There was no going back. I had the horrible feeling of a swimmer whose strength is fading halfway between one shore and another.
It was 1968 and I was riding a borrowed R69S BMW motorcycle to the French coast, running an errand as a winery intern in France. I was now between Bordeaux and Brest trying to find a restaurant where I was to deliver some papers and four bottles of bootleg pear brandy to a client of my employer.
My hope was to eventually get just south of Brest to reunite with three Scottish friends, Ian, who worked with me in Beaujolais, his girlfriend and his sister.
Rain that pelted the roadway like scurrying little mice grew more intense with each passing kilometer. I was now tacking heavily into the wind and hail and found myself wiping the lenses of my goggles almost every 10 seconds. This was not a good thing, as I needed both arms and all of my strength to handle the bike.
My brakes were useless in the heavy rain. My only chance was to compression brake — pop it down a gear, blast up the revs and slow down that back tire. The risk is breaking loose the tire, but I had no choice.
Two geese decided to follow this crazy man with the pea coat, goggles, gauntlets, 501 jeans, cowboy boots and half-dome helmet. They would dip and glide, I would turn into them, and then we would all straighten out for a few seconds and repeat the ballet all over again. My wingmen stayed with me for quite some time, flying in tandem before dipping their right wings and shooting inches over the top of my helmet to escape the tempest in the gray farmlands. I will never forget this tumultuous dance, this brush with perfect symmetry on the coast.
Then I was alone. Exhausted. Nearly out of gas. I had this feeling I was completely out of my depth, with nowhere to hide from this blast. I had no choice but to keep to the wind and chop and bounce my way along as best I could.
A family in a Renault passed me. The two small children and the wife flattened their faces against the windows to get a (last?) glimpse of this nutty Italian-American kid riding a German motorcycle with French plates and carrying moonshine.
I arrived at the restaurant with maybe five minutes of gas left in the reserve tank. A burly man, swathed in a storm coat and sou'wester, bounded from the restaurant and held the handlebars of the bike. I nodded gratefully and turned it off. I felt like I was 90 years old as I lifted myself from the bike.
Inside, I stood by a fire and vapor rose from me like a swamp thing. My face had been so torn by the wind and sleet I looked like a red, swollen chipmunk except for the gray-white from under my goggles. From the double-flapped and oiled saddlebags on the bike, I found dry clothes to wear and let the trip sink down into my soul.
These were wonderful hosts and what was next to come in that stormy, angry evening beyond the door was simply marvelous.
Lorn Razzano is a retired owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland and still works there part-time. Reach him at email@example.com. To see past columns on his adventures as a young wine intern in France, go to www.dailytidings.com/razzano.