Rallye FIM 1976

Part 3 - Bastille Day.

We fell in for a good deal of justified criticism for not obeying the rule of sticking together

- Ben Crossley

We were glad to have completed our escape from Romania, land of the living vampires, and made our way along the narrow twisty mountain road which follows the Danube through the Iron Gate. The road itself was as bad as the Romanian equivalents with huge potholes which were impossible to miss. At the first village we came to we bought provisions which we ate picnic style a little further down the road, overlooking the great river. Even these back-of-beyond areas of Yugoslavia are far more modern in general way of life than the Warsaw Pact countries and it is possible to buy electrical appliances, a choice of luxury items and 'foreign' motor oils even in the smallest villages.

By midday we reached the autoput, the main E94/E5 road which runs the length of Yugoslavia. One glance confirmed it is the most dangerous road in Europe, possibly the world. It is no wider than a normal English A road, single carriageway, two way. It carries huge juggernauts racing to the Near East and back as well as overloaded German tourists galloping to Greek or Turkish holidays. The vehicle wrecks litter the sides of the road. It is a road that brings a motorcyclist out in a cold sweat to think about it but, as the only direct route through Yugoslavia, it is necessary to follow it for hundreds of miles. Overtaking is a nightmare and getting on and off the road is almost impossible as there are no slip roads, just junctions and the traffic travels nose to tail at 60mph. As it bypasses Belgrade the autoput briefly widens out and we could spare a glance eastward to this very modern and beautiful city. Then onward.

Towards evening we stopped at a campsite well signposted off the autoput. Well spaced in a sylvan setting we set up camp. The mosquitoes licked off our fly repellent and made a meal out of us. We asked, rather doubtfully, at the camp office what time the restaurant stayed open until. They replied that it did not close! For the first time for longer than we cared to remember we had a decent meal, giving the kitty a real bashing.

Next day we completed our journey up the autoput and toward the mountain border with Italy and Austria. This journey retraced the route I had taken in 1972 on the FIM Rally to Ochrid when I was on the gallant Matchless 350. However, instead of going north through Austria we turned west into Italy.

By now we were getting into the Dolomites, mountain crags of great pecipitousness. Once in Italy we stopped early for our evening meal which was roast chicken eaten off of paper with our fingers. An Englishman admired our bikes, said he came here every year but was rather hurt that they had pulled down his favourite hotel! Evidently didn't read in the newspaper about the earthquake that had recently devastated the area. The campsite that night was high in the mountains at a small site where we drank beer and tried all the snacks on the shop shelves.

The route across northern Italy looks short on the map but is up hill and down dale with frequent stops for photographs. We had an enormous pastry cake for breakfast in Cortina and then pushed on. At Bolzano we came down from the mountains into a roasting hot valley where hoses made rainbows where they watered fruit trees. We stopped to enjoy the Italian ice-cream before climbing again into the mountains near the Swiss border where we camped for the night. Again we did well for food and we were still able to communicate quite well with the locals who all speak German as they used to be a part of Austria.

The next morning it was raining so, while Dave and Steve headed south to a high pass into Switzerland, Tony George and I descended back down to a lower pass. Although we had arranged to meet in Switzerland at the next mountain pass summit, we waited as long as we dared then continued after leaving a message.

The Swiss mountain passes are higher than those in Italy and the high hills on the Yugoslav/Romanian border, but they are much wider and give a clearer view being above the tree line. The road from Sargans to Zurich is motorway along a valley and I turned the screws up to vary the pace after a very satisfying midday meal. In no time at all I was on my own so I stopped to wait for the others. After some time they arrived and Tony said he was finding the bike increasingly difficult to control. We continued at a slower pace into Zurich where we stopped for petrol and Tony's closer inspection revealed a back wheel with a huge dent in the rim and not one tight spoke. We tightened it up with an adjustable wrench then continued on our way.

The Swiss have a superb motorway system and we were just trying to thread our way into it when up another slip road came two more bikes and we were five again!

We had left the rain at the Italian border but kept running into showers. It was usually a case of betting how long the rain would last and keeping on. Me and Tony bet high odds and the others bet low so we separated again but met up at the French border. We fell in for a good deal of justified criticism for not obeying the rule of sticking together.

That evening we camped on French soil. Dave OByrne, being due back at work earlier than the others decided to cross France the next day and take the ship home to Jersey. We had a farewell party and transferred all the trophy parts to his luggage and he left early the next day before we arose.

For once we took breakfast at the campsite as we had three or four days to cross France and intended to take it really easy after our hard riding. When we did get on the road it was strangely deserted and we went a long way before we found an open petrol station. All the shops were closed and when we came to Lure we were held up by a parade of tanks. Then the franc dropped. It was 14th July, Bastille Day and a public holiday. We turned off the main road and meandered through the countryside of France. Petrol ran low and we began to think we would never see another open petrol station!

We eventually found a campsite at Givry en Ansconne. It was very crowded with the type of camper who stays all summer and looks upon travellers as intruders . The village was entirely different and we were made most welcome although, as usual, all the restaurants were closed and we had to show them how to make chip butties out of pomme frites. The bars have a habit of closing for an hour while they clear up and restock so the locals showed us where the next open bar was. We were feted with champagne and a lad with a moped helped with the usual drunken translations. We returned in three up shifts to the campsite where we broke out the whiskey and returned to the dance in the middle of the village square where we stayed until the early hours.

The next day Steve headed for Paris while the three Tony, George and I headed for the coast. The campsite was miles from town and we made the mistake of walking. We had the best and one of the cheapest meals of the holiday but we also had the longest walk. Luckily we were back to the campsite when we were hit by a thunderstorm which shook the ground.

The following day we got the ferry at Calais and guess who we found on board? Steve Shutie who had found his friends in Paris were away on holiday and so was returning to England. He rode with us home, leading us a quick way through London before saying farewell.

From there it was a short run to the end of our long journey on which we covered almost four thousand miles.

Greybeard aka Ben Crossley