Friday, November 16, 2012

It's All Coming Back to Me Now...

D'you know, I had almost forgotten what it was like to be on a motorbike road trip. After all, it's been over 3 yeras since I got back from South America, and I haven't been anywhere further than 4 hours away on a bike since then.

But it's also funny how fast it all comes back: the wrapping up warm in so many layers you can hardly move; the instant sweating due to this, only cured by getting on the bike and getting some cold wind moving; something always cropping up to hold you up to stop this happening, just long enough to get REALLY hot; the sheer terror of heavy traffic in an unfamiliar city centre when you don't know where you are going. Ah yes, it floods back!

The hold up on this occasion was just as I was setting off from my sister's place to my folk's, where I was to have my "last supper" before the off. Togged up to the max for the cold 20 minutes over there, fuel taps on, choke out, engine...oh no, hang on, there seems to be petrol dripping profusely from somewhere.... Ah, yes, that'd be right. The 'T' valve linking up all the fuel lines seems to be leaking. From all 3 junctions. Out come the trusty pull ties, and job done. Probably. I'll check it agan at the other end.

Over to Mum and Dad's, a few errands, a successful operation to graft on a set of wrap-around heated grips to the handle bars, and...oh right. Another fuel leak. On the other side this time. Same problem, same fix. The bike is now bristling with pull ties, like an angry porcupine. Nothing like a bunch of fuel leaks to settle the nerves just before the off. Everything else was going swimmingly. Packing? Done, and minimal. Route for next 3 days? Organised and noted, even loaded into my smart phone. Everything ready to go? Yup. 2330 hours and time to hit the hay before an early start at 6am. And then..."Steve?"..."Yes, Dad?"... "Have you got any travel insurance organised?".......

I was all for doing it en route, as it as rather late, but I knew Dad would fret all night (come on, you would have...probably did anyway!) so I gamefully pretended to search on line, stopping when I had a number to call in the morning. Job done, back to sleep at last.

The morning was dry but pretty misty...almost foggy in fact, so I had to stop en route to the Eurotunnel and throw the waterproofs on. This proved a good idea, because, although it didn't rain all day, it was bloody cold in the wind, and the extra layer made the difference.

Tunnel navigated no worries (arrived 5 minutes after check in closed, but you can't have everything); Calais exited easily enough, and then it was just on to the toll roads for a fast blast south. I had considered taking more scenic roads, but without good maps or proper satnav, and what with this being a fast dash to get to Ed, I just got on the autoroutes and opened the old girl up.

You have to hand it to the French: they may charge you to go on the motorways, but boy are they in good nick. I wondered if they were kept that way to make for faster running away if they get invaded again, but couldn't find anyone to ask...

The fog had hung about on both sides of the channel, and it wasn't until about 1pm that it lifted, the sun taking its place, and the leafy, autumnal French countryside became a picturesque blur as I roared along. Roared would be just the right word. No namby-pamby 'purring like a kitten' that Ed's bike does. My old girl shouts her presence and dares you to get in her way!

I guess as Ed has just texted me to say he is an hour or so away and therefore won't be able to read this before he gets to see first hand what I'm ridng, it's probably OK to let the cat out of the bag on what form my bike for this trip has taken.

I have Dad's cousin (my first cousin once removed? Second cousin? Pass), David, to thank. As I was filling him in on the trip and the problems being faced with finding a bike, he casually suggested I take his bike from the barn. I'd not even known he rode, let alone had a bike, let ALONE would have agreed to loan it to me. It turned out to be a (fanfare!!!) 1978 BMW R80/7 - very probably the ancestor of what Ed is riding! Talk about destiny! How perfect to go to meet Ed on his 2010 GS1200, on the bike that pretty much began it all. And it even had original panniers too! It took a fortnight or so for me to get organised, take David up on his offer, and for him to get it serviced and MOT'd. Then I had to get over and collect it (you know all that) and that brings us back up to me roaring - and she REALLY roars - down through France.

I made it to Troyes on the first day, about where I'd hoped to get, and after a chat to the bloke on the hostel desk, altered my second day's target to Torino istead of Milan. Shorter, more realistic, quieter road, nicer drive, by all accounts. The old girl was a bit sluggish in the cold morning, but then aren't we all? She soon found her wind though, and whisked me down past Dijon, Lyon and over to the Tunel de Fréjus in the mountains. At around 18km long and with strictly controlled speeds and distances between vehicles, it was not the place to be distracted by bits trying to fall off the bike. Which is why that's exactly what happened. It was only the right rear-view mirror, but that is the important one when you drive on the right, so I had to clear the tunnel holding the mirror in place with my clutch hand (just as well it wasn't the other side come to think of it), until I got out and could pull over and tighten it back up.

Torino to Florence today was a master class in not getting lost. I thought I had a few times, and even the satnav on my phone suggested I was, but I some how navigated a crazy maze of tunnels and bridges amd on/off ramps through the mountains around Genoa and ended up on the right road to Florence. The roads were somewhat nerve-wracking, as they are very narrow-laned, with either tunnel walls or sheer drops pressing in on both sides, and each time you emerge into daylight, its impossible to tell if you are somewher new or exactly where you went in! The scenery was almost identical, and with big trucks jostling for positioin on the road, I didn't have the chance to look too closely at the subtleties. It was a total rabbit warren of tunnels, and no doubt built as somewhere to hide next time Italy is invaded. Again,  couldn't find anyone to ask about that, but the track record is in favour of the theory...

And so, at last (well done if you're still reading! I will try and be briefer and include some photos in the next one) I am here, in a hotel lounge waiting for Ed to arrive in about 20 minutes. Geriatric brother on a geriatric bike, meeting the younger, stronger models? Or older, tougher, wiser pairing meeting the young pretenders? Old school meets new age, perhaps. This game could go on a while. Best you go and have a cuppa. I'll still be here when you get back....Old and simple (me AND the bike) vs young and pointlessly frilly. I'll put money on Ed's bike not still being on the road when its 34 years old! Ha! Sleep tight.

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