Devizes - Malta
Sunday 26th July.
whazzat intermittent ‘zzz, zzz’ing’ going on in my middle of the night dark room … ?
Listen carefully …
Gentle murmur of water trickling over pebbles and rocks of the riverbed near the old hotel I’m in.
Low moonlight glow on curtains that are faintly fluttering in a barely perceptible breeze.
‘zzz, zzz’ing’ intermittent crackling rustling somewhere in the room … light on, specs on, peer about.
Nothing untoward to be seen at … 4 a.m.!
Specs off, light off, lay awake awaiting the return of sleep.
‘zzz, zzz’ing’ intermittent crackling rustling somewhere in the room … light on, specs on, peer about.
For the last seventeen or so years I’ve lived in a variety of old buildings. All old buildings have their own nightlife.
The question tonight is, what shape and size of nightlife is bold enough to continue about its business with the bright lights on and me sat bolt upright in bed, ready to attack anything that makes a move?
Hold on a mo.’ This is France, innit. There be venomous continental creatures abroad … unlike island safe havens I’ve been used to living in.
What stout weapon do I have at hand.
Hmmmn. That’ll never do.
I need a DM boot to whack, squash or fling at the pesky intruder.
But the boots are way out on the balcony, being refreshed by the night air.
Where’s that weighty copy of Dawkin’s Climbing Mount Improbable? D’oh … still sat in the tank bag way over there.
Hotel towels are hanging from the rail above the bidet by the bed head … French sanitary arrangement placement no longer seems bizarre. Tout est équitable amoureux et de guerre!
Snatch pale green towel from the rail, a quick twist of the towel turns it into a flexibly whippy weapon.
‘zzz, zzz’ing’ intermittent crackling rustling is coming from close to the bidet …
Fifty-five-and-a-bit-year-old naked Englishman, armed to the teeth with a pale green towel, prepared to fight whatever French nightlife might suddenly appear from the plumbing … careful now, focus, towel at the ready …
‘zzz, zzz’ing’ intermittent crackling rustling coming from the shelf above the wash-hand-basin …
Stealthy cat like closer, closer …
‘zzz, zzz’ing’ intermittent crackling rustling coming from the plastic bag that contains the well wrapped remains of the half-eaten, tasty Chorizo Doux salami …
Ok Tough Guy, you gonna whip a teeny-weeny plastic bag into submission?
Give the plastic bag a cautious prod with left finger …
A Terrifyingly Enormous Cricket Leaps Out At Me!
Hair-trigger tensed up right hand reflexes instantly SWISH-kersplat the pale green towel … contents of the wash-hand-basin shelf get struck and go clattering, flying off all over the place …
Terrifyingly Enormous Cricket casually legs it across the bed and out through the gap in the curtains and away into the moon-light-night.
There. That’ll teach it.
Sneak up on a sleeping man’s salami … Pah!
4.10 a.m. Specs off, light off, lay awake awaiting the return of sleep.
All is righteous peace and quiet.
Gentle gurgle of water trickling through hotel plumbing.
Awake to early sunlight glow on curtains bathing the hotel bedroom interior in warm, encouraging tones.
Gentle gurgle of my own plumbing urging me to rise and find relief within the facilities next door, just along the corridor.
A Bathroom with a view, revealed from my position enthroned by the open window.
An altogether great glorious morning fresh view of rocky mountainsides and trees and, if I lean a little bit out the window, down below, the quiet parking area where the 900 waits patiently for me. Also waiting patiently a number of other motorcycles …
An AT, a black Varaderodeododoh and a couple of red motorcycles
… hmmmn, and if I’m not mistaken, one of the red’uns looks like a Gpz.
Cleansed within and without, return to the room and perform the morning ritual of Big Black Bag re-packing … a time of contemplation - readying the spirit for another day of this jaunt, like a scholar at his first class, preparing a blank mind for the day to write upon.
Feeling more like a tired old Porter, lug luggage from room, along narrow, creaking floor-boarded corridor to the single flight of stairs that lead down to the ground floor and out into open air and the locked and alarmed 900.
Dump Big Black Bag by my 900.
Saunter over to check out the black and red Gpz.
It’s a somewhat modified 750 with a euro ‘D’-plate.
Y’know Chums, apart from during our Devizes Gpz900r Twenty-Fifth Birthday Bash, the last time I spotted another out-in-the-real-world Gpz, was one well travelled looking example in the bike park of Braddan Churchyard during final race-day Friday of the 2008 ManxGP, and that Gpz was from Deutschland too. At the time the Half-Italienne and I were comfortably Translapating about the Isle of Man, so I thought little point in stopping, seeking out the 900 rider and saying ‘oooh, I’ve got one of those 900’s at home too.’ I know I’m part daft. I hope not totally silly.
Plate oh soo photoshopped.
Back to my slice of reality. Switch the 900’s alarm off and unlock and remove the security devices that my paranoia deems essential to deter the possibility of theft whenever the beloved and I are parted. The U-lock slots back through top and bottom of carb space. The Big Chain and alarm lock pack back into the Big Black Bag. Squash stuff in Big Black Bag enough to get it the zips done up. Heave-ho the Big Black Bag onto the rear of my 900. Attach securely with boing taut bungees. Aaah … and rest.
Grinning man in blue t-shirt and leather motorcycle togs approaches … he’s gotta be the owner of the 750.
To my shame I have very little German to speak, but Matthias is able to communicate well enough in English for us to swap basic notes on our experience of Gpz riding about the Alps … transpires that Matthias too, or rather his 750’s carbs do also start to run the engine rough at low revs at altitudes of 1,500 metres and above.
Thanks to Ms.Matthias (a KLE500 rider) for taking this pic.
Ready to go. We all wish each other well.
My 900 engine fires up first prod of the button.
Odometer 72083. 3752 road miles from Floriana.
A cheery wave to Mr&Ms.Matthias.
Head my black motorcycle back up the hill, through the ten, left-foot-big-toe torturingly tight hairpin bends, to arrive in Valberg again. Turn left at the junction and away east the eleven miles to Beuil, the nearest place for fuel.
Odometer at 72094 miles, 16.57L of fuel for €23.57c.
West from Beuil, through Valberg again, then turn left down the D28.
A lovely cloudless, blue-domed-sky morning for it.
Lots of views and vistas to distract one from concentrating on the wiggly road ahead.
Such as this vista, that comes complete with a full, 180° explanation of what one is viewing.
A beautiful, carefree, wonderful to be alive Sunday morning to be out early, rolling down a winding road through turn after turn after turn after turn until one turn reveals ahead a short, single track bridge over a deep drop. Slow down and check out the chasm … oh, not so much a chasm as a cascading slope of assorted scree eroding from the mountain slopes above me. Over the bridge there’s space to pull in. Looks safe enough from descending debris.
Side-stand down, engine off, helmet off, ear-plugs out.
Flat enough here to heave the 900 up onto the centre stand, to let the oil settle, so I can check the level.
Sun beating down as it rises higher, making the morning hotter.
Fumble in tank bag for water bottle. Glug.
Amble back to the bridge, peer over the rail at the steep slope of loose scree below. The maximum inclination of such deposits corresponds to the angle of repose of the mean debris size. Pick up a handy road-side rock and drop it over the edge … falling, one, two, smash, clatter, skitter-scatter minor landslide gathers slithery momentum then subsides as friction dissipates the energy of gravity.
Gaze contentedly at motionless valley view.
Bladder takes the opportunity to signal to me it needs to be relieved. Ok. Obligingly perch on the brink of the chasm, pissing over the edge of the precipice … whooossshhh past my head ! Elemental moment of feathers whooshing through motionless air as a swift swoops past really fast, really close by, chasing flies through the still Sunday morning.
Relived, retrieve composure and shake off drips.
Stand alone, appreciating all creatures great and small, the timeless peace and quiet beneath an eternity of clear blue sky.
Here endeth the lesson.
900 waits. Check oil level. All in order. Ear-plugs in, helmet on, ignition on, engine on, gloves on, front brake on, push 900 forward off of the centre stand, clutch in, left foot clicks one down to engage first gear, over the left shoulder rear observation … clear, forward … clear, all at the same time synchronization of front brake off, clutch out, throttle twisting and whooosh and bellow of elemental 900 moment, roaring through motionless air, swooping past Armco barriers really fast, really close, chasing the vanishing point down hill through wiggly roads, and a now disturbed Sunday morning.
Thank You God(dess).
Turn right at Guillaumes, through the town, glimpse a red & black Gpz750, nearby Mr&Ms.Matthias, sitting at a pavement café taking coffee. Onto the D2202 and along more fab fun & games all the way up to the 2,326 metre above sea level summit of the road over Col de la Cayolle.
The downside. There’s always a down side. This one quite literally as the D2202 becomes the very bumpy, and relatively narrow D902, made extra dodgy by lumbering on-coming people carriers that can’t seem to cope with the thinness of road, all keeping well away from the edge of the tarmac, steering a middle course, oblivious of approaching two wheeled need for at least a little bit of a gap to get safely by.
Gawd, but some of the careless drivers coming up ! Straddling the centre of the narrow road, making no attempt to move over a bit and give a fellow road user some passing space. Feck. A number of times during my descent these tossers coming so close, almost running me into the ditch or off the edge. Bastards! Hot anger flares within me. Seriously tempted to stop, collect some handy road-side rocks to fling at the next callous road hog. Very seriously tempted. Fifty-five years of civilizing indoctrination tells me that such retribution would not be the thing to attempt.
However, in the mind’s eye of my imagination, justice is most definitely seen to be done.
Then of course The Voice of Reason chips in with, Well, what more can you expect. After all, you’ve recently got used to having these high places almost to yourself. Now, it’s a sunny summer Sunday in the Alps, and just like anywhere else picturesque in the world at the weekend, the roads are bound to come alive with the less considerate and less experienced road user (ah, the calming, moderating language of The Voice of Reason).
Of course. My fault entirely. Shouldn’t be doing any of this on a Sunday … and me with an increasingly aching left-foot-big-toe too.
Adrenaline and self-preservation anger combine to ensure I survive the perilous descent, along brilliantly twisty roads, approaching blind bends through V.distracting scenery that ensures hardly any four wheeler driver is actually looking where they’re going or seeing what’s on-coming ... certainly keeps one on one’s toes … and me with the ever increasingly aching left-foot-big-toe too.
Relieved to have survived the descent. Time to stop for some chilled refreshment. 2 x Red Bull, 2 x 50cl of water = €8. Sunday prices, eh.
Refreshed … Carry on! On along the valley section of the D902, north-eastwards to find the D900 that rises to the 1,948 metre above sea level Col de Larche / Colle della Maddalena border between France and Italy where the road becomes the S21, all smooth and jolly good and easy motorcycling fun hairpin bend descent … spoilt only for me by (no, not the left-foot-big-toe), but arriving at a rate of knots and angle of lean on a dry road into a bend to suddenly see a broad wet line on my side of the road about each bend, obviously some sort of recent spillage … thankfully with no alarming whiff of diesel, but still very recent wet and treacherously slippery. Soon catch up with the perpetrator of this road outrage, a Mobile-home-bloody-Winnebago-thing, lurching around the hairpin bends sploshing water all over the line from its voluminous, and obviously un-corked storage tanks. Hoot, flash, hoot-hoot, flash-flash. Mobile-home-bloody-Winnebago-thing driver oblivious oblivious - Oblivious to anything behind him. Straight stretch. Pull alongside and hoot and point … receive back a dumb look of Do-I-givashit.
Once past and ahead of the dumper, bends are as dry and grippy as they should be, carry on having fun on the S21.
And it seems that I’m not the only one, as I encounter more riders heading up as I come down to eventually see a Sunday road-side gathering of French and Italian motorcyclist to compare with the likes of English ones I remember of 1980’s Box Hill and High Beech.
( see … ).
Another glug of refreshment and then carry on to see what’s to see further along the valley.
The smooth and jolly good easy going motorcycling fun continues along the descending S21, interrupted by only one set of downhill hairpin bends that left-foot-big-toe copes with without complaining.
At this stage, my intention was to carry on down out of the Alps to Cuneo, then start across country to Genova and the journey on down the west coast of Italy to the ferry to Sicily, ferry to Malta etc ...
Then I spotted a sign pointing to the right, Col de Lombarde - 2350mt … on a perfect day, just too, too tempting to resist … eh?
Turn right and follow the winding road up towards the first of a series of hairpin bends … c’mon left-foot-big-toe, you can do it! Carefully into the first tight lefthander, exit accelerate, wince as left-foot-big-toe nudges into second, third, fourth, then relief as down through the gears again to negotiate the rapidly approaching tight uphill right, swing out to the left and about to lean into apex the right, when I catch a glimpse of fluorescent green in the dipping right hand mirror. Through the bend and upright, wince as left-foot-big-toe nudges into second, third, and … By Jove! … two modern, Italian reg., Ninja’s going-for-it-flying-by-me, diving into the next tight left.
Ok Boys. I’ll tag on and see how you two do it. At first the green Ninja pair are pulling away, but once one finds the rhythmic balance of acceleration, braking, turning, acceleration, one can shorten the gap, keep station. The Ninja Boys seem to know the road well enough, performing an Italianesque cieco overtaking move past traffic that I ain’t inclined to follow through. Play catch-up again. Find the boys, feet down, stationary at a bend, stuck behind a road-blocking coach that has encountered a squeezing through the remaining gap people carrier. As I’m almost about to come to a halt too, the people carrier coach gap opens up enough for me to accelerate through and away up the empty road. Behind I hear what I interpret as the incensed howl of eight cylinders of affronted Italian motorcycling machismo.
Obvious what will happen next. They’ll not get me risking life and limb racing away from them. Let’em catch up and let’em go by … which shortly they do, in a most extravagant, Italianate, wheelie-popping way. Tag on again and the climb continues through woodland slopes that become dotted with weekend-away cars and camper vans, tents, BBQ’s and general Sunday lunchtime in the country stuff, The Green Ninja Boys sensibly slow down and cruise through the area until they arrive at their destination of chums already parked and BBQ’ing. Friendly wave from The Boys as I pass by and continue on my way up the mountain.
Trees thinning with the ascending.
Wide mountain view opening about me, long valley ahead leading towards the top.
Zipping along through boulder strewn landscape on a smooth road into a twisting and turning, rising and falling and rising again mini roller coaster of slow speed game of throttle and clutch balancing skill, battling the altitude induced low rev roughness that could cause a slow bend stalling and a pantomime falling over off the edge of the road.
Come to a halt on a straight to breathe a sigh of relief and appreciate where I am and to take a snap for you lot.
After this pic, courageously Carry On, pluckily teeter through a couple more hairpin bends and I’m at the summit of the 2,350 metre above sea-level Col de la Lombarde pass.
Aaah … success! Stoic determination overcomes aberrant carburation!
But no round of applause or Hero’s Welcome greeting me in special recognition of my achievement from those already at the top. All possible parking spaces full with bikes, motorcycles, cars and camper vans, the transportations of many like-minded souls who just wanna get high and stand and stare in awe at the view too.
Stop briefly amidst the scrum, then ride on across the border line into France and down the D97 towards Isola 2000.
My notes say that the tarmac on the French side is fab and wide to service the money spinning ski resort of Isola 2000.
Interpret that as more downhill racing through an absorbing mixture of hairpin bends and an assortment of twists and turns with some maximum-flick-of-the-right-wrist-straights to go boy-racer-hooligan-mad along before a deft dab of the brakes to corner again.
The Voices are saying the front wheel feels funny.
Ok Voices, stop to check ... all seems Ok, Voices.
Hmmmn. Better Safe than Sorry.
Whilst here, might as well take a pic of the steep V valley I’m in that echoes to the sound of other motorcycle engines being subjected to various degrees of thrashing.
The mechanical concerns of The Voices having been assuaged, carry on, carrying on having Quality Motorcycling down to the junction with the D2205, which, Gentle Reader, is the bottom of the Tinée river valley road towards Nice that I went too far south along, er, was it only just yesterday?
Turn left and head south along the D2205 again, which proves to be just as long-sweeping-bend-Jolly-Good-Fun as it was yesterday.
Today manage to stay focused enough on path-finding to see the sign for the D30, where I should have turned right and gone westwards wiggly, yesterday. Continue D2205 south carefully, and so spot the sign for the next eastwards wiggly road diversion off to the left, the D2565.
Within a few minutes of leaving the main road, my Dr.Marten booted, gear lever engaging-changing left-foot-big-toe is giving me grief for choosing another steeply ascending hairpin bended route.
Halt to give left-foot-big-toe a bit of a break. Park 900 in a lay-by with a view. Helmet off, ear-plugs out.
From this D2565 vantage point can be seen the general nature of the surrounding terrain above the D2205, that winds along beside’ish the Tinée river in the valley below.
Relax, taking in some refreshment and a wee snack, to the rhythmic accompaniment of rising-falling-rising wailing exhaust note of successive groups of riders, going-for-it, passing through the valley below.
I Say ... isn’t Life Good !
On the D70, stop at another viewpoint … perilously close to the edge and a vertiginously knee tremblingly precipitous drop over the other side of the low wall. It occurs to me that maybe it is not such a bad thing that left-foot-big-toe is causing me a degree of discomfort, cramping my gear changing style, slowing me down somewhat, yup. Maybe not such a bad thing at all … as I can imagine arriving just a wee bit too fast and wide into one of these bends … getting the wheels into the base of the low wall, cornering momentum toppling us both over the edge … and ooowwwh it looks a-feck-of-long-hard-rocky-way-down.
Carry On … treating these roads with the respect they deserve. And carry on and on and on, as hairpin bend after hairpin bend after hairpin bend gets me almost disorientatedly-giddy-where-the-hell-am-I-?
Stop repeatedly to match the map with where I might be … and glug more refreshment and take in the peaceful, off-the-beaten-track scenery. So road-less-travelled through the scrubby trees is wherever I am, that there’s hardly any other traffic along old tarmac that is rapidly becoming more the sort of undulating, rough spot, pot-holed surface that would definitely be Maltese Transalp territory.
And My Arse is beginning to ache and I’m going slower and slower and the road shows no sign of improving and I’m wishing that I’d paid heed to Mother’s warning about going into the dark and wild woods alone …
Oh! Will I Never reach a smooth major road ever again?
Do reach another hairpin bend, the exit of which sans trees as it whips around to the left. The broad view revealed shows convoluted hillside and valleys running away down into the hazy distance, where, for the first time, I get a glimpse of the far off Mediterranean Sea.
I reckon this spot has got to be somewhere about 43°57'19.48"N - 7°24'41.79"E.
Listen People. If you ever go there, don’t. Unless of course you are on something comfortable, like a 22” front wheel Transalp or similar rough road machinery. Our SPOD might disagree, opining that ‘… with a pair of noblies …’ one can take a Gpz almost anywhere … well, yeah. I admire your never say die philosophy … but really, some anywhere’s are really not at all a suitable place to be on a Gpz.
Stop on the outside of the hairpin bend. Side-stand down, engine off, gloves off, Raybans off, helmet off, ear-plugs out, dismount.
Silence, apart from those pesky cicadas and their incessant noise that by now I’m getting used to ignoring.
Can’t ignore the need to piss though.
Unzip … aaah … and suddenly there’s a car going by, occupants pointing and chuckling heartily.
Shake off the drips. Regain composure.
Back to the 900. Ear-plugs in, Raybans off, helmet on, Raybans on, gloves on, ignition on, engine on … carry on along dodgy, twisty route that eventually lands me in to the centre of Sospel town. There, in the Place Saint Pierre, Sospel, is where I encounter a mixed bunch of French and Italian riders, all stationary along-side the road, embroiled in some sort of arm waving gesticulating in different directions discussion about where they should be going next. I figure that, to get this far, they must have some idea of where they are now, if not quite exactly where they might be going to … therefore, They must know where the nearest petrol station can be found.
Stop 900 and dismount again. Approach and politely ask the first French plate - ooay la essance sans plumb siveooplay? Natch the answer comes back in well-learnt, spoken with a French accent, English that, eyooo shoulda tria ze peteroll statsion furrther into ze town … and if that’ees not ohpen … To Menton you must go, my friend.
Ok. Try the petrol station further into Sospel town … arrive to discover it closed.
Find the D2566a outta town towards Menton … and, aaah, this is more like it, a smooth, well maintained road to the coast, with curves, straights and only twelve left-foot-big-toe-agonising hairpin bends to negotiate.
The 900 splutters and engine stops. Turn the fuel tap to reserve at 174.6 miles from last filling tank to the brim. I decide to ‘carry on,’ and discover how much further the 900 will go on reserve … ! ?
900 splutters to a halt, tank empty, at 203.9 miles from filling tank to the brim.
I have five litres of fuel in the red can … and, according to the signposts, I can’t be more than about ten k-i-l-o-m-e-t-r-e-s from Menton and its promised petrol station. Tip red can contents into 900 fuel tank.
In due course cruise into Menton and ride down the main drag towards the sea, all the while looking from side to side to see a sign of a petrol station … but nothing of the sort is seen. Getting closer and closer to running into the sea … call out to another motorcyclist ‘Oh succour, essonce sans plumb sivooplate?’ French motorcyclist points me back the way I have come … ‘une, durr, twah kilometre, Inter-Super-Marche. Oui?’
‘Oui. Merci Bowcoo!’
Careful u-turn and trundle back north to find the petrol station underneath and just beyond the coastal autoroute flyover.
At the petrol station, no human attendant, no €uro cash consuming machine. Credit card being the only method of payment acceptable.
Whip out the plastic and poke it in the slot …
Odometer 72307. 3,976 miles from Floriana. Fill-up 900 and red tank with a total of 23.40L of fuel for €28.81c.
Find my way onto the eastbound autoroute. Sore left-foot-big-toe engages second, third, fourth, fifth and then sixth gear … after which autoroute becomes autostrada and tender left-foot-big-toe has absolutely nothing to do for the next one-hundred-and-seventeen-miles.
One-hundred-and-seventeen-miles later, at that petrol station to the east of Genova.
Odometer 72424. 4,093 miles from Floriana. 11.11L of fuel for €15.01c.
1 x Red Bull. 1x Espresso.
Good Lord ... is that the time!?
Too late to find a bed for the night.
Might as well carry on.