Part II of European Motorcycle Madness

Colle del Gran San Bernardo, 85 miles from Aosta, Italy through Switzerland to Chamonix, France
Colle del Gran San Bernardo, 85 miles from Aosta, Italy through Switzerland to Chamonix, France

In early July 2012, I left my dear French friends and found myself alone on Ghettobike. I cruised out of Dijon at a much peppier pace, given half the previous weight was now on a train to Paris. My travel buddy, handy-girl and navigator was gone. We had been crammed on that bike like sardines for over 800 miles from London to Chalon-sur-Saône, but I missed her already. I was nervous for the solo part of the adventure. No longer could I tape a map to my backpack and have someone tell me where to go. Tap the right shoulder, turn right. Tap the left, turn left. Tap my helmet, stop the bike. No one to laugh and commiserate with during the various breakdowns, tinker with tools we didn’t know the names for, or to make dozens of coffee, baguette and croissant breaks with. How would I feel getting lost at night, all alone, without her company? How would I handle breakdowns by myself? I was accustomed to solo travel, but never on a motorcycle. I felt more vulnerable. Would I feel lonely, too? It was time to find out. First thing first, I had to come up with a new navigation system, which consisted of taping a piece of paper to my fuel tank. It worked as long as you didn’t stare at it too long while riding or going around a bend. And it wasn’t raining. And the wind wasn’t blowing too hard. And you could read your scribbly handwriting.

Leaving one set of friends found me speeding 190 miles towards another good friend I had met while hiking across Spain in IMG_20702009. Located in the foothills of the Alps, her town Grenoble was another perfect resting place. I’ll remind the reader I was finishing my last quarter of my master’s degree, so stopping every few days was a requirement. This was my second visit to this city, and as long as she’s there, will always be one of my favorite places to visit in Europe. A few days of rest, homework over pain au chocolat, and excellent company further convinced me that France wouldn’t be a bad place to live.

The hikes and views in the area are stunning, some of the best I’ve seen. Grenoble itself isn’t as nice as many French towns, but the surrounding countryside has so much natural beauty offer, making it a great location if you like the outdoors.

A few days later and I was on the road again, this time heading across the Alps to Aosta, Italy. I took the 206 mile scenic route over the Col de l’Iseran, the highest paved road in the Alps. This was one of the more memorable routes ridden, and one I would definitely go back and do again. I did get lost a couple of times, as I had no GPS and relied on memory and the piece of paper taped to my fuel tank.

Once in Aosta, I Couchsurfed with a local and was taken out to see local nightlife and eat tons of delicious pizza and gelatto. Italian guys get a bad rap, but in this small corner of Northwest Italy, I found myself amidst a group of friends who were all friendly, chivalrous, and not overly macho.

In the shadow of the Alps, I couldn’t stay long. I had roads to explore and a continent to cross. At the last minute, I decided it was too damn hot to head to Croatia as I had originally thought to do, so instead I took a few loops around the Alps, finding myself first in Switzerland, then in gorgeous Chamonix-Mont Blanc. What a place. If I had considered life in France as good before, now it was really getting appealing! I was intending to stay just three days, but Ghettobike had other ideas and didn’t like the high altitude. A week later and 8 sport climb pitches, a few miles of off-roading, an hour of paragliding, countless awesome meals, a few extra pounds on my ass, an evening spent at the World Climbing Festival, Bastille day, five different people working on Ghettobike (including real mechanics), a couple new (minor) parts, and I was finally ready to leave Chamonix. Then I got a flat tire.

Back to the mechanic down the valley for the 2nd or 3rd time. The next two days found me heading through Italy and Switzerland again (couldn’t resist one last loop through the Alps), through Switzerland, back to Couchsurf in France for the night, through Luxembourg and into Germany to visit a friend I had previously met in my second year of the Camino de Santiago hike.

Germany and Ze autobahn!!!!!! Ghettobike, relieved to be off the oxygen starved high altitude roads, was happy to cruise as fast as possible. It was on this stretch that I realized my odometer and speedometer were totally off, and that in fact Europeans weren’t just “driving really slowly” when I thought I was going only 100km/hour. As it turned out, I had actually been “cruising” through most of Europe at around 135 km/h.

All said and done with various detours and getting lost (which was most of my experience riding across Europe), I did over 600 miles split into those 2 days. While trying to find my friend’s house in Essen, I became so sleepy I had to nap on a park bench on the side of the autobahn for an hour before continuing. Still fairly lost a couple of hours later, a nice gentleman and his kid offered to drive me 60km out of their way, through the countryside, to deliver me to my friend’s door. His advice: “Ze Autobahn is too dangehrous foh motocycles! You are tihred, and should not be dwiving at zis time of night. Follow me or I vill vooorry!” At this point in the trip, I had lost track of how many people had helped me. It was definitely in the 20’s, counting couchsurfing hosts, mechanics and their wives going far beyond their job descriptions to help out, perfect strangers on the side of the road, several housewives and their flocks of children, and friends of friends. With great trust in humanity, the ability to make friends easily (a skill learned from my dad), and a good dose of common sense learned from my mom, I followed some stranger into the night.

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