Monday June 3, 2013

On June 6, I’m headed out for an organized, international mototrip. When I’m traveling in the U.S., I’ll do it myself. But when you’re somewhere else in the world, a whole lot of hassles are eliminated if you let a decent company make sure you’re not knocking on doors for a bed at midnight, or waiting forever for your chicken "delight" only to realize that all that loud squawking was the first step in the preparation of your lunch (I’ve done both).

I can hear it now: "An organized tour? Where’s the adventure in that?" OK, I get it, but it’s also really nice not to have to worry about your own motorcycle out there overnight in the unlit back lot.

I’ve taken three trips like this, and the advantages I’ve just mentioned are offset by some significant tradeoffs. Trips like these require that you have a healthy bank account, offer many fewer individual choices, are more about riding than they are about looking, and then you’ve got some traveling companions you didn’t know existed. There’s also the additional cost of getting there and away. International flights these days are big money. Did I mention that the company’s glossy brochure lumps the two travel days in what they call "vacation days." OK, I guess I just have to retool - flying all night long, unable to move my legs and flirting with a deep vein thrombosis, didn’t use to be my idea of a vacation.


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But here I go again, even though I said the last one was the last one. I cracked and signed up last January. That mouse had been exactly there several times before. Two years ago I had signed up for the same trip, only to bail. Why go this time? It’s hard to know. Let’s just say that in the middle of that long winter night I had an uninvited visit from Father Time. He was convincing.

This tour starts out in Austria, winds its way through the Alps of Slovenia, and hits the Mediterranean in Croatia. Then we go back through a lot more mountains.

So let me try to rationalize all of this. The tour is a "Ride for Fun" trip (Aren’t they all supposed to be fun?). The "fun" in this case requires each rider to carry his or her stuff. There’s no sag wagon or second guide. Further, your bag isn’t waiting in your room at the hotel; you have to carry your own junk up. No worries. For a thousand bucks, I’ll carry my ipod, toothbrush and dirty socks to my room and on the bike. And those fellow riders I don’t know? Most live in other countries and that can be fun. Or not. Lack of a common language means lots of smiles, but no good conversations. I am also certain to be the oldest member of our small group (five bikes) because "Ride for Fun" attracts younger people who aren’t yet stuffing a lot of money into a bank. They’ll be better and faster riders than I am, but I’ll deal.

I plan to leave a little early to spend time in Berlin with an old Marlboro College friend and her family. If JFK was a Berliner, then so am I. And I’ll have a translator, too. Then it’s on to Klagenfurt in Austria.

From there the nature nerd biker takes over. A six thousand foot vertical transect from the Julian Alps to the Adriatic should be a hoot. I know these elevator rides in the western U.S. and in Latin America, even in Borneo, but how will this kind of change play out in the former Yugoslavia? I’m also hoping to see wallcreepers, Ibex, and maybe Black woodpeckers. But here comes one of the real limitations of this kind of a trip. The other riders are always nice, but I’m the only one looking at a terrestrial orchid or scanning the hillside for a whatever. It’s unfair of me to stop whenever I see something interesting, even though I paid a lot to ride by it. I’d be holding everyone up. It’s true that we are encouraged to break up into small groups, but there just aren’t a lot of people who want to pull over at a rocky turnout to look and listen for a Blue Mountain thrush. 

On a similar trip in Norway, my rental bike broke down, and it took a day to get another one. The guide owed me, so he was OK with my wandering off alone one day. I only went about 50 miles in all, but saw bogs full of orchids and heathers, and a rare White-tailed eagle. I was riding down single lanes most of the time. But that trip also included a small boat trip to a "bird island" of breeding sea birds. Thousands of auks, shags, kittiwakes, puffins, and gannets were just meters away. This trip emphasizes a famous national park in Croatia and a deep cave in Slovenia. So we’ll see.

Is it fair to say that life consists of compromises waiting to be made? Don’t we have to give something up when we live with another, join a community, take a job, or reside on a planet with a thin, living veneer and limited water? Most of us learn to appreciate and accept these trade offs. In doing so, we are then in a position to enjoy fully what passes before us. I’m ready to go.

Bob Engel lives in Marlboro with his motorcycles, wife and cat.