It took maybe an hour to reach Lloret de Mar, and I wedged the big girl up into a narrow scooter parking-slot. The shiny thing immediately grabbed attention. Riding up on a Harley is like being famous...if the paparazzi strolled the beach sidewalks in banana hammocks, flip flops, and man-purses. Really. There are more Harleys than you might suspect in Europe, but the people always seemed fascinated with my bike. Harleys have always embodied that American mystique of wide-open roads and adventure, and the Europeans, confined in geography as well as bike displacement regulations, might appreciate them more than the Apple-Pie-Breath group in the States.
A quick lunch of tapas (the Spanish have a tradition of eating a collection of appetizers rather than a main dish for lunch) with an old friend, an expatriate from the Czech Republic, and the bike and roadways were calling to me. The lean-starting motor had a very dramatic way of firing to life-it sounded just like someone racking a 12-gauge shotgun and firing off a warning shot-and as your ears adjusted the growl of the big twin came up in the silence. Half the Spaniards that were there that day will remember when the American sprang the big bike to life and roared heroically off to conquer Spain, but the other half, on the other side of the street, will remember it as the day the doofus rode off with one of his saddlebag lids opened. Oh well, 50 percent hero still counts.
Highway C-32 glided through the Pyrenees foothills, and at a steady 100 kmph the Harley and I were starting to really get along and enjoy the adventure together. These big bikes really like to stretch their legs. The sun was out, the speed was just right, and I'd occasionally pass entertaining traffic signs that I didn't understand one bit.
This was how to discover a country, far from the beaten tourist paths, following a windscreen instead of a guide holding a placard overhead, and with a schedule of nothing but following every, "Wonder what's over there," impulse. I didn't even care that I was on too much bike or remember that that terrified me. Mike had told me most of his customers take a week or more and just explore the mountains without an itinerary, and this little taste really brought the brilliance of that strategy into relief.
I met up with some new friends I'd made at Galfer and rumbled up into the weekend-house province of Sant Andres de Llavaneras. The big bike brought a smile to nearly everyone's face and the power was great to have on the hills. We wound up at a small farm to take in some dirt bike riding and share some Spanish wine with my growing collection of Spanish friends. Of course things went late, and I rolled back into Barcelona after dark, starving and lost.
Now this: the tight confines of a European city, bisected by sometimes-one-way streets, with a tourist site map, a clutch pull that would give Popeye an aneurism, rave traffic clogging the traffic roundabouts, and the least-helpful population I'd every encountered, became my nightmare. When the Spanish accept you, you are an instant friend, but approach a stranger with anything other than fluent Spanish and you will get the great "Spanish Stonewall." Lost, tired, turned around, and desperate, I ran into person after person who refused to piece together my pantomime or even to point out my current location on a map. Really, they do it spitefully, even in a tourism-based city like Barcelona. A GPS would have had me home in 10 minutes. Instead I "interacted with the locals" and eventually found my way back all by myself. "Immersing yourself in the culture" can suck sometimes, too.