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