The Riding Reporters: The Journey Begins"> The Riding Reporters: The Journey Begins

Aug 08, 2016 View Comments by

The Riding Reporters

New Year, New Journey
It’s January 2014 and we are at my dining table with pen and paper in front of us, making a list of all needed preparations. We need a name. A Facebook page. A website. We need to figure out which projects we want to visit and write about. We need to contact news organizations that may be interested in our reports.

Once again I look at the route. Irene wishes to start in Alaska and ride all the way down to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in Argentina. In a year. I voice my doubts.

The Riding Reporters“North America is expensive. And I think a year is quite long to be away from home. We don’t have a clue if we will get along that well in those circumstances. When I was in South America three years ago, I was there for five months. I made two motorcycle trips in Bolivia and Peru, I spent a month in Brazil, seven weeks in Buenos Aires to study Spanish, and traveled all the way down to Patagonia. If we focus solely on South America we can probably visit every country in half a year. We will find all kinds of interesting projects. We will never save enough money between January and September to bridge a period of a year.”

Irene nods. “OK,” she agrees. “If necessary, I will proceed on my own after half a year.”

Gaining Ground
Each February in the Netherlands a big motorcycling expo called Motorbeurs is held in Utrecht, where all motorcycle brands are able to show their new models and equipment. Four days of motorbikes, clothes, boots, helmets, spare parts, motorcycle tours, magazines, insurance options, and demonstrations. During this expo I am promoting my first novel, about a motorcycling trip in Bolivia, as Irene persuades me to visit some stands to look for sponsors. “We need motorcycles,” she says. “Come on, let’s go.”

The nerve-knot in my stomach finds its way up into my throat as we walk toward the first motorcycle display.

“Hello, sir,” I smile as my heart rate reaches a dangerous rhythm. “We are the Riding Reporters.” It’s the first time I use our name. We came up with it last week. “In September we are going to ride for six months through South America to report on underexposed projects, and we are still in search of motorcycles. We’re hoping to find a sponsor.”

The Riding Reporters“Oh, that sounds interesting!” he replies as he looks at us. “But the manager who decides things like that is not here today. Will you be at the expo tomorrow as well?” We plan on coming back the next day.

We approach KTM. Off-road brand par excellence. Serial winner of the Dakar Rally for 14 years in a row. I take a look at the Dukes. Small, manageable machines. As I dismount the 390 a man walks toward me. He is wearing a KTM fleece. “Can I help you?” he asks, interested. He has a slight Belgian accent.

My breath catches in my chest. I can’t think of one word to say. Irene gives me a push.

“I hope so!” I exclaim. “Irene is a photographer and I am a writer. We will be reporting on underexposed projects in South America over six months and we are in need of motorcycles.”

“Oh,” he answers, “and you were thinking of KTM? Which type of bike would you prefer?”

“Well, I am deliberating between the 390 and 690. The 390 is nice and small, but I wonder whether it is strong enough for the ride.” He nods. “How many miles are we talking about?”

“About 15,000.”

“Then the 690 will be the best for the job. Both of you need one?” I nod.

“And where would you like us to deliver them?” I look at Irene. “Lima?” she asks.

We sit down at a table and the gentleman gets us coffee and leaves his business card. It turns out that we are talking to the director of KTM Belgium and the Netherlands. When he returns, he asks if we are interested in other brands too.

“The BMW GS,” I reply. He asks about our plans in detail.

“KTM motorcycles, despite their off-road capabilities, are used mainly on asphalt.What you are going to do is exactly what KTM stands for and what we want to demonstrate!”

Half an hour later we walk away; KTM is sponsoring us with two brand new 690 Enduros.

Passing the Alpine stand I ask Irene, “Do you already use earplugs?” She shakes her head. In the wave of euphoria of sponsored motorcycles, I approach an Alpine staff member and share our story, explaining that we can do an ultimate day-after-day endurance and comfort test of their hearing protection over six months. We sit down with polyurethane foam in our ears, in exchange for a review.

Months of Preparation
During the coming months we realize just how strong we are as a business team. Our personalities complete each other perfectly. Matters I’m not good at, Irene excels in, and vice versa. There is so The Riding Reportersmuch to be settled. We need a lot of material and create a long list of potential sponsors who might be interested in an ultimate endurance test of their product in exchange for a review.

Slowly but surely we collect all the necessary equipment, much of it generously made available by companies that promise their product can withstand a motorcycle trip of six months under extreme conditions. We are both working double hours; Irene at her full-time job as a newspaper photographer and I while finishing my second novel.

In addition to writing reports while traveling, we have the desire not to arrive empty-handed. Therefore, a notary sponsors the start of our foundation, Projects of The Riding Reporters. Every cent donated will be spent on the projects. For friends who want to sponsor us individually, we open a separate bank account.

The first recommended service of the motorbikes we perform ourselves, and we disassemble the KTMs for crating so they can be transported to the port of Rotterdam. The day the bikes actually leave the harbor on their way to Chile, we open a bottle of champagne. We’re going!

The motorcycles need almost three weeks to cross the Atlantic, and I start looking for cheap (read: unfavorably long) flights. I find one with a stopover in New York. Since we still have to wait several weeks before the bikes arrive in Chile, we might as well stop for a trip to the Big Apple.

The Riding Reporters

A Leap Into the Dark
It’s still cold as I wake up with a cup of coffee on my balcony a week before our departure. Birds are fighting over a sandwich and I can hear a bus pass behind the houses with red roof tiles. Even so, I enjoy the tranquility. The solitude in which I have time for my thoughts.

The last time I left for half a year I didn’t say “goodbye” to the Netherlands. Now I find myself saying goodbye these last few days while I ride my bicycle through the city streets. The people, the houses, the canals, the green trees, the parks, the cyclists. The Netherlands. It is a surprise that I came to appreciate the country so much more after I was gone. My last week in South America in 2011, I found myself crying on the bus. No quiero volver, I whispered: I do not want to return home. It even became a scene in my second novel. I wasn’t homesick. I didn’t want to go back home. Even my thoughts were in Spanish.

Once I did return, I began to appreciate what I took for granted my entire life. The dunes. The walk to the sea. The green grass and trees, which I assumed were too little compared to all the wild nature in South America. My friends, my family. The coziness of the city. I breathe deeply and drink my last sip of coffee.

The Riding ReportersAt the health office I receive the last missing vaccination and get a prescription for 60 malaria pills. It is busy at the hospital pharmacy. The pharmacist hands over two plastic bags filled with medication boxes to the man in front of me. A moment later I pay $180 for my 60 pills. “It looks like you’re going to take a nice trip! And for quite some time. Have fun!” I nod. I think the bill is expensive. But how relevant is that when you are healthy?

The sun is shining. It is October 3 and the Dutch are enjoying the late summer temperatures. The terraces are full. I cycle through the streets of The Hague and get a feeling that I can’t really explain. Relief. A touch of shamefulness. I do not eat healthy. I do not work out. I smoke occasionally. Being healthy always seemed natural. I realize how privileged I am that I can enjoy life the way I do. That I can enjoy motorcycling. My family and friends. The leap in the dark that I am about to take. It’s scary, as the outcome is unknown. But I appreciate the fact that I can.

When I come home there is a card from Lily on the doormat. She is the mother of Micha, a close friend of mine who recently died of brain cancer and to whom I dedicated my second novel. “It is heartwarming,” she writes, “I feel so proud looking at the first page of your book with Micha’s name on it.” I think of all those people who are fighting to live. To whom a wish of “get well soon” is no longer suitable. And I’m grateful.

Text: Daniëlle Boelens
Photography: Irene Wouters


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