Solitude and loneliness are different things. During a few nights, on my own in a pension or guesthouse bedroom, I experience loneliness, and yearn for the next destination where a friend awaits my arrival. I miss my partner, my Club, my friends or more accurately sisters and brothers. I miss my tribe. It’s especially tough if one cannot sleep, due to noise or the discomfort of a strange mattress or room.
During the days it’s a different matter. Riding 400 or 500km per day, I am alone. We three, we roll alone, living in a memory, my echo, my Shadow and me. How could the Ink Spots have known sixty or more years ago that I’d be riding a Shadow..?
During these long riding days, I am not lonely. This kind of solitude is welcome. The total focus on what is happening around me is an excellent form of meditation: the mind is sharpened and there is no room for negative thoughts or speculation. The mental narration one gets taught when one is undertaking advanced riding training is helpful in more ways than one. One narrates each new development, asking “What will happen if…” which allows for the logical planning of outcomes of each manoeuvre. It also leaves clear mental markers when something unusual happens or I pass a particularly interesting bit of scenery: the act of narration ensures that a description stays in my mind.
There is one other thing which ensures that on the road I do not feel loneliness. Before setting off, I asked my friends to contribute a song or two to a playlist which accompanies me on this 5,000km run. The result is that I have with me over 50 songs: very eclectic and reflecting an entire spectrum of musical tastes. There are songs in English, French, Spanish, German and Basque. Jaques Brel’s Amsterdam sits alongside Kraftwerk’s Autobahn. Sir Christopher Lee’s symphonic metal mingles with Los Salvjes covering the Rolling Stones in Spanish. 2 Cellos and Apocalyptica sit side by side. Dub and folk cohabit comfortably. And of course there are the Ink Spots.
Since something is needed to block out the roar of the wind, the music comes on when it’s safe and when external sound cues are inaudible. At times the playlist seems almost sentient, matching my pace, the mood set by the weather, even traffic conditions. A History of Bad Men by the Melvins is the perfect accompaniment for some of the hairier moments on the Swiss motorway; Gogol Bordello’s Mishto works remarkably well in rural Czechia. The irony of Gimme Shelter by the Stones is appreciable during a particularly heavy downpour accompanied by thunder and lightning.
The playlist says something about the journey but it says more about my tribe. They all have very different musical tastes but the love and thought they’d put into gifting me a song is the same for each one of them. That energy is almost as important as the fuel in Veronica’s petrol tank.
We three, we roll alone… On the Road, I am alone, but I am not lonely.