My great immersion in another country is always, and by always I mean twice, grabbing a two-wheeled machine and throwing myself off the edges of the tourist map. A recent trip to Italy bounced me to Spain to tour the Galfer brake factory just outside of Barcelona. With a few days on either side of Hogueras de San Juan, the Catalan national holiday that I think celebrates children blowing their fingers off at midnight with fireworks, I thought I'd take an adventure on one big, bad motorcycle, an '09 Harley-Davidson Road King. Its 1584cc was way more motor to handle than the 125cc Yamaha two-stroke motocrosser I'd been riding for the past year. In fact, the very first time I sat on an American twin and pressed that little go button was the start of my Harley tour of the Spanish coast. I'd had nearly as little total street experience, I don't speak Spanish, and I wasn't familiar with the traffic laws. I thought, "I might not live a lot longer, but I'm gonna live a little now."
Barcelona, to be honest, was disappointing. More so than many other foreign cities I've been to, it's set up for tourists, and almost has a theme-park feeling. If there's a souvenir shop in sight, you're probably not seeing anything of a foreign country, and I was feeling constricted to a diet of tourist paths, architectural points of interest, and made-to-approximate-comfort-food restaurants. It was two days of living a travel brochure. I was ready to get into the hills on a bike.
I left my Barcelona hotel on foot early Saturday morning and added my contribution to the collection of bewildered tourists at Estacio-Sants, the main train station. Travel by rail is overrated, and the confusion of hopping onto the correct train is seldom rated at all. And once on the right train, what's the fun of knowing exactly where you're going and when you'll get there? Soon I was stepping off that train at the base of the coastal town of Vilassar de Dalt. Mike Loughrie, the owner, spirit, proprietor, and cheerleader of MotoEspaña, threw me in a van and wound us up the hills to his bike shop where there was just one motorcycle left for the big weekend-my shiny maroon and chrome Road King. The paperwork went quicker than I'd really wanted, and I was suddenly astride a rumbling American hog pointed down a narrow Spanish town's road. I honestly wasn't ready for this much bike or this little road, but Mike seemed to think things would go okay, so I deferred to his confidence and eased out the clutch lever. The first turn was a very sharp, very steep, dropping left-hand hairpin indelicately marked with low, coarse, rock walls. It struck me that the corner was a catch device to get the poor riders off the bikes while they were still close enough to push them back.
I stress-sweated my way down to coastal highway N-II and then pointed the wheels at Lloret de Mar, a beach resort in the heart of Costa Brava, the little piece of Spain's Mediterranean Coast that edges up against the French border. Mike had provided a flip-up full-face helmet, so I was set for the highway speeds and open to the salt breeze on the coastal roads when traffic slowed things down. It's impossible not to look like Marvin the Martian with the chin bar flipped up, but this is the way to go for touring in and out of the coastal hamlets.
Now it's worth mentioning that the beaches in Spain are clothing-optional. The great news is that the Spanish aren't ashamed of their bodies. The bad news is the Spanish aren't ashamed of their bodies. Racing past on my hog, my attention alternated between the road and the sights on the beach-some welcome, some not. With beautiful, naked women tanning amid pot-bellied men sunning their Euro-junk, each glance was like a turn in Russian Roulette.