Wet Stuff

Last night when I telephoned Mrs Dookes, back at H.Q., I commented that the Vosges Mountains reminded me of my beloved Welsh mountains…bad move.

Looking out of the bedroom window, it’s wet.

This morning they took on the mantle even better, low cloud and rain, lots of rain. This was a real shame, as I had been looking forward to seeing more of this intriguing corner of France, oh well I suppose I’ll have to come back again some day, as I saw sod all today!

Climbing to Col de Schlucht, in the mist.

From the hotel we climbed through gossamer cloaked pine forest to the summit at Col de Schlucht, 1139m/3737feet above sea level. A mere pimple in mainland Europe terms, but impressive by UK standards; Yr Wyddfa, Snowdon in English, is the highest mountain in Wales (and higher than any upstart English peak!) at 1085m. Hey I’ve ridden higher than Yr Wyddfa today, diolch yn fawr!

Nearing the Rhein and the border into Germany, the rain relented for a while.

It’s funny but for some reason, the River Rhein strikes some sort of resonance with me. Perhaps it’s because we are both perpetual travellers, or maybe because I remember drifting off to sleep in the Night Lorelei express as we passed through the Rhein gorge with the whistle of the steam loco up front echoing off the rocky cutting walls…

Anyway, we paused at Île de Rhine (French spelling) and I caught a couple of smaller boats rising in the lock. You can just make out one of the larger bulkers waiting it’s turn upstream. The Rhein waterway is a busy place, lots of freighters ply these waters as well as passenger and pleasure vessels.

We then slipped quietly into Germany; well as quiet as you can be when sitting on a Harley with shotgun pipes!

Up ahead was the Schwarzwald, The Black Forest. I have begun to think of the place as “The Wet Forest” as every time I’ve ever been there previously it has rained, so today why change the habit of a lifetime? Yep, it rained, mostly!

The Black Forest, between the rain.

Ok, hands up, for about 15 miles it didn’t actually rain, much, and as a result Harls and I enjoyed our best part of the day. Lovely twisty stuff, with a fair bit of grip…if you ignore the resinous pine needles, fir cones and falling leaves. Actually it was fun, lovely Harley-Snarly fun, then it started raining again and we rolled into Switzerland….where it always rains!

I’m still making up my mind about Switzerland. They certainly can build railways, tunnels and bridges, but when it comes to roads they haven’t got a clue what to surface them with! We hit the Autobahn, it rained, then rained some more, then poured down, then it pretended to be a European version of a hurricane, then it opened the tap some more! I hope you get the idea; it was wet, very, very, very, WET! So wet, that the road surface was obscured by a mist of bouncing rain and vehicle spray; I knew it was bad when even the Swiss were slowing down. But the road…..oh Lordy, because those Swiss drivers in their big Mercs, BMW’s and Audi’s like a smooth road, I think that they surface it in marble…whatever it is, it doesn’t have any grip!

Harls had a new set of Michelin tyres before we set off and I must say I’m more than impressed with the way that they have behaved. True, we had a couple of “moments.” One was on the Autobahn when the front end went very light as we slightly aquaplaned, it was only for a millisecond, but it felt like a mile passed by; the other was passing through a town when we went over a manhole cover that I had failed to spot and the back end kicked out…actually that was quite fun! So well done Michelin, those new tyres are great!

We floated through little Lichtenstein, it’s the first time I’ve ever passed through a country without putting my foot down on the ground and then reached Austria, where we are tonight, Gaschurn to be precise.

Still raining in Austria!

I like Austria, the petrol is cheap, the roads have grip, the beer is good and the flammekueche, delightfully tasty! In reality flammekueche really hails from Alsace, but it’s been adopted all over Southern Germany and Austria; I think that the Austrians do it particularly well. It’s sort of like a pizza, but with a thinner crisper base, topped with crème fraîche, thinly sliced onions and thin strips of bacon. It goes very well with a cold beer.

Best of all, although the Austrian’s speak German they really are a friendly bunch!

So there you have it, a day of 246 miles, which around 220 were spent impersonating a submarine.

On the plus side, all of my riding gear performed faultlessly; apart from round my neck not one bit of the Dookes form got wet or cold and neither did anything in my luggage. I guess it just shows that if you get the right kit then it pays you back.

Not looking for sponsorship, but hey that would be great and with the usual disclaimer…

Thank you to :

Richa, for the rain suit.
Gerbings for the heated gloves and jacket.
Sidi, boots.
Schuberth, helmet.
Harley Davidson, FXRG leather trousers and jacket.
GIVI, luggage.
Highway Hawk panniers
Trespass and Mountain Warehouse, base layers.

I’ve had happier, less tiring days on a motorbike, but you know I’ve not had many more satisfying looking back at the end of the day; I guess it’s that sense of survival!

I mustn’t forget to mention the star of the piece, my beloved Harls; as usual, she, like me, just got on with it, but she did it with a lot more class than me!

That’s it gang, I’m off to have “noch ein Beer!”

“I can live without the rain
That’s falling on my head.”

Catch you soon.


Hard Miles

Some days the miles seem to fly by, blink and that’s a hundred gone, other days it can seem like you are getting nowhere very slowly. Today had elements of both!

I said “au revoir” to Claudine and Jacques this morning and hit the road. I wanted to fill Harls with fuel and decided that a convenient supermarket on the outskirts of Bourges that I knew would be ideal. For some reason I thought that it would be fun to stick to “normal” roads and avoid the Péage, after all it was only 25 miles away….BIG mistake! That 25 miles took an hour, with road works, heavy traffic and speed limits.

I’ve got to admit that I wasn’t a very happy Dookes. When I started this trip, I resolved to chill and definitely cut down on the swearing…good job I haven’t got a swear box with me then, I was even going at it in Welsh!!!!

Then we got on the N151 and things got a whole lot better.

Normally I avoid “N” roads, or Route National to give them their proper title. These days they are often poor relations to the toll roads and suffer from toll-road-avoiding trucks beating them to pieces.

The 151 is different though.

Enjoying the N151.

First up it’s an old Roman road, so it’s almost dead straight, but occasionally enjoys some wonderful sections of multiple curves. It passes through delightful towns, like Charité sur Loire, Vézelay and Clamecy and crosses from the Val de Loire into Bourgogne – that’s Burgundy to the non-French speakers.

Passing through small town France.

I love Bourgogne, it’s so “me” and like me it seems to burst into life in the autumn, I was an Autumn baby so maybe that’s got something to do with it! The list of wonderful Burgundy produce reads like an encyclopaedia of high quality foodstuff. There’s some of the most delightful (and expensive) wines in the whole of France, nuts by the tonne, grass reared beef, mustard, cheese, Marc de Bourgogne brandy and of course all kinds of game. Its reputation for fine gastronomy is well deserved. Unfortunately, today, we were only passing through, drat!

Then after Avallon we rode onto the A6, Autoroute de Soleil, or to coin Chris Rea, “this is the road to hell!” To be fair, it doesn’t go to hell, but it’s purgatory travelling along it! The A31 and A36 that follow are pretty “merde” as well. These were 150 hard, hard miles, just grit the old teeth and get on with it. No-one can hear you scream in space, or inside a motorcycle helmet.

Finally after Besançon we turned off and began to pass through small towns and villages as we climbed towards the Vosges. Along the way we had crossed the line where water drains towards the Mediterranean Sea rather than the Atlantic and had bridged the river Saône; I always feel sorry for the poor Saône, it’s a mighty river in its own right, but normally it’s just dismissed as a tributary of the Rhône.

Seeing the Vosges Mountains rise up around us, it occurred to me that France is big, really big. Not in the space sense as The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy once said:

“Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mindbogglingly big it is. I mean you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”

Well, when you live in Cornwall, a county about 70 miles long and only around 40 miles at its widest and where the Sea is only ever 20 minutes away tops, France might just as well be Outer Space!

Then we hit the mountains and the smile returned!

Smile time, mountain roads!

Ok, the Voges isn’t the Alps, but hey after the day we had just endured you gotta cut me some slack! We rode past our B&B for the night and on to Gerardmer to cross off some Cols, just because we could and also because I needed to get the old head straight on a few hairpins!

“Wheels spinnin’ round my brain, driving you insane.”

Catch you soon.


Today’s mileage 329; Trip 691 from Roscoff..