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.)