The Lone rider

This issue of Adventure Bike Rider has a few articles on riding alone and loneliness. The first is a rather eloquent account of Ben Owen’s ride through the ‘vast wilderness’ of British Columbia. He starts with the words of a friend who asked, uncomprehending, whether it is ‘a bit shit’ to travel alone. By the time he had reached British Columbia he already had ridden for two months in North America so this was a big trip, at least by my standards. The article chronicles the ups and downs of mood as he mostly travels alone through tough terrain and terrible weather. At times he is asking himself why he is doing this and occasionally a flash of landscape or a sudden achievement put the doubts at bay – for brief moments. It reminded me of similar honest moments in Ted Simon’s writing and of course of my own brief and usually unadventurous motorcycle trips. My trips are unadventurous in that they have not left Europe so far and mostly take place on tarmac but there are plenty of opportunities for anxiety and self-doubt particularly when the weather is bad and I get hopelessly lost. So this kind of writing speaks to me – much more than the matey accounts of trips with ‘grins’ and beers with a bunch of riders. Turn over the page and you get a column by chartered counseling psychologist Doctor Harriet Garrod who is currently taking referrals and charges between £250 and £400 for assessments. She says you need to mentally prepare yourself for going solo. One of her tips is to try imagining what everyone is doing back at home if you are tempted to head back early (as I have done at times). There isn’t a mention that some people may be temperamentally more suited to being on their own than others, strangely. I speak as someone who is at the end, the introvert end, of the Myers Brigs Introvert-Extrovert scale. Turn the page again and we get a less than gripping, but rather sad, account of a solo rider who found he wasn’t enjoying his 50th birthday treat of riding home to the UK from central Europe. He hated it so much that he rode home from the Adriatic in one go – 1400 miles in 25 hours. ‘The opportunity I’d created to celebrate my 50 years of life was tearing me apart: I sat next to the bike in some random European service station and cried’. Initially I was a bit dismissive of this article but this disappointment is quite touching. Perhaps he didn’t know himself well enough before he set himself this challenge. Someone said to me ‘don’t expect enjoyment, think of the journey as travelling not as a holiday’. I’ve found setting a target helps, getting to the top of Scotland, or Norway, getting to Slovakia. Then you aren’t looking for enjoyment.

Sunday 4th July Near Valence

July 4th (Sunday)
I’m writing from a small French town in sight of the beginning of the Alps which rise huge and irregular over to the east from here. The travelling has gone so much better since the first day. It did not rain all night and though it was misty in the morning and the tent got packed away wet, I rode 220 miles making a dent in the distance over to Les Gets and Geneva that suddenly seemed daunting having exhausted myself moving just over 100 miles. Apart from choosing the wrong booth at the motorway toll which exited me promptly from the system only having to swing round and rejoin and repay of course, it was welcome just to sit on a comfortable speed and take a break for increasingly stale rolls but tasty Spanish cheese en route.
The veins are standing out on my arms and hands uncomfortably with the heat. Last night’s campsite was the prettiest Ive stayed in so far with a lovely pool which I got some needed exercise in and a lovely looking terrace bar which I did not quite have the nerve to investigate. I tortured myself this morning plotting a twisty route to today’s destination and then gave it up for fear of taking on too much. The scenic routes are just so tiring to ride all day and some narrow hairpins – especially going up hill test my confidence at getting the bike round u-turn like angles. Instead I stuck to routes nationales which took me through some breathtaking gorges, up mountains and twisting down them again in a way that was not frightening but definitely fun. There are so many bikers around here that greeting them all gets tedious. Its rare to see lone bikers like me.

Of course these trips are like… they remind me of drug induced trips (how strange we use the same word). There is something about those short periods of altered consciousness, connected together across time that I remember. The feeling, ah, here we are again. And during one trip you are in the right frame of mind to think about how the next one could be better or different at least. There is something awkward about these solitary trips. I think it is the holiday context. So, I arrive at another campsite the only lone traveller, in fact the only traveller by bike. It is easier to blend into the background in a campsite than my first short trip in German youth hostels sitting on my table for einselgasten. But something slightly hardcore appeals where the cutting corners, where the roughing it is central to the project, not a lack of doing it properly. Perhaps rough camping, where I’d be setting up camp and cooking a meal in the middle of nowhere, not surrounded by big white dutch motorhomes and neat lawns. That would really feel like a focussed experience not the slightly misfitting experiences I have had to date. I had abandonned the idea of a Nordkapp trip in favour of the more agreeable climate and culinary delights of spain and france but maybe it needs a rethink. I’m enjoying a chilled beer and a cigarette in the ‘snack bar’ here that serves good wine but horrible pizza. And it is so hot riding, my t shirt is saturated with sweat each day.