An (un)expected journey

When Nuno turned 55 his sons gave him a scooter.

It was a huge surprise – he was not expecting it. For many years he had not ridden any motorbikes but he had begun to show some interest of late and he was really excited about the gift. We were all celebrating his birthday at a fantastic terrace restaurant over the beach on a warm July evening when his sons asked him to come out because of some “emergency”. We all knew about it of course and followed him – and the scooter was there, shining and brand new, a wonderful surprise.

In Portugal when you have had a driving license for a car for more than three years you are allowed to drive scooters, so he immediately started driving it. In the summer he would take it to work and in August, during our holidays, we began taking it to the beach, as it was much easier due to the parking difficulties.

Some two years later he announced he was going to take the drivers’ license for a “real” motorbike and so he did. Then he exchanged his scooter (with total agreement of his sons, of course) for a 650 Suzuki V-Strom.

By then he was visiting motorbike forums on internet and exchanging impressions with the few bikers at the office. He began buying some equipment (winter and summer jackets, gloves, boots…) and going on rides with a friend of ours who is also keen on motorbikes and actually owns a few (among them a beautiful vintage yellow BMW). He also joined a group of bikers that periodically organise rides to different parts of the country and went on some two-wheeled adventures with them.

As for me, I only enjoy short rides, such as going to the beach (5- 10 minutes), going up Sintra hill and enjoying the smell of the forest (something you are not aware of in a car), and riding through the narrow streets of old Lisbon or up to the Indian restaurant by the door of the Castle of St. George on a warm summer evening. Long rides are not for me!

A few months ago he announced he would be going on his motorbike to visit his elder son and daughter in law, who are currently living in London! At first we all thought he was joking, but as time passed and he began to plan very seriously I was very worried. Mostly because he was going by himself! We tried to make him change his mind with things like “what will happen if you suddenly feel unwell?”, “what if you have a problem with the bike while on the road?” etc, etc, but to no avail, he was very determined and, meticulous as he is, we could see he was planning it to the last detail. It was no use trying to convince him not to go.

Even if I was not too comfortable at a certain point I understood this was something he really wanted to do – very much. Something he had been dreaming of – and I know how important it is, especially after a certain age when dreams become scarce, to fulfil the ones you still have.

And the dream came true. Last Tuesday – after weeks of preparation, from hotel bookings to a precise route drawn with the GPS, to taking clothes adequate for the four seasons – as this “summer weather” has been very uncertain – and food and drinks (mostly water), he set out at 6 am to do the first stage of 900 kilometres. On the WhatsApp chat family group we could see the first photo of the adventure, of his riding his bike, all equipped and ready to leave (taken by his younger son Zé who saw him off).

Then he kept sending us news whenever he stopped for a coffee. His elder son Francisco followed him with a special app he had installed in both their phones and kept updating the rest of the family chat group, which was great. I suppose we were all very anxious but we kept joking among ourselves. Then it was his son’s turn to tell us “80 kilometres from Valladolid” or “he is arriving in Irun”, and finally at 5 o’clock (after 11 long hours of ride), he announced “he has arrived at the hotel!”, and we all sighed in relief! We all got a photo of the bike’s counter showing it had made 994 kilometres on that day. And then he was finally on line with us, and he didn’t sound tired but very happy – he actually joked saying “the old man is in great shape! And now, what I need is a shower!”.

The following morning – Wednesday – again he was up very early, this time at 7. His sister was the first to enter the chat and wish him a good journey. And again we followed his route through Francisco: “He is in Bordeaux now” or “he has stopped, he’s drinking water and speaking Portuguese” (he had met a Portuguese immigrant in France) and we continued to follow this epic adventure as Francisco kept sending us his location through the maps. The anxiety seemed easier to bear as we got news from his whereabouts.

Once again we felt very relieved when he got to his stop – only 400 kilometres from his final destiny! We talked to him and again we felt that exhilaration, that sensation that he was enjoying every moment of his adventure.

And yesterday morning for the final stage. As he only had the Channel train in the early afternoon he went for a leisure ride along the coast of Normandy. On the maps we saw him approach the coast and we continued “chatting” excitedly – we even set up a celebration family dinner for his return, so that we may hear his story with all the details!

A new message from Francisco saying “He’s 30 minutes away from Calais” put us “back on the road” and now we were all anticipating the father and son reunion on his arrival – and making jokes about it! And suddenly we got a message from Nuno: “I’m already singing ‘God Save the Queen’,” and we were so glad that he was already in England.

And suddenly, there is a photo, taken by his daughter- in-law who was working from home. He was standing near the motorbike, taking off his helmet, and his smile…he looked triumphant, happy, “I’ve made it” all over his face. And we all felt happy, more than happy, relieved that this incredible adventure had ended so well. At least, the first part…as in a few days he will be coming back to Portugal!

I can imagine the happy reunion when his son got home and found the motorbike at the door and his indomitable Dad inside, sitting on the couch and smiling his broad smile at him. I can imagine what a hug it must have been, what an emotion…after all, not every son has his Dad get on a motorbike and cross half of Europe to visit him!

To all of us who warned him not to do it, who said it would be dangerous (at least I know I said it), that he was out of his mind to do it all by himself, Nuno has proved that with an indomitable will and meticulous organisation it could be done – more: it could be highly enjoyable. It is obvious he has enjoyed every minute of the ride. And he has fulfilled his long-time dream of going on a long motorbike ride like this one. And I can only admire his determination.

I think this story is worth being told. At 60, Nuno has done something that many younger people would not even dare try! He is fit, and this is something he really loves, but more than being fit and organised, an adventure like this takes a very young spirit and that Nuno has proved to us all he has. Along with that slight hint of madness that has made him dare take this unexpected journey. Or, maybe, not as unexpected as it might seem. It has been in his dreams for a long time and, knowing Nuno as I do, one should expect him to go forward with it. As he is a very determined man. And a remarkable one, too.

Ah…and, last but not least, a passionate sexagenarian motorbiker.