|Fern Hume - the motorbike miss|
10 October 2012
Wheeling from dreams to reality
Roaring around the world on a motorbike, with just two changes of clothes at hand, is definitely not every woman’s cup of tea. But this is what 28-year-old Fern Hume has been dreaming about since she first sat on a classic motorbike as a tiny tot.
That bike was just one of the many her father builds and restores “back home” in Ely, Cambridgeshire, UK. and her father’s great love for these machines was handed down to Fern who got her own Suzuki GS125 at the age of 18, taking to the British roads in fine style.
The blond, blue-eyed Fern, who is currently in Pakistan as part of her round-the-world trip, says the idea of this journey took shape when she read Jupiter’s Travels, the classic motorbike travel book, in which Ted Simon narrates his experience of riding round the world in the 1970s.
“I was hooked” she explains as she perches atop her motorbike ‘Kitty’. The name is a nod to ‘Kitt’, David Hasselhoff’s car in the iconic 80s series “Knight Rider”.
Fern was also inspired by Scottish actor Ewan McGregor’s motorcycle journey, documented in the television series Long Way Around. “I am going to do that,” she thought but erroneously thought that she would need to join a group.
“Then I chanced across a book by Lois Pyrce, a British motorcyclist who rode from London to Cape Town on her own, plus an account of two women who did exactly the same back in 1935. That’s when I decided that I could ride right around the world on my own.”
Fern first sold off her old motorbike as money was needed for a Suzuki DRZ 400cc.
“I decided that would be the most suitable bike for my journey. A bike with a bigger engine, say a huge BMW, would have been great but they are very heavy and if it fell over or something, I would never be able to lift it back up on my own. Riding such a large machine would have been exhausting too.”
On June 2, Fern was given a grand farewell by tearful family and friends in London and drove off into the rain, shedding tears that no one could witness.
Once she rounded the first corner, though, a tidal wave of adrenalin swept over her. She spent her first night away at a small French campsite where, despite school French, she could not understand a single word of what was being said.
“I ended up being daunted at the prospect of all the countries I was to cross and all the languages I couldn’t speak.”
On her first attempt, Fern got as far as Germany when engine problems forced her to turn around and go home. “I was devastated,” Fern recalls.
“I knew it was the sensible thing to do but it really was terribly painful to turn the bike around and go back.”
Some people thought that Fern had given up at the very first hurdle but, after cursing her mechanic who had failed to properly rebuild her engine and having him put things right, she got back on the road once more.
“I am a motorbike mechanic trained by my father, but rebuilding an engine required the type of specialised training I do not have.”
With a self-allocated baggage allowance of 40 kg — the bulk taken up by motorbike tools, a tent, emergency medical kit, and survival food — Fern did not have room to spare for clothes.
She settled on just two changes of clothes, a few toiletries and a little make-up. “I can justify the bottle of pink nail varnish as it marks nuts and bolts so that I can check them for movement!”
Back on track, she rode like the wind across France, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and into Greece.
Fern first had issues with members of the opposite sex in Turkey. On the highway to Erzurum in Eastern Turkey, a shock absorber collapsed, snapping the bike chain. A farmer came to her help and called a mechanic.
“The mechanic took my bike to his workshop, then gave me a lift to a hotel. But no sooner had we set off — in the wrong direction as it turned out — than he began grabbing my leg.”
Fern’s quick reaction saved her. “I screamed at him, whisked out my cell phone and told him that I was calling the police. He then took me to my hotel, made ‘romantic’ suggestions and left.”
Her second ‘man problem’, also in Turkey, arose after a guided tour of historical sites.
“The tour leader, who worked at the hotel in Dogubayazit, pestered me for a date which I repeatedly refused. He then spent the entire night pacing up and down the corridor and periodically tapping on my window. I was en route to Iran early in the morning so, rather than create a stink, I tried to ignore him and get some sleep.”
Iran turned out to be a whole new world. “It was just too hot to wear a headscarf underneath my helmet,” she says. “So I kept one around my neck and, the second I took my helmet off, I would put on the headscarf.”
She was accosted for her apparel only once, during a religious festival in Mashhad, when a group of women told her to cover her pink blouse with a black chador.”
“It wasn’t threatening; it was for my own safety,” Fern stresses. “I am careful to observe the traditions of the countries I travel in. Also, in Tabriz, Iran, the head of a tourist information place told me ‘We are not Taliban. You can lighten it up a bit’ then took me home to meet his wife and children for dinner.”
From Iran, she roared on to Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, crossing Central Asia in a series of ups and downs. “The beautiful, frozen lakes and spectacularly high mountains of Tajikistan; the flashing gold teeth of country women in Uzbekistan; the privilege of yurt life, complete with horses, in Kyrgyzstan; all these will stay with me forever … as will bad events such as having to hole up in Dushanbe for a week as a result of civil unrest,” she says.
In China, foreigners are not allowed to wander freely, and each person or group must be accompanied by a travel guide who is with them every step of the way. “This is very expensive,” she explains. “So before leaving England I had posted a message on the internet reaching out to other motorcyclists going my way so we could share the cost.”
Crossing into China, she met, as scheduled, riders from Poland, Italy, Spain, America and Germany. The 10 riders each paid out $700 for their Chinese guide all the way to the Khunjerab Pass.
“The Pakistani border guards gave the group a wonderful welcome which was matched by our reception in first Karimabad and then in Gilgit,” she says with a broad smile and a handful of choice nimco. The group broke up in Gilgit and Fern took the Karakoram Highway alone. “On the KKH, I had to have a police escort. This initially freaked me out because of the high visibility of guns, but I realised its necessity when I was pelted with stones and spat on in Dasu. Riding down the fabled KKH was a massive thrill. I loved the incredulity dawning on the faces of schoolgirls when they realised that this was a woman on the bike. I hope I have inspired at least one of them to dream.”
Riding all the way from Besham, she reached Islamabad in a torrential rainstorm. Fern searched, in vain, for a secure campsite but finally settled in a hotel so that she could apply for an Indian visa the very next day.
From India her planned route is through Nepal and Thailand. Then she may wander around East Asia for a few months before moving on to Australia, New Zealand, South and North America and then cross the ocean and turn back home … or she might just change her mind and roar off somewhere else!
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