22/23 August 2012
After punishing my gorgeous body (not!) with all sorts of food and drink in the Czech Republic, I started my return to Dubai but adding a bike-riding stop. I took the “Pendolino” fast train to Prague, then flew to Frankfurt with Lufthansa followed by the regional train to Heidelberg and met my beloved RT. Finding my way was no issue as the directions are excellent and the german trains are usually as punctual as a clock. I had to change trains in Mannheim but this was easy and without difficulties. Those were to come later on.
Shortly after me another two or three riders arrived, a Canadian on a R1200GS ADV and an Aussie riding a nice F800 GS. The Canadian was a guy in his sixties, a bit scarce on smiles, that just happened to mention that he had just clocked 125,000 Kms in his bike that day, while the Australian, a wholesome character called Sheldon, was just arriving after a short trip to the Austrian Alps and had just done his second year “touring the world” after having crossed Africa and half of Europe. His ongoing adventure can be seen on http://www.rideforsmiles.com and is not only entertaining but extremely interesting too. The other riding, who arrived from France, was another Canadian called John, a lovely person touring on an older R100 RT with quite a few bruises and squawks. He has been riding bikes for only 40 years. I must admit that I felt quite a small biker next to these guys who have been riding all their lives, but they were very nice to me and drank my beers without any problem.
Sheldon waving the Aussie flag, and with John Barger below.
After a nice breky I carefully prepared for a good start. I donned my yet-to-be-used biker’s outfit, – the same one that had been decorating my closet for months -, and prepared cameras, a snack, a couple of water bottles, trip to the loo, more maps that I can read, etc., I removed the panniers and Top Case from the bike and left only the tank bag.
- Ready to Rock and hopefully not Roll. No Panniers today.
Mi glorious debut came to a grinding halt after just five meters, when suddenly and for no apparent reason the engine started sputtering and died. Just like that. SHIIIIIIT!!! Sheldon and John ran towards me to help and pushed the bike away from the middle of the road before an 18-wheeler turned me into road kill, and I managed to control my panic when Sheldon said that the only problem was the engine still being cold, and to leave the choke on a bit longer. With this small mishap solved and taking the hit to the self -estime, I began the arduous journey of just over four blocks to the nearest gas station (tank had been emptied for the shipment) to finally arrive as grateful as a shipwreck survivor as there was just no gas at all in that tank. Pushing the bike’s 250-odd kg those four blocks to the gas pump fully kitted in my new gear would have been totally appropriate for an episode of “America’s Funniest Videos”.
Inflating the tires was almost like solving a quantum physics’ formula as I had never seen those small portable tanks that you just carry to your vehicle, but just by chance there was another rider on a brand-new 1200 RT called Rolf, whom kindly offered not only to help me pump air into the tires but to guide me on a short tour along the Neckar river. I gladly accepted after making it very clear that I dod not know squat about either the area, my bike, or anything… for that matter.
It was just great to be able to fully concentrate on the riding without having to worry about navigation and ending up head-first in the river. It took me a little while to relax and to stop squeezing the grips as if I were strangling a piglet, it sort of reminded me of my first solo flight, when one is more tense than an inmate on death row before the executioner, and that same tenseness is transmitted to the controls (or handlebar) and the rigidity ends up tiring you even more. Everything worked out marvellously and even with the sunday traffic it all worked out great. on the way back we took a nice back road with lots of curves, some very tight and going uphill, and funny that not only did I not stress but on the contrary, riding my bike there gave me no problems or difficulty, That raised my confidence a lot, both on the bike as on myself.
That same evening (late, as being summer there is daylight until about 10pm) I went out on another solo mini-route, this time to the south. I took Highway 3 straight out of Stefan’s house towards Bruchsal and then took a random exit to a small town called Walldorf (no relationship to the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, or the Waldorf Salad) and this after seeing a glider about to land on some filed nearby, so I decided to follow it and enjoy a few minutes mixing airplanes and motorbike. Got there, turned the motor off and walked up to the glider’s pilot to say hi.
After a short talk I returned to Stefan’s B & B and rewarded myself with a well-deserved beer in the company of Sheldon, who had just arrived after visiting a fellow rider in the hospital after a nasty fall in the Hockenheim racetrack. Once again it took me a long time to fall asleep as I had an incredible time on my FIRST ride on MY bike, and finished off the day very proud of having been able to make my dream come true, proud of my bike, and – why not – of myself for having been able to achieve it.
Sheldon and the adrenaline
I had agreed with Sheldon to go out for a ride the next morning, so we promptly left after a nice little breakfast, looking forward to a nice ride. This was my introduction to the Sheldon Principle of Advanced Navigation, that simple states “Let’s Go”. Anywhere… “Just Go”. This was just too barbaric for me as I am used to having some sort of a plan, always a plan, so I just told him I had a good bearing to the same place I had been to the previous day, so I ended up as the mission leader. This was short -lived as after the first kilometer I took a wrong turn and ended up going straight back to where we had been. Good ride leader I was. Before the situation turned more embarrassing I recovered myself and headed back towards the river, and as I was already familiar with that bit I ended up looking like an expert. After a few k’s we stumbled upon a very interesting place but on the other side of the river, some sort of monastery or the like that was on top of a hill overlooking the river (as they all do) and I (“the leader”) managed to stop at the worst possible place on the road so Sheldon took the lead before an 18-wheeler did, so we headed that way. Soon enough we found the road and ended up at a four-way intersection, the kind you often see on accident reports. Sheldon crossed quickly as the light turned yellow without waiting for me (the other “leader”) and in order not to loose him I tried to follow quickly, but was too late and the light changed to red exactly as I entered the crossing, not the thing to do in the middle of the german morning rush hour. Adrenaline flowed rapidly at the sight of all the cars charging towards me and I instantly applied a panic stop that I had practiced with fervor on my 125cc Honda at school. Obviously I had no goddamn clue how that was going to feel on my RT, and it was the closest to a Carrier Landing I will ever get. I also forgot to tighten my legs around the tank and hold the clutch, so in no time I ended up crushing my nuts on the gas tank, sitting right on top of it, a dead engine and my eyes hanging from my face, just to end up on a humorous note.
I immediately re-started the engine and made myself scarce before the incredulous eyes of 20-30 drivers, but not without leaving there all my self estime and a bigs brown stain on the pavement.
At least the place was worth a visit, it;s a beautiful medieval town called Dilsberg, along with its wall and cobblestone streets. I learned very quickly that these charming environment comes at a price when you’re riding a bike as the stones are slippery and uneven. The best was when I stopped to discretely take a photo of a beautiful specimen of the local folk (with a very tiny mini-skirt) and naturally I did not notice how much lower the left side was , so when I lowered by brand-new boot it barely touched the floor, and it had the grip of a bar of butter on a hot skillet. I have no idea how but I managed to keep my balance, but I almost ripped my groin in two when I did. I guess it must have been hilarious to watch, as the beauty in question walked away at a fast pace barely suppressing a loud giggle.
For those who wonder, I did not get to take the shot.
The return was without problems except for a small traffic jam caused by a service vehicle chopping down some huge trees right next to the road, waiting in a queue is not applicable on Sheldon’s book, so he had the marvelous idea of applying his Aussie Rules of the Road and simply passed everyone on the right emergency lane (yes, the one you must not use) and ignoring my better judgement here I went again after him despite my balls still being in my throat from the earlier scare. Promptly enough a cute little thing driving an Opel Corsa shot out of the lane to the right in front of me also following him!
Luckily I was going very slow expecting something like this to happen, and it was not necessary to test my brakes’ efficiency or soil my bridges again. Damn Sheldon and his disdain of german correctness! Fortunately the rest of the way went smooth and this made me only too happy. I had enough evidence that riding with Sheldon was bound to make me age prematurely.
And thus mi first bike ride came to an end, with many satisfactions and even more lessons, it was an unforgettable experience that has opened up an endless process of learning. The unceremonious end was having to pack all my junk of spares, maps, bike cover etc. (all unused) and put it all in storage in Stefan’s cellar. From there I just had to walk the good part of three minutes to the regional train station and carried on to the massive Frankfurt airport to continue the new ritual known as “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles”, back to Dubai and its hellish summer heat.
So far, the list of lessons learned reads:
- Leave the choke on for longer if it’s a bit cold.
- Buy a tire pressure gauge.
- Do not attempt to stop on an unlevelled street, and if you must, do it perpendicular to the slope.
- If riding with someone try to agree on when and where to stop, to not break the rules of the road even if following someone, and to NEVER cross an intersection unless being TOTALLY SURE that the green light is for you.
- The most important lesson: Never follow an Australian called Sheldon unless he’s off to the bar!