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Oct 20 2012

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Ride to Eat: Millau Viaduct Oct 2012

We’d been to and over the Millau bridge several times and were quite busy so hadn’t planned to attend this RTE. A couple of weeks before it, during an unrelated conversation with Paul (‘Tydee’), he asked if we were going. Paul was riding down with another Paul (‘Westie’) and always finds good routes so we had an instant change of mind. A rather belated call to Eurotunnel to book the train and some last-minute hotel bookings had us all ready to go.

For once in our lives we were packed before midnight the night before and set off nice and relaxed in the morning to meet The Pauls ready for the 07.20 train. We checked in about 29 minutes before the train was due and the system put us on the 07.50. It was half-term so the terminal was heaving. Luckily The Pauls weren’t there yet so it didn’t matter and it later transpired we’d booked on the earlier train by mistake, it was the 07:50 we were supposed to be on.

We were at opposite ends of the train for the crossing and met The Pauls on French soil to hear Paul T’s sorry tale about his new suit getting soaked in oil from somewhere on his engine.

About an hour later we stopped by a service station where Paul decided it was necessary to sort out the leak. Luckily, removing the camshaft cover and re-seating the gasket seemed to do the trick and we were on our way again.

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Roadside Assistance not required!

 
The weather forecast said it was going to be cold as the wind had turned and was now coming from the North bringing wintery weather. Standing at the side of the road certainly proved the weathermen right. Eventually continuing our journey we kept to smaller roads before jumping on the A10 south-east of Chartres in an attempt to make up some of the time we’d lost while the oil leak was repaired. We enjoyed the luxury of frequent stops for lunch, coffee, smokes (Paul W) and loo breaks. I could get to enjoy riding like this! We went through the middle of Rouen, a city we haven’t been to in years, then Paul W managed to find us a McDonalds for lunch as he’d been told Kevin liked them…I can’t imagine where that idea came from.
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Wonder why we stopped here!

 
Kevin was interested in Paul T’s view on indicating as he’d been given some instruction by a ROSPA instructor that he wasn’t in full agreement with. A healthy debate ensued during a lot of the weekend and Paul showed how seriously he was taking it when he had us in stitches with his very policeman-like prim and proper hand signals (left turns only mind!).

Tony and Wendy from Rider’s Rest, our usual stopping place in the Limousin region, were in the UK so we were trying a new-to-us bike-friendly stopping place – Ridelimousin. We arrived just before it got dark and, after a bit of confusion as to where it actually was (which was solved by Ro standing in the road and waving at us), we were welcomed by Ro and Torsten who led us to the barn to put the bikes safely under cover. We were then shown our rooms and offered drinks. We sat in the dining room learning about all sorts of things – why an Englishman was named Torsten, the Ridelimousin project and the fact that we were the first biker guests (although they’d already had some ‘normal’ guests previously). We enjoyed a good 4 course meal with ‘the best chocolate mousse’ pudding although there was some confusion when I thought Ro was asking if we wanted Lemon Tart. What she actually said was Emmental! We turned in early expecting a cold start in the morning.

Ridelomousin is a nice, comfortable place with warm and friendly hosts; definitely worth a visit.

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The French love their cobbled streets

 
As predicted it was cold, but at least it was dry as we set off. Our plan today was to cover the 250 odd miles via country D roads rather than motorways to meet the other IBA’ers at the Millau viaduct . As usual in this part of France the scenery was spectacular, the roads were great with lots of fast twisty bits and the weather at this time of year unpredictable.
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We travelled for miles under thundery skies but were lucky not to get rained on. As we climbed higher though the weather finally broke. Except it wasn’t rain, it was snow!

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Paul’s bike was as icy as ours

By then we were about 40 minutes away from our target at Millau and as we descended into the valley the weather improved. By that I mean it stopped snowing. We got off the bikes to meet our friends and to catch up and get the photo taken, it was BLOODY cold. The wind was whipping through the valley and there was nothing except 15 bikers to stop it.

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Fifteen Frozen Bikers Hanging in Millau

 
We didn’t hang around for long and were soon back on the bikes heading for our next hotel – the Family Hotel in Meyrueis. Our journey along the Gorge du Tarn was glorious, and we enjoyed the roads – having them mostly to ourselves – and the majestic scenery. I’m sure if we’d been here a few months earlier we would have been fighting with traffic to get a move on but as it was out of season we were able to ride at our own pace and Kevin really enjoyed the sweeping bends, occasionally making me jump as something on the bike scraped on the ground.
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It still looked a bit dodgy, weatherwise…

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…but soon cleared up

 
Most of the other IBA folk were staying in Millau but there was some sort of endurance race going on and the hotels were full which was why we were about 20 miles away. We didn’t fancy another round-trip to Millau from our hotel so decided to forego the group meal and dine (and wine) locally. Also in Meyrueis for the evening were Gordon and Jeanette, and Robert, an American turned Brit. All seven of us ate in the hotel’s restaurant where we passed a very enjoyable evening in the usual IBA way, eating, drinking and talking about bikes, trips and anything else that came to mind which would set the world to rights.
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Not a sight you want to see

 
The next morning we woke up to the sight of snow on the bikes (well, strictly speaking, other people’s bikes as we were lucky enough to be in a hotel that had a garage). The road didn’t look too bad though and Paul (I’ll just refer to the two Pauls as ‘Paul’ from now on to protect the guilty!), who was going to lead today, assured us we were ‘going to stay low to avoid the snow’ so that was OK. We were joined by Gordon and Jeannette who were also booked into the same B&B that evening.
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The roads were snowy…

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and icy…

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but the view from this height was fantastic (if a little white!)

As we climbed out of the village we saw the roads were not as clear as they had been lower down so everyone took it very carefully. We eventually climbed to about 1600m (Climb? 1600m? I thought we were going to stay low!) and the snow and ice varied from ‘abundant’ to ‘patchy and unpredictable’.

(Un)Fortunately the GS has a cold temperature warning sign on the dash and it flashes if it gets near to freezing. This morning it was showing 2deg C. Except then we noticed the little ‘–’ next to it, it was a lot colder than we originally thought. Sitting on the back it’s easy to become obsessed with the readouts and I found myself with a morbid fascination for the temperature gauge. I watched it go down and down and down and it reached -5. There was plenty of snow around still and everyone was on their toes keeping an eye out for slippery bits. We also went through some areas with nasty gusts of wind. The wind was a bit strange as we were never sure which side it was going to hit us from.

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There’s something beautiful about a black road through white fields

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Luckily we didn’t need water

 
Everyone’s SatNav seemed to have a different route and at one point we all stopped for a team debate about whether to go down a dodgy looking shortcut or keep on the road we were on. On a better day the shortcut would have won hands down but it didn’t get any real votes today. Paul was heard to mutter the immortal words to the other Paul “WTF are we doing up here?” to which the silent response was to point at the SatNav; we were rather in the backwoods and quite high but the scenery was very picturesque. Part of the problem was that some SatNavs wanted to go right after the shortcut and others left. I’m sure we weren’t alone in not having a clue where we were. After a bit of milling about Kevin decided to follow our SatNav and the others followed us until Paul took over once we were down from the heights.
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No one fancied the ‘right’ road which looked even worse than the one we were on

There were clear bits where it was possible to get a lick on closely followed by damp patches (was it black ice?) followed by patches of leaves (what’s underneath?) and sometimes just a dusting of plain old snow. By mid-afternoon as we were riding further north the snow had been replaced by sunshine and the roads were much easier to ride.

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The leaves made a beautiful, if worrying, carpet

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Then the sun came out

 
Our stop tonight was a ‘retreat’ – La Platriere – and between the Sat Navs we all managed to get lost. Luckily Gordon had spotted a sign (Pah! He’s obviously not very ‘technical’ <g>) and we eventually found ourselves in the grounds of the B&B. When Paul arrived he announced his SatNav had been showing 28 miles to the waypoint when he was only 2 miles away.

The next morning we woke up with some trepidation – would the snow have moved in? was it going to be another brass monkey day? As Kevin wandered out to check our rear tyre (which had lost a few pounds – obviously not eating as much as we were) it felt like it was starting to rain but it was a very half-hearted attempt and we left in the dry. Thanks to Paul  whose eagle eyes spotted Kevin’s valve cap which had fallen on the drive and disguised itself very well as a piece of gravel.

The plan was to ride some D roads for the morning then to blast back on the motorway in the afternoon. We got off to a slow start, Paul’s Sat Nav not recognising that we were underway, but it gave me a chance to admire the beautiful white cows which seem popular in this area. There do seem to be a lot of cows in France (about 20 million, apparently) and each region seems to have its own special breed. I particularly liked these white ones and the ginger Limousin cows.

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Cows, not Sheep

 
Gradually it started to warm up and by mid-morning it was back to a balmy 0.5. Bliss! Thank God for heated clothing is all I can say.
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What does this say Paul?

Paul seemed to have developed a bit of a blind spot for signs that told him the road was closed. That’s the only explanation we can come up with for him ignoring them and going down such roads until he was forced to turn round; three times. We eventually got past the closed section and were able to progress north east past cultivated fields. The fields look very messy on approach – especially as the autumn colours are quite patchy and varied – but as you go past they resolve into serried ranks of short grape bushes, specially cut for ease of harvest.

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Wine in the making

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A beautiful chateau

We finally moved towards Fontainebleau where we stopped for lunch just opposite the palace and by then the day was glorious – full sunshine and it was even warm (ish). We speculated about the palace but I think we had it all wrong. It was originally started by Francis 1st and added to by many monarchs. After the Revolution Napoleon Bonaparte took it over to show how grand he was. It certainly is an impressive building. The waitress in the café was very complimentary about our Pidgin-French, but her English was much better. At least we thought so until she delivered a cheese omelette instead of a ham one.

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Outside Fontainbleau Palace

Our last bit of travail was to have been a quick blast up the A1. Unfortunately it was closed which necessitated a very long detour and we spent forever trickling through the traffic that was stuck on roads not designed for the volume of vehicles it was trying to cope with. Eventually we did get onto the motorway where for the last 50 miles or so the clouds got darker and darker and suddenly we were deluged. Ah well, we were nearly home and it did wash much of the salt off that had become encrusted on the bike. The detour meant we got to The Tunnel about an hour and a half late but were whisked through and onto the next train with no delays and soon back home, rather damp but happy that we could now have a decent cup of tea.

Thanks to both Pauls for their excellent guiding (height and closed roads notwithstanding!), I think this is the first time we’ve ever been away and not looked at a map once. Thanks also for their great company throughout the weekend; that also goes for Gordon and Jeanette for Saturday and Sunday and Robert for his company on Saturday evening.

Permanent link to this article: http://thewellers.net/iron-butt-rides/ride-to-eat-millau-viaduct-oct-2012

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