Some people think this trip was just an excuse for a lads week of fun and jollity, but they would be wrong (maybe).
This trip was a journey of discovery, An education at the university of life. We weren't away from home for long, and we hadn't pioneered anything particular, but we certainly learned some things.
First and foremost - Vespas - they rock! Before we set off, I'd heard all sorts of horror stories about their reliability and fickleness - I'd even brought 30 quids worth of spare parts and an extensive tool kit to take with me in preparation for regular breakdowns and daily maintenance. However these bikes were so well behaved that throughout the whole of this 1000 mile trip, all I used was a spot of WD40 on a sticky throttle cable and a 99p posidrive screwdriver to take my L-plate off. The only failure I had was when the 'Vespa' badge fell off in the heat of the sun. I can categorically tell you, from extensive experience - Vespa PX's are very reliable machines! Having said that, I wonder if, like taking an umbrella out on a sunny day, by having spares and tools available I was actually ensuring that I wouldnt actually need them.
Riding a scooter puts you in a unique class of travel - this is voyaging at a moderate pace (slower than a car or motorbike, but faster than a push bike or walking) and means that you can cover some distance and yet still always be present with the place and moment. Avoiding the autoroutes meant that we were able to see so much more of real life in the towns and countries we rode through, and not having satnav meant we had to stop to read roadsigns and the village names. These weren't places we were simply passing through, this was an endless stream of place to visit. We were on a tour.
And the people we met along the way were lovely. They were interesting and interested. I am sure this was due in no small part to the fact that Vespas make people smile. They are a lovely shape to look at, and they represent freedom and fun. People seem to look at them with a little sense of nostalgia, of their own youth and freedom - this was summed up beautifully when we couldn't get away from the elderly Italian man whom we'd stopped to ask for directions, and who wanted to look all over the bikes and tell us in relentless Italian everything he had to know about Vespas.
And what about the policeman who instead of telling us directions, actually gave us an escort to the station? I am sure it was because we were sitting on the international symbol of friendliness and nonthreatening adventurer. Would the German train official have let us board the train after the gates had closed if we were riding BMW K1600's? Of course not. It was because we were on what is the metaphorical equivalent of the Andrex puppy dog; cute, lovable, fun and forgivable even when we leave a trail of waste behind us.
Both Scott and I consider ourselves lucky people. Not just lucky because we get to do this sort of thing, but people who have good luck on their side. On this trip there were a number of times when we counted on our good luck, and we were always grateful for it. Thats the thing; you have to acknowledge your good luck and regularly thank your luck stars. Though I have to say I thought Scott was being a little cheeky with his guardian angels by running his petrol tank as low as he did that one particular day.
Despite some anxieties and worries along the way, our luck always came through and gave us plenty to celebrate and be grateful for. If I was to do this again, I would pack less socks and more 'luck' - everything always works out in the end :-)
One of the lessons I hope never to learn the hard way is that of protective clothing. Having enjoyed buzzing up and down the sunny Italian coast in just a tshirt and shorts I could become very tempted to discard my armoured motorcycle jacket and gloves in favour of the fresh air and freedom. However I only have to imagine the skin of my palms peeled to the bone, and I shudder at the idea of not wearing protective clothing. When I bought my current jacket, trousers and gloves it was mid winter here in England and I bought the clothing accordingly. However now that warmer days are here these items are clearly inappropriate - they are heavy, thick, hot and bulky. I still need protection, but i need summer protection. I am determined to save some money and get myself a Tucano Urbano Cottage Jacket and summer gloves. And I am sure that an open faced helmet for about town riding will be on the shopping list eventually
I think the greatest learning for me from this trip is just how important it is to have the right collaborator with you. Scott and I knew each other fairly well before we set off, but we had no idea how we would cope riding and working together for 2 intense weeks. In theory we would be fine, but how would we cope when we were tired or hungry? Would we fall out with each other when one or the other got us lost? What if one of us was considerably more untidy than the other? (we were going to be sharing a bedroom every night for 2 weeks - it could be a very unpleasant recipe for disaster)
As it turned out (and there is our luck again), we were to discover that actually we were very similar in most ways. We had the same level of tolerance for uncertainty and the same level of energy for adventure and risk. We never fell out with each other when lost and we never lost the funny side of Helmet jokes.
Rising to a challenge (even right at the start when Scott responded positively to the silly idea of riding a scooter to Italy) and egging each other on was critical to not only the success of this trip, but the fun of it too.
I've learned many things from this trip, but fortunately there is still so much more to learn, so I might just have to do something similar again soon