Not even on the plain (not FF)

What goes around comes around – as they say. For all the wet Euro-tours we have had, it was certainly time we had a dry one. In 17 years of trips, this must have been the first time it never rained on us at all. Tom and Steve on big Varderos, Mike on Triumph 800 Tiger and me on the BMW F650GS

El Roadmaker
We can now recommend Spain for touring. If you think France has great motorcycling roads, then try central Spain. Perfect surfaces, very little traffic, plenty of signage and lots of interest. This tour was planned by Steve as a loop around Madrid, at a radius of about 100-200 miles and linking up the surrounding Sierras. We rode 2500 euro-miles from St Malo (out), to Caen (return) in 9 days. (Plus the UK miles of course – Tom and Steve come down from Whitby to Portsmouth on either side of those days. Mike and I only add around 2x100 to that figure)
Group Dynamics
If we ignore those long chains of bikes on weekend outings, where either boredom or peer pressure can lead to disaster; the dynamics of riding long distance in a group are critical. The Leader has to lead; but on country roads, mistakes are inevitable, even for those who follow the eternal GPS arrow. Then you must find a safe place to stop and confer and usually another takes over the lead role – after all, it is easier to see the error, when you are running further down the pack. So it is with us, and the lead tends to move around the group according to confidence and temperament (we have all of those in abundance!). Just be sure you know where and how you are going before you set off.
Mad Dogs….
It hits you in the chest, like opening an oven door; waves of dry heat; the air temperature display responds a few seconds later, 38.5, 39, 39.5 C; Jackets were half-opened to get some air flow through, but there is precious little relief. Sometimes it dropped back to a cool 36, but then we’d pass a rocky outcrop radiating heat and it starts again. This was too much for my poor old nose, and a blood vessel popped. By the time I had realised how bad it was, and pulled over, the front of my shirt bore resemblance to that of a Mafia assassination victim. Be assured, you don’t want a nose bleed, at speed, in a full-face (or any other helmet for that matter)
If you want to make progress in the day, it is no good just avoiding the midday sun, as the temperature peaks late in the afternoon. Stop for lunch and you come back out into a furnace. We reverted to starting early (well, after an 8.00 am breakfast), and then riding until about 2.00 pm with only a coffee stop to sustain us. The Spanish do late meals anyway, so that is easy. Hopefully that will minimise the riding at peak temperatures and might even get you to your destination, with perhaps a swimming pool. I could not quite cope with the evening meal times from 9.00 to 10.30 pm, after the obligatory beer and tapas, but such hardships can be overcome.
Best Laid Plans
After docking at St Malo and then a long day south, we negotiated the Bordeaux ring during the Friday rush-hour. Not perhaps the best plan, but we were heading for the Bassin d’Arcrachon, so there is only one way. This is French holiday seaside and very pretty, although next day we did not see much of the mountainous Dune du Pilat as bucket and spade territory did not mix with the progress we needed. Crossing the Pyrenees at the now familiar St-Jean-Pied-de-Port and keeping a close eye on Tom, (see French Furniture Robblog), we skirted Pamplona and found the first Spanish hotel at Arnedillo (for which direction we did not have to ask Tony Christie or Neil Sedaka)
Old Romans
An interesting varied route across to Segovia and our first Parador. Good grief, we must have evolved into old farts to end up staying at the Spanish Paradors; all that cool marble, wood and big Spanish art – and the pools; cheers for the ‘Golden Days’ discount. Segovia has a rich architectural heritage – medieval walls, Romanesque churches, a former royal palace and a Gothic cathedral, beside which we drank welcome beer; and an iconic Roman aqueduct of 160 arches, under which we had dinner, while the chattering swifts wheeled around the Plaza Azoguejo in the heart of the city.
…. And Englishmen
I like to think we are well behaved when out on the road – but this can’t be said for all compatriots. There was a group of Hooray Henrys and Henriettas doing some sort of gumball rally across Spain. They came up fast behind us, when admittedly we were faffing around with directions. Next day they were blocking the road, gleefully taking selfies and oblivious of the chaos they had caused by seemingly driving one of their supercars off the road at a junction. We did not stop to assist.
Hot to Trot
About 100miles from, but level with Madrid and the hottest day. After the bleeding episode we had a miraculous ribbon of perfect hot (and not melted – how do they do that?) tarmac which wound its way down to Gualalupe. The Parador here was our only 2-night stop, with plenty to explore in the surrounding Sierras. Every curve is constant radius, heralded by multiple signs to describe the severity, and exits with a sign to let the rider know when he can pass the occasional car, in the brief gap before the next perfect curve. Occasionally you will find a road which has not had El Roadmaker’s treatment. This simply serves to show how much work has been done.
Bit of Rough
What did that sign say? I asked Steve, after negotiating a particularly rough bit of original road. very poor surface: access for landowners only. Nobody stopped us. Indeed I don’t recall seeing anyone in authority during the whole of Spain. After many more miles of the rough, Mike’s fuel was running low so we rerouted to find petrol and suddenly perfect ribbons of tarmac; Now south of Madrid and heading for the Cuenca Parador, we cruised at speed across the wild Spanish landscape. Old Cuenca is set in the mountains of east-central Spain. Founded by Moors, it retains its historic walled town with steep cobbled streets and medieval castle ruins. The Parador is linked across a bridged gorge from the old town. Spectacular!
Plain riding
The National Park of Cuenca has some fantastic examples of the roadmaker’s art, woven into a dramatic landscape. Down from the Sierra and coming back to the plain, we headed north on mainer roads; no detraction from the enjoyment however; with little traffic and fast sweeping bends; to our last Spanish hotel at Ainsa.
Over the Top
The change from S to N of the Pyrenees is significant. Immaculate Spanish surfaces and dry red earth gives way to winding French hairpins, a greener landscape and traffic bunched up by the one-way Bielsa tunnel. Our last Euro-night is on the hotel terrace overlooking the Dordogne. Almost perfect, if it was not our last, but plenty of agricultural techniques on view in the valley below, to debate with farmer Tom.
The last day is traditionally a long one, as the Caen ferry does not leave until late; but by this time, we are hardened riders - or at least our bums are - and with the lower temperatures, we get there in plenty of time for a quayside meal before boarding. Another Moto over, but plenty of memories and thanks to Steve for setting up this one; and to Tom and Mike for the company.