I got on my bike and I rode. I wasn’t feeling brave. I wasn’t sure where I was going. I wasn’t sure what to expect. So I just rode.
I rode from Berlin and headed for Las Vosges in France 861km/535 Miles. I’d found a campsite online and despite the fact that it was fully booked I’d managed to persuade the man on the front desk to stick me on a slope in the hedge near the exit signs for 10 Euros a night. This was as much of a plan as I had at this point. I didn’t know where it was, whether Butch would get me there, how long I would stay or what the fuck I would do when I got there. I was the ignorant English girl. I’d seen Paris on the TV and never thought much of it, I didn’t have very high expectations, I wasn’t being negative about it, I just knew so little that anything other than more gas station food and McDonald’s would be cool.
The ride there was slow and it was hot. I concentrated HARD, faithfully obeying TomToms instructions. We started getting close and I’d gained a bit of confidence. I was rolling around round-abouts in the right direction, I’d got the hang of the mildly lawless roads and I’d managed to stay on my side most of the way. Religiously refilling Butch’s oil reserves every 100 miles was now routine. I’m fairly sure every BMW driver in Germany probably hates me by now but what ya gunna do.
Things started getting interesting, the landscape started changing. There were mountains on the horizon. The website had shown mountain views but it wasn’t the same. Or it was the same but it was grander. It wasn’t a 6×4 postcard picture. There were mountains everywhere. Soon enough me and Bucth were rolling up them, then down them, then round them. Still no campsite. The mountains just went on and on. Stretches of farmland and beautiful houses buried in between them. It was unreal.
Every turn revealed more, they just kept coming, like a windows media visual from the early naughties. For me it was as if it were being computer generated. This kinda thing had never been real to me before. Had never been in front of my eyes.
At this point I had absolutely no fucking doubt in my mind that I had done the right thing. This was gunna be fucking epic.
I finally found the campsite, nestled into a backdrop of fucking huge marvels of nature. Stan the front desk man knew who I was the moment I pulled up and came wandering out to greet me. I cut the engine on Butch, introduced myself and followed him to the office leaving a gaggle of small boys burning their fingers tips on my exhaust pipe whilst Butch marked her territory with her signature 4 puddles of oil.
Stan gave me directions to my spot in the Hedge and said I was welcome to ride down there and park Butch next to my tent. I thanked him but politely explained that she was very hot and she sure as shit wasn’t gunna start till she’d had at least half hour to cool down and a fresh lot of oil. I asked for directions to the nearest petrol station but forgot to listen to the answer (as usual), the only bit I heard was “around 30 minutes on foot”.
I wandered down to my hedge and pitched my tent, it was small but it was cosy and I was excited. I bumped into Stan on my way back and he asked how long I’d be staying and I said I had no idea, maybe one night but I don’t have to be home for 2 weeks so maybe 2 weeks? He didn’t seem to mind, just looked bewildered and pointed me in the direction of the petrol station.
I was feeling pretty good. Sweaty. Smelly. Exhausted. Over stimulated. But fucking good. I got back from the garage with my oil before it got dark. Filled Butch up with my plastic bottle funnel that I’d made 3 countries ago and carried nearly 2000 miles. My never ending audience of small boys watched intently at the whole process and cheered as I started her up and rumbled down the hill to my hedge. I crawled in head first. My luminous green glowing coffin tent. Home. My head hit the pillow. My head hit the messy piles of jumpers, oil rags and festival T.shirts (pillow) and I was out for the count.
When I woke up the next morning I was still very overwhelmed by the whole thing. Most of the journey so far had been about destinations. I decided to scrap the mindset of “getting somewhere” and just pick something pretty on the horizon and try to ride to the top of it. A bit like chasing the gold at the end of the rainbow.
I found the pot of gold. The Grand Ballon. My most favourite mountain. I’d seen signs for it and I could see the top of it from almost everywhere I went. Once I discovered it I didn’t leave. There were 3 or 4 different roads leading up and down and round it. Twisting and turning, rising and falling. I rode all of them. In both directions. Grinning like an idiot as my ears popped with the change in altitude. I’d memorised all the switchbacks n hair pins. I wasn’t fast or smooth or cool. All the other riders in their matching leathers on their sports bikes overtook me. But the truth was Butch was not made to do this and I wasn’t good enough to do it but we did it anyway and we loved every slow, wobbly second. When I got a gear change spot on and lent into a corner just right it felt incredible.
At the top of the Grand Ballon (1424 Meters above sea level) you could see the peak of the Alps. At the Bottom there was the most beautiful lake. What more could you want. We made the most of every nook and cranny of this beast. I ate ice creams at the top. I swam in the lake at the bottom. It was ace and I could have stayed there forever. We pulled over wherever we could and smoked roll ups n sat in awe of it all.
I headed back for camp, I needed oil and food. I got oil. I got food. I put the oil in. I ate the food. Then I was bored. Dusk was coming and the Dutch people next to me kept trying to make friends so in an effort to stay away from them I decided to head back to the mountain to watch the sunset.
It seemed like a good idea at the time. It would have been had things not gone quite so wrong.
We made it to the top, but Butch wasn’t happy. She was klunky n odd the whole way up. It was fucking cold up there. Top of a mountain cold is not a cold I’ve felt before and I didn’t fucking like it. I did what I came to do and watched the sun dissapear behind the trees whilst Butch cooled off. I was worried, there was know one up here, not a soul and I wasn’t sure I was gunna be able to get down again. I cleaned both spark plugs as best I could and tried to find a big enough piece of level ground to do the oil. Turned the key and she coughed n spluttered. Nothing. Tried again with the throttle twisted right round and the choke on full and she just about spluttered into life. She was only running on one cylinder but I didn’t have much of a choice so I hopped on and started rolling.
Have you ever been on one of those bucking bronko fair ground rides? Well that was me. In the dark rolling down this mountain with an angry 205kg bull between my legs. She wouldn’t handle properly AT ALL. Its hard to explain so I wont try but it was absolutely fucking terrifying and when I finally got to the bottom and back to the campsite I was crying inside my helmet.
Low n behold the overly cheerful Dutch people were awaiting my return and had a campfire and a marshmallow on a stick waiting for me.
I spent the next day fixing Butch up as best I could, she wasn’t in great shape but at least we had both cylinders running now! La Vosges really is the perfect base camp. I was 50 minutes from the Black Forest in Germany and The Swiss boarder was just round the corner and calling my name.
We spent a good 2 days exploring The Black Forest, riding the famous B500 and chasing the Grand Canal through all the odd towns that France has to offer. Laughing at lycra clad cyclists pedaling up mountains and being overtaken by fat sweaty french farmers smoking a roll up on a bicycle from the 1950’s. Oh and France does actually smell like Croissants. By this point I was reveling in the fact that I didn’t know what day of the week it was and it didn’t matter. I’d managed to reprogram my brain to enjoy the ride and stop worrying about destinations. Consequently I’d ended up in some fucking gloriously odd places. The French equivalent of Venice. Lounging in hammocks amongst the dense trees of the black forest picturing the stories of Hansel and Grettle.
2016 Miles into our trip and loving every second. Even the breakdowns n the scary bits. After spending an evening at the campsite getting to grips with the TomTom I started planning the next leg. Switzerland here we come! The bike was handling a lot nicer without all the camping gear n luggage so I decided to abandon camp and head for the Alps. Quietly hoping I could find cheap places to stay if n when I got where ever it was I was going.