Remember when you started learning to ride? Maybe you haven’t started yet. Liora Malts is one such person. We gave her a proverbial pen to tell the hilarious tales that arise from the trials and tribulations of learning to use a motorcycle to find oneself in adventurous situations.
If you are here for an article riddled with mechanical knowhow or are hoping for an account full of awesome technical accomplishment, then I must warn you; this most certainly is not that. I will not enrich your riding experience with useful hints and tips; and you will not leave feeling inspired to try new techniques (none described here can result in anything other than disaster). This is a retelling full of childish, whimsical and foolish millennial wanderlust; paired with a complete disregard for public safety. This is my attempt to articulate an experience that is my equivalent of the Dakar – my first riding event, in my first year of riding, on my very first bike (or what is left of it).
“In that precise moment, my massive proverbial balls greatly overpowered my actual physical brain…”
It started out on a Friday evening. The boyfriend and I had arrived at the Mohawk Inn, Ontario for Lawrence Hacking’s Overland Adventure Rally, just in time to hear the globe-trotting, dream chasing guest speakers. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard some of these talks but to summarise – I left feeling as though all I’ve worked to achieve (y’know, a roof over my head, a steady job, being able to pay the bills) has actually been a huge waste of time. With no roof and no bills to pay, who needs a job? Better yet, what if riding around the world on your bike could BE your job? What if you could live off the land, with just a bike and four pairs of underwear to your name, whilst KTM and the like sponsor you to race on various continents? What if you wind up somewhere so remote, that neither the bill collectors nor your boss can reach you and you need not underwear at all? That, is how these talks make you feel. So here I am, romanticising a severe lack of personal hygiene and the joys of unemployment, contemplating my wasted youth, when one of the speakers sits down to have a beer with us. Long story short, he’s pretty cool, I’m obviously pretty cool and we agree that our little clique should ride the rally together in the morning. I should mention that he has finished the actual Dakar, so our skill level is basically on par.
It is the crack of dawn. We had a beer too many the previous evening and have snuck our way into the glorious breakfast buffet. An abundance of bacon awaits as I curse the vultures that linger between me and the breakfast pork. The boyfriend takes a huge risk, by pointing out that we’ve a long ride ahead and perhaps a heavy breakfast isn’t the best of ideas. I aggressively slap a couple of pancakes onto my plate and douse the entirety of my meal in maple syrup in response. Lads, heed this warning: happy, or right? Finally, I roll myself out of the dining room alongside my far more experienced counterpart (he may have been happy AND right in this instance), and attempt to assemble the troops.
We are a charming compilation of stragglers; our group consists of myself, the boyfriend, the boyfriend’s father, a fellow we had picked up along the way (he dropped out of our group closer to the beginning of the ride), and the poor Dakar-rallying bastard that got reeled into supervising my first rally experience. After discovering that we have failed to load the GPS coordinates for the ride, we settle on navigating by way of the sun, moss, bread crumbs (or bacon remnants) and quite possibly, the North Star. Just kidding; the guy finished the freaking Dakar… we figured he could probably make his way through Milton. Side bar note – Can you tell yet that the Dakar excites me a little? Fear not, I’m sure I’ll mention it another dozen times before we’re through, just to sharpen the image for you.
“As my bike rammed into that of my unwitting victim, I flew off in the opposite direction”
The first part of our journey was fairly upbeat. I bobbed and weaved along with both the road and my music, gaining both speed and confidence. After a few fairly tame paved stretches speckled with intermittent dirt, we finally approached a small hoard of fellow riders at the foot of a gravel hill. One was injured, and the rest were either assessing the damage or evaluating their chances of clearing it. Based on their accounts (that seemed to get more and more gnarly with every retelling) the hill seemed to do one of two things. 1) Spit out the mangled remains of the fools who dared challenge it (adventure riders are an imaginative bunch). 2. No one actually knew what lay on the other side; the successful few did not seem to venture back. Standing on the precipice, I was faced with a few daunting realisations. For one, neither of those outcomes proved to be appealing. With my level of experience measured against the purported level of difficulty, I was most likely to end up the former. On the other hand, as the only female rider in my posse, I would be damned if I couldn’t keep up with “the boys”. Thirdly, in that precise moment, my massive proverbial balls greatly overpowered my actual physical brain (although equally massive). And so, we pushed through the apprehensive mass of riders, and entered the Lovecraftian hell that lay ahead.
I bet this is where you would expect to hear about the “unique” aforementioned techniques. You, my friend, would be wrong. Though my techniques on this run may very well have also been unique, they ultimately proved to be successful. I powered through this challenge like a newborn beast through hell (messy, but enthusiastic). If any hesitation existed it was not evident to onlookers as became clear when one of them noted “there’s hardly a speck of dirt on your bike, must’ve been easy for you”. Truly, there is no better feeling than having overcome an obstacle and actually having made it look simple despite your quaking boots and furrowed brow. That feeling of unfounded momentary cockiness can entirely envelop the astute understanding that fundamentally, your skill level has not changed. So, when another rider came from around the corner and informed us of a spectacular sandy hill just around the bend, I leaned on that perceived prowess and jumped at the opportunity.
It doesn’t take long. I powered up the deep, loose sand, and it seemed to be over; I had reached the top. That was not the case. Right as I was about to clear the crest, my front tire took a lane to the left. I could’ve gone straight through to the grass. I could’ve put on my brakes. I could’ve turned the damn bike back in the right direction. I was practically at the top; I could’ve done any number of things. What I did however, surprised not only those around me but myself as well. I followed the lean in the tightest 180 degree turn you’ve ever seen and found myself staring straight into the befuddled face of the boyfriend, who was about five feet behind (or ahead) of me. It could’ve been impressive. I could’ve pretended that this was all a purposeful ploy and smoothly proceeded back down the hill. I could’ve shocked the rest of the onlookers and gone down in history as the absolute coolest chick ever. Of course, that is not what I did. As I stared at the helpless boyfriend (whose face was quickly changing from befuddled to terrified), I twisted the throttle and gracefully ploughed straight into him.
“My bike had suffered the wrath of my inexperience and my body ached with the physical manifestation of my rapid decline”
The next four seconds were a bit of a blur. As my bike rammed into that of my unwitting victim, I flew off in the opposite direction. I landed hard, on something harder still, with my delicate right cheek (the interesting one, not the one directly adjacent to my nose). Do not dwell on that titbit for too long, for I did not allow myself that luxury at the time. It would seem that in the four seconds it took me to lift myself from the heap of dishevelled bike and body parts, there were already five men at my side, addressing the damage. This is a phenomenon known as “Do I detect a hint of Lady? Distressed, lady?!”; also commonly referred to as “WE ARE MEN, WE ARE STRONG”. In all seriousness though, any woman that claims not to enjoy a little bit of male attention (especially when tending to a freshly bruised ego) is lying to you. There is nothing wrong with a well-timed flip of the hair to get a little help with lifting your bike. That being said, under no circumstance would I let on the extent of the pain in my arse that was, well, a the literal pain in my arse. I would not allow them to think me the dainty flower that stands ever complacently, fulfilling my role in the cultural cliché that is the “traditional woman”. I would not allow them to think me soft. And so, when I came to the humbling realization that my clutch had snapped clean off, I vehemently tossed my severed lever in no particular direction and in a show of defiant strength announced “a millimetre of clutch is quite enough for me; size does not matter to an expert”. Please do not forget that merely months ago, I had first learned how to use my clutch at all. Though I exuded confidence with my bold statement, internally I was acutely aware of the bacon I had consumed previously and was sincerely concerned it may make another appearance. After one of the men kindly kicked my shifter back into place and another fashioned my grip guards and mirrors in a way where they would not lifelessly sway in the wind, I was back on the saddle. My Dakar rallying ally talked me down the hill (and off the ledge) as if speaking to a young child with both severe ADHD and a staggering deficit in IQ and his saintly patience allowed us to finally get back on track and continue on our journey.
Onwards we went. Though my bike had suffered the wrath of my inexperience and my body ached with the physical manifestation of my rapid decline in status, I was thrilled to be a part of the ride at all. Mind you, the obstacles were far from over (with the lack of clutch, I’d say they were only made more severe) and I would soon learn of many fundamentals I had yet to experience in my few months of adventure riding. For example, a lack of clutch translates into it taking 20 minutes, my own personal pit crew, and a slew of exceedingly creative profanities (uttered over the encouraging cries of my cohorts), to get up a rocky cliff face (well, a hillock, with rocks). I also learned that when stopped for prolonged periods of time, ‘tis wise to turn the bike off. I subsequently found out that when your battery dies, you’d better hope there is one such “rocky cliff face” nearby, if you hope to get it up and running again – but you also better hope that your hand is not cramping from lack of a clutch lever, as stalling the bike makes those efforts redundant. Perhaps the most valuable lesson I learned on this adventure, is if your hand IS cramping, you better hope that there is someone with you that will pull up at the red light (after having observed your strained expression and both your hands grasping furiously at the nub that is your missing clutch), and ironically say “want me to hold that for you?”. Adventure riding is a team sport. Though one hopes not to have to share their failures with their colleagues, they are ultimately grateful to have the extended hand to help them up. Every failed attempt is but a step toward eventual success – I promise you, the successes you certainly will want to share. If not for my teammates I am confident that I would still be seated in a ditch somewhere along the track, trying to figure out what it is I should do next. Whether it comes from other riders or the community you happen to venture into (my sincerest thanks to the lovely woman that walked me three blocks to use her toilet, and Honda Canada for supplying me with a spare clutch lever for the final trek home), you will find support. Do not fear the unknown, for you are never alone in it.
As our group arrived back at the hub, wet, tired, and hurting, we settled down for a well-deserved pint. The boyfriend produced the severed clutch that I thought I had disposed of earlier in the day. Unbeknownst to me, “no particular direction” equated to a direct trajectory to his face. The poor man suffered the brunt of all of my learning curves that day, it would appear. Him saving this seemingly mundane piece of hardware served as much more. He was not just scavenging to minimize losses; this lever now represented all that was achieved that day. It was a symbol of the trials and tribulations that I had to overcome to ultimately reach my destination, and all I had learned in doing so. The subtlety of this gesture rounded up the entire adventure in the best way possible: we’ve all done it, we all get it and now you do too.