Bob Fram takes up the story ...
Day 3 – Lons–le-Saunier to Chatel (if you need stats then 180 miles 7 hours including stops)
Due to the long distances covered on the previous days and the tiredness of the joints of some of the more experienced riders, there was a split on the third day for the final leg to Chatel. 3 bikes (a Harley, a Yamaha and a Triumph; a suitably international mix of manufacturers) set off on a more scenic route through the mountain passes whilst others opted for a more direct route on major roads. We started to climb and the air became fresh, a welcome change from the heat we had endured hitherto, and the scenery more dramatic. Clear winding roads soon saw us in Switzerland and coffee stop in St Cerque, just the sort of Swiss mountain village you would expect to see on a chocolate box. Coffee and cakes were of high quality and reassuringly expensive!
We started the descent to Lake Geneva on a beautiful smooth hairpin filled road in rain with a smattering of diesel – a motorcyclists nightmare. None of this seemed to bother the locals who were often impatient with our cautious approach and seemed to have a 6th sense for what was coming up the way. A run through the traffic of Geneva (without rain) soon saw us on the open road and back in France having followed the line of the lake; breathtaking views. Very tidy towns and roads and the sort of scenery which prompted Sian (my pillion stalwart) to say she must buy a cuckoo clock. We sought out lunch and found a stunning lakeside setting in the medieval town of Yvoire. The local style of lunch dish was a very posh cheese on toast affair; now in France not so damaging for the wallet.
The last hour (or so we thought) to Chatel was a straightforward run on major roads along an alpine valley and we looked forward to rejoining our friends in the Chalet for tea and medals early afternoon. Rudimentary French helped me decipher a sign telling me our chosen route was closed. Detour signs were less informative and our concern started to move to the fuel tank range of the Harley; although it transpires it uses less fuel than my Triumph when the roads become twisty (must be an air resistance thing!). We used some challenging yet very rewarding roads over mountain passes (aided by very friendly locals who were keen to help us find our way) to get to the road at the foot of the Valley; this was also shut. A very friendly road worker showed us how to get on track and with a smile on his face said “cette route est tres jolie pour moto”. He was right; we used another challenging single track mountain road with lots of hairpins to arrive in Chatel 2 ½ hours after lunch but satisfied we had ridden well. We shared the closed roads stories with our colleagues who had suffered a similar fate but used a different route into the mountain town.
Day 4 – The Mountains (if you need stats – 95 miles – 5 hours including stops)
The Group again split with some riders opting to rest in the sumptuous chalet with the beautiful surroundings. A 4 bike team set off in search of Gstaad and more mountain passes. Within minutes of leaving Chatel we were back in Switzerland with a noticeable atmosphere change and more cuckoo clock inspiring scenery. Our leader managed to weave us through the town of Monthey (with the additional pressure of a rider asking him to find a loo – a tree was co-opted (without consultation) on the road out of the town. We found ourselves climbing hairpin bend roads offering stunning scenery which changed at every turn, and plenty of overtaking opportunities with lorries servicing the road repairs. Local knowledge clearly helped others overtake us, often with astonishing bravery! We stopped for coffee in the beautiful village of Villars; a premier ski resort since 1938. Culture clashes were reinforced as a request for lemonade was met with freshly squeezed lemon juice, some water and a passing acquaintance with the sugar bowl.
We moved on with the anticipation of more climbing and challenging roads only to find our route to Gstaad closed – we can only assume due to damage to the road caused during the winter. A change of plan saw us drop back down the valley on another tight and twisty roads (yet more locals for whom the 2 second rule and the ability to stop on your side of the road in the distance you can see was not in the front of their minds – perhaps we should start a RoADAR group here?) and we headed off towards Chamonix and Mont Banc. Close to the top of the Col De Forclaz above Martigny we stopped for lunch (a minor lesson not learnt from our previous experience as the restaurant was in Switzerland). Wallets lighter we decided to head back to Chatel for an early finish and relaxing in the hot tub for some.
We had a day of challenging and rewarding roads with our riding better for the experience. This coupled with the stunning views, hot weather and friendly locals meant the long ride to get to Chatel had been worth it.
Day 5 – The Ski resorts (stats – 60 miles – 5 hours with stops
All 8 bikes (this time without the trusty pillion) set off to seek out the Ski resort of Avoriaz. This was so Peter Genet could brag (remember) his Christmas skiing holiday. The threatened rain had not reared its head and we all enjoyed the mountain passes to change valleys and then climb to the Ski resort. One rider stated he hated hairpin bends and had counted no less than 20 on the climb to the Ski resort alone. Avoriaz was an interesting experience. Peter informed us the skiing was brilliant but the resort looked ugly in the melting snow and ghost like less the maintenance workers. Clearly it will come to life again when the summer activities start in June; photographs taken – the view was amazing into the valley we had just climbed - (and yellow snow produced) we had to go back down the valley for refreshments.
The 20 hairpins negotiated safely, despite the efforts of a range rover driven with some urgency and little respect for other road users (with the satisfying result of catching it up at the bottom at some traffic lights), we had lunch in Morzine in a English run café. It was here the rain started just as we prepared to leave so it was not all dry. We retraced our steps back to Chatel and returned before the car team who had ventured further afield to Mageve – finding it equally shut post the Ski season.
... and Bob's wife Sian gives her view from the pillion ...
MUSINGS FROM 1700 miles ON PILLION
When my husband suggested I might want to join him on a mammoth ride-out with his bike-gang chums to the Alps for a week, I must admit I pondered for quite some time over various issues.
Would I be able to fit all my things in 2 (small) panniers? Would I be able to fit on the bike? Would I be able to take my hairdryer? Would I manage to take enough underwear? Would I be able to bungee my large toiletries bag on the back of the bike? Would my buttocks be forever numb afterwards? Would sitting on a bike with my husband for 7 days connected by intercom result in marital discord, divorce or murder?
After deciding to risk all of the above, the trip was absolutely fantastic. Meeting up at the M4 services, it was really exciting to see everyone and off we departed to meet up again at the Chunnel and cross to France. Weather on the first day was very hot and the first couple of days travelling were hard for the riders I think. Sunny weather and rape fields resulted in quite an interesting pollen allergy for some of us. (Me and Winston!) (1st top tip: take loads of antihistamine products with you). Thankfully Sue, Barb, Mary and Marilyn in the car team raided a French pharmacy and obtained a substantial antihistamine stash!
It was very interesting to see the Bike group riding together in a lovely fluid formation on main roads and on the Motorways. 'Drop Off' system at junctions going through the towns was very impressive making me feel I was being driven in a celebrity police convoy! Map reading mistakes were few and mainly due to rubbish French road signs!
Small B&Bs on the way down to Chatel were fabulous, clean and with good beds and excellent breakfasts. (I am a wannabee Hotel Inspector). Language problems at our second hotel resulted in a cup of hot milk with a tea bag in it for me but a minor problem in the big scheme of the trip.
Day 3 to Chatel was a split group with Julian, Mark, Bob and I choosing a more scenic route through Geneva along the lake past the famous water spout and a fantastic lunch location at Yvoire a medieval village on the lake. By this time the scenery (as opposed to smelly, grim Pas de Calais) was truly stunning. Green slopes, white topped mountains, stunning wild flowers, cows and sheep wearing bells and everywhere very clean and litter free. (I am a wannabee Litter Monitor). Truly breath-taking. After a few diversions due to 'Fermee' roads we joined up with the rest of the group at the Chatel Chalet. A super place in a beautiful spot run by British couple Sue and AT. Great user friendly facilities, great food (all 10 out of 10) and a free Leftovers Bar from the just-finished ski season! Hurrah!
The next few days were taken up by superb riding through idyllic French and Swiss Mountain scenery and quite a few interesting hairpin bends! Pillion riding was going well. A few snatched naps on the pillion on the move alarmed husband a wee bit. Hips and butt holding up well and had not seized altogether, although I did have a day off in the car with the girls when we visited Megeve ski resort. Ageing body grateful for the rest and great fun with female company!
Homewards on Thursday over 2 days heading for Arras. Weather on Thursday was absolutely torrential to ride in. We suffered a bit and it amazes me that motorcyclists can drive happily in this weather (2nd tip: Make sure your neck is muffled with a nice soft thing and not Nasty Velcro Neck Strap On Jacket causing unsightly shaving-like rash = Me! 3rd tip: ensure motorbike boots waterproof before leaving home).
Arras reached, it was an absolutely stunning town with a beautiful square and architecture. On the last morning Bob and I travelled from Arras to Loos to see the Loos Memorial where his great grandfather is commemorated. A truly humbling and breathtaking memorial as are all the commonwealth memorials in France. Beautifully kept.
We zoomed off to join everyone at the Chunnel but sadly through no fault of anyone but a cock up by the Chunnel on tickets, we missed the chance to say good bye to everyone!
But overall a fantastic trip and looking forward to next year already! Thanks to everyone for a superb time. We laughed a lot!
N.B. I fitted all packing into 2 panniers. Hairdryer was sneaked into husband's top-box. All toiletries fitted in. I also fitted on the bike. Hip joints did not give up. Buttocks completely back to normal. Bike intercom worked well and no arguments ensued. My husband and I are still married and still speaking....