The first week

I set off from Bristol after having a couple of very heavy nights out (thanks to Helen and Kris and everyone who came out for my leaving do) and a major panic due to panniers melting, and falling apart at the seams hours before setting off. Thanks to Mark for help with repacking my stuff and extra special thanks to JJ for lending me his panniers (I need to get you some new ones mate – I’m not sure what state they’ll come back in, if they come back at all!). Leaving was hard, the stress of sorting out the panniers had me on edge.  Realising that even after months of preparation, I’m completely unprepared had me in a less than celebrative mood, but saying goodbye is hard at the best of times.

I rode to Dover with tears in my eyes and was an hour late for my sailing but P&O just put me on the next one. The weather was fantastic and it really gave a good view of the white cliffs as the ferry pulled out of harbour. I had a curry and then fell asleep in the restaurant. An hour later, I headed back to the car deck to depart to find that my bags had shifted during the crossing (nothing is missing). I fixed them but they got knocked again by my rucksack again when mounting the bike. A random german  guy came to help me and almost knocked me and the bike on to the floor as he ragged the bags over without warning me he was going to do it. The bags eventually completely fell off the top of the bike as I was riding down the exit ramp and I had to hold on to them with one hand until I could stop to take them off and fix them.

Calais was as sunny as Dover but that rapidly turned to darkness. I saw I sign saying that there was no petrol stations for a long distance so I broke from my route and headed into St Omer and had to stop to ask some locals where I could find one. Of course, after I rejoined the motorway where I exited, there were loads of petrol stations every ten miles or so. Still it felt kind of good to have got some help from the locals.

I was going to find a camp site in Saint Quentin but it  was dark when I got there and I settled for sleeping I’m my hammock in a wooded ditch next to a lay-by by some toll road barriers. I was knackered, and I got in the hammock with all my bike gear on and just threw the sleeping bag over myself. I didn’t sleep much, but that would have also been the case if I was in 5 star hotel. Too much had happened in the day for me to sleep. I must have got some sleep though, cos I only decided to get a move on at 5:30 am, which I would have given up on sleeping way before then if I was completely awake. By 6 am I was back on the road. It was pretty cold and a thick fog came down making it hard to see anything. I stopped to get fuel, breakfast and put on some warmer clothes then I rode off. About 5 miles down the road I noticed in my mirror that I hadn’t shut the pannier. I pulled into a lay-by and found my jumper had wrapped around the rear axle and my tent had gone. I know, what an idiot. I was laughing at myself more than anything and I decided to go back looking for it, which was a pain cos I still hadn’t worked out the french toll roads (the bike wouldn’t trigger any of them to give me a ticket). About ten miles and I was back at the services frantically asking the staff if they had seen it, with no joy. I heading back onto the motorway, riding at about 40 and on the hard shoulder. I found the tent about 8 miles back down the road. Who’s a jammy bastard eh?

I still hadn’t seen much of France. The fog was thick and freezing at 70 mph, but that all changed when I got to Besancon and the start of the Alps. The sun came out, the views became and the roads became twisty. The rest of the day was spent riding through beautiful scenery on to Villar sur Ollons to see Penny.

Penny works at a super-exclusive private school up in the Swiss mountains. just take a look at the view from the canteen.

The view from the Canteen, and yes that is a swimming pool.

I was feeling under the weather so I chilled there for an extra day. Penny had taken the day off work to show me around the place. There isn’t much there as it wasn’t ski season yet, but the sights of the Swiss alps made the extra day totally worthwhile.

After a chilled night with Penny and her work mates I woke up as Penny was getting ready for an 8 am start at work. I stayed to cook myself breakfast then rode the bike around to the back of the flat to load it up. I gave Penny a call and she came and met me to get the keys. I rode out down the mountain road in low gear all the way, confident of where I was going as it was the same way I had came. Still I managed to screw it up and ended up riding the road around the towns on the lake which I didn’t mind really. Shortly after getting back on the motorway, the heavens opened and I pulled over to put on my over trousers. I rode on feeling secure against the rain until my hands started to get cold, then drenched. My ‘waterproof’ gloves were letting in. Brand new from a certain well-known high street motorbike clothing chain (won’t mention them as I want a refund and they also have the blog address). The wet hands then soaked through to my arms which combined with the complete lack of visibility started making the ride miserable and I was only 1 hour in. I started thinking that maybe it wasn’t the clothing that was shit but that my expectations where too high. I had to admit that I’d done less and less bad weather riding since getting a car that maybe poor weather riding has always been that shit and I couldn’t remember. The rain continued until Avignon and then was replaced by a super fine spray off the road that practically turned my visor opaque.  Still at least the panniers JJ gave me were holding out okay and I had rearranged some of the load which had improved the handling a bit. I go to Toulouse and had beers and food at my old work mate Jonathan’s place then I crashed out thoroughly knackered.

A quick coffee and some brioche and i was on the road again. The night before i had discussed my route with Jonathan and he said it would be best if i headed towards Carcassonne then turn towards Barcelona. The route would take me along the coast to Valencia but would completely miss the Pyrenees. I suggested passing through the mountains but we agreed that it wasn’t the safest idea if the weather was to be as bad as it was yesterday. I set off onto the Toulouse circular, following signs for the motorway that would take me to Carcassonne. Another fiasco with the toll both ensued. I cannot work out what I am doing wrong. Sometimes it just will not give me a ticket. Today I had to wheel it backwards out of one lane and into another, but still with no joy. Although the light was red, the barrier was up and the angry truck driver behind me was beckoning me to go through. After I had no luck with the assistance button i went through, thoroughly pissed off with the system cos I knew that some toll booth at the other end I get charged top whack by a machine for not having a ticket. As I rode along the motorway I saw the sign for Andorra, and for some reason I completely disregarded last nights decision and i headed for the mountains. What was I thinking last night? Twisty roads with a view are always better. In fact there is nothing better. Motorways are boring and you can’t stop when you want (unless recovering tents from hard shoulders) The views below speak for themselves. I also got to stick two fingers, sorry the middle finger up (two fingers is too anti-French!) to the toll roads as I managed to wriggle the bike between the gap between two barriers without paying anything.

After the mountains I rode on to Barcelona. As I came into the city, the only plan I had was to see what time I get there, and decide if i had time to make it to Valencia to see my friend Jamie or not. If I didn’t have time I would call Max, an English rider who I met a couple of days ago in foggy France that lives in Barcelona. It was half 3 when I got there and here was no answer from Max. It had dawned on me that i had no idea where I was going and riding through the city was doing my head in, especially after the twists of the Pyrenees. This is going to be a problem every time I go to a city and I really need to work out where I’m going beforehand. I decided to head to Valencia anyway, but I had no idea how to get out of Barcelona, let alone get to Valencia or where to go when I get there. I set off anyway and after about an hour it became obvious that I wasn’t going to get there in daylight so I decided to find a campsite or rough it again. I ended up finding a castle with a beautiful lake in a place called Castellet (off the N-340), and i decided to stay there. I’m not sure if camping is allowed but we shall see in the morning.

Well, nobody came to move me on, but I didn’t have the best of sleeps. Probably got about 4 hours in tops which is shit considering I went to bed at 10 and got up at half 8. After a couple of hours of listening to the local dogs conversing I stuck my earplugs in but couldn’t get comfy. Partly because I didn’t set the hammock up level and ended up stuck at one end but mainly cos I was cold. I don’t get it. The sleeping bag has a comfort rating of 0 degrees and it was nowhere near that cold and I had all my bike gear on. I dunno, maybe it is the same as the argument I said before about going soft. Anyway I woke up at half nine and quickly packed my stuff. I was noticed by someone arriving at the nearby building so I thought it best not to hang around. As I was getting ready to head off. The same guy came over with his colleague and told me i couldn’t park there and asked if i’d slept there. I told him I had and explained my journey, he was understanding and generally interested in my trip and wished me good luck. I saw them later in a local bar for breakfast and they were friendly. I hadn’t decided where to head to but I wanted to get back on the a roads so I doubled back, ending up on a road with services that had free wifi. Eureka, I was once again connected with the world and I had a Facebook message from my friend in Madrid asking when I’d be coming over. I headed for Madrid via Lerida and Zaragoza which have different spelling in Catalan that threw me off for a sec until wikipedia cleared it up. The ride was okay, only 5-6 hours although I went through an expensive toll road that I’ll avoid from now on now that I know what to look for. The ride took me through some of Spain’s semi-desert looking landscape and after a while I was on the M40 Madrid circular. I did a U turn cos I was heading away from the exit I wanted but due to exits being different in each direction (useful that) I ended up on another toll road to the airport but i used the departures drop off to turn around again. Arriving at the camp site I was so relieved. It was sunny, clean, had free wifi and was near a metro station. what more could I want. I set up my tent, showered and head off to meet Cristina.

Looks like I'm in Africa already doesn't it. Its actually in Madrid and only a ten minute walk from a metro station and Burger King!

I got the last metro back to the campsite at around 1am, which is a first for me as Madrid only really gets going at about 2 am and I’m usually hammered by then anyway. I got into my tent and had a beer while watch an episode of ‘The Wire’ on my laptop. It was like a normal night out at home and I slept like a baby. Today I’ve just been chilling around Madrid and doing some planning. I’m off out for paella tonight, but the tangines of Morocco are calling me…..

9 thoughts on “The first week

  1. Well done you for handling the ups and downs of your trip so far, yes, pretty jammy finding your tent…! at least you seem to have had a chance to see some of your mates on route, we had been asking Jonathan when you were arriving in Toulouse… lovely picture, Deborah and me have taken a similar route through France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, southern France, Italy, then Spain but of course that was in a car and staying at B&B’s.

    Looking forward to the next instalment, keep us informed with the blog…

    All the very best mate… remember, its not a race, take your time and most of all enjoy the ride…!

  2. good blog mate enjoying the photos, alps and pyrannees always worth a blast, takes time to get into a rythme with the routine but once there…….looking forward to more , enjoy cheers ian.

  3. Hey amigo!

    Well – it wouldn’t be half as interesting a trip if everything went smoothly, would it? Half the pleasure of it will be in successfully overcoming all these little challenges.

    Glad its all (generally) going well though – lets hope your luck carries on into Africa…

  4. Mate, this makes for great reading so far…
    And as for cock up’s on the European road networks, I’m sure that before too long you’ll be laughing heartily at them. You haven’t done anything like this before, so give yourself a break!
    You’ll experience much more on this trip if you have to learn how to tackle the ‘next part’ of your route, otherwise, you’ll possibly just coast along and miss things?
    Keep the stories coming man, and keep smiling!

  5. Keep the stories coming Andrew. I have shared the link with all my friends who ride and we all wish we were doing what you are doing.

  6. Andy – great to hear you’re getting on fine. Truth is nothing is really waterproof in a bike (gloves especially)! Biker’s tip: cheap nylon over mittens with elasticated wrist or surgical gloves under the bike gloves before your hands get wet and cold… they’re the only way to go.

    Also know exactly what you mean about European motorways – why can’t they have the simple roundabout system we have? Remember a few times I’ve done a U-turn and taken to the hard shoulder, riding back down the slip road just to keep going in the right direction!

    Cheers – have fun!

    • Hi Mark. The gloves are okay when I stuff the cuffs under the jacket. I got caught in a storm on route to Alicante and they served me well this time. Peace!

  7. Mate, firstly Im gutted about missing your leaving drinks, events conspired against me but I am thinking of you on your travels and upcoming adventures, Im checking the blog for updates constantly.
    Really chuffed for you that you’re doing this, as said above – take your time and enjoy it all, every minute, if you ever feel down think about us lot experiencing your journey from behind computer screens in dark, cold bristol.
    Pictures are looking great so keep them coming. Glad you found your tent you muppet.

    Ride safe Andy.


  8. By the time you hit Africa, you’ll be a dab hand and what else could possibly go wrong! Little steps and before you know it you’ll be a hardened biker with long hair and beard!!!
    L x

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