If you think press launches are exotic, then you’ve never stood huddled for shelter under a pine tree, soaked to the skin. You’ve never woken at 2 in the morning and begged for sleep for four hours, then finally fallen asleep half an hour before the alarm goes off. And you’ve never squeezed your elbows into a middle economy seat and tried to write about the experience.
I’m not looking for your sympathy. Well, actually, yes I am. A bit of sympathy would go down well around now. I know I’m not going to get it, but sometimes it’s good to put everything into context.
First, the storm, during the launch of the new Harley-Davidson FXDR that you can read here. It was one of the most intense storms any of us had ridden through. There’d been other storms earlier in the week, but apparently nothing touched the deluge that hit the Greek mountains on Saturday. I thought we might miss it as the hairpin road took us toward the blackness and then away, and then toward it again, over and over. When it did hit, it took only seconds to grow into a seeming tsunami of water. The curving, greasy road was awash and none of us could see through our visors – pinlocks be damned!
There was no choice but to pull over and wait it out, but nowhere dry to wait it out. Eight of us stood under the tree on the side of the mountain, drenched through, and listened to the thunder crash all around. Then we remembered that under a tree isn’t the safest place to be in such a storm, and with no sign of easing, we got back on the bikes and wobbled away into the fog at almost walking pace.
Down in the town, the rain did ease and we pressed on through flooded roads. At one point, our pace rider went ahead through the water just to be sure it wasn’t too deep to cross. Eventually, as the storm moved on and the air warmed, the roads dried up but remained slick. Greek roads are notoriously slippery. Earlier in the day, riding slowly through a small town in the sunshine, I dabbed the front brake to slow for a sharp corner and nothing happened. The ABS kicked in and wouldn’t let the front tire lock – fortunately, or I’d have gone down. The bike skittered in a straight line across the opposite lane and finally came to a stop against the far curb. Don’t ever tell me your reactions are better than ABS.
All of this, of course, was on a dearth of sleep. Greece is seven hours ahead of Toronto and despite an attempted nap on the plane over, and pressing through the afternoon of arrival until it was finally time for an early night, jet lag still took its toll. Some journos take mild sedatives for this, like Gravol or similar; others just get used to it. I’m the latter, but it doesn’t really matter – you know you’re not going to get much sleep on a press event.
And then, there’s the actual travel. Most motorcycle companies pay only for Economy seats and there’s not much space in them to work, so you end up watching movies and falling asleep and generally wasting a day. This particular event to Greece was a greater challenge for me because I’d forgotten my Canadian passport, safe inside my other jacket at home. By the time I reached the airport to leave Toronto, there was still enough time for my wife to drive it out to me, but instead I asked Air Canada if I could just travel with my other passport instead to save her the trouble. I’m a dual citizen with a valid British passport that I always carry as a spare, just in case, and this seemed like a pretty good case. Sure! said Air Canada. But nobody told me the rules changed last year so that citizens can’t fly back into Canada without their Canadian passport.
I ended up making lots of phone calls earlier today in Munich to get special dispensation from Ottawa and emergency travel papers, but missed my flight home. Now I’m tapping this out, squeezed into seat 30E of Lufthansa as my seat neighbours read what I’m writing over my shoulders, and trying to solicit sympathy.
I’m not getting it though, am I? And it doesn’t really matter. The sunshine always dries out the roads after the rain, sleep always catches up on the weekend, and it’s always a great feeling to land and walk out through the terminal doors into the familiarity of Canada. Just as well. I’m doing it all over again next week.