Lifestyle People November 9, 2017

Globe Rider

“I was always wandering off as a child and had to be put in reins,” says British biker, writer and adventurer Jacqui Furneaux. “My brother and I were allowed to wander freely in the woodland and beaches in our home-town in Somerset. I was lucky to have parents who never said things like, ‘Be careful, you’ll hurt yourself if you fall’. I hear that all the time now and it makes me sad for the children whose freedom is being curtailed by well-meaning parents who are making them afraid to push boundaries.”


 

Jacqui certainly knows a thing or two about pushing boundaries having spent seven years circumnavigating the globe by motorcycle, something, she adds, that was partly inspired by her elderly mother who told her, “Do my travelling for me.”

 

“She blamed Hitler for her having to cancel a trip to Paris in 1939 as if that was his worst crime,” says Jacqui. “My daughters tell me that they always thought I was slightly mad but were not too surprised, and my late father had always encouraged me to, ‘Travel, my dear’.” A trained nurse, Jacqui was a mother and wife from the age of 24. “We had family holidays, and we always thought that when we retired and our daughters had left home, my husband and I would travel more extensively together,” she says. “However, our marriage came to an end and I found myself travelling alone.”

 

In 1998, after “48 years of fitting round everyone else’s requirements” Jacqui was “free to do as I pleased”, but admits it was tough going at first: “I also think my experiences as a community nurse helped me have the right attitude for travelling.” After nine months backpacking around Asia, Jacqui met a Dutchman in India riding a Royal Enfield motorcycle. “I already had my motorcycle licence and was quite taken with this way of getting around,” she says. “We spent some time together but then went our different ways as is the way of travellers.”

 

 

After a year backpacking she returned to the UK to live with her mother and figure out what to do next. The Dutchman “turned up on the doorstep one day” and asked Jacqui if she’d consider returning to India to buy her own Royal Enfield and travel with him: “He was much younger than I was, very handsome and lots of fun. I thought about it for a few minutes and said, ‘Yes!’” The purchase coincided with Jacqui’s 50th birthday. “For the first year or so, I was happy to go where my Dutch boyfriend wanted to go,” she says. “When we parted in Malaysia, I saw on my mini atlas that Australia, which I had always wanted to see, was close. If I travelled through Indonesia and East Timor, I’d be there. By that time, I seemed to be going eastwards so I just kept going.”

 

Jacqui met a skipper of catamaran who was heading for Australia and needed crew. “The voyage was beset with disaster from picking up castaways floating in the Strait of Malacca, to pirates stealing our food and fuel to storms and disagreements,” she reveals. “I was so frightened I slept with a knife under my pillow and never had my back to him as he threatened to cut me up into little pieces and throw me overboard. Then I did a similar thing with another sailor going from Colombia to Panama!”

 

But the motorcyclist stresses that the joyful experiences far outweighed the terrifying ones. “I learned to trust my instincts and I learned to trust others,” she says. “Most people are kind, generous and keen to be helpful. I learned not to be afraid of this wonderful world. We are often told only the bad things which is why I have written my book, to show people that things work out pretty well if you make yourself vulnerable sometimes and approach things without fear.”

 

 

Cambodia had one of the most significant impacts on the intrepid biker. Due its violent history, Jacqui expected the citizens to be “weary and downtrodden”, but she “found them openly cheerful and ready to start again — it is a Buddhist country and I learned from them to not dwell on the past”. Jacqui also fell in love with New Zealand where she fell in love with a dairy farmer and worked for a while as a community hospice nurse in Rotorua: “But it was a different end of the life-span to what I was used to as a health visitor looking after young families and wasn’t for me. Also, the relationship wasn’t working so I packed up and went to South America.” I suggest that she must now view her trusty bike almost as a friend or guardian. “Oh yes! It is my only means of transport and I love it now more than ever. I ride it all over the UK and look at it fondly and incredulously. Is this the same bike I rode between volcanoes in Guatemala? I couldn’t part with it now.”

 

Her bike aside, Jacqui tells me her most vital possessions were a toolkit, duct tape, and a sarong (“that has multiple uses — a curtain, a pillowcase, a towel, clothing!”), and that the thing she most missed were her daughters. She recently rode to the south of France and will likely explore Ireland next. The joy she discovered through travelling she still harbours, along with her minimalist life philosophy — she even lived on a boat for three years upon her return to the UK. “Riding my motorbike always made me smile and still does,” Jacqui says. “Seven years on the road taught me to be grateful for everything I have.”

 

Words: Jamie Christian Desplaces

Jacqui’s book, Hit the Road, Jac! is available from Amazon.

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