Day 2: Wednesday 30 January
in which the Elefanteneers cross France
A hearty and surprisingly tasty cooked breakfast went down well, despite it being only 0530 British time. Graham and Simon jokingly remind Jethro that the court order requires him to stay over 10 metres from any female under the age of 16. As there seems to be a school trip of some sort on the boat, this has suddenly become relevant ;)
We stop for fuel at virtually the first garage we see. Ugly the MZ's odometer shows 183 miles, but that includes 110 miles for the trip from Fizzy's house after dropping off the van and sundry other bits and pieces, so that is 73 miles so far. We fill up and set off out of Le Havre in the pitch black of night. There is a refinery or similar plant visible as we leave the town and they're burning off gas. From the motorway we can see a disembodied flame many feet up in the air. Marvellous sight. Graham later says it reminded him of Port Talbot.
We cross the river Seine at dawn - how cool is that? Some miles later we run into thick fog. Visibility gets down to 150 yards but the French just stick their fog lights on and stay at 60 to 70 mph. We slow down slightly but not much. The fog lasts almost until the next fill up, at 103 miles (175 miles so far). My tank isn't really short of fuel but I put 8.57 litres in to fill it.
We stay at the services for a short while to nibble down some bits and pieces (mainly Mars bars and coffee). Graham's left hot grip has failed to come on so he fiddles and gets the pair functional after realising the 'start' mode is probably necessary. The thermometer on my key ring already shows 10 degrees. Graham mentions that he's having to thrash the outfit to keep up with the pace and that the XBR's clutch is slipping in top gear. He's still unsure about the engine and worried it'll blow before we get there and back again. Adding this to his worry about his wife (who is ill) means that he's not a happy man at the moment.
We continue into Paris. One moment we're on motorway in a forest, then through a short tunnel and suddenly we're in the city. How cool is that? The Periferique is easily as mad as its reputation, with people all over the place, but it is faster flowing than either the M25 or the north circular road. Perhaps inevitably, we take a wrong turning. We should have gone on the motorway towards Metz but screwed up and took the exit before that one. We stop on the side of the road just off the Periferique, on the hard shoulder at a set of traffic lights, to discuss and consult maps. Eventually we get back onto the motorway we need, but have lost about an hour. At first this seems like a concern as we have to cross France today and so do a lot of miles, but in fact consideration shows that it isn't too much of a worry.
After 92 miles (267 miles so far) of town (which the bike grumbles at slightly) and motorway (which slightly bore me) I fill up with 8.7 litres inc 0.9 to the Handy Little Fuel Bottle (tm) - just in case!
On a long old stretch of motorway, I see circles and spheres that are brightly painted in lovely blues, yellows and rusty reds. They're there for decorative purposes only and are at every embankment and so on for miles. Lovely! Art for the sake of it - not 'sponsored by' or advertising anything. Despite this addition to the scenery, I get rather bored and briefly go slalom through some roadwork cones, which was fun :) Later, I'm slaloming the white lines and a Police car goes past at full tilt boogie. At the next toll booth there are coppers all over the place but we're let through, so they're not after me for my flagrant disregard of ze rulez of ze road. Soon we pull into some services and fill up. This is the longest stretch so far - 133 miles (400 miles so far), 11.08 litres.
We arrived 56 miles (456 miles total) later at Saarbruggen and with only a little thought and just the one U-turn across tram lines to go the wrong way along a one way street (!) Julian and Graham lead us to the hotel. Amusingly, Graham indulges in some seriously aggressive filtering despite the sidecar, which more than alarms at least one Mercedes driver.
The road round the back where we are to leave our bikes is cobbled and has a steep camber. I put the MZ on its centre stand and am just moving away to congratulate them for their route finding when it topples over. My right hand pannier takes a little damage and the mounting plate that holds it to the frame breaks. Fsck!! Worse, it knocks over the young hotel owner's little scooter that then takes a serious scuffing. Double fsck!!!
I take my gear to my room and allow an atmosphere of gloom to descend upon me. I'm very upset about what has happened. It was an accident - these things happen, but I suspect they're thinking "stupid English wanker" about now and I can't say I blame them. I'm certainly calling myself all this sort of thing. I now know exactly how Jeff felt when he dropped his bike in France and broke the mirror. I feel like going home as well. This trip started well but now feels fated to go very wrong.
Orb rings me - they're in pouring rain at the docks, waiting to get on the boat. At his request, I book him, Joe and marvin into the hotel for tomorrow night. This proves harder than expected as the one member of staff that doesn't understand English is the person on the desk at this time. I feel guilty that I don't speak any German at all and simultaneously jealous of Julian's excellent German.
I go downstairs with my insurance documents to sort out the claim details with the hotel owner. I can't believe it when he says that he doesn't want to take the damage to his bike through the insurance. Obviously I offer to pay for the cost of the repairs but he won't take any money towards it either! Nice chap, to put it mildly.
I start feeling happier, not because my no-claims bonus is off the hook, but mainly 'cos of the way everyone's being nice. We head off for food to a place Axl (hotel owner) has recommended. This turns out to be rather expensive. A long wander round the old town centre (while I nearly explode with needing a pee) leads us to eat in a small place that isn't too expensive. After this its back to the hotel for one last beer and and sleep. Several of the lads stayed up until 0100 drinking lots of beer.