Explaining a Special Place – Col du Galibier

In a post last week I talked about Col du Galibier in the high French Alps and how it is a place that is very special to me.

Then regular commenter on my posts, AGMA, posed the question;

“Why is it special?”

I started to write a reply for AGMA, then paused and thought that probably it would be a good idea to explain “why” to a broader audience.

We have to rewind the clock back about 50 years…

Young Dookes was exploring the darkest parts of his father’s workshop/garage. At the very back, almost hidden from view and next to the engine of an old BSA motorbike, young Dookes found a man’s bicycle. In the eyes of Young Dookes, this was a prize of great beauty for not only did it have racing style drop handlebars, but there on the rear wheel was a set of derailleur gears – a “Racing Bike!”

To be honest, it was also tatty, well used, in need of a complete overhaul and it wasn’t a “Racer,” it was an old Raleigh Trent Sports Tourer with four gears, 26 inch wheels, a Brookes saddle and a Dyno-Hub, but in my young eyes it was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen!

There was a fundamental problem though, it was too big for me to ride and I had to wait a few years before I could safely sit on the thing and turn the pedals!

Once that happy day came there was no stopping me; well actually there was, the old tyres soon gave up the struggle to hold air and I was grounded, literally!

At this juncture my father suggested that it was time for the old bike to have a complete strip-down and rebuild, wise words. Actually, it was much more life-changing than that; for here was my first introduction to the engineering principle of taking something apart, fixing it and putting it back together so it was better than before. It stood me in pretty good stead.

So the old bike came apart and I learnt about bearings, Bowden cables, cotter pins, crank arms and gear sets. Looking back the old girl was is pretty rough shape, but with my father’s guiding hand we made a fair job of restoring her back to road-worthy condition, but oh the satisfaction!

All the time that I was, a) growing and b) rebuilding the bike I was avidly reading everything I could lay my hands on about cycling. In due course I discovered that there was a prestigious cycle race called the “Tour de France” that was run annually and took three weeks to circulate around our near European neighbours.

One day my father returned home from work with a copy of The London Evening News and showed me an article about that year’s “Tour” which had just finished and had been won by a rider from Belgium, his name was Eddy Merckx and it was 1969.

Eddy Merckx

Who was this Merckx?

Not only had this fella just won the “Le Tour,” but he had also won the “King of the Mountains” title, which is given to the rider that gains most points for reaching mountain summits first within the greater race.

That year the tenth stage of the race was held in the Alps where Merckx put down a marker with a storming ascent of a place called “Col du Galibier.” Then he had blown away the completion with aggressive attacking over Col d’Aubisque in the Pyrenees and pretty much sealed his victory.

Oh yes, Merckx also won the best Sprinter Green jersey plus the prize for most combative rider and the most individual stages, 6 out of 24. What a rider!

Cycling had got it’s hooks into me and I had a new hero!

In those days though, Le Tour simply wasn’t covered by British television; in fact it wasn’t covered much by the French either. All our information tended to come from newspapers and cycling magazines; it was all a little bit second hand!

…but also where was this place Col du Galibier?

Now in those days not only had the Internet not been invented, but the guy who invented it had only just started Secondary School! So if you wanted to find out anything, it was a case of looking in books, either at school or in the local library.

It was a good job that I also had a big passion for geography.

I discovered that Col du Galibier is a high, 2645m/8678ft, mountain pass lying at the Southern end of the French Dauphiné Alps. Now this in itself was a revelation, as up until that point I had believed that the Alps solely existed in Switzerland…doh! Anyway, the more a learnt about Galibier, the more I wanted to know.

Looking South from Galibier.

I devoured everything I could about the place, it’s geography, geology, flora and fauna and most of all it’s history.

The first passable road over the mountain was built in 1876 and by 1891 a tunnel had been built beneath the crest, things stayed like this until 1970 when a new loop was added to the road, taking it once again over the high summit. Gradients on each side are formidable, with a maximum of 12.1% and height gain of 2058m/4085ft over a distance 8.5km/5.3miles.

Looking North.


I began to dream of visiting this place.

Le Tour returned to Galibier in 1972 and the mountain was conquered by Joop Zoetemelk, though Merckx again won the overall race; as he also did in 1970, 71 and 74.

The urge to visit Galibier started to become a bit of an obsession…then career and life stuff got in the way, but I never forgot about that mythical mountain in the high Alps and my need to climb it.

Many years later, when life had settled down and I started solo motorcycle touring, I soon realised that here was my opportunity to retrace the tracks of my heroes who rode “Le Tour.” It didn’t take me long to put together a few outline itineraries that encompassed some of the mythical climbs: Col de Vars, Izoard, L’Iseran, Lautaret…but most of all Galibier.

The day I finally set out to head towards Le Galibier I was fussing around Harls, getting her ready for the great adventure ahead when my eyes caught that old Raleigh Trent Sports bicycle in the corner of my workshop. I paused, then pushed my way over to her and ran my hand along her substantial steel frame; silently I told her where I was going and how much she still means to me. Dad had been dead for about ten years and in many ways she was my only tangible link to him

In the French Alps a week later, I sat in a café in Briançon; Col de Vars had been topped, Izoard crested and both were delightful, next was Le Galibier!

I banged out a quick email to a couple of friends, walked out into the midday sunshine, put on my helmet and started up Harls.

The ride to Lauteret was a delight; it’s a pretty quick road with a great surface, lovely sweeping bends and hugely impressive views all around.

The road to Lautaret, just look at those sweepers!

Then we turned right and dug in on the climb to Galibier.

Turn here for Col du Galibier.


It took my breath away.

The road starts passively enough then turns sharply to the left and the gradient kicks you in the teeth. Hairpins follow, a blind left with a sheer drop to the right and the relentless climb continues, thank goodness I’ve got an engine! As we gained altitude, runoff water from the last of the winter snow was streaming across the road. Climbing higher the air quickly became cooler and noticeably thinner; Harls with her carburetor and naturally aspirated engine began to run a bit rich and lose power.

Just before the tunnel we turned right onto the summit loop, we are well above the treeline here. More hairpins, more climbing and soon we reach the summit.

I pull over and switch off the engine.

At the summit looking back where we came from, winter snow still lies by the road.


Silence; save for the gentle ticking of an air-cooled Harley engine cooling down.

The views are….heavenly, but then I guess you are almost up there in heaven as wisps of cloud drift by below!

A couple of other riders walked past and a few very brave cyclists trundled by, I didn’t quite have the place to myself.

I stayed sitting on Harls and just let it all sink in; I was here on Col du Galibier, magical, legendary, Galibier and as I am want to do my mind did a bit of wandering.

I remembered that day discovering an old bicycle, of my late father helping me restore it, of a newspaper article about the Tour de France, of Eddie Merckx…I kept my helmet on and let my tear filled eyes weep in private. Crash helmets are useful like that.

You see, Galibier had become something more than just a famous mountain pass in the French Alps…it had become part of me and me of it.

It represents the melange that we all are inside; that mix of hope, experience, light/dark, triumph, tragedy, sorrow, pain, elation and happiness….above all, happiness!

Snow everywhere!


Finally, I took off the crash helmet and sat in the bright sunlight.

I felt truly at home and totally in tune with this incredible place, it’s probably my Celtic blood that gives me a deep love of high places, but this place was and is, very, very special, call it spiritual if you like.

Galibier had called and I had answered, eventually.

“The mountain’s high,
The road ran steep and winding,
The promises so easily made
Unbearable, yet binding.”

Catch you soon

Dookes

For AGMA – I hope this answers your question, Dookes.

PS I return as often as possible!

Tanks a Million!

The rehabilitation of my mate G continues at an almost frightening pace, particularly as he is now able to ride his motorcycle again. By that I don’t mean that he is riding his bike at a frightening pace! The great thing is that he has regained his zest for life again and two wheels are largely responsible for that.

We seem to have slipped into a weekly routine of having a worthwhile ride to somewhere specific and take in some good riding roads along the way.

Last week’s excursion saw us on another great “Boys Day Out” as Mrs Dookes is now calling them. Where previously we visited an aviation museum, this time we kept our feet firmly on the ground and set our destination as The Tank Museum in Bovington, Dorset.

The museum traces the history of armoured fighting vehicles and particularly tanks, from their invention over 100 years ago right through to the present day. There are over 300 vehicles on display and it is the largest collection of tanks in the world.

First though we had to get there.

I met G in Exeter at his favourite motorcycle dealership and after a good double espresso we hit the road. I took Baby Blue, partly because she is so comfortable on a transit run, but also because I’m back in love with riding her after some months of mixed emotions, but more of that in another post…

The road east out of Exeter, the A30, is largely fast dual carriageway and although it runs through pleasant enough country it’s pretty boring. At Honiton, once famous for its lace making, we turned onto the A35 and followed it for about 40 miles to Dorchester. Now I always get frustrated with the ’35; it runs through lovely scenery, has enough bends to make it interesting on a bike, but it’s always snarled up with traffic and this morning was situation normal!

On a bike it’s true that you can usually make progress where other vehicles struggle, but even so it becomes hard work and if you are constantly looking for the next overtake opportunity it’s a tad difficult to also look at the scenery!

By Dorchester I was ready for a change and taking a more looping route away from traffic we soon arrived at Bovington.

The museum is located ay Bovington Camp, home of the British Army’s Tank Corps and the place where most tracked vehicle training and repair is carried out by the Army. It’s a busy place and you are just as likely to find a tank scurrying along the surrounding roads as a mail delivery van.

A tank in the car park!

In other words this is big-boys-toys country!

There are seven display halls in the museum. The first, called “The Tank Story Hall,” has a collection of key vehicles displayed in chronological order to show the evolution of tanks through the last 100 years. I found it fascinating and dallied so much that G soon wandered on ahead of me!

“Little Willie” the very first tank.

Incidentally, do you know that the name “Tank” stems from when the British Army were building the first vehicles in 1915? At the time, fearful of espionage, the prefered name of “Armoured Landship” was replaced with “tank” as a subterfuge to explain why vast amounts of boiler plate steel was being built onto track laying chassis….and the name has stuck ever since.

Another hall is dedicated to showing the very first tanks in the context to which they saw action, on the battlefields of France in World War One. This part of the collection struck particular resonance with me after tracing the footsteps and experiences of both my Grandfathers during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. If you missed those posts then please click here to read more. One of the tanks here, which actually saw action during those grim days, is posed in a particularly striking way, as if crossing No-Mans Land and attacking enemy trenches.

Across No-Man’s Land in WW1

As World War 1 tank as seen from the receiving end!

Looking at some of these early tanks, I was struck by their primitive nature and even though they were clad in boiler-plate they were not at all impervious to penetration by anything but the lightest bullet.

Bullet hole in WW1 tank.

They were brave men who took these machines into battle.

I went a bit crazy with my camera, but after a while realised that apart from colour difference one tank begins to look pretty much like any other after a while….I hear sighs from Mrs Dookes in the background! So I resorted to up close and personal stuff, just for entertainment!

Prize exhibit at the museum is Tiger 131, the only original working German Second World War Tiger Tank in the world; incidentally, the majority of the tanks here all still work, how brilliant is that! The added bonus with these being working machines is that they not only look great, but they smell good too…yeah, I know, it’s a bloke thing; axle grease, diesel fuel and gear oil, magic!

Tiger 131, 63tonnes of trouble.

Amongst all this engineering and heavy plant, it’s important not to forget that these are killing machines; they bristle with guns, armour and missiles. Amongst the machismo of ever bigger and more deadly machines there a quiet corners where extraordinary, often tragic tales of bravery and sacrifice are recounted and give the chance for remembrance and contemplation.

Finally, for those of you that are either film or Brad Pitt fans, the tank “Fury” from the 2014 film of the same name is also on display in “as filmed condition, along with some interesting props from the film. The Tiger also appeared in the film unsurprisingly playing the part of one of the bad guys, such is Hollywood!

Fury

Anyway, top marks to the Tank Museum, not only is it a great day out and I highly recommend it, but your admission ticket can be used again as much as you like for up to 12 months; I think that G and I will be back!

Any great day out deserves a great ride home, so once again we struck out to the Jurassic Coast, grabbed an ice-cream in Bridport and just rode the twisties back West. 250miles all in when I got back to Dookes H.Q..

Here’s to the next time.

“I put a Tiger in your tank.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

The Galibier

Yesterday, my good blogging friend AGMA published a post about her love of the Tour de France cycle race. Please pop over to her blog by clicking here and check it out.

Regular blogonaughts may remember that Hogrider Dookes is also rather partial to the “Le Tour” and it is certainly one of my guilty pleasures to sit inside on a bright summer day watching the action on television. My excuse is that live Tour action simply did not exist when Dookes was a lad!

Chris Froome attacks in the mountains.

Today the weather outside is OK, but not great, so not too much guilt is involved…but today is a very special day for “Le Tour,” today the race crosses the iconic Col du Galibier!

Col du Galibier

This was a mountain that I always dreamed of climbing. The domain of Merckx, Zoetemelk, Coppi and Jiméez, it stands at 2645metres, 8678ft, above sea level and has featured in the tour since 1911.

This year “Le Tour” is crossing Galibier from the North side, 18km of climbing at an average gradient of 6.9%….that’s bloody tough! Oh yes, I nearly forgot, they also had to climb Col du Télégraph first, 11.8km at 7.3%!

Galibier is to me the home of “Le Tour” in the high Alps and also for me a place of great spiritual significance. The first time I rode up her glorious majestic slopes I had serious tears running down my cheeks and to be honest it’s not changed much since! I love the place.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go watch a cycle race!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Two Up – Again!

In my last post I said how I’m not wild about having a pillion ride with me on my bikes.

Well, just like waiting for a bus, nothing for ages then two come along almost at once!

First it was G, to go collect his new bike and then last weekend nephew Chris twisted my arm to take him for a ride on Baby Blue. I’ve introduced Chris previously, but if you want to read a bit more about him and his back story then click here.

For the non-riders amongst you let me try to explain…

When I ride a motorcycle solo, it’s just me, the machine and the road.

I suppose it’s a bit elemental, but I definitely get “in tune” with the bike and can “read” the feedback it’s giving me as we progress along our way. Little signals from the bike give me an indication as to how much grip the tyres have, what the road camber is doing as well as how gradients are affecting things. Because I spend so much time riding solo, all this information goes haywire as soon as someone else climbs on the back and the bike feels….weird!

The most obvious thing is the extra weight, even on a big touring bike such as the Harley Davidson Ultra Limited it’s very noticeable. Sometimes there have been pillions trying to ride the bike for me and leaning this way and that, usually at the wrong time. Then there’s that other matter that I call “Wriggle Bum” and that’s basically when the pillion just won’t sit still, particularly at critical moments, such at junctions and intersections; it can quite easily lead to “interesting” domestic conversations!

When I agreed to give Chris a ride, I must admit that lots of thoughts about the above went through my mind.

Chris usually rides a Yamaha 125 on the road and a various trials bikes off it, so he’s well used to the niceties of motorcycling, but this would be his first time as a pillion.

Last Saturday morning we set off from Dookes H.Q. and had a nicely varied ride-out covering around 55 miles of beautiful North Cornwall countryside. We Stopped for petrol and collected some Cornish Pasties for lunch from Aunt Avis at St Kew Highway, before a spirited, though sensible, loop back home.

All smiles, Chris tries out the front seat….
Hands off nephew!


Well I needn’t have worried, Chris was a dream to have sitting on the back!

All the time he sat perfectly still, allowed the motion of the bike to flow under him and basically trusted me to get on with my job of piloting the beast!

Chris, you can ride pillion on Baby Blue anytime!

“I’m cruising fast on a motorcycle down this winding country road.”

Catch you soon

Dookes

Trip Planning

Regular visitors my blog, The “Blogonaughts,” may probably be wondering why I haven’t been hitting the road for another epic type trip.

The months of June and July have, sort of, become my default time for going off exploring, with long hours of Northern Hemisphere sunshine and school holidays still a month or more away. Yes, I avoid school holidays!

So why am I not heading out exploring?

Well, there are a number of different reasons…

First up, I’ve just been crazy busy over the past few months. The maintenance of Dookes H.Q and various bits of charity work that I do have certainly kept me off the streets, literally.

Then there was G’s crash and injury, which has seen me zipping back and forth to support him and has left me feeling a bit flat about the whole business of riding motorcycles.

It wasn’t just G.

My oldest mate “Vifferman” took a tumble and wrote off his Honda, in atrocious wet conditions, just before Christmas and recently nephew Chris had a crazy woman step out in front of his trials bike one evening after dark; fortunately no-one was seriously hurt in either case, however as a result, I’ve been feeling a little like “the last man standing!”

Viff’s second-hand Honda.


It’s all OK though, having freed myself up from over commitments I can see the light at the end of the tunnel; G is on the mend, Chris is young and unshaken, Viff is, well, just Viff!

Which is why my thoughts have been turning towards trip planning!

At this moment I can hear Mrs Dookes sighing. You see I’m a bit of a map nerd; I’d rather spend an hour poring over a map than reading a magazine or newspaper…it’s the Navigator in me! As a result I’ve always got inspiration for future trips running through my head and embryonic plans just waiting to be developed, cunning eh?

Where are you thinking of going, then Dookes? I hear you say.

Well the list isn’t as long as you’d think…

Home Nations wise I’ve long harboured a wish to do a tour of the UK taking in Wales (naturally), Scotland, England and Ireland.
I always seem to have some unfinished business somewhere and the Alps and Dolomites are in my mind on that score.
I’d quite like to take a gentle foodie trundle around Spain and Portugal’s non-touristy areas.
Parts of Eastern Europe have always appealed to me, such as Hungary and Romania, so I’d throw in some of the Balkans there as well.
Finally, I really want to go explore Scandinavia, especially North of the Arctic Circle.
Needless to say, my beloved France would almost certainly be included in most of the above!

That’s about it really…for now.

Now, where to????


I did ponder whether I should have called this post “Route Dreaming,” but a dream stays that, just a dream – an abstract swirl of misty ideas. No my friends, these are places that I will really ride to and as such I have the plans to prove it.

So how do I go about putting together a route plan?

Well, I start with the basic target of somewhere to go, the final destination. Taking Dookes H.Q. as the starting point, that gives me the beginning and end. Next I do some research on interesting or historic places to visit along the way, like the Chapel at Ronchamp, Aigues Mortes or Pont du Gard.

Aigues Mortes

Then its just a matter of finding interesting twisty roads and joining up the dots; simple really. If any of this comes across as ‘teaching Grandma how to suck eggs,’ then I apologise, but I really get lots of people asking how I do my route planning.

Pont du Gard, It’s Roman and very old!


Oh yes, factoring in accommodation is pretty important too and detours have been known to sample particular food delicacies; as my late mate Floyd once said, “To know a country, you must eat a country!”

Only the French serve food like this…


So there you are, the Dookes route-planning machine is alive, well and currently very active.

The question is:
Which one of the destinations on the list above will I attack first?

Well I’m not going to give anything away at this stage, build the suspense and keep you all guessing eh?

I’m thinking that 2600 miles and six countries should do it…

In September.

Now if you’ll excuse me I’m off to do a spot of map reading!

“I just know where I want to be,
Forever wandering, forever travelling.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Blue Monday

Hello everyone!

First up, please accept my apologies for being a tad tardy in making posts over the last few weeks. Mostly my excuse is that I haven’t had much to say, so rather than blithering complete nonsense, as opposed to mostly nonsense I thought it best to shut up!

Life in Dookes World is pretty OK, I’ve been out and about on the bikes quite a bit though only relatively local trips. I am, however, getting totally fed up with the constant need to wash the bikes after each ride… go out on a blue Harley and return on a brown one, such is the level of c**p on our local roads at the moment! – No, don’t worry I’m not publishing a photo of a dirty motorbike!

Which leads me to the title of this post.

Apparently, the third Monday of January, (that’s today!), has been given the name “Blue Monday” and has been identified as the most depressing day of the year for countries in the Northern Hemisphere! There are even statistical equations that purport to back up the claim, though as two completely different versions of the equation exist I doubt that my old Mathematics Professor would be very impressed!

Now quite what this pseudoscience nonsense is all based on I’m not sure…though I’m inclined to suspect that travel companies eager to make bookings in the post-Christmas period have a lot to do with it!

Looking out of the window here at Dookes H.Q. today it’s dark, misty, damp and dreary, the forecast says its going to be this way for about a week… so maybe there is something in it after all!

All is not lost though.

We have been experiencing a very mild winter so far with temperatures around ten degrees celsius above average, it’s certainly saving on heating costs!

Best of all, a wander around the grounds here at H.Q. reveals that Spring is racing its way towards us. There are shoots of all my favourite Spring flowers pushing up from the ground through the last fallen leaves of Autumn. Stars of the show so far are a couple of delightful Primroses that certainly have arrived first!

Primrose, Primula vulgaris. Excuse the poor quality, blame the rain and the light!

Primrose, Primula vulgaris.
Excuse the poor quality, blame the rain and the light!

Now with that little glimpse of Spring I’m of to plan some road trips!

Blue Monday? Nah, not really!

“Monday morning you look so fine,
Friday I got travellin’ on my mind.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

La better kind of blue!

My kind of blue!

Jack Frost

I love crystal clear frost kissed days. Those mornings when the blue sky really does stretch to infinity and the sub-zero air burns your lungs as you drink in the purity of it all. If you need it, you get reminded of the pure joy of being alive!
image
Our small corner of the world, poking out into the Gulf Stream warmed waters of the Atlantic Ocean, doesn’t get an awful lot of frosty days. Dookes H.Q. stands nearly 1000 feet above sea level and as a result we sometimes sneak an odd frosty morning while the rest of Cornwall basks in a sub-tropical bubble. More often, especially if there’s a South-Westerly wind, we just get mild rain!

We’ve had a couple of those crisp mornings over the last week and as usual I had a camera with me, so I hope you’ll excuse me a bit of self-indulgence and maybe enjoy some of the results; just click on an image to get the bigger picture.

“Countless drawings, endless sketches
On my window pane.
Master craftsman, skilled engraver,
Jack Frost is his name.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes