“One of my friends says that she has known three versions of me: Caroline 1.0 before the accident, Caroline 2.0 afterwards and Caroline 3.0 now.”
Motorbiking has changed Caroline Lunnon’s life in both the worst and the best ways. In 2015, her husband Pete died of head injuries the day after the pair’s very first ride together; tragically, their bike picked up a puncture which led to a devastating crash. Caroline, or Caz as she is known to her friends, broke her pelvis and her wrist in the accident, and faced life without the man she had loved for 15 years.
But biking has also helped Caz heal from the grief, anxiety and PTSD she suffered after her husband’s death. In 2018, having left her job as an engineering manager and putting her Salisbury house on the market, she embarked on a round-the-world trip on Boo, her Triumph Tiger 800. And, while the Covid-19 pandemic temporarily put paid to some of her travel plans, it gave her the time she needed to become president of the British branch of the Women’s International Motorcycle Association (WIMA).
Caz, who now lives in a farmhouse in idyllic rural France, spoke to LadyBiker about the incredible journey – both literal and spiritual – she has been on over the last few years.
She explained: “I didn’t start biking until I was 35. I’d always wanted to, so Pete got me a CBT gift voucher for my birthday. I loved it straightaway. I’d commute to work on my Yamaha YBR 125; it was a 50-mile round trip on one of the best biking roads in Dorset. My mornings would always start so well because of all the adrenaline, and I’d look forward to the ride home all day.”
But the accident changed everything just eight months after she had passed her full test. “Pete had ridden when he was younger,” said Caz. “But when he’d had children with his first wife, he stopped in case he killed himself. I was riding pillion that day, and the last words he said to me were, ‘If this goes well, I’ll be buying that Ducati Monster’.”
Caz says that, despite the tragic outcome, Pete would never have regretted his decision to ride that fateful day. “He loved risky outdoor stuff like climbing mountains,” she said. “He died doing something he loved.”
Understandably, Caz fell into deep grief after the loss of her husband, suffering from huge sadness and anxiety. But, once her physical injuries had healed, she returned to riding, determined that the accident wouldn’t take away her new passion for riding as well as her husband.
She said: “I couldn’t ride for six months because of my injuries. After that, I bought a Street Triple R and told myself that it wasn’t comfortable enough, so I didn’t ride much for the first year. I later swapped it for a Tiger which was more comfortable. But it was more about my anxiety, really.”
She added: “I joined a Facebook group to get to know more riders. I remember there was one particular post I put up about how much I was struggling, and the number of responses I got showed me that people really cared. They suggested that I might have PTSD from the accident. They really helped me get through that that difficult time. I’d found my tribe.”
As time progressed, Caz’s love of riding and her awareness of life’s fragility led her to make a massive change. “I decided to ride around the world on my bike,” she said. “So I handed my notice in and put my house on the market. My work tried to get me to take a sabbatical instead but I knew it wouldn’t be the same. It had to be a completely fresh start."
Caz set off on the ferry to Spain in the middle of 2018, with her epic journey taking her across the globe; destinations included Italy, Kazakhstan, China, Malaysia, Australia and Alaska. And, far from being lonely on her solo voyage, she met so many people that she often needed time by herself to recharge.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Caz says the adventure changed her perspective on life. “I realised that what I’d always been told was important really doesn’t matter,” she said. “It’s a much simpler way of life; once you take away all the bills, you just need to think about eating and sleeping.”
Caz’s journey also gave her the freedom to take advantage of opportunities that may otherwise have passed her by. “I had to come back from North America to sort out the sale of my house,” she explained. “While I was in the UK, an old colleague asked if I wanted to do some consulting work in Brussels. What I found really interesting was that it was so easy to take the job, and only because I was on this journey.”
After a couple of months working and living close to the European Parliament, Caz began to get itchy feet again, deciding to head to France to work in a bikers’ B&B for the summer. “That was when the pandemic started raising its head, and I actually rode to Limoges the day the borders shut behind me,” she said.
“I spent lockdown here and decided to stay last September. It’s so peaceful and there are amazing back roads and trails for riding. I love it.”
Caz has since bought a “cheap as chips” farmhouse as a base from which to travel once Covid restrictions ease. Meanwhile, her time in France has given her the headspace she needed to take on the role of WIMA GB president. She explained that she joined the association while riding around Malaysia, keen to become part of an official biking network.
“I read on the club newsletter that no-one had stepped up to become president,” she said. “I thought that, as I had experience and time on my hands, I could do it. I also want to give something back to the biking family that helped me heal after I lost Pete.”
Established 70 years ago, WIMA has over 3,500 members in 40 countries. The association’s main objective is to “improve and promote activities, advancement, goodwill and friendship amongst women motorcycle enthusiasts from around the world”. As GB president, Caz’s role includes representing the country at the international level, keeping members abreast of developments, organising meet-ups and handling the business side of things.
“Over the past year we’ve had lots of Zoom catch-ups and a virtual Christmas party,” said Caz. “The pandemic has actually been a good proving point that I don’t have to stay in one place to be the club president; I’m confident that I’ll be able to go off and travel again in time.”
Today, Caz is focusing on writing a book about her experiences over the last few years, having found another tribe of creative writers online. And she may one day launch a bikers’ retreat from her farm house in Limoges.
It’s all a far cry from the Caroline 1.0 and Caroline 2.0 that she was before and after the accident. “I think about what Pete would make of it all the time,” said Caz. “I’m pretty sure he would have been proud of me. I know he would have loved to have done it with me.”