As every businessperson, GP and weather forecaster knows (and what every politician might do well to remember), ‘Certainty’ is an illusion. Every single one of us every day lives ‘by faith’. As I set out to walk to the village, lie down for a night’s rest, or even write this blog, there can be no certainty of completing my task. Amid the billions of options available in the molecular makeup of the natural world, none of us can be 100% certain that what we plan will actually happen. Well not quite…
One thing is certain: I do not know what the future holds. Neither do you. Every moment of my future life and yours is unknown territory. Any predictions about it are pure speculation. It is by its very nature an ‘advent’, the beginning of something unknown.
The Promise of Adventure And that unknown may well be life-changing. A year or so ago I set off on my motorbike one Sunday evening to see my Mum in her care home. And so a new life-changing adventure began. I never arrived. I don’t have any recall of what happened, except to wake up to in Chichester hospital Intensive Care with my wife looking down on me. “You’ve had an accident,” she said. I had been thrown off the bike, broken 14 bones and was now on oxygen and significant quantities of various opiates and other medications to keep me alive. And a lovely nurse in 24 hour attendance just a thin hospital curtain away.
The journeys we begin have no guaranteed end. The promises we make can only be uttered with a proviso: nothing is certain. I was brought up in a very religious (and loving) home, where we were taught the meaning of DV. Deo Volente. Latin. It means ‘God willing’. As I interpret it today, it reminds me that there are billions of possibilities any one of which may or may not happen, and that like it or not, each of us, every day, lives trusting that what we depend on (from our brains working properly to the bus arriving) will prove reliable – and being prepared should it prove not to be.
There is absolutely no certainty when it comes to the future. None. Whatever the outcome of Brexit. To chose to wait until we can be certain is unwise to say the least. Certainty is an illusion. It isn’t coming. None of us knows what the future holds, not even in the next ten minutes.
In the maelstrom of today’s upside-down world, wisdom is found not in demanding certainty, but in embracing the risk embedded in the adventure we are compelled to live out every day – and making the most of it. The only cards we can play are the ones in our hand.
What do you have in your hand today? Make the most of it.
For Sue it is a bit scary. For me it is the beginning of another adventure. In Madrid last week I got lost several times, and I deliberately refused to take my iPhone out and switch on Location Services. Who wants to be that independent when it is so much more rewarding to walk up to the nearest person and say “Excuse me, do you speak English? I’m lost!”? Inevitably they seem to say “A little bit. How can I help?”
We need each other.
You may not have noticed how bikers nod to each other riding along the roads. (In France, they put their foot out to the side, or drop their hand from the handlebars.) If you get stuck, and look in distress, In Europe most will stop to help. We are on the road for each other. Bikers are one group of people who travel the roads for the fun of it. Few car drivers do these days. Satnav is great, but it is much more engaging to ask for help.
I am sitting here typing, so clearly, getting lost has never been fatal or even injurious. I’ve even put on the numberplate of my camper “Lost. In wonder, love and praise.” For me, losing myself in the astounding beauty of the mountains, forests and coasts of Europe (I don’t mean off-road, though I do that sometimes too) seems to inspire worship of the Creator. I’m part of it all, as he is.
I’m writing this in the humble little’ Cafe Roma’, opposite the grand main entrance to The Royal Marsden Hospital in South Kensington, London. (I’m looking after my sister who is recovering across the road from a nasty cancer operation.) ‘South Ken’ one of the poshest areas of London. Two weeks ago I was riding my motorbike in the Balkans, one of the poorest areas of Europe. It’s been a bit of a culture shock.
In Bosnia my three course dinner, coffee, two carafes of wine, ensuite double room, secure parking and breakfast cost £20. Here a carafe of wine will cost that – forget the dinner, the bed and the breakfast. Secure parking? You wish.
In the Balkans I needed a new tyre for my well-worn motorbike. “Follow me!” the man said, and generously led me 30 miles to a different country – literally! – to get me to the right supplier, and gave me an engraved lighter as a goodbye present. That won’t happen here in ‘South Ken’. (Old motorbike? This is stunning sports car and black limo country. Blacked out, exclusive, custom-built £200,000 limos, Range Rovers and Ferraris abound. The main Lamborghini dealership is just up the road.)
In Albania ‘poor’ is normal, yet people don’t think of themselves as poor. Just normal. I did see one reference to the poor in South Kensington: “Don’t give them money” the poster warned, “they will use it to kill themselves with drugs and alcohol.” So giving becomes murder. Hmmm.
Clothes? Every possible fashion house is here, from Stella McCartney and Prada to Versace and YSL, with a pair of jeans costing … 550. Pounds, that is. (850€). In Montenegro it is likely to be 550 too. £5.50. 100 times less.
My new friend in Serbia earns in a day about the same as the basic wage in the UK for an hour, yet he STILL gave me a gift to take back to Britain worth a day’s wages for him.
I saw a three bedroom apartment advertised for rental today. £2,800 (4,000€) a week. A WEEK! A year’s wages just 1500 kilometres south of here.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta said “The more you have, the less you can give.” (Jesus Christ pointed out a little lady who gave a tiny coin. “It is all she has,” he said. When it comes to generosity, it’s what you have left after you’ve given that seems to be the measure.)
How comfortable in your skin are you? What does rich mean? Are you rich?
No, it isn’t Sue’s – she likes a warm bathroom, a loo, lots of home comforts, and a proper bed. But it is mine, although it has had none of those comforts (and I like them too!) but, I think you’ll agree, a stunning backdrop for listening and learning. And it was where I camped on my first night, in the Picos de Europa, a breathtakingly beautiful national park in the north of Spain.
And where it started to rain. And rain. See the clouds? In fact they were part of the weather system that hit the UK on Sunday night, with 80mph winds.
But rainy days are part of life, and part of travelling too. Venturing beyond the confines of my comfortable home, I can expect the unexpected and learn to adjust. The trips I do are an essential part of my work as a personal development consultant, helping me to keep a healthy perspective on people, life, and the world. Yes, I’m one of those people who get a lot of reward from taking time to think, and of being with this sort of magnificent display of the Creator’s art. It resources me so I can better serve the world.
And, yes, for the interested observer, the bike is different too. The BMW 1200GS has gone to a good home, and I’m now riding a little Burgman 400 scooter. Times change, don’t they? No major ‘off-road’ travel or 135mph across Germany, but an easy ride, and it will still go across fields and down gravel back-roads to the quieter places in our world (though the ground clearance isn’t brilliant and the frame a bit flexible).
Brittany Ferries sent me a text to say they had cancelled the ferry back from Spain, so I drove back through France in a day (getting lost in the backroads of Northern France somewhere and assailed by constant driving, gusty, rain) and caught the overnight ferry. I helped a retired couple on an ‘aire’ in the middle of France somewhere and we shared some croissants and coffee as they told me about their personal challenges. And did 10/10 with a boy and his auntie at the Ouistream terminal at Caen over rabbit and chips. And laughed with a truck driver from Lincolnshire.
And as we crossed the Channel and the decks were swept by the storm outside, I slept like a log, tucked into the warm, quiet, ensuite complimentary cabin, courtesy of Brittany Ferries. (Sue would have enjoyed that bit.)
Today I’m thinking about how I want Powerchange to go on helping people live more comfortably in their own skin. Happier. Richer. Lovelier. Free from depression and the scars of sadness. At peace with themselves. Personal happiness as their ‘default position’. If you’d like to help me do that, or would simply appreciate a chat, I’d love to hear from you. Call me or email andrew(at)powerchange(dot)com. Or you can forward this to one of your friends.
Enjoy taking some time out to be with yourself in the next few days. Schedule it. A few hours. A day. For me this time it was a week. Think about how you can more effectively help others – especially those, as Chris De Burg puts it, standing in the rain.
Cool. Well, more ‘Wet’ actually. Yes, the west coast of Norway is very wet as I found out. But stunningly beautiful.
As I returned from my last Big Trip in July 2011 I was asking myself about the next one. Poorly I definitely was, but it wasn’t stopping me from dreaming about the next long ride.
I was significantly ill with the Giardia parasite as I rode back from doing 23 countries in 25 days, the result of not taking proper precautions about ‘wild’ water. My tent was pitched beneath a huge wind turbine in Austria when my body decided to do everything possible to remove the parasite from my system. Fortunately I carry all the appropriate medication for such eventualities and got back to a pharmacy in a nearby town to renew my supplies and enjoy the luxury of a flush loo in a little coffee shop – pristine clean in Austria thankfully. (Solo riding means there is no one to mop your brow or call a doctor when you get ill. Or pack the tent up and load the bike come to that!)
But solo riding can be so addictive. Cast upon the people I meet for conversation, friendship and help when things don’t go according to plan, I develop an assumption that they will like me and help if they can.
And they do and do. Like the guys at Vromos in Bulgaria who turned up within 20 minutes of me phoning them for help, and fixed a stripped alternator belt, and got a tyre repaired at their expense, and checked the bike over. And when I asked Yavorfor the bill he looked at me and said, ‘But you bought the beers!’ I’d show you a picture of them, brilliant blokes, but my camera dropped off the bike going down into Greece and with it the memories therein of 60% of my trip. (I was gutted.)
I’ll get to the Arctic in a minute. I must tell you about the guys in Thessaloniki who saw me waiting
by the White Tower and said “Are you coming to the meeting tonight?” “What meeting?” “The Thessaloniki GS Riders Club.” Of course I turned up. It was 200 metres away in a cafe in a pretty little park. I asked them if there was a floor I could sleep on somewhere, and a muscular tattoo artist with a big smile and an even bigger heart raised his hand and said “My place” and bought me a drink. The fact I kept up with him at the end of the evening as we zipped to this little village 40km in the opposite direction to the one I planned was a mark of my riding skills on unfamiliar roads in the dark!
A fantastic evening with brilliant guys unfazed by the catastrophic state of their country’s finances. I left Greece on an old ‘tramp’ ferry, sleeping on the open car deck, sheltering from the sea spray.
Ok. I left for the Arctic on 13th July 2012. It had been waiting for me since 2009 when I visited
Norway the first time and hadn’t had the time to ride so far north. It was unfinished business and had to be done. The last day of undiminished 24hour daylight (Daylight not sunlight, as a lady on the ferry wisely reminded me!) was on the 17th. I had four days to get from Thakeham to above the Arctic Circle. I decided that the Puttegarten ferry was the route I’d take, up the west coast of Sweden. I got within 30 miles of the said ferry on Day 1, camping in a field overnight and waking to the sound of a car stopping near my tent. A German lady presented me with her good wishes for my trip and a bag of freshly baked bread rolls – still warm from the oven. Brilliant.
The next day and I was up near Oslo. The day after it was Trondheim. Then across the
mountains. (Cold. Snow. Rain. Sharp wind.) A few miles further on from the empty car park I stopped in to admire the mountains I came to the official Arctic Circle. It was still the 17th. Fantastic. Some photos and on to Skutvik to catch the ferry to Lofoten. It arrived at Svolvaer at half past midnight. In broad daylight. It wasn’t going to get much darker for a few weeks, and the sun was shining in the morning when I
awoke to my first rest day at a free camping site dedicated to the climbing fraternity. It had a tap and a ‘drop loo’ (use your imagination) and a view of the sea in front, and a view of the mountains behind.
Two thousand miles in just a few days. I was in the Lofoten, a spectacular group of islands spilling out into the Norwegian Sea.
I’ve got two new toys parked outside. Yes, I suspect that if you know me you’ll assume that they have two wheels, and … OK, you’re right. I bet they’re not quite what you expect though.
“One upon a time a man had two new toys. One was huge and brand spanking new. It had lots of posh gadgets, was sprayed a smart silver, went very fast and cost £20,000. The other had no gadgets at all, was a bit ‘used’, went very slow and cost £320. Oh, and it was yellow.
But the big, expensive toy didn’t belong to the man. It was loaned to him for the night by a local motorcycle dealer, and the man would only be able to play with it for a few hours, then back it would go.
The other toy, the little gadget-less one, the one that cost so little and went slow? It wasn’t on loan. It belonged. The man had paid his own money for it. He had already had it for a week and used it lots of times. It knew that it would serve an important purpose and had nothing to fear from the big posh expensive toy. Had not the man already lavished time and love on Saturday morning cleaning the grime and old oil of it’s chain? Had he not already made his bottom sore riding it up hill and down dale? Had he not taken his car to Wiltshire to find it, rescue it from the dark and crowded garage of his nephew, fold it up neatly, bring it home, and give it new life? And had he not spent hours on the internet to find the very best saddle? Had the man not already, even today, ridden it down to Waitrose and back to collect a slice of salmon for lunch?
Tonight it sat folded up contentedly in the shed, listening to the rain outside, knowing that already it was treasured – and would be able to reward the man for many years to come. Today it had rewarded the man with aching limbs, and the important knowledge that he wasn’t as fit as he pretended. Perhaps in a few months time the man would look back with deep affection and gratitude, with the knowledge that he was now fit and healthy, and that his bum no longer noticed every bump in the road.
The big posh brand-new 1600 BMW motorcycle listened to the rain too – and felt it bouncing on its bodywork. It was too big for the shed and would never ever fold up and go in the boot of the car. And it had a drink problem the other little Brompton would never suffer from. It liked petrol. Lots of it. And tomorrow it would be stuck once more in the showroom with a “For Sale” sign attached, waiting to belong.
As the man prepared for bed that evening, he remenisced, thinking about the two bikes. It was ironic that the bike he desired most was not the posh big one. It’s size and complicated electronics were no longer his desire, however fast it went with its fly-by-wire throttle, and clever engine management system. He loved the little Brompton with its rusty pedal and worn pannier bag. He knew it had already snuggled into a place in his heart – regardless of its ‘bracing’ demands on his energies, its unpretentious presence on the road, its honest revealing of his lack of fitness, and his tender…, er… yes, that too. But the new saddle will soon wear in, and his fitness improve.
The truth was, and is, that the Brompton was his. It was adaptable, convenient, and demanded nothing but his energy and a little care. It could accompany him all over the world if he so wished. Folded neatly it would fit in a car boot, on a train rack, and on a plane without complaint or protest – even from the check-in staff.
And it would teach him that time can be used in different ways, that beauty can be expressed in simplicity, that there are different ways to travel in life.”
I’m sitting in the showroom of ChandlersBMW of Brighton, waiting. My legendary 1200GS motorbike needs a little attention. (For the techies, its a steering head bearing.) It will take an hour according to Phil Banks, Chandler’s outstanding workshop manager. He is brilliant, a walking encyclopaedia.
But this blog isn’t about Phil. Its about Time.
Will the time I spend waiting in reception pass slowly or quickly?
It depends on what I’m doing and how much I’m enjoying it. If I’m enjoying the wait, … oops, there we go. (The bike is done and the time went far too quickly for me to complete this blog. I’ll stay a while, get another coffee and finish it.)
Emmet Reidy, Chandlers excellent Motorrad Manager, has just come over and is asking me about time. He has to work at “time management” he says, and then lists the unpredictability of each day as the reason for his planning challenges. I laugh, and explain it is to do with how he perceives time, and nothing to do with all the interruptions he cites.
Emmet tends to process time as if he is on the inside of it, a bit like a hamster in one of those exercise balls rolling round the room. He is living in the moment, and is surprised by interruptions that he bumps into as he lives out his day. Classic ‘Inside Time’ processing. Life is an adventure for the hampster (and for Emmet!) When you’re in the moment, as Forrest Gump‘s mother always told him “life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.” Emmet’s immediate enthusiasm and spark will really ‘work’ for the GS riders like me who love a bit of adventure.
Phil is different from Emmet. He prefers to see time from outside – and runs the workshop accordingly! It’s great – efficient, predictable and thorough. As if he is watching himself from outside the hamster ball, about to roll down a step, he likes everything done very precisely. He sees what he thinks is the ‘future’ coming, and adjusts for it, preparing for those events that surprise Emmet. Phil tends towards ‘Outside Time’ processing. Phil will value safety. Emmet is likely to take some risk – though preferably on a bike that Phil has made sure is safe!
Flexibility – you can have both
The Powerchange GOLD Coach training – famous throughout the world (I wish!) for it’s amazing power, depth and breadth – focused on Time in our training last month. We showed the coaches how to move from Inside to Outside Time processing and back. The flexibility is great. We can enjoy the moment AND prepare for what lies ahead. We can also take a new perspective on the past – and change how we feel about it.
But is it that easy?
Each of us has developed our preferred default position for our own reason. It makes us feel good – either because we get a buzz out of surprises, or because we like the feeling of being prepared, being able to look forward to a good time. Or maybe some other reason. Moving from our default preference can be thought of as a not-so-good choice.
Time is odd. The past no longer exists, the future hasn’t arrived, and that leaves THIS moment. Now. As you read this. Do you prefer to be in the moment, or prefer to live life a little more detached? Are you an Emmet or a Phil?
Emmet may have more difficulty remembering and planning. He’ll need to reference a diary more often. Phil, on the other hand, may find the normal unpredictability of life less exciting than Emmet, and is likely to look forward to future events and past good times with what he will regard as due caution. He is unlikely to get such an amazing emotional ‘high’ as Emmet. He will avoid the ‘lows’ too. Life will seem safer, and perhaps less interesting.
Human beings start life ‘inside time’. A baby has no understanding of hours days, past or future. That concept is developing at a massive rate through childhood and into adolescence. However, by the time we’ve reached adulthood we will have experienced all sorts of traumas, some very minor, others highly significant, and know what it is like to wait in a queue and rush for an appointment. Those traumas affect our learning about time. Pain and pleasure affect the memories we have, ‘tagging’ them. If there are a lot of tags that are unpleasant (just one major one can do it) we will be much more cautious about ‘living in the moment’ as Inside Time people tend to, and want to take a more stepped back, Outside Time position. It gives us time to process and consider. The upside is that we will be better prepared to handle/withstand negative experiences. The down side is we are unlikely to enjoy the pleasurable moments so much.
How do you process time? If you’re after more flexibility, get in touch.
Yes, I got caught: 72 miles per hour on a deserted dual carriageway at a quarter to eight on a Sunday morning(!) in September with the sun pouring down and visibility perfection itself. Deserted except for the mobile camera trap on the opposite carriageway. Unfortunately I was looking at the road ahead on my side of the dual carriageway. My error.
So it was a fair cop … ish. I was exceeding the speed limit, and as I wasn’t exceeding it by much, Surrey Safety Camera Partnership (I won’t give you the web link to this. It uses such violent images and emotional blackmail that it borders on the obscene. I don’t want it associated with this blog) in deep discussion with Surrey Police (they like to have the public on their side) decided that this errant non-conformist might benefit from a Driver Speed Awareness course run by Drivetech (UK) Ltd. I attended it last week, and here is my report. It’s very long and doesn’t make easy reading.
I wandered into Guildford Spectrum Leisure Centre (the venue for the course) well before the allotted time to join a gathering throng of 19 naughty boys and girls aged 20 to 70. It SO reminded me of naughty children in school lining up outside the head’s study, I couldn’t help but chuckle, till I realised how sad this actually was: they appeared appropriately cowed and penitent, standing against the walls on either side of the entrance, playing with their phones, looking down, hiding behind their hair, avoiding eye contact, alone. Not good, I thought. All they’ve done is get caught for a mild infringement (by the Partnership’s own admission) of the speeding laws in this compliance-obsessed country. That’s all. Unfortunately for me, as I was about to find out later, if I’d appeared a bit more cowed and penitent it might have gone better for me.
I cracked a joke in these straitened circumstances (it went down like a lead balloon) to try and lighten the atmosphere, and chatted to the man next to me. How long have you been driving? 47 years, he whispered. Ever injured anyone? No. Ever had an accident? No. Then what on earth is he doing here, I wondered. We smiled at each other, curious as to what might lie ahead. We waited and waited, and eventually the Course Director and his ardent trainer arrived. Late.
The first three minutes
I was the last one to enter the room and the only chair I would fit into in this too-small crowded room was on the far side of the room. All the other classroom seats were taken. I sat down, and with passport checked, (no, really!) signed myself off on the clipboard. I was ready and waiting expectantly. What happened next shook me. The trainer walked across the room straight at me, shoved a marker pen within inches of my face and told me to write the speed I had been caught doing on the whiteboard at the front for all to see. I was shocked to say the least and gently explained that I wouldn’t be doing that. The Course Director strode across to ‘speak’ to me, demanding that I show him my papers where it says quite clearly that I must fully participate in order to pass the training. But there was no pass or fail, I’d been told. Ah, yes, but I would not be signed off as having successfully attended the course unless I participated fully. “Satisfactory completion of the course shall be determined at the absolute and sole discretion of the trainer.” It occurred to me that he had absolute power and knew it. I dared to question his power. Now if he decided he didn’t like me, I was dead.
We were less than 3 minutes into the four hour programme and I was already in trouble. I explained that I was here to learn… “Oh no you’re not, sir” he said. “You’re here to avoid three points on your licence. You’re on the wrong course. This course isn’t for you, this is for people who will participate fully and you’re not doing that. I think you need to leave.” I was gob-smacked and felt intimidated.
“But I’ve only been here three minutes and I’ve come to learn all I can.” “No you’re not.” It took me all my skills and about another five minutes to convince him. (Reason was in short supply.) By that time I had been accused of lying, maligned, embarrassed, verbally abused and bullied by the finest of them. I don’t know what everyone else in the room thought, but I was shaking and appalled. I had come to learn and was being bullied. I suddenly felt for all the school children in our country who don’t quite fit the system so experience every day what I was only experiencing for a few minutes. It was awful. I knew there was no way I was not going to submit to such disgraceful unprofessional behaviour. However, he ‘let’ me stay (how kind) nodded conspiratorially to the trainer and left the room returning only to feed the trainer with pots of take-out Costa coffee.
Not the best start, and in some ways I wished I hadn’t stayed. I may not have been in a state to be able to make a rational and objective assessment of the rest of the four hours, but all I can say is it damaged me, reinforcing all the stereotypes of ‘corrective education’ and made a mockery of the idea bandied about on the website promoting it. I later thought how ironic that the Speed Awareness Scheme is abbreviated to SAS. It felt like an SAS political re-education programme. After an unendurable amount of time of watching people being ridiculed, put down, and forced to participate in this correction-centre charade, I looked at my watch only to experience another minor shock. We weren’t even half way through. It was going to be a long afternoon.
Let’s get this in perspective. I was the worst speeding offender in the group, exceeding the limit by 12 miles per hour, 72 in a 60 limit. These people did not deserve to be punished in this way. Some of them had been caught doing just 33 in a 30 limit, yet the threat of being “sent back to the Court” (quoted several times) was used to full effect by the power-mad trainer. He had an agenda, and a list of ‘right’ answers that even the brightest and best of us in the room were unable to fathom. Let me illustrate.
What do you think the sign in the picture above means? “It’s indicates a right hand bend ahead,” said the first person. “NO.” postured the trainer, waddling up and down like a cartoon character. Having that option out of the way he turned to the next person in line, obviously looking forward to catching them out and displaying how absolutely clever he was. “It’s a warning sign,” she said timidly. “NO.” he smugly replied again. Louder this time. Gotcha. That was her sorted. Now on to the next innocent victim… What on earth am I going to come up with, I thought as I realised that the first two answers might have been the ones in the Highway Code, but they obviously weren’t on his list. I worked out there were 14 more wrong answers to go before he got to me. I started to create some entertaining possibilities for when it was my turn, but clearly I’d be regarded as non-cooperative and ‘returned to the Court” if I’d dared to voice them. And that was just the right hand bend sign. Intrigued, I started to count open and closed questions, and how many times he said ‘No’ to a trying-to-be-helpful volunteer. It went on and on.
I could go on too, but instead I’ve put the rest in my letter of complaint. I’ll let you know the result. Such behaviour cannot be ignored by reasonable citizens. We have to protest at this kind of outrageous treatment for minor infringements of ridiculous laws. For me it convinced me that this speeding business isn’t about safety at all, but about power and money and conformity. I paid £73 and a day of my time to be bullied by two people who, regardless of their intentions, modelled how to be dogmatic, arrogant, rude, and abusive. And how to misuse power. (Copied from their masters? I hope not.) All in the name of Surrey Police and the Surrey Safety Camera Partnership. I was so distracted and disturbed by what I experienced during that afternoon my driving was absolutely terrible on the way home and remained that way for the next few days. I had been shaken and traumatised, I was angry at the injustice and didn’t sleep more than two hours that night. The sad thing is, with a different underlying ethos to the programme it could have been so different, with those people keen to learn. Fortunately I’ve been able to coach myself through it to a safer (literally) place, but what about the people who don’t have that skill?
The truth is, I did learn a lot last Wednesday at the Spectrum in Guildford. Most of it I only wish I hadn’t.
Follow my motorbike escapades, and you’ll detect a trend – the steady invasion of Europe!
Ever since I was a boy I’ve heard about towns, cities and places in Europe that at the time were just a name associated with a story. Norway and the film Heroes of Telemark, Poland and its turbulent relationship with the Soviet Union, Auschwitz and the death camps, Budapest, the city of a thousand spires (the only Danube I knew was the blue one), Venice and its architecture and art, and Barcelona (Manuel has a lot to answer for!) Even though I’ve stood in the intimidating vastness of Tiananmen Square and driven the stunningly beautiful ’17 Mile Drive’ on the Pacific coast of California, I’d never been to these European places. Paris, yes, but not Germany, or Amsterdam. Or Krakow. I’d never visited Lake Garda and not even heard of Lake Orava. (Aha, neither had you!)
But in 2008 something happened that would change all that and prove to be the key to unlocking these places for me – I saw a medium-sized shiny motorbike in a street in Montreaux Switzerland, and for the first time since I decided I’d never ride a motorbike again the thought crossed my mind, “I could ride that.” Within a few weeks I had bought a motorbike on ebay and a little green tent from Peglers of Arundel and set off across the Channel to the Italian and French Rivieras across the Alps.
Since then, just 20 months ago, I have driven 28,000 miles in 20 countries, and for the record, here they are: UK, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Spain, Italy, Germany, Monaco, Luxembourg, Austria, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Italy and Switzerland. I’ve also been to the west coast of Scotland and ridden the length of Wales.
Apart from teaming up with a fellow traveller for an occasional day or two, I’ve travelled alone, ridden across snow-covered plateaux, and ferried across fiords. I’ve camped in fields of sheep, people’s gardens, and ‘wild’ by the sides of many roads, tracks and lakes, and in those 42 days of travelling only slept in a ‘proper bed’ as Sue would call it, 5 times. I’ve had three different motorbikes, upgraded my tent to the famous Hilleburg Tarra, and only had one cooker burst into flames. Each morning (except one, on the day I spent in Venice) I’ve packed up and moved on, averaging between 200 and 350 miles a day.
Today I can no longer call myself a novice biker – and I have seen Europe! I know what ‘strapping down’ on a ferry entails, I’ve felt the adrenaline of hearing wild animals outside the tent at 2.00am, I know the dangers of camping on a motorway service area, I’ve erected a tent in ferocious winds, and I’ve watched sheep being milked at 6.00am in Hungary. Oh, and I’ve had a bad crash – but that was coming home from London one Sunday night and doesn’t really count!
So what IS an adventure, and what adventure are you on? I guess the word advent, or arrival, might be a key. For me it is going somewhere or doing something new. Opening a door and walking through. It is about DOING it, not just planning it or talking about doing it. I’d only done 1000 miles on a motorbike before I set off on my first own ‘motorbike adventure’, and the truth is I was terrified.
A top motorbike instructor told me later that he has no idea how I didn’t kill myself on the twisty Italian Alps on my first trip, and looking back as I remember those huge trucks on those scarily narrow mountain roads, neither do I, but somehow I think for something to be a true ‘adventure’ it must have risk, musn’t it? It must test you, push your boundaries, demand something more, and be uncomfortable for a time.
“So what if you had a crash?” Of course it is a possibility, and the truth is if I ran off the road in some places I may not be found for days – or ever. But isn’t that the point? Adventure is ABOUT risk, managing that risk, and living the other side of it. Adventure means you take responsibility for your own life, and make your own decisions about how it is to be lived. I haven’t rowed the Atlantic or walked the Polar icecap. All I’ve done is pushed my own boundaries a bit and found the excitement of what is beyond them. And I wonder what I’ll do next.
I’ll leave you to decide what boundaries you need to step beyond – as a Powerchange coach I want that to be a habit for me, the chances are, you’ll live. (In both senses of the word.)
It was just a year ago that a lovely lady pulled her VW Golf across in front of me to enter a petrol station and…in a matter of seconds, my prized blue BMW 1200GS motorbike was no more. Following the thought, “No,no, no, don’t pull across, don’t do it, stop, stop!” and the next resigned thought, “I’m going to hit it” as I contemplated the inevitability of my coming fate, the front of my bike plunged reluctantly into her passenger door, I sailed in a rather ungainly double somersault over the roof of the black Golf thinking (in that split-second eternity that is the slow motion experience of a crash) “So this is what it’s like” and promptly hit the tarmac with a resounding ‘squelch’ … so I’m told.
Then more pain than a brave man like me should be called upon to admit to, let alone endure, assailed my tender torso. Before long, the emergency services were on the scene and I was being looked after by an understanding paramedic – and told to “stand up and blow into this tube” by a less than understanding member of the Government’s ‘special forces’. Eventually it dawned on the young policewoman that I couldn’t stand up as I had just had a slightly traumatic few minutes lying on tarmac and she let me blow into her little alcohol machine sitting down. It was green of course.
Fortunately, I had ‘only’ a broken elbow, pain everywhere, two sprained wrists, “soft tissue damage” to my ankle, (read ‘knackered’) and bruises in places I never knew existed. Nothing much then. In informal discussion with the paramedic, I turned down the kind offer of a blue-light ride to hospital (no, I didn’t fancy six hours in the company of the intoxicated-and-falling-over wounded at Epsom Hospital A & E on a Sunday night) but there followed what can only be described as a substantially ‘bracing’ few weeks. A visit to Worthing hospital at a more civilised hour (and no drunks) the following day revealed the full damage, and before the week was out I was covered in a glorious array of autumn colours. They lasted for the rest of the winter with most of the sunset-tinted ones spreading to bits of me that I would rather not mention. Ah, well…
Everyone confirmed that it was the dear lady’s fault (including the protagonist: “I’m so sorry, I didn’t see you, I’m so sorry”) and the guys at BMW Motorrad took one look at the crumpled wreck and wondered how long the bloke would be in hospital – with the distinct possibility that he would never come out. Sobering thought. Needless to say, its write-off status was confirmed by the assessor, and another shiny 1200GS arrived within a few weeks for me to continue my GS adventures, albeit a little more tentatively.
It’s always good to have a kind and loving wife at these times. Sue took what was left of me home to Sussex and was very sweet, kindly pointing out that I wouldn’t have to clean a bike for a few weeks. It also meant she had to soap me in the bath for a while. (Not altogether bad then?!) Within a week or two my BMW insurance coughed up and a 2008 GS arrived – a Promo bike with 7K on the clock and new tyres, how kind. And with it arrived the compelling desire to get past the fear and plan the next trip…
I have to report a certain success in this department. In the last year I’ve done another 16,000 miles on it, from Spain, to Scotland, to Scandinavia, to Snowdon, sleeping each night beside the bike, wherever I could discretely pitch my little one-man tent. I absolutely love the GS (now with its two extra driving lights so people can see me coming) and I love the utter freedom of seeing the world from the saddle of my silver steed – and yes, she does have a name.
Sadly, the accident has meant my limbs no longer work quite as they used to – a few of the previously working joints have been permanently knackered. Their malfunctioning can be frustrating – and a lot of other things – but let’s keep the GS wheels turning. As a personal and executive coach who works with people who live inhibited lives, I know how freedom-threatening fear can be and, just for the record, I’m determined not to make defeat my final destination. I think it will be Finland instead.
Look out, Europe, I’m on the road again. (Cue Willie Nelson on guitar.)