The Renvyle road warrior

Living

Ciara Moynihan chats to Temple Street fundraiser Seán Rima about his recent 17,000 mile bike ride to Mongolia, via the Trans Siberian Highway

For many, the call of the open road is loud, persistent and bewitching. For one Irish biker, that call also had a distinctively Russian accent.
Father-of-five Seán Rima from Renvyle has just returned from a 70-day solo road trip. The journey took him, his camera-loving mouse mascot and his trusty 14-year-old Honda Varadero 1000 (affectionately called ‘Morticia’) from Clifden to France, through Belgium, Holland, Germany, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia and across Russia and into Mongolia. On his way back, he travelled back through Russia, down to Georgia, and home via Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Austria, Germany, Belgium and France, before spending a week in England and returning home to Ireland.
The gruelling 17,000-mile journey – often on roads so badly surfaced and cratered Seán would find himself playing ‘spot the tarmac’ – was motivated by a very personal quest: to raise money for Temple Street Children’s hospital. Sadly, Seán lost a two-day-old daughter while living in England, and since then, children, and children’s hospitals, have always been very close to his heart.  
When he was made redundant from his job as a security guard with Tesco, Seán decided to seize the opportunity to take to the road and do some good. Prior to this, the longest road trip he had done – and his only bike ride on mainland Europe – was to northern Spain. Hitting for the Russia-spanning Trans Siberian Highway was one serious undertaking.  
The trip was two years in the planning. “Visas were the biggest headache,” Seán tells The Mayo News. “Tourist visas for Russia were only available for 30 days for Russia, for example, so you had to have everything in place and ready to go. It was tight!”
Then the big day came on May 1. A post on Seán’s Ulaan2015 blog from that day sums it up: “Today, I head off on the adventure of a lifetime. Leaving my family and friends behind, I head off into the unknown (for me) and visit countries that I have dreamed of most of my life.
“I have many sites and places that I want to visit. Some are pure tourist, which has to be done, some are shrouded in sadness and pain, others will open my eyes.”
A ferry from Rosslare took him to France, and the real journey began. “I took it kind of easy during the first two weeks, doing just 100-200 miles a day,” admits Seán. “This was because I had to book somewhere to stay in Russia in advance and couldn’t arrive too early, but later on I covered a lot more ground each day – maybe 500 miles.”
Luckily, Seán’s motorbike was fit for it. Aside from general maintenance, the rear sprocket had to be replaced. “It was worn down by all the sand on the road – it acted like sandpaper – but that was it really. The roads were the real problem – some of the roads I was on, well – imagine the worst road here and multiply that by ten. At one point in Moscow I was playing spot the tarmac, the potholes were so bad!”
Russian drivers’ penchant for the centre of the road and ‘playing chicken’ with oncoming traffic only served to complicate matters.
And true enough, the inevitable happened. Around 5,000 miles into the trip, Seán came off his bike on Russian roads. Trying to avoid a slippery surface, he veered into a hard shoulder. Muddy slime met motorcycle tyre, and the bike went from under him. “Sadly I dropped Morticia. She went down hard, being sucked into the ooze.”
Thankfully, though dazed for about ten minutes, Seán was not seriously hurt. Morticia survived too. It was a low point though. “It was the first time that I thought, ‘What am I doing here? I’m so far from home. What if I’d been injured?’ No one stopped when I came off the bike. The lorries just kept passing by.”
But Seán’s journey had plenty of highs too. Chief among them was driving into Moscow. “It was a special day for me, ever since I can remember, I think from the age of nine years I had wanted to visit Moscow, and I was finally here, 43 years later.”
Seeing Mongolia’s enormous 40-metre-high steel statue of Genghis Khan on horseback, which lies east of the capital Ulaanbaatar, was another stand-out moment. After travelling through spectacular mountain scenery and ‘plains that extend further than the eye can see’, “I turned a corner and there was Genghis Khan. The sight is just breathtaking as there is no fore warning that you are there. You spot his head and slowly the whole amazing structure appears.”
But Seán was just as drawn by simple snapshots of daily life. He remembers seeing women in the fields, bending and gathering. He thought they were collecting wood – but there were no trees. They were collecting dung to burn in their fires.
He made new friends along the way too. One of them, Albert, put him up ‘couch surfing’ for the night in Kurgan. On arrival, Albert told Seán he could leave his bike and gear safely at his office for the night. The pair went to a run-down-looking government building. Albert’s office looked strange, and there was a table in it that seemed out of place. Seán started to feel uneasy.
“Turns out Albert is a forensic autopsy technician and my bike was being put up in the morgue that night. As other people have joked, at least it was dead safe!” he says, laughing. And that was how the Honda Varadero earned the pet name Morticia.
Albert’s kindness was not unusual. “Russian people would do anything or you,” says Seán. “I had heard they were arrogant, but I found the opposite. They were really friendly. Really warm. Just lovely people.”
People with a grá for the open road say it’s addictive. And true enough, Seán’s been bitten, and he’s plotting more fundraising road trips. He has set his sights on the Arctic Circle (for a refreshing dip in the ocean) and he’s planning to head there via Stockholm next year. He’s also hoping to do a round-the-world adventure, while the route from Canada to Argentina is also calling.  
Is there anything Seán would do differently now that he’s done one long-haul solo bike ride? “Be less shy – more open. At the start of the trip I kept to myself; perhaps it’s a cautiousness that’s learned from being a security guard, where you’re more comfortable in the background. Now I know that being open is better.”
He learned another lesson too. “Pack less!”  
Yes, even this seasoned Renvyle road warrior takes too much on holidays.

For more information or to donate to Seán’s fundraising efforts, see his Ulaan2015 Facebook page; read his entertaining blog at www.ulaan2015.com; or visit http://www.idonate.ie/fundraiser/12794_ulaan2015/html.