RDGA Finalé – Up With The Big Ones!

I’ve written about Col de la Bonette on several previous trips, I fact it was the first big Col that I ever took Harls up and in many ways the one that got me hooked on “Col Hunting”.

In a way it was ironic, because it’s been downhill ever since I made that first ascent of “The Big One!” Strictly speaking Bonette isn’t the highest paved pass, that honour lies with L’Iseran, Bonette lies in 4th place, but what makes it crazy-special is the Cime de la Bonette; Cime translates as “Summit.”

The Cime de la Bonette is probably the most wonderful folly that the nation of France has ever constructed. It’s a road that just loops around the mountain from the Pass and back to the Pass reaching an elevation of 2802m/9193ft and that makes it technically the highest paved through road in the whole of Europe.

On the South side the road climbs steadily from Isola, the big mountain taunting you from miles away. The grandeur of the scenery is almost overpowering as the ribbon of asphalt snakes skywards and leaves trees and waterfalls far behind.

Wide vistas open as the hairpins steadily kick in, but in a civilised way; although this is a high climb it isn’t savage.

Remains of high altitude barracks from over a hundred years ago straddle the road. Soon after comes the first Pass, Col du Raspaillon at 2513m and then things start to get really serious.

The mountain begins resemble a lunar landscape, bare black and grey rocks dominate, very little grows up here. There is always snow lying, what ever state of the summer, this is probably the hardest country that you can take a road vehicle and definitely not a place to come in bad weather, if you value your life. This mountain has claimed many unwary visitors.

It’s because of it’s unique, wild, dangerous beauty that I love the place.

The last kilometre from the Col de la Bonette at 2715m to the summit at 2802m is like taking a ski jump to the clouds as the gradient hits 15%!

I kicked down Harls side stand at the summit stone and just drank in the majesty of the place and the moment, we were back.

Looking South I could just about make out the Mediterranean Sea, over 60 miles away, we were down there earlier. All around I was surrounded by high peaks, many snow-capped and all stunningly beautiful; it made me feel both very small and also incredibly lucky to be there to enjoy it all.

It was one of those moments that make me feel so alive and glad to be so.

When you hit a high, both figuratively and also in this case literally, it’s easy to think that it’s only downhill from here. Well, ok, geographically it is, but riding amongst these mountains you’d be crazy to only look on the downside. Also I had a “rest day” tomorrow and as the weather was looking good I wanted to do a bit of exploring whilst I was up here.

First off I took a stroll to the real summit of La Bonette which stands a further 58 metres above the road. Walking in motorcycle gear is never much fun, but believe me doing it at altitude is really not to be recommended. At 2860m/9380ft the effects of altitude are very noticeable if you try to do any strenuous exercise without allowing your body time to adjust; riding a motorcycle from sea level to this height in just a few hours is not adequate adjustment, I can assure you!

I like to think that I’m pretty fit for my age, true I don’t spend hours in a gym, but I do live an active life, I’m not overweight and I don’t smoke; but that eighty metre climb to the summit was something else! Never before have I found a short stroll to be such hard work and whilst I wasn’t struggling unduly it was clear that nature was giving me a gentle reminder as to who exactly was in charge up here!

It was worth it though, the view just got even better and I had the place to myself.

With a tinge of sadness I turned to start the descent down to Jausiers. RDGA had been a blast and it literally was going to be downhill all the way from here, but in the back of my mind I knew that I’ll be coming back one day.

I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to do what I do. Looking back on that adventure last summer much has happened since and people dear to me have been lost to this world. I sometimes wonder how much longer I can keep doing these trips, because believe me they don’t get any easier with age! I’ve got a wonderful family and small network of close friends who support my crazy yearning to travel and explore the high places, so whilst I can I’ll keep going; you are, after all, a long time in your box!

What next?

Well, if all goes to plan, I’ve got some unfinished work to do in the Pyrenees in June this year. Then whilst perusing some maps the other day, I spotted some lovely looking passes in Switzerland and Northern Italy…!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

The whole of RDGA is dedicated to the memory of G, my little brother who left us too soon.

“Escaping the ghosts of yesterday,
you were behind me following closely, don’t turn around now.”

RDGA 10 Higher Things

After the exhilaration of finally completing La Route des Grande Alpes I did what any self-respecting Frenchman would do in similar circumstances, I enjoyed a superb dinner!

The hotel dining room was a snapshot of different times; high ceilings, grand chandeliers, soaring mirrors and crisp white linen table cloths. The food was equally impressive and the service impeccable. Best of all though was that from my window seat I could see not only the twinkling Mediterranean, but also Harls resting quietly in her secure area by the Hotel garden.

After dinner I took a stroll along the sea front, it was still stifling hot at 11:00pm and pondered what to do next?

I really wanted to find the proper end of La RDGA.

At Thonon there was that splendid bronze plaque marking Km Zero, but here in Menton, the original end-point there was nothing! The modern route has been extended to Monaco and Nice, but again, sadly, no end marker exists.

I decided to ride along the coast and complete the route into Nice, at least I’d know that I had ridden it all. Plus there was a small col, Col d’Eze, that was shown on modern maps as on the route to collect!

Next morning I woke early, it was still hot and still, the weather forecast promised a short spell of thunderstorms before lunch; perhaps that would clear the air. I grabbed a quick coffee and croissant , loaded up Harls and hit the road.

The Hotel from a different age.


It was 37 kilometres or 23 miles to Nice and it took nearly two hours of hot, traffic jammed, purgatory to travel.

I know that this area is meant to be both beautiful and desirable to live in, in fact in Monaco you need to be a multi-millionaire just to rent a small apartment, but you can keep it! It’s not for me.

There is a narrow strip of land between the sea and the hills upon which everything is perched; roads, railway, houses, offices, shops, small industries and high-rise buildings all vie for space. The traffic is solid and progress painfully slow.

You enter the small Principality of Monaco at a snail’s pace and the only thing that changes is the type of shop, they are all brand names like Gucci, Chanel and Rolex. None of the shops display prices, because if you have to ask, you probably can’t afford it!

There is one good thing about little Monaco, it’s the home of the world-famous Monaco Grand Prix, that every year sees Formula One cars thunder through it’s concrete canyons and along it’s harbour-side; I just had to ride that route!

Which is what I did.

Unlike modern racers such as Hamilton and Vettel or the glorious names from the past like Hill, Senna, Stewart, Fangio and Lauda who speed round the two-mile circuit in around a minute and a fifteen seconds, it took Harls and I much longer…traffic again! It was fun though, especially rounding the famous Station Hairpin and roaring through the tunnel; yes I did roar through it, I backed up the traffic behind me before we entered just to get some clear road and then let Harls have her head…she sounded wonderful!

The famous Monaco Tunnel.

Eventually we trundled through Nice, just as the rain came in, I turned Harls to the North and the mountains. “Let’s get out of here!” I screamed to myself.

Wet, slippery and dangerous, but so much fun!

The short sharp downpour soon stopped and things began to look a lot nicer than Nice did, if you’ll excuse the pun. The M6202 road didn’t exactly strike me as very interesting or exciting, but then we turned right onto the M2205 and into the valley of the River Tinée and things got better, a lot better! We crossed our route of yesterday in St Sauveur and still following the river headed for Isola and the high country.

Getting better!


This is another part of the French Alps that I am hopelessly besotted with. It’s more than just a love affair, it’s total infatuation.

Isola is best thought of a place to pass through. Not that it is in any way bad, it’s just unfortunately for the small village of Isola it is surrounded by much grander things, like two of the highest mountain roads that there are! We turned right in the centre of the village and headed for the ski station of Isola 2000; glorious sweeping hairpins greeted us.

If Isola is to pass through, Isola 2000 is to be ignored…a typical ski-station-summer-ghost town with about as much character as a vase of dead flowers; fortunately you can drive round it, which is by far the best thing to do, as beyond lies Col de la Lombarde!

At 2350m Lombarde is right up amongst the big ones and lies bang on the border of France and Italy. It is another place where the remarkable sentinels of the failed Maginot Line can still be seen eerily standing guard on the wild mountainsides, waiting for an enemy that simply drove around them.

I first came up here with Baby Blue some years back and not much has changed since then. Time for lunch.

Now my dear Blogonaughts, it’s time for a science lesson!

Before I departed my hotel that morning the lovely staff there insisted on making me a delightful packed lunch. As I settled down on the mountainside to enjoy it, I noticed something very interesting.

I’ve often banged on about how, as I make my various journeys into the mountains, the air becomes thinner. Not only is there less oxygen, but also atmospheric pressure drops too. There is a pretty neat and simple formula that you can use to calculate the pressure drop with altitude; in fact that’s what aircraft used to do all the time with barometric altimeters to find out how high they are flying, that was before satellite navigation.

For todays lesson though I’m using something much more simple, a packet of potato crisps (or chips if you are reading this in Chicago!).

We’d set out from Menton, right down at sea level and now we were at 2350m above, that’s almost 8000feet. The pressure drop by my calculation was about 5.9inchesHg or 196mmHg that’s 4psi or 0.26kgcm2, a drop of around 20%!

So what does this look like?

Well, like this, my lunchtime snack was blown up like a small balloon! Cool eh?

It’s the little things in life-like this that give me so much pleasure.

Anyway, it was time to ride on; back down to Isola hang another right and head for the mother of them all, Cime de la Bonette.

“Pressure, pushing down on me, pressing down on you.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Sant – Saint David’s Day

Hello everyone, I posted this last year, but couldn’t resist revisiting it as today is kind of special for me.

Bore da pawb. Heddiw yw Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Sant, y Diwrnod Cenedlaethol Cymru. Dymuniadau gorau i chi i gyd!

Good morning everyone. Today is Saint David’s Day, the National Day of Wales. Best wishes to you all!

Dewi Sant/St David was born towards the end of the 5th Century in the region of West Wales known as Ceredigion. Whilst alive he built a reputation for his preaching, teaching and simple living amongst the Celtic people. He founded a monastery at Glyn Rhosin, which became an important early Christian centre. Dewi died on 1st March 589 and was buried in what is now known as St David’s Cathedral in Pembrokeshire where his shrine became a popular place of pilgrimage.

For centuries 1st March has been a national festival in Wales with parades, concerts, poetry readings and of course traditional food all being enjoyed. Around the country not only will you see the flag of Wales, Y Ddraig Goch (the Red Dragon) being flown, but also the flag of St David, a simple yellow cross on a black field.P1030045

Today is also the time when Welsh exiles around the world remember ‘The Land of My Fathers’ and try to ease the sense of “Hiraeth” that yearning homesickness tinged with grief, nostalgia, wistfulness and pride that we often feel.

The National Flower of Wales is the delightful and cheery daffodil which brightens the hedgerows at this time of year. I hope you like them as much as I do. My late Grandmother always said that when you take daffodils into a house, then you take sunshine into that house; I think she got that pretty much spot on!

In the words of St David:
“Gwnewch y pethau bychain mean bywyd.” “Do ye the little things in life.”

Gwlad, gwlad, pleidiol wyf i’m gwlad.

Hwyl Fawr!
Dookes

RDGA 9 Heading South, Getting Hot and Following a Mini.

The bells of the church in Jausiers work me early, oh the joys of a Catholic Country as the priest called the faithful to early morning worship! Back home in the UK we have a fine tradition for Church bell ringing, we do it melodically, ringing the bells in order and to predetermined patterns, but in most places on Continental Europe the bells are just rung haphazardly, frequently clashing in a cacophony of tonal mismatch and timing; you’ve got to love the difference!

I sat on the windowsill as the sun rose above the mountains; today was going to get a bit warm if the early rays were anything to go by. Time to grab breakfast and hit the road, we had a lot of Cols to climb again.

Today we were back on the classic Route des Grandes Alpes, right down to the Mediterranean Sea. First up was our biggest climb of the day, Col de la Cayolle 2326m/7631ft.

I’d ridden Cayolle before. From the North, where we were coming from, it’s a really pleasant if quite long climb of just over 29km. Leaving Barcelonette we turned onto our old friend the D902 road and slipped into the Gorges du Bachelard. This is quite a road, as it negotiates the narrow, rocky gorge, which is full of roaring waterfalls, tight tricky bridges and towering cliffs. The steepness and height of the cliffs often cut out direct sunlight, the place is cold, even on sunny mornings like we were enjoying and the narrow road makes it difficult to safely stop and take it all in. The road frequently swaps back and forth across the tumbling waters before gaining altitude and passing into delightful high woodland before emerging on the open high alp. The climb isn’t particularly demanding, but satisfying nonetheless and at the summit has a delightful stone marker, plus some wonderful scenery giving a glimpse of the way ahead.

After pausing for the obligatory photographs I eased Harls onto the downhill slope and set off South. The road here is much more technical with sweeping hairpins, tunnels, tight squeezes and just more fantastic scenery. In the small village of Guillaumes we turned left and immediately got into “Ski-Station Land” for our next four Cols…actually, that’s I bit unfair of me; it’s just that after the wonderful isolation of the really high passes having to share the mountains with civilisation gets a bit hard!

The road was fun with enough variation to keep things interesting, passing through the Tinée valley we paused at Ouvrage Frassinéa, one of the remaining forts of the Maginot Line Alpine extension. The Maginot line was an attempt by France to fortify its eastern border immediately after the First World War; the project saw the construction of hundreds of miles of defences, gun emplacements and bunkers. It never really got finished and for the most part was rendered useless when in 1939 the German army invaded and simply drove around the defences; nice try though! Many parts of the old defences can still be seen today and some, like Fressinéa, have been preserved as museums. Sadly, it was shut when we called in!

Col de Valberg 1672m/5475ft, Col de Sainte Anne 1550m/5085ft, Col de la Couillole 1678m/5505ft and Col de Saint Martin1500m/4921ft, are all respectable passes, they certainly have their place in the history of the Tour de France and RDGA, but after the big ones that Harls and I had grown used to, they were…well, just a little tame!

What wasn’t tame was the temperature. I stopped in Roqueillière, which lies in the delightful Vesubie valley, to buy some lunch and noticed that the thermometer was spot on 100ºF!
We were definitely into Mediterranean France now, even the scenery screamed that at us.

We had been travelling for a few hours now and together with the heat, I thought it wise to take a break on the climb to our next Col, the legendary Col de Turini 1604m/5262ft.

Just for once, here is a Col that isn’t legendary in Le Tour de France; it’s only featured three times. No, Turini gained it’s fame from motor sport and specifically the wonderful “Monte Carlo Rally” which is usually held in mid-January each year. More specifically, it really rose to wider notice in 1964, when a young driver from Belfast, Northern Ireland, named Paddy Hopkirk together with co-driver Henry Liddon, won the rally driving a BMC Mini Cooper S and a legend was born.

Paddy Hopkirk winning the 1964 Monte Carlo rally, photo Auto Express.

The Minis were back to win in 1965 and again in 1967, to cement their place in motor sport history.

I’ve never owned a Mini, but back in the day one of my Aunts did, it was a red Cooper S, just like Paddy’s, I thought it was so cool!

The famous red 1964 Mini Cooper S, photo DeFacto, used with thanks.

These days the Turini is crossed in daylight, but back then it was also infamous for being a night stage and amongst enthusiasts was known as “The Night of the Long Knives,” on account of the high intensity headlight beams cutting through the darkness; it must have been some sight!

In places Turini is best described as “artificial,” but it’s probably more impressive because of that, because the engineering effort that has gone into building this pass is beyond impressive. The road formation is supported by solid, beautifully formed stone block walls, the bends are generously wide, but the short gradients are savage…it’s just great fun to ride!

As we topped Turini, low cloud hugged the high trees and it looked like our scorching weather was over for the day, but no, it was just a temporary reprieve from the heat. Passing through Sospel we started to final climb, to Col de Castillon, which at a mere 706m/2316ft barely registers as a pimple against it’s higher sisters on La Route des Grandes Alpes. That’s a little unfair, because where Castillon fails in the altitude stakes it hits back by being the first/last climb of the RDGA, the only one in the Côte d’Azur and if you are starting in Menton, it’s 706 metres straight up!

We paused at the Col, no fancy stone monument here, just a rather tatty metal sign and then a steady roll downhill in the warm Mediterranean breeze.

Menton is often called the pearl of the Côte d’Azur and in it’s own way it’s an OK place; just not my sort of place. In fact, not much of the French Riviera is my sort of place; it’s just too busy, to built up and to pretentious for my liking.

We rode through the bustling town and at a suitable spot on the sea front I pulled over, kicked down Harls side stand and took the obligatory photograph; we’d done it!

Years of plotting and dreaming, then a few months of planning had brought us here.

What now?

Well, apart from finding our hotel, having a swim in the warm Mediterranean, grabbing a shower and a beer…I honestly couldn’t think of much else to do!

There was finally a monkey off my back.
From finding that leaflet about La RDGA all those years ago, to executing the dream, it was over.

I felt a little empty.

What next?

Where now?

Later, after a nice meal and a night-time stroll around the marina, I reflected more on our journey. It was a job well done, no dramas, no mishaps, just a solid team effort; man, machine and the road in perfect harmony.

Did I ever tell you that I love that bike?

…. and tomorrow?

Well, we’d better start to go back home and find some more hills to climb.

“There ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no valley low enough…”

Catch you later.

Dookes

RDGA 8 – A Day Off, or Lets Go To Italy and Ride The Hill of The Dead!

I woke early in Jausiers to a typical Alpine morning, sunshine with a few clouds at varying altitude.

When I set off on this trip Mrs Dookes had insisted that I weave in a few “rest days” as generally the going was likely to be reasonably tough. Good idea, but what does a motorcyclist do on a day off? Yep, probably gonna go for a little ride!

Over breakfast I pondered my maps.

Now it is true that I am in inveterate “Col hunter.” I can’t resist the opportunity to climb a new high pass and chalk another off the list, that morning I realised that I had the chance to add to our tally and add quite handsomely at that!

From Jausiers I spotted an interesting possibility, a big loop into Italy and cross five big passes that had until now evaded us. By crossing those off, we would have completed the top 40 highest through passes in Europe; now this was too tempting to miss!

I quickly finished breakfast and headed out to Harls, who was resting snugly in the hotel owner’s garage. I had the feeling that this was going to be some day…

We soon got onto the road and back into the groove, before grinding to a halt on the French side of Col de Larch; road works!

One thing I’ve learnt over the years of our road trips is to always expect the totally unexpected just around the next corner. This was one of those moments.

Normally, any road works spell delays and pain. This morning, however, was just a little bit different. Just imagine the conundrum facing the engineers; a high, relatively narrow alpine road needs repairs and quantities of construction materials delivered to the work site. The two options are close the road, or use a helicopter; how brilliant and give the waiting road users a free air display in the process! I love those French engineers!

We topped Col de Larch then rolled into Italy and onto one of those wonderfully crazy Italian roads that I swear they build just for fun. A series of sweeping wide hairpins that drop down from the pass in a ladder of asphalt, that, but for a glass-like surface and a bit of light drizzle would have been a delight to ride. We had a long way to go, so time to tread carefully!

At Demonte we turned hard left and soon left civilisation behind as we took the Colle Fauniera road. I frequently grumble about the way that much of the French Alps are scarred by the winter sports and ski industry; ski lifts and cable runs dot the landscape whilst the mountainsides are to often sculpted to create better pistes; it creates jobs and livelihoods, but it doesn’t half spoil things at times. Today though was like taking a trip back in time. We entered a beautiful Italian valley that was free from any trace of the winter sports industry and in it’s lower reaches, wonderfully bucolic as our ribbon of tarmac meandered through peaceful woodland.

In fact it was more than peaceful; it was deserted. For mile after mile we were alone. Just after climbing above the tree line we passed a farmer who was making repairs to his stock fence and we exchanged friendly waves.

Then we got stuck into some serious climbing.

The clouds were building a bit as we gained altitude, nothing to worry about, but it was getting a bit colder quicker than I had anticipated, actually a lot colder!

This was turning into hard country, very hard country.

The road was already quite narrow and now gradually narrowed even more and the surface started to show signs of minimal maintenance; actually it was starting to break up and in places there were small patches of ice.

This was turning into a road that demanded respect.

At Colle di Valcavera 2461m/7926ft we paused and tried to take in the view, but the swirling cloud put paid to that idea. Oh well, onwards and upwards!

I think that around this point it began to dawn on me that we were doing something very special. It’s very rare that we have the luxury of enjoying the mountains by ourselves and I resolved to savour every moment, whilst at the back of my mind realising that any problem up in this isolated place could easily become a very big problem very quickly!

The road became, very, very “interesting! Mud, ice, water, and broken asphalt all mixed together to deliver a thoroughly character building experience. Tatty, broken railings appeared just near the summit at Col di Morts (Fauniera) and then turning a corner we arrived at the summit.
We went into a well-practiced routine; kick the side stand down, let Harls idle for a minute then kill her engine, ease into first gear, turn off the ignition and relax.
Silence.
Silence so still and complete it hurts your ears. Or at least it would if I didn’t have screaming tinnitus!
It wasn’t half cold!

Colle Fauniera, 2480m/8136ft is one of the most alluring places I have ever been. It’s also known as Col di Morti, “The Hill of the Dead.” It’s name apparently comes from the scene that was left after a battle in the 17th Century between Franco-Spanish and Piedmontese (Italian) forces. Interestingly, today the pass is currently awaiting government ratification to have it’s name changed to “Colle Pantini” after the great Italian cyclist Marco Pantini.

At the summit there’s a massive statue dedicated to the great man and his epic climb of the Col in the Giro D’Italia 1999.
I’m not sure what I feel about the renaming business, but the statue is quite impressive!
Moving on we crossed Colle del Vallonetto 2439m/8002ft and had an interesting time squeezing past a mechanical digger that was working repairing the road.

This is going to be tight…

As we carefully edged past the driver leant out of his cab and called “Attenzione, neve!” – hmm, “Look out, snow!”

VERY tight!!!!

I gave him a friendly wave and trundled around the corner to Colle d’Esischie 2370m/7776ft and yep, there was snow! Deep banks of the stuff, which, fortunately, my digger-driver mate had obviously not long dug a path through.

Yep, snow!

It was better than that, at Esischie there is a junction and I wanted to turn left towards Marmona which is actually the minor road; luckily this was the one that had been dug out, the other remained firmly closed!

We began a long descent; little did I know that this would be a road that was going to leave an indelible impression on me. If I thought that the climb up to Fauniera was tough, then this was about to change all that.

The scenery was beyond beautiful, it was breath-taking, but so was the road; in a very scary way!

I had a brief glimpse that things ahead were going to be a tad interesting with the array of signs at the top of the decent. Lets get on with it…

Now let me see…the sign says look out for everything!!!


We started the downgrade and I realised that this was no road for heroics. Just stick to the ride-able parts and concentrate on the next hazard, don’t look back or for that matter down! If I thought that the surface on the up-slope was tricky, it was twice as bad now; the best bits had generous amounts of larch needles lubricating the surface with pine resin, whilst in other places there was simply no road surface at all, just soft clay…not fun on a big Harley Tourer! Oh yes, there wasn’t much in the way of barriers either, often just a bit of grassy verge and then a drop of unrecoverable proportions.

It was best described as low-gear country, tiring to ride, yet not at all unpleasant, just very demanding.

Eventually, nearing Tolosano, things opened up, the road got considerably better and we started to make progress; then, rounding a corner cane across a “Road Closed” sign. What the…!

What the….!


I consulted the map, nope, no other way. Lets go explore.

I trundled Harls around the roadblock and slowly moved along the road until, yes I could confirm that the road was quite securely closed. A largish truck blocked our way whilst a group of workers shovelled stone from it. A chap who appeared to be the foreman approached and clearly indicated me to go back.

I think that signal is quite clear…!


In my bad Italian I asked when the road would be open? “Four o’clock;” it was 12:30 now, hmm.

“Any other way round?” “Si, go back and take the first right, you’ll be fine on your motorbike.”

I was a bit dubious, but really didn’t have another option, so I spun Harls around and set off explore. Sure enough there was right turn, but it just seemed to head into a farmyard.

I saw young couple and asked if I could get through?

“Where have you come from?” “Colle Fauniera.”

The young man looked at me and smiled, “In that case you’ll be OK, but it’s not easy!” he smiled.

I thanked them and started up Harls, here we go then old girl!

Leaving the farmyard the road dropped towards a small steam, then became a rough stone track, then morphed into a grassy bridleway, then a muddy track, then back to grass and more like a footpath than road; OK, lets see how we get on.

The diversion!


I left Harls to tick-over in first gear; “I’ll look after the steering, you just give us a bit of forward movement,” simple teamwork.

After about half a mile the path began to change back into something resembling a road and then we got back on real tarmac again. I gave Harls her head and now on a good road for the first time in hours she sang a happy song that echoed back off the steep valley sides.

At Bassura we turned North and hit the hairpins again, San Martino was left behind as we growled skywards into the clouds again, target Colle di Sampeyre 2284m/7493ft.

I’d love to tell you that Colle di Sampeyre was impressive, but apart from a solitary chap on a bicycle all there was to see was thick cloud.

Colle di Sampeyre, look at those muddy tyres!


More hairpins took us down into the Varaita valley where we turned left. Now we were on one of my favourite roads in the whole of Italy, it leads to Col Agnel/Colle dell’Agnello 2744m/9003ft the highest paved international pass in the whole of Europe.

We are going to Agnel.


The road over Col Agnel is one that Harls and I first rode some years back and has fondly remained in my memory ever since, it was great to be back. This is a road that has everything; long fast sections, stunning views, great surface and the ever beckoning view of snow tipped mountains ahead, then the technical twisty bits begin and are an absolute joy to ride.

Last time we were here, the place was almost deserted; today was not quite so quiet as it was a public holiday in this part of Italy, but it wasn’t unpleasantly busy.

There’s a small parking area at the Col, which nestles between high peaks on a knife-edge ridge and offers amazing views across both Italy and France. It’s a lovely place to visit and a wonderful road to ride.

Looking into France, oh that road!

I could stay here forever!


Never look back…it’ll break your heart!


Saying “Ciao” to Italy, we began our long decent into the Queyras valley. This is a fun road with a lovely surface; crossing the river we turn left and power through the miles towards the famous Queyras Gorge balconies just before Guillestre.

Queyras Gorge balconies.

Then it’s onwards for Col de Vars and back to Jausiers, I could almost taste that first beer!

I sat in the hotel bar. Fabienne, the hotel owner, poured me a cold Demi.

“Alors, où as-tu allé aujourd’hui?” “So, where did you go today?”
“Oh, juste pour un petit tour en Italie …” “Oh, just for a little ride in Italy…”

I produced a map and showed Fabienne where we had been. At first she just looked at me, then rolled her eyes skywards, “Tu l’as fait en seul? Tu es fou!” “You did that alone? You are crazy!”

Fabienne laughs, it’s a laugh of one who has spent her life in this very hotel; it’s a laugh tinged with too many cigarettes and just a little bit of jealousy.
She pushes my beer across the bar and smiles.

Perhaps Fabienne, perhaps I am, but undoubtedly I am also very happy.

Happy because I realise that I had experienced undoubtedly the most demanding day I have ever had on a motorcycle and I loved every moment of it.

“I’m alive!
And I see things mighty clear today, I’m alive!
I’m alive!
And I’m breathin’ clean, fresh air today, I’m alive!”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Every inch of this ride is for you G, may we ride together again one day, but not too soon!

Riding on Ahead

I don’t often sit staring at a blank screen wondering what to write.

I don’t often have tears in my eyes when I sit at a computer screen.

I don’t normally find it difficult to articulate what I want to say.

This isn’t a “Normal” moment…

Over the years of blogging, I have occasionally mentioned my mate G, he of motorcycles and leukaemia.

On the 26th of December, G’s battle with cancer came to an end. He was 52 and leaves behind a loving wife and two young teenage children.

He also leaves behind a lifetime of memories, achievements and laughter.

G was a complex character, his highs were incredible, he could make a large room helpless with laughter; on the other side he had lows, deep black lows. Mostly though, he was a “Glass Half-Full” chap and it was only when his health issues got too much did he sometimes slightly look on the downside.

Our relationship was mixed. Mostly, we were great mates who had wonderful times together and yes we had some really great times! We also had moments, like in any relationship, when we really couldn’t stand the sight of each other; yet we came through it, eventually.

When, three and a half years ago he told me that he had cancer it shook me to the core. I tried to always be there for him.

Then he had a big motorcycle accident and I sat by his bed in the trauma unit as the medics tried to figure out if they could save his hands, let alone make then work again. In the weeks and months that he slowly recovered, I used to drive over to his house and again sit with him; then we would laugh and tell each other tales of what we would do once he was well.

He bought another motorcycle and the surgeons got him strong enough to ride. I went with him to collect the bike, a Yamaha Super Ténéré that had been modified to accommodate his injured hands; his joy at being on two wheels again was humbling.

Picking up the new bike, June 2017.

We rode again together, as often as his health allowed and the light came on in his eyes again.

The day after Christmas that light went out for the last time.

G, I loved you through all of our ups and downs, even through the times that you annoyed the hell out of me and drove me up the wall in frustration! You did what little brothers are supposed to do and did it very well; I’m missing you already.

Hwyl fawr, brawd bach!

Dookes

Solstice Greetings

Hello dear readers, yes I know “Where have you been Dookes?”

Life is busy, hectic, interesting and really quite good….I’m not complaining at all!
I am struggling though, to find time to do any writing, let alone keep this blog updated. So please forgive me.

Today is the Winter Solstice and as a result I’m very happy in a Druid-like way. Lacking time to get very creative and write a new post I’m going to break one of my own rules and re-post something that I wrote last year, but hey it’s my blog and my rules!!!

Have a great Solstice everyone.

“Now is the Solstice of the year.
Winter is the glad song that you hear.”

It doesn’t take much to make me happy, which might seem a bit strange for a chap who owns two big Harley Davidson motorbikes, but it’s true. Today, for example, is one of those things that no-one can own, hold or claim; it’s the Winter Solstice and I’m a very happy Dookes as a result!

It’s probably fair to say that this has become my favourite day of the whole year!

In our Northern Hemisphere it is the shortest day, when the Sun barely shows itself above the horizon and then for the briefest possible time! Sunset today is just before 16:00hrs!

Stennes Stones Orkney


The Solstice marks the turn of the seasons when the days begin to grow longer and the warmth of Summer begins its long return journey.

It’s also the real beginning of Winter.

I written before how the relevance of this turning point has become stronger for me as I have grown older; I understand the ancient people who venerated the turning seasons and the Celestial Calendar.

It appears that since the dawn of time our forbears have found reason to celebrate a festival of light in the depths of the darkest day of the year. So why not have a party to celebrate the ending of one celestial year and the beginning of a new one?

Sounds good to me, but then I am a Welsh Wizard/Dewin Cymreig!

Let’s not forget that many other cultures and religions around the world also celebrate festivals at this time of the year and have the rebirth of light firmly as their focus.
The Christian Church has celebrated the birthday of Jesus Christ, Christmas, on December 25th since the 4th Century when Pope Julius I chose the date in an effort to replace the Roman Feast of Saturnalia. People have compared the rebirth of the sun to the birth of the son of God.

It’s also interesting to reflect that the origins of many “traditional” Western Christmas decorations such as the Yule Log, Tree and Wreath can trace back to pre-Christian times.

Familiar decorations of green, red and white cast back to the Wiccan traditions and the Druids. The old Pagan Mid-Winter Festival of Yule also included feasting and gift giving, doesn’t it all sound very familiar?!?!

When I was younger we always did the usual Christmas decoration stuff, including a highly non-authentic artificial tree! My late father did little to dress the tree, but had his own take on the whole decoration thing that he insisted on doing himself; every year he would garland the house with boughs of green holly and evergreen, it was only then that I truly used to feel that things were being done properly. I suspect that my Celtic blood has a lot to do with this and I still carry on that tradition today in Dookes H.Q., I adore the house smelling of pine and other evergreens! image

Many Pagan religions had a tradition where it was customary to place holly leaves and branches in and around dwellings during winter. It was believed that the good spirits who inhabited forests could come into their homes and use the holly as shelter against the cold; whilst at the same time malevolent forces and spells would be repelled.

Mrs Dookes enters into the spirit of the season with her splendid handmade evergreen wreaths. This reflects another Celtic tradition, the wreath’s circle has no beginning or end and the evergreen represents life in the depths of winter.

Whether you are celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Yule, The Solstice, Dongzhi, Yalda, Saturnalia, Malkh, any other festival that I may have missed, or just looking forward to having a restful holiday, have a truly wonderful time and maybe spare a thought, or penny, for those less fortunate.

Thanks for joining me for the ride this year, it’s been a ball and I hope you will saddle up with Harls, Hetty and I in ’19 for more two-wheeled adventure and opinion! Next RDGA post is on its way soon too!

“Praise be to the distant sister sun,
joyful as the silver planets run.
Ring out, ring solstice bells.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

With grateful thanks to Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull for sharing the Solstice over many decades!