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

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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

Route de la Grandes Alpes – From the Start

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

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

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

It was also the start of a mini obsession.

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

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

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

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

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

RDGA Zero Kilometre, the start.


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

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

On top of Europe.


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

Our odyssey has truly begun.

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Mountain Dreaming

It’s turned mid-March, what’s going on? As I started to write this, outside Dookes H.Q it’s snowing again. . . I should be out on two wheels in warm Spring sunshine!

Looking back on some old posts, I realised that back in September I had promised to catch up with photos of a couple of Epic rides that Harls and I enjoyed in the Dolomites and South Tyrol. At the time we stayed in a really super hotel, it had great food, was really comfortable, but suffered from very shaky WiFi which caused me a bunch of stress and took away the pleasure of sharing what we’d been up to on a daily basis. Then after we got home life stuff got in the way and things were a bit forgotten, so dear blogonaughts I apologise and will now, hopefully, begin to put that right.

When I was planning our trip to the Dolomites and Italian Alps I looked around for a useful base that would give me different options of routes to explore. Knowing what mountain weather can be like, I didn’t want to commit to just one area; experience taught me that the weather on one side of a pass can often be totally different to the other.

As I pondered suitable bases my eye kept being drawn to a likely looking area just to the North East of the city of Bolzano. It offered easy access to both mountain ranges as well as the city, should I wish to vary things a bit. It also had the added attraction of an interesting looking narrow gauge railway; more of that in a future post. I didn’t know anything about this area, the Ritten Plateau, but it certainly looked interesting.

As things turned out, it was one of the most inspired choices that I think I have ever made! The view was pretty good too!

I rode to Bolzano from Gaschurn in the Western end of Austria. The day before we had crossed Switzerland in monsoon imitating rain, the going was tough and tiring. Now we had ridden the Silvretta High Alpine road in falling snow and ground hard miles out over the Reschenpaß through more driving rain and heavy traffic.

Reschensee on the Reschenpass on a murky miserable day.

This was supposed to be fun I kept trying to remind myself!

A spirited race down the SS38 from Merano to Bolzano in brightening weather lifted things considerably and then we found the SP73 road to Ritten. . .

Now dear blogonaught, promise me this one thing. If ever you find yourself near Bolzano in Northern Italy, go find the SP73. It doesn’t matter what vehicle you are on/in, the SP73 will put a big smile on your face! There are thirty bends that vary from tight hairpins to lovely, no wonderful, power-on sweepers that are guaranteed to put a big smile on your face and you could swear have been stolen from all of the great race tracks of the world! Oh and the views are pretty good too as the road claws it’s way from the valley floor to the high Ritten plateau.

When planning our route I’d looked at the SP73 on the map and thought, “That look’s interesting.” With the day we had just endured, I must be honest, I wasn’t really looking forward to the prospect, I was tired, my shoulders were aching, my eyes gritty from the road, I was dirty, pretty sure I was smelly and not really in the mood to battle hairpins!

Then I took a right onto the SP73.

The road starts by cutting through vineyards as it begins it’s ascent North. The first few bends are sweepers, each one a bit tighter than the last, then there is a squiggle of hairpins and everything becomes clear, this road was engineered to be seriously enjoyed!

SP73, it’s the one for me!


The surface was great, the barriers reassuringly solid, but not intimidating and the view ahead clear.

It’s funny how quickly I can change my mind!

After such a day of hard, hard, miles this was just what I needed. “Harls” seemed to growl approval too as she leaned into each successive bend, her shotgun pipes spitting contempt at the gradient as I kept her engine in the sweet-spot of maximum torque.

Oh how happy the two of us suddenly became!

Just look at this photo of the start of the road, I took it a couple of days later from a cable car, how can you not enjoy yourself on that road?

We arrived at the hotel absolutely knackered, which is a quaint old British phrase meaning worn-out, but as I staggered into the reception I had a big stupid grin on my face!

Next day dawned a bit brighter, but the weather forecast was “Changeable.”

Over breakfast I looked out over the Western edge of the Dolomites; I’d ridden just over a thousand miles to get here and I wasn’t about to let a bit of “Changeable” stop me on my mission!

I finished my rather splendid frühstück (breakfast) and hit the road; first up was the delightful SP73, could it get better? Oh yes it could!

The weather accurately lived up to the forecast. We are in high mountains after all and what we missed from time to time in panoramas, we gained by flying through swirling clouds and savouring fantastic glimpses of stunning limestone crags.

Our route cut right into the heart of the Dolomite mountain range; I work on the basis that if you don’t do the big ones, then frankly, you are not really trying! First we crossed Passo di Costalungo (1745m) then headed for Passo di Fedaia (2075m),
Giau (2230m), followed by the famous “Sella Ring” of Falzarego (2105m), Valparolo (2197m), Campolongo (1875m), Gardena (2121m), Sella (2240m) and Pordoi (2239m).

At the top of Passo di Giau is a delightful “Refugio,” a sort of cross between a bar, restaurant and hotel. This being the South Tyrol, I went native and enjoyed an “Apfelstrudel und Kaffee” for lunch and very good it was too. Just the thing to set me up for the hard work of the Sella Ring.

Biker fuel.

Not only was the food good, but inside, yes inside, the café was one of my all time favourite motorcycles, a Honda 500 Four, Young Dookes drooled over these bikes and I’d still love to have one today!
It’s a funny thing riding hairpins in the clouds, there’s no distracting views; it’s just you, the road and the motorbike. To be honest I’m not always a great lover of hairpins, I find that they disrupt my riding rhythm too much, but on this day they kept coming and I can honestly say that I was really enjoying myself. At the start of the South West climb to Passo di Giau, was a sign, “34 Tornante,” (34 Hairpins) each one was then numbered…after riding 22 I found myself screaming out, “No! There’s only another 12 left!”

Passo di Giau

What a contrast to last year trying to slog “Big Baby Blue” up Stelvio…

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

I was so glad that I brought “Harls” with me; I really wouldn’t have enjoyed it, or probably even attempted it on “Big Baby Blue.” The more I got into the swing of things, the better my beloved “Harls” responded. True, she’s a bit of a handful going downhill; the rear brake has a delightful habit of fading as it gets hot or wet, but fortunately her engine braking helps out a lot, then hey I’m sort of used to it and wouldn’t have her any other way.

“Harls” – the true star of the show!


We trundled back to the hotel having crossed off the ten highest paved passes in the Dolomites, that first beer before dinner tasted good and I think that we thoroughly earned it. . .

Not bad for an Old Geezer on a getting on a bit Harley Softail!

“I’ve decided what I’m gonna do,
I’m packing my bags for the Misty Mountains.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes