2000 miles by bike in 8 days – Why I put my derrière through it.

Before this summer’s trip Bikerboy and I had taken a shorter 4 night trip three years ago and what a contrast that was.  We then covered less than 500 miles with only one day on the motorway for a mere 2 hours.

This bike was also a KTM, same model as now, along with our lids (helmets) it was stolen shortly after this trip, in Soho London within 30 minutes of being parked.  Today Bikerboy still sighs when he sees photos of it, he had a sentimental attachment to it which is unlike him as he’s known for being a bike whore.  His bike count is something like 48 bikes he’s owned.

Summer 2009

First stretch was from Calais to Le Touquet, a great family seaside town like Dinard.

From Le Touquet the following night we stayed in Honfleur.

A very pretty town but our memory of there will always be of the worst meal we have ever eaten.  The langoustines were half frozen, dried piece of fish with bottled sauce, one new potato (literally one tiny potato cut into slices).  But the wine was decent.

The very next day we stopped for lunch in Bayeux in the restaurant Le Petit Normand right opposite the Cathedral, it seemed the only place open on a Sunday.

In complete contrast to the previous night we ate one of our best meals ever. The food was simply cooked but perfect, great flavours.

I will never know how they made my seabass taste of seawater.  If you’ve ever swam in the cold Atlantic ocean and swallowed the water, after the saltiness passes do you remember that very mineral taste you’re left with?  Well that was the flavour of the seabass I had, no michelin star kitchen has ever done that to a fish for me.  We also shared a perfect pear crumble with salted caramel ice-cream.  I wanted to kiss that cook.

We passed through Le Mont St. Michel

And spent the night in Dinard.

Our final night we were meant to spend it in Granville, but we ran away from there as soon as we arrived, just didn’t like it at all, the hotel was smelly and horrible the town wasn’t very nice.

It seemed as if we were not meant not to stay in Granville because we ended up finding one last room at this boutique hotel in Barnville-Carteret.

We were smitten with the very small seaside town of Berneville-Carteret, to the point that we want to retire there.

We’ve heard it rains a lot here but on that day it was a perfect postcard day.  I want to be there right now.

I have this photo as my screensaver, I can feel my feet in that cold water.

At the end of this mini trip we said it was one of our best experience and this was the trip that spur us on to make the 2000 miles this summer.

Summer 2012

We didn’t intend to do 2,000 miles (3,200 km), neither of us thought about the whole trip much beforehand, had no time to plan it properly before leaving.

Bikerboy is use to riding with his friends through parts of France and Spain and for them to do 500 miles in a day is fine.  They travel all day only stopping for fuelling, back on the bike until the next fuel stop, no lunch stop, just keep going.  Their aim is to head for the planned zig-zag roads and enjoy those.

When I said to Bikerboy, “Why don’t we visit Dan at the pop-up bakery in San Sabestian on the bike?”  he said, “Sure, that’s no problem”.

When I said, “While we are down there why don’t we go across to Cucugnan?  Beautiful roads there.”  He said, “Sure…that’s doable”.

When I said, “While in Cucugnan and have to return north on the way home why don’t we make a stop at the Château de Promenoux?  We haven’t been there for 10 years, it would be nice to see how much of it Emmanuel has restored.”   He said, “ok, that would be great to see it again but you realise it will be a trek up there?  It’s doable but so long as you know it means long days?”   I said, “oh yes I can handle that!  It will be fine, no problem!”

If you have followed my posts on this journey you’ll know my complaints about riding in the 37˚C  (98˚F) heat, sweating like a pig in a blanket in the bike gear.

Complaining of uncomfortable seat after 50 miles (80km), I couldn’t cope any longer after 70 miles (129km) and had to stop for a break.

Getting off the bike with my short legs and feeling stiff with an aching derrière became a comedy sketch for Bikerboy, he never tired of laughing listening to my groans, as I would put one foot down then hop a little to try and remove my other leg off and over the seat.

The reality of such distance in a short time, riding for 6 days out of the 8 (stayed 3 nights in San Sebastian) meant we had to cover it by many miles on motorways.

I learnt how to entertain myself on the back, reading number plates to see which country they were from, never realised there were so many trucks from Portugal on French roads.

Dan Lepard in The Loaf in the Box, San Sebastian, Spain.

We had a great time with Dan in San Sabestian, seeing the success of his pop-up bakery and how enthusiastic everyone was around it, the place has a great atmosphere.  I will write a separate post on The Loaf in the Box.

Knowing now the harshness of the distance, we should’ve only stayed 2 nights in San Sebastian in order to make the next leg of the journey more enjoyable.

The rare moment of great coffee became noteworthy.

France is so much wider than we remember no matter how many times we’ve done it.

We loved coming across roads like these which went from curvy roads surrounded by trees….

…to curvy roads with breathtaking views.

They went on and on as you can see carving the side of the mountains.

A good trip for us is about the people we meet, like the charming and welcoming Corinne at La Tourette, in Cucugnan.  Her home is full of her personality the sort of place you can feel at ease.

We also learnt when having a long day ahead we preferred not to stop for breakfast the next morning but instead head out first thing, in the coolest part of the day while alert and full of energy.

Survival kit.

OK, now I felt what Bikerboy meant by “long days”.

…oh but it was so worth seeing the place after a decade, catching up with Emmanuel and hearing how much of the chateau he had repaired.

The Chateau de Promenoux is now hired at the weekends for wedding parties who take over the entire place and during the week it returns to Chambre d’hotes.

Come here if you would like to have a break from today’s world.

What’s so very noticeable in this beautiful valley is the silence.

The place still has the charm for us it had 10 years ago and our fond memories have been restored.  Emmanuel was exactly as we had remembered, the perfect host.

In parts it was trial to get through the day’s riding.

Ask Bikerboy how I struggled?  And he’ll imitate my moans and whines in a high pitch voice…I don’t have a high pitch voice!

After the hardest day the lobby of a hotel never looked so good.

Do you remember the doughnut I bought at a service station halfway through my trip for my aching derrière?  It didn’t actually do anything…

…well towards the end of the journey Bikerboy admits he had left at home a proper cushion for my seat which is suppose to be really comfortable to sit on.

And here it is waiting for me when we got back.  You blow it up with air and let it some of it out to suit one’s derrière best position.  Oh it’s hilarious for him.

Why do I put my derrière through it?

It goes back to when I was a kid.  The only reason I emailed bikerboy on a dating website 10 years ago was because he said he was a biker.  It was lucky he happen to be also a lovely man.

You see I have had a life long love of riding on bikes since my first memory at the age of 4, of riding on my maternal Grandad’s motorbike visiting my paternal Grandmother.  It’s either something you love or you don’t and you can not be convinced to enjoy it if it’s not your thing.

It’s a dirty way to travel and living off a tiny box is a challenge, after a few days you can not remember which t-shirts are dirty and which are still clean, you have to do the ‘sniff under armpit’ test.  A tip is to always wear t-shirts with short sleeve so not to sweat into the bike jacket.

Ending the day with a layer of dirt, or being wet from riding through a downpour of rain and being sprayed by lorries disturbing your vision is not fun.

There are even times when it’s dangerous.

On this journey driving behind an open trailer truck a sheet of plastic came off the trailer and flew into us.  Road surfaces can be hazardous, not to mention silly car drivers who often drive in a bubble.

There is nothing about this way of travel I can convince you it’s worth doing if bikes don’t appeal to you.

If riding on a bike is your thing then it’s the best way to travel because the journey becomes an adventure.  It’s always an adventure and nothing else quite gives you the same achievement at the destination.

We’ve travelled through France, Switzerland and northern Italy in a two seater convertible and it was great, fabulous holiday, grateful for the aircon in the 37 degree heat, but a completely different sort of trip.

This journey was in part an endurance test, I underestimated how much I could cope with each day but we learnt, and know better how to plan our mileage.

The other aspect Bikerboy didn’t count on was how much more tiring it is in such a long trip to have the extra weight of a pillion in this heat…cough..urhmmm…I have no idea what he’s talking about…extra weight?

Why riding is special for us

On a bike you feel so much more of having gone through the journey, it’s more real.  The sun or rain, the smell of pine trees or fumes from factories, the surface of the road and the angle of the curve, all of these are heightened through the senses and we feel it through our whole body.  Hand signals between rider and pillion becomes a special personal sign language.  The feeling of vulnerability gives me respect for how fragile life is.

I have to 100% trust him.  For a control freak like me he knows it’s not an easy thing to do, and he respects that I completely trust him.  There is harmony between us and the bike and nature, no more so than when we all three have to bend sideways to take that corner.

My favourite description of what it’s like being on a bike was written by Robert M. Pirsig in  Zen and the Art of Motocylce Maintenance:

‘You see things vacationing on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other.  In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realise that through that car window everything you see is just more TV.  You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.

On a cycle the frame is gone.  You’re completely in contact with it all.  You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.  That concrete whizzing by five inches below your foot is the real thing, the same stuff you walk on, it’s right there, so blurred you can’t focus on it, yet you can put your foot down and touch it anytime, and the whole thing, the whole experience, is never removed from immediate consciousness.’

‘Unless you’re fond of hollering you don’t make great conversations on a running cycle.  Instead you spend your time being aware of things and meditating on them.  On sights and sounds, on the mood of the weather and things remembered, on the machine and countryside you’re in, thinking about things at great leisure and length without being hurried and without feeling you’re losing time.’

Some biking terms:

  • Lid – helmet
  • Pillion – heavy person on the back complaining about her bum
  • Cornering (Carving in US) – fast riding on curvy roads also known as the time the pillion goes “shit!”
  • End Cans  – exhaust pipes you can see, once buying a bike there’s a comment shortly after “The bike doesn’t sound right without a set of akropovic cans darling”

Any opportunity to show off.

This is what Bikerboy and I do, it’s our thing, it’s when we are at our best as a couple, like two peas in a pod.