After my bike accident in November 1998, my motorcycling activity came to a stop. It wasn't until April of this year that I got my dear California T3 back on the road (just in time for a short Easter ride).
When my friend Antonino asked me if I wanted to take a trip to France, there was only one answer, "Sure!"
Saturday, April 17 at 8:00 A.M. the trip begins. The sky is overcast and it's raining - not a good way to begin a trip. Thankfully after only seventy 70 miles, the sky clears and the sun comes out; my feelings about this trip are looking up.
Meeting point with the other guys is at Ivrea (Piedmont region in northern Italy). Finally we're all together and ready to head out. Besides me, participants include Antonino (Cavaliere Solitario), Giulio, and last but not least, Italo, a charismatic Guzzi enthusiast.
In little time we ride across the Aosta Valley, the Italian region that borders France. Weather is still good, panoramic view, mountains, castles, picturesque villages, and above all, there's Monte Bianco. Usually we ride through the tunnel under the Monte Bianco and onto France. But just one month earlier there was a tragedy in the tunnel. Fifty people were killed and a lot of damage was done to the tunnel. Consequently we must take a loop and ride through the Gran San Bernardo tunnel, which takes us into Switzerland. This is a short ride with nice mountain roads across two passes with a lot of fresh snow.
The Italian police at the border checkpoint tell us that the day before there was a snowstorm, and the Swiss-France side sustained the heaviest snowfall. Now the weather is okay but it could change very quickly, so they were warning people to watch and be careful.
Anyway, today there is good weather, pretty puffy clouds - a nice day to ride. Early afternoon we reach the Swiss-French border. It's a very small check point. Swiss guards say, "Forward!" but the two French cops stop us. One of them said, "Documents, please!" Then we go to the office where we write our identity dates. We're told to please empty all jackets and pants pockets. Finally, at end the question: "Do you have knives, hashish, marijuana?" We laugh at this foolish question. We are not a motorcycle gang! We are just four Guzzi riders on tour to take part in a bikers party. This was not enough, "Please open bike bags. Do you have weapons? Knives or drugs?" Enough (already) we said, "NO!" Now they look in our tents, sleeping bags, clothes, rain gear, and when I opened my left saddlebag the cop said with amazement. "It's a bazaar!" Inside there was motor oil, brake fluid, WD40, and lots of mechanical parts, etc. Finally they surrender, and we can enter France. Sorry. You are welcome to continue.
After this funny episode we rode the last 65 miles and at 4:00 P.M. we arrive in Nangy, our destination, a small town in the High Savoy region. For several years the High Savoy Chapter of MOTO GUZZI CLUB FRANCE has organized its club's Springtime Party here.
The first thing we do is to pitch our tents in the yard of Jean Vitipon, the organizer of this annual party. He's at home and welcomes us and reassures us about the Sunday morning weather. Sounds good!
After a five minute walk we are at the Civic Center, where the party will take place. Some bikers are already there. Some I know and some I don't know. Anyway, they are all Guzzi brothers.
The rest of the afternoon is for shopping and walking around. It's a very nice area, with the Alps forming a scenic background. We must wait till 8:30 P.M. for the official time to start the party. Inside the hall about sixty to seventy people have gathered. For me and Tonino and Italo, it's not the first time we have been to this small and friendly place. We know that we must be ready for a lot of typical and popular French food. There will be a lot of cheese and wine and much more. A very important factor is all of this comes for a small price.
Unfortunately we're disappointed when we find out this year there will not be any live music. Only C.D. This doesn't get the people into the dancing mood, so most of us sit around drinking, eating and talking. When we left the party late in the evening, the sky was full of stars. We were happy thinking about the good weather for the trip home.
At 7:00 A.M. Giulio calls us, "Hey guys! Get up! Look at the sky!" It was a bad surprise! It was a nasty looking, dark sky. No hope! In a short time it will rain. The mountains have forbidding clouds. Within a few minutes we are ready to go. We can't ride the same mountain roads we did the day before. This is not recommended because there's a good chance of bad weather. Better that we ride close to Geneva Lake (a plain zone) until Martigny City. This way we will ride only on mountain roads for the last thirty miles before the Gran San Bemardo tunnel.
Before leaving Nangy we stop at the Civic Center to pick up the Italian flag that we hung on the wall the day before.
It's now raining hard so no time for breakfast, but before we leave the center, we say good bye to Jean. "Hey Jean - what did you say about the weather for today?" We all laugh and point to the sky. He tells us to have a good trip. After only five or six miles we run into rain mixed with snow. Visibility is bad. I still think about the last miles before the tunnel. I'm very pessimistic. Rain still coming down hard at the French-Swiss border. The customs guards don't ask for our passports or check our bikes. Probably they think we are fools to ride in this weather. In fact, not until we're back in Italy do we see other bikers. In any case we finally arrive in Martigny, and a miracle happens. We make a right turn at a traffic light and, unbelievably, the sky is clear ahead in our direction.
Finally the sun comes out and we welcome its warmth. The sun is with us for the last miles before the tunnel. But all around there is snow. It fell during the night and early morning. The snow covered mountains and great valley looks beautiful, especially with the sun shining so brightly.
At the tunnel entrance, under the Gran San Bernardo mountain, we enter the restaurant. We're tired and hungry! The owner remembers us from the day before. "Hi guys! How was the trip?" "Wet!" Finally we have some food and relax from a stressful ride.
I'm tired, so around midday I leave the guys - I want be home soon. Already the sky is turning gray again and the temperature feels chilly. Just one more stop for gas and then it's full throttle until home.
That's all folks! It was an intense weekend and a good road test for the bike and for the rider too. Ciao.