Hot and Hard

Today was always going to be tough….

I’d seen the weather forecast last night and all the presenter said was “Hot.”

Well hot is OK, but I knew from experience that there’s ordinary French “Hot” and Mediterranean French “Hot.” – There’s a world of difference!

Mediterranean French “Hot” is like that day in Ax en Provence, when I put my foot down at a set of traffic lights and as we pulled away took about ten pounds of road stuck to the sole of my boot! It’s also when I look at the idiots riding motorcycles in tee shirts and shorts and think that possibly they have a point!!!

Enough of this beefing about the weather, hell at least it didn’t rain, even if the thermometer went over 100º Fahrenheit; which sounds more impressive than 38º Celsius – and yes I was in my leathers!!!!

The detailed report of this final section of Le route Des Grande Alpes will come in the future, but safe to say that Harls and I are happily berthed in the coastal town of Menton, which is reputedly “The Pearl of Le Côte d’Azur!

Harls in Menton, hot and happy!


It’s a strange thing this “Route des Grande Alpes” as no-one seems to know exactly where it ends!

The beginning is easy, there’s a big bronze plaque on the ground outside the Thonon les Bains town hall…but does it end in Nice or Menton? The official site for RDGA says Nice, but the purists say Menton.

My motorcycling mate Marcel, who lives in Thonon says Menton; but also that the bars are better in Nice!!

I don’t mind, we’ll pass through Nice tomorrow. Seven passes today with the highest Col de la Cayolle 2326m/7632ft.

Now I’m happy.

It’s been a tough day and apart from that first enigmatic glimpse of the Mediterranean the highlight was the iconic Turini Pass.

Turini lies in the foothills above the Med. It features regularly in the famous Monte-Carlo Rally and captured my imagination years ago when rally driver Paddy Hopkirk stunned the world in the 1964 Monte-Carlo in a Mini Cooper!

Les Lacets de Col de Turini.
Thanks to Par Anthospace


So what was it like riding the famous Turini?

Well going up, brilliant, brilliant fun! … Going down, bloomin’ awful as the local road gang had decided to “top-dress” the road over three miles with tiny, marble like, stone chippings; almost lethal for a motorcyclist!

That aside, we survived and another amazing adventure with my beloved and fantastic Harls is (half) over.

I’m typing in the corner of the hotel restaurant. Justine our waitresses is clearing table and only myself and four other diners remain. The warm glow from the chandeliers seem at odds with the dusky sunset outside the window.

My Côte de Provence blanc has complimented the meal of Morue dans une sauce à la crème de fenouil/Cod in fennel cream sauce, superbly. Tarte au citron/lemon tarte, for desert is so typical of Menton and the region.

I look outside and Harls is resting in the car park. A local biker thrashes by pulling more rev’s than he knows what to do with.

Harls is happy; I’m happy and tomorrow we’ll point North and head into cooler air.

It’s been some ride, hot and hard, but wouldn’t have had it any other way because Harls and I did it together!

Now I’m alone in the restaurant, the other diners have left, like dear old Floyd said, “Peut-être le temps d’un petit Marc!”

I’ll raise a glass to that Floyd, a glass to Harls and le Route des Grande Alpes!

“So put me on a highway and show me a sign
And take it to the limit one more time.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Advertisements

Size Doesn’t Matter…

Sometimes, as a writer, on rare occasions I find it surprisingly hard to fully express my feelings.

It’s not because I have “writers block” or that I suffer from any vocabulary failure, no, it’s because sometimes the sheer enormity of what I have experienced it beyond the written word…or even the spoken one come to that!

Today is one of those very rare occasions.

Looking back on various blog posts, I have from time to time said things like:

“That was the best,”
“I’ve never,”
“Wow!”

Well my dear Blogonaughts, today was beyond any of those!

Today was simply the most challenging, demanding, technically difficult yet satisfying day of motorcycle riding that I have ever experienced.

To say that I am tired this evening, is a major understatement. As a result, the full details of our epic adventure will have to wait for another post; tonight I can’t do it justice, but believe me, there’s a lot to tell!

We did a round trip from Jausiers and largely plugged away in the Italian Alps, just over the border from France.

The reason?

OK, I’ll be honest, Col hunting; looking as ever for those big high mountain passes!

Only this was different, these weren’t easy get at-able passes, they were high, well off the beaten track and rarely visited.

So yeah, I had to go do them!

In order:

Passo Fauniera

Passo Fauniera 2481m 8140ft
Colle Vallonetto 2439m 8002ft
Colle d’Esischie 2370m 7776ft
Colle di Sampeyre 2283m 7491ft

Then to finish off the day, Col Agnel, the highest paved international pass in Europe at 2744m/9003ft and my dear old friend, Col de Vars 2111m/6926ft.

Head towards Col Agnel.


So what was so difficult?

Well, nothing, until I turned onto the road marked “Passo Fauniera” in Demonte a small village in Northern Italy.

Then slowly, slowly, slowly, all hell broke loose!

On the plus side the weather was great, apart from some occasional low swirling cloud, which was just as well because we would have been in serious trouble otherwise!

For tonight I’m reporting 51 miles of narrow roads, poor surface, missing surface, mud, road covered in larch needles, snow, ice, road-works, road closed and an off-road diversion; get the drift?

Oh, nearly forgot to mention, largely no barriers and precipitous drops – but just don’t tell Mrs Dookes!!

…erm yes, sort of a barrier!


Our reward from the Road-Gods was a superb ascent and descent of Col Agnel, followed by a truly crazy assault of Col de Vars, where I’m ashamed to admit I really went for it and actually overtook quite a lot of other motorcycles, not like me at all…..you should have heard Harls roaring as we climbed that last one!

Mileage-wise not big in total, just under 200, it was the middle 51 that was killer ….but like has been said:

“Size really doesn’t matter, it’s what you do with it!”

…and anyway, we survived!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

It’s All In The Mind – More Highs, More Cols

I find it very hard to explain exactly what it is that drives me to climb ever more high mountain cols/passes.

Sometimes I’ve been there before; otherwise it’s a new route, new vistas, new challenges. Always there’s that experience of conquering to beast, which must be nothing compared to how cyclists feel; they have my utmost respect!

Whatever it is that drives me, I cannot do it without support. Obviously Mrs Dookes figures high in this as without her support and blessing I couldn’t be here playing in the mountains in the first place! Then there are others.

This year I have to give special thanks to my good friend Polly.

Now it’s a bit hard to say exactly what Polly does; I suppose that in many ways she re-wires people heads…

What on earth are you on about Dookes????

Well, remember Big Baby Blue, that Harley Ultra Limited that I once had?

Basically I couldn’t get her to go round bends!

Then it started to get serious, it started happening with Harls….which was very strange as I taken her almost everywhere and never had a problem! More importantly I wasn’t for one minute going to let her go the same way as Blue.

To be fair, with me on board, a full tank of fuel and luggage, Blue once tipped a weighbridge at 535kg. That’s bloody heavy! In comparison, Harls is a mere 330kg, but I’d started to get problems with her too…

Miss bends like this….? – Col d’Izoard


That was the trigger, I got in touch with Polly.

Together we talked things through and tried to find the root cause of the problem. This in itself was interesting as I am a fully qualified “Incident Root Cause” investigator, but I digress.

I’m not going to go into details, but like many sports organisations these days use psychometric processes to find that marginal gain, I can confirm that Polly did her job.

After seeing Polly a few times I’m riding and enjoying riding “Harls” and my other bike “Hettie” like I never have before. My cornering is better, smoother and quicker than I can remember and my general riding feels much more relaxed. I’m also getting such a buzz doing it too!

I can’t thank Polly enough.

Today’s Cols; Izoard, Vars and Allos are for you Polly…I probably wouldn’t be here without you!

…..or views like this? – Col de Vars


“Shine on you crazy diamond!”

Catch you soon

Dookes

PS Polly, there a bottle on its way to you!

Tired, Emotionally Drained, but Oh So Happy!

Let no-one tell you otherwise, riding a big old motorbike in the mountains is hard work!

I frequently smile as Sports and Adventure bike riders flick past Harls and I on those tight twisty mountain roads. True they are chopping along faster than us, but then they are on much lighter machines, with more powerful engines and definitely better brakes. Poor old Harls chugs along with her carburetor fitted engine and brakes that need treating with considerable respect, no ABS for us!

I smile because I wonder just what those other riders are taking in. Do they see the stunning scenery or those eagles soaring on a thermal, or are they more likely looking for the next braking point or overtake?

Each to their own I guess, but still I smile!

We kicked off this morning with a bit of a detour; the good folk of the Savoie region of France had closed part of our route for a bicycle event, but no problem – there were excellent alternatives! That’s the nice thing about La Route des Grande Alpes, there are actually alternative ways of doing it; I know, very French!

So let’s start with a little trundle up the North East side of Col de la Madeleine, 2000m/6561ft above sea level, this side was a new route for us and quite interesting. The last time I was on this Col was with Baby Blue and we rode up and back from the La Chambre side.

Today was different and much more enjoyable, though we were chased by a rain shower for the last 10km and just managed to stay ahead of it!

Then we had another choice and I settled for Col de la Croix de Fer 2067m/6781ft, from St Jean de Maurienne. Again this was a new route for us, though not the Col and wow, was I pleased with my choice! I wouldn’t say that it’s become my new favourite, but it’s well up there. The road winds ever upward, through delightful forest slopes, tiny villages, and a tightening valley, before bursting out above the tree line in a wide amphitheatre bounded by some of the most magnificent mountain sentinels one could wish for.

The Col itself is one of the most popular in the Alps, legendary in La Tour de France and easily accessible from nearby centres of population, so yes the top was busy; most people come up from the easier Grenoble side.

We slipped down to Col du Glandon, 1924m/6312ft, then followed the narrow valley back down to La Chambre for a quick blast to St Michel de Maurienne, where we turned right.

That moment of turning right onto the D902, the “proper” Route des Grande Alpes, was special; this was the road to Col du Galibier!

I once wrote about my love affair, because that’s exactly what it is, with the mythical Galibier. Check it out here.

Today we were going back, again. Galibier keeps calling me and I can’t help but answer her by returning.

First though was the small matter of Col du Télégraphe.

Now “C du T” is often seen by many people as a minor prelude to the main event of Galibier, I was once one of those folk. Wrong!

Col du Télégraphe deserves respect in it’s own right, the climb is 878 metres at an average gradient of 7.4% and starts from that point that we turned right in St Michel. What’s even better is that it could have been made for a Harley Davidson Softail such as Harls, the way that the road is engineered somehow seems to suit the old girl and we flew up.

This was no deep-down-dig-in grunt. This was snarling Harley thunder and “Let’s scrape a few bits on the tarmac round some of the bends” fun! I haven’t thrown the old girl around like that in years, well not with luggage on board anyway and y’know she encouraged me!

I didn’t bother stopping at Télégraphe, or “Le Col” which followed a few kilometres on; the call from Galibier was getting stronger!

At 2642m/8667ft, Col du Galibier is not only one of the big players in the Alps, but also the whole of Europe, it’s number 5 in the “All Europe” list of paved passes.

After the alpine resort of Valloire the D902 enters hardening scenery and as it leaves behind the bridge at Plan Lachat you’d better believe that this is a serious road in tough yet achingly beautiful country.

The last of the winter snow was evident everywhere, in fact the pass road was only opened a week ago. I was thankful for my helmet’s built in sun visor as the glare was a times very bright.

We kept climbing and climbing and climbing with a heightening euphoria as we ate up the kilometres.

Over the last kilometre, tears were welling in my eyes; no I lie, they weren’t , they were running down my cheeks! And Harls, she had a little moment too, was that a bit of high altitude carburettor icing that made her catch her breath and cough or was she feeling the moment as well?

Harls and I were coming back to our spiritual home, again.

We pulled over at the summit and I took a moment to compose myself, Harls sat there with her engine tinkling contentedly as he cooled.

I find it hard to explain just what a hold that this mountain has on me, it’s real, very real and I wouldn’t change the feeling for anything.

We took in the scenery, looked to the sky and were just glad to be there for that moment.

At the touch of a button Harls coughed back into life, time to move on, but we’ll be back!

The mountains call us all…

…it’s just how you answer, that is the difference.

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Route de la Grandes Alpes – From the Start

Some years ago I was in Jausiers, at the very heart of the French Alps with my beloved Harls.

Passing an idle few moments whilst waiting to pay my hotel bill I noticed an interesting leaflet about something called “La Route des Grande Alpes.” Being an inherently inquisitive chap I picked it up and in a fleeting moment my life changed.

You see, here was not only a route map, but a reason to return to these enigmatic mountains again and again!

It was also the start of a mini obsession.

To explain; La Route des Grandes Alpes is a tourist itinerary through the French Alps between Lake Geneva and the French Mediterranean Riviera passing over all the high passes of the Alps within France.

For years, since picking up that blasted leaflet, I’ve pondered over maps planning to one day ride this iconic road and today, dear Blogonaughts, Harls and I have started to do just that!

Of course Harls was always going to be with me, she’s part of me.

I’ve decided to enjoy the whole experience without feeling the pressure to recount every detail each evening on this blog. That will follow when I get home.

For now, each day I’m just going to give you a status report.

RDGA Zero Kilometre, the start.


Today we stood at the Zero Kilometre marker outside the Town Hall in Thonon les Bains, started Harls engine and headed South on La RDGA.

Six Cols later we have paused for the night in a typical alpine hotel near Val d’Isere and are thoroughly pleased with ourselves.

On top of Europe.


Tired too, the technical term is “knackered” actually, but happy, very happy.

Our odyssey has truly begun.

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Hot, Smelly and Dusty.

…. And that’s just me!

OK gang I’m going to keep it brief tonight.

It’s been a pretty gruelling day. Only 260 miles covered but 140 of those were painful, tedious grind on old National Routes that Dookes should have known better and avoided!

I was going to regale you all with tales of the changing geography and landscape vistas. Then tell how vast fertile plains of cereals gave way to contented suckler herds of Charolais cattle and then slopes of Burgundy vineyards. Instead my eyes are dry with the stinging dust from too many miles stuck behind heavy goods vehicles on roads with absolutely no overtaking permitted!

Fortunately a lunch stop in Mâcon, one of my favourite small French cities, cheered me up a bit as my patience was definitely wearing very thin!

Mâcon and the River Saône


My old mate Floyd, bless his soul, had a solution for that gritty road dust in the eye syndrome; a slug of Marc de Bourgogne in a strong espresso.

Instead I have to settle for eye-drops!

Anyway, tonight we are in the Ain Département of Eastern France, right up alongside the Swiss border. It’s lovely country and as we are a bit up in the hills it’s also mercifully cooler, as the warm winds today made it seem like I was riding into a hairdryer at times, as my pal Paul says!

This is the gorge of the River Ain, from which the region takes its name, nice eh?

On a plus point the twisty roads have begun, the last fifteen miles certainly made up for the painful bits!

Tomorrow we start La Route des Grande Alpes.

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Pondering through the Miles

Motorcycling is great, no really it is, even when the weather decides to test you with a bit of rain, or fog, or snow… actually forget those bits about fog and snow, it’s pants then!

One of the things I love about being on two wheels is the time I get to do a bit of thinking. Now I’m not talking real deep meditational stuff, because when I’m riding I really need to keep my mind fully on the road, but I seem to have developed a sort of “compartmentalised” mental ability to grab a thought or idea, place it in some recess in the old Dookes head and recall it later for further processing. Which is quite a handy trick really! It’s how I manage to absorb the day’s traveling, write about it later whilst and able to recapture the essence of what I was thinking when I was out on the road.

Take this morning for example.

The road across Northern Brittany from Morlaix to Rennes is a dual carriageway. It’s not exactly the most stimulating stretch of tarmac in the world, but like many such roads gets you efficiently from A to B with minimum of fuss. It’s also the road that I like to use to get me “in the groove” for Continental Europe travelling. As many people will be aware, those pesky Mainland Europeans, along with most of the rest of the world, drive on the “wrong” side of the road; that’s the Right side, only it’s not, “right” that is!

Which got me thinking….

As anyone with half a shred of historical knowledge will know, the “right” side to drive is the Left. Just like we do in the U.K. and so do Australia, New Zealand, Japan, India and about 70 other “enlightened” countries, which equates to about 35% of the world population, but why?

Well it’s all largely to do with swords, farm carts and aristocrats.

In the days when roads were ruled by the horse, just about everybody travelled on the left hand side of the road because most people are right-handed; if you needed to pull out a sword to defend yourself you had you opponent just where you wanted them, on your right hand side. It also was good manners as it prevented your sword in it’s scabbard flapping about and hitting passing riders as you had it on your left. Plus, ever noticed which side most people mount up on a horse from?

Yep, the left, to keep the sword out of the way!

By the 1700s in France the aristocracy kept driving their carriages on the left, even though the necessity of having to have ones sword free had largely passed, but seemingly they enjoyed forcing the peasants over to the right! Around this time though, farmers in France began using bigger and bigger carts as farming techniques improved and crop yields grew. These bigger waggons often used more than one horse so the driver would sit on the left hand side animal in order to use their whip in the right hand, plus they could then also keep an eye on their cart’s wheels as they passed other road users.

Come the French Revolution one of the many ways that the new French Republic made itself “different” was to make driving on the right compulsory, from 1794. As Napoleon Bonaparte then went on to conquer vast swathes of Continental Europe everyone in his path was forced to conform!

All that to explain why Dookes has been riding on the Right-Hand side of the road today. To be honest, on a motorbike it really doesn’t make much difference except to keep your wits about you and look out for traffic coming from unexpected directions; I quite like it.

It’s always interesting and a bit amusing in the first few kilometres just off the ferry as inevitably you can spot the odd Brit car driver getting it totally wrong at either a road junction or roundabout!

Which is all a long-winded way of saying that I’ve just had a brilliant day riding Harls in warm sunshine on sticky tarmac on just about my favourite country on Earth!…(apart from Wales that is!!!) We’ve covered just short of 400 miles, some of it pretty hard grind, but when I’m on on Harls I never want to be anywhere else in the world.

Highlight of the day was riding some of the famous “24 Heurs du Mans” circuit, around the city of Le Mans. Whipping down the legendary “Mulsanne Straight” hanging a right at Mulsanne then zipping under the Porsche bridge before flicking through Indianapolis and Arnage to the Porsche curves was the stuff of dreams!

Indianapolis Curve, moving a bit!

I took Baby Blue around Monza once, I’ll tell more about that another day, but today beat that hands down as I did it with Harls! Thank goodness I didn’t see any Gendarmes.

Porsche Bridge.

Like I say, you just need to keep your wits about you and give a nod of thanks to Napoleon for making life interesting!

Vive La France, vive la revolution, vive la difference!

Catch you soon

Dookes