At the start of 2020, I had all sorts of ideas for bike trips and possible tours but we all know how that went. Sitting at home in Spain with little to do apart from thinking about what could have been, got the better of me at times and I, along with many others, just wanted to get out and ride. As lockdown started to ease and we were allowed to get back to some sense of normality work took over from thoughts of bike riding and everything was put on the back burned for possibly the whole year.
However due to an unfortunate family issue, I had to return to the UK for a short trip, luckily the quarantine situation in the UK was removed for EU citizens and plans could be made.
First I looked at flying as this is my usual way to travel from the Costa Blanca to Leeds and then by train to Scarborough, however during these difficult times I didn't relish the idea of sharing a plane & train with potential carriers and then doing it all over again for my return. Second I looked at the Santander/Bilbao ferries, but due to restrictions on numbers of travellers, I would have to stay too long in the UK as most ferries were already booked. Last option and the one that would keep me away from most people, would also give me the longest ride, was to travel all the way to Calais and the Euro tunnel. Initially, this was thought amusing, but on further investigation was actually the safest option from a virus perspective.
On Friday the 3rd of July, Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, announced the removal of the quarantine from Friday 10th, I booked the Tunnel for Sunday 12th, early, with a return on Thursday the 16th allowing me 3 full days at my parents with part of Sunday afternoon if I got a move on.
Next decision was which bike to go on, my trusty GSXR was ruled out for two reasons, firstly it would kill me curled up like a jokey for so many km and secondly because it currently has no ITV due to the virus situation. The KTM was chosen but was coming up to needing its first annual service, the tyres had maybe only 1000 km left in them and I would need some luggage. I have a selection of soft tail packs, tank bags and panniers and have travelled with it before but would require a bit more storage for this trip. Luckily all of these things had already been thought about over the previous few months and a quick email to Carlos at Moto Sport Carreres in Crevillent set my mind at rest.
Thursday 9th July 2020 170km
Setting off early to get to Crevillent in time for my 9.30 appointment, with Moto Sport Carreres, I started to wonder about the sense in what I was doing but ultimately it would be an adventure and that is what we all need every now and then. The bike was checked in on time and I wandered around the shop looking at all of the KTM loveliness before retiring to the cafe, next door, for coffee and breakfast. On my return the little KTM was ready to go with new Michelin Road 5 tyres, it's annual service complete, panniers & racks fitted and a new comfort seat from the KTM Power Parts catalogue, I have done 400km days on the standard seat but my first planned day would be just over 900km, so a little luxury wouldn't go amiss. Great service as usual from the staff in Crevillent and also from Carlos in the Alicante office for organising everything.
A great job as usual from Moto Sport Carreres getting the KTM ready for the journey.
The evening should have been calm and relaxed with an early night to prepare for a good start on Friday, that never works though, after packing and repacking and fitting GPS holder to the bike and general provocation I got to bed by 00.30.
Friday 10th July 2020 906km
Click the map to view the route on Google Maps.
This is it, I'd had a reasonable nights sleep considering the circumstances and off I went, well after the usual backwards and forwards in and out of the house to collect the forgotten items, like gloves, neck warmer etc.
During the planning stage, of which there was little, I had booked both hotels for the outward journey to ensure they were available and that I had a paper copy of my itinerary if it was required by the Spanish or French authorities. My first stop would be one of the Campaniles on the outskirts of Bordeaux some 900km from home, a distance I haven't ridden on any bike for many years if ever. To make the journey a little more interesting, and not because I'm a tight Yorkshireman, I had set the Sat Nav to miss all of the Toll roads, this would give me a good selection of rural roads mixed with motorways.
Travelling cross-country towards the coast and Denia to pick up the AP7, I was filled with excitement as well as a bit of trepidation, as I only had the two days to get to Calais but I was looking forward to the journey and to see my parents, daughter, grandson and brother.
The journey went very well, with a few other bikers on a similar route we waved at each other as we passed, the weather was warm but not too hot on the coast at around 23 and dropping to 18 inland as I stopped between Teruel and Zaragoza for fuel. The KTM is quite efficient but only has a 14L tank so stops are quite regular. After a sandwich a Snickers and a bottle of water I was off again heading towards Huesca and on to the Pyrenees. I stopped again just before the mountains and filled up before heading towards Canfranc, there is a lovely old railway station there that I have seen on previous journeys but I had no time to stop, I even opted to take the tunnel rather than the much more scenic route over the mountains.
Dropping down into France as ever the rain started, it wouldn't be a trip to France for me without a little, however, it was forecast and I only had about 10 miles of light rain to put up with before the sun was out once again, I didn't even bother to stop to put on waterproofs and my old AXO jacket and new Hood jeans did there job and kept me dry.
I did about 3 hours of rural roads in France including a particularly narrow bridge in the small village of Viellenave de Navarrenx.
The church at Viellenave de Navarrenx.
Eventually, after all the fun on the smaller roads, I had to return to the motorway and stop once again for fuel on the outskirts of Bordeaux and probably only 5 km from the hotel.
After filling up paying and setting off I found that my mobile/sat nav had lost its signal completely and I had no way of getting directions. After sitting at the side of the road for about 10 minutes, restarting my phone and apps and cursing myself for relying on technology rather than having a map as we did in the old days, I set off and followed my nose. Luckily I have a reasonable sense of direction and had spent time with the maps and computer, before setting off, so had a good idea where I was going. Ten minutes later I pulled into the car park and checked in.
This was my first taste of a hotel during the pandemic and I was pleasantly surprised, the staff all wore the appropriate masks and gloves and had plastic screens where necessary and hand sanitiser for guests. After a quick shower, I settled down at an outside table for a cold beer or two and a lovely burger. A long day but I enjoyed it, the KTM comfort seat worked and the bike didn't seem overly affected by the luggage.
Sat 11th July 2020 822km
Click the map to view the route on Google Maps.
Waking up at 06.30 for my 7 am breakfast was a little difficult after such a long day on Friday, however, the breakfast buffet in Campanile hotels is usually a good way to start the day. I was pleasantly surprised that the buffet was still operating, with a slightly reduced choice and strict hygiene rules. Basically there was a one-way system around the area and you were issued with a set of tongs to use for the whole buffet which was taken off you at the end to be washed. It worked very well.
Setting off again on another lovely bright morning you can't help but smile, any day on a bike is a good day. It would be a shorter ride but still a big day for most and I had a reasonably early start. Being a Saturday the roads were relatively clear and initially, I was on the motorway, which isn't my favourite but, this was a journey rather than a tour and I had deadlines.
Coming around a bend in the road my entire view was filled with fields of sunflowers, with their heads up and shining bright, a wonderful sight. I found an exit worked my way back a little and snapped a few pictures, something I forget to do on many trips especially when travelling in a group.
I had a few hours of motorway before the mobile/satnav sent me back onto rural roads and the real enjoyment of a journey like this. small villages, grand chateaux and a few nice bridges later I was starting to get very low on fuel, the KTM has a bar system which drops down and a range indicator and also flashes a petrol pump symbol at 50km remaining, so it should be almost impossible to run out of fuel unless that is there are no obvious petrol stations to stop at. France has petrol stations everywhere, you do need to know where to look through as many are part of supermarkets and not always obvious. Riding the KTM I would normally ride until there was maybe 30km of range left then look up the nearest station with the satnav just to be sure and it was usually on the route I was taking anyway. This time I was between two of equal distance so just carried on carefully. Eventually pulling into the station around 30km after the range indicator had dropped to zero, I was starting to sweat a little with thoughts of having to push the bike or ask for help.
After filling up I went to the nearby McDonalds for lunch, which again was well organised if a little busy for my liking and sat outside away from everyone to recharge my batteries. I was back on the motorway for a few hours before a good stretch of rural roads towards my F1 hotel for the night around 20 minutes from the Euro tunnel terminal.
On the way, I bumped into @VENGOVIAJANDO Gustavo had just started his world tour on his Yamaha Tenere 700, unfortunately, we didn't have time to chat as I was trying to get to my hotel before it got dark and he was looking for a place to camp for the night, maybe next time.
Gustavo @vengoviajando on Instagram
I have to say that the F1 chain is not my favourite by a long way and this one seemed a little worn however it was clean, the staff were friendly and it was in a good location for my purposes. Food options were a little scarce as it was on an industrial estate out of town, so I ended the day with another McDonalds.
Sun 12th July 2020 558km
Click the map to view the route on Google Maps
Breakfast at the F1 was very limited due to the COVID 19 restrictions so I opted for a coffee before setting off to the Euro Tunel around 20 minutes away. I had remembered that there were cafe's and snacks at the terminal so would get something there.
After a quick blast along the motorway getting nearer to the coast I finally spotted the exit for the tunnel and settled in behind a lorry down the slip road, this was a huge mistake as I blindly followed him right into the freight terminal, this only became apparent when I got to the ticket machine to check-in and couldn't reach the machine as it was set high for lorries, oh bugger. Amazingly the first level of security waved me past, rather than turning me around so I ended up stuck after security, but without a ticket to enter. After a minute or so of pressing buzzers to try to attract attention, a nice French lady came to my rescue, printing me a temporary ticket to get me through the gate and into the lorry park, then she came to meet me at the next gate to let me through, gave me another ticket to exit the park and sent me on my way to the exit. At the exit, I had to get off the bike and stand on a wall to insert the ticket in the high machine and unbelievably the gate buzzed and then refused to open, oh bugger again. After another minute or so of button pressing and speaking through the crackly intercom an irate security person came to let me out. Not a good start to my day.
Finally arriving at the correct entrance, checking in was a breeze and I even managed to get the train an hour earlier than planned with no additional charge, bonus. Parking up at the terminal and going in search of my much thought about breakfast revealed nothing, all of the shops & cafe's were closed and cordoned off, you couldn't even sit down. I sat outside on a curb with the remainder of a large bottle of water from the previous day and waited for the large electronic sign to send me on my way.
At last, it was time for the off and I followed all the sign's, very carefully, to the train ramp and was eventually allowed on with just 2 other bikes. We all parked up, there was plenty of space and settled in for the journey, we had a little chat along the way but kept the carriage width between us to maintain a safe distance, one of the guys had just been across for a couple of days to see friends, the other had flown to Geneva and ridden back after a bike breakdown on a trip earlier in the year.
Only 3 of us in the Eurotunnel carriage.
Coming off the train is always a bit odd as you drive its full length before emerging into whatever weather the UK, or France, has instore for you, I was lucky it was a little overcast but not raining. Next stop breakfast.
I was a little unsure about riding into Folkstone or any of the smaller towns to find an open cafe as really I just wanted to get on my way so opted to stop at the first services of reasonable size, When the sign for Maidstone services appeared a few miles later my thoughts returned to a full English breakfast with bacon, eggs, sausage, tomatoes, toast and a large mug of tea. Arriving at the services however my hopes were dashed, after parking in a quiet area and making my way to the building with my mask on, I found the cafe shut and just a McDonalds open selling hot food or a WHSmiths with cold snacks. It was made worse by the sheer number of people milling around without masks and in most cases completely ignoring the UK's distancing rules and the establishment's signage, one way systems were ignored, maximum capacity in the store was ignored, hand sanitiser stations were walked past without a second look. I started to wonder if I had made a huge mistake making the trip at all.
After a minute of watching the chaos, I backed away from the crowded area and waited and assessed the situation, McDonald's would definitely be a No as I didn't fancy another one especially for breakfast, so then I concentrated on WHSmiths. The sign clearly said a maximum of 6 people in the store with a one-way system to help with social distancing, however, I counted upwards of thirty people at one point. I bided my time for maybe 5 minutes until there was a lull in proceedings and went for it, first to the hand sanitizer, then the coffee machine, for a large hot chocolate, next stop a sandwich from a high self that non of the observed customers were able to reach or inspect and off to the till with a quick stop to pick up a Snickers bar. All in all, I was in the shop for about 2 minutes and avoided everyone, not an easy task in motorcycle gear and carrying a helmet.
Sitting on the curb outside next to my bike and away from everyone, to enjoy my hastily acquired breakfast, I watched people coming and going, people bumping into each other while texting on their phones and blindly entering the building through the clearly marked no entry signs and shook my head.
Setting off again with a full tank of fuel and a full stomach, was a great feeling, just the journey up to North Yorkshire and my parents to go, via my brothers for a brew. Travelling along the M20, M25 and A1 is quite boring really but I didn't fancy mixing it with the Sunday drivers on the UK's A-roads, or the constant check for speed cameras, although the motorways seem to have gained a few since I last made the journey some 5 years earlier on the BMW F650. The Dartford crossing is easier now with no toll booths to deal with and, just remember to pay within 14 days if travelling in anything other than a bike.
The rest of the journey went smoothly, after the A1 I took the M18 and M62 and then headed for Howden and my brothers at Langtoft. The last section after the motorways was a joy of country roads that I remember from my youth, unfortunately, they were quite busy being a Sunday afternoon with far fewer legal overtaking opportunities and speed limits on some of the corners all spoiling my fun, but good none-the-less.
After stopping at my brother's for a well-deserved cup of tea we set off together, with him on his BMW GS to our parents, this was to help with a surprise. At that point, my parents knew I was going to see them but didn't know I was going on the bike. I had told them I would be flying into Manchester and then hiring a car, to throw them off the scent. It's not that they wouldn't want me to go on the bike, they would just worry.
Riding with my brother to our parents
My brother arrived first and beeped his horn and my mum came to open the gate as I approached, I don't think she had a clue who I was, assuming a friend of my brothers. My Dad came out and stood with mum as we parked the bikes, they couldn't quite believe it was me and when I told them I had ridden via the Eurotunnel rather than take the ferry from Santander they were amazed, it was a great surprise.
This is one of my favourite views at my parent's house.
Part 3 coming soon