Posted on October 15, 2013
When you’re a novice motorcycle mechanic there is this subdued feeling of mild panic that happens when you push the magic button and your bike won’t fire up. When you’re somewhere far from any kind of help, like a lonely shipyard in the southeast of England, with no friends, online moto gurus, or even bike manual available, you can’t help but let the question creep in: what if I can’t get it started? But you put that feeling away because this is just the sort of thing that you’ve been tinkering with your bike for ages to the chagrin of your girlfriend. You know the diagnostic steps, just stop pressing the starter button in desperation, get the tools out and get to it. Once in motion, a calm ensues that comes with working methodically on something familiar with your hands. After checking for fuel flow and vacuum problems I removed the carburetor and started disassembling hoping that the problem was a clogged pilot jet. I didn’t drain the float bowl before I shipped the bike off and when the gas that collects there evaporates, the additives left behind can clog the tiny little holes of the jets. Sure enough, after poking a single copper wire strand through the pilot jet and reassembling, she fired right up and I let out a holler across the docks. I was ready to leave some gloomy days in the UK behind me.
Beneath the English Channel I went…
Since I’d unintentionally sent my wallet on a trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming I was down to my last dime of cash and eagerly awaiting our reunion. The airline folks found my wallet right in my seat and my girlfriend Jamie got on the phone and convinced them to send it FedEx it directly to London for me. She’s an adventure angel. I got a good lesson in London train routes finding the FedEx office, accidentally ended up at Buckingham Palace, but before long I was back in the money.
I spent 3 days burning across France from Calais to Bayonne. My body managed to transform the mild cold that I left with into an acute bronchitis during transit from California and I had been hacking away and barely sleeping ever since. Progress was slow and I pretty much barely left the motorway and avoided talking to anyone when possible. My voice was gone from coughing, my French is terrible, and I felt so awful that I just couldn’t be bothered to do much more that ape critical information or just whisper in English. French people think that a very dirty power-ranger looking guy whispering at them in English is weird. They were all very nice about it though. Campgrounds were just 5 bucks or I just found a nice patch of dirt to myself somewhere. In my fragile state with little appetite I virtually hopped from one McDonald’s to another for fries and free wireless access. I hate to say it, but I am loving it.
Crossing into Spain the landscape immediately became lush and hilly and the sun was low casting golden light on the green slopes crossed with fence lines and dotted with sheep. This was the Basque Country and the scene reflected my lightening mood as I rode south climbing one hill after another as the sun seemed to hang low in the sky for hours longer than it should have.
In Madrid I met my good friend Cristina who revealed to me the secrets of the historic neighborhood of Lavapies. Navigating the streets of Madrid was a bit of madness, but fortunately you can park a motorbike anywhere on the sidewalk. When I spotted Cristina standing on the side of the road in the middle of a monstrous 4 lane roundabout I simply hopped out of the maelstrom up onto the curb, jumped off, and gave her a hug. Walking in Lavapies, we toured an old tobacco factory that had been turned into a ‘squat’ where the community had built a place for artists to show their work, grow organic vegetables, make their own soap, build bicycles, and all sorts of other creative things.
From Madrid I motored south and approaching the city of Granada things began to feel distinctly more Mediterranean. I rode past endless hills covered with olive trees to meet my friend Maria who had been my housemate in Santa Cruz while working as a researcher in the Marine Sciences department of UC Santa Cruz. Maria’s house in the country surrounded by orchards was a welcome reprieve from long days on the motorway and busy cities. We ate from her garden, laid in hammocks, and enjoyed the calm of the place.
We spent an afternoon in the city of Granada climbing the ancient streets and enjoying canas and tapas. Granada is one of the most beautiful cities in Spain and you can spend the whole day just moving from one street side café to another.
The next stop is Gibraltar to make the crossing on the ferry to Tangier. I seem to have managed plenty of trouble not even having left Europe yet so I can’t wait to see what Morocco brings.