New year, new adventures. Early December, 2012 and I’m back in Spain awaiting the birth of my second child, and as most expectant fathers of second children are, I was bored out of my skull. Thankfully, the guys at CSC bailed me out right away. It was a lovely day in Asturias, sunny and brilliant and not half as cold as it could be given the season. El Carpinteru, who is always up for a ride convinced San Valentin to let me steal his matte black Primavera for a little loop to escape a bit from the city, and El Sevillano on his hopped up green racing Vespa came along for the ride.
After some push-starting (Santo V. isn’t known for his strict maintenance regime) the Primavera buzzed to life and zzzzipped down the road all the way to a café near the Calatrava where we promptly stopped and had a coffee. Even without leaving Oviedo, you can’t escape the feeling of being in the middle of darkest Asturias, what with the dead jabalies on the wall and old men breakfasting on chicken soup and everything. Well caffeinated, we sallied forth, leaving town and enjoying the curvy lanes and the sunshine, eventually stopping in las Caldas for a mid-morning San Miguel and some anchovy-filled olives.
Above: Café by Calatrava
Above: Las Caldas morning light
Not entirely satisfied with the whopping 20 kms we’d clocked, we decided to climb up to the Vista Alegre on Naranco for a noontime refresher. The bike and I wabbled steadily up the road like a bear on a unicycle, the sunshine and beautiful views below urging us onward like the circus guy with the whip.
It was a short ride, but it rekindled my fervor to possess one of these ridiculous, lovely, silly, excellent, curious, simple, brilliant bikes… and now I do!
Above: Behold! At long last!
El Carpinteru found me a red-hot stunner. One of the Spanish Postal Service’s retirees from the late 90’s, she has all of the old school feel of a vintage Vespa: she’s made of steel and has that clunky manual transmission, but comes with the much appreciated addition of a front disk brake and has fewer than a million miles on the clock (30,000 km to be accurate) which means she’ll still be running strong when my grandkids are farting around in their golden years. And, with a massive 125 cc engine, the torque is almost too much to handle…
The only problem was transferring ownership. Even with Blossom the Magician, our fixer, taking care of the paperwork, it would take time before I could get out on the road. So in the meantime, I cleaned the carb, added some grip tape to the floorboards, fixed various lighting issues and basically futzed and putzed around for weeks making sure the bike would pass the infamous Spanish vehicle technical inspection (ITV). Then finally, a full month after my little ride on the black Primavera, the bike was ready. I got the papers on Thursday night and Friday morning I was (literally) running around sorting out insurance so that I would be ready for the lunchtime ride.
My bike’s much anticipated debut ride was, well, a walk… at least to begin with. I got to the workshop found out that the plan was to eat in Oviedo and then go for a short ride afterwards. So, after restlessly stuffing my gullet with an entire pan of eggs, ham and chorizo (not half as odd for lunch as a pan of eggs, shrimp and imitation eels others had) we were finally ready to ride! Destination: the ever popular Vista Alegre on Naranco which, although affording lovely views of the city, is perhaps only 5 km outside of town. Unambitious, maybe, but sometimes overly ambitious debuts (I’m thinking Titanic here) don’t always go according to plan.
Above: Bipedal Friday ride to lunch (eggs, shrimp and eels anyone?)
Above: Post-lunch, still walking… oh wait... bikes!
Above: Vespas at Vista Alegre
Anyway, off we went. The bike started on the second kick (and then only because I forgot to turn on the key) and buzzed happily along with the others up the hill to the bar. A fantastic debut, all were pleased, applause all around! After a respite from the cold, we saddled up and attempted the nighttime return… attempted being the operative word. My bike wouldn't start. The kicker had no purchase. Stuck cables meant that the clutch was engaged, and we couldn't sort it out there, so El Carpinteru (the helpful uncle of the group) jumped on and coasted it all the way back to the workshop with the occasional boost from one of the others when momentum lagged.
Back at the workshop, the music blared, the bottles clinked, and we set to work cleaning and tightening the cables until the bike kicked over again before tinkering with other perpetual projects like Adolfo’s greyhound and interior design projects.
Above: El taller after dark
Saturday morning, I launched out of the house with my son to the park with a plan: keep him occupied til noon and then ask for the afternoon off. It worked a charm. By afternoon, after a quick stop with El Carpinteru back at the Vista Alegre, I was off on my first solo journey to nowhere in particular. I climbed up over Naranco to Branes (can’t make the ~ work on this keyboard) down a shady, steep and and slick-with-mud road where bearded locals driving 4x4s and wearing hunting orange paraded around with dead wild boar strapped to the roof. Doesn't take long to go from little old ladies walking in their furs on Calle Uria to what back home might be described as Hillbilly country. Good thing I’m in Europe, or my presence on a shiny red Vespa might not have been acceptable. At all.
Above: my bike’s first solo journey above Oviedo
I had no map or GPS, so the plan was to ride out a ways and retrace my steps home. I like to follow the smallest roads possible (or passible, given my 10” wheels), but I was keenly aware that a) I didn’t know if my fuel gauge works b) I doubted there would be a petrol station out there c) I didn’t have any tools to fix problems d) just one day ago, the bike didn’t start at a crucial moment. Riding a Vespa, in case people are skeptical, is an Adventure partly because although you can keep one running forever, you never know from day to day if you’ll make it to your destination, and you have to be a mechanic on demand.
The bike shifts horribly, clunking into gear as if it were a hammer instead of a clutch I was using, but she shifts! The twisty roads and green scenery were a much needed respite from the gray of Oviedo, and the sunny day (the first in a week) had me fairly singing in my helmet as I whizzed along. At one point, in the village of Fanes, I meandered down a dead-end road and ended up at a farmer’s house where four mastodon-sized dogs greeted me with a mixture of big-dopey-dog enthusiasm and big-angry-dog menace. On a Vespa, you’re keenly aware at these moments a) how slow the bike really is, particularly when accelerating from idle b) how ridiculous is the noise from the exhaust, couldn’t scare away a fly and might anger a dog c) how low to the ground you are and exposed to canine attack.
But, I survived, and having been out for an hour or so, decided to stop for my lunch. I picked a green sunny spot and just enjoyed the silence. From there, I tried to retrace my steps home and arrived without incident. I am looking forward to the next sunny afternoon!
Above: Random, sunny roadside stop for lunch: empanada y queso Manchego (Flor de Esgueva)