It's Time: A RTW Story About Moving Forwards
Three years after losing her husband in a motorcycle crash, Caroline Lunnon set off to ride round the world because it was the scariest thing she could think of – a trip that would take her 50,000 miles and 15 months to complete. Here’s a beautiful story from her journey about moving forwards…
A few minutes ago I realised that I am moving my wedding ring back and forth between my left and right ring fingers again. This has become a jig that the ring dances regularly.
Left to right.
My new friends are discussing plans for tomorrow’s ride. I have a cold Leo beer on the table in front of me and a stomach full of spicy Thai noodles.
Right to left.
For the past few months, I have been riding in the hot and humid tropical climates of South East Asia. My hands are constantly wet, clammy with sweat under riding gloves in the heat, or from being drenched by the warm monsoon rains. The gold band feels harder and bigger between my gloved finger and the hand grips of my motorcycle, making me very aware that I am wearing it.
Left to right … Clink … damn!
Dragons and icy beer
After a long day’s ride, we parked our motorcycles at the hotel and it feels good to stretch my legs. I look at my watch. Beer o’clock is late today. We pick our way down a busy road in the centre of Nan and though I’m eager to find refreshment, the glow of the Wat Hua Wiang Tai temple compels me to stop. The contrast of black stormy sky against the ornate swirls of red and gold decoration on the facade creates an ominous scene. A pair of dragon statues stand guard at the entrance, their tails wrapped protectively around the temple. I stare for a minute after taking a photo, expecting lightning to crack through the sky and strike one of the horned dragons that reach out like fingers from the temple’s roof.
As I catch the others up, I spot a young Thai lady sweeping the floor of what looks like a bar. A welcome sign of life in the otherwise dark row of buildings. Yes, there’s a fridge full of drink bottles. Sammy and I claim a scruffy wooden table at the open front of the bar. Kevin and Ben perch on rickety stools by the roadside.
The waitress brings four big bottles of Leo beer and four glasses of ice. Pouring beer over the ice in my glass, I recall being horrified the first time I saw Sammy do this.
Sammy and I first met when I whizzed through Thailand at the start of October, about ten weeks ago, introduced through a phenomenal international network of motorcycling women. In October I was three months into my trip and focused completely on my mission to ride my motorcycle around the world. Since first meeting Sammy, I have looped around Malaysia twice and spent a month in Sumatra. Now, I want to slow down and smell the coffee, as the saying goes, and I really do like the coffee around here. So if that means watering the beer down with ice to keep it cold, then so be it.
Cracks in the floor…
I look down at my hands and then the wooden floor of the bar. Yes, I have dropped my wedding ring. I quietly think through my next move because I don’t want to alert the others and make a fuss. I notice the uneven floorboards between my feet, big gaps between them, and can hear my heart pounding.
With as much composure as I can muster, I bend down to look under the table. I don’t see the ring immediately but do see what might as well be canyons between the boards. Hope that I will spot a sparkle of gold fades.
I knew I shouldn’t have brought it with me.
I sit back up straight. “What’s up buddy?” asks Sammy.
It takes a few seconds for words to bypass the lump in my throat. She is going to understand the gravity of this.
“I’ve dropped my wedding ring.”
Sammy is up in a shot. She knows that three and a half years ago I was widowed. That my husband Pete died in a motorcycle accident on our first ride together.
“Guys, Caz has dropped her wedding ring. Help us look.”
I move my stool to get a better look under the table and the guys do the same. Sammy pokes around in the gap where the wooden floor meets the broken pavement. Then we move the table.
Round the world
Wearing the ring had made me feel proud, knowing that it was a symbol of how much our marriage meant to me. For over a year after Pete died the ring stayed on the same finger that he had put it on. My feelings and commitments to him hadn’t changed because he wasn’t around.
During the second year I began to understand that I wasn’t married anymore. Marriage is two-way, mine is only memory. I started questioning whether I should still be wearing a wedding ring, and the importance of till-death-do-us-part in our vows became more apparent. In every marriage it is almost certain that one spouse will die before the other. The spouse that is left has to carry on living without the other. Our vows acknowledge this even if we don’t when we make them.
I wasn’t ready to completely stop wearing the ring, but one day I boldly moved it to my right hand. It felt like a step forward. It was acknowledgment that I wasn’t married anymore, but still made the statement: “I am a widow and the love I feel for Pete is just the same as when we were married.”
In the third year I started to win the battle to get my riding mojo back. On the recommendation of new riding friends, I read the story of Elspeth Beard, the first British woman to ride a motorbike around the world. Shortly afterwards I met her at the Ace Cafe in London and was overwhelmingly inspired. Suddenly I knew what I had to do. I would ride my motorbike around the world. This would be an incredible way to work out who I now was. It would be an extreme challenge and the ultimate tribute to Pete. Around the same time as I made that huge decision, I took my wedding ring off and put it in a safe place at home.
The problem when I decided to travel was that, although people kept telling me a female solo traveller should wear a wedding ring, this journey was about me moving forwards not backwards. It had been a big step to take the ring off.
One after another female traveller I heard talk about their travels related shocking stories of unwanted male attention on the road and I conceded that wearing the ring sounded sensible. I heard too that a wedding ring, along with suitably timed tears, can help if you get stuck on the opposite side of the border to your pretend husband.
So I reluctantly put the gold band back on my finger and told myself that it was good, that it was confirmation that Pete was with me in spirit for this trip.
Now in year four, and five months into my trip, the ring has been annoying me, as it’s the first thing people look for when we meet on the road.
“Where is your husband?”
My bomb of an answer tends to stop a conversation short. If I try to tell the long story, I risk the shaky voice and trembling lip that I haven’t learnt to contain yet. So I don’t explain anymore.
You would have thought I’d have worked out a better way of dealing with it now, but no, the watery feeling in my stomach still comes, along with the guilt for not knowing what to do with the sympathy that always follows if I do tell a stranger my story.
The ring is only on my finger only because I haven’t thought of a safe enough place to stash it on my motorcycle.
Make it count
As I emerge from under the table a young Thai couple putters by on a bright red scooter. Their colourful silk clothing flows gracefully behind them. They came from the direction of the temple I passed earlier. I think of the giant Buddha statue that I know will be inside. The Buddha teaches that nothing lasts forever, change is inevitable. This has resonated with me recently, particularly the inevitability of death and needing to make every day count. I have been learning to embrace change. I remember reading that Buddhists are encouraged not to hold onto material things, because attaching permanence to objects leads to suffering.
We haven’t found my ring.
And I’m ok.
In fact, I’m better than ok. Is this relief?
“Don’t worry guys. It’s alright, you can stop looking. We aren’t going to find it.”
I don’t want you to find it.
I look at my watch.
There’s time for another round of drinks.
Same same but different
I was supposed to be in Australia by now, but a few weeks ago I was near Kuala Lumpur with Christmas looming, feeling glum about flying my motorcycle and myself over there. I even contemplated ending my trip early and going home to the UK, which really didn’t make sense. After all I am living the dream aren’t I?
I chanced upon a blog post about travellers’ fatigue, that explained how when we travel it is common to get exhausted by being on constant alert. I realised I hadn’t had a break for months now, which was why the thought of moving on to a new continent with new experiences was completely overwhelming to me.
I recalled Sammy’s words as I left Chiang Mai before. “You can come and stay with me anytime,” she had said sincerely.
I am starting to trust that people mean it when they say things like that, and it’s a game-changer. I hoped that all I needed was a bit of Thai ‘same same but different’ for a while. Some familiarity. I reached out to Sammy.
To bring my motorcycle back into Thailand would have meant paying for expensive guides and permits again. So when the Malaysian family that hosted me near Kuala Lumpur offered the loan of a motorcycle I snapped up their offer. “Go and explore South East Asia for as long as you like” they told me, handing over the papers for the bike. That is how I got here.
We finish our drinks and stand up to leave, but Sammy hesitates and looks at me.
“Are you sure you’re alright?” she asks. “We can rip the floorboards up.”
I have no doubt that Sammy is serious. She turns towards the bar to get help, and a crowbar I imagine.
“No, honestly I’m fine,” I answer, steering her towards the door.
“I can walk away,” I add.
I need to walk away. Now.
She looks at me dubiously.
“I won’t regret it tomorrow. I promise.”
The next morning, sat on my own at the breakfast table in the hotel, I look through the photographs from yesterday. My favourite is the temple.
A perfect foreshadowing of what happened last night.
Outside the window I notice Kevin loading his bike.
I look at my watch.
Mmmm. That can’t be the right time.
I pick up my phone again. The screen lights up, telling me it is just after eight o’clock. The hands of my watch say it’s after nine.
It must have stopped last night. When I dropped the ring? No way.
I look at the watch again. It reminds me of a life when I had schedules to keep.
Why am I even still wearing a watch?
I undo the thin black plastic strap, getting ready to walk away and leave it on the breakfast table.
Will it break the magic if somebody gives it back when I check-out of the hotel?
I drop the watch into the waste bin when I am sure there is no-one looking. There is a spring in my step and a grin on my face as I walk away from it.
It’s time I let more things go. Keep moving forwards.
About the author
Caroline Lunnon is a British motorcyclist, who was forever changed by surviving the motorcycle accident that widowed her. Three years later she set off to ride around the world by motorcycle and she rode 50,000 miles in 15 months. She is now based in Central France, where the adventures and journey continue in very unexpected ways, including as the president of the Women’s International Motorcycling Association (WIMA) division in Great Britain www.wimagb.co.uk.
You can follow Caroline’s adventures here:
- Countries: 23
- Miles: 50,500
- Time: 15 months
- Collisions: 1 (t-boned by a tuk-tuk in China)
- Longest day: 652 miles
- Temps: 48C highest and -2C lowest
- Fuel: 3,410 litres
- Total cost: Can’t bring myself to add it up yet!
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