We spent Sunday as planned visiting our daughter and three-week-old grandson Zak Paul Xanthidis in south-east London before staring the journey proper on Monday.
The first leg involved an early-morning dash to catch the Eurotunnel train at Folkestone for the 35-minute journey under the English Channel to Calais involved rain. Not a lot of rain, but enough to remind us that we were in Britain and it was June.
The Kuryakyn luggage isn’t waterproof in any way but comes with separate nylon covers for the panniers and a plastic cover for the top case. They’re fiddly and billow madly in the wind, look like they’ll burn on the exhaust pipes but never do, but stuff stays more or less dry. The top case cover is secured by a slip-cord, but the seams around the cord had split early on it its life and so it was even more difficult to secure.
That’s probably why it was no longer there by the time we reached the Eurotunnel terminal, having presumably flown away en route. Not a big deal, we figured. A bigger deal was our decision to nip inside the terminal for a warming coffee and porridge, because we were ahead of schedule. We then headed for UK passport control in good time and got through without delay – with my wife’s South African passport, you can never be too sure.
French passport control, however, was much slower, with long queues, and when we eventually got through we’d missed our train’s loading time by minutes. Eurotunnel had thoughtfully laid on an extra service 20 minutes later, which spat us out into a drizzly Calais still more or less on schedule.
We’d decided to use the autoroute to cover as much ground as possible on day one, and it was a doddle. This was our first time using our new Garmin sat-nav in France, and it worked a treat as we headed east through the patchy rain, stopping for petrol every 120 miles or so. By lunchtime, the rain was largely behind us and we could feel the air getting warmer.
There were also two things I couldn’t feel: pain in my butt and pain in my back. For the past few years, I’ve had a sharp pain just below my left shoulder blade after about an hour on any bike. Peter was used to massaging it with her fingers, but it invariably came back. Not this day! No back pain. No idea why, but it was great news. What’s more, it stayed away for the entire trip.
Even better was the fact that my backside was also pain-free. For longer than I care to remember, I could pretty much guarantee that I would be squirming in my seat within two hours. I’d move about a bit and seek a more comfortable position, but it was never quite right – regardless of the bike I was riding.
But this day I felt fine, even after three hours. Then I realised that my new ISX Desert summer riding trousers had no seams on the bottom, whereas I’d always worn jeans or cargo pants in the past and their pocket seams had dug into my backside. I’ve criticised a lot of motorcycle seats over the years and now it seems that the problem was probably me, not the bike. Anyway, if you experience bum ache, try a seam-free pair of trousers. It would be the afternoon of day three before I felt the slightest twinge, and that was a one-off.
Our route took us past Arras and Reims to Chalons-en-Champagne, where we left the motorway and moved on to the slower but much more enjoyable routes nationale. By day’s end we’d reached Moyenmoutier in the Vosges region and found a really nice campsite there for the princely sum of €15. They served wonderfully cold beer but no food, saying that the nearby town had so many restaurants that there was no demand for food at the camp.
So we walked the 15 minutes in to the town, only to discover that there were indeed quite a few restaurants, although the majority were selling pizza and kebabs. What ever happened to French cuisine? The only other problem was that it was Monday, and almost all the restaurants were closed on Mondays!
We settled in for a one-hour wait at one of only two open pizza places in the area; fortunately, the pizza was great. But nowhere was open to serve alcohol and by the time we’d hiked back up the hill to the campsite the bar there was closed. Admittedly, their summer season was still a week or two away. So if you’re in the area, the Camping Vosgina campsite is really great, the nearby town less so, at least on Mondays.