WIMA rally in Derbyshire, England

Finally it had arrived, yet too soon it would fly by, the International WIMA Rally, that I’d been looking forward to since buying my ferry ticket back in February.

Parade day! Photo courtesy: Okunishi Sonoko

It is hard to capture the essence of a WIMA rally in words and do it justice, I struggle every year while typing up my blog post. WIMA is an organization with a long history, indeed it will be celebrating its 70th year in 2020. The international rallies started in 1958 and I’ve been attending them since 2005 (Sweden and New Zealand) and I’ve become addicted to them – but what is it that brings me back year after year and makes me plan my summer around being able to attend the rally?

Our international rallies are always a shade under a week, arrival on Sunday but official opening on Monday night. This includes the welcome dinner and speeches, and a party. During the week we have trash night with silly performances, the parade with national flags, visits to local cultural places, suggested ride outs and a treasure hunt, disco, live music and more. It ends on Friday night with a farewell dinner, awards and presentation of next year’s rally. Departure is Saturday morning. There can be some variations to the content during the week, but I would say that the opening and closing evenings are rather fixed structures, as is the parade. Quite a lot of stuff is crammed into the rally week, most of them included in the fee, plus you get a goodie bag. I love the way we have lots of social activities on offer and I can choose to take part or just hang back and chill with friends, some I only meet every two or three years. 

If I were to choose one element that I valued the most from this year’s rally, it would be re-connecting with old friends, making new friends and meeting some famous people.

For the opening cermony WIMA GB had invited Anna Zee, president of FEMA, to give the welcome speech. What a treat to be seated with her during dinner and learn about motorcycle culture and FEMA’s work in different countries. It was so interesting that we re-filled our wineglasses and withdrew to continue our discussions in a more quiet place. I believe there was a band on that evening that I missed.

The red wine was very tasty and I ended up in the office, having a few more glasses while discussing motorcycle travelling and rallies with Tiffany Coates and Caroline Carver. Tiffany has attended plenty of Horizons Unlimited events, so has Caroline (she is also the organizer behind the massive HU event in Baskerville Hall in Wales). With this background, their view on WIMA rallies interested me, what they found similar, different and the demographic of the participants. We concluded that the events are vastly different. The HU events are based on presentations and workshops whereas the WIMA rallies are based on social activities, fun and games. In addition, many of the HU attendants are round the world travellers, in WIMA most of us are more modest in our distances but still dedicated travellers.

So, already on the first night I had met 3 famous people! This resulted in a serious headache the next day, totally self-inflicted by too much delicious wine – Carolina and Tiffany had no blame in that at all, nor had Anna. The next day was a busy one, oh dear: first a visit to the Blue John Cavern in the morning, then an assessed ride with an IAM instructor after lunch, followed by the Pikilily presentation, national presidents’ meeting and dinner back-to-back. Sometimes it is difficult to understand how it was possible to muster the energy for all the things scheduled but somehow I managed to get through it all.

Some rock information: The name of the stone, Blue John, comes form its colors and the fact that there were many french miners working in the mines in the early days. In french blue is bleu and yellow is jaune 🙂 linguistics is fun! Blue John is only mined in 4 places in the world, all in this area, there were quite a few circumstances that needed to coincide for the stone to be created therefor its rarity. In a few years’ time this cave will be fully excavated and from then on only used for guided tours.

Our excellent IAM instructors! I got Linda Ashmore and I know hear her voice my head when Im riding, which is a good thing! Btw, Linda is also famous! Photo courtesy: Keiko Osawa.

Throughout this summer the weather has been rather chilly wherever I’ve been (apart from a few days in Spain and France). England was no exception, we had plenty of rain and some rather chilly nights when I had to layer up with all my clothes to stay warm and cosy in my tent. I slept well, though, and my tent didn’t leak. I find it super cosy to be snuggled up in my sleeping bag listening to the rain. A side-effect of the rain was the slugs, more about that later.

Clear sky and full moon – we’re in for a cold night at the campsite. Photo courtesy: Sue

Losehill Hall was a perfect venue for the rally, especially for such rainy weather. Lots of rooms, nooks and crannies where we could socialise indoors. For example, Sue and I spent a long morning drinking mug after mug of coffee and catching up on things. Then we dragged Georgina with us to take in the view from Lose Hill. 1 1/4 of a mile, yeah, we were all sure it was much longer. It was admittedly quite a hike and I wasn’t quite prepared, wearing my running shoes and woolly long johns however my new Knox Olivia jacket kept me warm and dry. In fact, I wore the jacket all week, both on and off the bike, very flexible piece of gear!

Another highlight of this year’s rally was meeting Hayley Bell, founder of the Women Rider’s World Relay, and listening to her talk about the relay and beyond. As international president of WIMA, I have been involved from the start and spent a lot of time networking both within WIMA and for the WRWR and I have followed its development with great interest. I’m really looking forward to seeing how the next step will develop. The WRWR can best be described as a movement and it is highly dynamic, involving and connecting women from different cultures and countries and broadening the horizons for everyone. As well as showing the market how many women we are and that we want better adapted products, the relay is showing us how many strong women there are out there and how different our situations can be just depending on what country we are born in. In Western Europe we want gear without pink and at the same quality as men’s gear. In Pakistan they want gear, any gear, because the availability is very poor. This gives greater awareness of the inequality in the world, we might not have the gear we want, but they don’t have anything.

One way that WIMA as an organisation is making an immediate impact is by our support of MJ Piki. We were fortunate to be able to hear Anne talk about the latest development in the Pikilily workshop and the progress of the women riders at MJ Piki. There are now 6 trained women and WIMA continues to support them, aiming to raise money for the training of another woman and to fund a motorbike. The rally successfully raised money for MJ Piki – the fundraising was split between our official WIMA World support project and the Derbyshire Air Ambulances, a local charity. So we are working towards our goal already. We also collected protectors that can be sewn into their riding gear, I find it amazing how crafty they are in creating their own riding gear when there isn’t any on the market.

On a more personal aspect of women empowerment, Tiffany Coates held a workshop on how to keep yourself safe and how to act in a dodgy environment. We learned about how to show security through body language, break free when held by the wrist and other tips to deter an attacker. The old tip, key between your fingers, was something I used all the time when running the trails in the Gothenburg suburb where I lived before moving to Spain, but I had no idea how easy it can be to break free from a wrist grip if you know how to do it. Tiffany was fresh back from India, where she led a ripple relay from Chandigarh up to Khardungla, probably the highest altitude ripple ride yet performed – they called it “the Ultimate Ripple”. I hope that, in the future, I will have the possibility to travel with Tiffany in India on one of her tours. She is an inspiration, and it was amazing to finally meet her, she is such a humble person yet extraordinary. As you can see, I had to take some photos of her famous bike Thelma as well.

Too quickly, the rally began drawing to a close. There was the farewell dinner, awards ceremony and concert, this time I didn’t miss out! Thor – the gods of rock kept us well entertained with their 70s and 80s rock, they’re seriously one of the best cover bands I’ve seen.

The first impulse of me and many others was to photograph or film the band, later on the dance floor was full with rocking women!

Thank you WIMA GB for an amazing rally, you did brilliantly!

Also, please accept my humble thanks for the “Slug in the boot award”. Very much appreciated 😀

Slow riding in Ireland

Three weeks, it sounds like a long time in a small country like Ireland and one can easily make the assumption that within that time we could complete the Wild Atlantic Way. However, doing things in a rush is not our style, we like living slow and there were a lot of things we wanted to do. I was happy to be out and about on my bike, camping, running and getting some good rest after a stressful year. Christopher was happy to be out and about checking out old stuff, like stones and taking photos and more photos. We also wanted to sample some ciders and eat some tasty food.

I arrived ahead of Christopher – I came over from France with an overnight ferry and arrived early morning while he ferried from Wales and arrived in the afternoon. This gave me a good opportunity to run some errands, more precisely to check out the Knox Urbane Pro riding shirt at the Overlanders in Gorey. The Knox gear is not yet available in Spain, so this was good use of time for me, and I could have coffee and scones while resting a bit after a sleepless night on the ferry. Business done, we headed up to the Wicklow Mountains for camping and riding, a highly appreciated recommendation from the guys at Overlanders.

Our aim had been the the southwest coast but the Wicklow Mountains were a pleasant surprise and we fully enjoyed riding there a couple of days taking in the diverse landscape. The contrasts in nature between overgrown thick forest and nearly tropical look, to barren fields and mountains made for great photo opportunities and we found some small roads where we were nearly alone. It was rather chilly so I layered up with my rain jacket on top to keep warm – but it did not rain, which was great.

The Guinness lake.

Over on the southwest coast we set camp for a few days and explored some very small rural roads on the Beara Peninsula and the smaller peninsulas to the south. The smaller the roads the happier Christopher is, and I must say that not all roads were easy on the BMW, although if I’d still had the Kawasaki I probably wouldn’t have even tried. We had had some very mixed weather, none of it what I would call summer weather, but especially when riding along the coast we got some sunny moments and I could occasionally pack my rain jacket away.

Cold, windy and rough, but believe it or not, this road is part of the Wild Atlantic Way. On our way to Sheep’s Head, west of Bantry.
I love the cliffs and the waves breaking against them causing the water to foam and look turquoise.
On local recommendation, we headed to Garnish Point where you can take the cable car to Dursey Island. No way would I ever get into the cable car, and although sheep are no longer permitted it did look small and claustrophobic. The view was awesome so we enjoyed a coffee stop before riding on.
There are lots of these little roads to enjoy.
On our way to Moll’s Gap and Gap of Dunloe. I found the generous colour marking of the sheep perplexing, on the other side of the hill they were purple.

While I don’t have any photos to show from our riding on the Iveragh Peninsula and the Ring of Kerry, I do have some from seeing extremely old footprints on Valentia Island. One of the perks of travelling with Christopher is that he does research and finds out about cool stuff to see for free, like these footprints from a tetrapod. These footprints can only be seen in a handful of places in the world and they are 360 million years old, tetrapods were, in fact, the very first vertebrates to get out of the sea and live on both land and water. This was so so cool to see!

We moved up one peninsula and explored the area around Dingle. The town itself we tried to avoid, as it was packed full of tourists (hey, no – we’re not tourists, we’re travellers!) Our only reason to venture into Dingle was to buy camping gas and new sporks, as we kind of had run out. Foxy John’s, the only hardware store with a pub I’ve ever been to, got us sorted on gas (FYI, he stocks click, screw and pierce cannisters).

We had some amazing weather here and we enjoyed exploring the area and taking lots of photographs. We also had some clear nights where, even though we were not in the Kerry Dark Sky Reserve, we could see the stars very very clearly – like I have never seen them before. Unfortunately we had no clear skies while in Kerry, so that is still on the list to come back for.

The view from the hiking trail at Clogher Strand, near Barryferriter.

One of our quests on the Dingle peninsula was to find the Ogham stones. We circled around quite a while without finding them, the GPS and map both clearly marked the spot. Well, the farmer had also marked the spot, they were in a field with a “Beware of the bull” sign. Hmm, seems the farmer wasn’t happy having a national monument on his land. Ogham is an early medieval writing using lines used in this area.

Finally a day where I could ride with only the Knox Urbane Pro shirt and no outer layer. Irish summer is not quite what I call summer, but I think the shirt will serve me well back in Spain.

The Dingle and the Beara peninsulas were my favourites, perhaps because we had the best weather and we found some interesting stuff and tiny roads to ride. Sadly, this was as far north as we got before heading back towards Dublin. We passed by Overlanders again, my bike desperately needed a new chain kit and I was very happy to get this done before taking on the next leg in my journey.

Our last night in Ireland was booked in Dublin. However, there was a hassle to find a place to stay, the hostel we booked especially for their parking in the back had no parking at all and could not see the problem of parking in the street and later in the conversation the receptionist conveniently had trouble understanding English. I lost my patience, demanded a refund and we went to stay near the police station where we parked and securely locked our bikes.

While locking the bikes, Christopher had his five minutes of glory – a guy enthusiastically commented on his British registration plate: “Have you come all the way from England on a 125? Fair play to you!”. I must add that he is a fairly seasoned traveller by now, although for him it is never a motorbike holiday, it is a photography holiday. So while I tried to slim down the packing, he brought two cameras, but that is a whole other story, not to be told now.

The photographer in action.

And life moves on

As summer continues here in Sweden, my Versys is stored away in Spain together with five boxes containing our possessions and I’m prepping my “new” Swedish registered bike. It is a 2002 BMW F650GS. The very same model I rode in Australia a few years back for the WIMA rally. But the history of me and BMW goes back further than that. I was actually close to getting a BMW years back when I instead got my second Ducati – I test rode a BMW Scarver and my brother was cheering me on wanting me to buy it. I wasn’t ready then, and I would even own a third Ducati before I again contemplated the purchase of a BMW.

The same year my brother died, 2005, I rode a BMW GS in New Zealand and absolutely hated it. My friend and I had both rented a GS and when hers broke down and she got a replacement Honda Transalp that she couldn’t reach the ground on I was happy to swap bikes. But life changes and so does one’s needs and likes. When I at last prepared to leave the Ducati world, the GS was back on my shortlist, along with the Suzuki V-Strom and the Kawasaki Versys. The vote fell on the Versys, as a secondhand GS was more expensive than a new Versys with cases and the V-Strom felt too bulky.

So finally, I’ve gotten myself the bike that I crossed path with so many times and I must say I love it, it is an absolute delight to ride, so light and easy to handle and the engine is so responsive. The engine runs so much smoother than the Versys and the weight distribution is so much better. I wish my brother could see me now.

My Versys was bought with panniers and top case, the only thing I had to sort out was the tank bag. My GS has a small top case and nothing else, so I’m busy getting stuff sorted. I would be happy travelling with just a pack roll if it wasn’t that I will be picking up Christopher and he’ll be pillion for part of the journey. Therefore, I needed to source out panniers for the bike, and to fit panniers I need pannier racks.

The amount of time that has gone in to searching for “the right” panniers and other equipment is ridiculous. In the end, the challenged proved to be the pannier rack, which not only is ridiculously expensive – 3795sek or roughly 400 euros for just the rack if I would order from Touratech! Besides, they have a 3-month delivery time. Instead, I sourced the pannier rack from SW Moto and ordered from Polo Motorrad – the cost was half the price. However, when, after some days, I called asking after the delivery date as they had not provided any, I was told they had a 3 weeks waiting time before they would get the rack into stock, that would be after I’d started travelling.  Following this, I found a Swedish company who would sell the rack and deliver within 10 days, so I bought it from them paying 2750sek.  The rack from the Swedish company has not arrived and no new delivery date has been given, in the meantime Polo has shipped my rack and with a little bit of luck it will arrive tomorrow so I can mount it on the bike. Fingers crossed… I was going to arrange for them to be sent along my route but they shipped much earlier than expected. The panniers themselves are yellow waterproof soft bags from Nelson Riggs and I’m really eager to put them on.

The tank bag is another story. I generally don’t want to spend money on a fantastic tank bag as it could easily get stolen, so I’d rather buy a cheap one no-one is interested in. I have purchased a large tank bag from Biltema for very low cost and I re-constructed it to fit the tank which is made of plastic. All I needed to do was to attach straps to the bag and remove the magnets.

Along with the pannier racks, I’m also awaiting the RAM mount for my phone. It seems impossible to ride while reading maps and street signs after being accustomed to following the GPS – for good and for bad, it saves so much time and effort.

Anything else, yeah, right, my tablet died – but I have ordered one to be picked up at an electronic store along the route.