Leaving time and bidding farewell to good friends - August/September 2006
18/8/6 Early in the morning I take my parents to the station. They are leaving for their annual fishing trip in Canada. It will be a farewell for a long time. Getting back to the house it starts raining, so I'm in no particular hurry to leave. After noon the sky clears. I take a last picture of myself and then I'm off on my little ride. Initially I follow routes South through the hills that I used to know quite well, but now I have to stop occasionally to check the map. My memory has faded... Stop for afternoon tea at a country pub at Johanniskreuz, a well-known bikers meet on fine weekends. Having recently discovered the outrageous prices at the main pub (4 EUR for a coffee!) I go down a short side track to another friendly pub where I stopped with my parents a short while ago. Onward to Auenstein where Ruth and Andy are already expecting me with their usual warm welcome and delicious food.
19/8/6 The next day Heike arrives. A lazy day follows with lots of eating, drinking and talking. I count myself lucky again to have these three people as good friends. Their faces radiate a joy of life that seems rare these days among grim-faced Germans (probably like myself...).
20/8/6 Morning rain again, so another late start. Heike is very excited, she is buying a small house and has to leave early. This is a difficult goodbye for me. I go South, right through the Schwarzwald (Black Forest) to Schluchsee, where my uncle Gerd and his wife Monika are building their new home. I used to know the quaint little house quite well that stood on this site. It's sad that it's gone, but such is life and progress. Nothing lasts forever. Gerd gives me some very interesting insights into the workings of the petrol industry and consulting. The latter confirms the impressions I got during my time in IT and consulting: don't trust consultants. Trust me, I used to be one!
21/8/6 Another wet start just as I'm preparing to leave, but luckily it doesn't last. I'm changing direction and I'm heading roughly North-West to Guerstling, a small village just across the border and not far from Saarbrücken. It's another farewell visit to Dagmar (a friend from school days) and her husband Hartmut. They have renovated very nicely an old farm house and barn. It's not quite finished yet, but very cosy. On the way I have the first breakdown: one of the two new horns I bought recently brakes off and settles on the exhaust pipe. Luckily I smelt a rat while stopped at lights in a village. The support brackets are cheaply made of ordinary steel and can't take the load. Design fault, but no chance of a warranty claim now. Grrr. Shouldn't buy cheap junk, and it wasn't even made in China! Just across the border in Alsace I pass through Bergheim, a very beautiful village with lots of old buildings and wineries. I regret not having taken any pictures.
22/8/6 I call Jenny to find out where she is: in the Bretagne. I decide to visit her there. When I check the route on the net I get a bit of a shock: it"s a detour of at least 1000 km. My Pakistan visa expires end of October, so I calculate that it will leave me 6 weeks to traverse 7 countries. No can do. Unable to contact Jenny I decide that I have to give it a miss and I leave Guerstling southwards, following the compass to get back into the Vosges and back onto my map. I cruise mainly along small routes and also follow the Route des Cretes for a while.
23/8/6 I pass through the Jura and arrive at Olivier & Elisabeth's place in St. Marcellin.
24/8/6 Decided to forget about the Pak visa expiry date, so that I could travel more sedately. Called Jenny and told her I would come after all. I print myself a nice direct route with ViaMichelin.com. Due to another migraine attack I leave after midday. The weather plays ball, there are some clouds, but it's nice and pleasantly warm. The first part of the trip takes me on small roads cross-country and I get some nice views from the tops.
It's fairly easy to follow these printed instructions, I think to myself, only to discover that in towns they are impossible to follow. The distances are wrong and in Vienne I end up on top of a cliff, next to a church. The tower has been converted to a cell phone mast. Lovely. But there is a great view over the entire city and the Rhone valley, which more than makes up for getting lost. I take a panoramic shot.
Gotta try the "stitch assist" function of my camera! I have to backtrack down the hill, then follow my nose, compass, the signs and dead reckoning to fnd my way out of town on the right road. Later I'm supposed to turn onto a Route Nationale, but there isn't one. Looks like it got demoted and nobody cared to tell Michelin. Good grief. Just before Saumur I get the feeling of having gone too far East, to Turkey, in fact, as on my left there is a band of troglodyte buildings just like in Cappadocia. Some of them are wineries and if you look carefully you can see daylight from the other side of the hill in one of the windows:
A little later I get completely lost, because the road I'm supposed to follow ends half way. I have no map of this part of France (wasn't planning on any more touring around here...), so the tourist office sends me back in the right direction. Should have used the compass. The countryside becomes flat and I make good progress. I think about free camping, but pull in when I see a sign "Gite Rural". It's a modern farmhouse, but the gite is full, bacause the eldest daughter is getting married in 2 days' time. I end up rolling out my mat in the basement, where I even have an ensuite shower and loo. What luxury! During my evening walk I discover that they have some nice old farm buildings and 2 big ponds, but they lack water somewhat. The dog is very eager to accompany me and keeps disappearing in the maize fields.
25/8/6 Despite getting lost again I make very good progress and soon I'm in the Bretagne. Very pretty and green, with an architecture remindng me of GB and Ireland. In a village that has a different name then what Michelin thinks it should be called I hit a Diesel spill and fall off. No damage, other than a corner of my left pannier being scratched. Even my rain jacket survives. By evening I have covered about 450 km, so I send Jenny an SMS to announce my early arrival. Two hours later we are in each others' arms. I get to meet Jenny's friends Gege and Marie-Laure and Gege's mother. She owns a large section by the sea complete with haunted house. It's in very bad repair and a quarter of the section is to be sold to renovate it.
Yvonne (Gege's mum), Marie-Laure, Jenny & Gege, myself standing on a stool behind them
Due to French tax laws she had to wait many years before she could do that, or the state would have taken half the proceeds. What I wasn't prepared for is the large zoo they have there: the mother has three small dogs and Gege a team of 11 Siberian Huskies, from which she is trying to make a living.
26/8/6 Everybody is on holidays and gets up really late. We make a trip to a small touristy village with lots of thatched houses. I change the supposedly broken hard disk in Jenny's laptop, only to discover that there is an electronic problem somewhere with the PC itself. Ouch, this will be expensive.
Jenny and Gege
27/8/6 Another trip, to Concarneau, a very nice fortified island village. We manage to get on the net and I receive emails from my brother saying my father has been hospitalised in Canada during his fishing trip, has been operated on and is seriously ill. Unfortunately, at this point my PC also takes ill, so I'm unable to contact anybody to find out more. Bloody Windows.
28/8/6 A friend of Gege phones and we organise for him to bring his XP PC, so we can attach Jenny's hard disk to recover the data. I decide to stay another day for this.
29/8/6 During the night it rains and I wake up from plopping sounds. Somebody noticed the rain and put containers on the stair case to collect the rain water dripping in. Plop, plop... Gege has organised a dog trip with a family of friends. They arrive in the afternoon and soon we are off, everybody with one or two dogs attached to a belt. They sure are keen to pull! The chief dog collapses on the way and has to be carried part of the way. Almost back at the house he collapses again and doesn't fully recover. Gege takes him to the vet who diagnoses Addison's disease. It's touch and go whether he will live. Gege's friend recovers Jenny's data. When I want to show him the problem with the PC it decides to function again. Bloody Windows.
30/8/6 Gege and Jenny have to get up early, because the vet rings to say that the dog is OK again, more or less, and taking his cage apart. So they go and fetch him. The bad news is that he is no longer allowed in the sleigh team to avoid stress. The leaving is hard, as I'm aware that I won't see Jenny again for a long time. But before I leave the two disappear, to return with a whole load of goodies for me. Jenny adeptly stuffs everything into my already overloaded tankbag. My attempt to get on the net at the same computer shop fails, my PC is playing up again. Bloody Windows. With a freebie map Gege gives me the orientation is a little easier, but I generally just follow the compass first East, the South-East. There are some threatening clouds, but near the coast the sky is blue and it stays dry. Although I try to take mainly small roads I manage 300 km today. I'm less successfull finding a camp site. The place is almost as fenced as NZ and the one place I find is uneven and full of prickly plants, including goarse. Just on dusk in Clisson I find a camping. Despite its 3 stars it's cheap, very likely run by the council. The lady at the reception tells me that it has rained hard today! Not for me...
31/8/6 I leave the camping in glorious sunshine. Seems whoever turned off the summer at the end of July has just turned it back on. There isn't a cloud in the sky all day. I take even smaller roads and follow the compass, although I find that it lies very often. But the sun makes it easy. Some of the roads are absolutely lovely, under tree cover. At one point I ride on a rough single-lane cycle path through fields and hedges. Here is a particularly interesting and large waycross:
I only stop to eat and drink and at a couple of castles to take photos.
Chateau de Verteuil-sur-Charente
Chateau de La Rochefoucauld
Just after Mainzac I stop to take a photo of a small tower.
Out of an immaculately kept house with an equally nice garden appears an old man to greet me. He soon invites me to set up my tent on his property, not before he shows me his herd of deer that he breeds for hunting.
Jst visible on the far left is a litte gem from yesteryear (1936) that he used to work with on the roads:
In the evening I send an SMS to my uncle to see whether he has any news on my father. Shortly after I get a call from my aunt. They had no idea about my father, so they contacted my brother for info. The news is bad: he has caught an infection, had a second operation and now has an artificial exit.
1/9/6 Still unable to get on the net or contact my mother. On another cloudless and now hot day I get lost in the Massif Central and discover some interesting sights. The pictures I took of Rocamadour don't do the place justice, so check out this Wikipedia article:
Time and again I am surprised over how many amazing sites I stumble, without knowing in advance where Iam going. I stay in another Camping Municipal.
2/9/6 I discover why my compass has been playing up: one of Jenny's presents was a box of Breton cookies. Sitting in the tank bag under the compass the metal box naturally influenced the compass. I removed it to the top case and the compass was immediately right again. More small roads, generally heading East. Just as well I trave slowly, as there are animals on the road, like these ducks and chicken in La Coix de Pierre:
Only a little farther down the road I find a church with an unsual belfry.
Did they build it this way to save on stones? I later discover some more in the same style, so it must be typical for this area. Here, in Orlhaguet, they saved even more stones by combining a church with a castle:
At a quick picknick spot at a bridge over the Barrage de Sarrans I meet a young couple who are practising a varaition on the bungee theme.The jumping off part is the same, but the attachment is more complicated, so they swing more forh and back, rather than just up and down.
Note the pre-war traffic signs still attached to the bridge:
In the afternoon I find a magnificent camp spot in the forest right on the lake edge of the Barrage de Grandvat. At night it is very still and from the lake I can hear plopping noises all the time: the fish are feeding. There must be very many fish in here. This is the view from the tent:
3/9/6 It's overcast, but this turns out to be fog that soon burns off. The lake, however, is boiling: the big fish are hunting the small ones and it's quite a sight. This is the first hot day of my trip and a perfect one at that. I follow La Truyère for a short while until Chaliers, visible on the hill.
I turn around when I see signs up a mountain, the aptly named Mont Mouchet. I don't know whether mouchet means anything in French, but mouche means fly. It's Flyblown Mountain. As I walk up to the top through the forest a cloud of flies follows me and buzzes around my head. At the top there is a very nicely made orientation table from where I have a 360 degree view.
I think I can see some Alpine peaks in the distance. If I thought the flies were bad on this mountain there was worse to come. I stopped to take a look at my map on the outskirts of Lalouvesc, but quickly fled in horror from the swarm of flies. Do I smell that bad after 2 days without a shower? Can't be: Luc and Josephine receive me without screwing up their faces and they don't insist I take a shower, either. Their kids Scott, Joseph and Barbara are very excited to see me again.
4/9/6 Another beautiful day and it's warm again. Luc and I take the car to their holiday home, an old silk factory, to collect his bike, which I get to ride home. Guzzi T5, lovely machine. I think I'll buy one, one day...
5/9/6 Luc is keen to go for a ride, so we give the bikes an airing, mainly over small and tiny roads. Nice views over the Rhone valley. On the way we stop at the chocolate factory shop in Tain L'Hermitage to get some supplies... He takes me to a very special place called Les Roches Qui Dansent (The Dancing Rocks).
6/9/6 It's the final farewell for us and I'm off to the Riviera, mostly on roads that I have travelled already several times, and a few that I haven't. It's warm and sunny and it almost feels like I'm coming home. Joel, Marion, Leo and his sister are very pleased to see me again. They have recently bought a lovely old house in the old village of St. Jeannet. I get the "honeymoon suite" on the top floor all to myself.
7/9/6 Visit to the bike club, le Moto Club de Juan-les-Pins.
8/9/6 A quiet day. Joel has been given an old Honda CB 750 FB which was bought by the previous owner from an Italian, but never imported or registered. Since the man doesn't even have a bike licence, the bike has been stored in a cellar and forgotten for over ten years. Some months ago I bought some parts for this bike, which we intend to use now. Unfortunately, the man can find neither the keys nor the papers. A friend from the club kindly lends us his trailer to collect the bike.
9/9/6 We collect the trailer and with it Joel's second CX500 (which used to be mine) from their old flat. A bit of bike maintenance, I have to refit the horns of my Suzi completely and find it amazing how difficult it is to find a bit of space for them. In the evening we go to Haut de Cagnes to celebrate Marion's grandma's 90th birthday. The lady is very fit and it's amazing to see her swing the legs on the dance floor. She asks whether I would take her with me on my trip. It's a great atmosphere. The village is very old and very touristy, with very narrow and steep streets. Many people are running arond with brochures of an art exhibition, distributed over the village, and several try to wander in on our party, thinking it's all part of it. The main doors lead right out onto the steep street.
10/9/6 Windows crashes and burns when I try to transfer photos, so more time is wasted fixing what isn't fixable.
11/9/6 We finally manage to collect the old bike in Nice and store it in Joel's cellar. During the next few days I do a sort of overhaul of the brakes, which have gone solid during the long years in storage. I get the engine running, sort of, on two cylinders but only for 30 seconds at a time. Until keys and papers reappear not much more can be done.
14/9/6 It rains pretty much all day and I spend it working on this page :-) .
15/9/6 During a break in the clouds I decide to take a walk up to Le Baou, a cliff overlooking St. Jeannet and the coast. It's a climb of several hundred metres in altitude, but despite me feeling decidedly unfit I manage it in two thirds of the time indicated. There are some great views during the ascent, despite the low cloud moving in. Unfortunately, once I get to the top the black clouds have moved in and I can see nothing but cloud. Still, some heat comes through and I sit on the bench for a while to meditate. On the way down a thunderstorm breaks loose and I run the last few hnudred metres to the house, only just avoiding getting drenched.
16/9/6 The day is pretty much ruined by a migraine and a cold. Strangely, the cold doesn't last more than a day.
17/9/6 A visit to the waterfront in Nice with the kids. It's still warm enough for a swim and the sun shines from time to time. A bit more work on Joel's "new" bike followed by a farewell dinner for Marion's sister Geneviève, who is off to live in Germany tomorrow. I'm planning to be off, too.