14 Sept 2022

The Pyrenees by Motorcycle, or There and Back Again - Introduction

Last year my son and I flew to Mallorca for a long weekend. We enjoyed our days in the sun and flew home cattle class. Now the children are adults I get the window seat as I take far more enjoyment watching the world below than they ever did.

And as we flew across the Pyrenees I watched in wonder at the ribbons of tarmac linking isolated communities high up in the mountains. On first glance the landscape below was nothing but mountains, jagged and messy and wild. It's only when you concentrate that you see what humans have made in between the peaks. 

There was evidence of life everywhere, despite the seemingly hostile conditions. In between the mountain tops I would see lakes, and some had squared off edges that meant they'd been dammed and the water used for...what? Hydroelectricity or drinking water I presumed.

And then I saw one huge lake. It's shape unusual and interesting enough that I stared at it as we flew over and then when I couldn't see it anymore I made a vow.

One day I will visit the Pyrenees, and I'll find that lake.

On arrival at home I bought a paper map of the Pyrenees, laid it out on the kitchen counter and tried to find the lake. I hadn't taken a photo of it, and my memory is terrible, but I knew that when I found it I would know.

And I did. It took a couple of days but I found the lake. When I saw it I had a Eureka moment. 

After finding the lake my immediate decision was that I'd visit just after the summer holidays in 2022, and I'd go by motorcycle. At first I was happy to go by myself as it was a bit of a personal mission but when I mentioned it to my brother, Colin, he immediately said he'd like to go with me. 

And then when I next visited my cousin, Liz, and her husband, Nick, and mentioned what I was doing Liz immediately volunteered Nik. "It'll do you good," she said. 

So that was that. Three amigos on a mission to Spanish mountains. For whom the motorcycle bell tolls.

I love preparing for trips like this. I started working out places to visit, and to work out distances. It soon became apparent it was going to be a bit of a monster trip with some long motorway sections. We all agreed we would do it in seven days, not least because we're tight with days off and holiday leave.

We could have opted to take the overnight ferry from Portsmouth to Santander but I quickly discounted that. It would eat up 30-odd hours each way, cost an absolute fortune, and, frankly, was a cop out. This trip was going to be a proper adventure. An ordeal and a challenge. Not an easy cruise over the channel and a bimble around the mountains. I wanted us to really ride our bikes and test ourselves, and stay in interesting places along the way.

Colin and Nik both made it clear they were happy to leave all organisation up to me and would go along with my plans. They listened as I told them about the distances and weren't phased.

The first problem that arose was Nik's arthritic hands. He doesn't suffer badly but on a previous trip to Scotland he really suffered after a couple of days and could barely pull the clutch lever. Colin, more experienced in the motorcycle market, took him along to a motorcycle superstore and show him a Honda VFR1200 with DCT gearbox. This is essentially a manual gearbox with an automated clutch, just as in many modern cars. 

There and then Nik traded in his Kawasaki for a 2015 VFR1200 in blood red. After a couple of rides he was perfectly tuned to the strange auto gearbox, and quite happy with it.

Then, nearer the start of the trip, Colin decided he didn't like his bike - a BMW R1200RS. He'd owned it for some time but it had always produced an odd buffeting around the neck and helmet area that gave him ear issues. He'd tried earplugs and different screens but nothing made it better. I had a ride on it and the buffeting produced a negative pressure which I felt in my ears. With that confirmation he sold the bike.

Without a bike suitable for a 2000 mile plus tour he turned to a friend who was looking to sell a 2004 Honda VFR800, with full luggage set of panniers and top box. A price was agreed and Colin had as suitable bike.

I've owned a Triumph Tiger 900 Rally Pro for a year or so and knew it is what I would take on the trip. I have a top box but bought a set of panniers at great expense. 

Just a couple of days before the trip, and with all hotels and Eurotunnel crossings booked, maps marked up, communication headsets bought and tested, clothing chosen and readied, bikes serviced, extra undies and socks bought, I was sitting on my garage floor packing my panniers.

I turned to pick something up and felt an agonising pain in my lower spine. I tried to stand up, and couldn't. I rolled onto my hands and knees and hauled myself upright. I stood and took stock. I was in absolute agony, and it wasn't going away.

Something had gone ping in my back. Would I be able to even sit on a motorcycle, never mind ride it for nine hours a day, seven days in a row? 

I called my son into the garage for assistance, necked some painkillers, and gingerly lifted a leg over the bike, made more difficult by the huge panniers now bolted to it.

I could sit on it, I could reach the pegs and handlebars, but it hurt like hell.

I did some thinking. It took fifteen seconds to decide. I was still going on the trip. Nothing was going to stop me.

Part two available soon...

In agony, but able to sit on a bike