It was the three day ride back from Benidorm that sealed it in my head. It was certainly possible to do it, and I was determined to try.
I’d had the idea of it germinating in my head for a while, that I could do a bigger ride. The lure of living on the bike again was powerful but, having watched Charlie and Ewan being pulled out of mud by a support crew, thought that a solo trip into the wilds wasn’t for me.
After all, I only got a bike when I began dreaming of a smooth sailing, glamorous tour from London to Misano for the MotoGP race. Hitting all the big sights along the way. I’d wanted a bike for years, but never bothered since I was living in London and 20 minutes walk from work. I bought a shiny blue 2006 CBF1000 kitted with matching panniers and in the space of 4 months I went from “Not a clue about bikes” to “Done a solo trip to Italy on my own bike”.
As brilliant as the Italy trip was, I made a lot of mistakes. I generally ended the day in cities, which meant starting the next day there too. I got around 3 hours to actually see the city, a huge chunk of time was spent navigating and in traffic. What was I thinking.
Because I was hopping between cities, any exploring or detours was additional millage on what I had planned for the day, so most days were around 400 miles, one was 550. That was not fun. ~150 miles a day was spent going in and out of cities, it could have been easily avoided for some of them. I also carried camping gear 4000 miles round Europe to use twice in 16 days. Obviously mistakes were made.
What I did love: living on the bike. Packing, loading up and leaving with all the possessions I needed to survive was just bliss. I’d set out from the hotel or camp feeling absolute freedom. I had the whole day ahead, a small loose plan and needed around 50 Euros for food, fuel and water. By the end of the day, there was a great sense of achievement, I’d usually overcome something that day (being very lost or finding a hotel at the eleventh hour) and had been riding my bike all day, which is a win all on it’s own.
I realised I could do this a lot.
A very quick sequence of events led to riding to Benidorm. At an impromptu team meeting we were told: “A lot of us won’t be here at the end of today, we have to let some people go”. So the following 6 hours was waiting to find out if I had a job or not, during which, people joked about just heading off into the sunset if they didn’t have to work next week. I joked to, and realised my Dad was in Benidorm in his apartment. So for quite cheap, I could go join him for a while.
I was told at about 3pm that I was being let go. I don’t remember much after that because we all went to the pub. I woke at 10am the next day and started planning the trip. It had to be quick, Dad was leaving in 5 days, so if I could get there in 3 I’d have two days by the pool and playing golf, then have a lazy ride back. I sure as hell wasn’t going to fly when I had two wheels ready to go. Though it turns out my wheels weren’t ready to go, they needed new rubber before heading off for a 2000 mile trip. So I got new rubber, an oil change, checked the basics (lights, chain, coolant) and planned a rough route I could take.
At around 10pm, there was an attack on Paris, bombs, guns and generally awful things. A State of Emergency declared and the borders closed. After a mild bout of sympathy for the victims, selfishness resumed and I wondered if the trip could still happen. I went to bed with no idea. I woke the next morning to find no more bombs or guns, and the borders were back open. Euro-tunnel was operating normally and the trip was on! A quick rejig of the route to avoid Paris added a few hundred miles, but what’s a few hundred miles when you’re in a rush.
I made it to Benidorm just fine, and didn’t get shot once, or even yelled at as I accidentally avoided the mandatory border searches. The ride there was long, dull and hard. 500 miles a day for 3 days straight on nothing but expensive French toll roads. A couple of days chilled out in Benidorm, then the glorious ride back.
The return journey began with a night in Andorra, after riding through the gorgeous mountains near Coll de Nargó. The following day was some of the most amazing riding I’d done yet, through the Pyrenees with the threat of Snow always a few hours away. All the while thinking about the next trip and how much more confident I was in travelling by bike, after planning the whole trip in 24 hours. I had challenged myself with this trip to do it on as little as possible. I took a large rucksack (strapped to the back seat) and a full top box, no panniers and no camping gear. I was on minimal gear, budget and time just to see if I could, in preparation for a longer, harder trip, though I had no idea what, but knew I would.
I spent the next 3 days riding back planning out what I wanted to do next, somewhere in the ride it clicked. You don’t have to ride to a place and then ride back again. You can just keep riding. You can live on the bike, and not have anything else. That means you can go as far as money can take you, and money takes you even further since you’re not keeping your life running at home. Your daily riding costs are your only costs.
I realised I wanted that, I had no idea what that meant, but knew it meant I could live on the bike if I did it right. New Zealand came to mind as a destination for a few reasons. It was far away, which is kind of the point, it was a mystery to me, it was the background for much of Lord of the Rings, and, being eligible for the Working Holiday Visa, there’s a chance of finding some work. Good enough for me, I’m off.