In the words of George Orwell: Four legs good, two legs bad.
In the words of Jude: Two wheels good, four wheels bad!
There were a number of very valid and practical reasons why I agreed that it was a good idea to give up our motorcycles and buy a camping-car back in August 2010. And I really believed it at the time. We are retired, living on pensions, and the bikes then were two big and fairly thirsty BMW R1100S’s which were expensive to run.
A second issue was a vibration in the twist-grip of my husband’s bike, a problem he couldn’t seem to resolve which at times made his hand almost numb; sometimes a problem on this style of bike, and a real pain on long trips. It inevitably reduced his enthusiasm. On top of this we were flying our microlight more regularly which was another set of running costs. The bottom line was that we were hardly using the bikes.
Earlier that year we had wandered into a local exhibition in Perigueux which had a large display of camping-cars. We were both very taken with their compact and cute interiors. Perfect houses on wheels with all sorts of layouts, great storage space, neat little kitchens, perfect bathrooms, and great innovations like driver and passenger seats that swivelled around to face the dining table.
Everything you could want for everyday living. We were impressed. If we owned one of these we could go on holiday and save hotel and food bills, and diesel would be way cheaper than petrol for two bikes. But even then deep down somewhere in my heart I felt that becoming a camping-car person was a sign of growing old – even if I was over sixty!
It was some months later when we agreed it would be the right move to sell the bikes and move on to a camping-car. I felt a bit sad but reasoned that we’d get far more use out of it, and we’d be able to have some great holidays at a very reasonable cost. I saw it as a new type of freedom, enabling us to travel far and wide and stop wherever the notion took us. My imagination took me up mountains, through forests, across moors, and basically anywhere wild, isolated and un-peopled. I can’t think why my husband and I never discussed our envisaged camping-car holidays in detail because as it turned out his ideas were very different from mine. We ended up using camping-car parks! These set camping sites were usually pleasant enough, usually located near towns or villages and provided necessary services. But I hated it. I’m a hermit at heart, an unsociable sod. It’s not that I dislike people I just love peace and quiet. I didn’t want to step out of the van first thing in the morning and greet a fellow camper. I wanted to marvel at the mountains, sigh at the sunrise and relish the silence, not chat to a fellow-camper about the weather – however nice they were. For this reason when we weren’t off doing tourist-type things (photography for me – Roman history for him) I would stay in the van and read. By the end of a week I was feeling like a caged tiger and sighing with relief when we got home to our isolated spot in the woods! I quickly came to realise that after years of active holidays, either skiing, scuba-diving or motorcycling, this camping-car lark was not for me.
There are negatives and positives to everything. A camping-car does save you a fortune in hotel and food bills, but you can’t just pull in anywhere any time because you need a larger parking space than a car does. Then when you’re installed in your camping-park spot you’re often a few miles away from the things you want to see or do. We both dislike bicycles which is one of the most popular ways of getting around once you’ve parked-up, and my husband isn’t in to long walks, so that was a bit of a problem. Having said that we stayed at one park on the outskirts of Collioure, a beautiful fishing village south of Perpignan in south-west France, which offered a very convenient bus service into the town. There were often times we passed through villages and I eyed the local boulangerie wistfully, imagining fresh croissants; but no place to stop. We tended to avoid narrow country roads that headed off into the boonies for fear that we may not find a turning space. In fact I came to feel that a camping-car was not dissimilar to a bloody great millstone hampering all spontaneous exploration.
After two or three serious attempts to enjoy camping-car holidays I knew I’d seriously screwed up. My imagination had led me down a false path. I felt exceedingly guilty especially as my husband seemed to be enjoying it, and I berated myself for having had so much enthusiasm to begin with, only to have to admit that on my part it had been a huge misconception.
Last year we never used the camping-car at all. Not because of my negative feelings about holidaying in it – I agreed to keep trying – but because a lot of other stuff happened. And now here we are in 2012, and about a week ago I had a vivid dream in which I was back on my bike. When I woke up I realised just how much I missed it. Biking, of all the active interests I’ve taken up, has definitely been my favourite. The sense of freedom is like nothing else, and the adrenalin rush evoked by the power, the phenomenal acceleration, and the top speeds of a big bike is utterly exhilarating. It’s gone through my head on more than one occasion when tearing down the road at ninety miles an hour plus just how minor a mistake it would take to transport me into the next world. Maybe that’s the magic. When you ride so close to ‘the edge’ you feel alive! Every pore sings with life as the wind batters you and the world flashes past in a blur. Maybe when you dance a little with death you become vibrantly aware of life.
Actually I’ve never been a tearaway, in fact I’ve always practised defensive riding. I started biking late and took my test when I was fifty-one.
I had envied guys on big bikes for so long. Every time one sailed past me in my little Fiat Punto and accelerated away into the sunset I envied the pants off him. One day it just sort of came to me out of the blue that it couldn’t be that difficult, and if I didn’t grasp the nettle and do it now then I never would. And so I did.
It was the start of a love affair with two wheels and many amazing biking holidays. It was what brought myself and my second husband together in 2004, saw us exit-stage-left and retire to France, get married in 2005 and spend our honeymoon biking through the Pyrenees.
The recent dream and the itch to be back on a bike brought about a serious discussion. My husband said he didn’t believe that I would ever be happy in the camping-car (he reads me well!). I told him what I really wanted was another bike. More discussion. If he didn’t want another bike he asked, would I still want one? A definite yes. After a while the conversation turned to models. What would we get? The we word told me that I wouldn’t be riding alone! He says he’d worry too much if he wasn’t there to keep an eye on me. We eventually decided we both liked the same model – the BMW F800 ST. A fuel-efficient sixty-plus miles to the gallon, gorgeous looking sports-tourer. The camping-car goes up for sale in the spring. And a new two-wheeled dream is born!
‘Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well- preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘WOW What a Ride!’