Our road trip to the Italian dirt bike ISDE ‘86 (Part One)

I recall going to my third ISDE.

On this occasion the event was to be held at San Pellegrino Terme at the foothills of the Italian Alps, the place where the bottled water comes from.
Whilst the event was good, I really want to tell you about the road trip we took to get there.We started out from England 4 or 5 days before the event was due to start; my brother Tony and his wife, my pal Ron with his wife and daughter and me.
Ron was driving his mobile home which he and I converted from a Mercedes Benz 508 panel van. His wife was driving a four wheel drive Daihatsu 4 Track and Tony was driving our old Transit V4 van, the one we used for our building business. To cut a long story short, the Transit broke down on a French motorway, one of the pistons deciding it no longeISDEr wanted to be friends with its connecting rod. So, what to do?
We towed the van off the motorway and agreed that Ron and the girls would press on down through France to Italy to set up our base camp that we needed for the duration of the dirt bike ISDE event, leaving Tony and I with the 4WD to tow the stricken van to a car park, use it to sleep in overnight, then tow it to a local garage for repair the next day. Good plan!
We unloaded Tony’s stuff from the Transit and squeezed it all into the back of the Daihatsu, suitcases, kit bags, a camping gas stove, a couple of fold-up deckchairs and anything else that needed to be removed, leaving the van empty and ready to tow to the garage the next day.

Italian  ISDE here we come!

Finally, off we go. After some consideration, we agreed to go from France, through Switzerland and across the border into Italy via the Alps, the reasoning behind this was that on the map it looked to be the shorter route whereas Ron and the girls were going to drop down through France and gain access to Italy through the French- Italian border. We arrived just short of the French-Swiss border and filled the tank to the brim with diesel fuel; we didn’t have any Swiss money only French francs and Italian Lire, so we reckoned we would have enough fuel to get ourselves all the way to the Italian dirt bike ISDE.
This is where the next incident took place. At the Swiss border we were questioned by the authorities as to our plans, now you have to understand both my brother and I sported full beards and long hair and I think we both had a single earring, so we probably looked like a couple of drug smugglers driving a four wheel drive vehicle even though we explained we were riding in the Italian dirt bike ISDE. Now, the Swiss are a bit hot on whom they let travel through their country, so they decided to give the Daihatsu the once over. We were told to stand a little way from the vehicle whilst this took place. The guard asked where the bonnet catch was, so I took a step forward to show him, bad move, he immediately reached for his holstered gun. Whoa, this was not good, so I backed off and tried to explain where he would find the lever. Ok, this is cool. Next he ordered us to take all of the bags and equipment from the vehicle and place them on the counter in the customs office so that he could go through and check there was no contraband and anything illegal. As he went through the bags, I stood and watched him whilst Tony went about reloading the truck. At one point, when Tony was outside, the border guard was going through a suitcase with a puzzled look on his face, he held up a ladies shoe, looked at it, fiddled with the heel then glanced at me and said “Yours” I shook my head and said “Not mine, his” nodding towards my brother just as he came back through the door. “What’s going on” said Tony “Nothing much, I just told the guard that the ladies shoes were yours, not mine.”
After some explanation, we all three saw the funny side and were allowed to get on our way and duly headed for the Italian border, on the other side of Switzerland.
As I explained before, we were just going to drive straight through without stopping for fuel, but what we didn’t take into account was how high we would have to climb, we drove up, then up, then up some more. As if this wasn’t bad enough, nightfall had come earlier than planned due to our encounter with the customs man, so we were driving in the Alps, in the dark, sometimes on gravel roads due to the fact that road works could only be done at a certain time of year before the onset of winter. We drove on hour after hour with one eye on the road and the other eye on the rapidly diminishing fuel gauge, the problem is that there aren’t too many filling stations in the middle of the Alps. What to do? I glanced at my brother and he glanced back “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” he asked, “Um, yes I think I am.”
We had just passed a clearing set back from the road, where there was parked a huge Volvo dump truck with the fuel tank filled to the brim. We backed up alongside, and with a carefully guarded pencil torch and a short length of rubber tubing, we ‘borrowed’ a couple of gallons of diesel fuel, just to get us off the mountain you understand. If we ever saw that truck again, we were going to replace the fuel, honest!
With mixed emotions, both guilt and relief, we got underway but within a mile or so we ran slap bang into the Swiss border control. Oh no, had they seen our lights on the mountain? Why had we stopped for so long with our lights off? What were we doing on the mountain at 3 o’clock in the morning? We slowly approached to be met by a very smart but stern looking guard (how can anyone be that alert at 3 o’clock in the morning?) He asked where we were going and what we were doing; we explained that we were going to race in the dirt bike ISDE in Italy. He accepted our story and seemed to be glad to see the back of us, as we were of him. Two more minutes down the road and we came across the Italian border control; this guy was completely different, he emerged with sleepy eyes, a two day old beard and sweaty armpits, he showed a lot more interest in the dirt bike ISDE racing than the other bloke and bade us farewell and good luck.
As an aside, I quizzed my brother about the rubber hose and he told me that before we left, when we were loading the Daihatsu, he saw it lying around so he picked it up and threaded it between the spokes of the spare wheel without really knowing why. How odd!

Will we ever get to the Italian  ISDE?

There’s a lot more to this ISDE tale, so it’s to be continued…

Long Live The ISDE!

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