In some parts of the world, the locating and harvesting of wild mushrooms is something that is (sometimes) passed down through generations, particularly in Europe, and specifically, Switzerland. The exact locations where the best mushrooms can be found are locked into secrets. The mushroom is taken for granted by many, and easily found in the big supermarkets of the world, but in the more rural areas, the mushroom is an amazing, seasonal delicacy. In the Autumn, its common to see people emerging quietly from woodlands with a basket, and covered in a linen cloth to hide the special contents. They never emerge from the forest near the place that they have found their mushroom gold. That would be stupid.
About 5 years ago, I found a 1983 Honda XL500R for sale in the local advertisements. The advert was tempting. One owner since new, very low kilometres on the clock, good condition, always serviced etc. I arranged to see the bike. With every motorcycle, comes at least one story and this one had a special story. The owner, now in his 70s, had been the chief technician in a Honda dealer, close to the Italian border, in Switzerland. He had bought the bike (with a reasonable discount apparently) for one thing, to get to his secret mushroom locations in the mountains, and to transport them back to his kitchen safely. As he always had access to the latest Honda motorcycles, he didn’t need to ride this Honda very often, but from late August to the end of October every year, it was used regularly.
The bike had been fitted with some chunkier off-road tyres and the owner showed me where he had modified the rear rack to enable a big mushroom basket to be fitted. Apart from that, and the fact that he had removed the indicators as he kept kicking them as he swung his leg over the tall seat. I asked him why he was selling the bike and he explained that as it was a kick start model, and even with a decompression lever to help, it still took a good swing of the kick start to start the engine. He just didn’t have the physical strength and agility to start it anymore. However, he showed me how to start it through some detailed instructions and I started it on the first kick. The bike sounded great and it went really well too. The owner explained that he had put a larger sprocket on the rear wheel to lower the gearing as he needed to be able to get up some steep mountain tracks. He pointed to a group of mountains that towered over the landscape, each one of them about 9000 feet (3000 metres) and they were heavily wooded up to about a third of their height, then the rest was all rock to the summits. He said vaguely, that it was that type of forest environment that the bike had been ridden in, although he wouldn’t say where specifically. I asked him what time of day that he would go hunting for mushrooms. He said that he would get up very early in the morning and would ride into the forests with his basket and his mushroom knife. I asked about the knife and he produced the special ‘mushroom knife’ to show me. These knives were locally made, with a wooden handle, have a curved blade with notches in its spine, and a brush on the other end. The blade is shaped to cut the mushroom cleanly and low to the ground. The back of the blade with the notches is used to peel the mushrooms and the brush is used to clean them, very carefully. I bought the bike and he gave me a new mushroom knife as a gift. He said that he was a little sad to see the bike go, as it was emotionally linked to a great culinary season of the year, and he had magical memories of riding in the mountain woods, and searching for mushrooms. I asked who else knew about his secret mushroom locations, and he said emphatically, nobody. Not even his son. I asked if he would share the secret at some point with his son, and he just shrugged his shoulders.
I had owned the bike for about 18 months, when an envelope arrived, containing the original service documentation and spare key. It had been posted by the man’s son. His father, and the previous owner of my bike had died, and his son had found the documents and key whilst clearing out his father’s house. The son had put his email address on the note inside the letter, so I emailed him to say thank you. I also asked him if his father had shared his mushroom secret with him. I received an email back quite quickly and it said two things. Firstly, his father had not shared the location of his mushrooms before he had died, and secondly, only the Honda now new where to go to find the best, and most secret mushroom locations……….
Have you bought a bike that has a good story to it? If so, please share it in the comments box.
All photos by the author