For some years I travelled on a Russian Ural 750 sidecar through some of the most wonderful places France has to offer. Finding work here and there became a lifestyle, as did sleeping under a tarp attached to the bike or if on a more permanent camp, under the protection of a green tunnel tent made by 'Vaude'.
My old s/c was green in colour and damned un reliable.
The motor was sound, strong as an ox, but the bits attached to it were made of liquorice.
I have intimate knowledge of the ignition system, alternator and carburettors.
Spoke replacement, gearbox and driveshaft issues.
I could go on, I won't....
I could be seen, on many occasions, slumped across the saddle, spanner in hand, repairing whatever had decided to fail that particular day.
I paid a chap to carefully paint the name on the back of the chair.
I called the side car дятел.
Not to sure what 'it' is...
I well remember the first solo drive on the s/c.
I can sum it up in one word.
For those of you who have had the pleasure you'll know that a sidecar is neither fish nor fowl.
A solo motorbike can be steered with the bottom, without much input from the steering column.
The trick, with a sidecar, is to employ a lot of leaning.
If the chair is on the right hand side then you'll need to lean fully into the chair for right handers.
Left handers take care of themselves on the whole.
Unless you're heading downhill... !
Well, on my first drive I was accompanied by a Green Woodpecker.
Why does the Woodpecker tap ?
The Woodpecker beats a rhythm to announce his arrival, a territory, the tapping and digging also reveals things previously unseen.
A little determination will bear fruit.
A metaphor perhaps.
I had a lot of tapping to do, and so did the bike.
I'm tapping still.
|Route Richard Cour de Lion.|
The wood pecker, Green or Great spotted, has a flight pattern that rises and falls,
much like a gentle sine wave.
A few beats of the wing and the bird describes an upward shallow arc, the wings are folded and a shallow decent follows.
I guess this flight pattern would describe my travels on the s/c.
The gentle ups and downs of traveling.
The gentle up's and down's of life perhaps.
Back in the day I used to get around on two different wheels.
Faster than the side car.
|Jon Mac taking part in a 25 mile TT.|
Back in the seventies.
Back in the seventies I used to avidly follow the trials a tribulations of my cycling heroes throughout the seasons.
Winter time for me was a dull affair.
Not much racing, if at all, just endless miles of training in all weathers.
Then, late spring, race season opened.
I'd sign up for all manor of time trials and later, road races.
I remember seeing some of my heroes at a velodrome at Wembley.
The 'Skoll Six'
My friend and I blagged our way into the centre of the velodrome by making two 'passes'.
My friend was a graphic designer back when everyone used 'Letraset'.
So a pair of olive green flight suits and a couple of 'passes' with our photos, a 'N.A.S.A' heading and, in very small lettering,
'Chief Panic Button Pusher'
This was accepted by the guards checking tickets on the bridge.
I'm still not sure if we were passed through because we had the neck, or if they didn't read the 'passes' properly.
Still, we got to see our heroes up close and personal.
As you can imagine, the thought of seeing the Tour de France was an exciting prospect.
I didn't get to see the Tour until Sarah and I bumped into it's progress purely by chance one day in the hills around Puy Dome.
These guys beat a rhythm.
Hour after hour.
I don't know any of the riders here, I assume somewhere in the pack Lance Armstrong would have been spinning away.
He'd be peddling at a comfortable cadence.
Tapping a rhythm, perhaps to a popular tune.
Tapping like the Woodpecker.
Just to think L.A and I now have so much in common.
Neither of us race anymore and neither of us has won a Tour.
Heroe's and villains are sometimes two faces of the same coin.
If Sarah and I were together we'd always take time out to soak up the scenery.
I'm not too sure if purist bushcrafters would describe what we were doing then as bushcraft.
Or plain camping.
|My old trusty 'Vaude' domed tent. I remember carting this around France in my old Burgen when I travelled with nothing but my thumb.|
We lit a fire from time to time as long as the land wasn't to dry.
|The newer VauDe 'Ferret'|
Whatever it was, we learned a lot about the mind set needed for an adventure.
One thing that I have carried with me is when things look grim, listen for the Green woodpeckers laugh or the tapping on a hollow tree.
If you can hear it, things'll be fine.
When we broke down, which was often, we'd put on a brew and call wherever it was we had come to rest
Occasionally on the surface things can look grim.
But with a little perseverance, a little pecking will reveal a sweet morceau.
Now and then I'd need a little assistance on my travels.
I came across a camp site near Vichy late one night. Tired and desperate for a rest I pulled onto a field, put up the tent and made myself comfy.
Suddenly in the dusky light a man appeared and asked what I was up to.
I told him I was travelling south and needed rest. He told me to come to his house in the morning.
The morning arrived soon enough, we sat with a breakfast of home made bread, butter and jam with coffee and spoke about bikes and adventures.
He didn't speak English, I have 'Bar French', we got on like a house on fire.
Alain and Nathalie became good friends who we re-visited over the years.
One time we arrived on a wrecking truck.
Alain took me to all the local scrap yards.
My Russian bike soon had a French heart in the form of a Deux Chevaux ignition system.
|Alain and Nathalie|
|Sarah and the Cirque de Navacelles|
|Cirque de Navacelles|
Well, with a bit of pecking and a bit of a fall and rise in fortune old дятел clattered it's way over hill and dale, moor and mountain.
With the occasional sunset thrown in for good measure.
And the occasional storm.
We had a complete kitchen on the side car.
An aluminium box that slipped into a steel holder bolted to the front of the chair.
Ready to deploy at a moments notice.
I used to brew up for years using a high altitude Whisperlight stove.
It served me well and could produce hot coffee at 4000 meters without a hitch.
Not that I was often at 4000 meters.
But when I was it worked fine.
I was preparing for a s/c trip and decided to check the Wisperlight before departure.
The damned thing burst an 'O'ring and sprayed compressed gasoline all over the shop.
I quickly moved over to using a Trangia.
Simple and quiet.
And no compressed gasoline.
Up's and downs.
Finding what works.
Finding a way.
At one time we became fugitives on the run.
|Not a bad looking Drum.|
At the moment we are in the throws of sorting out a large venue where we can invite top teachers to provide training in all manor of crafts and skills.
|Mont Blanc in the background.|
We have been lucky this year.
A family of Great spotted woodpeckers have decided to use our feeding station as their local eatery.
I'm watching them fly in and out with the distinctive sine wave.
I'm listening to their tapping.
I'm sure something will reveal itself.
I hope it's a good adventure.
Perhaps next time you hear or see a woodpecker you'll be reminded of the pace of life.
The natural rhythms, up's and downs, revelations.
Must go now.
They've run out of fat ball.