Devizes - Malta
Friday 24th July.
Where am I?
Effort of will to rise from comfortable bed.
Shuffle to window, pull back corner of curtain … bright light … mmmn, outside the Bourg St Maurice Friday looks sunny and set fair for a days worth of magnificent mountain motorcycling. Above the steep sided mountains surrounding the town the sky is crystal clear blue from craggy peak to craggy peak … apart from those little bright blobs of colour wafting about up there in the air. Surely I didn't imbibe that much TD last night? Rub eyes, place specs in place and take an in focus peek skyward … yup, maybe a half dozen blobs of bright colour alrighty, all purposefully wafting about up there in the air, hang-gliders and their pilots riding the thermals, soaring very, very high above the town … and first thing in the morning too. That’s dedication for yer.
Aroma of continental breakfast wafts in to the room. Double mmmn. Dress, then follow nose (via a quick check on the 900 to see if it is still where I left it … Yes!) to last nights bar, where this mornings breakfast is being served. Mmmn, warm croissants and a bowl of strong dark coffee consumed at an on-holiday, I’ve-got-all-day, leisurely pace.
Clamber back up the stairs to en-suite of room two. Strong dark coffee has done the biz. ‘Let the bowels move when they choose.’ a wise woman near Devizes once said to me. And, d’y’know, she was quite right. Brilliant. Now I can confidently go lightly forth and explore the day, free from internal congestion or that nagging fear of being caught short far from civilized facilities.
Retrieve red-can and attach it atop the Big Black Bag. Ok.
Head east towards where the D1090 should be to take me up and over the St Bernard’s Pass and into Italy.
It really is a superior day for it. A light breeze keeping me cool. A puffy white cloud or two above in the blue, keeping company with those madcap hang-gliderers still hanging about high in the sky.
Going up …
Astride all manner of motorcycle, many other riders are hurtling uphill on this Friday morning (the really early risers being already on their way back down again). But either going up or going down, a fair number of ‘em, like me, are a tads top-heavy-luggage-lumbering through hairpin bend after hairpin bend. Some are also pillion’d, and so, being especially responsibly restrained and sensible. Un-encumbered and unfettered others are wholeheartedly going for it in a major way. I can only assume that they really know the writhing road very, very, very well indeed. Cos they sure as hell are far faster through the twisty bits and blind hairpin bends than I’d probably ever dare to be … and so, being caught and passed with disheartening regularity, I quickly come to appreciate how very well positioned and efficient my original 1984 A1 Gpz 900’s mirrors are.
I do say ‘how very well positioned and efficient my original 1984 A1 Gpz 900’s mirrors are.’
‘But surely,’ I hear you say, ‘… such a statement flies right in the face of conventional early-Gpz900-model-mirrors-are-crap wisdom ?’
Now so. I suggest that we have all been mislead by the bike test reports of the comics … after all, those august organs get to play with the latest toys, whizzz about on ‘em for only a wee while, therefore can only report transient, subjective impressions of a machines performance, handling and ergonomic efficiency before it’s due to be sent back to the importer and it’s ‘Next!’ new toy time.
What I realised while negotiating the twisty hairpin bended road leading up to the St Bernard’s Pass, was that my 900’s mirrors are really excellently well positioned for showing what is going on behind when one is cornering.
As in when leaning over into a bend, eyes fixed on the vanishing point, just a glance in a 900 mirror is all that’s required to see that essential glimpse of what’s going on in the rear, get warning of what’s raced up behind and is about to come blasting past (And Thanks Mr.MM for that lovely OE LH Mirror).
Not only was my ascent of the D1090 notable for its revelations re the 900 point of rear view, but also for my appreciation and subsequent totally unreserved respect and admiration for the number of lycra-clad, pedal-powered cyclists who doggedly kept on going, pedalling every inch of the climb from the very bottom of the mountain up to the very exhausting top. she-e-i-t. Major impressive or what? I’d more’n’likely be exhausted and, for fear of a wildly pounding heart heart-attack, give up on the pedalling after the first ten minutes of cycling.
But my Beloved 900 selflessly does all the work in carrying me on up, up, up. The only effort on my part is the wiggling of the left foot, going down through the gears and teetering around a hairpin bend, rolling on the throttle and left foot wiggle up through the gears and down through the gears and around another hairpin bend and up and down and around and around again and again and again until eventually the road reaches the giddy heights of the La Rosiere winter ski resort land plateau … a clump of modern buildings, with authentic log effect cabins, ski lifts, ski hire shops, ski fashion shops, après-ski shops, ski restaurants, ski apartments, ski lifts to other slopes, all sans snow and looking ill at ease with the laid back passing summer trade of motorcyclists, super-fit cyclists, tourist camper vans, cars, coaches and the rambling hikers.
Over the border into Italy, the road becomes the SS26, descending through all sorts of interesting twists and turns to Courmayeur and the Aosta valley road that runs beneath the A5 autostrada on concrete stilts that carry the main road up to where it plunges into the Mt Blanc tunnel.
Here, below the autostrada, it suddenly becomes serious decision time.
Do I carry on into Italy and then away south down the beach culture west coast to far off Sicily and the ferry to Malta …?
Or do I call a halt to this Italian detour, turn around and have another go on that delightful SS26 mountain road that really needs to be travelled on again, back up and over the St Bernard’s Pass to France …?
C’mon. You know it’s hardly a tough choice to make, eh?
Turn the 900 about and set off back up the valley towards the St Bernard’s Pass and the wiggly hairpin bended route back over the top. Yahooo ... What fun! 35’ish miles of the twisty bits travelled through again. Feel like I'm flying over the Top of the World ... Thank You God(dess)!
You’ll all appreciate that it is sometimes very difficult to interrupt the zen centered hypnotic flow of man and machine motovatin’ over the hill towards the vanishing point. To come to an abrupt, frustrating halt, take a moment to take a documentary snap. But somehow I did, do … just for you.
Look, see, here's the view on the way back down from somewhere above Bourg St Maurice on one of those many hairpin bends.
Look. There’s the town down below in the valley, where I intend to go to replenish the petrol.
At the petrol station. Odometer 71687. 3356 road miles from Floriana. 14.51L of fuel. €19.00c ... hand over the euro tokens and then attend to oil level and tyre pressures.
Are any of you computing the running total of fuel cost? I haven't totalled it up yet.
It will be what it will be, sure enough.
The soulless accountancy of a priceless once in a lifetime experience.
One Life. Get on with it.
Re-enter the fray, filter through the frantic midday Bourg St Maurice traffic, a turgid nose to tail of vehicles peppered with many like minded touring motorcyclists headed mountain-road-wards.
Get outta town to where the 900 and I take off up the D1090 through however many hairpin bends it takes to get to the Le Chatelard turning. Concentrating on negotiating hairpin bend after hairpin bend, avoiding contact with the whizzzing cyclists or speeding motorcyclists or lumbering camper vans and cars, miss seeing the Le Chatelard turning. Carry on up through more hairpin bends until I realise I’ve gone rather too far.
Oh well, never mind … just have to descend through some of ‘em hairpin bends again. At times, the setbacks that life presents one with can be tough to take.
Look. Here's the signpost snap to show you lot what to watch out for.
Then we’re off exploring the twisty hairpin bended steep back road that leads us through a remote hamlet or two, connected by a narrow tarmac track clinging to the steep mountain sides.
Join the D902, in the company of many other motorcyclists out for Fun & Games on the wiggly way towards Val d'Isère, yah.
Global positioning signposts guide me unerringly onwards towards my goal (wherever that may be). What the hell. As ever, Just Carry on Carrying on …
Through half tunnels …
… and through half and half, half tunnels alongside Barrage des Tignes, bursting out into the open to ride the road that leads me on and on and up and up, hairpin bend after hairpin bend, climbing higher and higher.
Rumble into Val d'Isère, where there’s a distinct air of summer slumming-it about the place. No snow covering the ground around, softening the harsh contours, turning all pristine clean and white. In the bright light of summer, the winter sports and leisure activity centre almost appears to be a partially abandoned cardboard cut out film set.
Of course, wrong end of the year for business to be roaring profitable to overflowing with the European ski set. Stop and take a look at ‘the town.’ It’s kinda the reverse of a seaside town in winter. Partially boarded up. Just a few places open on the off-chance of some passing trade.
Passing trade like me … purchasing Val d'Isère bananas and sustaining Red Bull that cost me €3.49c.
Enough’s enough. Time to get on with my own carry on and on through the real world, climbing up, up higher and higher, through hairpin bend after hairpin bend.
Gradually the 900 begins to exhibit a tendency to run a bit rough at low revs while I’m attempting the sensibly slowly making of tight hairpin bend turns, the steep terrain preventing any view at all of oncoming traffic that might be whizzing downhill, taking a racing line, cutting the corner, onto the wrong side of the road, suddenly appearing coming straight at ya … scary moments of teetering, top heavy with luggage wobbliness, fate in the lap of the God(desses)s, slipping of clutch, keeping revs high as I laboriously turn tight up into the unknown right.
oooh what a view! The hairpin bend at 45°26'47.62"N - 7° 1'25.36"E
(complete with downhill racer).
oooh another what a view! Further on along the N6.
Stopped here to curse, kick pebbles and calm down after a people-carrier had driven straight at me, it’s driver not at all bothered about looking where he was going, totally distracted by the view. A blast of the 900’s Loud Hooters soon caught his attention and prompted a dramatic people-carrier swerve to safety.
oooh another what a view!
Huge this one, at 45°24'16.93"N - 7° 1'50.27"E
(in the foreground the 900 with © Oh-Wow!-factor posing).
Look at that great big grey-blue glacier.
Step quietly back to my motorcycle, get comfortable. Press 900 ‘Go’ stud and ‘Waaaheyyy!’ swift descent along the empty road into the darkening valley below.
Lots of heavy on the front brake ‘Yikes-have-I-over-done-it-left-it-too-late …!’ braking into and through a variety of ‘Gawd-I-must-calm-down-or-I’ll-kill-myself.’ tight bends.
More by luck than judgment … I survive.
At this point, I feel a sincere duty to Thank All of my Fellow Euro Taxpayers for financing the road maintenance of my Friday 24th July 2009 Fun & Games on these wonderful routes through the Alps.
Over the top, France becomes Italy. N6 becomes S25 for a fabulous descent through between trees, along an intense attention, fast flowing mixture of almost straights becoming curves and tightening bends, to suddenly pop out at the bottom arrived at Susa.
Stop before traffic lights to check the signposts, check the map and gulp some water.
188 miles of hairpin fun and games since this morning, and never mind that my left foot big toe is complainingly aching from all of the gear-changing.
More engine humming, coming from where I’ve just descended from, becomes a rorty rumbling convoy of Uk reg., open topped Lotus Seven’s pulling up alongside at the red traffic light. Tail-end Charlie comes to a halt level with me. He pushes his period piece goggles up onto the forehead of the old leather flying helmet he’s wearing. He looks up at me, a broad road grime grin spreading below clean pink skin where the goggles have been.
I look down at him and “I say, your face looks as though you've been having some rather grubby fun.”
Too early for me to start looking for a bed for the night.
Ponder map pages some more.
Decide to head towards Sestriere.
Just because the road on the way there looks attractively wiggly.
The SS24 follows an ancient east-west route to France from Italy through the valle Alpi Cozie. Evidence of past tussles for command of the territory are obvious to the eye, especially so when dramatic natural lighting contributes to the impressive first impression glimpsed of the extraordinary looking, valley dominating, hundreds-of-years-old, strategic fortifications at Forti di Exilles.
Then, further along the valley, the not so obvious mountain peak gun turret fortifications atop Monte Chaberton. Far below which I turn left onto the SR23 at Cesana Torinese, and the anticipated wiggly road to Sestriere for another ten miles or so of happy, heading wherever I’m going motorcycling.
Sestriere turns out to be an old village standing slightly, disdainfully apart from a big ski resort that bears the same Sestriere name, which, at this time of the year seems to me to be a purpose built commercial ghost town.
However, there are encouraging signs of life … welcoming lights at the Hotel Biancaneve entice me to enquire within in my novice Italian for uno camera per uno notte? (yeah, dreadful. My apologies). Fortunately for me, Veronique is the woman in charge at the Hotel Biancaneve, and she talks back to me in an easy half Irish mezza Italiana accent. Veronique makes the extra-out-of-season-effort to accommodate, and gives me a large, four bedded en-suite room with a view of the summer green ski slopes as seen through three sets of some seriously efficient double glazing. Veronique then hand crafts me a delicious plateful of cheese and ham and salami with bread-rolls and a big bottle of beer … room and nosh, €50 all in.
900 is locked and alarmed, and out of sight off road, but within line of sight of my door.
Consume nosh and drain bottle of beer … wait for it … Urrrp!
Hmmmn, very content.
During the course of my 225 mile travelled day, one hundred and sixty three hairpin bends were negotiated … each one necessitating a down through the gearbox to first gear, slow wobble around the apex and then up through the gear box accelerate away.
That’s One Hundred and Sixty Three hairpin bends - a potential One Thousand Six Hundred and Thirty gear changes … and that’s not counting gear changing for any of the other corners and straights travelled through and along today. No wonder my left foot big toe is complaining of an ache.
Remove DM’s and sweaty socks eeek, left foot big toe looks somewhat the worse for wear after such a repetitively busy, gear changing day.
I need throbbing toe soothing therapy, perhaps an application of Tullamore Dew, to be taken internally, would prove efficacious?
Meanwhile I surmise that the Ski resort hotel heating system must be massive. It’s high summer in the Alps, so the Ski resort hotel heating system must be barely ticking over, but it still manages to produce impressive masses of hot water for me to bathe in … eee, luxury for me and aching left foot big toe, too.
Mmmmn, very content, soaking in the Italian ski resort tub.
Italian Beer and Irish Tullamore Dew being soaked up inside this Englishman.
Hot water and steam lead to a laid back reverie of the days activities … which was an undeniably great day for Motorcycling.
Absolutely fabulous roads travelled, where I’d seen glacial ice and snow. Thankful to still be alive, standing appreciatively in silent awe of Majestic Scenery, having survived the distracted-by-the-view-middle-of-the-mountain-road drivers.
And despite a bit of altitude induced roughness, the 900 is still just the best.