extract from “Riding Towards Shadows”

I woke up and the weather was utterly miserable. Of course it was! A thousand miles ahead of me and all the sky could think of was bloody rain. I left at 7am; the downpour was heavy, we had 13° Celsius  as I was heading north, straight towards my past. I started the engine and carefully drove down the steep and slippery driveway, a rush of pride running through my body. I was actually doing this, not just planning, I was really doing this. I quickly let down the visor so it didn’t have raindrops on the inside. The journey had begun. I was riding on memory lane.

Half an hour later my euphoria was gone completely. My hands were soaking wet. After years and years of wearing traditional leather gloves, I had opted for fancy high-tech super fibre Gore-Tex ones last winter. A lot of rubbish they were and soaking wet already, so were my feet in my cowboy boots. Wet through and through. You have to fight it, I decided. And I did. I didn’t even care that I burnt a big hole in my rainproof right at the very first petrol station because I came too close to the exhaust. Idiotic beginner’s fault! I hadn’t been paying attention. I was just off the motorway and spotted a DIY market across the road, decided to go in and bought a pair of working gloves. At least I’d have something to change then. Although they were of course not waterproof either. Had a coffee in the McDonald’s and enjoyed the eyes of the craftsmen in for their breakfast. You could see the questions in the face of almost every single one of them: She’s not on her own, is she? But what is she doing? Where is she going? But they didn’t ask, maybe they were afraid of answers.

Back on the bike I was greeting every little stretch of dry road with real happiness. I was not prepared to let my spirits drop and sang away under the cover of the helmet. Why do we always sing really strange songs on the bike? I opted for old fashioned songs like Summertime and my living was easy, I was sort of preparing for the dry Scottish sense of humour in all the wet misery where the only changes nature had to offer were different shades of grey.

Riding a bike is a much more intensive way of travelling than driving a car. It is noisier, colder, your back starts to hurt fairly soon. But when the weather dries up and the sun comes through – it can be real happiness, a joy you never really experience in a car. Not with the windows down. Not even in a convertible.

I had opted for a route through Holland and Belgium. I remembered vaguely that there was a ferry from Oostende. It was not signposted very well, but I found it. Unfortunately, the next ferry was due in a few hours’ time and it took four hours more to cross from here compared to Calais. It would be much too late to find a place to stay in Dover, so I chose to drive another extra hour to Calais and take the ferry from there. The wind along the coast was murder so I consequently tried to hide behind Polish lorries. Not very successfully, though. But I made it in the end and waited in windy queue number 900 for an hour to catch the late ferry. I felt a certain sense of pride. I had made it so far, a little over 500 miles. I was as wet and as tired as I had been 21 years ago and not a tiny little bit more comfortable. I had travelled alone then, too. All I had then was one address that of a fellow student who had left for Glasgow earlier than me and had already found a room. That had been my reason to go to Glasgow twenty years ago, a grant for Glasgow University. That young student of old was now a successful TV journalist and had other reasons for the trip but I was a biker still.

Would Rob love me now, the woman I had become? Was I still the woman he had seen in me?

In the pub on the ferry I sat down with a lager shandy, an egg and cress sandwich and some crisps. A few Dutch bikers sat close, nearer the windows. They nodded but did not come over to talk. That had certainly been different on my first trip to Glasgow, but why? Because there were more bikers about and the tradition of being open and communicative had changed or because I had changed? Did I look more tough and forbidding? Well, I am certainly not a young girl anymore. And people seemed to have a problem with unaccompanied middle-aged women. It is a non-standard form of behaviour. People seem to find it difficult to come to terms with non-standard forms of behaviour. They do not find it interesting, they find it disturbing.

The announcement came, we were in the Port of Dover already and asked to proceed to our vehicles. I did. There were about 12 bikes on the ferry. All racers. The Dutch guys, a small English group who did not look left or right never mind greet, and a Manx group talking races. We were all crammed together in a line, bikes secured with straps provided. In my fear of seeing my bike on the floor rather than standing once in Dover because of her not so stable side stand, I had strapped her tight, real tight. So tight, I had to muster all my strength and I still couldn’t get that bloody thing off. The lock had jammed.

I turned round and said: “Hey guys, can one of you give me a hand?”

They were there with the speed of light, started pulling and poking and cursing but they would rather have lost a few fingers than admit failure. It took them some time, but they managed to get my Harley free. I thanked them and looked into two big grins. My need for help had made them happy.

I had not liked to ask. A matter of pride I guess. But staying behind, strapped tight to the ferry, wouldn’t have looked much cooler, would it?

But still I felt more “girlie” than I was happy with.

I still felt fit enough to drive although it was already 10 pm on my inner clock and the shandy had made me sleepy. I cruised along the deserted waterfront looking for a room; I hadn’t pre-booked as I hadn’t done then. I ended up a few miles away in Folkstone in a cheap and formerly glorious Grand Hotel run by some Spaniards from the Canary Islands who made me think of Manuel in Fawlty Towers. The hotel didn’t feel English and was certainly not clean in the lobby. The room was all right though, I was too tired to care. All I wanted was a shower and a bed. I took a shower and enjoyed the feeling of hot water running down my back immensely. I went to bed straight away, with my hair still wet. That is the good thing about travelling on a bike – you do not have to worry about the state of your hair. It will always be a mess, whatever you do.

Before I fell asleep my thought drifted back to my first trip. I remember meeting some English biker on the ferry and following his bike when we came to Dover. He knew where rooms could be had; it had been late then, too. Can’t remember a name or face, just the kindness he had shown to a stranger.

 

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Riding Towards Shadows by Nellie Merthe Erkenbach

Paperback out now!

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.

Riding Towards Shadows Nellie Merthe Erkenbach

get Riding Towards Shadows on Amazon

 

Product details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Independently published (28 Nov. 2018)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1729495281
  • ISBN-13: 978-1729495285
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 0.9 x 20.3 cm

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

on the radio

What do you need to do, to get your 10 seconds of fame? To be on the radio, to be recognized, noticed?

Being a biker it seems a fairly easy thing to achieve.

 

All you have to do is die.

 

What a brutal and ignorant media world this is out there!

It was the Easter week-end and I was on my way back home from work. I did what I very rarely do when I am in a car, I listened to the radio, looking for the traffic news because the motorway was very busy. International news, national news, regional news, sports, weather and then, just before the traffic, they had two more news items coming up that left me speechless.

“A 50-year-old biker was killed this afternoon in …, two hours later another one died near …. because he lost control over his bike in a long bend.”

on the radio

They never, never ever put dead car drivers on the news. Then why on earth a dead biker? Two even.

I fear it is partly this patronising attitude a lot of non-bikers have: we told you not to go so fast, we told you it is dangerous, we told you you could die…!

Ah, thanks very much. We didn’t know that. No, we never had a clue. We never lost a friend, a lover, a brother, a husband on the road, did we?

We know about the danger and we ride nevertheless. Some maybe do because of that.

People, who are no bikers never really understand.

The media have no right to be so patronising. No right to use the death of a biker as a juicy piece of tragedy at the end of the news.

I refuse to be instrumentalized by editors grabbing for higher ratings.

What biker would want these 10 seconds of fame?