Stop 24 at an ungodly hour on a Saturday morning – most of us had stayed locally however Andy had got up and driven from Lincoln leaving at 0200 that morning – and we still had 200 odd miles to cover in France!
19 people (including me – the Magellan guide) and 16 bikes – fortunately due to the virtues of Facebook most were already acquainted and within the group as a whole there were already groups of friends who would be riding together.
Quick introductions – so many faces to put to names for every one of us – then we head off the couple of miles to the tunnel in a long line and check in. More or less straight through without any delays and we are on the train and the first briefing to explain what to expect, check that everyone has the routes on their satnav’s and generally squeeze as much information into the 35 minute crossing as possible feeling more like a teacher than a guide!
Off we go and onto motorways in another long line – it is already past 1000 so our first stop at a supermarket when we exit the autoroute is just a snack and a chance to top up on fuel if needed. Motorways off on the GPS and we are away into rural France – the group forms into smaller groups immediately and leave me alone to catch up!
At the second roundabout I catch Ian and Kevin then notice John behind me – how did that happen?
Soon we are enjoying the French countryside as we head for Guise and our first stop where most grab a cake rather than eat a meal – we are having dinner in the evening and one meal a day probably suffices for most.
Faces are becoming more familiar and tentative jokes are being exchanged across the groups – this is going to be fun.
Off to Gueux and the disused race track – some of the faster riders are leaving as I arrive and I am sure that Ian popped a wheely!
We had a look around then tackled the suburbs of Reims before getting to our hotel and the hot underground car park.
Everyone quickly got sorted out in their rooms and we had a chance to chat over a drink before going to the restaurant across the road for a lovely meal. A reasonably early night for most although some visited a few bars and another group stayed up to watch the spectacular light show on the cathedral.
Day 2 and we are off to Baden Baden in Germany. These roads take us through pretty flat countryside most of the morning and are so straight that when we get to a bend we get all excited however, seeing all the open space and the agriculture is something in itself!
After lunch I get a puncture which I do not manage to successfully plug and call out the rescue truck which takes me to Germany however, not Baden Baden! I therefore miss the lovely stop-over at the bottom of the B500 and the run to Oberammergau the following day however catch up with everyone in the evening just as England win their first game of the World Cup.
Off to Austria on day three and we are soon across the border and climbing through picture postcard territory. When we catch up for our morning coffee stop, Kevin explains how he managed to be spotted by a policeman as he overtook on a solid white line however, I doubt if anything will come of it. Soon we reach Obergurgl and turn off to start our climb up the Timmelsjoch experiencing our first serious twisties as we work our way through the beautiful Austrian woodland until we reach the pay station and hand over our 14€ for a single trip. At this stage we are above the snow line and continue to climb – one group stops to take pictures of some cows on the road by a stream whilst the others rush the last few miles to the viewpoint at the top – where we catch them.
Hello Italy (!) and what a fantastic descent with a spectacular view into the valley which seems to go on forever. Lots of hairpins, narrow roads and sheer drops – just what the doctor ordered however the doctor also suggested we stop for lunch at one of the plentiful small snack bars but whoever was leading decided to plod on and the temperature climbed and climbed to a sweltering 32 degrees C!
We continued to the marked afternoon coffee stop and regrouped to find that it was now closed on Tuesdays – nobody told us! Off we went again to our hotel which is in an out of season ski resort at Passo de Tonale and the road up to it is blessed with lovely views and turns.
Day 5 and it must be Lake Garda and although this is technically a short day, we all set off quite early to make the most of it. Back down the ski road then though some spectacular forested countryside before we see the lake. Stunning views and lots of picture opportunities – providing you stop to take them!
We stop for a light lunch at Riva del Garda which is at the head of the lake and park beside the ferry and pleasure boats – a beautiful town, lovely Genoese buildings and that Italian hussle and bussle without any stress! After that it is a gentle ride by the lakeside to our hotel for two nights where some of the team are already using the pool!
Some welcome drinks followed by a meal at a lakeside pizza restaurant and we are all fit for nothing and slink off to bed. Terry, Ian and Andy intend to leave before the morning rush and do the trip round the four lakes which is a locals favourite however, not for the fainthearted as there are some very narrow sections and other sections where the road cuts through rocks leaving little margin of error. They all lived to tell the tale and took about four hours including time for some photo stops.
Everyone else kept off the bikes and some, led by Garry, went off to see if they could hire a boat but ended up crossing on the local ferry to the town on the other side of the lake and enjoying the tranquillity and peace along with the lovely restaurants and scenery that this side of the lake has to offer. Others, including myself being led by Gail and Duncan, walked into the centre of Maderno and enjoyed a lovely ice cream by the lake followed by a light lunch in one of the many restaurants on the central plaza. On our return the pool proved a welcome attraction with some venturing into the lake itself for a refreshing dip.
Alan and Tanya had intended visiting the Ducati factory but an 8 hour round trip eventually put them off. Malcolm and Lorraine had also planned a trip away on the ‘free’ day but this time to Venice however, that also meant a long day and if they were to get a taxi to the bus departure point rather than taking their bike, an additional taxi fare of 55€.
Back at the hotel, John was arranging with Erminio (the owner) to put money behind the bar and get everyone of us drinks to celebrate his birthday! What a fantastic gesture with Erminio then arranging behind John’s back birthday cakes! Needless to say, John had a very nice birthday!
I had seen Gail knitting at every stop and started noticing the knitted poppies that started appearing on everyone’s bike. I am unsure what started this but it became a challenge in itself to ensure that everyone had a poppy by the end of the trip – Gail even had one more to do as she gave one of her finished products to Erminio! Gail, unbeknown to me was composing a song about the trip and all of us but more of that later!
Day seven and it is the Stelvio Pass which takes us from Italy to Switzerland. We leave sharp but still don’t get there until about 1300 but fortunately it is quiet. Sharp hairpins, really sharp hairpins and what fantastic views! Everyone gets to the top and some including Duncan, Alistair, Grant and Keith go back part way to take some pictures having missed them on the way up.
The Lincoln Lads decide to go to the hotel at the top of the pass to get a view over the other side and see what snack bars are there as the one we stop at has finished serving hot food with only cakes and drinks on offer.
Mark appeared at the top on his Harley but there was no sign of Alan and Tanya on their Ducati. I had passed both bikes earlier when they stopped for a photo on the way up and Mark decided to keep on going to catch them as they had obviously missed out the lunch stop. Alan however had not just missed the lunch stop, he had missed the turn to the Umbrail Pass and went down the other side of the Stelvio with his GPS eventually taking him to a railway station! He decided to carry on (having asked a local for some advice) and got to Flims only slightly later than the last group – all’s well that ends well!
The following day we went over the Oberalp, Furka and the Grimsel passes – the scenery here is just mind blowing and we had fantastic weather. I often saw one group or another stopped at layby’s or restaurants as the day progressed and the internet that night at our lovely hotel in Obergorms was overloaded with the amount of Facebook posts!
Sadly we had to leave the high passes the following day and make for our hotel in the heart of the Vosges Mountains which is one of my favourites –the Rouge Gazon. Our additional waypoint meant that nobody took the forestry track to get there and we all arrived early enough to have a drink or two on the terrace prior to dinner.
It was during dinner that Gail handed out the words for the chorus to the ditty she wrote and we all joined in with gusto and laughter as we listened to the tale of our trip and the characters put to song.
Day 10 saw us leave the hotel and also leave Terry who had strained his chest muscles and could not ride his bike – fortunately he was well looked after and after seeing a doctor who gave him strong painkillers, and resting for a second night at the hotel, managed to get back to the UK under his own steam. The rest of us headed North West in the direction of Verdun where we spent an hour or so visiting the memorial before crossing into Belgium and to our final night in Bouillon.
Drinks in the lounge and a second rendition of Gail’s masterpiece but this time on film before a lovely final dinner in this lovely hotel.
Gary was intending to go to Ypres the following day and the group split with six bikes joining him and the remainder taking the Magellan route. By all accounts, and looking at the pictures on Facebook, the trip to Ypres was well worth it however, the Magellan route is also a lovely drive and we were relatively traffic free and able to enjoy our last day in France.
Everyone got to the tunnel and across earlier than the 1820 booked crossing with some driving directly home from there.
A fantastic trip with a fantastic bunch of people – where are we going next?
Andy T – BMW R1200GS R
Andy persuaded three of his friends to join him on this trip – they were joined by the Bergman and became known as the Lincoln group. Always in the centre of things, he became known as the man to be with should you be in any trouble. Reliable, knowledgeable and always there with a smile.
Malcolm D – Suzuki Bergman 650
Malcolm choice of a scooter for this trip was always praying on my mind however both his riding skills and the machines performance surpassed my wildest expectations – I am sure that he passed one of the group on one of the mountain passes and I know that when I rode behind him, he was not in any way holding me up! Always there with a smile and a story to tell.
Lorraine D – Suzuki Bergman 650 pillion rider
From day one, Lorraine set the score with her cheeky grin and wicked humour. She never complained about the long riding hours however, when you see the seat on a Bergman, you can see why!
Alan M – Ducati Multistrada
Alan is obviously an experienced rider, and managed to throw the big Duke around the corners even though it was loaded with luggage and had his wife as pillion. He got so engrossed that on the Stelvio whilst blowing off a KTM, he missed the turn off and went the “long way round” to Flims.
Tanya M – Ducati Multistrada pillion rider
Tanya, always smiling, never complaining. I am sure that there were some times when she must have tapped Alan gently on the side when he was getting near to the speed limit but never did we hear of those instances. She managed to arrive at the hotel after a full day’s riding yet appeared 15 minutes later looking fresh as a daisy and sharing the day’s experiences with those around her.
Alan W – BMW R1200 GS
Alan is a man of few words until you get to know him. He is one of the Lincoln group and was always first to show his appreciation of the days ride. An accomplished rider and knowledgeable gentleman who was fun to be with.
Mark B (a.k.a. Curly) – Harley Davidson XL 883N Iron Sportster
It was Alan M that persuaded Curly to sign up for this trip and at the time he did not even have a bike! You can always hear a Harley before you can see it however in tunnels that are sometimes longer than 7kms, it gets a little wearing! Mark drove that Harley like a sports bike, scraping bits on some of the tight corners but always getting round and with a mean smile as he twisted that throttle.
Kevin J – BMW GS 1200 Rally
Kevin is an experienced Magellanite having already been on the Harz trip in 2017. He therefore had been in a few of the hotels and already done some of the passes however not via the route that we took and he certainly had not ridden the Stelvio! Very knowledgeable, always there to help out and often one of the first at the hotel. Kevin is a great guy to have around and an experienced rider.
John T (a.k.a. JT) – BMW GS1200 Rally
John celebrated his birthday when we were at Lake Garda and very generously bought everyone in the group a drink or six! The owner of the hotel ordered a cake with candles and we sang ‘Happy Birthday’ much to the amusement of the Italians and John. A fast rider who is as happy riding in a group as he is riding solo. Always has a story to tell and fun to be with.
Ian D – Yamaha MT10
The quiet man – riding what he himself describes as being a hooligan bike! Ian knows how to get the most from this sports tourer and most days was ahead of the pack zipping round the twisties and exploring other points of interest en-route yet still managing to be one of the first at each hotel!
Keith B – Triumph Tiger 800 xrt
Keith had wanted to do this trip for many years and chose his steed very carefully. He had not ridden a bike abroad before and therefore was naturally a little apprehensive about doing so. As the trip went along, and we neared the mountain passes, Keith’s confidence built and he was one of the first to go back down the Stelvio and the Oberalp passes as he missed a photo opportunity on the first pass! Some rite of passage – well done Keith!
Grant H-C – BMW S1000XR
Grant appeared in a gleaming sporty BMW which has a lovely roar from the stock exhausts. An experienced rider however his first time to the high mountain passes and a chance to see how the bike performed. Grant always was smiling, always happy. Never stressed and always joking with an infectious grin! And the bike – it performed effortlessly and even better than Grant expected!
Duncan A – Yamaha FJR v1300A
Duncan had the ideal big sports tourer for this trip. Comfortable, lots of luggage space, economic yet nimble and fast when needed. Duncan is another experienced rider and very supportive of everyone in the group. Loves ice cream and always smiling.
Alistair R – Triumph Explorer
Alistair rode two up on this trip and you can see that he is an experienced rider however this was the first big trip and the first time on the bike covering so much ground and so many high passes. Alistair is a keen photographer and will have enough stunning photos from the trip to keep revisiting the experience. Another quiet man until you get to know him. Alistair is a listener and not generally a talker however, he always has the answer to a question and is a natural problem solver. A great person to be around and always in good humour.
Gail R – Triumph Explorer pillion
Gail needs no introduction – knitter of poppies, singer/songwriter and throttle control for Alistair! Always the centre of the party, so enthusiastic even after six hours on the saddle. Always smiling, always supportive, always fun!
Roland J – Triumph Tiger Explorer
Another one of the Lincoln group and flying the Triumph flag in a camp full of BMW’s – best not mention plastic tanks or the RAT club! Roland and Alan tended to ride together within the group or separately in a breakaway group! A gentleman who is a wine connoisseur, always there with some words of wisdom and enthusiastic about every minute of every day.
Gary P – Triumph Explorer XCX
With England playing a couple of their opening World Cup matches during this trip, Gary certainly was supportive from afar with two Union Jacks flying from the top box and a big Union Jack on one of the panniers, Gary was flying the colours! He even managed to stream the second match via his phone whilst riding (radio) and at the afternoon coffee stop (video). Gary is another of the Lincoln Group and has an infectious humour which went down well with everyone.
Terry G – Triumph Tiger
Another experienced rider and Magellanite having been on the Croatia and a self-guided tour already with Magellan. Terry rode at his own pace which was usually ahead. He was always smiling and enthusiastic about the day’s ride and was one of the three who set off early whilst staying at Lake Garda (Along with Ian and Andy) to do the twisty local’s route around the three lakes and where some of a James Bond film was shot. You could always count on Terry to be supportive and one of the crowd each evening.