“Man's real home is not a house, but the Road, and that life itself is a journey... to be ridden on the tires of a motorcycle.”
My friend and I, recently got given new nicknames at a wedding. A sweetheart of a woman from Alabama approached us and told us we reminded her of her dear friends Nitro and Glycerine. It had a good ring so we went with it. Later that night , the same woman told us that Nitro and Glycerine were wild alcoholic con men that ended up in ditches all across America, jail and eventually death at an early age... We went with it.
One day, Nitro called me up and said "We should go to Europe"
To which I replied "Yes."
"How we going to do that?"
This is the story of how Nitro and Glycerine found their way around Europe. On a dime.
I have to preface this by stating that I am fortunate to be in such a gifted position because of being an semi-recognizable actor. I am blessed with many incredible opportunities, such as travel, attending foreign film festivals, and meeting countless numbers of interesting people. And of course, the more I travel, the more fortunate I see that my life is. I love to travel because I have a insatiable thirst to explore the world, it's cultures, and the people in them.
Which is why, come December I plan to to ride from Los Angeles to the tip of South America on motorcycle and along the way, explore indigenous communities in the Amazon. A friend of mine caught wind of this and asked me if I would lecture about my job as an actor and any Amazonian issues I wanted to talk about at the Transatlantyk film festival in Poland. I suppose when you're on TV and you have an audience, people assume you can be an expert on certain issues. I feel like I am no expert on acting. And I am certainly no expert on the Amazon.
But as always I said "yes" and began my research.
I asked the festival if Nitro could join me. They said "Will he too give a lecture?" Never seeing Nitro speak publicly in my life, I said, "Nitro gives only the best lectures."
Then I asked myself the question I ask everywhere I travel.. Can we ride motorcycles?
So I called up Ducati motorcycles and told them I was an actor-journalist who needed to test drive their new fleet of motorcycles. There was a long pause on the phone..
Only one week later I turned to my friend going 100 km/hour, somewhere in the French countryside, near Aix en Provence, “Remember that time you and I were two of twenty guests flown to a Polish Film Festival? And that time Ducati loaned us their bikes for free because we were going to write them an article. And that time we were going to ride our motorcycles in Italy, and now we’re in France. Yeah, well that’s happening right now.”
I had also called up my friend and talented New Zealand actor, as well as motorcycle enthusiast, Martin Henderson, who was coincidentally in Europe as well.
"I've got two weeks before I go back to work on Shameless, want to join me on a spontaneous motorcycle adventure in Italy?"
"Do we need to make an itinerary or should we just wing it?"
"Was that three day rogue storm included in our itinerary last time we went sailing with you?"
A month prior Martin, a veteran of the ocean, impressively captained us through some of the gnarliest weather in the Channel islands, when the wind unexpectedly kicked up from twenty five knots to in excess of fifty knots. This seemed to be the theme of a lot of our adventures.
The night before I left Los Angeles I didn't sleep because I was up all night looking at all of the possibilities of places we could roam in Europe. If there's one thing I'm a geek for, it's maps. I love maps and globes and seeing all of the places that man decided to build roads. And the possibility of riding them one day. Let alone on a Ducati... I finally mapped out a route from Como north into Switzerland, west to France, south to Nice and looping back along the coast to Bologna.
There are two things you look for when planning a Moto trip. Good roads and good weather. The night before I left, my rain gear was looking at me but I thought, it's summer, why would I need rain gear.
When I landed in Italy, it was raining. There were storm clouds and heavy rain everywhere I had drawn out on the map. Again, I forgot to check the weather.
I had bought my first motorcycle after riding a scooter on the Amalfi Coast in 2009. Five years later, and a full blown obsession under my belt, I’m back in Italy standing at the epic Ducati factory, the size of a football field, in Bologna, Italy. And, riding something that far exceeds the 100cc’s scooter I was riding back in 2009.
We saddled up the Ducati’s three high-performance bikes: the Diavel; the Multistrada, and the Hyperstrada. Before we reached the Autostrada (Italian for super confusing highway), Nitro had already put down his bike several times, breaking both his clutch and brake leaver off.
Dressed in our native attire, we decided to head towards the coast, where it had ceased raining. Nitro was wearing his Texas denim. Me, my Canadian plaid, and Martin, cool as hell in his black Ducati leathers. I guess it’s big in New Zealand?
I never thought I would be so happy to smell Italian cow manure, as I straddled my Diavel and rattled my chains westward with my two buddies. The Rebel Knights of Bologna...
Although we couldn't speak Italian, our bikes became our international language. Nitro and I couldn’t speak much more than ‘ciao' and ‘graticie’ to the locals, but our bikes certainly garnered some attention.
Whhooooommmp! Wohmmp! Whomp!!! The bike screamed as we charged our path through the exquisite Italian tunnels on the Autostrada.
The bike I rode, the barrel-chested Diavel, just cooks at speeds of up to 200 km/hour. But . . . cough cough…of course, I didn’t go anywhere near that speed. Its’ a big bike with a low centre of gravity, and aggressive forward stance, that didn’t even give me back pain at the end of our six-day trip. Unlike the classic Monster that most people associate with Ducati, the Diavel is something that Dark Knight definitely stole their design from.
A perfect day for me is when I wake up and know that all I have to do is ride my motorcycle for the next ten hours in a particular direction. Unless I’m ducking weather and riding around in circles, I could ride all day long, which is exactly what we ended up doing the next two days. We charged hard on the Autostrada to get the ferry to Corsica, but missed it. Then it was too hot, so we headed north. We also failed to read the Italian signs about 'velocita' and toll booth fines. No signs were in English and no one, we came across, spoke any English. We dodged some more shifty weather and headed east. Since the police drive Toyota tercels, there’s basically no cops that are going to pull you over. So Marty is basically riding the Autostrada like he did in his 2004 hit “Torque” mistaking it for the Autobahn. We got off the Autostrada and headed towards a few coastal towns only to realize that all of Europe heads here in the summer.
And in my rear view mirror, I can see Nitro with a cigarette dangling from his lip, basically riding his Multistrada like a horse, galloping over the plants in the median. Realistically, if his bike were a horse, it would have been dead by the end of the trip.
We hit more gloomy weather, so we headed west towards Cinque Terre. Too much tourism so we headed north. Then east. It wasn't supposed to be this way. Nitro was dawdling far behind us, lighting another cigarette in the wind. So we got off the freeway... Then we all lost each other. I check my phone. I used up all my data on phone. Then lost motorcycle key. Then found it in my gas tank. Found the boys again. Marty got a bat stuck in his windshield. Found Nitro. Lost Nitro. Traffic. Anxiety. No hotel availability. No direction. Jet lag. Chaos. Lost nitro again. No food. Thirsty. Lonely. What am I doing with my life? I Want to go home. Shut down.
And pretty soon Nitro and Glycerine turned into baking soda and vinegar.
Although I usually get to this point once or twice on every adventure, there's definitely a reason why people go through motorcycle charter companies when on vacation in Europe. And I was advised to do this.
So, a Kiwi, a Canuck, and a Texan walk into an Italian bar... Exhausted.
On the coast of Italy…Marty nearing forty; Nitro in his twenties; and me somewhere in the middle. All trying to figure it out. And by it, I mean which direction to head in. In life, and in Europe.
I was on my google maps, Nitro was staring off into space. And by space I mean a group of women speaking in French and laughing.
"Ciao. Gratcie. Preggo. Gratcie. Preggo." No matter what we said to the local ladies, our accent and usual charm did not work here. At all.
Maybe it was the smell of dead bats or the mustache that I grew before the trip could have tipped off the women that I may be a pervert. I did, however, get mobbed by a group of twenty fourteen year old boys at a swimming hole who apparently loved "Shameless". At least I know my market now.
"I guess I just don't know what I'm doing with my life." Nitro said to Marty.
"You're twenty-three. You're not supposed to know."
"I know but it's hard hanging out with guys who have done something with their lives."
"Look where you are buds." I said.
Marty dosed olive oil all over his burrata and tomatoes, "Look man, I get it. If I've learned anything it's this, if you take care of your health, each year gets better than the previous. The moment you stop thinking about what you can get from life and start thinking about what you can give, all that anxiety will go away."
I went for a stroll and began watching an old man at his fruit stand below, his house made of simple stone. He is doing what he does day in and day out. A simple job. Simple family. He smiles. Not needing anything more from life than that, nor any need to leave his town on a motorcycle in search of something. What he has is enough. That is all. A simple life. A simple man.
I picked up a book at a book store and flipped through it. It was titled 'Celine's journey to the end of the night.' A phrase jumped out at me. It read "To travel is very useful, it makes the imagination work, the rest is just delusion and pain."
I strolled back to our table and sat down with the boys.
We ate in silence occasionally stealing glimpses of the three beautiful french women in the corner. After our meal, the clouds lifted and the sun came out.
"France?" I asked.
"France." The boys replied.
Aix en Provence, in the French country side blew my mind. So did the cheese at the morning markets. The endless green fields. The sunflower fields. The lavender. We spent the night there and then headed east to Switzerland the next day. The villages got smaller and so did the roads. They led us nowhere and they lead us somewhere. I could see life getting simpler as we stopped only for espresso and meals. And as we rode through three countries in one day, our trip and our friendships grew stronger as we found ease in the road.
On the last day, we put our fists in the air and the Rebel Knights galloped home to Bologna where we met our kind and generous friends at Ducati. They gave us a historical tour of the factory and showed us how and where these fun machines are built from, start to finish. How a piece of metal that once started in the earth became one of the greatest fighter pilot motorcycles to hit the pavement. And for us, how one trip became thousands of dollars in European speeding tickets and toll booth fines. Ducati told us that the Italian 'velocita' sign actually said that photo radar is clocking you every five miles.. 1000 miles.. I'll deal with it. Ducati. It was worth it. Can you blame us? Mail us the tickets. You gave us the greatest trip ever. Thank you for your fine craftsmanship. And your simplicity of design.
Nitro and Glycerine boarded a cab to the train station and we left Marty in the rear view mirror on his Hyperstrada.
"I think I'm definately getting a new Ducati when I get back" Marty yelled.
He was going to go for one more spin before he got on his plane. I meant to tell him to ride safe. But I didn't.
When we arrived at the film festival in Poznan, Poland the next day I wasn't thinking of what I could get for myself but what I could offer to others. What I could give of my adventures to these people in this amazing little town. I sat in my hotel room. I looked out the window at all the little towns on the horizon. And once again I was restless.. "I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move." -Robert Louis Stevenson.
I never like ending a story on a downer but the moral of this story is that although motorcycles are fun as hell, they're also extremely dangerous.
Later that day Marty took off into the hills above Bologna after we left and found a tiny chapel in the middle of beautiful farmland. He stopped, had another coffee, lit a candle in the chapel and then headed back to Ducati. Less than a minute later he was leaning into a right hand corner on a small country road and felt the bike slide out from under him. He had hit a small patch of dry loose dirt in the lane and was about to slide across the road but somehow managed to correct it but then ploughed right off the road into a wire fence which promptly stopped the bike and he went flying over the handle bars, over the fence, through a tree and somersaulted down a small embankment to land hard on his left hip. He spend most of the night in the hospital until they released him luckily with only a giant black bruise on his hip and no broken bones. He ended his email to me with
"Still getting a Ducati. Can't wait to ride again!"
I smiled. And Nitro and I pulled out a map of South America.
“Man's real home is not a house, but the Road, and that life itself is a journey... to be ridden on the tires of a motorcycle.”