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

Legends and Dreams

I’ve come to the conclusion that I really like the Pyrenees and I’m beginning to question why I haven’t been back here more often.

OK, this is the fourth time that I have been here, but it’s really the first visit that I’ve managed to get under the skin of these mountains and feel their life vibe.

Undoubtedly riding on near deserted roads has certainly swayed my view on things and good weather so far has certainly helped. A couple of nice blasts blew away some cobwebs, but all in all, these mountains have a much more relaxed way of life and I’m loving it!

I adore the Alps and as mountains go, in Europe anyway, they really don’t get much grander, but there’s a problem with the Alps, the place is getting full. When I first discovered their delights over 45 years ago, there were a whole lot less visitors about. Then, when I got to start motorcycling around them, again, there were not too many others about.

Fast-forward to 2019 and things are a sight more busy there now!

Yesterday I rode just over 160 miles of stress free lovely mountain roads. They varied from tight single-track twisty stuff to wide-open main routes and they all had one thing in common…hardly any traffic!

The scenery is right up there with the best and the people are lovely.

Then we hit some of the classic Tour de France Cols, plus a few others.

I’ve had a yearning to ride Col du Somport 1650m/5413ft, on the France/Spain border for some time and to, horror of horrors, ride back through the Somport Tunnel as well! Tick those two off and I’m pleased to report that, despite my usual hatred of the things, that the tunnel wasn’t too bad at all!

The blast back down the N134 was fun, except for a bunch of road works, which didn’t really spoil anything.

Next we tackled the Col de Marie Blanque 1036m/3399ft. At that height it doesn’t seem much on paper, but wow, it’s a cracker!

Starting from Escot I was watching the marker boards that the cycle-mad French put on all the main climbs. The average gradient for this Col is around 8%, but for the early kilometres the boards kept saying only 2 or 3%. As the km’s ticked by, still no change, then at 3km from the summit all of it came at once, 8%, 10% and for the final km 11%! What’s more, there are no hairpins to ease the grade, it’s basically a straight road to the stars, goodness knows how hard it is on a bicycle!

We dropped into the small town of Laruns and drew our breath for the first big one of this trip, Col d’Aubisque 1709m/5606ft. This is one of the legendary Tour de France climbs and seems to have featured every year that I can remember.

From Larums it’s pretty cool and a scattering of nice hairpins got us in the groove. Eaux-Bonnes comes after a few kilometres, once a vibrant thermal spa town, but now showing signs that the good days have long gone; it made for a strange interlude on the climb. If I thought that the last Col was steep a 13% gradient soon concentrated the old mind! Over 16km later and through countless hairpins we arrived at the summit, it was tough all the way, but stunningly wonderful and deeply satisfying.

There’s a funny homage to Le Tour at the summit, three massive bicycles, painted Green, Yellow and Polka Dot; that’s the jerseys of the Sprint Champion, General Classification Winner and of course King of The Mountains!

This Col truly is the stuff of Tour de France legend and I was humbled to have ridden it’s hallowed route, but there was no time for self congratulation, we still had more work to do.

From Aubisque the road descends slightly and then turns sharply to the left. If I thought that there were no further surprises, I was wrong, very wrong.

Over the next ten kilometres the road sort-of hangs in space. It’s not really been cut into the cliff; it’s more floating on the outside edge of the mountain. Oh and there’s not really much in the way of barrier either, plus it’s largely single track, so I was glad to have been on the inside!

That line along the mountain face is the road!


Anyway, all this engineering was to lead us to our next pass, Col du Soulor 1474m/4835ft. Two things struck me about Soulor, apart from the road to get there, was the almost vertical drop as the road began to descend and that the place smelt of sheep and goat poo; there were hundreds of four legged woolly things all over the place!

Our final challenge was the daddy of them all in Pyrenees terms, Col du Tourmalet 2115m/6938ft, the highest paved French pass in the mountain range.

I know I can get a bit carried away with superlatives when it come to my Col adventures, but seriously, Tourmalet is beyond a legend to anyone who has half an interest in Le Tour de France. I’ve dreamed about riding it for years and years.

The pass has been included in the race more times than any other pass in France, after the 2018 edition it had featured 86 times and this year will also see a stage finish at it’s summit. I

The road winding towards Tourmalet.


Tourmalet first appeared in 1910 and the leader over the Col was a chap named Octave Lapize who went on to win the race in Paris. Octave is famous for expressing his somewhat forthright views of the Tour organisers for routing the race over the Pyrenees high Cols, on Aubisque he shouted at them,

“Vous êtes des assassins! Oui, des assassins!’
“You are murderers! Yes, murderers!”

Octave Lapize on the summit of Tourmalet


He can’t have been thought of too badly though, as a statue of him is now mounted on the finish line at Tourmalet; here’s to you Octave!

Just Below the Summit of Tourmalet, the The Star of My Show!


For my part, with 1450cc of Harley engine pushing us along it was never going to be as tough as the cyclists have it, but it was hard enough work nonetheless. In addition it was great fun though!

Talking of cyclists, there was a cycling club from Holland making their annual pilgrimage to Tourmalet. It seemed to me that the plan was to ride to the summit and then drink as much beer as possible. To say that the top was a bit noisy and rowdy would be unfair, they’d peddled up there and in my book deserved all the beer that they could handle!

“Proost!”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

We Have Inversion!

Stick with me, you’’ll see what I mean in a few minutes….

I woke early again.

It’s not hard to do when the sun is streaming through you window at four thirty in the morning and one of the farmer’s goats is rubbing it’s alpine bell on a gate post almost underneath the same window!

I quick glance at the clock showed that it was far to early to think about getting out of bed. I couldn’t resist a glance out of the window though.

In a way I wished that I hadn’t, really I wished that I had not done that, because with what I could see outside there was absolutely no way that I could go back to sleep!

Spread out before me was one of my favourite mountain phenomena, cloud inversion.

Normally as you gain altitude the air temperature drops, but during an inversion warm air finds itself held above cooler air so meteorologists say that the temperature profile is “inverted.”

What then happens when warm air lies in a layer over cold damp air is that it traps water vapour in the form of cloud, mist or fog.

The result if you are in the valley is miserable foggy conditions, but if you are lucky enough to be above the division line between the two air masses….well, it’s just magical!

Anyway, enough of the chatter, look at the photos to see what I mean.

I did get out of bed, grab the camera and the results are before you now!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

La Route des Cols

I think I may just have found a little bit of heaven, but I’m not going to tell you about it because then everyone will want to go there….

Or as the Eagles wrote; “Call some place paradise, kiss it goodbye!”

Regular Blogonaughts will remember our adventure on La Route Des Grande Alpes last year, when we rode North to South from Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean Sea, via all the high French Alpine Cols.

This year we have changed geographical area and are in the Pyrenees, the chain of mountains that separates France from Spain. And this time we are heading West To East on what is locally called “La Route des Cols.”

My French chums claim that this is a tourist route that traverses 34 remarkable mountain Cols, or Passes if you’d rather.

Now, I my mind it’s pushing it a bit to claim that all 34 fall into the “remarkable” category. Indeed as you get past Andorra it’s a little hard to actually identify too many passes anyway, the land just falls away towards the Mediterranean, but top marks for trying.

The Route is a recent innovation to boost economic tourism and is to be applauded for that. It’s origins lie with a much smaller route that was first developed in the mid 1850’s la Route Thermale des Pyrénées which linked together four Spa resorts for which the region is still famous.

My plan is to ride from the Atlantic coast to either Andorra or Ax Les Thermes following the route as much as possible. If you want to follow us on a map, then look for the D918 road, which is largely the route, but it does vary in places.

Anyway back to the riding…

We left Saré this morning and headed straight back into Spain, crossing the Puerto de Otxondo 602m before hanging a left and attacking Col d’Iséguy 672m.

From Ispéguy, the call of the far away hills.


Somewhere on the climb to Iséguy the penny dropped…this is all very lovely!

Then, as the day went on and got hotter, a lot hotter actually, the riding just got better and better!

I’d ridden bits of the Pyrenees before, but this was way better than either I remembered or had expected.

The view from the office.


Firstly was the lack of traffic, true there were some other road users, but nothing like the chaos that can prevail in the Alps.

Then there was the road surface, generally very good indeed with no nasty surprise.

Finally was the road geometry and that can only be described as heavenly, really heavenly! Or it could be that I’ve just got better at riding hairpins?

Really, do I have to explain why?


The truth is, that Harls and I have had a ball sweeping around the bends and just enjoying being “off the leash.”

I knew I was really going for it when I grounded Harls rear brake lever going round one particularly enjoyable right-hander…I haven’t done that for years! This evening I’ve still got a big stupid grin on my face after that!

Somewhere down there I rubbed a bit of Harley metal on the road!


Ok, this is definitely not the Alps, the mountains are not anywhere near as high, nor are the passes, but they are still both impressive and challenging in their own right. The roads are definitely narrower than the major Alpine Cols and without guardrails in places you certainly need to concentrate.

Wiggly and lovely!


The lack of traffic is what I love. I may just have caught it right and missed the busier times, but I’m certainly not complaining.

In addition to those already mentioned, today we crossed the following Cols:

Col d’Haltza 782m
Col de Burdincurutcheta 1135m
Col Heguichouri 1284m
Col Bagargui 1327m
Col d’Erroymendi 1362m
Port de Larrau 1573m
Portillo de Eraice 1578m
Col de la Pierre St Martin 1760m
Col de Soudet 1540m
Col de Layae 1351m

As always, the star of the show!


Not bad, not bad at all!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Back on Land and How I Hate Motorways!

Right, lets get straight to the point. Motorway driving/riding is boring, period!

It doesn’t really matter if the motorway is slicing through wonderful scenery, hugging a coastline or plunging through alpine tunnels, the basic truth is the same…it’s a motorway! Autobahn, Autoroute, Autostrada, Freeway, Interstate…all the same by another name and all boring.

OK, I know, they get you from A to B reasonably quickly, that is assuming that some idiot hasn’t rearranged the central barrier and several other vehicles at the same time on your carriageway, but in essence they are tedious…or am I being a little over the top?

Take yesterday as an example.

We rolled off the ferry in Santander and for once the Spanish Border Police were in pragmatic mood; no need to take off helmets or stop engines, just show the passport and off we go then.

Straight onto the Cantabria Motorway, which runs along the North Coast of Spain and into France. Speed restrictions and road works galore; added to which is the somewhat dubious pleasure of having to pay tolls for the privilege, oh and most of it is only two lanes in each direction!

Progress was steady, if only through gritted teeth and ever grittier eyes. Truck traffic was quite heavy and seemingly all controlled by aspiring Formula One drivers.

After two and a half hours of punishment we crossed the border into France where the motorway suddenly grew extra lanes! We turned off and headed into the hills. Bliss.

Hey, wait a minute…after that motorway punishment, here’s our reward! The most wonderful windy, undulating little road ever, plus a couple of hairpins and our first Col of the trip. My angel, or late little brother G, must have been smiling on me!

For the map watchers amongst you, the road in question is the D4 from Ascain to Saré and the pass is Col de St Ignace, which at 169metres isn’t going to set any records, but it’s the first this trip and that’s good.

We stayed in a nice family run hotel in Saré, Harls had use of the owner’s garage and I had a great night’s sleep.

Hotel Room View, nice.


This is Basque Country, which for very complicated reasons doesn’t really like to think of itself as either French of Spanish. Basques are Celts, like me, so I really am feeling quite at home; there’s a vibe that reminds me of parts of Wales, Brittany and Cornwall. I cant exactly put my finger on it, but it’s definitely there and I like it, a lot.

Many of the buildings here are painted in a traditional red and white scheme that is very smart and gives things a unified feel, without being overpowering or monotonous.

I’m making a note to come back here…

Catch you soon with more from down the road.

Dookes

Early Birds

The Early Bird catches the worm; so goes an old saying.

In the middle of the Bay of Biscay it’s a little hard to catch a worm, but as reward for early rising and also not drawing the cabin curtains, I was able to see something very special.

I was disturbed from a very nice sleep by the light of a full moon shining brightly into my cabin window. It was 04:30 local. Lying in bed pondering whether to turn over and sleep on, it suddenly struck me that I really should get up and watch the moon set into the Atlantic Ocean and if I was very lucky I might also see the sun rise up as well!

Yeah, I know, crazy, but hey…I got the worm and saw the beauty of our solar system working right before my eyes.

On the Starboard side of the ship, that’s the right to land-based folk, I watched the moon sink slowly beneath the waves and at the same time, sure enough, the sun rose out of the Eastern horizon!

It was beauty beyond words, a little less cloud in the East would have been even better, but I’m really not complaining at all.

As far as I could tell, I was the only person on deck to enjoy this cosmic show and that’s pretty mind blowing when you think how far that light had travelled to be seen by only me! (93,000,000 miles from the sun and 250,000 miles from the moon, to be exact!)

As the book says,
“Don’t Panic!”

Catch you soon,

Dookes

“There’s Something Wrong With Our Bloody Ships Today!”

So said Admiral Beatty at the Battle of Jutland in 1916 as the Royal Navy and the German High Seas Fleet clashed in a bloody, yet indecisive battle in the North Sea near the coast of Denmark.

Well…. fast forward to today and again there is something wrong with a ship, my ship!

It’s nothing unexpected, the MV Pont Aven has been beset with problems in 2019. Earlier in the year she suffered a fire in one of the engine rooms and then just as she got back into service a steering gear problem caused an extended visit to dry dock for repairs. She came back into service only last Friday.

As a result of the engineering issues, Brittany Ferries have been forced to modify the timetables for Pont Aven as she’s running at reduced speed.

This is undoubtedly an issue for some folk, but for me, with little reason to rush it’s OK. Our trip across the Bay of Biscay may be taking a few hours longer, but the sea is relatively calm the sky is blue and all is well in the world.

My engineering mind does however ponder exactly what is going on with the ship? Our wake is decidedly “lop-sided” and it seems to me that one propeller is doing the work whilst the other is seemingly along for the ride!

If you look at the photo, you can see where the cavitation (that’s the white frothy water) is stronger on one side than the other; that means that the propeller on that side is working harder. Pont Aven is fitted with twin variable-pitch propellers and I would normally expect two prop wakes.

Just a little thing, but I find it interesting!

Catch you soon.

Dookes