As I continue my preparations for The Marathon Ride, I reveal why despite plenty of offers, I’ve decided to go it alone…
Surely overland travel is a lot less daunting if you share the moments, memories, decisions, responsibilities and costs with someone else? But how many chances do you get to be in complete control of your destiny, day after day, week after week? That’s why I’ll be riding solo on The Marathon Ride.
I remember making a similar decision about 25 years ago. I’d done two years of a language degree yet still couldn’t string a sentence of decent French together – I’d been too busy partying. A requirement of the university was that my third year had to be spent abroad, and all my friends had decided to continue the party in the sunny south of France. I made the tough decision to head for Paris instead, on my own, where I knew no-one and would have to fend for myself.
It turned out to be the best choice I’ve ever made. Within a matter of weeks I was speaking confidently in French, had met the girl of my dreams (who would later become my wife) and was even studying for my permis de moto on a Transalp (it was 1992 and everyone in Paris was riding either these or Africa Twins). Who knows what direction my life might have taken, had I not wandered past that rider training school with my new girlfriend and boasted of my motorcycling prowess?
Even now, deep into the planning stages for the biggest bike trip I’ll ever do, I have to admit to a fear about travelling solo, but I can’t see any other way of having a truly authentic overland adventure. My ride is all about engaging with the people whose villages, towns and cities I am passing through, and I’m not sure I could achieve the same level of interaction if I was travelling with a companion or in an organised group. I need to set off alone, so that I leave myself open to new encounters, if that makes sense.
I think it was Ted Simon who said that many of his most memorable encounters on his first RTW ride came from the people who stopped to help him while stranded at the roadside. People always came to the rescue and this is a something I’ve heard time and time again from many overlanders that I’ve had the privilege to interview over the past decade. The overriding theme seems to be that wherever you go in the world, 99 per cent of people are kind, interested, and want to help you.
I spoke to motorcycling photographer Michael Martin about this. With more than 100 expeditions completed to some of the remote places on earth during the past three decades, he is convinced that the advantages of travelling by motorcycle extend much further than the machine’s technical capabilities because it is the perceived vulnerability of the solo traveller that opens up opportunities for special encounters.
“A motorcycle is an ideal bridge to the locals,” he says. “It’s a perfect starting point for conversations, whether you are dealing with an American petrol pump attendant or a Chinese policeman. Riding bikes allow you to experience more of the elements and the landscape of each country, but more importantly, it brings you closer to the people.”
This is a view shared by Alicia Sornosa, who was the first Spanish woman to go around the world on a motorcycle. After just three months of planning, she left her homeland for Africa, travelling on to India, Australia, the USA, Canada and Alaska, before journeying south all the way to Tierra del Fuego on an 80,000 kilometres trip over five continents. Alicia’s philosophy is quite simple: life is short and the world is big, so she wants to see as much of it as she can and riding alone is the best way to do it.
“I’m never afraid of travelling alone because I think that most people are good and often very helpful. For sure, it’s nice to ride accompanied, but I like it when you make trips alone because you meet many interesting people.”
Finally I asked the same question to Prasit AphiphunyaI, the guy whose bike I’m hoping to return on the first stage of my journey from Europe to Southeast Asia. His thoughts echoed those of both Michael and Alisa.
“I’m convinced that once you reach a certain age, nothing really matters but to see the world. Life is very short, so take advantage as much as you can. My travels took me through many countries and I spent a lot of time alone on the road, but I learnt a lot about myself and I was able to prove certain things to myself, like what my capabilities are.”
So, in a nutshell, I need to set off alone in March on The Marathon Ride but my hope is that I’ll rarely be travelling (or running) solo. I might be missing the experience of sharing the entire journey with one person or a group, but the chance to do it 100 per cent my way, to ride with lots of different people from all over the world, but to be able to strike out on my own when I feel like it and enjoy the hospitality of strangers – that’s just too hard to resist for me.