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?

RiDE (UK) - - Welcome... - Words and pic­tures Steph Jeav­ons

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

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.

Mid­dle East

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.

Asia

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.

Aus­tralia

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.

Antarc­tica

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

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.

North Amer­ica

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.

Africa

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

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