I never need an excuse to go riding, and with my wife in the UK for 10 days, covering two weekends, you know the saying, “when the cats away, the mice will play!”
Stage 1 of the plan, where to go? Andy has yet to go to the Gorges du Verdon, so when I told him I had a free weekend and was going distance riding, he traded in some brownie points with his better half, and managed to get a pass out from Friday pm until Monday midday, result!
Marc F wanted to join us on Sunday, so we agreed a meeting point and time, but confirmed we’d check in with him Saturday night, as he was worried about the weather forecast being wet.
Friday afternoon and I get a surprise call, “how early can you be at the meeting point?” Andy’s managed to get away earlier so we agree in an hours time, except I find I’ve broken one of the U lock keys and can’t find the spare! After much hunting around I arrive at the meeting point nearly 10 minutes late. We link radios and eventually set off on the Peage to Grenoble.
It seems the French police are looking to increase their revenue intake today, as on one stretch of less than 20kms, we see two police Subaru’s, four police motorbikes, and a guy with speed binoculars waiting to send his chase force after errant speeders! The first car and bikes are carefully camouflaged just off the motorway next to an embankment, and the second Subaru a few kms ahead was just pulling into a lay-by as we passed. I could almost sense the look of disappointment on his face that we weren’t speeding!
Close to Grenoble we stop for petrol, and for me to try and pump up a front tyre which the onboard computer is showing as being 2.3bar instead of 2.5. I use the garage pump and recheck, but the bike computer keeps telling me 2.3. I use Andy’s digital gauge and it reads 2.5, so deciding the digi gauge is better we set off, only for it then to immediately register a drop in the rear tyre from 2.9 to 2.8. I figure we’ll sort it later and we carry on.(Of course, you smart guys will realise that 2.5 on a warm tyre isn’t the same as a cold, so the on board was correct all the time!)
Grenoble passes, and we take the original Route Napoleon down to Gap. I usually prefer the parallel N75 south, especially as the N85 RDN isn’t that great at the start, but it improves as we continue, and with surprisingly little traffic we make good time.
Gap arrives and we decide to push on towards Savines le Lac, where I am amazed to see that the Lac Serre Poncon looks 1/3 empty, with the water level dramatically down from its summer 2009 levels.
A fuel stop, and removal of my light tinted Pinlock visor insert, as darkness is starting to fall, and we agree to stop at the next hotel, but Savines le Lac doesn’t look inviting, and eventually we stop 8kms away near Crots at the Hotel Les Bartavelles. We are offered the use of a hotel garage by the owners wife, and start to park up when the husband appears, and is clearly upset that his wife said we could park there!. It seems the allocated garage is full of wood and junk, and he seems to want to keep it that way, and not fill it with expensive German motorbikes! We wait an age for his return, eventually being informed by yet another hotel employee that we can’t park there! 30 minutes later, and by now in the dark, we moved the bikes, padlocked them together under an awning, and checked in. A shower, a couple of beers, and then an evening meal, nicely presented, but served by a waiter in the shiniest grey suit you have ever seen, and which the trousers are so tightly bound round his waist, that you wonder why he didn’t just buy the right sized suit to start with!
Daily stats: 297kms 3hours riding time
Morning dawns, and this is the view from our window.
It’s rained during the night and there are puddles on the ground and clouds over the nearby hills. We eat breakfast, and by 08.30 we are away. Back to Savines le Lac and then round the lake towards le Lauzet-Ubaye. As we climb visibility gets worse as we enter the cloud, and mist forms on the visors. The roads are sodden but tyres are gripping well and we’re riding sensibly. A few baby deer run across from one side of the road to the other in front of me and disappear into the hedges. Once we have reached the highest point and started descending we pass through the clouds and “normal” vision returns. We stop to take several pictures beside the lake and again I’m amazed at how much the water level has dropped.
Once round the lake we climb again, and where last year there had been magnificent views of the lake, now we have just clouds. The road to Seyne is open and flowing, but once past it changes dramatically around the Col du Maure and Col du Labouret. The road surface is wet, looks slippy, and guess what, when you hit the mud slick in the middle of the bend, your bike will slide sideways, which is exactly what mine did!! I’m never sure when these things happen if it’s moved a little or a lot, but I can assure you when a loaded GT moves like that, it seems a lot!
We arrive in Digne and pass through, continuing our Southward journey on the Route Napoleon. My usual bistro stop off point at the top of the Col de Leuns is shut, but we stop and take the pictures below, everything looking moody” with the clouds hanging over them.
Descending into Castellane, Andy informs me his oil warning light has come on, so we search for a garage and he buys some oil to top up his GS. Seems he hasn’t topped it up at all in 5000kms, so it’s not done too badly. My phone charger, specially bought for use on the bike isn’t working, so my phone dies, and contact with the outside world is lost, well, unless you exclude the possibility to use Andy’s phone that is?
Castellane to Grasse, and mile after mile of bends. There is very little traffic and no police, what a combination! Andy enquires if we will get a sea view, and a few kms later there it is, a little overcast, but the sea nonetheless. More surprising is the location of a prison with a view of the sea! Imagine being cooped up and being able to see the sea from your cell window, must be nice on one hand, and intensely frustrating on the other!
The drop into Grasse is frustrating, the town is built on a hill, and the roads descend slowly and round tight twists and turns, not too bad today, but a nightmare in the height of the tourist season.
It’s now around 13.30, we’ve been riding for 5 hours and deserve a break, so stopped at this bar where we could sit outside and keep and eye on the bikes.
I’ve no idea why I bought an aubergine lasagne , but it filled a hole, and an hour later we saddled up again and set off for Draguinan. Once clear of the built up traffic and towns we find nirvana. Empty roads with bend after bend after bend after bend. Not stupidly fast knee down stuff, but a mix of everything with a few straights linking them just for good measure. Once past a couple of vans and the local rally ace in his Focus sports that wanted to race, we just revelled in this wonderful road. If ever there is a reason for riding early in the season, here it is, you can have it all to yourself. I was enjoying myself so much I even forgot to change the ESA setting to sport!!
Next, North to the Gorges du Verdon, which was the main aim for this trip. I’ve been many times, but this was a first for Andy, and again we benefited from almost no traffic. We stopped at the Balcon de Mescla parking which was completely empty!
After Andy took some pictures we then set off around the gorges, able to stop at will to take in the views and take more pictures. I guess the only downside was that it wasn’t brilliant sunshine, but nevertheless, the solitude was much appreciated by us both.
Here is the balcony from the other side of the gorge. If you look carefully you can see the viewing platform.
Aiguines on the way down to Moustiers Ste Marie.
En route to Moustiers I joked with Andy that it was as if France had been invaded by aliens, because there didn’t seem to be anyone about.
A fuel stop and a chance to appraise the plan again. We had originally thought to stay closeby, but as the time was still only 16.30, we decided to press on. Privas, which was the point at which we were intending to meet Marc tomorrow, was 247kms and around 3 hours away, so we decided to break the back of the journey and press on towards either Serres or Die, where we hoped to find a hotel. Just as were leaving the sound of engines rose, and a group of a dozen or so bikers appeared, so at least there were some others about!
Back to Digne and some interesting roads and more open scenery. This barn in the middle of a field took both our attentions in the afternoon sun.
We spotted some more motorbike cops hiding behind buildings en route to Sisteron (below).
Another discussion as to how much longer to push on for, and if we’d been sensible, should probably have stopped in Serres, but Andy wasn’t tired and wanted to press on. At Aspremont we branched off towards Die with dusk starting to fall. Over the great roads of the Col de Cabre which we had ridden several times last year, and I noticed that Andy seemed to be lagging behind. Every now and then I’d see his headlight bouncing in the rear mirror, but I was more concerned that my vision was starting to be seriously impeded by the light tinted insert in my visor. Mile after mile passed, we seemed to be out of radio contact too. Distance too great, or dead batteries? I started to slow as vision got poorer, and each town the Zumo showed should have a hotel there, seemed to be either shut, or had been burnt to the ground (literally). Andy eventually caught up and complained that I had ignored his efforts to stop me!, Apparently the bouncing headlight was a flashing one, apparently he was trying to advise me that I had inadvertently turned off the radio, anyway, regardless of whether we stopped or not, we had no choice other than to press on to find an hotel, somewhere! After removing the offending tinted insert, and with vision restored, we set off in the ever-increasing darkness.
Eventually, the Zumo threw up a hotel in Die and via the miracles of technology, Andy called ahead and reserved a room and secure parking. The landlady was friendly and informed us we were the first motorcyclists this season! Grateful for somewhere to stop, I must admit to being a little cranky at this stage, after so long in the saddle, after all, we had been riding for 9 hours 41 and covered 546kms, and very little of that in a straight line!!! Once the bikes were parked we needed to contact Marc to arrange tomorrows meeting, but with my phone dead, and Andy not having Marc’s number, we were stuck. I asked the landlady if she had a Nokia charger, but she didn’t, but kindly lent me her phone so I could use my SIM card to call Marc. How’s that for generosity? I could have been calling America for all she knew! When we finally reached Marc he informed us that it was going to be wet tomorrow so he was going to stay at home after all!
We ate in an Asian restaurant, where quantity seemed to make up for quality, but we were surprised to see a local bar/restaurant closed at 20.30 on a Saturday night! With Andy preferring an early turn in, rather than the long cold beer nightcap I wanted, we returned to the room, and within 30 seconds I was asleep, and snoring for the next two hours ( according to Andy!)
TO BE CONTINUED