What does an average day on the road look like when you’ve been living off your bike for over seven years? Mostly, no such thing exists, even when you fall into a certain rhythm. Riding, working, chasing and racing rallies, and getting myself into all sorts of trouble while on the road means few two days are alike, so here are a few episodes to illustrate just how much uncertainty you need to be prepared for when you’re traveling long term:
Getting up at 4 am, I’m groggy with lack of sleep, but it’s time to make coffee and gear up. Having found a basecamp in the form of a small winemakers’ village in Southern Hungary, I’m on a mission to ride some of the Hungarian TET with the luggage off. But because it’s July and insanely hot, I figured I’d leave at dawn to avoid sweating buckets in the sweltering midday heat. Gulping the coffee down, I’m putting my body armour, pants, and jersey on, and head out just as the sun is rising.
All goes smoothly at first: locating the start of the TET, I roll along quiet forest roads and sandy farmland trails until I notice a few hard thorns sticking out of my front tire. It’s impossible to pull them out, but I hope they hadn’t punctured the tube. Naturally, in another mile or so, they do, and I end up with a flat tire, do another five miles or so on the flat, find a friendly policeman who finds me a friendly tractor mechanic who changes the tube for me, and return to my sleepy village semi-victorious: I’d only done half of the route I’d planned for the day, but I got myself out of trouble, and today, life is good.
I’m up by 7am, brewing a cup of coffee and going over my to-do list. Mostly, it’s full of deadlines, work that needs to be finished, and new work that needs to be found; it’s December 2018, I’m in Arequipa, Peru, and I’d decided I was going to chase Rally Dakar 2019. I need to generate some more cash if I’m to cover these insane distances and weasel my way into the bivouac; I also need to do a border run to Chile to extend my Peruvian entry permit and temporary bike import. I’m panicking; I had locked myself up in a small Airbnb apartment for eight days straight, working non-stop, only creeping out for food and tobacco, and my eyes are square from staring at the screen ten hours a day. The bike is parked in the garage downstairs; I haven’t ridden it in almost two weeks now. I feel like a zombie, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to pull the Dakar chase off. I’m going to try anyway. For now, it’s another four bike-less days of working like a maniac and hoping the universe will be on my side.
Getting up with Hanna, my colleague, friend, and co-conspirator to guide a motorcycle tour in Ecuador, I listen to the sound of a gardener’s shears outside. We are sharing a room in a beautiful Spanish hacienda (tour guides always do); the breakfast is at 8am, and our riders can’t wait to hit the road. I’m leading the ride, while Hanna is driving the chase truck. We’ve got four excited motorcyclists with us, on a mission to explore Ecuador in ten days. I’m excited: today, we’ll be heading towards the Amazon basin, and I can’t wait to see the guys’ faces once we start descending the insanely twisty Andean roads with the lush green rainforest plateaus slowly unfurling below us. This is my third tour as a freelance motorcycle tour guide, and I’m a little giddy with the thrill and the adrenaline of making sure everything goes smoothly. Hanna checks our walkie talkies and intercoms; whew, we didn’t forget to charge them. It’s going to be a beautiful day.
Staring out at the island of Corfu across the bay, I’m blinking at the intense sun. I’m in Albania, a small seaside hotel in Sarande, and my poor loyal motorcycle is held together by duct tape and hope alone at this point. I’ve just survived my first Hellas Rally, and the bike is in pieces; the rear bearings are gone, I’m missing several spokes, the luggage rack is broken, the valves need adjusting – badly – and something is off with the carb. I’ve got about thirty-five euros and six days till my next paycheck; here in Albania, life is cheap, and Warp9 is sending me a care package to patch Lucy up, so there’s no need to freak out. Still, I’m feeling uneasy – with a broken bike and a broken bank account, I’m stuck here, like it or not.
Savouring the last glimpses of the Pacific Ocean, I’m riding the streets of Arica on a quest to find Luis, a friend of a friend who is going to transport my bike to Valparaiso to be packed up into a container and shipped to Europe. I left the golden dunes of the Atacama Desert behind, crossed the Peruvian – Chilean border, and spent several blissful days sitting around beach cafes and listening to the sound of the ocean crashing on the shore in relentless waves. I can barely contain myself: a new chapter is ahead. Having chased and covered the Dakar, I rode across Peru one last time, plotting and scheming my very own rally racing debut in the summer; Lucy, my loyal Suzuki DR650, has withstood it all, and I don’t want to hand it over to the shipping agents just yet. After three crazy years, I am leaving the Americas, returning to Europe, and starting something I have no business of starting – but I’m going for it nonetheless. Once more, I have no idea how this new adventure will end. Once more, I can’t wait to get started.
These are my average days on the road: never the same and rarely predictable, and yet, at this point, they make sense, whatever shape or form they take as I go along.
What does your average day on the road look like when you’re on a long-distance ride? Share in the comments below!