The bike moves unpredictably, much more than I am used to or can ever recall.
Lining up for corners, looking into the distance at tree lines, posts, hedges, all flow past me as gears change and the throttle pushes us forward. The next corner comes and the back moves again, differently, uncertainly, with no sense of feeling in the way things used to be. Gone are the stable, rail-like transmissions of thought into action, becoming more like a vague copy of life itself.
Trying harder, looking more, thinking clearly, corners come and go as this new ‘balance’ is judged within an alien uncertainty. Not related to time or speed, each bump is felt, each compression on the surface is measured and assessed. Merging into action, analysing, pulling apart each movement, looking for fault, none are apparent, none stand clear.
Anticipation, predicting the unpredictable, seeing the possibilities and the physics of movement, corners come and go. Through different paper maps the wheels turn in a constant stream of unending motion but all end with the same uncertainties. The back wheel skips like a playful child, a sense of ‘wrongness’ wrapped up in that single movement, no matter what gear, power delivery, or line selected, it persists. It takes time to understand, to work out, and think through.
Another roadside finds me pondering as here and now this hunk of metal becomes a reflection, a lens, through which can be seen the incompleteness of successive changes. It is an image, a mirror for everything else no longer set up in the way that should be.
Spinning off in a cascade of rapidly shifting images the bike sitting beside me becomes a double bed, a double wardrobe, two bedside cabinets, two toothbrushes, two helmets and two sleeping bags. I can see them all clearly, so clearly I could reach out and touch them. They sit staring at me, reproachfully. Finally the cascade settles into two names on the cover of a book.
Like life itself, these wheels now move in ways different through the corners of life which have been familiar for so long. No longer is there the constancy after circling the world. Now the road itself is moving in volatile ways with the bike mirroring this in an all too real way. No longer is there predictability across the ebbs and flows of what was meant to be in the only way ever known; two seats for two people.
Across a life-time of conversations travelled through in recent weeks and months, all that has passed by echoes across both time and distance. But now only long silences interspersed with the noise of tyres, or wind, exist to keep me company over the miles.
Sitting in the locked waiting rooms of the future are all the potential tomorrows as miles go by in white lines and petrol stops as numerous crossroads are reached.
Left? Right? Forwards? Backwards? Does it matter?
That way? This way? Faster? Slower? Here? There?
Stop? Go? Does it matter?
People ask where I’m heading but then cannot comprehend the simple truth of an answer involving;
‘I don’t know really, I’ll find out tomorrow when I arrive.’
Meanwhile options and whispered voices of others beckon with their promises of better times away from where the right now resides. Such voices call me to another place in a mind’s garden where all the flowers of potential futures grow. Each whispered promise offers naught in reality but its own true uncertainty.
Sitting in this strange darkness, silent questions appear without ever revealing answers. They sit behind closed doors where, no matter how hard I bang, no answer comes. Just silence reigns in the vastness as I look at each surface, into each surface, where nothing is found beyond deep blackness.
Perhaps it is meant to be this way, the acceptance of a constant clamouring silence in the treacle my mind has become while the movie erratically and relentlessly jumps. One minute forwards, one minute backwards.
Sometimes after settling down to watch it play in its entirety only then does someone press the forward or rewind to launch me somewhere else, sometime else.
Weeks flash by to join other years while disconnected hours fragment into unconnected events, all of which then have to be retrieved and pasted back into their proper form. Continuously speeding up or slowing down, the unending leaping from image to image reveals a constant jumble of all that was, and all that could be. The tomorrows of the future merging into so many reverberations of the past.
I’m standing in a workshop of memorial stones but I can only see one thing; a picture. Etched into the hard stone surface, she sits laughing to me from Bertha as the stonemason asks me questions I cannot hear. Standing mesmerised by the image, my eyes drift across the lettering agonised over, written and rewritten a hundred times until feeling right, if that was ever possible. So few words and yet each one so hard fought.
The sound of a hammer penetrates my thoughts with the realisation of how many months have gone past with little or no recall of that time. I wrestle with the waves of emotion threatening to engulf me, to flatten me in their wake. Controlling them, curbing the excesses of their impact, all that remains now are the silent tears in response to that voice nearby.
Focusing on that sound while standing mesmerised by the image, it tells of reading a book about a blind woman who circled the world on an old motorbike. The pause is loud in its silence before it went on to recount its own tears of realisation, of his connection to here and now, a place where both work and play exist together.
Such is life sometimes amongst the many vague coincidences washing over me.
Ferries and roads, road and ferries, cold, heat, rain and light, all pass under different skies in the blankness of time travel. Traversing thousands of miles between empty tents, empty hotel rooms and empty houses, people are envious of being able to wander freely while never sharing the comprehension.
Their understanding concerning the price of such freedom is thankfully ignorant, and long may it continue to be so for them. For you see, they too would willingly trade up in the remembering of a wish summoned and a wish denied as I now sit staring at another Cathedral. It is so hard being here, far harder than I could ever have imagined. True, it is better than it was, better than perhaps it should be, although such thoughts as these bring about their own demons, their own regrets, their own scars to add to others.
Whatever the reasons, I sit watching through my own mist as people appear in the square clutching rucksacks or pushing bicycles to be greeted by ragged cheers.
The walk of St. James.
Five hundred or so miles stretching from the Pyrenees to where I sit. Many around me have the same expressions and I can see theirs as they, no doubt, can see mine. Whether openly running down faces or suppressed to the best of their ability, all are plainly apparent in their own way. In my time I have long since given up on such things. I surrender to them. Unashamedly.
A young girl cries into the shoulder of an older woman as their arms encircle after suddenly dropping rucksacks to the floor. Tightly clutching each other there is a familiarity of appearance and behaviour between them – a mother and daughter spring to mind as I watch their emotions coursing. They hug for a lifetime of years before separating to talk through the tears, earnestly, faces inches apart as they continue to hold each other.
I wonder who they remember.
In this world of perhaps and maybes, could they just be glad to have finished, relieved and sore, after their long trials? Perhaps they are simply be glad to have finished El Camino?
No. I don’t think so. Not seeing them in this way. No.
Not after seeing them in the intensity of their need for each other’s comfort. It was beyond words.
All around there are so many like me in the square on this day, alone in their own worlds. Some lie on the hard stones with their heads on bags, lost and deep in thought. Others sit with their backs against the grey walls of the square, as I do, staring at the Cathedral for the longest time while blinking away their own tears of what once was.
Sitting watching the comings and goings, hours pass as the sun passes over this field of stars.
Looking in my static wing mirror I think I may be in trouble. Holding my breath, I wait.
The police car slowly drifts to a halt behind me on the IP2. Its lights flashing, siren wailing, nothing happens for a while as I watch the two figures in the darkened interior. Then silence as the siren falls quiet and both front doors slowly swing open. I sit waiting for whatever is to happen.
The sight of two uniforms appearing gives me that long familiar feeling I’ve known all across time and the world; apprehension.
Walking towards me, two figures increase in size in my mirrors but all I can see are the guns. I try to relax but they seem to be enormous things filling my perception in the way of a gun-shy Brit. They always make me nervous in this way, on edge, concerned, worried. Weapon focus slowly takes over as they approach me and that metallic sheen is all I can see. Hulking big things, sitting there.
Walking on both sides of the bike they approach, surrounding me as one takes off his mirrored sun-glasses. I sit very still with both my hands in plain view like the coward that I am.
Meeting his eyes, they are large and brown, but unsmiling as one hand rests on his holster. His other hand wags an index finger inches from my face before miming my crime. His helpful friend keeps the show going by waving the speed he has carefully written on a note pad, just for my benefit.
100 kph in a 120?
The speed goes down well and I relax a little.
The exaggerated miming, however, tells me that pulling gloves on at that speed without holding the bars is somewhat frowned upon. It is the way it is.
You can find Touching the World through all the major suppliers (Amazon, WH Smith and Waterstones) along with independent suppliers. It is currently available in print, e-book and in Audio Book versions.
………an incredible undertaking, narrated with fantastic honesty, illustrating the emotional heights and depths overlanding can occasion. ‘Touching the World’ ticks all the boxes for those who dream of overland travel and is a joy for those who have previously embarked on a challenging trip. If you’ve read many overland books or none, you’ll be hooked by this one from the start.
This book moved me far more than others. Of course, it’s a book about travelling around the world on a motorcycle, but, it’s unlike any other……. Wonderful. Amazing. Touching. Inspirational. If you read just one adventure book this year, make sure it’s this one.”
“Truly inspirational. You will have a preconceived idea what this book will be like – a blind woman traveling around the world pillion on a motorbike. Let me tell you that idea will be wrong. I was exhausted after reading about India, inspired after border crossings, frustrated when waiting on parts, excited and proud when Kathy make it to the top of Machu Picchu. I cherish this book ……”
“If you read one book in your life make it this one…… It’s a book of travel, courage and …..a wonderfull bond of friendship and trust that grows as the journey passes…..
“As good as Ted Simon…. The couple’s adventures …. are entertaining, moving, insightful and told eloquently and honestly. They tell us of their rare dark moments as well as the more positive side of things that both prefer to emphasise. Touching the World is a very well-written book,having read,and enjoyed, all of Ted Simon’s books I can honestly say that this one is as good as his. It works as a bike travel book, it works as the story of 2 people and their relationship and it works as a travel book whether or not you’re a bike fan.
An excellent read that might well become a suprise mainstream hit given the right exposure.”
“I finished reading this book last night with tears running down my face….. If ever there was a book to really inspire everyone, here it is. What an amazing, gutsy, courageous journey!
(An) adventure ….described with an emotional narrative that is honest, sobering, humorous, inspirational, humbling and truthful. Within their words is a strength of human spirit, an unbreakable friendship and love for the open road and the adventure it brings.
This story is a five star adventure….”
“What a fantastic read….in a well written account told with humour, emotion and honesty, and you don’t have to have an interest in motorcycles to enjoy this book …. I would give this book 10 stars.”
Ian Kerr (MBE)
“None can equal this latest work from Panther Publishing, because not only is it well written, it is totally unique and the tale is unlikely ever to be reprised….read this book or you will have sadly missed out on not only 344 pages of inspiration, as well as a rattling good read and be poorer for your loss!’”
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Panther Publishing Ltd,
10 Lime Avenue, High Wycombe, Bucks., HP11 1DP, UK – Phone +44 (0)1494 534778
The Book Bag
….essentially, and brilliantly, one is almost forced to become a third person on the bike.
Much more than a simple tale of motorcycle adventuring. From the first day and the first mile …Birchall and Smith’s journey is remarkable, their shared experiences told with humility and compassion.
Emotionally tender, humorous, sometimes depressing and always insightful, Touching the World proves that life is…what you make of it.
“One of those reads which you can’t leave – always wanted to know what happened at the “next place” on their trip. Finished it quickly but was sorry it ended! Wonderful story.”
I’ve read, and enjoyed, all of Ted Simon’s books and Touching the World is as good. It follows the same … openness and willingness to accept people as they are, and embrace their differences rather than feeling threatened by them or feeling superior. If you enjoy Ted Simon’s books then you’ll love it. It’s insightful, informative, entertaining and in places very moving; funny and sometimes a combination of both.
It deserves a wider audience than it will probably get as a ‘bike travel book.’
It really is much more than that.
…far beyond a motorcycle travel book….(in) feeling, and emotion.. a beautiful book.
Having read the immortal ‘Sir Ted’ (Simon) I would say this is …in many ways better. I wouldn’t be surprised if (it) surpassed the narrow category of ‘motorcycle travel book’.
It certainly deserves to.”
The Reader’s Digest
“….rueful, irreverent…always incredibly vivid. It’s also unfailingly honest…becom(ing) a powerful love story… in a book crammed with astonishing achievements.”