When I first read about the BTBC trip to the Stella Alpina I thought it was the kind of trip other people go on, Pepsi Max blokes and the like, I never dreamt that 8 months later I would be there.
It all started when I showed my wife Sue the web site photographs of last year's trip, for the umpteenth time I said to her "I'd love to go on that". To my utter surprise she said "why don't you go then?" My cheque was already in the post before I realised I would be away for her birthday, I'd need some good brownie points for this one!
I'd arranged to travel up to Hull for the ferry with Tony Bramah and Ted Scott . Tony and his GPS led us over a lovely route through the Peak District and over The Humber bridge to Hull, it was a swelteringly hot day and when we arrived at the port the rest of the group were sheltering in the shade of a large warehouse. It was great to meet up with old mates , (and my long lost son Adam )and excitedly chat about our forthcoming adventure.
Although I have taken a car on a ferry abroad many times before I had never experienced the lower standard of service afforded to a motorcyclist by P + O . A deck hand threw us a few coils of oily nylon rope and left us to get on with it. Bike tied down, then off for a shower and a drink to re- hydrate . This was our first mistake of the trip, starting drinking at half past six , we were drinking an evil tasting "white" beer which rendered me absolutely bladdered by the time I stumbled up and down the gangways and found my cabin.
I have never in my life felt as ill as I did on that first day riding through France, my head was pounding inside my helmet and my already de-hydrated body was running with sweat as we blasted down the autoroute in furnace like temperatures. I was so pleased to arrive at our first hotel " The Gay Pensioner" (as it was to become known) , 24 quid b+b plus a four course meal, job done!
The next morning's ride through Geneva once again aquainted us with inferno like temperatures but soon enough we were off the autoroutes and into the mountains. The names of the passes we crossed escape me, as my cornering skills (usually confined to a leisurely commute to work) were put to the test in a manic "thank God we're off the m/ways" dash for the summits, (and down again!) . Now then….. hairpin bends…. loads of them….switchback style, how do you tackle them? this was the beginning of one hell of a steep learning curve . My thanks must go out to Rickanne at this point for saving me from a stationary big bike/short legs/fall on one's arse incident , sadly the next time it happened on the road to Marmora I did indeed fall on my arse. However, big respect is due to Motad's Africa Twin desert bars, as the bike escaped unscathed.
Bardo, the Hotel Sommellier, what can I say that hasn't already been said? Basic with a large B, but with loads of character , good breakfasts, and cheap beer. I shared a room with Mick Bingham and Bill Naismith . Bill for such a slight bloke, snored louder than the Trans European express that seemed to rattle past our windows at 5 minute intervals all night!
We signed up for the Stella and in the afternoon, Bill , John Murray, Top Geezer Sharkie, Anders and myself found the Sestriere ridge trail , got halfway along it, then got lost . We ended up in a little café in a ski village called Sportina. I along with John had popped my off road cherry. Top thanks must go to Bill for his advice and encouragement. We were on such a high we even polished the afternoon off with a trip up" The Ledge".
The day of the Stella dawned and it was not without a certain amount of worry that I ascended the track to the summit. I can't say how disappointed I was that we weren't to be able to get to the top, but top marks to Ted and "Bird man John" for having the bottle/ability to go the full way.
Monday's trip to Marmora was an awesome ride, my progress up the learning curve was getting higher and higher, whilst never at the front of the pack ( tooo scary! ) I was now able to keep up with some of the people who had creamed me earlier in the week. This was a great, if lengthy day out, although I was knackered at the time , as I sit in work a week later I'm so glad I did it. I even saw, and nearly ran over a Marmot! I rode a few more trails over the next day or so and must thank Bill, John, George Gordon and Ian Faithfull for their good company.
All too soon we were packing our bags full of jars of Italian delicacies and stuffed (toy) marmots and heading off for home via the good old Gay Pensioner. The trip home was a great deal nicer than the journey South as the temperatures were more moderate. Again the names of the Alpine col's and passes escape me, as fear glued my eyes to the road and only occasionally strayed to look at the 1000 ft drop offs!. Garty and myself had a blast in some of the tunnels near the St Bernard Pass as we bashed out some kill switch backfires, ( a newly aquired art for me!). To me , the journey home along the autoroute is a necessary evil to be endured rather than enjoyed but having said that I arrived reasonably fresh in Zeebrugge ready for the ferry home and more beer .
I must thank Paul (Thomas Cook)Clarke for his organisation of the trip, and all the shepherds who assisted in seamlessly (well almost) getting 20- odd bikes and riders there and back in one piece. As I sit at home looking at the photos repeatedly saying "and this is me", I find it difficult to believe it was……..Pepsi Max My Arse!!!! Paul Atkin
When Paul Clark let it become know the 2001 Stella was to be his last for a while (which we shall no doubt see about) I knew I should make the effort to go this time, and take advantage of his wealth of experience gathered over ten (?) years of Stella trips. Happily my gem of a wife agreed, and my two hundred quid was duly sent off way back when the nights were dark. What with one thing and another in my life, the trip was upon me unbelievably quickly. The last week prior to departure was spent in desperate search of a new camera (due to unforeseen difficulties with the old one), eventually resolved two days before we left for Belgium. I also had more than a bit of trouble fitting a small remote camera to the front of my bike, GP style, in order to get some on-bike video footage of the Stella itself. Packing was finally accomplished late the night before departure, which just left the obligatory head shave in the morning and it would be off! To Hull, and beyond…
Wednesday morning saw wife and child leave for work and child minder respectively and "Grandfather" Ted Scott arriving outside my house in glorious summer sunshine. We had arranged, together with Paul Atkin, to take a leisurely back-road route to Hull in order to avoid that motorway thing. Paul came down the road a touch later and after fluids in/out, we got off. The ride up my street is always a pleasure at the start of a trip, was it Frodo that talked of even the biggest journeys starting with a few steps just outside your door? This would be my biggest trip ever.
Whatever, the ride over went swimmingly, the GPS route plugged in the night before proving both pretty and fun (a route I'd never done, it just looked interesting on AutoRoute). The ride over the Humber Bridge was a first for me, good value for a quid on the bike although the land to the south of the Humber is horrid agri-desert, no wonder I'd never been riding there before.
At the last fuel stop before the boat more BTB's pulled in as we were leaving, hmm I know where you're off too pal…
The collection of luggage, waterproof clothing, bikes and oddballs mulling around the gate was indeed the BTBc Expeditionary Force 2001. Some I knew from earlier trips, some not at all but everyone was waiting for the Man who duly arrived and we embarked. Twenty eight bikes loading up as one is quite a sight: it's hard not to feel a little smug in front of the assembled truckers and tourists to be part of such an impressive group. Once on board we got into our battery cabins for a quick change and hit the bar. Despite my very best intentions to the contrary I got well pissed and ended up in The Worst Nightclub In The Whole World. Luckily I don't remember too much but before we knew it the klaxon was bellowing, it was six ay-em and time to eat fried stuff. The seven quid breakfast is well worth it, following the old army maxim "eat when you can, sleep when you can" and remembering that the more you eat the cheaper you travel (all you can eat bacon, are they quite mad?) saw me trashing loads of food in an effort to eat my way to Zeebrugge for nowt.
Getting off the boat saw me hoisting a monster, which the Belgian Immigration chap was particularly impressed with. "Open the panniers, please…" he began… thank Christ they were all out of rubber gloves! After he let me go I did him another (on the other side of the gate!) which almost had me under some bloody idiot truck on the wrong side of the road, oopps no sorry it's me!! Serrez a droite indeed.
The following day on the Peage is best left in the past, barring some ingenious blagging on Garty's part to fix Mick Bingham's AT with parts of the French sewerage system and Tarka's remarkable Peage booth wheelie/flipping/roadrash antics - some people will do anything to avoid paying tolls! The French coppers were well cool when he flipped it just in front of them though - I can imagine doing the same thing in front of a UK Federation Pursuit Ship, they'd be stuffing the ticket in the stretcher with you. Eventually Toll Road Hell ended and suddenly I had to remember how to corner. A few klicks of nice stuff and we arrived at our stopover for the night at Les Rousses: the Gay Pinson ski-chalet lodge hotel, which proved to be a good place to stop. Good showers, good coffee, good food and all for £24. Excellent.
Friday morning and the fun starts in earnest. The road to the Alps starts just out the door and we get off, initially myself and Dennis Eastwood inflict thumper revenge on the pesky multi's that beasted us on the motorways. Lots of fun. The Alps kind of sneak up on us, unlikely for a huge mountain range but there you go. I loose track of what country we are in round Geneva; later map consultation is no use, the border must be a bit crooked round these parts. Mark Piercy kindly throws himself over the 'bars in front of me, just pulling out of a hairpin. Snapped chain - "…I've only had it on three years" well well, and never seen rain or lube in all that time I'll bet. We press on, leaving Mark to wait the arrival of a new chain.
The landscape is vast - defying all attempts to fit it into my head, let alone into my camera. It will be a couple of days yet before I acclimatise to these immense lumps of rock. Everywhere is a chocolate box lid. After a while and some consultation with the old hands my hairpin technique gets to the "Advance Wobble" stage and I feel happy whizzing round the things, slowly grinding a hole in my side stand. Sparks are cool!
At dusk we enter the final run into Bardonecchia, known colloquially as Yosemite Park or Yogi Bear Land. Fraz is just up ahead doing his drag race thing between corners but I'm onto him. The 650 can hang with the 1150, but not pass - not with me aboard, at least. Then I forget everything else in my life and the red mist descends; pass or die. Eventually Fraz slows and pulls over, I go through. I imagine he let me past fearing the red mist may take me too far, but a little later his gameplan is revealed - a huge, gaping drainage culvert across the road. It has a shallow ramp in with a steeper ramp out and is maybe 300mm deep and a meter across. This is estimated from hitting it revved out in third off the last corner. I just have time to get up on the pegs as we hit the (now become) take off ramp and me, the GS and my luggage soar into the air. In-flight entertainment is restricted to consideration of the pain landing will bring. I just about fit in a thought about how stupid I'll look, coming all this way and spoiling it all before we even get to the hotel. Then we land, suspension compresses and a touch of headshake and wow we made it! I can still taste the relief in my mouth as I write, two weeks later. The biggest jump of my life. Later in the week we will repass this culvert but I'll too timid to do the same again. Quite an introduction to Bardo and its environs. Pulling into the hotel and it's beer o'clock once again. The pizza restaurant beckons and it never tasted so good. Better than hospital food anyway.
After dinner we are treated to a pyrotechnic display courtesy of Garty and his adopted son Adam Atkins, followed by a stunt quad riding display by some local knob head. Quite spectacular, but too much for our host unfortunately who closes the bar and then the hotel due to the disturbances out front, muttering "…carabinieri" under his breath. I though Italians liked fireworks; there are always plenty at their football matches. We skulk in through the back door and retire, where Mr Gartside treats me to the first session of his Sleep Denial Therapy treatment for lazy boys.
Saturday was our first day of trail riding. After dropping into the Tourist Info Office to sign up for the following day's Stella myself, Garty, Robin Dawson, Mick Bingham and the Colchester Two (Stuart Cooper and Adam Atkins) hit the trails. One especially turned into an Africa Twin graveyard; three down in the space of twenty metres. Stuart's in particular ended up at a very jaunty angle. I was amazed at the crashability of the big twins - well done Honda. The little Beemer carried on up the slippery slope to a safe spot and I went back down to take some carnage pictures.
The rest of the day was spent exploring some fantastic trails. It really is trail bike heaven around Bardo, all the more appealing after this year's FAM disaster in the UK. I wished I had my XR, although the Beemer proved really capable off tarmac. Well up to Dominator standard I guess, which isn't too far behind an XR600. The only limit is one's preference to keep things shiny side up but failing that I reckon the F650 could go (almost) anywhere, certainly in Derbyshire anyway.
That night back at the hotel the BTBc began dribbling back from their day's exploits, faces beaming. It was really, really nice to see dirt novices coming off the trails, so full of enthusiasm and satisfaction. I'm sure they never knew that bike they had ridded down here could do what they just did.
Another night of debauchery was followed by the main event on Sunday; up the Sommelier for the Stella itself (or "Smelly Old Penis Rally" as it became know in Manchester prior to my departure). Unfortunately snow prevented us from getting right up the top; I was disappointed until PC pointed out that in ten years of doing the Stella he's only ever got up there four times. I guess ten thousand feet really is a long, long way up. On the way down I ran into a guy off the e-group who'd done Morocco; we swapped stories for a while until his mate turned up on a Honda Blackbird, just on his way up - he was feeling pretty pleased with himself too until he saw the big fat German coming down on his Hyabusa…. Crazy bikes, crazy guys but the true spirit of the rally I think. Following the dusty hell that was the Stella itself, a few headed up the opposite side of the valley to a nice spot on the lakeside, where a fire was gotten up and wine laid down in the ice cold waters until fit to drink. Idyllic. That afternoon I just chilled in town; after all it is supposed to be a holiday. Somewhere along the way poor Robin managed to trash his gearbox; it was to prove the end of his motorcycling that week. He's such an irrepressible character though - despite the bike woes, he managed to see the positives and ended up getting flown home to Sunderland via Torino. Top bloke.
For me Monday was a toss-up between a road ride to Mamora with the lads or a gentle day's laneing (his "Safari Rally") with Codger, a Stella stalwart for even longer than PC himself. I eventually went to Mamora; a tough decision in the end as I was planning on doing loads of trails. The group experience swung it for me, Mamora and tarmac trails it was. The roads down (to almost Monaco!) were superb, like everything we rode while away. Everyone seemed to up the pace a little; the roads just made you go that little bit faster, that little bit smoother. On the final climb up to the village I passed a local on an old scooter, struggling up the hill. He was still struggling a bit later, when he passed me on a hairpin. I was having a little lie down, after dumping the Dakar low-side coming out of one of the (in fact, final) hairpins up to the village. I didn't actually hear him snigger, but I'd forgive him that much. I must have looked a right 'nana. Not to worry, in best TRF style I kept the clutch in, hoisted the bike up and got away before anyone had seen it (or so I thought). Up at the village a damage check showed a scraped bar end, a slight cut to my elbow and a pretty beat-up right knee -ouch, I'd forgot how hard tarmac was… still the bike crashed really well, and a good excuse to buy some Touratec hand guards and ditch the BMW ones. If you ever go up to Mamora have a look for a long groove on the inside of the last hairpin, that's where my bar end is - and no doubt bits of my knee!
It was a long way back to Bardonecchia, we must have done twelve hours on the road that day and pretty intense it was too. Superb stuff, a few beers and a pizza and I were away with the fairies.
Tuesday was a quiet day for me, a visit to Sousa and the legendary Dianese outlet (don't bother) together with a trip round the local shops. Myself, Tarka and Andy Cadney did some food shopping - well, picnic stuff at least. Later we set up on the village square opposite the hotel, everyone had some snap and some wine and we did the town one last night. Sitting out there, surrounded by the BTBc chatting, eating and drinking was a real magic moment.
Wednesday came and with it time to load up and press on to Les Rousses for our stop-over. The plan was to work our way up through the Alps, fitting in some more passes on the way and generally having "an extra day's holiday" as Paul calls it. Unfortunately for me it was to be more than an extra day; the clutch cable on the Dakar let go and I ended up waiting at a roadside café for six hours while BMW Assist arrived. I begged with them on the phone to simply get a cable to me; however the van came and took the bike and me to a BMW concessionaire in Aosta. It was late when we got there; the bike was off loaded, I was thrown out and the Italians disappeared for the night. I mooched up and down the six-lane highway for a bit, finding a Travel Lodge type place eventually. In the morning Moto America got me off around 9.30 and I set off over the Alps, alone.
I really enjoyed the trip back; after giving up so much responsibility to the group the last week, being master of my own destiny again was a refreshing challenge. I made good progress over the Alps, down into Geneva and on through Les Rousses around lunchtime. I was doing so well on the Peage I imagined I could even make the boat that night, if it were to be delayed at all. I pressed on. The weather (which had been perfect motorcycling stuff all the trip) decided to close in and I slowed a little. I decided to try and stretch a fuel stop a little to make up more time. I mis-read a sign, forgetting not all Peage stopping places have fuel. When I ran out (in the rain) I was six km's short of a fuel station. I started pushing, but gave up after two. I rang my other breakdown cover this time, not fancying another long wait. Imagine my surprise when they told me the Peage was a special case and I'd have to use the French rescue services. Some thirty minuets later and I was running again, fifty five FF lighter but with a gallon (or 5 litres) of sans plomb aboard. Nice.
I decided to call it a day at Riems; pulling off the motorway I found another smart hotel to stay and tried my best to dry my gear. There was a bit of amusement as the girl on the front desk tried to wipe up all the eau I was dripping everywhere; eventually she gave up and waited until I cleared off. The following day (Friday) was a simple run up to Zebrugge, arriving at 2.00 pm for a 6.30 boat. Paul had smoothed everything for me the day before (thanks mate) which just left me to pick up my ticket and wait. The departure was delayed two hours while the staff created a Passenger Manifest manually, following a computer fault. There was one bonus to being late; I got given a four-berth en-suite cabin to myself rather than the shoebox-for-two we had on the way out. I'll be getting one of those again, I reckon. Definitely the way to travel (but probably three times the price of an Economy?).
Once back on English soil there was just the small matter of a retentive Customs man to deal with - he insisted I get my passport out of a pannier, then barely glanced at it. All the other lanes were flying through. I completely lost it and gave him both barrels; well I just wanted to get home to my family! Again I think I was lucky not to meet Mr. Marigold, considering the foul-mouthed abuse he got… no doubt they actually like seeing people loose it, they've won then haven't they?
Out the dock and home double quick, back to the warm embrace of the family. And that was that; all over. Top trip, top club and top people. Thanks to all that made it what it was.
For 10 years Paul C. had been having a go at me about getting into big trail bikes. I was having none of it though. We'd grown up together riding firstly battered old mopeds on the local slag heaps and gradually through the years building up to battered old trail bikes. In the late eighties we progressed onto pukka enduro machines and started trail riding in earnest with a good dose of decent enduros thrown in for good measure. And there I stayed, either enduroing or having no machine atall for long periods of time.
Mr C. on the other hand moved direction. Whilst not forgoing his off road roots completely, in that he held onto his trusty XR600, he went down the big trail bike path in about '91 and seemingly has never looked back.
I suppose my decision to go the big bike route was somehow brought about partly due to the foot and mouth crisis this year. With nowhere to ride, the summer was looking decidedly bleak, so the decision was made. Big trail bike it is!
The search was on for something cheap and cheerful, so first step was to put a request out on the e groups for something that fitted the description. I'd decided that the Transalp was the one for me having hired one out for a long weekend last year to go on one of the Wales runs. Within a week or so of the request being made for any info on such a machine, I'd received an E-mail from a certain Mr Gartside. To cut a long story short, the perfect bike somehow just materialised out of the ether. Been down the road, quite new, low mileage and very reasonably priced., Blimey I really do need to keep this story a bit more to the point as there's so much to say about the trip. So, bought it, taxed, tested and insured it, new tyres, chain and sprockets, pay Paul for ferry, pack bags, go round to Paul's on Wednesday the 4th and ride to Hull. Holiday has started, Yeah.
I must admit actually, that at this point in the proceedings I was still far from excited at the prospect of doing all that motorway riding to Italy. I still felt distinctly uncomfortable by the sheer size of the bike and couldn't envisage for the life of me what sort of fun could possibly be had from attempting to throw such a big ugly pig of a machine up and down some foreign hills. Little did I know at the time, but the answer to that question was little more than a tad over 24 hours away.
After a night of more than a few a beers and trying desperately to remember the new names to match the new faces, ( not a strong point of mine ) we woke up in Zeebrugee.
After disembarking we proceeded to cut through the Brussels ring road rush hour and eventually after an hour or so with all present and correct, found ourselves at the start of the dreaded day of French autoroutes.
I'd heard all about how boring they were but really if you find ways to amuse to yourself, such as trying to outdo your mates with visually stupid riding positions. Or as I was told later in the week by Dave Crone, just think of what you might be doing if not on holiday. The thought of the drudgery of work does certainly seem to do the trick in this case.
We left the autoroute at around 6pm that evening and were left with a 60 mile ride to the hotel in France on A roads in the foothills of the Alps. Well, 20 miles later I got off the bike and gave Paul a big round of thanks, saying something to the effect of how unbelievable the roads we'd just used were. Little did I know, but on a scale of 1 to 10 those roads, good as they were by British standards, would not even register a flicker on the scale used to measure the roads of the forthcoming week.
More soon….. Jez
The Beginning Of A Great Adventure
As I sit here typing away on a Wednesday 2 weeks to the day that we sailed, the rain is pouring down. The Met office has issued a severe weather warning for South and East Yorkshire, a deep low sits over the country, ferries are being cancelled and I think what lucky, lucky b!tards we were.
10 days of mostly sunshine (some too hot even) 1/2 hour of rain on the Sunday evening, clear weather on all the peaks , except the Grand St. Bernard pass ( just to remind me of how bad it could get) and the chorus from Blondie and Darkie of "you should have been here last year, it was raining/cloudy/freezing when we were here. "
It was odd to be sweating away in the valley bottoms (but then we all like a sweaty bottom, eh Fraz?) and by the time we were at the top , those with gentle hands had the heated grips switched on.
Never having ridden in such a big group on the continent before I was a bit unsure of what to expect. The ducking, weaving and diving around Lille by one or two over excited younger members increased my "safe distance to the next" by a bit , BUT the middle-taking, not under or over taking, in-between two HGV`s whilst one was over taking the other, by a few members had me shaking my head in disbelief and looking for the nearest emergency telephone. The heat and the monotony of a very long motorway journey slowly took it`s toll though and we all quietened down as the day progressed.
My heart went out to Mick Bingham as the first casualty, with a split coolant hose. There but for the grace, etc especially when he said he was only going for the weekend. Top bloke to Bill (another weekender) for staying with him.
The rest of the Peage was covered without much further ado apart from copious fag and wee stops and some overshooting one rest stop but being there at the next. The final gallop to the Gay Pension through the twisties was great fun, watching Fraz`s ever changing lines in his mad dash to be there first to bag the single room at Les Rousses. Showers, Beer and good food were in order then bed before the final leg to Bardo.
Thursday dawned fine and a good start was made. A minor hiccup at some road works saw me riding on the wrong side of the road, but an oncoming car that was braking hard and swerving for a ditch reminded me to drive on the right. And the other four behind me who had followed in my wheel tracks!!!
The day passed in a blur of stunning scenery , busy Geneva, Fraz blasting up and down the convoy getting his video footage, Tarka shaking like a shiting dog after dropping his bike at a peage and the roads I`ve looked at in envy while watching Le Tour de France - Col de la Colombiere, des Aravis, de la Madeleine and Col du Galibier.
The highlight was the unsurfaced road from Beaufort to Aime, approx. 6, 600ft col. Grandfather Ted sped off, unable to contain himself, roosting one or two on the way and was the first to encounter the Alpine cows. Big creamy brown, doleful black eyes and bells clanging away like a church full of pissed up campanologists. In these areas the milking parlour is taken to the cows, parked by the side of the road and the cows gathered on the other side. Six go in, then another six. Ted got there just as the shift changed, nearly ending up with a lap dancing cow for company.
We all made it to the tarmac without many trauma`s and some felt very pleased with themselves at completing their first dirt road. Top marks to Linda and K/Cath for coping with it and Woody and Ray for not scaring them (too much). Some went direct from col de la Madeleine to Bardo via the 8 mile long tunnel and missed the col du Galibier which was cold, clear and hardly a soul about til we arrived! A spectacular place to be late in the afternoon.
A quick blast down the lovely sweepers of the Vallee de la Guisane, round
the back streets of Briancon and over Jellystone Park in near darkness. I
was the last man by now, (yet another wee stop) and off the back of the
group. I should have taken note after the first big drainage channel, a
bit rough and bumpy, but pushed on in the ever darkening gloom. I hit the
next one about 50 mph, hit the other side hard, suspension compressed and
big wobble as it spat me out into a bumpy bend with a solid rock wall for
run off. After a minor arse twitch the rest of the drainage channels were
taken with great respect. Caught up with the rest as they dutifully waited
at the last junction and that was that. Bardonecchia here we come.
Do It To Me One More Time
Saturday morning was a chilling out day, but seeing as Grandfather Ted had missed out on Jellystone Park and the Col du Galibier by taking the shorter route and I was so impressed with them (and wanted to see them in daylight) we did a rerun of the previous day. The drainage ditches were as mean but not as fierce in the daylight on the way up the Col de L`Echelle but as we neared the Galibier a surprise awaited us.
5, 000 mad cyclists taking part in a 160 km ride including 4 of the major passes taken by "le Tour" were doing the Col. Now I thought the BTBC road manners were a bit rude but these guys (and gals) made us look like the IAM. Cutting cars up on corners, under taking, no bells on the handlebars, it was scary.
Ted`s xtz660 was suffering badly with the altitude so after we struggled to the top, a few quick pics in the swirling mist and we left. The peace and solitude of yesterday`s car park had been replaced by hundreds of onlookers, a feeding tent, organisers and mad BMW outriders looking after the race safety(allegedly).
Beer, food and frivolities were the order for most that night but for a
few of us , just being there was enough, cos tomorrow was the BIG day.
The Stella and Sestriere
Sunday, yet another beautiful day and off we went to "do" the Stella. Unfortunately, not to the top but we all got our T-shirts and badges. A snow bank and washed out gully stopped the control being higher but the BTBC honour was upheld by gritty performances from Ted Scott on the wheezing 660 ("it`s a 690 actually") and John "white van panniers" (due to the vast amounts of beer he took back) Firth on a (used to be) tidy Transalp who went all the way to the top. As Ted had left me with his bag whilst he attempted the top I spent an enjoyable hour watching others tackle the snow bank. With my camera ready I would shout words of encouragement at them (especially Germans on Beeems) like "go on, fall off you bugger" and "stop helping them Woody, you`re getting in the way of my camera".
Ted came back with a grin bigger then the cat that lives in the same shire as him, and Blezz was left muttering about how he would have had a go if the Cagiva Navigator had a better sump guard. You can`t have 100 horsepower and off road abilities as well.
The afternoon was taken up doing the Sestriere dirt road which follows a ridge for about 23 miles at over 7, 000ft up. Stunning views etc and , I was informed by a Stella old hand, about 79 hairpins, half dirt half greasy tarmac to get down to the valley floor. Going down this part was where our rain cloud finally caught us up. It kept the dust down but spoilt the fun a bit. A quick blast back on the auto route more like a Disney World ride;tunnel , bridge, tunnel, sunshine, tunnel , bridge, rain, tunnel and wooosh back to Bardo. "Some Of The Best Roads In The Alps" to Quote Paul C.
Paul C led a brilliant ride to Marmora on Monday, the usual impressive stuff, big hairpin climbs, steep gorges etc. Bashing away on the keys can`t do it justice but we were all glad to be there. After hearing so much from the others about the beauty of Marmora, quiet pretty village, traditional Italian food and wine I decided a stopover was on the cards. One other stopped over (yep, my mate Ted) and I drank a beer for you all as I heard you roaring off up the valley. I didn`t envy your long ride home but the route sounded interesting. Next time maybe.
The evening meal was top notch, 9or 10 courses I think and it`s true to
say the most I`ve eaten in one night. All for £24 including bed and
breakfast. !! Bargain. Off to bed very full and I dreamed about hairpin
bends whilst Ted dreamed about another dessert being served by a German
Back To Bardo
Ted and I did the reverse run to get back the next day but included a dirt road of about 15 miles where I managed to get a large stone wedged between the rear wheel and brake torque arm. A bit of dismantling and bashing with rocks took a bit longer after I dropped an allen key into the hollow hub of the rear wheel. Amazingly , it dropped out when I moved the bike forwards. Luck was on my side. Half an hour`s delay saw us on our way to a little cafe near Valmala where we had the most amazing hot chocolate. A thick sludge which had to be spooned out and threatened to set solid at any moment. But it was very chocolatey.
The stone incident had caused a bent disc/twisted caliper so we faffed about for a few miles until I spotted the caliper rubbing on the inside of the disc. A garage was found and after waiting 15 minutes for the mechanic to return from his dinner hour I showed him the problem with my "freno problemo" and with the aid of a washer , turned it into a "no problemo"
Back to Bardo where everybody was buzzing on their day`s adventures and
the promise of a last Big Night Out. Garty had put up a brilliant sign
advertising a new type of Pernod, which made me chuckle. It must have
taken a long time to make but definitely worth the effort. Hopefully the
Team BTBC video cam recorded it for posterity.
The Longest Journey Starts With the First Gear (apologies to Chairman Mao)
Wednesday and we were gone. The women had decided yet again that they wanted another long day of pass bashing, so after a quick whizz through Tunnel de Frejus we were into the mountains again. Col de L`Iseran, Val D`Isere, Col du Petite St. Bernard and his big brother the Grand St. Bernard, not forgetting the Col de La Forclaz.
Unfortunately we lost Tony Bramah on the Petite St. Bernard due to a limp wrist cable or such and the excellence of BMW`s recovery was shown to be wanting. "nein, nein ve only haf spares for ze zwei cylindre Bee Emm Vobbleyou" We went through France into Switzerland. Here we called the weathers bluff by putting on our waterproofs and saying "rain if you dare". It stayed dry and we were all too warm as we wiggled our way back through Geneve to the Gay Pensioner .
Yet again Fraz showed me what rear view mirrors are for as he blasted past
in his desire for the single bed. Jezz must have had a similar desire as
he hurtled past in hot pursuit. Judging by the giggling and excited
chatter going on in the back of the garage when I arrived I think they had
bonded as "just good friends" already. Carl had been there a while already
after looking after Tony then taking the direct route to the hotel and
looked pleased and pissed that he had made the right decision, for
tomorrow was a long one.
We Are Sailing
The last day (sob) dawned cool and we were on the road for six. "Fresh" is how I`d describe the temperature, but good progress was made on the long trek North. The journey to Zeebrugge passed relatively uneventfully(all 470 miles of it) apart from Garty peeling off for the Calais ferry and others following him. We all regrouped at the ferry including a smiling Tarka who had made his own way through France(French newspaper reports of a yellow bike practising wheelies from peage booths are totally unfounded). Whilst waiting to get the tickets a minor mistake had been created by Mark Piercy(who shall remain nameless) who re-booked earlier and created some confusion for the ferry and a purple face for our glorious leader. Luckily it was all sorted , but when you hear that knock on the door Mark, be afraid, be very afraid .
But all`s well that ends well. On the ferry , total balls up with cabins, finding someone elses friend/partner/smoker/stranger sharing your cabin. We were all sorted in the end and thanks to John"black leather"transalp for not snoring. Dave"slow modem" Crone, George"GG"Gordon, Grandfather Ted, John"white van panniers"Firth and myself had another blowout on the boat, arriving in the restaurant before, and leaving after, the South Yorks contingent. Then a few more beers and to bed.
Hull arrived bright and sunny , everyone a bit subdued, but goodbyes were said then we all piled off into a busy rush hour Hull which came as a bit off a shock after the last weeks (relatively) calm roads. Out on the A63 and I tagged along with Paul C. for a few miles. Glancing in my mirrors and seeing no Fraz, no Jezz hurtling past, no other trailies, brought a tinge of sadness to the morning. It was over, one more for the photo album.
Huge thanks to Paul C for organisation and leading and to everyone else,
the good , the bad, and the ugly for a truly memorable holiday. These are
just my thoughts not a true account but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Must go
now , I`ve come over all emotional and need a lie down.
Higher than most!!!
The only bit of the Stella that me (and John Firth) can report on,that the others didn't see,was the ascent, after the landslip. My photo's of the summit snowfield are being processed as I write.
The landslip was filled with hard-packed snow, with a single rut across it. After climbing up from the snow, back onto the trail, it was an easy climb up and round the corner. Then the trail was seriously washed away by a sizeable flow of water, which had turned most of the width of the trail into a vee shaped gulley with boulders in the bottom and a big flow of water. After about 30or40 yards, it was necessary to get up as much speed as possible to jump up out of the gulley, then accelerate as hard as possible across about 2 metres of trail before launching onto a wooden bridge. The bridge sloped in 2 directions and was highly polished by the large volume of fast flowing water and boulders which were flowing over it. It would have been fatal to try and accelerate on the bridge, so you had to carry enough speed to more or less coast over it. There were no sides to the bridge, it was just a platform. I saw one guy get it all wrong and shoot off the (fortunately) upstream side then bury his bike in a deep pool. After this, the ride to the accessible limit of the trail was reasonably easy, apart from a couple of places where the snow was still filling the hairpins and riding along the trail was impossible. At these points it was necessary to take a good run at it and ride up the mountain side over into the next loop of the trail above the blocked bend. Fortunately for me, some kind off-roaders had blazed a trail and I just followed their tracks.
Up at the top,I was told it was less than 1km to the hut, but I couldnt see it. The trail completely dissapeared into a 45 degree snow field. John Firth said he could pick out the trail, but I couldn't see it. There were several crossers and trial bikes having a go, but I didn't see anyone get more than a few metres when I was there. To the right of the trail there was a steep rocky hump, so we rode up there to a greater height than anyone reached on the trail and that was it. Whilst on the top I was joined by 2 Swiss riders on Africas which had been fitted with full knobblies and were being ridden with serious aggression, very impressive. It was about 5 miles past the land-slip,and the ride back down, when I was actually looking around me, was just incredible. You just went on down for ever. I passed John Firth going up as I was about half way down and wished we had gone up together. I was a bit bothered at times that I was riding alone and would have to rely on some of the off-road riders helping if I got into trouble. I considered going back because of this, for about 1 second, and decided that prudence didn't feature in circumstances like that. I was concerned that getting back across the landslip might be tricky, if many bikes had deepened the snow gulley, but it was ok, and there were 100's of riders there to help in any case. What a ride, they don't come better than that. Also, what a testament to my "roady"tyres. Mich. Sirac, on the front and Mich T65 on the rear. I didn't lose grip once. Not to mention the trusty Tenere which certainly paid me back for it's slower progress on the tarmac.
The trip in general was very good indeed. It is difficult to say anything
but praise. The only small negatives for me, riding in such a large
group, was that there were too many breaks, but this is an
entirely personal view and I am sure others hold the complete opposite. The
planning and progress of the party was exceptional, overcoming all the
little incidents with ease. Big Paul is a star! One last word. I didn't drop
it,anywhere. My usual riding companions won't believe that. I usually
reckon if you are not falling off, you are not trying.
Marmots stole my Toblerone
Before I went away on the 2001 Stella Alpina trip I had to make three promises to my family.
1: For Natalie - No smoking
2: For Mimi (age 4)- No Tommy Kittens (or any other women for that matter)
3: For Sue - Keep away from Rick-Anne.
With these still ringing in my ears, and also feeling a bit homesick already, I saddled up and left Ross at lunchtime on Wednesday 4th July. Within a few miles, the slightly homicidal monotony of Britain's motorway network kicked in, and it was not a moment too soon before I was rumbling up Ennerdale Avenue to BTB.C world HQ - Clarkie Towers.
As always, a cup of tea was not long in materialising, and I settled down watching Paul splattering polish on his bike whilst his daughters playfully savaged my legs. It all seemed to be a last-minute rush for Paul, and it seemed the most sensible thing to get out of his way and sit in the garden. John Burkinshaw dropped by for a chat, he would not be accompanying us this year, and was rather wistful. Before very long, Fraz, the first of the fellow-travellers arrived followed by Jez, who was extremely excited about his first-ever trip to the Stella on a road bike. His Transalp certainly looked magnificent, with the gaffer tape and rivets that hold the fairing together winking in the sun! Last-man Carl was having a last-minute panic over some trivial sandwich-related problem at work, so we set off without him and hit the road for Hull.
Hull has not changed much in a year. The same stolen cars on the roads, John Prescott (the mouth of the Humber) still MP, the same traffic lights on red and most of the inmates of the Jail are still safely behind bars. We followed an appallingly overloaded bike with a homemade luggage system consisting of two enormous sports holdalls on a bedstead frame that managed to completely obscure the lights, indicators and rear number plate. It was a relief to overtake him before something vital fell off. We refuelled and followed the signs to the ferry terminal. There was no difficulty in meeting up with the rest of the gang. A huge gaggle of big trailies and large men (also a couple of petite ladies) mooched around shaking hands, gossiping, tech-talking, slagging and smoking - all except me of course! This was one of the biggest turnouts ever seen, and almost everyone except Derek Haden was there. Within minutes I was deep in conference with Adam, Stu and Mick about their radio intercoms, and Mick very kindly gave me a pair of wonderfully crafted leg-rests for my crash bars. This is one of the great things about the BTB.C, there are so many friendly, clever and generous people in it, ready to help whenever you have a problem.
Before very long, we were lashing our bikes to the deck and advising some of the novices on the best way of doing it. Some of the more savvy had brought along huge lorry ratchet straps, but like locks and chains, I didn't bother with all that extra weight. In fact, Adam was having a mini-trauma over where to stow his huge Abus lock & chain combo. We zip-tied it to his engine bars, where it stayed until he fell off much later in the Alps! Noting the access stair number, we staggered up to the cabins to offload kit and spruce ourselves up for an evening on the 'Love Boat'. My cabin mate was Robin Dawson, with whom I immediately struck up a rapport. Before very long we were up on deck waving to every Humber pilot boat that we could see in the hope that it was Nick Truelsen.
Some of the others were enjoying a sandwich supper on deck, the rest of us, i.e. not the 'In' crowd went below decks to purchase tickets for our evening meal, and to find Bill, who had gone missing. We found him clutching a table leg in the bar singing sea shanties, drooling and upsetting old ladies. Rather than rush to the restaurant, we got tucked into some lager and started to enjoy our holiday properly.
Surprisingly, the food in the restaurant was tolerably good, and the good thing about eating is that it kills the time. The Hull-Zeebrugge route is so incredibly long and slow that you have only three options. Drink, eat or sleep. Robin and I headed for the bunks at about 2AM, leaving some of the hardier types to their own devices. The cabin wasn't very comfortable, as the aircon seemed to be on full. It was chilly and everything felt damp. Our cabin-neighbours rolled in at a much later hour, Tony B was gibbering on about 'being a happily married man' and Bill 'fackin', fackin' fackin' cahnt' Naismith was proving truculent when bedtime loomed. Unsurprisingly, sleep eluded me, even with a relatively quiet roommate like Robin.
We awoke to a distant Tannoy message advising us that breakfast was now being served in the Restaurant, accordingly, we showered and changed and joined an incredible queue left waiting outside. This was intolerable delay no 1.
Paul advised us all to eat as much as possible, as our next food would be a long way away. During our feed, the Tannoy sparked up again to advise us that due to 'adverse currents' the boat would be approximately one hour late at Zeebrugge. This really put the boot into the Boss's time and distance calculations, and this was obviously a cynical fuel-saving ploy by the ferry crew. As a result, we were dumped into Belgium during rush-hour traffic.
I couldn't be bothered to untie all that blue rope, so slashed it all through with my Leatherman. The opportunity was taken to play some jokes on the others, so a few blobs of oil here, a splash of water there and the obligatory exhaust whistle went up Tony B's left-hand endcan. Unfortunately, all of this effort was wasted, because in our rush to get off the boat nobody noticed any of these tedious little pranks. Customs was the usual non-event, except for Tony, who either intentionally or not, did a wheelie and was stopped for a telling-off by a man wearing surgical gloves.
Mick, Adam, Stu, Tony and myself were all chatting away with our radio intercoms. These proved to be very useful as we negotiated the intense Belgian traffic, although it would have been much easier to get everyone across Lille and the industrial heartland if some of the riders had made a little more progress. However, within an hour or so, we were joining the A26 SE in the general direction of Dijon for the days slog on the peage's. The weather was now darned hot, and the black and iridium visors started to appear. Unfortunately, our last petrol stop of the morning proved to be very costly in time, as Mick discovered that his cooling system hosing had sprung a leak. Being a plumber by trade, and more than competent to fix it, meant that we waited under shady trees whilst materials were procured to effect a repair. An hour or so later we resumed our progress across France, and several hours later left the peage and rediscovered our steering on the fast 'n' twisty road to our overnight stop at Les Rousses, nestled high in the Jura mountains.
'Those aren't pillows!'
We arrived quite late, but received a fine welcome, and were soon tucking into an evening meal that for an all-inclusive 240FF including B&B proved to be one of the real bargains of the trip. Adam and Stu declared themselves to be 'vegetarians' and got nothing to eat except bread. Being a kind person, I donated my energy bars and sweets to them. My roommate this time was Mark Piercy, who could almost certainly talk for England. I couldn't help comparing the scenario to that on one of my favourite films, 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles'. Still, mustn't grumble, once he had stopped talking about himself, he dutifully lapsed into soundless sleep.
We awoke to beautiful birdsong and the racket of our 'Super-Retard' rider Rick-Anne's motor as he warmed it up at 8000 rpm. 'Le Gai Pinson' came slowly to life as the aroma of fresh coffee wafted up the stairs and the stench of sweaty feet wafted down them. Breakfast was a splendid experience for me, well used to pigging out on four croissants and gallons of coffee, I was soon refuelled and ready for anything that the day threw at me. By the time we had travelled a few miles, I decided that today would be a fast day, and I tucked in behind Jez and Paul for a day of thrills. The N5 is a beautiful road, and it seemed a shame not to do it some justice, before very long we were being photographed with Lake Geneva in the background. A quick refuel just before the Swiss customs post, and we were fairly competently picking our way across Geneva. My engine was overheating due to a bad earth on the fan, some of the traffic lights took ages, and many an anxious moment was spent waiting for them to change.
'Pain looks good on other people'
At the peage post just up the road we had a minor disaster, Steve 'Lizard boy' had a frightening experience with a jammed throttle and managed to completely flip his bright yellow GS80. He suffered a few cuts and bruises and some parts of his bike needed re-bending. His Roof lid was also badly scratched, and for once the rest of the gang didn't giggle uncontrollably - it could have happened to anyone. He dusted himself off and we resumed the pace toward our project for the day, the Alpine passes.
We stopped for coffee at our usual stop just before the Col de Colombiere. As no-one was buying me coffee, I took the opportunity to rig up the micro headcam. The technology has really come along in leaps and bounds now, and instead of lugging a vulnerable and expensive DV camera along strapped to your helmet, it can go in your tankbag and a miniature camera can be mounted inside the lining of your crash helmet. Sound can't be recorded yet, but to be honest, it isn't worth capturing the wind noise. Shortly we were on the road again, or more precisely, I was somewhere near the back of the pack whipping through at high speed. Before long we had a quick stop, and I repeated the process, starting as last man and picking people off all the way to the front, then waving them all on again. A quick check at the footage confirmed that it was excellent stuff, and would make exciting viewing later. It also revealed a few dodgy riding practices, some my own, but mostly with other riders. Unfortunately it was too late when we passed the wreckage of Mark Piercy's XTZ rough special, which had snapped it's 3-year-old chain, locked up and ended up down and facing the wrong way. A few of the more caring BTB.C'ers had stopped to help and/or look for blood. I also filmed a most enjoyable scratch with an unnamed BMW rider, who showed me his excellent turn of speed on the straights, but showed an over-keenness for his brakes on the corners.
Such fun cannot last forever, and after the Col des Aravis and Col des Saisies we settled down for lunch at Beaufort. Eager not to repeat the expensive Saucisse & frites disaster of last year, some of us headed into the town for luscious cakes, coffee and cold drinks at a charming little roadside café-bar. Adam and I covertly purchased a large amount of firecrackers from a small shop. The afternoon was spent at 10/10 giving chase to some of the better riders and behaving extremely inconsiderately to other road users. Time marched on, and it looked as if we would be arriving at Bardonecchia very late in order to do everything that we wanted to. Some of the more fatigued and/or less committed riders cut this, the sole reason for being here, to the minimum and scuttled off for the hotel via the Frejus tunnel. Adam, Robin and I formed a convoy of sorts, and we happily lived life on the edge for the rest of the day. Payback time for me nearly came on the last bit up to the Col du Galibier. A deceptive bend that would have merited a sign saying so and some Armco in England, came up shockingly quickly, and I blessed my quick reactions and excellent brakes to avoid being launched off a precipice. It didn't slow me down though, summit celebrations awaited, and I was having far too much fun to jib out now.
The last bit of the day was the beautiful downhill to Briancon, which I hope to do one day on a pushbike, and a little bit of cross-town traffic to the last pass of the day over Jellystone Park and into Bardo. I had briefed a few of the riders on the dangers of the drainage culverts that infest this road, but was haughtily informed by one that he had been before and knew of it. Consequently I gave up and the message didn't get through to Tony B, who descended the last bit oblivious to the danger. Anyway, he survived and lived to tell the tale. These culverts claimed a few other victims over the next few days.
We rolled in fairly late again, but were all elated by a marvellous day riding the hardest passes that the Alps could throw at us, and surviving. My promises had also gone well, I hadn't resorted to one single, solitary cigarette, had only had one minor traffic incident with Rick-Anne (some had experienced several) and as far as I knew, the only girls in Bardo had hare-lips, full beards and were already married to their brothers. My room mate this time was Tony B, still full of adrenaline after his recent impression of a Harrier jump-jet. We settled into our new abode and within a short time were guzzling garlic bread and cold beers at the local restaurant. We had a brief hunt around town, but it seemed that everyone had gone home to bed after a tiring day.
The morning was spent washing heinous socks and underpants in extra-strength bactericidal suds, it is really the worst thing to do to leave minging clothes stewing in their own juices amongst all your lovely clean stuff. Mine were double-wrapped in plastic bags and even two washes and rinses couldn't shift the fetid stench. Accepting defeat, I binned them and we decided to go up to town to buy maps, snacks and have a look round. As young boys do, we were really looking for guns, knives, porno mags and embarrassing novelties, but resorted to normality by getting loads of chocolate, fruit and bottles of water. When we arrived back, Mick, Robin, Adam, Stu, Tony and myself decided upon a quick foray into Jellystone and possibly some trails. Robin's Cagiva hit the aforementioned drainage culverts so hard that he bent his footpegs down - it was comical to see his feet touching down on every corner! We took a few photos, and I was pleased to hear that Mick knew of a trail he had done before back in the valley - well, he said he did!
It started off fairly easily, but within a mile it became quite loose and rutted and the gradient steepened alarmingly. I got to the house at the top with some difficulty, to be aggressed by a large black dog. I then heard a load of wailing on the intercom, and had to descend again in response to Mick saying 'It's an AT graveyard down here!' Sure enough, there were 3 Africa's taking things easy on their sides, upside down and facing the wrong way. I was perplexed to say the least, and it would appear that Adam and Stu had been economical with the truth when originally asked about their offroad prowess!
We managed to get everyone back down the hill after a fashion, and ill-advisedly decided to mend Robins footpegs. They were held on by el cheapo Italian mild steel bolts which had simply bent. We managed to extract three of them, but the last one was a bitch and Mick unfortunately sheared it off. Robin took it well, and we managed to put it back together again after a fashion, and he retreated to town to seek the services of a mechanic. Mick loyally accompanied him and us young bloods decided upon another offroad experience up to 'The Ledge' - a moderate run via Fort Bramafan - well we had to visit this, being similar to Tony's surname!
Adam and Stu bravely accompanied us, and we were gratified to see that our lessons were rubbing off and they improved markedly as we progressed up the dusty trails. Fort Bramafan was nothing special really, an old fort being restored as a tourist attraction and loads of warning notices plastered all over it. However, Tony took a few photos, and we headed on upwards into the big blue for the Ledge. We were a bit wary to start, as we could hear voices and 2-stroke engines, and didn't want a head-on collision. However, we soon found out that 'they' were a couple of young lads in front of us. By now, Adam had become much more confident, and the pace started to pick up a bit.
We took a long stop at the ski-lift station, and some photos of the town far below us. We eventually got up to the bit on the trail to the ledge where a small landslide had carried the track away. I watched a KTM with a Frenchman and his woman have the very gravest difficulty negotiating this, so this was basically the end of the line for us. We took another long stop and many pictures. All of a sudden we were rewarded with the appearance of several 'Tossers on Crossers' who proceeded to crash, drop and mishandle their bikes all over the rough bit. We naturally got the video out, and took some amusing footage as they buggered about in the mud. At least we didn't have to feel guilty about failing to attempt it now! We took a long-winded and tiring trail back to Bardo, where we called it a day, and were pleased to see that Robin had managed to fix his bike properly. We tidied ourselves up and went out on the town, ending up in a different bar sat upon tall bar stools. Adam had pinched my 'Billy Bob' teeth and was grinning dementedly at anyone and everyone in the room. Eventually, the joke faded, and we sensed that the Italians started thinking we were taking the piss, so Robin and I ushered the youngsters out to the rest of the gang sitting outside. Here journo's Paul Blezard and Dave 'Crasher' Cornish were holding court to a load of star-struck Sheffieldites. Our Adam started fooling around with firecrackers, Blez fell asleep, Carl Bigbum had a photo of his fat arse stuck in Blez's face…….yee ha!
Sunday was the focal point of the whole trip, a day for great sobriety and earlier-than-usual waking up. The Stella Alpina - a 25 mile trail up toward the Ambin Refuge nestling in a windy col just below mighty Mt Sommeiller. At 3009 metres, this would be our highest altitude ride yet. Unfortunately, trail erosion, avalanche damage and general wear and tear have blocked the trail at a fairly low altitude. For us big trailies it would be an impossibility to continue further than the T-shirt and badge stall, so we loafed around in the sun watching the tough guys attempt it on quads, crossers (resplendent with tossers) old BM's - there were hardly any new ones to be seen, and to cap it all, an Aprilia scooter! It was OK for me and a few of the others, we had done it before, but some of the 'first-timers' were wondering what all the fuss was about.
Anyway, loaded down with souvenir booty, we descended back to the stream crossing for another photo shoot. Standards in the BTB.C have really declined these days, only Tony and myself did it, and Paul C actually managed to stall midstream! How the mighty are fallen. Too many people who have spent too much on their bikes. We took a short detour to the North side of the lake where Dennis had started a small bonfire near a little glacier. Some settled down to a picnic complete with wine, and the rest of us hoofed about or went back to the hotel. Tony and I were about to go off for another off-road ride, but luckily Paul came back and asked us to come along on an Alpine fort expedition.
A group of about ten of us set out at about 2PM over Jellystone (Col de l'Echelle) and before long had vanished onto dusty trails verged by dense pine forest which wound endlessly upwards. A light drizzle did a little to lay the dust, and also slightly lubricated the corners, so much so that Jez fell off twice in a matter of yards. The views started to get serious as we topped out, and after a brief stop, we continued to the impressive Fort de l'Olive. This magnificent place was still in a very good state of preservation, and we spent about an hour chatting, sunbathing, souvenir hunting (we found lots of modern cartridge cases, and I found a 1943 one which I gave to Paul) and for the first time, we actually had powerful enough torches to explore the tunnels, which was a very interesting experience. Jez found himself a ramp to practice jumping on his Transalp - quite why he felt the need so far up and so far from civilisation we will never know!
After a while, Paul and Jez disappeared and roared off up a really rocky track, Fraz seemed very keen for the rest of us to stick with him and go the long way round to the next stop, the Fort de Lenlon or 'Roundhouse'. After a quick conflab, we decided one and all to go for it, follow the other two and do the shortcut. A group of German tossers on crossers wailed to us that it was 'Nicht fur Twins!' which could only egg us on! It was indeed a very scary and rocky track, horribly exposed and very difficult. However, we were able to bask in the sunshine of Paul's love when we all made the top. Apparently it is very rarely achieved by big bikes, and PC had only done it as a dare. Fraz took up the rear, spitting feathers that his authority had been usurped and fearful of damaging his beloved bike. Another short break later, we headed off to do another fort and some interesting trails before eventually descending to Briancon.
Negotiating afternoon traffic past de Vauban's massive fortifications, we took the Col d'Izoard road to the start of a long winding trail to the active French Army camp at Fort du Gondran. Here dire warning notices threatened death or worse for trespassing, but what the hell, this was going to be a one-off.
Inexplicably, Mr Blezard was waiting for us at the top; why he was there on his borrowed Cagiva Navigator, we may never know. Paul C then led us up further frightening trails to the summit of Le Janus, where a full-blown Maginot fort still stood, it's huge twin retractable Iron cupolas still apparently in working order. We sat in wonder for a long while, admiring the vertiginous 360 degree view. We even managed to get a couple of pictures by poking a camera inside the observation ports. Eventually, with the cry 'two minutes' the dulcet tones of Paul released us from the spell cast by this magnificent edifice. We were fortunate indeed to have seen it, the ravages of time may well mean that it will not be there in a couple of decades.
Coming down from the mountain was a very intense affair. The first bit plain scary, the second plain silly! Jez took the direct route down towards Montgenevre - the ski run! We all stupidly followed down the 2 mile grassy bank of varying steepness - in fact it worked out as a convex descent. A few people learnt very quickly about which brake NOT to use, and we all scratched and bumped down the last bit ashen with concentration! There were bikes and legs flying in all directions.
We hit the road again in the general direction of Bardonecchia via Oulx. Shortly after Claviere, Robin had a big scare on a hairpin when his rear wheel completely locked up. A lesser rider would have binned it big style mid-pack, with potentially catastrophic results. He managed to steer out of it, and we rolled it down the hill for inspection by the tunnel mouth under the southern flank of Mt Chaberton. It was immediately apparent that his bike gearbox had blown up, so all we could do under the circumstances was remove his front sprocket and remove and tie back his chain. Not wanting to ditch the bike there, he then proceeded to freewheel downhill, with the rest of us outriding him for protection. Near the bottom, the progress became a little more ponderous, so I manoeuvred my bike alongside and he was towed for the next 10 miles or so by holding onto my front rack with one hand - scary and very tiring!
We parked him up at Oulx and later conned some Swedes at our hotel into picking it up on their trailer. Robin's holiday was effectively over, the gearbox was later found to be completely seized and could not be economically repaired even in Italy, the home of Cagiva! Robin suggested that it would be going home to Sunderland for a 'Viking Funeral'.
We were all so knackered that an early evening was planned. Tony went to bed for midnight and I stayed up with Paul Atkin, George Gordon and a few others, and went to bed at about 3-00. On the way home I found a large cardboard Ricard bottle, which I took home to Tony as a love-gift. He wasn't very pleased as I put all the lights on to show him.
The following morning he had come around to it, came up with a suggestion and we modified it with felt pen and sticking plaster so it said 'Ricann' instead and then hung it up on the front of the hotel. At about 10-00 Paul took us all off on a daytrip to Marmora. Last year a few of us went for an overnight stay, this time we would be doing it in a day, it was a long run, but well worth it. Meanwhile Robin was sorting out his repatriation with his motoring organisation.
The first challenging bit was pass-busting over the Col d'Izoard, where Adam and I found ourselves at the back with a lunatic in a white van for company. This was a seriously dodgy driver, and he didn't respond well to the punishment I gave him for nearly icing my young friend. We took the executive decision to move up the pack and leave him to Rick-Anne. Naturally enough, the thrill of speed soon got to us and we were sailing past everyone to the front of the group. We even overtook Paul, who must have had some valid reason for dawdling, but soon enough I found out my limits. In order to take a series of hairpins, I was going at absolutely the maximum speed my bike and brain could handle. Along comes Clarkie behind me and I try to wring out another 1 mph. Result - near disaster, I braked too hard on a corner, got lost between gears and dramatically locked up. His Knibbs effortlessly accelerated by on the inside, riding with one hand, the other patting his chest to signify my own virtual heart failure.
At the summit we posed for photos and chatted with some Czech big traillie aficionados - real gents who must have thought we were millionaires with all our fancy kit. One of them explained to me that his Africa Twin had cost the equivalent of four years salary, and they couldn't believe how many BM's there were in the group and wondered if we were really Germans. They had heard of the BTB.C through the Internet, I gave them Pauls e-mail address so they may well become members soon.
We then descended to a light lunch at Chateau-Queyras. Like a twit I had forgotten to bring Francs out with me like most days. Very often you can be in Italy/France several times in an hour and not know it. We then set out past the striking rock formations on the right hand side of the road. These are huge pillars of limestone capped by a harder igneous rock. The acid effect of rainwater has etched away the surrounding limestone over millennia leaving slender and beautiful columns up to 60 feet high. Still, there was no time to stop and gawk, we had to ride hard and fast over the Col d'Agnello, where we posed for a few photos on the border marker stone. Carl even got his enormous white bum out for a traditional picture that would outrage most Italians and French. Eventually we turned off a long hot road at Sampeyre and due to Pauls 'second man' rule, Jez and I found ourselves at the back again for the Pass of Elva. Not that this worried us, he set off with me in hot pursuit. This road really is a blast, and before long we were sat at the top grinning in the sun with our leader. Another long dawdle at the bottom whilst we waited for ages for Adam and Jez and for Fraz's interminable video session to finish and we were off again.
Oh dear, nobody waited at the turn for Marmora and Jez went roaring past. Luckily a Belgian motorist noticed and told Fraz. I volunteered to fetch him, and went for nearly 25 miles up the road before catching him. By this time the group had well-and-truly split up, and this happened quite a few times during the rest off the day as people appeared to forget their duties to others in the group. Anyway, to cut a long story short, we all regrouped happily again an hour or so later. A bit further down the road Tony dropped his bike on his leg and suffered some cuts and bruises.
We stopped for coffee after a couple more hours, and found out the bad news that Bardo was still a long way off, even at the pace we were hurtling along at. Consequently we would be late back for our evening meal again. We managed to lose Adam again, although this time it was due to someone not realising he had gone past! We all rolled in very late, after negotiating Jellystone in the dark.
The following day, Tony & I had a lie-in and spent the morning shopping in Susa. As before, I went to the motorbike shop and bought all manner of luscious Dainese kit at low prices. We had a coffee and cruised back to Bardo in the rain - I was wearing my ordinary clothing and got soaked. We lounged around for the rest of the day and cleaned bikes etc until about 7-00 when Mark, Tony and a couple of others laid on an Italian picnic opposite the hotel, complete with Chianti. Adam was using up the last of his fireworks, and still hadn't got the hang of the fuses. He had one thrown back at him which went off on his arm. This was our last evening in Bardonecchia, so we reserved a huge table and planned to have a meal together. However, word didn't get round and only about 12 of us actually ate in the same room, which was a bit of a shame really. Another late night, and we were packing up ready for an early departure home.
We all got up at dawn, there was no breakfast for us, so we set out as quietly as possible for the Frejus tunnel. What an appalling journey that was - several miles of heat, fumes and noise. Never to be repeated. We had a fresh-air stop at Modane, then continued our progress over the Col d'Iseran and Col du Petit St Bernard. Tony's clutch cable snapped coming down from this, and he decided to get it fixed and make his own way. Aosta was a very tricky navigational exercise for Paul and our last pass of the holiday, The Grand St Bernard loomed ahead of us. Unfortunately, the weather closed in at the summit and we were unable to see that mountaineer's mountain - the Matterhorn.
Well, it was literally all downhill now. Dual carriageway, major road and peage took us to Geneva for another effortless crossing, then it was briefly back into the Jura for a the short run to Les Rousses and the overnight stop. Another fine meal awaited us, and we were all more than happy to retire to bed fairly early. It had been a long day.
Motorways are a necessary evil on a run such as the Stella. They are really the only way to cover long distance quickly, safely and with licence intact. As is the nature of these things, there was nothing special to report in the entire traverse of France, I split from the main group for Calais at St Quentin.
Being two weeks after the 85th anniversary of the first battle of the Somme, I decided to take in a few of the major memorials on my own. It's always a pretty poignant place to go if you are a young man. The waste and devastation that occurred in these now peaceful fields is hard to get your head round, and I spent a little time sombrely tootling about around Bapaume, Albert, Thiepval, Mametz and Serre. It was all too much to comprehend, and I did as most people do when seeing these vast cities of the dead - I looked up my family name in the registers and found several Gartside's, mostly aged between 17 and 25, including one J.
Time to be gone. I caught a ferry with eight minutes to spare, and literally flew the 200 miles back home to my waiting family. It had been a long trip, physically I was wrecked and it was quite some time before I could put into words what a brilliant time I had. My account is a personal one, and I have deliberately left a good deal out. My words should serve to jog the memories of those who went, and to sharpen the appetite for those who didn't go to definitely put their names down for next year.
Adventures like this are a rarity in our sanitised modern world, and I would like to thank Paul most sincerely for his kind and diligent leadership and also the rest of my fellow adventurers for their friendship, kindness and enthusiasm.
Many thanks for making the Stella trip so much fun.
Speak to you soon.
Well we're back then and what an absolutley fantastic trip. Roads that you only ever dream about, views that take your breath away and make you think a little deeper about what's going on in your life. Superb food that shows you that your local "Pizza Hut" type establishment is as far removed from an Italian culinary experience as you could imagine. Cheap booze, cheap food, cheap petrol, no rain, lots of sun, good company and lots and lots of laughs. Best fun, having mad battles up the twisties and laughing as you win / lose the advantage.
Best view, the view from the top of La Januis was and still is the most stunning thing I have ever witnessed. I just never thought something as simple as a view could stir up such emotions in me. Due to its elevation and position (you have to ride through an in use army camp and several no entry signs to get there) I can't imagine that many, if any other tourists get to see the view from the top. The ride up there is nearly all tarmac (tight and twisty) though the final half mile is absolutely horrendous loose rocks. But hey if you don't want to ride that bit just park your bike up, helmets off and walk. You will NOT be disappointed. The ride back down if you choose to go straight down the ski slope is quite fun too though you can always take the still interesting ski lift access road.
Best laugh, Carl and Dennis. What a double act mmmmmmmmmmmmm
Best holiday ever as simple as that.
Commiserations to Robin whose gearbox gave up on the way back from La Januis cutting his holiday short, but not in anyway subduing his smiles or enthusiasm. His sheer enjoyment of the trip and the experiences carried him along to try the off road parts of the days. In fact this can be said of just about everyone and I was you could say more than a little surprised when the whole pack went down the ski slope on what was a decidedly dodgy route. Well done everyone.
Big big thanks to my old mate Paul who for nearly 11 years has been trying to get me to buy a road bike and go to Italy. Well thanks for persevering mate and yeah yeah yeah I know late is better tha n never.
Thanks to everyone else who went too, each and everyone of you is what makes a club a club and hope to reacquaint on the next run. Until then put me down for next year and roll on coast to coast and "chow for now"
Wot can I say that's not already been said about this year's Stella Alpina trip (By the way, I'm pleased to confirm to you all that Blez is indeed correct - as per - and agree with his translation of the word Stella which does mean Star. The Stella Alpina or Alpine Star for those too dim to grasp the connection, is an Alpine plant, part of the Edelweiss family, which lends it's name to our beloved run)
I've been doing the Stella since '92 and I must admit that this year has been the best ever, it's just a shame that we couldn't get to the top of Mt. Sommelier due to the snow eh! The people who attended were so diverse that it made for a very interesting trip and it was good to spend time with the old friends of the club and to meet the new boys too.
The road riding there, back and in-between was extremely enjoyable and the sort of camaraderie that built up through the crew almost seemed to make those long autoroute miles whiz by. Didn't it look a spectacle with 28 bikes taking up half a mile of tarmac?
The trails were a pleasure to ride too and I'm pleased to say that we covered most of the better ones during our visit even if it meant not getting back to the Hotel until 9 or 10pm.
I'd like to thank everyone for their kind and unkind words about both the Video Night and my Camcorder antics as all input will hopefully lead to better films of our trips etc.
Anyway, that's my short bit as I'll leave the full write up's to the wordsmiths like Garty, Tony B and Co. and I'll just do the pictures, me being slightly dim and all that.
To round up, I'd like to give a huge Bardotastic thankyou to "The Leader" for sorting the whole shooting match and making it flow more like a package holiday than a bike trip (Oh, and for not running me in to that wall!)
Thanks indeed to the mystery Plant Burgurlar for having the decency to pick up the one that got away (How did you get up in the first place? I just can't work it out - but it made me smile)
Thanks to Carl for being so "At ease"
Thanks to Ikkle Adam Atkins for firstly staying alive and thus not holding up our progress and secondly for the Marmot he bought me. It fits well. I'll think of you when ever I use it.
Thanks to that crazy cat, Tarka for the "Man and Machine in perfect harmony Peage Breakdance routine"
Thanks to Jez. You should have woken me up though!
Thanks to Mr Gartside for his headcam work and custom Ricard bottle (You have too much time on your hands Sir!)
Thanks to Mark Piercy for all your stories and for making my holiday last so much longer!
Thanks to Ray, for Kath.
Thanks to Woody for that spray that I needed so badly.
Thanks to Stuart for "Being worth it"
Thanks to The Godfather Dennis for this latest instalment of culture and interpretation, fresh from Barnsley
Thanks to Rickanne for showing us how much better full road rubber is than trail tyres.
Thanks to Rob "What's a sight glass" Dawson for demonstrating how damned good the RAC are.
Thanks to Andy for your wobble, which probably was a factor in keeping up our average speed as no one wanted to stay behind you.
Thanks to Dave Crone for being the Fourth Emergency Service
Thanks to Blez for making PC realise that I'm not really that slow when getting ready.
Thanks to everyone, the above named and those other unmentionable people, for making this such a bloody good holiday.
Same time, same place next year eh?
Dear all and Johnny Graveside, Re the Graveside report.
It was most definitely NOT me that was revving a bike early morning outside the Gai Pensioner. Don`t know who it was, but I have a bit more mechanical sympathy and concern for my fellow travellers. Apart from that all the stories were most enjoyable.