Article originally published in "Next Moto Champion" (Names have been changed to protect the guilty)
Okay what the hell?
At Leod Escapes we run motorcycle tours with track time on famous circuits. That means for 9 to 10 days you are in a destination far from home. You’re riding the back roads on sport touring machines and doing some track time on proper sport bikes. Everyone on the tour is a track rider. This one element changes the flavor of these tours completely. Track riders are distilled motorcycle rider concentrate with a talent for mitigating risk while pushing limits in every area of existence. That alone means this is not your standard motorcycle tour but the environment of our Sachsenring & Italian Alps tour adds 100 horsepower to the equation. The potential for mayhem grows exponentially, let me try to explain.
Brothel Belch on the Futon
I’d been bouncing in and out of various forms of sentience in the back of the luggage van for several hours. Mattias is filled with dangerous ideas, but the futon left in the back of the luggage van was a good one. A bump and some braking slid me forward a few inches and made me belch. The smell of cheap brothel vodka and Nic Nacs, a fiendish German snack made by encasing a peanut a dorito-like shell, seared into my sinuses. It was time to wake up. My head in my hands, I looked down at the futon. Eleven days, that’s how long this roller coaster had been going and how long since these pants had been washed. Could we wash the futon? Eleven days ago, at 5:30am, Mattias woke me from this very cushion, at a rest stop on the Autobahn. We were driving to Munich to pick up clients that day from the airport for the yearly running of the “Sachsenring & The Italian Alps” tour. My turn to drive. My official time as tour guide had started.
No problem, this is the fourth year we’ve run this tour. I’ve driven the autobahn dozens of times. Mattias's new VW transport van had the sports package upgrade. This plus a cigarette and red bull should be a wonderful way to start a tour guides day right? The rat bastard had taken a different route this year. He decided it was my turn to drive at 5:30am on the A7. This is a road where men with names like Gunter and Thorsten grit their teeth and commute behind the wheels of their 911 Turbos. This is not a tourist friendly wide, flat, straight stretch of autobahn, this is an A level, red group, pro commuter course. It’s dark, it’s foggy and the road is 4 lanes of high speed sweepers and serious hills. The road just kept throwing up those “circle with a slash through it signs”, the nationwide symbol for “game on”. Euro heavy haulers to the right, german sex on wheels to the left, curves and hills with no speed limit. This is no place for a squiggly van with a snoring ass-goblin in the back. I may have ridden 7 MotoGP courses to date, but B12 and nicotine are seeping out of my palms onto the wheel.
Drop a gear and kiss your rear
The tour was off to it’s usual start. This tour has always been nuts. I love it and I dread it. Sort of like returning to a hot romance with a drug addiction on the side, strange days lie ahead. Other tours are a nice reward after months of hard work and planning but this tour is always ten days of fun mayhem and a whole lot of “WTF” moments. It’s our longest running tour so why doesn’t it run smoother? It’s the increased variables. There are just more volatile elements that are conspiring to make sure I only get 4 hours of sleep a night. It’s a constant battle and sometimes they win. Here’s a few examples.
Grits or Schweinshaxe
Mark Twain wrote, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness…”. He fails to mention however that sometimes it’s a tough bitch to kill. Guess who’s job it is to kill it and try to find a place for the body at 2am? Mine. This tour more than any other drops clients into the deep end of different cultures. Authenticity is part of our secret sauce but it creates unpredictable situations. Real Munich beer halls are not as used to out of country tourists as you might think. Americans are rarely seen in the small mountain towns of the Dolomites. As for the odd East Germany city of Chemnitz, near Sachenring, that’s a place that’s not used to visitors from outside Sachsen, let alone outside the country. When you get off the well manicured tourist trail, seemingly similar cultures collide. Why do most tour guides take their clients to tacky tourist traps? Because it’s easier, especially with Americans and Chinese. Most people in the world live within 8 hours drive of a foreign country. Adapting to different languages, food, drinking games, methods of flirting, standards of service and body language is part of their normal experience. The large geography of the USA creates insulation, ignorance and a fear of foreign places. Track riders know how to mitigate fear but new tracks are easier to adapt to than new worlds. There are dozens of examples of this but here’s a simple one.
For 5 days now, Dan’s face had looked like someone had swapped all the boxers in his luggage for briefs during the flight. He was just too embarrassed to say anything. He was having fun but required a bit more help from the tour guides.The joy of discovering something new was a childhood memory that took extra effort to coax forth. He was tired and thought something familiar might sooth him, grits. He was tired and teetering on the edge of an adult tantrum but grits at an east German beer hall? His accent and the noise alone meant there was no way the waitress was going to understand him, even if she knew what grits were. It was really loud because Americans outside of the USA for the first time always talk at double volume. To avoid the horror he’d experienced four days ago when he saw his first bidet, I switched into show barker mode. I lured him, after another beer, into trying roasted pork foreleg (Schweinhaxe) with a side of deep fried mashed potatoes (Croquettes). This was the nearest approximation to grits I could find on the menu. It took a good 15 minutes to convince him. A small celebration happens in my head as I have coaxed a very conservative man to try something he’ll never get at home. These moments are precious but they are also why guides are often very busy “guiding” during meals. The challenge now was to inhale my own Schweinhaxe in 2min. I had to guide a group of now drunk motorcyclists, on a convoluted, 4 block walk back to the hotel.
The Dolomite Brain Fairy
In the fading years, when the grim reaper comes to audit my clients books, chances are they’ll be telling him about those perfect moments in the Dolomites. I’ve logged 1000s of miles there and I’m still amazed. It’s just too idyllic. To my cynical mind it’s absurd that some people live in this paradise. It’s like some nerdy god decided to make an over the top terrarium for pet humans. From the impossible granite peaks to tiny details like flower filled window boxes. I mean the supernatural tweaker even put extra mascara on the cows. It gets positively ludicrous. For motorcyclists it’s an impossible dream of vistas and curves, and fellowship with riders from all over the world. This awesomeness creates a problem… the Dolmomite Brain Fairy.
As top riding coaches and neurologists will tell you, we have a finite amount of concentration. Each pass urges you on, another great set of curves, great pavement, surges of adrenalin and flat out “I can’t believe this is real” awe takes it’s toll and the horrid sounds of metal and plastic sliding on pavement soon follows. The Dolomite Brain Fairy strikes again and my day gets more interesting. The injuries are usually minor. The worst was a broken collar bone but picking up and transporting damaged bikes in the Alps is a nightmare. Which of course creates bizarre situations and plenty of stories. Ever have to ride the northern side of Stelvio 4 times in one day? Every wonder what the inside of an Italian Police station looks like? Sometimes crash delays can cause late night group rides on pitch black mountain roads you can only navigate by reflectors. Who wants to hear how a client got cursed out by the Swiss rider he hit, in the hospital bed next to him? Ever discover the BMW R1200GS has a “limp mode” it falls into if there’s even a tiny hairline crack in the boxer engine case?
Riders have their off days and to be fair it’s not always the riders fault. Yes even your author still cringes at the thought of the beautiful BMW HP4 I had to run into a barricade to avoid an idiot in an SUV. It may be the most amazing place to ride a bike in the world but beware the Dolomite Brain Fairy, she hates shiny new bikes.
Munich’s Natural State
German’s are well known for their ruthless precision and addiction to procedure. The side effects are occasional bureaucracy served up with a chilly personality at work. Germany takes pride in getting the job done right and it’s well earned. The same attitude thankfully transfers to leisure time. German’s love for a rousing booze up is legendary. Their beer maybe renowned but the national pride really lies in the act of drinking it with friends. In a country where breweries are as common as post offices, fabulous beer is everywhere but if you’re going to really party, you go to Munich. It’s not just in October. You’ll find blithering drunk groups of people celebrating in Munich year round.
The local people and police in particular consider drunks a humorous part of daily life. Probably because they know they’ll be just as inebriated soon themselves. Unless you are hurting someone the police just smile. Sometimes the police will help prop you up so you get that perfect drunken selfie. Munich dwellers are rather practiced at dealing with people who are completely hammered.
Motorcycle riders are independent minded people, track riders even more so… now add alcohol and stand back. The tour always spends at least two nights here. Many people arrive a night early for a chance to drink with the guides and then walk off their jetlag/hangover in the morning. Things go off script pretty fast.
The Matthias Factor
One key but unstable element of this tour, is the uncommon character of Mattias. He’s one of our German guides but is the most un-german German I know. He’s spontaneous, creative and is repelled by schedules, routines and procedures. The best and worst words you can hear from Matthias are “I have an idea”. He’s a bit of a genius but his ideas either turn out to be brilliant or disasters. He also has an amazing talent for convincing people to do things they shouldn’t, myself included. He’s the life of the party and an emergency problem solver. He’ll get you into trouble and then help dig you out. Who convinced two Italian mechanics to use a torch and hammer a beat a bent rim back into place so it would hold air? That’s Matthias. Who brought a keg of beer so people could have a fresh cold one the second they parked their bike? Who’s antics will conspire to make us late again? Who gets world champion superbike racers drunk? Who man handles an old ZX-10 around the Alps so a client who crashed a bike can ride his more comfortable BMW S1000XR? Who keeps you flush in cigarettes the whole night and orders another round of shots? Who convinces the restaurant to stay open late just for us? Yeah that’s all Matthias.
The final Matthias variable, he doesn’t pass out from drinking. His brain gets drunk in sections, until everything’s gone except what I call his lizard brain. He’ll stagger about like a drunken iguana for hours until he sobers up. Trying to get him back to his hotel room is like asking a wild animal to please get back in the cage, it’s not going to happen. You just turn him loose with a separate “drinking wallet” with 500 euros, a burner phone and a lanyard with tag on it that says, “If found, please return this man to the Park Radison Hotel” in both German and English. Matthias is not a normal human but he is our most requested guide.
To get from sport touring paradise to MotoGP wonderland we travel 450 miles in one day. First from the Alps to Munich by motorcycle, then from Munich to Chemnitz by cars. By now you are starting to notice a pattern. More chances for fun, more possibilities for delays and things to go wrong. This is the day to open it up and throttle on. It also means adventures in fuel management at high speed. Then there’s the crazy mid journey transfer of dropping off bikes and picking up rental cars in the span of an hour. Setting all the car GPSs to the Chemnitz hotel and sending a pack of track day junkies out onto the German autobahn and hoping for the best. It’s especially goofy when it happens on a Sunday and the only car rental places are at the main train station. The adventure never stops. Last year our clients drove through lightening storms and hail to get to Chemnitz and then had 2 full days of sun on the track.
The Attitude Adjustment
Lets get right to the heart of it. In central and northern Europe, sex is viewed as an enjoyable fact of life. The worlds oldest profession here is legal and regulated, making it safer for everyone. I once watched a dinner party ending at a restaurant in Germany and as couples were leaving I witnessed something I don’t think I’ll ever see in the USA. One gentleman said his goodbyes and began leaving on his own. A woman, apparently his wife, said in German, “Honey, do you have enough money for her?” She suddenly realized she’d said that a bit loud and began to giggle in slight embarrassment. Her husband, laughed slightly and said “Yes dear, I have enough” and walked out. For older couples where men still have a high sex drive but their wives are less interested, professional services are available. Certainly there are varying opinions but I’ve heard several Germans say this helps keep families together because there’s no affairs. In other cases I’ve heard stout testimony about how this calms men down and lowers the crime rate. Regardless, of all the destinations we serve this tour offers the best of selection of these types of services. A minority of our clients arrive with more pressing “needs” than others. It’s a rather sad state of affairs that some of them have gone “hungry” for so long but it’s my job to act as tour guide in these realms as well. Mishaps here are far less common than one might expect but it does introduce a variable as to how long our late night evenings might take. Dark festive lounges, a variety of service providers and the standard issue polite but ominous big men looking like giant action figures. More interesting is the sometimes vast difference between before and after. Some clients are far easier to work with after a simple “attitude adjustment” and I’ve been thanked profusely for it more than once and not just by the client.
It had been an all nighter at the brothel, looking after several clients. The damnable sun was already up and I had airport transport duties. One of my favored establishments offers free drinks with the cover charge… a sensible businesses arrangement but takes it’s toll as the night goes on. We’d parked the luggage van in an Aldi parking lot but the gates were down. I was too drunk to drive but gave Randall clearance to engage in the Matthias style solution of driving the luggage van over the rather tall bushes so we could escape. It had been a good run. We’d had only one small crash in the Alps. Sachsenring had been two brilliant sunny days of shredding slicks with no crashes. Memories were made, livers abused, friendships had been forged over huge steins of beer. Many had contributed their own personality to give the tour a unique flavor.
Four trips to the airport later it was almost done. Matthias kept repeating the phrase he’d learned from a 3 day rock festival. He explained that each morning the crowd would be roused from their marijuana smokey haze with the words “Gute Laune” which roughly translates to “good feelings”. The crowd would reply back in “stoned out of their gord" German fashion “Gute Laune”. He’d managed to get everyone on the tour to say it right to. So it had been a tour of good feelings, the best yet…until next time. Randall thankfully was happy to drive north as I ate my bag of NikNaks and passed out on the futon. Gute Laune.