Last Night Blues? – Nah!

Well dear Blogonaughts, Harls and I are back in Brittany and enjoying the last night of our Route des Grande Alpes odyssey.

This will be our last “On Tour” blog post report, once I get home I’ll start writing up the trip in more detail and publishing it; I hope you stick around to see that, as amongst other things I’ve got some fantastic photographs to share.

Last night’s stopover in Bourgueil was extremely comfortable. Every few nights I like to slightly up the standard and enjoy a bit of extra comfort, I’m getting on a bit you know and need all the help I can get!

The region of the Loire Valley around the pretty town of Bourgueil (say “Bur-gui”) is noted for it’s splendid red wines. In fact they are well up there on Mrs Dookes’ favourites as they are not too heavy and retain a degree of fresh fruit. Only a few miles down the road is Touraine, where white wines rule the roost, again another on Mrs D’s likes list.

The difference in wine types over such a small distance is all a matter of what the French call “Terroir,” an almost indefinable difference in the type of soil, aspect and geography that suits one grape type better than others and can even make wine from the same grape taste very different. I once tried to explain this to a friend who was convinced that a €1 bottle of wine tasted as good as a €20 bottle…I gave up in the end!

Trust me though, it does make a difference!

The vines of Bourgueil, just quietly waiting to produce great wine!


Anyway, back to the biking…

We had a fairly relaxed 220 mile trundle today; the new lower French speed limit of 80 kph was actually quite relaxing on the affected roads that we used and didn’t seem to add much to our journey time either. Thankfully there was some cloud cover and as a result temperatures were a bit lower, it was still hot on occasions though.

It’s probably a good job that this blog doesn’t come with smell, as after two weeks of the crazy temperatures that we’ve had my riding gear is…disgusting! I’m going to hang it on a line and give it all a good hose off with high pressure water when I get home! That’s if I am let in the house, I have a vision of Mrs D refusing to let me in until I change clothes out in my workshop; ah, the trials of the long distance motorcyclist!

Talking of long distance, today we tipped our hat to 2700 miles total for the trip so far, or 4345 kilometres if you prefer. Sure if you divide by the number of days it’s not crazy per day, but some of those days were hard ones, very hard.

Tonight I’m just sitting quietly enjoying a splendid meal and pondering on where we have been, what we have seen, the people who we met and the roads that we have travelled.

It really has been quite a journey.

Was La Route des Grande Alpes a monkey on my back before we set out?

Well, maybe, but not in a sinister way like the “Beast of Stelvio” was. Click here for that story!

Once we rode onto the epic route in Thonon les Bains it just seemed to give and give; I cant wait to tell you more about it.

For now, with a splendid meal in front of me and a glass of very nice claret to hand I’m happy, very happy indeed. Job done and done with my friend Harls, who else!

Tomorrow we go home and what could be happier than that?

“Roll, roll me away,
I’m gonna roll me away tonight
Gotta keep rollin, gotta keep ridin’,
keep searchin’ till I find what’s right”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Advertisements

Interference and Remembrance

As you all know I really love my old Harls.

Some of you however, will not appreciate that she is also a link to two long departed special people. Today and the previous few days were the anniversary of the passing of Trudie and Andy.

Both taken too young and both missed immensely.

You can read more about them and their link with Harls here.

I was thinking about the two of them today when I stopped at a service station that claims to be to be at the very centre of France on the A71 AutoRoute.

Then when I came to leave all hell let loose!

Harls wouldn’t respond to either of my key fobs and when I tried to start her the alarm went off, again and again!

Strangely no-one challenged me…

I wandered into the shop and asked if they had any batteries for my alarm?

“No“ was the answer; “But if it’s your motorbike, try pushing it down the slope, it happens all the time, it’s the radio antenna!”

OK, known problem eh?

Well, I pushed Harls down the slope and yes there was a blasted great 100 metre tall radio mast right next to the service area, but no she still wouldn’t play nice. In fact she went even more peculiar on me. There were lights flashing all over the place and all sorts of previously unheard squawks emanated from her!

At times like these you need a friendly voice, so I called my good friends at Plymouth Harley Davidson back in the UK.

Luckily Dealer Principle Chris answered the phone and within a few minutes I was talking to Chief Technician Dave – this is Dave who loves Harls almost as much as I do and frequently threatens to take her from me if I don’t look after her!

We talked through the issue and Dave came up with some suggestions, which I went away to try.

Nothing doing.

I really appreciated the effort and support from those guys back at Plymouth Harley Davidson, it”s good to know that you have a friendly, helpful voice at the other end of the phone even if they are 1000 miles away!

Whilst I was scratching my head a car drew up and a chap got out who introduced himself as a local Harley rider.

“That m%#@e mast has got you brother!” he exclaimed, then went on to tell me that lots of local French Harley riders have had the same problem that I was experiencing.

Thanks, but how did they get out of it?

“On a truck!” – Not greatly encouraging…

Then another chap arrived on the scene. He’d been having lunch with his family and had seen my predicament. It turned out that he was an electronics engineer and had experienced similar problems throughout France.

His African-French accent was quite difficult to understand, but he told me that the French are not very good about thinking of the effects of either High-Tension power lines or Microwave Transmitters on other electronic devices when such things are built.

He came up with a suggestion to try with one of my key-fobs; take the power cells out of both and stack them than use a key to make the circuit, briefly press the button and see what would happen.

Bingo! It worked!

I suppose that the extra power was enough to override the interference; I don’t really care, I’m a mechanical engineer and although I understand electronics. They are a bit of a black art to me!

Harls burst into life and sat burbling contentedly.

The funny thing was that for an hour and forty minutes I didn’t get worked up or cross; Trudie was holding my hand and Andy was trying to find a solution – I was not alone.

Then for the next 150 miles they rode with Harls and I, again.

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Movin’ On

Dear Blogonaughts, it’s nearly 22:00hrs local time.

It’s well over 25ºC and the air is still. Around me crickets chirp and the last birds are calling as the head to roost. Beneath, in the valley, the river gently purrs as it caresses the boulders that stand in it’s path.

I’m sitting outside writing and getting eaten alive by mosquitos and a million other airborne bloodsuckers!!!

This morning I was sad to leave our mountain base. Not half as sad when we dropped into the valley thirty minutes later and the temperature suddenly rose to 35ºC, where it has stayed for the rest of the day!

We ground out some quick and serious miles to Grenoble Airport on the péage autoroutes; tedious, but they get you moving quickly, which was just as well as that was the only respite from the heat I could find.

From the airport we headed for the Rhône valley, crossing the mighty river at Sablons, where I pondered that just nine days ago we had bridged that same river in it’s much more youthful state shortly after it had drained out of Lake Geneva.

Then we vigorously climbed up onto the Massif Central, the high plateau that stretches down the spine of France from Clermont Ferrand in the North to Montpellier by the Mediterranean coast in the South. Specifically we were heading for the Auvergne, one of my favourite parts of France with it’s deep valleys and extinct volcanoes.

Once up on the Massif I relaxed, not because it got any cooler – look, I’m sorry, I’m not moaning about the heat, it’s just the reality of what it was like – but we hit an altogether different sort of road, in a place that has a different pace of life!

Today has been a bit strange. Today the French Government brought in a new maximum speed limit on the ordinary roads of the country, 80kph. This excludes dual carriageway and motorways, but applies to all single carriageway routes. I must admit that for the majority of the time I have been a good boy and stuck to it, which is more than I can say for the majority of French drivers that I saw! On the type of roads that we were on this afternoon 80kph/48mph is actually quite relaxing, but would be a pain if you needed to get anywhere quickly!

Tonight we are in the hills near Ambert, a delightful yet busy little place on the old main-road through the Massif
Even though in the back of my mind I know we have started the run home, I think that tomorrow really is that “Returning Point” moment. That second when the trip that has been so long in the dreaming, planning and execution is now starting to head to its conclusion.

The view from our base near Ambert.


Tomorrow will be a transit day, maybe with a drop in on a Harley Dealership, but mostly it’s mile munching/kilometre krunching time. On the plus side we are heading for the wine-producing town of Bourgueil on the flood plain of the River Loire. The region around the town produces some of the most delightful light red wines in France, that are high on Mrs Dookes “likes” list….note to self…!

The forecast says we may have some showers, certainly it will be a tad cooler, which won’t be a bad thing.

Catch you soon

Dookes

Rest day

Today was meant to be a rest day, a sort of “recharge the batteries” day.

…only one problem, what to do?

I admit, I made a bit of an administrative error staying at a hotel without a swimming pool, but the food more than makes up for that; tonight Magret de Canard, for example!

So what does a long distance motorcyclist do on his day off?

Go for a ride on his bike, that’s what!

To be more precise, go for a lightweight spin up Cime de la Bonette without the encumbrance of luggage, do a bit of exploring and have a nice picnic lunch on the high alp.

All of which came together perfectly.

We got out good and early and managed to reach to summit before the hoards descended. The big Cols often get busy late morning and mid afternoon, so if you want to have a bit of peace either go early or aim for very late afternoon/early evening.

We did a bit of trundling around at altitude and some on-foot wandering around, which at altitude was a tad tough, then found a lovely spot off the beaten track to enjoy lunch.

Not a bad view over lunch!


The altitude thing is interesting and effects people in different ways. It’s generally agreed that doing what I did, going up quickly and then trying to do some strenuous exercise like hike-climbing isn’t a great idea; I can agree with that. You really need more time to acclimatise than I had, my body is used to living at 600ft above sea level in Cornwall, not 9400ft in the high alps!

This afternoon I got Harls fuelled and sorted for tomorrow then planned to have a quiet time doing some writing or maybe having a little snooze, but somehow it didn’t happen and I sort of trundled into supper time…which is where I am now!

The highlight of the evening so far, apart from the Magret de Canard which is incredibly good, has been watching Madame, the hotel owner, giving five German bikers a good dressing down for turning up for dinner in their riding leathers. Then telling them that they smell and sending them off for a shower before she serves them and even then that they must sit outside on the terrace! Priceless!

She winked at me as she strutted past after delivering her instructions; this formidable lady has a sense of humour without a shadow of doubt!

As for the Germans, well they seem to have slunk off for the shower as instructed!

It’s good to have standards.

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Keeping My Word

Some years ago, I’ve got to check exactly when and it may have been pre-blog days, I took Harls up Col de la Bonette.

We had a great time, but it was slightly tinged with a bit of sadness as we couldn’t quite reach the summit of Cime de la Bonette due to heavy snow.

That day I told Harls that I would bring her back and we would finally reach the summit together.

Call me bonkers if you like, but that motorbike has a personality and trust me, she understood.

I don’t think, therefore, it went down well with Harls when three years ago I took Baby Blue up to the summit before her!

Cime de la Bonette is an interesting place and only in existence due to the wonderful attitude of the French people who saw an opportunity to make their mark on the map of Europe. For some reason the French were not content to just have the highest pass in Europe, Col de l’Iseran at 2770m/ 9087ft, they wanted to go one better and make a totally pointless loop around the adjacent mountain to Col de la Bonette and add 300m to the record!
I love the attitude, though if I had been a French tax-payer I don’t know if I would have been so enthusiastic!

La Bonette itself is a formidable place. From the South, the Nice side if you like, the climb is long and at times tedious, with numerous hairpins and tricky road surface. From the North, it’s one of my favourite alpine roads; sweeping ever upwards though delightful country in lovely geometric curves. You can really get into the groove on this climb, I love it!

On both sides though , as you near the top of the climb the scenery changes dramatically; you could be on the moon! The green high alp gives way to barren frost shattered rock, scree, tortured slates and mud stone.

On top of Europe!


It’s high, cold and sterile, even the delightful Marmots, clowns of the high alps, don’t bother going up here! Get caught on a bad day and you can be in serious trouble in a very short time indeed. Today though was benign.

With altitude Harls got sluggish and I must say that I was feeling it to, sea level to over 9000ft in one go hits you…!

We chugged our way to the summit and I kicked down her side stand.

Silence.

I leant forward and patted her tank, “See, I told you we’d come back.”

At the summit Cime de la Bonette-Promise kept!


This bike of mine is amazing and I’m probably boring you all stupid saying so, but honestly she is.

Then we dropped down into Jausiers and I swear that she ran better and truer than ever before on this trip; I kept my word and as a result, she’s happy!

Let it never be said that I am not a man of my word!

“Well its alright ridin’ around in the breeze, well it’s alright, if you live the life you please.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Vive la Difference!

My hotel in Menton is super.

It’s one of those older places with a high ceiling foyer that’s supported with robust Doric columns. Theres a sweeping marble staircase and the reception desk dominates to hall like the bridge of an ocean liner.

The dining room is hung with chandeliers and set into the panelled walls are mirrors that stretch to the high mouldings that form a coving to the equally impressive ceiling.

It’s all very reassuring and very comfortable.

It’s also a little quirky!

Take last night for example. Dinner was served from 19:00, so being civilised I arrived at the restaurant fifteen minutes later; no problem there. Super efficient waitress Justine ushered me to a table in the window, lovely. A carafe of water promptly appeared and I asked for an aperitif. Justine looked quite stern and informed me that the bar was closed from 19:15 until 20:15 I could have wine, but nothing else until the bar opened again!

OK, go with the flow…

Then ten minutes later the Chef de L’Hotel walked into the restaurant with a radio microphone and proceeded to tell us all about the evening’s menu and then what excursions he could sell to guests the next day. I guess you’ve got to pounce on a captive audience, fortunately his ramblings didn’t distract from an excellent meal!

Then this morning the ritual of breakfast began at eight o’clock and not a second before! Guests were queuing at the restaurant door, which was not flung open until the second-hand of the large foyer clock swept past 12 to mark the hour!

Once we were permitted access, petit déjuner was very good, in a usual French way; croissants, bread, jams, ham, cheese etc. There was however, one splendid addition, jugs of wine!

A nice touch if you are that way inclined at the dot of eight in the morning, but not for me thank you!

Vive la difference!

A bientôt!

Dookes

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