Day 12: Vichy

The best part about staying in a 26 Euro hotel is that you can get a racing getaway in the morning, and don’t have to bother messing about with a damp tent. I’ve got it pretty much sussed now, so that one pannier contains clothes, electronics and washing equipment, and everything else stays on the bike. Well, except for anything nickable that isn’t locked or hidden, like the tent and sleeping bag.

R1200GS fuel gauge shows 50 miles left, the best MPG to date for this bike

My only objective for the day apart from making miles was to find some oil, as the recent clattering about the mountains seemed to have used up a little, worryingly for the first time in the 43,000 miles I’ve done on this bike. Still, there were no obvious leaks or smoke, so if a little oil is all I’d have to pay for the amount of abuse I’d heaped on the poor machine these past few days that’s all right with me.

The advantage of owning a British motorcycle over a German one is that you’re intimately familiar with the type of oil you use, but as a BMW rider I didn’t have a clue. A bit of Googling revealed that most people make do with 15W50 or 20W50, so I aimed for either of those seeing as I’d only need a little bit which would be flushed out anyway as part of the service once I’m back home. I could probably have gotten away with mineral oil, but a feeling told me semi-synthetic would probably get on better with whatever was in there already, being both natural and synthetic in origin.

Like everything in France the bike shop took a little finding (or, more accurately, a bike shop with the right kind of oil) and like everything in France it was closed for lunch. The burger joint next door wasn’t though – I really must go on some sort of diet when I get home. Before long I was clutching a litre bottle of oil and a new pair of perforated gloves, a bit of a splurge and something I wish I’d have thought of on the way down, when it was still warm. Oh well, at least my hands weren’t going to smell of vinegar anymore – the old gloves were getting really manky by now and their internal aroma of stale sweat didn’t do anything for my hands, especially at meal times.

Having left the hills properly this time the roads straightened out and provided something I’d been looking forward to for a long time: the chance to use all the gears. One soon gets bored though, and it’s not long before you try to see how far you can ride without using your hands. About 4km in my case.

The few bends that did come my way led into the low clouds again, and made me wonder what the hell I was doing with perforated gloves. The thought of camping for the night also didn’t appeal too much, but while sterile, edge-of-town motels are fine for a quick break there’s little fun in making a habit of them. Time to cast the dice of Archie again, maybe there’s a nice campsite near a main town, something near a river, possibly with some historic buildings and nightlife … like Vichy, just up ahead.

Road heads into woodland shrouded in cloud

It’s easy to fantasise about the nice things and neglect the truth at times like this. What I found at the campsite was exquisite horror: mobile homes with little hedges and multiple satellite dishes, vest-clad men on plastic chairs chain-smoking next to overflowing bins, snot-encrusted urchins squabbling in the dirt … it may as well have been called Center Parks. I was so repulsed I couldn’t even take a picture, and instead turned back into the rush hour traffic I’d just fought nearly an hour to leave. So much for cosmopolitan camping, I was off to stock up on food at the nearest Spar, and if the next place didn’t work out I’d be back in the field with the wildlife again.

Luckily the next place did work out, and in a big way. It was quite late by the time I rocked up at Les Voisins near Montaigu le Blin, but that didn’t stop the Dutch owners pressing an unrequested but very welcome beer in my hand before I’d even taken my helmet off. The proprietor cracked one open for himself and we sat on the patio for an hour, chatting about their life at the pretty site, which they’d converted from a farm and inhabited for 11 years now.

The temperature was back up to 25 degrees, even this late in the day, and in a way I was sorry I’d stocked up on fresh food as the smells from the kitchen were absolutely divine. Still, I’d bought a steak and was determined to push the Trangia to its limit by adding red wine sauce and finally opening the Italian Emergency Couscous. Turned out nice again.

Camping stove cooking steak and couscous