Finally I’ve put together a short summary of the first part of this trip I took in the summer. The second part will come along soon.
Ted Simon is generally credited as starting off the whole adventure motorcycling industry and certainly the making a record of it. Jupiter’s Travels was published in 1979 by Penguin. As it says on the cover, Ted Simon spent four years travelling the world on a Triumph motorcycle. He was a journalist employed and supported on the trip by the Sunday Times newspaper. He left London on 6th October 1973 for what turned out to be a journey of 63,000 miles. This was the same day, he notes, that the Yom Kippur war started, inauspicious but signalling the way his journey and the book criss-crosses with world politics of the period. Ted Simon writes with interest and insight into the cultures and lives that he comes across and becomes involved in across Europe, Africa, the Americas, Australia and Asia. He is politically and personally astute and inquiring. He also writes movingly about the inner life. Its my opinion that though very many books have subsequently been written about this kind of world-encompassing adventure, no one has come near to Ted Simon’s account.
The group of people who have become known as adventure riders come in many orientations I now realise. There is a spectrum from the athletes at one end who’s ride is all about endurance and technical matters to do with the bike and its preparation and at the other end are travel writers, people endlessly curious about the world, its culture and its people who have chosen to ride a motorcycle, maybe because it gives a unique access coupled with vulnerability and openness to people. There are some riders who are somewhere in the middle of course. There are some who seem more focussed on the non-human (landscapes, vistas, wild animals) than human culture.
Ted has written a number of books since this, Riding Home (or Riding High as it is sometimes called) includes further reflections on the same journey. But he has written about other travels, notably his ‘re-run’ of the original trip done 28 years later, starting in 2001 when Ted was 69. All the details can be found on his website and its possible to order his books and video from there too.
Ted turned 90 years old earlier this year. I like him because he makes me feel young.
There is one thing that makes Lone Rider by Elspeth Beard an unusual travel book – it was written, or at least published, more than 30 years after Elspeth returned from the travel described. And, now that I think about it, there is another thing that makes it unusual, though by no means unique – it is written by and about the travels of a woman. And you are reading this review, and I am writing it, because we are interested in travel by motorcycle, and this particular journey took the rider around the globe – quite an achievement.
Elspeth left London in 1982 for a journey, in a Westerly direction, around the world. (Most UK based adventurers head off east nowadays). She was 23. Unlike many other motorcycle travel writers she gives a detailed back-story to her growing involvement with motorcycles, her faltering architecture studies, her family, and her love life. In a nutshell most people, including the narrow minded and sexist motorcycle press at the time did not believe she could do it or were simply uninterested. I hope it is not unkind to describe her family as eccentric, in that classic English eccentricity. She writes about her psychiatrist father’s eye for a bargain – one example is the hundreds of tins of canned food from which the labels unfortunately parted company, causing family suppers, as she says, to be rather pot-luck affairs. They lived in Wimpole Street in the west end of London – unimaginable that a family would live on that opulent street of private medical practice and corporations today.
I can’t help myself compare every motorcycle travel book I read to Ted Simon’s iconic Jupiter’s Travels which was first published (unbelievably) in 1979. Ted is considered, interested and engaged in the places and with the people that he meets and their politics large and small and also writes with insight about the inner life. A tall order to match. Lone Rider, fascinating though it is, started off feeling like a series of anecdotes stitched together. But quickly, alongside the enjoyment of reading about motorcycling, came another not so easy theme that recurred throughout the book and most of the travels – what today we’d call sexual harassment by men in practically every continent, some more persistent than others, and all distasteful and scary to hear about. Another well-known woman motorcyclist Lois Pryce also writes about this but I’d say generally got off lightly compared with Elspeth Beard, as far as we can tell from her books (maybe what writers chose to include and what to be silent about varies).
Elspeth also writes with honesty. She writes about the series of must-see destinations that turn out to be disappointments or spoiled by the behaviour of locals. In fact there are quite a few countries that she has actively put me off ever visiting. Then, early on in the journey, in a hostel in New Zealand, she describes going to bed with what she believes is bad indigestion and waking up in hospital having had a miscarriage. So, if these are anecdotes, they have an awe-inspiring seriousness. Later, in Asia, after two serious road accidents, she teams up with a Dutch man and a romance develops, though the man in question turns out to have what, again, we might call today, fragile mental health. At the same time and, it seems, all the way from India across many countries, her trusty BMW R60/6 is disintegrating, continually breaking down and fixed up more and more precariously. It seems unbelievable that she – and it – made it home to London, arriving outside her parents’ house in the middle of the night in November 1984. Any further details would risk spoiling the, I have to say, rather sad and moving post script to the travel.
Do I recommend this book? Unreservedly. Why did the author wait 30 years to publish this? I have no idea. I expect she has been asked this many times as she is a regular speaker at motorcycle travel – ‘adventure’ – events. Perhaps to lay some ghosts.
I think this has to be a holiday of two parts. Things have opened out. It was good to get away from my last site. It was fine but it was austere in a way that was partly to do with the wild almost constantly wet weather but also to do with the atmosphere on the site. The owners were friendly enough and a young very hard working couple but there was some thing tough and minimal about the way the place was run and about the anecdotes they told about previous campers who underestimated the harshness of the environment.
My Bluetooth stopped working yesterday – it suddenly spat out some instructions in European languages and then died. But riding away this morning in cool and brightening skies felt liberating. The weather definitely helped. It seeps into the spirit – whether good or bad. And then the route I chose through the North Yorkshire Dales was amazing (see the GPX file below), first south and then to the east. It was almost the best I have ever ridden. Up there with the road alongside the Mosel. There were sheep on the road, at one point a great flock of them driven from one field to another by a farmer. And when you see a sign saying that 22 motorcyclists have been killed on that stretch of road you know it must be good. And the bike rode so well today. Movable across the road and into corners so easily just by shifting the weight of my thighs on the seat.
The route became lass spectacular as it got closer to the dividing line of the A1, but still enjoyable and by the time I reached Tesco in Thirsk, about 10 miles from the campsite I was staying at, it was warm, very warm. But morale raising treat number three (1 was the lovely route; 2 was the change of weather and 3…) is arriving at Baxby hideaway campsite. It is everything that the last two were not. So what were the other two like? The first was municipal, part of a national park, run by young employees; the second was a small family run business and campsites like this always reflect the personality of the owner – relaxed or fastidious or points in between. Baxby Manor was, I suppose a corporate run site, a well-invested business. But with very clear values about the environment and, on this occasion, about Covid-safeness. Using the washing space has a specific protocol involving changing into indoor shoes, hand washing and carrying around a piece of tissue to wipe down anything you touch. The reception person clearly shared those values and seemed genuinely welcoming. Its a large site divided up by thick (beautifully planted) borders and bushes into amazing spaces.
I had booked ‘The Sanctuary’ which was reached by a footpath around a small field, then through a gate into a dark wood of silver birches and another walk to my own small field, surrounded also by trees so that the nearest other tents are just about invisible.
Oh and one side of the space is made up by a babbling brook. So there are fantastic private spaces. I have a whole stream side clearing in a wood to myself. Camping is usually exposing but here there is privacy. The facilities, as I mention before, are also amazingly clean and newly refurbished I would say large too, in fact a pleasure to use unlike first site where I often kept my eyes closed while using them.
I have hung my huge jacket and helmet on a tree feeling confident about the weather for the first time on this trip. It’s just gone six in the evening and there is no cloud in the sky. I have a log to sit on by a fire pit with flat rocks to prop up my gas stove.
What would make it perfect would be having my bike here by the tent to admire and tinker with.
They even have a kiosk that serves pizza and breakfast.
It rained heavily in the night until around midnight but seemed to stop after that and there was some blue sky in site in the morning as I made some more coffee in the GSI filter/drip machine.
I noticed I think that the little legs started to bow with the weight of the water I poured on over the coffee. Or did I imagine that? I’ll pay more attention tomorrow. The other tricky thing is that once your cup is full of hot coffee unclipping each of the feet is a little fiddly if you don’t want to spill your painstakingly made drink.
With an overcast sky and rain starting I decided it was now or never for riding and headed off on what looked on the map like a great road to Alston, about 25 or so miles to the north. Via Middleton. It was a great route but of course rained for pretty much all of the 40 or 50 mile round trip. And on arrival at the town the road onward was closed and on a steep incline I decided to take a road to the right and parked up in a convenient car park. But it was still raining so a brief helmet wearing read of the local information board was the extent of my stay. On the return back down the same road and through the same patterns of rain I like to think I made better progress. Back in pretty Middleton I parked again very conveniently and free and had cappuccino (really nice) and panini (passing) in a little cafe.
There were many bikers and walkers all I wondered not quite trusting the weather. I stocked up with food for dinner and got back to the bike. On putting on my helmet my Bluetooth speakers started speaking to me in European languages out of the blue. And then nothing. The rest is silence. Many minutes of desperate and random button pressing has convinced me the unit is now dead and I’m already wondering purchasing about the unit made specifically for my helmet. I arrived back at the campsite about 2.30 wondering if I should take another ride but decided to laze here.
I’m the only camper now here. There is a line of beautiful Ash trees here but the owner tells me they are all dying of the dreaded Ash die back. I think you would only know if you were a tree expert as they looked healthy to me.
I’ve planned what I hope is a scenic route to Baxby Manor tomorrow and will have to do without instructions. Its just over 100 miles away in a East South Easterly direction. Its my last campsite. They say the weather will improve tomorrow and for the rest of the week. I must ride on this riding holiday!
Friday 20th August day 2
I slept as I usually do when camping. Asleep by 9 when it is just getting dark and awake for some hours in the night. The combo of my new inflatable pillow made by Trekology, my folded sheepskin and my Thermarest sleeping pad blown up properly was probably the most comfortable I’ve been. To avoid the many DoE participants I was dressed and showered by 7.30 and enjoyed coffee made with my GSI drip using a filter paper to avoid a tricky washing up challenge. It was a little weak but good. I need to work on getting it better.
I obviously had not built up trust in the bike as when it refused to start this morning i.e. nothing at all happened when I pressed the starter – I imagined, in panic, myself calling for a breakdown service wondering if they would find the way here. But I had just left it in gear and it spluttered into life though after three goes. It’s clearly not a start on the button machine – even when not in gear. I got a couple of recommendations from men here who ride bikes but I started off without a ride plan and enjoyed the mostly lovely lanes. Even the bigger roads were more enjoyable than what I’m used to. Searching for Snake Pass (one of the recommendations) was a little futile as it was packed with heavy vehicles with great jams. So I turned off. I had lunch of tea and a sausage sandwich in a lay-by watched by a field of cows. I would never do that but I was hungry and life on the bike seems to lead me into down market culinary choices.
The bike is easier to manoeuvre on the stoney ground here at the campsite but not effortless – but then what is? It is good to ride, responsive, but dives on braking to a quick stop. The usual thoughts today: am I enjoying this? It’s a different headspace to the rest of the year so yes. I had another shower and a shave. Feeling slightly less grubby feels good. I fell asleep when I got back from this ride.
My weather app shows rain tomorrow and all night and most of Sunday so it will be the toughest part of the trip morale wise. I shouldn’t bottle out for a motel… unless something really good appears out of the mist.