Friday, September 14, 2018

Cat Sitting.

A few months back HB and I are enjoying a beer and soaking up the April sun in Rick and Andrea's garden having flown over to the Black Forest to pick up a pushbike. Rick mentions that they're planning a holiday to Poland.

"Do you guys want to come over an look after the cats? You'd be doing us a huge favour."

We'd be doing you guys a favour?
Two weeks holiday in their awesome house in the middle of some prime motorcycling roads?

It was short notice. HB quickly found herself some cheapish flights and booked them up. Of course, I wanted to take the bike over, but the short notice meant the usual Newcastle to Ijmuiden ferry that I use was out of my budget. Dover it was. Luckily, an acquaintance had a ticket for the Channel Tunnel he couldn't use, so I got that for the £15 charge to transfer it to my name. This was only a tenner cheaper than the Dover to Calais ferry but it saved me a crucial hour, allowing me to be a bit more choosy about where I would stay.

The bike all packed the night before, I set off south at around 6.30am. I would like to say something positive or interesting about my run down through England but there really isn't much to say. It's a 450 mile flat, boring and often busy run down. I had chosen a Saturday to head south, so it was relatively quiet until around Cambridge. It would appear that not many folk around Essex, London or Kent can drive very well, so keep your wits about you if you're heading down that way. Oh, fuel in England is fucking expensive as well, although I'm told that's just because I was on the main roads.

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phone pics
At the Channel Tunnel.
phone pics

The Channel Tunnel on the other hand is really good. You check yourself in using an automated system. I was an hour or so early and the computer gave me an option to book myself on an earlier train. From there you wait around in a queue for a bit before you're given the green light. Bikes were last on, so I waited at the side with a couple of other bikers before riding on to the train. 40 minutes later I was in France. Having done all my passport checks and stuff in England I headed straight on to the motorway, following my satnav to Roisin, a wee town just over the border in Belgium that looked nice from what I'd seen on the internet.. The bike's thermometer was showing the temperature to be 32 degrees, so photo stops were kept to a minimum and my thin summer gloves were dug out the pannier. Just as it appeared to be in the internet, Roisin was a great wee town. The campsite was in the grounds of the castle, a five minute walk from the town and a wee restaurant on the banks of a big pond. I had made a sheepskin seat cover for the bike which, despite going against my vegetarian ethics, had made the 600 miles to Roisin that bit more comfortable, but nothing is comfortable after sitting on it for 12 hours. It was actually enjoyable pitching the tent and stretching my legs before heading over to the place by the pond for some food and several Belgian beers.

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I could have just battered down to Rick and Andrea's the following day, but I'd been looking at the map and a few squiggly lines in the Vosges region had caught my eye. A wee scout on Google brought up Camping Les Acacias in Anould, right at the start of the good roads. Five hours of hot E, A and N routes through Belgium, Luxembourg and France and I was there. It’s was a great wee site. The pitch for my tent was surrounded by trees, giving good shelter from the heat of the sun. Most of the shops and cafes in the area were closed as it was Sunday but there was a wee bar on site selling pizza, chips and beers. Despite having zero interest in football I sat with a few other folk at the bar to watch the World Cup final. The owners had set up a TV in the bar which cut out a fair bit at the start of the game due to a wee storm that blew over. I found the lightning just as good to watch as the football. The TV started working again though, France won the game and the locals took to the streets in their cars, driving around blasting their horns in celebration. I was pretty tired after the previous couple of days so I hit the hay early.

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The Vosges is an area I’d not really looked at for biking. Man, have I been missing out. Straight out of the campsite and I was on some great roads winding through the French countryside. The Grand Ballon is the highest road in the Vosges and part of the Route Des Cretes, which is a popular biking run. I had spied a few other passes on the map, but I found they were closed for repairs when I got to them. Never mind, the Route Des Cretes is stunning. I was surprised how good the views were. As with lots of the good bits, there were loads of bikes in the area. I spoke with a Dutch guy who was touring solo, and a German guy on a mint BMW K1 who was out for a spin for some lunch. The Vosges reminded me of the lower passes in the Alps. Wide, windy roads twisting through trees before opening up to Sound of Music looking meadows complete with cows with bells round their necks. It's definitely worth a wee detour if you're riding down to the Black forest or the Alps.

I met a German guy with this clean BMW K1 in the Vosges, France.
I met a German guy with this clean BMW K1 in the Vosges, France.
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A short squirt along some dual carriageway saw me on the familiar roads around Wehr and up into the twisty turns to Rickenbach. Andrea's brother had kindly given HB a lift from the airport so she was already at the house. It was great to get there. Rick and Andrea's place is stunning. We spend the next couple of days chilling out, visiting a few local places, hiding from the 33+ degree heat in the shade and generally just enjoying the area.

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phone pics

We were joined by Bob and Nicki a couple of days later, we generally chilled out at the house. HB and I took a few runs on the bike too. Vogelpark is worth a visit if you're in the area and like wildlife. loads of big storks live there and come and go as they please, and there are monkeys which you can see and even help feed at 4 each day. We took a run out to the Rothaus brewery too. The brewery is just up the road from lake Schluchsee on the fabled B500, so the whole area is hoatching with bikes and the brewery is a popular stop. Rothaus make a couple of really nice alcohol free beers which we had along side a big bowl of chips. There's currywurst available too, but no veggie option yet.

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phone pics
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Bikes at the Rothaus brewery, Germany.

Rick and Andrea's house isn't far from Switzerland, so naturally my eye had been draw to the Swiss Alps part of the map. I figured that the Sunsten/Grimsel/Furka pass loop could be ridden in a day from the house. I did try and add a few more passes, but we really didn't have time, plus I'll be back in the Alps soon. A quick chat with Bob cemented the plan. Batter down to Andermatt on the Swiss motorway, ride the loop and home for pizza at Stefans. I'm always a bit wary in Switzerland, even minor speed limit breakages get massive fines, so we kept our wits about us as we headed south.

Bob and GS on the Susten Pass, Switzerland.

Switzerland is a stunning country. Even the motorway gave stunning views as we rode along side lake Lucerne. Traffic got really busy due to roadworks just before Andermatt, causing us to bail off the motorway early. Luckily we found ourselves right at the start of the Sunstenpass. A very expensive sandwich later and we were off.

Africa Twin on the Susten Pass

It was great to be back in the Alps. I didn't know whether to enjoy the scenery or the roads. It's really something everyone who enjoys riding a motorcycle should experience at least once in their lives. Susten pass is part of a famous Swiss triangular loop, along with the Furka and Grimsel. Like all biking loops there's a big debate to which direction is best. We rode it anti clockwise, which was fucking amazing, but I've got no doubts that it's as equally amazing going clockwise.

At the top of the Susten Pass, Switzerland.
Mike's Africa Twin and Bob's GS.
Winton Massif in the Grimsel Pass, Switzerland
Looking down the Grimsel and up the Furka.

The Sunsten/Grimsel/Furka loop only takes a couple of hours or so, even with me stopping for photos and the all important stickers, but it had been a long day. The traffic at the roadworks had drawn out the two hour run down and back from Rick and Andrea's, and the 34 degree heat hadn't helped. By the time we were back the house we were knackered, not to mention a bit smelly.
The only run we had in our last few days was over to visit Wolfgang and Uta in Freiburg for dinner. Apparently we had taken a road over that was "verboten" or closed to bikes on the weekends. On the way home we figured that we would just feign ignorance if we were stopped on the way home. We weren't, so pretty much had the road to ourselves. 

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I had originally planned to head back on the same day as Bob and Nicki, dividing my run home with stops in Epernay, somewhere close by to Calais then battering up through England. However, I'd read about Les Ballastieres on John's blog, Old Roads - New Adventures. Les Ballastieres is a bed and breakfast which also has a hostel type option. It's located about an hour from Calais making it ideal for the ferry. They had a bed available for only 21 Euro, so I booked up, deciding on spending an extra night at in Rickenbach with HB.

Bike packed, t shirt soaked, I was ready to head off. It was a long 400 miles to Les Ballastieres. The temperature was 38 degrees but my soaking t shirt helped keep me cool. I had a short set of summer gloves on and the sleeves of my jacket open, giving great cooling airflow. All was going well until I felt a hot, searing pain on my arm.

"Whooaa aaaa, fttt AAAAAAAAA!"


My worst fears. I thought there was a wasp up my sleeve!
I jammed my arm on to my leg in a effort to squash any invading wasp.


Only 2km to the next rest stop.


I went screaming into the rest stop, jumped off the bike and ripped my jacket off. There was no beastie to be seen, but there was a big lump on my arm with a sting sticking out of it. Fuck sake!

I rolled into Las Ballastieres around 7 pm. I was greeted by Sue, the first thing she did was give me a cold beer! Being biker owned, they know what you need after a long, hot day on the bike. It's a great place and I'd definitely recommend staying there, especially if you're using the tunnel or the Dover ferry. A short walk took me into the town for a pizza. It was nice to stretch the legs and cool off.

phone pics
phone pics
phone pics
phone pics

I made the ferry easily enough. but the ride up through England is one I won't be doing again unless I really have to. I'm not joking when I say there must have been 300 miles of traffic jams. Imagine filtering for 300 miles. It was shit.
Still, I never let it dampen what was a great break away in Germany. 
Thank's Rick and Andrea! We'll be back to see the cats again soon!!

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