Monday, June 30, 2008

Spirit of Portugal

When thinking of great motorcycling destinations, the places that come to mind immediately are like a Hall of Fame list: the Pacific Coast Highway, the Alps, and of course the Blue Ridge Parkway.  They're the Ruth, Cobb, and DiMaggio of motorcycling roads. What these destinations have in common is the stuff of riders' dreams; for instance, they feature in no particular order fantastic scenery, twisty turns, meager traffic, and interesting stops along the way. But mention Portugal among these superstar byways and you're likely to be greeted by bemused expressions.  "Portugal? Is that in Spain?" asked a riding friend upon my description of the country.

Portugal in fact is a sovereign nation about one fifth the size of its tapas and Rioja consuming neighbor to the east.  And, get ready, it has some truly amazing motorcycling country.  This statement is not hyperbole I assure you.
In late May, my wife Ellen and I hired a guide and 2004 Triumph Sprint RS through the British tour operator Motocadia for a week. Motocadia's owner, Julian Cade, promised an adventure consisting of twisty roads, elegant lodging, local food, and desolate motorways of prime Euro-tarmac ripe for enjoyment.  Our guide, Ken McKay, a former bike racer, civil engineer, and diamond merchant kept things lively both in and out of the saddle.  In the following posts, I'll talk about the trip and share some insights about Portugal, a country that never failed to entertain, amaze, and stir our curiosity.  Meanwhile, photos from the trip can be viewed in the Spirit of Portugal gallery.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Backroads Traveler Launch

It's past midnight and I've finally gotten this blog thing, my first,  set up. Let's have a toast.  It wasn't so easy to find a blog name that fit the idea I had some months ago to start a journal about my backroads motorcycle travels.  Some of the trial balloons I floated were "Asphalt Attitude" and "Beyond the Cage".  Not thoughtful enough I thought.  More head scratching but the muse appeared to be standing me up tonight. "Love and Sprockets"? Already taken, and besides, it really didn't fit anyway.  So I pulled back a bit, thought to myself "simplify...simplify", and soon "Backroads Traveler" emerged. Not bad I thought. Thoughtful? Check.  Memorable? Check. It sort of has a nice ring to it and has enough room for including a range of thoughts and ideas. 

I've been riding motorcycles off and on since I was a lanky 15-year old in southeastern Massachusetts.  Thirty years later, I'm fortunate enough to be riding again and living in north Florida where we are able to ride year 'round. Over the last four years or so since I've re-entered motorcycling, I've explored interesting out-of-the-way places in my own backyard and beyond. Gradually, I started taking my camera on these trips and photographing places, and sometimes people, that had a certain soulful, authentic character about them. Simple weekend trips started evolving into adventures that stretched my skills - both technical and social - as I ventured far afield to such places as the Natchez Trace in Mississippi and the ancient villages of the Serra D'Estrella mountains of central Portugal.  

Traveling on two wheels is worlds different than traveling by car. For one, exposure to the elements is relentless.  You feel temperature changes as the topography rises and dips from ridge to valley.  You also smell the changes in the landscape from forest to coastline.  And people will actually wave hello to you as you pass them.  This has never happened to me in a "cage", motorcyclist slang for a car.  Traveling by motorcycle is one of those things I think if done thoughtfully and with awareness is a tremendously humanizing experience. It awakens my senses, teaches me a few things about myself and life, and reveals mysteries of nature literally at every turn.  I think I've caught on, as Robert Pirsig did when he wrote in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, that "there are things you learn as you go."