Charlotte Bronte is quoted as saying, "Life is so constructed that an event does not, cannot, will not, match the expectation.” How wrong she was to say that... but how do you describe the indescribable?
A motorbike tour is like nothing else on earth and this one, organised by GrandExtreme, promised to be like no other tour. 1,000 miles, 15 riders, 4 days, 1 motoGP; we're off to Le Mans to watch Rossi and other gods of two wheels battle it out...
It's 5am and I'm heading out of Maidenhead. Motorways: M4. M25. M26. M20. Dull. Dull. Dull. It's cold enough for me to keep my vizor mostly shut. Folkestone. Eurostar terminus. A dull place made of dull grey concrete serving dull grey food while we wait for our dull grey train to take us under the dull grey channel... our bikes stand out in vivid glorious vibrant technicolour against all this drabness; we draw envious, nervous glances from bored grey men in their boring dull grey ENCAP-compliant Euroboxes as they think "I would ride, but my wife won't let me..." How many times have I heard that sad and pathetic excuse?
And why oh why to these transitory terminuses seem to have terminal dullness designed into them? Perhaps the sheer dullness of this terminus a quo helped make the rest of our adventure stand out so much more, senses numbed by designer dullness would appreciate what was to come so much more... but I don't think Bovis, or whoever built this temporary holding pen, this short term prison, is that clever.
On exiting the dull Calais twin, I was expecting to have to rummage around for my passport so to save time I didn't bother with my gloves. Somewhat caught out by not having to do this I ride the first few miles with bare hands, the fairing of my VFR800 does a good job of deflecting the cold 90mph breeze away from my exposed pinkies.
Bare hands on handlebars. My thoughts stray and travel through time, back, back they go to a much younger me. A tiny me. I remember the occasion well; it's a moment frozen in mind, indelibly stamped, burned into my memory banks. The day I first rode without stabilisers.
The bike was a crock, not a classy stylish trickster BMX that today's yoof have easy interest-free-never-mind-the-credit-crunch Paypal access to; I have no idea where it came from, whether it was new (not new for me), a hand me down from my brother or second hand from a junk shop. It had a basic U-frame, with balloon tyres, and a single rod lever brake on the front wheel and a totally dreadful sprung leather saddle which had a habit of whacking into my balls.
But it was my bike.
And I loved it.
The first few yards of this neophyte bike rider, this hell's cherub, were tentative, wobbley affairs and a car going down the road put me off. So I had another go and got further. Then I was at the top of my drive, and on top of the world. I looked down Church Way and stared in wonder at the big open world that beckoned - what adventures were there?
Elation! Joy! Jubilation! Unfettered freedom as only a 6 year old can know! Wait till Dad gets home and I show him! Rules: no further than the bend on the road; OK! Who cares! I'm independent for the first time and it's overwhelming; so much so that the young me doesn't understand it, and the older me can't get enough of it.
And maybe that's the pull of two wheels for me; reliving the golden moment of those innocent years. I ride with my vizor open as much as I can, as closed is claustrophobic. But maybe the wind on my face is time flowing past, creating a visceral link to then.
We're pulling off the motorway and onto main roads. It's much more interesting here, it's why we're here; the twisties. Like two proud swans; Andy leads and Graham sweeps up we cygnets from behind, making sure none of us gets lost, left, stranded, bereft. It's been a long time since my bowl of slowburncarbohydratecolesterolneutralisinglowGIindextrendy porridge at 4:30am and I'm getting hungry. We cross a bridge which sweeps round to the left, with astonishing views to the left and right, enter a typical French town, and park up in the car park of La Salle Du Beurre.
Proust may have had an epiphany with his cake and tea, but I'm so hungry that the food, a local dish with melt-in-the-mouth pork, isn't savoured; it tastes fine, but I don't appreciate the finesse as the beast that must be fed is fed, and fed quickly. All too soon the plate is clean and I eye up my neighbour's curry with more desire than is right or proper... no time for dessert, but I bag a cappuccino which in this part of the world is made with a mountain of chantilly cream and vanilla flavouring; Starbucks drink your heart out.
We saddle up and ride on out.