motorcycle rally
motorcycle adventures

The Mongol Rally

When she heard about her friends plan to do an intercontinental road trip from Prague to Mongolia she jumped at the chance to join them. Their plan was to loosely follow the route of the Mongol Rally. The rest of the group planned to buy a couple of beat up cars in Europe to make the journey. But she had other ideas.

Martha had been a motorbike enthusiast for most of her life. Her parents gave her a motorbike when she was seven and she had ridden many bikes since then. It was an interest she shared with her father. Together they had done up old bikes bound for the scrap heap and would talk for hours and days about models, upgrades and mechanics, the rest of the family leaving them to yarn and tinker their time away. Her father and her had done many road trips over the years but he could no longer ride. She wished he could join her but it gave her comfort knowing he would be travelling with her through her updates, photos and reports along the way.

While her traveling companions tracked down their beat up wheels she found herself a gem of a bike in a local bike yard. The yard was piled high with rusty frames but there was no doubt in her mind when the shiny black body of the 255cc caught her eye. Not a splutter or a miss. Her gut told her it would make the trip and with her years of experience in motorbike repairs she was fairly confident she could handle any issues along the way.

motorcycle rally

Their convoy – two cars and a bike – set off from Prague in early European spring. This felt perfectly timed for a new adventure with the new growth and new quality of warmth and light in the sun. It was a welcome relief after the heavy winter months she had just endured in London working and saving as much as she could before taking a couple of months off.

The first leg of their journey was smooth sailing, with both cars and her bike making it to Istanbul, Turkey without a hitch (via Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria). But it wouldn’t be an adventure without some challenges along the way to test your spirit and resolve. The first mechanical issue she experienced was in Iran. An odd rattling sound had made her pull over but with some inspection she managed to fix it roadside with the twist of a spanner and the tightening of a screw that had worked itself loose.

It was a different story in Turkmenistan. Riding along a highway, luckily not too far out of town, her rear tyre blew out in a dramatic and startling jolt. Luckily she kept the bike in control as the back end slid from side to side and she veered herself safely onto the highway shoulder. Her friends drove her into town where they arranged a pick-up truck to collect her bike. A replacement tyre was finally tracked down and the convoy was back on the road in a couple of days. In Uzbekistan, she hit major mechanic trouble with her piston giving out. It took some patience to navigate language barriers and a clueless motorbike mechanic but she finally tracked down a replacement part and convinced the mechanic to let her use his workshop to make the motorbike repair herself. Five days later she was back on the open road with the wind blowing through her hair.

After so many miles, countries, cultures travelled the feeling crossing the border into Mongolia was epic. The landscape and the people are etched into her memory. 53 days on the road and they finally reached their destination: the capital, Ulaanbaatar. She called her father at the first chance she could get and could hardly contain her bubbling excitement and exhilaration. She had made it!

~ Elisa McTaggart

motorcycle adventures

Motorcycle Wild Child

Back in the sixties I was a bit of a wild child. Always looking for the next adventure. In those days some countries were untouched by the western world and I wanted to immerse myself in as many of these exotic worlds as possible. Perhaps it was to find myself. Perhaps it was to lose myself. Definitely it was to connect with the greater world around me and push myself beyond what I thought was possible.

motorbike babe

In 1966, aged 23, I boarded a ship with my shiny black Honda motorbike and set sail for California, arriving in San Francisco after weeks at sea. I will never forget the looks I got from the ship’s crew as I walked my motorbike off the gangplank. I had told them about my great journey and I could almost see their minds trying to compute what on earth a single woman was going to do all alone on such an epic journey on her motorbike.

Buses and trains get you from A to B but there’s nothing quite like the freedom of touring the countryside on a motorbike, feeling free as the wind blowing through your hair. I was headed on a road trip down through central and South America bound for Chile. Some of the places I would pass through were so remote I needed to be self sufficient with language, gear and motorbike repairs. I learned as much Spanish as I could and did a crash course with a local motorbike repair shop before I left Australia.

The real magic happened when I crossed the border into Mexico. Some days I rode with nothing but open arid, mountainous or agricultural landscapes with not another single soul for miles. Other days there were farmers and workers carrying harvests on their heads or tending their crops and animals in their fields. When my eyes met theirs their faces would light up with joy beaming at me from their labours. Some days I would have the company of locals riding their motorbikes along side me. This was a highlight. At times I could not communicate with my road companions but the joy and knowing we would each share on our faces said it all. Other days I would pass through quaint little towns or lively festive cities. This was wild and would sometimes be overwhelming after days of solitude on the open road with nothing but the sounds of my own thoughts and the motor rumbling along.

I made it all the way to Colombia before my first mechanical issue. I was making my way across a flat open valley when my bike gave out and I had to pull over. It was getting late and the light was fading. I grabbed my trusty toolkit and after a bit of tinkering I had the bike back on the road. Luckily it was an easy fix as the next motorbike repair mechanic I passed was three days ahead and I was grateful I was saved the long walk pushing my bike.

After three months on the road I made it all the way down the east coast to Chile and I am happy to say that all the motorbike repairs I needed to do I managed myself. I carried a few spare parts that would fit in my gear and this kept me on the road. For a young woman traveling alone in a foreign country in the sixties, to have achieved such a great journey independently was thrilling and empowering.

Elisa McTaggart