There’s something about watching a man leap into the void from an altitude of almost 40,000 metres which kind of puts one’s own achievements into perspective. While Felix Baumgartner has leaped higher, and fallen faster, than any other man in history (and seemed to do so in complete and utter calmness) I managed to ride my first ever mountain pass and four tunnels (two with curves!) and almost had a nervous breakdown. Surely this achievement is worthy of a monumental award! Where were the cameras I ask? Where was my press conference? Urgh…humble and un-noteworthy doesn’t even begin to describe it. So I take off my hat to one truly remarkable man, and thank him for his dedication to the evolution of human kind; and proceed ever so modestly in updating you on the last few weeks’ travel.
As it happens, Fearless Felix and I do have one thing in common…we both love speed! Although, granted, he managed to reach 16 and a quarter times my own speed, the feeling of going “where no Laura has ever gone before” (just doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?) left me elated nonetheless. Taking off all my luggage and spending a week zooming around Kufstein at almost 90km/hr did wonders for my confidence.
(Even though, right now, I have the overwhelming urge to stop writing this, I will persevere. Perhaps if you read this in a week, after the whole Baumgartner achievement has faded into the background, it may even sound impressive. So feel free to come back then…)
The first day’s ride left me physically exhausted and I needed almost two days to recover. Everything hurt! Luckily, having time to rest at the family farmhouse took off the pressure of having to get back on Pixie the next day. Yet I took advantage of the glorious weather and proceeded to get ‘intimate’ with my beast. I rode, I cleaned and I even dropped her on the ground, but this time intentionally. As many riding friends insisted, my goal should be to fall without injury, and to be able to pick up my own bike, not so much to concentrate my efforts on NOT dropping her in the first place. They’ve all sworn that dropping a bike is inevitable, so best to hone in my skills on how to do so gracefully. Rightio.
Here I am pretending to look confident and graceful which, admittedly, is not all that difficult to do when Pixie’s on her centre stand! 😉
By the time we took to the road and headed towards uncharted territories, I felt confident enough to take corners at reasonable speed (say…40km/hr) and even managed to overtake a tractor on a busy main road. Fun! I soon discovered that the bike actually feels lighter the faster I ride; her overwhelming weight coming into play only when riding extremely slow. This is what I needed to practice. On our first day out of town, the universe conjured to test my skills, when an awful traffic jam just before Innsbruck forced us to take small backstreets in order to bypass a major accident. It was while following a local car, thinking it may lead us into the right direction, that we ended up driving into an apartment block car-park where we had to make a slow and tight u-turn. Chris did this without hassle while I managed to drop Pixie half way through the turn and pin myself between the bike and a plastic rubbish bin. Graceful enough you think? One broken mirror and a bruised shin later, my deflated ego and I took off again convinced that if only we could ride to Australia in one swift go and never slow down…we’d be right.
Our riverside bush camp does a marvellous job of restoring my spirits, the heated up canned goulash dinners not so much; yet we resolved to concentrate on riding and getting into a camping routine, before we started venturing into exotic culinary experiments.
The blissful serenity of our riverside bush camp is somewhat disturbed by the sounds of my electric toothbrush, and my air-mattress foot pump, the two luxuries I refused to leave home without!
Even though I felt like I was sleeping on a cloud, I managed to get very little sleep, the new surroundings and day’s ventures providing far too much adrenalin even for my exhausted body.
My first ever non-drop-Pixie day followed next and I cannot even begin to tell you how elated I felt! I managed a staggering 80km in one go, stopped several times, followed Chris on a forest dirt road and STILL managed to remain right-side up! Wooooooooo hooooooooooo! Someone’s getting real good at this! 😀
Apparently, my assumption that this was a good sign of things to come was greatly miscalculated.
Not even half an hour into our drive the following day Pixie simply ceased to be. Never mind that I was halfway through a roundabout and almost crashed into a palm tree (what the heck is a palm tree doing on an Austrian roundabout anyway?), but all efforts to reignite her were useless. At first I hoped I’d just run out of petrol, but my mechanic-at-hand soon discovered that there was not one iota of life in the old girl.
The battery? The starter motor? What is it? I asked incessantly as Chris took her apart and prodded around. After merely 10 minutes of doing whatever it is he does under there, Chris looked at me, gave me a half-unbelieving smile and said “I think it’s your regulator…”
Oh for the love of god! This can’t be! But of course, given that Murphy’s Law is now a recognised theory (mostly by yours truly), it could only ever have been the regulator.
You see, when Chris and I were collecting our respective list of spare parts to take for our bikes, Einstein here decided that the one part I WOULDN’T buy, would be the above-mentioned regulator. Never mind what it is, or what it does, suffice it to say it hardly ever breaks. Hardly ever…
I distinctly remember the morning I looked one up on Ebay, saw it on sale for $150 and declared “Oh c’mon, that’s extorsion! Nah, not buying it…what are the chances mine will break?”
I should’ve known that just by uttering that sentence I’d pretty much cemented its demise.
We couldn’t confirm this breakdown of course, it was late Sunday afternoon, we were in between two towns and simply needed somewhere to pitch out tent for the night. A mechanic workshop would have to be found first thing in the morning.
I’m not embarrassed to admit I had my first little cry that night. The excessive emotional rollercoaster of the last weeks came tumbling down, much like the little waterfall we ended up camping next to. Plus getting there was hard enough. The only way Pixie would move was if Chris jump-started her, then I’d hop on in a flash, and ride until the battery died again, then he’d have to jump-start me again and blah blah blah that was so not fun.
However, if there is one splendid side to hitting rock bottom at any time in life, is that there really is only one direction your predicament will take. UPWARDS!
My now beloved, broken, regulator ended being so horribly useless, that the German Road Assistance had to order a new one from Munich and (ready for this?) paid for us to stay in a 4 star hotel for two nights in a nearby beautiful town! Beat that!! My mood perked up almost instantly, as soon as I realised our accommodation came with buffet dinners and breakfasts. I was almost sorry to welcome in my new regulator two days later, although the gastronomic gorging had made us almost unwell. Apparently, one can’t go from canned dinners to 15 course meals without suffering some sort if indigestion.
Crossing the Arlberg Pass on our way to Liechtenstein gifted us with the most glorious views of the whole trip so far, and certainly the most exhilarating day’s ride. We’d been joined by a friend from Denmark then, and the three of us twisted our way through the mountains and revelled in exploring this most picturesque side of Austria. The days were sunny and the autumn colours simply breath-taking.
Liechtenstein, the world’s 6thsmallest country, was next on our itinerary and while the city tour was over and done within about an hour, we took advantage of the nearby peaks to take in a chairlift ride and a short hike.
While the day’s outing was beautiful, and really the first touristy thing we’ve managed in a month, I will remember it for another reason. This was the first day that my palms did not start sweating half an hour before taking off. For the very first time, I found myself looking sideways, and admiring passing villages, and NOT concentrating purely on riding. It was just magic, as if someone had just turned on the lights. I’ll never, ever, forget that feeling. I was just so enthralled by the new country, and the chance to experience what it had to offer, that I stopped fussing about the bike…and ended up riding like the wind.
Now, in case anyone asks, this is what I’ll say “I’m not a motorbike rider…I’m a traveller who’s using a motorbike to experience the world”
And that’s my plan.