2018/2019 journey, Press

The man who slept in his helmet

Cet article est également disponible en : Français

This is the translation of an article published in a french magazine : Road Trip N°44

Some of them sleep bareheaded. Others wear a night cap. Nick sleeps with his helmet on. Why? Why? Because it just keeps you warm. It’s important to keep your head warm at night in the desert. Especially when you want to break the speed record for a round the world trip.

Nick Sanders, the legend. Ten passports and a big ten worn motorcycles in 35 years of globe-ridering. More than 140 countries crossed, 750,000 km covered during nine world tours and several Pan-American two-wheelers. The list of winners leaves the most hardened globetrotters stunned.

But what makes Nick roll? Why all these exploits? So what is the purpose of this stakhanovist of the road?

To understand Nick, you have to go back to the late 70s. On his Honda 90 CC, he dreams of two things: going to Tibet and competing in the Tour de France. It is this last dream that he decides to make come true first. To do this, he joined the La Redoute-Motobécane team as a professional runner. He remained there for 3 years and obtained a 29th place in Paris-Roubaix. Unfortunately, this is not enough to hope to be part of the Tour de France team. Nick is a passionate person and deep inside he burns a flame: that of the urgency to live. He cannot accept mediocrity. He decided to stop the competition and embarked on his second dream: to discover the world in general and Tibet in particular. But Nick is a born competitor. He therefore decided to complete this round the world trip as soon as possible. It will take him 138 days to achieve this first achievement on his bike in 1981. Four years later, in 1985, he improved his own record by completing a second round the world trip in 79 days, one less than Phileas Fogg, Jules Vernes’ hero. During this period, he also pedaled to the sources of the Nile, toured Great Britain and began his first crossing of the American continent. These are the first years, the years of discovering the world with its share of wonder from which Nick emerges with a feeling of intense happiness and an appetite to live even more tenfold. And always this deep desire to take up new challenges, to do what no one else before him has done. In 1992, he abandoned cycling and embarked on a 7-month barge crossing of the European continent. It will end on the shores of the Black Sea.

1994 was a year of sadness. He’s getting a divorce. So, to forget, he took to the road again on a motorcycle: an Enfield 500 cc. It will take him 7 months to complete a 61,000 km round the world tour on a route chosen with his heart as always. No record this time, but rather the road as a therapeutic treatment, as a viatic to forget this breakage, this pain. This world tour does not lack funny episodes, like the day when an elephant defecates on his motorcycle.

This was the time when Triumph returned to the forefront with 3-cylinder engines. In 1996, the brand entrusted him with a Daytona 900 with which he made his fourth attempt at a round-the-world trip. He falls heavily on the icy road of the Garibaldi Pass not far from Ushuaia. With his ankle broken, he lies down in the snow with this thought: “Nick, you’re not as good as you thought you were. He joined civilization without assistance. Barely back on his feet, he improved his riding technique and set off again in 1997 on the same motorcycle. He completed this 4th round the world trip of 32,070 km in just 31 days and 20 hours. This achievement also marks the beginning of its notoriety thanks to the appearance of a new tool: the Internet.

In the 2000s, he moved from Triumph to Yamaha. But above all, he adopts a hypra-sports car as his mount: the Yamaha R1. A bike more suited for circuits than world tours. But it fits Nick’s personality well: doing what no one else has done before him, proving that it is possible. He will have 4 of these R1s with which he will complete 4 round the world races between 2002 and 2005, each time beating his own records, pushing the limits. During his last attempt, he crossed 30 countries for a distance of 31,556 km in just 19 days and 3 hours. It is not without danger. According to him, “the more extreme the records, the more difficult and dangerous they are. There is the speed of course but also the concentration necessary during the night stages, the management of fatigue. It can become a real torture, but it’s the nature of extreme, I think. “Most of the time, he sleeps near his motorcycle, with his helmet on. Micro-siestas like solitary navigators. He sometimes wakes up without knowing where he is. It then takes a few minutes to locate itself in space and time. During these periods, he adopts a very reduced diet, without caffeine. He remained in the saddle for up to 27 hours without stopping. An Alien !

The years 2010 mark a double turn. He no longer does a round-the-world trip but Pan-Americas, from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego and he goes from the hypra-sporting to the Trail: the Yamaha XTZ 1200 super Ténéré with which he travels more than 80 000 km in 4 months for the year 2011 alone! He admits that the Ténéré is more suitable than the R1. The travel is greater, the bike is less sensitive to the rider’s position and above all there are these large aluminium drums that allow him to safely carry the video equipment necessary to record images of his exploits. Because Nick, not only breaks records, takes the time to film them! However, he regrets the R1’s light weight, as it is true that modern Trails have probably become a little too overweight.

So who is Nick after all? An ordinary man with an extraordinary life, as his latest book seems to indicate? Yes, maybe, probably even. But also a complex man, who is not without contradictions. Despite his exploits, he remains humble and questions himself about the purpose of what he has done with his life. His biggest fear is that his family won’t understand him. Yet the answer is simple: he wants to be happy and live his dreams.
Nick is the same type as all these useless conquerors, mountaineers or extreme divers. It is not so much their records that are important. Moreover, records only exist to be broken. No, it is precisely this “useless” that makes the value of their lives worthwhile. Nick proves that you can live your dreams and even more so, live your dreams. It is dreamers who change the world. Because they make possible what seems impossible. Everyone has their own dreams. Nick’s job was to go around the world as quickly as possible. And he did it.
Today, he who has travelled this Earth so often to admire it, like Don Pedro d’Alfaroubeira and his 4 camels, admits that the most beautiful place he knows on this planet is his house next to his wife and children. So, is Nick like Candide who in the evening of his life recommended to cultivate his garden to be happy? Or is it in the image of this Melanesian myth, according to which, “man is torn between two needs, the need for the canoe, i. e. the journey, the tearing away from oneself, and the need for the tree, i. e. the rooting, the identity. Men constantly wander between these two needs, sometimes giving in to one, sometimes to the other, until the day they understand that it is with the tree that the canoe is made. » ?

He gives us the answer through his actions, as he has always done. In a few days, he will be back on the road for a period of 2 months. The attraction of the journey has not left him, this flame still burns in him, the road calls him. The intoxication of miles awaits him and he knows it, he needs it. How does he continue to do so at nearly 60 years of age? To this question, he answers maliciously: “How does an old man jump a fence?… He does it every day”. So Nick… roll Nick, roll! Enjoy buddy!

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