And then there’s me. Along with the bike THE most critical element of an adventure. No me no trip.
Am I physically prepared for this adventure?
Am I mentally prepared?
And how would I or do I know.
History again helps me here. This is not the first long and challenging trip I’ve done.
1995 shortly after finishing my Masters done in a foreign country financed by myself I was pretty exhausted, burnt out by the demands of the lifestyle I was leading, unable to save the relationship I was in and just sooo not looking forward to becoming a Corporate Warrior and career focussed professional.
I bought a truly inadequate motorbike in the Netherlands: Yamaha XJ 400. Nearly 10 years old. It had Frazetta’s Silver Warrior faded and cracked on the tank. I could get both feet on the ground either side of it. It must be said I don’t have the longest of legs.
And it was in dire condition.
I worked in a bar in Edinburgh and poured all my money into, you guessed it, preparing the Lemon.
For as we know: You Can’t Hang Ten On A Lemon.
What is a Lemon:
Lemon is doing the impossible on the improbable and just maybe pulling it off.
I had waay tooo little money: a 1000 British pounds to circumnavigate Europa on an epic Euro-Turo. I had no place to return to. I had no destination. I had no particular travel plan. I had no future in terms of plans. Nothing. Just a burning desire to ride away and discover Europe, but ultimately myself.
I had a map. It showed a route around Europe, similar to the road around Australia. Armed with that improbable logic I ventured off.
I spent 18 months on the back of that bike.
Not contiguously. There were stops of significant duration. I got strange jobs in truly alien countries and cultures, fell in love, ended up with a daughter (a strange little story in itself), learnt how to keep my Lemon mobile as it systematically fell apart doing more kilometres in a month than most bikes do in a year, endured the strange nether world of the very recent post-Soviet Eastern European ‘independence’, funny borders in funny places, endless variety of currencies, a bewildering version of the definition of ‘coffee’, how to find places to stay as Autumn hounded me in cities which had rarely seen a tourist where no tourism office existed where Lonely Planet had yet to truly establish its information base, how even to find maps to know which direction to travel and all the while haunted by the terrible warnings of the Scandinavian bikers when I told them of my plans: I was doomed to die murdered by marauding bands of brigands with my possessions pilfered and my remains left for the crows to pick out my eyes. Hairy stuff.
I can truly say I was the first Western Tourist in a lot of places and definitely introduced the Japanese 4-in-line motor bike to a lot of very curious and interested people.
The Lemon died early in the morning in a late October Latvian forest. The bushings on the alternator had worn out and there was no charge coming into the battery. A problem that plagued me until I could fix it a year later in the Netherlands.
Local heroes resurrected it.
It died on the autobahn and I literally rolled off an outrageously fortuitous abfahrt down a short hill to a T-junction where I stopped and contemplated just what to do. Middle of nowhere. Right across the junction was a building with AutoWerkStad in big bold letters. Pushed the Lemon up the drive showed the mechanic the problem and two hours later I roared off with the battery fully charged.
Was I prepared for that trip? No. Not at all. Not for the climate, not financially, not with the wheels. Mentally? Doubt it. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
I utilised the alternative preparation model: MIUAIGA – Make It Up As I Go Along. Also works but admittadly does mean a whole load more stress and challenge as all the things that could have been anticipated and mitigated before the/a trip has to be dealt with enroute. And it worked. I made it around Europe, learnt a lot about myself, motorbikes, the countries histories cultures of a L O T of countries in Europa. A brilliant trip. No (thorough) preparation.
No way in the world my planned bike trip around Australia is going to match the shear mental and physical challenge of that trip.
To say I returned different is an massive understatement. Confident? I could solve any problem. Self-esteem? Everyone was in awe of what I had done – you just can’t imagine the number of “I could never do that” I heard when people asked about my trip.
However, after nearly a solid decade of continuous travel and living in dozens of countries across Asia and Europe, constantly poor from pouring the money into the lifestyle, skinny as hell, tired of being cold to earn my living or through living in a single-person micro-light MacPac tent, I felt: time to get serious.
I got a job. Easily. And things became more stable if not more settled. I still criss-crossed Europe on various generations of better quality motorbikes. I continued to live in funny countries and strange cultures doing interesting jobs. But it got easier.
Fast track 20 years and I’m still highly mobile, been living out the back of the Stora Blå Buss +/- the odd permanent dwelling for the last three years.
Mentally I am used to moving and travelling. I enjoy the challenges. I thrive on the discovery. I see the beauty the incredible the fantastic in the moment I am in. I love the various strange places and people and cultures I encounter and are boundlessly encouraged by the shear similarity of us all.
We have to create the ‘-isms’ we claim separate us.
I am mentally strong enough too to know when enough is enough. And should I get half way around the Back of Beyond on the Other Side of the Black Stump somewhere in the middle of the Outback and feel I truly don’t want to do this anymore, I’ll quit.
No point in forcing a square peg in a round hole.
In the late 80s before I left Australia they found a touring bike complete with all equipment but no identifying papers or anything 50 m in from a dusty road in the middle of nowhere in the Kimberleys. It had been there for years. Unsurprisingly there was a lot of concern as to what befell the owner. It didn’t auger well for a happy ending.
A good couple of months later a quiet voice rose from Adelaide: “The bike is mine” said the voice.
Turned out he’d just had enough. Couldn’t do it anymore. Not even to the next town. Dumped the bike hitched a ride and forgot about it.
I would have dumped the Lemon. In Latvia. Poland. The Czech Republic. If I could have. But something drove me on. I had the mental state to finish the trip.
Solitude is a comfortable companion of mine. Here in North these last two years I’ve spend inordinate amounts of time in solitude. My partner worked away from home for five days a week and often I was marooned in small isolated mökkis (classic Finnish log-huts) somewhere in the vast northern boreal forests tens of kilometres from the nearest village. Sometimes the only words I’d hear from a person would be “83 Euros and 20 cents, please” when I had the car and could do the shopping. And most often it would be in Finnish.
The hikes, the snow-shoe trips, the cross-country ski trips were almost all done with only Chicco as company. I completed another science degree, wrote a book – perhaps fairer to say did independent research into Free Prior and Informed Consent regarding mine-project development and it’s relation to the Communities they impact, designed my next tattoo, improved my guitar playing no-end, learned which wild mushrooms I could pick and eat, fished for days on end, and generally enjoyed not having to meet outrageous milestones deadlines attend spirit-crushing meetings and deal with recalcitrant bosses and clients. In short, I’ve truly enjoyed a brilliant Sabbatical. On my own.
Nearly all of my travels and trips have been solo ventures. No end of interested persons at the beginning and planning stage. It seems though that when the money has to come down and the time chiselled out of a busy schedule the interest wanes somewhat.
My boss in Sweden entered my office and declared we should climb Kilimanjaro. I nodded my head and promptly ignored his suggestion (?) I should plan it. But he came back, twice no less to repeat the, err, suggestions. Convinced he was serious about ticking this list off his Bucket-List I planned away. The number of the group rapidly grew till 7 in total. I arranged a private trip with our own guide, added a day to ensure we Middle Aged Men improve our chance of summiting by having more time to acclimatise, and set the date. Bosses wife vetoed the plan. He’s not in shape, apparently. I chose another date six months hence.
Time to pay, I tell the boss, and commit. Wife suddenly plans a major kitchen renovation starting the exact date of our departure. The other five members of the group suddenly have other more pressing obligations and I am left with a brilliant plan and no compatriots.
“F**k it!” I think, “I’ve put too much into this to let it go”.
So I paid for seven strong Tanzanian Supa-Stas to get me up Kilimanjaro on my own. I added seven days of safari and a solid week diving in Tofo Beach Mozambique to round it all off.
Brilliant trip. But I went alone.
I am therefore not concerned by the solitude and loneliness I’ll experience on my trip.
Mentally I conclude I am up for this.
Well, I’m Australian. I know a lot of things beginning with ‘s’: surf sand sun sunscreen sun-block sun-tan sun-burn slip-slop-slap sharks snakes scorpions spiders centipedes (OK, not an ‘s’ word but sounds a bit like one) and so on. I do not know a lot about: snow and skiing.
Tried downhill/alpine. Scares the hell out of me.
But cross-country and I are a match made in heaven. Took a few seasons to master it. But this year over an 8 week period managed my goal of 500 kms skiing around Ylläs and Äkäslompolo. Coldest start was -25, warmest +5. Truly an all body experience using legs arms shoulders chest back and breathing. Longest day trip 45 km. Five hours.
I love this kinda shit.
Peddling and bikes and I are also a ‘made in heaven’ match. I love that shit too.
Physically I am in great shape. I’ve been a fanatic sportster evolving to a more genteel active dude my entire life. I’ve never let myself get too out of shape and ‘do’ something as often as I can.
I have no doubt there will be moments of struggle, elevated heart-beats, sweat, tears even. But I’ll love every minute of it.
I am not concerned about the physical side of the trip.
The ‘Me’ side of preparing for my epic trip is well in hand.
17 April 2015