Authenticity Roundtable – Authenticity Through Solo Motorcycle Travel

Jason Wragg

Building upon the other two papers, this autoethnographic narrative delves into the lived experiences of embarking on solo adventure travel by motorcycle. Departing from conventional academic discourse, this narrative offers a personal and evocative exploration of the captivating world of solo adventure motorcycle travel. The purpose of this autoethnographic narrative is not to present a definitive thesis or unwavering conclusion, instead it aims to offer a rich and textured insight into the experience of motorcycle adventure travel. This narrative form captures the subtleties, complexities, and emotions inherent in such experiences, fostering a deeper understanding. Autoethnography adds layers to the discourse, illuminating the often-overlooked human dimension in traditional academic studies. It serves as a window, offering glimpses into the unique aspects of motorcycle travel, sparking reflection, understanding, and connection.

△ Yamaha Ténéré 700, 22:00hrs on road 870, Northern Iceland. [Fig.1]

In their round table contributions, Alford and Humphrey offer unique perspectives on motorcycling. While their ideas intersect on various themes, Alford emphasises inclusivity within the motorcycling culture, rejecting the idea of isolation based on personal preferences or identities. He believes that a shared love for motorcycling should be the main uniting factor. On the other hand, Humphrey views motorcycling as an existential experience, equating it with a state of ‘Being-in-the-world’ as defined by Heidegger. He argues that the act of riding itself brings authenticity, allowing riders to feel ‘fully alive’. Both perspectives highlight the importance of authenticity, whether through a sense of belonging within a diverse community or individual experiences that bring a true sense of engagement in existence.

Looking at it from a different perspective, the notion of authenticity in motorcycle travel can be examined in relation to how it influences the rider’s sense of self, a concept informed by Nietzschean philosophy. Nietzsche (2003) proposed that authenticity comes from embracing one’s individuality and the inherent chaos of life, or the ‘will to power.’ This idea resonates strongly in the context of motorcycle adventure travel; the raw, unpredictable nature of such travel allows the rider to confront and embrace the uncertainty of life, fostering a truly authentic identity. As riders traverse the winding roads, each twist and turn are a testament to their individual will. With every mile, they are not merely traveling; they are asserting their existence, their ‘will to power,’ thus creating and affirming their own unique narrative of authenticity. This process of identity formation through adventure travel by motorcycle, therefore, aligns with Nietzsche’s ideas on authenticity, offering a fresh perspective on the subject.

The alignment further emphasises the profound existential essence of motorcycle travel, enriching our understanding of its impact on riders’ personal identity. The motorcycle, a symbol of freedom and rebellion, entices me to explore the intricate interplay of philosophy, adventure, and authenticity. This exploration seeks to illuminate how these elements intersect in motorcycle adventure travel. Building on Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophical perspectives, I navigate postmodern landscapes, intertwining them with Dan McAdam’s (1993) concepts of narrative identity and personal myths.

In adventure travel by motorcycle, authenticity assumes a central role as a transformative concept. Riding motorcycles is no longer a mere act of transportation, but becomes a means of creating a captivating narrative of personal and cultural exploration. In my journeys, I am irresistibly drawn to remote, rugged, and challenging trails. The allure lies in the way the challenge intensifies the adventure, the solitude deepens the introspection, and the raw beauty elevates the narrative.

Enveloped in the mystical embrace of dense fog I embarked on a solo expedition, navigating the treacherous F35 through Iceland’s remote and rugged terrain. The rhythmic sound of the motorcycle reverberated through the vast, unforgiving wilderness. The relentless bite of the weather posed an unyielding adversary on this solitary journey. Yet, within the solitude and adversity, the seeds of resilience took root, nourishing my spirit.

Suddenly, as if touched by ancient deities, the suffocating mist dissipated, unveiling a spectacle that defied description. The tempestuous weather had merely served as a veil, concealing the raw magnificence of the Icelandic landscape. Before me sprawled a panorama of savage beauty, unbridled and untamed. The towering ice caps stood as sentinels in the distance, their silhouettes striking against the backdrop of the grey sky. The land beneath them bore the rugged scars of timeless geological battles, a testament to the eternal struggle of nature. In that fleeting moment, I found myself lost in this breath-taking vista, it was an ephemeral revelation, a profound intersection of challenge, solitude, and beauty that justified why I undertook these challenging journeys.

Adapted from 2022 Icelandic Expedition Field Notes

As I venture into these untamed landscapes, my motorcycle becomes a trusted companion, each mile ridden on the unyielding terrain adding a new chapter to my story of exploration and authenticity. In this context, my quest encourages me to diverge from the mundane, allowing the motorcycle to become a conduit for immersive experiences, introducing new cultures, landscapes, and perspectives that challenge my conventional understanding. This departure from the ordinary fosters personal growth, facilitating the evolution of my identity and opening my mind to the vast, unexplored territories of self and the world.

Genuine adventures, born from a combination of curiosity, bravery, and a quest for self-discovery, act as the crucible for my spirit. They echo the audacious exploits of Marco Polo, who journeyed through distant lands to connect cultures, and the unwavering voyages of Ernest Shackleton, who braved Antarctic storms to safeguard his crew. The essence of authenticity in adventure lies in the relentless pursuit of the unknown, embracing formidable challenges and discomfort. Like Ibn Battuta, the explorer of the medieval world, or Amelia Earhart, the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic, authentic adventurers push the limits of the known, crafting tales that resonate through time — a testament to humanity’s innate desire for exploration and self-revelation amidst the untamed unknown. I follow their lead on my two-wheeled companion, the motorcycle.

In our modern vocabulary, the term ‘adventure’ has often been hijacked by commercial entities and reduced to a mere commodity — a product to be packaged and sold. This deviation from the essence of adventure has diluted its meaning, transforming it into a marketing tool used to sell pre-packaged holidays or adrenaline-fueled experiences. However, if we trace its roots back to the Latin, ‘adventure’ derives from ‘adventura’, which translates to ‘about to happen’. This term encapsulates a sense of anticipation, an expectancy, and a forward-leaning posture toward the unknown that is on the brink of unfolding. It’s not about a pre-packaged item, but rather the threshold of possibility and the promise of an unfolding narrative. The allure of adventure lies not in the certainty of the experience, but in the mystery of the unknown, the anticipation of the undetermined, and the exhilaration of unpredictability. Authentic adventure lies in this uncertainty, stepping into the unknown with an open heart and mind, ready to be shaped by whatever is ‘about to happen’.

Authentic adventure is situated in the possibility of insignificance, where the chance for ‘nothing’ to happen intertwines with authenticity. It is within this inherent uncertainty, the unknown outcomes, that an authentic adventure emerges, distinct from pre-packaged experiences. In the stillness between events, in the seemingly uneventful spaces, I find room for introspection, confronting my own thoughts and delving into self-discovery. Here, the fabric of the adventurer is woven, each thread spun from moments of anticipation, stillness, and the stark realisation of the unknown. Embracing the unpredictable nature of the journey is what truly encapsulates the experience and authenticity of an adventure, not the promise of constant activity or guaranteed excitement.

Like Nietzsche’s argument that every living organism has an inherent desire to broaden its influence, I, too, actively pursue new spaces and experiences through adventurous travel. The motorcycle serves as the perfect vehicle to fulfil this quest. As a solo traveller this pursuit embodies a deep commitment to individualism, a hallmark of Nietzsche’s philosophy. He challenged individuals to embrace their desires and passions, transcending external norms and moralities. Motorcycle adventurers epitomise this individualism, embarking on journeys driven by personal aspirations and desires, crafting their own paths rather than conforming to societal expectations. As Nietzsche underscores the importance of overcoming obstacles for self-affirmation, so do motorcycle adventurers willingly confront the challenges and uncertainties of the road. Through these trials, they reaffirm their existence, asserting their power over adversity and drawing strength from the very act of overcoming.

The “will to power” equally serves as a creative force, propelling individuals to memorialise their new values and experiences. Motorcycle adventurers share narratives of their journeys that contribute to the emergence of innovative forms of travel and cultural exploration. Telling our tales initiates a continuous process of self-understanding and identity formation. I am a motorcycle adventurer, constantly evolving and growing through the experiences I’ve lived and shared. These narratives create an authentic sense of self and shape who I am.

Motorcycle travel provides me with a unique platform for self-realisation and personal growth. The solitary nature of the experience encourages introspection, allowing me to navigate not only physical landscapes, but also the terrain of my inner self. It’s a journey of self-discovery, where I confront my fears, challenge my limits, and explore my capabilities, thus revealing intrinsic aspects of my character. The immediacy and rawness of the experience, the tactile interaction with the environment, and the necessity to make quick decisions all stimulate personal growth. The road, with its unscripted realities and unpredictability, mirrors life’s uncertainties, honing my resilience and adaptability. The feeling of freedom and control over one’s destiny, experienced while riding, fosters a profound sense of self-affirmation. Ultimately, motorcycle travel is a transformative journey of the self, where riders dissect their existence, decipher their true essence, and emerge enlightened with a redefined sense of identity.

This transformative journey of the self resonates deeply with Nietzsche’s idea of “becoming what one is” through the process of self-overcoming. He believed that through embracing the struggle and facing adversity, individuals can fully realise their potential and affirm their own unique identities. This philosophical perspective parallels the experience of motorcycle travel, where riders face challenges, overcome obstacles, and in the process, gain deeper insights into their own identities. Solo adventure travel by motorcycle offers a Nietzschean crucible of self-discovery and self-affirmation, serving as a testament to human resilience, adaptability, and the relentless pursuit of self-realisation.

Mortlock’s perspective has been a guiding light for me as I explore the cultural aspects of adventure. According to Mortlock (2000), true authenticity stems from immersing oneself fully in the host culture, valuing immersive experiences. He believes that adventure acts as a catalyst for personal growth, where embracing risks and challenges presents invaluable opportunities. Through transformative experiences, individuals nurture confidence, resilience, and self-awareness. They push their limits, refine problem-solving skills, and make well-informed decisions even in high-pressure situations. Adventure becomes a transformative journey of self-discovery.

Zweig’s (1999) position on adventure is equally captivating. He views it as a profound existential experience, an active pursuit of the unknown that sparks curiosity and liberates adventurers from the monotony of everyday life. According to Zweig, adventure encompasses more than just the physical journey; it offers a deeper understanding of oneself and the world. As adventurers navigate unfamiliar terrain, face unexpected challenges, and immerse themselves in diverse cultures, they undergo a transformative shift. Zweig argues that these novel experiences facilitate personal growth, shape one’s identity, and cultivate a nuanced worldview. For Zweig, authentic adventure isn’t solely about seeking thrills; it’s about gaining wisdom, self-awareness, and profound insights into life and existence.

In the context of motorcycle travel, this concept comes alive in my intimate connection with the landscapes and communities I encounter along the way. The motorcycle, with its ability to navigate through remote and diverse terrains, fosters this immersive experience, bridging the gap between the adventurer and the world. Moreover, the motorcycle transcends its mere mechanical purpose, it embodies the spirit of freedom and adventure as it accompanies me on quests through expansive landscapes. In this regard, the motorcycle takes on the role of a legendary steed, a modern-day Pegasus. Just like the mythical mounts of ancient times, the motorcycle navigates through challenges and adversities, weaving its way through twists and turns, becoming a trusted companion akin to those in the heroic sagas of old.

McAdams’ framework on narrative identity and personal myths offers a way to understand the impact of these adventures on my sense of self. Sense-making, as McAdams describes it, is at the heart of our travel narratives. As I detail my experiences, I assume a narrative identity, as the protagonist of an adventure. In the act of riding, I rely on this narrative identity to make sense of all my experiences on the road. As I weave words and wander on my journey, I intertwine the threads of experience into the tapestry of my stories. In each encounter and mile travelled, I seek and find profound meaning, crafting narratives that resonate with depth and richness.

As McAdams suggests, I construct personal myths, self-authored life stories. In the context of motorcycle adventures I’ve found myself creating personal myths, romanticising the open road as a symbol of freedom and an embodiment of my aspirations. These myths serve as my compass during the journey, evolving with each obstacle overcome, each new mile traversed. Motorcycle adventures, I’ve come to realise, are not just about the thrill of the ride but about transformative experiences that become integral to my evolving narrative identity. It’s a process of self-discovery that unfolds with each twist of the throttle.

Agency and authorship are fused in motorcycle adventure travel. As a motorcycle traveller, I exercise agency by selecting my routes, confronting challenges head-on, and by crafting unique narratives of my journeys. By sharing my stories with fellow riders and the broader community, I forge social bonds. These connections enrich our personal myths and remind me that our adventures are not solitary pursuits but become shared tales that resonate with others.

Reflecting on my motorcycle adventures, I’ve come to appreciate how they are more than just physical journeys. They are quests of self-discovery, narrative creation, and connection with others. Each curve of the road, every encounter, and every obstacle is a meaningful thread into the narrative of my life, constantly shaping my sense of self. I’ve come to see that the motorcycle is more than just a mode of transportation in adventure travel; it is an instrument of profound existential exploration. It has propelled me into a realm where Nietzsche’s concept of self-affirmation, Mortlock’s call for immersive cultural engagement, and McAdams’ ideas of narrative self-creation harmoniously converge. The motorcycle, in its essence, has played a pivotal role in steering me towards authenticity.

As I have traversed disparate terrains and encountered countless challenges, I’ve come to realise that my adventures are not only journeys through landscapes but voyages through the landscapes of one’s self. These adventures have transcended the mere exploration and discovery; they have been transformative odysseys of self-realisation and existential awakening. Authenticity in motorcycle adventure travel, I now understand, is indeed an intricate symphony, a harmonious blend of external exploration and internal introspection, all beautifully orchestrated by the motorcycle that has been my faithful companion on this remarkable journey.

McAdams, D. P. (1993). The Stories We Live By: Personal Myths and Self-Construction. Guilford Press.

Mortlock, C. (2009). Spirit of Adventure: Towards a Brighter Future. Outdoor Integrity Publishing Limited.

Nietzsche, F. (2003). Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for Everyone and No One. R. J. Hollingdale (Trans.), New York: Penguin.

Zweig, P. (1932). The Adventurer. Akadine Press.

Image Attributions
[Fig.1] Photograph by Jason Wragg.

Jason Wragg (FRGS, FHEA) serves as the Course Lead for BA (Hons) Outdoor Adventure Leadership at the University of Central Lancashire, United Kingdom. His PhD explores solo adventure travel by motorcycle through an autoethnographic lens, incorporating comic book creation for data analysis. With his extensive experience leading and participating in expeditions, Jason underscores the importance of fieldwork employing narrative techniques in his research into the lived experience of journeying.

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