Flyover Country

Part 1: The Old World

Saturday, 18 May 2019

This morning a lot of gear occupies my kitchen table:

Gear piling up on my kitchen table

By 0900 hours all is on board and my Tiger is ready for the road. The airmass is extremely unstable; any sunlight reaching the ground will immediately trigger convection, i. e. showers or thunderstorm. But the weather gods show mercy this morning, as a thin layer of clouds prevents the sunlight from hitting the ground. By 1300 hours I am in France, biking through the Ain department.
Here the cloud cover ends and on my way towards Oyonnax I get a brief shower, but not enough to warrant getting out my wet gear. To avoid the really bad weather over the Alps, Italy and eastern France I'm heading out westwards, biking around the worst of the weather.
The sky often looks threatening:

Gloomy looking skies ahead

By 1730 hours I stop in a quiet cul-de-sac to query my GPS for the nearest hotels - and find that I have stopped right outside the local tourist information office, which in France usually stays open until 1830 hours. What a coincidence. With the help of the staff a suitable hotel with covered parking for the bike is soon booked.
The day ends after nine hours and 600 kilometres on the bike in the small town of Charmes-sur-Rhône. Just when I arrive outside the hotel my Sena Bluetooth headset tells me "Low battery, shutting down". Perfect timing, I'd say.

The hotel is three stars, but the restaurant is one of these really posh places where a diner will take three hours. Though I'm a big fan of French cuisine, I simply do not have the time to enjoy an opulent meal in this fine restaurant. You might say "what a nonsense, enjoy a good meal". You are right, but motorbiking (especially on an unexpectedly good day like today) is something I even like better than fine French food.
A brief search on the web reveals a very decent pizza place just 200 metres from the hotel, where diner in the form of a double cheeseburger takes less than 30 minutes. Yes, I know, it's a pizza place, but considering this journey's destination I thought I'd try to get into the appropriate mood...

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Morning update: When I planned my journey to Nice I was expecting to have to hand the bike over to the shipping company 48 hours prior to take-off, like in 2007 when I did this the last time. That would have meant that I had to be in Nice on Monday morning. Nowadays the bike has to be handed over only eight hours prior to take-off, but the shipping company recommends to hand it over on the day before take-off, which in my case would be Tuesday afternoon. This leaves me with plenty of time to get to Nice, especially given the fact that I already covered 600 kilometres yesterday. The remaining distance to Nice is less than 400 kilometres, and covering that in two-and-a-half days should be doable whatever the weather.
And the weather I expected to have all day yesterday finally has arrived today; persistent land rain, i. e. a permanent and incessant moderate drizzle.
So I have planned for a late start, a ride on easy roads and the general plan is to get to the Mediterranean coast where I expect the sea breeze to block the rain and to give me some mileage in the dry.

Current rain radar - not a day for biking through Southern France

Evening update: I honestly can't remember when I last rode through rain. Modern meteorology (and some knowledge thereof) means that no biker has to get wet if he wants to avoid this.
This morning however I have to start out in full raingear, and for about 180 kilometres it is raining. Only once I reach Salon de Provence does the rain stop. It being a Sunday in France also means that the Yellow Vests are out and about in many cities again:

Yellow vest potesters are out once again

Cars passing by honk their horns in support - a shocking performance of civil disobedience unthinkable in Switzerland. These guys want lower fuel taxes on diesel. The current price for fuel is around 1.55 Euros - well over six dollars per U.S. gallon. Petrol engines are practically extinct in France due to decades of fuel tax mismanagement by the French government. This means that every town and city in France always reeks of those stinking remnants these filthy shitboxes leave behind. Add to that the fact that the average Frenchman only ever has anything serviced or repaired if the vehicle won't move anymore (the money is needed to ensure that at least two visits to a fine French restaurant per week are possible, never mind the car) you can also understand that me driving on these wet roads has some hazards you might not think of; at any stoplight or within any roundabout you can expect drops of oil and diesel. When the road is dry you can usually see and avoid them. The last you see in the wet is some rainbow coloured reflection as both your wheels lose traction...
Due to the late start at 1100 hours I only manage 350 kilometres today and end the day at Le Lavandou, a tourist resort town directly on the coast of the Mediterranean sea. The beachfront hotel offers me a room with a view:

Another room with a view

This is a busy resort with a lot of nightlife going on, so I am a bit concerned to leave the bike right outside on the promenade. However, this is the South of France, so there is a solution for any problem:

Problem => solution

Tomorrow I will basically have to drive my fuel tank nearly empty and end up somewhere close to Niece.

Monday, 20 May 2019

Only 140 km to Niece. That low pressure ridge that is sitting over the Cote d'Azur for two weeks now shows no signs of wanting to move anywhere else. The hotel owner tells me that they are having the worst start into the season in years due to the bad weather - only two guests were staying at the hotel last night, myself included.
I will have to stay on the coastline, as it will be raining again inland. I'm off at 1100 hours again, given that the ride today is so short. The scenery is quite nice:

Coastal view

When I was in this area at the beginning of my 507 days vacation in spring 2006 (you can read all about that here) I kept about 20 to 30 kilometres inland, because I knew that the coastal road is not overly impressive. The coastline I bike along today is practically completely urbanised. The reason is simple: every summer the South of France has to accommodate the entire population of Northern France during the great madness called the Great Vacation for three really crazy months when everything is booked solid. The road in part is also very narrow:

Very narro, winding road

So I'm not surprised that the ride takes four hours. I have a little bit more petrol to burn, so I first have a look at the freight terminal at the airport, wash the muck off the bike at a service station and then ride a few miles outside town to take this picture of Nice:

Nice

On the way back the "Low fuel" warning light comes on and shows a remaining range of 55 kilometres. The hotel today has an underground parking garage, which proves to be a good idea as by 1800 hours it is raining in Nice.

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

It is dry this morning, but looks like it's about to start raining any minute. Luckily all I have to drive are those eight kilometres to the airport. I arrive at 1230 hours there, so I have to wait for 90 minutes until the lunchbreak is over. I did that deliberately - Frenchmen are more easygoing with a bottle of red wine inside them.
When I enter the office of the shipping firm they are obviously expecting me. You may wonder how long it takes to get a motorbike inside a bonded warehouse, get the paperwork sorted and have the bike turned into this:

All wrapped up...

It takes exactly one hour to get everything ready. I give one of the ground handlers who is also working tomorrow my mobile phone number (and a small tip) so that he can text me once the bike is on board.
Then I take a leisurely half hour walk from the cargo terminal to my hotel and by 1600 hours all appears to be set.


Below is the usual map with my GPS tracklog.



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