14 July 2010

Swiss Adventure Rally 2010 - Part 2

Sunday felt not quite as hot as Saturday had been, and after breakfast the course opened again so we took to the trail. With so many bikes passing through, some of the rougher bits had been smoothed out while some of the smoother bits were getting a bit rougher.

Photo by Marc von Weissenfluh

My bike still wasn’t behaving itself despite trying a few things to work around the problem by adjusting throttle cables, checking the throttle-cam was properly installed etc., but I persevered for a few laps before deciding I’d had enough – and we had a long ride ahead of us.

By lunchtime most people had struck their tents, packed their luggage and headed off. We looked around for Marc, but he’d had to run a couple of errands that morning so we set off hoping that we could find his house from the GPS route he’d sent me earlier.

Leaving the venue was much easier than arriving, and we were soon on the main road towards Porrentruy where we stopped for fuel. The Swiss like their unattended filling stations, and we set about deciphering the instructions on the payment machine because, unlike pay-at-the-pump systems in the UK, there isn’t a card reader on each pump. It seemed simple enough: insert card, machine switches to English, asks you for the pump number, your PIN and then returns your card. You then fill up, replace the nozzle, put in your card again for a receipt. Simples. Unless you’re me, in which case it will stop after dispensing about a cupful of unleaded for no obvious reason .

Anyway, with both bikes fully fuelled (I just tried again and it worked perfectly) we began following the route to Interlaken. It was a scenic route, due to taken several hours and take us through the mountains and some interesting scenery. Something that nearly caught us out was the signage for the Swiss Motorways: they’re green, not blue. Swiss Motorways are all toll roads, but instead of paying per use you must buy a sticker, a vignette (not, as I accidentally typed elsewhere, vinaigrette), in advance that costs 40Ch and lasts all year. Failure to display leads to a fine of 100Ch, plus the cost of a vignette. As we were only going to be in Switzerland for the weekend it seemed a bit excessive to buy one for just two days, so we had to stick to the national roads – which have blue signs.

Thus slightly confused, we pulled up on the edge of a roundabout to check our maps.

We’d not been stopped for long when a white van drew up – in a stroke of luck it was Marc on his way back to the rally site. He soon pointed us in the right direction, explained the signage and we were on our way to Biel.

I was using my Garmin Zumo GPS receiver for navigation, and it appears that the roads on its internal map are not as accurate as they might be. In the first village was came to the main road through it was closed, so we took a diversion and the Zumo recalculated the route – and took us in to a domestic cul-de-sac.

It was to be the first of many wrong turns, missed junctions and general faffing about as I tried to get to grips with the Swiss road system – particularly junctions that are well disguised and look as though they could be driveways.

We spent so much time riding around in circles that a chap came out of his house and started waving his arms around at us. Obviously we’d outstayed our welcome there and it was time to move on.

The roads were, in the main, interesting and well-surfaced with more hairpin bends in an afternoon that I think I’ve ever done before. A couple of times on the journey we passed mud-spattered KTMs which had obviously been to the Adventure Weekend, and we exchanged friendly waves.

Arriving in a small town we spotted a selection of bikes, including a BMW GS, parked in the square and decided that it was lunchtime. We had coffee and a large cheese “sandwich” each, which was an open sandwich with pickled onions and gherkins on top. When the bill arrived the total was given in both Swiss Francs and Euro, and through the combined exchange rates amongst the Pound, Euro and Franc, it was best value for us to pay in Euro – although when the waitress spotted a brightly-coloured Swiss note in my wallet she refused to accept payment in Euro and insisted that I pay in Francs.

Part of the original route we were given included a stretch of Motorway, so we had been given an alternative route between Aarberg and Worb. Sensing I was close to the Motorway, and seeing an “Ausfahrt” sign, we took the slip-road and found ourselves on the edge of a moderately large town.

The road was a fairly major route, but the town was congested with traffic and it took us a while to work our way through it. Riding up the hill out of the town, after an interesting route through some very narrow roads in a housing estate, there was the first suggestion of rain and, more importantly, a red light on my dashboard and a flashing temperature gauge: engine overheating.

Pulling in to a lay-by to let it cool, I checked the coolant level and looked for any obvious problems, but it seemed to be caused simply by the mud from the weekend’s riding clogging the radiator fins. Leaving the bike to stand for a while the light eventually went out and the gauge stopped flashing.

Setting off again, it soon started to rain. And I mean rain. I haven’t seen rain that heavy for a long time. Within a matter of minutes, gutters were full, the road was awash and we were soaked to the skin. I’m sure I even saw a chap loading animals, two-by-two, in to a large boat…

If you’re a motorcyclist you’ll know that uncomfortable feeling as the rain starts to seep in: the trickle of water down your neck, the chilly feeling as your boots fill up with water, and the distinctly uncomfortable feeling as your outer layer gradually submits to the rain and the water starting to collect where you’re sitting.

Thankfully it wasn’t cold, so we kept going – we couldn’t get any wetter, and hanging around wasn’t going to get us any closer to Interlaken.

Eventually the rain eased off and finally stopped as we turned off the main routes once more and headed up in to the mountains. The scenery, what we could see of it in the mist, was spectacular and we stopped a couple of times to stretch legs and take photos.

Arriving in a small village the Zumo told me to turn right, and I missed the turning because, once again, it didn’t look like a road. Turning around we trundled along the narrow road and eventually came to a gravel track with a forbidding looking sign (in German) which neither of us could translate – but the Zumo was insistent that it was the correct route, so we rode on. It took us first to a farm where the track disappeared, and to another couple of dead-ends before bringing us out on to a surfaced road again on the other side of the hill.

These roads were single-track, twisty and very wet and greasy from being under the trees. We followed the Zumo’s directions until I noticed that there was an odd double-ended arrow on the screen… Obviously we’d missed one of the ‘via’ points on the route, and the Zumo was taking us back to visit it before re-tracing our steps again – although thankfully not over the hill again.

I don’t think I’ve been as appreciative of a proper main road for a long time as I was that day, and we started to make better progress – although there were still a few missed turnings, U-turns and odd routes along the way.

At long last we were overlooking the lake, and the road wound its way down to the shoreline. The roads were quiet as most sensible people were indoors because the weather was still pretty miserable and it was getting late on a Sunday evening.

The road followed the shoreline, winding around the bottom of the cliffs with occasional tunnels – one of them on a bend, complete with a line of metal inspection covers down the centre of the lane to make it all the more interesting (tyres + rain + metal cover = slides). It was just after 19.00 when we arrived in Interlaken and made our way across town to Marc’s house.

When we arrived we were ushered in to the cellar to change in to some dry clothes and hang our riding kit up to dry before being given a warm welcome by Marc, his wife Geraldine and their son David. We’d been given a shopping list of British food to bring with us, and Geraldine was very pleased to have a fresh supply of butter, Cadbury chocolate (chocolate to Switzerland? Coals to Newcastle?), cheddar cheese and tinned peas (for a poetic interlude!).

We tucked in to a very welcome meal of pasta bolognaise and a couple of beers before Marc took us out to a bar in the centre of town: Hooters. For those who aren’t familiar with the tacky, yet unrefined features of a Hooters bar, I’ll let you do your own research. Time flies when you’re having fun, and it was well after midnight when we left, and fell in to bed.

Next morning, when we finally surfaced it was after 10.00. Monday’s plan was to begin the journey home, crossing Switzerland through the mountains and to spend the night in a hotel somewhere in France. Marc had plotted a route for us, again avoiding Swiss Motorways, so after stopping to refuel we set off in a generally north-west direction.

The first part of the journey was around the edge of the lake, the same road we’d done the day before, although this time it was a Monday morning and it was a lot busier. Roadworks meant a diversion through a busy town centre, and after crawling through it in the hot weather my bike was overheating again.

We let it cool, and then we set off looking for a bike shop because Nick needed some chain lube because his chain was squeaking a bit. We stopped at a couple of likely looking bike shops but they were closed. We’d half expected this because the shops are open on Saturdays they take Monday off instead so they can still have a two-day weekend. We did find a place in the end: a bicycle repair shop with a mountain of rough-looking push-bikes outside, and a cluttered… well, I think it was once a showroom. We explained with sign-language what we were after, and the chap appeared with a promising-looking spray can: Hmm, brake cleaner isn’t quite what we had in mind… Second time lucky though, and Nick had a squeak-free chain.

Turning up in to the mountains, it was a relief to get away from the traffic, and with the better weather we enjoyed a good view over the lake to the mountains beyond. With our late start, it was now getting on for lunchtime so we stopped at a supermarket in a village to have a bite to eat.

When we set off again, I was getting more in tune with the Swiss road system and there were a lot fewer U-turns – although at one point I did manage to do a complete loop and go through a village twice.

The roads were even better than the ones we’d done the day before: well surfaced, wide, quiet and with some amazing twists and turns. Even on a 990 Adventure with knobbly tyres and luggage it was fun, so on a road bike it must be fantastic. The oddest road of the day was a steep, single-track road up a hillside that must have been a 1:3, which just popped out on to to another road at a blind junction. I wouldn’t have liked to have met anything coming the other way because setting off up such a steep gradient would be a challenge.

As we neared the border the roads became busier, and we got stuck in a column of camper-vans. The bends in the road and the solid white lines meant overtaking was tricky – and I was mindful of my error of judgement on the trip down. Having hopped past, we then came up behind a combine harvester…

Crossing the border, this time on a more major route so there was a proper border post, the quality of the road decreased and the traffic levels increased. We were heading to Besançon, which is handy for the Autoroute and would give us a good start for the long haul back to Calais. Some sections were dual carriageway, but much of it was single. The French seem to be getting keen on speed cameras, which are not always obvious but at least they do put up signs only where there are actual cameras, but we made good progress and arrived in Besançon around 18.00.

Never having been there before, and knowing French hotels can be of variable quality, I turned to the Zumo’s list of hotels with the intention of finding something cheap. The Etap Hotel seemed a promising choice and it was cheap, clean and handy for the station (not that we needed the station): 55€ for a room (double-bed with single bunk above it) and breakfast, and the room even had air conditioning.

For dinner we decided to forgo the restaurant beside the hotel and went in to the town centre where we looked at a variety of cafés before choosing one in the square, near the fountain, for an entrecote steak and chips followed by three scoops of proper French ice-cream (banana, apple sorbet and strawberry – which was supposed to be raspberry).

Next morning we had breakfast then loaded up the bikes, which we’d parked in the station car park opposite the hotel. It was an underground car park, and the fee was 5.50€ each for a space in the dedicated bike parking bay beside the attendent’s office. Just as we were about to ride off, a Renault Scenic reversed out of a space nearby and hit one of the car park’s signs, shattering the car’s back window. It was quite an impressive feat with broken glass everywhere. The driver got out to survey the damage and the attendant looked most nonplussed as she came to check the damage to her car park.

I had a feeling that this might take some time, and we just wanted to get away. There was a walkway from where we were to the exit barrier, and Nick nipped down it on his bike. I couldn’t follow because I was too wide, but I was able to sneak around by the entrance barrier and get to the exit that way.

With just a stop for fuel en route to the Autoroute, we were on our way north. This time we managed to get our fuel stops organised, and we filled up every 100 miles or so at service areas. The weather was much cooler which made the trip a lot less tiring this time, and the roads were quiet too. The only minor mishap was when Nick got stuck at an automated péage lane that didn’t like bikes.

Arriving early for our booked crossing back through the tunnel we were able to get on an earlier train and arrived back in England around 16.00 for the ride back home – which meant tackling the M25 in the rush-hour. There was a bit of a queue for the Dartford Crossing, but only for a minute or two, and I was home shortly after 18.00 having done 1500 miles over the weekend.

It was a superb weekend. Thank you to Marc for the original invitation and for his hospitality, the Swiss KTM Adventure Club for making us so welcome, and to Nick for putting up with my sometimes errant sense of direction.

I’m looking forward to next year’s meeting already!

1 comment:

Han said...

Great write-up, thanks for making the effort.