As the motorcycle underneath me screams through its rev-range, the landscape shoots past and I start to notice the green giving way to brown and eventually white. The higher we ride, the colder the air gets. The heat from the engine and grips can’t keep the cold at bay, but after 5 months of not riding a motorcycle it has all just clicked again and I’m as focused as ever. “Flying at low altitude”, I believe Markus called it and there’s no better way to end such an extreme week, than to ride the snaking curves of the Penserjoch up to 2211 meter. And what a week it has been!
It all started when I drove down to Mainz, Germany with my grandmother’s car to meet up with Danilo, another new tourguide. We set off the next morning in his car for the 5 hours to Mieming, Austria.
In Mieming, we were finally revealed the schedule and plans for the week. We’d be putting all that theory from a few weeks ago into practice according to a rigorous schedule. The whole idea is that we ride back and forth between Bolzano in Sudtirol and Levico in Trentino, taking slightly different routes, with pairs of new recruits performing a different task every day.
Four guides were sent ahead to Bolzano to start scouting and preparing, myself and others stayed behind to practice and prepare the transport. We faced some challenges straight away, having to fix some lights and wiring on the trailer. I thought that was quite fun from the start even, having to fix things for real!
During the day of our transport the crazy schedule became clear after a while, I barely got something to eat for lunch and had to run into the city to find something to eat during the 20 minutes I had free in between tasks and briefings. Of course, it being Italy on Sunday , all I could find open was a vending machine with snack-bars.
From then on, every night a different pair would present their opening briefing before dinner. After seeing 5 welcome briefings in 5 days, I’d dare to say we’re pretty well versed on what sort of content to present.
Me and Danilo then spent until midnight frantically preparing our GPS routes and wrenching on our BMW’s to prepare the pre-ride for the next day. A common theme for the next days!
Save from some late preparation the night before, the next day was not that difficult. Danilo, Holger and me set out under guidance of Albert to pre-ride the route we’d have to take the group on two days later. I was on a nice new BMW S1000XR, but still felt like I had to get into the groove a bit of riding on roads like here in the Dolomites.
The next day, riding along as a customer, I got a taste of what you’re put through when riding as a guide on a motorcycle. Pierre and Jonas lost people all the time who “mistakenly” took the wrong turn, “customers” who attempted to drink alcohol during the day, people oversleeping, hotel booking issues, and so on. I’d be lying if I said I was not nervous for my own turn the next day.
When me and Danilo were up for guiding duty on Wednesday, I would start the first half guiding, and then would swap to riding as a customer in the afternoon. my day started with having to deal with “mechanical issues” on one of the bikes, during my briefing. As we took off for the ride, I really focused on not losing anybody, which had proven to be the biggest issue the day before. It was made more difficult by some acted yet very realistic group riding dynamics issues that I had to solve: someone wanted to go slow, another wanted to go fast. I managed to pull it all of pretty well, almost feeling like I had an easy time compared to others. Despite taking away my GPS after 10 minutes I remembered everything from the pre-ride and navigated fine. The tour guide motorcycle, a BMW R1200GS was also an absolute highlight, turning me into a real believer.
Danilo had it a bit rougher in the afternoon, having both (!) his GPS units taken he ended up getting slightly lost and missing his photo-stop. Props to him for not getting nervous at all, I’d probably let that get to me a bit more!
Our next day as van drivers turned out only a little less busy: I had to deal with what to do in case of a “stolen” motorcycle, we then had to rush to buy supplies for the daily picnic. We did manage to pull of ice cream and bananas for everybody, something that had become a bit of a running joke in the days before.
It’s definitely different again to frantically prepare food until the motorcycles pull up besides the van, though normally picnic days don’t happen often (and usually won’t come with an hour worth of delays at the start of the day).
The days as a customer, when we don’t have any official duties were actually just as interesting as when we did have a lot of tasks on our plate. Apart from being able to relax a bit, you get a sense of how a customer would feel towards certain actions and behavior of a tour guide. And I got to take in some of the amazing scenery of Northern Italy a bit more!
Interestingly, we changed and swapped bikes with each other every day, so we would get the chance to try as many bikes a possible in a week. The latest and greatest bikes from Ducati, BMW, Triumph and Harley Davidson all passed the revue. This is an amazing feat of the job, the only other people who get to do this are journalists. I’m considering writing about my experiences with some of these bikes while it’s still fresh on my mind.
On the last actual tour day we went up the Mendola and Penegale pass (I really liked the run-down sixties vibe at Penegale) and I felt like I was fully back into the groove of riding. Despite having a bad case of sleep shortage (which required an energy drink to wake me up properly in the morning), that day on the Triumph Tiger was a blast.
The final day, with transport back to Mieming meant roles would be swapped with those who rode to Italy at the start and I got to mount that amazing Triumph Tiger 800 XCx again. That day, just five of us would be under Markus’ command, guiding us back to base over some fun roads and passes.
Riding up the Pennes pass as I mentioned before, was an absolute highlight. Just opened the day before, in a small group with no “pretend” issues holding us back, it made for just perfect riding.
Thinking back on the past 5 days, a lot goes through my head. All that theory we saw before now makes sense, having actually experienced it; I can’t imagine having to go on a real tour without this preparation. How spending these days with amazing people, motorbikes and scenery were the most challenging, yet also the most fun days I’ve ever had.
I wasn’t completely sure at first about my choice to abandon Australia a bit early, but this week has shown I’ve made the right choice. Even if a real tour is as demanding as this one, I fully look forward to it!