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BlacktopMotorcycleDiaries

Haydn Thomas


It had been two years since my previous tour which had been to the Pyrenees and I was very much looking forward to getting away on my bike again. My daughter Summer had been born in June the previous year so it had seemed wholly inappropriate to nip off for a week so soon after her arrival. Besides, I wouldn’t have wanted to...well, not much. 2010 however, was a different story and with Summer by then a year old, I was happy to head off for a week’s biking, especially as this was my first chance to tour properly on the GT. Having ridden in both the Alps and the Pyrenees, my preference was to return to the former, their vastness providing the opportunity to ride a different route, and in turn, lots of new passes. The previous year, in my absence, my friends had organised their own trip and had returned from it raving about the B500 that runs through the Black Forest in Germany. Apart from it being a bit wet, oh, and two of them having missed most of it due to getting lost, but what they had seen had been sung high praise about. This prompted me into reading more about it myself, I decided, that as one of the world’s notary motorbiking roads, it was definitely one to experience. The months preceding the trip were spent planning a route which would take us through the northern regions of France and across the Vosges Mountains into the Rhine Valley where we’d cross the Rhine River into Germany and the Black Forest beyond. We’d then head south on the B500 towards Switzerland where the fabulous high Alpine passes would keep us entertained for a few days. From there we’d cross the border back into France and more great passes around the Mont Blanc area before starting our homeward journey.

Black Forest & Alps 2010


Along the way, there would be many passes that I hadn’t ridden on my previous trip but many new ones too which I was really looking forward to. I was also looking forward to riding with three of the guys again Anton, Phil, Sid who by then it seemed, had become regular attendees. We’d shared many enjoyable miles riding together over the past couple of years and I doubted that 2010 would be any different.

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We met up at the crack of dawn on the forecourt of Baldock services on the A1. We had a long day’s ride ahead, five hundred miles or so, to the Moto Hotel Col du Bussang, a biker friendly hotel on the edge of the Vosges Mountains in north-east France. The motorways proved quiet for the run down to Folkstone and by 8am we were pulling up at the barriers at the Eurotunnel terminal. I turned to check all were present...Anton, yes....Phil...yes, Sid.....where’s Sid? Now to be fair, it wasn’t any great surprise for him not to be there, Sid did after all have a tendency to droff off the back of the group, temporarily vanishing from mirrors, then gradually reappearing until he was back in the pack. On this occasion though, he didn’t reappear and after ten minutes, the three of us were growing slightly concerned. Then the call came in. He had run out of fuel! Sid had bought a new motorbike a few months before the trip and at Baldock services, when the rest of us had topped up, Sid claimed to have more than enough fuel to make it to France before needing to do so. As he’d sputtered to a standstill on the hard shoulder of the M2 a mile before the Maidstone services, history proves otherwise. By the time he called us, he had already pushed his bike along the motorway and was standing on the forecourt of the service station somewhat out of breath and too late to make the train. Having agreed to meet on the other side, Anton, Phil and I caught the next crossing and forty minutes later were parked on another service station forecourt just outside the Euro-tunnel terminal taking the opportunity to consume the first ham and cheese baguette of the trip, and a couple of French-service-station-strength coffees. An hour passed before Sid rejoined us to a round of rapturous applause and a barrage of heckling. He wasn’t going to live that one down in a hurry...and he knew it. Sometime during the previous months, Sid had spoken about an old motor racing circuit just outside Reims and having researched it on the internet, it looked quite an interesting place to visit. As such, the Circuit de Reims-Gueux was plotted into our route. The old track, last raced on in 1955 is now integrated into the French road network but it’s layout is largely still there, as are many of the derelict trackside buildings. A group of fans calling themselves the Amis de Circuit de Gueux, (Friends of the...), have lovingly re-painted the buildings as they would have appeared during their heyday, adorned with various motoring associated logos like Shell, BP and Elf. Unfortunately for us, as we approached the outskirts of Reims, some major re-routing of the A26 autoroute was occurring which resulted in us sailing straight past Gueux, and the large city of Reims, and onward to Châlons-en-Champagne where we turned off onto the D994.

Black Forest & Alps 2010


After my previous two tours, I’d decided that I really didn’t like long days of sitting on motorways and would rather spend some of the ride on the excellent French national roads. With a good route planned, using the deserted A roads often only added an hour, maybe two, to a day’s ride but provided the opportunity to see more of the countryside and to find somewhere nice to lunch rather than the usual motorway service stations. With a motorway stint behind us, the remaining miles undulated over the rolling hills of the Champagne region, passing through sleepy towns and villages like Bar-le-Duc, Neufchâteau and Vittel. It was an excellent route, far more interesting than being stuck on the triple-lane blacktop and the fast flowing roads meant that our pace wasn’t much less. The D994/966 pitched and rolled over the hills, dipping into a gullies, through series of corners before climbing again onto the next hilltop. It was early evening by the time we reached the Moto Hotel Col du Bussang, a hotel that Phil had stumbled upon it whilst planning the 2009 trip. The Dutch owner, Mark de Vries, made us very welcome, greeting us like old friends and providing a Calais round of complementary beers almost before we could dismount our bikes. The guys had stayed there the previous year and had commented on what a great place it had been and he wasn’t wrong. It was, as it’s name suggests, a proper biker’s retreat, with a bike shelter along one side of the carpark, big enough to accommodate twenty bikes or more. A26 Inside, biking memorabilia adorned every wall and taking pride of place in the middle of the restaurant, was a life-size wooden chopper bike. Brilliant!

Arras

St Quentin

We sat outside on the terrace in the early evening sun drinking a couple more beers before Mark announced that dinner was served. There was no choice, he provided a fixed meal, take it or leave it, and that night it was A26 half a rack of sticky barbecue ribs with fries. There was a starter and a dessert too but I don’t recall what they were. We ate well though, I rememReims ber that much, and certainly sank a good few beers before adjourning to our room for the night.

Châlons-en-Champagne D994

Nancy Épinal Left to right: 1. Waiting for Sid. 2. Moto Hotel Col du Bussang 3. Moto Hotel Col du Bussang

N57

Bussang

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The next morning, we removed our bikes from the shelter, loaded up and having promised Mark we’d visit again, headed of into the Vosges Mountains. I didn’t realise it whilst planning the trip, but we were actually riding pretty much the entire length of the Route-des-Cretes, from Goldbach-Altenbach to Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines. This brilliant string of twelve back-to-back passes was original built for more sombre purposes than our motorcycling pleasure as it was conceived in order to get French troops to the front line against Germany in the war. Due to it’s purpose, the road never quite breaches the crests of the hills and for that reason, the French troops remained out of the line of fire. None of the passes were very high, the mightiest, the Col du Ballon, reaching a lowly 950 metres, but they provided some superb riding that’s for sure, rising and falling over the peaks, twisting this way then that. And the views they provided across the French countryside were lovely too. At Ribeauvillé, we stopped in the centre of town for lunch at the Auberge au Cheval Noir, (The Black Horse) and sat beneath a large parasol on the terrace to escape the scorching sun. From Ribeauvillé it was a short run to the Rhine River that forms the border with Germany. I knew the river would be wide but I didn’t realise just how wide. It was huge, twice the with of the Thames where it flows through central London. Our route deviated from the main road and followed the river bank north for about ten miles towards Strasbourg before crossing over to the east side via the Gerstheim hydroelectric dam that spans the river. Riding through the towns and villages of these flat lands along the Rhine was my first real taste of Germany. At Offenburg we joined autobahn 5/E35 on what was supposed to be a fast blast to Achern. Renown for not having speed limits I was looking forward to opening the GT up and seeing just how fast she’d go without worrying about getting a ticket in the process. Typically though, my plan was thwarted and instead of providing the opportunity for reaching maximum velocity, we joined a twenty mile contraflow and plodded along at a snails pace. We were heading for a hostel in the village of Forbach about twenty miles south of Baden Baden but upon arriving in the village, the hostel proved somewhat difficult to find. The following hour turned into something of a comedy show as the locals were treated to the exploits of four very lost British bikers. We started off by riding to where I believed we would find the hostel but at the edge of the village, the road turned into

Black Forest & Alps 2010


Baden-Baden Forbach Strasbourg

E35

Achern

Off enburg Erstein

Klosterrichenbach

Ste Marie-aux-Mines

Ro ute -d

esCr ete

s

RibeauvillĂŠ

Bussang

Colmar

Clockwise from top: 1. Route des Cretes. 2. Auberge au Cheval Noir. 3. Entering the Black Forest. 4. Phil and Sid on the Route des Cretes. 5. Anton & Sid enjoying an evening meal. 6. The Rhine

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a forest track. We followed it for perhaps quarter of a mile and thinking, ‘this can’t be right’, back-tracked to the village. Phil reckoned that his sat-nav had pinpointed it so off we rode in another direction. This too soon proved unfruitful. Next step was to ask some locals who directed us to another part of the village. We climbed a narrow twisty road amongst the houses until the road once again turned into track. It looked unlikely but taking the locals at their word and not to be discouraged, I forged on climbing a steep 1:3 grass and gravel incline, for some reason still believing that we might actually find the hostel at the top. Whatever possessed me to undertake this manoeuvre I don’t know, but with a fist full of throttle, the heavy GT scrambled it’s way up the track. Stopping halfway would have spelt certain disaster but fortunately, my initial momentum saw me safely to the top. What I found was allotments, nothing but sodding vegtables! Before I could stop the others from following, Phil had already drawn to a halt half way up and panic had taken hold as he was struggling to hold his bike vertical. Anton, his path blocked by Phil, had returned to the road below then clambered on foot to assist. Together we turned his bike around and Anton gingerly rode it back down. It was an heroically comedic moment. Finally it was my turn and this was either going to be a masterclass in bike control, or end in expensive bills and a heavily dented ego. Relying on engine braking, some gentle feathering of the rear brake and shear balls, I guided my cumbersome beast back down the track. It was a hair raising minute but with a bit of slipping and sliding, I guided all 270kg of bike back to the road vowing never to undertake such a ridiculous act again. We retraced our steps back to our original starting point and this time followed the forest track a little further to find the hostel nestled amongst the trees just a cople of hundred metres from where we had first turned back. The hostel appeared very basic, there was no food available, or beer more to the point, so no sooner had we dismounted than we were all back on our bikes and decending the hill back to the village in search of alternative lodgings. I told you, comical. It was getting on in the evening by this point and we were all growing tired. We rode around for a while stopping at hotels and pensions but all were closed or didn’t look very appealing, so we decided to make for the nearest large town, Freudenstadt, where we’d more likely have better fortune. We hadn’t been riding for long when we entered the village of Klosterrichenbach and stumbled upon Hotel Restaurant Schützen which looked pleasantly inviting. Phil went in and returned a few minutes later with the good news that they had a couple of rooms free. We’d lucked out, it was a really nice little hotel with friendly staff and nice clean rooms. Before unpacking the bikes, we sat on the streetside

Clockwise from top left: 1. Me & Phil on the Route des Cretes. 2. Hotel Schützen. 3. Having a couple of cool beers. 4. Looking back over the Rhine Valley. 5. Amico Mio Restaurant 6. Me on the Route des Cretes.

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terrace drinking a couple of cool beers in the warm evening sun. After the fiasco of trying to find that mountain hostel, it was a blessed and most welcome relief to have found such a nice spot, and to finally have a cold beer in hand. Having changed, we crossed the road to a popular looking Italian restaurant called Bella Vita where again we sat outside amongst the locals and ate a lovely meal whilst reflecting on our day’s antics. I was enjoying my first encounter with Germany, especially some of the roads we’d taken into the Black Forest. Having had a little taster, I was looking forward to the next day more than ever as we’d be riding the notary B500, the legendary biking road that runs the length of the Black Forest. Anton, Phil, Rich and Sid had been through there the previous year on their trip to the Dolomites but seemingly with mixed success. I don’t think the weather had been too kind to them so with the promise of better this time, they too were looking forward to it.

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The weather was indeed glorious when we woke the next morning, clear blue skies overhead, and as we loaded our bikes, the bright sun was already warming us through and I for one, was eager to get going. We rode to the northern most point of the B500, a few miles south of Baden Baden, where we refuelled before rolling off of the forecourt onto the legendary blacktop. Such was my anticipation of what the next few miles had in store, that I felt as though it could have been the start of a bike movie, Silver Dream Machine perhaps. Even the petrol station was the last building before the open road began, almost as if to shout ‘last fill up before a hundred miles of non-stop-motorbiking fun!’ The 500 climbed gradually into the hills, the first few miles proving a real delight, the broad smooth asphalt easing itself through the corners amongst a million trees, clinging to the undulating contours of the hills that overlook the Rhine Valley. It was an enthralling ride that only got better as the miles rolled by beneath our wheels. As we reached higher ground, the trees receded and the road really opened up providing mile after mile of tantalizingly good riding, the fast, sweeping, back to back corners undulating across the tops of the hills. I was ringing every bit of power I could out of the GT in an effort to hang on to Anton’s tail, whilst Phil and Sid were long out of our mirrors. Near Freudenstadt, we turned off onto the narrower L96, re-entering the forest. Dropping into smaller valleys, the corners tightening but still, they just kept on coming. It was a exceptional ride and every bit as good as I’d hoped it would be. The intense concentration demanded an elevensies break and right on cue, we came upon the Hotel Rosegarten in the village of Bad Rippoldsau-Schapbach. It looked an idyllic spot and on entering the hotel, we were shown through to a pretty courtyard terrace, surrounded of course, by roses. Homemade apple strudel was on offer which we all thought would go perfectly with our morning coffee. It really was a pretty good place to be. Back on the bikes and roads deteriorated for a while. To avoid some of the more populated areas, I had plotted a route which cunningly detoured around the bigger towns, only my detours weren’t neccessarily as good an option as I thought they would be. When we started meeting logging trucks coming along single track roads dotted with tree debris, it became clear that we should have stuck to the main carriageways. Still, it all adds to the adventure and every now and then, the trees would make way for a clearing where a few houses stood alone amongst the trees. It was all very pretty.

Main Image: Views across the Black Forest hills. Left to right: 1. Sid on the B500. 2. Views from Gasthaus zum Hirschen. 3. Gasthaus zum Hirschen. 4. Where are you? 5. Anton & me.

Black Forest & Alps 2010


After a couple of hours we came upon the Gasthaus zum Hirschen. Set on it’s own and surrounded by rolling, lush green meadows and dense forest, the sun bathed terrace treated us to the magnificent views across the stunning countryside. We sat there for an hour eating lunch served by a buxom, blonde waitress wearing traditional German costume. Yes, I was liking Germany very much indeed. A couple of hours later we arrived in Menzenschwand where I’d booked another hostel. I was praying that it was going to be better than the previous night’s original choice and that more off roading wasn’t on the cards. As we rode up main street of the sleepy village, the hostel look resplendent, a very old and traditional farm house that had been converted, the balconies running along the side decorated with flower boxes busting with colour. It was picture postcard stuff. Taking our helmets off, we were then subjected to the shouting and screaming of a hundred school children. It was alive with them running along the balconies, up and down the wooden stairs like rats on a sinking ship. On entering the hostel, my face must have said it all because the manager’s first words were to reassure me that we wouldn’t be staying there but in their second building, a hundred metres up the road. What a relief!

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Baden-Baden Having parked the bikes up out of sight of the kids, we changed and went in search of a beer and somewhere to eat for the evening. There appeared to only be one place within B500 Forbach walking distance, a smokey little bar on the main road which had a menu in the window. As we entered, it was like one of those classic western saloon moments when everything including the music stops, all the locals looking round to see who’s walked in. We ordered some beers and retreated Seebach to the fresh air of the balcony which afforded lovely views across the valley. It was a perfect evening, the warm evening sun still keeping us warm in our t-shirts and shorts. Menzenschwand was far enough off the beaten track that many people, including the proprietor and most of the locals Freudenstadt in the bar didn’t speak a word of English. As none of us Oppenau spoke German either, that made it a little difficult when trying to order from the German only menu. Thankfully, overhearing our plight, a lady from another table came over to assist. Steak seemed to be the preferred dish judging by it’s frequency on the menu so that’s what we had, and good steaks they were too. Presentation of the desert menu started the whole translation problem again but with our recent assistant now departed, 294 we were in trouble. The owner, looking a little frustrated as none of his explanations were getting through, retreated inside and sent out one of the locals. He spoke pretty good English and talked us through the traditional but limited choice of desserts. With our choices made, he relayed the new information to the owner who in turn scurried back to the kitchen. Our new friend 294 stayed and chatted with us for a while telling us all about his living of buying and selling shares from his house along the road then spending his winnings in the pub. He seemed quite happy.

Schiltach

Furtwangen

Freiburg

L186

L124

Menzenschwand

Black Forest & Alps 2010

Left to right, top to bottom: 1. Enjoying the evening. 2. Hostel Menzenschwand. 3. The beautiful Black Forest hills. 4. Sid enjoying the roads. 5. And Phil enjoying the beer.


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Having breakfasted in the quietest corner of the hostel’s dining area we could find, we loaded up and left Menzenschwand and the screaming children behind heading south towards the Swiss border. We had some 185 miles to cover between us and our next destination of Lauterbrunnen in Switzerland. We’d had discussions Menzenschwand prior to departing Blighty as to whether we should purchase Swiss motorway passes or not. Seeing as it was necessary to buy an annual ‘vignette’, despite the fact that we only want to use it to ride one fifty mile stretch, we had opted to run the gauntlet against the Swiss rozzers on a shorter stretch, and use minor roads where ever possible. As I was also trying to avoid passing through any of the large towns in the Rhine Valley, this ultimately proved disastrous as we soon lost the route and then each other. Sid and I ended up on the narrow lanes of a rural farming community in the tiny hamlet in th emiddle of nowhere. Having stopped cursing, I made contact with Anton and Phil who by which time, were sitting on the sunny terrace of a cafe drinking cool beverages. Our conversation went something like this: Waldshut-Tiengen H: ‘Where are you?’ A: ‘Hang on a second’, (I overhear the waitress being asked where Aaran they were), ‘We’re in Oberdorf’ H: ‘No you’re not, that’s here we are’. A: ‘We are, the waitress said so’. Now, clearly they weren’t as we were standing, surrounded by mooing cows and clucking chickens, by a sign adorning that very name. H: ‘You can’t be there, we are there, and you definitely aren’t. Ask her again.’ A: ‘We are, the waitress said so’. H: “You’re not, ask her again”. Faint mutterings were heard down the line before Anton comes back on. A: “Ah, we’re not there, were here”. H: “I know, but where is ‘here’ exactly?”. It turned out that they were only a couple of miles away in the village of Bitterholtz, sunning themselves on the terrace of the nice little Cafe Bucher, whilst I’d been getting hot and bottered trying to find them again.

Sursee

Sarnen

Interlaken

Black Forest & Alps 2010

Lauterbrunnen


After lunch we set off to find a couple of lesser known passes, the Glaubenbergpass and Glaubelbeilenpass. Riding the two passes formed a circular detour from the main road alternative route, the narrow, single lane winding it’s way through picturesque Alpine meadows with cattle grazing on the lush grass. These pretty, out of the way, passes were almost forgotten to other road users which meant we had them pretty much to ourselves. On the second of the two passes, I decided it would be a splendid idea to film my ascent but not having the proper equipment to do so, I knocked the GT into second gear and rode much of the pass one handed whilst holding my camera aloft with the other. It was hardly ideal, a bit dangerous even, but I took it very steady, particularly when overtaking a couple of military vehicles. At the top the tarmac surface degraded into a gravel track for a couple of hundred metres before starting again for the decent. We were heading for Lauterbrunnen, the valley of the waterfalls, just south of Luzern. I’d ridden up this beautiful valley three years previously with Howard on my first motorbike tour to the Alps and was really looking forward to returning. On this occasion we’d be staying for a couple of nights as I’d booked us into the Valley Hostel in the village of Lauterbrunnen itself.

Main Image: Sid. Left to right: 1. Swiss military manouvers. 2. Little lanes above Lake Luzern. 3. Train shed in Lauterbrunnen. 4. Lake Luzern.

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In my infinite wisdom, I’d planned another supposed short cut through the maze of narrow mountain farmland roads to the north of Luzern. For some reason the other three had stopped whilst I, riding affront, continued on unaware. Finally realising that they were no longer behind, I retraced my route to find them but they’d gone. Believing that they would do the same, I sat on the grass in one of the fields watching a farmer cutting his hay whilst waiting for their return. After half an hour or so there was still no sight of them, so I gave up. I was fuming, feeling that I’d been well and truly dumped! In hindsight, I should have relished in the opportunity to ride by myself again for a while, but I was too hot and too cross. As I continued along the labyrinth of narrow lanes towards lake Luzern, the mountains provided spectacular vistas across the turquoise waters a hundred metres or more below. Once on the shoreline, I made contact with the others who by that time were already at the hostel. The views across the lake had clearly had a calming effect on my mood and the warmth of the late afternoon sun was the only company I needed for the final ride to our accommodation. Riding into Lauterbrunnen again cheered my soul a little more, it was such a lovely place and I was pleased to be there again. The hostel too was lovely, situated right in the heart of the village, backing onto the engine sheds of the valley railway and with views from our room of the mountains that surround the village. We were given six berth dorm which apparently we had to share with the couple of unsuspecting young Chinese travellers. Poor girls. All credit to them though, they equalled our abundance of biking gear with their enormous suitcases, and certainly provided a welcome wakeup call early the next morning when one of them bent over almost sticking her half naked, rather pert bottom into my weary face. Having settled in nicely, we changed and went off to check out the local restaurants. We only made it as far as the first one, the Hotel Oberland, which had a decent looking menu and one remaining free table on the street-side terrace. There was a nice gentle bustle about the village, lots of people wandering around, all seemingly enjoying their beautiful surroundings and as we sat eating our evening meal and drinking a few beers, there were few places I would rather have been that evening.

Main Image: Lauterbrunnen. Left to right: 1. Village hostel, Lauterbrunnen 2. Showing Anton my mountain pass film footage.

Black Forest & Alps 2010


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We woke the next morning to another beautiful day, the sun already peeping over the ridges of the mountains into the Lauterbrunnen valley. As we were booked into the Valley Hostel for a couple of nights, we had a luggage free day ahead and a route planned that would take in five of the best passes in the Alps. We were in motorbiking mecca and weren’t going to be disappointed. A couple of them, Furkapass and Sustenpass, we had all ridden before, but the other three, for me at least, were all new challenges. First up was a pass that I had overlooked from the nights of the Furkapass on my first trip to the Alps back in 2007, the Grimselpass. It didn’t disappoint, the perfectly smooth tarmac providing maximum traction, the initial fast sweepers turning into tighter hairpin turns towards the top. The GT felt cumbersome on these tight corners, out of it’s comfort zone but beligerantly I manhandled it to the summit. At the top, the view across lake Totensee was magnificent, bright blue skies providing a perfect contrast to the snow capped, rocky mountains which formed the horizon. We parked up alongside the three dozen or so other motorcycles that were already there, bike’s of every type. Tourers, sportsbikes, choppers, all sorts, and everyone one there for the same reason, the roads and the scenery. We ordered coffee at the cafe and sat on the sun bathed terrace for half an hour enjoying the view. ‘A biking trip surely couldn’t get much better than this’, I thought. The descent of the southern slopes was equally as enthralling as climbing the northern side, the faster sweepers near the top turning into tight hairpins as the road traversed down the steep rock face towards Gletsch. At the T-junction, heading east meets the foot of the Furkapass, west heads off towards Brig. We took the latter, through a narrowing between the mountains to the start of the Nufenenpass.

Decending the southern side of the pass into Italy, the temperatures began to soar. It must have been a good thirty five degrees which didn’t make for comfortable biking...unless you were wearing a tshirt and jeans like the local bikers. We followed the Bedretto Valley to the small town of Airolo to find some lunch. We came upon a pizzeria called Borelli with large awning providing some much welcome respite from the sun. It was a quiet spot, only a couple of the tables being occupied but the food was good all the same.

Interlaken

Lauterbrunnen Main image: Atop the Nufenenpass Left to right: 1. Taking a Ray Mears moment. 2. The cobblestoned La Tremola. 3. The St Gotthard Pass

Black Forest & Alps 2010


At Airolo we had a choice of routes back over the border into Switzerland. For many years, travellers from either side of the mountains were subjected to driving over the mountain pass but now, a ten mile long tunnel bored through the rock provided a fast, efficient route. For those that want to travel a more scenic and fun route, the sweeping, super smooth St Gotthard Pass is still in use but we were there to ride another road. La Tremola. La Tremola is the original surfaced mountain pass that twists and turns it’s way up the mountainside from Airolo and over the Swiss border. Built during the days of less sophisticated equipment it must have been a monumental challenge to la all of those cobble-stones, let alone get them up there in the first place. The result though is a road Sustenpass

Meiringen

Wassen

Andermatt

Grimselpass

La Tremola

Gletsch

Airolo Nufenenpass

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that appears far more sympathetic and in harmony with it’s surroundings. There are no elevated roadways of sublime engineering to be found here, no illumination for the nocturnal driver or safety barriers to care for the wreckless or unfortunate. No, this narrow gauge, cobblestone road clings onto the mountains as it climbs through twenty four hairpin turns to the top where it joins the newer road. If one stopped to consider the huge costs that must be involved in maintaining both the tunnel and the St Gotthard Pass, the little used, nostalgic La Tremola, is kept in a remarkably good state of repair. Although I’m not sure my internal organs would agree with me on that point. The six mile climb to the crest felt like it was going to shake me and my bike to pieces but it was worth it in every respect. At the top we parked up next to the Lago dello Piazza to take a breather. The views there we once again breath taking. There was still the last remnants of snow on the ground, more still on the higher peaks in the distance, and the sky so perfectly blue and reflecting itseld in the sufaces of the lakes. The final pass of the day was my favourite from my 2007 trip, the Sustenpass. Much talk occurs about some of the other passes, the Grand St Bernard and the Stelvio for example, but as a motorbiking road, I think it’s one of the best. Mind you, my opinion might be biased as it was the pass that suited my GT best, the fast flowing curves providing easy changes of direction, and even the switch-back corners near the top were gentle enough that the GT remained a fun ride. Top, left to right: 1. View across Totensee on the Grimselpass. 2. Waterfall on the Sustenpass. 3. Aeirel spectacle above Grimselsee. Bottom, left to right: 4. Sid & Phil atop the Nefenenpass. 5. Lunch stop in Airolo. 6. The Grimselpass. 7. Me atop the Sustenpass.

Black Forest & Alps 2010


We arrived back in Lauterbrunnen mid afternoon, changed and returned to the previous night’s restaurant again for an early dinner. Againg we sat street side and watched people going about their business whilst having our meal. 2010 was a football world cup year and the tourament was in full swing and the hotel was showing that evening’s match on a big screen on an adjacent terrace. During the match we got chatting to a group of Australian cyclists who, like us, were there to enjoy the huge Alpine playground. They were nice bunch too, well, except one who I’ll call Bruce. I’d been talking about road manners and general awareness of other road users, commenting that, as with motoryclists, a small number of cyclist didn’t seem to appreciate that there were in fact, other people also using the roads. Bruce reacted as though I’d condemned all cyclists, and especially Australian ones. Oh did he go on. Apparently I was small minded and ignorant, exactly the kind of person he’d left Australia to escape. The rest of the group seemed to brush the comments under the carpet leaving me to assume that they were used to his over opinionated outbursts.

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The following morning we packed up and left Lauterbrunnen bound for Vallorcine in France. From Luzern, we headed towards Spiez where we turned off onto the Juanpass. We rode through village after village, getting hotter and hotter in the morning sun. Finally we reached the lower slopes of the pass and started the climb towards the summit which, to be honest, wasn’t worth the effort. The road surface was appalling, bouncing me around and unsettling my bike. It didn’t make for a very enjoyable ride at all. We hadn’t made the earliest of starts that morning and having only eaten a light breakfast, the sight of the bustling restaurant terrace at the top was all too tempting. As we walked across the terrace, who should be there already but our best buddy from the previous night. He was of course delighted to see us again and muttered something undecipherable under his breath but all credit to them, well except Bruce, to make use of the coolness of the early morning, they’d started out at 6am to make it there in time for lunch. The afternoon’s ride didn’t appear to be much better but at least the road was smoother. Riding through the broad Sarine Valley from Gruyères towards Château-d’Oex, the road meandered gently through towns and villages along the banks of the Juanpass Sarine River. Gradually the valley narrowed and the corners began to tighten. Suddenly things were getting better. The road climbed a little and hugged the contours of gentle mountain slopes, zig-zagging it’s Gruyères way through alpine meadows and forests, the super smooth tarmac ribbon proving a delight to ride. After the Lac du Vernex we started skywards again as the road started to climb the pretty Col de Mosses Saanen before decending again to Agile at the eastern end of Lake Geneva. At Martigny all our sat navs were suggesting different routes through the town which threw everyone into instant confusion and disagreement. Having planned the trip and therefore having spent so much time looking at maps, I knew I could follow a tiny side road alongside a storm drain which bypassed the town centre. The others had already turned the other way so I rode on, hoping that my short-cut wouldn’t lead me to a labyrinth of side streets and that I would reach the main road on the other side of town well ahead of the others. As I started the climb onto the Col de la Forclaz, I had no idea where the others were, had they sneaked ahead or were they trailing behind? As I pulled into an empty parking bay at the Belle Vue Alpine Lodge, the answer became clear. Simple pleasures.

Col de Pillon

Col de la Croix

Monthey

Martigny Col de la Forclaz

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Vallorcine


Spiez

Interlaken

Lauterbrunnen We were already cooling off in the late afternoon sun when Emanuelle arrived, opened up and immediately poured a round of cold beers. Just the ticket. We’d stayed at this hotel in 2006 and had had a brilliant evening. I guess I was trying to re-live that evening when the crazy restaurant owner down the road looked after us so well. As fate would have it though, he had closed down shortly after our visit and now the premises still sat vacant with a for sale sign over the door. A little disappointed, we wandered back along the road in search of an alternative eatery and come across La Ferme des Trois Ours, (Farm of the three bears). The carpark was full enough to suggest that it was worth a look and the menu by the front door was very tempting, if a little pricey. Stepping inside we were greeted by the Madame and a soft aroma served to remind that this was once a well used cow shed. It was wonderful place though, the timber building bursting with character and charm broought with it the realisation that good experiences should be left in the past as new ones are waiting to happen. We were shown to a table and ordered, and a short time later, Phil and Anton’s large cheese raclette, and plate full of sliced charcuterie and potatoes were brought to the table. It was a feast and a half...and delicious. Back at the hotel, we chatted with Emanuelle over one last beer and a local tipple before we retiring to our bunks for the night. All in all, it had been another good day.

Top: Juapass. Left to right: 1. Countryside around Hecho. 2. Bellevue Alpine Lodge, Vallorcine 3. Port de Larrau.

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We woke the next morning to the rays of another beautiful, sunny day pouring in through the dormitory window. I was quite excited to be up as the day ahead promised some better riding than the previous day with a host of great passes to ride, seven in all, from the relatively low Colle San Carlo to the towering Col du Grand Saint-Bernard pass. And it was the Grand St Bernard that I was looking forward to returning to most as on my previous visit it had been a wash out. Once kitted up, we were off and straight up the first pass of the day, the Col de la Forclaz and a lovely one to get warmed up on, not too demanding, but windy enough to sharpen early morning senses. At the top, we turned onto the steep hairpined incline that zig zags sharply up through the trees to Champex. As with the Gd. St Bernard pass, I’d ridden through here on my first trip but due to dreadful weather, wasn’t able to see the stunning lake that was supposed to dominate the village. Today was a different story though, and as we pulled up at the edge the emerald waters, the bright sunlight created a mirror image of the mountains on the lake’s surface. It was such a beautiful, tranquil place, with houses dotted amongst the trees around the edge of the lake and little boats moored in clusters against quaint pontoons and those stunning tree covered mountains all around. At Osières we joined the E27 as it began it’s long climb towards the mouth of the Grand St Bernard tunnel. Just past the Lac des Toules, we left the main thoroughfare, joining the old, twisting mountain road that gradually accends to the top of the pass. It’s a great ride, one of the best, and in the fine weather, didn’t disappoint. It’s gentle corners were perfect for the GT and I was loving every second. The lake at the summit arrived all too quickly but a handy café provided the oportunity for a morning coffee and chance to observe a pack of St Bernard being taken for a walk. Being where we were, the hounds were an easy crowd pleaser and were getting a great deal of attention. The decent of the Grand Saint-Bernard pass proved equally as enthralling as the accent but now those gentle curves gave way to tighter, swirling bends that clung tightly to the mountainside on the steep decent to Saint-Rhemy-en-Bosses. At Morgex, we turned off onto the pretty little Colle San Carlo which climbs through woodland to it’s crest at 1900 metres, then down the other side to the village of La Thuile. I was looking forward to riding this little pass again as it had proved such a surprise on the previous occasion. Three years before though, the road had been all but deserted, ubt this time, there were dozens of cars dawdling about and many more parked on the verges. There must have been some event going on which zapped all the fun out of our ride.

Left to right: 1. Lac de Champex. 2. A St Bernard on the St Bernard Pass. 3. The GT on the St Bernard Pass.

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There isn’t much to the little village of La Thuile, a few shops along the main drag and a few dozen houses, but the little roadside Brasserie du Bathieu enticed us enough to stop for lunch. We spent the following hour being entertained by a highly energetic young waitress who’s ridiculously tight fitting top showed off her ample bosom. With a round of pizzas devoured and having leched more than we ought to have done, we took to the Col du Petit Saint-Bernard that crosses back over the national border to Bourg-Saint-Maurice in France. Little brother to the Col du Grand Saint-Bernard pass, the greener slopes and less rugged geology make it more pleasing on the eye, if a little less dramatic. Decending the southern slopes, the flower strewn meadows disected by gently tumbling waters flowing from the Lago Verney seduced us into stopping for a Ray Mears moment. Clambering down to the stream, we paddled in the cold waters and lay amongst the flowers, relaxing in the mid afternoon sun. It was all very calming. At Bourg-Saint-Maurice we turned north onto the D902/925, the Cormet de Roselend, and once again started climbing, up and up to the Lac de Roselend at the summit. During my planning, I’d read about a ‘special little road’ called the Col du Pré, a narrow, mainly single lane route that supposedly passed through spectacular scenery. It was an abso-

Martigny Vallorcine

Col de la Forclaz

Champex

La Clusaz Col de Aravis Col de Grd St Bernard

Flumet

Morgex

Col de Roseland

Col de Pre

Aosta

Col de Saises

La Thuile Bourg St Maurice

Black Forest & Alps 2010

Col de Petit St Bernard


lute gem and soon we found ourselves riding along the shores of the glistening turquoise Lac de Roselend, bathed in the warm mid-afternoon sunshine. Lush, green pastures and copse of Alpine trees surrounded us, it was a magical place. Neverneverland. Towards the end of the lake, the road climbed into the mountains to the Col du Pré before returning us to the D925 and the Col de Saises. At Flumet, we followed the D909 onto the last pass of the day, the Col de Aravis which lead us to our accommodation for the night, a youth hostel in Les Etages. It was certainly a lovely spot. Perched on a mountainside looking down the valley towards the ski resort of La Clusaz, we were spoilt by the views. Upon arriving, the manager opened the bar and provided a couple of rounds of beers to refresh us after our hard day’s ride. It had been a fantastic day’s motorcycling, one of the best I’d had. The roads had been superb, we couldn’t have asked for better weather and we hadn’t gotten lost once. And now, we were sitting on a veranda looking out at a wonderful Alpine vista.

Left to right: 1.Youth hostel in Beaulieu-surDordogne. 2. Domme. 3&4. Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne.

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There weren’t many people staying in the hostel that night besides us and rather than walk down the hill into La Clusaz to find a restaurant, we decided to join the rest of them for a communal dinner. There was no choice, you get what you’re given. Usually at hostels the food can be a bit hit and miss, but we what we got that evening was superb. For the second successive night, a cheese raclette was brought from the kitchen and placed on the long, banquet like table amongst plates of cold meats, potatoes, salad and bread. It was all very sociable, trying to converse with our fellow lodgers of all sorts of nationalities, and still being able to soak up that view through the panoramic dining room window. After dinner, the manager opened the Alpine lodge bar again and the sociability carried on well into the evening. A befitting end to a perfect day.

Left to right: 1.Chapelle de Roselend. 2. Domme. 3. Getting back to nature.

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8

Saturday morning was soon upon us and regrettably it was time to leave the mountains behind and start our homeward journey. We were bound for the little town of St-Pol-sur-Turnoise in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France, about a hour’s ride from Calais. Sadly, it was also time to part company with Phil who was heading off to the Classic Le Mans 24 hour race for a couple of days. He would however, ride with us for a few hours before peeling off on his own westerly route. Flight of the Navigator. St-Pol-sur-Turnoise We’d been blessed with good weather again, the hot, bright sun already riding high in the vastest of blue overhead. It was already promising to be a scorcher of Cambrai a day and as we left La Clusaz behind and rode out of the mountains towards Geneva, I let the searing heat get the better of me. We’d ridden as far as Marnaz when my Sat Nav A26 decided that the best way to to Geneva, was down a series of side streets, round the back of some apartment blocks and into a cul-de-sac. No matter how I tried to amend the route, it didn’t want to take me the right way. As a result, I snatched my Tom Tom from my tank bag and hurled it, not to mention a barrage of explosives, towards one of the apartment blocks. It clattered against Reims the brickwork before tumbling along the ground until it came to rest. I was glad to be rid of it...bloody thing! The guys knew better than to say anything, opting to keep their distance until the red mist had disipated. After a few minutes, I calmly walked over to retrieve what might A26 remain of it. Well, Switzerland was so clean that I didn’t want to leave any litter lying about did I? It was certainly a bit battered but surprisingly still appeared to be in one piece. I slid the SD card back in the slot, pressed the on button and, as usual, the screen sprung into life. I couldn’t believe it still worked. I was quietly relieved that it did too. Since I was calm, I decided to Troyes turn it off for a bit and let someone else take us the wrong way, which just happened to be Anton. I’d chosen the most direct route across the border into France which unfortunately meant riding through the middle of Geneva and soon saw us bustling with the hectic, Saturday morning traffic. Having lost one of my group members on my previous tour to the Alps, I should have known better than to try my luck there again, and as if to

Black Forest & Alps 2010


underline that point, it wasn’t long before I’d done just that. I’d pulled over to wait to make sure we all stuck together and in doing so, found myself unable to rejoin the flow of traffic. By the time I did so, the traffic lights were working against me and I fell further and further behind. Of course the one thing I could count on was that my ‘friends’ would leave me behind and just plough on regardless. A couple of miles past the city centre and I found them, parked up making all sorts of excuses as to why they hadn’t waited, “oh, there was no shade”, or “sorry, there was nowhere before this to stop”. We vowed never again to ride through Geneva. Reunited, we rode on to the last mountain pass of the tour, the Col de la Forcille where we stopped for a coffee. It wasn’t as remarkable as I first remembered it to be, it’s notary now having been overshadowed by the better and mightier passes that I had since ridden but departing the Alps via this one last col seemed a befitting end to our time in the mountains for another year. At Dole, we joined the autoroute for a 300 mile blast to our final night’s accommodation a few miles west of Arras. By the time we reached Troyes, the heat of the sun had become relentless and with no breeze to speak of, riding was becoming both uncomfortable and unpleasurable. Even cruising at 80 with my visor open, the steady flow of air proved warm and unpalatable, doing nothing to keep my attention focused on the road. A couple of hours later we skirted the fringes of Reims, the Circuit de Gueux beckoning once more but it would have to wait for another time. Near Arras, we left the motorway and rode the last twenty miles on the arrow straight D939 to Les Bastillières, a biker friendly bed and breakfast on the edge of Saint-Pol-surTurnoise. Run by a lovely couple called Sue Fairburn and Paul Thomas, their guesthouse was a renovated quadrant French farm. Riding through the arched gateway into the inner courtyard, we were immediately greeted by our hosts who seemed genuinely pleased to see us. and no sooner had we dismounted our bikes than Paul handed us each a cold beer. I had booked us into their B&B rooms in the main house but we could just as well have stayed in their loft bunkhouse in one of the barns. It was very well equipped with a lounge come games come dining area. There was a barbecue outside for the guests to use if they wanted to and a bike shed should the weather turn fo the worse. Once changed, we walked the half mile into town to find somewhere for our last meal. Sue had recommended a micro brewery in the town centre which had a half decent restaurant attached. It didn’t look any better or worse than any of the other limited selection of restaurants so we ran with it. It was a pleasant if Dijon unremarkable meal and as Phil was no longer with us, I felt it a slightly disappointing final night. A5

Dole

N5

Col de La Faucille

La Clusaz

Geneva

Left to right: 1. A room with a view. 2. Games room at Les Ballastieres. 3. Restaurant in St-Pol-sur-Ternoise. 4. Outside Les Ballastieres B&B.

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9

Sunday morning was finally upon us and with it our return train home. Having enjoyed a relaxed breakfast in the dining room of Sue and Paul’s lovely house, we headed off on a leisurely Sunday morning jaunt through sleepy villages towards Calais. Within few miles, Sid and I lost Anton and having waited for him long enough, decided that he would head for Calais so we’d see him there. An hour later, reunited, we boarded the train saying goodbye to France for another year. It had, without doubt, been another excellent motorcycle tour. Ok, there had been a few challenging moments, but they all would add to the remembrance in years to come. I had really taken to the Black Forest, with Germany in general actually, with both the places we’d stayed and the people proving very amiable and I vowed to return. The Alps had, been magnificent once again, their majesty and beauty had defied my belief again and the fantastic weather we’d experienced on this occasion had only made it better still. The riding of course had been sublime, my own personal skill and confidence had stepped up a level or two and thus I had enjoyed being on my bike even more. But maybe the real stars of the trip were once again my companions, Anton, Phil and Sid. Once more they had proved great company, both on and off the motorbikes. Many brilliant miles had been ridden scratching with Anton, many laughs had been had over a few apres-bike beers and many memories shared over may good meals. Yes, all in all it had been a very good tour.


Left to right: 1. Coffee break on the Col de Faucille. 2. Les Ballastieres from the outside. 3. Les Ballastieres on the inside. 4. Anton’s tour debrief. 5. Final group photo back at Baldock.


Me, Haydn Thomas, the tour organiser. I bought my first motorcycle , a Ducati Monster 900, in 1997. It took me a full ten years before I went touring on it but after the first couple of days riding the brilliant Alpine roads, I was hooked. Since then, I’ve been organising tours and weekends in the UK and on the continent. My dream is to ride the length of the Americas, from Alaska down to Cape Horn. Until that day comes, I’ll keep riding every year in Europe.

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Motorcycle Tour Diary 2010