The Participants--- Myself, John 'WW' Burkinshaw AT, Paul 'sideways' Clarke 1150GS, the Bonz cruisers-Paul Crossland 1100GS, Dave Bonsall Tiger and Dave and Lynne Edge Tiger, Bill 'Unlucky Alf' Naismith XT600, John 'Gadget' Gartside AT, Dennis 'Shoe sniffer' Eastwood F650GSPD, John 'Father Ted' Cameron Transalp, the TDM boys-Steve Seddon and Dave Bolton, Tony 'warm and dry'Jolly Vara, Frazer'you still owe me for the hotel' Sill, Bob'Iron Butt' Baybut 1100GS, Mick 'Follically challenged' Bingham AT, Geoff 'Alternator' Barnett GS80, Neil 'I'm only in my twenties' Taylor AT, Mike'Wineman' Pinn AT and Carl 'Sandwich' Blackburn 1100GS. There were also two dirt donks, Mike Craxton and Kevin Marsh with WR400 and XR400 but they came in a VAN!
The largest invasion of mainline Europe by the BTBC started on Wednesday teatime 5th July at Hull docks where a motley crew boarded the ferry to Zeebrugge. This,of course, suited the Northern contingent, who only had a relatively short ride to Hull but various Southerners decided to meet the group in France or at the ferry in Belgium. After a few beers we attempted sleep in the cupboards wittily named economy cabins. These were so small that large male inhabitants had to stand in the corridor while their shipmates dressed!
The main entertainment on board was not the cabaret but watching Frazer eat as much as possible from the buffet to ensure he got his money's worth.
Next morning we disembarked at the port of Zeebrugge ready for a boring slog across Belgium and Northern France. Bill from Surrey who was due to meet us there didn't appear so we set off. At the first petrol stop Bill rang Paul Clarke and confessed to having not altered his watch to Euro time thus being an hour late. He said he would make it to the hotel at Dole and meet us there. As the Formula 1 at Dole is on a boring industrial estate we left the motorway at the junction before, looking for some dinner. Fortunately we found a lovely hotel bar and restaurant with a garden in which to eat-very pleasant. We then rolled down to Dole for a shower and an early night ready for a very early 6am start. Bill had managed to get there so we were all present and correct.
Most people were awakened in the night by a massive thunder storm and unfortunately it was still raining when we set off. It soon stopped however and by the time we reached Les Rousses for breakfast the sun was thinking about coming out. We climbed the Col de la Faucille and dropped down it's spectacular hairpins into Geneva where we met two more BTBCers, John Cameron and Mike Pinn. After a hot traverse of the city and a brief M-way stint it was back on the passes, this time the Col de la Colombieres. It was about coffee time so we stopped at the café in a remote mountain village to enjoy both view and coffee. We carried on over a succession of stunning climbs with endless bends, hair raising drops and patches of gravel which kept everybody fully awake.
We had one diversion on the col de la Colombiere when Lynne Edge decide to do a Tour de France and sat backwards on husband Dave's Tiger filming everybody with John Gartside's diddy Video camera. Eventually we stopped at Beaufort at a little snack hut where we made the proprietor's day. He admitted we bought more in an hour than he normally sold in a day. So there you are folks, the BTBC have put that man's kids through college, heartwarming, isn't it?
After frites and saucisse we proceeded to what were for me the best two passes of the day, the Col de la Madelaine and the Col du Galibier. How the cyclists in the Tour get up them at all, let alone at the speeds they do is nothing short of amazing, I was knackered and I had 50 odd brake horses to help! Finally we dropped down to Briancon and then over the tiny pass to Bardonecchia not on many maps but known to Mr. Clarke as Jellystone Park due to it's resemblance to Yogi's hang out.
Once in Bardonecchia we headed straight for the hotel, the Sommelier which must have been once a grand establishment but is now rather run down. However it still has bags of character and is CHEAP. After showers, food and beers we retired to bed. In many ways having such a large party was a good thing as it was impossible to get in a restaurant altogether, so you ended up speaking with different people every night in smaller groups. The downside of this was that if you happened to be slow in the shower, everybody would have drifted off. Bardonecchia is luckily only a small place so it was easy to find someone in the restaurants and bars.
Saturday dawned fine so after the ritual look round the market it was time for the first ride. Again with so many folk , it meant that groups formed adhoc according to their idea of a fun day out. I can only speak for the groups I was with, I'm sure someone else will chronicle the road riding . My first foray was with a small group up the trail known as the Ledge just outside town. This was a hot climb through woods onto a lovely Alpine meadow where we sun bathed for a while. I and a few others had a ride along to the end of the track. However this is virtually inaccessible due to a mud and rock slide. Not completely though as a group of Austrians coming the other way, showed. They entertained us for about half an hour as they struggled to cross the slide. First man across was an enduro boy on a KTM 4 stroke and he had considerable trouble, his chums on GS 80s etc almost all fell off. The most spectacular was a guy on an old 600Tenere who went over the high side and rolled down the slope-unhurt!
After the cabaret we descended the trail and returned to town for coffees and a rest. The atmosphere in Stella weekend is wonderful, the town is full of bikes, mostly big traillies but loads of road bikes and pukka dirt machines.Every café, bar and hotel has a row of bikes outside, like horses in an old Western. Later in the afternoon, I and some others including Carl from Wales, a Stella regular, went up Three Crosses, another trail just outside town which lead as many do to an abandoned military site, in this case a series of old tunnels in the side of the mountain.
Next day was the big day, the climb up the Col de Sommelier which is the actual centre of the Stella Alpina rally. If this was any other country there would be hundreds of other events to celebrate the fact that there were thousands of bikes in town,--trials, MX, even wet T shirt competitions. But no, this is Italy. All you do is ride to the top of the Col, buy your badge and T shirt and come down again. However what an experience! You wouldn't believe the bikes flogging up the endless dirt hairpins to the top of the 10,000 foot pass. Everybody seemed to have seen a better loony. My favourites were the guy in shorts on a 6 cylinder Gold Wing and the two-up Fireblade! When you got near the top things got even dicier as there were a few snow banks which fortunately had been ploughed through but there was still ice under wheel which made the last few hundred metres interesting. The down side of the climb was being passed by idiots on full-on enduro bikes who soon became known as the Tossers on the Crossers. Not, I feel, in the spirit of the rally.
Once down of the Col we again headed for yet another excellent coffee. Italy really is the coffee lovers paradise. Even the scruffiest caff can produce a cup that will blow your designer coffee bar away. After a sit down and well caffiened up we set off to do another trail, the spectacular Jaffreau which is about a twenty minute road ride out of town. The trail winds up to a fort, the roof of which you can actually ride the bike on to. After another sun bathe, we set off on the next part of the trail up through the tunnel through the mountain. Yes, a trail tunnel! It's fairly long and slippy and damned dark. At least I remembered to take my sunglasses off this year! John Gartside went ahead to take some pictures of people in the tunnel so Paul helpfully told people to turn their lights off so John could get a pic. Hmmm fairly scarey. Even on sidelights you could see sweet FA so most folk just turned 'em off at the last minute having spotted John and turned them on very quickly. After the tunnel we climbed up to yet another fort which sat on a very high ridge, as usual with incredible views over the valleys. We went off the mountain a different way and returned to the hotel well ready for a shower as it had been one of the dustiest trails so far.
After drinking far too much on Sunday night I crawled downstairs for an 8 o'clock start feeling like death. This was where the larger party split as people went off to do their own thing. It was my intention to head North over some more Tarmac passes into France and stop somewhere for the night which would leave a short trip to the ferry on Tuesday. Five us climbed the Col Du Cenis and the hang over riding was so bad we were happy to stop for breakfast at a picturesque café over looking a lake at the top. On the way up I actually saw three marmots.! These alpine rodents are getting rarer and are amazingly cute resembling fluff with a tail. Things started to take a turn for the worse as we climbed the next pass, the Col du Iseran the second highest road pass in Europe. It started to rain, real stair rod rain, which dampened everyone's enthusiasm for the stunning hairpins and unguarded drops. When we finally got down the other side which seemed to take for ever we made tracks for the motorway and the north. After twelve hours of rain we reached the Formula 1 at Troyes which just left a 4 to 5 hour bash to Calais the next day. Although it was cold in N. France and England it spared us more rain and we arrived back in Sheffield around 7pm after a great break. I'm sure we'll see even more of you next year.
The uncontested winner of The Unlucky Alf award goes to Bill Naismith for his string of disasters and his unfailing cheerfulness throughout!
He managed to miss us all at Zeebrugge and so had to ride down to Dole on his own on an XT 600, not the world's best M-way bike, but he got there.
Once in Italy he had a few trail related disasters, Father Ted blagged a go on the XT and promptly threw it away bending a few bits and pieces. Bill himself had a get off which bent his front brake lever. On the way home he stayed with my group on the motorway until Neil 'I'm only in my twenties you know' Taylor had the bright idea of sending him first through the Peages and then keep going leaving us to catch him up. Unfortunately you can go a long way in 2 mins at 80mph so we didn't realise he had missed the north bound motorway and had sailed straight into Lyons where he was knocked off by white van man . Picking himself up with a few more scratches to the bike he set off North and actually managed to get to Troyes only about an hour after us. Next morning as we all filled up with petrol by the hotel he seemed to be taking ages coming from the hotel car park. He had forgotten to take the chain off and had managed to get it wedged in the swinging arm!
However he got it sorted and rolled out on the way home to the Hovercraft.
Top bloke well done Bill!
Best Breakdown cover undoubtedly goes to Geoff Barnett whose alternator waved goodbye in a small town near Chambery. Despite having to spend the night there, next morning his recovery arranged a hire car to Dover and another on the other side of the pond and his bike will be returned when fixed. Form an orderly queue for the number of this service here-------
Most distance Travelled Sideways was won by Paul Clarke with an amazing speedway slide caused by crossing one of those wonderful raised white lines the French specialise in made from some totally frictionless substance. It was only by the application of the mighty size 15 that he kept the plot rubber side down and was still lucky not to go over the highside when the tyre bit again.
The 'if only you'd have made it' award goes to Andrew Goadby XTZ660, who after traveling most of the way through France and hooking up with Fr Ted, returned home due to a broken chain, shame on you sir..
?Oh, lonesome me..
My preparations for the Stella Alpina, the BTB.C's flagship biking jaunt, began, strangely enough, last year. I had my name down, and I was all packed-up, paid-up and ready to go when we all-of-a-sudden had a 'business crisis' - the magnitude of which potentially meant a couple of weeks hardly breathing, let alone biking abroad. Although Paul and Fraz were disappointed - there is a certain altruism in their motives for taking so many biking wallies to the other side of Europe - my own disappointment turned into raging depression, when two days after everyone had departed the 'crisis' became 'surfeit of money' when a payment came in undetected and unexpected by BACS. I therefore put my name down for the 2000 event ages ago, vowing that nothing would detract me from going this time.
I'm so excited.
The excitement in the weeks running up to the event was nearly unbearable. Packing and repacking, fettling the bike, reading maps and guide-books, sending e-mails to the others and getting exasperated as usual with the e-group. The final weekend in England was a bit unsettling, my mother, bless her, asked me if I'd made a will (in front of Sue) and it brought home to us that I was going away with the big boys, and I would have to be careful for the sake of everyone.
The great day arrived, and I hurried off indecently early toward Sheffield via Matlock (where my people are replacing some underground pipework at the New Bath Hotel) and went round to Fraz's house first to pick him up. He was quite a sight, completely nude with a small pink towel round his waist, and with great white powdery patches all over from his anti-perspirant. He got ready very quickly - an excited fat man is no slouch, and we rumbled round to Paul's house. We saw a grinning, but sadly UK-tied Jez in his Peugeot on the way.
In dribs and drabs, the BTB.C assembled at Paul's house on Ennerdale Avenue, the unlikely-sounding address for such a powerhouse of organization. Sadly, club protocol came into play, and BMW's only were allowed on the drive, common-as-muck Africa's and other riff-raff were made to park on the street. Sue Clarke made tea and passed round biscuits to us all, and we gossiped happily in the sun waiting for the battle cry 'two minutes!'
A quick group photo, and we were off on the road to Hull, as we neared the great seaport, driving standards appeared to go out of the window completely, and although I wouldn't want to offend anyone, I can only say 'Why Hull?' - the nicest-looking and undoubtedly the busiest building was the Prison! And what pretty girls coming out through the big front door.
We arrived at the terminal in good time, and met up with a couple of other riders. A few of us had mis-spelt tickets which had to be changed - I was Mr Garmond.
Unusually, we had to lash our own bikes to the deck, P&O obviously didn't want the responsibility, just our money, and lot's of it. So we faffed around with hanks of blue nylon rope until our bikes looked like Houdini - and just as ready to escape! We scrambled up the stairs to the accommodation deck.
Pass me a cabin boy….
Our tickets each had a number on them, and this was the cabin that we had to share with another BTB.C'er, all with the exception of Fraz, of course, who has a medical reason for being given a room on his own.- i.e he would get brain damage if anyone was forced to sleep in there with him. I was bunked up with Neil 'Tal' Taylor, and had to fight off some of the 'cottaging' types like Carl who wanted a young lad to sail the seas with, and no doubt to look for the golden rivet! The amount of farting and sweaty-foot odour in those tiny airless cabins made us hurry up and change, so we could go on deck for a fag. Paul and Carl were already up there, biftering away. Paul is a 'holiday smoker', and so am I. We were fortunate that Carl had bought 400 fags, as these almost lasted the night! Throughout the trip Carl never let us forget once that we were spongers and costing him a fortune. It was on deck that we met up with the 'TDM twins', Steve and Dave, and we retired to the bar shortly after the ship set sail.
Make mine a pint of Alzheimers.
Dave and Lynne and the rest of the 'real' motorcyclists were already in the bar, supping ale and enjoying the surroundings. We felt that we owed ourselves one last 'taste' of English food before continental Europe took over our tastebuds. For the princely sum of £14 we purchased tickets for the restaurant from the ships purser. Suffice to say, it was unspeakable fare, and I went back to the bar fairly soon to wash my mouth out with more drink. A trio of young 'musicians' performed some forgettable tunes to various backing tracks and we sat in horrified silence until Lynne started jiggling about and wanting to dance. Fraz and I were picked on for this duty, as we are the only ones who are interested in girls. When we weren't dancing, Lynne quietly raped a mirrored pillar until it steamed up.
We chose a few nicknames for our new companions, some of which we have thankfully forgotten. Geoff Barnett on the old home-made BM was dubbed 'Jesus' on account of his sandals, and the TDM twins, Steve and Dave, were 'blondie' and 'darkie' or 'smiley' and 'quiety' respectively. All in all, a splendid evening was had by everyone, and we all retired to bed fairly late without anyone being locked in the brig. Tal had been attempting to improve the gene pool of the ladies in the upstairs bar, but John Burkinshaw went to rescue him before he disgraced himself with a sexagenarian sex maniac. For the rest of the night he wanted to talk about things in general, so we didn't really get any sleep. Resident cockerel Fraz decided that we would all be getting up for 5 AM.
Egon Ronay spins in his grave (again) at 200 rpm.
Breakfast was similarly bad, we all had thick heads and the only amusing thing to report was Fraz's choice of breakfast food - boiled button mushrooms in baked-bean juice! Yuk. The coast of Belgium loomed up in the mist, and we put on our gear ready to offload. Another fag session on deck revealed the object of Tal's attention of last night standing by the funnel giving everyone the eye and obviously looking for some male meat.
Heading back down the stairs, we undid all of our carefully tied knots and readied our bikes for disembarkation. I took the opportunity to slip a joke 'exhaust whistle' up Fraz's tailpipe. Paul and I waited gleefully for him to spark it up. Sure enough he turned his ignition on and in his panic to find out what the dreadful noise was, he knocked the bike over! Not having the time to investigate further, we followed him off the boat to a pull-in after the customs. Paul and I were absolutely rolling up whilst Fraz looked for damage (luckily none) and theorised that a baffle had come out of his exhaust.
Not BST, Bill!
We waited for a short while for another rider, Bill Naismith from near London, but unbeknown to us, he had forgot to set his watch to continental time and missed us by exactly an hour. Nevertheless we set out in loose formation to join the motorway south to where the sun was. The traffic was quite dense, and at times appalling. We had to carve for about 5 miles near Lille, which Carl didn't like much with his panniers on. The sun came out by the time of our first stop and we took a bit of our kit off and applied suncream to our noses. By lunchtime, it was absolutely boiling, and the liners were taken out of our jackets and thin gloves donned. We had a nice lunch at a motorway service area (they were generally very reasonable and good too - unlike in the UK) and yet another fill up. Fuelling was a very long-winded affair with so many bikes, Dennis & I shared nozzles to save time, but he got fed up because my Africa is such a thirsty beast compared to his Dakar 650. We all had a couple of incidents with the poor driving of the French. In particular, a Galaxy driven by a complete lunatic who seemed to want to knock us off our bikes rather than get by. We were all hoping to catch up with the driver further down the road.
?You can check out any time you like……
By about 4 PM we came off the motorway and took some pretty country roads towards Dôle, our stop for the night. On the way we found a picturesque restaurant by the river at Pontailler-sur-Saone, where we elected to have our evening meal. We all had steak, chips, salad and beer and it was excellent. It was very hard to tear ourselves away to go to our budget hotel, the Formula 1 at Dôle. Set in a delightful industrial estate, and inhabited mostly by Algerians and shifty looking Frenchmen, who were either homosexuals, drug addicts, Max Power (le Max Puissance?) readers - or all three, the Formula 1 was most definitely at the lower level of French hotel accommodation. However, the rooms were clean and the showers hot, so we spruced ourselves up and sat outside for a while watching the Dôle lowlife coming and going and probably plying their trade from the hotel carpark. Bill had caught up with us on his little XT, so we didn't have to worry about him anymore. After a night of Carl's 'whole body technique' snoring, I was surprised to find that nobody from our entourage had been murdered in the night and we hit the road for 6AM. The unpredicted and spiteful early-morning rain gave way to a massive thunderstorm as we traversed the Jura mountains, and for the second time in my association with the BTB.C I had upsetting thoughts about survivability chances if struck by lightning on my bike.
Rain, rain go away.
Breakfast was at a delightful little Auberge by the side of the road somewhere on the N5. The cheerful young maitre d' arranged huge amounts of croissants, bread and coffee for us to demolish whilst we came to terms with the fact that a beautiful hot day was ahead of us. A brief photo-opportunity outside, and we were off again toward Geneve, and some lovely twisties to sharpen our senses awaited over the col de Faucille. Our very own ordained biker, Father Ted, met us at a large filling station by the Swiss customs post along with Mike Pinn. Here we refueled and Carl smoked, mostly with fury, because Paul and I were still bumming fags off him. We didn't even bother getting our passports out, as customs in Europe are quite different to those in the UK.
Make way for the litter police!
Geneva was like most other large cities, er… not! Clean, tidy - immaculate even, and populated exclusively by smart and handsome looking people. If there had been a beggar on the street, he would have worn Armani, and been selling 'Tatler' magazine, not 'Big Issue'. It was a bit fraught keeping together as a group, as the traffic lights are short-duration and we didn't want to risk a 15 year prison sentence by jumping one! Some motorcycle cops, who looked like male models, raced past us with sirens screaming, probably to arrest someone for not looking tanned and healthy.
Je te pisse au col….
Our first mountain pass was Col de la Colombiere, lovely scenery and hairpins led us swiftly to the top, where we had coffee and cake at a little wayside bar. Fraz and I donned our MX helmets, to general scoffing and tut-tutting. Within a few miles we were vindicated, as the heat was getting serious, and we soon became envied for having helmets with super-ventilation. Lynne Edge sat facing backwards and videoed us roaring past. In typical fashion, Dave then overtook all of us - on the video you can hear the panniers scraping and the cars and lorries whooshing by as they narrowly miss him! Next was the Col des Aravis, and a lunch stop at a wayside dining hut. The proprietor had never catered for so many hungry people before, and signally failed to do enough frites for us all. The money he took probably means that he can retire early now. More lovely mountain passes, the Col de la Madeleine and Telegraphe - prior to which Dave Edge, Dave Bonsall and myself all had 'sticky moments' on with oncoming cars and road furniture, gave way to the showpiece of the day, the Col du Galibier. At 2645 metres, my bike was showing signs of oxygen starvation and was not pulling too well. Another photo-opportunity presented itself, and we spent a short while admiring the spectacular views and taunting Fraz.
The afternoon's fun was not yet over. A good long downhill to Briancon and a bit of faffing about with directions, and we were negotiating the run-up to the last pass, or 'Jellystone Park' as Paul calls it. It was a tricky little one, with huge drainage culverts crossing the road to catch the unwary. I gather that more than one rider had a moment on them! All of a sudden we were in the outskirts of Bardonecchia, and Fraz escorted us straight to our hotel, the Sommeiller. The parking was a bit restricted, but we squeezed in between the trail bikes, cars and trailers that the less-committed had transported here. There was only one thought on our collective minds - REFRESHING SHOWERS, so we rushed up to our rooms, dumped kit and washed the aches and pains away - what a feeling to be clean and in fresh clothes again. Dennis (Clint with joined-up writing) Eastwood was my room-mate and we decided that we would not be sleeping in the same bed in order to keep up appearances.
No cheese please, I'm British!
Carl had arrived a bit earlier, as he likes smoky tunnels more than passes, and he had some cold beers in ready for us, which tasted like heaven. Paul and I cadged more fags off him and gave him something to moan about for the rest of the evening. With such a large group, eating together was sadly impossible, so we split into various groups to raid the local eateries. It seemed that the BTB.C were content on living off pizza for the week, I hate cheese, so my choices were rather more stark in a land that appears to be made of it - grills and everything 'senza formaggio' for me. Fraz is admittedly a big lad, but I was very surprised to see him eat two pizzas that night. By the look of it he wanted to eat parts of the waitress as well!
Beer Station Zebra
Watering-hole of choice for the cheapskate BTB.C is the train station bar. At 50% of the prices in the other bars, it made great economic sense, but it also meant that we saw hardly any females other than Lynne (and all parts of her have allegedly been seen) and the station-master's wife. So it kept us out of trouble as well as keeping us well-oiled and financially fluid. After a few beers, the masochists started ordering Grappa and Amaretto, which are surely two of the most acquired tastes ever known. Tales of bar-room prowess are generally boring to a third party, suffice to say, the BTB.C had a memorable first night in Bardonecchia.
Anyone for Dennis?
Breakfast was a civilized affair of rolls, croissants, ham and cheese etc and copious amounts of coffee. As I was in Bardo for a very short time, I decided to maximize the trip by doing as much as I could. It was a bit frustrating to see that no-one else wanted to rush off up the trails, and all seemed quite happy to loaf around smoking and drinking coffee outside. After registering for the Stella Alpina at the tourist office, I cleared off to do some exploratory riding on my own. Buying a 1:50000 local map (strangely without any datum or grid) I pottered off into the hills, promising Dennis I would be back for lunch. After a very enjoyable couple of hours I got back to the hotel and John Burkinshaw led us off to do the track up to something called 'The Ledge'. It was up here that Fraz had an accident. For such a desperate-looking character, he has some exceedingly strange interests. Rabbits, love songs, pussy-cats and…er alpine flowers. In his desire to uproot some particular specimen, he cut his finger badly with my needlessly sharp knife. Dennis and I giggled and farted about with plasters and told gory tales of accidents we had seen to make him feel faint, eventually some Germans, of all the nationalities that Fraz hates the most, came along with some suitable dressings so that we could continue onwards. On the way down, 'Jesus' Geoff had a rather spectacular endo on his BM, the sound of which Burky described as 'a dustbin being thrown down some stairs'
Marmots ripped my flesh.
Upon our return to the hotel later, we decided that a quick small-unit assault on 'Three Crosses' would be in order. This time it was Burky, Dennis, Bill, myself and Welsh Carl, an older chap on a BM. This was a bit more difficult. Very rocky, dusty hairpins endlessly winding up the mountain to an abandoned gun fort. The last bit was very scary, drops of about 1000m to the left and evil-looking boulders put Bill and Dennis off getting to the top. I bit the bullet and carried on to the end of the trail, and drank in the views from the summit. Old concrete fortifications begged to be explored, but my diddy torch wasn't man enough for the job. I found some old ammo boxes for Burky and we rolled back down in time for our evening meal. Guess what, they had pizza and I had a steak!
Excitement was high as we breakfasted in the hotel restaurant. The Stella Alpina is basically a ride up a long rugged track to the Ambin mountain refuge at 3009 metres - higher than anything so far. The Stella was also the whole reason for being there, and the desire was to do it, and do it well. I had intended to roar off early and prepare the video camera at some suitable spot for some rugged action shots. However, the group roared off madly at top speed, and there was no chance of catching up, let alone overtake in all the dust and mayhem. The tracks were rocky as hell in places, and a real test for man and machine. My bash plate on the Africa normally resounds with a sharp 'ping' when hit by stones, but I'd never heard crashes and bangs such as those it was getting up that particular trail! It is little wonder that some of the people with fragile plastic bits, like Varadero's and GS's decided to take it easy and not go for the summit.
It seemed to take forever to reach the snowline, and Fr Ted rewarded my patience by falling off in grand style right in front of me on some ice. The last bit was very slippery, and a bit grim, but we reached the summit en masse and after collecting our badges, T-shirts and ham rolls we loafed around for a good half hour while Paul took some mug's trail bike up as far as even HE dared up to the summit ridge of Sommeiller. Respect, dude! The air was thin, the wind cold and after a few group photo's we began the descent back toward Bardo. Being of small brain and greater desire to look cool than to stay alive, I thrashed my Africa down the snaking and treacherous track. Somehow I managed to catch up with my idol, the great Mr C, and chased him off the mountain from a respectful distance.
Paul C lives in a yellow submarine.
Somewhere near the bottom was a small bridge and a ford adjacent. As always, the BTB.C cannot pass over the chance to drop an expensive bike in some cold water, and this was no exception. As is the custom in these matters, all persons with cameras assemble on the opposite bank ready to take the best picture of the disaster. I was selected to be first sacrificial offering and duly negotiated the raging cataract with some style! The disappointment was palpable, so we sent little Bill over, as he always looked as if he was going to crash most of the time. This was getting stupid! Not even he could manage a fall-in! Most of the others managed it as well, and only Fraz put a foot down. Never mind.
God shuffled his feet…
The two men most likely to, Bill and Fr Ted, swapped bikes in some sort of suicide pact. 1 km down the track I was surprised to see Ted crabbing it towards a stationary car in a most undignified fashion for a man of the cloth. Breaking one's own bike is bad enough, but when you are far, far from home on someone else's it is far worse. The damage was mainly cosmetic, and with a bit of bending and some unholy cussing from Ted, we were back on the road. An unexceptional lunch later, we followed the leader down towards Salbertrand for another long-distance offroad ride.
Up on the roof.
Some trails are rocky, some are dusty - this was rocky, dusty, scary, long and everything else from Mr Copious' famous 'Book of very hard trails indeed'. Early on my bike started slobbering with customary altitude-induced oxygen starvation, a brief look at the GPS revealed 2450 metres and I could still see the road below us - a straight drop!
A quick snack and fag stop at the impressive Fort Pramand, and we carried on upwards towards the south side of Mt Jafferau. I was sent to a place halfway up the breathtaking and spooky 700m 'Galleria del Saraceni' to take some photos of riders coming through in the dark. It wasn't a great success, and only those with lots of reflective material on their jackets came out on camera. These trails were built just to serve the forts, and you have to admire the bloody-mindedness of the politicians and engineers who built them. Moreover, the soldiers who had to slog up and down these mountains to fight and possibly die, to defend frontiers that nowadays, in the glorious EU, only exist on paper. The rest of the ride up to Jafferau was a hard slog. Big rocks, drop offs and the dustiest dust you have ever inhaled. The last bit was just too much for my bike. After seeing Mick drop his, it was slobbering away and seemed to be giving out about 5hp. I left it steaming (the radiator was leaking again) just at the foot of the fort and got a) breathless and more hurtfully b) slagged for being a woosey. Fraz and I, the ostracized ones, busied ourselves looking for shrapnel, and found some. The views were simply stupendous. 360 degrees of perfect visibility - you can see why they built a fort up here. Incidentally, I have been passing around a copy of my 'After the Battle' magazine featuring the Alpine Forts - if anyone wants to have a gander, give me a call.
That's not flying, it's falling with style
We descended by a different route, and I dropped in behind Dave Edge. As in all things, he has that certain economy of movement of the great artisan, and when you are tired, it is best to sit back and watch the master at work - copy his lines and you will never have a drama, or even have to stand on the pegs! We hit ground level and blasted back to Bardo for a well-needed shower and a beer. As always, we split up for our evening meal. I was privileged to watch another master of his craft, Mr Sill, our resident gourmand, demolish THREE pizzas. On the other extreme end of the scale, Carl had a fall-out with the dozy waiter because the food he ordered never arrived.
Ideas above our Station
We traversed town for our last-night drink at the Station. Unfortunately, Paul took control of it, and insisted that we drink in traditional style and have coffee and Amarretto rounds. Coffee keeps me awake big-style, and Amaretto makes me puke, but what could I do? It got very messy indeed. And culminated in John Burkinshaw, respectable teacher and pillar of the community doing a 'walking wazz' through a 'bridal arch' we made for him in the tunnel under the railway. Paul took a couple of pictures, and we laughed 'til we cried.
Mental Health dept
Whilst 20-odd happy, pissed BTB.C brains were in sleep mode. Some not-so-nice Brit enduro types were coming back to the hotel with other thoughts on their minds. One of their number had gone to bed early, so they had decided to punish him. Apparently they got into his room and blasted him in the face with a powder fire extinguisher.
He ended up in Turin hospital in critical condition. We left the Sommeiller feeling a bit ashamed to be from the same country. Paul added later that he knew the people responsible, and he thought it unlikely that they would have carried medical insurance!
It was the day of going home, I wasn't feeling well, Paul wasn't feeling well - nobody was feeling well. Some had gone early, some were going later. We didn't care, we just wanted to be left alone.
The skies were cloudy as we set out for Susa to visit a small motorcycle accessory shop there. All sorts of excellent Dainese kit was for sale at really low prices, I bought a few items for silly prices and wished I was in a car, or better still, a truck. Rip-off Britain is alive and well. Next, Paul, Ted, Steve and Dave (TDM twins) myself and Carl headed back to Briancon to tackle the Col d'Izoard and visit Marmora. However, the weather broke, and what would have been an exhilarating, mad ride became a miserable wet individual struggle for survival. Sleet was falling heavily at the summit, and we retired, soaking wet, to a café for coffee and snacks. The skies were brightening a little as we left our snug refuge, and we battled our way through more vile weather to Sampeyre, where Paul led us up the stunning Elva pass. The rain had stopped and the surface was dry, so I chased him to the top. A chicken, eager to cross the road in normal chicken style, upset Pauls line for a corner, and the oncoming Fiat did its best to welcome our large leader onto it's bonnet. Unfortunately, the summit was too cloudy and windy for a photo-stop, so we dropped down what used to be a rocky track to Marmora.
Carl, normally as brave as anything - VAT man, Bank Manager, Sandwich Inspection Agency - all minor irritations to him, shat himself at the swooping doom-laden hairpins. Rubble from recent rockfalls strewed the road, and white household string guarded the bits where the iron railing had been knocked away by crashing vehicles that had left the road previous to us.
50 idiots, one village.
Marmora is a tiny mountain village tucked away at the end of a road in the middle of nowhere. The only facilities are a small tavern and a water trough. Paul had arranged some accommodation, so we tarted ourselves up and headed for the bar. Competitors for the morrow's Alpine Rally chatted and talked bikes with us. Father Ted took the fancy of a lady rally rider, and she was completely disbelieving when we told her that he was a priest. It became her mission in life to 'defrock' him as soon as possible!
We were summoned in to the dining room, where all the riders sat for a huge meal. The courses never stopped coming, and a film show of previous events followed.
Afterwards, Ted's new disciple got talking to me and she expressed a desire to join the BTB.C. Owning an old GS was not enough though, and I gave her a short course on Sheffield BTB.C-speak so that she would stand more chance.
Three things closest to a Sheffield BTB.C'ers heart
(and if you need someone to blame - Garteh!)
Slippery when wet.
Our plan for the morning was to head North, skirting Turin to avoid the traffic, and take a tunnel back into France. The day started beautifully, and we re-did the Elva pass in record time. The roads were empty, hot and grippy, so we made excellent time to the Frejus tunnel. The weather was a complete contrast on the other side, rain and fresh snow on the hills made the going unpleasant. The road-spray at times rendered the road invisible. We got separated from Ted somehow, and decided to depart the peage for some A-road action. Paul had the worst moment of his life on some white-lining, and my favourite substance in all the world, diesel, was on every wet, slippy corner.
This is my assistant Alotta, Alotta Fagina
At one of our many stops at service stations, we realized that we would get no further than Dole again. We were tired and the conditions were bad. Carl had a great idea, and got me to pre-book the Campanile at Dole instead of the Formula 1. Some good food and a cosy room were just the ticket. We arrived there just as the rain REALLY started to fall. Great fat drops and the rumble of thunder. I was in the shower a bit later, and nearly leapt out of my skin as a huge lightning bolt must have come down within half a mile. The restaurant was completely excellent, really good food - loads of it, a waitress who steered us clear of the crap wine and Austin Powers on Satellite TV. A night of Carl's snoring lay ahead, so Paul and I smoked the last of his fags as punishment.
All over bar the shouting
The following day consisted of more motorway, many fuel stops and peage payments, we arrived at the ferry terminal at Calais in good time, but we got stung by the P&O thieves for a supplement, as the ferry was 'so busy'. A short sea-passage later we were rolling off the ship and back in good old Blighty. The queues on the motorway added to the charm of being back home, and before long I was flashing my headlights like mad at the vanishing figures of Paul and Carl as they headed M25 North and I went West.
Well, that was my first foray on the continent as a motorcyclist, apart from brief holiday motorbike rentals, and as I tap away on my keyboard, several days later, trying to remember it all, I realize that I can't possibly put into words what a grand time I had. Anyway, I have, and this is it.
Most of my motorcycling mileage is clocked up in London these days, so when I spotted the B.T.B.C Website and the option of a trip to the Alps it was literally a breath of fresh air!
So the bookings were made, and as I live in Surrey I decided to meet the main group on Thursday morning off the Hull ferry at Zeebrugge. I'd crossed the channel Wednesday evening, Dover/Calais by hovercraft, rode down to Zeebrugge and stayed overnight at the Formule 1 hotel. Oh dear! I'd forgot to reset my watch and they'd all gone! I was determined not to miss out however and after calling Paul Clarke, I set off in Pursuit.
The weather was cool and grey through Belguim, but as I pushed on into France, the sky's cleared and the sun cheered me on. My XT600E Yamaha (ok, not exactly hi-tec) was doing 50mpg at between 70-80mph giving ample range, shame my backside called time every hour or so. Brit bikers were in almost every service area, as happy to discuss their plans as I was mine.
Four Hundred miles went by amazingly quick, as I cruised south toward our overnight stop at Dole, arriving at around 6pm. The main group had hauled up for beer and nosh somewhere up the road. So I joined Bob and Jeff who had arrived just before me, for a meal in the pretty old town., returning to find the main group had arrived. Plans were made to leave at 6am Friday morn. Bang on my door please someone!
I awoke at 5am, to the sound of Motorcycle Jackboots stomping the corridor, then the gruff beat of a Big Trail Bike engine. Nobody would sleep through this, including the other guests, (sorry) and the many knocks on my door, needed after yesterdays disaster.
6 am and we left on time, yesterdays fine weather had deserted us, The rain poured down for the first hour or so until our breakfast stop. Coffee and Croissants at a lodge in the foothills, then weather improving all the time, over the first mountains and down in to Geneve to meet more B.T.B.C. members. The Sun beamed down now and dried my damp kit, I felt much better. Past the picturesque lake and fountain we headed south into rugged but beautiful alpine country, Julie Andrews eat your heart out!
Winding our way through high passes and valley, the pace picked up now, I worked the XT hard to keep up. At the end of the pass the leaders would stop to let the stretched out group reform.,at one such stop as I caught up from mid pack, the front runners were highly amused to see my brake discs steaming with heat, a measure of how hard I had to push to stay in touch. Realising my and the XTs limits, I eased off toward the back of the group and enjoyed the ride. The front runners were still going strong, taking pleasure in picking off sports bikes in the twisty mountainous terrain.
At around 6pm we arrived at Bardoneccia, a winter ski resort and summer Trail Bike heaven, the town nestled in a valley between snow capped peak, picture postcard scenery. After 12 hours on the go, the hotel shower was bliss, clean clothes, a beer or two at the hotel, then across the road for a pizza. On to the station, this was our regular late evening haunt, a meeting point for our group and central point for many others, here I enjoyed the beer and good company into the early hours. There's a special atmosphere about this place, a town full of Trail Bikers from many countries, together for a great few days riding in the Alps.
Saturday morning I slept in, then shopped at the market, small gifts purchased to appease those at home. Afternoon we rode a trail known as the ledge, an easy climb with good photo opportunities at the top. The upper reaches were blocked by landslip, however we were lucky enough to witness a swiss group make a gallant, and entertaining attempt to cross. Saturday night and the town was busy, we queued at a couple of restaurants with no chance of a table. Four of us tried a bar, the Sitting Bull, nice place good music but no food, until Mick managed to talk the landlord into getting us a take-away and laying a table for us to eat in, all without a word of Italian!
Sunday morning, and this is the main event, up the Stella! Some charged up, sliding and spinning rear wheels around steeply rising hairpin bends, the last part snow covered, over 3000 metres high. Others on more road oriented machines took their time, I think we all made it up one way or another. I queued proudly at base camp to collect the medal I had promised to bring home to my little boy David. We then waited for the entertainment to begin. The highest point of the peak has no trail, just an almost vertical climb over loose stones to the sumit. We saw several continental attempts to the top before, Mike a Brit with aYamaha enduro, set the highest mark. Shortly after Clarkey managed to blag that bike and take a slightly different route and set the highest mark for the B.T.B.C.
I took my time coming down, feeling real good, I'd achieved what I'd come for. At the bottom our group had gathered the other side of a river, beckoning us through. I enjoyed that crossing so much I went back and did it again! Remarks were made, `What do you think you are riding a Motorcycle or a Jet-Ski ?
Sunday afternoon and we were trail riding again, this time Jafferau a long climbing trail with a tunnel, and some amazing view points, sometimes its best not to look when still suffering from last nights beer head. This was our last night in Bardo, we ate and drank as on previous nights, only more so, a pleasant time had by all
Monday morning, and sadly it was time to split up, some going on to the next part of the safari Rally, some going down to the south of France, some heading for Spain and the Pyrnees. I joined on to a small group heading for home. As we pulled away from the hotel I wondered if I'd ever return, ……Yeah one way or another, I'll be back.
Thanks to all my new friends at B.T.B.C. for making me so welcome.