The Cycle of Life

When I started this blog, amazingly nine years ago, it was very Motorcycle Travel heavy.

In essence it was a blog diary of my travels around Europe on my Harley Davidson motorcycles.

Well the world has certainly changed a fair bit since 2012 and over the past year my focus has been on just about anything except freely travelling around on a motorcycle.

Almost exactly a year ago Mr Covid paid me a visit and for a few weeks survival became the main goal! This was then followed by months of rehabilitation in a bid to regain some semblance of health.

I’m pleased to say that this was largely achieved on two wheels…man powered two wheels…Dookes powered two wheels!

Hybrid Carerra, utility and good off road.


I have commented previously about my love affair with bicycles, it goes back a long time and was, I suppose, the precursor to my passion for motorcycles.

Since those early days I’ve always had at least a couple of bicycles in the garage and sadly that’s largely where they have stayed. Two years ago I started cycling again, but it was the Covid thing last Spring that really gave me the impetuous to get out there regularly.

Cannondale Synapse. Endurance bike, alloy frame, carbon forks, good on Cornish lanes.


Initially it was my own idea to start cycling and get my lungs working properly, I floated it to the medical staff who were treating me and it turned out that I was in the care of a bunch of cycle mad medics who couldn’t have been happier for me to get pedalling!

Those first post-Covid rides were tough, very tough.

The reward for getting out.


Three miles, that’s one and a half out and one and a half back, were the limit to start off with. Then over time and just by taking it steady things sort of grew and with the lovely countryside around Dookes H.Q. the incentive is always there.

Now?

Well I smashed out a 51miler last Friday, so I guess I’m making a bit of progress, not bad for an old geezer if I do say so myself!

Forme Pro Carbon.
Goes like lightning, only comes out in the dry!


The strange thing is that if I have a few days off cycling, I feel my breathing getting a bit laboured and the old chest tightening up, then its time to get out and work it all again!
It’s nice to give the bikes some serious use too; they are there to be ridden, not just to sit in the garage looking good.

Now, if only I had 20 year old legs again….!

Catch you soon, ride safe.

Dookes

Riding Through It All

It’s been a while since I posted anything.

It’s also been a while since I was out on one of my beloved Harley Davidson motorcycles.

Are the two linked?

I suspect that’s very likely!

Lets face it, 2020 has been a crazy year and I’m quite numb from the constant bombardment of World Politics, Pandemics, Ecomonics and plain stupidity.

Following my somewhat nasty brush with the C19 virus I have been concentrating on getting well and getting fitter and in the usual Dookes way this has been done on two wheels; though this time man-powered two wheels!

Discussing my medical situation with the doctors treating me I came to the conclusion that there were two different paths that could be followed:

1. Sit back and hope that medicine would find a way.
2. Get of my backside and do something about it, make my body work back to health.

Now it just so happened that two of my Medics are pretty mad keen cyclist themselves. One of them is six months older than me and a couple of years ago she cycled up Mont Ventoux for goodness sake! Now I’ve motorcycled up Ventoux and that was tough enough, it’s not known as “The Beast of Provence” for nothing, but cycling, at our age? Do me a favour…

Mont Ventoux


Anyway, from small acorns mighty Oaks do grow. I started out on pedalling on two wheels.

I don’t mind admitting, those first rides were tough, very, very tough. Small gradients stopped me in my tracks, I was gasping for breath and coughing up all kinds of muck. The early rides were low on miles, high in time, but also high on determination…this wasn’t going to beat me.

Gradually, through hospital visits and x-rays, I could sense not only was I getting stronger, but my endurance began to climb.

One day it all seemed to click in place and then after many months it all suddenly got a whole lot better. Though a largely wonderful summer certainly helped.

Now the days are growing colder and shorter my enthusiasm is undiminished. I hate the wind though!

A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine asked me if I fancied a ride out with him.

My wonderful Cannondale.


Now Merv is pretty hardcore when it comes to cycling either on road or mud-plugging on a mountain bike, oh and he loves nothing more than wild swimming in any available cold water,; actually, the colder the better for him. He’s also ten years younger than me!

Anyway out we went, on a none to exciting dull day.

Twenty Eight miles later we were back at Dookes H.Q., 1852feet of elevation gain, average speed of 14.5mph and dealing with 16mph winds. Not bad for an old geezer, declared Merv!

….and the best part of cycling?

When I’m out there pedalling, all the crap in the world disappears!

Sure, I have to have serious conversations with my legs and tell them to stop complaining, but when you have faced the terminal alternative, it’s a small price.

Catch you soon, stay safe.

Dookes

Still Rolling

Hello everyone.

Where has this summer gone?

The world is truly a strange place at the moment. Whilst the human population is being ravaged by a planet-wide pandemic politicians across the Continents seem to display a mixture of greed, incompetence and plain ignorance. In exchange, many of the population appear to live in fear, whilst others carry on in a self-centred bubble of denial!
As the song says,”Two men say they are Jesus, one of them must be wrong.” It sort of sums up how I feel!!!!

For lots of reasons my motorcycle activity has been somewhat limited of late.

It’s partly due to other more pressing matters, such as building work at Dookes H.Q., but also a reflection of how the current global situation makes me feel; I honestly don’t really feel that I can justify pleasure rides on a motorcycle whilst people are both dying and working so hard to contain the C19 virus.

That said, I am lucky to live in a beautiful part of our island country.

I’m only five miles away from one of the most stunning coasts in the world. Ok I’m biased, I admit!

A small shopping trip the other day morphed into an extended loop on some tourist avoiding back roads which was nice.

It really doesn’t matter if I’m on two motorised wheels or two Dookes Pedal-Powered wheels….it doesn’t take very long to go somewhere to really lift the spirits!

Then there’s Dookes H.Q., sitting outside having an evening gin and tonic the view is, frankly, delightful, I’m very lucky.

Stay safe people and I’ll catch you soon.
Dookes

Lazy Days and Sunny Rays Will Guide Me

It’s raining today, not heavy rain, but persistent and actually quite refreshing. After nearly seven months of the stuff through Autumn and Winter you’d think I’d be fed up with it, but in a way today I’m really enjoying it!

For some reason it’s reminding me of those road trip days when I get up, it’s raining and there is no choice but to ride in it…and I’ve suddenly realised that I actually like riding in the rain, a bit, except when the road gets slippery and I can’t see where I’m going! I like the way low cloud brushes over the hills and through high forests and woodland and the gossamer strands of the cloud tell you that there’s wet road ahead, yeah I like it!

Well, sort of like it….


With the continuing World-Wide pandemic of Coronavirus, there are definitely wet roads ahead…but sometimes it’s the crap in life that makes people realise exactly how much good they have.

Lets go to the French Alps…

Sit in L’Entrique bar in Bourg St Maurice and take in the scene.

Bourg is a buzzing town deep in the French Alps. In winter it’s the hub of snow sports, whilst summer sees culture and nature taking over.

In the evening, there will be live music in L’Entrique, often driving rock with great guitar riffs. The food is good and the staff friendly. During the day, outside meal times, it’s a nice place to grab a coffee and chill.

Then walk outside and climb on your bike. Hit the starter, let the engine warm and then kick in first gear, hang a left onto the wonderful D902 and head for the sky!

50 kilometres Southwest lies Col de l’Iseran, at 2770m/9087ft the highest true paved Pass in Europe.

It’s a funny road from Bourg, wide and fast in places, tight in others.

There are tunnels; I hate tunnels, mostly.

The road climbs, relentlessly.

All the time are the views; ahead the expanding peaks, on each side the valley moving in, tightening, the river being pressed into a gorge.

Near Tignes is the hydroelectric dam, a dichotomy of natural beauty and intrusive industrial architecture.

The Dam.

The Lake.


More tunnels; then comes the famous ski station of Val d’Isere, which like many of the Alpine ski resorts largely slumbers during summer months.
Probably the best thing about the place is the road out…

Val d’Isere


…and what a road it now is.

Forget the previous 33 kilometres; you had to ride that to deserve this!

The road climbs and climbs and climbs. It narrows and things begin to get serious.

We are above the tree line now. The views open impressively.

The gradient shifts ever upwards, 2.8%, 5%, 8% then for the last 7k to an average of 10%.

There are hairpins, but not in any great number, just a relentless gradient like driving up a wall.

The air is thin, a carburettor motorcycle like Harls begins to struggle; how the cyclists cope is beyond my comprehension!

Just below the summit are a couple of sharp switchbacks, “Lacets,”
the French call them.

The wind always blows here and adds to the stunning views to literally take your breath away.

I like to park away from anyone else and find a solitary place.

A place to take in the view and reflect.

A place to find peace.

A place to give thanks.

A place to reach out and touch the face of God.

A place to return to soon.

“Lazy days and sunny rays will guide me
Back home where I belong”

Catch you soon,

Dookes

Waiting in a Dealership

Today “Harls” and I should have loaded onto a ferry and sailed off to France beginning another two-wheeled road trip adventure.

Should have…

Instead, due to the World Wide Coronavirus Pandemic, all passenger ferry services between the UK and mainland Europe are cancelled and non-essential foreign travel is discouraged by our Government.

I am currently sitting in our local Harley Dealership, Plymouth Harley Davidson, waiting for my other Harley, “Hettie” to have her slightly overdue annual service.

Hettie

It’s an efficient use of an unexpected vacant day I guess. I’m very grateful to the dealership for getting up and running again and sitting in a motorcycle showroom surrounded by lovely bikes isn’t normally a great hardship for me, but it isn’t France!

In the dealership everything is “Socially Distanced,” there’s no sitting on bikes or trying on clothes, but at least they are open for business.

I can’t say I’m greatly impressed with their choice of a Country and Western radio station though….!

I’m not sure about this paint job…!


It’s a grey day outside and cool enough to warrant my heated gloves for the ride in here this morning. In a way, it sort of helps ease that our trip is on hold for now; had there been blue skies and sunshine I definitely would have been climbing the walls!

No point in dwelling on it, things are just how they are and after my own brush with the virus I’m just happy to be!

This one needs a dust!


As for future trips, well who knows? I certainly love the whole planning experience and at least have this year’s itinerary that I could re-activate in the future…then again there are other options.

My mate Thierry, from Thonon les Bains, said in an email to me the other day, “C’est l’occasion de redécouvrir son pays” – “This is an opportunity to rediscover your own country.” You know, I think he may be right.

Heavenly: On Galibier.


Let’s see what happens…

The main thing to remember, is that the sun will come up tomorrow, just aim to be there to enjoy it.

Sunrise in the Bay of Biscay

Catch you soon.

Dookes

In a Way, It’s a Relief!

What a crazy world we live in.

A pandemic is sweeping the globe.
Governments and Leaders flail, bumble and deny.
Mass demonstrations and riots are triggered by man’s brutality to fellow human beings.
Wars continue to be fought.
The global economy is teetering on a precipice.

Then in Washington DC, a politician, with small hands, decides to have a photo opportunity by a boarded up church as he holds a Bible…only he holds it upside down!

If I had written a book with such a storyline I would have been laughed out of the publishing house…you just can’t make this stuff up!

The serious side to all this though is that it’s all painfully true and people are dying. All we can collectively do is hope and pray that one day it will all end.
Hopefully, mankind and our Planet, will come out of it better. Just maybe.

Sunset at Dookes H.Q.


Here in the UK, our Government, led by a mop-haired buffoon, are World Leaders in the “Bumble” approach and lurch from one questionable decision to another. Some of the population seem to believe that it, the virus, is coming to an end and that life is rapidly heading back to normality, what ever that is. Scientists are quietly saying otherwise and are firmly warning of a second wave of infections if people don’t observe social distancing and hygiene precautions.

One of the restrictions the Government has just introduced, from Monday this week, has been a requirement for travellers arriving from overseas to the UK to self-quarantine for 14 days.

One is tempted to say, “It’s a bit late!”

In reaction to the UK stance, France has also imposed identical quarantine requirements on travellers arriving there from the UK; so much for the ‘Entente Cordiale’ I hear you say!

Add in a UK Government missive advising against making unnecessary foreign journeys… and my plans for a motorcycle trip back to the Alps later this month were effectively torpedoed!

“Harls” on Col de l’Iseran, the highest paved pass in Europe.


In a way it’s a bit of a relief!

To be honest, I had pretty much effectively called the trip off.
I really couldn’t work up the enthusiasm for a self-indulgent trundle around mainland Europe whilst, frankly, people are dying.

The mountains have been there for millions of years and they will be there again when this nightmare is over.

From Col du Galibier.


In the meantime I have my memories and photographs.

“Is this the world we created?
We made it on our own
Is this the world we devastated, right to the bone?”

Catch you later

Dookes

Two Wheeled Time Machine

When our British Government announced the “Covid Lockdown” they were quite specific, that whilst the population must stay at home for all but essential journeys, we were allowed/expected to go out and exercise for up to an hour a day.

In other words, stay fit and healthy!

I had I think about this.

Obviously motorcycles didn’t count as “exercise” no matter how physical some rides are. Walking is OK and round Dookes H.Q. there’s lots of nice countryside, but in an hour, you can’t really go far.

Nothing for it, gotta get out the pedal bicycle!

This ticks all the boxes; two wheels, wind in your hair and covering the ground at a good pace and quite a variety of scenery in an hour!

So for the past few weeks that is what I’ve been doing.

I have a long history with bicycles. I can still remember my first, a delightful little thing with solid tyres, no danger of a puncture there! My father fitted it with stabilisers when I first had it, but they soon came off and so did I, a few times, until I got the hang of balancing on two wheels!

When I grew out of it, my Mother thought it was a good idea to buy me a used Raleigh R.S.W. 16. Yeah great, nice thought and good of her to buy it for me….but she never tried riding the wretched thing!

Raleigh RSW 16

These bikes were part of the 1970’s craze for small-wheeled utility bicycles. Do you see any around today? No you don’t, says it all really, they were heavy, uncomfortable and just awful!

Then one day at the back of our garage I discovered my Father’s old Raleigh Trent Sports.

To my young eyes this was cycling heaven. True, it was heavy as hell, but it had a four-speed derailleur gear set and drop-handle bars, it looked like a racer,I fell in love!

The old bike was dragged into daylight and it’s condition assessed.

It needed new tyres and inner tubes, all the bearings taken out cleaned and/or replaced, new brake cables, new gear change cable, new brake blocks, all the bright-work seriously cleaned.

A Trent Sports, but mine was red!


I remember Dad looking at me and just saying “ Well, if you do the work, it’s yours.”

Two weeks later, I proudly pushed the bike out of the workshop and road tested it.

The love affair continued.
I rode that bike everywhere and racked up hundreds and hundreds of miles on it.

At the back of my mind I hankered after a “ten-speed racer” and that dream eventually came true with a hand made Orbit machine.

Oh dear. Never have I been so disappointed; I just never clicked with that bike…

In a way… about 30 years ago actually, that’s where the story ground to a halt,

Until last autumn.

Call it a rush of blood to the head, call it a realisation that I needed to get fitter, call it a return to a simpler time…I wanted, no needed, a bicycle in my life again!

That’s how I became the proud owner of a Carrera Crossfire 2 hybrid.

The Crossfire


OK, it’s not he coolest looking thing on two wheels and not the lightest either, but I wasn’t sure which direction I wanted to go, off-road or road bike?

I started off riding round forestry tracks near to Dookes H.Q., but really I couldn’t resist getting out on the road.

Fast forward to this Spring and “Covid Lockdown.”

I’ve always felt a tad “invincible” and never thought that any silly little virus would get me…

Well it bloody nearly did for me!

I went down with all the symptoms about nine weeks ago and as it progressed…well let’s just say I wasn’t too good. No, I didn’t need hospital treatment, but it came close. I’m still not quite right; I took ages to shake off the shortness of breath and a really tight chest…but something I found helps, cycling!

Since I’ve set out to make cycling my convalescence, things have taken off for the better. I can honestly say that each time I ride I can feel myself getting better, fitter and stronger.

There’s one other thing I’ve noticed…

I’m riding a time machine.

With this lockdown, there are fewer vehicles on the road and in many ways it’s how I remember the roads nearly 50 years ago. Things are quiet, life seems to have taken on a slower pace, people smile and wave too; it’s nice.

Quiet lanes!


In my mind I’m back on that old four speed Trent Sports riding the country lanes of my youth.

There is only one downside.

I’m hankering after a road-bike now, maybe a carbon frame, 20+ gears, you know… sexy!

“I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride my bike”

Catch you soon

Dookes

Always Look On The Bright Side of Life!

I originally started this post writing about how the whole Coronavirus situation is globally pretty much out of control.

Then it descended into a rant…, which isn’t really what is needed, or indeed what I want to post!

If we didn’t know before, we now have conclusive proof that he world truly has gone mad!

It all started, or at least was first reported, in China back in December.

Unregulated free movement of people between Continents facilitated the worldwide spread of the disease. Leaders around the World first either dithered or claimed denial; either way they failed to take action and possibly now it may be too late.

It’s certainly too late for the thousands that have already died.

Last night, at 20:30 UK time, our Government effectively put our Country, the United Kingdom into lock-down.

What does this mean?

Well, basically, unless you are going shopping for food or have a medical emergency everyone must stay at home. Initially this situation will last a minimum of three weeks, and then it will be reviewed. Obviously essential services and medical staff are given more latitude.

In essence this is a good idea, to stop people mingling and therefore, hopefully, restrict the spread of the virus.

To me, it does appear to be action well overdue.

Whilst at first glance it may all appear a bit draconian, but there are, as ever in any situation, definite plus points.

At present the UK is largely blessed with glorious early Spring weather and whilst we are in effect starting a period of “house arrest” here at Dookes H.Q. things are not bad at all. Mrs Dookes works from home anyway and I’m retired.

Cherry Blossom at Dookes H.Q.


It’s a time to count one’s blessings; we live in a beautiful part of the world, we have a lovely home and we have sunshine!

Wild Primrose, (Primula Vulgaris) at Dookes H.Q.


Stay safe out there, wherever you are. Look after yourselves and hopefully we’ll all make it through to the other side.

I have a feeling that the world is going to be a very different place in future.

Catch you soon

Dookes

Habits and Rituals…Plus a Bit of Planning!

I’m one of those funny folks who has to follow certain rituals and if you spoke to Mrs Dookes she’d probably tell you that I have a number of habits, most of which she finds annoying!

Certain things I do, I do because that’s how I always have done them. One such habit is how I put on on my motorcycle boots and gloves. In this particular case it has to be left hand or foot first, never the right first. Crazy, I know and not at all based on any superstition either, it’s just the way I do it!

Another habit I have is the “End of Trip Photograph.”

For years now I have always marked the end of one of my Mainland Europe trips with a commemorative photograph taken by the sea in Brittany and just before getting the ferry back to the UK.

There’s actually a little common sense in this habit. It’s a way of taking a quiet breather before heading to the ferry port, a place to gather thoughts and yes probably kill a little time to avoid a long tedious wait before boarding and probably realise just how dirty my beloved Harls has become!

It’s honest dirt, riding dirt!

For years I used to negotiate the tight streets and alleys of Carentec, to a small harbour on the North Brittany coast, before I found a better spot nearby and so that’s where I now head for.

It’s great to park up there and breath in that lovely seaweed and salt laden air that only an estuary can deliver.Then to take time to reflect on the trip just completed and possibly begin to form some ideas of the next little trundle on two wheels….of course take the obligatory photo and maybe pick up a couple of shells off the foreshore!

Last time I found this lovely scallop shell.

I thought that was pretty apt, as part of our route through the Pyrenees had followed the Camino de Santiago pilgrims trail, which is marked by the symbol of a Scallop Shell, like this one in Cahors.

Bronze Scallop Shell in Cahors


Then it’s mount up and head for the ferry. get on board, get into my cabin, do some onboard shopping, then have a nice meal. Possibly then have a sleep and next thing is we are arriving back into Plymouth!

The final ritual is the chore of getting back into the UK via immigration control and customs…it’s been painful enough whilst we’ve been part of the European Union, goodness knows how bad it will get after Brexit!!!!

Now about those next trip plans….

“As long as we’re moving man I don’t care where we are”

Catch you soon,

Dookes

The Abandoned Station of Spies, Gold and Refugees.

I like finding and exploring interesting places and if I can do that by motorbike, then I’m a very happy Dookes.

When I do my trip planning I am always on the look out for places that hold history or fascinating stories. Last year in the Pyrenees a golden opportunity presented itself that was far to good to miss. OK it did entail an additional 50mile diversion, but hey that’s what a riding trip is all about, the ride!

We had a leisurely start; our overnight farm accommodation was basic but comfortable, with the added bonus of stunning views and an outdoor swimming pool!

It’s a dirty job…

Harls and I trundled happily through the low Pyrenean foothills until we reached the valley of the Gave d’Aspe and turned South towards Spain.

It didn’t take me long to pick out the course of the single track railway line that winds up the valley almost parallel to the N134 road. This was the remains of the former Pau to Canfranc Railway.

Down in the Valley

Built by the Chemin de fer du Midi after a French government convention with Spain in 1904 this was intended to be a figurehead infrastructure scheme linking the two nations over a totally undeveloped new route.

The only problem was that the Pyrenees lay in the way.

The construction of the new line gradually wound its way towards the mountains, in July 1912 ground was broken for the excavation of the Somport Tunnel, three years later construction was completed, the tunnel is 7875metre long. Unfortunately the new line had to wait until 1923 before an station was built just over the Spanish border at Canfrnac and a further five years before it was opened!

From the start the route was always going to be difficult to operate, severe gradients added to the cost of construction, whilst the most fundamental problem was that the French and Spanish railways both had different track gauges!

France has the “Standard” gauge of 1435mm, whilst Spain has the “Iberian” gauge of 1668mm, neither country’s trains fitted the other’s track; Canfranc was always going to be an interchange point!

The Spanish were determined to make a bold statement with the new terminus, the main building is 240metres/790ft long, it has 365 windows and 156 doors; in it’s day it was the second largest railway station building in Europe, only Leipzig was bigger.

Although located high in the mountains, it must have been a busy place with the need to transfer all the passengers, baggage, parcels, mail and freight; not to mention all the Customs and other bureaucracy that fed from it!

During World War Two the station entered strange period. Nominally “Neutral” Spain extended it’s operating agreement with France to the Vichy Regime, puppets of the occupying German Nazis. Trains of French grain headed to Canfranc, whilst Spanish tungsten headed North to feed the Nazi war machine. Looted gold was also a noted wartime cargo. The station became the haunt of spies, where secrets were traded and clandestine deals made. Refugees from war torn Europe trickled through, particularly escaping Jews and escaped allied military personal were not uncommon passengers.

By the 1960’s Canfranc’s glory days were long gone, but it’s fate was sealed on 20 March 1970 when a runaway freight train on the French side of the Somport tunnel derailed and demolished one of the largest river bridges. The French Government decided not to rebuild it but to truncate the line some 11km from the border at Bedous.

In Spain, Canfranc Station is still open, if two trains a day formed of a single car can be counted as open!

The main station building after years of neglect and standing derelict is currently under gradual restoration. The local government of Aragon plans to turn it into a hotel and visitor centre and at the same time build a more modern station alongside, because international trains are coming back! On the French side work has started to rebuild the line and with modern “Gauge Changing” technology through trains will now be possible.

In the meantime, Harls and I purred over the Somport Pass, 1632m/5354ft.

Somport Pass

We paused to take in the view and then rolled down the hill to Canfranc, just to see with our own eyes what all the fuss was about.

Canfranc Sation


We weren’t disappointed!

I think I’ll come back for a train ride one day.

Catch you soon.

Dookes