I stirred awake to another dawn chorus of Iranian snoring, threw off the paper thin hostel sheet and stumbled around my panniers in my tatty boxers to look out the window. Bright and early, there was red hanging in the morning sky. I took a few seconds to zone in, rubbing my eyes before absorbing a zen like calm before the last dash. I’d completed most of the prep work last night, now all I had to do was throw on whatever creased t-shirt I’d left out and buckle up the jeans which had been with me all the way, bleached by the sun and with a tear in just the right place to give me breezy testicles. Coughing as I brushed my teeth, looking tired in the mirror. This was my three months up. It dawned on me I might miss the inconvenience of slugging motorbike panniers down staircases every morning. The building was quiet as I pushed open the front doors and stepped outside, across concrete slab and to my bike. I could feel every line of latitude I’d gained since leaving Istanbul in the crisp morning air. I tightened the straps, locking down the cords that hadn’t already been chewed off by the back sprocket.
I retrieved my helmet and bag from my room, left the key on the front desk and looked back at the hostel as the engine warmed up for a minute. Then I rolled out of there, climbing the twisting roads that led out of the verdant valley floor. I quickly realised I’d forgotten to plug my headphones in, so had little hope navigating out of Luxembourg City. I hedged my bets on stumbling across a petrol station soon enough – I needed to fill up anyway. A little out of town I poured unleaded into my tank, while my teeth chattered against the cold. Remembering to plug my headphones in I careered onto the nearest motorway slip road and zipped between two lanes of nearly stationary morning traffic. Reaching a clearing I had to slip into rank and file as to avoid bits of glass and bumper littered around a smash up leading into a tunnel. It’s good karma to see a crash in the morning – everyone is at least going to drive considerately for the next 20 miles or so…
The long motorway stretch through Belgium and into France passed without incident. The earth warmed up in the sun, but the wind chill cooled me down so I relished each stop to fill up the tank as an opportunity to do a hot, sexy dance next to my bike and grab a coffee. I was storming through my route. So much so that I got to the entry barriers for the Eurotunnel a good three hours early – little after one oclock. I didn’t really know what was going to happen as I thumbed my code into the touch screen. Relieved that they let me through and grateful they’d let me board an earlier train for the same price I rode my last mile or so, speed bumps and roundabouts, to a motorway style hangout for a piss and a Starbucks. I was easily the most weathered human being in the entire building – walkin’ about with the slow deliberate steps of exhaustion, dirty face and messy hair. I felt pretty bad ass – I was going to miss this.
Not so long after dropping into my seat my order was called, boarding A, and I creaked back to my bike and fired her up. Another few roundabouts, another few speed-bumps then to a gate manned by the police – English police. Routine checkpoint. I pulled up to the window and the officer asked for documents, boarding pass and asked a few pleasant enough questions about where I’d been. I couldn’t but laugh at his reaction when I said “Turkey”, words not forthcoming from his end I bolted “It’s been a 3 month trip” onto the end. We exchanged a minute of chit chat and I was waved through to the next police officer, waiting behind a white van. I sat, in the shade for a moment or two. The car behind me in the queue drove past and into the distance. So did the car behind him…
Wait a second, had I been ‘profiled’? The idea had only just touched my conciousness when the white van door opened and a drugs dog, eager as anything jumped out of the back. Ahhh, Shit…
At the direction of a friendly enough police officer I pulled off my lid, rested it on a mirror and stepped off my bike. Only now I saw a lorry ahead with police in – ripping the backs off wardrobes with crowbars. I hadn’t got anything to worry about but I instantly felt tense and defensive. The panniers, crammed with pretty much everything from my trip had been an absolute bitch to pack – I couldn’t help but think there might be a problem. Fido and his mistress walked over and the first officer tried to strike up conversation, probably seeing I was uncomfortable. I mixed all the words in my reply, cool as ever, dog running around suddenly all excited. Was that bad or what? The woman tugged a couple of times on his lead and they both walked over to me. I wasn’t thinking straight enough to remember what the guy said, but it revolved around me being clear to go. Like the incident at the Turkish boarder – I didn’t hang about for him to change his mind. Ridiculous really as I knew I was clean. Stressful situations I guess – although I pat myself on the back for looking like an international drug smuggler. Nice one Tom. Nom.
Riding past the traffic I saw three bikers queued up on the loading ramp to the train. International drug smugglers don’t wait for no man – we got places to be. That place is at the front of this queue. I dragged my back brake hard and rode the last 5m to the operator ridiculously slowly for the sheer hell of it. The bikers pulled up behind after ducking out of the queue to follow. We were getting front row seats, first ones on. As the only one too impolite to wait in traffic I took point – a clear road up the full length of the train…not that you could get any speed up.
Habitually I attended my bike details first. Tightening straps on the panniers, that sort of thing. The other three bikers had struck up conversation behind me, after I finished my adjustments I went over for a chat. What I assumed were a couple riding two-up, were actually two lads – just one of them was particularly petite – 2ft something or other. The lone rider, on some big, pristine white Honda looked like a dork and had a particularly assertive London tongue. I didn’t feel like a proud compatriot, so chatted to the nice enough non-couple for most of the train journey – all 30 minutes of it. I vowed to remember this next time I catch a food poisoned, hungover 24hr ferry.
Then that was it.
I’d got back 3 days before my insurance would have gone void – almost three months since I’d left Portsmouth. I waved to the other bikers and slingshotted up the empty motorway, bleak and grey, stretching out ahead. I was profoundly disturbed by the notion of speaking to a petrol station attendant in English, the notion of understanding what the fuck was going on. It all felt distinctly alien. I got out of there fast and rode the easy motorway miles towards the Midlands. It took a little while to get used to you guys, what with your driving on the left and all. At first all I could do I duck and weave in and out of you guys irrespective of what lane you were in – but a couple of near misses were all the crash course in highway code I needed. So I thought.
I can’t recall why, but for some reason I wasn’t on the motorway any more – despite it being an obvious motorway jaunt from Folkstone to Birmingham then Wolverhampton. I was in the back roads. Country roads. My attention had slipped and I was inadvertently playing chicken with a land rover, and I mean chicken. It was within 50m and a closing speed of maybe 80mph when the land rover slammed it brakes on and skidded into the middle of the road. I managed to sting together a couple of quick expletives as I woke back up and realised what I’d done, swerving widely back into my own lane to get past the car. I didn’t have time to look through their windscreen as I passed – but I don’t think I needed to to know that I’d just given bikers a bad name. Sorry bikers.
I got caught up for too long in the back-roads, taking a little longer to get back home than I’d anticipated. I’d tipped off my mom with a new ETA so as I pulled off the motoway onto the all-too-familiar stretch of road to my house my parents were waiting on the front drive with the video cameras ready. I was home and my little bike had carried me here.
After being harassed by my mom in the drive for the best part of 20 minutes I parked the bike at the front door and disrobed Candy Indy of her bags and panniers for the last time.
I was glad it was over, my body felt like it had taken a beating, but if someone told me they could spot me the money to head out tomorrow on another three month trip I would have bit their hand off. For three months I had been my own superhero – hell I’d been in Luxembourg that morning! I could go again now – if only to avoid the bleak penniless, jobseeker reality I was about to face. It wasn’t the most inciting lifestyle swap.
While I felt like a superhero my K6 GSR600 with no windscreen, had been much, much more. She encouraged me to go that one mile further, excited me to take the scenic route or to search out the mountains. When I felt cold, wet, tired and ill she nursed me along the road while I numbly grappled with the handlebars to choke out long, rib crunching coughs. She charmed me and the people I met, resting dirty but beautiful on her side-stand, Candy Indy in the Mediterranean sun. Moreover, she had taken on the big expensive touring bikes and won, proving ‘If you can do it, I can too’. She was the best motorcycle ever.
At night I wheeled her up the step cobbled together from off cuts of wood and into the garage. Pulling the door down felt like the final line in her chapter.
I’d have to carry myself for the next part – but thanks for all the memories bike.