More Footage

Just updated the Pyrenees post with some more on-bike footage.

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Ear-Popping Pyrenees

Eurothrash…

So it was holiday time again and despite working until late on the Friday and hence only doing last minute packing, I found myself heading off at Oh Dark Hundred on Saturday, 1st June to the Eurotunnel to meet up with Yox and Purge.

Yox had organised the crossing tickets as well as working out a route that linked up a number of great biking roads in and around the Pyrenees, so we were heading off there with a view to getting all the way down to the Pyrenees by nightfall. The benefit of travelling off-peak as far as the French are concerned should have been that we wouldn’t need to book any hotels in advance and hence we wouldn’t have any pressure to be at a pre-determined destination on any day.

They both took the mick out of the lack of tread on my sporty tyres which I’d though would be fine for the trip … without realising I’d done the 2,100 mile Ardèche trip on the same tyres before… And so we turned out onto the motorways and headed South. As it transpired, the motorways were a leeeetle bit abrasive and by the time we’d lost and found Purge around Paris and made our way down to Clermont-Ferrand, the tyres were well and truly shagged and wouldn’t make it home. Ah!

Purge and I were both using Tom-Tom Rider satnavs – mine a more recent model after my other one was stolen by my psycho ex-girlfriend – and both had been updated to the latest maps … which showed the hotel we selected as being halfway up a hill in a residential area. It wasn’t there, of course, but we went back to where Yox’s Co-Pilot Android software (the same I use on my iPhone) had guided him. I then went in and negotiated a decent room rate for the three of us with use of their own garage for the first overnight stay. Then shower, change, beers and a huge evening meal before bed.

Day Two and we were heading off via Millau towards Perpignan. The twisting roads of the Haute-Pyrenees were fabulous but tiring so as we rode into Quillan, we found a traditional-looking hotel, the Hotel La Chaumiere, to check into. As it was Yox’s birthday, the beers, the wine and the food were on Purge and I.

The view from my balcony

The view from my balcony

The meal also included the heaviest wine bottle I’ve ever seen: truly bizarre (but tasty)!

The heaviest wine bottle ever

The heaviest wine bottle ever

After dinner, it was up to our rooms … and I discovered that my carefully-arranged base layers had flown off the balcony and were laying in front of the restaurant. Ah!

Day Three and it was time to sort out my racing slicks. We delayed breakfast and I then spent the next half an hour ringing around all the motorcycle dealers and tyre depots to see if I could get sorted. They were all shut, despite it being a Monday, as they’d been open on the Saturday. Oh to be French! So I decided to press on into Andorra alone – our planned destination – to try to find tyres and let Yox and Purge head off into Spain to play on the roads. This included my first real view of some of the passes and cols and snow-capped peaks.

Note racing slicks...

Note racing slicks…

Instagram version!

Instagram version!

Some epic twisty roads towards Andorra then saw me going through the 2.8km long Túnel d’Envalira which was like going through a refrigerator!

Emerged from the Túnel d'Envalira

Emerged from the Túnel d’Envalira

Then it was down into Andorra. As I came close to Andorra la Vella, I passed by a KTM dealer and popped inside to see if they could sort me out with tyres using my best Spanglish. They were really helpful and directed me to a car/bike dealer nearby that happened to be a Kawasaki franchise. So in I went, agreed a deal to get new tyres fitted that afternoon and then went off to find us a hotel, the Novotel. While the tyres were being fitted – a process that took the entire afternoon… – I went out scouting for dinner and found an excellent tapas restaurant.

Out with the old...

Out with the old…

...in with the new

…in with the new

When Purge and Yox arrived after enjoying what they said were some of the best roads they’d seen, it was off to eat.

Allow me to explain through the medium of interpretive dance

Allow me to explain through the medium of interpretive dance

Day Four and we were heading off to Bagnères-de-Luchon via the twisties. Epic roads out of Andorra – back the way I’d come – and this time, I’d set up my helmet camera to capture some of the footage:

It was warm and sunny … and snowy at the top of the Pyrenees which meant the scenery was spectacular.

Once we were into the Haute-Pyrenees again, we went up a few of the Cols that feature in the Tour de France as well as a few others:

Col du Port

Col du Port

On one descent, I was able to coast for over 3 miles, overtaking cars and lorries with the engine off! Yox also did the reveal on his luxury item: he’d brought some fine coffee and a little fold-up stove to brew it on, so we had coffee at the Col du Port … and he set fire to a picnic table by mistake.

Finally we made it into Bagnères-de-Luchon where we pulled up in the square next to the Hôtel Panoramic where I did the usual and we checked in.

Bagnères-de-Luchon

Bagnères-de-Luchon

Bagnères-de-Luchon

Bagnères-de-Luchon

Bagnères-de-Luchon

Bagnères-de-Luchon

Day Five and we were headed off to Spain via a few more peaks which were covered in snow … which we duly played in. Obviously.

IMG_3331

I'm snow angel

I’m snow angel

2013-06-05 11.12.12

Eejit dance

Eejit dance

Talking of playing, Yox had rigged up his camera and followed me off down one of the descents:

After a day’s bend-swinging (including a visit to our spiritual home, a village called Perves), we were tired and decided to cut our intended journey short, so we checked in to the fabulous Hotel Cotori in El Pont de Suert.

Hotel Cotori

Hotel Cotori

That’s a pedestrian square… We were recommended a decent tapas restaurant where, despite the protestations of the owner, I went ahead and ordered us a whole selection of dishes that just kept on coming. Delicious! And all finished off by us.

Day Six and it was breakfast with two grumpy buggers. Something about a blue ZRX’s alarm going off at 3.15am. I was unaware of this, given I was sound asleep at the back of the hotel…

So the plan for the day was to head back into France, but we hadn’t reckoned on the nature of the route being so twisty and covering a large vertical variance: up and down like a whore’s drawers! This wasn’t helped by finding out when we were there that the famous Col du Tormalet was shut due to there being 6-9m of snow on the road at the summit!

More epic roads and scenery though. Tired and getting late, we diverted into Lourdes to find a hotel for the night … and we found one: a €29 a night one that we christened “Hotel Paradiso” that probably charged the rooms out by the hour too… What a dive! Lourdes in general – and our hotel in particular – was full of gangs of schoolkids with various coloured beanie hats and scarves being led around by Catholic priests. What a strange place!

I woke up quite hot at around 3am and my body heat had ‘refreshed’ the mattress such that there was a smell of urine from the depths of the mattress (itself on a plastic-covered bed base). I couldn’t wait to get a shower in the morning! Purge had the evening before found a dead insect in his sheets!

Day Seven. Keen to get a move on and put the Hotel Paradiso behind us, we headed back into Spain via a whole load more passes, peaks and valleys.

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Photo!

Photo!

IMG_3381 IMG_3371 IMG_3350

We got as far as Jaca in Aragon and after filling up we headed to the Hotel & Spa Real Jaca which did us a great deal for the rooms and underground parking with breakfast. The only downside was the Saga louts that checked in later: a whole coachload of OAPs that swooped on the restaurant to scoff the food.

Day Eight and I woke up to the “shh” of car tyres on wet roads. Looking out of the window, I could see it was absolutely tipping down: not good considering we were hoping to get to Le Mans by the evening. So we had breakfast, checked out and headed out into torrential rain at around 9.00am, up and up into the Pyrenees towards France. My vented race boots started leaking after 16 miles but fortunately the rest of my riding gear was keeping me dry. Stupidly, I’d not worn a base layer under my T-shirt and hadn’t zipped-in the liner to my riding gear either, so the combination of rain storms and altitude meant I was getting really cold. By the time of our first fuel stop into France, I was grateful to be able to put on some more clothes before we headed off back into the worst riding conditions any of us had ever seen (in my case, in 35 years of riding).

The autoroute around Bordeaux was more like a canal and at one point it felt like I was sitting on a chair while someone directed a fire hose at me, the rain was so heavy.

Towards Paris it stopped raining and near Tours at another fuel stop, we decided to pin it and win it: we wouldn’t bother stopping for the night near Le Mans; we’d just keep going for the other 300 miles to the Eurotunnel station and see if we could get on a day early, ratther than getting changed out of our wet gear and potentially facing another day’s wet riding on the Sunday.

We arrived at around 10.15pm, some 780 miles later and were pleased to be put onto the 11.45pm crossing, so we finally had something to eat and drink and on we went.

Homeward bound

Homeward bound

Back onto English soil at around 11.45pm UK time, we went our separate ways and I blasted back towards London and my apartment, which I reached at around 12.30am.

Roughly 2,100 miles again. Another epic Euroblast.

So yes, I’d ummed and ahhed about getting a new bike for the trip before I left and more or less settled on a new Triumph Sprint GT 1050 but knew I’d not be able to get it run in and sorted before the off. Blue Rex was epic in the twisties and looks the bollocks too, but on the motorways above 90mph for mile after mile and hour after hour it’s a bit of an effort plus some fixed luggage makes sense. So I’m test riding a Sprint next weekend and will probably place an order there and then so I can have it properly sorted before next year’s planned Eurothrash two-up with GT to the Alps.

Or maybe a late summer long weekend sortie across the Channel just to get a feel for it… ;)

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Kawasaki Day at the Ace Café London, 2013

Well it was a beautiful but chilly day in London today and so I left GT’s to ride in to the Ace, arriving before 10am after a cobweb-blowing ride across town.

We counted them in and we counted them out again!

And talking of chilly, the Ace chilli cheesy chips went down really well with GT and I and you couldn’t tell they were veggie either.

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Motorcycle Live 2012

We came, we saw, we snapped away:

 

 

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They’ve All Gone to Look For America

So then. I’m back and it’s a fortnight since the trip ended.

It took over a week for me to stop waking up in the early hours of the morning, not knowing where I was and thinking I needed to get up and hit the road.

The Big Trip wasn’t so much mind-blowing as mind-expanding. They say travel broadens the mind and mine’s been broadened to breaking point. I was awe-struck by the wide open plains of Middle America; Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, New Mexico and California. I could quite happily have stayed forever in Venice Beach: my sort of place and my sort of people. That’s the same sort of thing I was thinking when I was first in the States, back in 1979.

I encountered nothing but positivity and friendliness from Americans – in contrast perhaps with their perception in the rest of the world – and yes, having an RP accent is apparently a very attractive trait…

America, despite bringing us coffee shops chains, doesn’t really do decent coffee as far as I could see. It was plentiful with free top-ups, but not what I would call decent coffee! It does like super-sized portions though.

I’ve never been so photographed or videoed either: no doubt this was simply down to us being a bunch of 11 Harley Davidsons leaving rest and fuel stops at the same time.

I found members of the public wearing holstered handguns disconcerting when we were in Arizona at an ice-cream parlour: when I am out and about, it’s “keys, phone, wallet … good to go” rather than “keys, wallet, phone, .44 … good to go”. Does carrying a weapon clipped to your shorts mean better customer service at the café?

I had many hours in the saddle with my music and my companions for company but ample time to simply think and reflect on life in general and my own in particular and what is important to me. I thought about friends and enemies. I thought about forgiveness and thankfulness. I thought about families past and present. I thought.

I liked riding past signs for “Spunkey Creek” in Oklahoma, billboards saying simply “JESUS”, villages and small towns with more churches than houses and churches with massive car parks deep in the bible belt.

I loved riding through landscapes where you couldn’t tell where the land stopped and the sky started. I loved the big skies. I loved riding alongside massive freight trains blasting their horns to acknowledge us. I loved cowboy country – on a steel horse I ride – and those wide open spaces.

I made friends, good friends I look forward to seeing again. Different languages but a common bond.

As expected, I encountered decay and disuse. Route 66 was built for a purpose and when something ‘better’ came along, it was phased out and forgotten and the communities that had been built up along the way were allowed to decay and close down. My photos from the trip tell only part of the story. But the memories will last forever.

I didn’t go looking for America … but it found me anyway.

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Venice Beach and Home

More tearful farewells from the new friends I’d made throughout the morning as the group dispersed, and a small group of us headed off to Venice Beach (and Muscle Beach) for a wander around and to take a few photos.

Walking back, we got a little lost so we saw more of Marina Del Rey than we’d expected.

Then off to LAX to board my flight back to London, arriving in the early afternoon of the Saturday.

I’ll try to sum up my overall thoughts later…

Graffiti at Venice Beach Venice Beach Skater Girl Lorena at Venice Beach Skateboarder at Venice Beach Big Air: Skateboarder at Venice Beach Graffiti at Venice Beach Trying a rep at Muscle Beach

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Barstow, CA to Santa Monica, California

Journey’s End!

It was with a degree of sadness that we set out for our last day in the saddle leaving Barstow and heading for Santa Monica.

On one section of Route 66 which, as was often the case, rang alongside a railway, we came upon one of those massive freight trains with 2 or 3 tractor units pulling many, many containers. There was a wonderful childlike joy when things like this happened as we’d wave at the train driver who’d wave back and give a long pull on the train’s horn. Boy’s Own Paper stuff!

We came into Los Angeles and went via Beverley Hills and roads with names from folklore and popular culture like the Santa Monica Boulevard and Vine, etc. We stopped briefly at the junction of Olympic Boulevard and Lincoln Boulevard which was the endpoint of Route 66 to take photos before heading to the Harley dealership to drop the bikes off. They kindly drove us to our hotel in Marina Del Rey where we showered and changed before heading out for a lovely shrimp dinner and some final parting words on Santa Monica Pier and photos at the tourist marker for the end of Route 66.

End of the Trail Heading Out California or Bust Freight Train Journey's End

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Las Vegas, NV to Barstow, California

Our plans changed again in the morning: we decided that as both the more direct roads to Barstow and the Route 66 route would be equally hot, especially in the Mojave Desert, we would go the ‘proper’ way.

First stop was at Las Vegas Harley Davidson for more shopping. They have a bunch of amusing dummies dressed in Harley gear in the showroom which was fun. Then it was a case of wrapping up in long sleeves and SWAT-style face covering before heading off.

Our next stop was at a roadside café in Fenner, California which thoughtfully provided a sprinkler hose outside the entrance which meant a cooling shower; very refreshing as it was baking hot.

Then on into the Mojave stopping at Roy’s Motel and Café in Amboy, California for more photos. There was a weather station monitor there showing the temperature as 115.5°F/46.4°C.

As the sun began to set, we approached Barstow, stopping for Dinner at the Bagdad Café in Newberry Springs. Having closed for the night shortly before we arrived, they reopened especially for us and we enjoyed Buffalo Burgers and beers before heading off to our hotel on the outskirts of Barstow.

Bikers at the Bagdad Café My New Girlfriend Wrap Up! California Sunset Bagdad Café Roy's Motel and Café Middle of the Road

 

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Kingman, AZ to Las Vegas, Nevada

After a light breakfast {cough} at Mr D’z Route 66 Diner in Kingman, Arizona we set off towards Las Vegas.

Due to the heat, I’d earlier developed heat rashes on my arms and chest and found it better when it was really hot to wear long sleeved T-shirts and to pull the buff up to cover my face – very SWAT-ish! More of this tomorrow…

First stop was Oatman, where Clark Gable and Carole Lombard honeymooned. Wild mules, “burros”, roam the streets asking to be fed by visitors and the whole town has a real Wild West feel to it. Then on to Las Vegas, stopping for lunch in “the middle of F-ing nowhere” as my check-in on Facebook suggested; also known as Searchlight, Nevada.

Reaching Las Vegas, we headed to our stop for the night, the New York, New York which, included its own rollercoaster. Not just a hotel, but a resort with shops and themed restaurants throughout the main reception area.

American Excess.

Las Vegas I found to be incredibly tacky – like Blackpool but without the charm – and I can see why it’s popular for stag weekends and themed weddings. What was very sad was the number of people still playing the slot machines at 1am…

Dinner was at the impressive Harley Davidson Café: you really have to admire the branding/lifestyle efforts at Harley Davidson – you don’t just buy a motorbike, you buy a lifestyle.

Off to bed and the promise of a lie-in due to the expected heat of the Mojave Desert and a suggestion we might simply hit the Interstate to Barstow.

Burros in Oatman Nevada Wrapped Up A Light Breakfast Understated... Hanging Harleys Oatman, AZ

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Grand Canyon to Kingman, Arizona

The day started off with a second visit to the Grand Canyon and a different viewpoint. The fact that you could – as I did – scramble down to the edge of the Canyon itself and look over the edge of a precariously balanced boulder added to the sense of wonder at the whole shebang. Photos followed!

Off we went towards Kingman, stopping off for a leisurely lunch in Williams before hitting the road via Hackberry and Seligman where I was introduced to Angel Delgadillo, the “Angel of Route 66″ at his barber’s shop. Angel is a famous character and one of the leading lights in trying to have Route 66 recognised as a national historic byway and tourist attraction to try to reinvigorate local businesses that effectively died when the twons en route were bypassed.

Then on to Kingman and a fab little bar and restaurant where we were served by a really friendly waitress who looked like Sandra Bullock!

Arizona Hackberry 2500hrs Renovation So Far Elvis Lives! Lunchtime Route66-RHM-2577 With Angel Delgadillo Hackberry Hackberry "Back a bit more..." The Road Goes On Forever

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