Riding the Ups & Downs

Wednesday, 25th October 2023By Jowen Bartrop

I quickly got used to living on a dirtbike.

It’s not long before routine dissolves days into one and another. It soon feels normal to wake up on my deflated Amazon roll mat and to shower in the falling condensation triggered by opening the tent door. Packing all your belongings carefully into their place becomes ritualistic. Not really knowing where you are becomes kind of comforting.

I pass through so many towns, farms, fields and forests. I see very few people along with their questioning and or disapproving looks. I am chased by dogs, birds swoop down from the trees and fly alongside me, insects hit me in the face and go down my neck. The wind, the rain, the sun and the thunderstorms surround me day and night.

Stopping in towns to fill up my tank or buy food, I feel completely separated from society. My bike, covered in mud and dust, with bags strapped to every surface, sits patiently in sterile car parks. The contrast between my circumstance and that of the weekly shoppers seems like an impossibly high wall of isolation; the looks I get match this feeling. Yet despite this and despite the language barriers, exchanging a smile with someone in the shop is enough to make me feel like part of the human race again. It is often the only communication I’ll have with another person all day. Once I’m back on the bike I have a lot of matters to discuss with myself.

Each night as the dusk settles I search for a place to put up my tent, I unpack my stove and boil some water to cook my pasta for the evening. Lying on the floor I found to be the most comfortable way of eating. Just me, my tent and my bike. Our location is the pin along the line I’m following. The world exists around me benevolent yet unsympathetic, a symphony of things happening that I somehow happened upon. I have everything I need, which really isn’t much, but I am surrounded by so much more. Each day I drive, the wind flies past my face and pulls tears from my eyes. I’ve never felt more free.

It’s impossible not to get introspective spending this much time by yourself, especially on a trip so physically and mentally demanding. I quickly adopted a pretty dynamic internal monologue, every day I would interview myself and debate topics that wandered into my head. It’s really surprising how you can reaffirm or even challenge your own principles and opinions just by discussing them with yourself. (Being in the middle of ‘nowhere’ is a failsafe way of not getting sectioned.)

I think you only know what comfort is if you have already been uncomfortable. The same principle can be applied to a lot of human experiences and emotions. 7 thunderstorms in 5 days give you a far greater appreciation of densely packed pine trees. Having no human contact for entire days at a time makes you elated after a broken conversation in French with someone at the supermarche. A shower in a derelict campsite, after 3 days of blasting dirt, feels like a disrespectfully lavish act. Eating a meal whilst sitting on a chair at a table is revolutionary after eating the majority of your food lying on the ground.

I’m not suggesting that you have to go without, to appreciate what you have. Or that becoming a masochist is the only way to true hedonism. But I do think that in life, riding the ups and downs is way more exciting than cruising along a straight line.