Inspiration: Big Trip

Rocket Man: Part 2

A journey from heartbreak to healing

After his wife and best friend Sue’s untimely death, widower Mark Holmes knew a ride around the world was the only ‘sane’ way to begin again.

On his Triumph Rocket and with a packed pannier he left London in the summer of 2017. He had just a handful of simple aims. He wanted to find out more about the world, share his passion for Triumph Motorcycles, and spread the word about stopping smoking, a habit that had put an end to his memorable trips to the States with Sue.

Read on to see Mark’s highlights so far…

Spanish explorer

Barcelona over Easter was a joy for a lone traveller, football fan and people-watcher. I learned to appreciate the joy in Gaudi’s architecture, the colossal atmosphere and majesty of the Nou Camp (Barcelona FC 3, Real Sociedad 2), the side streets and lanes of the centre of the city and the laughter in Ciutadella Park.

I also discovered, as I admired his 1888 statue 60 metres up on a column at the foot of Las Ramblas, that despite popular belief, Christopher Columbus never actually set foot in America. History books and many of my American friends had me believe that he ‘discovered’ America. He was an accomplished sailor and navigator, and crossed the Atlantic from Europe four times, but he only found some Caribbean islands and turned south to eventually land in Venezuela. Although born in Genoa, Italy, Columbus was funded by the Spanish monarchy, so his journeys are commemorated in Spain.

It’s small details like this that made my trip unforgettable.

Mark Holmes Spanish Motorcycle tour

Listen and learn

I’ve met an extraordinary number of new people on my journey, even during just two months in Europe. Some conversations have been delightful and I have learned so much from them.

Waiting for ferries I’ve met a passionate Irishman, an Arsenal fan and an ecologist. I’ve learned that I don’t like eating alone and on many occasions have started conversations with nearby diners. In Milan I met a honeymooning Texan couple full of enthusiasm for life. In Venice I met a fascinating couple from Ohio celebrating a wedding anniversary. In Malta I met friends of friends.

There have been young people almost everywhere with an adventure-seeking glaze in their eyes as I explain my journey. I love putting a big smile on their faces and like to think they rush to tell their friends about our conversation and inspire them too. Some must have done as they are now following me on social media.

A good traveller

I met Australian Derek Barnett in Istanbul and he gave me a brief summary of how to get the most out of seeing the most interesting, extraordinary and remote places on the planet. He insists on taking alternate paths to most tourists and that he’s not a tourist but a traveller. His ‘Three Goods’ philosophy is simple.

Good planning

Have a good idea of where you are going, why you are going there and what you expect or hope to experience. Without planning you will waste time and possibly miss out on the true value of the location.

Good luck

Sometimes things happen beyond our control, from the taxi driver who takes you the longer route to charge you more to the cancelled flight. These things are beyond a traveller’s control and only by being lucky can you avoid them.

Good people

The good people who have absolutely nothing to gain from helping you but just want to help. They give you directions and advice, offer you a cup of tea, or even a meal and a bed for the night. These are the people who make adventure travel such a joy.

Istanbul, Turkey

Iranian hospitality

I was photographed or filmed 100 times a day in Iran by people with huge smiles on their faces. My very presence in their country on a larger motorcycle than they are allowed to ride attracted attention.

I felt humbled, and responded with a smile and a wave every time. Whether I had stopped for petrol, refreshments, site visits or the end of the day, they would always say: “Welcome to Iran, welcome to my country”. It was very clear that they meant it.

After a paperwork delay at the border from Turkey, I headed south to Tabriz and the deep-blue, mosaic-tiled Blue Mosque where the craftsmanship is so staggeringly beautiful I almost shed a tear. The ancient bazaar in town, with the former ‘Silk Road’ running through the middle of it, was also amazing.

After 1,500 miles and with the temperature rising to 40 degrees I had to get to the southern port of Bandar Abbas

Tehran excited me. A huge city with many districts. I took the Metro, with its segregated carriages, to north Tehran and another mosque. Inside, the multi-roomed Imāmzādeh Sāleh mausoleum is covered in a mirror mosaic, reflecting light.

Further south, the 2,500-year-old Persepolis built by the Shahs of Persia was only a brief stop because, after 1,500 miles and with the temperature rising to 40 degrees, I had to get to the southern port of Bandar Abbas for the short sea crossing to Dubai.

I’ll cherish the memory of Iranian hospitality forever. Their smile, their gifts of sweets, fruit and tea touched me in a way I’ve never previously experienced.

New beginnings

Before I left London, my friend Diana gave me a tiny statue of the Hindu God Lord Ganesha, the God of New Beginnings. He has done his job incredibly well. I needed a new beginning. I opened myself up to the world and almost daily I met new and fascinating people… the benefit of solo travel.

As I have no means of cooking food myself, I take every meal in a cafe or restaurant. I sit down, on my own as always, and look around. Some remarkable conversations have followed. Not an experience I sought or expected but I haven’t resisted it either. Definitely a ‘new beginning.’

Lord Ganesha is an obstacle remover and I’ll need him to be at his best. From what I’ve seen on the Indian roads I’m going to need him. They are truly awful. Potholes, cracked concrete, sections of missing tarmac even on toll roads, no lines, no junction markings, few road signs, huge speed bumps placed at random. The list goes on.

The drivers are even worse. Trucks, cars, bikes, taxis and rickshaws all have their individual set of rules. The blast of a horn has at least a dozen meanings.

Mark Holmes

The Taj Mahal 

The Taj Mahal is the most beautiful building I’ve ever seen and surpassed my expectations by miles. The setting, design, craftsmanship, materials and purpose. All are perfect.

‘Exquisite’ was the best single word to describe the Taj Mahal, but it is hopelessly inadequate. Ivory-white marble sourced from all over India still looks pristine today. It reflects the colour of the early-morning sun, so that’s the time of day to go. The craftsmanship is also overwhelming. Black marble is inlaid throughout. So too are the beautifully soft and swirling Arabic letters. Jewels were originally a feature of the building but all have been stolen.

Taj Mahal Triumph Motorcycle Trip

I was the first person through the arched gateway after rising at 4.30am, a guide rushing me to the best photograph locations before anyone else got there. It was a real privilege. I later strolled around slowly, sitting and staring in awe. The four minarets lean outwards, slightly. That’s deliberate so that should they fall, they will not damage the mausoleum.

There was a plan to build a ‘double’ on the opposite bank of the Yamuna River in black marble. Events overtook the plan but not before much of the marble had been acquired. It is now in London’s Trafalgar Square as the Marble Arch.

Himalayan heights

‘Jim Jum’ is Nepalese for ‘Let’s go’. I discovered that from our 19-year-old assistant guide as he coaxed us on the eight-day trek from Lukla in Nepal to Everest Base Camp. We were all strangers in the Himalayas together, united by a single goal. I have often wondered how strangers can get along so well. Our backgrounds, country of origin, culture even, were all so different. Yet we enjoyed the most heartwarming, intimate and mutually supportive two weeks together.

Dawa, our lead guide and sherpa, needed to know at all times how we were feeling and how our bodies were reacting to the altitude and diet. Consequently, all intimate details were shared. “If you see yaks coming towards you, stick to the inside of the path. They sometimes wobble and might knock you over the edge,” said one guide. We didn’t challenge his advice.

Peeking through the clouds you’re struck by the unimaginable scale of the Himalayas

Quads burned, thighs throbbed, knees swelled, toes were crushed, lungs gasped, sweat poured and increasing altitude affected our cognitive ability. Occasional dizziness and headaches left us all questioning our determination. Small houses lining the route are constructed from wood or stone, with tin roofs. Quite a few of the hamlets had a community room, which to our great surprise often contained full-size snooker tables, always occupied.

Beds are spartan, toilets are flushed with a jug of water, basins with a rudimentary flow of water. We never complained. Life is simple here and there is no mains electricity. Peeking through the clouds you’re struck by the unimaginable scale of the Himalayas, but sharing a celebration with the monks at a monastery in Tengboche at 3,870 metres was equally humbling.

The best view of the summit of Mount Everest, my personal goal, was from Kala Pathar. Seeing the top of the world revealed by the rising sun while alone on a side track brought a flood of emotions.

Six reasons why I’m loving it

  1. I feel fantastic and meet new people every day.
  2. My Rocket attracts a crowd and as I tell them what I’m doing their grins widen and their jaws drop open. Many then follow me on social media, some have become friends, some have even told me how I have changed their outlook on life.
  3. I’m laughing increasingly at myself for packing my trainers and gym kit. I’ve not used them once and haven’t felt the need to.
  4. The constant physical activity on and off the Rocket, being a sightseeing tourist, constantly moving on and trying new things, is keeping me fit.
  5. My mind is buzzing. Evaluating and deciding how to progress the next few days and weeks ahead. Always stimulating and a joy to figure out.
  6. Realising that for every problem there’s a solution is invigorating.

Read the next part of Mark’s story.