Interview – Steph Jeavons

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Over the past four years, Steph Jeavons has ridden on all seven continents, clocking up 74,000 miles and passing through 53 countries. Here, Liam Baldock gets the low-down on her incredible adventure…

Steph Jeavons has been around motorbikes for most of her life, but in 2014 she took her passion and desire for all things two-wheeled a step further than any Brit has done before.

Setting off from the Ace Cafe four years ago, Steph has since become the first British biker to ride on all seven continents, clocking up 53 countries, 74,000 miles and a lifetime full of memories. This adventure has helped Steph raise funds for Rally4Life, a Canadian charity helping to tackle poverty. Having arrived home just over a month ago, we caught up with her to dig into all of the crazy details of this epic adventure.

ABR: Where did this idea come from?

Steph Jeavons: It came from a dream I had a long time ago. The more I got into motorbikes over the years, the more the dream developed into a long journey on a bike. The final plan of riding all seven continents was really the fault of one too many tequilas one night!

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ABR: With your parents and siblings being avid riders too, how influential were they in this adventure?

 SJ: They are used to me coming up with crazy ideas and have long since stopped trying to talk me out of things. I’m not sure they really believed I was actually going to do it when I first told them and the more I talked about it in the early days, the more their eyes glazed over.

However, once I had set my date they began to realise I was serious and were behind me all the way. They have been my safety net throughout. Just knowing they are there is a massive reassurance. In that, I am very lucky.

ABR: What sort of motorcycle adventures had you completed prior to this trip?

SJ: My first adventure abroad was back in 2008. I rode 1,500 miles off-road through the Transkei in South Africa with 80 other riders for charity. At the end, I felt such a high for making it through, that I was instantly addicted. From there, I set up an off-road school with Mick Extance (British Dakar Rider). We had many adventures together including running desert tours in Morocco.

ABR: How did you decide on your route?

SJ: I started off by putting a wipeable map up on my office wall at home. I then drew a big line around the world. That was my starting point. From there, I worked on gathering information about each country. With the new information coming in I would alter the route accordingly.

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ABR: What was the most dangerous moment on your trip?

SJ: I could give you a thousand examples of potentially dangerous situations, but which was the most dangerous? Was it getting hit by a landslide in the Himalayas, hit by a truck in Colombia, or was it hanging off the boom of a sailing yacht whilst stuck on rocks during a storm in Antarctica?

Maybe it was the ride through India when I was trapped for eight hours in 40C heat by thousands of pilgrims, with no water and fully clothed in all my riding gear! Maybe it was the time I had to pull a knife on a truck driver in the middle of the desert in Sudan. Maybe it was leaving home in the first place! Who knows!

ABR: What was the most memorable moment on your trip?

SJ: Finally landing the bike on Antarctica. That was something that worried me for a long time and making that happen was a real challenge. It took a lot of planning and organising and belief that I could actually make it happen, despite what people said. The boat ride over the Drake Passage was a little scary too, and then the effort that total strangers put in to help me achieve a goal just for the sake of a goal, was amazing! I shed tears of joy.

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ABR: This is probably an impossible question to answer, but which was your favourite country to ride through and why?

SJ: Yes, pretty impossible really. Not only because there are so many wonderful countries to choose from, but also because I tend to remember in amazing moments, not countries. Each one has its ups and downs and I also really hate having to choose just one.

I loved Mexico for the riding. I loved Iran for the people. I loved Guatemala for the culture and the scenery. I loved Canada for Rockies, BUT today I am going to pick Ethiopia. Why? Because it sticks in my mind with so many wonderful experiences.

It’s a cultural crossroads with so many different tribes and amazing sites. It is just the right amount of challenge and as it’s at altitude, the weather was often perfect after the stifling heat of many parts of Africa.

ABR: You injured your shoulder from a crash in Colombia and returned home to rest – how did that impact the trip?

SJ: Yes I did. I didn’t go home until I reached Canada, though. By then I had been in a lot pain for some time. I could not move my arm much and I had also developed back injuries. After a lot of treatment on the road (including 77 injections in my shoulder and spine) I found I needed a mental rest as well as physical. I really wondered if I could continue and struggled over this emotionally for a long time.

ABR: How was your trip received by the locals along the way?

SJ: One of the most amazing things about this trip has been the warmth and hospitality I have received from locals along the way. I know I am not alone in saying this. In fact, I think it would be rare to find a traveller who does not say the same thing.

People have taken me in, fed me, given me a place to sleep and have generally made sure I am happy as I ride through their corner of the world. I think being on my own helped, as I am clearly no threat and I am more approachable perhaps. I also think that being on my own made me make more of an effort to engage with others around me.

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ABR: How did the 250cc bike cope?

SJ: Rhonda has been everything I hoped she would be. Simple, effective and reliable. She has got me through anything and out the other side. She has been easy to manage in just about any terrain and only had two minor breakdowns.

The first was in Tanzania when the starter relay went, and the second was in France when the ignition failed. Over 74,000 miles and she started on the button almost every time! Amazing.

ABR: Did you experience any mechanical difficulties on the way and how did you go about dealing with them?

SJ: The Tanzania breakdown was an adventure because I was riding with a local guy. When I broke down in Dar el Salam, he had to tow me on his bike through the chaos of the city traffic.

I wondered if he had forgotten I was attached at times as he was still squeezing through and filtering as if it were a normal ride! He was thinner than me with my luggage and I screamed pretty much all the way! He couldn’t hear me, so I was completely helpless. Not a nice feeling. I hope I never have to be towed again!

ABR: How did it feel riding into the Ace Cafe four years on?

SJ: It was exactly four years on and it was a freezing cold day with snow on the ground. I had imagined myself arriving back there many times and had expected to be overwhelmed! Actually, after the sub-zero ride from the port, I was really just looking forward to a bacon butty and a cup of tea.

Seeing familiar faces in the crowd, nearly got me going though! It was wonderful that so many still made the effort to show their support despite the horrible conditions. The best bit was that my parents and a few friends came to meet me in France and rode in with me. My cousin, who is a Met police biker, even gave us an escort in on his police bike. That does tend to make a girl feel special, I must admit.

ABR: Since you’ve returned, how have you adjusted to ‘normal life’ again?

SJ: It’s been a month now and so far I am taking it all in my stride. I expected to be a little depressed by now. I thought I would find it hard to adjust. I guess it helps that I am not going back to the same place and trying to fit back in as if nothing had happened. I sold my house and now live in a caravan in Snowdonia. It also helps that I live in a beautiful part of the world.

ABR: What’s the next adventure for you?

SJ: You will have to wait and see for that one. I have something in the pipeline, but until it is confirmed I don’t want to jinx it!

If you’d like to hear more from Steph, she will be speaking at Colwyn Bay Motorcycles on 11 May.

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