The outside of a motorbike engine seen up close near the exhaust

Home Travel StoriesFrance 2013

Rain Into Dijon

By Ren Withnell

It's still raining. It's been raining on and off all night and I'm rather bored of it now. We went to bed early so I'm up early. And I'm hungry. I decide, even though it's only 0700, that I'll walk into town and let the gf rest some more. Complete with my waterproof overcoat I set off. It's already busier today, that's reassuring but it also means there'll be more traffic on the roads. At this ungodly hour there's just a boulangerie open so I grab a couple of croissants and a baguette and walk back. I eat over half of the baguette under my coat as rain falls and drips onto my breakfast.

I awake the gf with croissants and a cup of coffee, I pass them through a tiny gap in the inner tent as she's trying to keep warm. The rain gets harder. Whilst the gf gets up and showers I ponder further the deflector question. I need a paperclip. What is French for paperclip? How do I ask for a paperclip with sign language? I know, there's friendly folk in reception, they'll help. And help they do! The grinning girl offers me her computer and Google Translate, clever! I type paperclip and it's "trombone" of all things. It looks like a tiny trombone so the French call it a trombone, I must remember that. She also gives me 3 "trombones". I'm so happy I thank her in French, German, Spanish and English as well as a few unknown languages and go back to the bike.

It takes a couple of attempts but I finally work out a solution that is to my satisfaction. In fact I reckon it's better than original. It'll make changing the bulb a little harder but it's a small price to pay for having the bike just as it should be, it really has been bugging me and it really was not important. I skip back to reception and thank her all over again. What she thinks of the stupid Englishman that is so grateful for a paperclip I dare not guess. I grease the chain. The chain is gritty from the dirty roads here, I don't like this grit at all.

the paperclip bent around to hold the deflector in place inside the light unit on the fazer fzs 600
The three red circles follow the path of the paperclip. Ingenious!

We decamp and still it rains. We're heading south and according to the weather maps it really ought to improve sometime soon. Soon being another 400 miles south and we'll not cover that today. Today I'm into uncharted territory. Today I have to find a campsite that I don't even know exists. Today I'm planning to get to Dijon. The further south we are the closer we are to the possibility of warmer dryer weather. South. It's all I can think if as the rain splashes hard against my misty visor.

I feel better today. Perhaps it's the bike being fixed. Perhaps it's the idea we're heading south. Perhaps it's because the gf, despite the circumstances, is being very brave and seems quite chipper all things considered. However the riding is still miserable. Village after village, farmland after field and more tailgating from the French drivers. Although my heart is a little lighter the rain is not. The roads twist and turn, gently for the most part but I can't keep the speed up as I can't see the corners clearly. The repetitively cute small villages offer relief due to their 50 and 30 kmh zones (30 and 20 mph roughly). Here I can lift the visor and at least see. Out of town the visor must be down, anything above 50 kmh the rain stings my eyes.

the headlamp reflector on a rain soaked bike with a wet tent behind in Auxonne france
The repaired deflector or whatever it's called. Notice the rain soaked bike with the wet tent on the soggy grass on a grey day...and so on.

As I stop for another rest I glance around the bike, making sure nothings going to fall off or break. And it's the front brakes that concern me. I'd checked them before the journey, the rear's were OK, the nearside front were almost new but the offside front were about 50% worn. That, normally, would be fine. But the gritty conditions have taken a toll on all the pads and these are looking particularly hard hit. Damn and blast for Christ's sake! After fixing the unfixable light deflector and feeling all smug with myself I now have something new to worry about. 

Back home this would not be a problem. I know a hundred bike shops where I could buy new ones and I have tools. Even in places I don't know so well I speak enough English to ask around for a shop. Here, here in France what is French for motorcycle shop? Will I understand the directions? What's even more frustrating is that there's a Yamaha shop in Epernay, where we were this morning. A big shiny shop that must surely have stock of Yamaha's most commonly used brake pad. If only I'd looked then. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but it's absolutely no use at all. What the hell is French for brake pad anyway? 

worn out brake pads on the fazer due to the gritty french roads
There's some life left in the pads, but not as much as I'd like. Damn and blast.

A small boulangerie offers nothing more than a sausage roll with cheese in it and the shelter of a small canopy. Troyes offers nothing more than rain soaked streets and me getting lost. I consult the soggy map that's starting to rip and use the gps on the phone to get my bearings. Several times. Right now I'd kill for a waterproof sat nav. What am I talking about? I want sunshine, warmth, delightful streets and dancing girls. I want to see a campsite bathed in a golden glow with shining toilets, large tents and big fluffy beds. I want to walk around in just shorts. I want an adventure, I guess I'm having one, I'd prefer a warm dry one.

Every river we cross is filled to the brim. This isn't rain, this feels like the apocalypse. Any moment now I expect to see four horsemen ride alongside me followed by plague and pestilence, war and famine. Then Joy! It stops! The rain abates and although the skies are grey I feel there is hope, there is a chance, there is a future. After half an hour I experience something amazing, dry tarmac! Good job too because the road towards Dijon has some serious twists and turns up hill and down dale. Through one bend the bike is right over and I grin as the large yellow bags either side of the motor touch down gently. 

My delight is short lived, the rain comes back with a vengeance. The road continues to twist and turn and I'm incredibly thankful of the new Conti-Motion tyres. I was told they're good in the wet and they are. Still as we drop down towards Dijon I'm glad to be in a queue of traffic behind a large lorry struggling with the gradient. I'm tired and not in any fit state to be wrestling with unknown bends at high speed. I feather the front brake and try to use engine braking as much as I can. It's been a long long ride.

On the far side of Dijon I find a McDonalds, we need a rest and a warm and this place will provide the essential internet access too. It's a great relief to get into the warm dry room and soon enough I'm drinking another cup of awful French fast food tea. My phone suggests there's a couple of sites to the east of town and the weatherman promises nothing more than rain unless we reach the south coast. It has just got to stop. Their's rain, fair enough, there's a lot of rain too, but this is just unbelievable. Still, the gf is keeping a firm stiff upper lip and as long as she can do that, the woman that hates rain and cold, then I can too. 

It's almost a competition, in the best possible way. Who can last the longest through this grim nightmare, who can keep on going without breaking down, crying and begging for a hotel and a plane to Tenerife? In doing so we're keeping each other going. I know she's having to work at it, it's not coming naturally. I know I am too. But in so doing we're doing our very best to make the most of an awful situation and as such it's working. We do however both agree that we work all year to have the money to come keep on working hard on keeping our spirits up. We cross to a supermarket to get some food. 

top box and tail light covered in gritty dirt from the rain soaked french roads
My bike is starting to look more like a crosser than a road bike. The gravel and grit at the roadside washes out in the rain then onto the bike. This in turn kills brakes and chains...and I dare not find out what else.

More soggy maps and phone gps take us to Auxonne, east of Dijon, and a campsite. The wooden reception chalet promises a hearty welcome but the lady inside doesn't deliver. She's OK, not rude or impolite yet neither is she open armed and welcoming. Many French are like that, they're just doing they're job. Maybe it's my broken French, maybe it's the weather, maybe I'm tired. The campsite offers nothing more to be excited about. The toilets and showers are indoor but the gent's smells like a sewer and are cold. The ground is uneven, poorly drained and rain soaked. Pitching a rain soaked tent and unpacking wet bags means almost everything gets at least a little damp.

a french toilet in the squat or turc fashion. Just a hole in the ground with a bit of porcelain
This is not a welcome sight when number 2 nature calls. Luckily most campsites have "regular" toilets too. The ones at Auxonne smell.

We dine on hot dogs warmed on the stove with brown sauce brought from home. Neither of us fancy a shower in the stinky toilets. It's late so a walk into town in the rain seems fruitless. I daresay at this point we're both working very hard indeed at keeping our chin up, but we do. As we climb into the sleeping bags and the rain rattles the tent hard I'm beginning to wonder just how long I can keep my end of the chin up competition going. 

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 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. 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.

Reader's Comments

Pauline Springer said :-
Dear Ren
I am enjoying reading your adventures - such humour in the face of adversity!
I must say that I think you and Sharon were both so brave to continue under the circumstances and feel it must surely have made you a lot stronger. I know I couldn't have coped - the weather, bike troubles and disgusting toilets (if you could call them that!) would have seen me off well before now, so congrats for getting through it and for the tales of your well earned holiday! Off for a lie-down in the sunshine with a relaxing drink- and that's here in Liverpool! Yes, there really is no place like home I'm sure you'll agree.
(ps I work in HW with Sharon in case you're thinking who the hell am I!)
01/01/2000 00:00:00 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Hi Pauline.

Sharon's explained who you are so no problem.

If you're going to travel I guess you also have to accept it isn't going to be luxurious unless you're rich. It's also part of the adventure aspect. If everything goes well and runs perfectly you've not faced any challenge. Take a look at, these guys make sure that things DON'T go according to plan because that's where the fun is.

Anyhow there's MUCH more to come, keep on reading!!!
01/01/2000 00:00:00 UTC

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