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Monday, 21 December 2009

Calais to Montpellier

We awoke to find a good dusting of snow on our bike covers and also the rest of Calais. Mike took some time to create a little snow art in the hotel carpark before we set about loading up the bikes.

Despite the cold, the KTM and the Africa Twin roared into life. And we carefully began day two. Our goal, Bourges. Roughly 350 miles. A big day ahead. We fuelled up and set off. Say what you like about the French, but they know how to grit a road and despite there being quite a bit of snow on the surrounding countryside the autoroute was reassuringly free of snow and ice. It was pretty cold though and after about an hour and a half we had to stop at a servo for a cuppa.

Mike's satnav was playing up so he spent a bit of time trying to find the fault whilst I downed a cup of vending machine curry soup and a coffee. Back on the road my heated grips were working well but Mike's weren't so effective. We ended up stopping every hour and a half at a roadside services to warm ourselves up with a few cups of tea. Progress was slow but fairly steady and we rode the last hour in the dark before we finally arrived in Bourges, tired, a bit chilly but in good spirits.

The next day our goal was to get to Montpellier where we had a place to stay with my friend Mariana. As it turned out we were not to reach our goal and the day would be quite eventful including an extremely tough final thirteen miles, sinced dubbed "the thirteen miles of pain". More about that later...

We were getting better at loading up our bikes but our departure was slightly delayed when Mike's side stand started to look a bit flimsy and so a bodge was constructed and the problem fixed for the time being. On the road we each had a few more layers on than the previous day which was lucky because it was brass monkeys. There was a lot more snow than in the north and it was a bit like riding through Narnia. Very pretty but chilly. We stuck to the same formula as the day before, regular stops and cups of tea to warm up so our concentration didn't start to flag.

At around 5:00pm, still 85 miles from Montpellier, we were at an altitude of 1100m and it began snowing quite heavily. I was struggling a bit and called over to Mike on the radio that I needed to stop for a breather. We stopped and entered the welcome warmth of a roadside cafe. Parking our bikes outside we turned a few heads and a number of French people looked at us as, index fingers raised to their heads indicating were were a bit mad. They were probably right.

Inside we met two blokes from the U.S who were driving their 1969 VW Beatle from London to Cameroon. They had seen our bikes outside and clocked us sitting at a table. "Heeey more crazy people!" one of them drawled. Turns out they were probably colder than us as their car had no heater and there were holes in the floor turning the VW in to a giant fridge.

Bidding the yanks farewell we decided to get back on the road. Montpellier seemed a bit to distant for our liking given the weather so we chose to head for Millau, a short 13 mile jaunt down the road. And so began "the thirteen miles of pain". Little did we know that it would be seven hours before we would arrive at our hotel.

On the slip road just before the motorway my steering started to feel odd and then my handle bars began to wobble from side to side. It could only mean one thing. My front tyre had a puncture! The timing could not have been worse. Stuck on the side of a sliproad, on a mountain, snow being driven horizontally by strong gusts of freezing wind. A quick check of the front tyre found a slow leak so I pumped the tyre up and we waited for an hour or so to see how quickly the air was leaking out. We killed some time and checked our remaining tyre pressures joking that things could not possibly get worse. Thankfully my tyre looked okay and we decided to carry on to Millau where we would repair it in the morning.

So we were off again. Then bang! As we left the snow and ice on the side of the road my front wheel slipped on a patch of ice and the AT was over on it's side. Mike and I managed to get it upright again and we were off. The exertion however had gotten me a bit hot and sweaty and my goggles soon began to fog up. Not good. We had only just gotten onto the motorway and I radioed for Mike to pull over so I could sort them out. Not the best place to stop but it had to be done.

In my haste to get them de-fogged I accidently pushed the lens out. Doh! It took a while to get it back in. Things take so much longer in the cold so even such a simple task took an age. As soon as the lens clipped back into place we were ready to push on to Millau. So back on with all our gear, undergloves, snood, helmet, radio, goggles and gloves then Mike starts his bike.... 'click'. Battery. Dead. Shit.

It's okay. We still have one bike running I remark to Mike. Sweet. But no jumper leads. Mike sets about doing a bit of MacGyvering with some 10 amp automotive wire he bought on a wim at Maplins. Again it takes time. I look over at the temperature guage on my bike which is idling away. Despite the cold air it is starting to heat up so I switched it off not realising the heated grips were still on full. Two minutes later Mike says, "Don't leave your bike off for too long". So I start her up..... Click. Shit. Two dead bikes on the side of the road in a blizzard. Is that the fat lady I can hear singing?

Thankfully after leaving the AT alone for a while the battery mustered enough juice to turn the engine over. After a couple of wahoos and a high five the MacGyvering continued. We unloaded the bikes again in order to get to the battery terminals under our seats. Just as I finished doing mine I looked up to see a car crawling past, a rubbernecker at the wheel, checking us out. As I looked on he carried on by but only at low speed, maybe 25 mph. I watched as he carried on still very slowly. I thought, "man you are on a motorway you'd better speed up". Then, when he was about 150m down the road a car ripped past us. Oh God. I could only look on as the second car swerved at high speed on an icy road to miss the rubbernecker and smash into the barrier. Everyone looked okay so we carried on trying to get the bikes going thinking it was best we got off the side of the road as soon as we could.

The 10amp auto wire did the business and we soon had two bikes idling away nicely. Mike's ingenuity coming to the fore. Another high five. The whole process had taken ages though. Maybe three hours? All loaded up again we took off. Nearly. I dropped the AT again! This time a French bloke who had arrived to put up warning lights about the accident was on hand to help me lift her back onto two wheels. "Merci". And we were off again. Travelling slowly following Mike's satnav to Millau and a warm bed. So we continued along the A75 following Mike's trusty tomtom.

Following behind Mike, he took an exit a few miles up the road. The turn off found us going down an ungritted road of snow though farmland and a few scattered buildings. The wind blew harder and there was more snow. We crqwled along. The fat lady cleared her throat. After half an hour we stopped. Realising the tomtom had lead us down a 'D' road we backtracked slowly back to the main road. Riding carefully our steads made it without any dramas and we got back to the A75. We eventually arrived in Millau and buy the time we had checked in and unloaded the bikes it was 2:45am. The thirteen miles of pain had come to an end.

The next day we woke up bleary eyed, but after a few coffees and breakfast we were feeling good. The weather was great. Crisp but wall to wall blue skies. My tyre seemed to be okay so I topped it up with air and we made a push for Montpellier. The ride was great through the mountains and we crossed a few spectacular valleys and generally brilliant scenery.


  1. Awsome stuff dude. Just remember to look back with fond memories at that time you were cold, bastard hot is what Africa has in store for you adventurous lads.
    Gavin Rose, Mikes little big brother.

  2. Have a good trip. Won't be long and the heat of Africa will be baking you! Enjoy.

  3. Ne..phew
    Looks like you got away just in time, delayed trains cancelled buses, walking in deep snow, ice, freezing rain (Not a St Bernard in sight) and then start work. Superb narrative, shows you have great partner. Merry Christmas. Uncle P auntie E

  4. Simon,
    You sure is mad, although I say it with a hint of jealousy. I can't wait to read more... Merry Christmas Big Bro. I am so glad you have Mike with you!! Love you!! x

  5. I told you this would make an excellent book!!
    Enjoy every minute! Waiting impatiently for the next part! Lynda & Map Man. xx

  6. Great stuff Simon. With a blog like this we can all armchair travel without the hard bits.Check your email for the Wilsons Blog site , heaps of pics etc. Best wishes to you and Mike for the New Year. Dad Brian Robert and Nina

  7. Yo, lazy bro...I hope your adventure hasn't finished in Barcelona. Update us! We are all looking forward for the next chapter. Greetings from the jungle x

  8. Nice one Simon, sounds like some good tests of patience early on! Good blogging, look forward to the next instalment! Feliz viaje!