I knew that the outward journey would always be simpler than the return journey. But I just didn’t realise how much more simple it would be. On my journey to the Charente, the 450 miles from Folkestone seemed like a daunting prospect in the mind of an eighteen year old on a 33bhp bike. But little did I know, the 680 miles I had to ride on the journey home would be so much more daunting, with all of my fears rolling into this one, epic journey home.
However, my father accompanied me on his G650GS on the trip down, which made it rather straight forward – follow the Beemer’s back tyre. Predictably, it was uneventful and everything went as planned, I didn’t even ride onto the wrong side of the road. The only things I had to complain about was the resemblance of my backside looking like a baboon’s and the 38 degree heat wafting through my helmet, feeling like someone was holding a hairdryer to your face.
After a week or so in the sun, exploring the country roads and the quirky French villages, it was time to start up the SV once more and ride back up to England – alone. I had just less than 700 miles to do today so sensibly, I decided to head off early to give myself plenty of time to reach Calais, in case any dramas occurred.
For some reason I had built up this terrific fear of the French Gendarmes. I don’t know why, perhaps it’s the guns on their guns on their hips or the stories I’ve heard of them seizing bikes for speeding – most likely the guns.
I was approaching Tours on the A10 toll road, and had just finished paying the 19€ when this Gendarme stood in front of my bike and pointed at me. I remember very clearly the two words that I kept repeating to myself: “Shit, fuck, shit, fuck…”
He shouted over in English, “Eh you, over here” And then gestured to this small layby where there were four or five Gendarme vans and a group of Gendarmes staring at me pulling up. I was the only vehicle that had been pulled to the side.
I was bewildered, had I been caught speeding? Is my Remus Revolution too loud? Is it my iPod headphones poking out of my jacket? All of these concerns and worries started hitting me as I started giving myself reasons to get in trouble. I even looked up at the sky and was praying for my bike not to be taken off me, I love it too much.
The man that had instructed me to pull over walked alongside my bike and asked me for my documents which, luckily, I had remembered to pack last minute. I decided to stay sitting on the bike as I had read somewhere that getting off your bike is a sign of aggression in foreign countries, I don’t know if that really is true but just this once I didn’t want to chance anything.
An attractive female dog handler walked over to me and told me to take my helmet off and step off my bike. I did so, sneakily tucking my headphones back into my pocket and turning them off. She then told me that the dog was going to sniff my bike and myself for drugs. I’m not a druggy but I was wearing second hand leathers and using a second hand tank bag - I hope that the previous owner wasn’t.
Luckily, the dog sniffed around and found nothing, so she smiled at me and told me I could go. I collected my documents and then nervously headed back onto the road. A sigh of relief fogged up my helmet as the Gendarme vans became small dots in my mirror.
I plodded on for another 110 miles and was approaching a petrol station but my fuel light hadn’t come on yet. And as soon as my front wheel had gone past the slip road, my fuel light started blinking at me. Sod’s law.
I began to panic again, how far will the next petrol station be? Am I going to get stranded in the middle of France?
I saw a sign for an aire in 10km, so I thought I wouldn’t be very conservative with my fuel. I sped off and arrived at the aire. It was two picnic tables and a car park. Oh shit.
My clocks were now on 115 miles and I’m pretty sure the reserve light only lasts 20 miles. I carried on the motorway searching everywhere until eventually I came across a sign indicating a fuel station in 38km.
I slowed down to 55mph to save some fuel and even tucked my head behind my screen to try and conserve as much fuel as possible. It was definitely not the most comfortable, fun thing that I’ve done - I even had caravans overtaking me it was that bad.
After half an hour or so, I finally arrived at the petrol station with my bike spluttering and coughing for fuel. Relief instantly swept over me. Somehow, I had managed to scrape almost 160 miles from a tank of petrol. It’s supposed to do 140 miles to a tank, so I guess the 55mph and head-down-action really helped me out there.
After the fuel experience, I vowed to always stop for fuel when I reached around 100 miles. Despite this, I still only stopped three times for fuel, in total, which I was quite proud of.
I arrived in Calais near 5 O’clock, so I decided to see if I could be put onto an earlier ferry. I rode into the port and was a lone bike in a sea of cars. After an hour of waiting to get to the booth, I learned that there were massive delays with all P&O ferries. It was horrendous. The bloke in the ticket box gave me a ticket saying “Depart: 18:10” – I boarded the ferry at nine O’clock…
I mustn’t complain though, whilst I was waiting I met a guy on an RSV1000 who had just returned from the Nurburgring and another bloke on a 1200 bandit who had rode from only 30 miles away from where I was staying.
We all sat in the cafeteria on the ferry, exchanging stories and drinking tea. It made the journey so much better, having someone to talk to, as I had endured a whole day of no conversation. We all said goodbye and jumped back on our bikes to carry on with the journey home.
I had arranged to meet Jamie, in Maidstone. So I pulled into the service station off the M20 and met my riding buddy for a bit of a morale boost and a good old McDonald’s. I even went to the shop to buy RiDE magazine and found a picture of myself on page 17!
We endured a four hour journey home in the rain and a feeling of achievement rushed over me as our wheels rolled onto my drive. It was done.
My hands were so cold; my freezer felt warm and my arse felt as sore as a convict’s but my 700 mile nightmare was over.
But when I think back about it, it was a fantastic journey. With it’s ups and downs, the sense of the unknown and the strangest feeling of being alone in a foreign country.
Just me, my SV and the long stretch of tarmac taking me all the way back home.