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3rd October 2005
An Alpine Adventure
Ken Philp went touring on the Continent with his club, and loved it so much he had to go back the following year with his missus. So they embarked on a two-up Tour de France… on a 350 Morini Dart?
I own a 1989 Morini Dart, which is a 125cc Cagiva Freccia frame into which Cagiva slotted the Morini 350 V-twin engine when they took over Morini. I bought it new, and still have it, although my riding is a little limited these days. I thought you might like to read about the best trip we had on it, back in 1996. It's worth noting that we were both 57 then, and had never undertaken such a trip before.
After a successful first solo trip to Italy in 1995 with the Morini Riders' Club, I began to think about another trip, this time with my wife on the pillion of the Dart. At first a short trip to Brittany was envisaged just to see how we'd get on with two-up touring, as we'd only done relatively short day-trips up until then, but there was so much that I wanted Pat to see from the previous year that gradually the plan grew like Topsy! In the January we picked up a very cheap atlas of France with a scale of 1:250,000, which is about four miles to the inch, just perfect for good route planning. At the same bookshop there was also a cheap Berlitz Learning book (to brush up our school French from 40 years earlier!). With both of these purchased, we HAD to go! The routes were planned and computerised typed-up daily routes produced, but it was still a dream.
Then in early June we watched the weather forecasts for Europe until they seemed good for the next week. I rang Brittany Ferries, booked a passage, cabin, AA 5-star and personal insurance, and some hotel vouchers - plastic cards DO have their advantages! The hotel vouchers gave reduced rate B&B in about 700 hotels of various standards, and refunds can be claimed for any unused ones. Although we were crossing by day we thought that a cabin would be useful to store our gear, especially as on the tariff we used it was only £5!
On Sunday June 16th off we set for Portsmouth. We had a fairly quiet trip down and all our documents were ready for us - it really is a good service. We were the only bike on the boat and the crossing was very good. On arrival at Ouistreham (near Caen) our first vouchers were used at a hotel just 400 yards from the ferry terminal - at last, our French adventure was no longer a dream!
Orleans was our next planned overnight stop, just 170 miles away - relatively short distances were planned to allow for Pat's comfort on the none-too-luxurious pillion.
The latter part of the day was over roads I had used on our way to Italy the previous year, and brought back memories for me. My two riding companions in 1995 would remember Voves I'm sure, as it was the scene of our first 'happening'! On stopping there Pat said she had pins and needles in her nether regions - was the reality going to be worse than the dream?
Happily, NOT. I had made a short seat extension to improve comfort, and as it proved very successful, a more permanent attachment than masking tape was made in the previous week. Unfortunately my upholsterer friend had used VERY long staples, and the sharp ends were beginning to work their way through the seat cover - they were REAL pins and needles! A few minutes with my Swiss army knife, and normality was restored!
Next day we followed the Loire valley for a while, then east through some hills, and on to Autun along a great road from Chateau Chinon. So far the trip had been quite uneventful, and Pat commented on how quiet the roads were. The weather was quite warm and pleasant, and the only other memorable event was when riding through the large irrigation jets that sometimes spray out over the road. At one point Pat thought she'd like the feel of the dampness of the spray on her face, so lifted her visor. Unfortunately I hadn't gauged the distance correctly this time and a large jet caught us -- resulting in Pat getting it full in the face! Then, just as she raised her hand to wipe her face, the next jet slammed her visor shut!
The moral is, be careful of the water sprays in France…
On the Wednesday morning we had a shorter distance to cover. At first we were riding on slightly familiar roads, and then onto more scenic roads towards Jougne, a small village in the mountains just South of Pontarlier, about five miles from the Swiss border. The scenery was at last getting more mountainous and what we went for. We took our time and enjoyed the day, stopping for the occasional snack and coffee. Jougne was smaller than expected, but the hotel suited our purposes, even though the organisation was not that good. When I telephoned in the morning I was impressed with the apparent efficiency, but the reality was much different. They did a good meal, though.
I made sure the tank was full first thing next morning, and we got some food and drink for the day, as we planned to go right through Switzerland in the day, and didn't want to get any Swiss currency if avoidable. I wondered about the border checks, but the female guard just walked to the back of the Dart, saw the GB plate, and waved us on. We made for Lausanne but by way of less-used roads through Vallorbe, by Lac de Joux, then over the small Col du Mollendruz to Cossonay, and on to Lausanne. The views from the Col over Lac Leman were the best we'd had so far - and Lausanne was the busiest town so far!
At some lights I asked a biker who had pulled alongside for directions, and his reply was 'Follow me' (in French, of course), so we followed him for about three miles through the town until he stopped, told us to follow the road we were on, and then departed. We were always impressed with the way people helped, even though our French was by no means good!
We went on to Vevey, stopped by the lakeside for our snack, then on to Montreux. We were heading for a small village called Bernex in the mountains about five miles from Evian les Bains, but took the scenic route by going south to Monthey, then over the pass to Morgins, climbing to just over 4000ft and out of Switzerland- this time the guard just stretched as we drove through! Then on down through one of the largest skiing areas in Europe - Chatel and Abondance. It had begun to rain a little by this time, but not much - that came later! This time the hotel was a bit disappointing, but we had no choice, as it was quite late, and it was the only one. The views were outstanding, though.
On the Friday morning… it was raining! We had planned to go further south into the Alps, but changed our minds and headed for Thonon les Bains on the side of the lake. We spent most of the day there, finding it to be a nice town. In the middle of the afternoon, before booking into a Formule 1 motel we decided to go to Evian, just six miles away - MISTAKE! While in Evian, another nice town, it started to REALLY rain! We waited for it to ease, but it didn't, so we chanced it. The traffic back to Thonon was nothing short of horrendous, and we eventually arrived at the Formule 1 dripping wet (but only outside) only to find them FULL…
We rested and sheltered under the large canopy for a while, when the manager came out, saying he had just had a cancellation. How grateful we were! In case you're not familiar with Formule 1 motels, we found them to be very good in most aspects. You get a room with a double bed and a bunk bed, very clean, with continental breakfast for two at a very low cost. The toilets and showers were plentiful, and exceptionally clean, being automatically washed down after each use. We used them for two further nights, and were very satisfied. Premiere Classe are a similar chain, but with en suite toilet/shower facilities and just a little more expensive - we used them once, but only because they're not so widespread. Another smaller chain with en suite facilities is Etap, which is part of Formule 1. The main drawback is that they are mostly in semi-industrial areas with no restaurants/cafes close by, although Premiere Classe are better in this respect.
On the Saturday morning there were still very heavy showers around, but we decided to press on. The rain eased off quite a lot as we headed up through the Gorges de la Dranse towards Morzine. Others were much wetter than us - they were white-water rafting just beside the road! At least they had wetsuits on, and were a good 30 years younger than us… Up and up we went, into really good scenery, even though it still rained from time to time. It also was getting colder. We stopped at Les Gets for coffee - at this height of 4,000ft it was just 5-degrees C!
We had intended to get about 100 miles done, but the weather was against us. We carried on through Taninges, and then down into Cluses and into a really good hotel, being made welcome in spite of all our wet weather gear. The hairdrier in the bathroom was used to good effect drying my boots and gloves - I'd forgotten my waterproof overmitts! Pat was surprisingly dry even though her wet weather gear cost less than £10.
Sunday turned out much better weather-wise, and certainly the best day for scenery. We headed for Megeve first of all, to a campsite I'd used the previous year. This was the main place I wanted Pat to see, with its good views of Mont Blanc. It turned out to be hidden by some cloud, but we left the main road through Megeve after having coffee at the campsite cafe, and headed up a dead-end road towards Mont Blanc and into a beautifully scenic area, then back to Megeve. We then went south towards Ugine, then up the Col des Saisies to Hauteluce and on to Beaufort.
We had originally planned to stay here for two nights and pop over into Italy via the Col du Petit St Bernard - it was blocked by snow last year - but the rain had changed our plans. Beaufort is one place we'd both like to have returned to - sadly, not possible now. We did get up to the top of Cormet de Roselend (6500ft!), and it snowed a bit while we were there. Then back down to Beaufort and on to Albertville. The closer we got to it, the more it rained. We stopped to ask directions again, and a young couple actually got back into their car and led us to the hotel. The downpoint of the day was ending up in a McDonalds for eats! Overall, though, it was the best day, and we saw what we went for - the Alps.
From Monday on it was just the return journey. This time I found the road on the Eastern side of Lac d' Annecy. It's much nicer on that side - more variety of scenery, and much better for traffic. Then on towards Bourg en Bresse on the same roads as last year, but at a somewhat more sedate pace, and consequently noticing more scenery, although I couldn't find the cafe in the town that I wanted. On to Macon, then Montceau, and le Creusot for our overnight stop.
Next day, over Mont Beuvray, that I'd read about in Motorcycle Sport and wished I hadn't! The road surface was atrocious for about 25 miles, and gave both the suspension and me a pounding, even at very low speeds. Surprisingly, Pat didn't seem to notice! We then retraced our steps back through the Loire valley to Orleans, where another biker turned round when he noticed us looking at a town map, and promptly set off at some speed through heavy traffic to lead us to the hotel - I don't think he saw us with our helmets off, or he might have gone slower! Again, wonderful help.
The last day in France was just a ride back to the ferry. We just ambled along, stopping from time to time, but nothing exciting to report - all that was earlier in the trip. We stayed in the same hotel at Ouistreham ready for the early morning ferry, and had a quiet trip back across the channel - again, we were the only bike. The trip from Portsmouth to Loughborough was the worst days ride of them all! The traffic up through Newbury and Oxford was really heavy, and a real culture shock after the previous 11 days. We were really glad to get home that day!
EPILOGUE. Well, we made it! 1650 miles with just chain adjustments (should have changed chain and sprockets), at an average of over 70mpg can't be bad. It wasn't a particularly cheap holiday, but what holiday is? Pat was surprised to arrive home with some unused clean clothes, and so was I, considering that we have just two 21-litre panniers and a relatively small Weise 2-tier tankbag - well, a Dart doesn't have too big a tank area, does it?
Overall, the trip was great, and we were surprisingly comfortable, except for Pat's early pins and needles! As far as hotels were concerned, there are enough Formule 1-style motels to go anywhere in France. The only downpoint came when I took the films in for developing. One set of 36 was lost due to film failure - some sprocket holes were ripped - and another set of 36 was lost due to Philp failure - silly me, I didn't load it right!
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