What a day - bit of everything
Mike and Christine, who I met at Rocamadour, have invited me to stay for a few days. They live down near the coast in Languedoc wine country.
Ron and Lawrence departed early and I followed about 9.30am. The others were staying one more night.
Henry felt really heavy after the last three days playing in the mountains unladen. The road out through the Tarn Gorge was narrow, windy and spectacular but mostly flat so we didn't have to climb any great hills.
Everyone seemed to be going at tourist pace, which was fine by me, and the absence of trucks made it a very enjoyable ride. A few camper vans got caught up on a few of the corners and had to reverse out of trouble.
I stopped at every lookout along the road and saw some spectacular sights. St Chely was a gorgeous little town on the river and a short walk through the village revealed a tiny chapel built into the rock face.
Then there was Hauterives which can only be reached by canoe or flying fox. It is completely isolated from traffic and all supplies, including humans, have to be pulled across the river on a wire.
Pas de Soucy was a bit of a tourist trap. Someone had built a staircase up the cliff to look down on the gap in the river rocks - and then charged 50cents to climb up. I resisted. There was also a few souvenir shops at the roadside to capture the market completely.
By now it was midday and I hadn't even exited the gorge.
I was heading to Millau to see a bridge. Not just any bridge but the Millau Viaduct - an engineering marvel. And boy was it spectacular.
I followed the signs to "Viaduc i" and it lead me out the north of the town, directly under the bridge to an information centre. Not exactly what I wanted. What I was trying to find was the Lookout where you could take magnificent photos. The lady directed me to the southern part of town - 15kms back the way I came - to the other information centre.
She also said I could ride across it for 4.30€. I retraced my steps, back through Millau, and up to the Lookout. I had to park a long way away and walk (in motorcycle boots and pants) to the centre and then the lookout was another kilometre up another hill behind it. It was still a fair way from the bridge so I figured I could just get some really decent photos of the web and save myself a long hot walk.
The other gem of information she failed to tell me was that the lookout is accessible from the bridge so that you don't have to retrace your steps a second time to get back onto the feeder road.
The tollbooth was a bit of a hiccup too. The first unmanned booth refused to take my note. I had to back the bike up (fully laden) to try another booth. The second booth was also being obnoxious but as I was now holding up a line of traffic, I couldn't back out.
I had to get off the bike, put it on the stand, gently feed the 10€ note into the slot then attempt to retrieve the change in coins with gloved hands. Apologising profusely to the cars behind, I finally took off, realising that because I was so flustered, I forgot to select motorcycle and instead paid the car toll rate.
The ride over the bridge was a bit of an anti-climax after all that. Although it was a very windy day, it was relatively calm across the bridge because of the windbreaks. It's a real shame you can't stop halfway across to take photos because it really was a spectacular view.
I then did something I hate doing, swore I would avoid at all costs and chastised myself afterwards for being so bloody silly.
I went down the Motorway!
Although Henry can happily do 110km/h fully loaded, there was a really strong headwind so I dropped the speed a bit and stayed in the slow lane with the trucks and campers. It was still hair-raisingly scary and the French propensity to tailgate makes the adrenalin flow.
I was then surprised by the Pas de l'Escalette - a few long tunnels and a very steep descent for 10kms or so. Cars were still barrelling down the hill at 160km/h and were chased by the trucks. I had to stop in the lay-by halfway down - to take some photos - but really to calm my nerves and give Henry a pep talk.
At one stage I was being "escorted" by some police motorcyclists, so all the cars magically slowed and didn't overtake in my lane.
I was grateful to get to the bottom and was able to pick up speed again. I was even more grateful to get off the motorway and back onto the lovely country roads where the French drivers are just mad, not murderous.
I found Mike and Christine's place without any problems, unloaded Henry (who sighed) and had a very welcome shower after my very hot, windy day.
We then went off to dinner at John and Chris' place - another British couple living in the village. Chris is a terrific cook and treated us to a 55 course meal - well it felt like it was 55 courses after the 5th dessert and coffee. There was another French couple there as well and we had enormous fun teaching Gilbert how to say G'day and trying to explain what fart-arsing around meant.
I waddled home and fell into real bed with a real pillow and slept like a log.