Overland motorcycle travel author, strong desires and infinite dreams

One of the biggest bonuses of independent travel is when you come face to face with the real world.

I think we can get numbed by repeated images on TV news about international crises , tragic though they are, ultimately, they are just another image that streams across our vision and even if it does stir something in us, moments later another story or image produces another sensation and the semiconscious reactions amount to little.

I recently rode to an abandoned airbase just inside Croatia, right on the border of Bosnia, so close in fact that my phone wouldn’t let me use the free European data entitlement of Croatia, instead finding an expensive Bosnia signal. This doesn’t matter but I only mention it to show just how close I was to the dividing line between the countries.

I arrived late in the evening, it was almost dark. There is a tunnel with a plane shaped entry that goes deep inside the mountain, how deep? I’m not sure, more about that later.

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When my first book came out, I went to my first bike show as a trader as opposed to a punter. It was the (now defunct) BMF show in Peterborough. I put a bit of plywood over my Black and Decker Work Mate, covered it with a bed sheet and set up my very limited display. Behind me were a stack of 400 books under a blanket, ready to rapidly replenish supplies. I later learned a tenth of that would have been adequate but it shows the level of optimism I had.

By pure luck, because where my optimism fails my luck remains, the stand next to me was occupied by two guys who did a show every weekend all over the country and had been doing so for years. They sold a product that stopped your glasses from misting up. Their technique was to stop every spectacle wearing passer-by and offer to treat their lens for free with their unique formula. They then held the glasses over a steam machine and behold, the treated lens remains clear whilst the untreated one was opaque with condensation. Their clincher was, to get the other lens done you had to buy the special potion. They were such smooth operators, there wasn’t a comment, negative or otherwise that they hadn’t heard a thousand times and had a sure-fire direct hit retort to.

Over the weekend they took me under their wing and taught me a lot, they even went so far as to say to their customers of undistorted vision ‘now you have such clarity of sight you can take a look at this lad’s book’. It was a spectacular introduction to the show circuit, which, over the next five years,became my life, my income, and my social scene. I lived in my van every weekend, sleeping between stock and rapidly thawing precooked frozen meals, which doubled as refrigeration for my evening beverages.

It takes a while to learn what works at a show and what doesn’t. I think the most frustrating thing is a bad pitch at a good show, you leave your lonely stand for a toilet break to find the isles are heaving but no one has ventured to your solitary, off the main drag, gazebo of inspiration.

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I used to say (as a solo traveller) that the hardest part of any journey is getting to the point where you are actually ready to leave. From the initial concept of the plan, to the obtaining of the visas, carnets, ferry tickets, the packing, route planning, climate research, bike preparation and pannier packing. Life pre-trip is an endless list of things to do, preoccupied and paralysed by contradictory information and opinions.

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From our pocket instamatics containing a 110-film cartridge until the arrival of the first digital compacts, cameras were there recording what felt worth the cost of a photograph. Film and development fees were always a consideration to bear in mind, it limited frivolous clicking. That’s not to say there wasn’t the possibility of taking 24 photos of the same cloud, whilst laying on the grass at a festival or bike show as the intensity of the acid heightened.

But generally, there was a value to a photo that wasn’t just sentiment alone. Digital took the development cost away and with it to a degree, the value of the photo too.

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