I’m a great believer in preparing yourself for whatever challenge you set yourself but there is also a big part of me that just want to have a go at something on the spur of the moment and just see how things pan out.
Take riding motorcycles off road. I am constantly trying to look for new tracks and trails within an easy riding distance of where I live or if I’m en route to somewhere then I’ll try to find something on the way. I’ll scour ordnance survey maps and google earth images to get a feel for where I’d like to go. I’ll pay attention to the topography…the contour lines, route near bodies of water or through forestry. However at some point, it is just a case of getting on the bike at finding out as you go.
Of course I’m not saying that you should abandon any kind of preparation, but there might be a tendency to over think things at times, especially when you’re still riding in the first world theatres. If you’re riding out into the desert or some remote country that the indigenous people have never seen a westerner before, then of course you should do your bit of research beforehand and also have a back up plan or two just in case things go wrong…also to let people know your route, estimated arrival time and search and rescue just in case you might need it.
However, hand on heart…how many of you had ever needed or will ever need to prepare so seriously? Just as most people who drive 4x4s in this country, never leave the tarmac…so it is the same for most bikers who buy into the whole adventure riding thing too. They have all of the equipment, clothing and Boorman attitude but refrain from getting their bike anywhere near the dirt tracks…let alone doing some serious off road riding.
Virtually every off road riding trip you’ll need one vital thing…common sense! Yes, the best tool that you can use is your brain. Think logically about your trip and what you would like to achieve and ride within your limits. Plot your route on the paper maps or in whatever type of GPS that you use…then go ride it.
I always remind myself whenever I’m out riding that the priorities for me are to enjoy the ride and get to wherever I want to in one piece. If at any stage one or both priorities are put in jeopardy, then I simply stop…take stock or turn around if I need to.
So, right now I’m in the middle of choosing new routes for the autumn and also some for the winter months. I’ve checked the maps and satellite images but ultimately none of the routes are set in stone. They have all been pencilled in…a soft booking if you will, fully knowing that I may change my mind before or during the ride…or have my mind changed for me.
That’s what a ride plan should be. It needs to be a framework of possibilities and opportunities to go and explore the route that you’ve chosen but it should never be a race to the end of the line at all costs. It is so easy to get caught up in the notion that you must reach the destination and you must stick to the route you have planned for…but it really depends whether or not you have factored in some alternatives along the route.
It’s also easy to get caught out and think that you can overcome a technical challenge whereby you’ve overestimated your ability or underestimated the conditions. Of course this is a sliding scale too. The more off road riding you do, the better you’ll become and you’ll be able to achieve more…but there is always the risk that you just push it too far.
Off road riding is as much about pre planning as it is about doing vigilant dynamic risk assessments. You need to be constantly assessing your environment and yourself too and resist that ‘carry on regardless’ trait that we can all demonstrate once in a while.
Of course, I’m not saying that you should talk yourself out of every sticky situation or even turn back as soon as you’re squeezing your comfort zone, but suffice to say that try not to charge ahead without first having a good idea of what you’re getting into and crucially can you get out of.
For instance, the other day I was out riding in the forest hills near where I live. Many of the trails had become obstructed by fallen branches or felled trees, so my routing options started to become limited. This was not what I had planned for but wanted to explore as much of the forest as I could, so I decided to investigate a trail that looked quite promising.
Suffice to say I wish I hadn’t, but at all stages I knew that I could grab the bike by the arse and lift it out of trouble or indeed turn it around and double back. Actually, that’s what I ended up doing but perhaps I shouldn’t have gone so far either. I was foolishly determined to get to the edge of the forest but was ignoring the fact that the conditions were deteriorating fast. In the end, I took a few minutes to get off the bike and go walk up ahead to see what the rest of the trail looked like.
That walk gave me all the information I needed and the decision to turn around was quite an easy one too. I cannot recommend enough, just getting off the bike every now and again to give yourself some breathing space, calm everything down and simple go check out the route ahead on foot and determine if it can be ridden or not. Can you pick the best, easiest and safest route possibly? Is there anything that can potentially ruin your day? Is there another pinch point up ahead that you may not be able to turn around at?
Off road riding for me, is all about riding to, through and seeing something new. It’s about the experience, the challenge and the sense of achievement but it’s also about doing something that makes you feel happy, alive and full of adventure too. It’s the explorers spirit which I yearn for…and at the heart of that spirit is to venture into the unknown. So whilst pre planning is a crucial element before any off road ride, it’s the decisions you make along the way that truly determine what success you will have in whatever way you gauge that success to be.