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#296 The Alps are Calling

A driven young 69-year-old inspires Nancy to plan for Europe next year. She’s too fast to slow down.

The Alps are calling.

I can’t keep up with her! Holly is 69 going on 140—KMH! She’s so fast that her friends never know where she is all summer long. If not riding around locally, as in North America, she’s in Iceland or Europe. It’s a treat to catch up with her at my kitchen table, which I am doing today on her 69th birthday. Lucky me! Holly has given me insight to the Federation Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM)—the global body that has sanctioned motorcycle racing in at least six major disciplines since forming in 1904, and is also engaged in non-sporting activities such as tourism and public affairs—and how the average person can manage to ride and make friends in Europe. That’s the part I’m most interested in sharing. Want to ride in Europe? Take in the Alps? Meet other fun riders who become friends? Hook up with Knopf Tours, rent a bike, and start your European vacation at a FIM rally. The rest should fall into place.
The Canadian delegate, Holly Ralph, has been officially representing the nearly 70-year-old Canadian Motorcycle Association for the past four years. The CMA used to sanction all the races and now provides insurance for many motorcycle events across Canada, and sets the rules that most race organizations follow. Its mission is to look after motorcyclists, and is run by riders who pay a $35 annual fee. Holly happens to be a director of the organization, and is also involved in the Canadian Vintage Motorcycle Group, helping organize the Paris Rally. She has a history with racers as chief Timer and scorer, and still throws “Holly’s Brick Party,” which I mentioned in the May 2009 edition of my editorial.
Holly has been enjoying Europe as the Canadian representative, attending FIM Rallies called The World Championship of Motorcycle Touring. People come from all over Europe and camp out, wearing specially chosen representative shirts. There’s always shirt swapping at the closing ceremonies. A young man from Finland, challenged by his father to get the sole Canadian shirt was thrilled to wear the Vincent shirt Holly brought from last year’s CVMG rally. FIM rallies include organized rides, three meals a day, and musical entertainment every night. Over a thousand riders attend. I hear the parties are spectacular, since most are camping and can crawl to their tents after the evening’s fun.
In Austria, they painted nude models as part of the entertainment.
Great bands played every night in Belgium. This year’s event was held in Champagne, France, where they toured some of the 150 kilometres of champagne cellars in the region, tasting bubbly.
Before that Holly was at a rally in the Black Forest of Germany where they walked through ruins of Roman baths, then drank beer. It sounds very civilized, and an incredible bargain. I am assured that the riders have good fun, and great friendships are forged.
Last year the FIM rally was held in Poland. Holly had rented a Virago 535 in advance, but when she got there the only bike they had was a Yamaha Diversion—a tall, 600cc sportbike.
Standing less than five feet if she stretches, Holly was foiled, and after breaking her foot putting it down and finding nothing, had to return to Warsaw by UPS van.
She’s owned two Norton Atlases, seven Bridgestones, two Yamaha Virago 250s, a Kawasaki Vulcan, and her current V-Star 650. The BMW with an R69S frame and 75/7 engine was her favourite. Holly’s been riding more than 20 years and was a passenger for 30 before that. Imagine. So she solved the problem for her future by purchasing and shipping her own 250 Virago that now lives in Heidelberg. Know that some people’s luggage weighs more than Holly does. What she can do on a 250 others might not be able to do on a 750—like the time she did 800 km in nine hours on a 250 fully loaded for camping, including at least five gas stops. Did I mention she’s hard to keep up with?
The day before the official opening of the rally, attendees enjoyed a bus tour of Paris. While at the Eiffel Tower, Holly had a pendant engraved with the name of a special Canadian woman from Nova Scotia—long distance rider and instructor Pam Vickery, who died suddenly of a blood clot during ankle surgery following a minor dump in a diesel fuel spill.
On opening day, representatives ride into the centre of town past a review stand where they announce your country and play your national anthem. Holly wore the pendant and dedicated the raising of the Canadian flag and anthem to Ms. Vickery. One never knows when our clock will stop.
For those of us wanting an adventure without camping, we might consider FIM’s new Mototour of Nations, which took place this year for the first time in Italy, Slovenia and Austria. It’s a riding rally set in the Dolomite Alpine region of Italy. Included are three nights hotel, breakfasts, three dinners with drinks and more, for only 200 euros! Holly was scheduled to attend the September event, flying to Europe for three days—not more—because she’s too busy and has bills to pay. Turns out she still teaches up to 60 teachers online how to do math and science simulations. This is what became of the woman who used to teach all those “difficult” kids at public school, the ones who had behavioural issues, but with Holly were “darling kids.” (I recall she spoke differently about their parents!)
I’d say Holly’s making an excellent show of living life to the fullest. I tend to meet up with her at her home in Ancaster during winter when she can be pinned down. We drink Norton wine, enjoy fine vegetarian meals made especially for me, and then off she and I go in different directions. Wonder where she’ll be next year? Sweden and Finland I hear.
If you’re interested, look up FIM and apply through the CMA. Riding in Europe is good fun, and the attitude toward bikers so different from here. I hope to go next year myself. The Alps are calling.

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