Spent the following week weighing up the pros and cons of various new trials bikes, eventually deciding that I rather fancied a 300 Cabestany Sherco. Trouble was, it cost more than the price of the Ariel and I didn't really want to delve into our meagre savings. But then, as is often the way, I spotted a great alternative: a mint 2012 Repsol Montesa on the Trials Central website which was up for grabs at about £500 less than the Ariel. Made him an offer and we agreed a deal. Thus I swapped bikes and pocketed about £625.
But..., I now had the problem of getting the Montesa from the UK to France. And that could be expensive - somewhere around £600 with a reputable courier. Bang goes my pocketed dosh. Or £300 with an 'iffy' courier. But that's risky, as my Ariel buyer will testify (he paid a cheap online courier who sub-contacted to a UK courier who had delivered a bike to Bordeaux and was able to fit in the Ariel job on his homeward trek, but then when the genuine courier phoned in to the online courier on arriving back in the UK there was no answer, turned out the online courier was a fraudster, so the genuine courier had an Ariel but no delivery address and no money for his troubles - when the Ariel didn't arrive, the buyer emailed me and I gave him the contact number of the genuine courier who then delivered and, understandably, charged for his journey, thus the Ariel buyer paid twice for delivery when initially thinking he'd got a good cheap deal).
So..., I wasn't too keen on the courier solution, and nor was the Montesa seller. He much preferred a face to face meeting where we could sign the V5C form and he could explain various technical aspects of the bike, such as oil and filter changes and starting procedure etc. I looked into the cost of driving to his home in Didcot and it worked out rather expensive - car with trailer on Eurotunnel at holiday season in August costs an arm, a leg and a few other dangly bits. Then the seller kindly offered to 'van' the bike to Calais where we could meet up and complete the sale providing I was willing to pay for his petrol and tunnel charges (about £130). Seemed a brilliant solution. Total cost about £350 if we kipped two nights in the car (or camped with our little tent), or about £425 if we dossed down at a couple of cheap hotels leaving Jock in the car, or about £500 if we booked Jock into kennels for a couple of nights while we stayed in hotels.
In the end we just shoved Jock in the car along with sleeping bags, small tent, cooler box and various other odds'n'sods'n'bits'n'bobs, connected up the bike trailer and headed north, departing at around mid-day on an epic 500 mile journey (well, 1000 miles there and back). Rendez-vous time was mid-day the next day which, I hoped, gave us plenty of time to get there.
At around 5pm we were roughly halfway across the boring flatlands of central France. Thought it was about time we gave Jock a bit of a walk and then get stuck into our Thermos of tea and home-made ham sarnies. Drove off the main road and stopped just outside a farming village beside some cornfields (or maybe they were wheatfields) where combine harvesters and tractors were doing their thing. A very pleasant interlude. Then we hit the road again.
About four or five hours later we were somewhere between Chartres and Rouen just to the west of Paris. If we were to camp for the night, now was the time to do it, but finding a campsite and putting up a tent didn't appeal to moi, especially as the weather had deteriorated, so we kept right on trucking. Eventually stopped at a rainy service station north of Rouen where we spent the night in the car, parked up alongside lorries and campers. I think I managed about three hours kip. Georgie didn't get any. Said she just couldn't get to sleep, so she just snoozed.
Hit the road again at around 7ish after a brekkie of yesterday's sarnies and tranny caff coffee. We now had five hours to do about 120 miles which was plenty of time. Stopped off about an hour later at a brilliant service station somewhere around Montreuil (I think) where we watched ducks and huge fish cavorting in the man-made lake next to the café verandah. Back on the road, Georgie suggested we take a slight detour to visit a seaside town (Wimreux?) that she'd once read about. Apparently it's famous for 'Twenties architecture and is well worth a visit. I immediately had visions of ending up in some back street cul-de-sac where I'd face the nightmare of reversing out with a difficult to see trailer. But we went there anyway and there wasn't a problem. Well, only a slight one inasmuch as we didn't properly get to see the sea due to Georgie worrying about me having a fit if we went off the high street road.
Anyways, we eventually arrived at the designated Calais car park rendez-vous spot an hour early. Turned out the car park was alongside the animal check-in centre so we nipped in there for a bit of info about taking dogs across the channel. Apparently some of the old rules have been changed and pets no longer have to be pumped full of drugs on either side of the channel which is a darned good thing. Killed a bit more time walking Jock then, on the dot of mid-day, the seller and his twin brother turned up in their rather swish van with the bike in the back. Did the paperwork, had the lecture about servicing hints etc., paid for the bumper pack of teabags which Paul and Andy had kindly brought over for us, thanked them for their much appreciated efforts in getting the bike here (they really were a smashing couple of chaps) and then hit the homeward trail.
Pulling a three-bike trailer and bike is no great problem for an average car, but it's quite a strain for a little runaround dogwagon powered by a tiddly 1.4 litre moped engine. Fine going downhill and almost fine on a flat road with a tail wind, but power limitations immediately become apparent going uphill or into a headwind. Consequently we found ourselves being overtaken at frequent intervals by giant lorries that normally hog the slow lane, rusty old Citroen 2CVs and even the odd caravan. Suffering the gross indignity of being Captain Slow, I found myself seriously considering swapping our little Citroen for the V8 4.4 litre BMW 540i that I recently saw being advertised on the Leboncoin site, if and when we eventually get back home. To make matters worse, we missed a detour sign outside Rouen and ended up in the city evening rush hour traffic. Hauling a trailer through a badly signposted city centre with streets packed with traffic is no laughing matter. Led to a bit of stress between moi and my map-reading navigator, but, somehow, we finally managed to escape the bedlam and hit the right road south. Miracle.
Despite our lack of speed and unplanned detour, we made relatively good progress and eventually stopped for the night at a service station just north of Vierzon where we parked up in the lorry park alongside some huge trucks. This time Georgie figured out how to put her seat back into a near horizontal position which resulted in a good night's kip. I too slept pretty soundly in spite of having a faceful of steering wheel and feet cramped by pedals.
Woke at around sixish to the sound of rumbling as the big lorries started their engines ready for another hard day's trucking. Had a splendid brekkie of three freshly baked croissants and three cups of strong, black coffee in the excellent service station. Caffeined up, we then hit the road again. However, about a minute later, just as we'd hit top gear on the three lane autoroute, Georgie said "now this is serious". Something was clearly wrong. I thought maybe she'd left her handbag behind. Or maybe Jock. But it turned out that she'd lost the autoroute ticket that we collected last night and which had to be presented at the toll gates in about ten miles time. To cut a long story short, I eventually found someone in the deserted toll gate area who let us through after we'd paid the 11 euro toll. Close shave though. We could have been stuck there for hours. Maybe forever.
Talking of cutting a long story short, I'd better get to the end. We finally arrived home at about 1pm, totally shattered but with mission accomplished. Jock especially was relieved to be home after being locked up in the car for hours on end. Probably had the sound of an engine ringing in his ears for days after. Bike's now parked in the indoor shed. Keep popping in there for a quick look. Really is a beauty. Lucky moi.