This is a rough write up of my trip to the Motogiro; mainly excerpts from a letter I sent my sister after I got home.
I left on Thursday. The two other riders who were going to go with me both backed out so I was heading out by myself. I did know of some people who would be on the ride from e-mail lists I am on. Even so, it was a bit daunting to head off on my own with no one to lean on if things went wrong. As it turned out, I met up with another rider and his fiancee in the airport while waiting for my flight, and by coincidence they were seated right behind me on the plane to Amsterdam. Their final destination was Rome though, so from there I was on my own.
I arrived in Bologna around noon on Friday, at which point I had been up for about 24 hours and was just sort of out of it. About all I did was find my hotel and the bus stop I needed to be at the next morning to get to the Ducati factory for a tour with other Motogiro riders from the USA. Saturday morning I got to the factory with no problems and met up the others. Later that night another guy (Ray) showed up who had the trip from hell getting there, and of course his luggage was lost. He had left his house about the same time I did, the trip should have taken him about as long as it took me, but I got to Italy about 30 hours sooner than he did!
Most people headed down to Cattolica on Sunday, but I stayed in Bologna since I wasn't going to pick my bike up until Monday morning. Ray hung around too since he had missed the chance to pick up his bike on Saturday. And he still had no luggage. We hung around in the center of Bologna and watched some of a music festival they were having. Mainly older guys playing old American rock and roll, some doing a better job than others. One Sinatra wannabe was humorous... I'm not sure if he was meaning to be though? Another guy who looked like someone's grandpa was about the best guitar player I've seen in some time.
Monday rolled around and still no luggage for Ray. Luckily he had taken his helmet as carry on, so we went to the Ducati factory to pick up our bikes. Unfortunately, he had left Atlanta in hot weather and only had shorts and a short sleeve shirt to wear. I loaned him a jacket and gloves and we found our way to a shopping mall where he bought some jeans. Finally we were off to Cattolica to meet up with everyone else.
We followed traffic laws to begin with. A short stint on the Autostrada and then onto smaller two lane roads that were more in line with why we were there. As we made our way down the road, maybe a little above the posted speed, we got passed by a scooter or two. Hmm... ok, they're locals and speak the language. Then we were passed by a car. We were riding in a staggered formation, Ray behind and to the right of me, I was to the left of the lane. The car passed him on the left, in his lane. Then it passed me. On the right. In the same lane. Now we knew we weren't in Kansas anymore, but were still reluctant to open things up. Then we got passed by a garbage truck. At that point, "the gloves came off" as Ray put it. We didn't get passed very often after that. When we did it was typically a scooter darting through traffic.
After a few wrong turns we arrived at our destination later than planned. In typical Italian fashion everything was running a little late, so even though registration was supposed to have closed an hour earlier, we were able to get the paperwork taken care of and bought ourselves another hour of sleep that night. We could now concentrate on the little details we needed to take care of before the race began. In Ray’s case, this meant hoping his luggage would show up at the new hotel, or find somewhere to buy new riding gear! .
Tuesday morning rolled around, and still no luggage for Ray, meaning no riding gear. He went to the desk to ask where he could buy a jacket and other gear. After dealing with the desk clerk for a while somebody asked his name and said "oh, we have your luggage, it showed up about half an hour ago". I was already at the start at this point so I had no idea how he was doing. I was happy to see him show up about ten minutes late (i.e. in plenty of time) in full gear, shaved and showered, all ready to go. And smiling. (In fact, he smiled through most of this. I'm not sure I would have handled it so well!)
The time finally came, and we were waved off. Police escort, through the crowd, along the row of hotels on the coast, and into the first turn where I promptly had my narrow miss of the trip. That very first turn dumped us onto a what looked like a large parking lot, some people went a little different direction than others. The guy in front of me slowed and then looked to his right. I looked to see what he was looking at, and he stopped. I rolled up beside him, just missing him. We weren't going must faster than a walking pace, but it was still quite an eye opener. That was about the biggest mistake I made all week, which is good.
From there the days kind of blended together. The trip was pretty much whatever you wanted to make of it. Ride with the group if you wanted, ride alone if you wanted, whatever. The Italians were pretty casual about the whole deal. For the most part I stayed with our group, if for no other reason than I didn't have to pay attention to the route then, and we always had a police escort! There were some motorcycle cops that rode with us all the time, which meant that traffic laws were pretty much non-existent. We rarely stopped for red lights, speed limits were merely a suggestion, that sort of thing. One highlight of the trip for me happened when our group got separated. Some guys took off and the leader of the group stayed behind with the rest of the group. Him and I were idling down the road waiting for the rest of the guys when the bike cop showed up. He talked with the leader, then motored off. The leader motioned for me to follow the cop, so I did. For a while there I had my own little police escort through the mountains, him with lights flashing, waving the cars to the side of the road, with me tagging along behind. We weren't going incredibly fast, but it was a "brisk pace". There were a few stops throughout the day at various towns. Typically good food, water, pop, wine, and sometimes beer.
One ride ended at a racetrack. Again, wine and beer. Then, it was announced that we were going to do a few laps on the track, with an escort of course. Being Italy, the escort thing wasn't too strict. It was bad form to actually pass the cop, but nothing said you had to start when he did, so leaving late and trying to catch up was fair play. I started towards the rear of the pack and eyed the chaos as people reached the first turn. No one crashed. I was amazed.
I ran out of gas one day. We were riding and riding and I was getting nervous about it, as were others. Then the low fuel light on my bike flashed. Finally we stopped, told the leader we needed gas, but when we took off again we kept riding and riding... no stations to be seen. Now the low fuel light was on constantly. Still no stations. Eventually while coming up a hill the engine sputtered. I crested the hill and it died. I moved to the side of the road and coasted along down the other side... rolling right up to a pump at the gas station at the bottom of the hill.
It never rained the whole time we were there. Sunny and warm every day. The only time I got wet was when we rode through an irrigation sprinkler that was spraying the road.
I was maybe one of the younger people on the trip. In the racing class, there were some riders in their 70's with at least one guy being 80. One guy who was racing had actually won the race back in 1955. Another guy had a hard time walking and would grab onto people's arms when he was trying to get somewhere, but put him on the bike and away he'd go. We passed him on the road once, Ray gave him a thumbs up as we went by. I was watching his face in his mirror and it just lit up with a huge smile. I hope I can still do this type of stuff at 80!
One Scottish guy was especially fun to talk to. He and his wife rode an old BMW down from Scotland. I wish I had his description of the bike cop on tape - "he rode through traffic with his hand in the air like he was holding a crucifix, and the hand of God pushed the cars to the side of the road". It was a lot more impressive with his accent. I couldn't help but smile when he talked - so animated with colorful descriptions of things. He was just one of the people on the trip I enjoyed talking with - great attitudes and many interesting stories.
I'd like to do the trip again. I think the second time around I'd spend more time enjoying the view and less time trying not to get lost!
UPDATE - I did do the trip again in 2007, and hopefully again in 2009!