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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Ready to Rumble

I had my Harley, I had my tattoo, and I was flying high now, like Rocky dancing on the top of the stairs in Philadelphia. I was ready, my time had come.

This was a quest of sorts. I had questions and I wanted them answered. I wanted to know where to go from here. This was not a journey to Glasgow and back. I set off towards the past and my own shadows, not knowing if this road would take me anywhere. It was like travelling in a time machine, only not naked, but nearly. My Sportster had a very small saddleback on one side and space for my waterproof roll bag behind my single seat on the rear wheel cover. No rucksack of course, I wasn’t going to look like a student on her way to lecture. That was me, luggage wise.

Riding Towards Shadows Nellie Merthe Erkenbach

Normally my luggage was massive and heavy, all these things I felt I needed to take when travelling, clothes, extra clothes, shoes, more shoes, hand and foot cream, make-up, disinfectant, painkillers, lipstick, charger, notebook, cables….

I simply had to define luggage and therefore myself in a new way, or rather the old way where I had been twenty years ago. For the time being I had leather gear for the bike, one pair of denims for the evenings, a few cotton shirts, socks, underwear, all black, some things to wash, no make-up, the rainproof, leather-vest. That was more or less it. I did not even take a book. And I was notorious for taking books when travelling. I had rented a holiday home in Tuscany once and taken over twenty books along for two weeks. Well, those were the days before Kindle and I had taken the car, then.

Nellie Merthe Erkenbach Riding Towards Shadows

On the night before my trip towards the past I hardly slept. So many things went through my head. I knew this adventure of sorts would not be a real adventure. This is Europe, not the wilderness. I was willing and able to use my credit card, and my mobile phone. I was travelling on public roads and therefore not really in danger of anything but cars misjudging motorcycles.

All I had was one address and phone number, one guy from the past I managed to track down. He had given me a few leads and the offer to come and see him. He had moved to the Highlands. But I was aiming for Glasgow.

Still I had a certain respect for the whole adventure, an underlying fear of what I might find. I was acutely aware of the pain I might face and was concerned about all those little everyday things, which can make life uncomfortable, cheap hotel rooms for example. I had probably seen too many of them.

I feared cold, exhaustion, and loneliness more than anything, on an emotional and a physical level. What if I didn’t find anything or anybody I could still connect to? What if everything had changed, if there was no going back at all? What, if the weather was bad? If couldn’t find, what I was looking for. What was I looking for? Understanding and redemption?

 

Riding Towards Shadows

Nellie Merthe Erkenbach: Riding Towards Shadows

 

This is an excerpt from Riding Towards Shadows, ebook available on Amazon.

 

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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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.

 

 

the things you need

This is about the insatiable appetite you develop when you own a Harley and I am not talking food here. I am talking things.

The fact that you are riding a legend soon creeps into many parts of your life that do not actually have anything to do with riding a bike. It is as if there is a need to let it take over. Be with you everywhere you go.

You want to put stickers on your car. Not on your Harley of course but you do want it glued into your every day life.

People give you Harley things for Christmas and birthdays. I got fridge stickers I lovingly rearrange ever so often. Harley-Davidson everywhere. Not only in the garage.

Am I overcompensating because winter is coming??

I had her down to the dealer’s for inspection the other day.Had to wait for about an hour in the showroom and drove away with a new jacket and hoodie I could hardly squeeze into the tiny side saddle bag. Of course it said Harley-Davidson on both.

When you don’t own one, you think all you really need in life is a Harley and when you own a Harley, you think you really need more things in your live that say Harley.

Is that just fantastic marketing by the manufacturer or middle-age stupidity on my side?

I don’t know yet but I wear the new stuff with relish and … I think the hoodie goes nicely with my new desktop picture……

Guess I really need a HD mouse as well.

Don’t they tell us women in all those glossy magazines to accessorize?

Well. I do!

Freedom – how the way you wear a piece of cloth can make all the difference

 

I know ! Everybody mumbles about freedom when it comes to riding a Harley – Davidson. I won’t. At least not in the sense most bikers would. Not now.

If you have ever been on a bike, you know how a ride can make your thoughts wander. Mile after mile you are alone with you machine, the sound, the smells, with your thoughts. You have time to think. Unless of course some housewife decides to suddenly pull out of a driveway without looking or a pensioner to cross the road right in front of your front wheel. These are other stories.

I was out on a long ride through beautiful if slightly cold autumn weather. The roads were clear of leaves, traffic reasonable, I enjoyed my run thoroughly. And yes, I felt free. A happy woman if ever there was one.

After an hour or so I stopped at a set of traffic lights when I spotted a young woman with a plain black scarf on her head following a man I assumed was her husband. She always kept three steps behind him. She never looked up. Her husband did. He stared right in my face or what he could see of it. My black bandana covered my mouth and nose. Protection from the smells and dirt of the city I had just escaped.

bandana

That was the moment when I felt the freedom of riding a Harley intensely as never before.

That woman and I both wore a piece of cloth. I wore it to cover mouth and nose, she to cover her hair and her beauty. She walked three steps behind her husband. As they think a proper woman should.

I let the clutch go and roared away full speed. Free. Independent. Strong.

As a proper woman should.

How the way you wear a piece of cloth can make all the difference.