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.
This had to be the book for me: written by someone with a love for bikes and literature – and the snippets I had read on the net were excellent: ‘It wasn’t a mid life crisis that got me on the road, but mid life money’ (well something close to that). This book has lovely aspects – that self-deprecating, almost characterless Canadian tone, some insights into the personal politics of major literary archives, some fascinating information about T E Lawrence (yes I mean him, not D H), some nice moments of humour. However, somewhere in the book Ted says he is looking for a way to link biking and literature but he can’t find it. And for me this is the book’s weakness – his sometimes laboured attempt to find suprising connections between these two worlds and sensibilities. And trying to wind these two together seemed to result in a book that did niether very well. This book is never quite travel writing. I also had the feeling that there wasn’t quite enough material for a book and that Ted had dived into some research to fill out various parts (mind you, knowing that 11 North Americans are killed every year in incidents involving vending machines is priceless). The North American editors must have been nervous about the readership: surely even a biker who has never left Edmonton (the one in Canada – only marginally nicer than the one in North London) doesn’t need it explaining that ragu is an Italian pasta sauce or that when Albert Camus wrote ‘je voudrais m’acheter une motorclette’ that he really meant ‘I want to buy a motorcycle’.
For me the nicest part is near the end when the author hobbles back after breaking his back in two places in a bike accident. We’re prepared for the ultimate anti-climax – that he decides never to get on a bike again – but instead in a couple of sentences we see him reunited with the beauty of his Ducati Monster – and of course he has to ride it home from the mechanics – and at over 100mph.
This review is on Amazon. The book is available at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Riding-Rilke-Reflections-Motorcycles-Books/dp/0393330745