Tales of a journey with the Ducati Scrambler, seeking something elusive.
“In life, if you want a guarantee, buy a toaster.” (C. Eastwood)
Protected by 24 degrees in my office, I look at the plant which one of my colleagues who has already gone on holiday has left behind to bake on the windowsill in the hope of rain. I open the window and the bottle of water that is still ice cold on my desk and I pour it all into the vase. I hope the sparkling water does not damage it too much but it is better than nothing I guess.
We can bet on record temperatures reaching 39 degrees Celsius, which certainly is not ideal to do anything.
Trying to convince myself and overcome my initial resistance, I think of the constant wind chill factor on a bike and I say to myself “I can do it”.
On paper, we always expect change, but when it comes it is always accompanied by a certain sense of uncertainty.
I know too well that to find magic you need to look for it out of your comfort zone. Therefore, I just have to tell my wife, who is expecting, that I am about to leave on a bike journey, all by myself. I just need to stay out of trouble. To those who tell me that now is the time to stay out of danger and to live “the office life” a little, I will reply that it is more interesting to manage risk compared to “do nothing, fear nothing”. As Clint Eastwood would have said, “in life, if you want a guarantee, buy a toaster”
I delegate tasks for the days that I will be out of the office and then I turn off my computer and go to pack my bags.
While I am waiting for my flight I read a magazine article. The author is experimenting a social network-free month and invites his readers to follow suit “in order to live life more intensely” so as to discover what they really “Like”.
I start to smile as I think how the life of a biker is already rich and authentic by nature. When riding a bike you have to concentrate on the present in every bend. You have to take certain things seriously and others just take them for what they are. You have to make accurate calculations, have clarity of mind and courage. As well as luck. And do not forget that if you are not afraid before, you will be in trouble after. John Wayne used to say that to have courage does not mean you are not afraid: it means to be afraid but to mount the saddle all the same. And I decide that what I am about to do will be a truly authentic trip. Not just a simple road test but I want to test and push both the motorbike and my physique to the limits.
A lot of road, a lot of kilometres. The Scrambler: how far can it go? What about me? The Land of Joy: whether it exists or not I want to try and find it. Who knows. Maybe I will.
“A thing is a thing, not what is said of that thing.” (from the film Birdman)
However, I have in mind something different, something that goes against the tide. I want to focus on the motorbike and take away the focus from the successful world which revolves around the Scrambler “product”. I am not interested in playing it safe and reporting something already seen.
Goggles and checked shirts have had and will have their space. But another time. Packing my bags I leave behind my newly-arrived, magnificent Australian longboard which initially I would have taken with me since it is so photogenic and fun to go downhill, but it is more in line with the marketing campaign than with the mood of the trip.
I make pragmatic and essential choices amongst the supplied gear: air jacket, gloves, back protector, armoured jeans, boots, a few t-shirts and nothing else. It is best to be as protected but as light as possible when travelling by motorbike. Ahead of me are many hard but wonderful kilometres.
Departure and arrival is in an historical hamlet called Borgo Panigale, a legendary place due to the Ducati presence and as an old song says here you can see a kind of aurora boreale (aurora borealis). Who knows if there is some truth in it or if they simply needed to rhyme Panigale with boreale.
I head off for my road trip. Ducati has a sportive DNA born for asphalt, but after all this is The Scrambler. What will happen if the road ends?
Ducati travellers’ bags were not available so I had to make do with a rucksack. Not a huge problem though. Dreams: how much space do they take up?
“The best way to make your dreams come true, is to wake up.” (M.Ali)
I simply step on the gas.
The air caresses me and completely wraps itself around me despite the heat which seems to take a grip on everything else. I can see the drivers sealed inside their air-conditioned metal boxes, but their expression always seems to be annoyed. I feel privileged now.
When I encounter a lorry travelling at high speed the wind turns hot and sharp. It tastes of diesel and it pushes me hard as if it had arms. I resist like a sailor on the deck of a sailing boat against the rough waves. I grip tighter onto the wide handlebars, as if I were holding onto the helm, and I help myself by squeezing the slim tank between my knees. Then with a twist of the wrist I am gone.
The Scrambler is the most American out of all the Ducati bikes in certain aspects. The first version was produced in the sixties upon the request of an American importer. In a certain sense, and a good sense, the riding position is American style. One of my concerns of the bike was this position of arms stretched out high. However, I discover that the position turns out to be comfortable and natural. It literally allows me to ride by enabling extreme ease of manoeuvrability. After the first few metres, the seat which is positioned quite low, turns out to be something that I do not want to get used to. Standing still you are unable to detect it, but on the move it is a different story. I can say this straight off: every technical and design aspect of the Scrambler has been successfully carried out yet it requires a higher and more supportive seat to permit those who desire a more active ride using their body. As for the rest, you can fall in love with every characteristic: it is beautiful from every perspective. It is agile, easy and rides nicely. Far from a city motorbike just to go around bars.
“Beware those who seek constant crowds, they are nothing alone.” (C. Buckowsky)
The Scrambler is not a cruiser, nor a naked, and even less so an off-road motorbike. A Scrambler, from the verb to scramble, allows you to do anything: from a motorway journey to crossing many mountain passes and real dirt tracks thanks to its front 18” tyre and the custom use of Pirelli Dual Sport tyres.
My admiration increases as we travel effortlessly down the motorway, the only one on this journey and it is certainly neither mine nor the bike’s territory. Being totally exposed to the air is not a shortcoming in this case. After all, I have always liked the fresh air on my face and the pleasant cooling effect of the wind helps me sweep along the road. The helmet I have chosen has been designed for an upright riding position and it facilitates riding. The vents do their job voraciously and keep you quite cool on the move. Before I left, I stuck that funny sticker that pays homage to Vince Gillian’s Heisenberg on it...I was in that kind of mood.
I feel a slight remorse when I see beautiful places in the distance which I could have passed through. But when I ride past factories and the smell of what they produce enters into my nostrils, from solvents to dog food, I am convinced that the best thing to do is to put as much distance as possible between myself and civilisation in the search of something powerful and authentic that nature has to offer. This is the beginning of my journey but leaving the motorway, never to meet it again, I realise that I have the chance to discover a road towards liberty and beauty.
After having passed through a hilly landscape and having climbed a kind of big hill covered in cool woodland, I encounter a small, steep road leading down to a narrow beach between rocky spurs. A beautiful place to take a rest at the end of a long and hard day. Incredibly, there is hardly anyone there and I have to say this did not displease me at all. It is the end of an intense day but I feel a fatigue rich with satisfaction. The unexpected view of the sea and of the sudden opening of immense space makes me feel that I am on the right road…even if in reality I do not have a destination but only a direction. From now onwards I will grant myself the luxury of choosing one road over another based on its beauty.
“Be here, now” (Ram Dass)
The rear mono shock absorber however is more brusque and rigid in its reaction. Luckily, it is aided by a plump rear tyre which is also beautiful to look at. The surprising agility of the Scrambler is a precious quality in order to follow this slalom and especially in the quick setup of effortlessly taking bend after bend.
High speed driving is historically the hunting ground for all two-cylinder bikes from Borgo Panigale and the Scrambler is no exception. It brakes softly but firmly. The single front disk does not cause any torsion even if provoked on purpose.
The road I am travelling along is very different to those recently built: instead of connecting one place to another in the shortest way possible, this road winds along without haste, following the path of a river starting at the top.
Hidden by vegetation, the flow of water appears when the landscape widens out to then narrow again between two impressive rocky walls.
Out of habit, I leave the Scrambler in a place where she can see me and I can see her from the top of the roadside even if there is not a soul in sight. Then, getting rid of my helmet and protection gear, I go down to the riverbank. I find a welcoming flat boulder in the shade jutting out of the river. With my legs dangling in the greyish-green water (while I thank God that there are no alligators in this area) I enjoy a peaceful moment with nature as the water flows under my feet.
Life, with all its incomprehensible simplicity and perfection is here and now.
Immersed in stillness, except for the constant placid lapping of the water, I happen to look at my wristwatch and I realise that I have never felt the need to look at the time since I left. In this moment, I understand perfectly the meaning behind the scene in Easy Rider in which Peter Fonda gets rid of his watch. It is a useless object. I avoid repeating the scene by throwing it towards a non-existent film camera (I have to return one day and I rather like my watch) so I simply put into my jeans pocket.
It is time to delve into my “emergency provisions”: two apple flavoured energy bars and a tonic water which luckily is still cold. If I had had a specific destination instead of leaving for a ride about, I would never have found this place here.
“You cannot overcome danger without any danger.” (E. Cantona)
There is only a small wall acting as a kind of guardrail, high as a shoe box, which separates the roadway and the precipice. The road, worthy of staging an action movie continues in this way, narrow between the rocks with the possibility of going over the edge.
Suddenly, I feel as if I am in the final level of a videogame: coming out from a short tunnel excavated in stone, the road scattered with large pieces of rock fallen from the wall at the side. The sign was not exaggerating when it read in very large letters “Danger. Falling rocks”. I am happy to have a helmet to protect my head in such an uncertain scenario and I only hope to get through without any more rocks falling down.
I travel as fast as good sense will allow me whilst trying to stay in the middle of the roadway as much as possible. I try to avoid hitting the rocks of various dimensions scattered all over the asphalt with my wheels. The scrambler complies with me with perfect manoeuvrability and proves once again to be much more than a vehicle just for going for an aperitif in the town centre. There are no pictures of this picturesque location. I will not try to explain the reason why not but to have got through it unscathed is an achievement which brings me great satisfaction. The fact that we always risk running away from life to avoid danger comes to mind. Is it not better to live a dangerous but true life and to run away from death instead?
"You can never cross the ocean, until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore” (C. Columbus)
Before even starting to find a B&B the Scrambler and I unexpectedly plunge into what appears to be dense fog. The beam of the headlight is interrupted by a soft grey barrier which wraps itself around us. On the edge of the road I can see striped coloured poles which indicate the level of snow in the winter only if you are riding alongside them.
We are inside a large nature park and I decide to park next to a sign which tells me which Mountain Pass I am crossing to try and get an idea of where I am. I would also like to try to take some photos of this rather surreal scene. I must have disturbed a bird of prey which leaves its refuge on the tree. But another sign catches my attention. It says something like: “Warning! Speed kills bears”. The photos can wait….I climb onto my bike, switch on the engine and ride off without wasting any time.
A couple of minutes later, dozens of sunrays gradually seep through out of nowhere and I realise that it was not a patch of fog but a large cloud wrapped around the mountain. I would like to arrive before it gets dark but I take out my phone to take a quick photo.
You live more in 5 minutes going flat out on a bike than some people will live in a lifetime (Burt Munro)
Suddenly there is a rider on the road on a big V-twin traveller motorbike, 400cc more than mine, who catches me up and overtakes me. His hand behind his back opens and closes in a friendly gesture to say “hi” before disappearing with a deep rumble like thunder forewarning a storm. I fancy the idea of travelling in company for while so I try to catch him up. I put more and more effort into my riding but he was going fast. Concentration is so high that I dare not even bat an eyelid. Then I hear the rumble again and I can see the outline of a figure appearing and disappearing around the bends before I finally catch up with the other rider. I pull alongside him and greet him with a kind of awkward salute taking the two fingers on my left hand to the side of my forehead. I slow down and smile from inside my helmet. I loosen the shoulder straps of my rucksack so that the weight lies almost entirely on the seat and then I pick up the correct speed again easily cutting through the waves of the asphalt.
To go faster, add lightness. (C. Chapman)
It will take a long time to transcribe everything but it is pleasant and unusual to see the thick cream coloured paper absorb the rich ink.
I do not want to distance myself from modernity. In fact, to help in the search of an isolated bed and breakfast, further away than I originally thought on the last barely asphalted road, I have mounted my IPhone on the handlebars of the Scrambler with a sort of do-it-yourself fixture using silver Fixtape. After checking its surprisingly satisfying grip, I activated Google Maps. Looking at the windy road twisting and bending ahead of me through the woods and the golden hayfields I decided to take a shortcut. Standing up on the footrest I abandoned the road indicated by Google. The Scrambler handled it rather well thanks to its standard tyres even though the land was more uneven than expected. With my eyes fighting against the sun, I rode towards the sunset.
“More important than what is behind you and what is ahead of you is what is inside of you.” (A. Rock)
The building is an old stone house with a roof supported by a wooden structure. It is situated at the side of a wide valley and is part of a small farm with animals that wander freely around and everything else farm like.
I am surrounded by a familiar atmosphere. It reminds me of that warm and reassuring feeling lingering in the air when I spent the summers at my grandparents’ house.
After dinner it is pitch black and there are no other lights within eyesight. After a slice of cream cake, too big not to feel guilty for eating yet too delicious not to finish it all, served with coffee in a small mocha, I rest outside in the open air. I take small sips from the small coffee cup which I have filled up to the brim to make it last as long as possible.
The countless stars below the sky curve is something I have never seen in thousands of summers gone by. I feel as if I am looking at something created for another purpose and that somebody has left the sky turned on for me as a gift.
When I go to bed I notice the doors are old like the house itself and being used to the armoured doors in the city I feel that these are a little unsafe. But outside there is only woodland at the bottom, the valley, nature, the world.
There is a jug of fresh water on the bedside table which I imagine is taken from the fountain that I saw when I arrived but obviously this is only a guess.
I throw myself onto the sheets which are still freshly washed. My shoulders are aching due to the many hours spent carrying a rucksack and my back feels like that of a cowboy’s after several days on his saddle.
Countless images of what I have seen run through my mind and I quickly slip into a deep sleep.
“If I am free, it's because I am always running.” (J. Hendrix)
“It is extremely easy to die. Truly living is difficult.” (H. Jones, Tokyo Olympics)
You can go anywhere by aeroplane but we do not get to see anything. We are transported like parcels shipped in the cargo hold. We can reach our destination easily but miss out on the adventure. By car we can more or less make the same journey as by motorbike but we remain separated from the surrounding environment.
We sit inside a box whereas with a bike you actively ride it.
We can see the world immediately around us and not through a rectangular windshield which is even smaller than your television at home.
By bike we are immersed in reality, without any barriers. You start to take seriously the signs which indicate the presence of bears.
Motorbikes have always opened the door to dream. It is not difficult to put those dreams into practice with the Scrambler. It is a constant invitation to ride and never to stop and you have not necessarily reached your destination when the road ends.
The boundaries, the limits and the barriers are a mental state more than anything. You can cross a mountain field with high grass or travel along those small white stony roads which are almost paths. You can find freedom just around the next bend.
“Happiness is not the absence of conflict, but the harmony of contrasts” (R. Benigni)
Travelling down a path on a gentle slope immersed in the woods, asphalt roads now a mere memory, all of a sudden I see the outline of a figure standing up.
It was a black or dark brown stallion which had been lying on the ground in a sphinx-like position just as dogs often lie. Maybe it had been enjoying the coolness of the vegetation.
I am surprised, especially when I realise I have caught its attention. It is observing me straight on, slightly irritated and a little too tense. Both its ears are pointing undoubtedly towards me and I can see its nostrils widening to take in air.
I turn off the engine out of politeness and I listen. I take off my helmet and slide it onto my arm as far as my elbow as a support. I hang my sunglasses onto my t-shirt. We stay like this for a few seconds both staring at each other. An atypical Mexican standoff between man and animal, both deciding what we should do.
It stands in my way and I decide to go ahead pushing my bike along without taking my hands off the handlebars. I struggle slightly as I move towards it, sweat dripping from my forehead. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see a mare on my left together with a slightly dishevelled foal. This is the reason why he is agitated. I continue to walk towards the stallion and when I am finally past them the mother with the young foal quickly gallop off behind me. As soon as they have reached “safety”, the father gives me one last look from the side, moves in their direction and joins them, never looking back again.
When they are far away, I press the power switch.
Looking back, I do not think the horses belonged to anybody. Maybe they had been brought up in the wild but for sure, that foal which was no more than two months old did not belong to anybody but his parents.
“Seek happiness in this life, this is the real spirit of revolt” (H. Ibsen)
The road back is long, a little risky and above all beautiful. Now more than ever I am convinced that the most dangerous thing in life is not to have dreams. I grant myself a “cheerful” start gently skidding along the gravel.
Awaiting my return is not only Ducati to deliver the bike back but also my family at home. They have been waiting since my departure and I have felt nostalgic since the very first day.
Going back is a pleasant sensation full of expectations.
On the roof of what appears to be a warehouse made out of stone and dilapidated wood I can see a completely rusty weathervane pointing west. “For Native Americans the West represented the age of wisdom and maturity towards the sunset. It is the time to become parents, take on responsibility and exercise good sense”. It has probably been stuck like this for years due to the rust but it is the same direction as the end of this journey. The wind is now blowing strongly behind me.
The return journey will be just as long and I know it will be packed with precious moments. To get such a feeling of complete freedom and to feast your eyes on the beauties of nature you simply need to choose the right road.
Crossing through one of those areas that are still bare on the map, I stop for petrol. The manager gets up from his garden chair carefully positioned in the shade and approaches me. Is he just curious about the motorbike or could he simply not wait to have a chat with someone? Anyway, it undoubtedly has to be the first Scrambler that he has ever seen pass through this area since nobody comes this way.
Having asked all the usual questions about the motorbike, where I was from and how long I had been travelling for, and after having commented on the strong wind that day he briefly pauses for thought. Maybe he had made a rough estimate of the distance from my starting point….and he asks me if I really came from Borgo Panigale. Whilst quickly drinking a soda out of a glass bottle I nod yes and I put another note into the creaky automatic drinks dispenser to get another one. Then, while I am waiting for the machine to decide whether to give me my change or not the manager asks me another question: “and now are you off to somewhere nice?” I smile and press the power switch before answering: “home!”.