Brothers in Arms
Ring Trip sounds like one of those non-fatal yet socially embarrassing maladies they advertise non-prescription medications for on American Television - "I'm not a doctor, even though I'm standing in a consulting room wearing a white coat with a stethoscope around my neck. I know how inconvenient it can be for you to have a bad case of Ring Trip - all you can focus on are lap times and corner apices. It's also distressing and boring for your loved ones. So ask your pharmacist about our new product 'Get-A-Life', now available in suppository form."
In my case Ring Trip has taken on a more persistent, invasive form. It's proving hard to get it out of my system, as my poor wife is discovering to her horror. Last yeart I wrote extensively on this site about my freshman visit to the Nürburgring. My brother flew in for part of the trip and was equally beguiled by the place. We resolved to return this year to repeat the experience - but on our own terms. Rather than imperilling a rental car, we would hammer around the Ring in own vehicles.
As I've mentioned previously, Gavin & I own identical BMW M5s. These queens of the Autobahn (the cars, not Gavin & I) are ideally suited to driving across great swathes of Europe, racing around a track for a couple of days and then transporting the owners majestically home again with half the contents of a local wine warehouse in the boot.
I consulted the track's calendar and found a suitable weekend in June when the track would have all-day tourist driving sessions. Most days the track is only open to the public late in the evening, if at all, because of other activities that take place there - from GT racing to manufacturer testing to rock concerts. People are actually permitted to camp on the track for the duration of the Rock am Ring festival. It's very disconcerting to see on the webcam, a tent pitched where your braking point cones should be.
Our wives having previously given us their blessings to go off and act like little boys for a few days, we started casting around for interested parties to join us. Those of you who don't automatically delete my e-mails may have perused an appeal on this very web-page seeking like-minded adventurers.
I knew from past conversations that there were a large number of my friends fascinated by the idea of a Ring Trip, particularly if it was somebody else's car that would be suffering at their hands. When it came to seeking a firm commitment, however, most of them appeared to be washing their hair or had promised to walk the dog that weekend…
No matter; an old friend of mine from AIB days called "Mark" (to protect the identity of the guilty, names have not been changed) signed on as a co-driver. Mark isn't a petrol-head in the same league as some of my other friends, but he is an avid scuba diver. These adrenaline junkie tendencies qualified him for the trip. Having secured the services of a similarly hard-core co-driver, I was horrified to find out that my brother had a pre-existing commitment and couldn't make the trip after all. We were down to a fleet of one!
The viability of the trip was assured when "John", an old college buddy signed on. With the addition of a second Chartered Accountant, the cultural purity of 'Team Mad Dog' was assured. Actually, this was a surprise to me. John is a very civilised sort and one of the last people I could imagine interested in thraping around a racetrack at life-threatening velocities. Still it's always the quiet ones you have to watch!
John's prime motivation was to get a chance to restock his wine cellar on the way back. John's civilising influence meant that this trip would not just be about beer, more beer and chips ("and German hookers" as my sister chipped in unhelpfully one day in front of my wife). His epicurean tastes shifted the focus of the trip to staying in nice hotels, enjoying good food & fine wines and treating the racing as an incidental excuse rather than the sole purpose of our existence. And so it was that we resolved to take a reasonably leisurely approach to the voyage, taking two days to arrive at our destination in style rather than hammering through the small hours and arriving at the track crumpled with fatigue and promptly stuffing the car into the Armco at the first corner.
No. We would do this in a civilised fashion. We aimed for Bruges as our first night's destination, that city forever famous as being the location of Margaret Thatcher's speech about the great cities of Prague and Budapest being every bit a part of the greater European house as Paris, Rome or Berlin. She may only have said it to annoy the French at the time, but it set people thinking. When the Warsaw Pact crumpled, the focus of the EU shifted forever eastwards. Thanks to the perspicacity of the Grantham grocer's daughter, we'll never want for a plumber in Dublin again but we've had to learn how to order coffee in Polish.
Notwithstanding the relative achievability of our daily travel target, Mark, John & I still found ourselves in a traffic jam in Dublin Port at 6:30am. As we watched the drizzle clouds obscure the upper reaches of the Pigeon House chimney, we steeled ourselves for an epic journey into the unknown (but mainly along the M6). We resolved like warriors to spear through the heart of Britain and be in the heart of Maggie's Europe by nightfall…
Onwards to Part 2: Bruges
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