FTR Bio: Who's that girl?
Name: Lea Rieck
Travelling companion: Cleo, her Tiger XCA 800
No.1 lesson learnt on the road: Stop.Drink (water)Every.Hour
“If you’ve got desire, if you really want to do it, you will find a way… just turn the ‘what ifs’ around”.
Looking for a new job and fed up with the mundane 9 to 5, that mantra continued to echo in Lea Rieck’s head.
A supermarket aisle in her native Munich was where the epiphany happened: “I was looking at tinned meat when I suddenly had this thought that woke me from inside. I needed to travel around the world on a motorcycle and I needed to do it straight away before the doubts could return.”
Two years earlier she’d tackled Europe on an ill-advised, and in hindsight rather foolish, pilgrimage to hook up with friends in Istanbul.
Her positivity had made her an experienced rider, in her own head at least. In reality she’d only passed her test two months earlier and had few road skills to fall back on.
“Looking back I must have been mad to ride from Germany so soon. I knew how to ride but didn’t have the proper skills. I was very much in at the deep end,” she said.
Today, after quitting her job, she’s in either Pakistan or India heading for south east Asia, half way through that world trip that was born in her local shop.
“Sure, I had the usual worries. What if my savings ran out? What if I got sick? Would I ever find a job and a nice place to live when I got back?” she said.
“But let’s face it, nowadays wherever you are in the world you’re usually only an hour or two away from an airport, so I figured ‘what the hell’.”
Inspired by youngest ever round-the-world adventurer Triumph ambassador Rhys Lawrey, Lea – a relative veteran at 29 – is now three months into a tour of the planet on a Tiger 800.
“After quitting my job I had to do all the mundane paperwork stuff which simply reinforced all the reasons I was leaving. Then as I pulled away with Cleo, my Tiger 800, it was like a huge weight off my shoulders,” said the former architectural and design magazine editor.
Riding through eastern Europe is a delight – you can see as many as three countries in a single day, so there’s no chance of same old stuff fatigue.
Riding into the stunning sweep of Durmitor National Park and Europe’s Grand Canyon, Tara in Montenegro, those ‘what ifs’ were a distant memory. This place is as close as you’ll get to natural beauty
Being close to nature is very important to me. It’s what this trip is all about and you can’t get any closer than on a motorcycle. The curvy roads here are incredible. They make you never want to ride through a city again, other than to get your bike serviced.
Tears in reserve
Turkey was interesting for me. I’d lived in Istanbul in 2011 but as I headed back news reports of a lethal bomb attack filtered through, so I had to swerve it and missed seeing my old friends.
I rode through Cappadocia which is quite touristy, really pretty but not what I’d wanted to do. Central Turkey was a wonderful surprise though, with wide open stretches of road through countryside changing from lush green mountains to rocky wilderness.
Tblisi in Georgia is a surprise, full of art and culture and people delighting in the fact that tourists are coming. There’s a spirit of liberation here that chimed with me because that’s the reason I am doing the trip. I’m riding the world to experience things and new cultures and not to find myself.
It’s interesting being a woman on an adventure bike because it’s still quite a rare sight in many countries. Peoples’ moods change from interested to curious and then respect that you’ve worked hard to get there.
When I take off my helmet, people are really surprised. After their initial reactions their next one is to check I’m safe. That’s worked in my favour a few times in Russia when I’ve been stopped. At first, police are confused when they see a woman, they keep me waiting and then aren’t sure what to do with me so tell me to go.
I always thought I’d have to cry at some point – I normally don’t – but so far I haven’t. I’ve got that tactic in my back pocket if I need it.
Setbacks make you stronger
Onwards through Chechnya, Russia and Kazakhstan to the Caspian Sea, Russian Steppes and the desert with its 40 degree heat, achingly dull straights, no gas stations, constant sweat and empty landscape with nothing going on. The ‘what ifs’ were returning to mock me.
In Russia I had to go off road even though I only had street tyres and after around eight miles of riding on a dead sand track I dropped Cleo, smashed my head and was laying there for 20 minutes until a car stopped to help me. I stayed in bed for a day and was so annoyed with myself because the accident was so unnecessary.
The windshield was broken, the bars twisted, I’d hit my head, was alone and my resolve was dented. But the human spirit is so strong and setbacks make you stronger. I got back on the bike and five minutes in I knew I’d be fine.
Another ‘what if’ smashed.
I’m going to contradict myself here but although Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan aren’t great from a motorcycle point of view, the cities, mosques and desert tours were amazing. They do make it hard for us riders though because at some times in the year you can’t get petrol. At one point I almost ran out.
When I got to Tajikistan my eyes were opened. I was on the Pamir Highway, the main road through the mountains that separate Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan – and the sights took my breath away.
Paved, unpaved, asphalt, rubble and mud, this is a road for the experienced rider, so ‘what if’… what if I took it steady and saw snow-capped mountains, wide open skies and adrenalin-charged passes to bump into a group of Americans and Brits on an organised tour who took me under their wing.
They were heading for the capital Duchanbe and they took care of me through the mud. Then when we hit gravel again and my Tiger 800 came into her own. She is never in the wrong gear, the engine is powerful yet smooth as silk, I never ache because there’s no vibration on even the roughest surface and she is the perfect travel bike. Asphalt is her best friend but she is amazingly versatile whatever you throw at her.
The Pamir Highway was beautiful and spectacular, but my overriding memory of the place is the friendliness of the people despite their poverty.
By the time I reached Kyrgyzstan and the end of my first leg, I had to give Cleo a wash because people were starting say how filthy she was. I get the feeling that if she could talk she’d like to be like that though
I’ve got just under 10 months of my trip left. By the time you read this I’ll have whistled through China (too quickly maybe) and should be on my way to India. I’m going to spend October and November in south east Asia and then plan to fly across to South America to continue the adventure.
By then there won’t be any ‘what ifs’ because I know from what I’ve experienced so far that I WILL find a way.
I don’t have any advice for people thinking of doing a big trip because everyone needs to find their own way, but if you have the desire you will find the time and turn any nagging doubts around. In the modern world you are never really more than an hour or two away from the next airport so if it all goes wrong, you can just fly home.
The bottom line is that if there’s the seed of an idea and you let the ‘what ifs’ win, you’ll regret it forever and one day wonder, ‘what if I had done that trip?’
FTR have planned to catch up with Lea again, so come back for the next instalment of her trip soon…