Goings and comings

19th June 2017 |

There’s a hotel at the Paris airport called Citizen M that proclaims itself, in a way I find rather clumsy and irritating, as though it were an exclusive, almost secret, organization. The walls and furniture are peppered with little homilies like “Citizen M says a good night’s sleep is worth two at the office” or some such nonsense. However, the typography is brilliant and the hotel is a triumph of design. I suspect that the whole thing is the brainchild of a dyslexic art director from Amsterdam, but aside from the peculiar branding it’s actually a great hotel, and very convenient – you can walk from it to the Terminal. Unfortunately it is also rather expensive for a cheapskate like me but I find that if I try booking.com a couple of days before I can sometimes get in at around 70 euros. Then it’s a bargain, so I book at a cheap and much less convenient place which I can cancel later and try my luck. This time I was lucky.

So on May 7th I drove my car from my house to Montpellier, parked it in the front garden of a friend – a huge one-time favour (thank you Toby) – took the tram to Saint Roche station, took a remarkably cheap TGV to Paris, got on the RER train to Charles de Gaulle, spent the night as Citizen M, caught a plane to Washington DC and then another to Phoenix, Arizona.

I’ve gone into all this because it interests me that, even today, the logistics of going anywhere much can be as challenging as riding a bike across Central America, though less rewarding – if you don’t have your own helicopter and private jet, of course.

In Phoenix I hung out with Al Jesse who has made himself a sort of unofficial patron of the Ted Simon Foundation. He’s famous for designing motorcycle luggage. He used to make it as well, but now he doesn’t have to do that anymore, so he does other, stranger things instead, like imprisoning rocks in cages of rebar.

On Thursday Al drove us both up to Flagstaff by the scenic route and I saw for the first time those astounding red rocks near Sedona. There’s still so much I haven’t seen, it hurts.


We were on our way to the Overland Expo, where I hold the Chair as Visiting Eccentric Emeritus. The job is very demanding. It consists of surrounding myself by a vast crowd of people and telling them what’s on my mind – for an hour, like a live talking Facebook. The wonder is that there’s enough in my mind to last more than five minutes, let alone that anybody stays to listen. And I don’t even promise them cookies. But it went really well. I was talking about what it means to have an adventure. What does the word even mean, when it’s not being hi-jacked by someone selling Adventure Socks, or Condoms maybe.

I’ve been reading lately about the epic struggle between Imperial Russia and the British Empire in India. Their battle to dominate that vast and then totally unknown mountainous area north of the Himalayas was called the Great Game, and the urge to discover it and map it was a huge challenge to adventurous young men, almost all of them junior officers in one army or another. Henry Pottinger, for example, was a 20-year-old subaltern 200 years ago who travelled 1600 miles by camel and on foot across completely uncharted mountains and deserts disguised as a Muslim Tartar horse trader. He moved from one fortified fiefdom to another, in appalling conditions, knowing that if he was discovered to be European he would be inviting almost certain death. That is what used to be considered an adventure. By comparison my journeys look like a ride around the block.

So what defines an adventure today? Does it have to involve risk? Discovery? The unknown? Huge distances? Must it be solo, or can it happen in company? Does it have to be physical? We had a great discussion, and came up with some interesting ideas. If fate spares me I plan to do the same sort of thing in Asheville at the end of September, when the Expo West takes place at the Baltimore Estate.

As if that wasn’t enough for this sad old sack, I then undertook to fly immediately to Indonesia.
I really didn’t appreciate just how far away that is, having only got there slowly by bike from Australia. To be wafted directly from the dry heat of Arizona to the humid heat of Bali in 24 hours of flying and airport time is my least favorite form of travel, but Hey, it was free, and I ended up in Bali. That was thanks to Jeffrey Polnaja. After riding his own bike around the world, he has bent heaven and earth, and his bank balance, to bring biker brotherhood to Indonesia. He found a fabulous beach two islands along from Bali, in Sumbaya, and a couple of hundred lucky people sported around palms and Crystal™ clear water, being watched over by a life-sized concrete elephant, a giraffe and a giant turtle.

It was all under the auspices of HorizonsUnlimited and I think it’s there to stay. I saw an amazing World War Two Harley that looked as if it had been rescued from a primaevel swamp.

I also had a massage that was worse than interrogation under torture because she didn’t actually want to hear my stupid secrets. It was so terrible that I had to have another one just to be sure I wasn’t fantasising. That was a mistake. But after that everything was doubly delightful. Great food. Good conversation. Go there.

I’m back in France now, where the elections have given this phenomenal new President a big working majority. After so many decades of stagnation it’s hard to believe in big changes, but equally difficult not to hope for them. Meanwhile Britain is looking more and more like a rudderless vessel drifting off course under a delusional captain. But that’s just politics. There are great meetings there this summer. The HU meeting is just over, and I’m sorry I had to miss that, but Paddy Tyson’s wonderful Overland Event is coming up at Hill End in Oxfordshire at the beginning of September.

As for me, I’ve just been to the beach at Meze. The water was wonderful – but not crystal. The Indonesian massage is only a memory. I wish you all a lovely summer. Don’t let the idiots spoil it.