"It's all happening," Penny Lane, Almost Famous
After a full day of getting our bearings over beers in Munich, the crew awoke refreshed and ready for action. We gathered in a secret room away from the rest of the hotel guests for our breakfast which was either because of Covid rules or the hotel assumed that we would not mesh well with those not from our group.
Either way, we devoured all things breakfast and walked over to the BMW dealership that we would be renting our bikes from...Eventually. When we arrived to find the doors securely locked, it became apparent that the hours for the dealership were different than they were when Cat rented from them last, less than 2 weeks ago. An hour later the first employees arrived, and the bike rental process began. I was to be on a BMW F 900 XR that would make it to Austria via the back of the van as I drew the short straw on support vehicle duty.
With some assistance, I loaded the bike into the back of the van, and with even more assistance we loaded gear bags, suitcases, and other luggage for 11 people. Starting in the back of the van, and eventually finishing into the front passenger seat, the final bags were seatbelted into place so as to not come cascading through the windshield if I had to stand on the brakes. I had to lean forward to see out of the passenger side mirror, but besides that everything was a go. I had driven a similar van before, and thought I remembered how to pair my phone with the audio system for music purposes, but I did not. I also thought that my headphones were within reach. They were not... Well, shit. I decided to make the best of things and settled in to find my new favorite radio station.
That didn't work either.
I, despite having a very German last name, don't understand any German. Scrolling through German radio stations, I was met with what sounded like the same guy on the first 5-6 channels. I say sounded like because I had no idea if he was reading the weather, recapping sports scores, or trying to sell me a time share in Dresden. After him there was a woman talking about cars (she said Mercedes, at least), and then I heard (probably) the same voice 3 more times. I finally found a station playing music just in time for it to fade to static.
As I got into Austria the music situation got more bleak, so I switched over to the CD player and held my breath. I had never met the guy that owns the van, so I was bracing for, well, just what, exactly, does a German cop/motorcycle racer listen to? The speakers sprung to life with the sounds of...Maybe some David Hasselhoff? Germans like him still, right? I will never know as the CD was not labeled, but it was radio friendly pop music.
This was going to be a long drive.
Cat had spent a sizeable amount of time programing 11 BMW branded GPS units with the exact same checkpoints, lunch stops, and ending destinations, and he had a separate unit for the van that was programmed with more direct routes. While the motorcycle portion of the tour was off shredding mountain passes, I would be on a substantially less fun route on the way to our home for the next day, The Gribelehof.
While it was not the roller coaster of motorcycle awesomeness that the bikes would be taking, once I got off the Autobahn the roads were tight and twisty in sections, causing me to have to downshift the van whilst supporting the leaning tower of suitcases with the same elbow. Good thing I didn't have to juggle picking music as well, in hindsight.
Because of my more direct route, I pulled up to The Gribelehof a full two hours ahead of the rider group. There was a wedding taking place, so I stayed in the van and listened to the oompah band absolutely shred a mix of traditional Bavarian songs, classic wedding tracks, and arguably the best version of Country Roads I have ever heard, oompah or otherwise.
It was a beautiful and warm summer day, and with the soothing sounds of a tuba wafting through the open windows of the van I took a nap. When I woke I took a look at Whatsapp to view Cat's live location and discovered that the group was closing in on the lunch stop just down the hill in Lienz.
I drove down to meet the crew for a bite, eager to hear the tales of the day. The mood was tired yet upbeat, and I walked into a conversation about a slick switchback on their route that caught the first couple riders off guard sending one of them gently to the ground. There was zero damage to the bike, and the rider didn't have any new injuries despite acting as a frame slider a couple hours earlier.
Post lunch we caravanned back up the hill, unloaded the van, and got our room assignments at the Gribelehof. I am not sure if it was Cat's way of thanking me for driving the van, but I got the room with the best view out of a bathroom that I have ever had, or ever will have. While I was marveling at my view Cat buzzed me on Whatsapp asking me if I wanted to go for a quick ride before the sun went down.
Twist my arm, Cat.
A small group of us went on a bit of a scouting run in the general direction of Italy at a pace that put us onto Italian soil about 20 minutes later, thanks to pristine pavement being laid out in high-speed sweeper formation. The BMW F 900 XR was a joy to ride, and not just because I had been cooped up in a rolling luggage transport all day. I had the almost fully decked out version of the model, with heated grips, up/down quickshifter, keyless ignition, and some advanced ride modes. The riding position was upright, ADV style - perfect for all day comfort when paired with the adjustable windscreen. With just shy of 99 ponies collectively kicking 67 foot pounds of torque, the motor was pretty responsive across the entire rev range, with about 7k being the most giggle inducing rpm number. My bike had both side and top cases making it easy to carry extra water and my camera gear without worrying about the two combining. My only real complaint (besides having to haul it around in the back of the van for most of the trip) was that my 34" inseam was a bit too lanky thanks to a relatively low seat height. I know that some people on similar machines to mine had height adjustable seats, but mine did not. An extra inch would have been glorious... I will let you make the unavoidable joke there as you see fit.
We returned about an hour later, and after a quick shower I met the rest of the group in the dining room which was a Covid-rules friendly tent. I ordered a beer and perused the menu looking for something that I can't get in America for dinner. I went with some dumplings that were made from scratch that day and was not disappointed. At dinner we were joined by a cat named Willy. I assumed that he was the local resident welcome kitty, but found out later that he was just a friendly feral that knew he had found the good life.
After another beer, a shot of Pregler, and a third beer to chase a second shot of Pregler, it was time to head to bed and rest up for the all day ride that would take us through Italy and eventually back to The Gribelehof. That is after I stayed up another hour taking long exposure photos of the area around the hotel.
The next morning found us preparing for absolutely soggy weather. The first part of a storm blew in over night, and the remainder of the squall decided to wait for us in Italy. I wear my Aeorstich R3 Lightweight pretty much everywhere, so I already knew it would look like I wet myself by the time I got back to the hotel, but the rest of my waterproof gear had not truly been tested. I had a pair of TCX Drifter waterproof boots that I knew to be all day comfortable, and some Racer gloves that I knew to be warm, but I had never ridden in a proper rain with either.
For those that don't know me all that well, I used to be a year-round motorcycle commuter when I had a "real job" and I have put dozens of jackets, pants, suits, boots, and gloves through the literal ringer after being thoroughly soaked to the skin by most of them. Prior to this trip the only breathable waterproof gear that was true to the term had been the Alpinestars Scout boots, a pair of Alpinestars gloves that seemed to be repurposed from their snowboarding line, and anything made by Frogg Toggs. Everything else - $1500 suits, $150 gloves... everything else was only "waterproof", and yes that should be read as "quote fingers, waterproof", and yes, you need to do the hand motion when you read quote fingers.
Sure, for a quick 20 minutes in a California winter I feel pretty confident in saying that I would have remained dry in my chosen apparel, but the rain in the Italian mountain passes that we hit was an absolute deluge. My gloves failed in the first half hour, my hands becoming weighted prunes by the time we stopped for lunch. If the bike didn't have grip heaters I would have turned back to the hotel as I would not have been able to feel the controls. After lunch I ended up switching over to my Helimot Buffalo Pro gloves, which despite being older, untreated, and not advertised as waterproof did a much better job at keeping my hands warm and dry.
About an hour into the ride my 'Stich failed so spectacularly in the nether regions that I could have been an extra in a Cardi B video, and for some reason my right shoulder area was also a bit moist. I have sent the suit in to Aerostich for upper body area leaks before, and they sent it back telling me that it "was dirty". I guess their "Road Grimed Astronaut" patch is only for those that don't also ride in the rain. I knew I should have packed the Frogg Toggs.
After a full day in the wet, only my TCX Drifter boots could be referred to as waterproof. They were FLAWLESS this tour as my daily wear boots, swapping them only for another pair of TCX boots at the track. For how much the 'Stich leaked and how soaked my jeans were underneath, the wetness stopped at the top of the boot thanks to a nice little flexible seal that TCX used at the opening.
No amount of water-soaked gear was going to stop the fun, however. Taking advantage of a brief break in the weather, I stayed behind for a couple minutes to get a photo of the rest of the group, and as such I had some catching up to do. That pic is the cover shot for this part of the write up.) Fortunately for me, there was minimal traffic and the rain mode on the F 900 XR worked more like a big sister and less like a nanny. Sure, it interfered a bit with my inputs, but only if it was going to mean that mom would find out that I was out doing really stupid shit in the rain. I have ridden many other bikes that went full nanny in rain mode, almost making the bike less safe, and certainly less fun.
With one exception around a construction area, we had the rain-soaked roads to ourselves allowing for a fair amount of hooliganistic buffoonery, or "hooliffoonery" on the way back to the hotel. Once we all regained a reasonable level of dryness we gathered once again in the dining area near a plug so we could watch MotoGP, grab some dinner, and of course beer!
We called it an early night for in the morning we would be headed to the Czech city that originally brewed the American swill known as Budweiser.