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Home Travel StoriesFrance 2013

The GF Question

By Ren Withnell

I discussed my plans with the gf, as ya do, over a brew one afternoon. I never really considered whether or not the gf would come on this trip with me, she has far too many commitments. I work for myself. The advantage is that I can choose my holidays as I see fit. There is of course a huge disadvantage though. If I am not working I am not earning. Not only do I have to cover the cost of any holidays or trips I also lose any money that I may have earned while I am away. Even worse is that customers don't like to wait while I go off gallivanting and will happily go elsewhere. However life is for living and all work and no play makes Ren an unhappy boy. My son is 22 years old so I don't need to worry about him too much.

The gf on the other hand works for the council. She gets paid leave which is nice but they tend to get somewhat shirty about losing essential staff for 3 weeks, especially in these hard times where staff levels are cut to less than a minimum. She also has 2 daughters, one of whom is 19 and allegedly old enough to look after herself. The other is 16, that awkward age where she's not QUITE independent enough for 3 weeks of self maintenance. Of course being siblings and teenagers they don't always get on so well either.

So I am taken back when the gf suggests not only would she like to accompany on my European adventure but that she will see if she can make it happen. This raises a lot of questions within me. Can I cope with the gf for 3 weeks? Can she cope with me? What if we fall out? Will she cramp my style? Will she like it? Last year I travelled alone. It had it's advantages and disadvantages, but I know I can do it.

th gf stood in front of an information board in north wales
The gf knows how to travel. Here she's not looking into a bin, it's a Tourist Information board, honest!

Being alone means I have far less kit to carry on the bike and I only need to worry about myself. I can choose how much or little I ride, what time I go to bed and what I want to eat. Loneliness pushes me to make the extra effort and talk to people such as locals and other travellers or holiday makers. These interactions with strangers are the part of travelling I love the most. Not everyone is nice but there's always something interesting or curious about them. If anything goes wrong then I only have myself to worry about, and myself to blame. It's a huge responsibility keeping someone else safe on the back of my motorcycle. It's an even bigger responsibility keeping them safe on strange unfamiliar roads.

All that being said, sitting in a cold wet tent pushing baked beans around a billy can all alone is not really my idea of fun. It's good sometimes to have someone to talk to, to share the views with, to help out and to discuss my thoughts. When things go wrong it helps to have someone to say it'll be ok, to offer assistance and to shout at and blame even when it's not their fault. I can see both sides of this question. I shall leave it and see if the gf can make it happen.

small tent with stove and pans out front
My tiny tent last year when I was all alone. Notice the tinned food and billy can. 

8 years ago I took my first real motorcycle trip abroad to Spain. Talking to friends and looking online I was given to believe that this country would be a warm lush land filled with nothing but beauty and joy. Dark dusky maidens dressed in flamenco dresses lined every street and would eye me with wanton lust. I'd sip cola or tea outside shaded bars and cafes. Everyone would speak English with a funny accent and I'd be welcomed like a family member to dine and dance the night away with locals. What I found was a broiling desert, empty villages with dust storms or busy cities with suicidal traffic. No-one spoke a single word of English and roadside truck stops employ gruff staff. Tea comes in tiny little cups and costs a fortune.

The problem was I went right through Spain, off the tourist routes. I saw the ordinary parts that are kept from the paying visitor. The run down factories, the endless construction sites, the massive concrete apartment blocks, the broken roads and the abandoned houses. I learned that life was no better for the ordinary folks in Spain, just different.

wasteland and scrub in Spain 2005
These are the parts of Spain I was not supposed to find.

Since then I'm interested in how the everyday people live their lives in the everyday places, not just the beauty spots and the must see attractions.

I'm concerned the gf may just want to see just the nice bits. My fears are reinforced when she brings a book filled with the must see landscapes, chateaus and ancient cities of France. I explain to her that while I too wish to see the beautiful and wonderful I also expect, even hope, to see the drab, dull, miserable and mundane. Fate plays it's part when the gf's already limited finances take another blow due to unforeseen circumstances. My explanations and her growing disillusion with the cruel world of money help convince me that she understands and shares my desire to not just "spend" our way to happiness in the nice bits.

It still comes as a shock when the gf tells me work has agreed to 3 weeks leave. It all becomes real when practical arrangements for the teenagers are made. Sororicide (killing one's sister) is strictly forbidden, the house must remain peaceful and tidy, duties must be followed and father will be providing respite at some point. So that's it, she's coming, it's happening. Like Oh My God! I'm sure we'll work it out, but how the devil will I get all the kit onto the bike?

the gf posing on a rock showing a bit of leg
I guess it's not all bad taking the gf with you on your travels...

Forming a Plan The formulation of a cunning a devious plan to take on Europe is formed in the tiny mind of our intrepid explorer...
The GF Question Do I take the gf with me to France? Can she come? Will she like it? These are all very difficult questions...
France...I wanna go but can I...?? Can Sharon make it to Europe? Will the kids survive? Will the bf behave? Is there any space for makeup? All these questions and more...
The Load Getting everything we NEED and a few items we WANT onto a motorcycle can be a problem. Now I have to work out how to get 3 WEEKS worth of gear onto the poor donkey(aka bike)
Camping In Cambridge The start of our Epic Adventure...or bike holiday around France. Cambridge is surprisingly nice really.
France - Day 1 Sharon's first day from her point of view. Cushy Cambridge and dry weather...what more could a girl want?
The Chunnel The Chunnel, I'm excited but also stressing because the bike's already broken before we leave the UK. I worry too much...
France - Day 2 - Bikes, Trains and Tents Sharon leads us through sunshine, hair issues, the Channel Tunnel and into France. But France is eerily quiet...
Here Comes The Rain Bike fixed...bike broken. Rain, endless dull roads, miserable towns and more rain. Oh the joy of travel! At least Epernay welcomed us with a huge smile :-)
France Day 3 - Crying Through The Rain The rain plays tricks with Sharon's spirit but a stiff upper lip and giving herself a good talking to see her through.
Rain Into Dijon Rain, rain and more rain. Just how long can it last? Would we be better off with a Jet Ski? Can we continue to keep our Great British Stiff Upper Lips?
France Day 4 - We Are Mustard We Are Dijon is the destination and we're surviving the rain...that makes us well mustard! We're happy in spite of the rain but how long can we keep smiling?
The Joy Of Being Lost As we head south the rain lightens but will it ever stop? I get lost which is no surprise, but lost turns out to be the best part of travelling. Are things finally taking a turn for the better? I do hope so...
France Day 5 - Biker's Paradise Sharon's day 5 in France starts out rough but improves considerably. What delights can put such a joyous grin on her face?
The Stunning Alps We are both facing a very strange situation...that of sunshine, warmth, beauty and pleasure.
France Day 6 - Magnificent Mountains Sharon shares the delights of the Alps. Sometimes life is good!
Highs And Lows From the stunning Alps to our ultimate destination...MONACO! Is it all I expected? Will it be as I imagined?
France Day 7 - Scooter Mayhem Sharon describes the best and the worst France has to offer. Ride on the back with her from the beauty of the countryside to the mayhem of Monaco
Resting And Deciding Today we stop to take a breather and recuperate. It's also time to make a decision about the rest of our journey. I used to be indecisive, I'm not so sure now.
France Day 8 - Chilling In The Pool A day off from the journey sees Sharon and Ren doing something very silly, breaking things and achieving very little. What a splendid way to spend a day!
Going West Day 9 sees us heading west from the coast. It's finally dry, but it's still windy so not too hot. The gf's not well and Ren is relentlessly lost. Overall not a bad day then!
France Day 9 - Poppies, Vines and a Wet Lettuce Feeling poorly rather spoils Sharon's day today. Still on she must go on and survive what might have otherwise been a good day.
Biggest Bridge In The World In glorious sunshine and fine health we make our way from Nimes to Millau complete with it's Viaduct. Sometimes life is good, occasionally it's great!
France Day 10 - Deflated to Elated Today is a good day for Sharon. Today the sun shines, the scenery is beautiful and the people are pleasant. Join her as France puts a smile on her face.
The Wettest Bridge In The World The Millau Viaduct ought to be impressive. It is, but nowhere near as impressive as the amount of rain falling from the skies.
France Day 11 - Grim Not every day can be filled with sunshine and smiles, even on holiday. This one certainly was not for Sharon!
False Hope Part One Ren would like to invite you to a joyous report about the delightful weather in the South of France! He'd like to. Instead it just rained and rained and rained and rained...
France Day 12 - It's Gloomy Inside And Out Sharon freezes her butt off during the night then is treated to a cold and wet ride. The Ren sure knows how to spoil a girl.
False Hope Part Two Is this the end? Has Armageddon arrived? Is this the Apocalypse? It sure as hell feels like it.
France Day 13 - Quietude For A While Sharon's report on another day of mixed weather. There's peace and beauty then there's mud and cold. Adventure...no-one said it would be easy!
Sunshine After Rain A night of rain soaked delirium. Will the day be any better? Will our travellers ever dry out?
France Day 14 - A Bit of 5 Star Luxury Sharon has a much better day on the road and a luxurious 5 star campsite. It's amazing what difference a little dry weather can make.
Back Into The Flatlands A quiet, simple and easy days ride through France for Ren. Pleasant enough but the flatlands are getting a little boring now.
France Day 15 - A Bit Of 2 Star Delight Sharon has an ordinary day and a frustrating battle with the weather.
Not Far To Chinon It's a short, easy and peaceful ride this day in France. Ren gets all philosophical too.
France Day 16 - A Historical Walk Around Chinon Sharon enjoys a hint of sunshine and the history of Chinon, France.
Shopping To Mamers Ren's airbed's leaking now. No problem, find a shop and buy a new one...easy? I don't think so...
France Day 17 - The Gift Of TIme Even though the weather is cool Sharon's heart is warmed by the people she meets in France today
Don't Go To Ault Ren has a grim, long, dull and uninspiring day in France. The accommodation doesn't help.
France Day 18 - Is This Misery Or Joy? Sharon finds sunshine, ancient caravans and ponders about hapiness.
Looking For Luxury With time on their side Ren looks for the perfect campsite for the next to night. Not finding it makes him a very grumpy boy.
France Day 19 - Campsite Conundrums Although the wind blows the sun is shining while Sharon looks for the perfect pitch.
Resting In Ambleteuse Ren philosophises too much on the final day of his trip around France.
France Day 20 Sharon's in a reflective mood on the last day of our French trip.
Back Into England Ren recalls the final day of the French Adventure. It's all over far too soon.
What Did We Learn? Ren sums up his thoughts about France and the French trip.
France On Reflection Sharon sums up her her experience of the French Trip. Damn those Alps.
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