The Time I was Hired to be a Photographer in the Pyrenees: Part II
This is part two of a three part story that I wrote a year ago. Read part one here if you have not already. I have gone through and re-edited before publication. Also, I swear when I get excited. This chapter is about riding morotcycles at Aragon, so you have been warned.
Good stories have a sense of fantasy. They take you to places that you may never go, let you do things that you may never do. Things happen to the hero that simply just don’t happen in the real world, and if they did you just wouldn’t believe it. Most of that shit is CGI these days anyway.
In this story, our group rolled through Alcaniz as the sun was setting, through the narrow, dusty streets and up the hill to a fucking castle. I knew it was coming, hell I had been looking forward to it for 8 months, but still. I was going to be sleeping in a castle. A fucking castle. We got checked in, went to the castle bar and then had dinner - wait for it - in a fucking castle! We called it an early night since we would need to be up extra early to grab a castle breakfast before our first of two days at Motorland Aragon.
At Aragon we traded our comfy couch bikes and touring gear for leathers and fire breathing BMW S1000RR’s. While this is a tour recap and not a bike review, you are just gonna have to bear with me as I sing the praises of this beast. With 199 horsepower it has about 100 more ponies than my current race bike. It also has autoblip for downshifts, fully dynamic suspension, and more electronics than every bike I have ever owned combined. The riding position was aggressive yet comfortable. Plus it had heated grips for those cold, high desert mornings.
The racetrack wasn’t a slouch either. I had watched and rewatched the MotoGP races that took place a week prior to our arrival in Spain. I needed any advantage I could get to try and have a decent idea as to what direction the track went. It helped, but what was of even greater assistance was Troy Corser walking up to my instruction group and giving us reference points for all the corners.
Did I not mention that the two days at Motorland Aragon were part of a two day Race Academy school lead by a two time world champion? 2019 edit update: Troy Corser is now working with Racing School Europe. Looks like you can still replicate the trip with the new arrangement, as Leod Escapes did THREE days at Aragon this year.
Because it was a school and not just a track day we were constantly busy. If we were not on track we were debriefing with our instructors or in the classroom with Troy giving us all the secrets that the track was trying to hide from us. We had enough time to ask questions, hydrate, review our notes, and get geared up for the next session.
Some of what was covered in the classroom was quite familiar. How to use the throttle to change direction, how to spot reference points, trail braking, and body positioning were all covered. The body positioning part was far from familiar though. Troy’s method of of ergonomics differed greatly from what I have been doing for the last 10 years of track riding and at first I was skeptical that it would work. But since he has two world championships to my zero, I figured I would give it a shot.
Troy teaches a foreign-to-me foot placement that wedges the ball of your foot into the triangle created by the footpeg and the heel guard on turn in. Not riding with my toes on the pegs took a few sessions to get used to but the first time I "got it right" I slammed the left footpeg into the pavement and saved a lowside Marquez style in his namesake corner. I would say that Troy's style seemed to help with a sharper turn in, but only if you are consistent. I am far from consistent.
It was windy enough at the track on day one that PG&E would have killed power to half of Spain (and part of France and all of Portugal for some reason) so Troy advised that we call it with a session to go. That was fine with most of us as there was a ton of information to take in and the gusts were strong enough in the session before to interfere with learning the new skills.
With day one at the track under our belt we retreated to the fucking castle for the routine of shower, bar, dinner, bed. You will notice that we skipped the post dinner trip to the bar for a change. First off, we were all pretty whooped after the track, and second? There was a whole 'nother day at Aragon.
We saddled back up and rode to the track, changed into our leathers, and flogged the shit out of some S1000RR’s. We spent the whole first day getting in touch with the bikes and learning the track. Day two was all about putting what we learned to good use. Aragon is a fairly quick circuit with a couple of chicanes and technical corners thrown in for good measure. Then you get to the back straight… It was recommended by my instructor (and Troy) to enter the straight in first gear, and they both said that you really only needed fifth to be effective. While I heard what they said, there is something about clicking
into sixth at 240kph (around 150mph for you non metric types), glancing down at the speedo as you are approaching your braking marker and watching it tick past 270kph (167ish mph) and then banging three quick clutchless downshifts as you trail brake past the first apex of the final corner. I have no idea how fast I actually went, as those speeds induce giggles sufficient enough to make it hard to read the speedo. I do know that it was faster than my Mom is comfortable hearing about, but slower than Troy Corser. One lap he passed me on one wheel...two up. I was in fourth gear. Don't judge me.
After the track we went back to the castle, showered, and (surprise) hit up the bar. We walked down to a restaurant in Alcaniz for dinner, and from the second we crossed the threshold I knew that we were somewhere special. The place was called Restaurante La Parrilla, and it was magical.
One entire wall in the bar area is absolutely covered with photos of the owner standing with pretty much every WSBK and MotoGP rider that has ever dragged a knee around Aragon. If that wasn’t cool enough, the dining area was basically a cave, the food was delicious, and yes, there was copious amounts of wine. With a full belly we retreated to the hotel bar (again) where we continued to celebrate a successful two days at the track. How do you make drinking in a bar in a castle more surreal? How about having Troy Corser stroll into the castle bar and buying me a beer. Yeah, I wasn’t expecting that either.
We closed out the bar that night, but not before bench racing with a world champion.
Good stories don't always end when you think they will. Like this one, for example. If this was the latest action flick there would have been a five minute montage of the hero getting better on the track over the course of two days, followed by a touching moment where he hugs his coach, gets his certificate, and has a slow motion, freeze frame high-five. This is not the latest action flick though. We still had riding to do.
Part Three coming soon.