I’m back home, a little sooner than expected. I’ve been struggling to work out quite how to write this last update. I wrote something in the airport, but it was very angry, terribly negative and I didn’t want to post that. It wouldn’t have been fair, it was a great trip until it wasn’t. My bike was stolen. I’m not going to go into great detail on any of that, I don’t think there’s much point but the absolute basics, because I know I’ll be asked, are that it was in Palermo. The bike was locked and alarmed, I left it on the street for half an hour and when I came back it was gone, luggage and all. The ground opened up beneath my feet, I felt like my insides had suddenly disappeared – all of those cliché descriptions absolutely apply. Within the hour I’d made the requisite police report, a few hours later I was at the airport and a that same evening I was home. It’s a total loss. I’m not insured for theft because I never – almost never – leave the bike. Months spent customising it, tweaking it, riding it. Thousands of euros in parts, luggage, comfy seats – everything to make the ultimate TET bike. All gone.
But, as much as I could rant for hours, that’s all I’ve got to say about that. Life goes on. I’ve already organised a new bike, with an increase in displacement and the absolute pleasure of taking over the bike of former Linesman Nicolas Lamont – a beautifully renovated and upgraded DR650. Why the increase in displacement? I stand by the statement that the 350 is the perfect TET bike, but at home we’ve recently acquired a DR250 and I’ve got my Ducati Monster for the street. So another 350 wouldn’t fit into the mix. The 650 can hang with both the 250 and the Monster and I’ve got the 250 for the really tough stuff.
Anyway. I’m sorry to have to tell you all that now I’ll bore you to tears with the details of the rest of the trip. Mum’s an author. Writing too much must be in the blood. This post is all Sicily and back to, mostly, official TET routes. Although I’ve been privileged to have access to some beta versions here as well. The brief summary for anyone considering a trip to the island is that, for the most part, the TET in Sicily is pretty easy going. The few tricky bits are easily bypassed and, in any case, not really all that tricky. Getting on a boat to Palermo and riding the whole route is something pretty much any rider should be able to do in an easy week of holidays and even considering my experience at the end of this trip I’d highly recommend it.
I went from Messina to Palermo and I rather envy anyone who goes the other way round. The whole island is a feast for the eyes, but riding near Etna first is akin to having a glorious, gigantic tiramisu for your starter while saving the crostini for the end. The route I took included a questionably legal, but very obviously absolutely accepted trail out of Messina where the TET itself takes a very different direction which didn’t look particularly fun to me. This trail, while occasionally very challenging, has spectacular views of Etna from a distance that gives you a sense of the scale of the thing. Not only was I riding slowly because of my inadequate skills and worn tyres, I was also taking far too many photos.
Where my route rejoined the TET you’re still skirting around the volcano, this time on broader hills and wide flowing tracks through the wind farms. Many of the windmills are on little spurs off of the main track and as you ride through it looks like every one of them has a view that would be worth riding to and taking a quick photo of. But ain’t nobody got enough time for that!
Leaving Etna in the distance the route heads into thick forest, which I absolutely was not expecting. Not that I really knew what to expect. These are still broad trails, still flowing – but also flowing with water. Plenty of mud, small rivers to cross every few minutes and less photographic distractions – more speedy, joyous riding.
As you start to head towards Palermo, things change again. The landscape becomes devoid of trees, the volcano is nowhere to be seen, things become rougher and harder around the edges. The roads, when you’re on them, are more dangerous than the trails – with unexpected drops, holes and missing bits. The people in the towns become harder too. All weather beaten faces on the men and life weary women. But they’re welcoming. There was barely a bar I stopped in where someone didn’t try to buy me a coffee. Or, regardless of the time of day, a beer.
I dropped the bike at one point and broke a footpeg peg. I had it welded up within a half hour and I had to force Vincent to take some cash for his time. They’re tough souls, out in these mountain towns. But kind ones. I guess they need to be, because the landscape doesn’t look like it’s kind to them. Rich and useful it may be, but the endless fields are not comforting. It’s a barren landscape, at least this time of year.
What compounds that barren feeling is how many scruffy dogs come out of nowhere to snap at your wheels. How skinny and tired the livestock the dogs guard look. The fact that at the start of almost every trail your greeted by a dumped fridge, cooker or set of worn tyres. This is a beautiful island, but it’s an island that’s clearly not in entirely healthy shape.
I fear that I’m beginning to side towards negativity again. I don’t mean to. I don’t feel negative about any of this. I’m a traveler, I’m just passing through. The impact of a barren landscape on my soul, for the few days I spend there, is nothing negative. It gives perspective. Rubbish is something you’ll find almost anywhere. Hospitality is even more of a gem when you find it hidden in the rough. It’s a wonderful island for trail riding, I’ll definitely be back.
When I do come back, if I see a little Mad Max looking DR350, I’ll have the horsepower advantage to chase it down too.
I can’t quite work out how to weave this paragraph into the narrative, but I’ll tack it on here as a cautionary tale. If the trail angel on your shoulder is telling you, as you make your way down an unknown track, that it’s so bloody steep that you’ll never get out of there if you have to turn around please listen to her. I was in a mountain top village for lunch and two out of the three roads out were closed. Not wanting to take the same route out as in I picked a random trail, soon that angel was screaming at me. But, said I, it will be fine. It’s all downhill. Until the track is gone and progress is impossible. It took me fully four hours to get out of there. In beating sun. Every time I dropped or stopped it was right back down again to start from the start. The bike didn’t like it much, engines were repeatedly flooded and hellish to start. Over worn tyres didn’t help. The only way out was up and the only way up was to pin the throttle open and take the kind of risks I’m allergic to alone. So. I emplore you. Listen to your Trail Angel. She’s on your side.
So. That’s it from me for this year. I’ll get the new bike in January. It doesn’t need a thing done to it, so I’ll be ready for something in spring. Maybe, if I’m very lucky, with some company on the 250 – so there might be some action photography, rather than the dull old landscapes. Thanks especially to Simone Amicabile and his team in Italy, to Marco Babboino in Sicily, to Michel Planchar who’s earlier trip through Italy helped me plan mine and to everyone else who’s helped along the way. That includes everyone who’s commented on these horribly wordy posts, it’s lonely out there and your virtual company does help. In any case, that’s all folks.