Steph recalls her world ride
After four years on the road, Steph Jeavons has completed her round-theworld ride. How does it feel to be back?
RAINDROPS SLIPPED BETWEEN the well-used visor and the duct tape that held it in place, dripping onto my nose and forming a thick layer of mist that was almost impossible for my eyes to penetrate. The clouds obscured the sun, leaving a greyness I had failed to recall during my ‘nostalgia for the rain’ moments in the desert stretches of Iran or Sudan.
The sky was in full sarcastic mode, beating a tune on my helmet that said, ‘Welcome back, sucker’. Despite the Beast from the East flicking its nonchalant wet tail in my face, it was good to be back in Europe after four years away. I was finally closing the circle, having ridden my trusty 250cc Honda on all seven continents of the world. It felt good. Soggier than I had imagined it would – but still good.
When I left the Ace Café in March 2014, I had no idea how long I would be on the road. I had said around 18 months but, in all honesty, I was doubtful of making it out of Europe. My budget was tighter than I had dared admit and I wondered why I had ever thought I could do this. The decisionmaking tequila had long since worn off and my bravado along with it. All I had left was my pig-headedness as I gripped far too tightly onto the bars and wobbled out of the Ace car park to a roaring crowd. I had to fight my instincts, which were screaming, “You fraud! Stop now! Tell them you can’t do it before it’s too late”. But by that point, it was already too late…
Europe was my training ground for solo camping, ‘wrong-side’ driving, and making myself understood with nothing more than a few gestures and facial expressions. As the miles passed, I learnt to live on minimal clothing, budget and comfort. But mostly I learnt to relax and trust people more. I learnt to say yes to that cup of tea on the side of the road, or that chat with the locals who question you on everything from your marital status to your inside leg measurement. The hospitality afforded to me was humbling.
Life was no longer just about the big events, but making the time for, and appreciating, the little ones. I realised then that my journey was not just an education for me, but that I was also a window to another part of the world for others — the closest some would ever get to seeing life outside their small corner. By sharing my time and stories, I had found how to repay the kindness of those who took me in.
Crossing the Bosporus Strait saw me wave a confident goodbye to Eastern
Europe and whisper a timid hello to Asia. I may have been on a roll, and even enjoying my new ‘Littlest Hobo chic’ image (helmet hair and grubby t-shirt now widely accepted) but each border, each continent, was an exciting new challenge and a test of my new-found faith in humankind.
Iran turned out to be one of my favourite places. This country was top of the list for places that I was wary of. However, after a few days of nervously adjusting my hijab and worrying about being stoned by the morality police for showing some hair, I slowly began to relax once more.
I found myself drinking wine (illegal in Iran) out of a stealth teapot with a beautiful Iranian lady and her husband one night, then eating dinner with a judge the next. When asked what he thought of the laws forcing women to cover themselves, he said; “By day I have one opinion, by night I have my own opinion”. That night I slept on his floor along with his mother, sister and cousin. Privacy was already forgotten.
India turned out to be all I was scared of as a Welsh girl. Heat, humidity and crowds of machete-yielding farm workers who would come and stare at me whenever I stopped to shelter in any given cow shed. Of course, it was just curiosity about the red-faced white woman on an iron steed who was now sat on a manger, drinking Red Bull. The traffic, though, was the worst. It is true what they say — you need three things to survive Indian roads: a good horn; good brakes and good luck.
Six weeks of riding in black diesel fumes, dodging lunatic bus drivers and kamikaze cows made reaching the Himalayas all the sweeter. The air cooled, the fumes cleared and the crowds dispersed. All that was left were miles of stunning mountain tracks, the best views in the world, the odd landslide and, of course, the Khardung La Pass, the highest motorable road in the world at 18,300ft (5580m).
Throughout India, Malaysia and Indonesia I was welcomed by dozens of biker clubs who all presented me with their
“I had no idea how long I would be...”
club t-shirts. This network of friendly faces and fellow riders who kept me company and welcomed me like an old friend made me appreciate the true beauty of being part of a worldwide biker community.
After eight months riding the length of Asia, I found myself on a plane destined for Australia. My third continent. It’s funny how the emotions hit you all of a sudden: an asylum-worthy grin spread across my face as it dawned on me that I had made it to the other side of the world.
With one short flight, my environment changed from utter chaos to the total calm and solitude of the Northern Territory, with only the company of scores of rotting kangaroo carcases and tons of termite hills along the roadside. Many of the termite hills had been dressed up to look like people randomly standing in the bush.
My main mission now, though, was to get to Antarctica on time. I had found a boat willing to take me and the bike across the notoriously rough Drake Passage, but there was a small weather window — and if I didn’t make it my dreams would be dashed. There would be no second chance, and so I crossed Australia in just eight weeks before shipping from Sydney to Buenos Aires in Argentina.
The crossing was rough, but landing on Antarctica was momentous for so many reasons. I cried as I sat on my bike and looked at the surroundings. The blueness of the perfectly sculpted icebergs was out of this world. The enormous effort had paid off and the most moving thing in the end was the support and teamwork that was born from this challenge: from the crew of the Ice Bird, the Chilean Navy who were based here, and not forgetting the Ukrainian scientists on their research base called Vernadsky, who helped me celebrate with Antarctica-made Vodka and 5,000-year-old ice cubes.
South America was a rollercoaster for me and possibly gave me one of my lowest times. I loved spending my 40th birthday on Ruta 40 (made famous by Che Guevara) but I found myself struggling for motivation after the metaphorical high of Antarctica. I felt quite lonely and pretty down for a while. It just felt like a really long way home and I knew I had to change my mind-set before I raced home, just to get it over with.
In fact, I did the opposite - I slowed down. I locked myself in a cheap hotel room for a few days. No stimulation, no challenges. I reminded myself that this would all be just a distant memory all too soon and I wanted to make it a good memory. I wanted to look back and say not only that I did it, but that I enjoyed it and did my best. I’d worked too hard to NOT enjoy it. It worked, but there were still plenty of bumps in the road ahead. I was blown off my bike in Patagonia, hit by a truck in Colombia and ran out of money in Mexico.
With a damaged shoulder and spine, I pushed on to North America where I
“Africa turned out to be my favourite continent ”
earned money by doing presentations to biker groups and small rural towns. I finally received treatment for my injuries in Canada, which involved 77 injections in my spine and shoulder and a great deal of physio. I very nearly gave up — and would have had it not been for the support of my friends and family.
During my forced winter break in Canada, I took a truck up the ice roads and onto the frozen Arctic sea to Tuktoyaktuk — a village accessible only during the winter months when the great Mckenzie River freezes and allows access. Camping in -30°C and watching your breath freeze inside your sleeping bag is one thing, but having to go for a pee in the middle of the night in that sort of temperature is a whole different ball game. By spring I was strong enough to get back on my bike and ride across the Canadian Prairies. In fact, I felt stronger than ever and decided to change my Africa plans.
Instead of just shipping to Morocco and riding home, I felt Africa needed ‘doing’ from tip-to-tip. In Johannesburg and in Durban, I met the toughest naysayers yet: “You will be pulled from your bike, raped and murdered!”, they would say. “You are crazy to attempt Africa alone”. If it was getting to me, I didn’t let it show and calmly replied; “You might be right but I choose to believe I will be OK”.
Turns out I was more than OK. Despite the heat (at times), the regular bouts of sickness and the aggressive mosquitoes, Africa turned out to be my favourite continent. This tribal land is a veritable feast for any adventurer, full of colour and beauty — with trails that go on forever into some of the most sensational landscapes in the world. Perhaps part of the joy was knowing that I was nearing the end of my journey and had achieved what I had set out to achieve.
Antarctica was surreal, including vodka with ice cubes older than Stonehenge The Arctic Circle, at -30°C. Perfect camping territory...
Unless the Honda can do 180mpg, Steph has an issue at this stage...
Full circle — arriving back at the Ace Café While many Indian roads are busy, some are less so. Less road-y Malaysian highway cop declares Thumb War Europe was the training ground for much of the trip The little Honda coped well with Indian gravel roads
Admiring the view in America - proper cowboy country
Now you see why we keep calling it “The little Honda” North African pyramids resemble half-finished Lego projects The simple bare necessities of life... Judging by her expression, Steph is about to go up that switchback