Friday, September 4, 2009

XR Trophy

June 23, 2009 - Tuesday

I have about fifty e-mails to go through, half a dozen people to call and contract to write up, but I'm gonna see if I can't cram the record of Florian's and my trip into the remaining few hours of this afternoon.
Friday started out mild, sunny and mostly dry, and Florian and I left the house loaded with our backpacks around eight a.m.
The good weather lasted until Lucerne, and then we had rain until Italy. It didn't help that we took a couple wrong turns and dead ends in our effort to avoid the autobahn, but we finally found the Simplon and followed its wide, winding curves across the border and into Bella Italia. The border agent nodded us through without checking our IDs or tires, for which I was grateful as digging out the ID would have been a nuiscance and the profile on my tires was already scratching the limit of legal then.
As soon as we crossed the border the air became noticably warmer, and the Italian end of the Simplon was curvier and funner to drive. Still, it rained off and on, we were pretty much soaked, and after following small town roads and a main thoroughfare in the direction of Milan for about an hour, I turned off into the mountains. Forty-five minutes of riding that mountain road which in some places was no road at all, just gravel and building sites, brought us high into the Piemont. In Bannio Anzino we booked a room for the night, changed into dry clothes, and called it a day around four p.m.
Bannio is a lovely little town nestled in the mountains. I had my camera along and should have taken many more pictures than I did, but most of the photos I shot were taken in Bannio.
Wild blue hydrangeas - we saw lots of them in Italy:

The town square, with one of five churches (in a town that didn't house more than 200 souls!):

This cannon stood rusting away on rock-hard tires outside one of the churches:

We discovered this Stations of the Cross pathway outside the village. There were many shrines like these scattered all over the mountains. Most paintings weren't of much artistic value, but it was warming to see how much effort had gone into these symbols of religious sentiment.

And finally, our bikes after the first day, splattered with mud and gravel and rain. No wonder my mechanic throws a fit every time I bring the Beastie in for another service.

We skipped supper, being quite tuckered, and breakfast the following morning. We left the hotel shortly after 7 a.m. the next morning, having many kilometers left the travel until we reached Varano de Melegari near Parma.
In Novara we visited a super market where we bought breakfast and lunch in one and treated man and machine to a break.
That day we covered 500 kilometers, driving smaller and smaller roads the nearer we got to Varano. On the fourth to the last segment, I, who led the way for the whole trip, was scouting along the mountain road, watching for the gravel and grit that lay in every corner. There was no driving faster than 30 km/h. The Beastie and I rounded a right curve - and suddenly we were both on the ground. I lay there a moment, horrible images of broken footpegs, smashed GFK parts and thousands of franks worth of damage flashing through my head.
Florian parked the Tweety Bird and rushed over to me - we'd seen no traffic on these roads, which was good, because now that I think about it we would have been in a very sorry state if a driver had come upon us behind that curve just then. When Florian left the Beast, the first thing I saw was that the footpegs was still intact.
It turns out we'd landed on some black sand lying in the shadow of the tree over the curve, so fine and smooth that I could barely even stand on it. The Beast came away with a broken handlebar end, a few scratches on the back fork and seat strut and a nasty bruise on the manifold, which doesn't matter at all since I'm getting a new one with the Blaster in a few weeks anyway.
Thank you, guardian angel.
So I got over my shock, sent a prayer up to heaven and we were on our way, with me driving even more carefully than before.
Those winding roads were trying, but we reached Varano around 4 p.m. The track was easy to find, and we arrived to find dozens of Harleys and many other bikes brands parked outside the show grounds, with Harley and Buell displays, test drive opportunities, stands with food and Parmesan specialties, and of course the various XR 1200 drivers doing their warmup rounds on the track for the race the next day.
Craig Jones' truck was there too, but he was out on the track. Wing was around, though, so we said hi to him and then watched some racing.
It was very impressive to see just how low and fast one can lay into a curve with an XR 1200, though we were both a bit disappointed they weren't actually drift-racing on a muddy horserace track like in the olden days.
With evening coming on, we left the track to go find a hotel. The one hotel in Varano was fully booked for that night, so we followed our noses until we found a nice little complex about 30 km away in Collecchio. We checked in there, freshened up, and returned to the track for something to eat.
Craig was around this time and found us. It was good to see him again. For the night stunt show at 2100 hours, he and Wing gave us their shirts and caps and loaded us with the helmets and firecrackers to make us look like we belonged with the team. We then got special spots on the restricted side of the barrier when Craig did his show, instead of in the grandstand with everybody else.
It was really cool to watch the show against a dark background. The XR 1200 stunts were strained; Craig told us afterwards that a few days before he'd broken the back wheel doing a stoppie. But the rest were movie material. The CR's front brake disc glowed, and Florian noticed that the "check engine" lights glowed on both the XB and 1125 throughout the show. It was great to watch.
Afterwards we helped pack up the equipment, and then spent the rest of the evening with Craig and Wing. It was over much too quickly.
The next morning we checked out of the hotel in Collecchio and spent the morning back at the track, watching the races and various women get their first taste of motorcycle driving in a closed parcours on a Harley chopper, taught by two good-looking instructors.
Since we didn't want to take any toll-cumbered Italian freeways home, we decided it was time to start heading north again around midday. Florian tightened the Tweety Bird's chain before we left, and then we said goodbye to the stunt riders.
We kept to the bigger roads on the way back. Florian considered driving through and getting home that night, but when we stopped in Vicosoprano, just inside the Swiss border, at 7 p.m. for supper, we decided that another three hours of driving was really not appealing, especially since it was drizzling and after 350 klicks we were both tired. Not to mention that Florian had caught himself a cold and sore throat in Bannio and would be better off with a good night's sleep before we traveled the remaining 200 kilometers back to Zürich.
And in retrospect, it was quite wise to overnight in that lovely little hotel. Because when we drove the Julierpass the next day, it was slippery and snowy and freezing cold. It would have been downright dangerous in the dark.
We reached home at midday on Monday. I caught up on the laundry that had piled up in my absence, worked through e-mails, new DA submissions and Failblog entries and took the dog out a couple times, book in hand. It was gray and rainy and chilly - it still is - and I closed off the day with a nice warm cinnamon- and rose-scented bath. (It smells fine. Lush has knack for nice scents.)
I was super lucky to not to get checked at the border when we reentered Switzerland on Sunday; my front tire has absolutely no profile left to it. Because of that, I drove the Bonnie to work this morning. On the Malojapass, that tire was going every way it wanted; I don't need to push my luck on the wet roads of the Buchenegg or Schlierener Forest.
Tomorrow's supposed to be pretty dry and a bit warmer, though, so the Beastie comes out again then. The service is scheduled for next week, Tuesday; I hope we survive that long.

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