The roar of the engine as the plane took off last week from Stansted Airport brought me back to my Grand Motorbike Odyssey. The urgency to beat the volcanic ash had stemmed from A Natural Born Fighter as well as my duty to begin teaching a two-week slot at the Lake School of English, Oxford.
The End of the Road
All set and raring to zoom off into the distance, just a quick photo call at the end of the track formerly known as a "strada comunale". The Michelin-man-like appearance consists of my trusted Frank Thomas biker's jacket, leathers and biker's boots. Safety is paramount over looking good!!
Lost in Thought
The first couple of hundred kilometres up until Ancona, I was silent, completely lost in my own deep thoughts. Thoughts mainly of my dear mother, lying in hospital after an unexpected setback a few days before my trip to the UK. After her devastating bicycle accident last year which caused considerable brain damage, my mother had been making remarkable progress and was astounding the experts. How would I find her? Would she recognise me? Would she be different to the mother I loved and knew so well? All these thoughts circled round and round like a vulture ready and waiting to feed off my angst. I held on to K for dear life, rigid, tense and apprehensive.
A quick brew in Ancona and some grub down me, I got onto the Aprilia Caponord Rally Raid 1000 with renewed enthusiasm for life and the adventure that lay ahead. I began to relax. The stunning countryside and being "at one with nature", the wind flying through my hair, all these tried and tested cliches began to work their magic on me. I actually began to speak via the Intercom, whether this was a good thing from K's point of view, I'm not sure. The beauty of the undulating countryside, the olive groves, the vineyards, the old farmhouses, kept me engrossed for hundreds of kilometres. Ever a TEFL teacher, I set myself the objective of focusing on a theme for each section of the journey. I set about imagining how I would restore all the ancient and abandoned country houses (casale) we passed on the way. This reverie took me up until Bologna.
Heating homemade pasta on the Trangia and making a brew with our mini kettle certainly raised a few curious looks. No matter, the weather was lovely and we had fun.
Now I'm no expert on motorbikes, and I'm certainly no Hell's Angel, as a certain fellow blogger Chris from Bits'n'Bobs keeps hinting I am :), but I was surprised at the amount of admiring glances and complimentary comments the motorbike received from complete strangers whenever we parked up along the motorway stops. K tells me that this version of the Caponord is relatively rare. I have to say, it was very nice to receive such positive vibes along the way.
Stairway to Heaven
Stairway to Heaven gently playing over the Intercom system, I spent the next couple of hundred kilometres heading towards Milan thinking of great motorcycling books such as Ted Simon and his Jupiter's Travels, a book I had read and enjoyed many years before I had met K. His second book Riding Home has a dedication from K in 1989 which reads "To Laura Janet, Traveller and friend".
I also thought back to my struggles with "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" by Robert M. Pirsig. I found some of the philosophical passages a little bit hard to digest, but overall the epicentre of the book was about the meaning and quality of life rather than facts about how to maintain a motorcycle.
Arabella's Biker Club
Link to original photo
Setting off from Milan heading towards the Alps, my mind began to think of Arabella Cascarino and what I could do with her in Second Life. It struck me that she could form a club of some sort and well, the idea of Arabella's Biker Club struck me as an excellent one. Then the dilemma began. Would this club be open only to EFL teachers with a penchant for motorbikes? Would it be open to all members of Second Life? Would it be open to experienced bikers only? It dawned on me that forming a club or group of any sort wasn't as easy as ABC. Two hours flew past with me debating the pros and cons of Arabella's future club and then suddenly, we came up against a long queue of cars approaching the St Gotthard Tunnel. I woke up from my Second Life reverie and came back to the real world with a start.
The Royal Wave
The St Gotthard Tunnel - 10 kilometres away said the helpful sign. Queue -10 kilometres long, 2 lanes of traffic. K asked me to hold on tight. I knew what this meant. Enter the world of "filtering"!!. This means going through the centre of 2 lanes of traffic often with about 1 or 2 centimetres to spare between cars and said motorbike. The Parting of the Waves like in the Ten Commandments occured naturally and effortlessly. Cars moved to the left and to the right in order to let the Aprilia Caponord pass through their midst. Each car was given a polite wave by K to say thank you. The only thing was that k had to give the Royal Wave for the whole 10 kilometre stretch. That is something I will never forget. In particular, we squeezed past a stunning white Rolls Royce with an elegant and beautifully coiffeured lady in the passenger seat. The amazed look on her face as she looked up as we zipped past her impressive car was absolutely priceless.
Heading for the St Gotthard Tunnel original link to image
Ever since I read about the descent into a hellish tunnel with no end by the Swiss existentialist author Friedrich Durrenmatt, I have had a slight fear of tunnels. I had read "Der Tunnel" for my German A Level and it had made me reflect on what happens when you enter a tunnel with no end. Anyway, K reassured me we would be out of the tunnel in a jiffy and in 12 minutes of steady cruising at 80 kms per hour, we were out and heading towards Basel in France. Tired and slightly saddlesore, we pulled up outside the Hotel Formula 1 in Basel. It was clean, tidy and just what we needed after a long day on the road. Sleep was divine that night!
Estimated Time of Departure was 5 am the following morning. Up and away, we zoomed off onto the motorway and the gentle whirr of the powerful 1000 cc engine sent me off on another reverie. The music "Born to be Wild" floated into the air and I felt upbeat and eager to see what the day had in store.
"Dearest, are you sure this isn't an Akrapovic exhaust?" I asked in all innocence after a particularly loud revving of the engine had made me curious as to what type of exhaust system was on the Aprilia. "No dearest, it's not an Akrapovic, sadly. Anyway, how on earth do you know about Akrapovic exhausts?" So ran an interesting conversation we had along the way. I had remembered this name vividly from the time when K had one of these exhausts fitted on his Kawasaki ZRX1200 seen below. After many years of having mysterious packages full of bits and various motorbike parts turn up in our previous home in Oxford, I think I have subconsciously picked up a bit of the technical jargon of motorbikes.
Investing in a set of Sheepy Hollow sheepskin seat covers is something we are considering for the future. Being saddlesore is a bit of a pain, but there is a company in Australia which sells motorcycle accessories made out of sheepskin, designed to make riding more comfortable.
The Real Deal
I would like to thank K for rescuing me in my hour of need. He is indeed my knight in shining armour. Without his support and dedication, I would not have been able to get to Oxford until at least a week later than planned. View the Homecoming . He got me to my family and he got me to my job. For this, I will be most humbly grateful forever.
A Heartfelt Thanks