Road Rider Magazine, January, 1979
By Carol Plant Bouson
Photos by John Hermann
I don't know how to start.
Enjoying the view of a Swiss Lake
The whole trip was a kaleidescope of people, events, scenes and things ... until I just became saturated trying to absorb it all. Looking back it's hard to sort it out ... put it into any kind of proper order.
Maybe it's best if I just ramble on and let all the memories and experiences just bubble up and come out any old way.
I remember the first thing that struck me - never having seen Europe before — was in the plane approaching Zurich, Switzerland, It was early in the morning. Everything was so absolutely sparkling clear. Every small green spot was being used.
Reprinted from Road Rider, Jan. 1979
A couple of years ago at a national gathering of Bavarian motorcycle enthusiasts in Colorado's Rocky Mountains, an adventurous biker walked up to an obviously harried rally official (who appeared to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown) and asked how to get to Pikes Peak.
"I don't know," he was told. "I don't have any idea — I'm going bananas — I don't even know my own name." The official then pointed across the meadowed campground at a tall, trim, attractive, gray-haired woman wearing a straw cowboy hat. She was carrying on an animated conversation with a large group of riders, smiling easily, completely at home in the hubbub of the rally activity. "Go ask Carol," the official told the biker. "She knows everything."
Although the statement was completely valid, Carol Plant Bouson probably would have denied the allegation ... then promptly given the rally goer the instructions he wanted.
Carol is like that. Totally competent, but gently self-effacing at the same time. It's part of the reason she is one of the most respected personalities in motorcycling today.
Which is not to say the lady comes under the "shy, retiring, grandmotherly" category. Far from it. If anything Carol is an effervescent past-mistress in the art of verbal riposte. As a firm believer that age is only a number, signifying nothing in particular, she tends to play down her senior citizenship. Not too long ago a somewhat effusive fellow cyclist — on meeting Carol for the first time — gushed, "But you simply don't look all that old."
Compared to what?" Carol shot back beguilingly.
That, too, is part of what makes Carol, Carol.
She was given her first ride on a motorcycle when she was still in high school ("Long enough ago," she explains, "that they were still calling it a 'pillion passenger.' ") She enjoyed the experience, so she learned to ride — and soloed on a friend's machine in 1937. In 1952 she purchased her first motorcycle — an H-D side-valve 45. It was the first in a long line of various brands leading up to her present solo mount: a BMW R90S. The R90S is her fifth BMW, by the way. She has been an ardent Beastie Buff since the early 1960s.
Her credentials as a biker are impressive. She averages more than 20,000 touring miles annually, including long crosscountry solo treks, innumerable rides in company with her many friends and fellow club members, and share-and-share-alike voyages with her husband Herb in the family sidecar rig — a BMW 750 engine tucked into an R60/2 frame which is lashed to a Bender-Florin hack. (Last summer, Carol and Herb took turns driving and riding in the chair from their home in Santa Clara, California to Rutland, Vermont for the BMWMOA's national rally.)
She is one of the most active and involved people in motorcycling, a "joiner" in the most positive sense of the word. A current list of organizations to which she belongs includes: AMA, BMWMOA (an association for which she has served in a variety of executive positions - from editing the club newsletter to chairing the 1977 national rally committee), the BMW Club of Northern California, the South Coast BMW Club, the Ladies BMW Motorcycle Association, Retreads, Helping Hands, WIMA (Women's International Motorcycle Association), and the California based lobby group MORE (Motorcycle Owners, Riders and Enthusiasts).
But in spite of all her accomplishments and activities, Carol has had a special sort of yen for a number of years. It has been her long time dream to tour through Europe on a motorcycle — something she never expected to happen. But you never know. As always, wonders tend to be performed in mysterious ways.
It started when an article about Carol appeared in the April, 1978 issue of A American Motorcyclist — the journal of the American Motorcyclist Association. A gentleman named Volker Beer, factory motorcycle representative for BMW of North America, Inc., read the article, liked the idea — and subsequently wrote an article about Carol for the factory magazine, BMW Journal, a German publication. The title of Beer's article was, "She Dreams of Touring Europe."
One of the people who read the article was Herr R. Haindl who holds the position of general manager at the Denzel BMW dealership in Salzburg, Austria. Haindl promptly offered to loan Carol a BMW if she could join Bob Beach's European Tour in the fall of 1978.
From that point, things really started rolling as everyone concerned became caught up in the spirit of the idea. Bob Beach made a significant contribution by offering Carol a discount on the tour price. BMW of North America chipped in some expense money. And with one thing and another, Carol suddenly found herself in the enviable position of a person whose dream was actually coming true!
So, with the help of a lot of goodhearted people, Carol went to Europe last September. it couldn't have happened to a nicer dreamer ... [RR]
I know fantastic is an overworked word, but that's how it was. Fantastic. I felt wonderful. In spite of the long airplane ride I arrived absolutely charged up and excited.
Once we were on the ground, we got in a bus for the trip to Munich — actually a place called Unterpfaffenhofen just outside Munich — where the trip actually starts. Then some of us went on to Salzburg by van to pick up our bikes. In my case it was a red R80/7 that was being loaned to me — most graciously I might add — by Herr Haindl, the general manager of Denzel BMW in Salzburg.
When we left Salzburg, I told Bob Beach — the organizer and guide of the tour, along with his charming wife Elizabeth — that I'd rather not ride all the way back to Unterpfaffenhofen behind the van. So I took off. Naturally I got lost.
I parked by the road and pretty soon a German biker (who spoke no English) came by and stopped to see if I was in trouble. Well I could not for the life of me remember the name 'Unterpfaffenhofen.' All I could remember was the word hassenpfeffer ... which means 'stewed rabbit' in German.
Needless to say, the friendly biker quickly decided that the American frau on the R80 didn't really want to go to Stewed Rabbit, so he sent me to a nearby Information Center and I was able to locate myself on a huge wall map.
Having heard about the Autobahn, I couldn't wait to open the bike up. Once on the world-famous highway I put the BMW right up to 100 miles per hour. I've ridden that fast before, so it wasn't all that big a thrill. But it sure beats a 55 mile-per-hour limit! The road was great. It's what we would call a divided fourlane highway. The surface is completely smooth — no potholes, no seams — very comfortable to ride at speed. But even at 100 per, I was being passed by cars, trucks, anything that could go faster.
Lago di Garda
Since getting lost was so much fun, I did it again once I'd reached Unterpfaffenhofen. I wanted to get to the Hotel Huber. So I pulled up alongside a VW and rapped on the window. When the driver rolled the window down I told him the name of the hotel. He said a couple of words I didn't understand, so I held up my right arm. 'Nein,' he said. So I held up my left arm. "Ja!'
I thanked him, turned left and pulled up in front of the Hotel Huber a few moments later.
Bob said I'd sure got off to a helluva start. "
For the European tour, I teamed up with John Hermann, a good friend and a veteran Euro-tourer who has been riding over there almost annually since 1962. John was my guide and 'photographer and he helped immensely. He has a goal of his own: he's vowed to ride over all the mountain passes in Switzerland. So, since I was following him, I saw a lot of mountain passes in Bavarian Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy. To top it off, John led me down south and through a small section of France so I could say I had been in five countries.
Leaving Munich, the first day on the bike, John led us over the Kesselburg Pass — highest in the area. I guess he figured if I couldn't cut that, there was no use fooling with me!
Most of the tour was on two-lane mountain roads. Through small villages. The road surfaces are excellent. How they maintain the high mountain pass roads is a real tribute to thoroughness. There are no shoulders — just a little gully on each side. No problem riding them, though. The good surface is very confidence inducing.
Just for fun, Carol posed for a photo on an
Austrian cafe racer's custom Egli-Kawasaki
The scenery, as expected, was beautiful — everywhere we went. It's all clean and sparkling clear ... no smog. The colors are brilliant — flowers are everywhere. Every window has a flower box. It's all just masses of bright, clear color. The air is clear — like it used to be in the United States.
Cutting hay in the fields is women's work in Europe. Everywhere I saw women in skirts scything the grass. raking it down and gathering it into shocks. In the winter the citizens bring the livestock into a closed-in area underneath the house. It's fragrant, but it keeps the animals warm during the cold spells.
We lucked out on the weather during the tour. It was just absolutely gorgeous. I only needed foul-weather gear about three hours on a couple of days. (I understand a few days after we left, it poured down rain!)
John loves to take photos of the European cafe racer crowd. Black leathers are more or less passe in Europe these days. They prefer brightly colored, multihued leathers that fit so tightly it must take them a half-hour to pull themselves into the things. On Sundays they flock to the mountain roads — and watching the many-colored machines and riders winding through the mountains is great fun. "The big deal is to ride like crazy up into the mountains, then stop for a picnic, or pull in for lunch at the little outdoor restaurants. Everywhere in Europe there is outdoor dining - either alfresco or under canopies. Nice too. Tablecloths, napkins, everything is immaculate. How do they keep it so clean? ... the whole family works hard at it. It's a matter of pride."
We didn't tour the big cities - but the small villages, primarily in Switzerland. The people there were absolutely friendly.
Language was no problem. Many people speak English, and I could always use sign language. On occasion it even works to your advantage to be a 'dumb tourist.'
For example: the traffic policemen in Austria have ping-pong paddles they control traffic flow with. One side is red, the other side is green. If they hold the red side toward you, you're supposed to stop. Also, the policemen there are authorized to fine you and collect the fine on the spot. Well, at one point I was riding in a 70 kilometer per hour zone — that's about 42 or 43 miles per hour — and a policeman gave me the red side of the paddle. I stopped and he came over and rattled off a string of German words.
"English?" I asked. "Nein!" he said then gave me another long sentence I couldn't understand. I dug out my passport and my international driver's license and showed them to him. They didn't help. I got another language lesson.
I kept saying "English?" and he kept saying "Nein, nein!" and pretty soon he started pounding on the BMW's saddle.
I decided I had enough gray hair to pound on the saddle too, so I did, telling him to speak English if he wanted my business. He stopped talking, glared at me in silence for a couple seconds ... then he said about five words ending in 'Frau' that didn't sound very complimentary, and stalked off stiff-legged.
As it turned out, John later told me he wanted to collect a fine because while I had been passing a truck at a legal 70 kilometers per hour, I had ridden through a 50 kilometer-per-hour school-zone!
John told me the guy could have thrown me in jail.
The roads in Europe — especially in the Alps — are absolutely great riding. There were more tunnels than I expected. They take shortcuts through the mountains that way. That was another example of how everything is so clean: the tunnels. They go into the tunnels periodically and actually steam-clean them. The cars and all other vehicles are kept clean and in good repair too. There are no wrecks, no junkers — even buses and large trucks have to be cleaned — it's the law.
Everything was built right on the steep slopes in Switzerland, with lots of cantilevering. The roads are just carved out of the sides of the cliffs. Due to the sharp curves in the mountains, the long buses actually have a rubber boot in the middle which permits them to bend going around the corners!
At Lago di Garda — Lake Garda — we started up this twisting, winding road clinging to the side of a steep slope. The road went through a series of short tunnels and around some sharp corners climbing all the time. (Incidentally, even the tunnels are curved sometimes, following the line of the slope.) Finally we arrived at the hotel where we would spend the night. I walked through the lobby to the patio and looked over the railing ... almost straight down — something like 1,500 feet to the lake below. What an experience! If you drop anything — forget it!
Looking over the borrowed BMW's
handlebars at an Tyrolian masif.
Of course the riding conditions are different. You have to get used to it. For example, in Switzerland they move dairy herds by simply taking them through the villages on the roads. All road traffic comes to a complete halt while the process is going on. But it's accepted as a natural system. It's all done with good feeling on everybody's part.
One thing I had a hard time getting used to was the price of gas. I didn't think much about it when I first saw the prices. They were somewhere around 85 to 90 pfennigs. But then I learned that was a per liter price! it takes over four of the things to make a gallon!
Of course we did a lot of the tourist things. The trip to the Matterhorn was nice. At the foot of the Matterhorn we left the bikes in a garage and took a train up to Zermatt, which is a luxurious ski resort. There are no roads - you can only get there by helicopter or train. It's beautiful — with Miami Beach prices.
The Matterhorn looked like it does at Disneyland — except bigger. I felt like I was standing there looking at an enormous postcard that I'd seen many times before.
The town of Gruyere is another place closed to vehicular traffic. This is where the famous Gruyere cheese factory is located. We watched the cheese-making process. Afterwards we had Punch, finishing off with a dish of berries (straw-, blue-, or black-, your choice) and cream. The cream was delicious ... so thick I had to use a spoon. It's natural, too, not whipped. In Europe their milk is nine percent butterfat, not four percent as in the U.S. And it's good!
Also we attended the last day of the famous Oktoberfest. I was impressed with the whole thing. It was really neat to listen to the oompa bands playing "When the Saints Go Marching In," and "She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain." And all the good drinking songs. I recognized some of the songs I can remember my mother and father singing years ago. The waitresses carry big steins of beer to the tables. Each stein holds a full liter — and the waitresses could somehow carry a dozen of them or more at a time.
At the end of the tour there were a couple of free days. I visited the BMW museum in Munich. I could have spent a week in there — it is a fantastic place. It's a three-story building with displays on every floor. They actually start from a display or raw rocks — then go from there to show how the minerals and metals are refined — and right on up to the finished product.
I could go on and on I guess ... talking about everything that happened during the tour. But if I had to put a finger on the best part of it all, it would have to be the little things. The incidental experiences. For me, the big things — the scenery you see on the travel posters or the major tourist attractions that everyone talks about — weren't as meaningful as the little things. The relationships with the people (who were wonderful everyplace we went), the little out-of-the-way restaurants we visited, the food (ah, the food), and the daily rides on the back roads ...
A view of the road to Pieve, Lago di Garda
... did you ever go to a really good party? One where you remember every single thing that happened fondly — and you chuckle about different parts of it for weeks afterward? Well, that's what it was like for me in Europe.
I'll probably never make another trip over there, I suppose. But that's okay. I brought it all back with me.
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