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Trip Notes by David Mc ---
Before the trip
The trip to Norther Spain was planned in 2019 for 2020, we were going to Pamplona and Potes. Around 20 were signed up, the ferry and the hotels were booked and everything was set until COVID19 hit. It very quickly became obvious that we were going nowhere. Brittany Ferries had cancelled their crossings and we couldnt get out of the UK or into any other countries for a holiday. The ferry tickets were deferred for a year and the hotels agreed to postpone.
By the end of 2020 it looked like there was a possibility of getting to Spain in the summer of 2021 so, again, the bookings were made and the preparations started. The only issue was that the hotel in Potes was already booked in 2021 so we moved the second destination to Oviedo
By April, it was clear that, while it may be possible to get to Spain and back (and even that was not certain) it was not clear what wed be able to do once in Span, and what quarantine process wed need to go through getting into Spain, or getting back to the UK. A vote was taken and the majority supported postponing to 2022.
This approach didnt go down well with a couple of those booked onto the trip, who still wanted to go to Spain but didnt seem to understand that we had a group booking so either the whole group went, or none of the group went. I must admit that it was probably the most frustrating situation Id encountered since I started organising the Old Gits trips and, to me, highlighted the biggest risk. It only takes one selfish, inconsiderate, ungrateful arse to make life really difficult and question why I bother!
The ferry tickets were pushed back to 2022 and the hotels agreed to postpone for another year. The one down side was that the cost of the ferry in 2022 was more than in 2019 so we all had to pay an additional surcharge.
During the winter of 2021/22, more people asked to join the trip. While there was space on the return ferry, there was none on the ferry out, so spaces were booked to travel on the ferry the day before. A reshuffling of who was on which ferry happened and I, with 5 others, moved to the Thursday ferry. Id have to put up with an extra day in Spain. It would be hell, but Id take one for the team!!!!
Just before the trip, Neil had a family issue that meant he was going to need to drop out. I did try to sell his space on but it was really short notice and nobody took up the offer, despite it being nearly half price!
The day had finally arrived. After 3 years in the planning the Old Gits trip to Northern Spain was really happening!
I packed the bike between Teams meetings for work and was ready to leave by 13:00. That was ahead of schedule but I reasoned that it was better to arrive at the port early than to wait at home only to find out there was some hold up on the M25, so off I set down the A12, over the bridge to Sevenoaks where I filled with petrol. After that it was down the A3 to the port. (No hold ups!) While I arrived almost an hour early there was already a significant amount of traffic checking in. I waited and, in a short while was joined by Roger, Mark L, and Tony. We decided to check in at this point and wait for Gary in the queue to get on the boat.
Loading of the bikes was straight forward although the bikes are put in the very bottom of the boat, and packed in quite tightly. Walking between the rows of bikes to get to the stairs on the ferry was a challenge, especially with all the GS tin panniers filling that space. Still, it wasnt long before we were all up in our cabins. I can say that the cabins in the new ferry (we were on the Salamanca) are larger than those on the old ferry but are still small. I really wouldnt want to try and get 4 bikers into one 4 berth cabin as there would be no space for helmets, boots and other kit.
We all met up in the bar, including Gary, said our hellos and settled into the boredom that was the ferry crossing to Spain.
After a good nights sleep we all congregated for breakfast then retired to the bar. The day was spent watching the clock and trying to think of something to fill the time. The crossing was smooth enough with only a gentle motion from the ferry, and the prices in the bar and restaurant were reasonable. Time ticked by slowly but eventually it was time to return to our cabins and prepare for arrival the next morning.
11/Jun/22 - Saturday
Roger and Gary
The ferry arrived in Bilbao an hour ahead of schedule woohoo! but then had to sit and wait for an hour before anyone disembarked because Spanish customs werent ready for us!
As the bikes were at the bottom of the boat, pretty much everyone else was let off the ferry before the bikers were allowed down to their vehicles. We then had to wait while each row of bikes moved before we had space to ride up the ramp and off the boat onto the docks, where we waited again for passport checks.
Finally, 2 and a half hours after the ferry arrived in Bilbao, we were on the road. It was dull and overcast with the threat of rain but we didnt care.
Mark and Tony had gone off on their own but Gary, Roger and I stayed as a group and followed the route out of Bilbao on the motorways (only 1 wrong turn!) and onto the wonderful Spanish roads. This was what wed come for.
A stop for a coffee and some petrol were the only things that interrupted the mile after mile of wonderful roads, the sun was now out and the temperature was increasing. The only minor issue was at one of the stops, when I went to restart the Kawasaki but pressing the starter button just made everything on the bike switch off! Switching off then switching back on again restored the power but I now had an amber engine warning light on the dash.
Arrival at the hotel in Pamplona and meeting up with Philip as well as Mark L and Tony, then saw us out for a meal at one of the local restaurants. Burgers, chips and beers the order of the day.
12/Jun/22 - Sunday
Philip, Roger & Gary
The hotel provided a really nice breakfast, then we all headed for the car park ready for a day of great riding. Philip was on a brand new H2 SX SE and it looked stunning. However, mine must have felt a little intimidated as, as soon as I pressed the starter button, everything went dead. We then spent 15 minutes checking the fuses to find that there were no issues but it must have done something as when we tried the bike again, everything worked, although I still had the amber engine warning light.
The route we planned was modified slightly to allow for the slightly later start but we all had great fun riding into the Pyrenees towards France. After an hour or so, the route took us up a very narrow road which. Although tarmacked, had grass growing up the middle. Philip decided this route wasnt for him and headed off in a different direction. The three of us continued up the road with some seriously sharp, tight hairpins until it eventually got above the tree line and opened out into some stunning views. This wasnt a fast road but the views really were amazing and had us agreeing that the challenges of the ride up were worth it.
The return back to the hotel had us back on faster, fun roads and enjoying the fun and excitement they offered. There was little traffic and generally very good surfaces.
Back at the hotel, most of the Friday ferry group had arrived and we all said our hellos and enjoyed a beer or two. One of the topics of conversation was Glenn and his Panigale. Glenn was feeling the journey, having packed almost all of his luggage into a large ruck sack that he refused to allow anyone else to carry. The bike was stunning but Glenn really did look like he was paying a steep price for using such a beautiful machine on such a trip.
While we were all sat out the front of the hotel, James, Steve and Spencer arrived after their overland epic. Getting into the hotels underground parking required stopping on a steep downhill slope to put a ticket into a machine to open the barrier. I felt a little sorry for James, Steve and Spencer having to do this with an audience of Old Gits, but it didnt stop us all watching, beers in hand, and passing comment.
After the overland group had checked in, we headed for another local restaurant and another nice meal, with only Peter and Steve struggling to find vegetarian options.
Tuesday 14th September
Laax, Switzerland to Aosta, Italy
H B Aosta Hotel: https://www.hbaostahotel.com/
I had not had a good nights sleep. The bed was definitely not comfortable and the faint wiff of stale cigarette smoke that came from the pillow whenever I moved my head was distinctly unpleasant. As discussion with the others over breakfast showed that I wasnt the only one who had found the hotel uncomfortable!
However, the breakfast was nice and we managed to find a bike dealer who could fit a new tyre to Marks bike.
The bikes were packed and we headed off towards Oberalp Pass with the sun shining. The highlight of morning, and possibly of the whole trip, followed a discussion on the intercom about requirements to use the Swiss Motorway. We knew we needed to buy a pass and Mark agreed to go in to the petrol station and buy one each. Over the intercom we hard Mark ask the lady behind the counter Did she sell a Vinaigrette for the motorway? Mark didnt hear the reply from the lady as his ears were filled with the guffaws of laughter from the rest of us! Never again will a Swiss vignette not be referred to as a Vinaigrette!
After Oberalp Pass Mark and I separated from the others to get Marks tyre replaced. We headed down the new road for the St. Gotthard Pass then across Switzerland towards Sion where Marks tyre was replaced.
After Mark had paid for his replacement tyre, and for the bike wash he hadnt asked for and didnt get because we didnt want to wait that long, we headed of towards the Great St. Bernard Pass. After the short stint on the Swiss motorway it was good to get back onto the types of road wed come on the trip for.
Some roadworks on the Swiss side of the pass were a little frustrating but Mark and I stopped for a coffee at the top before heading down the roadworks free Italian side.
I was glad that James had already warned me that the hotel was only accessible by riding down what appeared to be a pedestrianised street, as thats what Mark and I did, despite it feeling like the wrong thing to be doing.
After unpacking the bikes, showering and changing, and the other three turning up, we all parked our bikes in the hotel underground car park. A couple of beers then followed before we walked to a restaurant for a nice meal and a few more beers.
13/Jun/22 - Monday
James, Steve, Spencer, Roger & Gary
A conversation the night before, over dinner, regarding the occasional issue I was having with the Kawasaki had someone suggest that one of the battery terminal bolts may not be tight enough so, with a loan of a 10mm spanner from Andy, I went down to the garage to check. Sure enough, I was able to tighten the positive terminal bolt by about 120 degrees. Switching the bike on showed that the engine warning light had now gone out. Success!
After the usual breakfast discussion around which route, we all headed out of Pamplona and into the mountains towards the French border. The roads were clear and some quick progress was being made. I did however, get a little too enthusiastic at one point and found myself coming into a sharp right hander with more speed than I would have wanted. Hard on the brakes, with the back end gently waving from side to side knock off enough speed to allow me to throw the bike over and hope. Sure enough, completely unflustered, the bike simple adopted the requested line and went around the bend. No fuss! No drama! Im really getting to like this bike more and more!
A stop for some lunch was followed by a run up what was the most boring road we had on the whole trip, including the M25! The N-121-A was having work done on it and was restricted to a single lane in either direction with no overtaking opportunities. That meant that queues formed behind a slow moving lorry and everyone, us included, chugged along at about 30mph for mile after mile after mile. After about 40 minutes of this we eventually turned off the main road and took an alternative route back to Pamplona. That was much better!
Back at the hotel and we decided to walk into the old town, with Richard in charge of navigation. The soon to become regular challenge of finding a restaurant that suited everyone started but, after some time, a place on a town square was selected and we all sat down for a nice meal. Even in the old town, prices were still very acceptable.
14/Jun/22 - Tuesday
James, Spencer, Roger & Gary
Today, we decided to go east. Steve wanted to see if he could get some scenic shots with his drone so rode north, leaving the 5 of us to head out of Pamplona on the motorway. The motorway is not complete yet so there are periods where we were riding on new motorway and others where all the traffic was directed off the motorway and we rode along some very nice sections of the old road to Jaca.
Once past Jaca we followed the route to the smaller roads. These would have been superb had the surface been better. The surface varied from poor to OK (sort of like a UK minor road) but as wed had good surfaces on our other rides we were slightly disappointed. That said, there were some stunning views, not least of which were the young ladies preparing to go swimming in one of the many rivers!
Eventually, the road surfaces improved and we were again riding on nice roads and enjoying ourselves but, all too soon we were heading back towards Pamplona. A stop for petrol had us all agreeing to avoid the motorway on the return and, instead, stick to the old road. This was a good decision. The road is excellent, well surfaced and with very little traffic on the sections where the motorway has been completed.
The final evening was spent at the restaurant wed visited on the first night, which offered a good range of burgers, including a veggie alternative for Steve.
15/Jun/22 - Wednesday
James, Spencer, Roger, Steve & Gary
The big news of the morning was that someone had managed to get a hold of Glenns huge rucksack and had strapped it to the pillion seat of their GS. Glenn would be able to enjoy his Panigale without the requirement for a chiropractor at the other end.
We met for breakfast, packed the bikes then said goodbye to Pamplona. Having checked the maps we decided the best approach was to use the motorways for the first 75 or so miles then move onto local roads. This would get us through the flat and reasonably boring section to the south west of Pamplona quickly, giving us time to enjoy the roads through the Picos.
The main excitement of the first couple of hours was realising that we needed fuel and that none of the sat navs showed any fuel stops on our route. The nearest fuel required a 10 mile deviation off the route, with the same for the return to get back on the route again.
The roads were good and getting better. There was little traffic and the scenery was improving as we approached the Picos. The roads in the Pyrenees are good but the roads in the Picos are better. This really is biker heaven.
We started leap frogging other Old Git groups as lunch, fuel and pee stops were required. At one point we caught up with Jon who tagged onto the back of our group for a number of miles until we caught up with Richard and Willie.
We arrived in Oviedo and found the hotel pretty easily. The parking was in another underground car park with reserved spaces, 2 bikes per car space. Like many places on the continent, getting into the car park involved riding over what appeared to be a pedestrian only area, but this was the only way we could get to the car park.
Once checked into our rooms and unpacked we all headed out into the town to find somewhere to eat. We quickly learned that only a few of the cheaper international chain restaurants opened before 8pm and that even bars that normally serve tapas generally dont do that before 8pm. In reality, we were told, most people dont expect to eat until after 10pm.
We did find a bar that did tapas so we enjoyed a few beers and some of their tapas waiting for 8pm to arrive. At 8pm, we then started the walk around town, looking for an acceptable restaurant, rejecting one after another. By 9pm, still not having found somewhere acceptable to all, Roger and I agreed, 15 more minutes then we were going back to the pizza place rejected almost an hour ago. At 9:20pm, we left the others to their continued restaurant search and settled down for a couple of pizzas and a beer. It wasnt the best restaurant in the world but it was OK and both Roger and I wanted to eat!
16/Jun/22 - Thursday
James, Spencer, Roger, Steve & Gary
The breakfast at this hotel was not in the same league as the Pamplona hotel. In fact, it was actually quite disappointing. It was a real shame as otherwise, the hotel was excellent. The rooms were big, comfortable and clean and the staff were all helpful. Still, we all met for breakfast and decided that we were doing a big route that involved one of my favourite roads of all time, the LU-530. Actually, I said I was doing that route today, no discussion, and would like it if the others joined me.
The first hour of the route was on motorway and this was the usual boring but efficient way to cover miles. Wed done this run in 2016, avoiding the motorway and knew the alternatives were slow and boring so there was no advantage in not using the motorway.
We turned off the motorway and onto the AS-12, heading south from the coast. This is a wonderful road although there was still some morning mist hanging around and some damp tarmac in some of the sheltered corners. Caution was the top priority. After another 45 minutes or so, the mist was gone and the tarmac was dry. The pace picked up and we were all having a great time.
Finally, the LU-530 appeared, and it was as good as I remembered. Mile after mile of fast open sweeping bends with a good surface and great sight lines. All of us had a fun and spirited ride down to the roundabout at the end and the little café where we all stopped for some drinks and tapas.
The ride back up the LU-530 was just as much fun. I can confirm that it remains one of my all-time favourite roads.
The run back to Oviedo was also on some stunning roads with Steve taking the lead at one point and setting us all off at a very enthusiastic pace. While the group got strung out at the pace Steve was setting, it was good to see that Roger managed to move from near the back of the group to catch up with the leading two.
Back at the hotel and a meet in the bar with others on the trip had us explaining our route and singing the praises of the LU-530. It seemed that most of the rest of the Old Gits were aiming to do the same route the next day.
The evening was spend enjoying a meal in a restaurant agreed on before we left the hotel, without the need for an hour and a half wandering around the town.
17/Jun/22 - Friday
Roger & Gary
Spencer and James had booked their bikes in to have their tyres replaced as they planned to continue on touring after the Old Gits trip, with plans to head for the Alps. Likewise, Steve had decided he wanted to get to the Alps a day early so was packing to leave.
Gary, Roger and I looked at the map and established that the Saturday run to Bilbao for the ferry was going to have to be either a very early start or a motorway only run. The motorway option was agreed upon so we were determined to make the most of the ride today.
The route was agreed and off we set. Again, the roads were superb and the weather continued to be warm and dry. A stop for a drink at a road side café mid-morning had us all again stunned at the cost (or more accurately, the lack of cost) in this part of Spain. 3 coffees, 3 Cokes, three muffins and some tapas came to less than 10 Euros!
At one of the stops we noticed Garys rear tyre. It was looking a little on the thin side tread depth wise. Given he still had to get back to the hotel, get to the ferry in Bilbao, ride from Portsmouth to Holyhead then ride home in Ireland, it was going to be a challenge. As such, we all agreed to finish the ride a little early and to head for the motorcycle dealers that James and Spencer were using to get their tyres replaced.
After some more stunning roads we eventually were heading back into Oviedo and looking for the bike dealers. Despite a few wrongs turns we found the dealers but they were unable to fit a new tyre to Garys bike so we returned to the hotel and started the process of packing.
The whole group met in the bar in the early evening, discussing the days riding and the trip overall. Luke had, unfortunately, parted company with his bike due to a little too much corner entry speed, a little too much front brake and a slightly damp road, but both he and the bike were fine. Meanwhile, we asked Tom if hed ridden the LU-530. The instant huge smile that appeared on his face meant he didnt have to answer, we already knew.
Once Spencer and James returned with their bikes and new tyres, the evening meal was tapas at the bar wed found on Wednesday night.
18/Jun/22 - Saturday
Roger & Gary
We meet a number of the group at breakfast but everyone was preparing to leave for the ferry. We said goodbye to James and Spencer as they headed off for France, the Alps and to catch up with Steve before we then went for the motorway to Bilbao.
The weather was hazy but pleasant at around 25 degrees as we rode along parallel with the coast until, all of a sudden, about 20 miles before Santander, we hit what can only be described as a wall of heat. There was no apparent reason for it but within 1 minute/1 mile, the thermometers on the bikes had increased 10 degrees. It was like opening a huge oven door.
The heat stayed with us, increasing more slowly, as we headed for Bilbao, getting to around 40 degrees as we arrived at the port and checked in. Luckily, the bikes were loaded on first, down into the depths of the ferry. We unloaded the luggage for the ferry crossing and went to find our cabins.
Meeting everyone in the bar latter and there was lots of chatter about high winds and a storm warning for the Bay of Biscay but the crossing was perfectly OK. The boat was rolling a little but not enough to make anyone feel unwell or to stop us all having a few drinks followed by a good nights sleep.
19/Jun/22 - Sunday
The next day was hard work. Knowing that we were going to be riding away from the port in Portsmouth stopped everyone from having a drink at the bar but the announcement of an issue with the ferry that was slowing our progress, thus extending the monotony, didnt help.
Eventually, 4 and a half hours behind schedule we docked in Portsmouth and disembarked. Again the bikes were held to the last as they were at the bottom of the ferry which meant there were significant queues to get through passport and customs checks.
It was after midnight when I actually started the ride home. That said, the roads were clear and although the temperature was lower than expected (heated grips and heated seat were on!) it was dry and a straight forward run home.
Another trip was over. This one had been 3 years in the making due to COVID but had been excellent when it finally did happen. As ever, the Old Gits were great company and it was wonderful to again be riding on stunning roads with good friends. The new Old Gits fitted in really well and said they thoroughly enjoy themselves. They all said they wanted to come on another trip. It looks like I need to start planning.
The Kawasaki H2 SX was utterly superb. It handled every road and every situation with confidence while still delivering real excitement. I absolutely loved my old K1300Ss but this really is in another league.