She Is Motorbiking Around The World!
By Vanessa Papas: They say life is all about the journey, not the destination. From the plains of beautiful desolate Mongolia to the broken bridges on the Baikal-Amur Mainline (BAM) road in Siberia, Russia, and the long stretches of nothingness in Kazakhstan, Lorraine Spence lived her dream of seeing the world motorbiking.
A magnet when it comes to adventure, Lorraine, now aged 49, completed the trip of a lifetime, riding for six months and covering a distance of over 33,000 kilometres come rain or shine. Meeting new people, learning new cultures and sparking great curiosity from passers-by she spent half of her time riding with three different groups of adventure motorcyclists on various legs of her journey, and the other half riding completely solo and unsupported on a Suzuki DRZ 400, fondly nicknamed Dizzy. When Dizzy’s heart finally gave up (she got a hole in the radiator and overheated, busting the engine), Lorraine hopped onboard a Suzuki DR650 SE she named Dozer.
Lorraine became the second woman in the world to ride the western half of the BAM Road – an old railway that’s famed for being one of the most physically and mentally toughest adventure motorbike routes on the planet. The 4.300 km BAM Road has scared (and scarred) many a brave man and machine. Mostly gravel, the road traversing Eastern Siberia and the Russian Far East is marred with collapsed and rickety old bridges, bogs, dangerous waist-high river crossings and cutting potholes, not to mention extreme weather conditions. Always one to go against the grain and refuse to conform, Lorraine rode the Vitim Bridge, one of the most notorious bridges along the BAM. There are only a few people who had ridden the western half, between Bratsk and Tynda, and only two women – Lorraine and a local Russian lady.
Born and bred in South Africa, Lorraine learnt to ride road bikes growing up but stopped when she went to University. 20 years later, after reading UK adventurer and author, Lois Pryce’s ‘Lois On The Loose’ (Pryce took a solo trip from Alaska to Ushuaia on her Yamaha) Lorraine got itchy feet and decided it was time to get back on a bike. She took a few off-road bike and adventure courses, read lots of books, researched several routes around the world and spoke to other biking enthusiasts to brush up on her saddling skills before leaving for her trans- continent trip.
“I’ve always loved travelling. I had my bike licence but hadn’t ridden for almost 22 years,” says Lorraine. “I started small and did my first trip just to see what it was like and test my equipment – two-weeks riding from Switzerland to Germany. Then I decided I was ready to take on the world and went from Zurich to Singapore via Siberia, covering 33 000 km on my bike in six months. I broke up the journey, riding some parts in groups, and others solo. One of the major highlights of my journey was riding the BAM road. It’s really off-road stuff with very difficult terrain. You sometimes have to get up onto the train tracks and ride along them because you can’t cross all the rivers on a bike. It took nine days to do the BAM and it poured almost every day. I was wet 24/7 and got foot-rot as a result but I kept on riding. Never once did I ever think of turning around and coming back home. I love being challenged. I love the feeling of total freedom – of being alive. The hard times are challenging but the good times are like a drug. You have this euphoric feeling that you just can’t explain.”
Lorraine explains she found Siberia to be a real treasure trove for travellers. “It’s one of the most remarkably beautiful places in the world with tall pine trees, rugged mountains and clear lakes,” she says. “It’s an enigmatic and mysterious place and there’s no better way to see the country’s rich nature wonders – up-close-and-personal – than on a bike.”
During her trip, Lorraine says she learnt so much about herself she never knew before. “I’ve always been radically independent but I learnt that sometimes you need to put your trust in others even stranger – and that was a major lesson I learnt when my bike broke down in Russia. A young couple riding a Suzuki GSX found me and for two days they towed me on my motorbike to Irkutsk near Lake Baikal. I came off so many times we had to go really slowly. They took me to a Russian Orthodox priest who rides a Harley Davidson. I stayed with him and his family for 10 days while we tried to get my bike fixed.”
Because Lorraine had wanted to do the BAM road she only had a 10-day transit visa from Mongolia to get out of Russia but landed up staying for 35 days. When she realised that her bike couldn’t be fixed she went to Immigration who opened a file, took fingerprints and promptly ordered Lorraine to Court on charges of overstaying her visa. The judge fined Lorraine 2000 Russian Roubles only $33 but insisted she leave the country within five days, banning her from returning to Russia for the next five years.
Crossing Asia not being enough Lorraine returned home, only to save up and make plans to get back on a bike – this time a Kawasaki KLR650 (aka Gadget) – for yet another adventure. Last year her and Gadget travelled 40200 km across 22 countries including Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Brazil, French Guiana, Suriname and Guyana and seven states in America (California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee). Everyone warned Lorraine that Brazil was dangerous but she travelled from the north to the south of Brazil, staying in the homes of complete strangers from policemen, to bike gangs, to magistrates and even a retired French Foreign Legion Captain without any problems!
“I’ve still got a few things left on my bucket list,” laughs Lorraine, who has no intention of slowing down, although she has since tied the knot. “I want to travel to 100 countries before I die. So far the headcount sits at 92. My next goal is to ride through Scandinavia with my husband doing a short month-long trip. My long-term goal is to ride through the whole of Africa within the next five years.”
For Lorraine, the journey will never be over. “I’ve always believed it’s not about where you go, it’s about the memories you make, the experiences you have and the people you encounter along the way. It’s about living life on your own terms and only really stopping for a short rest.”