The following is the writeup of a trip I took in Europe in the summer of 1992. Please accept a disclaimer and apology for length; I always try my best to cut these down, but brevity was not one of my born talents.
A few years ago, a friend said to me that it would be fun to tour Europe on a motorcycle. "That's a really dumb idea," I said scornfully. "You don't get from one place to another any faster than in a car, you can't carry as much stuff, you get rained on and you get cold. Why not rent a car instead?"
That off-the-cuff analysis of motorcycle travel was actually quite accurate, though it completely missed the point. If someone told me that someday I would spend a week touring the European Alps alone on a motorcycle, less than a year after I wobbled through the first MSF safety class, I would have permanently wrinkled my face with skepticism.
Instead, I permanently wrinkled said face by doing exactly that.
But let me start at the beginning. I'd been riding for about 9 months and 12,500 miles, all on a oil-hungry Kawasaki 305 CSR. I finished my sentence at UCLA in mid-July, and as promised, the ink was not even dry on my degree before I moved my things into storage in the SF Bay Area, and took off eastward for an almost impromptu 6-week trip to Europe. One wonderful week of this trip was spent on a motorcycle.
My trip in Europe was based in Paris, at the home of a good friend of my mother's, Francoise. After getting used to being in France again and scouting out the local Patissiers, I took a 2-week cage trip with my sister Stephanie. One of my intentions was to go to Germany to scout out motorcycle rentals and to buy leather pants and boots. This trip was full of road- and motorcycle-related discoveries and is worth mention.
And so it came to pass that she was summoned unto a distant land to tame the daemon Adnoh. Her journey was to be fraught with peril. The peoples of the land spoke in strange tongues, spreading tales of thunderous steeds. It was thus that she came to tame Adnoh and venture into the wilderness.
Thursday, August 27, 1992
The end of the two-week car trip with my sister found me back in Paris, all fired up to find a motorcycle rental to ride in Germany. I couldn't find any rental at all in France, and so tried calling places in London. Rentals in England are plentiful and relatively cheap (due to the number of couriers); however, the snag is that the International Green Card insurance that you must have to ride, does not allow US (and strangely, Canadian) citizens to take bikes out of the U.K. No continental riding for cracker-jack box licensees!
I already knew I could rent a Suzuki GS500E for 699 DM a week at a Honda dealership in Frankfurt. Hoping to do better, I called a few places (there weren't many) I had copied from the Gelbe Seiten (yellow pages). I found if I spoke simply and clearly, most people could speak decent enough English on the phone. The fewer cc's, the fewer DM, so I asked for 500cc range bikes, how much and for how long. One place in Munich offered a Yamaha XT600 for 160DM ($114) a *DAY*! Never mind, sir.
Then I talked to a place in Frankfurt that had a Honda FT500 for 599 DM a week, with the first 2500 km free. I had never seen an FT500, and asked the guy (Claude), if it was tall. "No problem, it's small." I pressed. "You sure? I'm small!" (less than 5'2" with short legs). "No problem!"
So I arranged to pick up the '84 Honda FT500 (sold as an Ascot in the USA), on Thursday afternoon, August 27. I bought a Paris <--> Frankfurt round-trip train ticket for 780 FF (about $160), packed up my leathers and helmet in a huge knapsack, bungeed the rest of my gear on a set of luggage wheels, and set out at 6am on August 27. This gear consisted of an Eclipse tank bag, a small bag of rain gear, and a duffel bag that I'd sewn four Fastex buckle "feet" into. I had the four other halves of the buckles, along with nylon web straps to attach to the bike, and some bungee cords just in case.
The train arrived in Frankfurt at 2pm. As I disembarked the train, my heart began to pound. I'm back in Germany! Am I REALLY doing this?! I said aloud to myself: I am NOT scared. With the help of a friendly German man (Ludwig), I negotiated the U-bahn to Eckenheimer Landstrasse and then set out for a hot 1-km walk to the place where I would meet the thumper that would be my companion for the next week.
The place turned out to be a mechanic's shop, with a few extra motorcycles for rent. My red FT was waiting for me, not new-looking, but clean and apparently well cared for. Claude was very helpful and nice, and I relaxed as I watched his mechanic do a full pre-flight, including chain, suspension, battery, tires, oil etc. The mechanic explained to me that this bike has trouble starting, and said not to crank the starter. Instead, give it a touch so it turns over once or twice, then try again. Something to do with the starter motor, but his English was not good enough to explain it to me in detail. Fine, I figured I'd just follow instructions.
The bike was a little (well, a lot) tall for me, but I sure as hell wasn't turning back now just because I had less foot on the ground than I would have liked. Claude was tall, and left on an FJ1200, and I thought, I should have known better than to believe him that the FT is small! But no matter, nothing was going to dampen me now. I'd learn. Undaunted, I loaded up my gear, changed into my untested leathers and boots and finally took off at around 4:30pm. Right into Frankfurt's rush hour.
I fell in love with the FT at the first turn — it leaned over so willingly. It had a very DP-ish feel to it: it was light, had a large front wheel, a torquey engine and a higher suspension than my little Kawi. I loved being so much higher up, and didn't mind at all the reach to the ground. Grateful for the stretchy panel above the knee on my new leather pants, I quickly learned to solidly plant one foot rather than teetering on two at lights. This lesson was reinforced by the fact that my new boots didn't flex that well at the toe.
Frankfurt's rush hour was crowded but quiet (I learned later it is against the law to use one's horn except as a warning), and I used my time in traffic to familiarize myself with the controls of this strange motorcycle. When I got to the autobahn, the control I really wanted to try was the throttle, and an eager twist revealed the single cylinder's willingness to pull all the way to its 7K redline. It quickly topped out at 150kph (~95mph — and totally legal, yeah!), but I was very pleased that it wasn't a huge struggle to eke out the last drops of speed. I'm told thumpers have a fairly linear power output, and it was a welcome change from my reluctant Kawi.
Everyone who always told me that my 306cc Kawasaki parallel twin vibrates has never ridden the Kawi: glancing at the impressionist art that now masqueraded as the FT's mirror images, my Kawi was vindicated: it is remarkably smooth for its size.
OK, so now I'm psyched. I've pulled it off. I'm in Germany, I'm riding in full leathers (and it felt so wonderful I couldn't believe I'd ever ridden without them), I'm cruising down the autobahn on a motorcycle that actually has power and a working speedometer, and have a whole week of adventure in front of me. When another rider waved at me, I knew I had arrived! He waved at me!!! I'm one of *US* again! yay! My face fixated in a Joker grin.
My goal that evening was Heidelberg, where I planned to meet Bill Wohler, a rec.moto lurker whom I'd met at a party. (In fact, Bill's first bike, an interesting '76 Kawasaki KH250, a 2-stroke triple, is now in pieces in a friend's garage. I was growled off the old KH when I eyed its turn signals for spare parts, so there is hope for it.) Bill lives in Heidelberg and kindly accepted a visit from me.
I thought I'd take a "fun" non-autobahn route, but found that the area was so dense that there was only one or two km between towns, and everything in between was just annoying traffic. Lights in Germany turn yellow before they turn green (and red), which was nice when I needed extra time to heft my body over to the right side to put the FT in gear. Eventually I abandoned this process and just used my right foot to balance the bike at lights, so it was an easy matter to put it into gear. The clutch action was extremely heavy and the lever was the usual just-out-of-reach proposition, so holding the clutch in at numerous lights for longer than 10 seconds was painful.
After an hour of barely 20km progress, I changed course and headed for a few roads that didn't appear to be lined by towns on the way to Heidelberg. I was teased by about 30km of mountainish roads, and revelled in the different feel of my FT. But geez, I hope Germany has more twisties than this! It seemed like a brief oasis of elevation and curvy roads among a vast network of little roads swarmed by towns and traffic lights.
I met up with Bill around 10pm in Heidelberg, exhausted and burnt from the overload of all that had happened to me that day. My day had started out in Paris at 6am, lugging all my things on the Metro (Paris' subway), and 8-hour train ride, another hour to Claude's place, lots of preparation to leave, and hours of annoying traffic!
Bill was an extremely gracious host and it was a tremendous relief to have someone to talk to while I tried to sink in the fact that I had actually done this. His place in Heidelberg was gorgeous, and I was extremely grateful that he made me feel so at home. Excitement kept me wide awake well into the night, so I looked over maps for hours until my mind was finally willing to permit my exhausted body a few hours of fitful sleep. Tomorrow I would really ride.
Yahweh looked upon his people and was displeased. They had grown debaucherous and slothful in their ways. Legions were found to be in partnership with Daemons. Their true faith must be tested. And thus Yahweh conceived what would be the first of many challenges to test the worthiness of his people - The test of the lights.
Friday, August 28
I forced myself to sleep in as late as I could, since I was so filled with nervous energy I could have stayed awake the whole week I had the rented FT500. I had barely rested the night before, staying awake long into the night, obsessed with my atlas of Germany. Today I planned to do a day trip, and spend the night in Heidelberg again.
The map indicated there was an area west of Heidelberg (Pfaelzer Wald?) with roads that were not riddled with towns along the way. I suited up and got going around 11am, but not before beaching the bike between the very low curb between my parking spot and the street. Lesson #1 in managing a too-tall bike: back out as parallel as possible to the curb.
Getting out of Heidelberg was really frustrating: the lights seem to have the same maximum-annoyance sensor frequently found in printers and copier machines. I counted: 8 out of 10 lights I was caught at the yellow, finding myself at the head of the line for a hot, long wait. Some lights had no cross traffic, and I missed California's on-demand traffic signals, even though their sensors don't always pick up motorcycles. The 2 out of 10 times I didn't get caught by the yellow was when I realized, hey, I'm not on my 300cc Kawi! Brrrrrrr-AW, goodbye red light. It took me 15 minutes to go maybe two kilometers in light traffic. What a way to start a ride! I couldn't believe my bad luck with yellow lights.
And now, my first gas station. My stupid phrase book does not tell you how to say "leaded" in German! So what is leaded and unleaded?! There were four choices of pump. After 5 minutes of guessing words and looking them up in German, I was able to eliminate "benzin" (gas) and "super". "blei" was the only word that appeared on two pumps, in the incarnations "bleifrei" and "verbleit,". The only word I could think of that would appear on more than one pump, besides benzin and super, was lead. So blei must mean lead. Now down to "ver" and "frei", I guessed that "frei" means "free", looked up "free" in the phrasebook's sparse English-to-German dictionary — bingo! "Bleifrei" means unleaded.
I'd never have guessed that basic principles of set theory and elimination would be useful at a German gas station.
FINALLY, I'm ready to go! My patience was thin...I had left over half an hour ago and was barely 5km out of Heidelberg. That's when the FT chose to give me starting practice. Damn! I tried the touch method of operating the starter button, as per the mechanic's instructions, which turned it over, but it didn't start the bike. Crank, die. Crank, die. After trying for about 5 minutes, giving the battery breaks, another rider came over to help. He didn't speak any English, so I couldn't explain what little I knew about the starter motor. I watched helplessly as he did the normal, but in this case unnecessary, inspection of the fuel petcock, choke and kill switch. Finally he aggressively grabbed the throttle and starter button, and the FT fired up. He looked at me dubiously with an expression on his face that said "bimbo" in German and I was sheepishly on my way. Curse my lack of German!
A hot and frustrating 2-hour ride with many, many more yellow lights finally brought me to my destination of small mountains. Finally, some twisties, please! I did find some nice roads that went through some pleasant towns, but nothing terribly technical or challenging. It was very pretty and very green, and when I came upon a narrow wooded road that was mostly deserted and fairly straight with some bends, I pushed my speed limits a little and tested out my FT. What a BLAST! I liked this bike more and more. It took the bumps without nary a wallow, and when I found a large dirt parking lot to play in, the FT felt right at home (I was told later that this bike has DP ancestry, and it really felt it).
I loved having my feet so much higher off the ground, since on my Kawi, the wide, square cruiserish pegs makes ground clearance a precious commodity. I didn't test the FT's helping of clearance too hard, but on one wide 180-degree turn, I did feel a minor ch-chh from the right peg, politely letting me know its angled underside was riding along the ground. No bashing, no catching, no crashing.
My riding was actually rather awkward and stilted; I was nervous about pushing it and didn't know the tires yet (they weren't the newest, but were still well within acceptable). I could feel myself resisting leans, and in a push-right situation, my left hand was haunted by survival instinct and also pushed to prevent the the go-right part. In fact, during the whole trip, my riding per se never got relaxed or good; there were a few times when things felt like they were coming together, but I just didn't have enough time to familiarize myself with the bike or the surroundings well enough to completely take command. The FT also let me be a little lazier about changing gears, since the 500 single willingly offers power in a wider RPM range.
This riding was pleasant, but where were the high mountain passes?! I stopped at what had all the markings of a posing spot, and asked a sponsor-sticker-encrusted Suzuki sportbike rider to show me where to go. He pointed to a few roads that he said were "great" — but I'd just been on those. And they didn't hold a candle to California roads. I asked, well what do you do after those? With a grin, he responded, "I ride them again!"
I just couldn't believe that this area of 10-20km bendy stretches was the best riding in Germany. But looking at the map, this area was the only one like it around. Where is all the good riding?!
I had lunch at what appeared to be a "meeting place" for motorcyclists. There were other riders there, and I got the feeling I would be free to join them if I liked, but as always, I couldn't talk to any of them. In general, I drew a lot of attention when I went in places, no matter how unobtrusive I tried to be. I was always embarrassed by not being able to speak the language or read the menu and having to carefully examine coins for their value. I got the feeling a lot of people felt sorry for me, since I frequently had a slightly frazzled and frightened air about me.
I did all the roads in the area, never getting into a swing and stopping often to check my map, and then headed toward the Autobahns to crank back to Heidelberg. I was frustrated with the lack of long roads to play on, but told myself that it was good to have a day of easy riding to get used to the bike.
Unfortunately, the lack of relative directions got me: I had to switch autobahns twice in order to get back, but as usual, when there's an exit, you have to know the name of the town where the road is going. Dammit, I just want Autobahn 661 SOUTH!! I don't KNOW what town it goes to or what autobahn it goes to and the town that autobahn goes to! A series of wrong guesses had me back in Heidelberg two hours late to meet Bill and a friend for dinner. I was VERY frustrated by the time I got back to Heidelberg, and when I got caught at every yellow light in the city again (don't they synchronize the lights here?!), I firmly decided to get the heck OUT of the cities. No WAY was I going to Nuremberg tomorrow as originally planned, since the riding looked even worse there than around here.
We had a spaghetti dinner at The Pub in Heidelberg, though it took me hours to settle down from the many hours of blood-boiling annoyance. We went out The Cave, a place in the center of Heidelberg (where EinBahnStrasse points to :-)) that has a smoky downstairs area with a bartender/deejay, a small dance floor and a grotto motif. We hung out there for the evening, danced and people-watched, until I begged off since the smoke was so heavy my eyes were swelling shut. A lightning storm gave us occasional lit-up glimpses of the city as we walked back, and an occasional welcome sprinkle. But please don't rain tomorrow!
Later that night, Bill took me for a ride on the Autobahn in his BMW 320i — that was GREAT! I was thrilled to be the intimidator instead of the intimidatee. The rev limiter hindered any further acceleration after 215kph ( > 130mph), but we could book along at this speed completely legal! I loved it. Then Bill took me for a short twisty ride where we were treated to a power slide and an ABS demo. It was lots of fun — even if cars lean the wrong way in turns.
We ended up staying up very late talking when we got back, and I stayed up even later looking over maps, including a giant one of Switzerland that I had bought that day. This map had some evil-looking squiggles on it, and I began to formulate a plan to head south. I didn't get to sleep any earlier than 4am that night, setting the stage for a very lazy, but enjoyable, tomorrow.
Rains vomited forth from the heavens and his people were sent unto the storm riding the Daemon Adnoh. Such were their struggles, that they beckoned to the heavens. The calling of the promised land echoed through the valley. Thus began the second trial of his people.
Saturday, August 29
I woke up late to the sound of pouring rain. So _that's_ why Germany is so green: it rains all the time! I called the person I was going to visit in Nuremberg and told him that I wasn't coming, and spent the better part of the morning chatting with Bill, waiting for the lightning to stop and looking over maps, determined not to get caught in yellow-light hell again.
I decided to head straight south to Austria, but was in no hurry to leave since it was so pleasant hanging around with Bill, and I wasn't excited about the prospect of a 400km ride in pouring rain. Bill and I went out for a late lunch, and by then I was convinced to relax and stay the evening and leave first thing on Sunday morning. I could call Claude and ask him if I could keep the red FT one more day.
Late in the afternoon, it stopped raining, so Bill and I went for a two-up ride. Bill rode, even though he hadn't ridden for 3 years and didn't have a German motorcycle license. We figured this was better than me never having taken passengers and not being used to a tall bike. The FT's suspension was not at all happy about this arrangement, but took us through an hour's ride in some hills a little north of Heidelberg, where we could see castles and tool through small towns. Heidelberg and its surrounding areas are really beautiful. The roads were still wet in some places, but there was nothing terribly difficult, and we were in no hurry. Bill did really a nice job of inspiring confidence in me, which says a lot since I am now a rather experienced passenger, as well as being a rider myself. I hope the ride motivated him to take up riding again!
The ride ended abruptly when we realized we were late for a movie Bill had talked me into. We rushed back to Heidelberg just in time to catch Lethal Weapon 3, which I watched in my leathers. Though the movie was full of trite dialogue, it had an impressive motorcycle chase scene, where Mel Gibson is on a cop's Kawasaki, chasing a car through 3 lanes of *oncoming* traffic!
My biggest challenge that day were the restrooms in the movie theater. The restrooms were marked "Sie" and "Er", so I had to go back into the dark theater to ask Bill which one I was! (Sie). Luckily for me Bill passed up this golden opportunity for a practical joke.
I planned a route to head straight south, out of Germany and into Austria, with the single-minded goal of finding an Alpine pass. I found a road on my map of Switzerland that looked like a seismograph, and decided that was as good a goal as any, though it would take me two days to get there. I looked for where I'd heard the organized Alpine tours go, and found that the area I'd chosen was indeed in the neighborhood of the Alpine passes with numbered hairpin turns, and on the route of the organized tours.
Tomorrow, no fooling around: I'm getting serious, leaving early and boogie-ing down the Autobahn to get out of Germany and find the good riding in the Alps. I spent hours poring over maps and finally tore myself away to make an effort at sleep.
As the third test of faith, the daemon Adnoh was smitten with sharp thorns. Only by passing the test of lights thus crippled with bleeding hooves, could Adnoh be deemed worthy to carry His people to the promised land.
Sunday, August 30, 1992
Today I had to get to Austria to escape the German cities and my yellow-light curse.
The day started out overcast, but not raining. Hoping it had rained itself out yesterday, I forewent the raingear and began the drudgerous task of putting all my gear on the bike again. I was about ready to go when my conscience got the better of me — shouldn't I do a full pre-flight on the bike? It had just been fully inspected in Frankfurt, I hadn't gone that far since then, it couldn't possibly guzzle oil the way my Kawi does....naaaaah. Ever gone a whole week without a rationalization? OK, OK, can't rationalize away safety. I'd just do a quick nail inspection on the tires.
Three guesses what this quick nail inspection turned up. Yup. A quick nail.
The nail was in the groove of the rear tire's tread, with the head of the nail about flush with the tread. I stared at it dumbfoundedly. This can't be happening to me!! *AND* it's Sunday, there's no WAY I could get it fixed today.
I checked the tire pressure and found it hadn't lost any air. I decided to ride to a gas station outside of Heidelberg and check it again. This time, I didn't even notice the yellow-light curse since I was so consumed with visions of the rear tire exploding. The follow-up inspection at the gas station revealed no loss in pressure, so I decided to press on. I filled up with Super Bleifrei, and mercifully, the FT started easily, and I was nervously on my way.
Highway droning on Autobahn 5 "south" took me to Autobahn 6 "east" (toward Heilbronn) then to Autobahn 7 "south" (toward Ulm then to Kempten). It got cold due to clouds, and was very windy. Still, it was pretty and always a thrill to ride on the Autobahn. I cruised at about 130 kph and made decent time in spite of frequent stops to fix earplugs, put on sunglasses, add neckwarmer, etc. The FT was decent for this sort of travel, and I was glad that I could let my legs dangle without risk of touching them down (yes, I KNOW that's a no-no!).
After hours and hours on the Autobahn, I wanted to go toward Reutte, Austria, but the road was blocked by police because of an accident. This sent me on a detour *way* out of my way, partly since I didn't stop to look at my map until I was too far gone. It's amazing how far you can get in an hour on the Autobahn, and how incredibly not far you get in an hour *off* the Autobahn! It takes forever to get through towns on the small roads in Germany.
No crisis, though — I ended up in Marktoberdorf, then took that to Fussen, and was treated to some *gorgeous* views of a valley with a lake. Two of King Ludwig's castles, including Neuschwannstein (the Disneyland castle) were nestled in the mountains, looking rather unnatural against the vast slope of trees. It was considerably cooler than last time I was there, when I had hiked up to the castle in jeans under my leather pants, in a quest to stretch the leathers.
It occurred to me that everything looked so *different* this time — the green looked greener, the contrast of the slope against the valley was stronger, the lake was shinier. The beauty of my surroundings seemed so rich; it seemed to penetrate me more. It was also wonderful last time I was here — but why didn't I feel this same brand of magic then? The only explanation is that now I was seeing it from the perspective of a motorcycle, and last time I had been in a car. As someone said later, it's the difference between seeing something on TV and actually being there.
I continued on to Reutte, crossing the Austrian border along the way. I made it! Nearby was Lermoos, a town that was finally looking to be off the beaten tourist track, where I stopped at a pizzeria at 6pm. Germany and Austria were so expensive with the rock-bottom dollar that I had a lot of pizza and pasta there. But you know how it is when you've been riding all day: the importance of food quality is inversely proportional to how long you've been riding. That must explain why bikers have so little class when it comes to eating :-). The man who served me the pizza told me in English that he thought it was wonderful I was riding a motorcycle. "More girls should ride motorbikes!"
Motorbike, by the way, was doing OK after its day of hard work, though I sometimes heard a curious
While munching my oregano and cheese pizza, I looked out at the mountains and the white buildings with wood trimmings and flowers, marvelling at how different Austria was. It was just fantastic here, with green mountains oddly juxtaposed with completely bare, rock-like mountains. The towns were sparser along the way than in Germany, and the roads sometimes go *around* the towns. So THIS is where the good motorcycling is! After a good hour of unkinking the hours of autobahn out, I scribbled to myself "hope I find a place tonight?" I wanted to use every drop of daylight for riding, which in Europe, lasted past 9PM in the summer.
Continuing on some decently bent roads, it was finally dark enough to stop and look for a place to stay. Too dark — and too late. I went to six GastHofs (Guesthouse) and didn't find one zimmer (room) frei (free). Each attempt meant finding the Correct parking spot (not sloped, with plenty of room to get out), removing helmet, gloves, hairband; walking to the desk and getting a sad "no" from the proprietor, reversing the procedure and starting all over again. People were very friendly and helpful, actually. I wondered if they were so nice because even in Europe, I was an unusual sight: a young [ok, ISH] woman in black leathers travelling alone by motorcycle, looking forlorn and frightened, and acting *very* foreign.
I swore to myself that tomorrow I would look earlier, even if it meant using up a precious half hour of daylight to ride. It was still August, after all, the Month of the Tourist, and places filled up early.
In despair, I tried the next town (Landeck, Austria). At the first GastHof, the man whom I asked for zimmer frei said nothing, walked away and returned with a key!! I asked if I needed to leave my passport or anything, and he said no, pay tomorrow. Very trusting. The sparse little room had a view of a mountain and a rushing river, whose sound would be great to help me sleep. Relief and exhaustion did much to alleviate any complaints about the 300 oS (oS = austrian shillings; $30) price for the room.
Downstairs in the restaurant (most of the Gasthofs have a restaurant and bar on the ground floor), I passed the first evening of what would become a habit. This was my reward: time at the end of the day to have some life-giving tea and dessert, to look over maps for tomorrow, and to write in my journal about my day. I resented the frequent glimpses and out-and-out stares from the other people in the restaurant: my tension level was high and I really needed this time to come down and become human again, and the attention felt like an invasion of much-needed privacy.
But I didn't want to go to my quiet little room either, I wanted to be where there were lights and sounds and other people around — I just didn't want to be watched the whole time. Mood management proved to be one of the bigger challenges on this trip! Seriously, I was very excited and keyed up the whole time (type A personality or something?), and I actually had to make efforts to relax. I had to stay as sane as possible.
I needed that sanity. Tomorrow's first task would be to take care of that nail in the rear tire. And tomorrow, come hell or high water, I am finding an Alpine pass!
Yea, the fourth test of faith was to be the most difficult. Yahweh commanded his people to ascend into the heavens. Only by enduring many hardships could they prove themselves worthy. In their quest to fulfill the prophecy of the promised land, they would be smitten unto the ground again and again.
Monday, August 31, 1992
I was packed and ready to go by the 8:00am breakfast time, and had a bizarre breakfast of cold cuts and cheese. It was sunny, but there were heavy, threatening clouds spotting the sky. Today was the day! I would do an Alpine pass! But first, I had a nail in the rear tire to take care of.
The Gelbe Seiten indicated there was a Honda dealership in nearby Imst, a short 18km scoot up Autobahn 12. I found the dealership easily, but it was closed. Rats! After showing someone in the shop next door the nail in my tire, he wrote the name "Gachter" for me and said "yellow," and gave me rough directions by pointing. Right nearby there was a yellow silo with the name Gachter written on it.
Gachter turned out to be a giant auto parts store and tire service for every vehicle that wears tires. A manager there pulled out the short nail, wet the hole, and showed me the bubble that indicated it was losing air. He told me in adequate English that it needed a tube, and assured me that they do motorcycle tires all the time. 100 painful DM for tube and labor. My only other choice was to ride on a possibly flat tire 80km to Innsbruck. But what could I do? Shopping around would cost me even more, in time on the bike. Not fixing it could cost me a great deal more than money.
A young man who spoke not ONE word of English performed the surgery, while I hawked over the whole process. I was glad an Austrian gentleman who had struck up a conversation with me earlier told the guy that I had said I knew all about how to do this. Not entirely true, but it was better he believed I understood it all. I'd discovered that one danger of a language barrier is that since you sound stupid, people think you're stupid, and you get treated like you're stupid.
I followed his every move when he took the wheel and tire off, and helped him roll the wheel back into place. I nosed around the chain when he put it back on, complaining: "Fest! Fest!" (tight!). I drew a picture of the correct chain adjustment markings, and pointed that they should be the same on both sides. I wrote down 2.3 and pointed to the tire, indicating that's how much pressure I wanted. Actually, the numbers were meaningless to me: I didn't even know what units that was in. Claude had said 2.2 to 2.4 in the rear tire, so with 2.3 I was in the right range and would check it with my American gauge anyway.
After making a total pest of myself, I was satisfied. What a relief!! It was now 11am and I had plenty of time to make it to an Alpine pass. That's all I could think of. Twisties, I must have twisties!
Despite profound impatience, I knew enough to get errands over with when already stopped, and contained myself long enough to seek out a place to buy more Austrian shillings. Imst was a small, semi-charming touristy town, with the inevitable center containing all the banks and the post ofice. And a lot of sloped parking lots...!
I came *very* close to dropping the FT while parking in front of a bank, and then again while parking at the post office (universally the best place to exchange traveller's checks). I could hardly sign my traveller's check, I was shaking so hard from the very near drop. I was surprised I hadn't dropped it yet, actually, since it was luggage-topheavy and tall. I didn't need a confidence-rattling drop now. I MUST do an Alpine pass!
Itching to get out of Imst, I stopped by a gas station to top off, and checked the tires and oil too. Aw, c'mon mom, can't we get going PLEASE?! I'll grit my teeth and get it done now, so that when I finally get out of Imst, I can find my Alpine pass with no more worries.
Except that there was no oil reading. None! The FT was on the centerstand on a rare level spot. I had never used a dipstick before, but I was certain I was doing it just the way Claude had showed me. Even screwing the dipstick in all the way gave no reading. Not sure if I was missing something, I shelled out
It was now 12:30 and I was really anxious to get going. On the short Autobahn stretch back to Landeck, I found the FT had developed a new vibration — nay, a shudder. At 120 kph (~74mph), it felt terribly wrong. Damn! Maybe the rear tire was never balanced. I forgot to check that. I didn't know what an unbalanced rear tire felt like. Is it possible the rear wheel isn't aligned? Is this the way innertubes feel?? Could this have something to do with all that oil? I cursed the multiple change: with ONE thing different, maybe I could diagnose this, but not with more.
Fighting deep worry, I kept going, "south" on 315. In Nauders, the road turned narrow and pretty, running alongside a river. It also started to get cloudy and dark, and smelled like rain. Great! The road climbed in elevation and started to show sheer dropoffs. At least I was going slow enough, due to surprising traffic, that my new vibration didn't bother me as much. The pretty scenery calmed me as we got farther and farther away from towns, though the conditions were changing so rapidly it was starting to scare me.
I stopped at the Italian border for a break and for a warm-up. It was really cold by then, and I was wishing I had brought my winter gloves. Last time I checked, it was still August! An Italian waiter took a fascination to me since I was from America and was riding alone, and it was a relief to speak to someone in English.
The weather had turned cold, windy and damp, and I fogproofed my luggage before continuing. Mercifully, #40 descended in elevation, the sun came out, and I was treated to a few wide 180-degree sweepers before almost coasting into Mals. Maybe this day would salvage itself after all. Turning onto 38 in Spondigna, I was getting closer to the squiggles on the map. I knew that today I would find my Alpine pass.
Gas worries and threatening rain had me fretting for about 10km that I'd have to turn back to find gas. It seemed like everything was going against me today! Gas, oil, tires: the essentials. Thankfully, I came upon a gas station in Prud that had just re-opened after the typical 2-hour lunch close. An oil check revealed the oil very low, but it hadn't changed since my last check. I bought another painfully expensive liter of oil anyway, and added enough to bring the oil level slightly above the lowest safe level.
Finally, I was prepared to my my first Alpine pass. Here it comes! It was such a moment that I decided to first do a self-time picture of me on the bike. I set up the camera, and pushed the bike off the centerstand. Trying not to roll it out of the camera's view, I pulled the front brake just as it came off the centerstand — and the next thing I knew, the FT was on the ground on its right side.
I KNEW I shouldn't have thought to myself that I hadn't dropped it yet.
I couldn't budge it from the ground, and found someone inside the gas station (who mercifully spoke English) to help me right the FT. I got my hard-won picture, and tried to start the bike. No response at all from the starter button! Kill switch, battery...no, all OK. On an impulse, I checked the gears and found it in 1st. Once in neutral, the starter button produced the familar whirrr of an engine that turns over but won't catch and start. Oh no! Not this! Well, at least now I knew about the starter not engaging if the bike was in gear (this was a new feature to me).
I tried touching the starter button again and again, but after 15 frustrating minutes, it hadn't caught. The attendant came out, surprised I was still there, but went into his service area and produced a teenage mechanic to whom he indicated to push the bike to start it. I couldn't get it into 2nd as it was moving, so a pop-start from 1st made a nasty grinding noise and a near-start. It was just enough though: I tried the starter button again and vrrroooOOM! The FT roared to life, I was on my way. But not after losing more time and patience.
Road 38 in Italy "southwest" was really, really pretty. Heading toward the mountains, a river cut a path in the rocks down the mountain, and the road was built winding from one side of the river to another, with wooden-planked bridges crossing over. There were lots of trees, and it had turned temporarily warm and sunny. As the road climbed, it got twistier and twistier and had all the makings of the Alpine pass I so clamored for. I had indeed begun to ascend Passo dello Stelvio, overlooking the peak Stilfserjoch.
The numbered hairpins started with #48. I had fun with them, they weren't so hard yet, and were predictably blind and steep. I was *awful* at them though, and showed absolutely no technique as I jerked around them. They got more and more frequent, and the straights in between then got steeper and steeper and very narrow. Occasionally I'd take a peek down the mountain, and realized I had climbed pretty high, and the road had some serious dropoffs. This isn't a road, it's a ladder! The turns themselves became very banked, and this was new to me too. On top of it, it got cloudy and windy again, and the whole environment felt very severe.
I was awestruck when I saw the glacier across the way — I'd never seen a glacier before! It had a curious bluish tinge to it, but this was no time to contemplate geological wonders. I was above the treeline by now and the hairpins almost seem to have no bend to them: they looked more like the point that joined two lines together at a 15 degree angle. I wished I could follow another rider to know how to take these turns correctly: they were steep enough that I had to give the bike a lot of gas, but so sharp that I didn't want to go fast at all. Being wimpy on the gas felt like the bike would slip backward, even in first gear. OK, so I asked for an Alpine pass, and I got it. This is tough! I prayed I wouldn't have to stop, there didn't appear to be any place level enough to get one foot down, let alone two.
But I had to stop: at hairpin #14, a right-hander, there was construction. A line of cars was backed up, with motorcycles at the front of the line. I don't know how they got heavy equipment up there, but a bulldozer was blocking the road on the straight after turn #14, and the workers were letting cars by at 15-minute intervals. I stopped before the turn and put my right foot down on a small curb, not daring to leave my spot to join the motorcycles at the front of the line.
Eventually, the workers let just the motorcycles go by, and I wanted to go too. I was on the absolute rightmost part of the road, a few meters before the sharp right turn, and with a car just ahead of me in the midst of the turn, on my right. To get out of this, I would have to start on a sleep slope and ride straight forward to clear the car, then do a very tight right turn (about 80 degrees) at the peak of the very banked turn. I would have to pull forward aggressively to get started on the slope, but not so much that I would overshoot my tiny margin and not even make the right turn at full-lock. My right foot was busy balancing (left foot could not reach), so I had to hold the bike with the front brake until I got the clutch and throttle going.
High degree of difficulty on this move, viewers! Will she be able to pull it off?
No. I didn't give it enough gas, the bike stalled, and flopped over on its right side again, just missing the car. Hell!
I indicated to the driver that I had not hit the car and tried to say I was sorry. He and a construction worked picked up the bike, and with great difficulty due to the steepness, rolled it to the outside of the turn, facing downhill!! No no! I'll NEVER get out of that! I would have to ride all the way back down before I'd find a place to turn around. I insisted they turn the bike around, a difficult operation, but they did, and now I was positioned on the outside of the sharp right turn, a slightly better spot from which to get going again, but sloped in such a way that the sidestand held the bike nearly vertical.
The wind picked up and I prayed it wouldn't blow over the FT's precarious position. By now I was really frightened and wasn't sure how to get out of here. Finally, the construction workers let everyone go by! I started the FT and.....whirr whirr...
Oh come ON, not HERE! Not this stupid starting thing again. It was hard enough to get on and off the bike without a risk of tipping it. I tried the touch-start method again and again, and it would not start. As I fruitlessly tried, a rider on a Suzuki DR650 pulled up alongside me, and spoke just enough English that I could explain it won't start after it's been dropped . He did the unnecessary FINE-C inspection and then remembering my experience at the first gas station in Heidelberg, I offered the right grip to him. He had the magic touch and the FT started. I was elated.
But now, we'd missed our opportunity to pass. The kind DR650 rider had to wait 15 minutes for the construction to let the new line of stopped cars and motorcycles by, and his R100GS companion waited a few turns ahead for him. I let the FT idle the entire time, feeling awful about it since everyone there shuts off their engines after 30 seconds, for environmental reasons. I was not taking a chance on the bike not starting again, and just waited self-consciously for the workers to let us go.
Finally they let us go by. I escaped turn #14! The dark clouds and the on-and-off mist and the wind and the steepness made everything seem scarier to me, but finally I was out of there.
I followed three riders up the remaining 14 turns. Their weakest rider rode first, and I followed their lines, which were to go to the absolute outside of the turn first, even if that meant riding on the other "lane" on right-handers. Due to the drizzle and wind, no one was testing lean angles and also seemed to be just getting around as best as possible.
At the top of turn #1, there was a level-ish parking lot where survivors take pictures and gawk at the oddly blue glacier now below our 2758 meter elevation. I wanted to talk to the 3 riders I had followed, but couldn't due to lack of language, and settled for having one of them take a picture of me.
After my mini-photo session, I could see there was a hotel at the top of the remaining hill, perfect for a much-needed break and hot coffee. While mounting the FT, I pushed it slightly vertical — just enough that it rolled forward, kicked up its sidestand, and next thing I knew, it was down again, this time on the left side.
A few observers ran over and helped me right the bike, and I embarrassedly thanked them and got ready to get on the bike again. Beside myself with frustration and fighting tears, I was determined to get my mood under control at the top of the mountain.
That's when I saw it. The clutch lever dangled uselessly from the handlebar, broken right before the joint where it attaches to the cable. Horrified, I had to walk away from the bike to control myself during the initial shock. It was all I could do not to burst out crying. I can't believe this!!! I'm at the top of an Alpine pass, in who KNOWS what country by now (Italy, by a few meters), with nothing but a coffee shop around for kilometers, with no clutch?! FFUUUUUUCKK!!!!!
Wrenching myself from the grips of a severe crisis, I had to tackle the daunting task ahead of me. I found that I could brace the lever against its broken piece and sort of pull the clutch cable. This time, I wasn't taking any shit from the starter: I ruthlessly cranked the FT until it reluctantly puttered to life!
Carefully placing the lever piece, I pulled the clutch in, and was able to let it out slowly just enough for the bike not to stall, though it slipped for the second half of the cable travel and made the bike leap forward.
I rode up the hill in first gear, and pulled into a parking lot at the top with other motorcycles, including the 3 riders I had followed, and the Suzuki DR650 rider and his companion with the R100GS. They watched me pull in, wild-eyed and terrified, and all 5 rushed up when I stalled the bike in the parking lot and frantically waved the broken clutch lever.
This was a serious situation to all of them, and they stood around and conferred rapidly in German about what I should do. I looked around and realized that no matter what, I had to go down. There were three roads down from this point, and they were all mega-twisties. And from there, the nearest civilization, let alone Honda dealer, could be many kilometers away. Sure, a bike can be ridden with no clutch lever, but the roads required many stops and starts. Besides, I'd hardly tried it, and this was no time to learn. As the severity of my predicament sunk in, I got so upset I couldn't even talk.
The Suzuki DR650 rider, the only one who spoke any English, proposed that I follow him and his [female] R100GS companion down a road (ironically the very one that I had come here to ride) to the town Santa Maria in Switzerland. Since it was raining and the road would be slippery, he advised me not to use the front brake at all, just the rear!! I shakily smiled and thanked him, silently knowing I would ignore this advice, but was in no position to start a rear-brake philosophy discussion.
So we headed down the mountain, with me in one of the worst situations I'd been in in my short riding career. With this, I'll pick up the story in Part Two, since it is long from over.
Monday, August 31, 1992
When I left off in Part One, I was starting down steep Umbrailpass in the rain with a broken clutch lever, following a Suzuki DR650 and R100G/S rider who had taken pity on me. It was getting late, and I hadn't yet had a break from a very difficult and frustrating day, which included three drops and a tough half hour stuck at turn #14 on the steep road up. And I'd never ridden a bike without a clutch before. I could use the lever if I placed it very carefully and pulled in a certain way with two hands, but it was only adequate for getting the bike going from a stop.
Limping along in first gear, I followed the riders down Umbrailpass. This was the squiggle on the map I'd come here for, and it was a truly excellent road of smooth, visible hairpins. It was beautiful and showed many hilly expanses of green, spotted with charming little houses and chalets. Some parts of the road wound back and forth under itself, so that every other turn was directly under another one. Really a neat road!! I wished I could ride it under better circumstances.
The 14% grade was wet and slippery, and I would have taken the turns in 1st anyway, so the engine had to suffer revving in the short straights between the turns. Occasionally, I managed to get into second and back into first, but it wasn't easy. The bike didn't shift so well anyway, even when I had a clutch lever. The wind picked up and died quickly, enough that the rider in front of me was blown laterally about two feet, and had me leaning hard into it.
I wondered what else could make this situation any worse, and had my answer when the road turned to dirt. Great!! Fortunately, it was hard-packed dirt, and my FT felt right at home. Thank heavens for Moab! As the road descended, it got drier and I actually started to have fun. After a frustrated roost or two, the DR650 rider took off, but the lady on the R100GS stayed in sight on my behalf. The road turned to pavement again, and was very smooth and really a great amount of fun. Even if I had to take it in first gear and had no idea what was to become of me when I got to the bottom.
We made it to Santa Maria, where the Suzuki rider told me he and his companion had to ride to Basel today, on the other side Switzerland. This was just a day trip for them! Through all this, the woman never really understood that I didn't speak German, and just rattled away to me in the strange tongue. There was a hotel in town where I could ask about a motorrad dealer, and so I thanked them, they bid me good luck and they were on their way.
Now I had to figure out what to do about the clutch lever. And myself.
I went into the hotel and asked about motorrad places, and no one knew of any place at all. There was a garage in the town, but only for cars. And no rooms at the hotel. The Gelbe Seiten didn't indicate anything close by either. The nearest large town was Merano, but Merano was in Italy and no one knew about anything in Italy. Somewhere on the 16km spaghetti-like road I had just taken with the broken clutch lever, I had crossed over into Switzerland.
Switzerland....! I had no Swiss money. VISA acceptance had proven to be hit-or-miss, with a rare hit at the occasional large hotel. It was 6pm, too late to exchange money in a bank or post office. Well, that's only one of my worries for now. I had Deutch Marks, Austrian shillings, French Francs and American dollars. One of those currencies, in that order, would probably be accepted somewhere. Most everyone wanted Deutsche Marks, though that was no guarantee the independent Swiss would. Offering dollars was a joke.
Someone else in the hotel told me there was a dealer in Samaden, Switzerland, about 80km west. This would involve two more mountain passes with percent grades in the teens, but it seemed to be my only choice. I sat outside to look over my maps and to decide if I should head east back to Italy, or west to Samaden. It was late, gray, and I hadn't had a break all day.
As I looked over my maps sitting outside on the sidewalk in the drizzle, 3 men walking by asked me if I was lost. Their English was reasonable, and I said no, I was trying to decide if I should go to Merano or Samaden. I assured them I would be OK, and thanked them. I was very tired of appearing so helpless to people and strangely wanted to make it seem like I had little more trouble than a broken fingernail. They doubtfully left me to my devices and headed into the hotel. If I had to ride this bike in 1st gear for 80km over two mountain passes in the dark and rain, I'd damn well do it!! And have a great story to tell later.
So I headed out for Samaden. This time, the clutch lever did slip against its spot on the broken piece, lurching the bike forward and stalling it with the front wheel off the curb into the road. To get off the bike to pull it out of the road, I lowered it onto the sidestand ... which I had dutifully raised already and - pow! Drop #4 for today. This was clearly an error due to exhaustion and overload and no breaks. Never underestimate the importance of your mental state! Mine was very delicate by now.
Swearing loudly inside my helmet, I struggled futiley to right the FT, enraged by the constant obstacles that faced me today. A figure appeared next to me and the bike was vertical again, though I was embarrassed that he could hear me yelling inside my helmet. My red-jacketed helper was one of the group of 3 who had just stopped to talk to me. He was quickly joined by his two buddies, one of whom said to me, you CAN'T go to Samaden tonight with a broken clutch lever! Let's see what we can do.
And this is where the story gets truly incredible, entirely in the kindness of strangers. These three were riders themselves, Germans on an annual 10-day holiday around the Alps. Two of them stayed with me while the other one discovered the car garage in town, and went to find it. I said the garage only fixes cars, but the two with me nonchalantly told me to wait and see anyway, and I nervously contained myself while I watched the daylight rapidly fade away. My plan to ride to Samaden would be much harder in the dark [in retrospect, it would have been impossible, even during the day]. I was shaking and having a hard time being cordial; I desperately needed time to cry in a corner and lick my wounds, but didn't want to offend anyone.
Their friend came back and told us that the garage can't do anything, but there was, get this, a **welder** in the next town over who might be able to help. At this hour?! Europeans are very protective of their leisure time, especially the dinner hours. I offered my skeptical opinion that the metal on the lever was way too cheap to be welded, and they said something about the welder having the right electrodes, and I had nothing to lose by trying. The welder would not be in until 7:30pm, a half hour away, so they said I may as well join them in the hotel for dinner and have a beer. Too weak to object, I did.
Once inside, I chatted with the two who spoke English, and they translated for the third guy. We ordered dinner, except for the non-english speaking one. At 7:15, he left with the pieces of my clutch lever to get his leathers and motorcycle from the pension where they were staying. I offered to go with him, and the others said eh, no need. Stay here, relax.
While he was gone, I got to know my rescuers. Heinz and Gunter were the English-speaking ones I was talking to, and Norbert was the guy finding a welder in Mustair, the next town over. Heinz and Gunter looked up to Norbert as the expert rider, and told me that they felt great keeping up with him today on their Yamaha XJ600 and Honda VFR750, until a Ducati rider screamed by them. Norbert and his ZX-10 couldn't bear to be passed by a Ducati, and blew off his companions, and their egos at the same time. Nice to see some things are the same over there :-). Gunter said he takes some heat about the VFR: his buddies call it a "grandfather motorcycle."
I asked them as many questions as I could think of, having finally cornered some German riders. We talked about the US helmet law — Europeans can't understand why Americans object, since helmets are such an obviously good thing. Gunter said that if you pass a law, eventually people just get used to it and accept it, and then a Good Thing has become part of the society. Not really an American way of thinking!
Gunter explained to me what you have to do to get a motorcycle license in Germany: first you pass a written test, then take 10 "lessons," pass a skill test, and you're legal for bikes up to 27 HP (European HP is different from US HP — my FT500 was exactly 27 european HP). After a "successful" year on a small bike, you take ANOTHER 10 "lessons," another skill test, and then you are fully licensed. Cripes! That's enough to make MSF classes look like the CA DMV test (sorry, no offense to the MSF). The whole process also costs 2500 DM, enough to discourage many joy riders.
I was also amazed to find that they believe that Germans have poor lane discipline on the Autobahns. They said that if everyone would just keep to the right, then the left lane would be completely free for driving. It is illegal to pass on the right, but people do it anyway (rarely, I saw!). Compared to the chaos we have on the US Interstates, I couldn't believe the complaint. I asked about laws, like lane-splitting (no).
They also confirmed my suspicions about the FT's vibration: too much oil can raise the oil level to where the connecting rod (?) splashes into it and causes a vibration. We traded talk about gear — they'd never heard of electric clothing, except for BMW heated handgrips. I asked them to translate as many things as I could think of, and when I asked what "Sparkasse" meant, Gunter said, "Savings and Loan....but not like Savings and Loan in the U.S.!" I was actually embarrassed for my country.
I asked about the Suzuki rider's no-front-brake recommendation, and if they use their rear brakes in rain. They conferred in German for a bit, and came back with, "it is a bit of a philosophy disagreement." Same thing! Some use rear brakes more than others, but said that the Suz rider telling me to use only the rear brake in the rain was "rubbish." Whew.
At 9pm, Norbert reappeared with, of all things, a welded clutch lever!!! I couldn't believe it. That scraped piece of metal was worth more to me than gold right now. We went outside to put it on the bike, and it worked. A little wobbly, but it would get me out of the mountains. Yay! Norbert tested out the FT with its mended piece, and made an "oomph!" face when he got on it. Heinz translated that Norbert thought the FT was tall! Taller than his ZX-10.
Norbert rode back to their pension to put away his bike while the rest of us scurried out of the rain back into the hotel. He returned with the news that their landlady had an extra room for me! Lucky for me, since the hotel was full. My companions said, well, you're all set then, just take it easy tonight! Norbert settled down for a very late dinner, which made me realize how way out of his way he had gone for me. And we couldn't say a thing to each other since we were equally poor in each other's language. Every time I tried to thank my rescuers or offer Deutchemarks (like for the cost of welding the clutch lever), they responded with shrugs and "eh, don't worry." I got the feeling it was ungrateful of me to press.
The evening grew festive, and I finally relaxed — they drank and smoked and we talked motorcycles. I fascinated them by telling them about the net and rec.motorcycles, and they were very pleased when I told them they'd be famous when I wrote the story. They were pleased to learn a new English word: "twisties." I asked them to show me good places to go, and asked what they thought was the hardest Alpine pass. Guess which one they said: Stelvio, the one I had been up earlier that day, where I'd got stuck on turn #14! They recommended that I go straight back east into Italy, where the best riding was.
They walked to their pension while I rode the FT up the dark, steep hill into the gravel driveway. PLEASE don't let me drop the bike again in front of them — or worse yet, on one of their bikes!!! I summoned every remaining ounce of concentration to make sure I didn't drop the bike in the slim gravel driveway. They showed me my room, and they invited me to breakfast in the morning. I thanked them many times again, said cheerful goodnights, and went into my room.
No matter how tired I was, I had to stay up and write about my day. It had started out much differently than it had ended — was it really just this morning that I had a nail in my tire removed in Austria? This day had included a near oil crisis, lots of weathery riding in Italy, my first Alpine pass, a ride down the mountain in rain and dirt with no clutch lever, four drops, a welder in the middle of nowhere, and finding 3 wonderful fellow riders. Instead of what could have been a truly miserable ending, I had spent the evening talking and laughing in a warm environment, among friends.
I had to be the luckiest person in the world, and fell into the first solid sleep yet on my trip.
Yahwehs people reaped the fruits of the promised lands. The land was more verdant and fertile than had been promised. His people traveled the paths in this glorious land and praise to Yahweh echoed from the mountaintops. Yet even here, the eyes of daemons were upon them. They were to be cheated by highwaymen and glared upon by trolls. Yet, noble and righteous in their cause, they would persevere.
Tuesday, September 1, 1992
Santa Maria, Switzerland
Yesterday's story left our heroine in the care of her 3 German rescuers, in a large room at a small pension in a tiny Swiss town, with her friends down the hall and a newly welded clutch lever adorning the left handlebar of the Honda FT500.
I got up at 7:15 so as to be sure to be ready when Gunter, Heinz and Norbert were, since they had kindly invited me to breakfast. This turned out to be easy: I was showered, packed and leathered before any of them was even awake. When I went outside to strap my luggage to the bike, I was greeted with an amazing sight: snow! It had snowed overnight, and we were just below the snowline. I would not be going *up* toward any mountain passes this morning. It was clear and weakly sunny, but sharply cold; a reminder of the usually harsh climate in the Alps.
I rode with my three leathered companions to a charming restaurant (the only restaurant) in Santa Maria for breakfast. The interior decor was all light wood, and the sun shone brightly into the rooms. With the brisk air, it reminded me of a ski lodge. We shared an enjoyable breakfast of bread, jelly and cheese like old friends.
Gunter said he'd been kept awake all night by the thunderstorms, which I hadn't heard at all. Apparently it really had stormed hard overnight, turning to snow. This was not unusual for this time of year, and the snow would not be clear from the roads until the afternoon.
They were riding Ofenpass that day, where I had wanted to go too, but agreed that I should not tackle a 15% grade in snow, not after all the trouble I'd had yesterday. There was a delicious-looking random-looking line on the map boasting a 16% grade that I was very disappointed to have to miss. I had only one choice of direction: down. But that was OK: due to limited time I had decided not to get all that much farther away from where I needed to be, which was Munich, on Thursday.
After breakfast, we took pictures and said warm goodbyes. I told them to PLEASE contact me if they ever come to the U.S., and we exchanged addresses. I gave Norbert a hug: this kind, patient person who had gone so far out his way for me, had endured hours of conversation in English, and with whom I had not exchanged one word! They geared up in balaclavas and rainsuits; and I put on every stitch of clothing I could fit, and we went our own ways.
What followed was by far my best day of riding, and one of the most magical days in my whole life.
8:30pm St. Martin, Italy
I am awed to tears by the sheer beauty of this area. Today has been almost pure pleasure, constant astoundment and joy. Motorcycling through here is more than heaven, it is almost somber oneness with the stunning surroundings. I feel more alive and vibrant than I ever have in my life.
From Santa Maria, I took 41 eastish to Mals, crossing into Italy, and then east on 38 to Merano. 41 descended further from the heights that Passo del Stelvio brought me up to, and it was just gorgeous. I could see several small towns at a time in the huge valley, all against the backdrop of suddenly rising mountains covered with pine trees, reaching up into snow-covered peaks, with the very top obscured by clouds.
The road was fun as far as motorcycling goes too, though after yesterday, my confidence was shaken and I wasn't riding well. But I was enjoying it nonetheless. Alas, riding alone, I didn't want to crash! You never want to crash, but consequences here were severe. #1 consequence: I don't get to ride!
From Mals, 38 into Merano was really annoying with lots of towns and trucks. And to think I was going to do this with with no clutch lever! I wanted to get out of Merano right away, but found that no gas stations were open from 12-2, very annoying. All the gas stations were closed for lunch. I had enough gas to make it over the famous Jaufenpass (#44 northeast), which I didn't want to wait 2 hours to do, and so recklessly headed into the mountains.
No, I did NOT run out of gas. This was a good day.
It was absolutely beautiful on the way up, and not difficult. The motorcycling was excellent; it was smooth and easy to pass cars. As I climbed up, it got colder and colder until I was *above* the snowline. The road turned into hairpins followed by steep straights and S's; overall *great* riding, though I was still screwing up every hairpin. It was sunny, so the hairpins had lots of little streams of melting snow through them. It was also hard to see: the reflection off the snowy rises were blinding. There were fewer and fewer houses, and the cold and isolation started to feel grim again. Still, on the straights, I was able to enjoy vast views.
The vista point at the top was surrounded by white-dotted mountains. In the distance, I could see the green valley with towns and houses, though they all seemed so far away now. From a 20-meter walk to peek at the other side of the mountain, I recognized a shortness of breath caused by high altitude. But it was just lovely up there.
I had a *great* time on the way down! The turns were visible due to lack of trees, and I was *blasting* by cars as I never had before. This never seemed to concern or upset them, either. Melting snow made for many wet spots in the road, not to mention stray snow balls and cows, so I really took it easy around corners. Finally the riding was starting to come together and I was concerned about peg-touching a few times, though I didn't touch down once.
The road was challenging, the air very brisk, the surroundings were stunning, and life was very good. I was happy and feeling very alive, thrilled to experience this place by motorcycle. In spite of the helmet and earplugs and a pace requiring constant attention to the road, I felt like I was a part of what was around me.
#44 ends in Sterzing, where I bought gas with - surprise - VISA! VISA was not a reliable method of payment in Germany, but was much more accepted in Italy. I was dismayed to find the oil very low again, and added just enough to reach the low level on the oil dipstick, mindful of Gunter's explanation of too much oil causing vibration.
Then an Autostrada - with a toll! Ouch — 2000 lire for 23km (~$1.70 for ~13 miles). That was a mistake (I got on accidentally), but at least I got to Brixen at 4pm, in time to run errands. This included telling my friend in Munich that I wouldn't be there until Thursday night (it was Tuesday), and calling Claude to beg him to keep the bike one more day. I wished I could keep it all weekend, but I wanted to be back in France on Saturday Sept. 5 for a family reunion.
In Brixen, my other errand was a Honda store. I found one, and asked "quando" (how much) for a clutch lever and show them my wounded piece. The guy inside said wait a minute, disappeared into the back, then a few minutes later, reappeared and pointed out front. Someone was replacing my lever! The new lever cost 16,500 lire (1500 lire less than at a place wallpapered with nude calendars in Merano), and was almost installed, so I said OK.
Then I got the bill: 20,000 lire! What's the 3500 extra lire for? "Work" was the answer. For replacing a goddamn lever that I didn't even ASK him to do?! All I wanted to do was to walk off with the lever and I ended up paying the guy for two minutes of "work"!! I tried to explain that I could have done the work myself, but my past pluperfect Italian grammar was not up to the task, so I had to leave it. Too bad I didn't have exact change or the Italian word for ... well, I'm too much of a lady to say. Just watch out!
5pm Brixen, Italy
Sometimes I get so tired of people staring at me that I look _right_ back at them. One little girl jumped when I widened my eyes suddenly and glared back at her.
I found a cafe and had some pizza, cheesecake and cappucino. Tired from the intensity of the fabulous Jaufenpass ride and annoyed at the lever ripoff, I stared down two little girls in the cafe, pleased that they were afraid of me. I wrote for a while and relaxed.
Energized by my break, I rode around Brixen looking for the road I wanted, and wound up following the _only_ blue sign pointing into the hills. In Italy, the directional signs are blue ones pointing to towns. As usual, it's impossible to know what town represents the road you want. I found myself in Milland and finally ended up on what is now by *far* my favorite road in the WORLD. My world, anyway. This 40-km pure joy runs between Brixen and a small town called St. Martin (on #244).
At first, it was wide, smooth, had plenty of places to pass cars, and I had a total blast. The road gradually went up into mountains, giving stunning views of the valley behind it, with constant surprises and challenges ahead. The gentle curves on the road made for marvelous practice. By now, the FT and I were great friends, and I was thrilled with the way it leaned. On a few S's, I felt the suspension unload inbetween the curves, giving me a sailing feeling. I'd never felt that before! This was *riding*. I finally started to relax my shoulders and gently tip the bars over. Loosening up did much for the FT, and it almost called to me: ride me!! Really, ride me! I can take it!!
The road turned to hard-packed dirt a few times, which didn't slow me down at all. On the dirt, my DP-feeling FT was loads of fun, and it was a good place to take over the occasional car, too, which cautiously made its way over the potholes. Hah-hah, I can just ride around those holes!
After being stopped by construction for about 10 minutes, a Golf in front, with 3 college-age young men in it, did not want to let me by. In Italy, the rigourous road rules and courtesy of the Germanic countries are not evident! My FT at full throttle took them over and I lost them easily, very smug and pleased with myself. I did not expect to lose a young Italian driver in a capable car, so it did wonders for my ego. Cagers!
The Golf blow-off made me realize that this was the first time I'd gone full-throttle on the FT, and I bet it was because of the still formidable altitude. In fact, I hadn't noticed power loss from altitude at all. Nothing like what plagues my 305cc Kawi, which spends much of its time above 3000 feet at the end of its throttle travel. I really like this Honda.
My road turned wooded, narrow and tight for a ways, then went through sunny pastures with unfenced cows grazing right alongside the road. I love that time of day, around 6:00pm when the low sun lights up parts of the uneven terrain. It was just like a painting. I positively glowed with my riding rhythm and the thrill of entwining myself with this peaceful beauty.
Once a rock mountain with a huge glacier stuck to it just *appeared* (Cima d. Plose). I saw hikers coming from the glacier, but I was on a mission and resisted the temptation to stop and see it up close. Despite the apparent isolation of this area, there were almost always a few cars in the parking areas.
The road narrowed, barely wide enough for one car. Parts of it were collapsed, making for some _great_ jumps, though I didn't see them in time to catch air. As the road began to windingly ascend again, there was lots of water and dirt and mud in patches on the ground, making it bumpy and unpredictable. My pace varied between 20kph and 60kph, plenty fast for fun on a tight road. I loved the way the road always changed. I constantly saw new things - rock formations on the other side of the mountain that hosted the glacier, green fields dotted with little huts, houses with fresh paint and flowers, then glimpses of an incredibly long valley. Some of the turns had wooden bridges *right* in the middle, over busily flowing rivers.
More long, slightly bent stretches, then twists and turns, an occasional hairpin; my road was never the same long enough for me to lose an instant of sharpness. Sometimes I was next to a long meadow; other times I was inches away from a cliff. I stopped once at a vista and took a short walk into the woods and found, amidst little snow patches, short blueberry bushes. I've always *loved* wild blueberries! I greedily picked some of the berries, and rode away smiling at my little discovery. The break was good: my fingers were getting frozen in spite of glove liners. Thrilled and fascinated by the texture of the road, I was so absorbed I hadn't even felt it until I stopped.
A sole little Gasthof right on the road appeared, and then a clearly-marked bus stop. What were those doing there?! I guess you really can get anywhere by bus, if you're willing to wait long enough. The road appeared way too narrow for a bus, and it was washed out in some places, leaving just one track. Soon, in a small town called Untermoj, I saw a hotel or two, but decided to press on to St. Martin. I really wanted to finish this road and I wasn't done for the day yet! It got wider, and was newly paved and very smooth, another refreshing change — my pace picked up and now I was really riding (for me), still conservative entering corners, but much freer.
As the road descended, it got drier and more predictable, and it occured to me that overall, my riding was much better downhill (I wonder why?). A white stripe appeared down the middle of the road and I knew I'd re-entered the fringe of civilization. The road descended into St. Martin, featuring a "castle". The castle was slightly larger than a house, and looked like little more than a surviving medieval structure. I stopped to take a picture of a knickered farmer walking 3 cows right down the road.
St. Martin was very charming and peaceful and simple. Everything was neat, deep-down pretty with the sunlit mountains in the background. Again, I was surrounded by lush green fields — have I ever seen the color green like this?!
Suddenly exhausted from my intense 1-1/2 hour ride from Brixen (it seemed much longer), I asked at the Gasthof about a room. I had intended to go to a pension that my German friends had told me about, but it was late and I didn't want to disturb a private home. I reflected that if I wasn't alone, I wouldn't mind so much, but I resisted human contact a little since I was always embarrassed at not being able to communicate. The Gasthof was in the center of town and I accepted a room and breakfast for 30,000 lire.
It was still light out, 7:30pm in fact, and I almost regretted not pressing on and making use of all my daylight, but I reminded myself that I'd vowed to find a place before dark. So I took a walk around the town, giving me a chance to really absorb the magic of this place, and let my wonderful day sink in. I went into a church graveyard, where all the graves overflow with planted flowers, and are marked with wrought-iron headstones with a picture of the deceased. In the church, the ceiling had paintings and a clock - right on the ceiling.
Now I'm in the Gasthof restaurant, scribbling away — the urge to write today has been very strong, since I'm alone and don't want even a drop of this feeling to escape. Tomorrow I have plans for some seriously seismographic roads, I can't wait.
I looked down the road I'll ride tomorrow, again marvelling at how the green expanse reaches down, then up into the next mountain range. Behind me is the church steeple and behind it, the mountains, with snow. Layers and layers of beautiful things and I am truly moved. It doesn't make me smile or rush excitedly to views — instead, I want to stand silently and worship it, be part of it and feel it.
That evening I spent in the restaurant part of the Gasthof, sipping tea and listening to the people around me, and writing for hours. This unwinding at the end of the day was again very necessary. While I didn't want to talk to anyone, the pleasant, homey noise of people conversing and laughing was comforting. Finally, I went up to my tiny room, which had a window that offered a view of St. Martin's castle on top of a hill.
Exhausted and exhilarated, I went to sleep feeling positively serene, knowing that just today made the entire trip worth it.
End of Day 6.
I received a letter from Gunter a few weeks later, who told me this (this excerpt is typed verbatim, with the few spelling and grammatical errors intact):
"About one hour after we left you, Norbert and I produced the first and fortunately last crash of the tour. Coming down from Ofenpass we reached a construction area. On the other side of the road a man was waving with a strange sign. At first we couldn't make up what that meant and Norbert, who was in front passed the guy and started to gesticulate fiercely. Still watching him and wondering I entered a curve. There Norbert stood because by that time he knew what that was all about. The road was narrowed to a single lane and cars were coming from the opposite direction. I breaked very hard and, I am proud to say, very efficiently. But not efficiently enough because the distance was only a few meters when I saw Norbert. I didn't hit him very hard but the impact tilted his bike just so much that, after a heroic struggle of 5 seconds he had to give in and let it drop. After putting his bike back on the wheels we assessed the damage and found out that nothing vital was broken. We fixed some plastic parts with tape, changed a light bulb and the Kawasaki [ZX-10] looked nearly as good as before. My VFR had only some minor scratches at the front part. The rest of the trip was pure delight. Via Lugano and some of the most beautiful passes in Switzerland (Grimsel, Furka, Klausen (extremely recommendable) etc.) we reached Konstanz on Thursday...."
I was delighted to hear from my friend and glad that their trip had been free of other unpleasant events. And very impressive English! He mentions later in the letter that if I am ever in Germany again that he and his wife Petra (who also rides) would be glad to have me, even if I don't need rescuing. It is truly heartwarming to know that motorcyclists all over the world are so giving.
And thus it came to pass, that in the land of the shining path, the gods smote Adnoh unto the ground. Yet he would rise once again, bleeding and defiant, in the name of Yahweh.
St. Martin, Italy
I woke up tired, feeling the effects of having ridden all day yesterday, and having many, many dreams about home and family. It was like my subconscious was reaching out for reality, since I was waking up into a dreamworld.
At 7:45, I went out to load up my bike, and was greeted with cold air on my face and scrapable >>ice<< on my steed's seat. The tank bag strap was frozen solid! Later I was told that the morning temperature was 6 degrees Celsius. Brrr!
It was a little warmer after breakfast — there was not a cloud in the sky and it was promising to be a beautiful day. The sun had made its way into the valley, an encouraging sign. I did my gas, oil & tires pre-flight (no troubles there, thank heavens!), and headed south on #244 toward a collection of squiggles on the map: the Dolomites.
In nearby Corvara, I turned "west" on #243, which ascended quickly up to Grodner pass. This was a much more open area than I'd been yesterday, so all the turns were visible. There were sloped fields on the sides of the roads; nothing like the stark, steep cliffs of my first pass, Stelvio.
I was not disappointed with the number of hairpins and the spectacular views of rocky snow-peaked mountains. It didn't take long to ride above the snowline, and it was cold enough that I almost pulled over at one of the many ski shops to buy gloves. The numerous cars and tour buses, some of them double decker, told me that tourism is a large industry in this area!
Perhaps the concept of a "pass" deserves explanation. This is a road that crosses over a mountain, presumably over the easiest path. As you ascend, the twisties get tighter, and some are steep enough to warrant numbered hairpins. At the top, there is an area to buy postcards, have coffee, complain about all the tourists and tour buses, and enjoy panoramic views before heading back down the other side.
I stopped at the top of Grodner Pass and walked up a mountain a short way, as always marvelling at my surroundings. There were lots of hard-core hikers clad in lederhosen hiking up to the very top of the rocky peaks, and lots of serious bicyclists too. There were also a lot of motorcycles, and I always smiled and returned their hello, regretting that I couldn't talk to any of them. I wanted to talk to one solo KLR650 rider in a red Motodress touring jacket, since almost no riders were solo, but the lack of language kept me away. He probably wondered why I was so shy. As was becoming habit, the way down was faster and more fun, and my riding was better.
The next pass was Sella Pass (#242 "south"), and the routine was repeated. Ride up the hairpins, blast by cars and buses on the straights, arrive at the top, find as level a parking spot as possible, take pictures, buy postcards, say hello to the same riders, take off down the mountain, pass the same cars and buses again. At Sella Pass, I motioned hello again to the perplexed, and no doubt put off, red-jacketed KLR650 rider.
One thing I'll say in favor of the awkward tour buses: they bunch up the cars in a nice long slow line, making it easy to pass them all at once. I'd never passed 10 cars at a time before, and found that my seemingly altitude-insensitive FT made it tons of fun to essentially ride in the oncoming "lane" and pass. The buses held up oncoming cars, too! These roads were *made* for motorcycles.
By the third pass (#48 "east", Passo Pordoi), I was finally relaxing and riding much better. It had warmed up, I was doing the purest twisties I'd ever seen, and in spite of the traffic, I had a decent rhythm going, in between bunches of cars led by a bus. The views of mountains in the distance never bored me, and the sunny expanse of beauty put me in a marvelous mood. I was blasting by cars (though I had to pull over once to let an Audi go by, how embarrassing) and having a great time.
The bright sun made the smooth pavement look almost slick. In fact, it looked almost shiny, which concerned me a little, but I said, hey, it's asphalt, not ice! Don't be silly. It was time I pushed it a little and saw what the FT could do on lean angle. Remembering the line Gunther had described on taking the hairpins, I experimented with various ways around the curves. Some of the hairpins were paved with cobblestones at the apex; there was nothing to do about that! Also, many of them had water in them due to melting snow. Prudence was the plan of attack on these.
[Parental Editing ON]
On the way up to Arraba, toward Passo di Campolongo, it turned out that the road was indeed as slippery as I thought. With no warning, on right-hander hairpin #18, I leaned and the rear tire slid out to my left. Lowside! Since it was uphill, the rear end only slid around a little, and gravity stopped it quickly. I just about stepped off the bike, with my right knee first, and was standing before the bike stopped sliding.
The first thing I did was to hit the kill switch, grab my camera and take a picture of my moto in its undignified state, before anyone came by! Then I saw gas leaking everywhere and realized it MUST be picked up — though it was facing downhill. A woman bicyclist passed me and said something; from her tone of voice I got the feeling it was something like, "serves you right." Fine, I'll try it myself, even though I'd failed four other times and this time it was downhill.
Easy! Adrenaline is a wonderful drug: I righted the FT myself for the first and only time and wheeled it toward the inside of the turn. Just then, the solo KLR650 rider rode by, and when he saw me wheeling the bike in a strange direction, he pulled over immediately. Gosh, these people are nice! I indicated all was OK, embarrassed by my mishap, and relieved his curiosity about why I hadn't said hello. He didn't speak a word of English.
An Italian man appeared and came to check up on the situation. I found the Italian phrase for "slippery road", and he vigourously indicated "yes" and said, pointing to the road: "multi moto kaput!". After verifying all was well, he took off. Uncharacteristically undeterred, I dug out the tool kit to adjust a mirror, started the FT with no regard at all to the mechanic's long-forgotten "touch-start" instructions, and continued with much more caution.
Why did I slide out like that? There was nothing on the road at all, I hadn't been riding hard or making unreasonable demands on the tires. I was riding so slow that I could step off the bike, with little more than a tiny scratch on my leather Temper-foam kneepad (which nicely protected me from the expected bruise). Maybe they use a different kind of asphalt? But the road was indeed slippery.
[Parental editing OFF]
#48 "east" took me through Arraba and Andraz toward Cortina D'Ampezzo, on another 20km of roads dancing across mountains. My riding wasn't so good: I was abusing trail braking and taking only a few turns even worthy of criticism for mistakes; the rest were just awful. I needed a break after only 90km, and stopped in Pocol, a town which consisted of one hotel. I sat in the warm sun in the back of the hotel, ignoring stares and looking out over the beautiful view of trees beneath me and mountains behind me. After a map check, I changed my intended course, wanting to find small bus-eluding roads.
I headed "south" on #638 toward Passo di Giau, a reasonably obscure road that turned out to be a milder pass, but delightful nonetheless! This one was unusually heavy on excellent tight, banked S's, and I found myself regretting my lack of riding skill and time to practice. Occasionally I felt the suspension unload between the curves in an S, and decided that was the best and most rewarding feeling in the world.
The downhill hairpins came one after another and were *very* banked (my guess was 30 degrees?). The road was slightly bumpy and full of fun challenge — everything was visible and the roads were lined with long fields. I thought I was in the movie Heidi! But this was really Northern Italy.
Heading south on #251, crossing over Mte. Pelmo, everything got less and less German looking. The occasional town was not as picture-perfect kempt, and the traffic as such was annoying. It occurred to me then that I had not seen a traffic light in days! Not since I had left Imst. One, maybe two lifetimes ago.
After one such town, I followed a K1 and Intruder rider up toward Passo Cibiana, another small road with promising kinks on the map. They lost me after about 10 minutes, but it felt great to be riding "with" other riders! This made a tremendous improvement in the riding as I told myself to take the corners smoother to keep up with them. After they lost me, I had my first real regret that I was riding solo.
This road was a little more forested and the curves tended to be blinder, but it was great fun. Some of the huge 180-degree turns were as I'd never seen before, with tremendous elevation changes from one leg of the curve to the next, and bent enough that they seemed to be more than 180. I'd never seen roads like this! The road went over another easy mountain pass and made for great motorcycling. This one took me into the SudTirol area, aka the Tirolian Alps.
I ended up in Valle, Italy, a miserable traffic-choked little town. Humanity turned me off after my time in the mountains, but my fun riding was over for today and I had to crank to tonight's goal: Lienz, Austria. It was about 5pm by then and I'd learned not to underestimate the time it takes to get from one place to another on non-autobahn roads.
I dragged my way up 51bis "north" to Pelos and #48 "north" toward Auronzo. A short 14km jog on #532 took me to Padola. Though I thought my fun riding was done today, this road cut through a mountain from one big road to another, and turned out to be a nice little treat of bends and some views.
In Padola, I picked up #52 "northwest," fully prepared for an annoying series of 3km straights followed by 10 minutes through a little town. As it turned out, #52 was a marvelous road, and quickly became my second favorite! It had sweeperish turns, then climbed up and became an easy mountain pass (Kreuzberg). I had to stop to take a picture of a double waterfall, where a huge boulder in the middle of the fall split it into two, making it look like synchronized movement. It was so pretty, and the riding wasn't difficult enough to require too much attention to the road, though it was plenty interesting. My mood was great and I could feel my riding start to come together again. I relaxed and remembered to grip the tank with my knees and that countersteering works way better when my non-steering hand isn't opposing the movement. What a nice surprise this road was, considering I'd given up on the day for fun riding! I made a mental note while passing through the town of Moos to mark it as a town to come back to someday.
The road ended in Innichen, at a crossroads with a larger thoroughfarish road, #100 which I took "east" into Austria. This road ran along fast, and was very pretty since it ran alongside a river. Somehow, getting through towns on a non-autobahn route works better in Austria. What could have been drudgery turned into a really very pleasant ride, and I made excellent time.
Still wanting to avoid humanity, I decided to find a hotel in a town outside of Lienz, and randomly chose Assling on the map. A curvy 3km ascent to Assling was a nice way to top off the day, and I found a room in the small town for the bargain price of 180 oS (about $18). I took a nice, long hot shower when I arrived: it was getting cold again and my room didn't have heat. There was no facility for heat, either. Apparently, the rooms are for sleeping and not hanging out, so they don't bother to heat them!
I spent the evening in the empty restaurant area, talking with the hotel owner's daughter. Her English was excellent, and it was nice to have a conversation with someone. She explained to me that in "former times," the part of Italy where I'd been had belonged to Germany and that's why so many people spoke German there.
I took some hot tea and a homemade plum pie to my cold but cozy-looking room with a gorgeous view of a mountain and quickly scribbled the day's events. I pondered that I was still very nervous about dropping the bike (there was not one level spot in the whole town!) and that considering the horizontal duty it'd done, my FT dropped pretty well. I was glad in every way I had the FT instead of the Suzuki GS500.
I piled up two short but thick featherbeds (I don't know HOW tall people fit under those things) and fell into deliriously happy sleep, filled with anticipation about tomorrow. My ride was in full swing now. Tomorrow's goal was GrossGlockner, Austria's highest peak!
His people were commanded to ascend the highest mountain in the land. They obeyed, but the cost was high. The task left Adnoh parched and wailing with an undying thirst. Soon his people would be forced to endure their greatest challenge.
Thursday, September 3, 1992
It was warmer this morning, and cloudier. I woke up weary, but showered and packed up in time for the 8:00 breakfast. After paying a very reasonable 180 oS (about $18), I headed toward Lienz, Austria.
Lienz would have been a great place to spend a day or two shopping and absorbing the culture, but I didn't have even half a day. Still, I lingered around a little after exchanging money, and enjoyed half an hour of human contact. But overall I knew I was much happier in the mountains, away from the cities, and half an hour of civilization was plenty.
Lienz is at the bottom of a mountain that leads up to the spectacular and famous GrossglocknerStrasse, a road that winds by the highest peak in Austria (3728 meters). Going up was steep, but the road was wide (meaning: plenty of the dreaded tour buses) and it was easy to pass the cars, which were just numerous enough to interrupt a good riding rhythm. It got pretty very quickly with every meter climbed.
The road is a privately owned road, actually, and so the owners charge a staggering 380 oS ($38) toll for car passage. For motorcycles it was 200 oS ($20), a nice break but still very steep. Right before the toll booth, a jet helicopter had attracted the attention of most of the passersby. The helicopter was picking up large building items, apparently without the help of someone on the ground. The road itself is a real engineering feat, with covered parts, dams and large buildings at the top of a truly formidable mountain. Much of that must have been done by helicopter.
Grossglockner is the biggest tourist trap I had been to, as attested to by the huge parking lots full of tour buses. The cars parked in a multi-level parking structure with a corkscrew ramp (the ultimate twisty!), but me and the FT were shooed down to a small parking area outside a concession stand.
One could take a funicular down to a glacier at the bottom of the valley, or for the truly survival-impaired, there was a trail to walk down. The peak itself named Grossglockner was glorious, with clouds hovering at the tip in such as way to look like a smokestack. The area was very crowded, and a trip into the souvenir store for the requisite postcards had me wanting to go back to peaceful St. Martin.
Now I had a new concern: my chain was adjusted OK, but hadn't been lubed in a LONG time. The only rider I was able to ask happened to be riding a shaft-drive Suzuki Intruder, so I sheepishly rode away from the tourist trap with a dry chain.
Leaving Grossglockner actually means you still climb up toward a mountain pass, since the road to see the Grossglockner is a side trip. This ride was beautiful, climbing high and well above the snow line. It was cold, but there were lots of shirtless bicyclists trudging their way up the steep incline. At the top, one is rewarded with truly remarkable views, seeing farther than you ever imagined you could see in one direction. My eyes had never been stretched like this before! The mountains almost looked painted in in the background.
The way down had more hairpins paved with cobblestones, and lots of water in them from melting snow, so when I made it down below the snowline toward the warm, sunny valley, I let my FT loose and did the car-blasting again. Man, that's fun!
This road (#107) ended in Bruck, where I turned west on #168 to Mittersill. This stretch was fast (yay Austria!), and in Mittersill I did a quick money change. Outside of Mittersill, I stopped for gas and found a car garage, hoping to find some sort of lubricant for my long-neglected chain. My pitiful German made it very difficult to convey that I just wanted one gratuitous dose of lube, in the spirit of happy chains everywhere, rather than purchasing a whole [no doubt expensive] can. Once we established that "spray" is how you say chain lube, my phrase book had a rare moment of usefulness and provided me with the key word "buy". "Fausen — NOT!" I said, and they caught on. Imagine, German Valleyspeak! A mechanic gave my FT a generous helping of chain lube, and I lamely thanked him by pointing to the motorbike and making a smiley face, as if to say it was happy.
From Mittersill, I took #165 west, with the intention of joining Autobahn E60/A12 to head toward Rosenheim, Germany. By now it was about 1pm, it was warm and sunny and perfect riding weather. At first, 165 was so narrow that only one small car could fit — no room for passing at *all*. Runoff room was nil with a rock wall on one side of the road and a steep cliff on the other. Not the time to ask myself if I'm acrophobic. We're having fun now.
As the road climbed, it had some seriously blind corners with mirrors mounted where the two walls joined to form a corner. At one of these corners, I saw a motorcycle in the mirror, and vainly watched myself in it — until I realized that it was another motorcycle coming around the corner! Duh.
The road widened later as it ascended into more remote areas, and peaked at GerlosPass. There I was treated to the prettiest scene I had yet encountered: a valley with a lake at the bottom, and tree-covered, snowpeaked mountains in the background. This was heaven on earth!
The road down was sweeper paradise, a nice change, and I took full advantage of the FT, stretching my limits. Wheee! Later it turned wooded and ran alongside a river, which I had long since decided makes for the prettiest sorts of roads. The sun coming through the trees reminded me or Oregon, and made me homesick. The road somehow ran alongside a valley, rather than *in* it, lending gorgeous sunny views of the valley on one side, and a steep incline on the other. There were a few fun hairpins into Zell, then the road met up with #169 north toward the Autobahn.
When I saw the sign for A12 toward Munchen, I was filled with regret. Choked up, I knew my adventure was over. The rest of my riding now would be to get from one place to another.
Right now I had to get to a tiny town outside of Rosenheim, Germany, where my friend Chris lived with his girlfriend. Since I was ahead of schedule for once, I decided to ride all the way into Munich and try to catch the Hein Gericke store before it closed at 6pm. This meant a lot of top-speed cranking in heavy wind and foreboding clouds, and for the first time I wondered what it's like to ride a motorcycle with enough power, or even, too much. At a gas stop along the way, two riders came to talk to me, curious why a woman was travelling alone. Again I was frustrated by the lack of language, but we could communicate a few things: "holiday", "how many days," "where from," that sort of thing. I was pleased that they tried, anyway.
I made it to Hein Gericke in time to find that they were fresh out of my size in the boots I wanted. After rapping for a while with a German Harleyhead (Panhead T-shirt, tattoos, ape-hangers and all) and headed south toward Rosenheim. Chris' directions took me right to the doorstep of his luxurious farmhouse in a rural area, and I spent an enjoyable evening catching up with an old friend and slowly becoming human again. I'd had no rest stops today; just gas stops, hassle stops and picture stops. Somehow I didn't feel it until I got to Munich.
Today had been a relatively easy day; lots of gorgeous scenes and fun riding, with really no problems at all. I had great pangs of sadness when I remembered that tomorrow I had to crank back to Frankfurt and give my beloved motorcycle back to its owners. I had just gotten into the swing of travelling by motorcycle; I had a good feel for how long it takes to get from one place to another, how to choose roads on the map, how to manage stress to optimize rider attitude (do NOT underestimate this, especially when travelling alone!)....but that knowledge would not turn into another glorious day tomorrow. Now it was time to head home.
Little did I know my worst day had yet to come.
Imeon and the daemon Adnoh were exiled from the promised land. They were to wander into the midst of the unclean and the caged. The wind and rain would beat and tear at their flesh. The wounded Adnoh was to be imprisoned for the remainder of his days, while Imeon would return to dark and distant lands in search of new daemons to torment and slay.
Friday, September 4, 1992
The German Autobahn is a fascinating venue, due mostly to its occupants. Much of the autobahn has no speed limit, but when there is one, everyone dutifully moves along with the speedo needle glued to the limit. Drivers keep to the right, even fast drivers, and only pass when there is no one coming in the left lane for a long time. When they pass, it is a quick, efficient motion, like you would expect on a two-lane road. None of the "pass at velocity n + 1" so rampant in the USA.
Drivers pass each car separately, moving back into the right lane for even 100 meters before passing another car. Drivers coming fast in the left lane use their left turn signal, then their brights, to warn a lingering passer in the left lane that they are about to be eaten alive. Drivers hardly ever need to pass on the right, but rarely do even when the need arises. The first in a line of cars stuck behind a slow vehicle in the right lane is permitted to pull out first by the line of cars behind him, provided the left turn signal is on. Ah, if only the anarchy on the American Interstates had even a fraction of this...!
I had been warned that the Autobahn is very extreme: when it's moving, it's fast. There are few accidents, but when there is one, there's not much left. When there's traffic, it's an engines-off proposition that can leave travellers stuck for hours. This is no lie.
I left my friend Chris' house in Rosenheim (about 45 minutes south of Munich) at about 11am, in full rain gear, and headed into the foggy, windy, rainy unknown. I had to be back in Frankfurt by 6:30, knowing it's about a 6-hour trip, so I had a reasonable safety margin of time. What I didn't know was that Friday is notorious for bad traffic, since is the day before the weekend. But who would have thought that weekend traffic starts before noon?!
Toward Munich it was threatening to rain and was extremely windy. I cursed at the heavy wind and remembered that I would rather ride in rain than wind. Well, I shouldn't have "said" anything: I got plenty of both! The FT was doing its valiant best against the conditions, but at times wouldn't go past 120km/h.
There is no convenient way to get around Munich with highways; it was either non-autobahn routes through Munich or an autobahn bypass (A99) that made a wide circle around Munich on its east side, then a short leg on a small route back to A7 toward Stuttgart. My experience, especially in Germany, was that going through cities takes a lot longer than highways, so I opted for the autobahn bypass, A99.
As soon as I entered A99, the traffic came to a dead stop. Lane-splitting is illegal in Germany, so I waited while the rain picked up in earnest. Since the traffic had completely halted, I figured it must be something like construction or an accident and that I could wait it out, though there was something undignified about sitting there being rained on. Time pressure, discomfort and uncertainty made my blood pressure start going up on an increasing scale. To make matters worse, the clutch action on the FT was heavy and clumsy, and with glove liners, gloves and rubber rain gloves, it was near impossible. The occasional creep forward that could only be from impatient cars compressing ahead was torture on my hands.
After about 20 minutes I was "rescued" by a Honda rider in a green rain jacket who passed me lane-splitting. He nodded at me as he passed, and I said, screw it, I'm going too! He was riding with both feet dragging, apparently not so comfortable with lane-splitting. Having cut my riding teeth in L.A., this was old hat to me.
At least we were moving! We rode past kilometers and kilometers of stopped and creeping cars, and one sorry sidecarred GoldWing. Too bad, guys! It was pouring rain and very cold, and even though I was moving, I wished this would just END. Once, the rider ahead of me hit a side-view mirror, and the driver of the car got out and angrily yelled at him. Phew, at least it wasn't me!
This went on and on, and we passed HOURS worth of traffic. I was going to wait this out?! The rain and wind did not let up at all, and I was already very cold, very tired and very stressed. Finally A99, the "fast" bypass, ended in a route #471 that went through Dachau to A8. We had lane-split the entire bypass! The route to A8 was also very crowded and slow. I followed the Honda rider ahead like a rat behind the Pied Piper, passing cars in their lanes, sometimes riding in the oncoming lane until cars appeared. The rider did nothing fast or unsafe; I think he knew I was following him. I thought I remembered the green jacket from a gas stop before A99.
The small route finally led to A8, but not before another few km of a one-lane exit from the route onto A8. This time, we rode right past the one lane of cars on their left, essentially in the oncoming lane! This was more rude to the long line of stopped cars than unsafe to us, since there were very few oncoming cars. When a car came along the other way, we'd just move back into our lane in plenty of time, then pass hundreds and hundreds of stopped cars again. This went on up a curved entrance ramp, too, where an occasional car jutting out forced us to stop. I had developed a one-foot technique for stopping on hills (and steep Alpine passes!), and prayed my rain boots wouldn't slip.
FINALLY we made it to A8! It'd been a grueling hour...two? Who can tell? And we hadn't even made it out of Munich yet! The traffic was just unreal, with no obvious cause other than just too many cars.
But A8 was just as bad at first, and I followed my leader through a few more km of lane-splitting. Once we passed a stuck Polizei: if lane-splitting is illegal, I guess it's tolerated under certain conditions. By now the skies were committed to a solid day of heavy rain, too.
The traffic unexplainably picked up, but there were so many cars we couldn't cruise past 80 km/h, and there were still frequent slowdowns and total stops. Lane discipline no longer applied, and my green-jacketed rider and I kept passing and being passed by a tour bus that was also searching for the optimum path through the traffic. One time my leader looked back for me and all he saw was the bus: it had moved right into my lane, and I had safely SIPDE'd my way behind it. I was very grateful when I saw my leader give helmeted dirty look to the bus driver on my behalf.
The riding was extremely stressful with so much traffic, rain and wind, but I was falling behind schedule and so didn't stop to thank my leader when he pulled over for gas. If you ever see a rider on a Honda (couldn't tell the type), license plate FP574, tell him he saved my butt that day. We waved at each other for a long time, since we had spent hours riding together. Suffering fosters kinship, I guess.
I stopped outside of Ulm for gas, frazzled. It was already 2:30pm and I'd ridden only 166km in 3 hours, in relentlessly pounding rain and wind. I rode into Ulm anyway, deciding to chance it and fulfill an earlier mission: find Hein Gericke and buy my boots. I had already called and gotten directions and asked them to set aside a pair of size 37. Remember that having a size 37 foot means that it is not unreasonable to go out of your way for comfortable, well-fitting boots!
Ulm was also a traffic nightmare, and I cursed my complusiveness as I sat through multiple cycles at every light. After missing a crucial left, I ended up circling around and doing it all over again. My stress level went out of control while riding around Ulm for half an hour, but I had already invested enough time that I was a victim of entrapment.
When I found the HG store, the operation was swift: I paid my DM, strapped my hard-won boots to the FT and was out of there in less than 5 minutes (I had tried a pair on in Paris, so knew they fit — prices were much higher in France for HG stuff). I asked at the HG store what the best way back to Frankfurt would be, and they said A8 through Stuttgart to Karlsruhe, then north on A5 to Frankfurt.
Back on the Autobahn, there were lots of cars and traffic kept slowing down. I contemplated removing my rain gloves, but then the rain would just start again. I did take off my rain gloves at one stop, but then it started to rain *hard*, and I tried to put them back on while moving. Ungood! I did succeed at one, but at the cost of a lot of distraction and having my left hand unavailable while I struggled to free three fingers from the rubber thumb.
Stuttgart to Karlsruhe just *sucked*. I never got going more than 10km without some sort of slowdown. Three of these were accidents; one of which was of the "not much left" variety. By the third half-hour-long engines-off traffic jam, I had no regard at all for the law and lane-splat right past the Polizei. Occasionally another rider would follow *me*! Through all this, the wind and rain were without mercy.
Parts of the autobahn had serious construction going on, and so for many kilometers at a time, there was just a tiny plastic barrier between me and oncoming traffic, with narrow lanes and heavy, slippery, blinding rain. I prayed and prayed for these stressful sections to end, trying very hard to keep my frustration under control. Will this rain and wind PLEASE give me a break?! How many hours of this did I have to endure? I hadn't had more than 10 minutes at a time of plain old cruising. I was very, very upset and spent a lot of the time crying miserably inside my helmet, like a terrified little kid.
I knew I desperately needed a warm-up and sanity break, but it was almost 6pm by now. I called Claude from a gas station outside of Karlsruhe and told him I would be late returning the FT. He could hear my voice shaking and said very kindly, don't worry, just drive slow (hah!) and bring it back tomorrow morning. Oh, would I have loved to do that! I wasn't far from Heidelberg and could have really used some of Bill's kind attention. But I *had* to get back to Paris tonight. Next time, I'm leaving more time at the end! Claude was extremely nice and calmly offered to wait for me.
Now I felt even more pressure to get back; I hated to keep him waiting! I booked to Karlsruhe, then got onto A5, the home stretch of the autobahn to Frankfurt. Thankfully, this one was 3 lanes wide and I was finally able to cruise as fast as I could take it on my faithful thumper (about 140km/h, hardly comfortable!). I made it to Frankfurt in decent time, considering it's usually a two-hour trip for Germans, and proceeded to get lost in Frankfurt. Through some miracle, I happened upon Eckenheimer Landstrasse, from a completely opposite direction than I thought I was going. But now I had found the right street. I rolled into Claude's parking lot at about 8:30pm, exhausted and on the verge of mental collapse. Photographs show that my face was very red from hours and hours of cold, wet air on my face.
Again, a miserable day was rescued by the kindness of strangers.
A young woman who I had seen there when I picked up the FT offered me a drink, and assured me that I hadn't held them up, she and her boyfriend Mark were waiting for Claude anyway. She offered to drive me to the train station (saving me a 1km walk and a U-bahn trip with all my gear), and then insisted I wait for the 11pm train at her apartment, which was close to the train station. They couldn't understand why I went through Karlsruhe: they thought I should have taken A7 north toward Wurzburg, and then A6 west toward Frankurt! Well, I had just followed a recommendation from the guy at the HG store in Ulm.
They asked me how the FT was, and I said, great! Ummm, but it has a funny noise now. A bracket between the exhaust pipe and the cylinder had come off and was allowing loud sputtering noises to come out. And I'd had some oil level troubles. Oh, and it has a new clutch lever. Oh yeah, and a passenger peg had disappeared somewhere along the way. They looked hard at me. "Anything ELSE?!"
Birgit (that was her name) rode also; in fact the FJ1200 on which I had seen Claude belonged to her, and she also had a Suzuki Katana 1100. She takes trips by herself on her FJ all the time, and agreed that a woman travelling alone by motorcycle is not terribly common. What really impressed me is that she wasn't that tall, 164 cm (5'4"), and she rides ANY motorcycle. Her job there involved test-riding and inspecting any motorcycle that Claude worked on, including the gigantic Paris-Dakar style bikes, like Honda Africa Twins or Yamaha Teneres.
Claude showed up with his new purchase: a Yamaha Super Tenere. I asked Birgit to sit on it so I could see how much foot she had on the floor. "Why?" she asked, puzzled as to the relevance of this statistic! The very end of her toe touched down on one side, and the other foot did not reach at all. She said you put one foot solidly down because it doesn't look cool to be teetering on two toes :-). I asked her about parking, stopping and dropping, and her response was always, "no problem!". It just never occurred to her that being short was a problem. A very valuable perspective. Birgit didn't consider tall motorcycles to be any more of a problem than a skateboard.
Birgit had been riding for 10 years, was an experienced traveller as well as being exactly my age. She was a real inspiration, and talking to her finalized a growing feeling I had that being less than 5'2" means there are only SOME motorcycles I can't ride, rather than MOST. It will take a long time to feel ready to one-foot a tall, topheavy Paris/Dakar style bike, but now I know it can be done.
Birgit and Mark took me back to their apartment, gave me dinner and offered me a shower. When they found out I'd be on the train all night, they offered to let me stay with them overnight and take the first train in the morning, which I had to decline. But how kind! I made the best of my time talking to them, though, asking about how they felt about German reunification, the Yugoslavian conflict and everything I could about their motorcycling history. They were both well-educated and in graduate school, so their English was excellent. We exchanged addresses and I left feeling like I'd made some good new friends.
At the train station, I spent the rest of my German coins on food and got on the train. Though I hadn't made a reservation, I was lucky that my compartment wasn't full, so I was able to lay across two seats and sleep off a very, very long and trying day.
But I couldn't sleep. All I could think about was my wonderful trip and motorcycles. Especially my OWN long-awaited NM (next motorcycle). Though my time in the Alps was over, I knew that I'd just done one of the best things in my life, a memory I would cherish always.
New York, NY
Once back in Paris after my motorcycle trip, I stayed in Europe for another week, contemplating another motorcycle rental in England. But I decided the fast-disappearing money was better spent on my own future Next Motorcycle (NM) back Stateside. My plane ticket on Pakistani Airlines (don't laugh: great food and a prayer before takeoff!) was open-ended, so I made a reservation for the soonest flight back to New York, which was Saturday, September 12.
New York City is a great way to let the Real World sink back in.
I spent a week on the East Coast, catching up on all my visiting. One of my visits was to see my buddy Andrew, who is largely responsible for getting me into riding. During our first year of grad school at UCLA, I was a frequent passenger on his '82 Yamaha Seca 550. Andrew was there when I got my Kawi, had my first gas fill-up, my first highway, my first group ride. He has since graduated from UCLA, moved back to New Jersey, taken up his job at Bell Labs, and married his longtime girlfriend Suzanne.
When I visited Andrew & Suzanne, Andrew's bride kindly loaned me my old buddy and his Seca for an old-times-sake two-up ride. So much had happened since I was last on the back of that Seca! Now I actually had more street miles than my driver, and had more gear. However, for the light riding we were doing that day, I forewent the leather pants and wore my no-longer-new boots and jacket over my favorite jeans.
After half an hour of enjoyable cruising, we stopped in a parking lot right next to the Delaware Water Gap to check the map and choose a route. It was a moment of triumph for me: Andrew let me test-ride the Seca, the bike that started it all! I once thought the Seca would be WAAAY too big for me, but now when I got on it, I had slightly more foot on the ground than on the FT. My 9 days with a taller bike really changed my perspective on motorcycles I can manage, and it really hit home when I took off on the Seca. I have moved up in the world!
[Parental editing ON]
After one lap in the parking lot, I tested the power of the inline four and found myself approaching the end of the parking lot faster than I wanted to be. I braked and went through a quick huh?-oh-shit moment when the bike didn't slow down as I expected. Then something felt very, very wrong; the bike was moving in a weird direction. Next thing I knew, it was flip-flopping around from side to side. I lost control, and before you could say low-side, I was on the ground and the bike was sliding away from me fast. It hopped the curb at the end of the parking lot and stopped right away in the soft grass. Andrew watched the whole thing, helpless.
We established that I was OK, and went to pick up the bike. The tailpipe was split, the fairing around the headlight was broken, all the windscreen's plastic bolts had popped off except one, an engine guard was pretzeled and the handlebars were slightly twisted. We did a quick fix on the windscreen by putting the one good bolt right in the center front hole, and were able to ride the bike home.
So what happened? I would never have known if Andrew had not seen it. To start, Andrew says I was probably going faster than I knew. But I *knew* I was going fast at the time -- no excuses there. Stupid thing #1.
Stupid thing #2 was testing the throttle before testing the brakes on an unfamiliar bike! When I first braked, the bike didn't slow down as I thought it should. I must have nailed the brakes during the huh?-oh-shit moment: Andrew saw rear wheel lock and skid, smoke and all, and swing around to the right. Then I must have released the rear brake, because the bike snapped up and almost high-sided me off. Instead of the high-side, it went into the flip-flopping weaving and low-sided.
The skid patterns tell the story too: a straight skid (locked the rear) then nothing (snap back), an on-off pattern (serious weaving), and then a long, red line where the bike slid on the fairing all the way to the curb. We estimate I was going around 30 when I hit. I didn't slide much at all; the bike did most of that. My gear had markings all over the left side, from boot to helmet to glove, and I took a good hit on my left shoulder. It could have been a *lot* worse.
YES I have taken MSF:RSS! And I know that when the rear wheel is locked, keep it locked! It's one thing to mark that off on a multiple-choice test, but entirely another when it actually happens. I'd never locked the rear wheel at that speed, nor felt it swinging around. I also didn't know that I'd released the rear brake. When I first got on the bike, I thought the rear brake felt so mushy that I couldn't tell where braking started. From now on, a brake with little feel will raise a warning flag!
I spent much of the day crying on Andrew's shoulder about my deep stupidity. So much for my triumphant moment after my adventures in the Alps. So much for having arrived as a rider! Instead, I crash my mentor's bike not two minutes after I get on it, in a straight line on clean pavement with no obstacles or traffic. Repeat after me: "gross operator error." Andrew, having enough heart for 100 Mother Theresas, never yelled at me or made me feel worse for crashing his bike. Suzanne was incredibly kind as well.
I took the MSF:ERC a week later, back in Northern CA, during which I paid special attention to the braking exercises. I talked to Mojo, the DoDish instructor about my crash, analyzing it in detail. Now I know that you also keep the rear wheel locked when it's *not* going in a straight line behind the front wheel! Time to get my paws on a dirt bike.
Also, I learned a very valuable lesson: unfamiliar bikes are unfamiliar in more ways than you think! Now I am the model of caution on bikes I've never ridden. Be extremely conservative on an unknown motorcycle! Test the brakes before the throttle!
And I tore up the knee of my only decent pair of jeans left. Stupid thing #52 was leaving my new leather pants at home.
[Parental editing OFF]
The Seca felt great for the few meters I rode it, and its height did not intimidate me at all. I'm ready for a bigger bike, that's for certain.
As I write, I am back in the Bay Area and in the ugly process of job-hunting and re-joining the Real World. Sometimes as I sit in an interview, silk-clad and smiling, I wonder how my potential employer will react when I show up to work on a motorcycle. Or when I say my next vacation will be spent in leathers, on the way to Alaska (or some such far-away place). As soon as I have an offer signed, I'll finally be looking for my long-awaited companion NM.
August, 1991, I was struggling through the MSF class. A mere year later, I was a fully-leathered motorcyclist riding in the Alps. Last year I *never* would have imagined myself capable of it. The growth and character-building that motorcycle riding cultivates is amazing.
Times like these help me deal with my worst fears: paralysis, and the difficulties in getting older. If somehow I was incapacitated today, these experiences make me know that I have experienced living. When I muse at the possibility of an early death, or permanent incapacitation, I think to myself, "I will have had my time in the Alps," and other wonderful experiences. And then it seems like there would be less regrets for things never done. The more I do these things, the less afraid I am of someday wondering what could have been, or regretting that I can no longer do them. I will always have these memories, and right now, they help me be less afraid of the possibility of future disaster. And I don't mind getting older knowing that I had my time. I will die happy!
My time in the Alps was like a fantasy: it was one of the best things I've ever done in my life, and one of the most different (for me). I saw beauty in a way I'd never seen it before. It also makes you appreciate the beauty you have at home, that you've gotten so used to you don't see it anymore. I'd like to experience the whole world by motorcycle! There's the keyword: experience. In a car, train or bus, you see it, but on a motorcycle, you *experience* it. You live it.
If you're considering a big trip, don't wait: do it! You'll recover the time and money later, but you'll have one of the best experiences in your life.
End of The European Adventure.
Author's note: Many, many thanks to Daemonthenese (who is not me) for taking the time to write the hilarious forewards, and for sharing his unique wit.