France Part 3 - The legendary Napoleon run!

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France Part 3 - The legendary Napoleon run!

Post  Radar on Wed Mar 04 2009, 01:00

Day 7 ~ The Napoleon Pass and a taste for Champagne!

We were all up and on the road sharply and we soon found ourselves at the starting point for the run of the legendary Napeleon Pass. Well most of us did, Prezzo with Neil in tow had got separated, but he soon rolled up. Prezzo has a bit of a tendency to do this and like some sort of anti sat nav and could get lost in a phone box bless him!

Towcrowe was on his seventh trip and always gets the group together in the same lay by that marks the start of the pass. He gets his head together for the challenge that lay ahead.

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The view at the start of the Napoleon Pass

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Gathering the troops

Towcrowe, Digger, Toggsy and Daz led away followed by Prezzo and Neil and then me and my trusty Thundercat. The next 100+km that followed turned in a blur of bend flowing into bend, hairpin after hairpin, then sweeping curve after sweeping curve while all around you the countryside forms a rolling backdrop with craggy outcrops of rock and steep drops, at one point the road actually pierced through a hole blasted into the rock. Just awesome. The first section was a little damp here and there and the rock hard BT21 Bridgestone I had fitted to the rear before the trip had given me a few missed heartbeats as the back end stepped out a few times.

Grasse to Digney is just a fabulous stretch of tarmac and some of the most challenging roads that I have ever ridden. In fact I took to talking myself through the bends, coaching myself on positioning, braking points and line as corner after corner came at me. If you are a fan of some the British icons like the Cat and Fiddle run, try to imagine something like this for the better part of 100 miles but with no traffic or feds! The whole experience is just on a different level. If you love the feel of a sports bike cranked over and sling shoting out a bend before stinging on the brakes to repeat the whole experience time and time again you MUST ride this road. If God rides a bike, it won't be a Harley, it will be a sports bike and you will find him here!! We stopped for a break in a small town on route and towering above us atop a huge crag of shear rock was a church; that is probably where God parks his R1! For some reason every few minutes a staggeringly loud alarm sounded. A peculiar accompaniment to your cuppa! Frustratingly the video camera was not playing ball on Towcrowe's Blade so we can't share too much with you all on video. That means you will have to go and try it for yourselves!

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Is this where God parks his R1 ready for action?

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Digger, Towcrowe and Toggsy who is asking for two coffees I think...

The roller coaster ride continued past Digney, through Sisterton and on towards Gap, the Cat and Fiddle experience on acid just getting more and more intense. The whole trip and this section of N85 especially, give the rider something of a quandary; do you extract the maximum buzz from your bike or do you ease back a couple of notches and take in some pretty extraordinary scenery? The truth is that neither option is right or wrong; the aim of the trip is to enjoy yourself, so just do whatever floats your boat and crucially puts a smile on your face.

The lads in the group who had ridden the run before Towcrowe, Digger, Prezzo and Daz advised to ride at 80% of what you are comfortable with. In that way the joy derived from these fantastic roads wouldn't turn to tears in a foreign hospital ward.

The whole day was pretty much spent on the N85 towards Grenoble and then the overnight halt at Chambery for a well earned rest after 398km of demanding riding. The last section was wet but this had not spoilt the fun of yet another memorable biking day.

We received a warm welcome at the hotel as the hotelier remembered some of the group from previous years. Digger amusingly introduced Toggsy as gay and Toggsy responded by claiming Digger had been his partner for the last five years. The landlord took all the banter in his stride. He recommended a local casino for the meal, so we decided to give it a try. The place was spectacular with fountains and neon everywhere and we looked slightly out of place in our slightly scruffy kit. We sat down to dinner only to be informed that there was no beer which raised a chorus of derision led by Digger. But after six bottles of champagne and some of the best food I have ever tasted all was well with the world.

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You can't beat a humble French Cafe for a simple meal...

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Leading the highlife, anybody for champers???

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Daz and Prezzo about to enjoy a delicious starter

Digger gave the security camera operators an eyeful when he thought that mooning the camera would be funny. We could actually hear them laughing at his antics out in the restaurant! A one point we managed to spill some champagne so rather than waste it Digger sucked the champers from the tablecloth, class!

As we returned to the hotel Toggsy thought that shaking the rain from a tree as we passed underneath would be good fun and he soaked us all. Daz was determined to get his own back on him and lunged for the next tree, but he made a right pigs ear of it and wound it on his arse in a huge puddle and with a grazed knee and elbow for his trouble! The trips biggest crash!

Day 8 ~ Pouring rain and Guinea Fowl

The morning greeted us with an eerie mist lingering over the slopes that surround Champney. Once under way Towcrowe made a rare navigational error and he took us on to a road he had not tried before, the N504 and N75 towards Bourg (so that's where they came from), but this turned out to be no bad thing as it proved to be a lovely sweeping section of tree lined tarmac. The surface was a little damp and the BT21 on the back of my Thundercat was not always happy. Then we found ourselves on mile after mile of open high speed running, especially for the lads on the litre bikes. A word of warning here, this section also boasted a few rear facing speed cameras, I set one off and so did everybody else. Time will tell if the French plod will track us all down.

Gray, our intended halt for the night was reached in excellent time and with the sun still shining we decided to press on. Just outside Gray came the moment that captured the spirit of the whole trip for me; a series of well surfaced bends that flowed smoothly into one another and we sliced through them neatly in formation, all holding the same line and switching from lean to lean as one like some earthbound version of the Red Arrows ~ fantastic! Towcrowe on part of this section neatly swept past us all cutting arc as neatly and precisely as a draughtsman scribing a circle on a drawing with a compass. That lad can certainly ride a bike!

However the weather suddenly turned and the heavens absolutely opened. We were forced to seek shelter in a petrol station and after 20 minutes or so the rain eased so pressed on only for the taps to open even wider and a huge downpour engulfed us. The rain stung my face and I could barely see where I was going. This was horrible and somewhere during this the number plate plinth on Prezzo's R1 gave way and he found his number plate bouncing about trapped between his swinging arm and wheel hub. He was lucky it didn't jam, or throw off his chain.

Finally, just as suddenly as it started the rain stopped and the last 50km past Chaumont and Joinville along the N67 was fine. Here we stayed at a farm that had been converted into accommodation with great taste and style. The conservatory come dining room in particular was amazing with a suspended fireplace looking like something from a 1960's Sci-fi programme. Rolling views over a mist laden valley provided yet another beautiful backdrop.

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The converted farm buildings

We shared two chalets and once cleaned up we gathered in the dining room with some French guests for the most superlative home cooked meal that I have ever tasted. After a day when 447km passed under my wheels it really hit the spot. The roast wild Guinea Fowl was succulent and a new experience for most of us. We quickly ran our hosts out of beer and polished off several bottles of a local red wine too; the perfect way to round off yet another wonderful day.

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That funky 60's fireplace

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After a long day on the road, a nice cool beer and a chance to chill

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Tucking in, Daz leads away!

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Three legged dog

Overnight we were woken about 3am by the mother and father of thunderstorms. I stood at the doorway of our chalet with Digger and watched Mother Nature stage a light and sound show no stadium rock band could ever hope to match. The sky lit up pink and yellow as lightening forks danced across the clouds and the thunder rattled the glass in the windows!

Day 9 ~ Don't follow Prezzo and a date with Queen!

When dawn broke the skies had cleared and after our hosts provided a tasty buffet breakfast Prezzo and Neil repaired the R1 with tools and materials provided by the farmer's sons.

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Not the usual contents of a farmer's barn

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Neil and Prezzo working on the R1 number plate plinth

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R1 sorted again

We left with warm hand shakes and cries of Bon Voyage from our hosts. All this for £35 each! Barely believable

St.Omar was the target for the day as it would leave us reasonably close to Calais and our ferry home. The roads were a mixture of some tight D roads, a couple of sections of Autoroute (A26), but mainly yet more fast open roads as were back on the N44, N27 and N17 as we retraced some of route from the journey down.

I changed tack myself and decided to tuck into the 2nd spot in the line behind Towcrowe and his Fireblade rather than bring up the rear as tail end Charlie. Up here the speeds I was hitting were lower, say 110 ~ 120mph, but we held together as a line better. However a couple of times Prezzo got separated with Neil and Daz in tow and we had to suffer another period of TORRENTIAL rain and I couldn't see a thing; never I have been so happy to see a McDonalds when we finally stopped for a break.

Just before the final leg to St.Omar Towcrowe pulled us all over and told us to come off the A26 at Junction 14, we had taken the Autoroute as the weather was pretty poor still and the spray on the N roads was terrible. Prezzo nodded sagely and we all headed off. Junction rolls up and Towcrowe, Digger, Toggsy and me all pull off just in time to see Prezzo, Neil and Daz flash past at VERY high speed, Doh! When we eventually all hooked back up Prezzo and Daz both admitted to seeing close to 180mph on the clock. I suppose that if you are going to get lost you might as well do it with some panache! The moral of this is don't follow Prezzo!

Anyway we all arrived in St.Omar together for the last overnight stop of the trip. What a pity, why couldn't it just go on?

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The bikes at rest, the bulk of their work is done

We eventually wound up in a rock bar near our hotel and being treated to the dubious vocal delights of local rock hero Johnny Holliday on DVD. We moaned to the bar owner who then dug out a Queen DVD from their landmark 1986 concert at Wembley. When I revealed I was at that gig we were suddenly his heroes and he went and got his guitar and amp and started to join in with Queen! By this time Digger, Towcrowe and Neil had gone back to the hotel, so Prezzo, Daz and Toggsy joined me in a rousing, beer fuelled, rendition of some great Queen tracks such as Bohemian Rhapsody, We Will Rock You and We are the Champions much to the amusement of the few locals left in the bar by now.

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Rock Cafe owner jamming away to Queen, is it me or does he look like Damon Hill??

All in all another superb night, but tomorrow there was the brief ride to Calais and then it would all be over
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Radar
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