So, with limited opportunites for long distance motorcyle touring this year I thought it might be time to re-visit last years trip through France, Italy and Switzerland. The last post on this trip took me up to day 4 so only 36 days to go, you lucky people.
I discovered on my travels that I am not any kind of Bill Bryson when it comes to travel writing. Though the intention was to write compelling, dramatic and extraordinarily witty accounts of each days adventures in realtime the reality was altogether somewhat different. In my defence though, I hadn’t really thought through the mechanics of how this would all work. Space on Sarah (my bike) is limited and as I packed to set off from the UK there really wasn’t any room left for a computer and the necessary cables, so they got left behind as I figured I could write everything up on the ipone 8.
After a hard days riding, pitching your tent, finding shops for the purchase of food, cooking of said food, dealing with any bike maintenance, laundry if required and a little exploring there just simply wasn’t the time or inclanation to spend hours typing on an iphone keypad, so the blog was abandoned.
So what follows now is a recollection of the trip, backed by an enormous amount of photos and emails with campsite confirmations and the images that still live on in my mind. It will be as faithful as I can make it , most days are still easy to remember but there will be gaps where the location or the riding was uneventful or just plain drab. Thankfully there weren’t to many of those.
My stay at Saint-Bomer-les-Forges had been just the pick me up I had needed, three days off Sarah had helped me recover a little from the cold that had plagued me from the beginning of the trip. For once I was greeted by a warm sunny morning as I packed up my things and planned out the days trip. There was never any definitive destination, each days location was picked out by distance, availablity of campsite and price. Pitchup.com became my best friend, a superb app if travelling through France and reliant on campsites. The only tip I would give you regarding Pitchup.com is that you need to know the departments of France to maximise it’s use. Once I understood this finding campsites was exceptionally easy.
By now I had a rough idea of how the trip would shape up, I would ride down the west coast of France, across the Pyrennes, up towards Geneva before heading into Italy and making my way to Florence where I had a weeks stay booked. The locations I would take in along the away, well they would depend on how I felt each morning and what I wanted to see. The location for today was Heric, mainly because I was planning to stop over for a couple of days and it was located close to Nantes which gave me the chance to take in my first big France city. As the crow flies it wasn’t going to be that long of a ride, so to fill in the time I thought I would go via Le Mans and take in the legendary 24hr circuit.
The first part of the ride to Le Mans took me through a National Park (see map), endless miles of woodland, little country lanes and gravel tracks and for most of the morning glorious sunshine. It was the first time I had set off dry and my confidence in Sarah and her abilities (and also my mine,) allowed me to start to relax and enjoy the riding and the views.
One of the greatest things about riding a motorcylce is your attachment to the surrounding environment, unlike a car you are not boxed off from everything. I could feel the sun warming me through my jacket and gloves and the smells eminating from the woods; pine, pollen and freshness reinvigorated my soul. This was what I had been hoping for, a sense of oneness with everything around me, it was epic. It was also the beginning of a realisation that the journey would be more important than the destination and I made a vow to myself to slow down, not to be in such a hurry, to remove the blinkers and enjoy everything I could. Up to that point I had been to much focused on reaching each campsite with very few diversions during the day or stopping off to explore little towns but today I made an effort to start to change things.
A couple of hours into the ride I passed through the town of Courcite, with the intention of riding straight through, but right by the roadisde a was a boulangerie and, as France is famed for its patisseries and I have an incredibly sweet tooth, I decided to stop and give it a go. The shop itself was quite tiny but the display of cakes was amazing, I have never seen anything like it in my life. There were all sorts of delicious looking goodies presented in a way that makes most of our bakerys look like Aldi’s. I settled for a toffee crumble chocolate tart, paid the Euro2:95, watched the assistant carefully place the tart in a delicate cardboard container and walked back to my bike to consume my ill gotton gains. It was incredible, the tastes and textures were mind blowing and made me want to slap a table top and scream YES, YES, YES!!! at the top of my voice. Stops at local boulangeries would be a frequent occurance as the trip went on but, much like a first love, I will never forget that french tart from Courcite.
The approach to Le Mans took on the look of any modern commerical city, masses of diverging and converging roads accompanied by a furious amout of speeding traffic whose sole intent appeared to be to kill me. To say it wasn’t stressful would be to tell a lie, but armed with my trustee Garmin Sat Nav I was confident that I could safely navigate my way through this maelstrom to the 24hr circuit. But I couldn’t and I didn’t. I must be one of the few people armed with modern satellite technology that failed to locate the Le Mans 24hr circuit. I don’t think I even came close to be honest with you. The Garmin picked entirley the wrong moment to have what I can only assume was somekind of electronic stroke. It took an eternity to update the screen and everyone time it informed me to take a slip road, the slip road had long since been left behind and I was heading to god knows where. After an hour (and I kid you not) of constantly disappearing up my own arse as the Garmin continued to update screens as if under sedation, I gave up. Disregarding the Garmin, I followed a sign towards the city centre, stopped in a local garage, bought fuel and a sandwich and sat there for about 30 minutes feeling really sorry for myself, every now and then throwing out insults at the Garmin like a petulant child.
When I had finally calmed down and restored some of my now shattered confidence, I recalculated the route to the campsite and set forth once more. The drive through Le Mans city centre was mercifully less traumatic and I stopped the bike to take in the Cathedral as I passed by, trying to salvage something from what had so far been a pointless diversion.
The rest of the ride down to Campsite La Pindiere in Heric, is pretty much a blank I am afraid, a non-descript collection of what can best be describe as uninspiring B-roads with little in the way of stimulating views or death defying bends. The ride itself was also taking much longer than I anticipated (which would be a reoccuring theme) and I was beginning to feel somewhat fatigued and the skies were once again returning to a unwelcome grey signalling the return of my old friend, rain.
I finally arrived at the campsite around 6:30pm and thankfully the rain had held off and I noted, with some despair, that the campsite wasn’t particularly located close to any nearby town or village within walking distance. After checking in at reception and being told which pitches I could use, I set off to pick my campsite for the next couple of days.
If I thought the trauma of the day was over, I was sadly mistaken, it was just beginning. I think I am pretty adept at putting up my tent, I have put it up more times than I care to remember and in all sorts of conditions, but bugger me if I hadn’t picked the one place on earth where the topsoil barely covered somekind of boulder field. I should have realised the moment the first tent peg buckled itself into a figure of eight upon being struck with the mallet but by now I had lost all sense of reason. Tiredness and frustration took over. Like some kind of frenzied maniac I went from corner to corner of the tent smashing seven bells out of the tent pegs until all that was left of them was a twisted, contorted mass of metal of no use to man nor beast. I must, regrettably, relay to you the reader, that I openly ranted and raved, issuing forth all sorts of not very nice words until I happened to notice the elderly couple (owners of the motorhome on the pitch opposite me) looking at me in a mildly amused way. The gentleman (from Belguim as it turned out) approached me with a knowing nod of the head and a smile and held out a rock peg to me. You’ll need this, his smile seemed to say, before retreating back into his motorhome as a slight drizzle began to fall.
The kindess of strangers would never cease to amaze me, it would happen throughout my trip and it is humbling to have people, with no connection to you, reach out to you in times of need or just to offer the hand of friendship. In a world that at times seems out of control and crazy it restores your fatih in humanity.
The rock peg is a wonderous thing, sturdy enough to shatter the heart of any vampire it wasted no time in punching holes through that son of a bitch pitch and, 1 and 1/2 hours later, my tent was up, my gear was safely stowed away and the rock peg had been returned to the belgian couple with a plethora of thanks and much kissing of their shoes. Exhausted and with rain now a continually stream, I headed to the camp restuarant for something to eat and a cool beer and had my first encounter with Annie, the owner of the campsite and a simply super human being.
I am, by nature, quite outgoing, most people who know me would tend to agree with that statement, but on my own in France, unable to speak the language or understand the customs I was as awkward and timid as one can be. I felt so out of place as I sat in the bar area trying to figure out what the menu actually said and acutely aware of the other diners looking at me. I stand out in a crowd and people have a hard time trying to work out exaxctly what I am. I underwent full gender reassignement surgery in 2015 completing my transition from male to female, but my face has an undeniably male look to it still, inspite of the bucketload of hormones that have made their way into my system. I am comfortable with how I look in my own setting, but here in France I felt ill at ease.
Annie must have picked on this, for she was an amazing host, she directed me to a table, asked what I wanted to drink, recommended the burger, with regards to food, and gave me all the time I needed. I was immensely grateful to her that evening and would be for the two nights I was there, she went out of her way to make me feel welcome.
I enjoyed a cold beer with the meal, took my time and allowed myself to wind down, the day had not necessarily gone the way I hoped it would but I had survived, had added another couple of hundred miles onto my journey and was heading in the right direction, down towards the Pyrennes. Once I had finished my meal I headed back to the tent, the rain still falling steadily and snuggled myself into my sleeping bag looking forward to some much needed sleep, but alas that was not to be……
Love and hugs