Montpellier and back

So this week I had to go to Montpellier. I don’t know much about the city. The area I stayed in was brand new, very Vegas-ey. Kinda chintzy with shiny new buildings awkwardly emulating ideas of grandeur.

I spend all evening walking about, and the old city is much more to my liking. I didn’t take a single picture. But it’s all old plazas and buildings, with cafes and whatnot. Very very pleasant. Pretty young and vibrant artsy city from what I can see.

At least I’m next to the canal, it helps a bit with the heat. On my way even at 140kph on the highway, I could feel the air was hot. And once in the city … I remembered how much of a nightmare the 1098 is in these conditions. Every traffic light, the seat becomes a toaster oven. After a mere 15mins of city traffic I get to the hotel, and I’m sweating like a pig. Stupid bike. Mind you, it was 33 degrees.

Morning, got stuff to do. Alarm 7am. I’m up before sunrise? Suddenly feel like a real man. I may or may not have stood there shouting “rise before me, my son, riiiiiiise!”

Stuff done, time to visit the area a bit. I want to see Camargue a bit. The area is famous for its small white horses and big black bulls. No corrida for me, though. Don’t like that.
On the way, I ride by the super touristy Grande Motte. It’s a lot of beach, and a lot of hotel. But it smells like pine. I like that.


Camargue! Right, it’s marshes. I forgot about that. It smells like marshes. Also, pink flamecos!

Why are they pink? That’s why. Not photoshopped. The water was damn pink. No idea why.

I also passed by these. They look very similar to snow piles we have in Montreal. Except it’s salt. A lot of salt.


In the distance, the city of Aigues Mortes appears. Big fortified walls and all. But so touristy and organized I just don’t feel like stopping for pics of the ancient walls.

I keep on going, towards city center. A sign appears. Interesting. Is it today?

Now before you get all excited, this isn’t a Pamplona style bull run. Camargue is about both the horses and the bulls. It’s called a manade (french word, no idea if there’s an english equivalent) andif done right, you have a handful of bulls contained by badass horses and their riders forming a moving circle. It’s very very impressive, actually.

Now don’t think this is somewhere in a random field. That’s central plaza. Streets are closed off with 6ft tall steel bar walls, you can see them in the distance. Although I like to think it looks like a zombie area closed off. Ah!

People can (and do) walk between the bars. It’s only hitting me now that I did like everyone else. I walked into a bull cage, of my own free will. Great.

Actually, I lived in the area as a kid (couple years old) and I do remember these. Way cool.

Right, so I’m in the bull “cage”. The announcer is following the bulls “and they’re coming to blablablah street, and now to some other street”. And here they come. The intensity is almost overwhelming, as the horses are constantly pressed against each other, keeping the bulls in control in a horse-sized bee swarm. I saw the bulls’ legs, I assume the rest of the animal was on top of them legs.

Oh hai.

After several groups go by, I decide to take off. I have things to do, I’m on holiday you know!

It was easier said than done. French cities are already a mess on a normal day, now imagine with the main street closed off. One ways, delivery trucks, people … I end up riding the wrong way on the sidewalk for a while. And people don’t even mind.

Next stop is the obvious one for a mid-october day. The beach. It is 26 degrees after all.

I think I know where this leads to.

This looks like an alright spot for a nap. And to your dirty minds, I had planned it all, had jeans for the ride (not tooooo squiddly) and swimtrunks for the beach.

And the crazy crowd. Ah!

And the sea. It wasn’t very warm, I will admit.

That nap was great. Waking up at 7am is unusual for a holidayer like myself.

Heading back home. I opt out of the boring highway, and go for the backcountry instead. Yeah, it’s quite alright.

It’s all complete with picturesque hillside villages.

And crystal clear rivers

I keep pushing on, and as I take a small shortcut through the mountains … road closed! Argh! There’s a paper on it that I don’t read. Eh, I’m on a bike, I can probably sneak through. Let’s see what this is all about.

A nice lady comes up, I can’t really hear what she’s saying with the earplugs on. Take 2. Citroen Sport. Testing the DS3 for WRC. Whaaaaaaaaaaat. Can I take pictures? Sure, just be careful where he turns around *she points at huge skidmarks on the tarmac. Yeah, not getting anywhere near that.

Now that’s a road closure I can get behind.
This also means this road is as good as I think it is.

As they put the car on stands for some checkups, they wave us through. “The course is 4km, don’t stop or loiter about, we can’t have other people on the road during the tests. Go go go.” Yeah, I don’t want to be run over by a rally car, thank you. Unfortunately, he screwed it all up by throwing debris all over the place. Carefulness.

We’re through the testing section. It’s pretty. I take a picture.


And another. I’m sorry to say the pic doesn’t do reality justice. It looked better. You all missed out. Sucks for you.


Getting to the viewpoint. It’s surprisingly windy, and chilly. From 30 down by the sea just a couple hours ago, I’m now seeing 11 on the dash! I love brisk mountain air.

The view is rather nice.

And I look at it.


It warms up again as I make my way back to Carcassonne. Long day. This is when I wish I was riding a Goldwing. When the roads are rough and I just want to get home … it’s impossible to relax on the 1098.

Oh well, the views are still alright.

And I get home after a long day, but somehow under 300km.

Hanging around in Toulouse

Sorry fellas, not much to report last week! No bike content, really.

Spent a fail filled day in Toulouse Thursday.

Morning at a trade show, with wasn’t exactly what they advertised. Spider monkeys and midgets are of no use to me if they’re not Mexican! This is a crucial difference.

I did hang around the Capitole though. Took 3 horrible pictures. I hate being “that tourist” with a camera around his neck all the time.CapitoleCapitole TerraceCapitole ArcadeOn my way back … moose signs. Oh crap. This can only mean one thing.

Moose signQUEBEC RESTAURANT! I had to try it. I knew it’d be disastrous, but I had to give it a shot. For science.

Ordered a poutine. With smoked meat.
For those who do not know about this Quebec delicacy, it’s fries, with squeaky cheese and gravy poured on top. You can add bacon or various things on top. It’s actually awesome, perhaps a bit of an acquired taste.

After 35min (!) it arrives. It’s tiny and toasted, shouldn’t be. Fine, it looks wrong, it might taste good.

Fries are wrong. The toasted swiss cheese is very wrong. The toasted smoked meat produced a $hit-ton of oil sitting at the bottom. And the worst? The sauce is not gravy, it’s maple syrup.
Can you say disaster?

Poutine1Absolutely revolting. Tastes wrong, and I’m usually not one to complain about food being too greasy … but goddam that was so oily.

Poutine2Just disgusting.

Poutine3I have no idea why I actually ate it all like an idiot. Felt sick all afternoon.

Cut my losses and GTFO that place. Will not do that again.

Dessert was much better thank you.

Tarte aux fruits des boisSo I wasted my morning and lunch was horrible. Hardly the end of the world. It gets worse.

I head to the bike avenue, where all the shops are, my rear tire is just about done. I impress the girl with the 1098 (a common thing, people always go “ooooh” when I mention it), but when I ask what she has in stock in 190/55 … nothing.
Fine, I’ll order a Metzeler M5 then … when should I expect it? A week.
Whatever, that’ll do, not like I have much of a choice anyways.

Oh, Ducati dealer is across the street. Let’s check it out. And this is where things go awry.
They have a boatload of superbikes, Monsters and Streetfighters. Not much else. Don’t recall seeing a Diavel or HM.
They’re also dealer for Kawi, Triumph … and MV Agusta and Benelli.
4 MV F4RRs next to each other. YUM. DO WANT. There’s also an Aprilia RSV4 sitting outside.
I’d inquired before leaving Montreal about making my bike France legal, and had been reassured “you’re in luck, all you need is a 60 euro part for the French 100hp limit”.
So I head to the shop area, and ask again, so that I can get working on that if it takes a while.
“oh, importing a 1098? we just received directions from Ducati on the subject few weeks ago. Ah there it is … oh shit … we can’t produce a conformity certificate for any US bike anymore, due to emissions”.
Great. Exactly the same unsubstantiated bullshit you get when trying to bring a US bike to Canada. Fucking Ducati. I bought your damn bike, I like it, let me use it!

I still have a lot of options of varying degrees of unlawfulness, but the most honest and legit one seems to be a no-go.
I do have quite some time ahead of me to decide what I’ll do.

So yeah, that wasn’t a very successful day.

 

On the upside I did see 2 Belugas. Yo Dawg I heard you like planes …

Yo DawgShot with the 50mm, it was quite low and landing in Blagnac nearby I presume.

Andorra!

Finally! I’ve been wanting to head to Andorra for a bit. Not that the whole tax heaven or shopping is of much interest to me, it’s just a way of saying “Mountains!”. A classier way.

To get there, all I had to do was cross some mountains. I’d found out about the Col de Pailheres, culminating at 2,001m … wait. Do passes culminate? Not sure. You know what I mean.

That seemed high enough, and a quick Google StreetView glance revealed hairpins and small road. Let’s do this.

All I had to do was cross Georges’ Gorges (yep, actual name, still giggling), a very short but essentially vertical gap in the moutains.

Georges' GorgesAnd very quickly things get interesting. By interesting I mean the treeline stops, the air becomes brisk and the sun shines hard. Also, cows appear.

Col de Pailheres Going Up 1Now the road looks narrow, doesn’t it? It was narrow. How narrow? This narrow.

Narrow road is narrowI filmed the whole ascent … absolute blast as you could imagine.

Getting to the top you get an amazing view of the road you just went up, as well as the early stages of the mountain range.

View from the topAlso, cows.

Cows at the topLook at that contorted little bit of tarmac!!! Sweeeeeeeet!!!

road going upThose cyclist guys were doing a ton of cols/passes in the Pyrenees, from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, in a week! This was their last day, headed towards Perpignan. Mad respect to them, that’s some hardcore cycling right there.

Cycling up!

Worth mentioning, around here cyclists are not motorcycle-hating hippies. We had a pleasant chat, ending with the dude going “come on, let’s hear those Termis!”. I was shocked, used to the North American standard for cyclists.

 

Well that’s official now. 2,001m, Col de Pailheres. The sign doesn’t lie. Very few stickers, surprisingly enough. I would’ve thought it was a popular pass.

Col de pareilhes signI decided to go back down the way I came up for some pictures and videos, the other side wasn’t as pretty.

Now look at this picture. Look at it. Have you looked at it? Ok, good. Do you know how much effort it takes to run up a damn mountain, wearing full gear at 2,000m elevation? I thought I’d die!!! So look at that picture. And say it’s nice. I’m waiting.

Looking back downAs I was lying down gasping for air, I did notice a flower. It’s not very pretty, but it made a fancy “oh, look at this bokeh” picture. So there. Prettier purple flowers were all over. I stepped on them, but no pictures.

bokeh, beeyotch!More pictures of the road going down, this is pretty close to the top of the pass.

road going downAgain, I’m taking random pictures, catching my breath. And trying to devise a plan to not have to run about so much for my damn shots.

The 1098I failed the whole “let’s stop running far away all the time” thing. I added an extra “let’s park the bike real close to the edge and climb up that little cliff, it’ll look great”. In my defense, it does.

Parked on the sideLet’s zoom in a bit more. More better! And yes. I’ll be ripping up that perfect curve in a few.

Looking downBeauty shot!!! I do fancy this bike.

Beauty shotOh! That’s me! Riding up the hill! Magic. I’m on both ends of the camera. And no, I did not set the timer, run downhill with full gear on like a maniac and ride back up. Witchcraft, that’s how it works.

MeA bit lower, I stopped to say hi to Mama Horse and Baby Horse. They weren’t very friendly … there again, I was walking around in their lunch plate. I’d have been unhappy too.

Mama HorseBaby HorseMoar Baby HorseThat video you watched at the beginning of the post? That’s when I filmed it. After making it back down and going up again. Useless timeline fact, but I like to be accurate.

 

Going down the other side of the Col was a major PITA. The road was covered with fine gravel, almost sand. On purpose, by the DDE (DOT equivalent) for no other reason than fucking up awesome roads, I presume. It was sketchy, and maddening. Very unpleasant.

Thankfully, things improved and I made my way in Ax les Thermes. The descent on the city is spectacular. And the town itself is chock full of bikers. Every cafe, bar, restaurant has dozens of bikes lined up in front.

I struggled a bit to find some much needed gas. I usually hit reserve around the 140km mark. Yeah, that’s 80 miles, I guess I’d run dry shortly after 100 miles. Anyways. Fuel was found, and poured in the tank. Let’s make it disappear again.

Leaving Ax les Thermes is a major fast-ish road with lots of traffic. I love how cars almost always move to the right to let you through. It’s almost embarrassing not to ride like a maniac “no thanks, I’m really comfy taking it easy behind here! thanks, no, I’ll stay behind”. Again, a totally new to me habit, you’d never see this in America. I love it.

Then, the much anticipated Pas de la Casa, the climbing road leading to Andorra. So much fun. A bit of traffic, quickly dealt with with a swift twist of the throttle.

AndorraIt’s Saturday, Pas de la Casa is busy as hell. Like a giant mall. Overcrowded for my liking. I just ride through the mall village town. The road keep climbing, great. Maybe I can find a peaceful spot for lunch.

I had no idea I was climbing the Envalira Pass, apparently the highest of the Pyrenees at a quite impressive 2,408m. That’s 7,900′, for the metrically challenged.

Please note the prankster Andorrans called it a port. Clearly that’s bogus, there were no ships in sight. Funny guys.

Envalira

And indeed I found a nice place to have lunch and ditch the gear a bit.

Lunch spot

Baguette, saucisson and Opinel knife. Yeah, we’re in France alright. Oh wait. In Andorra. Shit. Nevermind.LunchThat’s me! I tried to look menacingly funny towards the saucisson. I think I failed. Screw you, I ate it anyways. I win.

Me againComing back down, I had to stop at the ski lift. You know. For ski related purposes. That was a bad call, I lost my earplugs somehow.

skiRode back down a bit, and headed up the Col de Puymorens. Nothing special, other than I’d been there a couple years back when going to Spain.

Col de PuymorensCol de PuymorensA bit more boring road, with a few too many cops (2) and I’m entering Bourg-Madame. Why is this important you ask? This is why.

EspanaUnfortunately, it turns out Spain is full of Spaniards. So I turned around, towards Font-Romeu. I was too late to see the giant solar toaster, might have to do that at a later time.

Villages have funny names here.

Ill.

Err.

Ur.

Yeah. Those are real names, apparently. Either people are really lazy, or they steal letters off signs. Or they just have a funny language. Oh crap. Now all the Catalans are gonna go after me. Well … it’s been nice knowing y’all.

This being said, the roads were quite nice at times. Quiiiiite nice.

There were gliders all over the sky, I even raced one as it was landing. It won, disappointingly enough.

I stopped at the Matemale dam. Turns out it’s where the river Aude starts. The same river going through Carcassonne where I’m staying. Funny, no? No? Really? Okay.

barragebarragebarrage

Then followed 40km of painful sand covered bumpy tight roads. Fucking nightmare. I’ve been out since the morning, not exactly “fresh and focused”, I’m not liking this at all. And by gravel, I don’t mean a patch here and there. It’s patches. All across the road, in the middle of a corner. Hate.

I did ride by this village. Escouloubre. Yeah, another funny name. Pretty funky, as you have the road, lined with a cliff on one side, a small gorge on the other … and houses on the other side of the gorge, with bridges leading to them. I wouldn’t call those driveways. very cool though.

Shortly after, one of those houses was very nicely restored, and it just looked fantastic. I only took pictures of the derelict one though.

I clearly remember thinking “ooooh, that was a good break from this gravel stress”. The road was still shit, but I was a bit more relaxed.

EscouloubreEscouloubreEventually the gravel finally ended. Turned into a bumpy-as-fuck (yep, that much) tight road. Not pleasant, but at least I can start breathing again.

AudeCrossing Georges’ Gorges again on the way back. Giggled again.

Georges' Gorges Back

I was unusually happy to see a main road, straight and smooth. I wasn’t even tempted to hurry! Set cruise on 110kph, use tankbag as a pillow and head home after a grueling but fantastic 350km.

What a day.

 

… aaand we’re back.

Well, I’m back.

I wasn’t even away, actually.

Why am I even saying this?

Screw it, I wrote it, can’t be bothered re-typing. That’d be a significant effort.

Anyways! I got my exhaust back today. It’s not exactly a NASA quality weld, but it certainly is heaps better than a 1/2″ gap.

Ducati 1098 exhaust manifoldAnd the bike is back together. It was a bit of a pain. I might have sworn a couple times and/or thrown hammers in the general direction of delicate parts or windows.

It all fit back together in the end.

Bike back together

I don’t want to jinx myself, but tomorrow Andorra and Spain. I want to go, dammit.

Yep. That’s broken.

Last weekend I noticed an engine check light come up as I filled up. It went away as I restarted. “meh. eletrical glitch. italians.” I thought.

Going up the last col, I thought the bike sounded different, more hollow. “meh. must be the altitude.” I thought.

As I was heading back home, I couldn’t find a way to fit my earplugs … they were shoved in my ears so deep they require a fishing line to get them out. Forget the ear canal, they were up in my brain. And it was still loud as hell. “meh. these earplugs have always sucked. I just don’t have it today.” I thought.

Went to fill her up yesterday, loud as hell. Not a good loud either, loud and hollow. “meh. must be because I’m not wearing the earplugs, plus I’m around town so it’s reverberating.” I thought.

That was a lot of thought. So I gave in and inspected the damn thing before leaving for Andorra today. Yeah. That’s not gone well.

Ducati cracked exhaustDucati cracked exhaustDucati cracked exhaustDropped it at the local dealer who will fix it up. Back on the road tomorrow.