I thought that when I started my See-the-USA-in-an-RV trip I was headed out on a big adventure. I think I was right, and not to take anything away from that, but seeing the world via motorcycle seems something on a grander scale.
As a motorcyclist of many years myself, I’d at times entertained the thought of traveling the states on a bike but I’ve never undertaken such a trip. I don’t think I would want to anymore because at my age it just doesn’t sound like so much fun: sitting on a bike all day can be really uncomfortable and difficult; carrying the many things you need and some that you just want can load a bike down and severely limit one’s ability to control it. Plus, riding in the heat, the cold and the wet, sometimes on slippery roads… well, you get the picture. Nevertheless, undertaking a cross-country trip via motorcycle remains an adventure of some romance to me and dare I say a great many others.
It was with appreciation for the romance of it all that I cajoled a gentleman from New Zealand named Steve Henley into sharing with me his experience in circumnavigating the world via motorcycle. I should say that Steve and I crossed paths at Greenbelt National Park Campground in MD.
Steve began riding at a young age and has had a passion for anything with wheels, freedom and speed since getting his first bicycle. He’s owned many motorcycles over the years and has raced motorcycles in the dirt as well as the asphalt track. When, as a husband and father he took a race-track tumble at 180 MPH he decided to hang up his motorcycle racing spurs in favor of something a little safer–his around the world trip. Gee, I guess that might be safer.
Even before giving thought to traveling the world by motorcycle Steve was by nature a traveler. While in his 20’s he traveled the world by plane and train. It was in New Zealand he met his wife (he’s originally from England). He’s dreamed of going back to southeast Asia, returning to countries with totally different cultures by which he’s always been fascinated.
An electrician by trade, Steve saved money for his trip while also setting aside funds for his family upon which to live while he was to be away and so that they could periodically visit with him as he traveled.
One of his first comments to me about his trip was that the people of Pakistan “were so incredibly friendly”. It was also in Pakistan that he hit his first roadblock, a military roadblock that forced him to make a massive detour. Because of the danger, especially for westerners in the area he was passing thru he was given an armed escort, including armed guards at hotels along the route. He was shuttled from one checkpoint to another where he was passed off to a new set of guards. Once he asked a guard “how dangerous is this really?” only to find that the next set of guards that had been assigned to protect him showed up in a vehicle with 8 bullet holes in it. While traveling behind an armored car a Taliban armed with an AK-47 jumped out from behind a tree and pointed the weapon at him. Then he lowered the rifle and waved as if to say “I could have easily killed you”. Steve believes it was because of the armored escort that he didn’t shoot. Sheesh… the most danger I’ve faced in a while has been that of not finding a campsite available when arriving at a campground.
Crossing the border into Iran he found that a military escort had been arranged for him. Shortly thereafter his motorcycle quit and despite his formidable mechanical skills he could not get it to run. This resulted in having the bike shipped to England at great expense where it was repaired.
When I asked about people he met along the way and what stood out Steve was quick to mention the people of East Timor in Indonesia. They were people with nothing, that lived in wooden huts, but people that were happy and would gladly share what little they had. I asked Steve how he might account for that and he said “I think it’s quite simple, really. Deep down, all the people I’ve met, all that people really want is to feel a part of something, feel important, feel that they are making a difference and these guys do that”. He went on to describe a little fishing village at which he stayed along the beach. Pigs, chickens, goats roamed freely and were community property. None of the doors were locked. Life there was all about the people, about community, not about things. Steve drew for me the obvious comparison between these people and those of us in the west that have all kinds of material possessions but aren’t as happy. “I sat there and contemplated how in the west we have all the material possessions, but we’re not that happy, and yet these people have very little and they seem to be the happiest people on the planet.” Steve then contrasted his experience of the people in the village in East Timor to a family he saw at a restaurant in Malaysia where the parents and children each sat staring at the screens of their own smart phones with no familial interaction and he posed the question: “Those kids were sitting opposite their parents and their parents had these phones in front of their faces totally blanking the kids out. How are these kids going to grow up thinking the cell phone is more important than they are?”
I asked Steve for another contrast in cultures and he mentioned the highlands of Indonesia. He said by comparison he felt more threatened there than in Pakistan and Iran because there were no westerners and guys were walking around with machetes and rifles and he got some menacing looks.
On the flip side of menace: In Java motorcycles aren’t allowed on highways. This forced Steve to take a route consisting of side streets through all the towns and cities. He had to cover 7,000 kilometers in 30 days. At one point he stopped riding to look at his GPS; when he heard a voice say “Are you lost?” Steve said “no”. When he mentioned where he was going, some 300 kilometers away, and that he was determined to get there the same day, the other gent said he was in a motorcycle club, that he’d make a few phone calls and they’d escort him. It was through heavy rain, over dangerous streets, sometimes in very bad traffic, but he arrived at his destination with an escort of about 30 motorcycles by the time he did.
In Australia, when Steve went to ship his motorcycle a woman got her car to drive him 6 kilometers so he wouldn’t have to walk in the heat to the bus station. A man in Iran let him stay in his house for over a week, wouldn’t let Steve pay for anything, and took him on a holiday to the Caspian sea withs his family. In India while staying on the lawn of a Christian church he was given food; he was allowed to pitch his tent at Indian police stations; people brought him food, a young boy brought him candles to keep mosquitos away; he was allowed to use a police commissioner’s office to work on his blog and did so while sitting opposite the commissioner… Steve said there were so many kindnesses paid to him along the way… “One thing I’ve learned, in general, is that most people are good.”
Steve Henley spent about 90 minutes chatting with me in my RV. That which you’ve just read was taken from the first 30 minutes of that conversation. Rather than tell anymore right here and now–this post is becoming somewhat lengthy–I’ll refer you to his web site and blog where you can poke around for yourself.
Steve’s Site: Steve Rides the World.