Saturday, 28 June 2014

Le Mans 24 Heures 2014...

Well ... what a weekend...!

Everyone knows what the Le Mans 24 hour I'm not going to reel off facts, figures and other easily obtainable snipbits of information here. Google it... This is an account of what I got up to.

My friends departed for the ferry early doors on Thursday, hoping to get there sometime in the afternoon.  I was let off work at 8pm, quickly jumping on my bike and hooning the 300 miles to Le Mans, and the campsite, like an expectant father to be who's just got the message 'it' is coming...

When I got to Le Mans around midnight the roads were grid locked. It took me 45 minutes just to navigate to our campsite, only trouble being I didn't know which colour sign our campsite had been designated. The majority of the 24 hour track is made up of normally public roads... roads that my new satnav app wanted me to take.

There was a particular road that looked a 50 meter jaunt to another road, but it was barricaded off with some 5 foot heras fencing except for a little gap that the workmen had just made, so I shot through and up to the end of the road. That's when I realised I was now sat smack bang in the middle of a huge race track straight. Parked up every 20 meters or so were flat bed trucks and mobile work lights illuminating a huge army of orange clad French dudes setting up armco barriers. One passing flat bed had an oompaloompa on the back just pointing at the barriered entry I'd just blatantly ridden through!

I eventually got to the roundabout with a drunken Ross standing on it waving his torch beam in every motorcyclists eyes. The campsite was just as much a dilemma, with Alex threatening to violently show me how many beers he'd drank earlier that day. So after a few cold ones myself we all retired by about 1:30am.

Alex, myself and Ross partying hard
After a late breakfast that morphed in to Lunch we headed to a small village on the outside of the track called Arnage, 2km down the road. It lends its name to a section of the track, and has some nice bars, restaurants and a notorious section of the high street known to host all manner of tomfoolery with fans and their cars. It was also convenient that there was a bar showing the Netherlands vs Spain game in the World Cup Competition. For some reason though the morning beers had been flowing too well and we ended up walking back to the campsite for a reason I can't remember. Getting hacked off with walking the same unpathed road some of us ended up hitchhiking with relative success.

The Dutch game was a belter by all accounts. Netherlands wooping their arch rivals Spain 5 - 1. I say by all accounts because I soon got a bit bored and instead took my beer outside to egg on the cars and bikes on the road outside the bar. It's such a mad environment to be in. There's motorheads everywhere and all they want to do is spin up their wheels or get their engines to hit the rev limiter, yet the police seem to tolerate it. Its brilliant!

After another, hop skip and a jump back to the campsite a few of us went out hunting for more tyre smoke, getting to the front entrance of the campsite and being met by a huge crowd of people all encouraging the passing cars to get those rear tyres spinning like a yoyo. We got fully involved and ended up pushing the older cars back and spraying water on to the roundabout road so they would lose traction. There was a diverse number of vehicles too, with sports cars, motorbikes, old bangers, mums out in their zafira's and one notable 7.5 tonne truck that I'm glad I didn't fall under when trying to hold it back.

It's not all about the cars... they just happen to be there!
This is all at around 11 or 12 o'clock at a vague guess. It was dark anyway. And then suddenly out came a red flare that lit up the crowd as everyone cheered and engines roared. I'd probably had waaaay too much to drink at this point and before I knew it I was stood in the middle of the road holding aforementioned flare aloft screaming "WHO ARE YA!" at the top of my voice, turning around and thrusting the flare up in the air. For some reason the entire crown seemed to instantly quiet, just leaving the mouthy Englishman screaming something at the top of his voice while waving a flare about. Phil later said they probably didn't know what to expect from me next. Until I casually put the flare back on the floor and walked back to where my mates were standing.

As with any crowd there was a few who wanted to spoil the fun. It was when glass bottles were broken on the makeshift burnout pad that we all collaboratively decided to leave. The cars that were entering the area had no idea there was glass underfoot and would then try and spin up their wheels to impress the crowd, presumably causing some damage and potentially 4 flat tyres. We couldn't take on everyone and get through to them they were spoiling the fun, so chose to abstain and leave.

Not that leaving was a particularly bad idea. We stumbled across a very noisey and lively party hosted by some German or Dutch blokes. There was a good gathering of about 40 - 50 people all mooching about and dancing to the music. We all got our groove on to classics mixed with the austin powers theme tune!

Saturday saw us all taking the tiny land train up to the start straight for a spot of hat shopping as everyone was getting burnt scalps. I woke up to a badly burnt hand from the previous nights shenanigans. Meeting the Michelin man was a pivotal point in my life. As with the French version of Asterix, I tried my best to explain that I couldn't speak French... in French. He didn't care anyway, he just wanted a cuddle.

We continued North a bit and decided to plot near a chicane for the start and followed the race quite religiously for about an hour and a half, listening intently on the radios to the commentary. There was even a little mention about the Dutch rave in the campsite! But as the afternoon wore on so did the consumption of beer and interest soon faded in the race and became more about going to the toilet every 5 minutes, chatting with people from various Scandinavian countries and relishing in the brief rain shower that cut through the otherwise sweltering weekend for 20 minutes.

I think all of us had a quick alcohol induced sleep around 3pm on one corner. Quite how I'll never know as over 50 unsilenced sports cars hooned round the track meters away from us. That evening we watched some live music on the stage and enjoyed England being thrashed 2 - 1 by some Italian people in the World Cup. Kick off wasn't until 12 at night and the temperature dropped dramatically leaving only me, Phil and Alex left standing at the end, wrapping the three of us in the foil lined rug I'd brought along.

Recovery beer at Indianapolis
Sunday was a bit of a nightmare logistically. The 6 of us were all struggling with life, as comes after a few days full of beer. Getting on the bus to one of the other corners of the 8 mile track seemed like our best bet. Getting on the bus was fraught with French favoritism that I've witnessed in the Alps before, so, when no one was looking, I popped the rear doors open and Ross and I lept in just before they closed abruptly behind us, shutting everyone else out.

When we got to the Indianapolis corner, Ross and I went in to the ticketed arena next to the track and waited for a while, cold beers in hand, to see if the others had made it on to the next bus. An hour went by and it became apparent that they weren't coming and we spent atleast 30 minutes waiting in bus queues, walking a bit, thumbing with no luck and ending up back in the bus queue for a 45 minute ride around the track's Western perimeter until we got off at the start straight.

Up at the start straight we had a walk around, checking out the jam packed stadium and eating some much needed food. The other chaps decided to stay down near the campsite so after watching the end of the race on a big monitor in the Nissan garage Ross and I made a leisurely stroll back.

After what appeared to have been an absolutely quality weekend we all decided that we'd splash out on a big meal together as a kind of closing ceremony... You know, a quite one.. ready for the drive home in the morning. Well.... I know we went back to Arnage, and I think I had some sort of sea food, but after that I have total and utter blankness except for a raging fire billowing out of our BBQ back at the tents as we burnt all of the remaining fuel.

I woke up the next morning in a dire condition. Packing away my tent so the others could take it back home before I rode the 300 miles South and back to Moto Camping Dordogne. I made it 2 miles out of the campsite before I had to sleep with my head on the kurb of a McDonalds car park for 2 hours, eat two big mac meals and ride for 5 hours cursing that 'quiet night' we'd just had.

Le Mans isn't just for car enthusiasts.... It's not for the faint hearted.... It's for anyone who enjoys having fun... And I'm going to have fun at this place for years to come!

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Run to the Sun...

I've been chatting to Renske, the owner of Camping Moto Dordogne, about working on the campsite ever since I mentioned it the last time we were there... back in September of last year.

In the Euro Tunnel
The plan was initially for both myself and Kerry to work out there for the whole season, however, plans were made and when Renske contacted us again in March Kerry was unable to come and I could only manage a couple of months out of the season, but that was not a problem.

I booked my Euro Tunnel ticket through Tesco Clubcard and was all set to leave on Monday. I expected to ride half of the way there, grab some food and a nights kip in my hammock, to then continue the journey and arrive in the Dordogne on Tuesdays. That was until I'd heard some girly friends of mine were at Disneyland and invited me to crash in their hotel.

Notre Dame
The ride in to Paris was very wet. I had to try and get my all in one rain suit on at the side of the road, which isn't exactly easy when it's dry, now I was doing it in a torrential downpour which kindly stopped once I'd ridden another 2 miles. But I made it to Paris fine and had a nice ride about until I reached the road where my friends were staying in their hotel finding a comfy bar to settle in until they got back from Mickey Mousing around.

After a few texts it soon turned out that they wouldn't be back until the evening. I asked the owner of the bar if I could leave my panniers and helmet with him whilst I went for a stroll around Paris... to which he said "It iz not a Bomba non?" in a thick French accent. He put my stuff safely in his bomb proof cupboard and I was free to do as I pleased, walking down along the river to the Notre Dame which I didn't realise had one of these big bridges with millions and bigillions of padlocks all interwoven on it.

Disney Princess's
In front of the massive, yet gradually more boring (as I am finding these religious sites) church of Notre Dame was a more interesting bread exhibition, if you can get your head around the that fact. There were demonstrations on kneading and the different plaits to make different shapes.

Then I thought I'd wile away the time in a few different bars. One particular bar was in the middle of a square and neighboured a Nike running shop that just so happened to be hosting a 10k, women only jog around the French capital. The waiter in the bar came out and sat with me as we were entertained by hundreds of women clad in running gear, stretching and chatting before a guy with a boombox on his back started pumping music. He gave a little speech (in French) and then they were off.

I rescued my bags and the girls finally met me at a small bar near their hotel. We had a few drinks before getting a relatively early night. I got a pretty good kip lying on their floor, enough to snore! (Apparently) In the morning I said my goodbyes and started the long trek down to sunnier climes. This time not getting caught out when the rain came as I wore my suit the whole way. Surprisingly I recognised the way once I'd got to a small town called Gourdon and didn't need to use and satnav.

So what am I doing at Camping Moto Dordogne?? Well, primarily I'm the Handyman but get involved in being Barman/Chief Pool Tester and Underwater Ceramic Detailer (Washer Upper). I've been given a nice little caravan to live in and have my bike to nip out and about on these wonderful roads. The campsite is owned by a Dutch lady, Renske, and mainly attracts Dutch and British motorcyclists looking for a party atmosphere in the middle of spectacular surroundings.

These two are Ollie and Vincent. Ollie is a special type of Water Dog from the Dutch province of Freisland, where Renske comes from. They are trained to be gun dogs and used to retrieve game from wetlands. His coat is very thick and curly with a sort of wax texture so we doesn't get wet in the water. He's a 'Lone wolf' and just pootles about doing his own thing. Vincent on the other hand has been nicknamed 'The Shadow' and he has specifically taken a liking to me, following me around for the entire day until either I or he goes to bed. He loves sticks and I can be busy mowing the lawn or fixing something when I turn around to find he has yet another stick. His mother had a nipple infection and bit his ear off when he was 3 days old because his suckling hurt her. That's why he's called Vincent after the famous van Gogh who severed his own ear off.

A toad I fished out of the pool who then
hopped off happy as larry
My normal daily duties include putting Robbie, a robotic pool cleaner, in for his morning work, fishing out all number of frogs, toads, salamanders, mice and rodents that manage to find their way in to the pool, most dead...some still alive. Then I tend to the grounds, mowing the lawns, strimming the verges and weeding the flower beds. The pool has to be kept at a certain pH level and have a specific chlorine content. Then there is the handyman things with people breaking stuff or new bits to install. Heck, even watering the plants takes me an hour, and can only be done at night once the sun has gone down.

During the afternoons I like to chill by the pool, go for a ride out to any number of local scenic spots or chat with the guests on the terrace. It's been getting really hot recently. Sometimes as hot as 35 degrees C!

The people who turn up are the real attraction. Chatting to one English bloke, Brian, the other day resulted in a lot of lust for the road. He'd been made redundant from his job and his wife had left him when he was 40. He then walked around Europe and Northern Africa for 2 years, working as he went and sustaining himself. He ended up in Israel where conscription was still enforced for every 18 year old, male or female. Anyone in the Israeli army must carry their weapon 24 hours a day, even when off duty. So it wasn't a strange sight to see a young lad shopping in the supermarket with an assault rifle slung over his shoulder. Brian had to ask one young lady to "Please move that Uzi so it isn't pointing at my crotch" when he was on a local bus. He said she smiled but didn't move it.

Then of course the bikes. And everything from old 1974 Moto Guzzi's to brand new BMW's and chopped and customised Harleys and cruisers pass through. Some even have trailers and huge tents! The number of people riding with their partner on the back is also quite surprising. Perhaps It's something Kerry and I could do?

But now I'm packing my bike up again with just the essentials as I head North for 300 miles to watch the Le Mans 24 hour race...

Friday, 6 June 2014

Home, Hammock camping and parties...

After a relaxing week in Amsterdam it was time to touch down with reality...

There always seems to be a few administrative things to get done when I'm back in the UK. Whether that's to do with the property I let out, Self assessment tax, vehicle licensing, MOTs, Insurances etc etc, so it always takes a few days and a couple of books of stamps to get it all done. But once it's done I'm happy in the knowledge that we can drive, ride and crash whilst being on the right side of the law.

I say ride because I've got a new motorbike! A lovely Kawasaki Versys 650 with a Givi top box and scott oiler fitted. She's really nice to ride as you sit upright and feel like your 'inside' the bike rather than on top. Kerry gets on great riding pillion, especially as she has the top box behind her.

She came from a friend of my Dad's who only bought her last October to ride through the winter months before taking receipt of a brand new BMW GS1200 last month in March. Over that period he only put 700 miles so I was fairly confident taking her in for an MOT and she passed no problems.

We have some really good friends and it's always a pleasure to meet up. Whether for a good tasting home cooked meal, Jaunt down the pub, or, my favourite, we all meet up for a big buffet style Indian dinner.

Ross wined and dined us one evening with a Jamie Oliver 15 minute meal... quite an impressive Chicken Laksa which is a type of mildly spicy noodle soup with lots of coriander and a nicely marinated piece of grilled chicken. I enjoyed it so much I attempted to cook it over at a different friends house, Claire, but I've got to say that Ross's was better! It's quite nice to not be cooking every day! Even though I have been keeping my culinary skills in check and cooking for my Mum and Dad.

Ross's Chicken Laksa
The van came out of storage ok once I'd charged the battery up. For some reason the solar panel had developed a fault with the controller and stopped charging them, however after a 5 minute reset all was good and it started to pump power in to them. I was a bit concerned for her over the winter. All we heard whilst we were in the Alps was of the torrential rain and howling winds that seemed to last 3 months constant. But the field where she was parked had good drainage and non of the nearby trees came down on her.

It took Kerry and I a whole day to sort all of our stuff out and remove it from the van. We threw a lot away, which is a great achievement seeing as everything we owned fit in to a motorhome! But we've slimmed down even more on stuff we didn't think we'd use again. The hoover came out and the inside cleaned from top to bottom, then I had to fun task of washing the outside of such a big vehicle, climbing on the roof and everywhere. All of this was so that she could go up on ebay and be sold. She's a good van and done us proud through 4000 miles of European roads, even if we did have to stop for a bit whilst she was repaired. Mind you stopping in the South of France isn't exactly a tough job!

Within a couple of days of the ebay listing being active I'd had 3 phone calls, one from a very interested guy who was due to get the train from Cardiff the following weekend. Well... If someone is prepared to get the train to come and view the van, I don't expect they would want to get the train home again! So I was confident that there was a sale in the near future. Nevertheless I had a viewing with pleasant couple from Brighton midweek. They were very interested and offered good money should she pass an MOT that they would pay for.

So we got her booked in for the Thursday and unfortunately she failed... Leaking fuel from the return hose on the injectors. The guy buying it said it shouldn't be much of a problem, but wanted to drive to his house to have a closer look. On the drive back we were chatting and he suddenly said "Aww heck, I don't need to have a look, Let's just go inside and we can transfer the money over now". And with that Mildred was sold. The metal's gone but the memories remain.

So now it was time to earn some money... And it was convenient that my Dad needed some work on his house. Throughout the very wet winter he had water pouring in through every wall. The mortar between the bricks was not up to scratch and the entire house had to be re-pointed. Basically my job was to spend hour after hour grinding the old pug out with a 4 inch grinding disk, then knock up a gauge of new gear ready to be squirted in. Sometimes it was mind numbing work, but after a few weeks we had finished and I was no longer pulling dust out of every orifice.

I also got back from the Alps to a lovely Christmas Present from my Mum. A DD Travel Hammock, a sort of camping hammock that can be used either as a bivi on the ground or strung up in the trees as a hammock.

I chatted with a guest in the French Alps about camping and it transpired that we both watched the same bushcrafting people on youtube... Mike got in contact when he knew I was home and we setup a little excursion to test out my new hammock. Mike is a tree surgeon during the day and so was in the best profession to teach me some useful knots and, having his own camping hammock, was a useful guide when it came to setting up the hammock and sleeping in it for the first time.

To say I had the best nights sleep I've ever had camping would be an understatement. When you get in the hammock it is like getting a big hug from all sides. Lying in the hammock diagonally means you sleep flat instead of the banana shape you expect. We stayed for two nights, cooking on an open fire, whittling sticks in to eating implements (partly because I forget anything to eat with!) and generally catching up, wilderness style. I learnt a lot and I have Mike to thank for that. Hopefully we can get some more nights under the stars this summer.

So my Dads house was now ready just in time to throw a big party. We spent a few days getting the garden and house ready, battling some 70 mph gusts of wind that resulted in one severely broken gazebo and 3 others tied down using every piece of rope available. He brought in 3 barrels of beer from the brewery he is a syndicate member of as well as a fish and chip wagon turning up later in the evening.

It was a brilliant night, meeting some of his old friends for the first time, catching up with his friends I knew, telling stories by the camp fire and finishing up in bed at about 3am! As parties go (and for an old boy) he sure does know how to throw em.

One day to recover from the hangover, then a little 650 mile jaunt down to the Dordogne region of France... To work on that campsite... Yeah... the one with sun, swimming pool and hangovers!
Uncle David, Craig, Dad and Woody enjoying the ales