Friday, July 13, 2007

Life rejuvinated by chance

Note: A very similar version of this story can also be found in the July 2007 edition of LareDOS, in Laredo, Texas, and online at


TABERNAS, Spain – Chance meetings still lead to beautiful moments.
Two missed rides led to a much wilder and more engaging series of rides when this first venture into El Costa del Sol – a part of Spain carefully avoided for years because of its more-bark-than-bite expensive reputation. Missing a plane from the U.S. and then a bus from the provincial capital of Almeria brought a group of British motorcycle racer riders and myself together.
Blame that April 25 killer storm for the missed flight and my own jet-lagging foggy-headed determination to write down all my fresh notes from a resulting unplanned side trip to New York City, which included some testy moments at Newark’s Liberty International Airport.
Ten died on the border in and near Eagle Pass in that storm, but the storm moved east, foiling many flights and plans as it went. The storm made miss my plane by several hours, but my note writing had me miss my intended first bus out of Almeria to the small town of Tabernas by nine minutes, so I opted for Mojacar.
This occasion it was the storm before a short-lived calm preceding the roar of big, racing motorcycles against the backdrop of Europe’s only desert, breaking the normal mountain-surrounded daytime quiet encircled by the ever-changing nature-created paintings of brown, green, white, blue and tan as clouds moved slowly across mountain faces.
That sight, or the deep, intriguing pursuit by which amateur motorcycle racers engage in their hobby would have escaped me had I not missed those two rides and later decided that I was hungry, despite the pleasing and relaxing vistas of my beachfront hotel room.
Photographing wind skiers on the Mojacar beach gave me a sunburn and forced me to eat late – walking toward the only nearby open restaurant when these motorcycle racers from south and middle England happened along at the same time, going the same direction.
Lads Together was the closest group co-leader Greg Cox, from the little English town of Tring, could come up with for a name. The 12 that I found myself with needed a photographer and I was traveling with three cameras, including a brand new digital eager to prove to me its superiority to the two older film users. I had traveled on my own enough to know that’s not always the most exciting way to go, too, so having lived in England a few years ago we had plenty to talk about.
After supper with some wine and some good lagers we had more to talk about, too – what men always discuss – women, and all being far from home we didn’t have to worry about someone looking over our shoulders, or exercising any political correctness. All good vacations should carry such freedom.
Stuffing yourself into a small rented van with a dozen others is not traveling in any sort of free manner, but it was worth it going to El Circuito de Almeria, the go cart track, club entrances where door guards wore leather jackets and spoke in Russian accents, and some pretty good beachside restaurants. I would certainly missed some, or much, of that if not for Lads Together needing a photographer.
We only cruised past the hanging, cliffside houses of the little town of Sorbas between Mojacar beach and the track, which might have been the only main sight in the area that we didn’t thoroughly investigate when not speeding around El Circuito.
El Circuito de Almeria is one of Spain’s major motorcycle tracks. Jerez’s track gets considerably more attention with its frequent, highly competitive, sometimes televised races, but this facility some 12 kilometers east of the town of Tabernas and its trio of western movie set villages, is on many the map of many European racers. Riders on 1,000cc and 750cc bikes hit speeds close to 160 miles per hour on this track.
An occasional small motorcycle of 150cc might be tested on the Almeria track, but this space is generally reserved for serious riders, whether they are professionals, or simply serious in this expensive hobby.
Riders frequently use electric warmers for their tires when not out on the track. J.J. explained that the warmers help the often bald tires gain traction they have lost. Tires for these high-standard racers, in England, cost a few hundred pounds – equaling some $400, or $500 in U.S. currency.
Pooling dining and going out money with the biker dozen helped save some of my spending Euros, which also staved off the inevitable lesson I was to learn soon about how weak the U.S. dollar has become. One hundred dollars only gets you 68 Euros and banks, generally, don’t want to exchange dollars, too. That debit card, with VISA or Master Card logo, will save you as Euro after Euro is yanked from cash machines, however.
Money was not a serious concern in the safety of the group, as was good eating in the often democratic restaurant selection process. There was some good fish found and a friendly western American barbecue-styled restaurant was among those picked out by the hungry, rambling biker’s dozen one night back from the track along the string of restaurants and beachside establishments at Mojacar.
These guys could afford to ship their motorcycles down from England, but know how to spend wisely, saving a little here or there for that motorized love of their life. Some have more than one, too.
Keith Hawtree, the other co-leader with Cox, asked me something about paying for the photos, but simply riding with the Lads Together was pay enough. I never got everyone’s names, but it didn’t seem to matter – all minds seemed to be concentrating on the relaxing, non-work endeavor of racing big motorcycles around this Santa’s elf shoe-shaped track.
“We’re just out here for fun. No serious stuff at all,” Cox said once.
Many years ago I was privileged to frequent the pit during many motorcycle races in a small town in another part of the country and came to feel that I knew the motorcycle world quite well. At least, as well as a pre-teen boy could.
Not long ago someone told me that I should give motorcycles more attention because they are considered cool now.
I wanted to say that motorcycles have always been cool, but it goes much deeper than that. Motorcycles and their owners can be almost as close as any two family members might be. Motorcycles take their owners to places non-riders can’t see too easily – out of the house and office to freer places on the road. To places of a clearer mind and engaging mechanical thinking that sparks smiles and lifts spirits.
Motorcycles mean freedom, despite their noisy engines, and it was nice to be a party to that world again.


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