Winter is coming. Honestly it is. I had goosebumps as I rode up the mountain today, it must have been about 23 C. Yes, goosebumps; cold and suffering as I rode up a famous stretch of twisties, no rain, no speed checks, on the feisty little CRF450RL, on my way to help out a friend.
For a homeless person stuck in a foreign country in the middle of a pandemic, I’ve no real complaints.
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I told a friend the other day, ‘you look so wonderful, look at that glow to your skin and the smile on your face, I want whatever you’re on’ and she said, ‘I’m on gratitude!’ and she meant it even though I know it’s really because she doesn’t eat sugar or carbs or drink alcohol. I know this because my skin doesn’t look like hers, even though I’m drenched in gratitude every day. Some days, I’m rocking acne like a teenager, although my French bestie tells me it’s simply more evidence of aging backwards: I have teenage problems. With midlife benefits.
Midlife benefits like… studying the art of just chilling out and moving on. Not one of my natural talents. But here I am, a student of Thailand’s sabai sabai and the fine, fine art of napping.
This is significant when you consider my background as an (ex) lawyer, an A-type personality (reformed), anda person whose idea of mental relaxation is extracting (smuggling) my motorcycle in and out of various Asian countries every four to six weeks.
Napping. Honestly, this is the zenith of zen to my unschooled eye. I mean, imagine being SO RELAXED THAT YOU JUST GO TO SLEEP? IN THE DAYTIME? I’m so impressed by it that I go around taking photographs of people JUST NAPPING, like damn, what a skill. Naturally I can’t post these photos here out of concern for my friends, who don’t like being posted on the internet with their eyes closed and their mouths slightly open, but maybe you can imagine.
Grace, what the hell are you talking about? You may well ask. Last time you checked I was on this badass trip around the world and now I’m blogging about naps. Well, here’s the thing. I’m stuck in Thailand. My bike is stuck in Cambodia. I need to go through Myanmar next but damn, they’re having a military coup and a small civil war. Then I need to go through India and Nepal, which are both currently being smashed by contagious disease. And then Pakistan, and Iran, which are facing similar issues. Side trip into Afganistan also canceled due to philosophical differences with the Taliban. Basically, all the places I want to go next are a hot mess, which I don’t mind, but they are hot messes which – judiciously – aren’t going to let me in.
And thus, four and half years into my journey, I learn patience.
I also learn how to ride, how to really ride.
Back in 2016, before I left on this trip, I remember Chris Birch looking at me in concern at my inability to even attempt a powerslide on the 690, and telling me, ‘I’m worried you’re going to get run over by a truck in Pakistan.’ Legitimately so, since that day I was so stressed I could barely tie my shoelaces, let alone turn a corner. But let’s not get distracted: I also couldn’t powerslide when I wasn’t stressed. I could ride a motorbike from A to B but technique? Off road skills? Skills? Nope, I was just trying to get the hell out of town. I didn’t care if I looked good doing it.
Along the way, I learnt that I could do more than I thought I could – usually coached by enthusiastic Indonesian truck drivers cheering me on through bogs, and a bit of whiteknuckled stubborness. But can I wheelie? Not really. Can I pivot turn? No. How’s my clutch control? Well – I got 90,000km out of one set of clutch plates on the 690, so take from that what you will. But the bottom line is that when I left Sydney, actual riding skills were not part of my portfolio.
Has that changed? Yes.
Does it need to change more? Hell yes.
If you read my last blog, you’ll know how stoked I was to get an intro to Thai jungle enduro just as the new year dawned, shaking off the lassitude of pandemic panics and bad relationships. We called it ‘chicken enduro’ because it was the mildest of single track riding, but the lesson I learnt that day was not really about hopping logs or standing on the pegs. The lesson I learnt was about falling down – and getting back up again. That falling down is not failure, and an indication that you shouldn’t have tried; no, falling down is hilarious and normal and totally okay. It’s good. It’s good because you’re learning, because you’re pushing your abilities, and because you’re riding with people who support you enough to laugh at you while you lie in the mud.
Maybe this sounds trite or silly, but I challenge you to get on any women’s message board and absorb the fear of dropping the bike that populates those pages. The self-recriminations that flow so hard and fast when you don’t succeed immediately, only for some wise-ass to say, ‘oh well see? you can’t do it, we told you so.’ When you are the only woman playing with men’s toys, everyone is looking at you. Some of them are supporting you and some of them are waiting for you to fail.
I hate that.
And l hate that I let it get to me. Am I not stronger than this? Did I not ship my bike into East Timor and figure out how to ride across some of the most obscure corners of Asia, on my own? Did I not fail to die in all the places where people kindly predicted that I would? Did I not make friends with people others feared? Of course I did. And here I am hyperventilating because… some dirtbikers are watching me? Wtf Grace, honestly, wtf.
The trick is to be afraid, and do it anyway.
Later, I would cry bitter and childish tears over my rice the day that someone told me they didn’t want me to come on an enduro ride because ‘it’s too hard, everyone feels sorry for you’.
Doesn’t sound very zen of me, does it? I am but a student of these things, with much to learn.
Stay tuned for my very own Valentine’s Day Massacre.