Eighteen months. That’s how long it’d been since I last travelled by myself. Since I flew from Houston to London via—and somehow this was cheapest—Istanbul. I tried to remember how it’d felt on a dim reflection of that last connecting flight: across western Europe through the evening and over Turkey to wake up in the dawn hours in hotel room on the island of Cyprus.
I’d been looking to holiday somewhere warm, with beaches, mountains and cheap motorbike rental. What I woke up to was a tired place: bars with un-nostalgically nineties themes, all inclusive hotels and tanned grandparents.
I went to collect my rental, a 1999 Suzuki DR350. The tyres were four-fifths gone and the chain was lubricated with generous dollops of bearing grease. It was still a better proposition than staying where I was. Riding out of town I discovered that the speedo and odometer didn’t work. The 37,667km on the clock were just the start.
At 30˚C it was a full 15˚C warmer than the drizzle of a London commute that I was dressed for. I pointed the bike toward the relative cool of the mountains. Without a working odometer it was hard to keep track of how far I’d gone and how much petrol I’d used. The bike sensed my paranoia and tricked me into thinking it needed switching to reserve. Somehow, without a common language, I negotiated the purchase of 5L of petrol from the owner of a roadside café.
I went higher up into the mountains and later into the day. I took the three step programme to finding a camp spot: turn off the main road onto a smaller road, off the smaller road onto a track, then pull over somewhere out of sight.
The sun set at 6:30pm. I laid down and layered up: the sleeping bag that had kept me warm in the Spanish Pyrenées, the bivvy bag I’d sewn and first used to keep the midges off in Scotland and the tarp that had kept me dry when it’d rain all night in New Zealand.
The equipment was just as functional as the day I’d stored it away in the cupboard, but eighteen months of storage had left my solo travel abilities diminished. Ever since getting off the flight I’d pitched and yawed from anxious to elated; in bed I rolled from my left side to my right, worried about the week ahead. It was dark for twelve hours. I didn’t sleep until long after the heat of the day had given itself up to the night.