Common Tread

Green coastline, white sky, red Ducati: A ride in Italy

Jun 09, 2017

We had finally reached the shore. Every mile behind us was cherished. Maybe a little too much; I thought we’d miss it, but lucky for us, the sun was just starting to set.

A mad dash was made for the beach before our last chance to see the ocean that day was lost. Cold granules of sand buried my feet and slid off to either side of my sandals as I followed Justin towards the changing light. A marine layer stretched from the mountains far enough into the horizon to sandwich a slice of orange sky between the water and the clouds. The big yellow ball broke free of its gloomy veil and moved into the water in seconds rather than minutes.

Barely caught the sunset. Photo by Justin W. Coffey.

I don’t remember the last time I watched the sun dip into the sea. It was fluid. The waves were the only noise we’d heard for a while, and coming from a bustling city like Florence, I welcomed the void.

coast road
Taking the coastal route. Photo by Justin W. Coffey.

Massa is a marine town just off the freeway. In the winter months, the place is all but abandoned, so Justin and I enjoyed solitude in the sand, on the wide stretches of empty roads and perched in the lobby bar for Happy Hour. Taking off the next day, we took the slow route fast, hugging the coastline as long as possible. It was a happy distraction from a pounding head.

Navigating Genoa. Photo by Justin W. Coffey.

Roughly 300 kilometers of tarmac took us through the utter mayhem that is Genoa then onto a viaduct that rivals Seattle’s picturesque Highway 99. After cruising eye-level to aging rooftop apartments, we jumped back on the toll road to San Remo, hoping to beat nightfall.

Burning kilometers and calories

We had begun the trip with about ten relaxing days in Verona. Our overindulgence was obvious when I finally zipped up my REV’IT Neptune GTX riding jacket. To say it fit snugly was an understatement. I had been waiting to work off these calories since I earned them, and so when the gang at Ducati offered to walk us through the factory in Bologna before we left for the south of France on a 2017 Monster and Multistrada, I didn’t complain, and instead counted my steps.

The monuments, the museums, the art, and the mid-winter fashion all added substance to the slower parts of the journey, but I took full advantage of riding — for the second time and with a little more confidence — the fastest machine anyone has ever let me touch. We chose three locations to spend the nights and took the longest, windiest, prettiest paths to get there and basically tried to kill ourselves. Poetically speaking, of course. In a bugs in your big fat grin, peel your eyelids back, I can’t hear shit with all this wind sort of way.

Part of the trip was about velocity. Photo by Justin W. Coffey.

mountain road
Part of the trip was about just enjoying the ride. Photo by Justin W. Coffey.
I savored the eight hours a day on my ass, gliding past a blur of blue, green or concrete grey as the brilliant red Monster gave my heart the sort of rhythm that comes from falling in love for the first time. From what I could tell, Justin was having similar sensations as he chased me through the countryside on the Multistrada.

Our end destination was an event outside of Nice, France, but Justin and I had a few days to get there. We picked ideal destinations to spend the bulk of our time — Florence, San Remo — and routes that rolled us through hills into Pisa, around the crescent-shaped highway tracing the Mediterranean, in and out of the Alps and onward to France. We spoke and read virtually zero Italian and had only a faint idea of the motorcycle laws, so we admittedly rode with blissful ignorance. Following the daredevils on scooters, who ranged from post-child to barely pre-mortem and soared between two-lane traffic seemingly unfazed by the speeding Fiat hurtling itself in their direction with little room to squeeze out of its way. The exhilaration of navigating Italian traffic became the highlight of our otherwise sleepy visit. And this wouldn’t stop until we’d hit the elevated toll roads, going 160 kph (what’s that in mph?) at times, with no other goals but to feel something. Ducati HQ felt it when Italy’s finest dropped two €95 tickets on us. Little did we know. Ducati politely asked us to follow-up. Worth it.

riding in fog
Into the fog on the way to Bajardo. Photo by Justin W. Coffey.

Slowing down by necessity

One quieter moment, Justin and I spotted the familiar threat hundreds of feet high on our horizon. A thick white blanket laid across the massive evergreen range, its peaks disappearing into the fog, but we were too far into our journey and too excited to turn back.

Bajardo, an ancient village perched on a mountaintop. Photo by Justin W. Coffey.

Walking the narrow lanes of Bajardo. Photo by Justin W. Coffey.
Bajardo, an ancient mountain village established between the 10th and 13th centuries, is crisscrossed with narrow cobblestone walkways. It is a town made solely for carts and pedestrians. No businesses seemed opened and those that were didn’t look open. A ghost town built on a pinnacle so high up it looked down on the haze covering San Remo. The middle-aged woman waiting on us chastised us for asking too many questions at lunch (there weren’t any menus).

Riding on, Justin and I needed to find our way through the eerie mist that hid everything beyond the crumbling twisted pavement in front of us. This was the diametric opposite. Until now, velocity had been making my blood pump, but I here I experienced the same types of sensations — the sweat, intense focus, and feeling cognizant of something fatal looming — which reminded me that there’s more than one way to skin a cat. It’s the tense moments, when your entire body is alive and your mind is sharp, where the energy and those calories fade away fast.

Clutching and throttling and braking in harmony, doing my damnedest to see oncoming cars, bicyclists or deer. Hearing nothing but Justin humming — clearly less concerned. Swerving just in time as automobiles appeared out of thin air, seemingly unaware of the lacking visibility. Arm pump threatened to make a sketchy situation downright dangerous.

Still, I loved it. The bike, the route, the challenge… I was earning this voyage with every salty droplet.

San Remo
A view of San Remo from above. Photo by Justin W. Coffey.

Because letting loose is fun, yes — eating too much, drinking too much, riding too fast. Doing what we imagined the locals did — stroll into an old town for an espresso, hike the steep cliff to Parco Scalone Castel S. Pietro for the view, happy hour food and drinks at 6 p.m., pasta and pizza at 9 p.m., then a nightcap.

enjoy the ride
If you're not enjoying the ride, why ride? Photo by Justin W. Coffey.
But practicing restraint is a pleasure all on its own. It makes you smarter and stronger and sharper. Or it brings significance to the superficial. To be careful is just as fulfilling as being carefree. So, I continued to move slow, maybe too slow, as we searched for sunlight to break free of the clouds. This time, trying not to kill myself.