“I travel not to go anywhere, but to go.”
Vamos had been neglected these last weeks. All alone in his stable with only a pushbike for company. Rain and sleet, frost and ice outside. Today though, despite a cold drizzling rain his master came out and pushed him out onto the driveway….
I took a deep breath and prayed that he would start up, aware that with the cold and only short trips in the last month those big eyes of his ‘alwayson’ headlights had dented his battery heart’s fire. But he did start. Off we went to get bird nuts for the hungry and cold Tits and Nuthatches and Woodpeckers that colour and enliven my garden. It’s only a quarter of a mile to the Garden Centre for the nuts but I was cautious, feeling my way back into the biking way. How were the tyres, how greasy and wet the road, feeling the lumpy tarmac, dodging the cold grey puddles and storm rubbish. The drizzle was chilling my face before we got to the Garden Centre:
I have an open-face helmet and polarized shades, a token tube scarf to pull up over my lower face if I need it. I have not found a full-face helmet that I can get on with, I find the restriction in edge-of-eye view scary, and actually I like to smell and feel the world that is passing rather than watch it from the inside of a rather restricted goldfish bowl.
We stop and park. I buy the nuts and two fat balls. Actually… It would be nice to have a bottle of Rioja to go with the Spanish chicken I will cook tonight… let’s head for another shop a couple of miles away. On bike, nuts stowed in Vamos’s saddlebags… Clunk, clunk, clunk! No turnover, no steady V-twin heartbeat. ‘Oh shit’! Obviously the headlamps have just taken a bit too much out on the short trip here, his two 600cc cylinders need a hefty wack to turnover. Have you ever pushed a heavy motorbike in your bad weather gear? Sweat starts very quickly… I am pushing Vamos up to the top of the sloping car park in the hopes that we can bump start, I have to stop twice on the push. HERE GOES! Going down in probably third, out clutch… Locking wheels, no fire in our belly. Try again as we near the bottom in fourth… No joy. ‘Oh Shit!’ Into neutral, clutch in and again try the de-fibrillator… Vamos bursts into thumping life. ‘Thank God for that’.
Vamos is a pedigree, a Moto Guzzi Stelvio NTX, 1200cc of transverse twin, mile eating, bend chewing, long road motorcycle. My previous horse Veloz (Veloz y Suave) was a Moto Guzzi Centauro, he was fantastic and faithful to my long miles to Spain and a great companion, but old age got to him in the end and he went into retirement. His exploits are remembered in my book ‘Back Roads of Spain’ (available on Amazon and shortly Kindle KDP Select).
Anyway I decide that what Vamos needs is a bit of travel, a chance to re-charge. So we head East.
From my town of Aberystwyth, in the middle of Wales there only three directions to go in; up coast, down coast or inland. North is Machynleth and the rugged hills and mountains of Cadair Idris (Idris’s Chair) and 60miles beyond Snowdon’s high cols. South is Aberaeron and then the miles to St David’s ancient cathedral in Pembroke, the Bay of Cardigan constantly to your right. But I love the A44, the road that drives East, East towards the English lands but also East to Europe and beyond. East we go.
It has been a few weeks since I have been out on the bike, so I know it will take time to get back into the skills of riding… But in fact I am back in the ‘moment’ ‘living life’ almost immediately. This is what I love about biking, you are the moment the moment is you. Every sense tuned to the maximum. I watch every other vehicle for deviation or insipient danger, the road surface ahead to catch any gleam of ice or diesel on the surface. My whole body is involved in every moment of the passage from here to the next metre, next bend.
Now I had said to myself, we will just take a gentle little out-trip to Nant-yr-Arian about 10 miles out… But I can’t resist the hunting, the desire to overtake these tin cans and big trucks that stop my flowing ride. Here we go through small villages and speed limits, twisting road with big hedges and over-leaning oak trees shedding their leaves across the road. But we know this road so well, within a mile we have killed four cars and two trucks. I have to constantly wipe a finger across my shades as the drizzling rain intensifies and the truck spray begins to grit my lips. Up through Goginan and the song has begun, the cold is numbing my cheeks and lips but it is glorious, the road is waiting for our hooves, for our passage. Grab a twist of throttle because I know this bend; I can come out of it hard and fast, use the torque of Vamos’s great heart and be past that car in seconds and safely onward. Now we wind up to the first watershed at Nant, I can’t yet turn Vamos’s head, we have to canter on through Ponterwyd and higher and higher up the switchbacks, the lovely curving, twisting ribbon that cuts the mountainside to Eisteddfa Gurig. Here is the watershed from which water flows all the way to the Severn and the southern gateway of Wales, down to the Wye and rushing on. The thought of that journey is always a drug to me, the desire to travel on. But we must turn back now, there is supper to cook and chores to do. We turn around in the hard, wind driven rain and start back down to the waiting sea. But still we enjoy, we rejoice in the moment. My face is cold blasted, rain driven and I have to constantly finger wipe to see clearly in the gathering dusk. Oncoming headlights star and blur my vision but Vamos is on song and we take four trucks and six cars on every possible strip of safe road. The shopping is forgotten and we arrive home with nothing but bird nuts.
Do you know the song of the road? Have you felt that intense interaction with the world about you, the danger and the joy of being a motorcyclist? If you haven’t you’ve missed something life affirming, without those moments what is your life, WHERE IS YOUR EDGE?
Don’t let adventure be a second-hand experience that saves you any real pain, or pleasure by being filtered through others eyes. Like Don Quixote, set forth with your imagination and little else… Or as Robert Louis Stevenson… “I travel not to go anywhere, but to go.”