If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Cabin Fever

Regular readers will know that I had planned a trip by bike to Europe this year. Last year, returning from a damp stay in Périgord, Anna finally agreed that a French holiday by bike would be a good idea. Having been dangling suggestions for the same for many years, I was plainly delighted at the prospect, and even sold the Ducati to fund a serious 2-up tourer, viz. the Honda Pan-European.

Then all the crappy stuff happened earlier this year, and these plans were put on hold. We have had a talk about it all, and realistically it ain't going to happen in 2009. I have promised her a long weekend away in the caravan, somewhere fairly easy to get to, perhaps in September or October. Then today, wonderful person that she is, she suggested that I should go away on the bike myself for a while. We're at the point where she can be left unattended for a day or two, so this is feasible.

I am very lucky to be married to this person. How many wives would suggest that?

To be honest, I have had cabin fever for months now. The last holiday was a year ago, and it was a bit of a washout, although pleasant in many ways. We've had all these health issues, and I have been put down to three days a week at work, which has let to a lot of stresses and strains there as I try to keep all my plates in the air on 40% less time and 40% less money. Work has stopped being fun, and much of my free time has been spent on sites like Horizons Unlimited or reading travellers' tales in the bike comics, just daydreaming. I have also spent a lot of time fettling the XT - it has needed some work, to be sure, but at the back of my mind I have been making it fit for a journey, possibly a long one, not just my daily 25 miles to work and back.

So you might say I jumped at the suggestion. I felt a bit bad even discussing it, as the most exciting times that Anna has at the moment are hospital visits (she's on first name terms with about a hundred people there) and the occasional car trip to see the sea, and for me to swan off to Le Continong would seem to be rubbing salt into the wound. But the clincher was Anna's observation that next year at this time, it might be me sitting at home and waiting for the District Nurse to call and give me my meds. She thinks I should do it while I am able to.

Now, I am 55 and not yet a complete wreck, but the signs of ageing are there, and I am a firm believer that you should live for today, as tomorrow may never come. So I am turning over in my mind a couple of ideas; things which have been "one day ... " plans for when the time was right.

1. Ride the British coastline, all the way round, staying as close to the sea as possible. Total distance, about 3k miles, but within reasonable distance of home if I were to be needed in a hurry. I would be mainly on minor roads for this one, so the XT would be the bike of choice, and realistically I would need to allow about 10 days. Hmm... I see from this month's Bike magazine that Nick Sanders is doing exactly the same thing on a crossplane crank R1. Damn - I'll look like a copycat. Oh well, at least he admits that the R1 isn't the ideal kit for the minor roads he is on, so the XT would be perfect, and I can surely get some good tips for places to visit.

2. Ride across, and photograph, the Millau Viaduct in France. This would be a quick there-and-back-again trip of about 2k miles. At warp speeds, this would be a day there and a day back, plus two overnight ferry crossings. The Honda is the obvious tool for this option. I could spread the trip out over about a week, which would give me some quality French chilling time, which I badly need. Last summer, we spent some time with British expats in the Dordogne, and for the first time ever I seriously considered moving there for good. I love the French lifestyle, I know enough of the language not to starve, and they have all the sunshine that we don't get here in Wales.

Plus, I always lose weight when I go to France, despite all the wine and cheese and wonderful bread. The food there just suits me.

This would be the object of the trip:

Sleeping will be in a tent, whichever option I choose. My reduced income means that B&B would be unaffordable in either France or the UK, but I like camping, and if I don't leave it too long the temperatures should be bearable.

If I could find some internet access along the way, I could even blog the trip! I've never travelled alone before, at least not for a significant journey like this one, so that will be a novelty too. I'm pretty good with my own company, so I don't foresee a problem there.

Ho hum, lots of thinking to do.

If anyone has any suggestions, please feel free.


  1. Now, that is a nice gesture from Anna. I know from these pages and others that you've both been through a lot this year - must be about time for some karmic return!
    We went past Millau, admittedly in a 64mph top speed camper van a few years ago...and it was more like three days including ferry crossing to get that far. Warp speed all the way might be an option, but I gather the gendarmes are a little more focussed on foreign bikers than once they were...
    Actually, were the choice presented to me, I'd seriously give consideration to the UK tour. It has the obvious practical advantage of being in the same country (worst case - terminal breakdown or an urgent summons home), and the social one of familiar territory. That may or may not be a good thing depending on your point of view - I know I wouldn't have enjoyed the continent half so much solo, but that's just me. There's so much of this country I've never seen and B-roads and twisties are a lot more fun than A/Es and peages. Plus, in cost terms, I would expect it to work out considerably cheaper. But a lot perhaps depends on how much novelty you want all at once!
    If I were to go back to Europe on the bike, it would be with the intent of riding the coast road from Marseille to Genoa - damn, that's a beautiful route.
    Anyhow, if you plump for the Brit option, you can always go the opposite direction to Nick S. And if you end up stopping somewhere down in these parts, I'll be happy to offer you a meal and a roof for the night!
    Whichever the choice of direction, though, it sounds like an opportunity too good to miss...

  2. Yes, it was very decent of her to suggest it, and I feel a bit guilty grabbing it with both hands. But I did! I first went to Millau on a Skool Holida in 1969 (crikey), and remember getting up early to watch the Moon landings before we set off for the train. All I remember is getting seriously blistered shoulders from spending a whole day leaping off the high board into the town's piscine. I was 15 and stupid. Change the numbers and ...

    The UK route is certainly the safer option for many reasons, but the France one is more attractive. I'm not sure about expense - fuel is cheaper in France, and the overall distance shorter, although the higher consumption of the Honda would probably cancel that out, and camping would certainly be cheaper by a mile - and warmer/drier, I would hope. I have a sort of route in my head, which involves getting to Millau in roughly a straight line and then returning via Grenoble and parts of Italy and Switz, taking in a few Alpine passes on the way.

    Petrol cost looks like about £220 either way.

    Many thanks for the kind offer of the B&B - I will give that serious thought.


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