning I can think of Ė just get out there and see whatís about Ė and maybe history will be brought alive in front of your eyes.
Another thought was more personal still. My maternal grandfather nearly lost his life on the Somme, he laid on the battlefield for three days close to death with shrapnel embedded in his skull. Had he not been rescued by the Red Cross I would not be here today. 93 years ago he could have been lying out there in what is now the farmyard.
Anyway itís time for bed. Iím told not to worry about the ghosts of the twelve british gunners as they usually only appear to women, not men. No problem, after a long day Iím out like a light.
As I arise the mist that fell last night is still clinging to the landscape, and after last nights dinner talk I find it a touch sinister, as if shamefully cloaking what happened here.
Down at breakfast the gang are as chipper as ever and over breakfast a miscellany of fossilised remains are paraded in front of me Ė an ossified chunk of iron that upon inspection turns out to be the remains of a bolt action Lee Enfield, bayonets are bared, luckily only for comparison purposes and Iím told of the local farmer who lives directly above an unexploded mine that is every bit as large as the Hawthorn Ridge one, and remains intact because the action moved away from the spot before it could be detonated.
Iím also told of various other farmers who have mangled or killed themselves in various ordnance related blunders, - unscrewing detonators fag-in-mouth and so on.
This brooding corner of North East France is crawling with amateur historians, treasure hunters and the plain barmy, all united by their fascination with the First World War, but divided by motive. Metal detectors have, I learn, long been banned.
So now time to move. After Dave has kindly pointed out a couple of spots including the infamous crater I load up and confidently hop aboard. Will she start? No she wonít.
Worried about flattening the battery I elect to unpack almost everything and extract my tools from under the seat. Whipping out a plug reveals a dry , sparking plug. I realise that Iíve been doing it wrong. More used to old brit bikes which need flooding I remember that the enrichment device on the Beemer requires full choke and no twisting of the throttle. This does the trick after a bit more churning so I warm her up a bit before reloading, but now Iím off.
A mile or two down the road I come across a British WW1 cemetery, atmospheric amongst the bleak misty fields, so with last nights conversations in mind I stop, pay my respects and take some snaps.
Since then I've found that it goes by the very unceremonious name of "Serre Road Cemetery No1". It holds 2426 soldiers of which a shocking 1727 are unknown soldiers. It is one of literally hundreds of such cemeteries in that part of the country.
Now I retrace my steps and stop at Bapaume to refuel. A word about biking in France in Sunday Ė FUEL! Although stations on the motorway (Peage) are open on a Sunday you will be lucky to find an open station in the countryside, especially in the afternoon. Thus I will be employing ĎDestroyer Tacticsí, - top up at every possible chance.
Soon Iím on the Peage heading for Paris, after a steady hour or two Iím on the outskirts, and aiming to pierce the periphique on the eastern side around Pte de Bagnolet. Of course I forget that to avoid being dumped round to the North side and the horrors of St Denis I need to branch off just after Charles De Gaulle and follow sign for Bordeaux. This means a bit of farting around and an unscheduled visit to the delights of the airport as I attempt to loop round and go again. Eventually I succeed.
The next several hours are spent bashing the Peage. True to the old adage the weather turns brighter once south of the Loire. All the way I am deploying destroyer tactics, in act to excess Ė several fill ups were less than 60 miles apart. It all pays off in the end though as when I finally dispense with Peage past Chateauroux I will find I have enough to get to my destination.
The days end will be at a lovely little B&B the Moulin Fargin in a typically beautiful hamlet called Pressac, somewhere between Poitier and Limoges. From Chateauroux
to Pressac I get back to the glorious riding I associate with southern france Ė empty roads, great for riding and lovely scenery. When a town or hamlet appears they are mostly attractive, so slowing for them is no chore. The sun is shining and Iím loving it.
Arriving at the B&B my hosts allow me to park the bike up in the garage/barn so again I have a minimum of unpacking to do.
After a lovely casserole and some chat over a bottle of wine Iím off to bed and again out like a light, in one of the more peaceful corners of the world.
The plan for today is to trundle carefree in a generally southwards fashion and end up somewhere in the foothills of the Pyrenees.
I enjoy a leisurely breakfast and chat with my hosts the Bardwells, and then saddle up and go. The first part of the day is fantastic, lovely open roads, beautiful villages and great riding. I work my way down to Brantome, scene of previous happy holidays and stop there for a bite to eat.
In the afternoon I continue ever south , passing by Perigeux, Bergerac and Agen. As time goes by I realise that now Iím not using the Peage anymore the miles are coming more slowly, in fact much more slowly. Intermittent raindrops are turning to drizzle, so having learnt from past mistakes I stop and deploy the one piece rain suit..Before I'm soaked, not after.
I realise that Iím not going to make the mountainous areas and finally in Auch I pull over and get out my Bed and Breakfast guide. Things turn out a bit more difficult as people are not answering phones, or are not open, or have no free rooms. I finally reach a lady who has a vacancy, but I canít locate the place on my map, and speaking only French there is no way I can fully follow her directions. At this point my phone does itís occasional trick of going from nearly full charge to flat. So Iím stuck.
After a spot of cursing, or actually a shower of cursing, I pull out my trusty ring-bound Michelin 1:200,000 map. Voila it shows the hamlet of Mazeres and so after an hour of more of trundling down muddy soaking lanes and stopping at farmhouses to ask directions I finally find the place just as it gets fully dark for the night.
Mme Bertheau is 84 years old, sprightly and lives in a beautiful old Moulin that she bought with her husband in 1962 as a wreck and restored.
She speaks no English, but over a hastily put together meal I murder the French language but we have a great conversation! Iím grateful to her for putting me up at zero notice on a cold, wet night.
The morning dawns cold and damp. So itís on with the rain suit again. It takes me a while to get back to main roads, due in no small part to the fact I donít really know where I am. Finally Iím oriented and heading ever south. Iíve elected to use the Aragnouet/Bielsa tunnel. I think itís the second highest pass into Spain. Please donít go on to me about passes such as the Tourmalet, - theyíre higher but they donít go to Spain, they stay within France.
But first I have to suffer murder attempt one of the trip. Heading at a reasonable speed up a clear straight road a young chap in a post van is compelled to overtake me and strains past at full throttle. His rear bumper has just passed my front wheel when he simultaneously slams on the brakes and indicating right veers across me. Yes heís turning right down that side road that weíre almost upon. I manage to haul on the anchors and avoid the inevitable, just. On a trip like this you have to reckon on a few mad moments, so I just have to reflect that this was one of them and I survived it. On we go..
Once past Lannemezan the road starts to rise and snake and the villages and surroundings start to take on an alpine feel. In the damp and mist they are brooding and atmospheric. I stop at Arreau to picture the general feel and the meltwater swelling the river, even this early in the year.
Before long the last French village is left behind and now the hairpins are getting tighter Ė soon Iím down to first gear at each corner and the angle of the bends are matched by the vertical radius. Itís testing stuff to go round one whilst a Spanish lorry is bearing down upon you from above. Fortunately this only happens once as the road is practically deserted.
Higher and higher and now Iím into a full snowscape, luckily it is meltwater coursing down the road towards me, much preferable to it being covered in ice, though Iím surprised itís not, - for it is definitely chilly and my fingers are feeling it. Rather than stop and put on extra layers I press on hoping that Iíll be over the other side before I freeze solid.
Iím up at 1800 odd metres (Ben Nevis is 1344) before I spy the tunnel entrance. Itís very long and uncompromisingly built. It has a constant gradient, losing 200m over 3km and is made from two arrow straight sections connected by a small kink. I trundle into the tunnel and burble down the whole length in fifth on the overrun, flipping the visor to hear the exhaust burble off the walls.
Coming out the other side itís another country but feels more like a new world. I continue burbling ever downwards and before long the rain is gone, the sky lightening and the temperature easing considerably. Everything including the topograghy and flora are typically Spanish and just so strikingly different from what I was in before I entered the tunnel. It could have been a looking glass.
So I wind down the mountains, happy as a lark and singing ďsheíll be coming round the mountainsĒ with made up verses that donít bear repeating here.
From time to time I pass by pretty villages, with all the trees bearing the bright green message of spring
In other place the river is filling flood plains with beautiful torquoise floods fresh from the mountain slopes
An hour or two more of joyful trundling and Iím in the Catalan city of Leida. Iím visitng the HU contact for the area Luis Oromi. He has an impressive BMW and Harley dealership and is a devoted motorcyclist, having crossed Africa in 49 days on a Beemer. Amongst other things he helps me with a screw for one of the carburettor dashpots
and finally leads me out of town to the C-12 road to the coast, on which he and friends bike down to the coast on a Sunday to Amposta to lunch on the best seafood paella in the whole country, before the glorious ride back home. Thanks for your help Luis!
Before I reach Amposta itís drawing late and I pull over in a town, find a bar and ask around for a hotel. The result is less than impressive but adequate and looking on the upside the cheapest accommodation Iíve had for a while. Itís also the first night I donít feel comfortable enough to leave some of my gear on the bike so off it all comes. Before I crash out for the night I resolve to arrange my next nights accommodation in the morning before setting out and to make sure itís a classy joint..
The next morning thereís stuff to do before hitting the road. Breakfast is a non event at this dump and I make do with a coffee. However they do have internet and so Iím able to sort some things. They also have a coin gobbling payphone which paired with Alistair Sawdays excellent ďSpecial places to stay in SpainĒ yields a booking at a very nice sounding hotel in a place Iíve never heard of Bocairent. This is planned to be a short day, around 250 miles as Iíve decided I owe myself a treat.
So after a repack of the bike Iím off again. Riding down the C-12 to Amposta is a continuing joy.
After that Luisís advice was to use the N340 rather than the Autovia. ďIt may be free in Andalucia but in Catalunya we charge!Ē. So I dribble down the coast with various interludes of trying to avoid the Autovia and find the N340.
Now hereís a thing. Prostitutes. In deck chairs. By the side of the road. Thereís no doubt thatís what they are, I pass a couple in a stretch of three miles. The last one I see a few miles gets out of her chair and heads for the undergrowth seemingly at my approach. I find this rather amusing for some reason, but a few moments later I get my explanation as I see a police car heading up the road. They must have alert lookouts to stay in business.
Although for reasons of decency I donít stop to take snaps of the hookers (who after all may charge for this!) I find an amusingly named Merc. Dealers and take a shot of a different arse. I have checked the website which you can see painted on the window www.arsemercedes.com - minutes of juvenile fun to be had.
Apart from that itís not particularly satisfying doing hide and seek with the N430. Eventually I clear the south of Valencia and strike inland towards Alcoy. I find my way to Ontinyent and then thereís a beautiful twisty mountain road over to Bocairent.
My hotel is easily found and as the former train station building, the Hotel LíEstacio overlooks the old town. The manager of this welcoming but undoubtedly rather upmarket establishment Matts Lodder is unfazed by my shabby sweaty appearance with hair plastered to my face and cannot do enough for me. When I ask about the safety of leaving my bike in the car park he says no problem, comes outside and unlocks the side gateway and we park the bike there, safe as can be. Not only that, he gives me the key! By now iíve long perfected the packing arrangements so that for an overnight stop I only need take tank bag and one pannier off the bike.
Bocairent is an undiscovered gem.
The Moorish old town hangs on an escarpment
Over an ancient river course whose sides comprise ancient terraced allotments.
Behind the town is an atmospheric hilltop monastery gained by a switchback path. At each turn in the way a grotto stands and over each grotto two graveyard cypress stand sentinel. Bathed in crepuscular rays it is an almost dreamlike sight which combines with a sudden attack of dťjŗ vu that holds me fascinated. 12 hours ago Iíde never heard of Bocairent, so I know Iíve never been here before but Ö.
Anyway hunger pangs stir me from my reverie and hasten me back to the Hotel, determined there will be no cock-ups on the catering front tonight! It seems my luck is in. The wine list yields a Chilean Merlot available in half bottle and from the menu I order the set meal unware that the mimimum order is for two. The waitress brooks no objection and so I proceed to have a delicious multi course meal for 21 euros topped off with a desert I canít actually accommodate.
I waddle off to bed a very satisfied customer.
Over my beautiful steak the previous night Iíd contemplated what to do today. I want to revisit the stark yet addictive Almeria region Ė Europeís only true desert. I want to travel the roads of the Alpujarras Ė the tortuous roads that cling to the southern faces of the Sierra Nevada. Trouble is I also have a compulsion to just get the trip done. After five days in the saddle without a break Iím getting, well, tired.
I decide in the morning that Iím going to make a big push to my destination. Dave and Mandyís apartment in Fuengirola. Itís a 550 kilometre trip and to do it in a day thereís no alternative but to use the Autovia for most of it.
So once the chores are done and Iíve filled up in the local filling station Iím off. 200 yards up the road comes homicide attempt number 2. As with attempt number one Iím heading up a straight road minding my own business. This time the threat comes from in front. A car is stationary on the opposite verge, facing me. As I come up to it, the driver attempts to pull a U turn in front of me. This would be bad enough, but he gets it badly wrong and ends up sideways and stopped in my lane. As before the anchors are dropped and I have to use the wrong side of the road. Use of the horn doesnít ease the situation but I guess sometimes you just have to express yourself. The young driver gets going as Iím still braking and speeds off, turning off at the first junction to escape my waving fist. On reflection I wonder if he was even old enough to have a licence, perhaps he was just a local lad fooling around in his daddys car.
I guess if you have to have these incidents itís best to get them out of the way first thing in the day. As it turns out the rest of the day is incident free. I have an enjoyable cross country ride eventually picking up the Autovia somewhere near Murcia. From then on itís Autovia all the way.
On and on roll the miles. After a couple of hours itís somewhat depressing to see a sign saying ĎGranada 365kmí when you know your destination is a good way the other side of that fair city. Itís a hot day and I make no excuses about taking more stops than needed. In some of the more boring sections (I say boring, but only because Iíve travelled this route several times in the past) I find Iíve been going flat out for miles at a time, so I enjoy several stops for a bite to eat, a swig of water, to check the oil level, or simply to give the engine a bit of a rest.
Not so boring is the first sight of the Sierra Nevada, proud Mulhacen crowned in white
The hours roll by, the miles roll by, so does the fuel, the flies pile up on the screen. Bit by bit I approach Granada and finally towards late afternoon Iíve actually skirted past it. With this huge psychological milestone passed the fun returns to the days riding and before long Iím branching off from this trunk route to Seville and starting the long gently curving and downhill route, through the Malaga mountains and down to the sea. For some reason when Iíve contemplated this trip in the past Iíve seen myself winding down this particularly satisfying piece of road. I feel just as good as I thought I might, - a sense of achievement and the prospect of some serious beach bashing ahead.
Another hour on and despite inadvertently going through Torremolinos and Benalmadena rather than round them I arrive at my destination. I take a quick snap of the stationary bike and then disappear indoors to be plied with tea and toast and comfy chairs etc. 1631 miles, no mechanical maladies and hardly any oil used. Journeys end feels very good indeed.
It's only after a couple of days of going nowhere even near the old bike that I get back on her and take her right down to Fuengirola Port to annoint her with some salty water, confirm journeys end and gaze at the yachts over an all day breakfast at Happy's bar. For no good reason I decide this faithful R80ST is now to be referred to as "The Duchess"
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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