There were occasions during her round-the-world ride when Lea Rieck happily admits she returned to her hotel room and sobbed.
The third and final leg of Lea’s tour took her from Australia – where her rider father had toured in the ’70s – to South America, the States, Canada and then back across to Morocco and western Europe.
Almost two years earlier she’d set off from her native Germany to see the planet with a belief that she would become mentally strong, physically fit and a little bit tougher as a person.
The reality was almost the exact opposite.
Five things she learned that will change her life forever
- Trust your ability. You will ride well and you will be able to communicate and get what you need.
- It isn’t a sign of weakness to turn back from a deep river or rocky road. Don’t be so stubborn that you create problems for yourself.
- It’s OK to ask for and accept help if you need food or directions. It can be a great icebreaker.
- Allow yourself to trust. Most people want to help a fellow human being. By trusting you will become softer yourself.
- We don’t actually need that much. The poorest people were often the kindest and wanted nothing in return.
Time to think
Ironically, it was on one of the most monotonous stretches of road in Argentina, from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia, where Lea was able to take stock of the previous year’s experiences: “The scenery to the southernmost tip is all quite similar, so it gave me time to meditate and think about what I’d experienced.
“The world we live in is all about social media, instant news and materialism, but there are people living in abject poverty with their families around them and they’re happier than us.”
She adds: “I’m not a very spiritual person but some of the things I saw and the amazing people I met have made me far more emotional because usually it’s those who have absolutely nothing who give the most.”
‘Like being in a Salvador Dali painting’
Though now back in Munich, a kaleidoscope of images and memories return as she recalls the magical moments and lessons learned from more than 18 months on the road… and off it.
“One of the most memorable moments was also one of the most surreal,” she says. “Riding the Laguna route through the Andes between Argentina, Chile and Bolivia was like being in a Salvador Dali painting, with stunning colours, mountains, lakes and flamingos at 4,500km up. It was like a landscape from another world.”
Off to Oz? Don’t forget Tasmania
After Asia where ‘you communicate using your hands and feet’, Australia was a welcome break. But for all the charms of Sydney, it was Tasmania that really stole Lea’s heart: “I reminisced on Skype with my dad about all the places he’d been, but Tasmania was something else and a must for all riders.
“The west is wild and lush with few people whereas the east has great beaches. Both sides have some wonderful curves and are perfect for intermittent off-road riding. Luckily Cleo, my Tiger 800 XCA, had already shown me in Tajikistan that she loved a bit of rubble and dirt.”
‘I was never looking backwards’
Taking stock during the ride is not something she ever did – she’s now planning to write a book so now is the time to look back – and that, insists Lea, is the beauty of a long-distance adventure: “I never had a point where I stopped and thought ‘that was incredible’ because I was never looking backwards, only forwards and thinking about what was next.”
After time in Australia, she shipped Cleo to Buenos Aires and flew ahead, where she was delighted by the laid-back Latin culture and had any preconceptions about crime shattered in double-quick time.
She says: “You tend to ride in the countryside where the people all across South America are wonderful and can’t do enough to help you. The Andes was a highlight but Patagonia was great and had some really good and not too challenging off-road stretches.
“You hear a lot about crime but if you stay in a city, book a hotel with safe bike storage and use your brain – don’t carry anything worth stealing. I’d heard a lot about Honduras and El Salvador and was apprehensive, but crime there is more high-level and gang-related, so they’re not interested in riders.”
‘I cried at what I’d seen’
“The people in the countryside are wonderful even though they are poor. There were times during my trip when I got back to my hotel room and cried at what I’d seen. It’s changed me for the better,” she adds.
Severe flooding in Peru forced Lea to freight her bike from Lima to Panama City – the only other way is through the notorious Darien Gap (one for another day) – to then head up through Honduras, Guatemala, Belize and Mexico to the States.
Two weeks in the ‘off-road paradise’ of Colorado’s Alpine Loop was the stand-out moment as Lea shed her loaded 60kg panniers and threw Cleo around before reloading and heading north to Newfoundland.
‘A very different reality’
“I rode up the west coast but missed out on Big Sur because there were landslides. By the time you’ve been to Yosemite and Yellowstone you’ve created lots of memories. My only regret heading up towards Alberta was that I didn’t get longer in Utah but it was 45 degrees, so maybe I’ll go back one day,” she says.
“The States is so diverse and, like many other countries portrayed by the media, gets a misleading reputation. I was shocked at how exotic the Nevada desert was and by the contrast between the big cities and the families living in the middle of nowhere in a trailer. It is a very different reality.”
Adventure is on our doorsteps
After flying back to Morocco, where she hooked up with a friend to explore the Atlas Mountains, Lea made another discovery that shocked her when she least expected it: “I crossed into Spain and decided to go through the urban areas such as Madrid and Barcelona before heading through the Pyrenees and home.
“Because I’d been away for so long I was almost seeing western Europe as a stranger would through new eyes. It was then that I realised we all have real adventure on our doorsteps. It had just taken me 90,000 miles to realise it.”