Riding a motorbike around the world is obviously no mean feat. The financial and logistical burdens can be enormous, it puts immeasurable pressure on relationships (and ended a few of mine), the daily grind is at times intolerable and the risk to life and limb cannot be overstated. Given the myriad challenges that an undertaking like this throws at you, how do we ensure that our mind is in the right state to maximize what is for many a once in a lifetime experience? I have assembled a few points that I wish I had considered before I set off on my own 7-month odyssey.
When I wrote a piece called Ten Principles to Remain Sane on the Roads of India a few months back, ‘Patience will set you free’ was at the top of the list. Some of us may already have some international riding miles under our belts before we start our circumnavigation. Some will not. The advice here is simple: you’re not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy, and the rules are different. Merely porting your mindset from your home country to the more challenging corners of the world is a recipe for disaster. Feel that tenseness building in your neck when you’re now in your 3rd hour of being lost in Bangkok’s evening rush hour? Take a breath, let it out and keep going.
Riding a motorcycle around the world should not simply be about the act of letting kilometers pass under your feet. It’s about exploring the new worlds you will pass through, worlds very different from your own. It might seem strange at first when a checkpoint guard in Baluchistan invites you to his humble dwelling for a meal, especially when you have 8 more hours to the Iranian border. Getting kicked out of your comfort zone and diving into all that is different is the purest distillation of how an RTWer changes your life. Open your mind and drink it all in.
Yes, that hippie word. Sorry. But the concept is relevant. Every day on the road can range from blissful to revolting, even on the same day. Being present underway simply relates to not using the current day as a pathway to the next. Slow down and take the time to explore. My best personal lesson came while riding through the Thar Desert with my wife on the back. Passing through a massive congregation of camel herders, I asked her through the Bluetooth if we should stop. When she didn’t respond, I assumed she was tired and wanted to keep moving. When I tapped her leg and shouted my suggestion though my visor, she said fuck yeah and we turned around. Spending a couple of hours photographing the exotic scene became a highlight of our RTW experience.
Depending on your route, you are likely to pass through countries where the motorcycle you are riding cost more than the people around you could earn in two lifetimes. That being the case, think about ways you can give back. Donate to a local charity, donate some of your time to help build a school or just make an effort to connect with the people you meet, regardless of their social status.
Ah, now the ‘risk’ part. Yes, riding around the world on a motorcycle is dangerous. Self-preservation is hard-coded into all of our brains and is active whether we’re barreling down a country lane in Belgium or striking out for a meal in Quetta, Pakistan. The challenge is dialing vigilance in as you pass through different cultures and geo-political situations such that curiosity and open-mindedness are not squelched. The best way I have found to optimize the two is simply the acquisition knowledge. Read, ask, sense: all of these information sources allow you to pick a path that is both safe and rewarding.
You obviously already possess this trait in spades if you are considering exploring the world on a motorcycle. But when you’re on the road, sometimes the world becomes myopic and satisfying your curiosity pays the price. Yes, compromises are always required even if you’re planning on spending ten years on two wheels. There are an infinite number of paths you can choose as you make your way around the globe. Allow your curiosity to be factored at each decision point and you will be rewarded.
Yes, tenacity. Persistence. Determination. Perseverance. Resolve. Whichever noun you choose, you must have it above all. Riding a motorcycle around the world is like solving any complicated problem. It is conquered by taking the challenge one small piece at a time. One day, I chose to take a dirt road along the Mekong from Kampong Cham to Phnom Penh instead of the main road. With each passing kilometer, the road ruralized until is was nothing more than a path through the Mekong mud. The 70km ride took 10 hours of toil in tropical heat with multiple falls and a seemingly endless goal. Stuck in a steep ravine with no apparent way out, I wanted to throw the fucking bike to the ground and leave it there. That’s when a half dozen villagers stumbled by and helped push the 700lb bike out of the ravine and on our way.
One kilometer, one challenge, one day at a time. That and tenacity gets it done.
So get your gear, tune up your bike and pack up the maps. You’re going to ride around the world and your mind is ready for the challenge.
Robb La Velle is the founder and Maharaja of Client Experience with Two Wheeled Expeditions. He has ridden around the world twice and laid tracks through over 40 countries on 4 continents. He is also the author of ‘The Places In Between‘, an account of a husband & wife team circumnavigating the world on two wheels.