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My Soul Craves a Solo Ride

Updated: Nov 4, 2023

Motorcycling on New Zealand's offroads is unbeatable.
Photo by Bryan Pannell

“Are you nuts?”

“At your age?”

It was a typical reaction when I decided to get my motorbike license with 53. I knew this was a little unusual. But then life has taught me that age is a poor excuse. What usually holds us back is other people’s limited perception of which I’ve had enough.

After my initial ride with an instructor, I craved the next! And it hasn’t stopped since. For the first time in a long time, I had reencountered a real passion that I had somehow lost decades ago when several knee injuries forced me to stop downhill skiing. At that point in life, I was convinced I wouldn’t survive without it.

Luckily, I was wrong, though it took me years until I found a matching substitute and went off on my first solo ride.

A stroll down an unknown avenue

I still remember how thrilled and, at the same time, anxious I was when I wheeled off the motorcycle dealer’s compound in Christchurch. New Zealand is probably one of the most popular motorcycling countries in the world. It welcomes its guests with such majestic landscapes, enchanting tranquillity, and unparalleled beauty.

It was a crisp November morning. 12 degrees, dry. Heading north out of town, it did not take long for my fingers to get numb in the ragged winter gloves. It was still early in the spring season, but this cold?

I clumsily clung to the bike, trying to keep up with the traffic and wondering what the hell I was doing. I had such limited exposure to riding. In fact, zero. Yet, here I was in New Zealand, on a motorbike, all alone. At a time of year which was obviously too early for most bikers and with 4,000 km of lonely roads ahead of me. I must have gone mad.

On day two, a police officer stopped me. It took me a moment to get off the bike while failing to look my most competent.

“Not been on the bike long, eh?” he smilingly asked.

This is the beginning of my first solo ride began — with a license in my hands that was barely 4 months old. I had picked New Zealand for two reasons. Three actually.

  • jaw-dropping nature

  • relaxed traffic and empty roads

  • genuine love for the country and a Kiwi which hasnt’t left her since.

One precious mile at a time

What crossed my mind during the first few days had very little to do with what I’d expected. I didn’t feel free or brave, but outright silly. I let myself be pushed off the roads by trucks and vans as I was too embarrased to hold up the traffic behind me. And I was still battling the spring chill for which I was obviously ill-prepared. I had no appreciation for what was happening around me. My eyes were glued to the speedo and the tarmac in front of me. I didn’t dare to go past 80 km/h.

It finally got warmer. With it, my confidence restored that, after all, I was doing something bold and adventurous. I slowly started paying attention to the world around me, and I instantly remembered why I’d come here.

Still a beginner, I quickly learned the ins and outs of a seasoned yet powerful Suzuki I had purchased for this trip (and still own). I knew that the roads in New Zealand were challenging. That I needed to allow extra time, of which I luckily had plenty. Windy, narrow, and single-laned, they endlessly zigzagged through the scenic countryside. Big white arrows painted on the tarmac were a godsend—for others and myself—to keep on the goddamn left.

An exquisite taste of happiness only a solo ride provokes

My 4,000-km long trip took me through farmlands dotted with homely little settlements where time seemed to have taken a break. I rode past glaciers towering above rainforests with their silver ferns literally tickling the shimmering surface of the ocean. I stopped at amazing beaches — black and white and often abandoned, yet populated by zillions of annoying sand flies.

On sunny mornings as I was riding along, I often found myself singing out loud under my helmet. No more than countless repitions of a few song lines I remembered. Surely not attuned, but rather joyful.

I watched breath-taking skies out there in dark nights that reminded me of the enormity and the infinity that surrounds our planet. And it was out there where I had flashes of absolute happiness, moments of sheer bliss that would last until eternity.

A slice of heaven

While riding up and down New Zealand’s coastline and into its many bays, I spotted whales, dolphins, and sea lions at arm’s length that seem so at home in New Zealand’s clean open waters. I drifted past pastures so insanely green I doubted they were real. Had it not been for the cattle and sheep that happily munched on them.

I forded passes and dropped into the interior remoteness of the South Island. I was rewarded with mind-blowing views of snow-covered peaks and turquoise-colored lakes and rivers that invited me to simply camp out and inhale their beauty.

And then there were encounters with these amazing Kiwis. Something I truly enjoy about New Zealand. How straightforward it is to meet its people. Their genuine interest in a stranger who can quickly turn into a friend. And sometimes even more …

I had to tweak myself for the awe that miraculously unfolded in front of my eyes as I was drifting along. I experienced an incredible inner joy and felt utterly at peace. A step closer to what I call heaven.

A maiden’s final takeaway

When I finally pulled into Bryan’s drive way over a month later, I was different from when I had set off. I was so much more aware of my doings, how I handled the bike and had grown my confidence, traveled on unknown grounds and challenged my initial clumsiness. And above all, I had experienced an unparalleled feeling of freedom.

Today—as my soul craves this ride—I remember that I just need to get out there and do the stuff I really love. No one is doing it for me. And that only when I defeat my fears and worries am I really getting beyond myself.

Same as everyone else, I guess!

Thank you for your reading my story. Happy to have you back for more!

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