11 Mar 2004, Sligo, Ireland
Around the time I decided to visit the southwestern USA, I happened to pick up Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in a Peruvian book exchange. "You see things vacationing on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other," I read. "In a car you're always in a compartment, and because you're used to it you don't realise that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. On a cycle the frame is gone. You're completely in contact with it all. You're in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming."
My decision was made. Just one minor hurdle - I didn't have a motorcycle licence. I liked motorbikes and had been a pillion passenger on occasions, so now seemed the right time to be in the driving seat. So I enrolled for a Direct Access course - 5 days of intensive instruction, hopefully culminating in a successful test.
Day One - Basic Training. Two guys on my course were just 16 years old - younger than my driving licence. I realised I was an old dog to be learning this new trick. But the day went well, and I passed the first stage. Theory test the following week - passed that too.
Days Two and Three - practicing on a 125cc machine. No problem.
Day Four - my first day on a 500cc bike. Catastrophe. Ever have one of those unco-ordinated days, when you're inexplicably clumsy and drop things and knock them over? Not good to be having one of those days when you're sitting on a huge throbbing motorbike. The day reached its nadir when I managed to topple over at a busy right turn and a passing car missed my head by inches. My instructor was ashen-faced. "That's the closest I've ever come to losing a student," he quavered. "Maybe we'd better put you back on the 125."
Day Five - Test Day. I've been demoted to the 125 for my own safety and that of all other road users. I'll be trying for just a restricted licence, which will allow me to ride anything up to 33bhp. But I'm having a technical problem - my bike keeps cutting out. During the test it inexplicably stalls twice, and the second time it refuses to restart. "We've run out of time," says my examiner. "I'm going to have to terminate this test due to mechanical failure." So I neither pass nor fail. I'll have to re-take.
My second attempt starts out well. The nearest examination centre that could fit me in before my departure for Ireland is in St Albans. It's snowing as I ride up there with my instructor, but I'm riding surprisingly well, and I start to feel cautiously optimistic. I even seem to have finally cracked the U-turn.
We arrive at the test centre. "We don't have anybody booked in to take a test now," we're told. "Are you sure it's today?" We check with the motorcycle school. They have a faxed sheet confirming the time, date and place. There's been a cock-up at the examination centre, but nothing can be done. No test for me today.
So I'm still licence-less. Maybe third time lucky.
In the meantime, I've had another idea. As I'm going to be in the US to learn what the white man can learn from the Native American way of living in harmony with nature, maybe I should be thinking about a more environmentally friend mode of transport. An electric scooter.?
04 Mar 2004, Ballyconnell, nr Sligo, Ireland
Welcome to my new, re-vamped weblog. I'll be posting regular(ish) updates here in the run-up to my next expedition.
Top o' the day to ye! Ireland is famous for its Guinness and its friendliness, so it may not seem like the obvious choice of place to get away from it all, but I'm trying...
I've fled from the distractions of London to spend a month in a friend's cottage at the back end of the Irish beyond. The cottage is the white building, bottom right, in the photo above.
This is one of those places where everybody knows everybody (and all that ails them), houses are known by who lives in them rather than by their address, and the pub looks like somebody's living room with a beer mat stuck over the front door by way of a sign.
I'm here to get some peace and quiet and plan my strategy for the rest of this year. My main focus is the motorbike expedition around the Four Corners states of the USA - Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona - to learn more about the Native American culture and religion. Another book, and a video diary, are in the pipeline.
A few minor hurdles stand in the way, e.g. after two attempts I still haven't passed my motorbike test (not as discouraging as it sounds - more of that in my next update), and I don't have any money, but I'm not one to let such piffling trifles stop me.
I can't remember when I last had so much time to myself, but so far I'm feeling pretty chipper. The coffee shop withdrawal symptoms have been less severe than expected, and I drivel away to the cows in the field next door when I feel in need of conversation. I suppose I'm cheating a bit by having internet access, but a girl can only stand SO much of her own company... and the cows can only stand so much drivel.
28 Oct 2003, Kew, London
I am a very lucky girl! Or is someone looking after me? Or am I making my own luck? Whatever it is, I make sure I count my blessings, never taking them for granted, and the good fortune and happiness seem to keep on rolling whenever I do something connected with my mission.
There are so many good things, great and small, happening around my book Three Peaks in Peru, surely it's just a matter of time before I get the book deal...
'Great book proposal, shame about the photo,' said my friend Philomena. She works in marketing, and had been reviewing the document I'd prepared to go to prospective literary agents and publishers. 'They'll love the sales pitch, but you need to get a more glam photo done.'
I looked at the picture - a snap taken in Kew Gardens by my ex-ish husband, of me looking happy but rather windswept (see top left of your screen). It had been fine as an outdoorsy image for our archaeological expedition's website, but maybe an author should look a bit better groomed.
But good, professional photos don't come cheap. And I didn't even have enough money to get a decent haircut for the photo, let alone fork out for the photo shoot itself.
Shortly after that I was walking along Oxford St, pondering this, when a young guy asked me if I wanted a free haircut. Normally I'd have ignored such an offer, as it usually entails a long list of conditions and hidden costs, but on this occasion I paused to find out more. It turned out he was a trainee, and simply wanted a model to practice on.
We went to a smart salon around the corner, and while I was being coiffed, I noticed there was another business in the same building that did makeovers and photo shoots. My hairdresser introduced me to the people at New ID. The receptionist there was an unpublished poet, who could relate to my plight as a struggling artist, and got very excited about my project. They offered me a generous deal on a photo session.
I went back there a couple of days later, and they transformed me - hairdo, makeup and nails. I still looked like me, only better, glossier, definitely more authorial. I was introduced to my photographer, Chris Craske, who has photographed Bob Marley, among others, and by pure coincidence (if I believed in such a thing) used to go to the same school as me in Cambridge.
I'm normally very uncomfortable and very unphotogenic in front of the camera, but Chris worked wonders. And they said the camera never lies.
The people at New ID did a great job to turn such unpromising raw material into a glamourpuss for an afternoon. Just wish I'd had somewhere smart to go that evening - I think my new look was rather wasted on the punters in the Coach & Horses...
This is one of the resulting shots. It's going to appear on my calendar and website. And hopefully, one day, the book cover!
14 Oct 2003, Kew, London
The more observant among you may have noticed that I'm writing this under my maiden name of Roz Savage, rather than my married name of Allibone. This is in no way a reflection of any change in my personal circumstances. I took a straw poll as to which would be a better name for a travel writer, and the unanimous verdict was in favour of Savage - easier to spell, pronounce, and hopefully remember.
Somebody did point out that Roz Savage sounds like a woman who wants to be able to do more press-ups, but those of you who know what a gym junkie I am will also know that I am indeed that woman! Sad to say...
I had to make a decision on this, because I now have my first speaking engagement in the diary. One of the sponsors of our Inca ruins expedition, Travel Screening Services, have invited me to give a presentation about my travels. TSS specialise in health screens for professionals before foreign business trips, so they'll be inviting various movers and shakers in the travel world - hopefully my big chance to meet some newspaper travel editors. (www.travelscreening.co.uk).
My other big news is that the manuscript of my book is currently with Stephen Fry, via Nick Green of the Bear Rescue project that Stephen figureheads (www.bear-rescue.tv). The hope is that IF he likes it enough he'll give it his endorsement. I guess, if he doesn't like it, it's back to the drawing board, or should that be the keyboard...
I'm sure I don't need to say how helpful, and exciting, his endorsement would be, especially given his current high profile with the release of Bright Young Things, his directorial debut. I went to see it last week, just in case I ever get to meet the man himself, and thoroughly enjoyed it. What, me? Sucking up to him? I would never do a thing like that! I genuinely liked the movie - go see it for yourself!