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177 on the 600 Hornet

That’s a number I never want to see on the clocks of the Hornet again!

Not top speed, but the trip meter, aka “the fuel guage” aka “distance to fumes”.

I’ve never managed 177 miles on one fill-up and never want to again!

The wretched French system of shutting all the filling stations on Sunday nearly caught me out on the way back to our overnight stopping place at St Gervais d’Auvergne from Puy Mary, whilst I was having a long weekend riding in France last weekend.

From the point we turned round to head back to the tent, we had 150 miles to go and the Hornet’s miserably small tank can usually JUST manage 150 with the reserve pushed to the limit.

So I was taking it carefully anyway, not expecting to pass any open filling stations – and we didn’t; the one we’d fill up at on the way out was closed.

Then to compound the problems, our main road route back was blocked by a road closure and we were sent on a diversion by the local gendarmes. With a gorge and reservoir between us and the tent!

The GPS was reset to shortest route, which took us down a wonderful selection of tiny twisty lanes in some stunningly beautiful scenery. Not that I was worrying too much about the scenery at this point, with ever more frugal throttle openings up hill, flat on the tank on the level bits and coasting down hills!

In the event we made it back with about 15 miles worth of fuel to spare, although my buddy was already planning how to transfer fuel from his more reasonably sized VFR800!

But that wasn’t the end of the fun.

Next morning, we packed away the tent and rode up to the supermarket filling station half a mile away… to discover it was unmanned and naturally none of our UK cards worked! All of a sudden, that 15 miles of fuel came in handy to do the 12 miles to the next nearest filling station!

The trip came about because I hadn’t had a ride abroad other than for training for a bit – the one planned at the end of last year went down the pan when I had my passport stolen at the Bol d’Or in September.

So having scanned the web, I found a round of the Belgian national superbike championship happening at Dijon, a track I’d never been to, on the edge of the Morvan, a bit of France I fancied exploring. I whizzed through it in the car on the way back from the Bol and it reminded me of the Ardennes – hilly countryside with lots of trees and winding roads.

So my buddy Keith decided to come along. He headed over to Kent on Thursday afternoon just before the weather front forecast for that evening arrived, and for an hour or so we experienced the stunning electric storms that night from the comfort of the pub.

Next morning we set off at 8am, heading for Eurotunnel and dodging the gravel and the broken branches in the road.

Over the other side of the Channel, it was cold. Cold and windy! The ride down towards the Morvan wasn’t the pleasantest 150 miles I’ve done on a motorway as it was into the teeth of a headwind but at least it was largely dry, with the storm front having passed over to soak the Saxonring on Saturday where the MotoGP was taking place.

Off the autoroute at last, we swung south east to the tail end of the Ardennes round Bar le Duc, an area which is rolling rather than hilly. The waterproofs did come out for an hour or so towards the end of the ride, as we approached our planned overnight stop at the campsite at Chatillon-sur-Seine.

Having arrived, we then debated whether to put the tent up or look for a B&B, as the weather was chilly and cold…

…and we plumped for a hotel in the town.

Like the undistinguished town itself, the hotel was a pretty crappy place, but we did find a rather nice home-made pizza in a nice little restaurant tucked away round the back of the town, then apres food we had a slightly surreal beer standing outside a bar listening to two french guys play guitar and sing over backing tracks.

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As it turned out, the scuzzy hotel was a smart choice; it was a very cold night with more overnight rain, and when we set off on Saturday morning at 8am it was still wet which would have meant packing a wet tent.

So with the morning’s TV forecast suggesting heading south was likely to bring us into slightly warmer and sunnier weather, we took another policy decision, decided to skip the bike race at Dijon and set off for the Auvergne instead.

As we rode through the grey, damp and cold Morvan – a huge contrast to the trip the other way in September when it was hot and sunny – at just 10C I was regretting not packing a fleece, let alone the heated clothing! At least I had my EDF windstopper.

We picked our way round the loose gravel, tar seams and bits of polished tarmac, and eventually out under clearer skies, as we tracked SW and swung round the north of Clermont Ferrond.

Another smart choice. It wasn’t that warm down in the Auvergne – high teens whereas it had been 30c just a few days earlier – but it was dry (except for some light overnight rain) and mild enough at night in the tent for the two nights we were there.

We popped up the tent mid-afternoon at St Gervais d’Auvergne, then took the short ride over to the Vulcans national park… pretty spectacular! It holds the largest concentration of extinct volcanoes anywhere in the world. They’ve blocked off access to Puy de Dome, the tallest of the cones, so we circled it, stopped for coffee and made it back to the tent about 6:30, shower, meal, beer etc..

Sunday started cloudy again, and I kept the EDF windstopper top on under the ‘Stich for another day as we headed down to the Monts de Cantal, which is an extinct (or it might be dormant – I can’t remember!) stratovolcano. It reaches over 1800m, with the road going virtually to the top of Puy Mary, which was in and out of the clouds. At about 3pm, it was 9C up there!! We didn’t stay long as the coffee shop up there was crowded full – just time enough for some photos.

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As we descended, the sun came out and temperatures reached the dizzy heights of 19C! However, a chap in a petrol station said it had been 33C last week!!

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Then followed the scenic ride back through the gorges with my eye on the fuel! I knew I should have done a splash and go when we stopped for coffee mid-afternoon next to an open filling station, but putting just 4 or 5 litres in when you filled up less than an hour ago always seems so daft!

Then back on Monday. As we were much further south than originally planned, the ride back was Far Too Much Motorway. At least the wind was behind us! We followed the autoroute as far as Orleans, where I hit my “motorway wall” and then headed across country.

It was relatively scenic but slow going, as I hit some “urban fringe” roads that I wouldn’t have chosen had I been navigating from the map rather than the GPS!

Trying to thread the needle between Rouen and Paris, something the combination of “all roads lead to Paris” and the lack of an M25-equivalent makes necessary if you don’t want see the Eiffel Tower, I ended up going through Chartres instead of taking minor roads round it, then through an interminable series of villages with 20kph limits and vicious speed bumps before hitting fun open roads north of Les Andelys to Neufchatel-en-Bray, where we picked up the autoroute for the final 100 miles back to Sangatte.

On the whole, the Garmin i3 tucked up under the fairing does a pretty good job, but I wasn’t quite careful enough setting waypoints.

Amazingly we beat the schedule at the tunnel and got on one train earlier than planned, and were back in Blighty by 6:30 on Monday evening.

1400 miles or thereabouts in 4 days, with something like 900 done off the autoroutes! Quite a trip!

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