Day 97 - Caen You Believe It?

Trip Start Aug 07, 2007
Trip End Nov 07, 2007

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Hair: Motorcyle Helmet Perfect
Beard:  Chabal
Distance Driven: 13.743,7km
Frame of Mind: Pot Pourri

Yup, I'm almost done.  Made it across France without too much drama and am booked on the 9am ferry to Portsmouth tomorrow.  How very strange.  I'll stop off in Oxford for a night then head up to Manchester for the end of my journey.  So it should all come to a close on day 99 or day 100.  Either way it's a nice number.  80 is so overrated.

I traverseed France in 3 days that turned out to be exactly evenly spread 380km, 380km, 380km.  I was cold for approximately 1000km of that.  I do not recommend France on a motorbike in November.  In fact I think I was quite fortunate not to be rained on.  It just started to spit as I came into Caen.  If it's bad being cold it can only be worse to be wet and cold.  Of course some might say that the cleverly planned route was the deciding factor.  No...blind luck...which I'd imagine will run out as soon as I get to the UK.

Before I left Marseille I went on a couple of runs.  I'm well out of shape and if I want to do this sub-3hr marathon before I'm 30 then there's only a few left to choose from!  I hate being shouted at whilst running.  And as I passed a local secondary school just as the students were being released I expected some cheeky little oik to give me some stick.  I expected "Run Forrest, run" or the like (normal unimaginative stuff) but as I was wearing a bandana and was bearded up to the nines I got "Allez Chabal!" intead.  What mixed feelings...I've never been more insulted in my life...I was also very chuffed at the comparison.

or is it the other way round?

I'd wager I have better table manners.

Leaving Marseille I was feeling good to be on the road again and was looking forward to the trip across France.  I had a sneaking suspicion that I was going to have trouble with my chain again, as I am convinced that worn sprockets were not the root cause of the problem, as the experts in Honda claimed.  But everything was behaving itself nicely and aside from a strong wind blowing in off the sea it was a pleasant journey down the coast in the direction of Monpellier.  That was till I got to Arles.

But it wasn't the chain that made me grind to a halt a few kilometres outside Arles, on the way to Nimes, it was something much more frightening.  The engine cut out.  I looked down and knew something was wrong but couldn't figure out what it was.  The back tyre was very black.  What was going on?  Then I twigged: the blackness on the wheel was oil.  I looked under the bike and to my horror I saw that the oil plug had fallen out, quickly emptying the engine of all oil.  That's it.  It really is game over now.  I had just bought a new oil plug from the man in Marseille.  He had sold me a strange looking washer with it too.  I had queried it but he insisted that it was right.  It didn't feel right when I fitted it whilst changing my oil before leaving Marseille.  But he was the expert.  I believe experts.  Actually I believe anything anyone in a garage says because I suffer from the 'housewives and mechanics' syndrome that causes more money than the US national debt to be pumped into garages round the world each year.  

I do know that an engine with no oil is a very unhappy engine and I could only think that the engine had cut out because it was completely seized.  No way out of that little predicament if it had indeed happened.  The only thing I could do was buy a couple more litres of oil, refill the engine and pray that not too much damage had been done.  The nearest oil was 3km down the road and my bearded unwashed self was not very successful at hitching the distance.  Well I wouldn't give me a ride.  Would you?

I don't know whether Honda have some clever cut-out-oil-pressure-switch thingy or I was just lucky but when I refilled her she started up and I couldn't even hear any difference in the engine.  I'm now convinced that at high revs she is underperforming but that could just be me.  A lucky escape.  And another couple of lessons learned:  trust your instincts and never throw away any used parts - I had to put back the old plug.  I had no idea how many km the old one was down the road.

I had a goat's cheese panini in Nimes, skirted the Roman town, and bought no jeans then I headed inland. As I did so the wind dropped but so did the temperature.  The next section took me through a beautiful high-sided valley with some stunning views and scary roads.  I stopped in the village of Florac for a much needed coffee and a warm up.  I also bought some gloves from an outdoor shop to act as inners for my riding gloves.  I was wearing 75% of my clothes.  I changed into 95%: 3 t-shirts, a rugby top, a dress shirt, 2 trousers, 2 sets gloves, bandana, fleece and full waterproofs.  Only my jeans and my Arab dress thing were unworn.  I was still cold but it was gorgeously sunny and crystal clear day.

Heading past Mende and onto Rodez took me till dark and I stopped at the youth hostel for a ridiculously long shower and a massive feed.  It was a very enjoyable day though I was battered from the long driving and constant shivering, which quite strangely seems to have bruised my muscles.  I guess you're not meant to sit hunched and shivering uncontrollably for six hours at a time.  Funny that.

The next day I was more prepared but just as cold.  The hint for what was coming was when I looked out of the window at 7am and all the cars had frost on their windows. Gulp.  I set out too early and was met with freezing fog but this only improved the beauty of the drive.  The mountains had lowered and I was driving up to Brive through a lovely river valley shrouded in mist.  Every village I passed through was a picture postcard.  Chocolate box France through and though.  Again I was forced to stop more often than I'd planned in order to warm up.  I'm not sure my dentist will forgive me.  It's a two pronged attack: firstly I'm drinking buckets of hot sweet coffee and secondly my teeth are permanently gritted against the weather and are being worn down like a horses!

Past Brive (where I tried and failed to find...well...anything really) the countryside flattened even more and I was into rolling farmland with those associated smells...some wonderful, others not so.  I wonder why Africa doesn't smell that way.  I'm sure they use manure...perhaps it's too hot or dry to really spread the good word round the town?  Limoges rolled by, this time on the motorway, and I stopped in Poitiers for the night.

Poitiers is, by it's own guide book's admission 'undergoing regeneration'.  This means it is a shit hole in the middle of a building site.  It smacks of Reading, down to its soulless city centre, depressing university area, and desperate straw-grasps at points of interest for tourists.  Equally though it seems to me like a place that would become great if you really knew it well.  I didn't have time.  I was only slightly disappointed at missing the 'Futurama'.  No idea, but it sounds cool.  I left before breakfast.

The last day was less picturesque as I used more motorway and the land was flat, dull, agribusiness farmland very much like any other in Europe.  Tours drifted by, then Le Mans, then Alencon.  I was making great time and was it numbness or did it actually feel a it warmer?  I got cracked onto by a mad octogenarian Scots lady in a service station near Le Mans.  She told me I was much better looking than her husband, that I shouldn't eat sweets to preserve my teeth and that she wasn't much of a looker (even in her day) but at least she hadn't lost her pep.  I didn't test it.  Her husband looked on in amusement.  Or he may have had no idea where he was.

Toll roads are expensive in France.  My goodness!  They work out at about 7 eurocents per km!  Petrol only costs 4!  No wonder the workshy French are always on strike.  I'll have a word with Sarkozy.  He seems a soft touch.

I got to leave the motorways for the last 100km towards Caen.  Truly lovely autumnal Normandy countryside dotted with impressive houses and innumerable stables against a backdrop of reds and oranges being blown around like, well, leaves.  A nice goodbye to France.  It was Armistice Day and my mind drifted to the beaches not too far from where I was driving.  The area has many many war cemeteries and memorials to the unimaginable numbers of men who died in these now peaceful, windswept fields. 

Caen is fogettable.  Even more so on Sunday.  A religious lot these French.  The churches didn't seem that full though.  All else is shut.  Including most of the hotels.  "But ze rezidents ave ze keys" I was told by one chap when I complained that none of the hotel receptions were open.  Yes, that's fine unless you, like me, want to become a resident on Sunday!

I am very excited at the thought that this time tomorrow I will finally be home.  Have discovered a truly marvellous proof of Goldbach's Conjecture but there is no room for it in this post.  Details on my return.
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