As it happens, preparing for a long overland trip doesn’t get any easier with time or experience. The mammoth task of getting our lives in order proves to be a challenging one indeed. We’ve only been living in Germany for two years, yet one would think our roots had well and truly cemented themselves in the glorious Bavarian soil. As opposed to taking a holiday, when one’s life simply needs to be put ‘on-hold’ whilst one travels, we endeavour to take our entire lives on the road for an unspecified amount of time. So for the last four months we’ve been planning, list-making, organizing, plotting and trying desperately to get through our impossibly long list of ‘things to do’.
Departure day has finally arrived and I can’t for the life of me remember whose genius idea this was…
As we sit on the doorstep of Chris’ parents’ house, I am overwhelmed by a sense of dread. Have we forgotten to do something important? Probably. Are we forgetting to bring along something essential. Quite possibly, yes. I look at our motorbikes parked anxiously in the driveway, and my palms start to sweat profusely. We say our final farewells and don our helmets, gloves and jackets. It’s too late to think now, too late to make a mental checklist: what is done is done. But the sense of dread grows exponentially and it is only when I try taking the first step towards Pixie that I finally realize that I am, actually, just scared shitless. My legs are shaking, my head is pounding and my heart feels like it is about to jump out of my chest. As if saying good-bye to family is not hard enough, I must now get on my bike and ride away confidently. Yeah…right.
The bike is too big, too heavy; the kilometres too many. I can’t even imagine making it all the way to the first petrol station…and I’m supposed to ride this monstrous bike all the way to Australia? No way. No bloody way can I do this.
Chris is his usual cool, calm, self. He’s in ‘work mode’ already and while I can certainly see he’s a little anxious, it does not seem excessive. It’s only when he leans in for a kiss before take-off that I notice a worrisome look in his eyes. And it’s directed at me.
“Just take it nice and slow. There’s no rush. You just have to make it to Opa’s.”
Chris’s Grandpa lives in a village 15km away, and we’ll make that our first stop. Right now, 15kms on an overloaded Pixie seem like an insurmountable challenge. We hop on our bikes and start the engines. I can’t linger on for long, I must go NOW. If I think about this too long, I fear I will just run back into the house and barricade myself in what has become my safe haven of the last two years.
So I hold my breath, click in first gear, give a final nod to the family and just take off…
Oh my LORD! It feels like I’m driving a tank! I had just gotten used to riding Pixie, and now we’ve gone and added 60kgs more. At just on 240kgs in total, I’m trying to manoeuvre over 4 times my body weight. Crikey, this is the most unnatural feeling in the world. I manage the first two corners before a straight stretch of road. I then realize I’m still holding my breath.
“Breath in, breath out…” becomes my mantra for the first 10 minutes on the road. I am so nervous, and concentrating so much on keeping Pixie upright, that I’m forgetting the most existential task of all: breathing. It takes us exactly 20 minutes to reach Opa’s house, and my legs and arms are already sore. Every muscle in my body is tense beyond belief. I am so scared of losing control of the bike that I am ‘hugging’ her like a terrified koala cub. Mind you; should a 660cc BMW decide to go off the rails, I doubt my thigh muscles could rein her in.
I need almost an hour to rest and recover at Opa’s house, before deciding to tackle the next phase. Only 107 km more and we’ll reach the family farmhouse in Austria. Whatever I did to get here in one piece, I must now do 10 times over. Crap.
It is a gloriously sunny Sunday, my favourite kind. I should be leaning back on my enormous Ortlieb bag and enjoying the scenery, yet the only thing I can think about is just how tight the next curve will be. Soon, far too soon, we hit a wall of heavy traffic. Moving at snail pace is pure torture. Pixie wobbles and shakes and I need all my wits just to keep her going in a straight line. My feet are on the ground, and then they’re up again, but only just. This wobble-dance continues for almost an hour and by the time we stop for a coffee and (yet another) toilet break I am exhausted and nearing the end of my tethers.
As we sit and savour a coffee, Chris and I are chatting about the day, the traffic and the bikes. I think we had some sort of conversation, yet the only words which I remember are: “The sharp hairpin bends are coming up next”.
Fan-bloody-tastic. Why don’t you just make it hail? That’s about the only challenge I have left…and it’s only day 1.
Have I ever mentioned that the last bike I owned was a 50cc scooter? She was bright blue, weighed 50kgs and the fastest I could get her to go was 60km/hr. And that was downhill…
Anyway, back to those hairpin bends.
Now, for those who are as uninitiated to motorbike riding as I am, it may be worthwhile to remember that one rides with one’s eyes first and foremost. When you take a corner, you don’t actually look AT the corner, but you look at the END of the corner, towards the straight. Wherever you look, that’s where you’ll instinctively steer. You must look at where you want to go, not at what you’re trying to avoid. Look at the wall up ahead, and you’ll surely hit it; concentrate your stare at the pothole and you won’t miss it. It takes a little getting used to, especially because it is the complete opposite of what you do when you drive a car, but that is the only way to ride a bike.
Suffice it to say this helps you not one iota when negotiating a sharp, mountainous hairpin bend. As I approach the first, I freeze. The only things I can see are 1) a massive frigging mountain side on the right, 2) a terrifying drop on the left and 3) cars and bikes coming up horrendously close to the middle lane. Considering I don’t want to hit ANY of those, I cannot help but wonder…WHAT THE HECK DO I LOOK AT?
I am almost tempted to look up at the sky, as I do think only higher forces could get me out of this one. I then do the unthinkable (considering the long line of traffic behind me) and I get my speed down to almost 10km/hr. I take the first bend much like a child takes her first step, ever so gingerly. I keep my eyes looking straight ahead trying not to focus on anything in particular, in fear of hitting it. I make it around the corner and notice Chris has stopped in the middle of the road, waiting for me to emerge. I can only imagine what kind of sight that must’ve made: a big bike travelling at snail pace being followed by a convoy of annoyed and restless drivers. In some parallel universe, it could almost be funny.
I only have to do this five more times.
By the time the bends are over, and we reach the straight again, I am a complete and utter wreck. I pull over and allow the two dozen cars which were behind me to pass in a fury. Thank God I’m in Germany! Had I been in Italy I would have surely been ridden off the road many times over. The Germans are so polite; they zoom past without honking or raising any of their middle fingers. Bless their cotton socks.
We reach the dirt road which leads to the farmhouse in just a few minutes and stop to contemplate the last stretch. Only 200 metres and we’re home free. That’s 200 metres of dirt road, but never mind that. If I made it this far, surely a bit of gravel won’t do me in!
It’s not the gravel that does me in. It’s the muddy grass. Just as I reach the driveway (at snail pace of course) I hit a patch of grass and Pixie’s rear end slides off to the left. Nothing I can do except simply let go of the handle bar and jump to the side. As I look at her lying on her side, I imagine she’s as infuriated by me as I am by her. We weren’t a team today, not by a long shot. I am told the day will come when she will feel like an extension of my body. I certainly hope so; I cannot imagine keeping up this kind of struggle for very long. She’s a temperamental bitch, but she’s MY temperamental bitch, so we’d better learn to get along.
We’ve been playing tug-of-war all day but I was still hoping to end the day triumphantly. It wasn’t to be.
Maybe next time.