We've agreed an early start. We MUST be on the road and away by 10:00 at the absolute latest - bugger, this is France and Pascal is French. He came knocking on the door at 10:30 to let me know he'd be ready "soon". In the meantime, I drop my bike simply pulling the brute out of the garage. Bugger again. At least I now know I can lift it, if I have to (and oh yes, I will again before the day is out). And guess what? It's starting to snow. A lot. And it's bloody cold.




We're finally away at 11:45 - we're heading to Besançon, where Pascal's cousin lives. Our planned route is north to Limoges and then on up the A20 autoroute until we can start heading east on the N145 to Montluçon for fuel and food.

However, the driving snow is causing serious problems. The N145 is blocked solid by an accident some way up front. And it is so, so cold. Some helpful gendarmes advise us to return (against the traffic) and use the smaller roads.This is turning into a real nightmare, we're going to have to abort before the end of the first day.

Anyway, we very carefully turn the bikes in the snow and even more carefully, head back up the dual carriageway, the wrong way to the previous exit and then we follow some dodgy minor roads until we're past the crash site. Nasty. After that, we make reasonable progress to Montluçon for a late lunch. Pascal informs me that a) weather north of Limoges is notorious for being dreadful and that the N145 is a (guess what?) notorious road for crashes and heavy traffic, with continual roadworks thrown in for good measure. I do so enjoy planning a route beforehand with such timely feedback. Not.

Still in unpleasant conditions, we head off on stage 2, due east to Montceau-les-Mines for a fuel stop. We only get as far as some hole in the ground called Montmarault where we both come off in driving snow and ice. This is not fun. I can't lift the bike myself this time - in the cold and ice and with a full tank of fuel and a full load of luggage, it just slides along the road. And anyway, I'm cold and tired. Me being like what I am, I just wait, blocking the town centre off, until a few now-willing-to-be-helpful locals stop honking and get out of their cars to help me lift it. I've snapped the pop rivets holding the lock on the nearside pannier is all the damage. No big deal - Pascal lends me an elastic clip he has to hand, which holds the pannier onto the bike and we're soon off again.

Pascal is now starting to have problems. Later on, with hindsight we think dropping the bike has stirred up all the crud at the bottom of his tank (he rides a 1980's Bag'o'Nails R100GS thingy as against my [once-pristine] new Adventure) and his carburettors keep choking. I suspect carburettor icing, but hey, my idea of emergency meckanicking is to holler down the 'phone, so what do I know?

At Montceau-les-Mines I'd planned to head for the local E. LeClerc supermarket for cheap fuel and for food if required - my GPS is doing sterling service leading us exactly to the spot but I'm so cold and tired I gave a lady driver a helluva scare by riding straight thru' a red light and almost into her. Thank Gawd her reactions are better than mine. Still, no harm done and a Red Bull down my throat and a stretch of the legs while Pascal refuels does me a world of good. I have even more of a rest while Pascal desperately tries to restart his bike. Bet he's glad he fitted a new battery before we set off. He's good tho' - he gets it going again.

The remaining 150 kilometres are a bit of a nightmare with daylight fading and Pascal having to involuntarily stop, strip down his carburettors and restart his not-so-trusty steed. We eventually get to Besançon at 21:45. To find it is waist high in snow and I find Pascal has omitted to tell me his cousin lives at the top of a soddin' mountain. After a slightly heated argument, I allow them to help me heave and pull my porky bike up the track to (most of the way to) their house, where I spend a bit of time sorting out the electrics (blown fuses, GPS not working (I found out later I'd damaged the Touratech mount and drained the internal battery - easily repaired) and no headlight. Soon sorted - the beast seems to blow fuses quite easily - and then bike cover on and I'm off to a hot meal and bed. Pascal's cousin Gérard is married to a lovely American lady, Andi and they're both great company. I really look forward to seeing them again when they come to visit Pascal - when the great Anglo-American versus France debate about Cheddar cheese deserving a place in the top ten of truly great cheeses can be rejoined. We get to bed very late despite needing to start early the next day (ha!)