As pictured above, life can end quickly on the road. Wearing a helmet wont necessarily save your life, nor will taking a defensive driving course or riding with friends to fool yourself into think you are safe. Reducing risk will do far more.
Death on the road. Three of my motorcycling friends passed over while riding last year. John Richardson, known as “Little Dog,” had ridden with me in Mexico, Alaska, Canada, Thailand and widely around the USA. He and I had raced motorcycles and cheated death on numerous occasions, often laughing at the prospect of harm or danger. I doubt he was laughing much the day he spent dying on the side of a Mexican road while riding on what I called the Curtis Circus of Death tour.
The tour organizer wrote that I, and not he, was the cause of John’s death, for not having taken John with me on my ride through South America. Another in the same group said the needless death was an “act of God.” Little Dog would have doubtlessly and in his dour way, cited other reasons, such as foolishly following the leader. Sadly, Little Dog came back to Colorado via Fed Ex, his ashes in a plastic bag inside a small McDonalds cardboard box that had written on the side, in Spanish, “I’m loving it.”
Another friend slipped on a curve with his BMW motorcycle and slid headfirst into a Porsche a few miles from his home in South Africa, just days before I was to visit with him and his family. It was a sad arrival for me on the day of his funeral. His family and friends gathered at the wake made his loss a warm and memorable evening. Shaun Powell had always gone “on the wagon” for three months each year and the day of his funeral and evening memorial happened to coincide with the day he would annually fall off. It was a grand party and the gathered friends and family celebrated as he would, had he been there.
A publisher and fellow journalist I was scheduled to work with on a coffee table book about motorcycles in 2006 lost control of a sidecar he was testing. He finished last in the survival contest with a semi-truck. I had fun with Christian Neuhauser at AMERICADE only weeks before, where we were both enjoying being part of the world’s largest touring motorcycle rally. He and I viewed motorcycling in a similar manner, not as a weekender’s hobby, but a 100-hour-per-week avocation/addiction.
For my Harley-Davidson riding pal, “Commander Bob” Bunch, his passing may have been a blessing. He went to sleep in his favorite chair while watching TV with his loving wife sitting on the couch next to him. He did not wake up. His riding-life had been tough riding. The hard stuff started by having ripped off a leg when hitting a bridge one night. The doctors re-attached that leg, but he lost the other a New Year’s eve when a car driver T-boned him in a parking lot while he was sitting on his bike, stationary and sober. Open heart surgery and diabetes did not keep Bob off his Harley, but a crash on the way to Sturgis in 2004 slowed him up after the sidecar landed on top of him, breaking his remaining leg, ribs and other bones.
I will eventually catch up with these friends who are riding motorcycles somewhere where they do not get cold when it rains, never have to worry about gas or flat tires and there are no bad roads. Before then I will miss them. I lost four friends, but keep their memories of our adventure.
For Little Dog I built a stone memorial near kilometer marker 2080 on Route 3 in Argentina. If you are riding past, stop and leave a card in the plastic box I hid behind a moveable rock at the base, then spend a few minutes trying to imagine how he would have viewed the dry, wind-swept part of Patagonia. For Shaun, I was happy to see the editors at Motorbooks chose a photo of him to use in my latest book, MOTORCYCLE TOURING: Everything You Need To Know (ISBN-10: 0-7603-2035-7). Commander Bob asked me to spread his ashes on a mountain overlooking Georgetown and Interstate 70, in Colorado. He said he wanted to be able to watch the motorcycles and cars pass by from that special place at the Rocky Mountain tree line. I rode up the mountain on a perfect day in July and spent some superior time remembering our rides together. The idea Christian had for a book was a good one, and I hope to someday see it completed. Of course, it will be dedicated to him.
Pictured above is a medical technique not recommended for the novice traveler – extracting your own impacted tooth. If you wish to attempt this I strongly recommend Vice Grips instead of a small Leatherman knife. The Vice Grips, if clamped properly, will not slip off or crack the tooth. I also recommend not having an assistant record the procedure on film with sound; the whimpering can be likened to a starving puppy.
August found me promoting my “how to book,” RIDING THE WORLD: The Biker’s Road Map for a Seven-Continent Adventure (Bowtie Press-2005-ISBN 1-931993-24-6) at numerous events. One was the Concours Owners Group annual rally. The Kawasaki Concours riders and the Kawasaki Motorcycle Corp. representatives at the rally gave me an unexpected warm acceptance, since I have not owned a Kawasaki Concours motorcycle. I considered buying a new one before leaving on my fifth ride around the world (2004-2005), for the first time carrying a pillion (passenger).
The Ultimate Globe Ride (www.ultimategloberide.com) found Donna-Rae Polk (“Riding The Dream”) hanging on to the back of my motorcycles as we logged nearly 30,000 miles, riding around to the ends of the globe over 14 months.
The picture above caught Donna-Rae and I as we logged some of our easier miles.
She had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and decided to spend her children’s (and six grandchildren’s) inheritance seeing the world from the back of a motorcycle. We took a pit stop from mid-June to late August while she underwent further medical tests and I did things like the annual BIG DOG ADVENTURE RIDE (www.horizonsunlimited.com/bigdog/) and paid lip service to credit card companies.
While Donna-Rae and I were circling the globe, riding through some of the more dangerous places on the planet, I had time to reflect on how easily life can end while on a motorcycle. Screaming notices of the deaths of fellow riders and friends via email would cause me to question why I had been a lucky one, lucky enough to still be riding. Donna-Rae and I had some close calls that could have had us returning home in a box (hopefully not with printing on the side saying how we were “loving it.”). Numerous times we were forced off the road by oncoming vehicles. Bad road conditions or road litter/oil nearly caused us to crash in some ugly countries where medical facilities were at the lowest levels on the earth. Donna-Rae said she was my (our) lucky penny. I countered with “we were lucky because the heavy medication she was taking chilled her out,” keeping her from jerking when road conditions made the motorcycle want to do things I had to fight to keep us upright. She never so much as twitched in these situations, when the slightest twitch might have caused us to crash.
Riding around the world, with a female passenger, stopping to photograph things I usually rode past like castles, souvenir shops, and stone ruins, was new for me. While I was trying to adapt to two-up global touring from my lone wolf style, the death of friends haunted me. Compounding the stress from those factors was a tight timeline and light wallet.
As seen above, not all of our ‘round the world ride included camping or sleeping in backpacker hostels. Here we took an inexpensive cabin for the night. While we had no in-room toilet or bath, it was dry and saved us the time and strength of putting up/taking down our tent. The price of the cabin was less than a dorm room in a backpacker joint and in the cabin we had only our feet and snoring to endure.
Donna-Rae and I reached the top of the world, the North Cape of Norway as pictured above, as far north as we could ride on the European continent. On July 12, 1907 King Chilalongkhorn of Siam reached the same point. He seemed as awed as was Donna-Rae when he said he was moved “to see the last of the green earth.” While the King sailed half way around the world from his Kingdom of Siam and had to be carried up to this point due to poor health, Donna-Rae and I felt equally tired, having ridden a motorcycle three quarters of the way around the globe to the same cliff. We would point our noses into the direction of the morning sun from here and cross Asia, stopping for some days in Siam (now known as Thailand).
Donna-Rae and I finished our circumnavigation of the globe in September. We were lucky. The motorcycle(s) fell over once…. while parked in a deep stream and we were taking photographs of it. I dropped her off in Colorado and rode to my little house in Montana. It had been a long, strange ride for a single male from Mars. I crawled into my cave and turned off the lights and sounds for an extended period. I hoped my Mars-testosterone level had not diminished and if it had, life in my cave would replenish it.
A quick trip to visit my parents was too short. It was nice to eat Mom’s cooked meals and trade stories with both. Mom tells more detailed stories, but Dad, a Marine, and one of the Chosen Few, is an American hero. He does not talk about how tough he is/was. What makes him a hero is he downplays what he did. He is one of the tough guys, an American Indian who upped when America needed fighters. Then he re-upped/accepted the call, and hiked into frozen North Korea to free people he had never met. Walking out, carrying the dead and those with him, protecting all around, he froze his feet, ending his dream to be a dentist. Mom loves him, as do I.
Respect: he is a Republican, she a Democrat. We do not talk much politics around the dinner table, me being an Agnostic / Indian / Economist / Quaker / Buddhist / Motorhead / Journalist, they going to the polls and voting just to cancel out each other’s vote. But we read, and happily the same material. They buy the books, new or used, then send them to me after they have read them. It is fun, talking to my parents about book threads, characters, and endings of what we mutually enjoy.
My mother wanted to know if I had done any work while on the road over the last year, like promoting my new book as I traveled through different countries. Not wanting to disappoint her by telling her I had little time for media events or book signings, I told her I had been photographed numerous times around Europe. What I did not tell her was the photographs were taken by cameras like the one pictured above, a radar camera. I believe I am especially famous in Germany and Sweden.
The pile of bills on my desk, work assignments for writing projects, some legal wrangling, and the usual minutiae of day-to-day paperwork found me abandoning it all and returning to my cabin in Montana. There I was content to slowly paint my fence, read junk novels and throwing flies or dangling worms for fish on the Big Horn River, hopefully dinner. Then I saw a snow flake.
It was an early snow, heavy. Not the white powder that swirls and blows fast enough to drift but seldom deep enough to require shoving a path. This was ugly snow, like those I remember of Pennsylvania and Indiana. It broke limbs off trees around my house. My motorcycle would not plow through it. I was house bound. It was October. The gray clouds hung over my house, dropping snow. The day was the same as night… dreary, like an out-of-contact, over-the-hill, alcoholic, balding, defrocked, congressman working as a toll taker on the New Jersey Turnpike.
As I lay in a deep funk on my bed looking at the map of the world tacked to the wall, I could heard my roof creaking from the weight of the snow on top. I knew that in the morning I was going to have to dress in my snowmobile suit, climb a ladder with a shovel and my bad knees, and then push snow. While I was thinking those ugly thoughts I looked at Hanoi, the Golden Triangle, Cambodia, Burma and Laos, on the world map. The weather there would be entering the nice season, not too hot, not raining, and I had some roads in the areas I wanted to ride.
If I could have a statue like the one pictured above in front of my Montana house I might feel less inclined to look at the world map on my wall when the weather turns gray and cold. Out of place would be snow on the top of Buddha, as would be the perfect weather where I found this one in December.
The next day I closed my house and returned to my office in Colorado. After flimflamming a couple of personal bank accounts, selling some “hate-to-sell” parts on eBay, I booked a ticket to Hanoi. Like an irresponsible father I was fleeing responsibilities, plus the cold and Montana nights. The trout in the Big Horn River could wait until spring to be browning on the grill of my lightly smoking fire.
In early December I was flogging a motorcycle through the jungles of Vietnam, riding the Ho Chi Minh Trail towards Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Bugs, mud, snakes, river crossings, heat, rain, bad water and beds with blood on the pillows, it was all better than shoveling snow or opening bad mail.
After a hard section, I said to myself, and the world around me, “ I’m too old for this!” I really was. I was sucking wind in and out like a goldfish out of water.
I closed out 2005 back in the Golden Triangle and started 2006 with a fresh visa stamp in my passport good for Myanmar (Burma).
Pictured above is Bazi 1, my friend and motorcycle pal Werner Eberhardt, from the Black Forest in Germany. He lost his Honda Goldwing to me on a pool table one night in a smoke-filled biker bar. I did not win it by beating him. He lost it by scratching on the eight ball. Like me, Werner is single with no kids or dog. He has since replaced the Goldwing with a fire-breathing, oil-dripping AMF Harley-Davidson and I have since become known as Bazi 2. Neither of us explained to the wife, kids or dog why we had bet our motorcycles against each other (we agree the dog might have understood). As near as I can translate, “Bazi” is Bavarian German for “bad boy,” in a warm or fond sense.
For those of you writing to congratulate me on my marriage to some gypsy or gringo hunter or asking, “Say it ain’t so?”… I respond, “St. Fermin has room in his flock for followers who would believe all they read, especially that being spread by rumor mongers on the Internet about my being kidnapped or captured.”
As Jules Verne wrote of Phileas Fogg, another global traveller, in his century-old book AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS:
“…an enigmatic personage about whom nothing was known except that he was a man of honour and one of the finest gentlemen…” He “had neither wife nor children – which may be the case with the best of men….”
Gregory, trying to be the best of men, from the road
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