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Interview: Tiffany Coates - Pre Mongolia Motorcycle Trip

  Posted at 01:41:34 PM
  File under  Female Interviews
  Author: Mike Werner
  Location: Normandy, France

For those of you who have been following this site for a while, you'll know that I have not hidden my admiration for RTWRound The World motorcycle riders, and even more so for female ones. There are few long distance adventure motorcycle riders and even less female ones. From the female riders I personally know that have braved difficult situations on their own, the list is restricted to Carla King Open link in a new window and Tiffany Coates. Carla is about to embark in an adventure riding a Ural sidecar in Morocco, while, as previously mentioned, Tiffany Coates Open link in a new window is getting ready to leave the UK and ride solo to Outer Mongolia {link}.

I had already interviewed Tiffany in 2005 when I was chasing the Dakar race, and bumped into her on the Tangers ferry {Interview: Tiffany Coates Open link in a new window}.

Since Tiffany is about to ride off into the sunset again, I decided to ask her some questions. If you really want to have a better understanding what drives this amazing woman, read the first interview, and then this one (you can probably understand from the article title that I'll be asking her a load of questions on her return):

1. After a major round the world trip, what made you want to go out for another long motorcycle ride?

At the end of a long trip I always look forward to heading home, though at the same time there’s a part of me that’s looking ahead and dreaming of new horizons. As I shipped home out of Venezuela, I found myself wondering what Timbuctoo looks like and whether it is reachable by motorbike, there always seems to be somewhere else I want to visit. When I started bike travelling I never had a grand master plan, I’ve only looked ahead as one trip finishes then I start to dream of where to head next.

Click for bigger version of Tiffany Coates fallen
Open image in a new window

2. Are you going on your own?

Strangely enough not many people seem to share or even understand my enthusiasm for a motorbike journey to Outer Mongolia.  Although Maggie, who rode across Africa with me is really keen to experience Tajikistan and Kazakhstan and April from Rio wants to explore Uzbekistan and Mongolia .This means I have planned and prepared for this trip as another solo challenge and maybe with friends (or whoever) joining me for sections of it – much like my journey from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego.

3. Does it not scare you going into strange and unknown countries, where there are dangers that you have never faced?

Remote countries may be strange and unknown but I don’t think that makes them any more dangerous than home. After being pursued by angry mafia in Nicaragua (long story), chased by elephants in Zambia, threatened by the military with guns in Iran (because some of Becky’s fringe was showing) and being mugged in Caracas, though the mugger came off worse than me; I think I can cope with most situations. Plus I’m an optimist, I always look forward to the positives that a country can offer.

4. Any fears that your BMW may not hold up for this long trip?

The cheek of it! Thelma, my beloved BMW R80GS who I got second or was it third hand for my first bike trip which was to India, is 17 now and we've covered over 150,000 miles together on every continent, crossing mountains, deserts, rivers, Arctic tundra, grasslands and even glaciers. As everyone knows  there are nearly always breakdowns and repairs that need to be done on the road, I make sure that Thelma’s care and maintenance are my priority and she’s never let me down [Ed note: Thelma is name of the BMW R80GS]..

5. What drives you to go adventure riding?

A childhood spent in different parts of the world as my Dad was in the Army, gave me an early appetite for travel. For me, adventure riding is the combination of Itchy feet, curiosity and a desire to see far-off places blended with the independence and the ability to go anywhere that a motorbike provides – it’s the ultimate travel buzz.

6. How do you manage financially to go for long trips, many months away with no financial support?

I work hard and save as much as possible before I go, life on the road can be very cheap(or at least it is the way I do it) – lots of camping, which in remote countries means rough or wild camping and staying at cheap hostelries, which on occasion have turned out to be brothels! The major expense is always the fuel costs – unless you’re in oil rich countries such as Iran and Venezuela where it is cheaper than water. A journey can be as expensive as you want to make it.

7. Do you have sponsors?

I don’t have any financial backing and in fact have been entirely self-supporting for all my trips. More recently I have been lucky enough to be supplied with some excellent bike gear by Hein Gericke, for example their Tuareg gear that I wore to Timbuctoo was fantastic in the Sahara. Also Michelin have given me a set of tyres for each of my last two trips, which has been really helpful.

8. How much do you reckon a trip like this will cost? Budget?

I generally don’t know how much a trip is going to cost me, I just save up some money and hope for the best.  For Mongolian Mayhem my visas are costing me £700, the various ferries for this trip will be about £250 and the other expenses can only be guessed at, I am going to take about £3-4000. I don’t operate on a daily budget system as costs can be so variable, beers may cost a lot more in Azerbaijan than Armenia and I don’t want to feel like I have to miss out on some due to being on a restrictive daily budget!

9. Did you train for this trip?

Riding along narrow, twisty country lanes with unpredictable traffic in both directions is good training- which is just as well as that’s my daily commute along the lanes on the Cornish cliffs from Lands End to work. I’ll definitely be brushing up on my off-road riding skills, and apart from that surfing, sea kayaking and mountain biking are some of the sports I do which help with my fitness, strength and stamina.

Click for bigger version of Tiffany Coates crossing a river
Open image in a new window

10. What will be in your opinion the most challenging part of the trip?

As far as the terrain is concerned Siberia is always a tricky one for bike travellers, the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan sounds tough with avalanches, earthquakes and landslides- think Karakoram Highway but without the benefit of tarmac whilst Kyrgyrstan has a geography similar to Bolivia, extremely high mountains and not much of a road infrastructure.  Not to mention the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, half a million square miles of sand. Other challenges include the volatile and unpredictable political situation in many of the countries such as the war in Georgia last year. Another challenge will be the bureaucracy associated with the former Soviet Republics and I have also heard numerous stories about corruption amongst police and officials. Somehow I don’t think I’m going to be bored.

11. Where do you sleep overnight? (tents, hotels, people's homes?)

I do a lot of camping, mainly because I love being outdoors and often it’s simpler to just pitch my tent somewhere in the countryside than attempt to find a suitable hotel in a city. I have also been invited into more homes than I can count ranging from mud huts to official embassy residences, often with Thelma parked in the dining room. Some of my more unusual sleeping spots have been hammocks in the jungle, my tent pitched on the decks of ferries and even on a garage forecourt with an armed guard (they insisted on the guns not me). I love having the opportunity to stay in people’s houses as it gives me more of an insight into family life in other countries.

Click for bigger version of Tiffany Coates in Malawi
Open image in a new window

12. Do you make real friends along the way?

Definitely. I have a network of friends all over the world now ranging from the orphanage workers in Malawi where we helped out for a while to a theatre director in Thailand and a US diplomat. I’ve also met many people on the road, these friendships can be incredibly intensive as you suddenly find yourself spending 24 hours a day with someone you have only just met – this can turn out to be a good thing or sometimes not! Being kindred spirits travelling by bike is a great ice breaker. Other friends I’ve made have been the hitch-hikers I’ve picked up along the way- at times turning it into three of us on Thelma.

13. Do you envy the likes of McGregor or Boorman to be able to ride with all the support they get, almost with unlimited resources, or do you prefer to do it your way?

It would be great to do a trip with all the resources supplied and experts on hand to deal with every problem whether it’s visa difficulties in Africa, a monkey bite in Guatemala or the chicken I have run over in India. Making a living from motorbike travelling would be a dream come true. But, more realistically I love the freedom I have of going wherever and whenever I want, and the option of being creative with my route once I’m on the road. Also you’re unlikely to be asked to stay in someone’s house if you’re got a back-up crew of 20 people tagging along. It’s a very different and rich experience travelling without support, particularly alone or when you are just two shortish women arriving in a remote village, there is a warmer welcome as we obviously don’t pose a threat in any way. Finding enough camping space for a large number of people can be an issue as well, I once had to pitch my tent on a grave as that was literally the only flat area on the mountainside I could find to put it up.

14. Are you planning to maintain a daily web log on your travels?

I have been enjoying writing regular blogs about my preparation for Mongolian Mayhem on my website and loving the comments and feedback from those reading it and sharing my experiences. I am hoping that the potentially patchy internet access in the remote countries I’m going to will enable me to continue my blogs as much as possible, obviously there are no guarantees about daily blogs much as I’d like there to be.

Thanks Tiff, and have a great adventure, but most important, stay safe! And let us know how things are going!

Click here to follow Tiffany's adventure on her site! Open link in a new window

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