“No way I’m going to sleep in a tent in the middle of the forest in pouring rain!” was my friend’s firm statement when we laid out the plans for our mini holiday in Sweden. Admittedly, the forecast was for rain and a lot of it at times, so I could agree that accommodation indoors could be a better option.
We had booked our first night at a sheep farm in Floby, and the rain came just after we had taken our luggage in so we were lucky! We were both pretty tired, my friend Ela had worked all week and I’d ridden down to Gothenburg to meet up with her after work to do a joint ride to the cabin. We had agreed that, as we were not actually going anywhere this holiday, we were going to focus on quality rather than quantity. We had chosen some lovely, tiny, twisty roads to get to our destination, where we curled up with a glass of wine and caught up on what had happened in our lives since we last met two years ago. Indoor accommodation proved to be an excellent idea, I have to give Ela that. What is better than a glass of crisp wine and a blanket being warm and cosy indoors, while listening to the rain?
The cabin was a refurbished henhouse complete with all facilities and we slept like logs. Some fresh eggs for breakfast made a great start to the day and the sun was out. Hmmm, so much for that weather forecast. Despite what had been predicted for the weekend, the weather would be in our favour almost throughout our trip – with emphasis on almost. One goal for these days was to try out the TET, Trans European Trail, which we would be able to access only 30 km away. I had tried a bit of it near Karlstad but that stretch was actually mainly tarmac with some gravel in between. Now we were hoping for a bit more trail-like roads – but not too much, of course, since I was on road tyres and my experience is limited to greenlaning in the UK and Ireland.
We had an amazing start to the day. I was wearing my rain trousers but that was mainly not to get all messy from the spray from the gravel road, it didn’t actually rain more than a couple of short sprinkles. We found some amazing places to stop and have coffee and the riding was under control more or less the whole time. Apart from when there was a scary downhill with rocks and sand and I freaked out and went too slow which made Ela fall over behind me as she didn’t get enough momentum to keep her balance. How dreadfully embarrassing for me, luckily there was no harm caused to neither woman nor bike and this taught us to keep a greater distance between us on the trails. Rocky and stony passages were very challenging with my tyres, as well as anything muddy or even wet grass. But, over all, I was super pleased with the riding and felt that I had improved a bit and that changing to dual purpose tyres for next season will be worth it because for sure I want to do more of this.
Fika was a priority for our mini holiday, or svemester, as we say in Sweden when we stay in the country for holiday (a clipping and merging of the words sverige and semester, the latter meaning holiday). Fika is the Swedish coffee break concept when we spend time chatting and enjoying a drink and something yummy to eat. We did plenty of this, we found some lovely spots by the various lakes we passed where we could have not only fika but also lunch and even pick some blueberries. The picking and eating of blueberries is an integral part of Swedish summer and few things are as tasty as fresh blueberries and yoghurt.
The last day, by fluke, we came upon a rockabilly restaurant in the countryside. Worth mentioning is that this culture has a strong following in Sweden, where there are lots of classic car and bike meets during summer and a lot of people go all out with 1950’s hairstyles and clothes, as well as the music. These features of the Swedish culture always come across as exotic to me after so many years abroad and I fully enjoyed the experience and the pulled Oumph! veggie burger was scrumptious. This was the last day, and after the meal I called Christopher to tell him how fantastically lucky we were with the weather, “it is like the clouds are parting for us” – yeah, right, after this it was more like we were rain goddesses and the rain clouds flocked around us, pretty much like for the lorry driver in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I learned that my rain trousers, which I had bragged about for their persistence in a forum thread just a week earlier, leaked after less than 5 minutes heavy rain. Now I need to start a thread asking for others advice for rain gear because that is simply unacceptable. And so annoying as I’ve only had them since February 2018. We had our last coffee break inside a petrol station before pushing on home to Ela’s flat outside Gothenburg.
The rain continued overnight and became so heavy that I got stuck the following day. Dad sent one of his rare and always very brief messages, it read: “Don’t ride today”, and as he seldom asks for anything, when he does, I tend to oblige. Indeed, large parts of Sweden got hit with enormous amounts of rain that day, more than what is normal for a whole month. Some areas are still under water now, several days after. For me it was a minor inconvenience, I just waited one day and spent one more evening with Ela and the following day I could ride up in good weather and take some nice roads that I hadn’t ridden in a while too. I’m really pleased I could ride the famous twists in Tisselskogen between Håverud and Tösse – there is a section where you cross the same train track three times and you nearly meet yourself in the corners and as it is undulating too you get the same feeling as when you are in a rollercoaster.
Photo courtesy for photos 1,2,3 and 6, Ela Johansson
The WRWR had been completed and a celebration was in order. It was with great excitement I flew over to London to take part in this festive weekend full of encounters and food for thought. It proved to be all that I had hoped for and more, such great women, so much love. The WRWR is over, but the spirit of the relay is here to stay! In this post I’ll introduce the 8 great women who spoke under the WRWR flag at the Adventure stage at MCN Motorcycle Show at the ExCel. Nathan Milward had kindly let WRWR have two time slots during the Friday, which meant that 8 people could give a 15-minute presentation. These presentations were my main focus for the day.
The first speaker was Juvena Huang, aka “The Wandering Wasp” from Singapore – she spent two years travelling around the world on her little red scooter. Juvena is petite, so the bike of her choice needed to be small, hence the scooter. Her choice of ride isn’t seen as a versatile vehicle suitable for the rugged road so she was sometimes discouraged from going to certain places, but where others saw problems, she saw challenges that could be overcome. In India, for example, she wanted to take the road up to the Khardungla top and was told that it would be impossible on her scooter – “if I never try, I will never know” was her response, she tried and she succeeded. You’ve got to love her attitude and spirit! Her motto is “not all who wander are lost” and her choice of transport makes for slower travelling but a greater experience. You can read more about her and her amazing travelling on her blog, the Wandering Wasp.
From slow travelling on little wheels over to a silent but powerful riding experience between Ghent in Belgium to Istanbul in Turkey – WIMA BAM Belgium president Trui Hanoulle, aka Elektrogirl, shared her experience as the first ever long-distance traveller on an electric motorbike in Europe. Her story has been published in motorcycle magazines all over Europe. Many bikers, myself included, come from a kind of ‘loud pipes save lives’ culture and have a hard time accepting a silent engine. I remember when I test rode a Zero in Finland at our WIMA rally and I asked how I turned the engine on… oh, already on, hmm just that I couldn’t hear it. Trui claims the silence to be one of the best things with an electric motorbike – it doesn’t take away something, it is an added sensation, you can hear the sounds in nature, the horses, the birds and even the tyres on the road. One of the perceived challenges she describes was the charging, but this actually turned out to be an added experience as well, as she found that it gave opportunities to meet people. Besides, what’s the hurry? Travel slow and enjoy the ride! One amusing anecdote that stuck in my mind was her retelling her experience in the Balkans with young boys challenging her, revving their bikes at the red lights not realising she was on an electric bike and would leave them eating her dust as soon as it turned green. Nowadays, Trui is an e-ambassador and organises electric night rides for similarly inclined people. This year will be the 5th event and it takes place in Luxembourg on the 19-20th of September, I hope I can make it. You can read more about her and e-bikes on her blog.
Next woman to enter the stage was Lara Tarabay, founder of the Litas Dubai, WIMA United Arab Emirates and the WRWR ambassador for UAE and Dubai. Lara’s story was, in many ways, different as she comes from a country where women’s independence is by no means something to take for granted. As she was under her husband’s sponsorship she needed his signature to be able to obtain a driver’s licence, something that I find hard to imagine, with my life being so different. Learning to ride was a challenge for Laura, riding is dominated by men and although women are allowed to ride in Dubai, very few do. Lara is a great example of what a woman can do when she sets her mind to it, after only a few years riding she has achieved more than many will in a lifetime. In 2017, she started looking for a group to ride with, not being satisfied with the options, she established the Litas Dubai as a casual group for women riders where they could ride together and support each other. This was the first female Arab riding group and it was soon followed by Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Kuwait. Still striving higher, she then contacted WIMA in 2019 in order to set up a more formal group with closer international connections. Then the WRWR happened and she was all in, taking on the ambassadorship for UAE, and hosting the final event in Dubai. Needless to say, I’m proud to have her in WIMA.
Guliafshan Tariq, aka Pakistan Biker Girl, was next on the stage. Here is another strong woman who has overcome difficulties and worked against prejudices and found her way. She started as a cyclist and moved on to motorcycling, as she said travelling with an engine would allow her to cover longer distances. Her dedication to her country is heart-warming, her mission is to show the Pakistan that media doesn’t show, and she has opened up her house hosting travellers from all over the world in order to spread positive messages about her country. She is currently travelling in the UK as an ambassador for her country and she plans to travel further, however visas are an issue with many countries due to her Pakistani passport. Guliafshan also made a huge contribution to the WRWR in her country, but ironically it had to be a foreign motorbike traveller who took the baton across the border to India as Guliafshan couldn’t obtain a visa. Those of us who are born in Western countries often don’t realise how fortunate we are being born with the passport we have.
I was first contacted by Guliafshan a shade over a year ago and during this time we have discussed setting up a WIMA division in Pakistan. In the meantime, she has created a female riding group of about 20 women and she plans to hold training events as well as raise awareness of safety gear and other activities. You can find out more about Guliafshan and her projects through her YouTube channel.
After these four presentations, we had some time to roam around the motorcycle show and sit on bikes and check out gear as well as to chat with our WRWR sisters. We were all dressed in our WRWR t-shirts and hoodies, so we were easy to tell apart from the “normal” crowd. There were a few surprises for me, as some people had kept it super quiet that they were coming. I was happy to see Mar and Colette again, coming over all the way from Australia and seeing Nor, president of WIMA Malaysia, was a complete surprise – I was not even aware that she was up and walking after her terrible motorcycle accident back in August.
First up among the next four presentations was Louisa Swaden, aka the Existential Biker. It had proven difficult to find an ambassador for Italy so, despite not knowing any Italian, she stepped up to arrange the Italian leg of the relay between France and Slovenia. I remember being in touch with her back then trying to help with connections but not succeeding. Luckily, she got in touch with Rosario, a local woman based in Rome, and between the two of them they pulled it off with great success. This meeting lead to another and perhaps greater challenge for Louisa, as Rosario and her husband were working on a project and needed help. They were building an LPG-powered bike to break a speed record on the Bonneville Salt Flats and as their rider had dropped out Louisa stepped in – despite not having any previous experience in riding fast bikes. Can you see the pattern here? To prepare herself she signed up for a top speed event in Wales – but first she had to solve a couple of problems. Even though it wasn’t a race, she needed a racing licence and racing gear, neither of which she had. With only 10 days to fix this, she pulled this off as well. She recalls the event in Wales as a success, ‘although no records were broken neither were any bones’. Then it was on to the US to break the record, where the LPG bike broke down. The story didn’t end there, though. She still wanted to ride, so a search began for an alternative. The 1350cc Hayabusa, the fastest street legal bike, fitted the bill and she could still take part. Returning to the UK, Louisa then broke 2 UK speed records and became the fastest woman on sand. And she achieved all this with only 1 month of speed experience. You can read more about her amazing story on www.existentialbiker.com
From fast to far, next speaker was Caroline Lunnon, member of WIMA GB, who travelled around the world on her motorbike. Before circumnavigating the globe with only a weekend of camping in Wales as preparation, Caroline dealt with an even larger challenge, the inner journey coming to terms with loss and grief which made even getting out of bed a great challenge. She described it as pushing boundaries, from small things such as everyday chores to bigger challenges such as trekking up to Mount Everest base camp. No small feat I would say.
She started her circumnavigation riding east and spent about 2 years on the road. In WIMA we love to connect people and to me it was fantastic to hear that she spent two weeks with Nor, national president of WIMA Malaysia. She said she learned from Nor to travel slow and savour the experience and the encounters which meant that after Malaysia her travelling pace slowed down. When she completed her world travels she decided to sell her house, saying that she didn’t want that anchor to hold her down. I found her presentation fascinating, perhaps largely because I can relate to the choices that she has made and the new values that she developed during both her inner journey and overland journey. For those interested in her RtW travelling she has an excellent website: funsmazwaz.com
The next speaker was Jenni Mellody from Australia and her challenge was to come to terms with life with young onset Parkinson’s. As an avid rider, she refused to give up biking and it was not until she dropped her bike she had to reconsider. She had stalled the bike and her left foot was not quick enough to reach the ground, resulting in a lean too heavy for her to hold. The outcome was a broken ankle and a reconsideration. The heavy bike had to go, but she refused to become a pillion, for her it is not the same, so she found a smaller and lighter bike, a Suzuki TU 250. Equipped with this new bike her goal was to come back to riding to work again. Having achieved that, her next challenge was to take part in the WRWR, which for her, was a round trip of 1600km. Her partner was riding with her and the backup plan was for her to ride pillion in case she would be too ill to manoeuvre her bike. She succeeded in riding the relay, and in the most horrible winds. Following this, she plans to ride around Australia. Gosh, I also want to do that, what is my excuse?
The last speaker was Tiffany Coates, long-time member of WIMA GB. Although I have heard her speak several times before, and I know the history behind the purchase of the famous Thelma the bike, I had not heard the full story of that first journey. Tiffany didn’t take up biking until she was 29 and it was all the result of an idea of travelling overland to India with her friend Becky. They both got their licences in preparation for the trip and spent 2 weeks riding in London before they left the country. On a good day they would only fall twice. The bike was heavy and tall, they were on tip toes, two up with luggage. Although the idea was to ride to India they refused to stop when they got there, they just rode on until they ran out of money. And then they worked to earn more and travel further. What was supposed to be a 6-8-month journey became 2 and a half year. Tiffany has continued to travel ever since and is one of the foremost female motorcyclist adventure travellers in the word. On tiffanystravels.co.uk you can read more about her and even book a place on one of her tours as she is also a travel guide. Another thing that is on my bucket list.
Finishing off, we all went to photobomb the Indian Motorcycles stall. They were great supporters of the WRWR and we wanted to show them some love. Then Christopher and I had some time to mill around before it was time to go home. We stumbled upon Derek Mansfield – he looked really well to such an extent that I forgot that he was recovering from a terrible accident just a little while back. I think the distraction was the fact that he had written a new book, a prequel to Tales from the Road IV I bought a few years back. I love his style old-fashioned and poetic style of writing. Nevermind, that I already have more than 5 books that I’m currently reading, and virtually no time to read*, “Tales from the Road III” had to come home with me. I read half of it on the plane and I now have more than 6 ongoing books.
*Now, in theory, I should have lots of time, with the Lockdown for the Coronavirus, let’s see.
Never could I have anticipated that it would feel this powerful, I had just signed up to join the ride and meet the girls and yet there I was – one of the Guardians carrying the baton from Zaragoza to Andorra. However, symbols are powerful and should not be underestimated. Slowly, woman by woman, this baton had made its way from John O’Groats in northern Scotland, via Ireland, Wales, England, France, northern Spain and Portugal. Hundreds of women before me had held the baton, signed the scroll and passed it on. And this was just the beginning, onwards to the north and then to the east and further east, on to Australia and New Zealand, over to Canada, down through the Americas and finally up through Africa. This week it all ends in Dubai and next week we’ll have the final party in London. I can’t wait to meet all the women I have met through the WRWR, Women Riders World Relay – a game changing idea by Hayley Bell – that the world of women motorcyclists came to embrace and ride for.
My first contact with Hayley was shortly after she put her idea up in a woman’s motorcycling group on Facebook. As the purpose of the WRWR and the aim of WIMA overlapped in large part, I contacted her immediately when I saw the message. I wanted to help in my capacity as international president. Please boil down the essence of WRWR into one paragraph so I can help spread the word, I asked Hayley. “We co-ordinate women motorcycle riders across the world to participate in Women Riders World Relay, bringing fun, experience, confidence and a sense of unity to women riders globally” was her answer. The overarching goal for WIMA is to promote international friendship through motorcycling, so yeah, there you go, match made!
My own actual riding participation in the relay was small, just one leg, but the experience was great. I met the Spanish Ambassador Eva and the girls in Zaragoza. I had arrived late, riding straight from work, but just in time for the interview with the TV crew broadcasting live on national TV. Our ride to Andorra was a breeze, nice weather and pleasant food and coffee stops, no hardship at all. However, when we arrived in Andorra it was raining and the team from Andorra, Penya Motorista L’Esquirol, had been waiting for quite some time at the border. They were cold and wet but very welcoming. They escorted us into the city where we were welcomed by people in general and the mayor in particular. The high street was closed off and there were photoshoots, meet and greets and then, off to our hotel. Muntza, the Andorran Ambassador, had arranged everything very neatly and we were very well taken care off. At dinner, I learned that the French girls taking over the baton were actually WIMA France members, amusing as I had tried to recruit them to WIMA before finding out. On the other hand they tried to recruit me to the following leg, and I had decided to tag along but a severe headache put a halt to that plan and I had to wave my goodbyes in Andorra de la Vella while they rode on towards Italy.
Back home, networking continued and now, by contrast, I was contacted by women who wanted to bring their country’s WRWR participants together under the WIMA flag. WIMA Norway was initiated by Emilija and Ann Kathrine did the same for WIMA Luxembourg. In the meantime, the baton was kept moving through northern Europe despite rain and snow. The baton continued on through eastern Europe and into Asia. I kept a close eye on the progress and followed the informative and entertaining daily live videos provided by Colette, the amazing Australian who was determined to follow the relay for as long as she could.
Summer came and I arrived in Sweden to spend some time with family between jobs. Simultaneously with the world relay, many countries arranged ripple relays with the purpose of involving all the areas that the baton had not been able to reach. As I had enjoyed being part of the kick off for the French ripple relay on International WIMA Day back in May, I thought that it was a pity that there wasn’t a ripple going in Sweden. Lots of people had shown disappointment that the relay didn’t come to their area or that they were not able to take part on the actual days the relay passed. I thought that there would be enough interest to make a ripple happen, if only someone would kick start it. I was thinking all these things while I baked the traditional midsummer cake for my father and when I put the cake in the oven I thought, why could it not be me? By the time the cake had baked I had made up my mind, I would do it!
The Swedish WRWR Ambassadors, Ina and Berit, had already arranged a reunion ride in Gothenburg on Midsummer Sunday and they let me take advantage of this as the kick off. I had a day to prepare and set up the Facebook page with information about the ripple and about its philanthropy. I had decided that the ripple would raise money for MJ Piki, a female workshop and transport service in Tanzania. I hoped to raise 327 euros, enough to pay for the full driver’s license training, paperwork and test of another woman rider.
The kick off went overwhelmingly well and people were very positive. Slowly the flag, together with a guestbook and a roadmaster t-shirt, made its way up north, all the way to Trerikesröset, where Norway, Sweden and Finland meet. One of the riders, Margareta, hiked 20 kilometres to make it to the actual point. In Stockholm, 1500km to the south, Susanne organised a ride within the very heart of Stockholm, at 5am, when the city was still asleep! The flag was then taken over to Gotland for a ride and some iconic photos by the mediaeval city wall of Visby. It then continued further down to Skåne, before finishing at WIMA Sweden’s autumn meet near Gothenburg, covering a shade over 5000km over 23 riding days with around 90 participants in total. There, Ina took the flag on a final tour on frosty roads before sending it off to Hayley. The roadmaster t-shirt and the guestbook have now been auctioned and in total we have raised about 750 euros for MJ Piki. As this is a lot more than the initial goal, we can contribute to the general running of their workshop.
Of all the things I set out to do last year, I must say that the ripple relay is what I am most proud of. For the ripple, just as for the relay, my riding contribution was small, but my main work was behind the scenes, networking and connecting people. The WRWR has been a very intensive experience where I have communicated with so many women, literally from all over the world, and I look forward immensely to seeing some of them in London on Valentine’s weekend, when we celebrate our achievement and of course Hayley – the woman who was brave enough to dream big.