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.