SOME WALK THE TALK. OTHERS RIDE THE CRAZY TALK!
One minute I struggle to ride my motorbike to/from work. 7km. The next, I’m planning to ride it all the way from London to my hometown, North of Venice – Italy. 1500km. How did this happen?
I was never really known to be a biker girl, although I did ride a reasonably powerful scooter as a teenager. I had a sporty red & black Peugeot while my friends rode Piaggio’s. It looked “boyishy” and it was loud. Fitted me at the time 😉
15 years later, mostly bike- and scooter-free, I grabbed a random opportunity to train for a motorbike license through a friend who became an instructor, and this story tells of what followed…
By April 2014, I had held my full class A license long enough to wish for my own motorbike. I spent months manifesting an image on my office wall, of a matt black Harley Davidson 883 Sportster Iron. Until one evening I finally walked into Warrs (Harley Davidson store in London) and, pointing at a gorgeous specimen on display, I asked: “Could I speak to someone about this one?”
Rob Warrs himself helped me that day. He asked if I ever rode a bike that size and I confessed: “No, never!” Things got exciting then. I couldn’t believe my blessings. We eventually agreed a few modifications, so I could confidently put both feet on the ground, then whoosh, the order was placed.
A week later I returned to pick it up, but… there was one unexpected issue: I couldn’t ride her off the store. I couldn’t even move it by a few metres, I was so nervous. WTF! Rob tried to re-boost my confidence. No chance, I was petrified. What have I done!? Then out of desperation came an insight: I called my instructor!
Payman of (Imortal-x.com) is a good friend who knows me well. He laughed his head off, of course, before suggesting coming back to the store with me to guide me through the basics again. It worked! HeiD and I made it home safely. With only two attempts. I always liked this name and the letters H.D inspired me to use it on my new wheelie girlfriend.
Fast-forward three years, I am telling Italian friends who came visit me in London that sadly, I hadn’t really taken HeiD for many spins. The mileage was embarrassingly low and I could count our decent rides on one hand. The longest was from London to Brighton (c. 100km), otherwise I mostly rode short distances in town and odd commutes to work. It’s not much fun in traffic…
I realised it wasn’t fair to keep HeiD dormant. She deserved a better owner and needed to be ridden more frequently. Perhaps it was time to let her go? That’s when my friend Paolo suggested that if I was seriously looking to sell, that model was in high demand in Italy. “…But how can I get her all the way there from London?”. “You ride her, Fran!”. He rightly thought I should enjoy at least one proper trip before parting. But this was insane. I could never do it!
The seed was planted from that conversation and soon the challenge was on!
What started as crazy talk soon turned into an actual plan of actions and ultimately an incredible trip of a lifetime.
At the time I was training as a life coach and I benefitted from sessions with peers on my course, as well as with other great coaches I was blessed to connect with, within the community. This help was key!
Through coaching I was able to clearly define the goal and break down the steps to get there. The challenge was perfectly timed with my year of change and aligned with key values I had re-discovered: freedom, adventure and contribution. For this, I felt the ride needed to be more than an A to B journey, so I looked at ways I could perhaps volunteer or contribute somehow, at one or two stops. Then just before I set off, I heard heavy floods caused terrible damage in large areas of Nepal, and I contacted a dear friend, who founded the charity “The Acts of Kindness Collective” (AOKC), which I knew already did amazing work in that country. Together we organised a fundraising page to provide aid for the villages and people affected.
My to-do list was long and daunting. It wasn’t just new gear I needed but also to prepare both physically and emotionally. I scheduled bike rides longer than 30 minutes and invested in various new protective clothing and a cute magnetic tank-bag, with a see-through sleeve to hold my phone in, for navigation. At times the signal let me down but I laughed every time I got lost. At least twice I returned to the starting point. Gosh.
Warrs provided ace support too. They helped me get stuff I needed and learning about the fundraise, they donated a bike check-up and gorgeous touring luggage for my packing! Amazing.
Other important points? Departure date and itinerary. As if extra motivation was needed… I planned to complete the journey on my birthday (big 4.0.!), to celebrate with family and friends and, most importantly, my twin brother. I also set a half‑way stop in Alsace, where I grew up from age 4 to 10.
On the morning of departure day, I buckled everything up and rode to the office for a few hours of work before setting off. Reaching Dover and boarding the Eurotunnel train were already huge targets. I was buzzing with excitement.
I booked my first night in Calais, to volunteer the next morning at the Refugees Community Kitchen, who do an incredible job every day. Big shout out to the awesome team of RCK! I’ve never seen pans and pots the size they have.
My second stop was in Champagne, I found a place called Boozy. Perfect! I hoped to treat myself to a few bubblies, for getting that far but I arrived so late in the night, I only managed a little one with breakfast. It was a little frustrating, but beautiful, to ride along Champagne Avenue in Epernay. The countryside was so beautiful and my confidence was getting better by now. I could ease a little and enjoy the passing landscapes.
My progress was steady but I was taking longer than expected to reach each destination. I was still riding like a snail and taking frequent breaks. HeiD needed filling up every 150km (small tank) but I liked the excuses to stop. Tension from riding on motorways and busier roads was tiring. Let’s not even mention the overtaking business. I was so slow, just a couple of miles faster than them, so I had plenty of time to smile at drivers! At one stage, I looked at my rear mirror and saw an arrow of headlights. It looked like Christmas but no, my ridiculous speed was causing a long queue of cars behind me…
Target 3 was Dambach-la-ville, in Alsace, where I spent 6 years of my childhood. It is so pretty and arriving here, the half way point, was unbelievable! Plus my parents drove up from Italy to surprise me. Seeing mum and dad waiting in the dark place du marché was very emotional.
While in Dambach I had a wonderful opportunity to speak to a class at the local Collège. We (my family) moved back to Italy just before I attended this school and I was so sad to miss it at the time. Hence, giving a presentation here felt incredibly overwhelming. I was gifted with the entire English lesson and I talked to the students about challenges, fundraising and volunteering, and they were keen to also hear about my experience of living in 3 different countries: Italy, France and the UK. I had never done anything like it and I loved every second of it. The students were fun and interested. Their English was very good too. We are keeping in touch, thanks to their lovely English teacher.
My next stop was in Austria. I rode through gorgeous roads in Germany, then North of Lake Constance before crossing over the border and staying in Bregenz. A close friend worked here at the time and had a place for me to stay. Again, I didn’t beat the darkness so meeting a friendly, familiar face on arrival was heart-warming.
My fifth stop before the final destination was just over the border, in Italy. I booked my stay last minute by the beautiful Lake Rèsia. Check it out, it has a church tower sticking out of the water!
The route was insane. Breath taking.
I woke up nice and early in my new decade feeling so happy and empowered. I went for a run along the lake and when I returned there was a lovely surprise birthday breakfast waiting for me, with a little gift and decorations. Thank you staff at Goldener Adler.
I couldn’t imagine starting my 40s in any other way, riding the last leg home. The ride continued to wow me and as I got closer, I couldn’t hold back the tears. It’s hard to describe the joy and pride I felt. I made a quick stop in the historic town of Asolo (my birthtown), as planned, before making my way to Fonte, where I knew family and friends, including my twin, were waiting. Though I wasn’t expecting quite the noisy and loving welcome I received. Balloons, flag, banner etc.
Here is a little collage of “home” videos taken of the event:
A truly transformational journey and I was chuffed by how well the fundraising went too.
I loved every moment of it, including the tough bits and scary, dark roads. Riding became a sort of mindful meditation. I soon ran out of songs to sing in my helmet and surrendered to focus in the now, the challenges on the road, my feelings of excitement and nerves and the stunning sceneries around me. The rest in my mind quietened down and I felt fully present.
WHAT MAKES US DO THINGS LIKE THESE?
We’ve all thought of doing something foolish at some point in our lives, right? Something a little crazy and out of character. The thought then turns into a real challenge and we actually go ahead and do it.
HeiD and I made it. The crazy chat in London turned into a real unforgettable adventure.
I couldn’t bring myself to sell HeiD after such an adventure. We connected. In fact, as I write, I am planning to ride it back to London, a year later. How things change. What was once totally off my comfort zone, has now made it inside it [just!].
Pay attention to the silliest ideas that come up, they could be a sign for your most transformational experiences.