Prequel

I moved to France in the autumn of 2002 to run a gite complex with my wife, Jan. Prior to that I had been a self-employed IT consultant but a combination of increasing taxes and a collapsing market (fewer contracts, lower rates) gave us the impetus to "get a new life" - after several months searching our souls as well as the world, Maison de la Famille became our new home and business, in the very north of the Dordogne.

While still working as EKS (Evil Contraktor Skum), I owned a gorgeous 1996 Triumph Daytona 1200. Gloriously fast and surprisingly easy to ride, I set it up as a sports tourer, with a comfortable Corbin saddle and Heli-bar clip-on extensions - I could and did commute decently large distances on it. Unfortunately, whilst I could justify its existence whilst working in IT, the fact was it was eye-watering expensive to run and service and when the move to France became a certainty, it had to go.

Partly because of the move itself, and partly due to my fabulous decision-making skills, I was bikeless for over a year. But a small inheritance did mean that a new bike was a possibility. After a further ridiculous amount of dithering, I eventually lashed out on a new steed, a 2003 BMW R1150GS Adventure, fitted with a large 30-litre tank and to which I immediately started bolting on the complete contents of the Touratech, Wunderlich and Wüdo catalogues! By this time, I was reading about the Elefant on the web and beginning to realise that I was in the ideal situation to go for it.

I also discovered my French neighbour was a bike nut and that he specialized in taking old BMW's and well, making them work (after a fashion). This struck me as being a very serendipitous discovery - I can do the basics (hey, anyone can undo and redo a nut and bolt - I can even do it to a set torque setting if I really have to) - but Pascal really knows what he's doing. A tame engineer and a mobile telephone to call the breakdown services - do I need to do more by way of preparation for the journey to the Elefant? I think not.

Somehow, I managed to convince Pascal that the Elefant was within our grasp and even our respective wives seemed happy enough to have us out of their hair for a week or so. But let me make one thing quite clear. We're not going to make it. It's just a pipe-dream. Something, somewhere, somehow will crop up and conspire to stop this happening. Even if we manage to start out, we'll break down or run out of time or something. It won't work. Not ever.

Despite my general feeling of doom and gloom, preparations started in the autumn of 2003. I already own a Garmin eMap hand-held GPS so spent many a happy hour planning our route. We simply can't afford to spend too much time sight-seeing around Europe so we are going to use autoroutes/autobahns wherever we can. Boring but we can cover large distances in comfort this way. I planned our route into 200 kilometre legs as that allowed Pascal a safety margin to find a garage for fuel. We were also to find that we could average about 100 kph and that after about two hours riding a stop to stretch our legs was necessary, so that all fitted together nicely. With my large tank, I can easily cover 500 kilometres between refills if I want to. Nice.

I also started watching ebay like a hawk and bidding on various camping type items. I did have to buy a few new items tho' - a tent and a cooking stove and such-like. I reckon I can sell it all on ebay later on to recoup some of my outlay anyway. All this equipment was carefully checked out and packed and repacked into the aluminium panniers on my Beemer. One of the more useful items I bid for and won on ebay was an army-surplus goretex bivvy bag. I already had a seriously warm and cosy Ajungilak sleeping bag to go in it. I even found a website where I could buy army one-man ration packs - I was brought up as an army brat and love those oatmeal blocks (but not enough to ever have signed up!) Pascal has started referring to me as "Inspector Gadget" - cheek.

Clothing-wise, I'm relying on my Chilli heated waistjacket and my Dainese goretex winter wear, all of which has been tried and proved commuting in far too many UK winters. Whilst I don't like the cold, the Rally is only on for a few days so even I can rough it. Not that we're going to get there, anyway, so there's no point in going too overboard in the planning is there? Pascal and I had a few evening meetings drinking absinthe while we pretended to agree with each other on the plan of action. Eventually, we settled on the following schedule...

I'm a little bit worried that I'm using the bog-standard so-called dual purpose tyres the Beemer was fitted with. My justification is that we're spending most of the time on the road, so road tyres are likely to be the most useful compromise. Wish I had a sidecar. And spare wheels with knobblies on them. And I bet Pascal bottles out before the start date. Or that Jan thinks up something more important for me to do. And where's my winter gloves again? Should I take snow goggles? Mebbe I should try and cram a few more rations into the panniers? Wonder if it will snow? Hope it doesn't rain... Pascal and I took a pre-Elefant test drive on the preceding Sunday. Our bikes were pretty much fully loaded and I was a bit surprised at how much difference it made to the handling. It may be that I am carrying a teensy bit more equipment than might be completely necessary, but then, if there's room in the panniers... what the hell, once I've got used to it, I'm sure I'll be OK. It looks like Pascal and I can ride together without becoming deadly enemies so if I can just shake off this 24 hr. bug I've suddenly picked up (it's not nerves, I tell you), we should be set for a good start on the Wednesday. We're as prepared as we're ever going to be.

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