Seasoned adventurer Charley Boorman opens his heart to FTR about his emotional journey back to bike. The global traveller, who seriously hurt both his legs in an accident in 2016, is now very firmly back in the saddle but will never forget the dark months he spent recovering.
His innate and slightly dark sense of humour – a trait among riders he insists – helped him through the month-long stay in hospital and much longer recuperation back in London.
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Shocking the doc
“When I was wheeled up to surgery, the last thing I said to the consultant was ‘when will I be able to ride again?’,” recalls the Triumph ambassador.
“He carried on and then stopped abruptly, looked me in the eye and said ‘what did you just ask me?’ I repeated it and he was incredulous. He said ‘most people ask me when they’ll be able to walk again’.”
Although only half-joking, his pre-operation enquiry speaks volumes for his love of riding: “That was all I could think about when I was out of action,” he says.
“The title of my new book is Long Way Back and it has been. I was always itching to swing my leg over a bike, but the huge cage I was wearing on it meant it was impossible,” he says.
“Go… just go”
Undeterred and increasingly desperate for a new adventure, however short and close to home, he jumped on his wife’s scooter to ride the 15 or so miles from the family home to The Bike Shed in central London. He says: “It wasn’t that long after the accident. I couldn’t ride a bike because the cage around my leg meant I couldn’t keep my feet on the pegs, so I pinched the scooter and covered my legs with a blanket. I hadn’t been going long when a police officer pulled me over.
“I feared the worst that I’d done something stupid, but he just said he recognised me and wanted to say hello. He asked why I was wearing a blanket, so I pulled it back and showed him my legs, at which he recoiled and shouted ‘go… just go’. It was quite funny.”
As good as the first time
Months later, on 4 January 2017, he finally grabbed his helmet, thought, ‘I am going for this’ and climbed back on his beloved Bonneville T120.
“I turned the key, heard the engine purring, pulled away… and then I started crying as I was riding. It was just brilliant and almost as good as the first time. It makes me feel a little teary just thinking about it. I thought I’d be nervous, but within minutes I felt that oneness with my Bonnie, which was unforgettable.”
The elation and sheer relief wasn’t shared by Charley’s wife, who thought his return to the road was slightly premature, but he adds: “The trick is not to tell people what you are going to do but what you did. I applied the same rules, that’s all.”
His ‘elation and relief’ as he limped through the front door – rehab will hopefully address that – after completing the quick ride was short-lived though as daughter Doone drily asked ‘Does walking like that make you seasick?’.
A goal for life
He says: “Kids bring you back down to earth with a bump, but the family and Triumph have been really supportive because they know that although riding was the cause it’s also the rehab, the hope and my goal for life.”
That rehab took another huge step forward when Charley completed a four-nation, 5,000km and 18-day trip across the open plains, bushland, forest and desert from Cape Town to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. Charley and a group of around 50 riders tackled the varied and beautiful terrain on mainly Triumph Tigers. An all encompassing adventure, the trip included sunset cruises, game drives and even white shark diving and whale spotting. Along sections of the route other motorcycle adventurers joined in, including Steph Jeavons as part of her own world-circumnavigation trip.
He says: “It was a challenge but what’s the point if it’s not? We rode the Tiger 800 XC and 1200s and they were superb off-road. The lower first gear ratio meant manoeuvring around some tricky terrain was a lot easier, but I particularly loved the five-position sprung-loaded screen.
“As motorcycles capable of cutting it when the roads end, they’ve really proved they’re up to the job.”