The big test of Bertha's and the Machines stamina!!
26.12.2008 - 02.01.2009 -10 °C
Well it was 10:00 on Boxing Day I set off from Leeds after an emotional good bye from my family (which includes Mr Jinks)! Big Bertha had half a tank of fuel (great planning on my part) and was raring to go! The first thing to go wrong was the Tom Tom was not working, whilst this was not going to cause me too much of a problem getting to Dover it was the other side I was worried about! Luckily it was just a flat battery and after a quick charge, panic over.
I had to be in Dover for about 15:15 which gave me a good 5 or so hours to get my ferry in time... All was going OK and was making good time after just one scheduled fuel stop until I hit the dreaded M25, seems Boxing Day was probably not going to be the quiet travelling day I thought it was going to be. Now maths has never been my strong point, I calculated that Dover was 423 kilometres and the van does on average about 80 km (though the trusty Tom Tom reckons the speedo is about 5 km out so that would make my average speed about 75 km). I can honestly say Bertha is not exactly a Porsche Cheyenne, I can count on one hand the number of vehicles I have had to overtake and I am writing this blog two weeks after my departure!! So going on my calculations I should get to Dover in just over 5 hours... I certainly wasn't leaving much room for margin of error, well I think we all know where this is going, yes I missed my ferry!! Note to captains log: Must plan travelling times better! I turned up at the port just as my 15:55 ferry was pulling away into the distance, luckily they got me on the next one 50 minutes later and it only cost an extra tenner!
Now its worth noting at this point that on Christmas Eve I hurt my back trying one of my audacious strictly come dancing manoeuvres on one of the ladies frequenting the Devon public house that evening! Now come Christmas day I could hardly walk but I just battled on hoping that it would miraculously sort its self out in a couple of days and I would be flying down the mountain in no time... What can I say forever the optimist!
So when the boat docked I jumped in Bertha and followed the trail of camper vans out of Calais. Seems that the Tom Tom knew exactly where we were and off we went, obviously on the right hand side of the road. For those of you that know me I have got history on this!! As I am a tight Yorkshire man and mainly because Bertha cannot handle the high speed life of the French toll roads I decided to take the slightly longer and toll deficient route through France - Belgium - Luxemburg - France and by the end of the first day I was well over half way of the 1386 km journey. I pitched up the camper for the night in a quiet little super market carpark. That was until they had all their post Christmas deliveries early that Saturday morning, note to the captains log: Must choose camping locations more wisely!
Now my back was still troubling me a little bit so rather than busting a gut getting to Chamonix in two days I thought I would do the next couple of sections of the Journey over two days. That afternoon I had a couple of hours in Luxemburg and then the rest of the afternoon stopping off at various shops for snow chains and believe it or not a tea towel.
France has left a couple of tea towel related of questions still unanswered for me, that being 'What the hell do the French call tea towels and for that matter do they even have them? and if they don't have them how do they dry their pots??' I know its mind blowing!! Answers on a post card or email please Jo!
Wanting to get a good nights sleep I managed to find a library car park, surely nobody will be going to a library in France before 9:00 on the Sunday after Xmas?? My suspicions were correct!!! Maybe I am learning fast?
Got going nice and early, had just over 300 km to go and straight away the roads seemed to be getting steeper and steeper. Before I new it I was seeing mountains and vineyards, something caught my eye as it took off next to the van. It was only a eagle and a pretty big one too, it was literally flying next to Bertha before it probably thought better of ruining its street cred!
I gradually got higher and higher, the higher I got the more snow was about, at one stage I actually went though the ski resort of Pontarlier. Pontarlier is not only of France's highest cities at 850 meters but seems is also the capital of that dirty drink absinthe!
I rolled into Chamonix in the afternoon with plenty of time to get a well deserved and well over due may I add shower, sauna, swim & another shower, in that order I may add! It should be noted that in France they actually make you wear speedos, now speedos in general have never really done it for me but a pair two sizes too small bought in a mad rush in some French equivalent of Matalan certainly doesn't leave a lot to the imagination.. I will leave that one there or maybe I will post up a picture if there is enough demand for it? Here is one of Bertha parked up in Chamonix for the moment;
Now for a bit about camper life, so far so good, managed to get pretty good nights sleep and had been keeping warm. When I got out of the sports center it was -10!! In the van my fingers were freezing and I could see my own breath... things were not looking promising.. I put on the heating and went for a burger and pint, the food and drink came to a grand total of 18 euros, in our money that basically now equates to 18 quid!! Seems I was going to have to get even more used to loosening those pants every time I went to pay for something in France.
When I eventually got back to the van expecting to be putting my 4 layers on for the night I was pleasantly surprised to find it was like sauna, how many more tricks does Bertha have up her sleeve?
Had a pretty good nights sleep except what looked like some pissed up Albanian (no it wasn't Milly either) knocking on my back door, I pulled back the curtains and he was stood there swaying and mumbling! I think he was just genuinely confused!
The Monday I still decided to take it steady and do the Aiguille De Midi which is the cable car to the summit, the Téléphérique de l'Aiguille du Midi, was built in 1955 and held the title of the world's highest cable car for about two decades.
My back then started to feel a bit better so I got out on the mountain for the next few days, including bringing in the New Year riding in 30 cm of fresh powder on a blue bird new years day. Days don't really get much better that that!! Obviously the only thing that spoilt it slightly was the mandatory new years eve hangover that was obtained drinking vastly over priced drinks and shots in the La Terrasse bar Chamonix. The French also have a tradition of hitting the streets and letting off fire crackers, some of them pretty big, willy nilly! I am sure that someone would soon put a stop to any sort of tradition like that in England!
I did a few more days up the hill but even though my back was a lot better it wasn't 100%. As I wasn't able to give it my all I wasn't enjoying as much as I usually would. After going to the physio on the Friday decided to rest my back for a few days and go on a road trip to Bansko, Bulgaria via Milan where I would board a flight to Bulgaria. Didn't fancy the 5400 km round trip in Bertha on my own, especially taking into account some of the less that desirable countries you have a to pass through and nearby!
Also at the this point the heater had packed in, on Thursday night a two litre bottle of water that was situated about 1.5 feet next to me froze solid during the night...... Note to captains log: Unknown heater problem, thinking its related to voltage in someway or maybe the diesel has frozen?