6/10/73 and all that

As a child, the best books always had maps inside the covers. Real or imagined lands, mountains, rivers, seas, a compass stamped in the top right corner and the promise of somewhere else where folk did things differently and adventures, peril, endeavour and learning unavailable at home took place.  I guess gamers access the same thing today on their consoles, but quite frankly I feel they are cheated out of the use of their imagination. “I am going on a journey and I don’t know when I’ll be back.” What a statement! Travel is about what happens along the way when you stop and experience things between Point A & B that you didn’t predict. I don’t particularly want to follow directions on a phone screen to a pre-booked hotel 300km away, I also try to avoid riding on major roads and prefer to follow the wriggliest lines on a map.

As a relic from the 1950s I am accustomed to paper maps stuffed into the clear windows on top of tank bags. The idea of a ride to places new was always accompanied by a trip to a map shop and some heavy breathing over Map Porn such as Michelin Guides, Ordanance Survey Maps and whatever else was available. Unfolding a new map on the kitchen table, salt and pepper shakers holding down the top corners and poring over the detail is still a far greater rush than downloading an app or scrolling on Google Maps . One local shop even used to print London to Singapore hippie trail maps onto cotton scarves. In Phnom Penn there was a stall near the entry to  the vast concrete dome of The Central Market that sold large scale maps of the the north of the country. The paper they were printed on was very poor quality and would have turned to mush at the sound of a dripping tap. The vendor gave us instructions to go to a street where the laminators were, each quarter and street having its own specialists, where on Saturday mornings charming Khymer grandmothers with tables and flat irons competed for custom from their kerbside stalls.  I handed over my crisp new map of the Dangrek Mountains and the road to Prasat Preah Vihear, the Laminatrix duly performed her task and the robust plastic sleeve is still watertight a decade later despite repeated folding.

New maps have the smooth countenance and optimism of teenagers, old maps are covered in arrows, high lighter, circles, dates, mileage and way points, as elders they have stories to tell. Maybe the best maps are the ones that are drawn as the traveller progresses, a blank page reveals its secrets. In 1912 when Carl Stearns Clancy set off on the first recorded circumnavigation of the World by motorcycle there wasn’t much more than the sun, a compass and rough track to the next town to follow. Now phone towers and electronic bank withdrawls can trace your progress, the watch on your wrist can detect if you have had a crash and the World has shrunk, homogenised  into a Western pastiche and been worn smooth by the multitudes of tourists. Is there a guilt in still going and adding your face to the multitudes, or inspiring others to go where you have gone and hence change the rare and unspoilt into the mundane and well-trodden? Detractors would ask what does it prove to point at a map and say, “I was here.”

Go, just go, as often and for as long as you can. Do it in a way that works for you, alone, escorted, on your own bike, on a hire bike, on your mate’s bike. The right bike is the any bike. Experience the initial mental panic and  B Movie paranoia of the fear of the unknown and the vast cataclysm of imagined impending disasters, the chances are that you will ride through it and come out the other side. I am exceedingly fortunate to have been able to ride in Europe, Australia and Asia and all have had their many highs and only a few lows. The scenery has varied from The Northern Lights to the Great Australian Bight and the limestone karsts of Vietnam and the bikes have varied from CT110s to ST1100s, the weather from snow and ice to tropical heat and I still want to see more.

The date that titles this piece is when Ted Simon began his 4 year epic on a 500cc Triumph. His book of the journey, “Jupiter’s Travels” certainly inspired many more to venture further afield. In a World that seems to be increasing polarised, agonised and fractious it could well be time to celebrate the 50th anniversary by strapping a tent onto the back of your bike and heading out of town for a night/week/month/year/decade – delete as appropriate.

Preparation can start off small, camp in the back garden or local park. Learn basic motorcycle maintenance, do short rides with other more experienced people. Go and play on a dirt road, you don’t need the latest and greatest motorcycle to do this, in fact less is much easier to pick up after a tumble. Gradually build up to an adventure, one of my happiest was riding a CT110 from Sydney to Uluru via Broken Hill, The Flinders Ranges and the Oodnadatta Track in July 1995. Three decades later the flame still burns, I am off to the map shop now that I have a departure date…

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Retro Moto

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