Troubles and treats [172]

Greetings from Montsoreau

I’m not trapped here. Just finding it hard to leave.

(This dispatch may be too long for your inbox. If it looks cut off please read the online version)


#TheAction

There is still so much video editing I need to do. Those that support this dispatch will have already seen video and heard audio from the road. There will be lots more in the next supporters email including a chat with a longtime hero of mine.

In the meantime let me summarise the trip so far.


This journey has taken me from…

St Neots > Folkstone > Calais > Rouen > Tours > Gradignan (Bordeaux) > Tarnos > Villefranque > Tafalla (Spain) > Montserrat (Valencia) > Usclas-d’Hérault (France) > Aspiran > Limoges and here to Montsoreau.

2103 miles so far.

Tomorrow, although very sad to leave this town, I will continue my journey home.

Day one was well covered in the last email but I’m not sure if I mentioned the slight anxiety about heading out on a bike I hardly knew. It was a very real anxiety at first but slowly dissipated as we munched up the miles. 

On day two the weather was amazing. The rain soaked roads evaporated as sunshine burned through the few remaining clouds.

The late night had meant a late start as we slowly consumed as much breakfast as our stomachs could carry.

The ride from Rouen to Tours was broken up by lunch in Everaux. The unfortunately named London Pub restaurant thankfully served nothing like English pub food and too tired to read the menu I pointed at another customers lunch and ordered what he was eating.

A huge plate of pasta, cheesy toast with fried eggs and salad arrived. Then soon disappeared.

The fast roads through wide open spaces took us onwards to Tours, its fascinating architecture and picture postcard streets.

We ate Thai food on one such street before sampling some interesting ales in the infamous bar ‘Mc Cool’.

This motorbike tour was quickly becoming a gastronomical expedition across Europe.

We could have done with an early night but we opted to take a bottle of wine back to the hotel and talk till 2:30am.

I fell asleep ruminating over conversations me and Adam had shared over drinks. If you want to really get to know someone, ride across Europe with them.

The long time alone on your bikes in silence seems like no time compared to stories over wine.

The following morning, day three, we travelled from Tours to Bordeaux. Little sleep was supplemented by lots of coffee. As we loaded our bikes I had kicked Adams helmet by accident as it sat on the floor.

The helmet was brand new, state of the art and immaculate. Well... was immaculate.

He laughed it off but I think it bothered him. I would have felt the same. It was a small knock but dropping, knocking or scratching a helmet is a big no-no when it is the only protection between you and brain damage.

Luckily there were a chunk of miles for us to forget about it. 

On arriving in the region of Bordeaux we struggled to find camping. We did find a cool spot in a vineyard with the app iOverlander. On arrival a Dutch couple in a home modified Land Rover camper gave us a welcome cold beer but after failing to find the owner or a decent place to pitch a tent, we rode for another hour asking locals till we found an official campsite.

 It was full but €20 secured us a square of grass by the road. We didn’t care. After a hot shower we feasted on bread wine and cheese and continued the conversations from the night before.

Day four was a short ride into Basque Country.

After an ok night in the camp site we packed the tents away and were off just before midday.

Mornings are slow. It might be that wine induced sleep is not as restful as it should be.  Adam also had to sort out a questionable credit card charge.

We are tapping our cards in all kinds of places. Mostly automated toll booths as you are under pressure to get your gloves back on and get moving. You start to sweat the moment the bike stops and the air-con cooled driver sat behind you appears unreasonably frustrated. They sometimes beep and you wonder why they, being French nationals, don’t equip their car with an RFID windscreen pass. No need to stop and pay. Just fly through the barrier as the French government auto-syphons your cash. On reflection I might look into getting one next time i’m here.

I commented to Adam that my Triumph Tiger was the hottest running bike I had ever owned. The weather, although lovely was really not helping.

We had an easy if blustery ride toward Biarritz. The bikes were leaning into the wind unless slowing for the tolls. The only other time we stopped was for a steak sandwich and Basque Cola as we took a look at the Atlantic Ocean. 

Our final destination was the home of Caroline Phillips @Hurdygurdygal.A big house in a lovely part of the country. We were met by her husband, a pensive guy and professional musician. His focus now was traditional Basque folk music but I later found out he once played in one of the best progressive rock bands ever, a Basque band called Errobi.

It was fantastic to see Caroline again but we had unfortunately gifted two bottles of wine to a family who appeared to drink very little. The responsibility once again fell to me and Adam. 

There was Caroline, her husband, her daughter, and her boyfriend, the two younger ones were both actors in Paris.

We all assisted in the making of dinner which was Mexican themed and had a lovely night of conversation and laughter. Me and Adam slept in what was formerly the music studio. It came equipped with two comfortable mattresses and a cat that would pop when least expected.

Our fifth day on the road and we headed to Spain.

We woke on our mattresses said goodbye to Mixel, Caroline’s husband and headed out. 

What a wonderful road up and over the mountains. So good. The curves were smooth and the air was cool. The bike was purring like a kitten. Pleased to be out of the hot valley below.

Spain appeared before we knew we had crossed a border. The lush green of Basque Country seemed far behind us as things quickly got hotter and drier. 

We headed straight for a little hotel in Tafallia. After checking in and parking the bikes we headed out to a restaurant recommended by the hotel owner. Lovely little town. I had octopus salad, Adam had a venison steak. Again we drank and ate too much. As much as I love all the cuisine we have experienced I felt I needed to take a step back. You can certainly have too much of a good thing.

I don’t remember getting into bed.

Day six was the day me and Adam went our separate ways.

We couldn’t leave as early as we wanted as the rain came down hard. Waterproofs on we got going and soon left the rain streaked skies behind us.

We were entering the Badlands. 

The area is officially called Bardenas Reales. A strange desert of a place where the heat from above is matched by the heat bouncing off the cracked earth below. 

We played around on our hot bikes. Skittering across gravel trails, past biblical scenes of wrinkled shepherds driving dust clouds before them.

We could have been anywhere, a sun baked Arizona or equatorial Somalia. 

It was fun to travel here but sad to say goodbye.

Adam had been a great traveling companion. Older than his years and un-phased by most things, I was losing a friend and felt that his absence might mark the end of a perfect trip. That my fortune could take a turn.

It had been fun sharing the adventure. We hugged and as Adam headed north I continued South.

It was over three hours to Montserrat. A mundane ride possibly tainted by now being alone. 

That soon changed when I pulled up through the gates of the villa my family were visiting. Unannounced, I surprised the kids and then joined them in the pool. 

Laughter and happiness.

My first swim on the trip and the cool waters washed away the desert and eased my aching muscles.

As soon as I exited the pool I realized what I’d let myself in for. This was a new kind of hot. A sweltering 40° heat with any shady sanctuary filled with hungry mosquitos.

Sweating became the norm. Especially at night when with aircon broken, windows needed to be closed to keep out the blood thirsty swarm.

I rolled the bike into the garage and oiled it’s worn parts.

The sun beat down relentlessly but we managed to find places to hide. 

Day seven was all about family time in air conditioned places.  Cars and fridge-based food shopping as well as a long day at a giant aquarium.

The kids loved it. It’s a great place and although they had been there before I think they are at an age where they really appreciated it.

Rescued dolphins, sharks, crocodiles etc. We’d sweat our way between the cool zones before returning to base camp and the pool. A swim followed by a feast on the porch.

In the evening we watched Jurassic Park. I kept an eye on the fascinated face of my seven year old daughter wondering if this was too much too soon.

“Are you ok” I ask.

“When do all the dead people come back?” She replied.

Day eight and I have begun to wind down.

A lazy day, sleeping late, keeping cool and playing in the pool had me feeling I’m now on holiday.

I did manage to take the bike out for a little explore of the local trails on the way to picking up some shopping.

The day was quick and easy.

Day nine and I needed to get back on the road. We have a proper family holiday next month and I felt I needed to start heading north.

I set off later than I wanted but it was really hard to leave. I could have stayed another day but I’d not left much time should their be any issues on my return.

I had a long way to go.

It was still hot and getting hotter. Heading back on the coastal road past Barcelona temperatures approached 40°. And then entering France they got there. 

The helmet is too noisy for me hear music properly so I spent the hours thinking, wondering, imagining.  

The bike was also making new noises and seemed louder for some reason. Perhaps it was normal and the sounds were just amplified as they bounced around the medieval streets I rode through.

I wondered if the intense heat and high speed push north had loosened some screws or strained the engine.

I pulled over into a rest space to jot down some words that were swirling round my head.

While there I helped a stranded couple get assistance for their broken down BMW. I also took a moment to book a hotel via an app. An old fortress that had belonged to a Knights Templar. As I pulled away the girl leapt out of the broken down car happy help was on the way. She ran over and gifted me a Toblerone.  I stuffed it in my panniers hoping it would stay solid.

I had passed so many ruined castles I’d wanted to wild camp in that day, and now accidentally found one with a bathroom.

Once I had checked in and washed, I headed out for food but could only find a pizza place that sold dustbin sized pizzas that I couldn’t finish. Luckily the remains fitted in my back box and I rode home after a single glass of wine worrying about the noise my bike made in the quiet night.

The miles had certainly taken toll on the chain and sprocket. I’d hoped that was all.

It was way past midnight. My body and mind were back to their road tired state but still racing. I struggled to sleep due to the amount of caffeine I’d I drank that day.

Then their was the sound of bells in the courtyard and a baby crying in the room next door. 

The internet had brought me good news though. Author Ted Simon had invited me to his place and it was no coincidence I was only a few miles away.

The author of Jupiter’s Travels, Ted was a hero of mine. Had been for many years. I’d buy his book and gift it to others when I travelled in the 90’s.

Although he’d invited me to his house, he’d not supplied an address. All I had was was the name of the village, Aspiran.

The test he gives those that feel the need to track him down is to get lost, and then find him.

I lay their pondering the warning to not meet your heroes. The chapel bell rang again. Like it had every half hour for hundreds of years. Like it would continue through the night and perhaps the next hundred years. 

The mosquitoes were attacking me. 

I really needed to sleep.

Day ten was ‘find Ted Simon day’.

Rough night. The mozzies, bells and babies won. I chatted over breakfast with the owner of the guest house.

Then I headed off and bought wine at a supermarket before making my way to Aspiran. 

The place was bigger than I thought. Navigating the narrow streets designed for horses I found his house after showing the photo on his website to someone at the village hall.

As I rumbled up Ted called down from a balcony above. For a man in his late 80’s he seemed bright and full of joy de vivre.

Welcoming me in he hinted he was in the middle of things and only had an hour. On producing the gift of wine his face lit up in thanks and I felt I may have extended my allotted time.

People drop by daily which must be a pain for a writer. I think this was his way of deterring the continuous flow of fans from overstaying their welcome.

We ascended the stairs into a cool house cluttered as many I have seen that belong to creatives.

Writing tech, bike bits and a few half empty bottles of fine wine.

He asked my opinion on if he should re release his recent photo book. He was concerned that he may not live long enough to see the rewards. I commented that it was worth it to continue to inspire from beyond the grave and he asked if he could quote me on that. I hope he does.

We talked about the power of stories and he shared an audio tape which held the only recording of his late mother’s voice. I offered to help him digitize it in order so transcribe the contents.

I was there for a few hours and although I did grab an audio conversation with him it was the time either side I will treasure.

Not only did he sign my first edition book of Jupiters travels I had carried over 1500 miles, but he also signed and gifted a book of his tour around the British Isles.

Small things to some. Not to me. 

I was mostly taken by his personality. He was cheeky, funny. He was the author I had grown to love through his words all those years ago.

Friendly, approachable, curious and wise. Humble enough to ask questions he thought I could answer and kind enough to not comment when I stayed longer than anticipated.

Always meet your heroes.

I was sad to leave and as Ted stood in his narrow street and watched me pull away, my noisy exhaust pipe announced my departure to the town. 

I saw him smile in my mirror. He’d only recently got back on a bike and I wonder if a part of him also wanted to head into the unknown. 

My own unknown soon became a mission to find a garage. I really needed to know these new noises were not emanating from the engine. This wasn’t an easy mission as the first mechanic recommended by Ted was on holiday. Thankfully the second recommendation in a totally different town paid off and the guys made me feel at ease with the bike. Yes I did need a new sprocket and chain set but I should make it back to England.

Something still felt strange though. From day one I thought the bike seemed to be running hotter than it should be but the engine temperature sensor has never moved from normal.

After a lot of faffing about I finally made it to Limoges for the evening.

Rob Amor, a friend from the Internet was waiting for me at the gate of his campsite. I rode straight in without paying and they accommodated my motorbike on their large camping pitch. Rob and his family, wife and two kids had all of the camping gear you could possibly need.

A massive main tent, a trailer to carry all of the gear, bicycles, cooker, fridge, even a spare roof tent that I had the pleasure of staying in. 

I felt well looked after.

We had eaten pasta with Belgian beers for tea and no doubt I snored through the night but nobody complained.

Day eleven and I discovered Montsoreau

I woke after an okay sleep and spent a long time talking to Rob and his family before heading off on the motorbike. I didn’t get far before the engine light came on and I got to worrying again. I took no comfort in the thought that I’d known something was not quite right with the bike.

It could have been anything though and I needed to know what it was. Rob led me into town and showed me where I could get some oil but the level was not so bad as to be the problem. So saying fairwell once again I tracked down a Triumph dealership and limped over. It was closed for lunch so I grabbed some food, bought a mosquito net and sandals from Decathalon round the corner and returned.

The guy who looked at my bike knew what he was doing. He gave a diagnostics check and told me that the bike had drastically overheated at some point. He then took the bike out for a test ride but noticed no issues until it was idling in the hot sun. Once again it overheated badly. In fact on this occasion it smelt like some of the wires or rubber grommets were melting as the manifold glowed red hot.

Another guy in the garage ran over to throw a bottle of water over the smoking metal and rubber.

It looked like at some point the engine temperature sensor had failed and the fan was not kicking in. The mechanic told me that I could ride the bike but I mustn’t stop in heavy traffic or idle. I had to keep moving to ensure a steady flow of air to cool the engine. He only spoke French but I got the jist. He even joked about the film Speed. “Stay above 55mph” he said.

Easier said than done over the following two+ hours but at least I managed to get to Montsoreau.

Edwina and Peter Lightfoot have been inviting me to their home for years now. I wish I had taken them up on their offer sooner. It’s a magical place and although they had a full house they arranged me somewhere to stay in the town. My bike was parked in the garage beneath a very attractive looking self-contained apartment that was mine for as long as I needed.

Richard a lovely Mexican American guy who owns this place lives next door. He told me to make myself at home and I did.

Yes the town is picturesque, on a river and as pretty as a postcard. But the magical feel emanates from the community I have been invited into. A close knit network of internationals. Polymaths, creatives, inventors, professionals who have made their money and artists who don’t care that much for it. 

This part of the Loire Valley is also riddled with kilometers of tunnels, caves and troglodyte dwellings making each property a keeper of cool secrets and at the very least caves packed with great wine.

Peter and Edwina’s house is a great example. The highest one in the village, it has caves and alcoves hundreds of years old. A fantastic looking place overlooking the chateau below.

I was made a delicious tea of wild salmon before we headed out to a party in a local eccentric dentists apartment. Jérôme is a collector of pushbikes, motor-bicycles, his own art, handmade boats and other fantastic paraphernalia.

The party was filled with the lovely, talented and well-connected locals and I was made very welcome indeed.

We left before midnight. I was so tired. But I’d forgot about the bike troubles and felt happy to have found such a special place.

I felt very lucky to be here.

Day twelve and I was still in love with the place.

I slept well. There were weird dreams but I woke rested. After breakfast me and Edwina went for along walk around the village. 

Throughout the day I was treated to fine food and wine from Edwina and Peter. Croissants for breakfast, cheese, bread and pate for lunch and we had a delightful barbecue for supper.

I don’t know how these guys keep it up.

I popped round to Jérôme Unger’s house. The polymath dentist. He also has a music studio in a spare room and we had a quick blues jam. He makes great art. I like his pregnant Virgin Mary.

Day thirteen was mostly spent writing. I did take a walk for coffee, croissant and to watch the world go by.

This is no quick pop across the village. It is punctuated with multiple chitchats along to way. With strangers as well as the people I feel I can now call friends.

Later in the day I was invited to play Pétanque, the French game of boules. Not played before but won my first game and reveled in the moment.

These last few days have brought great balance to the fast mad sweaty days astride the bike.

The day finished with dinner in a country house connected to a famous soap factory Le Mestre. I’ve forgotten about it’s history and the family story. Only the memory of great food and wonderful goodbyes remain.

I feel I’m leaving too soon. But there may never be a right time to leave Montsoreau.


#ThePictures

Seesaws across the US/Mexico border.H


Sometimes it’s hard to appreciate the amount of work that goes into making a beautiful object .

https://youtu.be/43K0CZd1Z08


#TheWords

These words swirled round my head when riding the bike on a hot sticky road…

Caffeinated high alert the traffic wants me dead

Sat astride a smouldering coal, a bucket on my head

Acceleration sends perspiration seeping through my coat

Throttle back one twenty stops me sticking to the road

The motor-gloaters chill in air-con gawking at the geek

But I pass too fast mind bending time and leave them in last week.


#TheConsumed

I’m worried that if you find out where I got this home-made Magnum ice cream corporate lawyers may put a stop to this delicious wonder.

The officially manufactured Magnum leaves me feeling a little bit sick afterwards.

I saw this handmade delight in a refrigerated glass cabinet. It was on display like a fine gateaux. It stood with a strawberry and chocolate clone but I of course went for vanilla. The nuts are better, the chocolate is better and the vanilla ice cream is far far better than the original.

If you ever find this place, please keep it to yourself.


#TheEnd

Tomorrow I will head to Calais. I’ll be hoping the bike will get me there and when there, that my ‘Flexi pass’ ticket will get me on the train.

Normal-ish email service will resume next week.

I’ll also be available for work.

If you liked this email and would like to receive the archive and bonus bits please consider the $5/month subscription.


Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Come join us. Life is so endlessly delicious.” 

Ruth Reichl


Mangez bien,

See you out there.

Over…