I’m sitting on the terrace of L’albero Del Cioccolato (The Chocolate Tree), a beautiful B&B in the foothills of the Ligurian Alps, family home of the equally beautiful Giovanna and her charming parents. In true fashion it’s been another long and tiring day, so let’s start at the beginning, back in Digne.
I awoke around 08:30 and, like an eager kid at Christmas, rushed downstairs to see if Santa had delivered my new GPS. He hadn’t. Oh well, it was early days and there was still time. Packing up the bike while the staff waited to clean my room (there’s a theme developing here) I wondered just where I’d put the package when it eventually turned up. This took around an hour, and ended in my sitting by the fountain, willing each passing van into stopping and deliver the goods. Before long one of them did, and I was clutching salvation – a big brown box from La Rose des Vents.
Not wishing to commence surgery right in the town square to assembled crowds, I strapped the large box to the back of the bike where days previous had sat a couple of tyres. So much for travelling light. Heading out of town (on what turned out to be the wrong road) I stopped at a tranquil looking rest area surrounded by forest and set to work.
It wasn’t long before it became apparent how much would be involved, since Garmin in their infinite wisdom had changed just about everything on the latest model of their motorcycle GPS. The ISO standard hole pattern still matched up with my billet ally bracket, but because there was now a small lip on the back of the GPS mount I was a couple of millimetres short of a good fit. Not that it mattered much, since this new mount was narrower than my old one and both sets of screws, existing and new, would have been far too long anyway to make use of the blind holes in the bracket.
After a bit of head-scratching I decided to sacrifice my Motorrad Concepts keyring, which was made of stiff foam and about the right thickness to act as cushion for the too-long screws. I wonder if this counts as using OEM parts?
Around about then the tranquility of my workshop was uprooted, raped, and laid to rest in the noonday sun as two dozen middle school children materialised from the woods and started playing hide and seek with enough volume to render the game pointless to anyone with a sense of purpose and unscabbed knees. So much for picking a quiet spot away from distractions.
Having secured the new Garmin my thoughts turned to electricity, just as distant thunderclouds became nearby thunderclouds and got down to the business of discharging large, angry drops like the tears of an abused donkey. Messing with bike wiring is never a good idea under these conditions, so I took the path of least resistance and pushed the wires under the tank to connect them straight to the battery rather than strip apart a section of Canbus cabling and do the job properly.
In no time was the GPS powered up and pointed at Italy. I had to make good some distance as this spot of impromptu spannering wasn’t considered when my original route was planned, in fact I was down to around half the time I’d allowed myself. This didn’t stop me from combining the missed breakfast with a late lunch at a small restaurant opposite a service station in the middle of nowhere, and the slightly burnt fish that was served and in all likelihood prepared by a hippy chick went down a treat. For some reason the Simon & Garfunkel album being played in the bar portion of the restaurant was absolutely perfect and had me humming for the rest of the day. Speaking of which I also took the opportunity to remove the Gore Tex liners I’d fitted to my riding gear when I tried to outrun the schoolchildren and thunderstorm earlier; it was 32 degrees and I probably wasn’t the most fragrant guest in the restaurant. Still, it kept the flies off the fish.
One of the first bits of road after lunch was the spectacular Gorge du Daluis, which featured in some helmet cam silliness the last time I was here with Remi. Poor chap, he lives in France and can ride this kind of scenery all the time, so must have been pretty miffed with my constant stopping for pictures and footage. Aware of this at the time I passed up a bit of road which took my fancy as it spiralled into the sky halfway along the gorge. Well, I was here again now and had nobody waiting for me, so I ignored the schedule and headed up towards La Colla. It was worth it – the only way to improve the Gorge du Daluis is to look down on it with a soundtrack of distant sports bikes and nearby crickets.
There then followed a flurry of picturesque towns linked by truly incredible roads: Guillaumes, Valberg, Beuil, Rimplas, Saint Martin Vésubie, and Roquebiliere were enjoyed between nadgery second gear hairpins and head-down, spank-that-monkey fast flowing bends. By the time I arrived at the edges of the Parc National Mercantour I’d reminded myself several times that I was riding “Adventure” tyres with less than a thousand miles on them, usually just after touching down the tips of my boots mid-corner, whistling something about Salisbury Hill at scenery which was anything but.
Before long I was catching up a touring cyclist and couldn’t believe my eyes when I recognised another Ridgeback Panorama. It couldn’t be, but it was: I’d passed John two days previous and regretted not stopping to say hello at the time, something I was keen to make up for now. We chatted for maybe 15 minutes; turns out John was riding from Switzerland to the bottom of Italy to meet friends, and had been camping wild along the way. The chances of meeting him again were unlikely in the extreme given the small roads we’d both chosen to our different destinations, but there we both were. He explained how he was originally from San Francisco and had been living in New Zealand for a couple of years before hitting the road on a bike he’d bought from somebody in the UK. I felt I couldn’t quite match his story with my paltry 2 week tourist foray into the Alps so I instead told him about Warm Showers, a hospitality network run for touring cyclists similar to Couch Surfing. After grabbing a quick photo together we were on our separate ways, and John promised to look me up on his way to the Shetlands for a family get-together. Meeting him against those odds was incredible, and being given the chance to say hello second time around made my day to an extent I can’t really explain.
After more fantastic roads I finally crossed the Italian border, and suddenly olive groves were everywhere. Don’t they grow in France, just a few km back down the road? The villages were different too, terracotta houses stacked improbably against the hillside, full of dark-skinned, vest clad men driving Piaggio three wheelers that were conspicuous only by their absence in the country I’d just left.
I don’t know why, but I always take it easy immediately after entering a new country, sticking to 5 kays below the posted speed limits and trying to pre-empt the foreign dogs, crazy, blind bend disregarding overtakers and tailgating gigolos, not to mention the other C word – Carabinieri.
Just after Isolabona the road went skywards again, and as the sun threw it’s last rays over the hill I pulled into the driveway of The Chocolate Tree, which is where I’m sitting now, wondering just how quiet a landscape can really get before it starts making anti-noise. Every now and then sounds do filter through; the odd cricket clocking on early in search of overtime, a dog barking at a squirrel 4 miles away, the bike’s last gentle tickings under the veranda. My contribution? The wet shnick of another Birra Moretti.