The glory of gravel

Gravel wasn’t something that I went out of my way looking for in the past. The perfect road used to be smooth and winding tarmac but while living in England I gravitated more and more towards the adventure segment of motorcycling. When Christopher started riding, his interest was geared towards the smaller roads and exploring, rather than following the asphalt ribbon.

For Christopher, a motorbike trip is another possability to catpture great photos, this was Scotland 2016

We did some light trail riding (typically called greenlaning in local lingo) while in the British Isles and this lead onto getting equipped with a lighter bike, trading the Versys for the GS and then onto better tyres, putting on the Heidenau Scout. Lastly, better boots were purchased, and I now walk around like a squeaky robot in my Sidi Adventure 2 (but they are amazingly comfortable while riding, and have protected our ankles really well so far).

This summer Cool Cat, my blue GS, got a pair of Heidenau tyres as well, and crash bars too. Then I went out looking for gravel. In Sweden, unlike some other countries such as England or Spain, gravel roads are quite frequent in the countryside so enjoying riding them is a huge benefit. My native region, Värmland, has especially many gravel roads (and a strong tradition of rally driving too). As I mentioned in my previous post, the gravel road no. 673 in Värmskog (up to the bakery and beyond) is even a kulturminne, cultural landmark.

I ventured out on some stretches of the Swedish TET and, unlike the Prades mountains in Spain, where Christopher and I were riding TET earlier this summer, it was largely gravel roads, and some forest roads (we also call these tractor roads as they are made by and for forest machinery). In the Prades mountains we encountered mainly gravel or dirt trails, sometimes very gnarly due to rain earlier in the year and these trails require higher skills and greater precautions for us novices.

In Sweden, I both went out exploring for fun but also implemented gravel roads in my routes to go places.

This is just off the TET not far from Karlstad, a total surprise to find “the red gold” (lingonberries) when I stopped for a break.
On the TET a bit after the town of Kil going north
On the TET a bit after the town of Kil going north.
This forest road is also on the TET, in the vicinity of Hjo.
This forest road is also on the TET, in the vicinity of Hjo.

Lastly, I’d like to mention the gravel course I took with SMC (the Swedish Motorcyclists Central organisation) where I improved my braking and cornering a bit. But there is only so much I can learn in a day and, unfortunately, I couldn’t join more courses during my stay in Sweden. It is so worth the money and time spent, I hope I can join them again next year.

FENoMenAL Motorbike Meet – I’m trying my hand as a rally organizer

“See you next year!” How amazing it was to hear this and know that the event I had poured so much energy and time into planning was a success and that everyone had had a good time.  

It was exciting to welcome everyone to my region of Sweden, Värmland, and host this event for WIMA Sweden in Värmskog. It was a low-key event, building on the amazing location and the company. We rallied together with all our enthusiasm and knowledge and learned from and inspired each other.  

The little cabins that make up the vandrarhems lodgings are taken from different parts of Värmland about 100 years ago and have before that been used as swineries, stable, food storage etc
The little cabins that make up the vandrarhem’s lodgings were taken from different parts of Värmland about 100 years ago and have before that had been used as swineries, stables, food storage etc.

Women from both Sweden and Norway took part and it was open to members of WIMA as well as non-members. We were 22 in total, which meant that we filled Värmskog’s vandrarhem (Swedish-style countryside hostel made up of separate cabins) and didn’t need to share the facilities with anyone else. In the evenings, we enjoyed barbecue and presentations in the garden – the first night we all introduced ourselves and got to know each other, the second night we had volunteers giving presentations. We were women all ages and levels of experience, ranging from holding the licence for only 1 month, to over 40 years. The parking area displayed a wide range of bikes, there were cruisers as well as race bikes and everything in between, including a motorcycle with a sidecar! Along with this diversity, a theme emerged: gravel! We all had our own relation to gravel riding –  those who love it, those who avoid it, those who learn to ride it, and most remarkably – she who got told that “women don’t ride gravel”, by a sales person when wanting to buy a bike more suitable for gravel riding. Well, he ain’t selling no bike to any WIMA member after that, we all agreed.  

The famous open-face prawn sandwich, or simply as we say in Swedish 'räkmacka'
The famous open-face prawn sandwich, or simply as we say in Swedish ‘räkmacka’

Värmskog is a small village in the south of Värmland. As it is situated by the lake Värmeln, we had access to both a small beach with sand, cliffs and a jetty, as well as nearby possibilities to just dip into the water from the edge of the forest, and most of us took advantage of the lake at some point as the weather was very hot. The local café, Värmskog’s Café, is famous for its giant open-face prawn sandwiches and bikers have used this as a riding destination for decades – I must admit that this was why I was first attracted to the idea of hosting the event in this location. I rode there the first time in 1998, as a learner rider, and I return most years to indulge. To further take advantage of local facilities, I’d ordered breakfast buns, cake and cinnamon buns from Malin at Värmskog’s bakery. And, surprise, surprise, the road there was a gravel road, a rollercoaster gravel road! This is road 673, appointed a cultural heritage and one of Värmland’s most beautiful gravel roads. I got to ride it twice for the bread collection, you may call it ‘the organisers perk’, ha ha! If you pass by Värmskog, I recommend you pop up there, enjoy the road, and buy some homemade bread, cakes or why not muesli.  

Värmskog's bakery
Värmskog’s bakery

The slogan for the event was ‘for women by women’, building on the idea that we can all learn from each other. It was also important for me that everyone would be able to connect and make new friends, I wanted it to be an event you could go to alone but leave having made many new friends. In addition, everyone was asked if they wanted to present something, and thanks to our volunteers we got the opportunity to learn a few things. Monica held a presentation about WIMA Norway, which is one of the newer divisions in WIMA, built on the enthusiasm from the WRWR movement. It was truly amazing to hear about all the activities they are organising, and the way they run their division. When I was International President, it was one of my goals to get a division started in Norway, therefore the story of their success touches my heart. WIMA Norway has grown with record speed and is, with their 800 members, a powerhouse in the Norwegian motorcycle community. They are also, by far, the biggest national division, more than twice as big as the second largest division. Absolutely amazing, but if all their members are as positive and energetic as the ones coming to FENoMenAL, I’m not at all surprised! Other presentations were Merete’s inspirational story about how we can stand up for ourselves, ride our own ride, so to speak. Marie talked about Tapping, a way to reduce stress and anxiety and, in addition, I talked about riding in hot weather and introduced WIMA’s chosen charity, MJ Piki in Tanzania, and those who wanted could donate money towards training another woman rider for the team. 

We started the barbeque and the presentations at 7
We started the barbecue and the presentations at 7

and presentations ran on into the late evening.
and presentations ran on into the late evening.

Susann contributed as tour leader for the Saturday ride out to Värmland’s Näs, about 10 riders joined her on a full day excursion. The rest of us made smaller explorations, involving ice-cream, beach and prawns. I appreciated the time we had to chat and share experiences and I truly felt I connected and made friends with everyone attending.  

Susanne leads the group ride out onto Värmland's Näs.
Susanne leads the group ride out onto Värmland’s Näs.

Luxury lunch and chill timeon Värmland's Näs
Luxury lunch and chill time on Värmland’s Näs

Even when you try to avoid gravel there is always some.
Even when you try to avoid gravel there is always some.

I learnt a lot from organizing and hosting this rally and now an idea is sizzling in my mind: how about incorporating a gravel training day in next year’s event?! I’ve just done such an event with SMC Värmland and I think a collaboration could work well. Food for thought, but for sure, WIMA Sweden will be back with FENoMenAL MC träff next year again.

I wanted to organise an event where people could feel this chilled haning out, I think I succeded.
I wanted to organize an event where people could feel this chilled hanging out, I think I succeeded.

Photo courtesies to all the awesome women participating! Photos are taken from our Messenger chat group.

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 😀