Before the long autoroute haul down to the Auvergne, it was time to experience The Best Road Ever: nine miles of bodacious bends with no hidden surprises, perfect for pushing the envelope of both bike capacity and rider skill. Jen explained kindly that this really wasn't for me and I'd see everyone else in a layby in about ten minutes. I happily took it in my own time and had a blast, apart from the very end when I got stuck behind a lorryload of telegraph poles, and was reunited at the bottom of the hill with a very pleased bunch of bikers indeed. (One of our number enjoyed it so much he sneaked back for another go on the way to the return ferry on Saturday.)
We said goodbye to the good people of Bike Normandy and were reunited with Mick, Julie and their Pan European, who had been off doing their own thing since Pegasus Bridge. For the rest of the trip we would be an eight-person, six-machine unit.
The motorways were for the most part as empty as the B roads, and I had little to do but sit on the scooter and sing to myself - which I always enjoy. I was left behind almost immediately, but whenever there was a change of direction I'd find a bike faithfully marking the slip road until I caught up.
This was the one time my inferior top speed was a genuine nuisance rather than a topic for light leg-pulling, and as it grew later and later I felt more and more terrible about holding everyone up. All I could do was keep smiling and handing round sweeties, and ensure cybersofa was topped up with coffee and doughnuts at regular intervals.
It was a relief to exit the motorway, as my right hand was numb from keeping the throttle open for so long. What followed, however, was a tortuous stretch of mountain road, pitch black and twisting downhill. Outside the few metres of shaky light provided by my headlamp, I could see nothing ahead but murk and a bobbing tail light which threw me in a panic every time it vanished in case its owner had gone over the cliff. Rain began to come down in spikes and the road suddenly filled with hundreds of hopping frogs (all the riders saw them, but pillion passengers didn't, and none of us managed to hit any, so they may in fact have been a mass hallucination). At least I learned once and for all where my Main Beam switch is.
At a quarter past one in the morning we pulled up outside the Hôtel de l'Aviation, La Bourboule. As we staggered off the bikes and started dragging gear into the hotel, I found that everyone wanted to thump me on the back and tell me how well I'd done - rather than, say, kill me on the spot. This, the sense of accomplishment and the prospect of bed made the end of the day a happy one.
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