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

Born to Run

I am frequently fascinated by many blogger’s who post their “definitive” list of best biking/driving/road songs…and then ask for others to contribute their suggestions, often that’s when things start to get interesting!

There’s an old saying, “One man’s meat is another man’s poison!”

Therein lies the crux of the matter.

Music, like just about everything else in this world is all a matter of personal taste. Indeed, on the music front I can switch around like a leaf blowing in the wind, (no pun intended!) it all depends on my mood. “Definitive” is not a word I use in such matters.

Which leads me to motorbikes…

Here again it’s all about choice and how the mood takes you. If you need any convincing of the wide variety of tastes that exist in the world of motorcycles then you only have to go on-line or pop into a dealership and see the plethora of different styles of bikes available for the eager to purchase!

The vast majority of us generally settle on one type of machine, one that either is spot-on for our needs, or more likely, a reasonable compromise for what we might want to do on two wheels. Take my mate Vifferman as an example; Viff settled on the Honda VFR800 as his “do most” machine, generally used for commuting but with the ability to give some serious “Grin-Moments” as well as limited touring use.

Some folk are fortunate that they are able to acquire more than one bike to indulge their different interests; maybe a sports bike for high-speed fun, alongside a trials bike for a spot of mud plugging!

Nephew Chris on his way to winning another trophy off the road and in the mud!

The great thing about motorbikes is that you can usually find something to suit any pocket too.

Now as regular Bloggonaughts will remember, there are two machines in the Dookes fleet and whilst they are both Harleys, they do actually tick different boxes. They are both firmly “road-bikes” and not really intended for off-road activities; though I have ridden my Softail “Harls” off tarmac in the Bardenas Reales semi-desert in Spain as you can see by clicking here.

“Harls” by model is a Softail, a “Cruiser” that does most things adequately, but excels at putting a smile on my face!

“Baby” is an Ultra Limited, a heavyweight “Tourer” ideal for comfortable mile-munching and in some ways not much else! Yes, I know that there are incredible videos of people throwing big Harleys around like BMX pedal bikes, but generally they don’t own them…or the repair bill to mend shattered fairings when they drop the things, as inevitably happens when you are practicing! I know my limits.

Generally though, the Dookes view on Off-Road riding is that if God had intended motorbikes to be ridden in the mud, he/she would never have given us asphalt!

Talking of mud, there was I recall in the 1970’s a rock group of that name who had quite a bit of success in the UK…which sort of brings me back to music!

Last Christmas Mrs Dookes kindly gave me a copy of Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography, “Born to Run,” which is named after his real breakthrough album of 1975. I’ve been a fan of Bruce since that album was first released all those years ago and my vinyl copy was over the years played to death!

I’m often hesitant when it comes to books by musicians, there’s frequently too much padding or simply boring stuff, a bit like a sandwich with too much bread! Stand out for that transgression I found was Keith Richard’s tome, though considering the amount of drugs and alcohol that he consumed over the years I suppose some latitude should be allowed and I should be grateful that he could remember anything!

Anyway, back to Bruce.
He began slowly writing his book after performing at the 2009 Super Bowl and took seven years to finish it. I found his frankness about the mental issues that afflicted his father, plus his own brushes with depression to be quite moving; possibly because of my own father’s battle with dementia.

For me, this really is a book with broad appeal, all you need is a love of rock and roll or a mind open enough to find out what it is all about. Springsteen’s book writing style is an echo of his song writing and that itself a reflection of his roots.

If anyone is in doubt about the writers credentials and background then they should study this book. It is clear that Springsteen is the living embodiment of the “American Dream,” a descendant of immigrants who grew from nothing to Demi-Rock-God multimillionaire through talent and hard work. If anyone has a right to write about the things that his songs explore, it is this man; Bruce wasn’t gifted a shed-full of dollars to start out, unlike the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue….and maybe that’s why it’s clear that Mr Springsteen’s feet are still firmly planted on the pavements of Thunder Road!

“Born to Run” the book, is probably as detailed an insight into the life of one of rocks most iconic figures as we, the general public, are likely to get. By Springsteen’s own admission, there are certain details that he has omitted, either for personal reasons or to protect others, but in general his life is laid bare across the pages and certainly kept my attention throughout.

An added pleasure from reading “Born to Run” has been the subtle kick up the backside to go listen to Bruce Springsteen’s back catalogue and revisit some old musical friends from many years gone by. Like I said earlier, music is a mood thing for me and just lately the mood has taken me back to Bruce…but tomorrow it may be Mozart, John Lee Hooker, or Kraftwerk . . . let’s just see where the day, or motorbike, takes me!

“Come on with me, tramps like us
Baby we were born to run.”

Catch you soon

Dookes

Taking it Easy With Memories

A couple of days ago, I was sitting on a ferry returning from France. It’s quite a long crossing at the Western end of the English Channel, so over an espresso I sat idly fooling around with my iPad looking at photographs and only half aware of the canned Muzak emanating from a speaker on the ceiling just above me.

It all changed when “Hotel California” by the Eagles began.

The album of the same name was one of the companions of my youth and I still love it now as much as when I first heard it. It’s also become one of my companions when touring on two wheels and today I guess it represents the sense of freedom that motorcycle travel gives me.

Having left the port of Roscoff in Northern Brittany, we were enjoying a glass smooth passage. The various Islets that rise out of the sea off the coast here fascinate me every time I sail by and over the years I’ve passed this way over fifty times now!p1070978

Now we were on the open Sea and the French coast had long disappeared in our wake over the receding horizon. I sat up and looked out at the passing ocean, the sun was rapidly setting. It’s always fun to anticipate the big hiss as it sinks into the water, but that never happens…!

A large container ship was passing through the lengthening golden rays, it’s decks and hold crammed with shipping boxes carrying goodness knows what. For a moment it seemed to pause, silhouetted against the horizon; what a shame it wasn’t one of those classic liners from the past, such as the Queen Mary, Normandie or France. I was fortunate, years ago, to have actually witnessed the last of those graceful ships before the scrapyards claimed most of them, what a memory to have!p1070994

Yes, the old Dookes mind was definitely wandering…

When I’m at sea I find I can have space to think, probably because there’s not much else to do and watching the endless waves go by has a wonderfully calming effect on me.

The Eagles continued as we left the container ship in our wake.

In my mind I was now back on my big two-wheeler, sweeping across the fertile plains of Central France and catching that first breath-taking glimpse of the Alps. I could feel the warmth of the summer sun on my face and the scent of wild flowers as we passed verdant meadows of blooms nodding in gentle summer breezes. The drum of the ship’s engines became the soundtrack of the road, or at least a pretty good substitute.

It’s been lovely to be back in Brittany, if only for a short time. The weather has been kind to us and the early colours of Autumn quite enchanting. For a change I’ve not been chasing the miles and have been quite content to stay in one place, visit some local towns and villages, catch up with friends and of course enjoy the local food and drink.

The season has been relentlessly turning, with the trees slowly fading from verdant greens to gold and brown.p1070960 In the dense forest around our friends château we found sweet chestnuts dropping from the branches of ancient trees, one of natures tasty gifts to be eagerly gathered and enjoyed a long with wild mushrooms and other edible fungi.p1070964 By the pretty village of Huelgoat the glassy lake looked stunning, framed by majestic autumnal colour.dsc_0060

The medieval town of Josselin has a street market that always captivates me and to have the time to stroll amongst its bustling stalls is a real treat. p1040879As with most things French, food takes centre stage. We stocked up with tresses of smoked garlic, air-dried sausages, onions and olives. Mouth-watering aromas hung on the air; there were spit roasting chickens, outsize pans of tartiflette, grilled ham and a host of other tempting goodies all being freshly cooked and available to eat now or later. I let my senses take in the atmosphere and I realised that each passing moment is another precious memory to look back on, enjoy and savour.

The Brest - Nantes Canal at Josselin.

The Brest – Nantes Canal at Josselin.

Yes, memories are wonderful things, though like many people I have some that I’d rather erase, but memories of travel I cherish. It’s really the heartbeat of my life, travel and memories. I guess that I’m just one of those people that is constantly called to keep moving by voices of the road.p1070789

“…and still those voices are calling from far away….”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

In memory of Glenn Frey, 1948-2016, with thanks for all the music and memories.
– Take it Easy.

Lake Como – Flying on Water

Our trip to Bellagio on board MV Milano was relaxed and quite delightful.

Bellagio is one of those “must go to” places that everyone tells you about, my experience is that normally these places disappoint me and yep, you guessed, so did Bellagio!

OK, it’s a nice enough little place, but like many “nice little places” it’s popularity proves its downfall. We found a nice restaurant for lunch and I did manage to find one little alley that wasn’t crammed with shops selling crap or heaving with people!image

Now, I’d been doing a bit of devious planning about our return trip. Where it had taken us two and a half hours to reach Bellagio, I’d figured that forty minutes would be better for the return journey!

You see, Lake Como is one of the few places outside the former Soviet Union where regular Hydrofoil services operate and as regular Blogonaughts know Dookes is rather partial to savouring different modes of transportation!

Years ago I rode the Jetfoil that used to operate between Dover and Oostende, but being an open sea service it was prone to cancellation due to adverse sea conditions. As Lake Como is a tad more sheltered, I was sure that our trip would be more assured!

Because Lake Como is so big, 46km/29 miles long, a high-speed service between the principal towns makes sense. For many years this has been provided by a fleet of Italian built hydrofoil fitted boats, which is pretty apt seeming as how an Italian virtually invented the hydrofoil!

Enrico Forlanini born in Milan on 13 December 1848 was an Italian engineer well-known for tinkering around with various concepts and machines, I think I would have got on well with him! He started playing with hydrofoils in 1898 and by 1911 had a vessel that exceeded 40 mph on Lake Maggiore, just over the hill from Como.

40mph in 1911, on this!

40mph in 1911, on this!

Err, what’s a hydrofoil, Dookes?

Oops! Sorry, I should have explained earlier…

A hydrofoil is best described as the boat equivalent to an aircraft wing and just like the wing of an aircraft provides lift to the aeroplane to make it fly, the hydrofoil wing (which is like a big letter C under the hull of the boat) passing through the water lifts the hull of the boat out of the water. This means that drag is reduced, the vessel moves faster and best of all energy is saved making the whole thing more efficient. On the down-side, hydrofoils are very demanding when it comes to maintenance and that makes running them a very delicate balancing act that most accountants balk at; fortunately, engineers love them and at the end of the day, wonderfully, I’m not an accountant!

Those blasted accountants are unfortunately winning the battle, the ‘foils are gradually being replaced by high-speed catamarans, which though not quite as fast are lot cheaper to build and operate. Anyway, in the meantime, hydrofoils are just so sexy!

Sexy eh?

Sexy eh?

Oh yes, by the way my love affair with hydrofoils can be blamed on that secret agent James Bond 007! In the film “Thunderball,” one of the stars was the “Disco Volant,” a hydrofoil used by the villain Emilio Largo, which obviously was blown-up by Bond in the end!

Disco Volante in "Thunderball."

Disco Volante in “Thunderball.”

Anyway, there we were waiting on the pier at Bellagio for the return service to Como, our tickets for the high-speed service safe in my top pocket. Mrs Dookes is used to me at time like this, I get all excited and stressed up at the same time!

There was quite a crowd, this was a popular service and we probably were not going to be able to pick and choose where we sat, bummer! Once we got on-board, we ducked left and found two seats right at the front of the vessel on the port side (left to the land-lubbers) right ahead of the hydroplane. Excellent!

The hydrofoil the pale blue thing sticking out of the side of the boat.

The hydrofoil the pale blue thing sticking out of the side of the boat.

As we settled into our seats the vessel cast off and the two big 1,400 HP diesel engines propelled us towards the centre of the lake. Safely away from the landing stage the engines spooled up and the hydroplanes began to work, the spray around the windows dropped away as the hull climbed away from the water and we were literally flying above the lake! It’s a bit like being on an aeroplane as you speed down the runway and lift off the ground. I was as excited as anything, Mrs Dookes was less impressed. Boys stuff, I guess!

Looking out of the window at speed, we're flying on that hydrofoil!

Looking out of the window at speed, we’re flying on that hydrofoil!

We skimmed along the lake for around ten minutes before we made our one intermediate stop. Then the process of slowing is very like a water-skier who settles back into the water as speed declines, only in our case it was the hull that dropped back into the water to become a real boat again.

Cut the speed and now the hydrofoil drops the hull back into the water.

Cut the speed and now the hydrofoil drops the hull back into the water.

OK, I admit that the hydrofoil doesn’t have the charm of the more traditional ferries. I love them for what they are, a brilliant example of applied engineering that really does the job very well indeed.

Yes, that’s right it doesn’t take much to make Dookes happy; just a big noisy machine generally!

We sped back to the delightful city of Como with plenty of time to partake of some lovely Italian ice-cream and have a little pause before enjoying a super evening meal in a fantastic little no-nonsense restaurant, but that’s another story!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Faire Une Promenade

Today dawned misty and still in the heart of Brittany.

Petit déjeuner was a leisurely affair, as it should be on a Sunday morning, my pal Denis produced one of his legendary omelettes. With that, plus croissants, bread, jam, fruit compote, pain au chocolat, yogurt and cheese it was substantial enough to keep me going most of the day! Even more reasons to love this wonderful country.

Anyway, once the sun got to work burning off the mist, we decided to take a gentle drive to Vannes, a pleasant old sea port on the Morbihan coast. These days the place is popular amongst the yachting set as its harbour extends right into the centre of town and countless bars and cafés nestle almost alongside the moored boats. In my younger days I was quite partial to a bit of sailing , but these days I prefer to get my kicks on dry land!

We parked up just outside the medieval city walls and took a gentle walk, or as the French say, “Faire une Promenade,” through the formal gardens down to the harbour.P1040888P1040896As you can see, the weather clerk has been very kind to us.
At the end of the harbour’s inner arm were a couple of old gaff rigged traditional Breton fishing boats. Brittany is justifiably proud of its maritime tradition and to see old timers such as this is not at all uncommon. I guess it’s no surprised to say that I love ’em!P1040897
The modern plastic tubs all seem so “ordinary” in comparison, I wonder if any will be preserved in 100 years time?P1040900
Leaving the harbour we strolled around the medieval quarter and enjoyed its narrow streets and wonky buildings.P1040910
We ended up at the wonderfully ostentatious Hôtel de Ville which makes quite a statement of the past glories of this historic sea port!P1040916
All that remained was a leisurely return to the Château for an afternoon dip in the pool, which was bathed in sunshine before I took this photo!.P1040917
Then, another “promenade” around the Château grounds in glorious evening light in company of our friends and their two terriers. This really is a lovely place.P1040918P1040926P1040931. . . and now dear reader, as Denis says, “Il est temps pour un petit verre.” – It’s time for a little glass/drink. . . .  Salut!

“When the rhythm’s really fine, rare and sweet as vintage wine”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

PS I’m feeling a bit guilty enjoying myself so much, as my mate Greg has just spent all weekend back in hospital on an antibiotic drip, having picked up an infection after his chemo session last week. Fortunately the Welsh rugby team cheered him up with a good victory over Uruguay in Cardiff today. Thinking of you mate, hwyl fawr!

Friends; In Need, Indeed.

Its been a strange few months in the world of Dookes.

First up and with the support of Mrs Dookes I decided to jack in the rat race, calm down and retire early. It’s big tick in the box for that one, but I’ll be honest it’s still taking a bit of getting used to! So much so that I’ve found something to keep me out of mischief for a few days a week . . . more details of that in a future post though! Yeah, I’m a tease.

Then, just as I was getting used to life changes I got the news about my mate G, or Greg as you all now know him.

I’ll be honest, the situation that G has found himself in has hit me sideways and in a way that I would never have thought possible. I really get what he wrote about dealing with the realisation of a cancer diagnosis, in his words; “Or one of my friends…

I can handle it, it’s me…. A strange one but as it’s me it makes it bearable.”

He had his first dose of Chemotherapy on Wednesday and late in the afternoon I received a text message from him to let me know how he’d got on. We played message ping-pong for a few minutes each response getting a bit sillier! At the time I was sitting on a cliff high above the Atlantic rollers on the North Cornwall coast. G’s ever optimistic messages both heartened me and humbled me at the same time. Looking West, the approaching sunset and majestic clouds lifted my spirits as I worried for my friend and at the same time felt so utterly helpless.P1040839

The evening before I had enjoyed a wonderful ride with an other dear friend, Vifferman. In fact, as regular blogonaughts may recall, Viff is my oldest friend we go back over 50 years.

Viff understood that I needed a bit of support and a good thrash on two wheels followed by fish and chips by the sea in Bude was an excellent antidote for the “feeling hopelessly useless” blues! Thanks Viff.P1040811OK, its a Honda, buts it’s Vifferman’s Honda!

Anyway, the point is that as usual Vifferman gets it and this time he could see that I was a bit “Wobbly.” It’s probably a culmination of lots of things that has made this a pretty emotional summer, but the main thing is how the friends network is working and supporting each other, which is just great.

No really surprising that it all largely revolves around two wheels either!

“At night we ride through mansions of glory in suicide machines.”

Catch you all soon,

Dookes

PS Special thanks to Mrs Dookes, Alba, Curtis, Bones, Ginamarie, John and many others for being there too, you all mean the world to me!