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Trip Notes by Paul H ---
Friday June 2nd June
Arrived at Ashford late afternoon and met up with Roger , Rhod & Jon arrived shortly after and shot off to get an earlier train.
Finally on the train at 18.30 and met up with George. We travelled down to Bethune through some rain, arriving too late for food, but Jon kindly let us have some cold chips left over from his steak meal, ably washed down with a couple of beers.
Saturday 3rd June
Morning broke, kitted up ready for the off with Rhod, Jon and George. 9.00 am still no sign of Willy or Andy who were meant to join us for the trip to the next stop at Chalon sur Saone. Suddenly the morning peace was shattered and the sky lit up by Willy on his Indian with more light power and noise than an Eddie Stobart truck accompanied by Andy. In the meantime George had departed the hotel without paying his bill !!!!
Off we went vowing to stop for breakfast en route. France seemed to be shut that day and we ended up in a residential side street eating something or other from the only shop open in France that day !
For some strange reason Andy's sat nav went AWOL when we stopped for a look around at a WW1 fort.
Thankfully a dry run and arrived at Chalon sur Saone, beer, meal and bed ready for the final leg
Sunday 4th June
Final ride to our ultimate destination, which passed uneventfully arriving safely at Gap after a wonderful trip on the Route Napoleon, spoilt only by tedious traffic in Grenoble. It was good to meet up with the old OGs, and to meet the rest of the new guys. Customary beers consumed and a meal in the town square.
Monday 5th June
As is usual on these larger group trips, riding groups were organically formed and Rhod, Dave Y, myself, Steve B, Willy, Andy & Alain went off in the search of Maginote Forts. After going up a track fit only for mountain goats (IMHO) we arrived at the top of the hill/mountain but the rest of the journey to the fort had to be completed on foot. A brief discussion ensued, and we decided we weren't best equipped for walking so decided to return. The heavens opened just as we started our descent, Steve B in front unfortunately slid off his bike on the first treacherous, negative camber, steep u bend. Rhod went to assist whilst the rest tried to find a safe stopping area. Eventually Steve managed to remount albeit with broken plastics and we made our way gingerly to the bottom. !! Dinner and beers were consumed that night/
Tuesday 6th June
The horn on my bike packed up so decided to try and source one from what seemed many bike dealers on the town's edge. As it was a lovely day I decided to walk to the dealers, but I was out of luck, they could only order me one, no one had it in stock so I continued walking and ended up back in the town centre for a coffee. Back to the hotel early afternoon, changed into leathers and went out for a ride on my own ending up at the EDF Energy Dam a few miles out of town, well worth the visit, returned to the hotel for a chat/food and beer.
Wednesday 7th June
The Gorge de Verdon seemed a place to visit according to other OGs who had already done this, so Alain, Rhod, Dave Y, Jon, Willy and myself set off for what was a truly memorable ride taking in the absolutely fantastic scenery on this circular route. We stopped for a coffee half way round and coincidentally, David Mc and his group were there, but going "the other way round" What a great day that was, weather was superb, we hadn't seen rain since Monday.
Thursday 8th June
Today was Willy's 60th birthday and he offered to buy lunch for our little group in Cannes :) Can't say no to an offer like that can you ? It was a very hot day and some 100 miles away. We rode the southern end of the Route Napoleon to get there and arrived feeling very hot and sticky trying to find somewhere to park in the extremely busy "sea front" First impressions were that Cannes is a very pretentious place full of beautiful people. Our arrival changed the status quo somewhat. The cafe owner where we stopped for a drink was mortified at the sight of 5 scruffy, hot bikers sitting outside his cafe, I guess we killed his trade for the day !! Whilst in Cannes it would have been rude not to go for a swim in the Med, so Willy, myself and Rhod found a public beach and stripped down to our swimming shorts and headed in. Rhod was soon way out to sea, Willy & I stayed nearer the shore. A quick dip and out, met Alain & Jon, back to the bikes and home. It was a long 12 hour day, but well worth it and fun.
Friday 9th June
George, myself and Steve B started our return journey. George was staying in Bourg en Bresse Friday evening, and Steve and I carried on to Chalon sur Saone, some 50 miles further on, where a welcome meal and beer was consumed . The weather was still excellent.
Saturday 10th June
Steve and I started the next leg of our journey to Troyes where we were scheduled to meet other OGs coming straight from Gap. We arrived mid afternoon, and managed to get as far as a lovely bar in the centre of old Troyes and settled down in the sunshine to await the arrival of the other OGs. George was first to arrive, then by early evening we had quite a crowd. We eat outside, drank beer and discussed our leaving times for the morning. Everyone seemed to have different times/motives for this.
Sunday 11th June
I left Sunday morning around 8.30 pointed the bike north, set throttle to Go, weather dialled in as dry, and arrived for a midday shuttle. I was home by mid afternoon, contemplating on yet another great trip.
Apart from Steve B's "off" we didn't have any major incidents. Alain's starter motor packed up but by carefully choosing downhill parking spots didn't stop him doing anything. Guy unfortunately had a problem only running on 3 cylinders which couldn't be fixed locally, so his insurance repatriated him. David Mc dropped his bike on gravel with resulting minor damage.
All in all another fantastic trip with, as always, thanks to David for his brilliant organisational skills in putting these trips together.
Trip Notes by David Mc ---
Miles travelled by bike: 1382
Miles travelled by car/trailer: 1536
Before the trip
The 20th trip was always going to be something special. While I asked the other Old Gits for suggested destinations my mind was already set on the Haute-Alpes/Provence regions of France as I view this as the absolute best biking destination in near Europe. It has everything a biker could want from numerous superb roads to stunning scenery to brilliant food/drink to easy access to passes, mountains and roads whose names you read about in any/all must ride biking guides. The Route du Grande Alpes, Route Napoleon, the Col de la Bonette, the Gorges du Verdon etc. to name but a few.
The numbers were going to be big again with around 25 expected so finding accommodation was going to be a challenge but the IBIS in Gap that weve used before offered a very attractive deal (63 per single room per night, breakfast and secure bike parking included) so that was set as the destination.
A suggestion that had been floated a number of times before was that, rather than having to ride across France, either on the boring AutoRoutes or taking a number of days on N and D class roads, use of a car and trailer would be cheaper, easier and more comfortable. I agreed to use my good ladys Shogun as a tow car and purchased a second hand car trailer which I then converted to a 4 bike trailer. This meant I could offer Guy B, Mark R and Alastair Mc (who was on a FireBlade and really didnt fancy riding the whole way across France) a space in the car/on the trailer.
As June approach the inevitable happened and there were a number of people who had to review their plans. Cliff C had to pull out due to some significant work issues and Nick D had his bike stolen. Steve B stepped into Cliffs place and luckily, Nick got his insurance sorted just before (and I mean only a couple of days before!!!) the off so the group was 27 people.
Alastair Mc and Mark R arrived at my house on Friday afternoon and we started to load up the trailer before enjoying a Chinese take-away and hitting the sack ready for an early start.
Saturday 3rd June
Home to Gap
The 3 of us were all up at 3am with the car and trailer already packed and we were on the road to Folkestone by 03:15. We nervously watched the bikes on the trailer as we headed south towards the Dartford crossing but began to relax after a number of miles on the A12 without incident. We met Guy B near Folkestone, loaded his bike onto the last slot on the trailer and headed for the tunnel. The one thing we hadnt thought of was increasing the trailer tyre pressures due to the extra load and it became obvious on the tunnel train that it would be a good idea to do so. The first stop in France was 5 minutes off the tunnel, where we added more air to all 4 trailer tyres.
We eventually set off for real with Mark R driving and settled into the AutoRoutes at a steady 65(ish)mph. (As shown on the sat nav as the over optimistic Shogun speedo said we were doing well over 70mph!!)
We planned for 2 fuel stops as wed arrived in France with only half a tank and we could manage just under about 275 miles between stops. We changed driver at each stop from Mark R to Guy B to me.
Despite some pretty significant rain storms (which made us very glad we were in a car and not on bikes) and the time when Guy decided to race the German camper van also towing a bike trailer (the back seat drivers werent particularly impressed with that and told Guy so!), the journey went without incident - until Grenoble.
I was now driving and was so busy chatting that I missed the sat nav prompt to take the exit off the motorway for Gap. The sat nav immediately recalculated the route and said to keep going, the time and distance were pretty much the same as before. We did keep going but it put us onto a road with one of the longest main road steep hills I think Ive ever driven on. For over 15 minutes, flat out in 3rd gear, 35mph was the maximum we could manage. That hill on its own stuffed our 2 fuel stops plan!
From there to Gap, the road was winding and undulating which slowed our progress but the trailer never gave any cause for concern and the bikes looked completely secure. The final fuel stop about 20 miles out of Gap confirmed all was well on the trailer and we set off, now in the dark, for the last leg of the journey just as the rain started again.
Upon arrival at the IBIS hotel in Gap at about 21:30, we were met by a number of Old Gits who advised that we eat before unloading as the restaurant closed at 10pm. It would also give the rain a chance to stop! After the meal, the rain was even heavier but in under an hour wed safely unloaded all 4 bikes and stowed both the car and trailer in the hotels secure underground car park. Storing the trailer was itself a challenge as access to the car park was down a steep hill with a tight 90 degree turn at the bottom that meant we couldnt use the car. Still, the muscle power of around 7 Old Gits proved up to the task and the trailer was pushed to the very back of the garage where it lived for the rest of the week.
Sunday 4th June
Roger C, James W, Mark R, Brian C, Guy B, Alastair Mc, Mark W
Sunday started dry and bright. At breakfast, as is often the case, there were conversations as to which route was planned for the day. As there was only 8 of us it was agreed to go out as a single group and the Combe Laval route was chosen as a gentle introduction to the area for all and to the type and style of the local roads for those whod not been to this area before.
The ride north out of Gap took us straight onto a number of uphill switch backs on the N85 and immediately it was game on. I was in the lead and my mirrors were full of Old Gits having a great time swinging from bend to bend and making the most of a cracking bit of road. This set the tone for the rest of the day.
While some of the roads were not as good as the N85, with gravel being a bit of an issue on a number of the smaller roads, most were easily as good and a number wee better still. Progress was brisk with everyone in the group enjoying themselves although we all enjoyed the stop for a coffee after a couple of hours.
The Combe Laval road had some stunning views, even in the mist that clung to the edge of the mountain, with the road switching between tunnels cut directly into the rock and clinging perilously to the side of a sheer cliff. Those with a slight phobia of heights didnt appear to appreciate the other Old Gits pointing out how far up a sheer cliff face we were and how leaving the road would result in a very long wait before finally coming into contact with something solid.
By the time we stopped for another drink, Alastair, who was on his first Euro tour, was beginning to suffer. His FireBlade had loved the sweeping uphill switchbacks of the N85 but the long downhill, tight runs had loaded his arms, wrists and shoulders to the point that they were becoming particularly uncomfortable. Still, this was an Old Gits trip and Top Gear rules apply! None of the rest of us on BMW K1300S /K1200S bikes were suffering so if he wanted to bring a knife to a gun fight hed have to grin and bear it! In all fairness to Alastair, he kept on the pace and arrived back at the hotel with the rest of the group although it had been a bit of a baptism of fire for his first day.
By the time we got back to the hotel, many of the other Old Gits had arrived so new and old faces alike were greeted and introduced to each other. Trip shirts, stickers and key rings were handed out and a number of beers were consumed.
We all then headed into the main square in Gap in small groups to find somewhere for a meal and a few more beers.
Monday 5th June
Mark R, Guy B, James W, Nick D and Roger C
Again, the breakfast discussion was where to today? The decision was made that wed head for Italy with a rough plan of having lunch somewhere near Cuneo as a reminder of the 2014 trip.
We set off and again were impressed with the roads as soon as we got out of Gap. The weather was dry but there was a risk of some rain so we were all prepared with waterproofs if they were needed.
The climb up and over the Co de Larche was as much fun as it had been in 2014 although once down the other side the roads on the Italian side became straight and boring. By now, there was the occasional shower and those of us not in textiles were stopping to put on waterproofs. It seemed an ideal opportunity to stop for lunch which we did just before Cuneo.
After lunch, we hit the road heading northing and knowing the next 40 miles were going to be really boring. Not only were they boring but the rain started in earnest. It was heavy, very heavy, to the point that standing water on the roads was really adding to the excitement. Shortly after the rain started we pulled in for petrol and Guy reported an issue with his bike. It appeared to be running on 3 cylinders. There was nothing obviously wrong so we decided to press on but take it a little easy.
Guys definition of taking it easy appeared to differ from the rest of us as he disappeared off into the horizon faster than wed been travelling before his bike had issues!
The roads in Italy didnt improve until we started the approach to the Col de Montgenèvre. This was also the point at which the weather started to improve, although it was still pretty grey at times.
Over the Col and the run back to Gap was uneventful. Guy was still on a mission to get back quickly on his 900 triple (which sounded pretty nice!) and the rest of us were enjoying the roads and the improving weather. I hadnt filled up at the last stop as the rest of the group had as my trip computer had said I had just enough range to get home. I was enjoying the downhill sections where the range was extending beyond the number of miles left to get back to the hotel but was worrying on the uphill sections where the remaining range dropped below the distance to Gap. However, I was determined not to stop for fuel and figured there were more downhills than uphills. I was right and arrived back in Gap, having done 212 miles since the last fill up with 4 miles range still remaining.
The evening was again a trip into the main town, this time to an Indian restaurant with most of the rest of the group.
Tuesday 6th June
Neil M, James W, Nick D and Richard R
The forecast was not looking too good so breakfast was a relaxed affair even though it wasnt actually raining. Roger and Mark decided to be a couple of big girls blouses and take the car to visit the Maginot Line forts nearby. The rest of us chose to brave the weather and head out on a random route decided by effectively just putting a pin in a map.
Richard R led us out of Gap but by the time we reached Breziers the clouds had turned to rain. The waterproofs went on and we turned around to head back. At the junction with the D900C the rain had stopped so Neil, James and I decided to head off for a further ride although Richard didnt want to risk the weather and headed back to the hotel.
We did have some further rain but we stopped for coffee at the right time and managed to miss most of it. After coffee, and heading for the Gorges du Verdon, the weather started to pick up and so did the pace! Again, the roads were proving to be nothing less than superb.
The 3 of us were heading for the Gorges du Verdon, but we missed the junction for the south (left) bank and started heading along the north bank. While the views on the north bank are good, theyre not in the same league as those from the south bank so we pulled into a layby ready to turn around. Unfortunately, I manage to find a small hole where my left foot was expecting there to be ground and slowly, but surely, my bike toppled over. DOh! Its been over 6 years since I dropped a bike so this was distinctly frustrating but once its happened, there is nothing you can do about it. (Other than curse and swear a lot, forgetting theres an open intercom channel to James W!)
As always, the views around the Gorges are simply stunning. We stopped for a coffee and within 15 minutes were joined by about 8 other Old Gits, in two separate groups, also doing the Gorge.
The ride back up to Gap was made a little quicker by the decision to use the motorway. While in no way a challenging ride, use of the motorway did give the opportunity to both cover the ground quickly, and soak in some of the scale of the area.
The evening was spent in another of the restaurants in the main square both enjoying the food and beer, and watching the world go by. It was hell, but someone had to do it!!
Guy had spent the day in conversation with his breakdown insurance company and had arranged to have his bike recovered and returned to the UK. He was being supplied with a hire car and was flying back home, missing the rest of the holiday.
Wednesday 7th June
Neil M, James W, Mark R and Roger C
An early start for this one as we knew it was going to be a long day. We were all down for breakfast before 08:00 as we planned to ride my favourite road. Neil and Mark had not ridden on the N202 and D955 before but I had said so many good things about it that they were almost as excited as I was.
The weather was playing along with blue skies and sunshine as we rode down towards Castellane and the N202. While the other roads were good (even very good!) our arrival at the N202 caused an immediate reduction in the intercom chatter as the focus moved to concentrating on enjoying this superb road. We almost missed the turning to the D955 in our enthusiasm but some last minute sharp braking then had us riding around the edge of the lake. Neil was in front and setting a blistering pace. Despite the 500cc and 70bhp advantage both Roger and I had, we were both having to ride as fast as we safely dared just to keep up. James and Mark had both decided to take it slightly easier.
We reached Castellane with the adrenaline buzzing and grins as wide as the Gorges du Verdon but decided to stop for a coffee and a chat. The D955 was living up to even my rose tinted memory driven expectations.
After the coffee break I took the lead and we headed down towards Draguignan, still on the D955. The character of the road had already changed totally from the run past the lake, and it continued to change, but it was still superb and continued to enthral us. There was a little traffic in places but that was easily and quickly dispatched although in the last 5 miles before the Draguignan turn off, I managed to get past a slow moving lorry that held the others up for a few more turns meaning I had the last bit of the run on my own.
We regrouped at the Draguignan turn off and decided to continue south to enjoy lunch at the sea side. A number of the other Old Gits had been to the seaside the day before and had WhatsAppd some pictures from the beach. We were determined to get better pictures and send them.
By comparison to what we had just ridden, the run down to Sainte-Maxime was pretty rubbish. The roads were OK but there was lots of traffic and it was starting to get very hot. We eventually found a restaurant by the sea although all the air conditioned indoor seating was taken but we rearranged some of their sun umbrellas and managed to get a nice shaded table. One bonus feature was that there was a fashion show going on in the main restaurant with a young lady showing off various beach wear items. Our table happened to be located within about 10ft of the quiet corner shed chosen to use to change into and out of the items she was showing. While obviously an expert at maintaining her dignity while changing clothes it made a bunch of Old Gits very happy that she wasnt 100% successful!!
Leaving the restaurant and heading back towards Draguignan just reiterated the poor road/traffic situation but eventually we were back on to nice roads and enjoying ourselves again.
After a very late afternoon return to the hotel, it was decided not to follow the rest of the Old Gits into town but to have a light(ish) meal and a few beers at the hotel. A very long day but great fun!!!
Thursday 8th June
Mark R, Roger C and James W
Breakfast and again the where to? discussion. The general feeling was not too far although Mark said he didnt mind as long as we could stop somewhere for lunch with a stunning view. No challenge there then!
A number of other Old Gits had recommended the recently opened Col de la Bonette and James was very keen to exorcise the demons from the 2014 trip when he and a number of other Old Gits had been snowed off the route, almost having to abandon their bikes due to the amount of snow settling on the road. So, after breakfast, we set of for the highest tarmacked pass in the Alps.
As we climbed up the Col the views just got better and better. We stopped a number of times for pictures, to be passed each time by a couple of vintage 2CVs and a couple of old scooters. Back on the move, wed then over take the 2CVs and scooters to then stop for some more pictures while they trundled past us.
We stopped for a coffee at the café on the way down. We asked Roger to check if they had any cakes but he reported that there were none. Disappointed, we drank our coffee without accompaniment. Just as we were getting ready to leave, a number of other Old Gits arrived and sat down for a coffee and some very nice looking cake!!! Thanks Roger!
We rode down the D900 then turned off and started the very long climb up the valley towards Roubion. It was pretty much lunch time as we arrived at Roubon so we pulled in to have lunch at the restaurant on the side of the cliff, looking down along the valley wed just ridden up. Mark was amazed that wed managed to find exactly what hed asked for. I confidently suggested that it was all part of the plan while being just as amazed as he was!
After a very long lunch stop we continued the journey back towards Gap. We had some excitement when the sat navs had a little hissy fit and sent us around in circles in one of the towns. Mark unilaterally decided he knew the correct way to go and rode off having not told anyone where he was going or which route he was taking. Confusion reigned for a while until we eventually managed to get a hold of Mark on the phone and agreed a meet up point.
Upon returning to the hotel we had a quick shower before heading into town again for another meal in the main square.
Friday 9th June
Mark R, Roger C and Alastair Mc
We already knew that we needed to pack the bikes onto the trailer in the afternoon in order to allow for an early(ish) departure on Saturday morning so we decided on a shorter route today. Breakfast was eaten and we said farewell to some of those leaving Gap for a 3 day ride back to the channel then we headed back up the N85 in brilliant warm sunshine.
Again, we were all having great fun on the wonderful roads and the weather was absolutely spot on. A coffee stop then a lunch stop had each of us saying how great the area was, how wonderful the weather was and how we were all going to miss this next week when back at work!
We returned to the hotel then started packing the trailer. We were now old hands at trailer packing and the 3 bikes were loaded and strapped down in just over an hour. The lack of 4th bike allowed us to ditch the ballast wed had on the front of the trailer to ensure good nose weight and no tail wagging.
The final meal was back in the main square, where I sampled the Escargots followed by a very nice steak, all paid for by a number of the Old Gits in thanks for the organisation of the trip.
Upon returning to the hotel we confirmed that breakfast started at 7am so Mark, Alastair and I agreed to meet at 7am for breakfast, ready to leave Gap at 07:30.
Saturday 10th June
Gap to Bethune
I awoke early and finished the last of my packing before heading down for breakfast just before 7am. Alastair joined me 5 minutes later and we had a quick breakfast before packing the last few things into the car. We called Mark at about 07:25 to see if he planned to join us. It immediately became obvious that our call had woken him and that he was now in flat spin panic mode. In all fairness to him, he was ready and in the car for us to leave the hotel just before 07:45
The run out of Gap showed that it was a lot easier towing 3 bikes rather than 4, (with 3 people in the car rather than 4)which was just as well as there were some serious up-hill runs with switch backs to ensure we couldnt build any momentum, but we eventually arrived on the outskirts of Grenoble. I got confused by some road signs warning of height limits and weight limits and took what I thought was the safer option only to find us stuck in an area where trucks are held before being turned around to be sent back the way they came. The turnaround area was way too tight to manage with the trailer and the other exit with a barrier and intercom was not responding to our repeated pressing of the help button. I wasnt looking forward to reversing the trailer back up the narrow approach road for well over 300yds. Eventually Alastair had an idea and tried lifting the barrier by hand. Hed obviously had Wheetabix for breakfast as he lifted the barrier to a near upright position and held it there, despite the motor trying to push it back down again, long enough for the car and trailer to get through. That then put us on a very long, very steep downhill run into Grenoble which emphasized that the brakes on the trailer were probably not as efficient as we would have liked them to be, but we made it to the bottom in one piece.
After Grenoble, we were back onto the AutoRoutes with Mark and I changing driving duties as we stopped for fuel. First Neil then Roger, then Neil again (hed stopped for petrol and a bite to eat) came past us, horns tooting, lights flashing and arms waving.
The lack of 4th bike was allowing us to sit at just over 70mph so the run up to Bethune passed relatively quickly.
We arrived at the hotel in Bethune where we also met Willy. After a few beers, a traditional steak frites meal and a chat with a couple from Perth in Scotland, we all headed off to bed.
Sunday 11th June
Bethune to home
Up reasonably early, we headed off towards the port in Calais to catch the ferry. Wed chosen the ferry option to allow us an opportunity for a breakfast and a stretch of legs before the run back home. It turned out to be the wise choice as Willy, whod gone for the tunnel, first had his train delayed, then cancelled, meaning he arrived in the UK quite a bit later than us on the slow ferry and without the full English cooked breakfast.
Given Alastairs home was up near Manchester, I opted to head for Marks house in Cambridgeshire to drop Mark and Alastair before heading back to Suffolk.
The 20th Old Gits trip was finished. 27 Old Gits had spent a week based in Gap, riding the roads of the Haute-Alpes and Provence regions and every single one of us had had a great time. The weather had been excellent and the hotel was spot on. There had been a very short debate at the end of the trip about next year but it was very quickly agreed that the area of the South East of France had so much more to offer the Old Gits would return in 2018.
The trailer option had proved very popular although I must confess that I dont mind riding long distances on motorways and missed the ride there and back. Im not sure Ill be doing the trailer option next year, much to the frustration of some of the others.
Thanks to the new Old Gits for joining in and taking on the ethos of the Old Gits so quickly and easily. Thanks to the more experienced Old Gits for taking in the newcomers so openly and with a warm welcome. Was this the best trip yet? Without a doubt, but I expect next year to be even bigger and even better! Now to the planning!