Stella Alpina Rally 2002
Wednesday10th July and the troops were safely aboard the ferry savoring that first awesome pint. On deck we tucked into home-made scotch eggs watching the blazing sun going down over Hull docks. Gradually we discovered who was on this crazy trip as we met to gather instructions. Basically fuel stops and fag breaks when the two minute shout goes up, move it or you're on your own, a system, which focuses the mind wonderfully.
That night the dance floor was remarkably free of bikers, bar one solitary but happy Meatloaf fan. Thursday morning tooled up the Stella Alpina troops disembarked preparing for the hot, boring ride from Zeebruge to La Russee. We charged five hundred miles down the AutoRoute to the Au Gay Pensioner, our stop for Thursday night A great evening with smelly cheese and talk of Left footers. More of that later. Friday morning we woke to green pastures and chiming cows.
We formed a line outside the hotel ready to receive instruction for our onward journey. At Geneva the system to keep the group together past Lake Geneva and through the one way system came into its own. Led by the big man Clarkie - it went like clockwork. He approached the maze of traffic lights and the one way system with the assured calmness of a mother duck leading her chicks into the water for the first time. At every junction, traffic light and road deviation a man was deposited as a living signpost for the uninitiated, until the named last man flagged him onwards once again. Pure poetry in motion. Exhilarated by this success the gang charged towards the first colls with ultimate velocity, like peas shot from elastic bands into the heady freedom of the twisties. We climbed four Cols - Col De La Colomdiere, Col De Aravis Col De Madeline Col De Telegraphe and in what order I'm still not sure! Arriving at our destination of Bardoneccia and the Hotel with carpets and would you believe an en suite! Sorry to all those who were in less palatial rooms and lumpy beds.
Saturday proved a lazy day, wandering around the local market discovering strange cheese, fish and funny salamis before chilling with a few Italian shandies. Gradually we made our way to the station -the most bizarre place for a drink. After going to the ticket desk and being given a ticket - not for a train but for a drink, the ticket had to be passed to counter number two and the white coated scrutineer. He looked at me and then at the ticket four or five times before speaking the immortal words……beer? Claiming our beer we retired to a seat on the veranda just as the heavens opened. Chairs squashed against the back wall to savour our beers and Amaretti we debated how to get over the road to get food without getting soaked through. RUFTY TUFTY BIKERS EAT YOUR HEARTS OUT. As darkness fell Carlos entertained the troops under the oak tree we thought it was another Alpine peak but it was only Carl's bottom.
Sunday and the weather worsened for the promised event. I shot up early to stick cardboard on the front lights of my BMW GS 1100, (keeping my gaffer tape under wraps from prying eyes) softened suspension, took pre load right off, and got rid of luggage. Tied on my bottle of water and off I went full of adrenaline and anticipation. Up through the town at 9.05am and over bridge, up tarmac and through hairpins and eventually on to the gravel. Up to river crossing to take pictures and on and up, more hairpins and then on to mud. I got to the tent selling badges and T-shirts and continued on through the settling mist and soft rain, riding on and on. Green turns to light green and as I get higher, it's getting whiter and whiter. It was weird from summer to winter in minutes with the highest snow covered peaks around me. The contrast of warm to cold like the worst childhood winter memory all barren and bleak Quote from Paul Aitkin "Only the insane go further than this" So Adam and I went for it! Very very slow progress by this point very slippery with two more hairpins past the snow blower and then I can see the bazaar sight of the Railway Carriage through the clearing in the snow. By then there was a foot of snow on the ground and progress was dangerously slippery. People at the top shouted. Eventually I get there and WOW I had made it only to be accosted by a mad German serving me a flask of coffee and a welcome croissant. How nice is that? No sight of Adam so I got out the faithful mobile to urge him on but funny enough, no signal. Regained my composure took photos and started my descent - even worse than going up. First gear was too high, no forks and savage breaks- diving into the side sticking my legs deep in snow, resorting to the Barney Rubble braking method. Couldn't use the Metzler Tourance tyres, what I would have given for a rear nobbly going up and a front nobbly coming down! Got badge and precariously headed down the mountain until I could hammer on for magnificent tiny cakes and coffee at 1 15p.m. in the comfort of the Somellier provided by the girls who had been out hob-nobbing Sunday morning with the left footers. Of the four of our troops who made it to the top three of them were part of the matrimonial's. That afternoon involved a lot of bike first aid. Late evening there was more rain and talk of the snowy morning exploits with friends from all over the country. And finally returning to the market square where the cheese and salamis were replaced with a marquis and dancing.
Monday. Rain, rain, rain left Bardo and up Col de Izard one degree above freezing in the middle of July as the sun seeking bikers braved the bitter cold and snow. The comment from Michelle Perry "Your having a laugh!" summed up our disbelief. We made our way down with frozen fingers and toes wasn't it a good idea to leave our thermal linings at home? It was a long cold wet run to Mamora with torrential rain stotting down the mountains and roads closing behind us as rivers pounded and rose mercilessly. We rode on soaked at every turn, arriving drenched at the hotel for matrimonial's to discover the heating was switched off - until…… September. A clothes rack in front of the solitary fire groaned under the weight of the sodden riding gear. That night a banquet of fab food with eight courses and copious wine raised spirits once again.
Tuesday. The squad split after the main event and those who left missed the two minutes shout. Leaving the party with fond farewells we rode to Digne Les Baines on to the Route of Napoleon. Through the mountains for two hundred klms- on the most wonderful tarmac road I have ever ridden sweepers and tight and twisty down to Grasse and Cannes. The sun blazed down illuminating the spectacular views along the French Rivera oozing sexiness and money. Disembarking briefly the urge to go skinny-dipping was replaced by the need to find a campsite before we boiled to death in our gear.The campsites had now trebled in price with the absence of hot water toilet paper and soap, back in the real world unfortunately for us foot soldiers coming down from our sensational ride.
THE RIDE HOME. I left Gran Du Rou at 6.20 a.m. wondering how much of the 1081 mile journey from Montpellier to Sunderland I could get under my belt before quitting for the night. With the freedom to ride without the pressures of the UK. and not one drop of rain I flew. Taking the AutoRoute's through Nimes, Lyon, Dijon, Troys, Reims, St Quentin, Arras, and arriving at Calais 4.20 p.m. Pleased with my progress and anticipating staying at a friends in Maidstone for the night I got the ferry to Dover 5.45p.m. Starting up again I couldn't stop, M20, M25, M1, A1 and incredibly home by 12 21a.m. The end of a magnificent trip. Total time eighteen hours one minute, one thousand and eighty-one miles, five cups of coffee, one prawn salad, three cans of Red Bull and eight tanks of fuel. I'm still trying to get the flies out of the Goretex jacket and I have captured the most fabulous collection of French wasps in my oil cooler.
Robin Dawson SUNDERLAND TRF No TW98PFA
ON THE FIRST PART OF THE JOURNEY The thunderstorms are crashing all around as I look through my Stella pics and I am reminded of the big storm we had shortly after arriving in Bardonecchia. A few of us hardy souls had a grandstand view as we sheltered under the balcony overhangs of the Somellier Hotel, supping on cold beer watching the lightning blazing about us. But I digress,,, Wednesday afternoon at the Ferry and at the final head count many of last years trippers, the Fraz, Johnny Graveside , the Wing Commander, the Codville crowd, etc were absent, but many new smiley faces were there to compliment the 2nd timers , along with familiar faces from other BTBC trips. Infact all points were covered from Scotland (Stu) to Wales (Paul A) to Hull(Alex) to err, the Sarf with Adam an` Robert holding their ends. Onto the ferry without a hitch due to Pc`s seamless transition plan of small groups boarding, then the fear/excitement of which complete stranger/snorer (and did we have a few snorers as the gossip got round!!) you were sharing with. Luckily I knew Chris (one of the 3 musketeers) and Paul A .I`ve shared with Chris before but never Paul as he always preferred the company of younger men last year, and this year too, as it turned out. Cabins settled and beer ,food etc consumed, some early to bed, some a lot later and before you know it, time for breakfast.
SOMEBODY`S CALLING MY NAME Off the Boat to sunshine and the steady grind thro` the flatlands begins,. The tight formation required around Lille and the North gets stretched but, hey, the sun is out and we are on our way. At the first petrol stop me and the 3 Musketeers ( PS to Blezz I know it should be the 3 Musketeers and I, but no ones bothered except you, OK?) we did the Iron Butt thing and went for petrol stops every 175 miles instead of Paul C`s 100 miles and crunched off the miles to the Gay Pensioner or triage dept. as it would become later on, in a shorter time.It was a hot and dusty journey and I could hear the first beer calling me from as far away as Dijon. Off the peage and I had to have a gallop to the hotel while the Musketeers kept a steady pace. After all regrouping and beers with Paul ,Paul&Sam (whose not bothered if you swear a bit, cos` I asked her) Robert, Eric ,Chris and Guy food was partaken and social intercourse was enjoyed by all on our first proper night abroad.
RIVER DEEP, MOUNTAIN HIGH Friday started with Carl leading off a quick run/race? that didn`t stop where PC had planned. We had a few good dices as the sports bikes were mixed in with the big trailies and honour had to be upheld. It`s always harder to pass so let the one behind try and overtake. We were all fairly well matched out of slow speed corners, so doing the opposition on the brakes going in was much more fun.The group funnelled down into Geneva, dropping off the last man, a couple of re-groupings and we were on the way to Bonneville for the first big Col of the day , the Col de la Colombiere, followed by the Col des Aravis Fantastic scenery and weather, but unfortunately ,no time to look at the views, as I had my "go faster" head on.You either ride the road or look at the scenery, but not both.Way too scary! On top of the Aravis ,Eric of the 3 musketeers noticed a leaking master cylinder on his GS1100 and with no fix available it was game over and back down the mountain to find a BM dealer.The other two musketeers accompanied him and that was the last we would see of them today.Or so we thought,,, but serendipity proved us wrong. On we carried through the Gorges de l`Arondine where the dappled shade made reading the road difficult. I gave the front tyre some serious abuse whilst finding out that a big trailie with Fireblade brakes is a match for a Fireblade with the same front brake. The fun ended in Flumet, as the back man system came into play, then before you knew it the Col des Saisies had gone and we were in Beaufort for lunch. Unfortunately a few missed the car park turning and had an extended run before arriving back an hour or so later. I had the frites in the car park last year but I fancied something a bit more French this year ,so with Paul A went off for food , postcards and stamps.We joined Robin&Theresa for a pavement cafe view of the world as the Celsius soared into the 30`s. When the others arrived back it was to find Paul&Sam`s GS 80 had blown it`s fork oil seals so they set off for a night in Grenoble whilst the repair was made. The next pass was the highlight from last years ride down and I think it was the same again this year. The Cormet d`Areches has an unsurfaced stretch over the top, but the views of the green lake and the snowy peaks is breath taking.Some with road tyres went round another way to regroup for the Col de la Madeleine. Adam was doing the Fraz substitute, taking pictures a plenty , then living his dreams roaring down the dirt road to join the others at the bottom of the hairpins where the tarmac started again. Onto the valley bottom after numerous hairpins, and the heat slowly building as we dropped, then a quick main road run before Madeleine. After the last man drop system I ended up with a clear road in front and behind so decided to take a steady run to the top.All was going smoothly till Carl started appearing in the mirrors and the pace upped considerably. No way could I let him past!! Off we charged , before we knew it Paul A and Neil were in the sights , then Paul C, who waved us passed , so we all charged , fast as fury, to the top.We were well hyped as the helmets were pulled off and the tales of epic derring do were recounted as the others slowly arrived. Coffee and Cokes were enjoyed at 2,000 metres, before the party split into the Jellystone group and (soft) tunnel group. A much smaller group did the Col du Galibier, one of my favourites, and with mist swirling all around you felt very small in a big landscape. A group photo was taken to show the hardy souls that did the full day ,then a dash to Briancon and who should we meet near the Col du Lauteret ,but the 3 Musketeers, lead by dis- orientated Eric who was leading them the opposite way!! It would have been near midnight arrival at Bardo taking his route. So joining us, we all went via Jelly stone and once again stern warnings were issued to the new first timers about the legendary storm drains across the road. These were heeded and we arrived an hour before that big storm I mentioned at the beginning.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN WAY Saturday dawned sunny and bright, but instead of getting off, the 3 Musketeers and I wandered around chilling out, looking at Bee Emm`s and so on. We bumped into Paul and Robert, and over coffee decided to do the Sestriere high level route, leaving at noon. I did it last year in brilliant weather and was looking forward to a re run. We met at 12 and after the Musketeers decided to go their own way we ended up as Paul A (alleged leader), me , Jason, Alec,Baldrick, Stu, and last but definitely not least, Big Steve. At the beginning of the trail with clouds gathering, but with the words " Fortune favours the brave" in my head , I remembered I`d left my over trousers in the hotel room. No worries! A great route with magnificent scenery appearing out of the clouds, then at a photo stop Grandfather Ted appears coming the other way. A quick chin wag and weather report and off we go, the cloud swirled , the rain held off and we all got to Susa for a coffee.Every one was impressed by the many hairpin bends on the way down,but one or two showed signs of fatigue.After all, we still had The Stella to do tomorrow! The group split, some taking the direct way home and others to do the fort , or at least as far as the famous tunnel ,at Mount Jafferau . We met Paul&Sam on the way up,after they had repaired the fork seals on the GS. After going through the tunnel and back a hasty retreat was beaten , in typical Italian fashion, back to Bardo as the cloud and rain rolled in and chased us all the way back up the Valle di Susa.
CLIMB EVERY MOUNTAIN. Sunday dawned bright and beautiful, not a cloud in the sky,ooops, no that was last year, I`ll start again. Another grey day greeted us, but it wasn`t raining and you could see the mountain tops when we set off. Tarmac turned to gravel to slime, back to gravel, as we climbed. We all got to the tent for the awards easily enough, but as the weather was holding I carried on to the top. A lot of the guys followed and we climbed up the serious hairpins which had been out of reach last year. I let out a silent "YES" as we reached higher then I had seen, and carried on.It really is a fantastic bit of trail as it flattens then climbs, then a bit of tarmac, then more hairpins. As we got nearer the top the ground was slowly turning white. Yep, overnight snow had made a slippy slush but the BTBC was undaunted. Well, one or two wimped out,but the majority carried on. Big respect to Sandy on the Suzuki 650 roadbike, little handle bars and rearsets and all, definitely in the spirit of the Stella. We all chose a mutual place to stop and survey the snow and damage. One or two had had minor get offs and the general feeling was that no disgrace or jibes would befall us if we went no further. Allen Mitchell looked around and said "But will we get a Stella badge if we don`t get to the top?" The news was gently broken to him that we were about 2 miles and 2,000 ft higher than required for a badge!!!!! But he did well for a dirt virgin. So at the BTBC "summit" were, from left to right, (back row) Eric,frozen Adam,Robin,Sam & Paul, Robert,Sandy, (front row) Jason, Baldrick,Rickanne,Jim,Neil, then Paul came up too late for the group photo moaning about "all you buggers leaving me". Marcus was there aswell, but heading for the summit. The true hero`s included Marcus, Jim, Robin and Paul.(of Paul&Sam) Young Adam set off with much gusto ,but within 20 ft was bleating for help to turn his bike round as it was all too much for him.Obviously missed out on boarding school and some character building. Shame on you Adam`s dad. As the cold got to us we returned down to the tent to get our badges, T-Shirts, etc, then some carried on to Bardo while others hung around the tent soaking up the ambience.The surrounding snow covered peaks and crashing water falls make it a spectacular place. As the drizzle started it was time for a.....
LAZY SUNDAY AFTERNOON. Have you ever been stuck at home on a wet ,miserable Sunday afternoon watching a GP from a hot and sunny european country and thought, yeah I`d like to do that? Picture the scene. Damp BTBC`ers crowding round the telly on a wet miserable Sunday afternoon in ITALY watching a hot and sunny GP from England.Doh! The anticlimax of the Stella struck home as Rossi crossed the finish line.What do we do now?? Well, the tough went shopping ( me and Adam`s dad, Paul,) for prezzies, booking restaurant tables, and just promenading up and down the streets like typical Italians do on a Sunday afternoon. Then food and beer , then hunted down an unsuspecting group of others at a bar where we drank Guinness , then staggered off into the night because tomorrow was the ride to Marmora and another (wet) adventure
MANDY LIFEBOATS. Monday morning carried on from where Sunday left off, yup, rain and lots of it. It all felt like a scene from "The Titanic" with people saying goodbye to others, as Adam and Jason went one way, and others going different ways, and Paul insisting that everybody put their life jackets on before the epic voyage.
It really was a case of battening down the hatches as we set sail, sorry this is getting all nautical, but it was wetter than a very wet thing. By the time we arrived at Mamora I`d seen freshly caught fish that were drier than us. But I'm jumping ahead of myself.
Over Jelly Stone and dropped downed to Briancon, the sunniest town in the Alps, according to the signs on the outskirts, the last man drop working perfectly, and then onto the climb towards the Col de` Eddy Izzard, where we all tried to regroup in what looked like a bus shelter, but only the early arrivals got out of the rain.
On we pressed, not pausing at the Col but straight over the top, so unlike last year, where every Col was in full sun, and down, down, down to Chateau Queyras before the next climb to Colle dell Agnello. A chill was in the air (as well as rain) and by the time the top was in site a steady sleety snow was falling, turning the road to a slippery white snake. If it was only rain we would have been fed up but the novelty of snow on a tarmac road in July kept morale high. Team Photo Stop compulsory.
Now in Italia and with Italian rain to keep us company we plunged down into the valley, where we followed the swollen Varaita River. The road was flooded in places and the river thundered by our side. I spotted a tree being carried down stream and paced it at a steady 25 mph, just out of journalistic accuracy, you understand. Did I mention how wet it was???
We regrouped again in Sampeyre, then started the climb back into the hills, towards Elva. This is a small bumpy single-track road, which was made more interesting by the leaves, gravel and other flotsam and jetsam washed down by the heavy rain. Once again, not stopping at the top, we carried on to Elva, where I was eagerly looking forward to the gorge with its stunning views. The road is carved on a ledge into the cliff side, sheer rock rising on the left, and a sheer drop, of two or three hundred feet, to the right. Six or seven small tunnels and avalanche shelters are incorporated in this feat of engineering. To make it extra safe, there is a low three railing iron fence and where this is broken, string is tied across,, It does look like strong string though.
Somehow I arrived first at the metal barrier blocking the way, with Paul C a close second behind. We stopped, looked at the barrier, looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders, then I got off my bike, pulled the barrier aside and waved Paul through.
I don't know how many other BTBC'ers realised the road was closed due to the dangerous conditions, but, well, you do now! And you also realise now why we had to ride around a barrier at the lower end of the road!
It really was a bit scary, with the road awash in many places, large lumps of mud in the road and small stones pinging in the wheel spokes as they bounced across the road. Many of the avalanche shelters had a curtain of water across the road, or a mighty waterfall cascading across the top and free falling down to the roaring torrent below. Everybody agreed it was a special moment, which would remain in the memory banks for a long time.
Past the aforementioned barrier at the Ponte Marmora end, and a quick ride to our destination brought Paul some big time headaches at Marmora on the accommodation front. i.e., too many heads, not enough beds.
Luckily I got fixed up with Paul A in a delightful bijou room overlooking the square, and in no time at all the place looked like it had been ransacked , with wet gloves, socks , clothing etc scattered over radiators and hanging off coat hangers in the shower room. Those not so lucky slowly got fixed up , with the last unlucky few stopping " down the hill " in a hotel with no heat but open fires from what I picked out of the conversation.
Paul was looking a bit sorry for himself so I got us both a coffee with a double Cointreau chucked in it. Ummm, you could feel it go all the way down. After a wash and change we strolled across to the bar and squeezed on to a table with Sam and Paul. We bided our time by looking at maps, route planning and tying to decide what to do if the weather stopped the way it was.
By the time food was served the whole group was pretty chilled about the days events and the meal was second only to the "Elva gorge experience".
Seven courses of wonderful food and as much vino as you wanted, with an excellent cheese board to end with. Marvellous. Then down to the serious business of prising information out of Paul C on routes and horse trading on other people's ideas of destinations. The Cumbrian lads were going to head for Germany, the Tad lads never got this far, others were up for mid-France. .Robin & Theresa were heading for the Med. I had heard of the Col de la Bonette in the Alpes-de-Hte-Provence in France as being the highest road in the Alps. Others disputed this but one of the Stella old hands had local knowledge. It seems the Col de la Bonette was not the highest at one time, but the local government wanted something to attract tourists to their quiet region. They hit on the idea of the highest road. So, in 1961, where the road originally reached the Col they engineered a loop up and around the neighbouring peak, and re- joining the original road a hundred feet further along. No matter how contrived it may seem , the road had to be ridden. Tomorrow.
THE ONLY WAY IS UP. Over breakfast the movers and shakers voted on the options. A majority verdict was to stay put for another day, with the smaller groups spreading themselves over Europe.
So it was that a group of eleven on nine bikes headed out towards the Col di Valcavera and the rapidly clearing skies above it.
Let's have a roll call. There was , in no particular order, Paul C, Paul A, Paul & Sam, Marcus & Michelle, Robert, Roberto, Alex , Jim ( Fogarty ), and me.
Now , I never did the road to the Colle di Valcavera last year , but , what a beauty. A winding switch back , bumpy tarmac rolled over the dirt type of big traily road. Up to 2,416 metres we climbed , into the wispy cloud , then back out and after a photo stop at the Colle Fauniera we dropped down to Demonte in the Valle Stura and a petrol stop. Alex had to do a little fettling to his back brake as it kept going soggy. A quick bleed with some fresh fluid and we were off up the sweeping roads following the Stura di Demonte in the valley bottom.
MARMOTS STOLE MY RACING LINE. Soon after Argentera the D900 does a few mad zig-zags ,(about 7 or 8), to reach the Colle della Maddalena and a nice little cafe that did a good line in Ham sandwiches , (pronounced sondweeches). Paul was leading , but on seeing the road rearing up above us I had to "Go For It". I overtook Paul on the brakes into the first hairpin, swung round it gave it full WFO to the next hairpin. I noticed in my mirrors that Paul was hot on my tail , so tried a bit harder. On the 3rd hairpin I out psyched him by pointing to the Marmots scurrying across the road at the apex. I'm sure one was waving a yellow flag. We both cocked up the bend a bit and ran wide on the exit and I showered Paul with gravel from the edge of the road. It made me laugh it did.
Coffee, Hot Chocolate and sandwiches were had by all at the cafe, and as we munched , who should turn up but Robin & Theresa , whom we had just said goodbye to that morning. Another quick hello and they were on their way, and so were we.
THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD Down to Jausiers then the mad, mad climb to la Bonette . The route was created as a military road by Napoleon 111 and is lined with forts of various sizes and the accompanying barracks at strategic locations. No time to stop, unfortunately , and we made the top in clear weather .YES!!!. Views awesome, Team Photo compulsory. And what a lot of smiling faces are on it. Well , all but Jim's' who looks like he's reflecting on the damage caused when he dropped it near the top of the Stella. Ooops, sorry, I wasn't meant to mention that, was I, Jim ??
We savoured our few minutes at the dizzy height but as we saw the clouds fast approaching , we hit the road one more time. Soon we were in thick cloud on our way down to a Isola before a right turn saw us climbing on a super smooth racer road to the ski resort of Isola 2000. Err, super smooth that was , except for the gravel bits through the unlit avalanche shelters. Scary hitting gravel at 70 mph, believe me. As the old motor started labouring a bit I knew we were getting towards our Col and back into Italy. A sharp left just before Isola 2000 and up to the Colle di Lombarda.
I don't know who decided to do it but the next thing I see is a few brave/foolhardy souls driving along a 3 ft wide path to an old gun emplacement. Of course, I followed , but it was only when I got there that I thought , " How the f**k do I turn the old bus round??" I got my trusty Mag-Lite out of the tank bag and off I went exploring. I bumped into the others in a black dank tunnel some where in the mountain. The fort was two gun turrets joined by a labyrinth maze of passages and steps, all with a drainage channel next to them. As I was the only one with a torch I then played at usherettes, guiding the others back through the passage from one turret to the other. Time was not on our side, so we had to keep moving. Luckily the ledge opened out enough to turn the bikes around, and we were all soon on our way down the mountain to the Valle Stura and re-tracing our tracks back through Demonte and over the Colle di Valcavera and on to Marmora.
OOOP'S, I TOLD YOU SO. As mentioned earlier, Alex had been suffering back brake problems, so we tried to sort the problem together.
Rickanne : "Right, I'll pump the brake pedal, you open the bleed nipple" Alex : "
OK, tell me when" Rickanne: "Open"
Alex : "Closed"
Rickanne " Somethings not right here, the brake hose flexes under pressure"
CRACK!!, fluid dribbles from hose end.
Rickanne : "your brake pipe has split from the olive. Who made the hose up? Give 'em a bollocking."
Alex: " I did"
Rickanne: "Ah" Time for tea and Alex goes back the flat way tomorrow. Sorry, Alex.
U F O ( Unidentified Furry Object ) Spotted. The fat was chewed over another seven courses, and Paul C let it slip to Paul A and I that he had been hallucinating, or had one too many tabs, as he admitted to seeing a large 4ft tall rabbit at the top of a mountain pass. It didn't answer to Roger or Bugs, but Paul was adamant he had seen it. And we trust him to map read???
Much piss taking followed, and the wine and beer flowed and every body was pretty happy. I gave a toast to absent friends, Fraz, Garty, Blondie, Darky et al, and we all slowly drifted off to bed mindful of the trek North tomorrow.
TOMMOROW NEVER COMES. Bright shafts of intense light forced their way through my sleepy eye lids and pierced my subconscious. Bright... err,, Light,...err, SUNSHINE!!!!
Yes, a beautiful Tuesday 16th July greeted us. The enthusiasm to pack and get on the road was noticeable through the group. Brekky demolished, and we were gone. Back through a now dry Elva Gorge, and up to the top for a group photo with the sun shining and snow capped peaks in the back ground. Isn't life wonderful.
Back over Col Agnel ( it's over) back over the Col d'Izoard , ( it's over ), through Briancon, (it's over ) and on to the Col du Lautaret for food. The holiday is over I keep thinking, but it's not. Heading for home brings a tinge of sadness, but it's not over.
Do you take photos.? When you get them developed do you suddenly realise you have big gaps, or, never took any on the homeward leg ? That was me.
The journey back to the Gay Pensioner had many eventful incidents. The road blocked by a rock fall at the pass of the Croix de Fer, a U-turn and a long grind down to Grenoble. No photos.
Marcus having to do some roadside repairs, entailing a long roadside wait as the group spread out over many kilometres of junctions.
Heavy showers. Horrendous car crashes.
Hanging around, regrouping, petrol stops, peage, and back onto the side roads to circumnavigate Geneva .No photos.
Through the misty woodland of the Monts de Jura, and a mad dash to the welcome sight of the Gay Pensioner. All safe and sound , or so we thought, except Jim tries his hardest to bin his GS 1150 on some road markings right outside the Hotel. Luckily he fails and we all retire for a pleasant evening's entertainment. OR, so we thought. But, still no photos. Strange.
The Dangerous Bros. are already there after aborting their mammoth European tour for something more realistic.
Paul, of Paul & Sam decides to sort the GS 80 out as it has been playing up and is rewarded for his efforts by the flesh eating garage door nearly ripping his fingers off as it moves unexpectedly. Oh dear. Luckily history tells us that it all ended OK, but, that was holiday over for them . The Three Musketeers weren't there when they where meant to be. A communication breakdown meant they had cleared off a day early, but, hey, it gave us something to talk about. Beer and bed and the weary party hit the sack.
THE ROAD GOES ON FOREVER. Early start , no breakfast, got to cover big klicks, but yesterdays confusion knocks on into this morning. It turns out, that some filled up at an unofficial petrol stop, then didn't fill up at the official petrol stop. Hence tank ranges don't match. One runs out, two sweat. Some have a long leisurely petite dejeuner, others have a brief petite dejeuner, but all the bikes have a full petrol tank after this stop.
The weather is kind, no one is stressed, these things happen. Big, Big miles pass on the AutoRoute and we arrive a bunch of happy bunnies at Zeebrugge. A fond farewell is said to Stewart as he is catching the Scottish boat, and ( amazingly) the Cumbrian lads are there, one Tad Lad is there and all the other lads who said they would be there, are there. The look of relief on Paul C's face is palpable to all.
We all board and find our cabins but modesty forbids me to tell you, gentle reader, about the ensuing embarrassment that followed. Please read Paul A's account ( www.bigtailbike.club.com ) for the full details of the terrible events that followed.
Suffice to say, we all lived happy ever after and the proof is in the pictures on the club website. Roll on next year's Stella.
It's difficult in a trip so full of contrasts not to be constantly referring to "last year" so I'll apologise now and just get on with it.
I thought "last year's" trip to the Stella Alpina would probably be my first and last. What with having to save enough leave from work and indeed cash for a family holiday as well, I would be pushing my luck with my wife Sue to go expect to go two years on the run. Luckily she's a diamond and knew how much I wanted to do it all again.
As the big day approached I bought the new tyres, got the bike serviced. I packed, unpacked and re-packed. Experience should have told me how much stuff to take, but you're bound to need all of those 9 shirts and 3 pairs of shoes aren't you? Consequently, I once again carted loads of unused kit halfway across Europe and back. My trip from Chester to Hull was wet but uneventful and I arrived at the Port in plenty of time to meet and chat to some of the old and new faces before we boarded for our 7-0-clock sailing. Unlike "last year" our cabins were en-suite, but with 4 hairy arsed big trail bikers in each, space was at a premium, so we took it in turns to move. We all met up on the rear deck for a chat and a drink and we watched the sun setting over the picturesque Immingham and Grimsby docks before we were all summoned to the Captains table for dinner. I was a lamb to the slaughter, £14.95 for an "as much as you can eat trough". In the company of such hearty eaters as Paul C and Carl I don't think I managed to eat more than a fiver's worth, anyway… I'd know better for the return journey. I had vowed that after "last years" alcoholic over indulgence and skirmish in the disco with the Dutch national female gurning team that I'd have an early night and a moderate amount of beer. Hopefully this would make the peage not such a gruelling affair in the morning. Surprisingly, I kept my word and retired with room mate Rickanne at about midnight. We donned our earplugs and slept soundly until our other two shipmates Chris and Roberto returned at about 2am and proceeded to snore for England.
We disembarked in a cool and grey Belgium and headed south for the French Autoroute. The motorway trip was again uneventful and we finally hit the twisties into the Jura mountains at about 6-0-clock . Delighted to be off the peage I had a brilliant scratch with Carl Blackburn for the last 20km or so to Les Rousses and managed to surprise both myself and him by hanging on to his back wheel all the way! At our hotel the "Gay Pensioner", Paul C had thoughtfully put young lads Adam, Jason and I in the same room. I expect the hotel patron had insisted on a parent being present. We duly settled in, and Jason and I hurried down to the bar for a well earned drink, Adam said he would follow. An old mate of mine now lives and works in Geneva so I was really pleased when he and his family arrived to join me for dinner. After we said our goodbyes and he set off back down to Geneva I re- joined everyone outside for a night cap . A bleary eyed Adam had just woken up, and having missed his meal had managed to persuade the patron to rustle him up an impromptu salad. I had a wonderful nights sleep with a double bed all to myself. The two young pups were in bunk beds next door pillow fighting.
After breakfast we all set off for Geneva and Carl, Adam and I had another great ride on the twisty N5 over the Col de la Faucille and out of the Jura. Geneva, as usual was very, very, very hot , but we traversed it reasonably quickly without losing anyone then hit our final short stretch of Autoroute before the Alps began proper. Neil Hampson from Cumbria had brought sports bike riding mates Dave, Rich and Sandy along with him. As we neared the start of the climb to the Col de la Colombiere I was aware of them champing at the bit to get to the front. Within the first mile Neil's GS1150, the Blade ,the SV650 and the VFR had nailed me on the straight, but around the bends they didn't seem to have so much of an advantage. I realised that I didn't seem to be losing any ground to them. Now I'm not usually one for racing on the road but I couldn't resist. I tagged on to the back and gunned my Africa after them. The Col de la Colombiere luckily, consists of short straights and lots of tight bends which don't seem to give the sports bikes much chance to utilise their superior power. When we reached the bottom of the descent in Le Grand-Bornard I was trembling with adrenalin, or was it fear? After 25kms of road, 150 metres was all that separated Paul C in the front of the group of 6, to me at the rear. The next climb was the Col des Aravis. My boy Adam said "I'll race you to the top Dad"! I said I wouldn't, but followed him as he made his way to the front of the pack then sneaked through past him on the inside of a hairpin. I could see him bristling with indignation as he immediately overtook me again. I chased him right down the other side until it dawned on me that I'd probably just used up eight of my nine lives and we hadn't even got to Bardo yet! Next was the Col des Saisies and a slow run down into Beaufort for lunch. Like "last year" I again gave the car park frites stall a miss and lunched with Rickanne, Robin Dawson and Theresa in the Café opposite.
After lunch we did our first dirt road and then on to the Col de la Madeleine where we stopped at the top for coffee. Those of us with buttocks of a more delicate nature chose to wimp out at this point. Carl led a dozen or so of us on the shorter route to Bardonecchia via the Tunnel de Frejus whilst the hardier types followed Paul C over the Col du Galibier and "Jellystone". The "Summer" so far this year should really have given us an idea of the weather to come, but we were abroad, weren't we? We were 5kms from the safety of a dry if smoky tunnel when there was a huge flash of lightning followed instantly by a crack of thunder and rain like you'd never believe. It all happened so quickly no one had time to put on their waterproofs. We tumble dried ourselves through the hot tunnel and luckily when we emerged on the Italian side of the mountain it was dry….for now anyway. Adam , Jason and I booked into our sumptuous suite in the Hotel Sommeiller, treated ourselves to an ice cold beer from the mini bar, then donned our complementary bath robes and padded along the inch thick carpet for a much needed shower. Then for me it was… beer, pizza, wine, more beer, station bar beer and bed. In that exact order.
Saturday morning in Bardo for me means a stroll around the market to buy the gourmet goodies to take home. Truffle flavoured olive oils, goats cheese with truffles, preserved porchini mushrooms etc. We signed on for the Stella and a few of us planned our afternoon's ride along the 46km Testa Assietta trail from Sestriere to Susa, there was myself, Rickanne, Jason, Alex, Stewart, big Steve and Dave from Wigan. What a brilliant trail, it runs along a ridge crossing seven or more colles . Unfortunately due to the unsettled weather the low cloud/high mountain? meant visibility dropped to about 10 metres in places. Amazingly we met Ted near Colle Bourget, he was doing the trail in the opposite direction. After a coffee stop in Susa, Alex, Rickanne, Jason and myself were so hyped up we thought we'd tackle Mount Jafferau on our way home, we happened across Paul Vernon and Sam half way up, they joined us and we all carried on together. We went into the 900 metre unsurfaced tunnel and turned our engines and lights off in the middle as is the custom - spooky! As we emerged at the other end the rain that had been threatening all day came with a vengeance. We decided it would be foolhardy to proceed so we turned back and descended the mountain and rode back to Bardo in torrential rain.
'Aint no sunshine
Sunday, Stella day, dawned and it was still raining, reports from up the mountain were of "shitty" conditions and snow. I thought I'd better get some petrol as I was nearly empty. I just got a few litres because the last thing a 5 foot nine Africa jockey needs is 5 gallons of sans plomb sloshing about at chest height. Adam delayed me by asking me to get him some ciggies from the station bar while I was passing. I'm not really sure if I should be encouraging him to smoke?. By the time I got back to the Hotel Paul C and Carl informed me that my mates, and even Adam the fruit of my loins had all buggered off up the mountain without me. I followed alone sulkily, although in retrospect it was probably safer as I only ever seem to drop my bike when there's a crowd around. The conditions were indeed shitty, the gravel was slippery and in the wooded sections the lithium based mud was even slippier. The tossers on the crossers didn't help by churning the hairpins into quagmires. As I got nearer the top the snow replaced the rain and made things even more tricky as you couldn't see the track at all. I arrived at the big rock about 300mts from the very top where all the mere mortals were stopping. The summit may as well have been 300 miles away as far as I'm concerned , I just couldn't get any traction out of my T66 rear tyre. Jim Dobson had just binned his new GS Adventure, Marcus had been to the top and binned his Africa as he stopped on the way back to speak to us. Jimmy Quinan lost his XTZ big style, he slid sideways and clipped my bike on his way down. He really did hit the deck the deck with some panache. Only 4 of our boys made the very top, Paul Vernon, Robin Dawson, Jim Dobson on a now customised GS Adventure and Marcus Perie. Heros all.
Big Steve Bond was in BIG trouble. His Varadero was playing up at the altitude and he was having to rev at 4000rpm and slip the clutch to get any momentum . The inevitable happened and the clutch gave up the unequal struggle. We managed to push, tow and generally manhandle the bike ( including a crackpot scheme trying to cool the engine in a river) back down to Bardo. As no one wanted to ride anymore in the crap weather, the afternoon was spent in a makeshift garage passing tools, holding oily things and generally making daft suggestions as Marcus dismantled Steve's bike. A post mortem revealed a dead clutch . Steve's trip was effectively over. The rest of day was spent packing kit ready for Monday's departure to Marmora.
After breakfast we said our goodbyes. Some people were leaving for home, my boy Adam and my new god son Jason were off on an adventure heading in the general direction of Andermatt. We waved them off, donned our waterproofs and set sail for Marmora. It was wet….flippin wet. The Col d'Izouard came and went unseen due to cloud and lashing rain, by the time we reached the stunning 2744 metre Col Agnel it was snowing hard. One thing about the wonderfully glass smooth grippy French tarmac, is when it gets wet it's character changes to being seriously slippery, with the white lines having all the grip of wet algae. Today's progress was consequently much, much, slower. We crossed the over the Colle Sampeyre and down onto the impossibly sheer sided Elva road. There was a barrier across the road with a sign which when translated from Italian read .. "only suicidal knob heads use this road in rain like this". With the barrier duly shifted, off we went down said road. This road is a scary place in the sunshine but, Oh my Lord!….. What a truly spectacular, terrifying trip. There were mudslides, rockslides, waterfalls and rivers all happening as we rode along it, I'm not exaggerating, this is one place where "you had to be there". When we arrived in our digs in Marmora our first priority was to get rooms and dry our kit because after 4 hours of riding in lashing rain we were all seriously wet. My new room mate Rickanne and I settled down in our little love nest. We had two single beds that were so close you couldn't have placed a Rizla paper between them, still….it was very cozy. Rick is great company and thankfully sleeps silently. He does however, due to his advanced age shuffle noisily to the toilet 4 or 5 times a night!
Hare today , Gone tomorrow
The next morning Paul C held a vote. To move on elsewhere and look for the sun, or to stay in Marmora and defy the weather. The Cumbrian lads decided to head North while the rest of us shook our fists at the clouds and headed for Europe's highest road, the 2802 metre Col de la Bonette. Above Isola 2000 we explored a small fort/gun position. With only one small torch between us the passage ways were absolutely dark and seriously spooky. I didn't realise I was standing right behind Jim "lush locks" Dobson and I don't think he did either because when he turned his head, his hair brushed against my face . My scream ensured that we both shat ourselves!. In all we had a brilliant day out despite, or maybe even because? of the rain. That evening during our fantastic seven course meal our leader Paul C confessed to having seen that morning " A four foot tall hare…as big as a child ….in't middle of t'road ! " We all nodded kindly as Roberto led him firmly but gently to bed. It had, after all been a very long day.
Wednesday morning amazingly, dawned dry. After a hearty breakfast we set off north back over Col Agnel hoping to take in a new route over the Col de la Croix de Fer. Sadly we were foiled as the police turned us back when a rock slip closed the road in front of us. Time was pressing on so we decided to head straight for Les Rousses and the Gay Pensioner. Paul Vernon had been having problems with his bike and had had to ride the last 30km without a clutch. After dinner he was investigating the problem in the "Pensioner's" basement garage when the over sprung garage door swung shut and trapped and badly gashed his fingers. His injury was bad enough to require an operation in hospital the following day. Paul and Sam's holiday was now over, They flew home from Geneva with their bike due to follow a week or so later. Problems like this really do impress upon you the wisdom of having good holiday insurance. The following morning we slipped out of the Hotel before breakfast for an early 7-0-clock start. By the time we reached the peage most people were starting to worry about fuel as we hadn't seen a garage that was open yet. We were on the Autoroute still 10kms from the services when Marcus ran out of fuel. Luckily I had an empty plastic bottle and we drained some petrol out of my bike for Marcus. In the meantime an Autoroute securite guy arrived in his van with flashing yellow lights, we felt much safer protected by his vehicle as the traffic roared past. French hard shoulders aren't nearly as wide as ours! After that little hiccup, the trip back to Zeebrugge was uneventful. The last problem of the trip occurred on the ferry when a woman opened our cabin door and was confronted myself and Rick in various states of undress, we were in the wrong cabin! We apologised profusely and hurriedly hurled all our gear out onto the gangway floor. She was very nice about it really considering Rick had used her shower and abused her toilet. Well that's about it, another brilliant trip over. Thanks to….. Paul C for organising it all, to Adam and Jason for being great company and the ideal roommates, to Rickanne for making me laugh and for not snoring, to Carl, Rick, Adam and the Cumbrian lads for the scratching, to Paul and Sam for smiling in the face of adversity, to Jimmy Quinnan for managing (just) not to knock me and my bike over, and to all of the other people I've forgotten, for all of the things I've forgotten.
Stella Alpina 2002.
If the truth be told, I wasn't planning on attending the Stella run this year. I had done the trip last year and had other things planned - namely my dream overlanding trip to Oz. After a bit more research into the overland route via Asia and a meeting with three riders on Africa Twins who are actually doing the trip, it became apparent that in order to get good weather for the majority of the countries you need to set off in either May or June. I found this out in March! No overlanding for me this year then.
During a visit to the Gartside château in Ross a few months back, Garty coerced me into coming along on the Stella. He was going for the third time and told me that I'd be miserable in July if I didn't go. PC had one spare space left due to a member dropping out (!) and I signed up there and then. I was going to be a Stella Veteran!
A few weeks before the big off I headed over to Ross for my monthly dose of servicing lessons and good roads. Garty was being very quite and I wondered what was up. Sue later told me that he had had to drop out of the Stella and was too scared to tell me! I must say I was a little disappointed - Garty has been on all of the big runs with me and of all the members in the club I probably enjoy riding with him more than anyone else - plus he's rather handy with the spanners should anything go wrong!
Returning home to Colchester, I logged onto the BTBC site and had a quick look at who else would be going along this year. It soon became apparent that there would be a lot of Stella and indeed BTBC virgins on the trip - I had seen a few of the names on the E group but had only met about 6 of the Stella squad. I was a little apprehensive to say the least. Then I remembered my first ever BTBC trip. I hadn't known anyone at all and had soon made lots of great friends - maybe the trip wouldn't be too bad after all.
Last years trip had been the most exciting thing I had ever done on my bike. It was my first time abroad on a motorbike and my first time offroad - except for a brief disaster on a DR350. Preparing for last years trip had also been one of the most stressful experiences of my biking career - what would I need to take? How would I carry it all? What paperwork would I need? By contrast this year I wasn't stressed in the slightest - I knew what to take and what to leave behind. I had my insurance sorted. It was just a case of packing the bike up and setting off. Unfortunately I had been rather lax with my bike maintenance over the past few months and in order to get the bike ready for the trip my savings accounts had to take a rather heavy battering - new shock, new bars, rebuilt brakes, braided lines, rebuilt wheels all along with the normal service items - chain and sprocket, tyres, HD tubes, new pads, new plugs and an oil change meant that this was going to be a rather costly trip for me!
A few weeks prior to the trip I had received an email from Robert Bloxham. Robert appeared to be the only other southerner on the trip and as such had asked me if I'd like to ride up to Hull together. Riding with company always seems to make the miles go past faster so I agreed and told him that I'd sort out a twisty route. Wednesday the 10th of July (my Dads birthday) finally arrived after the slowest Monday and Tuesday on record and I headed off to the world famous Brampton hut services meeting point. My plan was to ride to Hull using as little of the A14 and A1 as possible. I used my favourite local roads to get to Newmarket and beyond and I soon arrived at Brampton Hut where I found Robert waiting on his new white Africa twin. Robert had obviously given some thought to preparing his XRV for the trip - it was so well prepared in fact, that he could probably have quite happily bombed off to India after the trip! He had replaced the Achilles heel of a fuel pump with a much better Yamaha model from African queens and was even carrying the original in case any one else's failed - top bloke! After a couple of burgers at Sharkie's favourite restaurant we headed off for the twisties. The sun was shining, the roads were empty and challenging and we were on holiday - yeehah!
We soon arrived at the Humber bridge and I did my very best to blag us a free crossing - the toll both attendant was having none of it though and we had to pay up or take the monster detour to cross the Humber. We paid up. I knew from last years trip that we would need to fill up with fuel as close to the meeting point as possible as the first stint of the Autoroute on Day 2 is about 150 miles. Last year I had very nearly run out of fuel and Bill's little Pegaso had been even closer. The last petrol station before the docks must have wondered what the hell was going on as wave after wave of BTB's pulled in. I hung around for a while introducing myself to people who I hadn't met before and generally talking bike talk. I met Marcus and Chelle Perie for the first time and Marcus very generously gave me a very warm hearted bone crusher handshake! Marcus seemed to be very happy with his new Africa even though he was heavily loaded down with three jam packed giant Givi boxes. After a while a silver GS adventure roared past us and gave us all the royal wave - I guess you don't need to worry about fuel range when you've got a 30L fuel tank.
By the time I arrived at the Hull docks, the meeting point was heaving with BTB's and new faces. I said a quick hello to all the old hands and wondered around smoking fags and looking at bikes and kit. I was pleased to see that Alex had managed to repair his TDM850 after he had totally stacked it on the Derbyshire Dribble run a few weeks before. His front brakes were still a little dodgy though and I made a mental note not to sit in front of him for the Alpine descents!
Last year John had amazed everyone by loading his Transalp up with two huge aluminium boxes, a spare rear wheel complete with knobbly tire and a paraglider! This year's overloaded trophy went to Robin Dawson and his snot green GS. Robin was riding two up with Theresa and carrying two boxes, a tent, two sleeping bags, a double airbed and an electric pump to inflate the airbed! The bike was so heavy that it had to be parked on the centre stand at all times as the side stand couldn't support the weight! Like myself, Robin and Theresa were planning on extending the Stella trip. I would be heading off for more passes whilst they headed to the South of France for some camping.
Last year we had been whisked through custom and straight onto the boat. This year it was a very long and drawn out affair probably due to increased security since last September. We queued for ages in the boiling heat and inched forward a bike lengths at a time. Eventually we were all on the ferry. Having been chucked out of the cubs after only 1 months membership, my knot skills really aren't up to par so I had a bit of a job tying the bike down. Fortunately my old dad, Paul Atkin, came to the rescue and lashed the beast down for me.
Due to some cock up, probably caused by wing commander Mark Piercy dropping out of the trip the morning of the off, the cabin assignments had gone haywire. I was due to share with Paul Atkin and a few other old hands but ended up sharing with a group of riders who'd I'd never met before. I was late getting into the cabin and by the time I was in, the other riders had taken over all the space. I decided to cut my losses, dump my panniers, and go out for a fag until the mayhem calmed down a bit. I returned to the cabin ten minutes later and to my horror found that the room was locked. No problem, I thought, I'll just go and get the spare key. Unfortunately one of my cabin inhabitants had rather selfishly already taken the spare key. Even worse was the fact that I didn't get a good look at my cabin sharers and hadn't introduced myself. So I had no key, was still in my stinking biking gear and didn't even know who to ask for the key! Oh bugger. Still, it amused PC and Carl greatly! Eventually I found David AKA Baldrick who was also in my cabin but unfortunately he didn't have a key either. Luckily he knew what the other two key holders looked like so took it upon himself to hunt them down whilst I had another fag. I wasn't best pleased with the situation! Eventually David returned with a key so I headed back to the cabin, locked myself in and flooded the bathroom in retaliation!
I had an enjoyable evening in the bar and on the deck of the ferry. I had resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn't be eating that night - I had forgotten to bring any sandwiches along and was buggered if I was going to pay the £14 for a crap buffet. Robin and Theresa very generously insisted that I joined them for a picnic on the deck. Theresa had made enough food to feed about 5 thousand hungry BTBCers so I gratefully tucked into all manor of fantastic home made snacks.
The rest of the evening was spent carefully checking the bikes with PC, Carl, Robin and big Steve and talking to the newer members of the club. I had printed out a load of copies of all the Bardo trails that I had stolen from a German website. I handed out copies to anyone who looked like they might be venturing offroad and everyone seemed very grateful.
Knowing the next day would be the hellish Autoroute day, I headed off to bed reasonably early and slept very well indeed, so well in fact, that I managed to sleep right through the ridiculously loud tannoy announcement and only woke up when my cabin co-inhabitants started getting ready.
After a rather heavy breakfast we headed down to the bikes. I had great fun copying Garty's idea of slashing all the blue ropes with my Gerber and made a point of cutting the ropes into tiny unusable lengths! It really is a con that you have to tie your bike down yourself. It's blatantly obvious that the only reason P&O make you do this is to avoid any insurance claims should your bike fall over. I hope the slashed ropes really pissed them off!
After a brief regrouping once everyone was through customs - no wheelies, no rubber gloves, we headed off for the Autoroute day - great! In all honesty it wasn't too bad - certainly better than last year anyway.
Some of the members who couldn't make the trip had requested that I take as many pictures as possible so I took it upon myself to become the official BTBC photographer. I reeled off loads of shots and then asked Theresa if she would take some on bike pictures. Having only recently discovered biking she was a little concerned but said that she'd give it a go. In no time at all she was snapping away like Sue Gartside. At the first stop I had a full 128Mb card - that's 80 pictures on high res! I did a bit of an edit and knocked the resolution down a few notches and gave it back for some more.
After we had all given ourselves some very sore bottoms (from the bike seats) we finally turned off onto some roads that contained something called "corners". This was a new experience for me after 400 miles of very straight roads and I had some fun working out what you are supposed to do when you encounter a "corner". I was enjoying the twisty roads and was rather disappointed when the Gay Pensioner, our overnight stop, rolled into sight. In fact I was enjoying myself so much that I didn't stop at all and just kept going! It soon became apparent that I was heading into rush hour traffic though, so I turned around and headed back.
Anyone who has spent any time with me will know what I fussy eater I am - I normally dine off the children's menu in restaurants! I really wasn't looking forward to the food at the Gay Pensioner - I'm sure it's great if you're into fancy French food but I'd personally rather stick pins in my eyes! Fortunately I managed to miss the food by falling asleep for two hours. When I came round everyone was just finishing off their coffees. Carl, very generously, took it upon himself to get me sorted out and somehow managed to persuade the waiter to cook me up something without any va va voom. I was presented with a huge plate of pork and chicken kebabs in barbeque sauce along with an enormous dish of Pasta - wow! Certainly beats the energy bars and sweets that I snacked on last year!
During my feast I met a bloke called Richie. Richie was an old mate of PC's who lives in Chelmsford - about 20 miles away from me! He had taken the wing commanders place at the very last moment and had come along in his Porsche 911! Tomorrow was going to be an interesting day!
The following morning PC sent me out on a special recce mission. I had to go and ride a little twisty road that could be seen from the bedrooms of the Gay Pensioner. I found the road but it was bared with a no entry sign and another sign saying "route royale". I rode it anyway!
Carl said that he wanted to have a scratch with me on the way down to Geneva. I told him that I'd rather race him! PC sent us off ahead so we didn't endanger the lives of any other riders and Paul Atkin came along as well. Carl set a cracking pace and Paul and I had to give the Africa's a good thrashing to stay with the mighty GS. I eventually got round him though and headed off to the scenic parking spot that overlooks the whole of Geneva. I waited for a while at the parking spot, expecting to have a few pictures and maybe a team photo. Carl, who now had Paul Atkin, Neil Uber GS and the sports bikers in tow, had other ideas. He was obviously enjoying himself and decided not to stop at all. They all roared past me and I had to go like the clappers to catch them up. Charging into one hairpin I went to hit the rear brake and nothing happened! It turned out that I had boiled the brakes - which is not a great thing to discover when you really need them. A quick yank on the front brakes and a double down change got me round the corner though. We were all very buzzed up at the bottom of the pass and I had to smoke three fags in order to recover from my brake failure surprise!
Once the rest of the group had arrived we all slotted back into position for the navigational challenge of Geneva. Robin Dawson was sitting in second man position so I overtook him in order to save him from having to hold up about ½ a tonne of GS whilst 30 other bikes roared past. Unfortunately the rider behind me wasn't so used to the last man system and Robin was duly dumped off at the next junction anyway. Geneva went very smoothly indeed and we were soon heading towards huge mountain backdrops.
Last year Jez, Garty, a lightweight Robin, and myself had formed a sort of second man convoy system. We would get dropped off at a junction and then race through the pack to get dropped off again. It proved to be very good fun indeed. This year no one was up for playing second man sprinter accept for me so I may have looked like some kind of hooligan! Still, I was having fun sprinting through the pack and didn't endanger anyone - well not too much anyway!
On the first proper pass that we came to I found myself leading David on his Fireblade. The majority of sports bike owners really haven't got a clue what they're doing and I suspect that a large proportion of fatal biking accidents in the UK are caused by novice riders riding 160bhp machines that are simply too fast and powerful for them. It's not often that you find a sportsbike rider who can actually ride really well. David was one of the exceptions though! The road surface was bumpy as hell and even with the much more forgiving suspension of the Africa I simply could not shake him off no matter how hard I tried - and believe me, I tried very hard indeed! He was either being very kind, or he couldn't quite get past me - I hope it's the latter but suspect that it was the former! After about 10 miles of twisty road, I waved him past and hung onto his tail instead. At the end of the pass I forgot to tell him how much I had enjoyed the ride - so David consider yourself told - I definitely enjoyed that little thrash.
There must have been some paragliding championship going on as the sky was full of nutters dangling from kites. I must admit that it does look like good fun and I can see why John had lumped his Paraglider 1500 miles last year.
On the next pass I teamed up with my old dad for a bit of father and son bonding. We gave the Africa's another good thrashing and were both enjoying ourselves. On one corner I had a glance at the scenery and Paul Atkin came flying past me. Being overtaken by my dad seemed to induce a slight case of the old red mist and I made it my mission to get past him as quickly as possible. I ended up overtaking him on the entrance to a village which, in retrospect, probably wasn't the safest place to overtake. I then lead us on another thrash and this time caught up with Sandy on the SV650. I had a right old time getting past the little 650 and ended up following him for miles and miles until I managed to out drag him on a particularly long straight - I had to clutch-less shift to inch past him though!
We soon arrived at the lunch stop and by sheer chance alone I arrived third in the group. I jumped off my bike and sprinted past PC and Carl to get my order for sausage and chips placed first. Believe me, you do not want to get your order in last - this guy cooks one order at a time! Last year Garty and I had gone on a covert mission to purchase some bangers for the Bardo evening's entertainment. I had got the whole club into a lot of trouble as a result. The bar had been closed and we all got sent to bed - the manager of the Hotel Sommelier definitely doesn't like bangers! I told PC that I wouldn't be buying any this year - Paul told me that if I wanted some it wouldn't be a problem so I threw caution to the wind and went to the banger shop with my 2 Euros.
"Parlez vous Anglais?"
"Ou est la Explosive Madame?"!!!!!!
I was presented with exactly the same box as last year. I guess the French must have become bored with setting off bangers!
A few riders and Richie in the Ruff equipped Porker had managed to miss the lunch stop turn and had gone AWOL. After an incredibly long wait they finally returned having ridden and driven an additional 30 miles! As such the lunch stop took a lot longer than usual. I ventured off to find the toilets and was rewarded with the stinkiest bog I have ever had to the misfortune to visit. It was so bad that I actually wretched! Nice!
After lunch, Paul on the R80GS discovered that one of his fork seals had blown. Fortunately someone had rather thoughtfully brought along a list of all known BMW dealers so Paul and Sam set out to fix their old airhead and told us that they would meet us in Bardo. One of the BMW's in the Rickanne party had also suffered a problem but this time with the braking system. It turned out to be a blown seal in the master cylinder. My Africa had suffered the same problem a few weeks before the trip and I had ended up paying £40 for a small rubber seal! Whilst the faulty BMW's headed off to be repaired the rest of us finished our meals and got ready for the afternoons ride.
The first pass after lunch included a few miles of offroad right at the top. I remember riding this last year and being very scared indeed. My riding partner, Stewart had dropped his bike and I had been averaging about 5 mph. In the last year I have been offroad quite a bit - see the Exmoor Extreme write up - and thanks to certain members of the club my confidence and ability has greatly increased. This year I roared up the rocky pass leaving a great cloud of dust behind me - I felt like Jez! I was dumped off as second man at the beginning of the track and by the top I was back at the front again and dumped off again! PC told me to go as last man and make sure that everyone was OK - quite a responsibility for a reckless young hooligan like myself. I waited on the top of the pass and gave the other riders a good head start whilst I chatted to a French rider on an XL600 who was also going to the Stella. I then set off again and quickly caught up Allen Mitchell. Breaking the last man rule of never overtaking, I borrowed Allen's camera and charged off down the trail in order to get a good shot of him trail riding. I found an excellent hairpin with mountains in the background and, hopefully, snapped a cracker. The other riders had all waited at the bottom of the trail and I didn't even get time for a fag break before the "2 minutes" call - possibly punishment for getting too excited and going too fast!!!
On the way down the pass I was quite happily cruising along when suddenly I felt something sting or bite me on my left arm. I had just enough time to wonder what was going on when it happened again, and again ,and again. The bike was weaving all over the road as I was violently shaking my arm trying to remove the culprit. I managed to stop the bike and stripped off and danced around in front of everyone. Everyone must have been wondering what the hell I was doing. I didn't manage to find the thing that had attacked me but my arm was now very painful and weak and was sporting four large bumps. I was very grateful to the riders who stopped to make sure I was OK. Fortunately Chelle had some soothing spray in a huge medical kit that took the pain away and I was soon on the bike again.
Last year I had raced Garty up the Col de Madaleine and had thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I was looking forward to the pass again this year and had a great time racing to the top with Jason Bennett on his pristine XLV600. Once at the top we all chilled out and admired the amazing views whilst drinking coke in the little Café. A little dirt track leads even further up and I half considered having a go at it whilst big Steve egged me on. It looked pretty steep from the bottom though so you could be sure that once you were up there it would be bloody steep. I decided it might not be the best idea and chilled out with Robin and Theresa on some sun loungers instead.
The Col de Galibier is one of the highest passes in the Alps with only a few lung busting passes such as La Bonette and the Stelvio\Stiflerjoch being higher. PC called a group meeting at the bottom of the Madeline and told everyone that he was taking a longer route to Bardo that would include the Col de Galibier but Carl would lead anyone not wanting to do the extended trip though the tunnel. I was pretty tired by this point and had already ridden the Galibier the year before. It appeared the majority of the group were also pretty knackered as most had elected to follow Carl through the tunnel. The sun was out though and it wouldn't be dark for at least another few hours so I decided to have another go at the Galibier. In order to get to the Galibier we had to first ride the col de Telegraphe. I had a great little scratch with PC on this pass. Paul's riding style is so smooth that it makes following his lines effortless - we reached the summit in no time at all but were both enjoying the ride so much that we decided not to stop and kept going to the bottom where we watched a climber dangle precariously from a ledge many hundreds of feet above us. I also discovered that my Scottoiler touring reservoir had sprung a leak and was now dripping oil. I wasn't best chuffed with this as it would mean running a dry chain for some of the trip. I turned the flow down and hoped that the leak wouldn't get any worse.
The Galibier proved to be an interesting ride. My bike seems to really suffer from serious loss of power at anything over 2500m and as such it felt like I was ridding a 250 as I approached the summit. Rickanne came flying past on his tricked out XTZTRXCBR850 and seemed very pleased with himself! Last year the summit had been covered in snow. Blondie had even sledged down one of the snow banks. This year all the snow had melted away but even worse, someone had nicked the Altitude sign! I suppose it would make a good trophy but it's a bit steep all the same - actually I'm just gutted that I didn't nick it!
I had another great ride through Jelly Stone. Robin Dawson later told me that Jelly Stone freaks him out - he thinks that the road changes every time you ride it and I know what he means. It seems to go on forever and every corner looks very similar. PC told me that the old boys on R80's do about 100 mph through Jelly stone and that even he can't keep up with them. I have ridden Jelly Stone a fair few times now and know that until you actually turn off onto the Bardo pass road there really aren't any sharp corners so I tried riding it at 100 mph and scared myself silly! A truly great road though.
I got in just behind PC for the final pass road over to Bardo and had a great time. Paul was getting a bit of a move on now and we had great fun jumping out of the huge drainage ditches. I hit one so hard that my panniers flew up and whacked me in the ribs!
It was great to be back in Bardo again. I let out a nice backfire going through the tunnel that leads to the hotel. I was pleased to see that Mick, Janet, Andrew and Jaq, aka the Dangerous brothers and sisters, were sitting outside of the hotel. They had travelled down through France and cunningly avoided the dreadful Autoroute day. I parked the bike and went round to see them. Mick instantly presented me with a big bottle of beer and I chilled out after a hard but very enjoyable day.
The hotel Sommelier hadn't changed a bit since last year - in fact, I suspect, it hasn't changed a bit in the last 50 years! It does have bags of character though and the hotel manager is a top bloke and very funny in his own special Italian ways. I was sharing a room with Paul Atkin and Jason Bennett - both of whom don't snore but Jason does occasionally talk and even shout in his sleep. One night I woke up to him screaming "brake" brake"! The three of us were in a four birth room which gave us loads of space to sort out our gear. After dumping off my panniers I headed over to the pizza restaurant for some top Italian grub - one of the few types of food that I really do enjoy.
Rob McGrath and Jo were already eating when we arrived. Jo had flown down to Turin and had then got a taxi up to Bardo. I was eating with Robin, Theresa, Jason, Carl and PC. Rob came over to our table and asked us if anyone knew what Garlic bread was in Italian. During my university years I shared a house with a load of mates. One of them had studied his A levels in Florence and could speak fluent Italian. He tried to teach me to speak Italian during our three years together but the only phrases that I can remember is "midi pompino bella" which means "give me a blowjob baby"! I told Rob that the Italian word for garlic bread was "pompino" and had to turn away to hide my smirk! I could just image Rob ordering two coffees and a blowjob! As Rob left the table I told Paul what pompino meant and to my amazement he called Rob back and told him not to say it! I couldn't believe it.
The following day was due to be a rest day. During my summer holidays I used to labour for a mate of mine who's a builder. His motto was "work hard play hard" - I never got the hang off the "work hard bit"! It seemed like such a waste to ride hundreds of miles down to the best biking roads in the world and then to have a day of shopping or drinking - things that you can do at home with your mates, girlfriends, wives or even boyfriends if you're a fat Sheffield lad! The rest of the club were due to ride down South to Marmora on the Monday whilst I headed North to Andermatt. I had plotted a route the day before that would take me close to Marmora and include the highest pass of all, La Bonette. Carl had expressed an interest in coming along and I was hoping that the Dangerous Duo would also join me. So after signing myself (XRV750), John Gartside (XRV750) and Fraz Sill (Puch Maxi) onto the Stella Alpina register, I headed off to round up my group for the day. Unfortunately no one was up for playing, the dangerous duo had to entertain Janet and Jaq Dangerous and Carl's just a big fat girl! PC also thought that my planned route was too far to do in one day and that I wouldn't be home until midnight at the earliest. So I set off on my own leaving the rest of the club to organise a sweepstake on what time I would get back!
I ended up having one of the most enjoyable days riding of my entire life. I did Col d'Izoard where a German on a GS took my picture for me before I chased him and his mate down the other side - and beat them! The Col De Var twice which is a great fast sweeper of a pass, the mighty Col de la Bonette and a tiny little wiggling white road pass that Paul Atkin had spotted and where I got trapped in a snow storm and had to shelter in a bus stop with a load of French bikers for over an hour! I got back to Bardo at 19:00 in perfect time for another pizza and a few amarettos and cappuccinos! Unfortunately the bad weather had followed me all the way back from the col de lombarde and it now looked like the Stella was going to be a wet one.
I woke up on Stella Sunday with a very fuzzy head. I had eaten with Robin, Theresa and Jason the previous night and had consumed far too much red wine for an alcoholic lightweight like myself. During breakfast PC and Carl both informed me that they wouldn't be going up the Stella as they thought it would be too muddy and wet. I could understand this from Carl as he is about to trade in his R1150GS on a later model plus the fact that he's a big soft girl of course, but I couldn't believe that PC wasn't doing it. Of all the proper offroaders in the club I have the most respect for Jez and PC - surely a bit of mud and water wasn't going to stop the big man? He told me that he didn't want to get his riding gear dirty as he would be wearing it for the next few days. Each to their own I suppose but having got to Bardo I was going up that Mountain be it sun, rain, snow or hail.
I teamed up with Robin Dawson for the ascent who was now riding a sprightly 215KG GS rather than the 400KG bike that he had previously been riding. Together we charged up the pass overtaking many of the riders who had set off before us. The badge and food tent was positioned at the same place as the previous year and was very easily accessible - even on pristine silver GS's and Adventures! Robin and I didn't stop at the tent though, we continued on and were both pleased to see that the landslide that had blocked the pass from all but the most experience riders last year had been cleared. We continued up and up dealing with everything from muddy slippery hairpins to very fast gravel sections with jumps that made you feel like a Dakar rider! Eventually we reached the snowline and the going became very tricky indeed. A couple of Germans on GS1150's fitted with T66's were making a right meal of the snow with tires spinning and the back end whipping around. I'm not sure what they're problem was, except of course for being German, but Robin and I slipped past easily. The snow became deeper and deeper and after a while both Robin and I were having a bit of difficulty ourselves. I had to ride with my feet down and paddle to get any traction. After a bit more slipping and sliding we came to a point where the rest of the club had parked up, deeming the going too tough to go on. Amazingly Paul Vernon & Sam Nunn had reached this point two up on their old R80GS - I'd struggled to get here on my own! Robin and I had a brief rest and then continued on. This time Robin was leading. I could see him paddling and struggling to get through the really slippy stuff but he was making progress. I, on the other hand seemed to be getting nowhere at all. I was paddling like mad and the back end was just slipping all over the place. After I had nearly dropped the bike 3 times in about 10 meters I decided that it was time to call it a day. I was absolutely knackered and didn't have the strength or weight to get the traction. I was completely gutted as I had got so close to the summit. I called back to the group for some help in turning the bike around and was very grateful for the help that I received as I was so tired that I don't think I could have turned the bike around on my own. Must give up smoking!
A few new BTBC members who had made the trip down to Bardo on their own were milling around so I had a brief chat with a bloke called Colin who had just bought himself an Africa. We had a quick team photo and watched a few more bikes struggling to get further up before I decided it was time to ride back down and collect my badges and ham sandwich. Just as I was about to get back on my bike Marcus descended from the summit and promptly ditched his RD04 Africa right in front of us. A few of the club members were quick off the mark and were already running over to help Marcus out so I whipped my camera out and got the picture! After Marcus's bike had been righted I turned back to my bike again and noticed Jimmy on the W reg XTZ750 coming up the trail at quite some speed - certainly a good 20 mph faster than anyone else. I guess his plan had been to get a run up at the deep snow and try and charge through it. All was going well until the back end suddenly flew round and clipped Paul Atkin's bike which sent Jimmy spinning off into a heap on the floor. Paul didn't look too chuffed but closer examination revealed no damage to either bike - tough as old nails these BTB's! I think Jimmy called it a day after that!
I have total respect to anyone who got further than the photo point - it was very difficult going. I just wished I had tried a little bit harder.
Some riders were letting a few psi out of their tyres in order to gain traction for the descent. My old dad told me that he was very concerned about going downhill and his concern was completely understandable. If it had been tricky coming up, going down was going to be a nightmare. I cautiously set off with Rickanne and Paul Atkin following at a safe distance behind. It felt like the wheels were sliding and I seemed to be gaining more and more speed. The engine braking seemed to be doing nothing at all - I then noticed a big green light next to my speedo - I was in neutral and free wheeling down a snowy mountain pass - doh! I quickly sorted myself out and hoped that nobody had noticed my amateurish mistake. In all honesty the descent wasn't too bad at all. I found Mick Bingham and Andrew Bailey playing in a ford at the bottom - what is it about the dangerous brothers and river crossings? They were trying to entice everyone to go through the river rather than over the bridge. After I had seen someone else do it and Mick had moved the worst of the big rocks I had a crack at it and it was pretty easy - Mick took a great picture too!
Back down at the badge tent I had quite a shopping list to collect - 5 Stella badges please! One for me, one of PC, one for Carl, one for Fraz (Puch Maxi) and one for Garty. I had to borrow the money of Marcus which I completely forgot to payback until he asked! Sorry mate!!!
Back at the hotel most of the group were changing out of their bike gear and chilling out. They were a few horror stories too. Jim Dobson had fallen off his new GS Adventure and had dented the £700 tank! Apparently he had ordered some wunderlich crash bars for the trip but they hadn't arrived in time. Amazingly he was quite relaxed about it - I'd have been in tears! Big Steve had also suffered from a bit of a nightmare. He had slipped the clutch for the majority of the Stella ascent and had managed to burn it out. Alex's TDM had also cut out during the ride up and he had had to push and free wheel back down to the hotel. Both Steve's and Alex's bikes were now in a make shift workshop at the Hotel where Marcus and the Sports bikers were stripping bits off and generally talking about stuff that a mechanical retard like myself doesn't understand. Neil very kindly talked me through an idiots guide to how a clutch works and explained it all in such simple terms that even I understood. These boys obviously knew their stuff. I felt that I should do something to help too but not knowing a tappet from crankshaft I was going to be no good in the workshop so I headed off to the tourist information centre to see if I could track down the nearest Honda dealer. I did manage to get a number of a Honda moto dealer in Briancon but being Sunday and Bastille Day it was closed. Still I felt like I had helped out a little.
After that I went BMW R80GS hunting around town to see if I could find any HPN bikes. I was rewarded with one of the rarest finds ever. Not an HPN but a French modified GS that was built for the 86 Dakar. Apparently there are only 5 in existence, one is owned by the original tuning company whose name is unpronounceable and certainly unspellable, one is owned by HPN and three are in private collections. I reeled off a few pictures - mail me if you want one.
By now the rain was coming down pretty heavily so it didn't look like there would be much riding that afternoon. Paul had scrapped the plans to go over to Briancon for Bastille Day so I watched a bit of the GP, spoke to PC about building a dream GS bike and watched the spanner boys in action in the garage. Earlier on in the day I had spotted an amazing bike on the pass. It was an R1100\1150GS engine that had been built into a frame just like the real BMW Dakar bikes. Unfortunately it had been going up the pass as I had been coming down. I had waited at the bottom for ages for it to come down but it never arrived. I decided that it must be staying at the BMW camp just shy of the badge tent so took it upon myself to head back up the pass in order to get a picture of what must be one of the best custom BMW GS's in existence. The Stella pass was now completely deserted and the rain was still coming down pretty hard. What had been an easy trail earlier on in the day was now very difficult indeed, the knobbly tires of the motorcross bikes had chewed all the corners into deep ruts and the rain had made the surface very slippery. It was quite a challenge and to be honest I was a little concerned for my safety. If I dropped the bike I would need to pick it up on my own - something that I can only just do! I then remembered my overland dream trip to Oz and realised that if I did the trip it would be like this for the whole way - 30,000 miles of solo riding!
When I got to the BMW camp I was amazed to see that the bustling hive of activity had been reduced to only 3 or 4 tents. The bike I wanted to see wasn't there so I turned around and headed back down the trail. This time I had a couple of BMW singles for company so I upped the pace a little, knowing that if I dropped the bike help would soon arrive! On the way down I came across a very tasty old GS coming up the trail. I waved to the rider to pull over and was astounded to see that the bike was owned by a very pretty Austrian girl! Unfortunately she was married to a guy who owns an HPN but we had a great chat and I took a few pictures of the bike which I later showed to the owners of HPN.
Back in Bardo Steve's clutch repair wasn't going too well. The bodge that Marcus, Neil and the rest of the sporties had constructed wasn't working very well and it was obvious that the bike needed new clutch plates. Steve had to put the bike on a lorry the next day and that was the last that anyone saw of him. Better luck next year mate!
I spent Sunday evening with PC, Carl and an old Stella pro called Ollie. We had a few drinks at the station and then walked back through the tunnel to the pizza restaurant. As I was walking through the tunnel I lit and dropped a banger. It made the loudest bang that I have ever heard and I laughed as Carl and Ollie jumped. Unbeknown to me, an Italian bloke had been following us down the tunnel. He had walked over the banger as it went off and now wasn't best pleased. In fact to say he wasn't best pleased is probably the understatement of the year - the guy went nuts! He started screaming in Italian at us and all we did was giggle. He then started to walk faster so being the coward that I am, I slipped in front of PC hoping that Paul's giant stature would deter him. It didn't. He came running up to me and started squaring up to me and trying to slap my face! I really thought that I was going to get punched this time! I turned my back on him and walked towards the restaurant as I did so he went to kick me, missed and nearly fell over. He then spat in my general directions, which also missed me before walking off. Bangers, just say "non"!
Back at the Hotel some of the more mature members of the club were involved in a game of dice. I sat down with Martin, Allen and Alex and had the most exciting game of dice that I've ever had - I had had a few drinks mind! However I really got into the spirit of the game and took great delight in the other players' misfortune!
Jason had expressed an interest in joining me for my extended pass bashing trip and to be honest I was grateful for the company. So when I awoke on Monday morning, I had breakfast, loaded the bike, said goodbye to the rest of the group and followed Carl, Jason and Jimmy through the tunnel. Once through the tunnel, Carl and Jimmy headed off for home and Jason and I headed towards the passes and more fun but after bashing out almost 8000 words that is most certainly another story!
The Stella Alpina 2002 had been yet another cracking run and I had had a brilliant time. Many thanks to PC for organising the trip - although you need to sort out a new deal for the weather mate! Thanks also to Theresa for the picnic, on bike pictures and for being great company, Chelle Perie for the first aid, Carl for sorting out my dinner at the Gay Pensioner, Garty for making me sign up for the trip and everyone else for making the Stella Alpina another great BTBC trip.
Hi Paul Firstly thanks for organising the Stella for us. It was absolutely great, and dirt cheap. For me this was the first time abroad on a bike for 20 years but I soon got back into the swing of things. I road down on my XR600 supermoto with my mate Barney on his Gilera Nordwest. The advantage of riding bikes extremely unsuitable for touring or cruising at more than 75 - 80 mph is that it forces you to sit back and look at the scenery. We had a great ride down.
Next day was a great ride from Auxerre to Bardonnecchia down the N6. After Grenoble the roads just got better and better, and the sun was shining! On the road from Grenoble to Briancon the riding just got faster and faster over the pass just outside Briancon. It is surprising what you can do on 5 or 6 hundred cc singles if you keep the twisty bit on the right bar near the stop. By the time we approached Bardonnecchia, we were getting pretty tired, having been on the road for over 10 hours and the concentration was going a bit. On the way up the last very narrow pass, the sun was low and rounding one corner we found ourselves both riding round a car park being stared at by picnickers. We had completely missed the road and ridden into the car park. We quickly performed a 360 and exited as casually as we could. On the way down the pass into Melezet we must have been getting pretty tired because it was only at the last moment that I saw the huge rain gullies a couple of feet deep that crossed the road. I thanked god for the XRs off road suspension as I rocketed out of the gully, front wheel in the air. As I said, we must have been pretty tired because I hit the next 2 at the same speed before I realised that there were loads of these gullies!
Arriving at the Sommeiller Hotel, a very welcoming beer was waiting followed by a really good pizza across the road. (the first of many. It seems that 90% of the restaurants only sell pizzas!) The next morning we were welcomed by crystal clear skies and went for a wander in the town to get a local map and slurp down a few cappuccinos. After lunch we decided to do a quick carb strip on the Gilera as it was running like a large canine in the midrange. Just to make life difficult, Gilera have put 2 carbs on this bike, a vacuum and a standard slide and knowing which to adjust was a complete guessing game. We dropped the needle in the vacuum carb by a couple of slots but it still had a huge hole in the rev range between 4 and 4500 rpm. Better than it was though.
The Three Crosses Pass. In the afternoon we did the trail up to the Trei Crocce or 3 crosses which starts on the western edge of the town. This trail is partly shingle and partly large stones set in the earth like very rough cobble stones, and very steep with tight hairpins every 1 - 200 yards and climbs through the woods for about 5 or 6 miles. It was here that the folly of raising the gearing on the XR so that it would pull about 110mph on the motorway became apparent. It would not go slower than 7 or 8 mph at tickover in first, which is WAY too fast for a very tight shingle covered hairpin bend. The only way was to slide the back end around which meant that it accelerated like a rocket up the next straight when the back end gripped, and that was only if the front end didn't wash out. The joys of dirt riding! At least with sports road tyres on the bike, the back end slid better than it would have done with dirt tyres. Eventually, after a couple of cooling down stops for both us and the bikes when Barney confirmed that the cooling fans on the Gilera definitely did work, we burst out into the sunshine above the tree line and climbed through pasture for a while before starting along a narrow track a couple of feet wide. At one point this narrow path crossed a steep scree slope. I didn't dare look down on the way up the path, but on the way back I glanced briefly down the slope and saw that the scree continued down for about 2000 feet at an angle of about 60 degrees ending in very sharp pointy looking rocks at the bottom. If we'd fallen off there, we'd never have found the bikes, let alone retrieved them. Scary!
Near the top of the mountain, as high as you could get a bike, we came to a tunnel in the mountain with concreted walls which others had told us was about 4 or 500 yards long and ended up on the other side of the mountain. Unfortunately we didn't bring a torch so we never found out… We returned down the mountain, hairpin after hairpin and back to the bar for the first beer of the evening. After another pizza we retired to the station bar where it seems everyone knows everyone, and they ALL ride bikes, and spent a long and alcoholic evening recounting stories of bikes and the past.
The Stella. On the Sunday we awoke to light drizzle and low cloud. We didn't order this for the Stella? Anyway, waterproofs on and off we went, amazed to see bikes like Fireblades and custom Custom Guzzis doing the climb. The scenery was stunning and we soon got the hang of riding with road tyres on the hard packed shale of the lower parts of the climb. There was a real party atmosphere at the checkpoint about halfway up, where the organisers had deemed that you had earned the right to buy a t-shirt and qualified for your free cheese roll. Loads of people were standing around chatting and there were a few chuckles when a little Piaggio scooter with a roof turned up and Barney shouted out "who ordered the Pizza!"
We decided to go for the top and carried on up and I was surprised how much further it was. It seemed to go on for at least another 4 or 5 miles. Towards the top the snow had started to settle and about a mile from the top it started to get slushy and then there was deeper snow. We kept going but there was no grip at all from the road tyres and we were all over the place. I gave up about 200 metres from the top when the XR was just sitting spinning its rear wheel on tickover, and I walked up, but Barney, with the help of a large German, dragged the little Gilera to the top. The views from the top were amazing, when we finally managed to get our breath back! The trip down was uneventful apart from stopping for a BMW outfit which came steaming up seemingly not even slowing for the corners, and seeing a BMW K100 being ridden like a motocrosser, front wheel in the air and all crossed up - completely mad!
In the afternoon there was a session of workshop mechanic by committee in the ski room trying to fix Steve Bond's dead Varadero, and then a session watching the British GP from Donnington, taking place in glorious sunshine, while it was peeing down with rain outside our hotel. Oh well, at least there was that Touratech brochure to read….:-)
When we got back on the Wednesday morning absolutely shattered, we both said that once was enough for the Stella and it was just too much on smaller trail bikes. A couple of days later Barney gave me a ring to talk about going next year…. Seems like we have got the bug! Kevin Sharp
Big thankyou Paul for a great holiday. I hope everyone got home safely without further incident. ( Sam, let us know how Paul got on with his hand, when you read this ). The evening run down to Mamora was quite stunning , it was a good job it rained else we wouldn't have had the water falls to ride under !!! Thanks for everyones company and help getting round and up ! I'll try putting my pictures on the internet when I get them back on Tuesday. Especially the one with me near the top of the mountain!!Thanks again everyone. Take care.