Cruising down a small backcountry road somewhere near Turin, Italy, I spotted a bright red little Fiat scuttling along. There was nothing out of the ordinary about the Fiat, except that its trunk was wide open, the contents – a Gucci bag and some shopping – almost spilling out. Apparently, the driver was blissfully unaware of the car’s open boot, speeding along and weaving through traffic without a care in the world.
Overtaking the car, I tried to get the driver’s attention to make them stop and close the boot – a few more miles down the road, and that Gucci bag along with all the shopping would be flying out the car and littering the busy lane, the precious belongings likely ruined by a tumble down the tarmac at speed.
However, as I rode up to the driver’s window and tried to get their attention, I realized the effort was futile: the driver was a young lady sporting oversized sunglasses, iPhone in hand, tapping away; she clearly had no idea she’d left the car’s boot up, and she ignored everything and everyone around her. I tried waving, then overtook her and signaled to stop, but to no avail. Clearly, the girl felt cool as a cucumber driving the bright red Fiat, Snapchatting away, and being completely oblivious to the world and the fact her stuff was about to fall out of the open trunk.
I hope she did eventually put the phone down and looked in the rear-view mirror, and that her Fiat adventures ended with no Gucci bags harmed on location. However, the whole episode reminded me of a few times when I thought I was cool on the bike, but…
The Accidental Wheelie
Once upon a time in the Argentinean Patagonia, I was battling my way South to Rio Gallegos on a little 150cc bike, headed for Ushuaia. The notorious Patagonian winds were in full force that day, blowing me across the road like a leaf; bracing against the gale-force gusts, I crawled along, frozen and stiff, until I felt my bike wobble and weave. This wasn’t the wind – it felt uncannily like a flat this time, and sure enough, as I stopped, there it was – a big fat nail straight in the middle of my skinny, worn-out rear tire.
Stopping on the side of the road, I dug around my tatty belongings to see if I could patch it up somehow. Back then, I’d just started riding, I had no real clue about bike maintenance, and I’d never changed a tire before. Still, this was very much the middle of nowhere, still some distance to Rio Gallegos, and I had to find a way. As luck would have it, however, four or five riders happened to pass me in the opposite direction; seeing me struggle, they stopped, turned around, and came to my help. Turns out, it was a local MC club, all choppers and leather vests, and they found my little bike and my predicament nothing short of hilarious; within minutes, they took off my wheel, got the tire off, patched the tube with my patch kit, and put everything back together faster than I could say thank you. I was saved – but, after thanking the MC guys profusely and wishing them a safe journey, I had the bright idea of trying to look cool as I rode away, hitting the throttle a tad too hard and making the little bike lurch forward in an accidental wheelie. While this produced a wave of cheers from the MC riders as they pulled away, I realized my mistake almost immediately – the sudden squat and lurch of the bike caused the patch to split, and a few dozen meters later, I realized the tire was flat again, the MC club long gone, and I was right where I started with an empty road, darkening skies, and no way to fix the tire again.
In the end, I hitch-hiked to Rio Gallegos, a kindly sheep farmer with a large truck giving me a lift into town, swearing to never, but never, try to look cool again.
The Dakar Show
Chasing Rally Dakar in Peru in 2019 was one of the biggest highlights from my South American travels, and I’ll never forget the rush, the adrenaline, the pure awe of the chase, the bivouac drama, and all the ensuing chaos left in the wake of the Dakar. However, while my task during those mad ten days was simple – stay with the race, find the bivouac, report back – there were several times I got completely carried away, and one of those times involved me trying to look cool… again.
One of the things that made the Dakar in South America special was the spectators. Peruvian fans go absolutely nuts during the Dakar, camping out on liaison stage sections, waiting at gas stations, driving out into the desert in droves in trucks, tuktuks, and little Chinese bikes to get a glimpse of the race. Along the Dakar route, around every bivouac, and every accessible waypoint out in the desert, there were always locals ready to cheer, ask for selfies, and swarm the riders hoping for a handshake and a photo.
More often than not, they’d mistake me for a rally rider, too, even though my Suzuki DR650, laden with luggage and looking more like a local bike than a Dakar beast, bore no race numbers or stickers. Still, locals would often assume my cross-eyed mule was part of the race, and while I’d always tell them no, no, I’m not a pilot, I’m chasing the race, just like you, – in the end, they’d still sneak selfies just for the hell of it. And, since it was happening on a daily basis, one day I just got carried away and figured I’d put on a show– this was one of the last days of the Dakar, I made good time, and the bivouac was located fairly close to the highway. Spotting the camp and the Peruvian fans lining the road, I decided to be cool and just ride straight across the desert rather than taking the dusty little gravel road leading toward the bivouac. Yeah, no, I could totally just ride over the little sandy bump on the side of the road, and then it’s plain sailing to the Dakar bivoauc – the desert looked flat and hard, so I was good to go.
Except, of course, I wasn’t; as I turned off the tarmac and hit the first sand berm, struggling over it, I managed maybe a few meters before my heavy bike promptly sunk into soft, fesh-fesh-like sand behind it, and I was stuck, good and proper.
I did, however, achieve the goal of amusing the locals – at first, they cheered and waved yelling corre, corre, as I revved the engine kicking up sand and going precisely nowhere, then rushed to my aid to lift the rear tire and help me out of my predicament. Tail between my legs, I half-paddled, half-rode the remaining half a mile to the bivouac, suddenly feeling very, very small and foolish, and calculating the cost of new clutch plates in my head.
What was the one time you thought you looked really cool on the bike, but…?