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OPWT2 DIARY - Days 1-4

OPWT2 DIARY - Days 1-4


DAY 1 - April 5, 2024 – Fiddlers End to Alencon

As first days of a “Bit Of A Tour” go, this one couldn’t have ended very much better. Didn’t start out that way.

Lying awake at 4am listening to the rain pounding on our roof our heads, hearts and guts were all saying, rather loudly, “Stay Put”.

5.30am and silently gathering ourselves, we wheeled the laden bikes out of the garage and stood listening to the dawn chorus before rousing the rest of the house to say our goodbyes. Engines on and neighbours likely cursing we eased ourselves off and into the damp dawn just after 6am and headed for the Poole Ferry. Treating ourselves to a cabin we slept most of the passage feeling exhausted and drawn out after the events leading up to our departure which, right to the last minute, had seemed uncertain if we would be able to leave.

Rolled off the ferry and queue jumped past all the waiting lorries, cars and campers and made it through Border Control only 5 minutes after disembarking. Glorious sunshine, warm and open roads with hardly any traffic to bother us. We had 150 or so miles to do to get us to our first nights lodgings. Knowing we would be tired and not in the mood for a tent on the first night (or the next few) we’d chosen to use the French Chambres D’Hotes system – similar to a Bed & Breakfast except you are generally joined at meals by your host which, to the unprepared can seem odd (especially when they offer you wine, drink it themselves and add it to the bill the following morning).

 Anyhow, all was well until 2 hours in it started to rain. The golden rule of motorcycling is to stop early to put waterproofs on. Obviously, we didn’t obey the golden rule and paid heavily.

The rain got worse and worse, and we got wetter and wetter, until we eventually arrived at our Chambres D’Hotes completely drenched but relieved by an exceptionally warm welcome from our host, Jacky Roux.

He scooped us up and swept us into his drying room with a massive boiler roaring away, got our bikes tucked away into his woodshed and made us the most amazingly welcome and delicious dinner: Courgette & Goats Cheese Soup spiced with Piment d’Espelette followed by Salmon in Foil with Creamed Leeks & Garlic with Flaked Almonds and a sticky Rice Pudding to follow. Turns out our host, Jacky, was an ex Hotelier, Restauratuer, Chef with a penchant for motorbikes which was why we were so warmly welcomed and accepted as two wet
English dripping and dribbling onto his tiled floor.

Over supper, he told us how, that since Brexit and Covid, he hardly ever saw any English visitors anymore and he enquired of us if we thought the English had lost the travelling spirit and whether it was to do with, “That clown, Trump 2 – Boris Johnson?”

Dry and refreshed and armed with a bucket load of contacts from Jacky’s address book we set off but not before asking him the Five Questions we’d set out to seek the answers to across Europe. He chose to write them and his answers are below.

1. What changes have you seen in the climate in the last 10 years?
a. Less Winter, More Storms, More Wind
2. How has this affected your and your family’s way of life?
a. Not so many changes just more attentive to the climate
3. What effect has this had on your business?
a. Not as much as Brexit
4. What changes have you had to make already and are planning to make in the future?
a. More attention to the water spent and recycling as much as I can –food, plastics, glass…
5. How do you see the future?
a. I’m more glass half-full but we all have to be more attentive and understanding of nature and other people.

DAY 2 - April 6, 2024 – From Alencon to Vierzon

What a difference a day and night makes. Massive night sweats, drenching the sheets with the realisation of what we have embarked on. Day 1 ended up being even harder than we had thought made so much worse by the rain. 62 + 61 year old bodies on machines 34 + 32 year old machines on an 8500 mile journey when originally we were 30 +29 year old bodies on New + 2 year old machines. Lay in a cold sweat wondering how far we’ll be able to manage. Guess we’ll find out and, waking refreshed and renewed, decide the correct attitude is to set out and see what the day brings. Go, Ride, Rest, Go Again.

Fortified further by a Jacky Roux breakfast, we set off: warm and dry, along clear roads through open country with little to no traffic. Soon discovered that French Motorcyclists greet each other using a very stylised code. Bikers have always greeted each other - in the UK it used to be a cheery wave but that seems to have given way to a curt helmet dip but only if your bike is seen to be on a par with theirs. In France they do it differently and, being French, with a certain amount of gallic flair and insouciance.

As you both approach each other (given that we are now riding on the Right Hand side of the road), the left arm is casually extended and, pointing the arm slanting downwards the first and second fingers form a lazy V for Victory sign and left in the air until all have passed one another. If a bike should overtake you the accepted greeting is for the overtaker to extend the right leg into mid air whilst you give the lazy V in return with your left arm. Why the leg and not the arm? The throttle on bikes is generally on the right hand side so your right hand can never leave the handlebars. Otherwise, if you were to give the arm signal with the right hand the throttle closes and you look like a right nana as the overtaken bike rapidly catches up with you and, if you’re not careful, you end up with interlocking lazy V’s and two bikers effectively holding hands. Not cool.

A later discovery when, having passed a biker and given the appropriate wave we noticed his arm was at waist height, not pointing downwards. He must be Belgian, we thought, until we rounded the next corner and saw the sneaky Gendarmes hiding in the undergrowth. Thank you the French Biking fraternity. Always good to know there’s a code out there.

All in all, a really good day. We have a habit of keeping a note form handwritten journal on a daily basis which we use to write up something a bit fleshier later. I note from my journal from today, “Filed finger nails using a Leatherman Wood File sitting on the bank of a swollen River Loire in Beauagency”. Bit mundane to say the least.

Arrived at our next Chambres D’Hotes which was on a working Goat Farm to find our host, Claude, had not a word of English and the whole place was a bit Cold Comfort and there were definitely a nasty things in woodsheds at every turn. Slightly different dinner: Appetiser of Goats Cheese with Salami, Main Course of Baked Goats Cheese with Lardons, Dessert of Goats Cheese Craime Fraiche with Cherries. So, after the host of The Bloke with the Bike we now had the Host with the Goat. Discovered he was an ex drummer in a Jazz Band playing with the likes of Eric Clapton back in the day. The travelling and touring all got too much so he decided to take up goat farming and runaway to the country.

1. Less rain when it used to rain and more rain when it never used to rain.
2. Decided to take up Goat Farming and stop the touring.
3. Goats don’t seem to mind the rain.
4. Since they don’t mind the rain I’m going to get more goats
5. The future for me is all about the Goat.

Went to bed full of Goats Cheese and dreamt of becoming a shepherd.

DAY 3 - April 7, 2024 – From Vierzon to Pont D’Ain

Guess what? Goats Cheese for breakfast. Claude very affable and seemed almost wistful as he charged us for the red wine he’d drunk. We all took pictures of each other and he shook hands in a Fast Show Ned and Squire sort of a way and waved us on our way.  We set off waving cheerily and promptly rode straight into a field rather than taking the track out of the farm. 

Good start and sheepishly (goatily?) made our way down the track and out onto roads completely devoid of any traffic at all. Riding through deserted villages with not a soul about, along D roads through wide open country and woodlands with no one to be seen. Turns out that France shuts on a Sunday. Nothing open at all. Really.  Nothing – no cafes, no bars, no restaurants, no wayside friendly Auberges so no lunch and self service fuel in abandoned petrol stations.

Gave us the chance to ponder and chat about our choice of using motorbikes as our method of transport. Riding a motorbike uses at least 25% more water and burns around 30-50% more calories than driving a car. I mentioned this to Annie and she said, “How come you’re still fat, then?” to which I replied, “It’s only Day 3 and I’ve mostly been eating Goat’s Cheese.”

As it is, riding a motorbike is a much more engaging experience than being in a car – without the cocoon of a car the whole thing is visceral – the view isn’t constrained by a door pillar or roof – you see 180 degrees of wherever you point your head, your peripheral vision takes in so much more; the pressure of the air as you travel through it, the wind that shifts you from one side of carriageway as you pass an open gate or break in a hedge, buffets you as you emerge from a tunnel or cross a bridge high up over a ravine; the feeling of the mechanics beneath you – you get used to the slightest change in pitch or rhythm of the engine; the change in road surface and greasiness; the smell of freshly cut grass, a cigarette as you pass an open window in a car, the smell of Sunday Lunches cooking in villages or weed from the bus shelter (amazing how common that one is) – all your senses are and have to be engaged and it takes all your concentration. After all, each bike weighs around 350-400kg fully loaded and we are only connected to the tarmac by about 3 or 4cm of rubber, front and rear, so it’s probably for the best that we do concentrate as fully as possible. No other vehicle on the ground is as engaging for the senses.

DAY 4 - April 8, 2024 – Pont D’Ain – Pont Saint Martin (Italy)

Stayed in a funny sort of a commune – 20 families with a shared ownership of a sprawling castle/chateaux and estate with outbuildings with a few apartments and rooms for rent. Charming hostess who looked after us after a long day and wished us well as we set off to climb the valley towards the Month Blanc Tunnel and our entry to Italy. Stunning scenery as the house and villages became ever more alpine and ever more deserted.

A very expensive day as we needed to use the Autoroutes and Peage roads. Very strong winds that grabbed the bikes and pushed them across the carriageways. Not pleasant.

Mont Blanc Tunnel – very grumpy man on the toll booth and a weird experience on a bike. 11.6km at the prescribed speed of 60kph (about 37mph) so it takes around 12 minutes from going in to coming out at the other end. Now in Italy and feeling all continental as if this was an every day experience but knowing it really isn’t.

Just below the Italian entrance to the Tunnel is the Restaurant Palud which serves fine pizza with wonderful views at the top of the Aosta Valley. Full of pizza we used the extra weight to carry us down the hill and into the valley and along to Pont Saint Martin to meet our host for the night, Alberto. Amazingly, Italy seems to shut on Monday but we spent a lovely evening watching the world not go by very much at all so made it to bed early as we have a long ride tomorrow.

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