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

Dreaming

It maybe a bit of an understatement to say that the world is pretty screwed up at the moment!

Lockdowns and Social Distancing are in place in many countries to try to control the Coronavirus that is sweeping the planet, claiming lives at an alarming rate.

Life is not “Normal” wherever you live…normality seems a distant dream and almost certainly the future new “Normal” is unlikely to resemble anything that we have enjoyed in the past.

Now please don’t misunderstand, this isn’t a selfish, “Poor me, I can’t do what I want,” blog post. People are dying of a disease that mankind may have brought upon itself, it’s a horrible virus. At times like these one of the most important things to do is to hold onto hope; sometimes it’s all we can do.

Hope and to dream of a better future…

My two beloved Harley Davidson’s largely rest in the workshop at Dookes H.Q. True there has been some work for them of late, but that is outside this blog and as such they await the call whenever that may come…as for simply riding for the sake of riding, well that’s sadly a long way off.

Lockdown here in Cornwall isn’t so bad, compared to many folk we are very lucky. Our little corner of the planet is lovely, very, very rural and in it’s own way bucolically beautiful. The birds sing and the season moves on.

At times, in my mind, I drift away to far places, mountains, rivers, coasts and make plans to visit them again.

I’m resigned to not riding the high passes of the Alps this year. I can dream, hold onto the memories of the past and hope that one day I can return to those iconic peaks.

One day…

In the meantime the view from here isn’t too bad really!

Lets all dream a little, pray a little and hope for better things.

Catch you soon

Dookes

Sunnier Days

I’m sitting in our log cabin at Dookes H.Q. and looking out at the world.

The view from the cabin.


All is quiet, still and largely silent, save for the birds singing and the odd noise from sheep in the field.

Our Planet is getting quite a bit different from what it was a few short weeks ago.

Are we managing what is happening, or are we looking at extinction from the wrong end of the telescope?

I don’t know.

What I do know is that thinking of better days helps!

Earlier today I was scanning through some photos taken on my Pyrenees trip last year, they made me smile. Sunny days, people mixing freely, people enjoying themselves.

I spent my first night in the Pyrenees in the small village of Sare, which apart from agriculture and lovely scenery doesn’t have much else except campsites catering for the annual summer influx of visitors.

Just back down the road though at Col de Saint Ignace was the reason for me passing this way and after breakfast I set out to investigate “La Petit Train de la Rhune,” The Little Train of The Rhune.

This is an historic metre gauge rack railway at the Western end of the Pyrenees, which over 4.2km/2.6miles climbs to the summit of the Rhune Mountain.

The plan to build the line was first drawn up around 1908 and local Government law was passed soon afterwards with construction starting in 1912. Opening didn’t happen until 1924 though, World war One got in the way!

The railway climbs 736metres/2415ft from the base station to the summit and for the technically minded is equipped with the Strub rack system, which allows the train to literally pull itself up the mountain by a gear wheel engaging with a rack that is laid between the rails. Normal railways are pretty useless at climbing steep gradients, as the coefficient of friction between steel wheels on a steel rail is not high! The rack and pinion system gets round that problem.

One feature that makes this railway pretty special is that it is powered by three-phase electricity and there are only three others like that in the world! That’s pretty cool for an engineering geek like me!

The Complicated 3 Phase Current Collection Gear.


Services are operated by a four wheeled electric locomotive that pushes two passenger coaches up the mountain, peculiarly each coach has a four wheeled bogie at one end but only a two wheeled axle at the other; I haven’t been able to figure out why!

The railway normally operates from Mid-March until the end of September.


I considered having a quick ride, but the first train of the day was fully booked and I really didn’t feel like hanging around to see if I could get on the next one…but hey I saw it and got a few nice photos!

Just the thing to look back at and raise a smile to sunnier times!

“There is no more new frontier
we have got to make it here”

Catch you soon,

Dookes

Time To Breath Again

Sometimes I feel that the world is getting more scary and crazy by the passing of each day.

When I was younger we lived under the seemingly permanent threat of nuclear oblivion in four minutes time; it was the height of the Cold War and all it apparently needed was one crazy finger on the button….!

I guess we sort of lived with it and just dealt with it. Probably most of us were so blissfully ignorant about exactly what and where the threat was coming from that we were able to get on with our lives in that isolated state. Indeed any news that did filter to the general population was either very old by the time of publication, newspapers, or restricted in its broadcast, via television and radio.

These days things are just about as different as you can get. News is instant, a social commodity and generally totally unrestricted, unedited and uncontrolled.

Hysteria by media seems now to be the norm!

Over the last few weeks the world has been gripped by the spread of a virus.

Now please don’t think that I’m making light of the situation, I’m not; I am however totally fed up with the industry that feeds, leech like, on this and any other “Bad News Story” that may be circulating.

This evening I watched a news piece on British television that dealt with hard facts and real information, it took about three minutes; then we were bombarded by a succession of journalists, not scientists nor doctors, but mere wordsmiths who spent the next ten minutes speculating and hypothesising over what “might happen next.” Please people, give us facts not gossip!

Thankfully today dawned fine, very, very mighty fine!

You know what comes next….Time to get out on two wheels!!!

I’ve realised that probably the greatest thing about retirement is the ability to say at the drop of a hat, “Stuff it all, let’s ride!”

I rolled Hettie out of the workshop and hooked up with a mate of mine; Mark is also retired…sort of, he’s an artist, but he’s also a biker who loves the Cornish countryside.

At his suggestion we headed West, to the stunning Sennen Cove.

Sennen Cove


Our ride was superb, dry roads, blue sky, fresh cool air in our faces and an almost warm sun on our backs.

Sennen lies a couple of miles from Lands End at the extreme Western tip of Cornwall, if you put to sea here and turn left, it’s next stop Newfoundland, Canada.

Canada is that way!


It can be wild in Sennen, but on a day like today it’s the nearest to heaven you can find around these parts. I sort of take the view that there is no point in living in a beautiful part of the world if you don’t enjoy it!

Sennen Cove is also home to a famous Lifeboat Station. Here two boats are manned by volunteer crew, ready to go to the assistance of any in peril on the sea at any time of the day or night, whatever the weather or sea state. These are truly very brave and dedicated people.

The lifeboat launches down this slipway.

Just what I needed to keep the old life perspective in balance!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Making Hettie Mine.

Hi Gang, sorry I’ve been off air again, but I’m back now and raring to go!

Regular Blogonaughts will probably realise that in many things I tend to be a bit of a stayer, once I find something that I like, I stick with it. Things like a comfy pair of shoes or a favourite pullover will last me for years and I’m just the same with motorcycles too.

My beloved Harls and I have been together for a long time now and over the many years we have evolved in each others company. I’ve added little things to make our ride experiences more refined and more comfortable for me and easier for her too.

Harls

It’s funny, but for some reasonI never really fully “clicked” with Big Blue, perhaps in the back of my mind I knew that she wouldn’t be around with me for long. On the other hand I’m getting along just fine with Hettie, my lovely Heritage Classic, who joined us at Dookes H.Q. in April 2018; in other words nearly two years gone by, where did that go!

The decision to part with Blue and buy Hettie wasn’t hard after I’d test ridden some of the new Harley Davidson Softail range just before their general release, they were stunningly good. It also didn’t take me very long to realise that I was onto a winner once I took delivery of Hettie either! She is one fantastic motorcycle.

Hettie

If you had told me a few years ago that I would purchase a “Heritage” Harley I would have just shook my head and walked away. The old Heritage Softail was to my eye the very typical stereotype caricature of what lots of Non-Harley riders think of when you mention the marque, all chrome and tassels! Definitely, not me. Then along came the new Softails and things were different and to my eye, different in a very good way. Although it’s fair to say that the bikes retain a certain classic period look, it’s understated and functional, but more than that, they are just sublime to ride.

At least Hettie would be, if I ever manage to get out on her!

Once I took delivery of her I quickly racked up 500miles and gave her an oil change. Now I know that Harley Davidson’s have their first service at 1000miles, but I’m an engineer of the old school…. oil is cheap, engines aren’t!

Since that 500mile oil change things slowed up quite a lot, life stuff got in the way, but now I’m starting to play catch up with Hettie, we’ve managed about 2000miles since then; that’s 2000 smile-filled miles, I’m really loving this bike!

As she looses that “new machine stiffness” I have begun to appreciate just how nice these new Softails are. Although Hettie “only” has the 107cubic inch engine, that’s 1745cc in metric, it’s more than ample for the job in hand and the way the power smoothly feeds in when asked for is lovely, there’s no bad habits with this engine.

As I get to know Hettie, I’ve begun to notice what’s missing and to make the little improvements that will make her my motorcycle.

Some things are very small and simple. I like to know the time when I’m riding and although the multifunction display will show me that, I like a real clock, so there’s an analogue clock on the right hand side of her handlebars now. With a matching air temperature gauge on the left.

On the engine bars I now have a pair of what Harley calls “Soft Lowers.” These are simple slip on wind protectors that keep the weather off my lower legs very nicely, yep, I’m getting older and liking my comforts! I have a pair of “highway peg” footrests that I may just mount on those engine bars in due course.

I’ve fitted a sport luggage rack to the sissy bar, it’s reasonably small, but just big enough to take a Givi tank-bag mounting ring like I’ve fitted to Harls. The Givi “Tanklock” system is really designed for adventure bikes and features a docking ring that is screwed around the tank filler, various different size bags can then be simply locked onto the ring as the user wishes. This system is not designed for Harley Davidson’s, but I figured out a way of attaching one of the rings to Harls’ rack and I have found the ability to have a quick release small bag to be invaluable. I’m now going to do the same with Hettie, there’s no point in having engineering skills if you don’t use them! I’ll show you that in a future post.

The latest shiny things to go on have been a pair of Screaming Eagle Street Cannon slip-on exhaust mufflers. These are the first part of what Harley Davidson call a Stage One tuning package and although they give the bike a nice low bass exhaust note, they are not noticeably louder and best of all they are street legal! We followed that with a “Stage One Tuning” engine re-map and a new air cleaner to help her breath easier.

Next up I looked at more luggage options. The original equipment panniers are ok, but Leather Pro make some lovely bags that are stylish, slightly bigger that the OE ones and have a better lock arrangement than Harley’s design, which frankly gets in the way. The Leather Pro’s have been fitted, along with a pair of luggage protector bars.

Finally, for now anyway, I’ve splashed out on a Garmin Zumo 595 Sat Nav and Touratech mount. Yes, shock horror a SatNav!!! Actually I’ve had one on Harles for a couple of years now, they can be very useful dodging the traffic!

I’m now having a think about what else is needed…as opposed to what I’d like to add!

For now, that’s enough to be going on with, other than just enjoying this wonderful addition to my riding life.

“If you start it up
Kick on the starter
Give it all you got”

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

It’s Just a Date on The Calendar!

I’m going to get straight down to it…I hate New Year!

It’s just a date on the calendar.
For example, when was the last time anyone wished you “Happy 28th March” ???

I know, lots of things have happened on the 28th March:

In 1801 the Treaty of Florence ended the war between France and the Kingdom of Naples. – Interesting.
In 1802 the second ever asteroid was discovered, it was named 2 Pallas. – Cool.
In 1910 the first seaplane took off from water. – Also Cool.
In 1942 British Commandos raided St Nazaire and disabled the Normandy Dry Dock. – Legendary.

….but my point is New Year is just another date on the Gregorian calendar and really has no special significance. You can choose any one of the other 365 and find significant things in history, yet for the most part we just ignore them.

Around the world tomorrow, on each local stroke of Midnight things go silly; bells ring, fireworks are let off and people jump into fountains! Then for the next month or so we have to put up with cheery “Happy New Year” from everyone we speak to whether we know them or not!

I even got wished “HNY” today, a full 38 hours before midnight on the 31st/1st!!!

I guess if it makes you happy, go for it.

Me? I’ll be tucked up in bed and asleep, dreaming of Harley days to come….which leads me on to today.

As a bid to take my mind off the impending date change I got the two girls out of the workshop. Hettie needed a wash and polish.

Hettie

Harls just needed checking over and telling how much I love her!

Harls

Once Hettie was beautified, I started them both up and let them warm through before tucking them up safely in the workshop again.

Yes OK, there is a New Year coming and yes I’m looking forward to it, if only to get out and do some Harley miles again!

Catch you soon

Oh yes, I nearly forgot…..Happy New Year!

Dookes

Remembering Teresa, Ellen and John who rode on ahead in 2019.