Saturday, 28 January 2012

The Alps, UKRM style - part 3

Day 6 - Landeck to Landeck

The previous day had seen us split into smaller groups to do our own thing: Champ, Preston, Steve and I went to play with Klaus in Germany; Andy and Adie took the opportunity to relax a bit after the hard slog across Western Europe on an unfaired bike; Ginge, Wessie, Colin and Pat went to do the tourist thing round some local passes. The four of us on the tour had enjoyed the last pass so much we insisted on showing everyone where we'd been - Andy in particular we thought had missed out, so we went back to do the same road in reverse. All except Preston, who'd finally admitted defeat in the battle between his wrists and the MV's riding position, so stayed behind weeping silent tears.

Climbing out of Imst we discovered that the Hahntennjoch road holds special surprises before lunchtime, namely cowshit and fog. Rather than repeat the previous afternoon's high-octane shenanigans we picked our way carefully between the cowpats as they loomed out of the gloom, the sound of ghostly cowbells clanking on the breeze. A bit bollocks really, as we'd really been looking forward to this one. At the top of the pass visibility was down to no more than a few yards so rather than hang around we pressed on down the other side to find some better weather.

Once back in the valley the weather brightened up nicely and we spent a good few hours pootling around enjoying the local roads and pitched up at a restaurant in the middle of nowhere for lunch. As usual, schnitzels, sausages and beer went down nicely and full of enthusiasm we stopped on a particularly twisty valley road for some photos while Champ showed off his knee-down antics. With the emphasis on showed off. Pratting about over, we headed back to Landeck for the afternoon. Or, at least, I think we did - my memory's a bit fuzzy on this bit so I might be merging two days into one, but it doesn't really matter.

Once back in Landeck a few people went off to do their own thing around town while the rest of us went for a trundle up a valley to Mittelberg where we found a hotel only too happy to let us loiter on their terrace with beer and ice cream. Refuelling over, we headed back to Landeck - most people the way we'd come, but Andy and I decided to take a detour via Fliess. Not a great idea, it turned out - not only had it started to rain, and we'd chosen a particularly wiggly road, but the surface was not so much tarmac as sawdust thanks to logging activity either side of the road. With my arsehole puckered and the whites of my eyes threatening to absorb my entire head I picked my way along a hideously steep and slippery, hairpin-laden road until we were back down in the valley. Honestly just about the nastiest bit of road surface I'd ever seen, until I came across the joy of the wet, cobbled hairpin in the Vosges more recently.

Back at the hotel bar after dinner, Champ decided we should all do shots. It was the night before a 200-odd mile ride to the Black Forest. and Champ, the biggest girly-lightweight drinker in the group, decided he wanted to go on a bender. Andy and I were only too happy to oblige, so the barmaids plonked a basket of Jaegermeister bottles in front of us, opened their largest tank of industrial plum schnapps and we got busy with the booze. Andy bailed out before too long, but was quickly replaced by the three Italian lads from the day before, who listened with rapt attention to the tale of Champ's entire biking history. Eventually, I know not when, we went to bed.

Day 7 - Austria to the Black Forest

I'm not sure what time we finished that session but when the barmaids start insisting you drink glasses of water between rounds it's probably a sign you're on a binge. Come the morning, I had a stab at breakfast for a change and loaded the bike for the ride across Germany.

The usual four members of reprobate club, plus Andy this time, headed off towards Lech to take a scenic route into Germany. Adie, meanwhile, opted for the motorway and took the opportunity to have a quick chat with the local police about the pros and cons of buying a vignette beforehand. The rest of the group made their own way by various routes - the race was officially on.

By lunchtime we were in deepest Bavaria and both we and our bikes were in need of fuel so having found somewhere to score some petrol we pulled up outside the only eatery in an otherwise deserted town, a grotty little greasy spoon that served borderline-edible food and cold beer to wash it down. The latter made up for the former and duly refreshed we kitted up and hit the road again. Early afternoon saw us making good progress towards Balingen. Slightly better progress than perhaps we should, as we were about to find out.

As I came around a bend I found a queue of traffic, the cause of which was a uniformed (not to mention armed) bike cop standing in the road giving me a dirty look and suggesting I might want to pull over. As I pulled in I saw the other four bikes follow, and then an unexpected fifth, which turned out to be the one with the pannier full of video gear. Oh. Little did we know we were in the German equivalent of North Wales and a local had been so incensed by the sight of five Dutch (!) bikers making progress that a welcome party had been set up further along the road and we were on candid camera.

The uniformed cop walked over to me and spoke in tongues for a moment until he clocked my baffled expression, walked round behind the bike, and realised that a yellow plate on a bike doesn't necessarily mean it's Dutch. He gathered up our keys and documents while his English-speaking colleague with the pursuit bike explained that "Zis is not ze Isle of Man, ja? Zis is chust Chermany" and we all got to watch a quick video and mark our riding styles out of ten. Or, at least, I think that's what we were meant to do. Our nationality established, and sheepish looks all round, the English-speaking cop named his price. This was far, far, eye-wateringly more than we were carrying, so we were taken in convoy to a bank in Balingen and thence to the local nick.

As I came out of the bank with a wallet full of Euros I saw one of the cops paying very close attention to the exhausts on Preston's MV. Ze Chermans are very, very particular about modifications to bikes and having just ridden tail-end charlie in the convoy into town he was all too familiar with just how loud the bike was. After being taken inside two at a time to be relieved of our cash, the two cops joined us outside and had a good, close look at Preston's bike. Despite his best protestations that the exhausts were standard they were having none of it and out came the noise meter.

"If it is too loud, you will leave it here until you come back with legal exhausts. The bike will not leave until it is legal". Having sat behind the fucking thing for several hundred miles, I was almost looking forward to Preston taking a train home while my hearing got a chance to recover, but despite their best efforts they couldn't get it to make quite enough noise to justify a visit to the pound. So rather than find our holiday truncated, we were told in no uncertain terms to go to Calais, get the ferry home and not fuck about on the way. A bit harsh for a mere 40km/h (25mph) over the limit but they had guns so we weren't going to argue. We kept quiet about our plans to spend another night in Germany and in finest Great Escape style we all split up and headed in different directions to the hotel. Obviously we were all aiming for the same destination, so the next hour was spent criss-crossing each other's paths as we gradually converged on the hotel that time forgot where the rest of the party were waiting for us. By this point we were all starting to feel a little victimised and the dinner was a quiet affair, not least because the bar at the hotel closed around 8pm, so we got one last early night behind enemy lines before crossing the Rhine.

Day 8 - Crossing the Maginot Line

Over breakfast, bearing in mind the dire words spoken in Balingen the day before, we arranged to ride separately to the river and meet up in the first available cafe on the other side. Colin and Pat, still being welcome in Germany, had left us again to continue their holiday in the forest, Ginge had gone straight home, Wessie was off doing his own thing, and the rest of us were heading for a couple of nights in Verdun. Wacky Races ensued once again, but eventually we met up in France over a coffee while Autumn kicked in outside with a vengeance.

The ride to Verdun was absolutely atrocious. Torrential rain for the thick end of 200 miles really brought home a need to buy some decent Goretex kit. I gave up on the cross-country route and trundled along the autoroute trying to stay cheerful. At one point a pair of bike cops appeared next to me and somewhat justified paranoia kicked in until they gave me a cheery wave and buggered off into the distance. Welcome to France!

For the next two nights we were holed up at our usual haunt in Verdun, the cheap and reasonably cheerful Hotel Saint-Paul. As always, we drank the bar completely dry in no time and moved on to our other usual haunt in Verdun for beer and pizza. To be quite honest, we were just glad to be out of Germany.

Day 9 - Verdun

With the weather having turned for the worse, and everyone needing a rest, that's exactly what we had. Champ and Steve opted to go home a day early rather than hang around in the rain, so we waved them off and they headed for Calais. The rest of us - Andy, Adie, Preston and me - opted to leave the bikes parked up and go for a tour round the Verdun battlefield instead. Not the most logical way to end a bike trip, but brought me full circle after my visit to Thiepval a week earlier. The tour was pretty interesting, despite being conducted almost entirely in French, and included visits to the local museum and the ossuary at Douaumont. Not a bad way to pass a rainy day in northern France.

And that, other than another evening of beer and pizza, was pretty much it. I rode home, looked mournfully at the pile of stinking clothes I'd brought back with me, and made a mental note to buy some better kit before the next big trip.

Oh, and a few weeks later I got a letter from Germany. Three points, apparently. Now that's what I call a souvenir.


  1. A grand read. Can't wait for next year's trip report!

  2. 25th of June or thereabouts. Fancy tagging along for the southern portion?