Saturday, 30 April 2016

close possible worlds and Alpine Glory

In a close possible world I might have cycled into Zurich. Then my delight at recognising one of those funky, open spaces that Germanic cities seem to do so well (stacked and stencilled shipping containers with wall gardens, smiles, dreadlocks and bicycles abundant) wouldn't have been tempered by the realisation that by my choice of transport I have traded away a certain currency amongst a certain set of people. I remember arriving in similar creative spaces in German and Austrian cities where my loaded bicycle acted as a passport to cross-lingual cool and acceptance, a free coffee, wifi even; no longer. Of course you may order what you like from the café, Sir, but you should probably move your motorcycle off the pavement. It was the Sir that really stung of course. I´m no longer an aspirational figure to the idealistic continental twenty-something. Or perhaps it´s just that I've crossed an age threshold, and this moto/cycle stuff is all in my head…

I camped an hour’s ride out of the city (that's like, far) half way up an Alp, not thinking in the slightest that my keep-going-higher approach to finding a spot would have any adverse consequence. By morning my tent was cocooned in four inches of snow. It was so glorious a situation, so startlingly altered from the one I had left in sleep that my childish delight (SNOW!) instantly dismissed all concern about how on earth I'd get the machine out of the forest now when it had been so difficult getting it in. Later on, attempting to refuel, I discovered that my fuel cap lock had seized, or done the opposite, so that my key turned the entire lock instead of just the inside bits. Tiny detail, big problem. Less than the tank's dregs later I found myself oddly gladly in probably the last place to be when budgeting: a Swiss BMW garage. I did get a free coffee, wifi even, and waiting for the mechanic I sat and dwelt upon this chosen liminality. I don't aspire to the shiny new machines in the showroom, really not in the slightest. But I am starting to feel something for this old one. I don't quite cut it in the trendy Swiss bicycle café anymore. But I am still committed to snowy tents and riverbed campfires. My heart is on a bicycle, because I trust its goodness above all other tools, but here I am having the time of my life learning to corner without unrolling the throttle.

So it's experimental mode. In that vein I've been given a smartphone, my first, by my sister and brother in-law. It charges from an auxilary output on the dash, and amazingly (only to me?) provides an accurate GPS location on maps which I can freely cache at wifi coffee stops. In this way I know exactly where I am and where I'm going. I can even find the clearings in the forest outside town. Abstractly, I'm not sure how I feel about that. In practise it makes everything hugely easier. In fact those abstractly thoughts could interfere with this trip no end if I were to indulge them overly, so I'm trying not to. Similarly generous Seb gave me a helmet mounting HD camera, which I've been using to record my cautious Alpine cornerning. All of those recordings are a little large - I will adapt - so for now settle for the basic ones below. And yet another generous friend, Jason, gave me a last minute digital pocket camera, so I am equipped! And you are provided photographs, below. And a last call for generosity, my cousin Roy's mother in-law in Sylvia in Terlano, for food, board, welcome and rest, thank you all!

I covered 360 miles yesterday, out of the Alps and down along the Adriatic coast. Venice probably used to be charming, but I didn't take any photos there in case somebody charged me. Lots of motorway, fast, and then those occasional lulls, the edges of which you notice and momentarily wonder what's going on. Police vehicles like hawks in woodland, all around them quiet and careful. It seems to be a universal courtesy of the police on motorways to travel fractionally below the speed limit, so that everybody can creep past them and then return to their speeding and overtaking. After a couple of hours of that intense awareness, noticing, trying to notice every car, curve, camber and contour; all of the seams and splits in the tarmac; gravel, debris, fuel; anything that might upset the trajectory; all that is in front and all behind; after a couple of hours of this mental effort being met by so little physical reaction, only the merest rotation of the right hand, the tension coagulates into a hot knot in the shoulder. The day goes on, hundreds of miles of the world fly past and I continue to sit quite still, moving only that right hand. Anticipating almost everything, wondering about the things I've missed, often very aware of the mortal weight between neck and wrist, often oblivious. By the end of the day that weight has become a cramp from head to hand. Everywhere else is perfectly comfortable. It's funner than it sounds.

There were other bits I wanted to say but I've been in here ages and the sun's out in Northern Italy. About where I am, and where I'm going, Trieste, right on the Italian Slovenian border. I'll head for Ljubljana, Zagreb, see if Jack can arrange me a bed in Belgrade again, and then across to Romania. Arbitrary, but I've not been there before. Homewards, there is family in Innsbruck, and friends near Stuttgart and Ghent. 

first night on road

don't get it


continental breakfast


Tuesday, 26 April 2016

clutching at

Between an engine's spinning output shaft and its gearbox - which transmits that output appropriately to speed and load - there must be a clutch. It allows the operator to momentarily disengage the engine's enormous rotational torque from the gearbox's many, tiny cogs and bits. Or something like that. I spent the weeks preceeding Easter learning the general and the hugely specific about my motorcycle clutch, before the entire four day weekend stripping and replacing all of its wearable parts in a shed at the timber yard where I work. There was a novel kind of joy testing it afterwards, through the tunnel beneath Temple Meads before I'd reinstalled the muffler. I've not read the famous Zen book, but spoke to Dad about starting to understand the appeal of mechanics; intervening in a closed system of finite variables offers the potential to be correct to an extent never possible in the real universe. People get this kind of problem, and I found myself discussing the detail widely with friends, regular customers in the yard, and a whole team of mainly North Americans who populate an online forum devoted to BMW K-bikes. The latter were on hand to respond within hours to my obscure enquiries, patiently explaining, gently chiding and finally advising I go get some yeehaa.

The other, real-universe problems around this trip are less easy, existing as they do amongst an exponentially greater number of variables. How does one justify a leisure tour around European roads and borders in the current geo-politic? Is it still OK to enjoy a roadtrip with so many making a so desperate exodus the other way? Not to mention the very oil upon which my conveyance depends and its inextricable involvement with the aforementioned. Of course there's no answer to these beyond carrying a certain awareness, and hoping it informs my participation in the experience. Whatever that means. I'd rather talk about the clutch to be honest. Whether you want to hear about it...

I am in Basel, Switzerland. One travels quickly with an engine. The question of wild camping by motorcycle has twice been answered positively. It's been raining a lot, which is difficult. There'll be lots to write about the differences between cycling and motorcycling I'm sure. At this early stage I'd paraphrase Bradley Wiggins (I think?) and say it doesn't get any easier, you just get faster. I'm heading for the mountains, for Italy, I haven't decided which way yet - it matters rather less than it does by bicycle. I have a Swiss motorway pass on the windscreen: "you can stick it where you want, but you must stick it" said the border man.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

new chapter

This afternoon I'll sail to France, to spend a month exploring the mainland...