Off Air – On Air, Still On the Road

OK Dookes, where have you been?

Well, first up many apologies for the blog stopping mid-way through my last trip. Secondly, many thanks for the various messages I received from folks worried that something had happened to either Harls, myself of both.

Fear not dear Blogonaughts, we are both fine!

What we did have though was mega Internet connection problems that have continued even since I returned home. This makes Dookes a very unhappy Hogrider!

The good news is that we are now back on air and I’m going to set about catching up with the blog.

So where was I when I last reported in? Oh, yes Carcassonne.

Carcassonne old city at dusk.


Carcassonne was OK. Just OK.

I know that it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, but I have plenty of those back home. Yes I know that millions of people will disagree with me about Carcassonne, but this is my view and my blog and like the Eagles sang, “ You call some place paradise, kiss it goodbye.” For my part, the best thing about the place was the road out!

And what a road it turned out to be…

When I was doing my route planning, it must’ve been a late night when I did this bit. For some reason I overlooked the bit on the map that said “Montagne Noire”. or in English, The Black Mountains, between Carcassonne and Mazamet on the D118 road.

The Black Mountains from Carcassonne.


I hadn’t slept very well, it had been hot and stuffy and I don’t like the drone or air-drying effect of air-conditioning, so that had stayed off. The morning air was still and heavy and to be honest I really wasn’t in the mood for much motorcycling. That’s the thing about serious road trips though, you may not be in the mood for it, or the weather may be crap, but you just have to suck it up and get on with it; which is what I did.

Eventually the strong breakfast coffee began to hit in and I began to wake up to things a bit more. No actually it was getting cold, quite noticeably cold actually, cool enough for me to pull up and put on another base layer.

The Montagne Noire may not be as high as the Pyrenees, but at over 1200m/3900ft that’s high enough to feel the cold!

The D118 meanders for around 30 miles North from Carcassonne to the busy town of Mazamet, famous for the production of cloth and leather goods. Unfortunately much of the road is in fairly dense forest and only offers very fleeting views of the impressive scenery, but from a motorcycling point of view it was delightful; lovely sweeping bends, smooth tarmac and little traffic. The region is quite off the normal tourist routes and quite charming for it, in other words it’s unspoilt! I made a mental note to return one day and do some more exploring.

We paused high above Mazamet to take in the view and also take off the extra layer, things had started to hot up again; then it was down more sweeping big hairpins into the town below and the usual French town traffic chaos that I love!

Mazamet


From Maz we turned a bit North West and skirted Castres, famous for a pretty good rugby team and headed cross-country on delightful roads to Gaillac.

Gaillac is really the start of serious French wine country; they’ve been producing the local stuff here for over two thousand years. The town has an appellation that carries it’s name and I can confirm that the stuff is very good indeed!

We carried on effortlessly rolling over the back roads towards Caussade and our destination for the night, Cahors.

Bruniquel Château


The ancient town of Cahors is yet another famous wine producing centre, but I’ll tell you more about the place next time, for now it’s just good to be back on air again!

“On the road again,
Goin’ places that I’ve never been.”

Catch you soon

Dookes

Three Cows

I love discovering interesting things about the paces that I visit on my trips. In particular I like the “human” things and on that note The Tribute of the Three Cows is right up there!

Harls snarled up Col de la Pierre St Martin, scraping metal on the asphalt as we climbed and me? I had a big stupid grin, I really hadn’t had this much fun in ages!

The Road to St Martin


At the top of the pass we did the customary thing, stop and take it all in.

This is a special place, a place where on of the oldest treaties in the world is ceremonially marked.

The ceremony takes place every 13th July on the summit of the Col de la Pierre St Martin and brings together the people of the neighbouring Pyrenean valleys of Barétous in France and Roncal, Spain.

Translated into English, Col de la Pierre St Martin means the Pass of St Martin’s Stone and for centuries this has marked the border between France and Spain at this point. Every year the people of Barétous, in France hand over three cows to the people of Roncal, Spain at the Col.

The Tribute of the Three Cows is frequently regarded as the oldest international treaty still being recognised. Although it is thought to date back to the 13th century it’s exact origin is unknown, the first written record of the Tribute was recorded in 1375, it believed to represent a peace settlement in a dispute over grazing and border rights.

The ceremony has only been suspended twice, in 1793 during the War of the Convention between France and Spain, and in 1940 during the Nazi occupation of France. In both cases, the Barétous people were prevented by regional authorities from attending the ceremony out of fear they would escape to Spain!

These days the ceremony is both culturally and economically important as it draws large numbers of tourists from around the world.

On the morning of the 13th July, the representatives of Roncal, wearing traditional costume, gather on the Spanish side of the Col.

The representatives of Barétous, approach the boundary marker from the French side. Traditionally, the Mayor of Isaba would hold a pike against the Barétous representatives, and these would also be held at gunpoint by the rest of representatives of Roncal; fortunately this custom was dropped in the late 19th century!

The Mayor of Isaba, presiding over the ceremony, asks the Barétous representatives three times whether they are willing, as in previous years, to pay the Tribute of the Three Cows of two years of age, of the same coat and with the same sort of horns, and without blemish or injury. Each time the Barétous representatives answer in Spanish “Si Senor.”

Following this, one of the representatives of Barétous places his or her right hand on the boundary marker. A representative from Roncal follows by placing his or her hand on top of it, and so on, until all representatives have placed their right hands on the boundary marker. The last one to placed his hands is the Mayor of Isaba, who then proclaims:

The Boundary Marker Stone


“Pax avant, pax avant, pax avant!” – “Let there be peace!”

All those witnessing the ceremony repeat the same words.

Traditionally the representatives of Roncal were then presented with the three cows, but I understand that these days, due to animal welfare and livestock importation controls, the equivalent value in money changes hands.

Needless to say, the rest of the day then descends into feasting and celebration!

That sounds pretty good to me…!

“Everyday is a winding road,
I get a little bit closer.”

Catch you soon,

Dookes

Two Funerals and Nearly a Last Chance

I’ve not really been in the mood for posting over the last 24 hours, other things on my mind you see.

As regular Blogonaughts will recall I lost little brother Greg at Christmas time and a few weeks ago, Mrs Dookes lost one of her closest friends.

Again, the curse of the big C – Cancer struck and like Greg, Theresa was only in her fifties.

Yesterday was Theresa’s funeral.

I’m still crunching the miles here in France, so obviously I wasn’t there, but Mrs Dookes was and on the phone last night she sounded so upset.

Dear lovely Theresa gone. She was one of identical triplets, her eyes could either light up a room or cut plate steel, so intense were they. Theresa, who worked like crazy so she and her husband could retire early. Theresa, who rode horses, ran long distance events and cycled, she was so super fit. In my mind I can see her sitting in our kitchen laughing and smiling

Now taken by that bastard, Cancer.

The thing about motorcycling is that you get time and space to think about things. Yes I know that I also have to concentrate on the road and all the fiends trying to kill motorcyclists as well, but thinking time is available.

So yeah, I’ve been thinking, thinking that the life clock is always ticking, compared to T and G, I’m running ahead of it.

Time to reappraise though, do things whilst we can so that we can look back and say “Done it’” not “I wish that…”

I have a big(ish) birthday later in the year.

I’m making a list in my mind and I’m going to get into and go for gear for it; mostly it involves people and particularly those I hold close to me.

“See my friends,
Layin’ ‘cross the river,”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Une Canicule Mk2 and So Quintessential

It’s been a scorcher in France today, officially “Une Canicule,” a heat wave!

Last night the television news was full of the expected temperatures for the next few days. Throughout the country temperatures are expected to be in the range of high 30’s to low 40’s Celsius.

I can report that the meteorologists were incredibly accurate.

It seems to me that I’m getting pretty good at attracting weather extremes when I’m on my road trips. There was snow over the Grimsel Pass one June day, snow on the Silivretta Alpine road in September 2107, not to mention on that same trip minus 9ºC over the Albula Pass! Oh and the high temperatures of the South of France last year, plus the other “Canicule” that you can read about by clicking here.

In many ways today was sort of a transit day, just over 200 miles in total from Cahors to Soulac sur Mer. We passed through lovely countryside, but honestly I couldn’t wait for it to end, so energy sapping was the heat.

I drank a few litres of water and just sweated it all out of me…you really do not want to smell my riding gear this evening!

On one of my water stops I took a photo of the air thermometer on Harls; it was a bit hot in the Medoc!

Thats about warm!


Finding roads with shade was a bonus and at times I had to smile about a standing joke that Mrs Dookes and I have about French roads.

Many years ago on a Brittany Ferries sailing we were reading an article in their “House” magazine. You probably know the sort of publication, glossy and with little articles to pass a few moments before – Pow! – Here’s another advert for something you can/must buy on board!

Anyway what the article was about I cannot recall, but there was a nice photograph of a tree lined road with the title’ “A Quintessential French Road.”

I fell about laughing, it just caught me in a silly mood, but honestly in all the years that I’ve been visiting France I’m still trying to find that “Quintessential” one.

No, only a junior tree lined avenue…


Now it is true that in France you can find many roads lined with trees, often Limes or Planes. They may be lovely, but if you consider just how many kilometres of road there are in France the tree lined ones make up a very small percentage and they certainly cannot be accurately described as “Quintessential.”

Do towns count?


Incidentally, there seems to be no clear source of where the trees lining the road idea came from. Ask some folk and they say Napoleon Bonaparte, others will tell you it was the Romans, whilst many swear that the nobility were responsible. It’s a lovely mystery.

That’s more like it!


All is not good in the world of tree lined Avenues though.

The French “League Against Violence on the Roads, ” yes honestly, claims that trees are responsible for one in eight road deaths, because they reduce visibility and cause greater injuries when people crash into them and they want them cut down!

Needless to say the many of rest of the French population have a different view. My mate Gilles thinks that as you pass trees they make you slow down because you then realise how fast you are going….hmm, I not sure of that Gilles, all I know is that I enjoyed the shade of them occasionally today!

Very shady, nice!


Vive les Arbres, Vive La France!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

These Pyrenees Are Funny

They are almost predictable for being unpredictable and if that doesn’t make sense, let me explain.

The geography of the Pyrenees mountain chain is interesting. They run roughly West to East from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea and effectively cut the Iberian Peninsula off from the rest of Europe, according to some of my Spanish friends this is good, but for now we will ignore that bit!

By lying where they are, they act as a very effective weather-triggering machine; the damp winds blowing in off the Atlantic have nothing better to do than to drop all their water on the Pyrenees! This then creates what today is fashionably called the Foehn Effect, but when I was studying geography we called it a rain shadow. The most interesting thing about the Pyrenees is that their rain shadow can move from one side of the range to the other.

In other words, as my mate Gilles who is Pyrenees born and bred says, ”If it’s raining in France, go to Spain!” Of course the opposite applies if it’s raining in Spain.

I’ve always humoured Gilles on this but the other day I had the opportunity, no make that need, to test his theory out.

I woke to low cloud and swirling mist. The previous days jaunt over the big legendary Cols was a pleasant memory and thank goodness I wasn’t planning to try to ride them today.

Col d’Aspin


I did need to cross three other big ones though, Col d’Aspin 1489m, Col du Peyresourde 1569m and Col de Portillon1320m; the trouble was the cloud base was down to around 1000m!

Col de Peyresourde, legendary and wet!
Respect to the cyclist.


When you are doing a road trip in the way I do, in such circumstances there are two options.

1. Give up and go somewhere else.
2. Suck it up and get on with it.

Obviously if conditions were to make things really dangerous I would apply option 1, but as yet I can’t over the years really remember having ever done so! I’m not a “give up” sort of chap.

Peyresourde, apparently there’s a wonderful view here!


On that basis, it was option 2, as it always is!

Handlebar Cam. Yep, sometimes I wonder why too!


Yep, it’s not worth dwelling on what the roads over both Cols were like; it was foggy, it rained, it was slippery and not much fun. We did it though and can always remember that in spite of adversity the job was completed; anyway it’s a good excuse to go back when the sun is out!

The last bends on Portillon.


Portillon lies slap bang on thee Spanish border and once we dropped down into the valley one thing was noticeable, no rain! Gilles may be right after all.

I had a banker in my pocket, there was a pass further into Spain that I had considered climbing, Port de la Bonaigua 2072m, seriously higher that the others; lets go see if the theory really stacks up?

It does.

This is more like it!


A couple of kilometres down the road and out popped the sun. We had a glorious couple of hours wheeling around the slopes of Bonaigua and taking in the views an all in fantastic warm sunshine.

Port de la Bonaigua


Gilles, I owe you a beer!

Port de la Bonaigua


I think the photos speak for themselves, but I wanted to show the handlebar cam shot, because that was really all I could see!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

A Gastronomic Pilgrimage

My old and late lamented mate, Floyd, once said that a Cassoulet could be made very complicated or very simple, but to get the best out of it keep it simple…..and go to Carcassonne!

Well after years of talking about it, I’m here in the medieval city of Carcassonne.

It’s a place that Mrs Dookes loves and somewhere that I’ve planned to visit for years, but now that I’ve made it, I’ve got to say that I’m not greatly impressed. Underwhelmed is the word that come to mind.

OK, hands up, the reason I’m not a big fan is that the place is crawling with tourists. Yes I know, I’m here as, gulp, “a tourist,” but I’m a tourist that has ridden the high Cols and looked for solitude not to gawp at countless shops selling the same “Made in Taiwan souvenir of Carcassonne” crap!

That’s better, I got that off my chest…!

I’m here on serious business, Cassoulet business!

For those that don’t know what a Cassoulet is, I suggest you go Google, or better still go try a real authentic one, but you won’t get one like I just had!

I did what Floyd said and came to Carcassonne and more particularly to Le Maison du Cassoulet restaurant.

Now MdeC is like all the very best French restaurants, on the outside it looks plain, on the inside it looks dull….but the food does all the talking!

The place is without doubt “The” centre of the Cassoulet world.

I walked through the door as they opened at 19:00hrs and was promptly shown to the table of my choice. After enjoying a beer brewed in the city of Carcassonne, my order of Cassoulet Gourmand appeared along with a local full-bodied Corbières Rouge.

Fantastic doesn’t come close as a description; Floyd was right!

And now dear Blogonaughts, I must retire to reflect on the velvety glory that a perfect Cassoulet brings to a hungry Hogrider. It is mine to wallow in the knowledge of a job well done, a pilgrimage fulfilled….for you, like my mate Floyd said, “To get the best out of it keep it simple…and go to Carcassonne!”

Here’s to you Floyd, I miss you, but thank you for all the food and the good times!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

I Have a Small Confession to Make

The other day I reported that I’d grounded Harl’s rear brake lever when whooping it up climbing Col de la Pierre St Martin.

I must regretfully no apologise for telling a small lie….
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The bottom of the rear brake lever. That isn’t how Harley Davidson made it!

It wasn’t the rear brake lever…..
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Ooops!

It was the exhaust pipe as well!!!!

Catch you soon.

Dookes