(Note: This is the last of my notes from the road. I have finished my third motorcycle ride around the world. Some have asked if I will now write a book? The answer is "No." I have read enough other books, some good, most bad, about someone else's motorcycle ride around the globe to know I can not say anything new or different. It also seems nearly every round-the-world motorcyclist I have met in the last 3-4 years as I roamed the globe was working on the summon bonum opus, their "ultimate, most fantastic, super-wazoo, Jupiter ride" motorcycle book, or hoping the write one. So there will be plenty of fodder, without mine on the heap, for vicarious two wheel adventurers as new editions hit the market. Parts of my adventure may find their way into a future book, but as of now none is planned.)
There are often times when I can not ride the motorcycle when moving around the globe, like over deep water, and most of the earth is covered by deep water.
The Crazy Woman. When I cross her, I know I am less than three hours from home. Crazy Woman Creek originates in the southern tip of the Big Horn Mountain Range and my home is in the northern tip. Sometimes when I cross the Crazy Woman I feel as though the smell of the wind has changed, becoming fresh, more clean. It is as if I have stepped out of the rest of the world into a bubble of translucence in the Big Horn Mountains. For those who know the clear mountain air of Montana and Wyoming, they know what I mean. For those who do not, it is an experience I recommend for their future.
As I rode my motorcycle into the crispness of the Big Horn Mountains I looked down to see the Crazy Woman near the top of the banks. The water was dirty brown. The color meant to me things were good, because in May we need rain to bring out the lush green of the mountain grass and the bright yellow and purple of the spring flowers high in the mountains. A dry winter can delay the colors until June, which is bad, because that means we can expect range and forest fires. This year the high and muddy Crazy Woman told me we might not have the raging fires we did last summer when seemingly half of Montana was an orange flame.
It was pleasant to arrive home on a cool, clear mountain morning. The motorcycle had run perfectly the last 500 miles, as if it knew the end of my trip was near and rest was waiting. I opened my house after nine months to find it was as I had left it. The dried flowers were still on my kitchen table, although the water had long since evaporated. The tape player started as soon as I turned on the electricity, playing the Rocky Mountain High song that was in it when I shut down the power late last summer. Even the notes I had scribbled to myself on a kitchen note pad, reminding me of last minute things to do before leaving, were still next to the stove, exactly where I had forgotten them.
Before I leave on a long ride, I take the advice of friend and global road warrior Dave Barr, and spend one minute with my eyes closed in solitude, with the motorcycle shut off, imagining where I will be and what I will see as I ride around the earth. It is like goal setting, and gets me focused on finishing my adventure once I start. After the minute with myself, I open my eyes, put on the helmet, and start the bike. When I return from a global circumnavigation I make a campfire, put a steak on the grill when the coals are glowing red and reflect on where I have been since I left behind that one minute of solitude some months or years before.
This time, as the fire was burning several cedar logs down to steak-frying coals, I looked back on the last 18,000 miles and nearly nine months. In the flames I could almost see the blood and road carnage as I crossed India and Bangladesh, the burning of bodies wrapped in white cloth on the Ganges River, and the quiet sands of the desert of Rajasthan. The India manufactured Enfield Bullet had transported me places I never imagined I would see, and numerous times it carried me to the safety a slow meditation ride brings. Crossing Europe I had suffered my worst weather, the biting cold of the German and Austrian Alps. The BMW was fun to ride but without a fairing to deflect the wind and snow, to keep from freezing or frostbite I wore all the clothes I had, including several pairs of underwear. Brazil was as I had thought it would be, tough, humid, hot and filled with some of the biggest snakes I have ever come close to. What was a surprise was riding the AMAZONAS motorcycle around South America. I would like to own one someday. It would be a great companion for my 1931 Henderson.
Child monks studying me and laughing at how strange I looked to them, high in the mountains of Sikkum near Tibet.
As I reflected on riding the Indian Chief around North America, and later the Harley-Davidson, I remembered how easy and safe it is to ride long miles on our road system. As I rode around the world, both this time and the two times before, I saw more traffic police in America than anywhere else on the globe. Passing out tickets in the USA is undoubtedly a major contributor to local governmental revenue, and should be factored into our published GNP as a hidden industry. Both the Harley and the Indian escaped VASCAR, radar and unmarked California patrol cars, due to the fact I had been trained over the previous months to ride slow or the slowness of the 54 year-old Chief.
Reflecting on Thailand I could still see the gold of the thousands of temples and the reds and oranges of the clothes worn by the Buddhist monks, as well as the lush green of the jungles. I thought I will someday return to that part of the world, probably again use a Honda or something similar, and explore more of Asia, hopefully avoiding the monster snakes, as well as the little ones. My thoughts quickly shifted from the snakes in Burma to Taiwan and the local people enjoying a snake meal. I smiled, thinking of the fun I had with the 125-cc Hartford and SYM as I rode around Taiwan, me a huge westerner, on one of their little bikes. I smiled because I was reminded of a poem I wrote some years ago which used an analogy between a little motorcycle and a fat woman, that being they can both be a lot of fun until one of your friends see you on them. None of my friends were in Taiwan so I had great fun.
Finally, as the flames of the campfire died down, I started to remember the friends I met or made along the way. As the sights, sounds and colors of my ride around the world started to dim, my memories of people had stayed the same. I could still see the smiles of the children in Nepal who I let wear my motorcycle helmet and gloves. My guides for hunting Yeti and Wolpertingers were vivid memories, as were the hangovers they caused the day after the hunts. The smiles and glowing skin of beautiful women in South America floated in and out of my campfire, as did the Asian faces of ladies on another continent. I also recalled the fun I had with old friends who I had not seen for a year or longer, some of whom I had met on earlier rides around the world. As I stirred the coals and placed the metal grill on the rocks, I decided it is not the things and places I saw as I rode around the globe that made this trip my best yet, it was the people. I thought, "Yes, there are a few places I would like to go back to and visit again, but far more people I hope to see someday in the future."
Returning home from a ride around the world always brings a dark funk. It is not as bad when I stop somewhere along the way and return home for more funds, because I know I will go back out again. But when the trip is over an emptiness makes the beautiful Montana days of bright sun, green grass, flaming yellow and purple flowers, blue skies, white clouds and red sunsets a dark grey, sometimes almost black.
While on the road I must use an entirely different set of survival skills from those necessary to survive day-to-day at home. Instead of folding up my tent each morning and packing the motorcycle for the day of riding, often into the unknown, when I am at home I start my day with a cup of tea and usually know what awaits me. Not so when riding through the jungles of South America or Asia. Far different from dodging TATA trucks and buses trying to run me off the road in India, or people and animals wandering into my path as I crossed Bangladesh. No BMW or Mercedes cars doing 250 kilometres per hour as they rocketed by me on the autobahns of Germany or Italy. Instead, once back home, I must contend with revenue generating police, trying to take my money and drivers license away, or drivers in the left passing lane going 20 miles per hour slower than traffic in the slow lanes.
I know when the deep funk is on me, because this is the third time I have come home, so am able to say to myself, "You're just depressed because it is the end of a hard trip. That's natural, so shake it off and get on with the day." I was told about a German man who, when he ended his long trip, could not shake off the funk. He committed suicide. So I know what to avoid. It takes time to adjust to not using the travel survival tools I had come to feel were natural, and get used to using my other set of tools, even though they may not seem to be as much fun. I remind myself that the home tool kit has brought me as much adventure and fun over the years as did the road tools of around the world.
It is always interesting to find out what has changed since I left home, and more so this time because this was a quick trip. The short months I was away brought a change in our USA economy, higher gas prices and a new political climate. I was also surprised to learn of an acquaintance getting a divorce and the death of my neighbor. The vilifying wife of my friend had meddled in my life some years ago and I had predicted the divorce, almost wishing the husband his freedom quickly from a bad person. The death of my neighbor was unexpected. She always gave me a long hug before I left on a big trip and sincerely wished me a safe return. I liked her. She never wore a brassiere, said she "hated the things," used to start drinking about 10:00 in the morning and would ride her lawn mower over some of the grass around my little house while I was away. Her husband told me that days after I left she was diagnosed with cancer, and died two weeks before I arrived home. It greatly saddened me to learn she was gone, because I did not say good bye. I wanted to tell her how much I liked her. I told her husband, and he said, "She knew." That day I was reminded I should tell my parents and brother how much I love them and am proud they are mine, something I always put off because I think I will do it the next time I see them. Usually, when I go off on one of these long rides, it is me who is expected not to be around at the end, not those that stay at home and wish me safe travels when I depart.
Riding a motorcycle around the world can range from hard to easy. My trips are normally hard because I choose the more difficult routes, ride mostly alone, go places where Americans are often disliked, and often prefer to ride trails less traveled. Others choose the kinder, gentler ride, opting to put their motorcycles on trucks, trains or airplanes to go over or around difficult sections. Still others sign up for guided tours where GPS readings given out each morning tell them where they will find their reserved room in a four star hotel for the night. My budget has never afforded me that kind of luxury, nor does it ever allow me to stay in Hilton hotels, order room service, buy my way out of trouble or across difficult borders. This last trip was done on a shoe string. Not once did I pay to fly or ship a motorcycle across oceans, thereby saving me thousands of dollars. I slept in $2.00 hotels, shared rooms, used my sleeping bag, ate raw food from public markets, and was hosted by friends to further save money. Several of the motorcycles I used were uninsured. Sponsors and benefactors helped with clothes, motorcycles, equipment and gas. My ride of over eight months around the globe was done on less than $1,000.00 per month, including airfare to get me across oceans.
Several times I experienced a great degree of stress and uncertainty because I had no Carnet de Passage. Three times I landed on a continent with no motorcycle waiting. I traveled with just my riding suit, helmet and what I could carry. I would like to try a guided tour or "luxo-ride" someday and think I might enjoy having someone else change my worn out tire or fix my motorcycle for me each night, getting their hands dirty instead of mine, while I was in the hotel bar spouting tales of adventure as a known author and motojournalist to my traveling companions. I doubt it will happen, because I will not sell one of my Indian Chiefs to get the $20,000 needed for the guided tour. Nor do I think I would be very happy following some guide who would make my decisions daily on what road I would ride, when I would stop for a meal and when or where I would start and stop. Those that do take the soft rides are probably having as much of an adventure in their way as I do in mine, we just have a different sense and definition of adventure.
A mosaic wall mural in Salvadore, Brazil showing a snake chasing a biker and his lady on a motorcycle. This proved to me I am not the only motorcyclist in the world with a phobia about large snakes.
A long ride around the world is a commitment of time and money. As each year passes I have less time to make another and what money I can afford for a global ride must come from somewhere. It is not true that we American Indians get free money from the government, so I do what I can to come up with the cash before making a ride. I still remember my second ride around the globe when I ran out of money before reaching Africa, and I was worried I was going to be eating sand and pushing the motorcycle, so I had to return home, where I sold my truck, some words and photographs. This third trip I was able to reach home with a few dollars left in my accounts, enough to pay for two new tires and a little health and motorcycle insurance.
One of my mentors asked me yesterday if I am now done traveling or if I had another trip around the world planned. I said, "For now I'm going to stay home and lick my wounds. This two wheel road dog is beat-up and tired."
Tired, and nearly broke, but not depressed. You see, as I said, I have been through this period of funk before. I have learned that the best way to make it go away is immediately start planning for the next long ride. I once lived with a woman who said to me, "If you go off on another one of your adventures, I won't be here when you get back," and she wasn't. I had crossed her for the last time. The combination of me being free on two wheels and the uncertainty of my return would short her out like two crossed wires burning a fuse, seeming to zapp her crazy.
Now, when I ride over the Crazy Woman and that breath of fresh air hits me, I immediately start to work on the funk by making plans for the next global ride. The lesson of love and life I have learned from the winds on three motorcycle rides around the world is: Never cross a crazy woman for the last time.
Gregory, At The End Of The Road Around the Globe, In Montana
(Photo by B. Pulko)
July 27, 2000, Going Out Again - 'Round The World
October 4, 2000, Why Another Long Ride, The Plan, and Mr. Fish
October 10, 2000, the beginning, in America on an Indian
November 6, 2000, AMAZONAS-Tamed By Beasts in Brazil
November 22, 2000, Monster Cow, Wolpertinger and Autobahn Crawling Across Europe
December 22, 2000, Enfield 500 Bullet, India Motorcycle Dementia, Ozoned Harley-Davidsons and Gold Wings
December 25, 2000, Yeti on a Harley-Davidson, Nepal By Enfield, No Carnet Sexpedition
January 1, 2001, Haunting Yeti
January 25, 2001, Monkey Soccer, Asian Feet, Air 'em Up: Bhutan and Sikkim
February 12, 2001, Midgets, Carnetless, Steve McQueen on Enfield, Bangladesh
February 20, 2001, Higgledypiggledy, Salacity, and Zymurgy - India
March 20, 2001, Road warriors, sand, oil leaks - meditating out of India
April 8, 2001, Bike Cops, Elephants, and Same-Same - Thailand
May 1, 2001, Little Bikes, Millions of Bikes, Island Riding - Taiwan
May 15, 2001, Harley-Davidson, Mother Road and Super Slabs - America
June 8 , 2001, Crossing The Crazy Woman With A Harley-Davidson, Indian, BMW, Amazonas, Enfield, Hartford, SYM, Honda
January 1, 2002, Donged, Bonged, and Gonged - Burma
January 20, 2002, Secrets of The Golden Triangle - Thailand
March 31, 2002, Bear Wakes, Aims Green Machine Around The World
April 10, 2002, Moto Cuba - Crashes, Customs and El Jefe (Fidel)
May 20, 2002, Europe and The Roads South to Africa
June 10, 2002, Morocco Motorcycling, Thieves and Good Roads
July 30, 2002, Russia – Hard and Soft, By Motorcycle
August 30, 2002, USA – American Roadkill, Shipping Bikes and BIG DOGS
September 30, 2002, Good Times Roll Home, Riding With Clothes On, Team Green - USA
November, 2002, Mexico By Motorcycle - Gringos, Little Norman Bad Cock, and Bandits
March 2003, Laos by motorcycle - Guerrillas, Mekong Beering, and Plain of Coffins
July, 2003, Alaska by motorcycle – Deadhorse, Fish Story and Alaskan Bush
January 2004, Angkor, Bombed Out Roads and Dog Eaters - Cambodia
April, 2004, Minsking, Uncle Ho and Snake Wine
August 2004, Around The World Again, 1st Tag Deadhorse
February 2005, Colombia To The End Of The Earth - South America
January 2006, My Marriage, Long Strange Ride, Montana Nights
May 2006, Cherry Girls, Rebels, Crash and Volcano - Philippines
September 2006, Break Bike Mountain Ride – United States
March 2007, Kawasaki Cult Bike “No Stranger To Danger Expedition” - Thailand and Cambodia
November 2007, Lone Wolf Wanders: Bears, Moose, Buffalo, Fish
April 2009, Global Adventure Roaming: Burma through the USA to headhunters on Borneo
February 2010, Adventure Motorcycle Travel: Expedition to Alaska, then Java
Copyright © Dr. Gregory W. Frazier. 1999- All Rights Reserved.
Thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author,
and not necessarily Horizons Unlimited