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St Ives Grandpa Rides Again, March 2005 - 1983 Honda CB750 - Cornwall to El Raco, Benidorm

The crowd was there to see me off on my heavily laden motorbike. I threw my leg upwards to mount the bike and managed to get my foot stuck on the saddle. My brother-in-law seized my leg and heaved it over the saddle to allow me to mount and I was ready for the off on another trip South. Not an auspicious start!

The date was the 8th March 2005 and the intention was to once again travel on my old bike down to Spain and maybe Portugal. I was heavily laden as I was carrying a tent, a big red oilskin hold- all and a plastic thermal sleeping mat. On the petrol tank I had a fully packed big tank bag which held those items which I needed to be handy - such as drinking water, shoes, torch, stove, spare gloves, engine oil, cutlery, small pot, tea, coffee and drinking chocolate, oatcakes, cheese, toiletry bag with charged up electric razor and other small items such as elastic bands and spare plastic bags - I could go on! As the weather promised to be very cold I had on a small mountain of warm clothing which it is worthwhile noting: - Long white thick woollen stockings, heavy motorcycle boots, thermal long johns, woollen track suit bottoms, thermal vest, t-shirt, woollen jersey, fleece jacket and rubber motorcycle jacket and waterproof padded trousers. On my head I had my new and draught proof helmet with a leather internal facemask to help keep my face warm and the visor free from condensation.

A lot of the pleasure in a long trip by motorcycle is the planning what to wear and how to keep warm, both on the bike and in the tent in winter. The most vital item in my holdall was a small fan heater and extension cord with which I could plug in to camp electrics - provided there was a camp open. There are precious few camps open in the winter as you travel down through France and you would have to go to the ski areas to be sure of finding a place to pitch your tent in March.

I had been very unsure as to whether I really wanted to do another long winter trip and as Bob Chaplin, who had originally planned to travel with me, had to call off I was in two minds to cancel the idea. Days of saying " Yes I'll go" when the sun shone followed by "No I don't really fancy it" when it rained, ended when Grace said " For God's sake make up your mind and go" - I went.

Considering I did not begin motorcycling till I was in my early sixties I have crammed quite a lot of long distance travel into my declining years. Various trips to Scotland from Cornwall, a trip to the South of France, a journey through Eastern Europe to the Arctic Circle through Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Finland and Sweden, the trip two years ago on my own to Spain and Portugal and the journey along the Silk Route to Delhi with Bob in 1997. Now 72 and 18 stone with one knee due to be replaced in September I was not the type of biker who insurers welcome with open arms.

An easy journey up to Plymouth and having picked up my ticket and bought some Euros I made my way onto the ship, the Bretagne, for the 12.30pm sailing to Roscoff. I had not taken a day cabin as the sea looked dead calm and I thought I would not require to assume my usual position on sea voyages - horizontal. I bought a daily paper and with a cup of tea and a pastry I settled down in the cafeteria for the six-hour crossing.

Riding off the ship as the night was falling I had to find a place to put up the tent. The municipal camp is closed in winter but I went on the chance that I could camp anyway. A maintenance man was just leaving the site and at first was very aggressive with much waving of arms and loud "Ferme, Ferme's". Taking off my helmet, and looking as pathetic as possible, not difficult in my situation, I pointed to a piece of grass behind a small hut just in the camp entrance, and said in fluent French "Okay?" - he relented and I soon had my tent up and was on my way into town for a decent meal in the one open restaurant I could see. I had a good meal and watching couples at other tables made me feel a bit lonely and not really looking forward to spending the night in the tent - am I getting soft?

The night was not too cold and I slept well but, of course, awoke very early and thought I might as well pack up and set off just after dawn. The hassle of stuffing the sleeping bag into it's stuff sack, re-packing the tank bag and dismantling the tent before tying the lot onto the bike takes about half an hour and I have learned not to do this while wearing my outer biking gear as you just overheat and become exhausted quite quickly. With no facilities open I had to be content with a cat wash and a shave with my electric razor and brushing my teeth with water from my water bottle. After about eighty miles I felt I had earned a break and turned into a service station for coffee and toast - lovely. Taking the ring road round the city of Rennes I turned south towards Nantes and the temperature seemed to drop and the skies became very low and grey. I was very glad of the big handlebar muffs, which helped to keep my hands from freezing. On the ring road round Nantes I was drawn towards the motorway sign instead of continuing down the national road. By mid afternoon I was beginning to feel both tired and cold so had to choose whether to look for an open campsite (a rarity at this time of year) or a centrally heated hotel room! The room was warm and clean with a nice bathroom and I eagerly disrobed for a hot bath - "Sorry Sir - no water till the repairman has finished around 6pm". I had an hour's sleep and made myself a cup of hot chocolate with my very dinky little gas stove - a big success.

In the evening I found a very good self- service restaurant, with no other diners, where I enjoyed chicken and chips with a glass of wine and noted a big British Hymer motorhome had pulled in for the night outside the restaurant. I did the couple the favour of making their acquaintance and enjoyed a chat with them in their very comfortable van for an hour, to pass the time. I gave them the directions for some sites I knew and was pleased to meet them again in St Jean de Luz and Benidorm. A little TV viewing of BBC World and Eurosport and it was time to enjoy the large comfortable bed.

The morning dawned and it was grey and freezing - I mean below zero and very very grey. I carefully put on my entire collection of cold weather gear and set off for Bordeaux.

I have always suffered from cramped throttle hand, as you cannot take that hand off the bars without the bike slowing down suddenly. A gadget I saw on another chap's bike and bought has proved a godsend so far. It is a little plastic fitting, which allows you to control the throttle with your thumb - so simple and so effective. With my thumb in the 75-80mph position I made great time with just a refuelling stop and one coffee stop before Bordeaux. The pleasure of stopping in a warm service station cafe and blowing hot air into your gloves while you open all your clothing to allow the heat to enter has to be experienced to be appreciated.

I have visited the campsite I intended to use near the Spanish border many times and yet I got it wrong! I took the sign for Hendaye knowing the camp was just five minutes from that town and got lost. I drove through Hendaye and found myself on a scenic cliff road around a bay. I carried on not believing I could be this stupid and entered a large town where after wandering around I found myself following a city bus - a Spanish city bus! I asked a local for directions for "Francia" and found my way back into France and the camp - about half-an-hour wasted.

The friendly campsite lady owner fixed me up on a nice site near the toilets and gave me the use of a plastic chair. I put up the tent and relaxed for an hour or so with the fan heater creating a cosy atmosphere as darkness fell. In the evening I rode the bike a short distance to a big supermarket where I used their excellent café to have a nice meal of stewed turkey and vegetables with a glass of beer.

This camp is a popular transit camp for Brits travelling home from Spain and I enjoyed the chat with various couples who had been wintering down South. They had some unusually cold weather to contend with and I was told even Benidorm had a spell of sub-zero temperatures.

A comfortable night, with the fan on at its lower setting, saw me awake refreshed and, after a hot shower, on my way by 9am. The road from San Sebastian is excellent and very scenic and I enjoyed the first two hours before stopping for breakfast in a very smart Spanish service station. Sitting with a good coffee and toast and looking up at the snow-covered mountains I felt very glad that I had made the effort to do one more bike ride.

Pamplona was soon passed and I was glad to note that there was a ring road around Zaragozza instead of the usual slow progress through that busy city. Climbing up into the mountains towards Teruel I remembered the trip two years ago when I thought I was going to run out of petrol between Teruel and Valencia and now felt very smug knowing where I was heading for and where the fuel stations were. Travelling just a bit above the speed limit I was entering a small village when a friendly Spaniard flashed his headlights - sure enough the law was parked on the other side of the road with what looked like a giant telescope pointing in my direction and a concealed police car further on at the exit from the village. Thank you kind Spaniard.

I reached the turn off for Manzanera in the late afternoon and rode the twelve kilometres to the camp, safe in the knowledge from my 2003 trip, that it would be open. The camp was open but the restaurant was closed. I paid for my camp at the local petrol station and was told that there was a restaurant open in the village. I put up my tent, plugged in my heater and checked out the toilets, which are clean and heated. Around 6.30 I made my way on the bike into a very dead village and entered the bar/hotel to enquire for a meal. The barman told by gestures that they did not serve food till 9.00pm and I returned in the freezing darkness to the camp. An old land rover pulling a large caravan had entered the camp and since they had a GB plate I knocked their door and was invited in to a most comfortable old van where the couple were finishing their meal. A bottle of wine, a white table cover and silver cutlery told me these veterans knew how to rough it and I was persuaded to have a glass of wine and a chat while I waited for 9pm to come round. This couple had wintered on a site in the Spanish interior and were full of how severe the winter had been. I returned to the bar and the barman broke the sad news that the meal would not now be served till 9.30pm. Around 9.15pm a large lady hurried in to the bar and disappeared into the kitchen. I thoroughly enjoyed my meal of thick chicken soup and half a chicken with chips - the chicken tasted like chicken used to taste and I rode back to camp replete.

The temperature was obviously very low up in these high mountains and when I prepared my sleeping bag I put the heater on to it's highest setting and enjoyed a comfortable night. In the morning I looked out onto a white world though the sun was shining. Sods law and the only bit of the camp not in sunshine was of course my tent. I must have made an odd sight as I slowly went over my frosted bike with the fan heater to get rid of the heavy hoar frost. Fully kitted up and waving goodbye to my friends of last night I headed back up to the main road in sunshine. The sunshine soon disappeared and I found myself driving in quite foggy conditions and probably the lowest temperature I have ever ridden in. This was a really grim scene and it was a comfort to me to know that it would not last, as within about one hundred miles I would be down on the coast and nearing Valencia. As I descended firstly my thumbs came back to life and then my toes - a most pleasant sensation. Coffee in a petrol station helped to revive me and I ended up having breakfast in a large service area on the Valencia motorway.

Travelling down the autopista at high speeds I soon reached Benidorm but was conscious of feeling very tired. In hindsight I was probably wearing far too many clothes and was sweating profusely. When I reached El Raco camp in Benidorm and finally put my tent up I was quite exhausted and had a good sleep. One snag, which soon became apparent in El Raco was just how hard the ground is, consisting, as it does, of baked hard earth covered with gravel. To get the tent pegs in was a major undertaking and, as I found over the next six nights, I kept turning and turning through the night as my hips ached. In retrospect I should have gone to the camp shop and obtained some bubble wrap or cardboard but I always thought I would get used to the hard ground - wrong.

Some friends from La Cala, the now defunct camp, were in El Raco and I enjoyed good company during my stay. One factor, which arose and had to be attended to, was the fact that both my front fork and rear suspension were leaking oil. I sought the advice of a motorbike shop and was told that the front fork seals had to be attended to though the rear suspension could operate until my return home. The bike shop couldn't do the job until Wednesday so I decided to go no further south but to enjoy the facilities on this excellent camp and then turn for home when the repair had been done.

Come Thursday morning and I took down my tent and packed everything into my tank bag and stuff bag. I left sunny Benidorm with rather less clothes on than when I arrived as the weather was really warm - in the mid seventies I would guess. Once again I chose to use the motorway and enjoyed the fast road all the way to Cambrils about 100 miles south of Barcelona. After six nights on the trot in my tent I decided I had earned a night in comfort and found a two star hotel in the town centre. A very nice room and bathroom and I was glad to refresh myself with a long shower. In the evening I walked out in this Spanish holiday town and was amazed by the number of restaurants and cafes none of which seemed to be doing any business. After the expense of the hotel room I economised by having a superb repast consisting of two eggs, chips and a beer - well I knew that the buffet breakfast was included in the price of the room!

In the morning, after making a pig of myself at breakfast, I made my way back up to the autopista and speeded north up to and past Barcelona. Some few miles in France I stopped for my first break at a tourist complex and enjoyed a good coffee break. The weather was very warm and I removed my gloves and opened the zip on my coat to allow some ventilation. The old bike was just purring along and my admiration for Honda engines was reinforced. This is the first bike on which I felt it was safe to ride one-handed at high speeds while scratching my nose or adjusting my buttons and zips! It was my intention not to camp in the tent on the way home and after a severe disappointment when a good tourist facility before Toulouse proved to be closed I was forced to make my way off the motorway and take the ring road round Toulouse.

Ever searching for a cheap hotel or motel I was conscious of feeling very tired and my bones were aching. I stopped in a lay-by, took off my helmet, and took a big drink from my water bottle. I realised I had been neglecting the drinking water routine and was definitely "woosy" in the heat. I turned down the first roadside hotel as too expensive and went down a narrow lane to a rather broken down place - more my cup of tea. The lady said 50 euros and I expressed my horror and was moving off when she said, "You look tired - 30 euros will be ok". I really was tired and didn't even feel like going out again on the bike for a meal. I had a hot shower and explored the tank bag for something to eat. I lit my stove and made tea and had ten oatcakes with spreading cheese followed by two oatcakes with jam for dessert. Again I lay on a comfortable bed watching TV and made a phone call home.

By the next night I was within 100 miles of Nantes and chose to use the same hotel as I had used on the way south. This time there was no disappointment regarding hot water. I telephoned Brittany Ferries in England and changed my return ferry crossing to Sunday at 4.30pm. I figured I had some 280 miles or so to Roscoff and decided to set off very early to do the run without stress. I was on my way by 7.30am and it was a lovely sunny morning just ideal for biking. After passing round Nantes I stopped at a service station to refuel and had breakfast sitting outside in the warm sunshine. A nice British chap who had moved to Southern France joined me and his contentment with his new lifestyle was obvious - I enjoyed the chat.

By 12.30pm I was having a good lunch in a service station buffet and slowly made my way to the ferry port. With some time to spend before sailing I was glad of the company of another biker and once again he was in the process of buying property in France with the intention of moving permanently - makes you think! I had a good two hours sleep in my cabin and after tea and a last delicious pastry spent the time to Plymouth chatting to Simon the biker.

I arrived in Plymouth at 9.30pm and was met by my old mate Bob Chaplin (India Bob) on his bike. He had decided to ride up to meet me and I was glad of his tail light on the way home, as my speedometer light had gone out. Ten miles from St Ives I was welcomed home by heavy rain - the first for two weeks and then it was great to garage the bike, unload the luggage and relax after 2800 miles - really glad I did it - maybe I have more miles in me yet!

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