Updated: Nov 10, 2019
Good stories often follow multiple plot lines. The tale might begin following one character then split to follow another participant. In the end though, the journeys of everyone in the story end up back on the same path.
I felt it in the morning, before I even got out of bed. No, not a hangover. The covers felt heavy. When I finally made it out of bed and started to gear up I am pretty sure that my boots had an extra couple buckles, and I swear that the hallway was at least five and a half minutes long. I couldn't quite put my finger on it until shortly after we left the castle, specifically until the coffee stop. After spending two days at Aragon, everything else seemed slow, I guess sixth gear pinned on an S1000RR will do that to ya.
It was more than just the speed though. Two days at the track is a bit of a workout for someone whose idea of getting fit involves only eating half a pint of gelato while writing. We did those two days AFTER four days of some epic riding and it obviously took its toll on almost everyone else as well.
Early on the tour participants had unofficially split into two groups. The fast group lived on Sergi’s rear wheel. This gathering of like-minded individuals ran a pace where I am sure that some traffic laws were lightly massaged, but nothing "unsafe" went down. The second group ran a pace that found them about 500 meters behind the fast group. While "slow" is probably not the proper term, this group was indeed slower that the fast group. Think “B” track pace, but with "A" level skills.
Pre Aragon, I had to pick my way through the slow group and work my way into the fast group if I wanted to grab an espresso at our coffee stops or pee at our gas stops. Also, Misti was in the fast group most of the time, and I had to try and stay in radio contact with her through our Chatterbox units.
Post Aragon? I didn't have to try and catch anyone. Even if I was to have shown up late to the coffee stop the whole group would have been happy to wait for me. They might even suggest that I have a second espresso...and a pastry...maybe a nap. Perfect. For ease of taking landscape photos I settled into the role of sweeper. I didn’t have to motion anyone by me if I was to stop, and if I was quick enough with my photo ops I stayed ahead of David and the van.
Fortunately for me Misti had some arm pump, and she ended up in the slower group making my job even easier. Unfortunately for me, this meant that Misti was one corner ahead of me and in constant radio contact.
“MAX over on the left!” I would hear, followed by “OH MY GOD MAX! ON THE RIGHT!!!” This went on from the coffee break to lunch, and then again from the gas stop to the hotel. Curse you, picturesque landscapes!
The roads between Alcaniz and our next stop of Cardona covered 312 kilometers of Spanish wine country. The twisty goodness would easily be recognized by followers of World Rallycross, as drivers in the Spanish rounds shared some of the same tarmac as we did. Switchbacks, (decreasing radius ones at that) were linked with high speed sweepers and straights with motorcycle lightening elevation changes - all cut through vineyards hanging precariously on the sides of cliffs. It reminded me a bit of Napa, but a Napa designed by Dr. Seuss… and with perfect pavement and absolutely zero traffic.
Our hotel in Cardona was built in 886 - no, there is not a number missing from that born on date. Did I mention that the hotel was another castle? A haunted castle if we are going to be really picky.
I should probably pause here for a brief history lesson to help explain the haunting.
Legend has it that in the 11th century a noble Moor by the name of Abdalà traveled to settle a truce between his castle and the one we were staying in. Back then it was the home of Viscount Ramon Folch and his daughter Adalés. At the risk of sounding cliche, it was love at first sight for Abdalà and Adalés, which was most unfortunate for both of them.
Abdalà was Islamic, and there was no way that was going to fly with the Christian parents of Adalés. Some versions of the tale have Adalés attempting to convert to Islam, others have Abdalà changing teams over to Christianity, but however you cut it the outcome was the same. Her loving father did what any 11th century dad would have done in such a situation. He sent her to bed with no supper, which in the olden days meant that he locked her in the tower.
Some say she starved to death, others suggest she took her own life by other means, but she never saw the outside of that tower alive. Her spirit has been known to walk the halls of the castle, move furniture, and even hold the hands of guests that dared sleep in "her room". "Her room" was the room next door to where I stayed, the room that Misti and Nicole called home for the night. Nicole reserved the haunted room by request.
I am not going to confirm or deny my belief in the ghost stories. I will say that the haunted castle bartender seemed pour our drinks a little bit stronger the more Nicole asked him about what he had witnessed in his time there. The vibe around our group was a bit different as well. People that had kept the covers of their books firmly closed opened up a bit. More than one person on the tour found video and photo anomalies from our time at the castle… The fucking haunted castle.
We honestly could have spent another full day exploring the haunted castle. The amount of history that those walls contained could not be absorbed in the one evening we had there, especially since we spent it with the spooked bartender and his heavy hand. There was no way I was going to call it an early night. I wandered inebriated outside taking long exposure photos of the stars until haunted castle management made me come in somewhere around 1:30 am. I wandered the hallways until a bit after 3:00 am and was back up again at 5:30 am to explore a bit more before breakfast.
After breakfast we were on the final stretch of the tour. Our last day on the road was a short one and it was spent at an even easier pace than the day before. Maybe it was because we were tired. After all, we had ridden some of the most technical roads in Spain and France in between shredding some tires at Aragon. Maybe there was more to it. Think of it as a little kid trying to delay going to sleep by asking for another glass of water or another story.
I know for me it was the latter.
I happily brought up the rear again, which earned me a nickname. “The Roomba” because I was sweeping all day, and nobody really asked me to do it. My new Canadian friend Nicole took the name a bit further north and offered up “The Zamboni” since I was smooth as well as slow.
Keeping the whole crew together got a bit tricky the closer we got to IMT Bike headquarters. Red lights, roundabouts, and traffic in general would not have been an issue at all if everyone had a GPS on the dash and a Chatterbox in their helmet. Since I was issued both as part of the media crew, my self imposed role of sweeper was a logical one.
If I was truly a hero in this story I would have got to explain my decision in an interview, probably when the whole group was on The Conan O'Brian show or something. "So a club racer of your skills chose to bring up the rear?", Conan would ask, continuing with "Wasn't that frustrating? I mean you, a novice racer, at the back?"
"Well, Conan", I would begin, "I made some strong connections with most of the people on the tour and the least that I could do was help to make sure that they all brought it home safely". Then a slow motion, freeze-frame high five would happen between Cat and I, lingering through the run to commercial.
While there was some truth to this fictitious scenario, the reality was I was being a little bit selfish. I did make some strong connections, and I did want them all to make it back for dinner. That is totally true. Also, if Conan is reading this, I was used to being in the back in my races already, dick.
The full story? I figured if I was the last bike to enter the garage my day would be just a little... bit... longer... than everyone else's. The inevitable return to the real world would just have to wait a few more seconds. Minutes if I was truly lucky.
All good stories have an ending. That part of the story where the hero saves the world - or doesn’t, depending on whether or not the sequel is already funded. Sometimes it is the same moment where the hero realizes he was forever changed by that seemingly insignificant five word message.
With the bikes dropped off we walked back to the hotel where the whole trip began. After we hit the showers, then the bar, it was time to gather for dinner one final time as a group. Toasts were made, stories were retold, phone numbers were exchanged, and friendships were solidified. Those intimidating profiles on my computer screen had evolved into the approachable humans that they always were, each with their own personality, and I am glad I got to know them all a little bit.
In true moto journalist fashion, Misti and I waited until the last few hours of the last night together go through my photos in search of the gems needed to help tell her stories. After dinner we gathered in the hotel lobby with a bottle of whiskey and started sifting through the thousands of memories that we made. We were joined by Steven, Aaron, Brad, and Nicole, just six friends milking the last of our time together and making one final memory. Inevitably the group started to thin out as the clock ticked through the wee hours of the morning. My six am flight was right around the corner, and I had no plans on sleeping. After all, I was already in the middle of an epic dream.
I fear that I failed to fully convey the epic beauty of this trip. As my friend Nicole put it you really had to be there, and by there I don’t necessarily think she meant Spain...although it didn’t hurt. I highly recommend touring with Leod Escapes, and the Pyrenees journey is worth every penny.
For her (and me), there was - and remains - a state of mind. To fully understand this story you need to go forth and write your own chapters. You need to embrace the new characters that you meet along the way, and be open to what they have to offer you. While we rode motorcycles, this story was not about motorcycles. For me, the bikes were merely the lines that connected the dots on this trip. This was about experiencing other cultures. It was about trying new foods. It was about throwing your comfort zone out the window of a fucking castle, haunted or otherwise. It was about the people, and most importantly it was about the the friendships forged along the way.
The riding was just a bonus. A blissful, twisty, traffic-free bonus of prodigious proportions.
Stay tuned for the sequel to this story, locations are being scouted as you read this.