Born to be Wild

I hated that song!

Actually, I liked that song, but I hated what it had become: Hymn for all stereotypes, the song nine out of ten TV journalists would use, when featuring a motorbike on film, the first thought you have when you hear it, is bike. I hate it when they do that. You should always use the second thought. The first has been thought by too many others. And seriously, sometimes I thought I could hear the guitar playing that riff when I sat on my bike, like it was floating in mid-air coming with the bike like an invisible sound halo.

exhaust Harle-DavidsonBut what I hate even more is when colleagues use it when the film is about the TT Races on the Isle of Man or a cross-country trip on a trial bike through India.

“All the same guys! Two wheels and an engine, all bikes, aren’t they?”

Idiots!

For them, all bikers are just the same; one image, no matter if they ride Harley, a fast racer or vintage English.

“But aren’t you all born to be wild? Rockers and racers alike?”

Eh, no!

The spectrum is wide, from Johnny Barger (founder of the Hells Angels) to Valentino Rossi (the most successful motorcycle racer of all time) and don’t forget Steve McQueen and his Triumph TR6 Trophy in The Great Escape, all bikers but all very different.

Our choice of bike very much conveys an image and a certain life style. For a woman in the late 80s, it was rather difficult to find herself represented there. Women adorned bikes by sprawling over the tank or the rear half naked and dumb faced. No wonder they weren’t taken seriously.

There was more than one reason why I loved to be a biker and I wasn’t sure I even understood them all. It started as a rebellion and for all those Born to be wild reasons. Being a biker was in me. I couldn’t help it.

I loved riding a motorcycle for the freedom you find on two wheels, sometimes so intense, you wanted to burst with joy. Others did not see that point at all. Was it a generation thing or a general attitude? The concept of freedom seemed to scare people more than it seemed to make them happy. Most people didn’t want it, even shirked it. Why did freedom scare them so much?

The bike was my idea of freedom, happiness in perfection, no matter where I was, no matter which bike I took, no matter where I went. My bike made me happy.

half lide motorcycle helmetOne summer I walked into one of the big motorcycle shops, one of the many chains on the market that provided everything but mainly stuff for mainstream interests, so I wasn’t expecting too much. I had half an hour to waste since I was meeting somebody for an interview just around the corner and was too early for the appointed time. There I was with time to kill and money to spend. I decided to have a look at helmets, open face of course, I fancied a new one, the strap on my old had come loose lately.

While I perused the brain caps on display I couldn’t help but overhear an older biker (BMW type) giving advice to his son who obviously bought his first bike, needed a lid, and took his dad along to the shop, or maybe his dad took him.

“See son,“ the guy said, “this meets the necessary EU security standard, has a safety approved badge and it has been tested.“

He went on and on and on discussing the security aspects of just that one bloody helmet.

“Better safe than sorry, son!“ He said.

“Better grow up son!“ I thought.

I spotted my favourite helmet, a US police remake, Electra Glide in Blue style that would go nicely with my blue sunglasses. I tried it on and since I had come in the car I had my handbag with me and could, therefore, check what it looked like in my make-up mirror. It looked great from the back as well, so I proceeded to the till to buy it and then get on with work. I felt the father’s shocked eyes following me as I walked away. He was completely flabbergasted, I hadn’t even checked the security features.

How could I be so free?

Just because, man! I wanted wind in my face! I was a rebel. Rebels don’t do EU security standards.

summer bike motorcycle Harley-Davidson sportsterHere’s another story to prove my point. It happened during those long and hot summers on the Continent. The heat was stifling, way over 30° Celsius. If you wore black leather in this heat, you were more likely to faint at the next set of lights than to arrive safely at your destination of choice. I set off on a trip (200 km, minor roads) with denims, trainers and a T-shirt. I felt the wind cooling my skin and the sun shining on my face, no heavy gear restricted my movements, nothing made me sweat more than was necessary. Still, the ride felt more like a trip through the desert but that was ok. It felt right, it felt Californian.

When I arrived at work my colleagues looked at me with reproachful expressions. I didn’t wear any protective clothing. They (none of them bikers) felt the need to point out the dangers you faced when riding a bike without a jacket and protective gear. They felt the need to tell me. Why did these people assume they knew more about the dangers of riding a bike than me, the biker? I had been riding bikes for nearly 25 years and seen dangerous moments aplenty. I knew what could happen when feeling invincible while being vulnerable.

“But what if you have an accident?”

What if?

“Forget your fucking what if!”

This was what freedom is about. Freedom knows no restrictions. Freedom is the absence of worries, it starts in the head and it makes your heart burst with joy. Freedom is happiness, the choice you make despite the danger that comes with it. All things come at a price. Of course they do. Why do you car drivers think we do not know that?

We do know, and we chose to do what we thought was right for us because we wanted this freedom. We knew the cost; some were prepared to pay more than others.

I paid heavy for mine.

 

Read more in Riding Towards Shadows by Nellie Merthe Erkenbach

The ebook is available on Amazon.

 

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out now – Riding Towards Shadows by Nellie Merthe Erkenbach

Riding Towards Shadows is my very own road movie turned book, a true journey to my heart, my way of dealing with the demons of my past; love, death, and redemption.
Arriving in my forties, I started asking myself who I really was, what my life was about and where I wanted to go from here. I had a successful career as a journalist, but something was missing and there was still a twenty-year-old unsolved issue. The man I loved had died in a motorcycle accident in the early 1990s in Glasgow, Scotland. I never told him I loved him. He never knew, or did he? The pain had never left me.
It was time to give him the send-off he never had. And it was time to face the shadows from my past.
That was the beginning of this journey.
All lovers of road movies know one thing; the means of transport plays a major role in this. I have been a biker all my life, now was the time to go for the real thing. I bought a Harley-Davidson and rode north, a thousand miles towards my past; not knowing, what or who I would find. Could it be peace and awareness?
I hope my search for inner and outer freedom, my way of dealing with my sorrow, and my determination to do things my way, especially as a woman facing so much sexism and stereotypes, will appeal to some and maybe inspire others. Never cease to dream.
Of course, this is also a story for all those lovers of road movies, motorcycles and the easy rider myth.
This is my journey; it taught me a lot. Let it inspire you, everything is true as I remember it.

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Out soon on Amazon!

Riding Towards Shadows

 

Out soon on Amazon!

 

This is a short story to a long ride. As short as it may be, it has influenced my life for so many years now that it almost seems I have never been without it.

When fate strikes, you struggle to cope and move on. But your unable to leave the pain behind, it follows you. You cannot ride fast enough to escape your past. You can only ride on and hope it will get easier one day.

The man I loved died not knowing that I loved him. He died on the day I wanted to tell him that I did, that I saw the future he saw for us, too. That I believed in us and him and against all odds was finally willing to try.

It was too late.

Rob MacGregor crashed into a concrete bus shelter, veering his Harris Kawasaki to avoid an old man slowly crossing the road and died. He was 36 years old.

I never told him what I felt, and I would never get the chance now.

What did he think of in his last moment, lying on the warm Glasgow tarmac drawing the stale summer air into his lungs for the very last time?

His life, his friends, his pain?

Me?

 

Nellie Merthe Erkenbach: Riding Towards Shadows

ebook and paperback

ISBN: 9781729495285

Caledonia Calling

The following blogpost is a chapter of my book Riding Towards Shadows that will be published this month ….. 

 

“Twenty years this summer.” I thought.

It was twenty years that Rob was dead and I was still crying for him, the pain always there, it would not soften, was as sharp and constant as it had been for so long. It was high time I faced my demons. They’ve had power over me for far too long.

Riding Towards Shadows Nellie Merthe ErkenbachI had to go back to say good-bye properly. Something I never did, and I thought he needed a proper send-off. I needed a proper send-off because in a way I never buried him. It had proved to be impossible to let go without, but I needed to let go and therefore I needed to go north.

No. I needed to ride north, up to Scotland again.

I was standing on a platform waiting for my next train connection. The wind was cold and strong and the smell of rain and chips that was wafting over from some food stall must have reminded me of Glasgow. Why else would I think of Scotland and Rob while I was standing in Cologne train station waiting for my connection that was half an hour late. I was in a bad mood because I didn’t like travelling on a train, especially not on a Saturday evening, when the trains were full of football fans drunk and in any other way as annoying as they possibly could be.

“No, I don’t like your singing. Can I be left in peace? Leave me in peace to think for fuck’s sake!”

“Olé, olé, olé, olé!”

He died on his motorcycle, I lived on for twenty years, riding but never really getting away from him. Maybe I could let him go by going back. I had never really had put my boots down here. I lived here but I had left my heart in Scotland.

Riding Towards Shadows Nellie Merthe Erkenbach

A football supporter two rows in front of me started throwing up, retching, smelling, cheered on by his friends. The odour of sour beer and sick made me sick, too. I got up. This was my lucky day. We were approaching my destination; I could get off this train. I felt sick of it all. Something had to change, I had to sort out my life.

Glasgow it was. I would take twenty days off work to ride back twenty years. It seemed very appropriate.

The Tennent’s advert of those days still stuck in my head: Caledonia. This guy has this epiphanic moment and leaves his successful life in London to come back to his pals in Scotland for a pint and happiness.

Nellie Merthe Erekenbach Riding Towards ShadowsWell, I knew ads worked with dreams, I worked for television. This ad worked with my dream and it worked well even after twenty years.

 

The decision was made, and I had half a year to organise everything.

I made a list: I wanted to do this big send-off trip, I wanted to meet as many of the old crew as possible, I wanted a tattoo and I wanted to live my dream.

Caledonia was calling me, and I was going home.

 

road movie turned book

I am in the last stages of publishing my book which was inspired by this blog but will be so much more than that. 

Riding towards Shadows Nellie Merthe Etkenbach

Riding Towards Shadows is my very own road movie turned book, a true journey to my heart, my way of dealing with the demons of my past; love, death, and redemption.

Arriving in my forties, I started asking myself who I really was, what my life was about and where I wanted to go from here. I had a successful career as a journalist, but something was missing and there was still a twenty-year-old unsolved issue. The man I loved had died in a motorcycle accident in the early 1990s in Glasgow, Scotland. I never told him I loved him. He never knew, or did he? The pain had never left me.

It was time to give him the send-off he never had. And it was time to face the shadows from my past.

That was the beginning of this journey.

All lovers of road movies know one thing; the means of transport plays a major role in this. I have been a biker all my life, now was the time to go for the real thing. I bought a Harley-Davidson and rode north, a thousand miles towards my past; not knowing, what or who I would find. Could it be peace and awareness?

Harley-Davidson woman myth legendI hope my search for inner and outer freedom, my way of dealing with my sorrow, and my determination to do things my way, especially as a woman facing so much sexism and stereotypes, will appeal to some and maybe inspire others. Never cease to dream.

Of course, this is also a story for all those lovers of road movies, motorcycles and the easy rider myth.

This is my journey; it taught me a lot. Let it inspire you, everything is true as I remember it.

 

Riding towards Shadows … soon to be published on Kindle Direct Publishing.

 

 

summertime … and the riding is easy

Shieldaig, Torridon

What is the perfect ride?

Scottish HighlandsMay be many things: a busy rally, a desert trip, a cruise along Sunset Boulevard – there are so many bikers out there, so many different ideas what a perfect ride should be like.

Even my own idea of a pefect run differs occasionally.

But very often, this one song goes through my head as my bike takes me to the horizon: Summertime and the living is easy….

 

chopper dreams

sea and gorseA perfect ride – what does it take?

Fun, for a start. And sun, not to forget. Me and my bike and some breathtaking scenery – that is a perfect ride for me. No breakdowns, no annoying cars, not a soul in sight.

Just summer and the coconut smell of Scottish gorse, a sea breeze and a powerful engine roaring through the wilderness.

….and the riding is easy indeed.

 

With a little treat – a fruit scone, home-made jam and cream when the road takes you back into civilisation.

Perfect!

 

I call my freedom liberté

Rhine On a sun soaked autumn afternoon I took the Harley for a run, took it because I can.

It might sound slightly obamaesque but that was the main reason apart from warm weather and time on my hands.

Yes, I can.

border to FranceI took it for a run as a statement because statements need to be made just now. Now more than ever, especially statements about freedom.

Normally I would probably have taken a route through France; not only because it is picturesque and quiet but also because it is close and I do the trip to France often, be it for cheaper petrol, tastier cheese or just the fun of being in another country. After all, France is just a 20 minutes ride away.

France is so close

But I didn’t enter France this time, too many controls at the border and a distinct feeling of unease after the terror attacks. I did not want to face police and military all geared up with deadly weapons checking me out. I wanted to celebrate life, feel joy to be alive on the bike after the death toll of Paris. I wanted to get the pictures out of my head, people dying, panicking, and desperate to escape. I wanted to feel free.

To feel free is difficult these days

borderI turned round and shirked France. Only to be stopped in my own country soon afterwards (I was already well away from the border at that time) by the police. Random vehicle checks they said but they didn’t even bother with the exhaust or possible illegal parts on the Harley. That was a first!

Terror throws its dark shade over all of us these days. Fear and retaliation is part of any news item the tv channels broadcast, everybody talks war and the politicians all sound like Churchill to me: “We shall never surrender.” Just like Winston Churchill 1940. We all know how deadly and brutal that war was. There are wargrave aplenty along the Rhine.

Freedom has become fragile

selfie with FranceHow often have I written about riding my motorcycles, how it means freedom to me. And now I am aware how fragile joy and freedom can be, and how importat freedom really is.

All it takes is a massive terror attack just across the border and it is threatened. The retaliation has started, bombs fall over Syria and France is somehow not abroad anymore. It is here and everywhere the terrorists can fire bombs.

The bike now hibernates under white sheets for winter. Strange thoughts of burial and death sheets went through my head as I made her ready to rest for a few months. In France they bury the dead but they do not bury in what they believe: in freedom.

France is everywhere and this is why I call the freedom I got on my run liberté: Out of anger and defiance of anybody who kills at random, subdues women and tries to take away our freedom.

 

I fear a new age is dawning and it is not a happy one. The fight for freedom has begun. I am just not sure if everybody is aware of the other thing Churchill said 65 years ago. That they would fight “…whatever the cost may be.”

sunset over France

 

There might be a high price to pay for La Liberté.