Inspiration: Big Trip

My dead-end job changed my life

Thirtysomething’s European rite of passage

FTR Bio:, Nick Brooks

Occupation: Freelance Photographer

Lives: South East England

Bike: Thunderbird Legend TT

Biggest Fear: Turning thirty...

The thought of turning 30 terrified Nick Brooks. While more experienced riders might scoff at his fear of being so young, the landmark loomed large after a ‘wasted decade’ in a job he hated. The choice was stark. Carry on down the employment cul-de-sac or change things by doing something reckless and irresponsible.

“So I quit the job I’d been at since leaving university as it was making me miserable, bought a motorbike and headed off across Europe,” said Nick.

“I bought myself a ferry ticket and from that point on I was committed. It didn’t faze me. I knew there would be adversity, days I’d be miserable. But having done it, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.” And that, despite little or no planning, a string of foul ups, drops and niggling bike issues.Nick03
After packing light at his home in England, his Thunderbird Legend TT had whisked him to France by lunchtime.

He said: “It felt surreal given that the day before I’d been in an office staring at a computer screen. I had a very loose route, but there wasn’t much consideration of where to stay or places to visit.”

The Trip:, Across Europe

Stage 1

Sunshine and strange looks

“I woke with the sun at about 5.30 and watched it rise. I finished off last night’s dinner of Camembert and a baguette. My plan to use a solar charger to power my satnav wasn’t going to work as it was useless at recharging, so I had to use the sun to navigate.

The further west I got, the worse the weather got. I sheltered under a tree, ate Babybels and waited for the worst of it to pass. This wasn’t the kind of trip I’d imagined.

By lunchtime I was sick to death of the wind and rain so I headed south in search of sun and blue skies. By the time evening rolled around, I’d done far too many miles and was shattered.

I made it as far as Saint Nazaire and the weather was absolutely gorgeous. I slept next to an old fort covered in graffiti and got some strange looks from locals walking their dogs.”

Stage 2

Mundane tractor and Spanish fracture

“I headed down to Saint Martin de Re as it wasn’t too far away and booked a room in the cheapest hotel I could find. That evening I sat on the dockside with a beer in the sun.Nick13

Further south as I chilled out on the beach watching the surfers near Mimizan, it felt like a holiday and I was easing into the whole thing until the tractor combing the beach next morning woke me up. I watched it for a bit thinking it must be a frustrating job doing the same thing over and over again, before firing up the bike and heading off in search of coffee.

The further south I went, the more the landscape changed and the mountains of the Pyrenees loomed over the flat French landscape and I crossed the border without realising.

I pulled over to take a break and rest my eyes to find an inch long piece of shrapnel had rendered my one-week-old tyre useless. Some locals pointed me to a police station across the road. Silver linings and all that, I thought as I walked the 2km to a garage.”

Stage 3

Shot with a BB gun

Nick012Heading into Bordeaux to see friends the rain came and at 70mph is it’s like being repeatedly shot with a BB gun, but it was worth it. Meeting them was a real blast, having not seen them properly for a few years.

My brother, who rides a 2012 Bonnie SE, had got into the idea of the trip too and booked some days off for my birthday later that month, so we’d agreed to meet and ride from Fontainebleau, just south of Paris.

As I headed north I was following a lorry, pulled to the side to take a look at what was happening further up the road. They put their brakes on, I put my brakes on… then I felt the front wheel go.

It’s amazing how much thinking you can do in a half second. I knew it was going to hurt, that it was probably the end of the trip. I hit the ground and started rolling, seeing my bike slide along its side. This isn’t how it was supposed to go. The adrenaline pumped through my veins as I checked myself out. The helmet had taken a knock, but was OK. My jacket was torn, but much the same.

Somehow, I was walking and nothing was broken and the bike seemed much the same; scraped and bruised. The left-hand side of the bars had been ground down, and I’d broken the gearshifter, but it started and was rideable. God knows how – Triumph obviously know how to build bikes!”

Stage 4

Brit pop and absinthe

“By the end of the next day, we’d made it to Germany through the Vosges mountains which were fantastic to ride… going into every corner not knowing if it would be a hairpin or not.Nick14

The scenery and massive drops were awe-inspiring. We ended up in a cheap hotel, the first place we found, jumped on the tram, got some beers and ate too much. Sadly my bro had to turn around and head back for Dieppe but I stayed another night and booked myself into a hostel. The best thing about hostels is the people you meet. I ended up in a British-style pub, drinking Absinthe, singing along to 90’s Brit pop.

Next day I headed for Lindau, a town on Lake Constance where I sat on the dockside in a bar, had two excellent local beers, and watched the sun go down over the harbour.

As I sank the last dregs I had a dread moment. I’d left my passport in Bordeaux and I had to give my friends an address in Munich to post it on, a delay that gave me the chance to watch some surfers riding the current on a local river and visit one of the local beer halls.

From Munich I headed down to Innsbruck in Austria and then on to Lichtenstein and Switzerland. I went up a mountain range and the higher I climbed, the colder it got. I was freezing but the landscape was breathtaking. I wanted to stop, but had no idea how long the fuel would last.

Stage 5

This is the end

After an enforced stop in Milan for some gasket repair work at the Triumph garage I headed to the coast and La Spezia, a town near five picturesque fishing villages but the closer I got, the worse the weather became.Nick07

I went up into the mountains again and the visibility dropped to ten feet. As I sat on the beach of the coastal town of Monterosso and watched the waves I knew my time was coming to an end, but I still felt unfulfilled.

I’d been hoping to make it to Budapest and Prague, but due to my crash and the passport fiasco I just couldn’t justify the time. Then I thought, “To hell with it, I’ll get one crack at this” and headed off the next morning to Budapest.

After 12 long hours and 600 miles I arrived saddle sore. Two nights there and I briefly considered going to the border of Ukraine but felt it might be wiser to give it a miss.

Instead I went on to Prague. It was just as I crossed the border into Slovakia that I realised I’d left my passport behind. I felt such a fool as I headed back for it. After the ferry back to England I took the bike gently off the boat and made my way home.

“People realise that if you want to do touring, you don’t need a Tiger or GS. I saw plenty of Harleys out and my Legend was more than capable of everything I threw at it. I’m not sure what’s next but the bar has been set quite high.”

5,631miles through 14 countries in five weeks, a great experience and something I’ll always remember.

Nick Brooks

Brooks Brothers