How riding my motorcycle from London to Lisbon reminded me to slow down
When I first saw my motorcycle, Stella, I realised that we were similar. Her paintwork and chroming seemed somewhat immaculate, but there were scratches and dents which suggested a deeper story. There’s something fascinating by how we perceive perfection. How we chase after curated appearances, online and in real life, rather than accepting defeat in times of difficulty and showing any signs of weakness. Everyone and everything moves so quickly these days. Social Media feeds us perfect examples of what others are doing, without context or communicating how these people are actually feeling. When I scroll through Instagram, I remind myself that everything is filtered and perfectly curated. I try to look at things objectively and attach no system of belief to what I’m seeing – unless, of course, it’s beautiful photography or design. Those I allow myself to absorb entirely.
I reached a point after graduating where I asked myself: “Do I find a full-time job immediately or do I continue freelance writing and go for a long ride?” I went for the latter. I’d always wanted to see Lisbon because I’d heard about its layers of history and grit, but I also felt that I knew nothing about Portuguese culture (other than what my parents had told me) and I wanted to travel with context.
I decided that I would plan to ride from London to Lisbon, taking my motorcycle on a ferry from Portsmouth across to Bilbao on the Northern coast of Spain. From there I would navigate my way through the Picos de Europa to the West and take the coastline down to Lisbon. This was my plan and it stayed as vague for my entire journey. As I was packing up my side panniers and loading my bike, I met a group of middle-aged men. They complimented my 125cc and I for taking on the Picos de Europa and asked where we were heading. When I told them we were going to Lisbon they looked shocked.
“On your own?” the man with the GPS device asked.
He looked back at his GPS.
When the ferry was ready for unloading, we all rode in single file off the boat and out onto the wrong side of the road. As my front tire touched the tarmac, I could smell the crisp mountain air and the scale of my adventure hit me there and then. Was I going to be able to do this? Should I have as much doubt as everyone else seems to have? Am I really as brave as I’m pushing myself to be?
I ignored the doubts and rode on. I followed the roads down into the Picos de Europa and chased the hairpin corners while looking up at the Jurassic-like mountains with their ancient pines and jagged rock formations. The scale of the landscape around me had such an immediately sublime impact and I knew that I was on the right journey. After about four days of camping and riding, I was completely at peace with what I had taken on. I could erect my tent as quickly as it took for my coffee to boil and my daily maintenance checks became second nature. I was at one with the routine of certain tasks taking longer than others and I realized that I was going to feel tired. It was in those moments that I responded by resting, rather than how I would usually respond with coffee.
Before this trip, I would watch myself reaching a level of burn out, but this would be more of a challenge than a hindrance – how much can I do until it’s too much? This trip made me think laterally. I was maintaining a motorcycle as well as my body. I was navigating safely through Spain and Portugal, both territories I had never before seen, let alone ridden.
My mind began to form reasonable expectations rather than the usual treatment of unrealistic performances. The way I took on challenges (like noticing that my bike was cutting out occasionally when slowing down) was by pausing, reflecting, breathing, and reaching for logic. A machine, much like a mind, has triggers, cogs, and routine. When there is a problem, the solution comes from finding its source. This is exactly how I solved my motorcycle’s problem. I realized after this that what had happened and how I had approached it was exactly how I should treat my challenges in life.While there may not be simple reasons for everything, there are certainly simple answers. Because the way of overcoming any problem we face is by confronting its root. Asking why we feel the way we do about the situation and figuring out how to relieve it.
When I arrived in Lisbon, a month after I’d left London, I looked at my motorcycle differently. I looked at her as though she had made me confront my impatience, my personal expectations and my desire to do everything perfectly. I looked at the dents and rust on her tank, the chips in her chrome and dirt on her frame. I looked at the wear on her chain, the campsite stickers on her panels and the miles on her meter. She told a story, but not just that she had made the 1000 mile journey. That she was more than what anyone thought she was. That regardless of appearance, she had undertaken a journey on her own that was not expected of a bike her size.
I looked at my motorcycle and I saw myself. Someone who had not only proven everyone who doubted me wrong, but proven to myself that any challenge is possible to overcome when your mind is open to weakness yet always searching for strength.
Previously published on Thought Catalog