Tag Archives: overland

Advent Calendar finale – the three wise men!

We three kings of Orient are,
One on a motorbike, one in a car,
One on a scooter,
Blowing his hooter,
Following yonder star.

The Sound of Music is on the telly, I’ve had smoked salmon for breakfast and there were two hundred people in Sainsbury’s this morning at 6am – it must be Christmas Eve, and time to open the last door in the Advent Calendar of overlanders!

I’ve been swithering all month about who should be at the top of the tree (is that mixing my festive metaphors? Maybe a bit) and in the end I decided it couldn’t just be one writer.

Get out the gold, frankincense and myrrh (it’s a balm! What does he want a bomb for?) because it’s time to bring on the Three Wise Men. Only one of them has a beard and I’m not sure if any of them has ridden a camel, but they have all travelled afar, and returned to inspire the rest of us to give it a go.

Yes – it’s Ted Simon, Sam Manicom, and Austin Vince.

I’ve chosen them not just for their fantastic books but because each has done so much to encourage other riders to follow in their wheeltracks, whether on a Mini Mondo tour of the Pyrenees, as a Jupiter’s Traveller, with the offer of a stay in Ted’s own home for help recounting the journey after its end, or through talks and tours with ready advice and help in person and online.

I’m afraid I don’t have a copy of Mondo Enduro to include in the photo as it was lent to me by @BiviBag_ADV to distract me during one of my periodic episodes of putting a bomb under my life to see if the pieces would fall into something that worked better – the book did the job but it’s still to early to tell on the life changes.

I’ve seen Mondo described as “the last great analogue adventure” and I think that’s a brilliant summary. It must be difficult for people who’ve grown up in this connected world to imagine how it was possible to travel without mobile phones to keep in touch with each other, internet access in the palm of your hand, and social media to share the journey as it unfolds. Read Austin’s book and find out!

Sam’s three books take you along with him on his travels but that’s only the starting point for all the ways he encourages other riders. He probably won’t remember me nervously sidling up to him at the Ace Cafe and asking for tips about riding in Australia, but he took a few minutes to share some advice, and I bought a copy of Under Asian Skies only to discover that his experience of Australia started with a crash, which was a little daunting! I hope it won’t embarrass Sam if I say that I really look up to him for his determination to be positive in all situations and his incredible kindness.

And Ted Simon – for better or worse! – taught me that riding a motorcycle wasn’t about how fast I could go but about what I saw on the way, and what I found out about myself and the world I’m riding in.

Happy Christmas!

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Welcoming

It’s Friday evening, about half past 8, in the main hall at the Overland Winter Warmer. Austin Vince has already gone full maths teacher on the two chaps talking at the back of his presentation on trail riding in the Pyrenees. AdventureDog, BikerIan and I are somewhere in the middle of a row towards the front. Austin is explaining how several classes of schoolboys had enormous fun laying out his first Pyrenees road books in the disguise of an IT lesson.

Sotto-voce grumbling starts from the seat next to me. AdventureDog has decided he is bored and is making this known with a low frequency protest

I fear this will not go down well. We have been given dispensation to be in the hall for the presentations provided there are no objections. A hairy dog building up to singing his bacon-charming song is not going to go down well with Mr Vince and our weekend might be over before it has properly started.

I shush him. I jiggle him a bit. Heads start to turn, wondering if this is some strange new biker tourettes. The groans pick up in volume.

In a few minutes there will be an intermission, Austin says, before launching into a new round of outrageous stories.

I curse, quietly. (unlike the dog.) I should have brought treats. I should have brought a sausage. Anything to keep him quiet. People are starting to laugh and at any minute I expect an expertly-aimed piece of chalk to be launched in our direction, for I went to school in that brief window when smacking was banned but throwing things wasn’t.

We’re saved by the lights and the intermission. Austin pretends not to notice a three-legged dog sat on a chair watching intently and we slope off for stew. AdventureDog sits under the table and polishes off spare stew and bread.

I’ve been on the fringes of Overland since Paddy and Nich set it up – I’ve even had a couple of stories in the early editions, and I wear my Overland t-shirt with pride, though only in bed these days as it’s rather on the large side. But I have never been able to go to the Overland Event in the summer because it’s a no-dog venue. So I was super-excited to learn that Chipping Warden was happy not only for dogs to attend but to come into the hall for the sessions, for a small tent in February is no place to park an arthritic hound, even one with a toasty fleece. I am working on a U-boat captain style roll-neck for him but fixing the spokes stopped play with the knitting needles.

By Thursday night I was so excited I couldn’t sleep. Was it really such a big deal to be going camping? Yes, it was February so likely to be a bit chilly but did that really justify stomach-churning levels of anticipation?

And then I twigged. Although I camped last year in the Jawa of unhappy memory, that was with non-biking friends. And I went in the Lomax to a biker rally, and got stick for it.

This was going to be my first motorcycle rally on a motorcycle since the Wingman had arrived from Portugal in 2013. Damn right I was excited.

And it was brilliant. From riding down (carefully, in case the wobbly wheel gave up or the newly tightened spokes poked a hole in the inner rube) in the glorious spring sunshine, to arriving to cheery waves from the guys sitting outside the pub with a pint waiting for registration to open, right through to waking up on Sunday morning to find that the tent was frozen solid, it was fantastic from start to finish.

I wasn’t the only solo female rider – two tents along was Emma from the West Country who was rightly feted for making the trip having only passed her test a few days previously, on a very beautiful red Triumph scrambler. But the Wingman was the only sidecar dogge present. He enjoyed having his photo taken by Sam Manicom and being fussed by Birgit, and he made lots of new friends.

Standout moments for me? Steph Jeavons’ presentation on Saturday night, which covered the distinctly non-macho perils of the she-wee, what to do when the border guards hit on you, and how to cope when “you’re not ready for visitors.” Emma and I and the other women in the room were in tears and many of the chaps were just a bit puzzled.  Jocke Selin casually demonstrating how to pick up a GS and shake the water out of the exhaust. Finally meeting @biker_ian in real life, catching up with Robin T, and getting to hang out a little bit with Sam and Birgit. And the bass player in Friday night’s band, who simply could not have been more rock and roll if he tried.

Fantastic weekend. Would recommend. 15/10.

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Old School: meeting Jupiter

They say you shouldn’t meet your heroes. Most of mine are dead, so it’s not a dilemma I face very often. I have stopped entering those competitions where you nominate your ideal dinner party guests because no-one seems to agree with me that Nina Simone, Ayrton Senna, Che Guevara and Teresa Wallach would sparkle over the canapés.

In the small days of December when I was desperate for a distraction from packing up my life into another array of cardboard boxes, Coventry Transport Museum tweeted that Ted Simon would be visiting the city to launch a new exhibition and would be giving a talk about his travels.

Faithful readers will know that Ted Simon is the reason I still ride. They may not know that I missed out on seeing him a few years ago, when he launched the Ted Simon Foundation. I promised then that I wouldn’t let the next chance escape. But I have no Serious Motorcycle at the moment. In the winter half-light I puttered down to the Museum on the 125, and locked it up out of sight of the array of Large Gnarly Beasts that proper bikers arrive at such events on.

It is a popular internet trope that bikers would rather be on their bikes thinking about church than in church thinking about their bikes. On this occasion, we got to do both, because the venue wasn’t the museum, it was the beautiful medieval chapel round the corner. Which was suitably adorned with a large number of copies of Overland magazine and a large Triumph. And Ted Simon, seated near the altar, suave in suede, yellow socks, and reading glasses.

I have the very greatest admiration for anyone who sets off on a Big Trip. I have had the chance twice and bottled it both times. A dear friend has just set off. His biggest worry was that he wouldn’t achieve escape velocity, that responsibilities here in the UK would keep him tethered. But he fully expects to be able to come home, should he so choose. Ted reminded us that he set off, “on, as my girlfriend called it, ‘your fucking mission’” fully at peace with the idea that he might die on the road – “but somewhere along the way you have to throw your life into the hands of chance.”

These days, Ted concedes, “the idea of going round the world isn’t very dramatic any more. People are doing it all the time.”

But there are still roads to conquer. “Riding a motorcycle around the world is a political act,” Ted said. “We must take an interest in the world around us. It’s not where you go, it’s what you find.

“It’s about self-awareness and improving other people’s understanding of the world. Pick somewhere your imagination draws you to and go there.

“Find out what is really happening. Find out what it’s really like, come back and tell other people. Counter the impressions given by TV. It’s a liberating thing to do.”

For Ted, travel is a personal as well as a political liberation. “When you travel you are free to be whoever you want to be. We can free ourselves of the everyday contortions of trying to live up to other people’s expectations.”

What does the successful round-the-world traveller need? A bike, “the smaller the better,” and “an abundance of curiosity.”

I have the bike but I lacked the courage. Maybe it will be third time lucky for me. After all, another world is possible. And Ted said that journalists make the best travellers because we are scrappy, resourceful people. There is still hope.

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