Searching For the Perfect Motorcycle Adventure: A Scout's Life Part 2

Exploring small village streets and Greek ruins in Sicily.

Ken Lee Scouting Adventure
This is the map Manuel assembled over the course of our explorations in Sicily.Photo: Ken Lee

Small two-lane roads lace the interior of Sicily, connecting the little villages dotting the countryside. Your average travel map might show maybe half of them, the larger roads. But many of the best routes can be found only with highly detailed maps, plus Google Maps nowadays. So fully armed ahead of time, Manuel set out to put eyes and tires on new options previously researched. He's led a number of tours through Sicily in past years so he needed to scout only a big list of new options, not log every single detail as would be necessary with a completely new ride in a new area. At night after the riding was done, Manuel compiled all this GPS data and his notes, formatting them into a report that other Edelweiss guides could follow as well, should they be called upon to lead a Sicily tour. And I was more than happy to chase behind him during these explorations.

Ken Lee Scouting Adventure
Some of the village streets offered a tight fit for motorcycles, much less large automobiles!Photo: Ken Lee

It’s not an easy process. We often got lost in the maze of tiny, narrow village streets, even with Manuel’s GPS to guide us. We backtracked often to uncover more direct ways in and out of town. We hit dead-ends and no-go routes. Outside of Sciacca, for example, the recent heavy rains damaged a small bridge so the highway department had closed it off only days before. Manuel commented that it would likely take years to repair, so scratch that option. Sometimes he simply could not find new roads he wanted to check out, and time would not allow endless searching.

Ken Lee Scouting Adventure
This is there’s a need to pre-run new trips: With this bridge damaged by recent rainstorms, we had to find an alternate route.Photo: Ken Lee

One evening we paid the price for an overly ambitious agenda. Too many stops, too many small country lanes and the short November days conspired to bring nightfall while still far from our night’s lodgings. So we spent about two hours hammering down wonderful twisty-turny backroads in deserted, deep darkness, without even moonlight to guide our way. Broken, bumpy, dirty, wet pavement turned the trip into a real-life Mister Toad’s Wild Ride that was a genuine adventure. “Man, I lost the front end on that Ducati Diavel a bunch of times,” Manuel said with a grin. I, in turn, thanked him for lighting the way for me as I danced along behind him on the nimble BMW 700 GS. It’s so much easier to follow rather than lead in bad conditions!

We shared small victories as well. While exploring some incredible hill-country roads for a new day-ride outside Cefalù (look out for cattle on the road!), we found an impossibly gorgeous little jewel of a town square in the village of Petralia Soprana—the perfect coffee stop. Then, in the neighboring town of Petralia Sottana, the edge of the church square housed a cliff-top cafe with a dramatic view overlooking a deep valley painted to overflowing in a sea of green. Which one makes the cut? Manuel said in this case it didn’t matter; both stops are so good he’ll simply list both and let the guide decide on that day.

Ken Lee Scouting Adventure
Come around a corner too hot and you might get a face-full of unprocessed beef! And the coefficient of friction in cow pies is pretty sketchy too.Photo: Ken Lee

Another time we were hooning down fantastically fun country roads almost entirely free of traffic—more tractors and bicyclists than cars. It was a thrill-and-a-half, but as I glanced at my map I couldn’t figure out where we were headed. Suddenly we popped out at the entrance to Selinunte, the largest Archeological Park in Europe. Manuel told me this was a personal favorite; he’d visited here in his early years and he’d long wanted to include this stop in the Sicily tours. Finally, that day had arrived.

These Greek ruins date back more than 2600 years; Selinunte’s strategic western location made it one of the most important colonies in ancient Sicily. The park covers about 100 acres spread over adjoining hills covered with fallen temples and other ruins. The partially restored Temple of Hera looms especially impressive, but the park’s entirety gives a unique feel for how more than 30,000 citizens, plus thousands more slaves, populated the area. I thought I was done with swooning over historical sites; Selinunte proved me wrong.

Ken Lee Scouting Adventure
A quick lunch in Palermo for only 8 Euros. Manuel asked, “Do you like to eat squid?” I do indeed…Photo: Ken Lee

Another real joy of motorcycle travel is the direct connection it provides with locals. In Europe in general and Italy in particular, it seems that people eagerly approach riders, ready and willing to chat you up. Manuel and I experienced this twice in a row in the picturesque hilltop town of Prizzi. While navigating the tight-tight lanes leading to central old town, we spied an 80-something grandmotherly type standing in front of her house, sweeping. As we neared she shouted “Hello!” and then cranked her right wrist to give us the universal “gas it” hand sign. We both cracked up immediately. And how did she know to greet us in English? Our riding gear didn’t look Italian?

Ken Lee Scouting Adventure
More than 2600 years old, the Greek ruins at Selinunte really fire the imagination; the mind’s eye can visualize the size and scope of this ancient community.Photo: Ken Lee

We made our way to the lovely, compact square in the center of old town, and I broke out the camera gear. While I snapped photos, a group of six bicyclists we had passed earlier caught up to us. Now, at the risk of stereotyping, back home in Southern California bicyclists seem prone to taking offense at sharing roads with motorcycles, and they don’t shy away from sharing their supposedly superior status as human beings. So when the six guys leaped off their bicycles and rapidly approached, I braced myself as the lead man pointed his index finger directly at me and gestured wildly.

Ken Lee Scouting Adventure
Entering the town of Prizzi, it’s easy to see how life continues to focus on the one main hill, with open fields and hills stretching all around.Photo: Ken Lee

He began shouting at me: “English, English, English!” Huh? “You are English, yes?” he asked. Uh, no, I told him, I was from America. “America, America, America!” he shouted. “You come here from America? Bellissimo! America! Where in America?” Um, California? “California! California! California!” all six chanted. “We love California. We want to visit California!” The group flooded me with questions from six directions as they broke out cell phones, threw their arms around my shoulders, and proceeded to snap selfies. When a young woman walked into the square they all ran over to shove their phones into her hands, imploring her to take group photos of all of us. Damn, I thought to myself as I posed with my best smile, I’m a freakin’ rock star here just because I ride a bike!

Ken Lee Scouting Adventure
Damn, I was a freakin’ rock star in Sicily, just because I ride a bike!Photo: Ken Lee