Balkans Motorycle Tour - Day 1
From: London UK
To: Pont a Mousson FR
Distance: approx 350 Miles
It doesn't matter how many rides you've been on or how prepared you are; how many times you've met to discuss the route, the hotels, the stopovers, paperwork, kit and how early you need to head out on the first day... every tour really gets started with an almighty rush late into the night before. Packing and repacking the panniers you could have sworn you could fit everything in and hunting down that 'essential' thing that you really need to take...you know, the one you took on the last tour and didn't use.
The first day starts early off the back of little or no sleep (the packing rush and excitement of a new adventure). Our day started at 5am and we were already knackered. Bikes were dragged out, bungees were lashed and we were soon on the way to meet the rest of the group at the Channel Tunnel, Folkestone.
It's worth noting right from the start that three things go out of the window 'on tour'
sense of direction
group riding skills
Arriving in Folkstone at 7am we sat down to prove rule one with a Burger King breakfast while the rest of our group arrived on a range of bikes:
Triumph Sprint GT
Triumph Street Triple
As this is a Balkans tour we want to spend our time in the Balkans and the Alps, so the decision is made to push on through France and cover as much distance as possible in the first couple of days. I take the lead first and prove rule number two by getting lost in Calais following a confused sat nav. Stopping, starting and turning back on myself proves rule 3 and the group are all over the place. At least we have started as we mean to go on.
After a while we get out of Calais and hit faster roads as the summer temperature begins to rise. After about two hours on the motorway towards Cambrai we stop in a service station. The motorway is dull and hot so we figure we can press on well enough by avoiding it, (motorways are largely abandoned for the rest of the trip).
Although half the group have Sat Navs we all have different brands or models and each tries to take a different direction. Rather than worrying, we take turns leading and just follow the leader.
The group use the tried and tested Cornerman system. But it's taking us a little while to get into the swing of group riding in a foreign country and the system breaks down. When we stopped in Cambrai, we all agree that we need to tighten up our Cornerman system. With this firmly agreed, the group promptly set off... leaving no corner-men. Ben and I are left stranded. Cue the Benny Hill theme tune.
We've got meeting points in the sat nav so Ben and I head at full speed down the D960 to the next way point at Guise. After a bit of fun on the empty French roads we find a small Tabac on the road into town and wait for the others to catch up. They enter Guise from the opposite direction and miss us. Eventually we do meet up, circle the town square which is closed for lunch and head out of town...the wrong way.
The good news is that from this point we start to get into a rhythm. The French back roads are fairly empty and quick moving. We pass through rural France at a fair clip and eventually find an unexpectedly posh hotel to eat at. It's late in the afternoon and we haven't booked (the place is empty). The proprietor offers the choice of steak or nothing and we settle in to eat and laugh about our progress.
Post lunch, the riding and the team gelled and the last road of the day the D940 to Pont a Mousson flies by as the sun sets. We get to the hotel at 8:45 after a long day on the road. We are all showered and at a local bar within 30 minutes. We really are on holiday now.