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 café 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.

No comments: