The Verdon River is green due to a naturally occurring substance.
The big Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Limited pulled strongly up the narrow corkscrew Alpine highway. The golden fall-changing trees were giving way to high-altitude shrubs and tan mountain grasses. We were winding our way up to the highest pass in Europe on what had to be the prettiest day ever.
On that day I understood how a stranger could never know the powerful euphoria granted to a biker on such a trip. Sharon and I soon dropped our chatter and exclamations of wow and became still. The only sound was the rich exhaust note of the 103ci engine bouncing off ancient mountainsides and rolling down steep canyons.
The High Alps of Provence
I turned the temperature on the Ultra's heated grips up a notch as the crisp air took on more bite. As we approached one of the hundreds of hairpin turns-270 degrees and nearly 20-percent grade, we expected to hear the floorboards scrape. Accelerating through the turn, once again, no scraping. The new Ultra has a frame that makes me think I'm a much better biker than I really am. Floorboards do, however, scrape on the ride down the mountain.
This perfect ride: it was an accident. We had planned a trip through Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Good thing we were ready for the unexpected. Instead of Germanic culture, we found Napoleon, proud monuments to WWII resistance fighters, architectural footprints of Romans, Goths, French royals, a French Grand Canyon: Gorge du Verdon, medieval walled towns, and roads cut into steep canyons. The roads! Holy cow!
What a playground for the Harley!
Looking through the turn, I ignore the French Alps in the background.
Just out of Grenoble, we were forced onto a detour that even now lingers in our minds.
This little village was over 800 years old.
Maybe because our last European motorcycle trip gave us three to six hours of daily, heavy rain, we might be a bit rain-phobic. The weather forecasts for our chosen destinations showed the entire area was being pounded with buckets of rain. Since France appeared mostly dry, we fired up the Harley and headed west out of Munich.
I know only about 30 French words, and we had no reservations, so our level of concern about easy traveling went up. We had planned our trip to begin on the first day of school for European children: September 9. This also marks the beginning of low season in many places. Low season means plenty of vacant, discounted hotel rooms, narrow highways devoid of European RVs and family cars. Would we find lodging in France? We had a TomTom Rider navigation unit with us, so we figured we could find our way to a hotel.
Our French trip started in Strasbourg, then shifted to Grenoble as the rain drifted off. Both of these beautiful, magic places we could have seen with a train ticket. We had a brand-new bike out of Harley's European press fleet: so much better than a train ticket! Time to point the bike to the part of France called Provence.
A fall tour offers more colors and fewer hot days to a traveler.
Ah, Provence. In a way, we were expecting a mild, hilly area similar to Southern California. Not having actually planned a trip to Provence, we didn't have many other preconceptions other than the area was a favorite subject for such painters such as Van Gogh, Renoir, Monet, and Picasso. The only other time we traveled in this easternmost French state was years ago; we cruised Nice and Cannes in our VW camper bus. At that time our impressions were that it was beautiful, but hot, crowded and expensive. This time we would be in the rural mountains during the fall low season, so we didn't worry about heat and crowds. We would worry about rain and fret about hotel reservations.
For much of our journey through Provence, we would travel the Route Napoleon. In 1815, when Napoleon abandoned his exile on the isle of Elba, he, and 1,200 of his favorite soldiers, decided to sneak into Grenoble using secret paths, obscure mountain passes and travel through tiny villages to avoid the king's soldiers - who's job it was to prevent Napoleon from taking the government away from Louis XVIII.