Escape: Motorcycle Tour of the Dolomites - The Marriage Counselor

Adventures, with wife, in the Italian Dolomites

Last summer, feeling bold, I asked my wife if she might be interested in a motorcycle tour of the Dolomites. I ask questions like this periodically to test the bounds of what is possible-in the same way one might ask for a lifetime stipend from Bill Gates. It was a Hail Mary of epic proportions.

But sometimes, a ludicrous proposal such as this will ricochet around the firmament and actually come back to earth with a soft landing. To my surprise and delight, she said yes.

So in late September we found ourselves packing motorcycle gear and walking around the house practicing sophisticated Italian phrases like vorrei quello ("I want that"). Upon arrival, Meredith is a little dismayed to discover she is the only woman on the trip, and we are the only two-up motorcycle. The other two riders are commercial pilots (read: need for speed), and have ridden bikes all over the world together. They're friendly enough, but we notice they seem to be sizing us up, as if they had just been put in the company of a wheezing Ural sidecar outfit piloted by the town baker and his wife. It looks like in this group, we're destined to be the ball and chain.

Once underway, we consistently bring up the rear. At every intersection, the boys and our guide are waiting for us. They tell us the delay is never more than a couple minutes, but I suspect they're being charitable. When we get underway again, they're gone like a vapor trail.

But pretty soon, a funny thing begins to happen. As we crest each pass-dizzying, snow-capped peaks all around-I can see the boys up ahead. They are just getting off their bikes, undoing their helmets. As we round the last bend, they raise their arms in celebration of another summit. After this Sir Edmund Hillary reenactment occurs a few more times, it occurs to me that it's us that they are celebrating. Could it be that the dim-witted baker and his wife are showing some surprising alacrity up these alpine roads, after all?

We're doing five to 10 passes a day, and I begin to wonder if the vertiginous landscape may be scaring my poor wife, whom I imagine to be clinging desperately to the back of our BMW R1200RT. I had the foresight to install an intercom for just this reason. To my amazement, riding from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day, I never hear a complaint from the back.

"How are you doing?" "I'm fine!"

"Are you having fun?" "Yes!"

"Can you ride some more?" "No problem!"

God, I love this woman.

Before long I begin to notice something changing in the dynamic of our little collection of miscreants. Meredith's remarkable endurance on the bike, and her consistent good cheer in these spectacular surroundings, has started to suffuse through the group. Suddenly, I realize that pace no longer seems to be an issue. Could it be that the boys are showing some moderation for our benefit? Or maybe the addition of a woman infused this boys' club with a little decorum and restraint?

I've been on enough Sunday-morning rides to know how testosterone can simmer and boil among males on motorcycles. This is fun, of course, but can also spill over into excess-sometimes with dire results. Let's face it: When left to our own devices, we are occasionally a danger to ourselves. For sure, this new dynamic is partly due to the fact that Meredith and I are going smoother and faster, day by day. But it's more than that. I think we're all enjoying the enforced slowness of having her in our midst. We have a convenient excuse to do a subtle-but-significant counter-rotation of the right wrist.

Midway through the week, we wake up and look out the hotel window to see ... snow. We're at 7000 feet, an elevation where weather events are random and inexplicable, like the electrics on my '69 Triumph. I'm guessing Meredith will elect to enjoy the hotel spa, leaving me and the boys to conduct perverse experiments in traction on the high passes.

"See you this afternoon," I say to her on my way out, trailing armloads of raingear and tripping over the wires of various electrical accoutrements.

"Actually," she says, "I think I'd like to come along."

Now, this is a whole new dimension for me. The mere fact that she agreed to come on this trip was, in my view, a remarkable gesture of fidelity and indulgence, primarily for my benefit. I was already feeling a little like a lottery winner. The fact that she is willing to ride in the rain, well ... I think I just took the Mega Lotto.

When we crest our first pass in the wet stuff, the boys are there doing their Sir Edmund Hillary thing, but this time the celebration is particularly joyous. I think this is what they mean by a vicarious experience-the guys seem to be enjoying our ride more than their own. There is a wonderful, if slightly blurry, photo of them walking toward us through the mist, with broad grins and arms upraised, as if their own beneficence carried us to the top.

As the week progresses, Meredith continues to be rock-solid on the back. I know I finally have achieved a true motorcycling conversion when, one evening at dinner, I look over and she is leaning from side to side, making motor noises. My wife is bench racing! Never thought I'd see the day...

A ride through the Dolomites will do that for you.

By the end of the week, we've done 25 passes and 800 miles. Better yet, no skin, plastic or pride damaged in the process-a boisterous good time from start to finish. I hate to admit it, but I learned a thing or two on this trip, from an unexpected quarter. I suspect we all did. Would it have been the same without my wife? I doubt it.

I've got an idea for this Sunday. It involves those enduring magnets of the male psyche: speed, horsepower and black leather. But this time I'll be wearing the intercom, and someone else will be calling the shots, from the back of the bike. It will be for my own good.

The Marriage Counselor
Within minutes of leaving our home base in Ortisei, we began to understand what the Dolomites are all about: curves. For much of the time, third gear and above seemed superfluous.
Edelweiss supplied us with a BMW R1200RT-the perfect perch for a willing companion. Seven-hour days passed without complaint from the back.
Our group included two jet pilots, one very rapid guide-and the two of us. By the end of the week, we gained entrance to this particular boys' club.
It rained in Riva-but no one seemed to mind. Armed with electrics and ABS, we navigated the dozens of tunnels along the shores of Lake Garda.