Friday, August 22, 2008

Losing a few pounds...

So….I’ve just stepped onto British Airways flight 195 for Houston. A ten hour flight….direct. Thanks Bubba.

That leaves plenty of time for mindless writing….Greenblat and other blog-readers beware….this could be the longest and most pointless yet!

Headphones on. Thankfully there are empty seats around me and I’m settled in. The work of the trip is done as of NOW and the reality of my departure from Europe and this trek has finally set in. As expected….it is bittersweet. I’m both excited to see familiar surroundings and hesitant to leave behind the holiday that felt so permanent.

When leaving home back in April, I actually thought I might find something in Europe that kept me from coming back to Austin for a long time. I figured that a job in London would be all that I needed to spur the move. I found the opportunities and positions, but I simply had no motivation to even apply. The thoughts of my family, friends and love of Austin became even stronger while I romantically rode 10,000 miles on a dirtbike from Texas to lands I’d never seen.

We’re taxiing onto the runway now…..why do I have the sudden urge to jump off and stay?

Airborne now and almost instantly it seems we’re over the pond cruising along at over 500 mph. Every mile of this trip (other than the flight over) feels earned. I felt every mile in my fingers, my back, my knees, my neck and my head. Now I’m reclined in a huge seat (thanks bubba) sipping on some red wine and listening to Mono on the headphones with ease. Could my life be any more of a contrast?

Ok ok….so I’m waxing feverishly over normal stuff like the difference in transportation choices, but it’s these seemingly little differences that suddenly seem important. How I got from scene to scene during this adventure (yes I’m calling it that now) really did make the difference. I packed up my life onto my bike and rode off into my trip everyday. There wasn’t anyone else’s plans that got in the way…..I just took what I wanted as it was offered. Could it be anymore hedonistic or satisfying?

So…..everyone has been asking what the big “wrap-up” on the blog might be…..I guess that could happen once I’m home. For now I’ll just be content to tell those interested about my final days in Europe.

My last short entry alluded to the trouble I had on my return to England. I left Barcelona with hopes for a quick and safe journey to Cornwall (southwestern England) to see Sam, his family and his homeland. I met Sam at the moto jumble in Netley back in April (you might remember the pics and stories of drunken brits) and I was excited to get to see him again and get the chance to see his stack of vintage machinery and homeland.

From Barcelona, the sweet visions of Cornwall had me hit the road early to cross France in order to grab a ferry across the channel for Plymouth, England. I made it as far as Bordeaux, France the first day with little to no issue. The weather went from sunny, sweaty and hot in Spain to cloudy, 4 layers deep clothing, cold wet air and windy mountain passes in just an hour or so. I rode on….only happy to put the miles under my belt again and to NOT be sweating. Late that night I found a crappy Motel in Bordeaux and crashed hard…to sleep that is. The next morning I slept in a bit and rode around the beautiful city and then stopped for an espresso and toast in a cafĂ© to get me on the road feeling right. Around 11:30am I finally hit the motorway ready to move on. About 20 minutes into my music and riding the bike made a sudden jolt. I kept on it a bit confused and I looked down at the engine with concern……and then WHAM….no power. I start to pick my emergency exit from the roadway as I hear the rattling chain scraping the pavement. DAMN…..I finally lost a chain. I literally said out loud “now THIS is where it gets interesting” with full knowledge that I didn’t have a spare.

I coasted off the road and prepared to assess the damage. 5 minutes later and I’ve got it apart…..the master link blew….and I don’t have one that will fit. SHIT. I figure with all the passing motorbikes that surely one will stop and have a link that will work……WRONG. I sit there for almost an hour and at least a few hundred bikes pass….not ONE stops. Several wave as I try to flag them down…but no help. Screw French bikers! What happened to the brotherhood of motorcyclists?

I frantically make phone calls to Christophe in Paris (my moto workshop buddy) and Sam. Both offer advice to do what I figured I had to do… for a tow. I reluctantly push the bike a kilometer or so to the emergency phone. After 3 calls and 3 angry Frenchmen with no ability to speak English, I find one that knows how to use an automated translator and I await a truck. It shows up and again…zero English. Damn I need to learn more French. I tell him that I want a tow to a KTM dealer in Bordeaux and he says “wi” as he helps ME load up my bike. He takes me to his Peugeot mechanics shop about 20 miles into the country and dumps my bike in the yard… explanation. I call Christophe in a panic to get some translation and twenty minutes later I realize that not only has this tow cost me about $170 bucks, but they cannot and will not help me…at all. I panic and sit for a few minutes with Christophe on the phone as he tries to calm me. He gets back on the phone with the mechanic and the mechanic finally agrees to call a moto shop a few towns over and a taxi to get me there. A few hours later I’m at shop….fresh new $110 cut chain in hand and quickly headed back to the bike to repair it. All is dry, but on the return taxi ride….the rain hits… I’m really in a good mood. I spend another $160 on the taxi and I beg the shop to let me wheel the bike inside for the repair…..they reluctantly oblige (blue coveralls included), but I’m pretty sure it’s only because they didn’t know how to tell me how to screw off in English and maybe they didn’t want to see me cry?

The entire time this operation is taking place I’m aware of the fact that the next day is the first day of a 3 day weekend and these guys are NOT going to put me up for 3 days if I don’t get the bike fixed. They’ve already motioned for the gate where they plan to leave me and my bike when they go home for the weekend. Since I don’t much want to spend 3 days in my tent cold and wet, I quickly get to work. I take it apart, throw on the new rear sprocket I was carrying and the new chain and begin to put the new master link in……only it’s a tight fit. No worries…..I pull out my handy link compressor for installation and start to crank it down.

At this point I’m hungry, I’m stressed and I’m ready to hit the road….unfortunately I’m not patient! As I crank down the link I realize that not only is the tool bending, but the link is locking up and I’ve just potentially caused a serious issue. A few freak out phone calls to Sam (who says eat some food) and I realize that I’ve ruined two links of my chain and I have no spare link to improvise. Another panic-filled phone call to Sam and I realize I have one that ‘may’ work. Some creative grinding (with the stolen Peugeot grinder), a few smashed fingers later, lots of explitives and hope exists as I have the chain together with leftover chain and two master links.

The funniest part of the saga is the Frenchman standing over me wanting to close the shop for his holiday….as we near 10:30pm. He didn’t understand a thing I said and I seriously thought he was mentally retarded as regardless of how much I flailed around in a panic, he simply looked at me…..I don’t know…like I was a crazy frantic stranded American on a dirtbike from Texas I suppose. I was an alien to them all and the last one left had less humor than the rest…and that’s saying something.

So….I frantically load up my gear, the bike starts first kick and I haul ass back to the highway honking and whooping in the rain as I’ve just avoided perhaps the worst few days of my trip. I can say it was by far the most stressful part of my journey….and in hindsight it wasn’t that bad….I just needed some escargot and maybe a crepe to slow me down?

I hit the road in the rain, ride for a few hours until I’m about to fall off the bike in exhaustion and begin looking for yet another crappy motel. In the course of searching I did manage to almost lose the front wheel in a roundabout, but I save it at the last possible split second and laugh at myself for almost crashing in the last few hundred miles of a 10,000 mile journey!

Drama over…..The next morning I hit the road early and rode about 7 hours to catch the ferry to Plymouth. The channel crossing was a 5 hour ride into seasick hell, but I saw a crappy Will Smith movie and made it and was quite thankful when we hit port. A few late hours through tiny wet lanes surrounded by Cornish hedgerows and I was at Sam’s place… and sound….or was I?

We sat in the shop until about 3am bs’ing about my adventures and what he’d be up to since I last saw him at the beginning of the European leg of this journey. He showed me his Pre-war Brough Superior (the rolls Royce of motorcycles) and his collection of vintage projects…astounding. No doubt a proper English ‘shed’ complete with a lathe, a press, welder, English wheel and just about every other thing you can think of to keep the guy busy. A truly great evening just hanging out and drinking Sam’s best warm beer (he called it cold, but it was definitely warm) Overnight it became apparent that two of the house had gotten a stomach virus and things were not pretty….NOT a sleep-filled night for Sam.

The next morning I met his wife Adeline, his three daughters Eve, Ruth and Rose and the newest member, six month old Gregory. All were an absolute delight and treated me like a member of the family from the beginning. I can’t say enough about their hospitality.

We hung out……took care of sick kids….told stories…played with Gregory and hid out from the weather. Oh….did I mention that someone forgot to tell England that it’s summer time? Yeah…COLD, WET and WINDY! Imagine a coldish Texas wet winter day….that was the 4 days I spent in Cornwall. Yeah…so the family was good and put up with my complaining….and simple bewilderment of how these poor people could be almost totally robbed of a summer.

So….safe at Sam’s place….yeah not so much. On the second evening I went to bed feeling not-so-great, but passed out regardless. 5 am and I woke up realizing that the bug that was running rampant through the house had hit me. A few hours tossing up a wonderful Lamb Bolognese that Sam had made and I was OUT. I slept until 1pm and then got up to face the day. We decided to forget about the pain and jump on the bikes for a ride through Cornwall while it wasn’t raining. I rode Sam’s 1927 Ariel and couldn’t believe how much I loved it…top speed 60mph (downhill with a tailwind) and a hardtail to boot….I loved it. Somehow the ride truly cured my sickness and even with a queezy stomach I enjoyed every mile. (yeah…no more kilometers…MILES) Cornwall is amazing and I have a few pics to prove it. I MUST go back and ride there more with Sam…I think I could do that for days on end. Maybe next time I’ll steal one of Sam’s bikes and ride the whole of the UK?

Two days before my flight out of London I got to experience a few genuine Cornish Pastys and I packed up and hit the road for London. In London I met up with my Craigslist buyer, Arno (the crazy South African) and was surprised to find yet another really cool stranger waiting on me. He gave me what I needed for the KTM, I sorted him out on the procedure of its care, he bought me dinner, gave me a place to sleep and graciously walked me to the Tube station this morning (carrying my heavy bag) to get me to the airport. What a standup guy…..and totally made my last night in Europe an easy one. *Yes I’m aware that the UK prefers to be considered the UK and NOT Europe! Arno plans to ride the bike to South Africa…this makes me SO happy to know that the KTM’s adventure will go on.

So…I’m back to the beginning of this blog post. I’m 30 minutes from touchdown in Houston and my brother. I’m thankful, happy and nervous all at the same time. The real world is 50,000 ft. down and I’m about to touch down. Wish me luck…another blog post is surely due… time.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Cornish Detox

I hit the road from Barcelona headed to England and France gave me a kick in the ass just before England got one more chance to do the same.


-Left Barcelona and hit Bordeaux in a day
-Left Bordeaux and within 20 minutes broke down for the first time
-Got stranded and spent over $400 repairing a busted chain
-Spent a day in rural France and hit the ferry from France to Cornwall, England
-Hung out with Sam and family for a few days
-Detoxed with an amazing weight-loss stomach virus obtained from Sam's wonderful family
-Rode the Cornish countryside on an 80 year old motorcycle with a weak stomach
-Spent a night with Frankie and family en route to London
-Just sold the bike in London....flight to Houston in the morning

More proper update later.....for now let's just say that my time to detox in Cornwall was well worth it and I look forward to seeing many of you soon.

A few new pics are on Flcker. Enjoy.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Still lost....

Spain is warm. AC is scarce. Internet access is scarcer. Europe is expensive!


-Decided to see Rome instead of Venice due to Margot’s time constraints and Spanish desires
-Rome was dirty, HOT, expensive, FULL of tourists, scam artists and shit food
-Three hot days in Rome and we hit an overnight ferry destined for Barcelona
-Hit the road south to parts unknown in Spain
-Incredible roads along the coast keep leading us to cheap hostels and the BEACH
-Rode back to Barcelona and Margot’s unfortunate departure back stateside
-Plans for next few weeks are shaping up
-Barcelona is feeling more and more like home
-Flight home is all but booked out of London soon…

I last wrote that we hadn’t decided on Rome or Venice as our next destination. The next morning we looked at the calendar and decided heading back south to catch an overnight ferry out of Rome made more sense than roaming around northern Italy only to then be forced to rush back across the South of France to just barely make it back to Barcelona in time for Margot to fly home.

Rome was beautiful and disappointing all at the same time. I made the mistake of letting my expectations guide my level of contentment and it simply didn’t live up. Yeah yeah….the Colloseum is beautiful and humbling as are the other Ruins, but that wasn’t enough to overcome the constant badgering by street peddlers and tour guides wanting to give me a “great deal”. Almost all were full of nearly impossible promises and exaggerated offers. Every restaurant (except one street pizza vendor) sold cheap nasty food on their posted menus and then screwed you with a “cover charge” to sit at their tables. One restaurant wanted 5 Euros for a pizza and when we ordered house beers, whose prices were purposely not posted and avoided when we inquired, we realized they cost us 6.50 Euros! It was such a sham and so obvious that it was an intentional ploy to screw the tourists in any way possible.

In a word it was just LAME. I wish we’d had time to head to Southern Italy as recommended by Kendra and several others. Next time maybe? We moved on, but determined that seeing Rome was simply a checked box. I’d rather have doubled back to Austria or something else rather than be hounded by swindlers and overrun by millions of rude and stinky sweaty tourists. Yeah….I’m a tourist, but I feel like I have a better ability to blend into the crowd rather than make one as the tourists in Rome seem to.

The truly cool thing that happened to me in Rome was a totally random one. As Margot, Cienna and I stumbled through the back neighborhoods of town on the long walk from the Vatican to our Hostel we ended up on another tiny lane with lots of interesting offshoots and buildings. One just barely caught my eye as one with a small window looking into a tiny room with a few vintage motorcycles. As I spotted it, Cienna just waltzed in the door of the place like she owned it. Margot and I hesitantly followed and found a room with 3 people and 12 or so random Italian bikes hanging out. I noticed that several were Moto Guzzis (my current favorite) and I made eye contact with the people sitting around and simply pointed to the tattoo on my arm as my Italian is less than useful. The main guy saw my tattoo and instantly realized that it was from a Moto Guzzi Galleto and pointed to one sitting in the corner. His eyes lit up and he excitedly began asking me where I was from and just laughed and smiled as he loaded me up with free literature and posters of a Guzzi focused artist whose original works were hung all over the walls. Apparently it was not a shop, but simply a neighborhood moto club that focused on Moto Guzzi. We chatted in the little way that we could….he made me an honorary member of the club and I moved on with a sense of bewilderment that we had somehow found what is likely the only Galleto in Rome and the first one I’ve ever seen outside of a museum in Alabama. Strange coincidence and a really cool one as well….

After a few hot days in Rome, we jumped the ferry an hour outside of town destined for Barcelona……an overnight air-conditioned room and 20 hours on a huge ship sounded like a better idea than covering old ground in 3-4 days and spending MUCH more on petrol and lodging. The ferry experience was more like a cruise and it was nothing less than the best decision made with Margot’s time here. A healthy night of sleep and some time spent sunning on the boat the next morning got us directly into port in the middle of Barcelona less than 2 miles from our favorite hostel. We crashed there and prepared to explore more of the town we loved so much the first time around.

A visit to the impressive modern art museum, BEACH time, tons of cheap street food, lots of walking and fruit hunting, Chilean food, some late night riding through town and we made the decision to head south via the coast and see what we found outside of Barcelona. With barely any riding, but lots of uncomfortable heat and sweating, we stopped short in a coastal town called Sitges and found a hostel to stash our stuff while we hit the beach again. It was really just more family-oriented than Barcelona and smaller. We lounged on the beach and that night we managed to split a bottle of rum mixed with Fanta Limon…..mmmmm….fancy. I felt like I was regressing, but in hindsight it was quite perfect for 4 euros. The town was bustling with people everywhere and we felt lucky to stumble across such a busy scene with way more going on than we’d expected to see.

The next day we moved on to an even smaller town another a bit down the coast. We dubbed this town “Ghetto Beach”, as we didn’t know it’s real name and just took it in. We could have ridden further, but the beach was just too damn tempting and I still feel a bit guilty for wimping out on riding further into the wild, but it really worked out. We spent that day at the beach and somehow spent the evening sitting with an old Spanish guy with no teeth who spoke zero english, but offered us his homemade moonshine that the Spanish call (roughly translated) “Water with Teeth”. He told us it was over 90 proof, but I think that was underselling the stuff. It was like drinking Everclear, but better? Great night….great time trying to tell stories in Spanish and truly memorable.

One afternoon we did manage to find some deserted road near Ghetto Beach and I gave Margot a moto lesson. I’m pretty sure I was more scared than she was, but I promised her that I’d give her a shot on my bike, so I had to do it before she left. She rode the KTM quite well, but learning to drive a manual transmission with your feet AND how to handle a motorcycle for the first time isn’t easy and a lot to absorb in an hour. She did MUCH better than I expected and we had no mishaps worth mentioning. It did help me to realize just how little I think about how to ride my motorcycle….I just ride, but there are more moving parts than I’d realized… wonder an afternoon off road can totally wear me out as it keeps you busy every step of the way.

We bailed out of Ghetto beach after two memorable nights and made the short trek back to Barcelona. It was truly laughable. What had taken us at least 3-4 hours of riding time on back coastal roads and 4 days of lounging, took us less than an hour on the toll way… much for exploring the depths of Spain. I could use up a few months in Spain and Portugal easy…Ahhhh…next time. We did find time to wander off the pavement onto dirt roads and into a national park, but it was tough going with what is likely 100 pounds of gear and an extra person. Every bump felt like we might lose something or worse yet someone. We found our way back to the smooth and safer pavement and I determined that I need to find a lighter way to take an off road trip back home. Off road riding on a bike like this is amazing fun. It just glides over the bumps and eats up the miles with amazing ease. It’s almost bullet-proof feeling.

So….it was back to my favorite hostel in Barcelona and MORE time on the Barcelona beach. We managed to hook up with our Australian friends that we met in Rome….two gals, Daina and Cienna, who have been traveling Europe for 2 months. It was like seeing old friends that we hadn’t seen in a while even though we’d just met them. We had a great Chilean meal with Duck as Dessert and cooked up our own espressos back at the hostel to top off the evening. (more on that little jewel later) Great time…..and even more great people. I think I’m destined for Australia at some point as I’ve met more Australians on this trip than I would have ever thought possible. I finally figured out that it’s mainly because they are locked into winter and mostly take their vacations now to escape the cold shitty weather back home. I realized that being gone from Texas during the long hot summer has been of similar benefit to me. While it has been hotter than I prefer, I haven’t encountered any stifling heat here even though Barcelona has apparently been experiencing its hottest days in 6 years these past few days. (highs of 91) I keep finding AC when I can and thank the heavens every night that my cheap hostel will freeze me out at night if I want it to.

This is a long update as I’m obviously feeling motivated….. and I realize that it may be annoying to some that I just rant on about the boring details of my trip here, but I really can’t even come close to relating what all happens here. And besides…..isn’t that what you’re reading this crap for? Why does it seem that so much more happens when you are on holidays? Maybe it’s simply because I’m not locked into daily routine, but even here I sometimes crave routines similar to home to feel normal again…only it’s just got a different flavor. For instance….last week Margot and I found a tiny local coffee shop tucked away on the tiny streets of Barcelona’s Gothic hood and to our surprise the coffee was cheap and the atmosphere inspiring. So….here I sit alone on a beautiful sunny day writing my blog and business plan instead of taking in more sun and swimming on the beach or amazing architecture and people watching. I mean….even the “Boards of Canada” are playing through the speakers of this place! They were the instrumental band that I listened to while studying with headphones for hours on end to get me through finishing my degree. I’ve NEVER heard them played anywhere except Tony’s house. How random and obviously beneficial to my concentration…..

Anyway….routines are missed, but random stories abound of what seems to happen when your only agenda is to experience something new every day. Tonight I’m taking a Spanish cooking course with my Australian buddies simply because it will teach me something new and the price of the class included food and all I can drink for way less than it would cost to have a nice meal out here. I’m pumped and primed to cook more and more these days and I’ve never been that way before. Traveling just has a way of doing this to me I suppose. I’m inclined to look with different eyes and move with different feet.

Ok…cheese is over. Who needs heartfelt introspection to ruin a perfectly good pointless blog where I’m really only supposed to brag about how much better my life is than yours? Blah……

On to the business end of traveling…..I did intend to keep it to myself until I hit home again, but it now seems that I’ll be headed home soon and word is out regardless of my not wanting it to be. I just sorta liked the idea of rolling back into Austin when I felt like it as that’s how my trip has almost always been. “Soon” to me is a few weeks away, but that just seems like tomorrow in terms of how long I’ve been gone. Money has MORE than run out and I found another buyer for my moto in London who seems keen to plop down the cash for such a rare bike over here. So…it looks like I’ll be making the long trek back north to the land of cold rain and reversed roads where the European leg of this odyssey began. The good news is that I’ll be headed to my friend Sam’s place in Cornwall for a visit and hopefully some quality time on a vintage bike before I ride on to London. I also hope to see Frankie and family between Cornwall and London and to stay with Catherine and Jay in London at least one night to finish up the trip and show them all some love. Just a thousand miles more and I’ll be back in the splendor of air travel and the comforts of home……mmmmm sounds good.

I’m currently stuck in Barcelona with a broken clutch cable and the HUGE KTM dealer is on Holiday….so they close the entire shop down. NOT good timing for me. I’m currently working on a patented Gashole Bodge…..may Stefan’s genius of rigging envelope my soul…..otherwise I could be stuck in Barcelona for much longer than intended.

More good news is that I should be home for Mark, my twin Michael and my birthday. A party is in the works so keep an eye out for an invite or email me if you don’t get it….you know I’m bad about distributing the details sometimes. EVERYONE is invited….I wanna see some familiar faces!

So…in the coming weeks I hope to serve up at least one more update here and a few more choice photos. I have a ton of snapshots to upload from my last week or so here with Margot, but Wifi is still rather hard to come by for long uploads like that. For the blog update I simply write this all in Word and then copy and paste it onto the webpage when I get a few minutes of internet to do so.

By the way…. the pics are, unfortunately for some, filled with photos of yours truly as Margot seemed to hold the camera more when she was here and likes to take photos of me when I'm not looking….I’m just not as inspired for photo time as I was when this all began. I know that pics of me are seemingly egotistical, but they make Mom happy so I’ll keep them coming mainly for her and my growing fan base. ☺

Wish me luck….I look forward to seeing you all soon!