9 Lessons For The Solo Motorcycle Adventurer (learned the hard way)

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“My biggest thrill is when I plan something and it fails. My mind is then filled with ideas on how I can improve it.” 

~ Soichiro Honda    

5,244km later, the first journey is complete, the loop is closed. This is not part of the narrative, more a join on the much wider arc of thought and experience.

I had the blessing of Ted Simon, a machine built by the disciples of Soichiro Honda and looked after by Zenith Motorcycles, and music given me to me by my friends for company. What motorcycle adventurer could have asked for more?

This was in every way the perfect trip. The highs elated and inspired me. The lows tested and taught me. And it is for that learning that I am most grateful.

It’s not easy to articulate everything I’ve learned. All one can do is document some of the main lessons in the hope that others considering any kind of motorcycle journey, long or less long, may take note and hopefully build on some of them, in order to ease their passage through terrain and time.

Lesson 1: Say yes more
None of this would have happened if I did not take Ted Simon’s advice, stop prevaricating and do it. Each time an opportunity presented itself, each time I was invited to something or offered something, I tried to say yes. This resulted in exhilarating adventures, valuable lessons and new friendships created or old friendships solidified. Yes. Da. Si. Oui. Such a short word, so easy to say. A magical word, a key to a lifetime of experiences and wisdom.

Lesson 2: Be grateful
Take nothing for granted. Everything is a precious gift. No rain? Wonderful, a ride to be enjoyed. Rain? An opportunity to practice riding skills, and hopefully eventually a warm shower and a nice cup of tea to look forward to. Hearing something you agree with? Excellent and self affirming. Hearing something you disagree with? An intellectual workout, and an opportunity to see things from a different point of view. Wide open motorway, traffic jam, windy mountain path: if you are grateful for all you are sent, your journey will be one of wonder and discovery.

Lesson 3: Be humble
Listen. Try to understand. Learn if you can. Change. Imposing oneself on conversations will end them and the learning will be limited. Demanding things which cannot be obtained may close the path to those which can. Those you meet will appreciate you more, and as a result of the openness this will lead to, both them and you will gain so much more.

Lesson 4: Eat apples
There is no such thing as a free lunch, but there is usually such a thing as a free apple especially in late summer. People, trees and the ground will offer you apples. When that happens, take them with gratitude and without question. Eat one at breakfast and one when you stop for petrol. The vitamin C, energy and fibre will supplement your otherwise patchy traveller’s diet. You’ll feel better, you’ll ride better and you’ll sleep better.

Lesson 5: Go slow
It’s not a race. Take your time. See more. Experience more. Accumulate more stories to share with your friends when you get home. The next town will be there whether you arrive at seven or ten past seven. And speeding tickets suck.

Except on the Autobahn. Go fast on the Autobahn.

Lesson 6: Ask, but expect nothing
If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Sometimes if you do ask you also don’t get. But there is no harm in asking, especially if you are in an unfamiliar setting and you don’t know how things work. People will usually want to help, and more than often they will be able to. Whether you ask for a bar of soap in Spanish, or an extra pillow in French, be as polite as possible and try to make yourself understood. You will be much more comfortable as a result.

Lesson 7: Carry what you think you need
It’s hard to guess what you will need. For example, I carried inner tubes and a single barrel foot pump. This was the bulkiest part of my gear. Even though in preparing we’d taken the precaution of putting “healing gel” inside the tyres which allows a military vehicle to roll over several nails and still keep going, knowing that a puncture on my unusually sized spoked cruiser wheels was reparable gave me the peace of mind to focus on the riding, the journey and the conversation. I also carried baby food, raw bars and water. That too ensured that I was not worried about being stranded without sustenance, arriving late and missing dinner because I’d stopped to look at something amazing on the way, or skipping lunch because I was given the opportunity to shoot a trebouchet.

Lesson 8: The Road will provide if you are respectful
Ted Simon told me not to overplan. He was right. At each turn, when I was least expecting it, the Road provided. For the past and for the future too. There are many people out there, and many settings. You will be surprised and amazed at what you find every time. Say yes and be thankful.

Lesson 9: Remember it’s not all about you
Every conversation which you have involves someone with a story as interesting and complex and yours, often more so. Listen. Offer whatever you can, but impose nothing. Be comfortable with being an equal or junior partner in each interaction. The more you give, the richer your own story will get.

There are probably many other lessons. Hopefully these 9 thoughts can act as prompts, for others to build on. One can never know enough. Oh, is that lesson number 10…?

We ride. We learn. We make mistakes all the time. We learn some more.

Where next? Tromso to Gibraltar as initially intended? A loop of the Mediterranean, with some effort to avoid war zones in the East and South? A run East chasing the Sun? The Americas because New Orleans on a Harley on the day of Mardi Gras was not enough? We will see what the Road has to say…

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