I was approaching my first tunnel just outside Milan, Italy. I was riding a rented BMW F800GS motorcycle with Kathy on the back. Loaded down with all our luggage, we were heavy and traveling at 68 mph. Of the eight bikes, one rider was consistently lagging behind. That was Steve-o.
The tunnels in Italy cut through the hills. They ranged from a quarter mile to a full mile in length. They were well-lit and well-marked.
But when approaching one of these tunnels on a sunny day, it appeared you were going into nothingness. It was unsettling. Everything inside me was saying, “Slow down.” But I was following a group of riders who knew nothing of slowing down. They just maintained their speed as we were about to enter the tunnel.
So I maintained speed.
For what felt like an eternity, I was disoriented and blinded. I realized there was about a second of riding blind. It was the transition from daylight to night in a flash. It took the eyes a second to react and for my muscles to relax. Once oriented, I was fine and enjoying the ride again.
We were all connected by intercom on our helmets. I was listening to the chatter between our lead bike and our trailing bike. Phil was bringing up the rear, and he was constantly challenged to move Steve-o along. Steve-o was not cooperating. I heard through my intercom, “Where the hell is Steve-o?” from the lead bike.
Phil responded in his slow southern drawl, “Me and Steve-o are back here. We see you. He is just taking his sweet time. I can’t get him to go faster.”
“Well, pick it up. It’s pissing me off,” said the lead rider.
“I’m trying. He is going slower than the group, and when we approach a tunnel, he slows down even more,” explained Phil.
Steve-o didn’t have a helmet intercom. Before the ride began, he explained, “I’m not good at all that technology stuff. I’ll keep up. And if I don’t, please go on. I’ll be fine.”
Our refrain for the trip became, “Where’s Steve-o?”
This went on for the entire eight days of the motorcycle trip through Tuscany and Umbria. We rode south from Milan and eventually turned north toward Bologna. To get to Bologna, we rode through beautiful winding roads up and over the mountains. I was told this is the test track for Ducati Motorcycles of Bologna. These twisties were amazing and filled with sport bikers traveling at speeds exceeding 120 mph.
Everyone stopped at the cafe at the top of the mountain. It was the halfway point on the ride to Bologna. We were all there enjoying the view and our drink of choice, and here came Steve-o. By now, our seventh day of the trip, we’d all stopped worrying about Steve-o, including Phil, our bring-up-the-rear rider.
We had our drinks, talked about the wonder of the ride in these gorgeous mountains, took a few pictures, and jumped back on our bikes. Next stop, Bologna. Kathy and I were ready to go and so were all the other riders. I looked over at the cafe and focused on where we had been sitting, and there was Steve-o. He was still enjoying his coffee and the fresh air. I told Kathy, “I hope he makes it to the hotel.”
She answered, “Don’t worry. He will.”
Steve-o did make it. I asked him, “Weren’t you worried you would get lost?”
“No,” he said, “I followed the signs to Bologna. When I got to the edge of the city, I stopped and put the hotel into my GPS unit. And here I am.”
The tension on the trip was created by the lead rider, our guide. He wanted to make sure we stayed together and were safe. This kind of responsibility comes with tension. Keeping eight motorcycles together on long rides through Italy is difficult. Every rider has different riding skills and a different attitude. Most of us fell well within the normal distribution curve, and then there was Steve-o.
We got to the hotel in time to catch a cab and tour Bologna. I found out later that Steve-o and Phil sat at the pool bar and drank beer together all afternoon. They became the best of friends. I would describe both of these guys as laid back. Phil was a retired police officer and Steve-o a PhD who worked in pharma. Two people with totally different lives from two different worlds. They had a great time and didn’t care if they didn’t see Bologna.
Steve-o taught me five important life lessons.
1. Go at your own pace and enjoy the ride.
2. If you are afraid, it is OK to slow down and approach what you are afraid of with caution.
3. Stay in your own space, and do not let the tension in others affect you.
4. You can’t get lost if you follow the signs to where you are going. They were there long before GPS. And it doesn’t matter if you get lost. You’ll eventually find your way.
5. People are more important than seeing another piazza and retail center.
When we got to the airport in Milan, we couldn’t find Steve-o. This time we knew we’d lost him and for good. We got to the gate, and what do you know? There was Steve-o, of course!
My new motto: What would Steve-o do?