We make plans and the world laughs

Our saga continues: two motorcycle world travellers that haven’t properly ridden a motorcycle in 3 months. Ordinarily I would be feeling as if things were failing by now, feeling as if I were failing. But strangely, this isn’t one of the many and varied emotions running through my system at all.

The further I go on this journey the more surrender becomes a part of it. It’s what I’d hoped for, I needed the lesson. Working hard for what you want and not giving up is a powerful thing but I’ve mastered that skill and it needs to be balanced with a measure of surrender and acceptance of those things you cannot control. The latter is not yet an ingrained habit but it’s becoming more unconscious and instinctive the further we go.

We’ve hit hurdle after hurdle from the outset it seems. It would have been easy to mindlessly follow an itinerary. To work twice as hard when things went wrong to make up time. And to work ourselves into the ground to make it to the next country in time, against all odds, no matter the cost. But it wouldn’t have made us happy.

So we chose another way. We chose to prioritise what was important to us, our happiness. The journey should be enjoyable, not an exercise in endurance. It sounds like the easy road but it’s not always easy to let your plans and expectations fall when they are what’s getting in the way of what you want. Sometimes, the hardest thing is simply recognising that this is what’s needed.

A stranger told me, unasked, a few months ago that our trip didn’t seem very well-planned. I agree with her. But the difference is, unlike her, I don’t see it as a fault. In fact, with hindsight, I now realise our fault lies in planning too much. The fact is when we set out we were absolutely inexperienced at this long-term, unplanned travel thing. And we got it a bit wrong. We aspired to unplanned travel, but what we did was make plans because we couldn’t help ourselves. And the plans we made became a ball and chain around our ankles. There is an old Yiddish proverb, passed on to me by a woman I met in Bulgaria: Man plans and God laughs. We’ve lived the truth of this for the last few months. The plans we make are often nothing more than a security blanket, an illusion to convince ourselves we control our own destiny.

But, this is knowledge gathered in retrospect and, as my friend George likes to say, hindsight is always twenty twenty. Roll back the clock a couple of weeks and it was quite a different story…

Making change voluntarily and decisively can be difficult

There’s this energy, bubbling, boiling inside me. A hundred paths to shoot down. But whether to act or whether to stay, waiting, watching for new information to emerge. Which is right? I don’t yet know. That old familiar lack of trust in myself. The desire to act always the seductive imposter, always whispering…go on, do it, you’re justified. But will I still feel that way having slept on it? Will the nose I cut off spite my face, will I wished I’d waited or not? Or will it feel good to take control of what we can and be decisive? Time is growing short, an action seems necessary…what to do, what to do? I check my mail again but it seems contact has been cut for some reason. A reasonable request – can someone there let me know what’s happening please? – met with radio silence. Disappointing.

Change is always hard, but the change we initiate ourselves can be even harder. We can’t know how this will play out, we can only decide based on the information we have in front of us: A bike that isn’t fit for further travel and arrangements for the work to be done that we can’t accommodate without incurring much more expense on top of the already burgeoning figure.

But other factors play in too, tainting the rational process: growing frustration and annoyance. We need to ensure any decision we make is not coloured by these emotions. Ironically though, in the end it is these feelings and that of being weighed down and held back that give us the answer we need. Emotions are so often criticised as being the enemy of rational thought but if happiness is your aim, then using them to make decisions is rational in and of itself.

I run. I wasn’t expecting to. I set out to walk off some of this stagnating energy. But suddenly I’m running. And it feels good. I turn randomly, with little thought for where the path is taking me. My mind too tired to think any longer, I need this. Occasionally, I glance around, I’m not so lost in myself that I’ve forgotten self-preservation out here in the fields. But I’m totally alone out here. It feels wonderful.

The air is without bite but is just chill enough to enliven my lungs as it rakes in through my mouth, and over my skin as I move through it. I enter a leafy passageway, vivid with brilliant chartreuse. Autumn has reached this place now, a thick carpet of leaves shushing insistently underfoot. Not so the wood a few hundred metres back that was still in its green serotinal glory, fading only slightly and still awaiting its seasonal metamorphosis.

I run until I want to run no more. And then I walk. I disable my intellect, enquiring what to do next but ignoring anything that argues using reasons. The only reason that has validity for me today is “because I want to”.

I return to Mickey on the phone, more talk that only adds to the frustration. Talk that stimulates emotions but provides no outlet for them, provides no options, no new solutions. I’m so tired of talk. Talk with no action is an impotent thing.

The frustration causes a rollercoaster. My mood plummets and rises several times a day between wild amusement at this seemingly ridiculous impasse, and limb deadening depression. I am trapped. Again. Nowhere to go. Impossible to fight it, impossible not to. A part of me observes all of this with much eye-rolling derision…”Again? Surely you know better by now? Back here again so soon?”

The season doesn’t help, or maybe it does. Change is in the air. The whole world seems expectant of the change to come, mirroring my feelings and colluding with my mood. I find relief in half hour bursts, I lose myself in tasks only for them to end. And then I drift around like a spectre uprooted until another task takes hold and occupies me for a while more. I build a bonfire with my dad, enjoying the cool yet unseasonably mild air on my skin. There’s pleasure in the construction, the companionship as well as the physicality of the work. I look forward to the time we’ll spend watching young eyes marvel at the flames and the explosions of colour that November 5th brings. Marvel followed closely by whole body contraction which gives way to oohs and aahs and finally giggles as the fear mingles with wonder and excitement. These moments are the stuff of life, the rest falls away.

But for now I’m caught in the tide and this wisdom cannot quell the frustration. I write for as long as I can silence my mind’s chatter. I read. I drift. All the time though, the waiting is a common thread weaving through and tainting each moment irrespective of how it is spent.

Yesterday we set out for the dirt bike show. Within an hour we were sat in the motorway services with me neither wanting to go on or turn back. I wonder how Mickey stays so placid sometimes, he has infinite patience. And a faith in me that I do not always have. Eventually I decided I needed to get over myself and continue, to keep the arrangements we’d made with Mark and for the sake of doing something. Anything must be better than sitting at home waiting. Even 4 hours of motorway driving and looking at bikes that I can’t ride. It turned out to be a good call, despite my initial doom and gloom misgivings. On the way home, we left the motorway early, tired of putting up with the middle lane hogs and eager to exert control where I could. We wound our way back through the South Yorkshire countryside up through places I’d never been to before. We chattered, reminiscing over our memories of journeys so far, and dreaming up new places to explore. A country park here, a mausoleum and picturesque little village there. Reconnecting again to what matters, always bringing it back to that.

Days roll by and I wake early each morning. The old familiar friend of insomnia coming home to roost as my mind involuntary dissects problems that have no solution in the early hours of the morning.

Time to face facts, and take a leaf out of the season’s book. Change is in the air…

We are at a fork in the road, the decision we make will influence the scenery of our journey but not the journey itself. It will change what we have to play with but it will not influence how we mould it. This journey is about us, not about the facts of it. By motorbike or by other means, it makes no difference.

So be it, we’ve delayed too long. Let’s get this show back on the road again.

—-

Over the last week or two we’ve heard a lot of phrases: It’s meant to be. Everything happens for a reason. This trip is cursed. These are the phrases people resort to to give themselves comfort in the face of the inexplicable, uncontrollable nature of life. Whilst they’re well meant, and whilst they may seem to fit some situations, I know they do not fit all challenges that I have faced or that some friends continue to face. So, I choose to face up to the uncontrollability and do my best to find ease with it. Fight what we can, flow with the rest, no matter how difficult. Allow yourself to feel, because this is life. But know that when one door closes, there will be others open to you. Finding these has been key to letting our plans flow and evolve.

But enough of the lessons learned and emotions spent. Even with a book I probably couldn’t expand sufficiently on them. Suffice to say, we’ve lived it, it’s changed us and it’s changed our plans. And now, I know there are a few of you out there wondering what on earth is going on and for those hungry for details I most likely haven’t given enough.

Our bikes are in the UK and we are now in India. So what’s the story?

If it were easy everyone would be doing it

In Bulgaria with a bike sounding like it didn’t have long left we took the decision to return to the UK. We were a 7 hour drive from the nearest AJP dealer on the continent making it cheaper to get back to the UK than to go there. And we knew and trusted our mechanic in the UK. We also had the option of taking it to a recommended mechanic in Sofia but again this would cost us and we would need a translator.

So, when Phil and Laura and Nicky and Louis kindly offered to piggy back transport our bikes onto their return trips to the UK we gladly accepted. After emailing AJP, and the UK dealer to let them know the plans and receiving confirmation back, we said goodbye to BG and picked the bikes up a week later to take them over to the dealer in Wales, with the help of our friend Mark – an epic 14 h round trip that had me marvelling at his endurance. So far so good.

It was after that that things went a bit pear shaped. Shortly after dropping the bikes we received news that the dealer was no longer a dealer. They’d gone out of business. Thankfully, Gwilym was committed to continuing to help us but we weren’t over the hurdles by a long way. The major sticking point was yet to transpire. Our bikes are still under warranty. A warranty listed as parts and labour in the manual. However, in practice it is parts only, meaning that we, the (ex)dealer and AJP needed to figure out who was paying for the work. This took a while and in the course of this process, communication broke down seemingly irretrievably for unknown reasons. All we knew was that, AJP stopped replying to my emails and would deal only with Gwilym, creating a frustratingly slow game of Chinese whisper. We later found out too, that senior people in AJP had no knowledge that we had had to return to the UK, despite me informing them directly and receipt of my email being acknowledged.

AJP agreed after some time that they would do the work if both engines were shipped to Portugal. I wasn’t keen on my engine being taken apart too given that it was in perfect working order. At this stage, we had a little over one week before our flights to India. Whilst AJP were insistent that they could get the work done in 24 h the shipping time would mean that the engines were unlikely to be returned and reinstalled before we departed. This meant we would have to foot the bill for transport to the north and expect Mark or my family to arrange storage for them. Even if they were, we would have to pay a substantial amount for shipping bikes that were purported to be fixed but were untested. For the next few days we presented alternative options AJP HQ that might better get both them and us the outcome looked for. At various points it looked like they might agree to one or another of these, only to have them come back the next day having reverted back to the original instructions: return both engines to Portugal. Each time, the days ticked down. Eventually, we ran out of time.

In the end, we took the decision to cut our losses. In reality, we had little time left to do anything else, but the will to find a way was also gone. The expense of transporting bikes about the UK while we were absent, the additional cost of shipping bikes that had let us down to India all combined with the fact that the whole process had left us drained and losing faith.

At the eleventh hour Mickey and Mark took one bike to storage – meaning a very hectic few days of trains, station runs and driving to ensure we kept family commitments. I’m grateful that Mickey took this on himself to allow me to spend quality time with my nieces who are now old enough to know they’re going to miss us. We bought a backpack, thankful for Go Outdoors having a very welcome one day “free next day delivery” sale, crossed our fingers it would be big enough, stuffed all our motorbike gear into it at the expense of our clothing (because, what do you have, if you don’t have hope?! 😉 ) and went on our merry way.

And so, this is where we are at. I’m sat on a flight to India as I write this. Things will be a little different from now on. We hope you stick around to continue following despite this and the current absence of motorcycles. Rest assured, we’re both dyed in the wool bikers and as soon as we can reasonably get our leg over again we will be doing! The support of our followers, friends and family has touched us greatly over the last months and the words of support we’ve received have meant a lot, as have the actions of those we’ve had to rely on.

Bob, if you’re reading this. We really took your mantra to heart it seems 😉 Flexible really is too rigid, we’re working at flowing. I think we’re doing OK, how about you?

It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster. At times I’ve felt paralysed by the amount of unknowns. At times I’ve felt angry to the point of distraction. Then there are the times I’ve felt utterly calm about it all too – after all, we’re still a world better than some, we’re still living as we want to live, more or less. This is also only our side of the story, and as with everything concerning life there are many views, many sides and many truths which comprise a story concerning multiple parties.

We’re grateful for the opportunities we’ve been given but the chapter is closing, a new one is beginning and it looks exciting – who knows what it’ll bring. I’ve shed a few tears for the bikes we’ve lost (you really do get that attached when you’re travelling on them!). But as sad as saying goodbye is I’m excited to see what can possibly come next in this weird, badly planned adventure of ours. Planning is overrated anyway it seems, we’re having the time of our lives. Today, as I look out on the paradise we’ve dropped into I am suddenly overcome by our unimaginable luck at simply being alive.
Never a dull moment 😉