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What it's Like to Crash a Motorcycle

“Damn it. John Burns thinks I’m a dick.”
That was one of the predominant thoughts going through my head as I slid down a Florida highway at 60 mph back in March.
It’s weird how the mind works. Time slows in a crash. Every tiny image burns into memory, so your brain can replay it over and over and over at night for the next who knows how many weeks.
In the moments before I crashed, I was riding the Harley-Davidson Street Rod along County Road 34 in central Florida. I’m not sure which county. The accident report simply records it as “County Code 61,” but the internet can’t agree on which county that is. Maybe I was in Indian River County; maybe I was in Suwannee County; maybe I was in Flagler County; I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t matter; I was somewhere. The road passing through that somewhere was long and straight – not the sort of place where one usually crashes – and the weather was perfect.

“My God, I am so happy,” I was thinking. “I am so incredibly lucky to be here – to live t…

Andiamo in Italia


I don't know if you've ever noticed the little sidebar box on the right-hand side of this blog that says "Lifetime miles." It's not totally accurate. It doesn't account for any of the miles I've done on test rides, nor the miles I covered during the arduous and expensive European training process, nor even the roughly 130 miles I racked up when the lovely people at Michelin gave me a bike to play on for a day. But I figure it's close enough. 

Considering that I only earned my European license about 18 months ago, I suppose it's a decent number. Elspeth Beard clocked up roughly 10,000 miles in her first two years of motorcycle ownership and I'm on track to keep pace with her (a), but still I find the number sometimes taunts me. It's not large enough; I haven't been nearly enough places; I haven't seen nearly enough things.

The Great Welsh Tea Towel Adventure is, in part, an attempt to rectify that, but it looks as if this summer I'll get a chance to really get some miles under my belt. The family of my wife's best friend has invited us to spend a week in Italy with them in July. They have a villa in Volterra, in the Tuscany region, and Jenn suggested I take the opportunity to ride my bike there (b).

She didn't need to make the suggestion twice. Within seconds of her mentioning it I was researching possible routes on Google Maps. In doing so, I discovered that one possible route runs past the German city of Saarbr├╝cken, where my friend, the mighty Chris James, lives these days. So, I've tentatively invited myself out to visit him as part of this trip. I really should drop him a line and let him know I'm coming...

Roundtrip, this adventure will see me riding some 2,500 miles and visiting at least six countries: France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland and Italy. If I choose to avoid the notoriously expensive French toll roads on the way down, I may also venture into Austria, though that would mean missing out on the opportunity to ride through the 10-mile-long Gotthard Tunnel. Either way, my route will take me through three completely different eco zones and terrain ranging from flat coastal plain to the Alps. Great googly moogly, y'all: the Alps. My breath stutters just at the thought of it (c).

More rides through the Welsh mountains will be called for.

And that's the thing. This trip is so big, so grand in vision, that I struggle to properly grasp it in my mind. And with that comes the difficulty of figuring out how in the world I'm supposed to prepare for such a thing. I mean, where do you even start? I guess it might be handy to know how to say a few things in French, German, and Italian. And I suppose I might want to invest in a good-quality map, but where after that?

I am very seriously considering forking out the cash to equip my bike with hard, lockable luggage. I am also inclined to believe it might be a good idea to get myself an up to date and more reliable sat-nav programmed with full European maps (my current not-always-functioning sat-nav covers just the UK and Ireland). I'll be sure to have the bike checked out by a mechanic before I go, of course. And I'll pack an emergency tire repair kit, my Haynes manual, necessary tools, and will spend the next few months trying to teach myself how to do roadside fixes of the most likely issues one might face (cables, levers, chain, etc.).

Additionally, I'll spend these next few months seeking out the more challenging nearby roads (thankfully, we have plenty of those in Wales) to build up my skill level, and I may do a few runs criss-crossing the width of the UK in a day to help me improve stamina for long days. I'll make sure I'm familiar with the Iron Butt Association's Archive of Wisdom. I'll try to figure out how the hell to secure a bike when it's on a ferry. And so on.

But even with all of this, I get a twinge of fear –– a feeling that when it comes time to point the Honda toward Italia, I will be woefully unready.

So, I'm keen to hear what advice you can offer. If you've got experience covering massive distances, I'd love to hear what tips you might have for making it enjoyable. If you've ridden through multiple countries whose languages you do not speak, I'd definitely like to get your input.

I've got about seven months to prepare. Already I'm finding it difficult to sleep.

Stelvio mountain pass in the Alps.

––––––––––––––––––––

(a) If you haven't guessed, I have something of a crush on Elspeth Beard.

(b) She's planning to go in a car with her friend. My bike is simply not passenger-friendly enough to be stuck on the back of it over such a long distance.

(c) If I can build up the guts to do so, I may even tackle the infamous Stelvio Pass.

Comments

  1. Hi Chris,

    As it appears that you've already discovered, you're already enjoying your trip. Because a great deal of the pleasure of a long journey by motorbike comes from the planning process. That said, I'd recommend that you try to avoid making such a detailed plan that you end up subverting the very freedom that travel by motorcycle can be all about. Do your research, so you're at least aware of all the potentially interesting things that you might decide to visit along the way. But try to avoid having such a rigid itinerary that you HAVE to make it to a specific destination each day. And, by all means, invest in a motorcycle-specific GPS with the most up-to-date road and points of interest information you can find. Knowing that you can simply punch a touchscreen button to find the nearest gas, a hotel room or a meal takes a lot of the worry out of being "out there" on the road. You can't plan for every possible contingency. Then again, you really don't need to. In my experience, things have a way of always working out. Very often it's when things doesn't go at all according to plan that turn out to be the most memorable and enjoyable part of the journey. You're going to have a great time. I'm jealous.

    -Silverjet

    ReplyDelete
  2. Ride Stelvio Pass if you can. 20 years from now that'll be a "I should have done that" if you don't.

    And a friendly tip - have a break and something to eat shortly before you ride it. I rode Palomar Mountain Road in SoCal while hungry and after entering one of the first turns hotter than I meant to, I couldn't shake the Fear for the rest of the ride. Being hungry screws with you.

    Other than that, keep the advice in the Archive of Wisdom in mind, have some maps handy, learn to ask if people speak English in their languages, and have fun!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Sounds wonderful. Past Paris the roads are easier and less crowded. The weather warms quickly as you go south and seeing the first vineyards roadside is magic. It gets v. hot in July. Years ago we left Calais in the morning in 15 deg weather,300 miles south late afternoon that day it was 38 deg. Tuscany is beautiful beyond belief. Go for it.

    ReplyDelete
  4. If you visit switzerland. Don't take the gotthard tunnel . Take the pass instead. It's a good road and much more fun. Follow the lakes, they are beautiful. Never road the stelvio pass myself, but it's on my list ;-)

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