Though Darren has been riding bikes since the age of 16, I didn't discover the delights of riding pillion until perching on the back of his R1 for a few short rides back in 2001/2002 and then I didn't go near a bike again until 2010.
June 2010 - my first real bike trip, or you could say, my "baptism of fire".
It was Tuesday morning, the Land Rover was packed full to bursting and we set off from our home in Central France, destination: Bavaria. We were due to meet friends at a camp site in Badkissengen the following evening.
Two hours later, having stopped at a toll booth, ’im-who-thinks-he’s-in-charge, aka Darren, noticed a problem. We parked up to find coolant literally pouring from the radiator. On further inspection it became clear there was no way the Landy was going to make it to Bavaria anytime that week.
After a temporary repair with ‘rad-weld’ we headed back home, stopping to check the radiator every half hour or so. On the way back we discussed our options which led to my suggestion of “we can still go, we’ll take the bike”.
’im : “Do you know how far it is? We’re talking over 900 km”
me: “Is that too far for you to ride?”
’im: “It’s not me I was worried about. This will be your first ever trip on the back of a bike”
me: “I’ll be fine. All I have to do is sit there, how hard can that be?”
Darren glanced at me and smiled. It was one of those knowing, almost pitying smiles like you get from the receptionist when you go to a new dentist for the first time.
It was decided, we would take the Super Ténéré. Back at home Darren looked from my large holdall containing my clothes to the bag containing my footwear and on to my toiletries bag. Then he looked at me and, handing me a rucksack, he said simply, “If it doesn’t fit in there you can’t take it”.
OK then, I thought, I can do minimalist. Essentials only it is.
Our friends, about to set off from the UK in the relative luxury of their Land Rover, offered to take a tent for us which we gladly accepted.
I didn’t have much in the way of biking gear - just a jacket and a pair of summer gloves - but I did have a pair of waterproof trousers (used for hiking) and they turned out to be the most essential of my essential items!
So, with a tank bag and a rucksack strapped to the top box we rode off. By now it was about 4 p.m.
About two hours later the rain came and we stopped to put on waterproof trousers, check the map and decide on our overnight stop. After another hour of non-stop rain we found a hotel… which was closed. Onward then.
When we did finally enter our hotel room for the night we were very cold and very wet. Cheap, basic accommodation never looked so good or felt so warm! After a hot shower, all was well with the world once again. The carton of pasta from the vending machine in reception, which we took to our room via the microwave oven, tasted better than expected and I found myself looking forward to the next day’s ride.
The next day, we ate breakfast while looking out at a grey sky and more rain. It didn’t matter, the feeling of being on an adventure had already seeped into my bones and I was ready for anything. You can’t change the weather, so what are you going to do? - well, just get on with it!
Day two turned out to be a very long day indeed. We had to stop every couple of hours to drink hot coffee and warm up for a while. Our lunch time stop came after a period of particularly heavy rain with a cold wind to boot. We peeled off our waterproofs and bought some hot food which I ate gratefully despite the fact my numb hands had trouble holding the cutlery. I thawed out and warmed up just in time to put the waterproofs back on and hit the road again. Luckily the weather improved.
By about 6 p.m. I was beginning to understand the reason for Darren’s repeated question “Are you sure you want to go all the way to Bavaria on your first bike trip?” and beginning to regret my answers of “Of course I’m sure! I’ll be fine”.
My knees and back insisted on reminding me they were 43 years old and passed their ‘best before’ date! Boy did I ache.
We spent the evening/night in a little town near the German border. Once I had been off the bike for a while my body started to feel like my own once again and the aches and pains were forgotten.
Day three, with our goal ever closer we tolerated the downpours and our aching bodies with new resolve. I remember one particularly great road with sweeping bend after sweeping bend, climbing ever upwards. We really must go back there on a dry day when I will be able to appreciate the views as well as the ride.
About 5 p.m. we arrived, only one day late, at the camp site. I was still in my waterproofs (I hadn’t the energy, or trust in the weather, to take them off at our last stop) as I joined the other campers all sitting around in shorts and T-shirts under the hot sun.
Putting thoughts of hot tubs and massages out of my mind, I dismounted and walked John Wayne-like to our friends and the tents. I received a warm welcome, a cold beer and friendly sympathy in the form of comments like “What took you so long?” and “If you hadn’t wimped out and stopped so often…”
We had seven days away, six days riding and one day away from the saddle completely, covering 2,500 km in total. During the latter half of the week the weather was kinder to us. Our return trip was via quiet winding roads through open countryside and picturesque French villages and towns.
I’m not unused to travelling (though in the past, this has involved a Land Rover and roof tent not to mention plenty of room for luggage); nor am I unused to “roughing it”. But I was not used to the feeling of freedom that a bike gives you or the great camaraderie between bikers. And, I experienced a whole new feeling of “adventure”.
Then, of course, there were the added bonuses such as arriving in a French town and not having to drive around looking for a parking spot before parking about half a mile from a café. On the bike, we simply parked up on the pavement near a table, sat down and ordered coffee or lunch with the bike and our belongings right next to us or at most a few feet from us. (Admittedly this doesn’t happen in the UK, but in France it’s the norm. as is the warm welcome always offered to bikers).
I arrived home aching but exhilarated, a converted middle-aged biker chick!