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.


The Pain of Leaving…

Travelling is great, if you love it as I do.

There’s a big BUT that goes with it though and it’s called “The Pain of Leaving.”

I am really lucky, no honestly I mean Really Lucky, because Mrs Dookes gives me the support and freedom to go off and chase my dreams and visions and has done for years now.

Inherently, what I do is selfish.

It’s possibly a little risky too, I’m not saying dangerous, but it is totally self-indulgent riding a motorbike around Europe alone. Many wives or partners simply wouldn’t accept or allow it, but that’s where I’m lucky; Mrs Dookes does.

I couldn’t say that she encourages me to clear off, but she certainly doesn’t stop me either!

In a way, I guess that’s where our relationship is strong, we both respect each others space and also trust each other implicitly. In addition, Mrs Dookes also has the view that without a good bit of “Me-Time” preferably on two wheels, I become, in her words “A monumental pain in the backside!”

Of course the flip side is that whilst I’m having my fill of “M-T” she has her “M-T” too!

To me the journey is the main thing; something to savour, enjoy and at times test me.

To Mrs Dookes, a journey is something to be endured in order to get to where you want to be.

You see the subtle difference?

As I get older, one thing I have noticed is how much more difficult the actual departure gets.

Yesterday, we had a lovely lunch together and I watched the end of the 24hours of Le Mans race until 14:00hrs.

Then I had an hour and a half to kill. Mrs D snoozed after lunch whilst I tried to find something to do.

Check the luggage. Check the ticket. Check the Passport. Check Harls.

Then it started to rain, not much, but just enough to annoy.

Mrs D and I became uncomfortable around each other; there was a tension.

Best go.

I put on my riding gear, made a fuss of the dogs. Hugged Mrs D and told her how much I loved her, we kissed and then I started up Harls.

The first ten miles were the hardest and not just because of the persistent drizzle.

It hurts, leaving……

Then Harls and I clicked; the team was back together.

….and then later, in totally self indulgent mode on board the ship taking me to Spain, I sat reflecting.

I have a De-lux Class cabin, I have just dined on a superb meal and am enjoying an expensive glass of Beaune de Château 2013 Premier Cru Burgundy, I’m setting off on a new adventure.

Yet still the pain of leaving hurts.

The Moon over The Bay of Biscay…travelling again.

Sometimes though, you have to experience a little pain to put things into perspective and make you appreciate even more what you have got.

Yes. I am a bloody lucky chap!

Catch you soon.


Hitchhiking the Galaxy

Yes I know, old Dookes has been off air for a week or so…but sometimes if you’ve nothing useful to say its best to keep your mouth shut!

Life trundles on here in Cornwall, the first storms of autumn and winter have arrived and it seems like a good excuse to light up the log fire and get snug.

First it was former tropical hurricane “Ophilia” that shook the roof slates and now we are just getting over storm “Brian” who was, I believe, described as a weather bomb! Actually he was a bit disappointing, not quite the vicious beast that the meteorologists and media made him out to be, but hey I wouldn’t have wanted to ride a motorcycle as he blew through!

Before all the wind and rain started with a vengeance I managed to sneak out for a quick 150 miler with my old mate G. What a pair we were too…G with his semi-rebuilt wrists and me with two knackered shoulders. We worked out that he was OK turning right and I could manage left, then we ended up in a gravel covered car-park….!

Do you know that feeling when you get a bit stuck, then can’t help laughing and then you really can’t move? I’m still chuckling thinking about it!!

Our trip took us to the Western end of our County of Cornwall; one of those “Going Nowhere Particular” sort of rides, but just great to be out on two wheels again.

Mounts Bay in West Cornwall, simply beautiful.

Then just as life starts getting back into some sort of routine something happens that sort of puts everything back into perspective and highlights just what is important and what is trivial.

Yesterday evening I was at an informal social event with some friends who like me do a bit of looking after ancient ruins and sites. We were having a great time, a bit of ten-pin bowling and supper. I made the observation that I hadn’t seen one of our number for a while…only to learn that he had passed away a couple of weeks ago after a very short battle with savage cancer!

Now in the light of a beautiful Cornish Autumn day I’m trying to get my head round it.

It’s the fragility of life that’s so haunting; it’s not great that I’m typing this at a desk with a mirror behind it either! Whilst on the inside I’m looking out of what I feel are a 19 year olds eyes, what I see confirms that the rest is considerably older. A few weeks ago Mrs Dookes lost one of her dearest Aunts, yes it was a bit of a shock, but the lady was into her 80’s and as my dear late father used to say, “Had a fair innings.” Chris, on the other hand was around the same age as me, not at all good; no I’m not in my 80’s yet either!

Just for once I’m pleased to have tinnitus today, it’s giving me a sort of curtain to hide behind whilst I process the departure of Chris.

Chris, who had an air about him that was a cross between cultured indifference and barbed cynicism; but whose intellect was as sharp as a razor, yet gentle a silk and observations on life the universe and everything would leave me a helpless wreck convulsed with laughter. The lucky sod still had an amazing full head of blond hair too!

The sharp-eyed amongst you will have spotted my oblique reference to Douglas Adams brilliant book, “The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy.” Chris loved that book, as do I and we would frequently trade quotes in greeting to each other. I’m going to miss that.

Farewell Chris; on reflection it’s probably good that I didn’t get to say goodbye face to face, I want to remember you as I knew you.

“So long, and thanks for all the fish.”

Catch you soon.


P.S. “Don’t Panic.”

Beastie – Beating Stevio.

Just under a year ago I was in Italy with a brand new bike. One day I wrote this:

“Today we should have ridden the Stelvio Pass, but poor weather at Bolzano, low cloud and rain put paid to that idea. In addition I have come to the conclusion that Baby Harls just ain’t the girl for that type of road, she’s too heavy and her long wheelbase makes it “interesting” on the tight hairpins. What she is good at though is “mile munching” and today she did that just fine. ”

A few days later we crested the Col de Lombarde and rode the Cime de la Bonette, the highest paved through road in Europe. Was I wrong a few days previously? Yes, totally!

Since then there’s been a beast gnawing at my back and it’s name is Stelvio.

In the past year there hasn’t been a week when I haven’t studied the map of that bloody Pass, or read articles about it, or watched videos of people riding it’s famous hairpins. I wasn’t obsessed, it was eating at me and mocking me from a distance. It seemed that Stelvio believed that it had beaten me, it’s reputation had scared me away and it had wormed into my psyche.

You see I believe that mountains have something, call it character, call it soul; I’ve felt it many times. Sometimes it’s as if it doesn’t want you there. In my beloved Welsh mountains Aran Fawddwy stands out like that, perhaps it’s because it has claimed so many lives, but it definitely never wants you on its slopes; mountains, like the sea, demand respect.

What Stelvio hadn’t realised was that I’m a Celt, we understand and feel these things and we don’t take crap from anyone or anything.

All that time I was plotting my revenge, looking for the moment when I would return and conquer.

Today I woke early in Livigno. There had been rain overnight, the ground was soaking with large puddles everywhere and the cloud still hugged the mountains like gossamer strands caressing the silent peaks. A slow steady breakfast was on the cards, followed by a gentle stroll through the awakening streets.

By ten o’clock, things were looking up and the sun had begun to break through. Time to move, Stelvio – I’m coming to get you!

Livigno, basecamp.

Livigno, basecamp.

From Livigno the only road to Bormio and today’s target is the S301. At the Passo di Foscagno there’s a customs post, which is a bit strange as we are still in Italy, but it’s all due to the duty-free status of Livigno. I have to say that however laid back the Italians are, they do love a good bit of bureaucracy and this customs post took the biscuit! There was a poor chap in front of me who was made to unpack his car and another who was given a right grilling! When it came to my turn, I’m afraid I tired of the game pretty quickly – “just how many cigarettes and bottles of alcohol do you think I can carry on a motorbike?” I demanded of the official. He shrugged his shoulders and backed off when I told him that he was welcome to search through my dirty washing. “Grazie, buongiorno ,” was all I got, with a thumbs up and a jerk of the wrist indicating I was free to go!

Stelvio, I’m coming for you!

I dropped the bags off at my hotel in Bormio, I wanted the least top weight on Baby as possible, she’s heavy enough empty! Leaving the hotel, we turned left took a deep breath and hit the road.

Passo dello Stelvio at 2757 m / 9045 ft above sea level is the highest paved mountain pass in the Eastern Alps and the second highest in the whole of the Alps being just a tad below Col de Bonette in France. I’ve ridden Bonette on both Harls and Baby, so this upstart needed taming.

The climb and the hairpins start as soon as you leave Bormio. There are 75 in total, split roughly 50/50 between each side, this was going to be hard work! Throw into the mix various tunnels and Avalanche shelters, all dripping with water and having questionable road surfaces, life was getting very interesting.

The great thing about a Harley Davidson is the low-end grunt you get from the engine, there’s torque aplenty even below 2000 revs, so we stayed in second or third gears and just kept plugging at it. Just after a flight of 14 hairpins and about 7/8ths of the way up there is a road that bears off to the Umbrail Pass, right on the Swiss Border; well it would have been rude to ignore it, so hello again Switzerland! The customs post was, predictably, deserted!

Umbrail Pass, customs post. I like to declare...oh don't bother!

Umbrail Pass, customs post. I like to declare…oh don’t bother!

Returning to Italy and a further half-dozen bends took us to the summit…

Oh dear, what a disappointment!image

I love the peace that you normally find on a high mountain summit, maybe a small refuge or café, but this was something else! Every kind of small shop and stall selling any sort of Stelvio branded rubbish that you can imagine! It was all so tacky!

Stevio Pass? Over-used, over-publicised, over-rated!

Ok, so I did buy a pin badge, a patch and a bratwurst… which makes me a hypocrite, but I’m not the first in my family at that!

With perfect timing Mrs Dookes telephoned me whilst I was at the top, which was nice. She’s not a hypocrite incidentally!

We came up there!

We came up there!

Then it was time to escape and trundle back down the seemingly never-ending hill, for me going down is always harder that the uphill stretch.
Stelvio hairpin, just a silly old bend!

Stelvio hairpin, just a silly old bend!

Downhill you are always riding the brake and keeping the speed in check, going up gravity helps with that!
Serious bends!

Serious bends!

Stelvio, the high alp. It's not all hairpins, honestly!

Stelvio, the high alp. It’s not all hairpins, honestly!

Anyway, after a few “moments” we made it to Bormio and being a sucker for punishment I turned left for the Gavia Pass.

At 2621 metres, Passo di Gavia is right up there with the big ones. Unlike Stelvio it’s wild country, unspoilt by commerce and hordes of people. True there’s a cafe and a rundown refuge at the top, but there’s also silence, still tranquility.

Gavia Pass, for those that like their mountains pointy and peaceful!

Gavia Pass, for those that like their mountains pointy and peaceful!

The road up was in a terrible state, but with only eight true hairpins I could relax a bit more than earlier. Where Stelvio was a battle, this was almost a pilgrimage back to real mountain roads. On top of that, the scenery was amazing!

Baby and I trundled back to Bormio happy in a job well done. The beast had been laid to rest and now it was time to move on.

I’ve ridden all bar one of the top twenty paved passes in Europe and goodness knows how many others, maybe one day I’ll count them. For now, I’m going to ride a couple more tomorrow then a few old friends next week, after that if you see me heading for a mountain pass on a motorbike….just shoot me!

“So stand as one defiant – yes, and let your voices swell.
Stare that beastie in the face and really give him hell.”

Catch you later.


Photo101: Solitude & The Rule of Thirds

Today dawned bright, crisp, slightly frosty and very sunny. Just the weather for getting out on two wheels in search of today’s assignment.

As I bowled along on Harls enjoying the lovely morning it did occur to me that this was the perfect embodiment of Solitude, at least for me! The trouble is that to capture that moment in a decent photograph would be I feel nearly impossible.

Now worries though, I was heading for one of my special little spots where solitude comes easily.

This is the young River Fowey high on Bodmin Moor and not very far from it’s source. I love sitting here on the river bank just taking in the total serenity of the place. Small trout and salmon dart in the quick clear water, Dippers busily search along the pebbles and if you are blessed, the bright turquoise flash of a Kingfisher may catch your eye. You have to sit still for hours though to spot an otter, but they are here!

My place of Solitude: River Fowey on Bodmin Moor

My place of Solitude: River Fowey on Bodmin Moor

Yes you can sit in solitude, but at the same time you have to share that place with the real local inhabitants.


PS Fowey is pronounced “Foy.”


Photography 101. Todays assignment: Solitude – And The Rule of Thirds.

Hmmm. Tricky this one. I spent all morning thinking about solitary trees.

Then maybe a single apple on a plate, but that would have been a bit desperate!

Time for a ride on Harley, that normally gets the old mind back in working order! The light was fantastic, just perfect for taking colour photographs

We trundled around the North East side of Bodmin Moor and then ended up on the old World War Two airbase, Royal Air Force Davidstow Moor.

This is a very special place. It nestles high up in an ethereal corner of Cornwall; though when the mists roll in it can feel cold and sinister, time to leave it and it’s spirits alone.

The silent runways still lie largely intact, as are the ruins of air-raid shelters. Not much else remains, except for the gaunt, block-like, decaying hulk of the old Control Tower which remains as witness to the events of the past.

The Tower seems to stand vigil in sad solitude; waiting to welcome home the ghosts of aircrew who never returned.P1030151There is a tangible presence around the place which is hard to define, it pulls me back frequently, but I can never stay for long…

Per Ardua ad Astra.