Red Sky In The Morning.

Sometimes it’s worth getting up the first time the alarm sounds and not hitting the “Snooze” button. Yesterday in Brittany was a case in point.

Surprisingly the evening with Denis didn’t get out of hand and I slept “The sleep of the just,” with only the alarm disturbing me. I got out of bed and threw open the shutters, dawn was breaking in the Eastern sky with rich hues of amber, red and gold; it was too good to miss, so I sat I the window taking in the show that the sun was giving.

In the back of my mind I pondered the old adage,”Red sky in the morning, sailors warning.” Hmm, oh well, we’ve taken pretty much everything that the weather clerk has thrown at us this trip, something else won’t matter. Will it?

Denis was waiting when I wandered downstairs, his smile every bit as warm as the sun.
“Bonjour Gallois, bien dormi, ça va?”
“Oui mon ami ça va et merci, j’ai très bien dormi!”

He broke into a rare bit of stilted English,
“Bacon and eggs? Zee full English?”

He roared with laughter as I shook my head…he knew what I was going to say.

“Merci, non. J’aurai une omelette, comme d’habitude!”

More laughter, Denis knows I always have an omelette for breakfast with him; it’s because they are the best, which I frequently remind him. Anyway he gets fun out of the bacon and eggs routine!

Of course there’s the usual French breakfast fare to go with it; bread, croissants, pain au chocolat and as this is Bretagne, little Madeleine cakes…which just beg to be dipped briefly in your cup of coffee to give sublime breakfast happiness!

Soon, too soon, it was time to hit the road again and in the French way there were hugs and kisses all round. Ann stood on the steps of the Château waving me goodbye, Denis had disappeared off to feed his horses, he doesn’t do the actual departure bit very well.

I turned Harls North West and headed for our ferry port at Roscoff, just over 100 miles away through delightful Breton scenery. True, Brittany isn’t as spectacular as the mountains that we’ve been in for the last fortnight, but to me it has a homely feel. It’s the region of France where I first “got it” about the country and the people, that’s wholly down to Mrs Dookes; she worked here years ago and imparted her love of the place to me. I’ve never really looked back since!

Then there was the weather, what a lovely day it had turned into and stayed that way right to the ferry. Thank you La France, I’ll forgive you the downpours we had to endure previously!

….and so to sea. The ferry link between Brittany and Plymouth is really convenient for me as Dookes H.Q. is only about 25 miles from the port and usually a doddle to cover.

I like travelling with Brittany Ferries, that’s not an advert for them – I’m just a satisfied customer. I always get a cabin, irrespective if it’s a day or night sailing, as it makes a good base to securely dump things whilst I enjoy the facilities of the ship and also because I appreciate getting some sleep. No difference this time either!

Getting near to the U.K.the weather closed in and by the time we docked it was full-on driving rain. Oh joy in the darkness!

Then, just to add to my overflowing cup of happiness on the way home, the highways authority had decided to dig up the road and install diversions…then we ran into fog and still it rained…bear in mind that these are rural roads with no street-lighting, not fun. That blasted red sky!

Grumbling aside, it was good to roll Harls into my workshop, shut the doors, turn on the dehumidifiers, thank her for a job well done and promise in the next couple for days to wash the considerable amount of road grime off her.

2736 miles without missing a beat. “Pas mal,” as Denis says, yes not at all bad for an old lady, the true star of the show!

Incredibly big thanks to Mrs Dookes for the latitude that she gives me to go travelling, whilst she keeps H.Q. ticking over; yeah I know that I’m a lucky chap in so many ways.

There’s more to tell about this trip dear reader, so please pop back again soon when I post more pictures and stories of things we saw along the road.

“Let me be a travelling man, I’m a roadrunner baby, roadrunner.”

Catch you soon

Dookes

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Playing Amongst the Clouds

Apologies before you start reading this dear Blogonaughts; I’m still having trouble loading pictures, so until I can make the technology work, please read on, enjoy and by all means comment or message me. – Dookes

There are times when I find it quite difficult to articulate exactly what I think without reverting to boring superlatives, or even worse, tedious exclamations.

Tonight, I’m enjoying dinner at my hotel which is located in Ritten, just North of Bolzano, Northern Italy.

Well, that’s the first problem.

Look on the map and yes, indeed, we are in Italy. Speak to the local people and you’ll find out that we are in the South Tirol. The predominant language is German and certainly in the restaurant tonight, that’s all I can hear. The food, is pretty Germanic too, some rather nice Schnitzel.

It’s one of those unfortunate situations that history has bestowed on the world. In this case until the early 20th Century the region was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, then along came war. The fighting in the Alps and Dolomites during World War One was vicious and protracted, men fought at altitude in trenches dug in rock and snow. The casualty rate was incredibly high and a considerable number from the weather conditions and malnutrition. It became known as “The White War.”

After hostilities ceased, Italy claimed large tracts of the region as war reparations. Then twenty years later along came World War Two and Mussolini tried a further land grab. Once everything had settled down in 1945 new lines were drawn on the map, but unfortunately no-one spoke to the local people…I believe that you can colour a map, but not people’s hearts. The end result is a fascinating bubble of Austrian-ness nestling at the very top of Italy’s boot.

To the credit of the government in Rome, they have recognised that there is a difference and Bolzano is now recognised as an “Autonomous Region.” Travel around the area and you will see many more Austrian flags hanging from houses than the Italian Tricolore. I consider myself lucky to have had a very interesting conversation with a couple of local folk earlier today about both their history and identity. There will be more of that in a future post, but today I rode around their truly beautiful region.

The weather accurately lived up to forecast, changeable. We are in high mountains after all and what we missed from time to time in panoramas, we gained by playing in the swirling clouds and enjoying tantalising glimpses of wonderful limestone crags.

In many ways the lack of distracting views was a bit of a benefit, we rode literally hundreds of hairpins today. If I was rusty on them before, I’m an old hand now!

At the start of the South West climb to Passo di Giau, 2236m/7336ft was a sign, 34 Tornante, 34 Hairpins…after riding 22 I found myself screaming, “No, there’s only another 12!”

It was heavenly, in a totally indulgent two-wheeled petrol-head sort of way!

I am so glad that I brought Harls with me; I really wouldn’t have enjoyed it, or probably even attempted where we rode today, on Big Baby Blue. The more I got into the swing of things, the better my Harls responded, her exhaust seemed to spit contempt at the gradient as she conquered each climb and bend. Yes, she’s a bit of a handful going downhill; the rear brake has a delightful habit of fading as it gets hot or wet, fortunately her engine braking helps out a lot, but hey I’m sort of used to it and wouldn’t have her any other way.

At the top of Passo di Giau is a delightful “Refugio,” sort of cross between a bar, restaurant and hotel. This being the South Tyrol, I went native and enjoyed an “Apfel Strudel und Kaffee” for lunch and very good it was too.

Overall today we topped the following Passes:
Costalungo 1745m
Fedaia 2075m
Di Giau 2230m
Tre Croci 1809m
Falzarego 2105m
Valparolo 2197m
Campolongo 1875m
Gardena 2121m
Sella 2240m
Pordoi 2239m

Not bad for an Old Geezer on a getting on a bit Harley Softail!
Favourites, by a country mile, Di Giau and Pordoi, hairpin heaven.

Was it a good day? You bet is was!

“My uniform is leather
And my power is my age!”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Crazy Photos

Regular Blogonaughts may be wondering just what’s going on with some of the photos that I’ve slid into the last couple of posts.

Just to reassure, old Dookes hasn’t had a sudden rush of blood to the head and isn’t going round riding his motorbike with a camera in his left hand and his right on the throttle!

No it’s a bit more dull than that.

Ages ago I got hold of a nice little Sony video camera, with the idea of capturing some video of my mountain exploits. The original plan was to slot in the odd video on the blog, but to be honest it hasn’t happened for a couple of reasons; I find even my own ride videos a bit boring and I wasn’t over happy with the results without a load of editing…something I haven’t the inclination to do! BUT, I’ve recently been playing around with the little camera and found that it takes semi-reasonable still photos, if a tad wide-angle. Best of all is that I can just press a button and the little thing happily snaps away at a pre-set interval, leaving me free to ride the road and download later.

Hopefully we will get some decent weather to see some real nice shots!

In the meantime, if you see a picture of the road that looks a bit leaning over….it’s because we were and you get to see it as it really is.
So welcome on board and please sit still.

Catch you soon Dookes

Hard Miles

Some days the miles seem to fly by, blink and that’s a hundred gone, other days it can seem like you are getting nowhere very slowly. Today had elements of both!

I said “au revoir” to Claudine and Jacques this morning and hit the road. I wanted to fill Harls with fuel and decided that a convenient supermarket on the outskirts of Bourges that I knew would be ideal. For some reason I thought that it would be fun to stick to “normal” roads and avoid the Péage, after all it was only 25 miles away….BIG mistake! That 25 miles took an hour, with road works, heavy traffic and speed limits.

I’ve got to admit that I wasn’t a very happy Dookes. When I started this trip, I resolved to chill and definitely cut down on the swearing…good job I haven’t got a swear box with me then, I was even going at it in Welsh!!!!

Then we got on the N151 and things got a whole lot better.

Normally I avoid “N” roads, or Route National to give them their proper title. These days they are often poor relations to the toll roads and suffer from toll-road-avoiding trucks beating them to pieces.

The 151 is different though.

Enjoying the N151.


First up it’s an old Roman road, so it’s almost dead straight, but occasionally enjoys some wonderful sections of multiple curves. It passes through delightful towns, like Charité sur Loire, Vézelay and Clamecy and crosses from the Val de Loire into Bourgogne – that’s Burgundy to the non-French speakers.

Passing through small town France.

I love Bourgogne, it’s so “me” and like me it seems to burst into life in the autumn, I was an Autumn baby so maybe that’s got something to do with it! The list of wonderful Burgundy produce reads like an encyclopaedia of high quality foodstuff. There’s some of the most delightful (and expensive) wines in the whole of France, nuts by the tonne, grass reared beef, mustard, cheese, Marc de Bourgogne brandy and of course all kinds of game. Its reputation for fine gastronomy is well deserved. Unfortunately, today, we were only passing through, drat!

Then after Avallon we rode onto the A6, Autoroute de Soleil, or to coin Chris Rea, “this is the road to hell!” To be fair, it doesn’t go to hell, but it’s purgatory travelling along it! The A31 and A36 that follow are pretty “merde” as well. These were 150 hard, hard miles, just grit the old teeth and get on with it. No-one can hear you scream in space, or inside a motorcycle helmet.

Finally after Besançon we turned off and began to pass through small towns and villages as we climbed towards the Vosges. Along the way we had crossed the line where water drains towards the Mediterranean Sea rather than the Atlantic and had bridged the river Saône; I always feel sorry for the poor Saône, it’s a mighty river in its own right, but normally it’s just dismissed as a tributary of the Rhône.

Seeing the Vosges Mountains rise up around us, it occurred to me that France is big, really big. Not in the space sense as The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy once said:

“Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mindbogglingly big it is. I mean you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”

Well, when you live in Cornwall, a county about 70 miles long and only around 40 miles at its widest and where the Sea is only ever 20 minutes away tops, France might just as well be Outer Space!

Then we hit the mountains and the smile returned!

Smile time, mountain roads!


Ok, the Voges isn’t the Alps, but hey after the day we had just endured you gotta cut me some slack! We rode past our B&B for the night and on to Gerardmer to cross off some Cols, just because we could and also because I needed to get the old head straight on a few hairpins!

“Wheels spinnin’ round my brain, driving you insane.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Today’s mileage 329; Trip 691 from Roscoff..

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

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

Ride a White Swan

Ten years ago I sat on an East-bound Boeing watching the bright stars shining high above the Atlantic before the speeding sun brought an early dawn. Our contrails pointed back towards Chicago. I was heading home after visiting family in the Windy City; family who mean so much to me as the years pass by.

I love flying, but that short night I was troubled.

Just prior to leaving for the USA I had almost concluded a deal to purchase a motorbike, a lovely Pearlescent White Harley Davidson Centenary Softail, but there I was sitting in a 400 tonne cigar tube questioning whether I was doing the right thing….it was a lot of money!

The hostess invited me to close the window blind, I always get amused by that…do they think that someone is looking in from the outside at 30,000 feet altitude at night? I politely declined and explained that I was Astro-navigating, I was left alone, probably classed as a nut case…and back to my pondering.

In due course the wheels touched down at London Heathrow and we were launched into the machine that all long-haul travellers have to endure; emigration, customs, bureaucracy and of course queuing and standing in line…then it’s off to baggage reclaim.

At London Paddington station we gratefully sank into out First Class seats on the Westbound high-speed train back to Cornwall and relaxed. Mrs Dookes drifted off to sleep as I tackled a bacon sandwich and a cup of black coffee whilst admiring the pleasant English countryside speeding by at 125mph.

Mrs D’s phone buzzed with a text message; I picked it up and glanced at the words on the screen. I gently nudged my wife awake, “Message, not good.”

The text message was to tell us that one of Mrs D’s dearest and oldest friends had died.

Trudie was just 35 when she was taken by cervical cancer.

We knew that she was seriously ill before we flew out to the USA some weeks previously and had spent a beautiful day in her company; but it still came as a shock. No, it was shit….

Trudie; beautiful, delicate, lovely, wonderful, happy, loving Trudie….gone.

I wanted to scream, cry, sob and I host of other things…instead I stared out of the window and saw Trudie’s face in the clouds above the ripening wheat fields speeding past our carriage.

The rest of the journey passed in a blur; then the next two days merged into a mess of jet-lag and grief.

A few days later I was back in my office. The phone rang, it was 09:15.

Mrs Dookes was calling. She cut straight to the chase, “Dad had just called me, my cousin Andy has been found dead!”

It turned out that Andy had suffered a major heart attack in the middle of the night and had been found by his father, collapsed in the bathroom at his home.

Andy had not long turned 40.

I liked Andy, he was a bit of an odd-ball, but we shared many common interests like old machinery and trains; he was a nice bloke.

I put the phone down and stared out of the window. Life is too bloody short and at times bloody unfair.

I picked up the telephone again and dialled the motorcycle dealership.

“About that bike…I’ll pick it up on Friday!”

Ten years later I’m still riding that beautiful white Harley Davidson, that you folks know as “Harls.”

I’m just sorry that Andy never got to hear the rasp of her engine through those shot-gun pipes; and I’m desperately sad that Trudie never got to ride pillion behind me, I’m sure that Mrs Dookes wouldn’t have minded…!

…but you know sometimes I see a shadow in the workshop when I’m working on that bike and start the engine….and on other occasions when I’m riding I could swear that I get a hug, like someone is sitting behind me and has their arms around my waist.

Ten years on, I’ve ridden just about everywhere I’ve ever wanted to on that wonderful bike. I’ve also got a powerful bunch of very special memories forged on that lovely machine, but most of all I still feel that connection with two very special people taken too soon and for them I ride in their memory.

Andy. Trudie. I miss you both and love you still.

Catch the two of you one day.

“Ride it on out like a bird in the sky way
Ride it on out like you were a bird.
Ride a White Swan like the people of the Beltane.”

Dookes