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

- George Washington

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Mid-Range Touring, Part 2

This is the second part of Endemoniada_88's trip report of his summer excursion to forrin parts in the company of some like-minded individuals. Part The First, describing the preparations and the first day from home to Dijon can be read here. Now read on ...

4: Day 2, Dijon to Bologna

It started well enough, even though it's a 500-mile day. We get off the toll roads for a bit of a scenic detour as far as Geneva, only to find ourselves unexpectedly single-tracking it through the Haut-Jura national park. Very pretty, but very slow going and not quite the N-road we'd envisaged.

Heading towards Geneva

Well behind schedule, we drop into Geneva at about 14:00, and find it is one massive, gridlocked car-park. Filtering is almost impossible, except for where the tramlines run – and that opens up all sorts of possibilities for being collected heavily from behind by a large, fast and almost silent tram. It's a good hour before we get out the other side and have a chance to open it up on the A40, finally getting to the Mont Blanc tunnel at about 16:00.

We went through that last year in freezing rain and the ambient warmth of the 7-mile tunnel was most welcome then. It certainly isn't now, nor is the 25 euro charge for passage. It's still a fascinating ride, though: the speed and spacing rules mean you're alone but for distant lights, in a rush of orange and blue neon for what seems like forever. Then, bursting back into the light, there's a fast and twisty downhill to Aosta for variety before getting back to motorway miles. The downside – it's almost exactly the half way point between Dijon and Bologna.

Mont Blanc Tunnel

Still, we don't think 250 miles will be too bad as we crack on towards Milan.

And then it rains. If rain is a word that does it justice. There was simply a solid wall of water drawn across the road. We enter it at 90, and immediately go blind. We're still blind at walking pace, taking shelter under a motorway bridge where the water has already pooled to top-of-boot height. All around us, traffic stops. All of it. The lucky ones have shelter like us for when the hail starts, hard enough to put dents in bodywork. I can't even smoke: my cigarettes disintegrate in seconds. It eases up after half an hour or so, to merely a downpour, and we push on...

...into the biggest set of roadworks imaginable. Tens of miles of three and four lanes of stopped traffic, eventually feeding into a contraflow. We gradually get separated in the filtering and, after a camper van deliberately blocks me in for almost ten minutes, I lose sight of everyone. Chasing as best I could at something like walking pace, I notice the local bikes take to the hard shoulder, so I do likewise. It helps pick the pace up, until the contraflow kicks in. The skies darken. It starts to rain again. My clutch starts snatching and the engine fan runs constantly, but there is very little forward motion to be had in exchange. And to cap it, my petrol gauge starts flashing. 40 miles later, running on fumes and slipstreaming a truck through the scrag end of the roadworks at precisely 56 mph, I spot a Services sign. 38km away. My heart sinks. Thankfully, it misses the one just 2km down the road that I manage to coast into with a silent prayer of thanks to some non-denominational deity.

Five minutes later, at the péage station – yes, they still have the cheek to charge for that particular journey from Hell – familiar headlights sweep up the lane behind me. The others had pulled into a service station about 60 miles back, while I was still caught up in the traffic and have been chasing me ever since, instead of the other way round.


We stagger, exhausted, into the hotel just before 23:00, to find the bar and restaurant shut for anything other than last drink orders. About par for the day, to be honest. Low point of the trip, but probably best to get it over with early.

5: Day 3, Misano Race Practice

Technically the San Marino round of WSB, the race is actually held at the Misano Adriatico circuit a few miles east and south of the republic itself and a good 80-mile commute from Bologna. I've been to San Marino before – lovely place – but we're not planning to go up the mountain this time. Instead, we (apart from Paul, who has decided to have a rest day proper) have a vast breakfast, make a late-ish start and blast down the A14. This proves to be the dullest road ever made, lacking even the interest levels of the previous champion M40/M42 stretch. It's efficient, though, which is more than can be said for Misano.

The town is an ordinary-looking place, with little traffic. There are no other bikes about, just a few locals on scooters, and no sign of a racetrack other than one single poster on the outskirts. My satnav and Steve's disagree as to where the circuit may actually be. Mine turns out to be correct, in the end, taking us up a single-lane, unsigned hill and along a tortuous, equally single-lane residential road to the middle of nowhere. There, surprisingly, we discover a whole race circuit, albeit an odd one. The main entrance leads directly into the paddock, forbidden to all except very expensive pass-holders. There's no parking: it's a free-for-all for any bit of space by the roadside, anywhere seeming to be fair game. A few locals are renting out their front gardens for that very purpose. It doesn't appear that there's any way of walking around the circuit once inside – you pick a side and stay there. This isn't a huge disappointment to Mike D and myself, who have followed Steve and Mike B for an awful lot of miles around the circumferences of other tracks.

Misano parking

We're just in time for Superpole, and it's been drizzling a bit here. Our grandstand overlooks the Carro hairpin and subsequent weirdly-cambered kink in the track leading back towards the last corner and the start-finish straight. Almost immediately, Leon Camier demonstrates the tricky conditions by launching his Aprilia off the kink and into the extensive gravel trap. He may be the first, but we lose count of how many others follow suit during the afternoon. For a bit of variety, the Supersports riders tend to highside into it, everyone else sticks to a tucked front-end crash. Tom Sykes, bizarrely and bravely, claims pole position, but the stands are packed with vast numbers of BMW and Ducati shirts so it's Haslam, Corser, Badovini and Checa who get most of the cheers. Particularly Checa. Surprisingly, Biaggi doesn't seem popular at all, in stark contrast to the support he got at nearby Monza.

We stay for some food – some sort of spicy pork oblong in panini bread that tastes a whole lot better than it sounds – then make our leisurely way back to Bologna. Seen in daylight, the Hotel Cosmopolitan's quite nice – a proper one rather than an overnight franchise – and the food's very good as we settle into the restaurant for the duration. I won't be recommending it to anyone for service, though.

Next episode: race weekend, some heavy snoring, and a chase across the Appennines.

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