So now fast-forward over five years from the day I ‘met’ my first Griso. It’s 2017, I’ve been living in France for three years, and… I had recently acquired another Tenni Griso- this time in France. I finally have the right bike and the free time to make the long-dreamed-of journey to Mandello del Lario for the annual September Moto Guzzi meet-up. I have only one problem. My then-boyfriend didn’t like to travel. He claimed his long journeys on motorcycles were behind him. He wasn’t a fan of Moto Guzzi. And he couldn’t bear strangers or crowds. (See guys? It happens to us girls too!)
Thus, when I booked a room for Moto Guzzi Days in Mandello Del Lario, five months in advance, I knew then that I would probably be going alone. I had however, determined that nothing, not rain, not illness, nor a 5-hour voyage alone to a land where I did not speak the language, was going to stop me. As the days approached, I watched the weather forecasts with growing apprehension: at 10 days out, sunny days were predicted. Oh joy! Two days before my departure however, rain appeared to be the grim reality for all three days. Equally disappointing was the e-mail I received one week before leaving, from the owner of the pensione I had reserved. Apparently, a “sharp thunderstorm” had damaged my room located in the heart of Mandello. Happily, they had located an apartment with a garage only 5 minutes outside of town. Despite the letdown of not staying within walking distance of the factory, I wasn’t willing to put the trip off for yet another year. So I accepted.
The week before my departure, I prepared as best I could. I plotted my route to Mandello (all freeway toll-road is the shortest, quickest route), I packed my tail-bag and dug out my never-used and much-too-large rain suit. And I prayed for nice weather. Happily, Friday morning dawned bright and sunny. I was up by 7AM and ready shortly after; I checked and double-checked how I had mounted my tail bag, as for my Mototek rainsuit, which was stored in its handy fanny pack, I wrapped it around my tail bag. Over all of this I used an “arraignée” (spider) which is a small elastic cargo net with rubber-coated hooks to attach it. It’s a great accessory, and by the time I arrived in Mandello, I had crammed everything from a bottle of water to a spare windbreaker under it. Regarding my tail bag, while I love it, it attaches with bungees, not a more secure (read: theft-proof) system. Thus I was at a disadvantage at every rest stop if I wanted to go inside. I resolved to remove and carry the bag with me for each bathroom stop.
By 9:30, I was finally ready to go. I was nervous, fearful, but exhilarated. I had donned a very thin thermal long-sleeved shirt under my Vika jacket which kept me nice and toasty on the highway towards Cannes. By the time I approached Nice, however, I was sweating profusely in bumper-to-bumper traffic, desperately searching for openings where I could thread through the lanes of slowly-moving vehicles (note: The freeway lanes in France are significantly narrower than those in California).
At the first toll-booth, I remembered to pass in the farthest right lane, which is normally the only lane where a motorcycle receives it’s discount (you pay about 60% of the toll that a car pays). Once stopped at the toll, I removed my gloves, stuffed them between my speedometer and the handlebars, fished the change from my already open right jacket pocket, deposited the currency in the meter and took my change, putting it in the same jacket pocket. This all takes a long time compared to a car. In an effort to avoid annoying the drivers waiting their turn behind me, instead of leisurely putting on my gloves before passing under the bar, I rode to the shoulder just after the toll, and parked. I could then put my gloves back on without holding others up. This system worked fairly well until I arrived at the St. Isidore toll which is just before the steep hill leading towards Monaco and Italy. After paying at St. Isidore, I left my gloves crammed where they were as I headed out of the toll as before. Once out of the toll area however, there was NO shoulder. Zero. Traffic was already rolling at 70 miles an hour, uphill, and I couldn’t even let the throttle off long enough to try to slip on my gloves. I was getting desperate when I saw a very small alcove on the side of the road, about 2 kilometers after the toll. My bike just barely fit as traffic whizzed by. The alcove turned out to be a storm drain covered by a grate- happily the Griso kickstand is fairly wide. As I was slipping on my gloves, the bike suddenly stalled. I felt a prick of fear. Was it hot? Did I have a fuel problem? I pressed the starter. Nothing. I put the kickstand up and pressed the starter again. Still nothing. I verified it was in neutral- it was. I turned the key off and back on again, and the bike wouldn’t start. A wave of disappointment washed over me. Was my journey over already? Even if I could get the bike started in the next few minutes, could I trust it to make the 450 kilometers to Mandello? At least now I was still in France; I could get the bike towed back home for free with my insurance. Once in Italy however, what would I do? I tried to relax and wondered if I would have to call for a tow, or if the tow truck would show up automatically, as is so common on French autoroutes…and then I looked at my kill switch. What if I had touched it when I was putting on my gloves? Hoping and praying that I had, I pushed the toggle. And the bike started. Disaster averted!
Getting back on the autoroute was a challenge with no real shoulder and semi-trucks thundering by, but I took my time, found a good hole in the traffic, and gave it full throttle. I had renewed confidence; my bike was not going to let me down. We were going to Mandello!
My first stop was at Beausoleil, just before Italy. While filling up, the hirsute owner of a bright-red Ferrari, waiting his turn at the pump, got out of his car, approached the Griso, looked at me, looked at the bike, looked at me again… without a word. I would end up playing tag with him and and his portly friend, also in a Ferrari, for the next 300 kilometers into Italy.
This stop was my first adventure with removing the tail bag. I unfastened the 4 bungee hooks (plastic) verified the security of the arraignée, and headed into the shop, where I paid for the gas in cash and used the bathroom. Coming back out, several motorcycles had arrived and their owners were surveying the Griso. The German couple parked next to me were smoking beside their BMW GS 1200. While they did not appear to be overtly friendly. I offered them some of my American gum after they finished their cigarettes, which they politely declined. I reattached the tail bag, crammed the half-full bottle of water under the cargo net, and headed back on the road. Italy, here I come.
Tunnels. Lots of tunnels. While the French seem to fear them (there have been some spectacular accidents in them) I rather like them. Tunnel, sunshine, tunnel, sunshine. Between two tunnels I passed the sign welcoming me to Italy. In the privacy of my helmet, I smiled.
Funny the “snapshots” you get while riding. Unlike a car. You have less time to appreciate the scenery, because you really shouldn’t take your eyes off the road for even a second. A momentary lapse, and you could be on the pavement. Thus, you take furtive glances at your surroundings. A man picking prickly pears on the side of the freeway. Where did HE come from? A shiny silver hearse parked in a pull-out. Why is he stopped there? And then, there are glimpses of lovely towns surmounted by church steeples, nestled into the hillsides that flank the freeway. For a good 145 kilometers, I was playing hide-and-seek with the Mediterranean, because the A10 only loosely follows the coast. Coming down a hill, you suddenly have a breathtaking view over a lovely seaside town, with a charming boat-filled port; then you are climbing again, or going through another tunnel, and you see only mountains and road. After over two hundred kilometers on the A10, it was finally time to head north, towards Milan. And there was still a long ways to go.
To be continued…. (I don’t want to wear your eyes out on one blog post!)