Can riding the Trans Euro Trail be a perfect holiday?
Yes, says Jenna Stimpson, a newly minted but fearless rider from the UK. Jenna and her partner Mark have been enjoying the TET UK, Spain, and Andorra – and she says it left them both wanting for more.
Jenna, where do you currently ride and how did it all begin?
I live and work in Reading with my partner Mark. When not working we spend our time enjoying the fun side of life, which up until getting my bike license consisted of mainly mountain biking and kayaking with our two dogs and jetting off for weekends to explore European cities.
This all changed in September 2016 when I flew out to South Africa to meet Mark at the end of a three-week trip where he travelled across South Africa and Namibia solo on a motorbike! During my time there, I had to ride as a pillion. The whole time, I couldn’t help thinking time how much cooler and more fun it would be if I was riding my own bike. And just like that, the idea on getting my full bike license was born!
I finally got my endorsement last year and, after some off-road training in Wales, Mark and I wanted to try riding the Trans Euro Trail.
Which parts of the TET have you done so far and why?
So far, we’ve done a small part of the TET UK as we both thought this would be a great way to train for a longer TET trip planned for further afield. Our seven-day trip covered some of the Spanish TET and all of the Andorra TET. We chose these sections for a couple of reasons. Firstly, both me and Mark had never been to a landlocked country so thought this was the perfect route to tick off the “need to do list”. Secondly, the views and scenery we knew we would encounter travelling across the Pyrenees seemed without question one of the most amazing places to go, and it was not too far to travel – only a one-hour flight from Gatwick to Toulouse!
And lastly, on a practical level, we were able to get our Honda 250 CRF and Husqvarna 701 delivered via lorry to a hotel in Toulouse, whilst we flew there from Gatwick a day later to arrive to our bikes waiting for us to go! It was easy, hassle-free, and the least time consuming way of getting to where we wanted to be with our bikes in tow.
What where some of the highlights riding the Trans Euro Trail?
The biggest highlight of iding the Trans Euro Trail for me was actually being able to ride it! Having only gained my full license in Summer 2017 and in total done only five full days of off road riding, to be on the TET in the Pyrenees under a year later, riding my own bike, just me and Mark was just a bizarre, incredible feeling.
With every day, coming across a new hurdle or a moment where I thought “Oh my god I can’t do this” but then actually doing it, I could feel my confidence increasing. And I know everyone says it, but honestly, if I managed it – any woman could! Although I wouldn’t have been able to do any of it without the ‘safety net’ feeling of Mark, a way more experienced and confident rider than me, being there to support and help me through any issues I encountered.
Other highlights of riding the Trans Euro Trail included riding for six hours up a mountain over 2,300m above sea level, only to get stuck in the snow and have to dig our bikes out! And of course, the sense of achievement when arriving at the campsite every evening, getting your gear off, cooking on a single flame and enjoying the simple part of life.
What about riding the Trans Euro Trail do you like most?
The best part of the TET for me was that feeling of being somewhere alone in the wilderness, feeling insignificant to your surroundings – mountains and cascading rivers… Having a goal in mind of where you want to get to by the end of the day and the trip, the sense of achievement looking at your GPS at the end of the day at the ground you have covered. And also, being a woman, the feeling of doing something that most women wouldn’t dream of doing, is rather liberating!
You mentioned riding the Trans Euro Trail has increased your confidence. What else do you feel helps women riders to go out there and explore?
For me, feeling more confident started with finding the right bike. It took ages trying many different motorcycles in order to find one which I felt most at ease with, most comfortable riding. Being a girl, I was searching for the smallest, lightest motorbike which would still be a great TET contender.
I finally decided on the Honda 250 CRF. It is not light enough and is still hugely difficult to pick up when dropped, but it is lighter than most of the “adventure” bikes you see in the media or motorbike shows, and is more reliable and easier to maintain, than something like a KTM Freeride 350 would be. Unfortunately, the small/mid-size ADV bike sector is rubbish right now – and will remain that way while the big brands can sell £15k bikes that weigh more than a small car to people that think they are the perfect vehicle to off road on!
Being able to touch the ground was also a huge must for me to feel confident and comfortable on my bike. The ability to dab a foot down when tackling parts of the TET where I did not feel so confident was a very reassuring feeling. As soon as my Honda arrived, we fitted a lower seat. Then we fitted a lowering link and dropped the front forks through the clamps, proud moment for me as I had never worked on a bike before and me and Mark did all the work ourselves! I’m around 5”6 and my bike is now the perfect height for me to get both feet to the ground – happy days!
Another point, which I’m sure is an obvious one, is practice and regular use. Just pottering around a car park, finding your nearest off-roading section so you can get used to the limits, weight and dimensions of your bike. Get to know how it handles. Like anything, the more you do it the more confident you feel.
Lastly, and the most reassuring part for me was thinking “so what if it goes wrong, I fall, I get up, I learn.” Having the fear of falling off, damaging or/and dropping the bike is not a fear worth having. To start with, I was so worried about ruining the bike or falling off, I was more in a state about that then actually riding it! This worry didn’t allow me to focus on my actual riding and progression in my confidence. Once you’ve fallen off or dropped your bike, all that disappears. Whilst riding the TET, I fell off my bike many times – including one time where I threw myself over the handle bars and my bike ended up hanging over the edge of the trail! I was uninjured, and the bike worked perfectly once rescued.
Have you met any other female motorcyclists riding the Trans Euro Trail?
Sadly, I am yet to meet another woman out riding the TET. I know they are out there, but I feel we are so far and few between, and paired with the fact that the TET covers so many miles, the likelihood of bumping into another woman is VERY slim! That being said, whilst on the BMW off road course and on the Desert Rose course I did meet other female riders. Off road courses are a great place to meet other women riders, especially when attending an all-women course. It’s a great confidence booster!
Images: Mark Tigwell