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“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 BritishWoman 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.

At some levels the trip was a whim, an in-your-face repudiation of the naysayers and doubters around her. Yet once committed, Beard saw the journey through. A survivor, she did as she needed to keep moving forward. She became quite adept at attending to her BMW’s needs, mending it as necessary to continue the path upon which she’d embarked. 

Exploration and discovery are at the core of why we ride, and Beard embraced these essentials in a way few people ever have or will. Beard’s trip was the necessary expression of her searching soul, her BMW supplying the means for that essential discovery. That she took more than three decades to tell us about her journey turns out to be an unanticipated bonus. The time between the doing and the telling has given Beard perspective and appreciation, a heightened ability and deeper capacity to understand and explain the why of her journey, a question equally if not more compelling than the how. Even if you don’t ride, Beard’s probing narrative makes this a book to savor. Octane Press. 312 pages, $19.95. Order your copy now at the Motorcycle Classics bookstore.

Published on Dec 11, 2018

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