A ROAD TO CONQUERING FEAR & ANXIETY
Freelance Writer, Travel Blogger @Gypsyhearttravels + Yamaha YS125 rider
Rhiannon Robertson is a freelance writer and a travel blogger who has recently started her journey into the world of motorcycles and adventure while conquering one fear at a time.
This is Rhiannon’s Bike Journey:
A Road To Conquering Fear & Anxiety
What first sparked my interest in bikes? I honestly couldn’t pinpoint one definitive moment, but I clearly remember sitting at a red light in my dad’s van when I was a kid, when a bike pulled up, and I remember staring at it wistfully.
“Bikes are so cool, I wish I could drive one.” I sighed
My Dad stared at me matter of factly and said plain and simple “Well, why can’t you?”
I laughed it off with “I’m too short, I wouldn’t even be able to touch the floor!”
“You can get bikes in all shapes and size Rhi, even for short stuff like you!” he laughed, and then we were away.
Little did I know back then, that through a series of contributing events, I would later develop a deeply felt fear and anxiety when it came to driving. I gave up my driving lessons in a flurry of tears, and it was a sore subject of embarrassment for me. The thing is though, it genuinely made me feel sick, it made me want to cry, and it made this uncontrollable overwhelming feeling of panic rise up in my chest. I accepted that it was probably something that I wouldn’t be able to do, and put it to the back of my mind.
Fast forward to my mid-twenties:
Long story short, I’ve dumped my arsehole boyfriend, I’ve quit my job, and I’ve bought a one-way ticket out of this dump.
I went backpacking across Southeast Asia for a year, and this was a pivotal time for me. I was alone, and well and truly had to put my big girl pants on if I wanted to experience my journey to the fullest and reach my personal potential. Bikes are a way of life in Asia, and although in some of the big cities you can get motorbike taxis where you simply hop on the back, in more rural areas, they don’t exist. I was faced with a daunting realisation, that if I wanted to explore off-the-beaten-path places like I so desperately wanted, I was going to need to ride a bike. There was no other way. But the thought of driving anything made me want to vomit and cry. It may seem absolutely ridiculous to some people, but it was a very real fear for me that affected my life.
“Motorbikes are a way of life in Asia, and you can even get motorbike taxis.”
So eventually, I was staying with an old friend in Thailand, and she offered to teach me how to ride a scooter. After just a few minutes I was flying up and down the road, wondering what the hell I’d ever been scared of. But the funny thing is about anxiety, it always seems to change shape. As soon as I had seemingly conquered my fear of driving, it was then that it seemed to manifest itself as driving somewhere I didn’t know or being lost. I was at constant war with myself, but the freedom it gave me, and the options it opened up far outweighed the anxiety that I felt and kept me pressing forward.
A few months later, I ended up driving across Vietnam with a friend, some 1757 kilometres (1092 miles) along coastal routes, mountain roads and deserted highways. Stopping in multiple towns and cities en route for a few days to explore.
Despite the hiccups along the way, it was one of the best experiences of my life. I loved the feeling of being on a bike, how intuitive it was compared to a car, and the places that we could go to. Catching a glimpse of everyday life as we drove through miles and miles of paddy fields and bright
We drove along the Hai Van pass that was featured in a series of Top Gear, and even drove our bikes around an old abandoned water theme park!
Driving the Hai Van pass as featured in Top Gear
Exploring an abandoned water theme park in Vietnam
An adventure in Vietnam
I became a bit of an old hand at driving scooters in Asia, and got used to the absolutely crazy Vietnamese traffic that once scared me to death. I remember thinking, if I can do it here, then I can do it at home, or anywhere. I desperately wanted to learn to drive a manual bike and eventually move up to a bigger engine.
Crazy Vietnamese traffic, where you can get exhaust burns on your leg from someone else’s bike!
So when I came home, I booked myself in for a CBT (Compulsory Bike Training) course which would allow me to drive a 125cc bike with L plates until I got my test done. I hated the CBT and felt overwhelmed as the instructor spouted jargon at me that I didn’t understand, I felt like a complete idiot and had to bite back tears of frustration.
I ended up doing my CBT on an automatic bike but a weird (and slightly worrying if i’m honest) loophole meant that I could still legally go and buy a manual bike. I discussed it with my dad, who had motorbikes when he was younger, and he told me to go for it, and he’d teach me himself. So that’s exactly what I did, I ordered my first manual bike – a Yamaha YS 125cc (not my dream bike but hey, don’t underestimate the appeal of 0% finance) and got it delivered to the house. My dad and my brother stood outside on the road with me and showed me what to do, and when put into simpler terms it made so much more sense that what the instructor had been saying.
I practiced up and down and round and round until I felt that I could muddle my way to work. The thing that you never feel prepared for as a learner on a bike though, is that there is no one to help you when you mess up. When you learn in a car, you’ve got an instructor right there beside you, to reassure you, and to talk you through things. When you’re on a bike by yourself, and you stall in front of loads of people, not only is it horrendously embarrassing, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed and panicked.
Due to the anxiety I had, on several occasions if something went wrong, I would have to pull over before I had a panic attack. I felt like giving in more than once, and went home in tears for my dad to try and console me.
Driving on the roads in the UK is actually far more scary than in Asia, because there are so many motorists that don’t look for bikes. I quickly learnt, after a very close call with a guy pulling out in front of me and stopping in the middle of the road, that as a biker, you have to look EVERYWHERE and anticipate for people to not see you and do something stupid.Coming out on the other side now, where I am (mostly) a confidant bike driver, I’m now competent, and ready to take it to the next level. My dream is to pass my test, get a bigger bike, and hit the road on an epic adventure!
In terms of how I’m perceived as a female biker, most people think it’s extremely cool, and lots of people find it very admirable. A few people say I’m crazy and that I’ll die in a bike accident, but people also said I was crazy for backpacking alone. Mostly, it’s my own embarrassment that holds me back, because other bikers are always keen to talk to me, but I definitely feel intimidated when I’m out on my tiny Yamaha, with my mortifying L plates, and there are “real bikers” on awesome bikes roaring ahead of me. However, having said that, a very good friend has always said to me “Never compare your chapter 1 to someone else’s chapter 20”, and that’s very true. I have to remind myself that I’m a beginner and that everyone has to start somewhere.
One thing that does really piss me off with the perception of female bikers though, is how they are constantly sexualised on social media. I’ve lost count of the amount of biker chick groups I’ve seen on Instagram for example, where all the photos are of girls in tiny hot pants or thongs sitting on bikes! As I grow on my biking journey, I want to be a part of a community that changes this perception and where we are taken seriously!
All Photos and text courtesy of Rhiannon Robertson of The Gypsy Heart Travels
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Writer, Travel Blogger
Rhiannon is a professional freelance writer and travel blogger, just starting out on her bike journey. The ultimate goal is to completely conquer her anxiety, pass her test, get her full license and go on some truly epic road trips on some awesome bikes and explore the world on two wheels.
You can follow her adventures and progress on her blog The Gypsy Heart Travels or follow her on Instagram @Gypsyhearttravels
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