Leaning in to Italy

Fresh asphalt chew marks scarred the once shiny chrome handlebar slider. The left turn signal had been pulled from its socket and was now blinking in the wrong direction. The shifter, while still functional, was forcefully contorted in to a “V” rather than its traditional “L” shape.

“Are you OK?”, I asked. She let out a sigh of frustration, pause, then a nod, and together we hoisted the BMW F800 GT to its feet. Two minutes later, I heard it crunch to the ground again.

6 Months ago she didn’t even know how to ride a motorcycle. 5 months ago she signed up for a Motorcycle Photography tour around central Italy. Her friends thought she was crazy, reckless, maybe just a bit too optimistic. They were probably right, and yet their doubt simply fueled her determination.

4 months ago she got her motorcycle license, then bought her first used bike – a classic 80’s machine with shiny chrome and a low-slung seat. Her legs were a little too long for the bike, but she didn’t know any better. She was in love. She started to embark on solo rides through the quiet canyons and hills of Colorado, and felt the immediate freedom and exhiliration of piloting your own motorcycle – along with the anxiety of the inherent risks. 

Her new mentors taught her to “lean in” – a practical bit of advice, but also a poignant moto metaphor to, "Face Your Fears". 3 months later, she was on a plane to Italy – to ride.

The thick smell of oil & gasoline could not entirely mask the trepidation in the air as we inspected the rental bikes in the undergroundgarage, below the city of Roma. We would be boarding unfamiliar motorcycles, some larger and more powerful than we had ever ridden before, and launching ourselves directly in to the morning rush-hour traffic of one of the busiest cities in Europe. Romans are not known for being patient, nor particularly forgiving, drivers. The words, “Crash Course” came to mind, but I tactfully avoided using them aloud.

The riders were excitedly checking their gear and buckling their protection, adjusting mirrors and playing with buttons. but I noticed she was not smiling yet.

“Lean in”, she said quietly with a long breath – more as an affirmation to herself than a suggestion to anyone in particular.

The engines roared to life and the sweet sound of five large-bore BMWs and one Moto Guzzi, singing in unison, echoed off the garage walls. Kickstands up. The morning sun flared off our bug-free face shields as we emerged from the dark cave in to the bustling streets of Roma. 

Breaking free of the city was nerve-wracking. Max, our Italian lead rider, forewarned us to stay together and “ride aggressively” – not exactly the “ride defensively” tactic that is drilled in to us during our first safety classes back home in the states. In Roma, you lane split or you are pushed to the side. You jockey for pole position at every stop light, then launch for the lead – less your rear tire becomes a black skid mark on the front bumper of an old Fiat. Vespa riders put you to shame, passing on your left, right, front, and back. We quickly learned that if we didn’t ride aggressively, we’d be trampled by the herd. 

Within an hour we were out of the capital, and void of incident. We pulled to the side of the road – now finally starting to twist and turn its way in to the beautiful sunny hillside, and did a quick check-in. She was a bit shaky, but realized the hardest part was behind her, and let out a sigh of relief.

“That freaked me out, I’m not gonna lie”. Her voice had the slight vibrato of a nervous singer performing her first operetta. 

We consoled each other with audible deep breaths and a round of the most genuine, and deserved, high-fives. The smiles came freely now, and we were on our way.

Over the course of the following week, we carved through some of the most beautiful countryside you could imagine. We visited tiny villas, medieval castles, and ate at intimate agriturismo restaurants nestled deep in the hills. We negotiated flowing S-curved roads that swept back and forth like smooth, grey rivers. We cautiously traversed shiny cobblestone roads in ancient villages, designed long before the advent of the rubber tire and more than one horsepower. The random gravel roads we encountered became the nemesis of the new riders. U-turns on gravel, their arch-rival. Yet, each new encounter with this “ancient asphalt” (as Max began to call it) fostered an increase in confidence among the riders. They soon realized that gravel equaled adventure, and inevitably led us to another smooth road less-travelled.  

By the end of the week she had dropped her bike twice. And picked it up twice. She was not hurt, just more determined. She had ridden farther, faster, and on more challenging roads, then ever before. She had ridden before sunrise to watch its warmth illuminate a tiny village, and the perfect twisty road. She was beaming with confidence and a sense of accomplishment. This is what “leaning in” is all about and she was living it, and feeling more alive than ever.

I was privledged to witness all the riders on this trip overcome their own internal obstacles, fears, and hesitations – and to face them head on. Some worked through challenges on the motorcycle, some through personal baggage they carried for many years. They were noticeably stronger, bolder, and more confident by the end of the journey. I had not expected to see this, only to lead a motorcycle photography tour and binge on gourmet food.

Of course, I had my own fears before embarking on this journey. I was indirectly responsible for a group of riders on their first foray through some of the most challenging roads in Italy. No pressure, right?! Would the weather cooperate? Would we all have fun? Would I eat too much pasta and fall victim to a food coma while riding? Would one of us plummet off a cliff in an exploding ball of fire? Honestly, my biggest fear was that we would all come home un-changed. None the wiser, nothing to talk about. 

As fate would have it, each of us had a tremendous opportunity to exercise our Lean In. I don’t believe that true growth can really happen without welcoming that which scares you with outstretched arms. We faced these medieval dragons and fought them, coming out the other side as braver, stronger humans.

On our last day, we had to descend from the beautiful rolling hills and re-enter the pulsing heart of Roma to return the bikes. This time we’d be going right through the core of the city, through denser post-work traffic, twice the distance of the day we exited the iconic landmark. Max, normally light-hearted and joking, delivered a stern warning: “Please, stay together and ride aggressively. Do not fall behind or you will be lost.”

We zigged and zagged, dodged and weaved, and put our bad-ass faces on. She rode up front this time, positioning herself with intention, and refused to let scooter guy muscle her out of the way. She was smooth and confident, aggressive, but not reckless, and I followed with quiet admiration. She was a different rider now – with an air of authority about her. 

We worked our way back through the labyrinth of Roma to the underground garage, home of our borrowed bikes. Off the busy street and down the curving driveway we purred, tires squeaking on the concrete as we parked the tired beasts in their stalls. 

She rolled to a stop, pulled off her helmet, and with a glowing smile exclaimed, “That wasn’t so bad!" 

If you'd like info on one of our photography workshops, or a MotoPhoto tour, pop on over to KubotaImageTools.com

Photo Workshops: MotoPhoto Tours Italy & Middle Earth Photo Journey New Zealand

A week-long epic adventure traveling some of the most iconic country roads through the hills of Umbria and Tuscany. This workshop is an offshoot of our Secret Italy Tours and is open to both motorcycle riders and non-riders. We have two spots that just became available, so it’s a perfect opportunity for you to join us on this tour in a couple of months.
DATE: September 30th - 5th, 2016
LOCATION: Umbria & Tuscany, Italy
COST: Starting @ 2,600€

DATE: October 6th - 16th, 2017
COST: $4,500 / $1,000 deposit reserves your spot!
An epic photography adventure across Middle-earth.... This 11-day New Zealand South Island (Aotearoa, Te Waipounamu) adventure will highlight the best of New Zealand’s unspoilt landscape. Sample fine food and wine as we take you on a journey through the land of the long white cloud.
As the ideal location for The Lord Of The Rings - Middle-earth, we’ll visit ancient forests and sweeping plains, crystal turquoise lakes and rugged snow-capped mountains ringed by glaciers.
Take a scenic plane ride around Aoraki/Mount Cook and land on the Tasman Glacier for a champagne brunch. From sweeping vistas over vineyards to fjords where thundering waterfalls plunge direct into the ocean, there are stunning views around every corner.

Are You an Active Photographer? MindShift Multi-Mount Camera Carrier

The  MindShift Multi-Mount 20  hangs securely and unobtrusively from my riding pack.

The MindShift Multi-Mount 20 hangs securely and unobtrusively from my riding pack.

If you’re an active photographer, traveling via 4 wheels, 4 legs, 2 wheels, or 2 legs, you’re probably in a constant search for the perfect camera carrying system. I’m always trying to find a more convenient way to: A) have quick access to my camera so I’ll use it more often, and B) carry it comfortably and securely so It doesn’t get in the way of my activity or experience. 

I’ve been a long-time fan of the MindShift Gear backpacks, with their Rotation 180 technology. MindShift is a division of ThinkTank, which makes some of the finest camera bags on the planet. I’ve taken my Rotation 180 Pro backpack all around the world with me and wouldn’t use anything else for my extended adventures. Sometimes, however, you need something simpler. Maybe you just need to carry a camera, lens, and some accessories. Maybe you are engaged in a highly physical activity, like motorcycle or water buffalo riding, and need to keep your camera super secure and out of your way–yet with instant easy access. This is especially important during water buffalo mating season. 

The Multi-Mount carrier can work solo or in tandem with your normal backpack. It could also be added to your MindShift Rotation 180 pack for super easy access to even more gear. In fact, this is the setup I’ll be using when I lead our MotoPhotoTour of Italy this fall. When used solo, it can be slung over your shoulder, neck, or as a hip pack. The clever part is that is has multiple connection straps for securing the carrier from swinging around and getting in your way–which can actually be quite dangerous if you are engaged in high-risk activities. 

The full line of Multi-Mount carriers. Cameras not included. Duh.

The full line of Multi-Mount carriers. Cameras not included. Duh.

When attached to your normal backpack, it can be worn in front, threaded on the backpack waist belt; or it can hang from your backpack straps, and is secured with the stabilizer straps. This method keeps the carrier up higher than your waist, which is essential for mobility during riding activities like motorcycling, biking, horseback, or water buffaloing. 

There are so many clever ways to attach and secure the Multi-Mount carrier, that you’d be hard-pressed to find a reason not to bring it with you.

I took my Multi-Mount 20 on an off-road motorcycle ride to see if it really functioned as well as it looked. We rode hard for almost 80 miles through forests, single-track, and fast fire roads. The amazing part is that I never even noticed the bag was there. It rides so securely and out of the way that it never interferes with your activity. Even through (uh-hmm) dismounts and pushing my bike through knee-deep snow patches, it never got in the way. Usually, I didn’t even remember I had it on. It just seems to disappear–at least until a perfect vista appeared and I could simply stop and whip out the camera without even getting off the bike. 

As with all ThinkTank and MindShift products, the quality construction is second-to-none: Beefy, smooth zippers. Thick, rip-proof fabrics. Bomber stitching on all seams. Everything seems to be really well thought out and tested. There are just enough pockets for your accessories and, as with most of their camera bags, MindShift includes a rain cover. 

The Multi-Mount carriers come in a variety of sizes: 10, 20, 30, 50. I chose the 20 size as it carries a smaller DSLR or mirrorless camera with zoom lens attached. This is generally what I want immediate access to while riding or hiking. There is an outside pocket with plenty of room for filters, cards, batteries, wallet, keys, and your water buffalo mating call device. 

Niggles? The connection straps provided to attach to your backpack strap is designed for attaching to vertical accessory straps, although many backpacks (my bike pack included) have horizontal accessory straps. It still works fine, not a big deal, you just have slightly twisted straps that may throw the OCD person in to disarray. Using another swivel clip, like the one used on the other end of the strap, would have been a more universal solution. Granted, the MindShift backpacks have vertical accessory straps, so it works perfect with those. 

On the left is the way the strap attaches to your backpack horizontal accessory strap. I would have preferred a swivel connector like on the right (which is used on the other end of the strap to connect to the carrier).

On the left is the way the strap attaches to your backpack horizontal accessory strap. I would have preferred a swivel connector like on the right (which is used on the other end of the strap to connect to the carrier).

Lastly, I’m not super excited about the single color option: green. It’s a nice color and all, but what if it clashes with my wing suit? Fortunately, I’d happily trade a little fashion for a lot of function.

After riding with my Multi-Mount for a day, I can’t imagine going anywhere without it. I have quick access to a real camera and it doesn’t have to get in the way of my fun…and fun is job #1.

The green color of the Multi-Mount looks awesome in B&W ;-)

The green color of the Multi-Mount looks awesome in B&W ;-)

Even at speed, the carrier didn't budge or get in the way.

Even at speed, the carrier didn't budge or get in the way.

When you're chasing views like this, you might want to bring a camera.

When you're chasing views like this, you might want to bring a camera.

Bring your camera, share the beauty!

Bring your camera, share the beauty!