towards Applecross – taking on the Bealach na Ba

A perfect ride – what did it take?

Riding Towards Shadows Appplecross Amazon Nellie Merthe Erkenbach

Riding Towards Shadows Appplecross Amazon Nellie Merthe ErkenbachFun, for a start. And sun, not to forget. Me and my bike and some stunning scenery – that was 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 was easy indeed. Added to that a little treat – a fruit scone, home-made jam and cream when the road took me back into civilisation. Perfect. And I had just the idea, where to find all that.

There was a slight breeze from the sea as I was getting ready for the trip. When I am alone I sometimes talk to my bike and I did that, telling her where we would head out for today. A seagull was crying out in protest when I started the engine. Once I was past the dodgy gravel of the driveway the sky was the limit. After about an hour I had my fist stop. I needed a coffee to warm me up. Even though the sun was out it was still fairly cold.

Riding Towards Shadows Appplecross Amazon Nellie Merthe Erkenbach

I was at Plockton, looking very Scottish but somehow it was very English (at least by the accents you heard) and very touristy but also very beautiful. The views across the water were fabulous, just the perfect place to stop for a coffee. I also felt rather hungry and ordered a bacon roll to go with my latte. Looking out towards the bay and the harbour, I was determined to come back to Scotland to live; just me and my Harley. I should never have left in the first place. It just felt right to be here.  I belonged here. Even after Rob’s death, I did. Home is where the heart is they say, my heart most certainly was here. I even had friends here still, like Ewan, who seemed a real friend already, and I would find more, I was sure of that. It had always been easy to find friends in Scotland

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Riding-Towards-Shadows-Nellie-Erkenbach-ebook/dp/B07KCJ6TDL/I had parked the bike at the wee harbour, watching the boats on the water I got dressed to take on the next part of the journey. Funny how Ewan has always seen me as a biker, he had never questioned the woman part of it. I had a bike and I hung out with the Blue Angels, so I was a biker for him. As if in his world there was no sexism or prejudice. I liked that. I certainly wanted his respect and I did not want to overstay my welcome, I had to face going back to Glasgow soon. I wanted Rob to be proud of me and I wanted to do things right. With one last look over Plockton harbour I started the engine, it was time to say good bye soon.

But until then I had a wonderful day ahead of me, it was not even lunchtime, the sun was out, and I was heading for Applecross and the most challenging road Scotland has to offer for bikers. A steep single tracker that takes you all the way up to the cattle pass, the Bealach na Bà, winding up in tight hairpin bends where a long fork would find its limits. Since my HD was so new she was still pretty original and therefore an ideal bike to take on the challenge, reliable and nimble. But my, that was a challenge nevertheless.

Riding Towards Shadows Appplecross Amazon Nellie Merthe ErkenbachApproaching the climb coming from Lochcarron you saw a huge sign warning caravans and unsuitable vehicles before you passed the bright orange snow gates. They were open. At first the road took you leisurely up the hill, then it tightened slowly into a single-track road which means no two vehicles can pass each other, nor can a bike and a car, it was that tight. Passing places were used for that and often one of the cars meeting had to reverse. If you did not like reversing with a steep, unfenced drop right next to the roadside, well then you are having a problem. Being a biker, I was safe there, no reversing for me. I was lucky, there were hardly any cars coming towards me on my way up and I could drink in this fantastic view of the Torridon Mountains ahead and the sea and the steep climb behind me. These were the most awe inspiring and challenging ten miles of road in Scotland. There was no way I was going to miss them.

Riding Towards Shadows Appplecross Amazon Nellie Merthe Erkenbach

Rock broke the surface of the ground in many places, there were not trees and little growth. A rocky green and brown barrenness all the way up to 626 meters. It didn’t seem a lot but since it rose from sea level it felt more massive. In places like this you could feel alone and very small. The crofters of old would take their cattle along this pass, hence the name. No fun especially in winter or bad weather. And you certainly did not want to be caught out by fog or strong winds on a bike.

Riding Towards Shadows Appplecross Amazon Nellie Merthe Erkenbach

I had been fine going up but encountered a few rather tricky situations on the way down. Cars that would not reverse to the next passing place (No, I can NOT reverse up the hill!) or moments where I had to hit the brakes on this road full of gravel and the back wheel started overtaking. But I managed all these tricky moments nicely and once I had made my way down the pass into Applecross I could rest outside the Inn in the sun with a beer watching the sparkling sea. Yep. I made it.

Life couldn’t get better than this.

Riding Towards Shadows Appplecross Amazon Nellie Merthe Erkenbach

Riding back, I took the route along the coast from Applecross towards Shieldaig, a more serene beauty this time. The sun was shining, and the Scots Pine trees gave the scenery a touch of Mediterranean sweetness. The gorse framed roads were winding and climbing and falling but once you got the rhythm it was a fantastic ride. I felt one with my bike, the road and my life. This was where this whole trip had taken me. This was, what I had hoped for. I was here, right at this moment in time and I was happy. I changed gear and with a roar accelerated towards the horizon.

I felt free.

 

This is a chapter out of my new book Riding Towards Shadows, available on Amazon.

 

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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.

  • Kindle Edition
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  • Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  •  English
  • ASIN: B07KCJ6TDL

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.