“Lone Rider” by Elspeth Beard



Around the world

In 1982, 23-year-old architecture student Elspeth Beard left her family home in London, England, bound for New York City. Waiting for her there was her 1974 BMW R60/6, and the start of what would become a two-year, 35,000-mile ride across five continents. When she finally returned to London, Beard parked her BMW and moved along, the experience slowly sinking into the past. But a few years ago, Beard started looking through her old diaries and photo albums, and in 2017, 33 years after her journey, her story, Lone Rider: The First British Woman to Motorcycle Around the World, was finally published.

That tag line, “the First British Woman to Motorcycle Around the World,” is perhaps something of an unnecessary definer, as outside of French journalist Anne-France Dautheville’s approximately 12,500-mile ride across three continents in 1973, it seems almost certain that Beard’s ride was the first of its kind for any woman.

That it took Beard so long to dedicate herself to writing about her life-changing journey tells us much about her. “I always meant to write a book about my ride,” Beard told one interviewer recently, “but I didn’t bother because nobody was interested, so I just got on with other things in my life.” Remarkably, at the time of her ride, nobody was interested. Beard made queries to accessory manufacturers and motorcycle magazines, looking for sponsorship and coverage of her travels, but was met with either silence or mocking indifference. Yet she got on with it anyway, and decades later, we’re finally learning about Beard’s epic trip.

This is much more than the story of a ride. It’s a hugely complex examination of a life lived, opening windows of introspection into Beard’s memories of a family dominated by a quirky but clearly genius father, tempered by a smart but somehow fragile mother. Neither parent understood their strong-willed daughter, or recognized her focused intensity, a fact that helped drive her to make her epic ride.

Most reviews of Beard’s experience focus on the specific hardships she faced – and there were many, from obstinate border officials and corrupt police to dealing with illness and hunger, accidents and pain, and unwanted sexual advances. Travelling alone, as a woman, has never been easy or particularly approved, and Beard lays bare the risk of exposure, both physically and emotionally, of living and loving, of giving, of daring to push when circumstances suggest you shouldn’t, of having the confidence – even when you’re weak – of the strength of your convictions.

By her own admittance, Beard was only marginally prepared for her trip. Having researched almost nothing about her route, she had saved a little over $6,000, enough, she hoped, to at least get her to Australia. From there, she’d just figure it out, relying on her determination to guide her.

1/24/2019 9:20:26 AM

I look forward to reading this. I don't know what route she took (I guess I'll find that out as I go along) but I can't help but compare it to Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman's trip from London to New York City (of "Long Way Round" fame, and if you haven't watched it on DVD you need to). She didn't have a brand new ADV bike, two additional riding companions, or multiple support vehicles that were always on the horizon somewhere. What a gutsy woman!

1/24/2019 7:04:10 AM

Good read!

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