1. 1770, Australia
The first time I rode a motorbike was pretty much by accident. I’d reached the town of 1770 on my tour of the Australian east coast (that’s the actual name of the place) and the main tourist activity was the Scooteroo bike tour.
Somehow, I’d got the impression that the tour involved sitting on the back of a bike clutching onto the back of a very experienced biker for dear life. So when a big group of us turned up to find rows and rows of bikes and a handful of bikers, I started to feel concerned. There wasn’t enough bikers for all of us. It turned out that the only people on the bikes were going to be us – along with a tour guide (a former member of Hells Angels apparently) who would be heading up the pack. Needless to say I was nervous, although the big safety helmet and leather jacket – complete with flames – did make me feel a little bit more prepared. The flames in particular helped me get in the zone.
Starting off down a rough track, I was a little shaky. Read: very shaky. I was worried I wasn’t going to get very far. Mercifully, once we got onto the nice, smooth open road, it turned out that there was nowhere better for a beginner. The roads were wide and empty and, unlike the back roads where I live in the English countryside, pothole free. Quickly enough my confidence grew and my speed increased. Even the light rain that started to fall wasn’t enough to slow me down and start a panic attack.
Soon, our group was on the lookout for kangaroo sightings and learning the best positions to get into so that we could take photos of ourselves that made our bikes look bigger and tougher than they actually were (as taught to us by our tour guide). Our trip culminated in a ride down to a beach where we could eat potato wedges with sweet chilli sauce and sour cream, whilst watching the sunset. Pretty idyllic if you ask me.
2. Vang Vieng, Laos
My next biking experience was less suitable for nervous beginners like me. I was in the Laos town of Vang Vieng, with my tour group, riding on roads in the loosest sense of the word. Factor in that it was the rainy season and it was really not the time to be on a bike. We spent the ride on a bumpy track, dodging potholes big enough to swallow our bikes and hitting rocks hidden underneath the puddles. When we finally got to a flat(ish) part, we’d then have to worry about swerving cows, water buffalo and small children. This was made all the tougher since those children were waving at us so we’d have to drive our bikes one handed (and wobbling in my case) as we attempted to wave back. After all, we didn’t want to be rude and ignore them. I spent the majority of the trip quite far back behind my fellow travellers.
At the end of our ride, we reached a lagoon with turquoise water, swings and branch to jump in from. It was cold but worth it as we splashed around. It was even worth the wobbly trip back.
3. Luang Prabang, Laos
My third and final time on a bike was a few days after my Vang Vieng lagoon – on a what was helpfully a much sunnier and drier day. Our destination was the Kuang Si Falls and our journey started on a relatively rough road. One of our party quickly hit a pothole and went over her handles bars. Thankfully, she was okay but our guide took her to the closest hospital to get checked over, leaving the rest of us to carry on alone.
We soon turned onto a much flatter road, more reminiscent of the on in Australia. With better conditions, we soon ended up separating as some people sped off. I turned a corner and came face to face with a herd of water buffalo. I was alone and didn’t quite know how to react to this. There was no way around. Did I turn around or did I wait for them to shift over a bit and sneak around the side ninja-style? The only problem with this method was that if they charged at me, I wasn’t sure I could turn my bike round fast enough. I weighed up the risk with how much I wanted to make it to the waterfall and ended up slowly riding around the side of them and getting back on my way.
Before long, I arrived at Kuang Si Falls and met back up with the rest of the group. The waterfall was beautiful but, of course, since it was rainy season the heavens inevitably opened and we were hit with a downfall. By the time we got back to our bikes, the sun was out but they were soaked and our helmets filled with water. After tipping it out, we got started on our way back and almost immediately ran into our guide, who was riding up a hill towards us.
Leaving our engine runnings, we stopped to chat and plan what to do next, balancing our bikes on the slope. All of a sudden, due to the damp and the weight of my bike steady below me, the strap on my sandal snapped. There was nothing else I could do at this point but ride back one-shoe-less. Thankfully this wasn’t a problem as it was a smooth ride and I didn’t have to worry about hitting anything like I had in Vang Vieng. Still, if I have learnt anything, it’s not to wear sandals when biking. I probably should have known that already.