As a self-confessed Luddite I don't routinely carry or check my mobile (that my wife gave me so that she can stay in touch when I'm away racing). So it was a shock to discover a text from Gary Inman sent a couple days previously saying ' Short notice, but do you fancy an Italian road trip? A week away, Swank / SnowQuake'.
Who, me? Really? That's the day after tomorrow! Damnit! It would mean missing a dental appointment!
Now, this was a big deal for me. I live a quiet life in rural Dorset, and while my three children are seasoned travelers, I don't get abroad often, so going through the Chunnel, French & Italian tolls, navigating by satnav, etc are all beyond my realm of experience. Factor in that we were driving down in a brand spanking, top of the range U.S Ford F150 Raptor pick up truck, loaded with all manner of electronic geegaws, poor Gary must have got pretty p#ssed off with my constant exclamations of awe and wonder.
The Raptor is wide. Very wide. It wear very wide tyres at the extremities of its wide body. It goes well. Floor it at 80 at it accelerates like a Wagtail across the lawn. Remarkably, for a muscle truck, it is quiet and comfy and the miles disappeared into the French darkness. We only stopped for petrol and tolls.
Climbing up through the snowline to the Mt Blanc tunnel at midnight with no other traffic around was an oddly surreal experience and upon seeing the impressive mouth of the tunnel so beautifully illuminated, then driving silently through the empty wonder of 1960s civil engineering with lights and lines converging unbroken at a distant vanishing point was like being in a scene from some Jean-Luc Godard film. Strangely beautiful and mesmerizing.
The reason for the Raptor was that Ford, who supported SnowQuake III, provided it for inclusion in North One's TV coverage of the event. Gary had to deliver it to Deus Ex Machina in Milan for filming. Deus is one of a clutch of custom bike shops in the same street. Even the jaded cynic in me was a bit impressed by the set up. A fine old courtyard overhung by an ancient vine, a bar, a top notch restaurant, cinema, function rooms, moto chic retail, coffee bar and bicycle shop, it tries hard to be, but succeeds in being cool. That Head Honcho - Alessandro - rode in both events speaks volumes about their motorcycling integrity.
The film crew took possession of the Raptor so we caught a ride to the Ice Rosa Ring Track with Sideburn stalwart Jason, who along with Gary played a major part in giving me the courage to race flat track, with the great article about his framer way back in Sideburn #5. I finally got the opportunity to thank him for his inspiration. Jason's ice bike - a fabulous old Husky with history - had been delivered to the track along with most of the other British rider's machines by DTRA hero, the always fast and smooth Tom Clemans #42.
(caption) Team GB get ready for a bit of Swanking. French Sideburn Ambassador Hubert #89 in the background
So began two days of racing. The first was the Deus Swank Rally which turned out to be an enduro type of event. A circuit had been marked out that deviated from the ice track onto snow and that included a couple of optional nadgery trials sections and a tricky climb through some trees to a deep snow single track. A lap was about a mile long with up to four bikes on track at a time after a morning of free for all practice. Many of the bikes would have been at home at a DirtQuake being seriously inappropriate and difficult to make progress on. If this was a typical Deus event, they are well worth entering.
During the afternoon I experienced one of those fleeting, life affirming moments when one realises that it couldn't be any better. I had wandered over to an empty snowbank next to the track at the top of the climb through the trees. Gently warming me was an alchoholic coffee in the apres ski style. It had stopped snowing and the sun broke through, brightening the steep sided wonderland all around. Riders raced by, their helmets level with my knees; 80's trailbikes, '60s and '70s motocrossers, Sportsters, scooters, step thrus, customs, even a fake Edwardian. Then, to really top the trifle, The Beach Boys' 'God Only Knows' was played over the P.A. and I realised I was in the middle of a once in a lifetime moment.
(caption) This lad on his hot Piaggio was seriously fast, on the back wheel up and down hill, round bends. He's ridden it the length of Route 66
The following day, SnowQuake had quite a different vibe. About half of the riders were different and things got faster and more crowded on track. The racing was exciting, for the most part the bikes were inappropriate and there was even a smattering of spectators. As per the Swank Rally, Marco Belli and his Di Traverso Team ran the competition effectively, and amazingly the paramedics didn't have cause to open their bags for the second day running. The forthcoming TV show will illustrate it all far better than I could ever describe it.
Deus hosted an after-party back in Milan that evening and at 8am the next morning we reunited with the Raptor and set off for home. Leaving Milano the mountains ahead in the distance were lit pink by the rising sun. We passed Tom hauling the British contingents' bikes back home and set the cruise control on 80mph (130kph). We reached Calais by 18:50 and I arrived home at 22:20 having covered 925 miles in a little over 14hrs. Piece of cake mate, nothing to it. But then, Gary did all the continental driving, I was just along for the ride.
Days run into years and before you know it have turned into decades when you don't step outside your routine. If you do, so much extraordinary stuff is experienced that hours are packed with exciting memories of new images, impressions and sensations and consequently days last longer. What I've described here is a tiny fraction of what I discovered over five fabulous days in January.
I need to get out more, routine has already stolen too much of my life.
Once again, I thank you Sideburn for enhancing my world.
NOTE: John took some of these photos from Instagram. Sorry if we've caused offence by not crediting you. Let us know and we will. GI