BY EGLE GERULAITYTE
As adventure riding gets more and more popular each year, it’s no wonder there’s a proportionately massive explosion of publications, blogs, websites and forums offering advice, tips, and all sorts of lists to aid you in the planning and execution of the two-wheeled adventure of your lifetime.
There are entire ‘ADV manuals’ out there: tool and camping gear lists and recommendations, bike choice contemplations and the do’s and don’t’s of packing, advice on lodging—from AirBnB deals to bush camping hacks—and tips on ADV bike mods and farkles. There are the ‘Top 5 Buys for the Awesomest Adventure Imaginable’, ‘7 Ideas for Even More Expensive Crap You’ll Need On the Road’, and ‘The Ultimate Choice List of Overpriced Tech Gadgets’. There’s even an ‘Adventure Motorcycling Handbook’ in existence.
And it’s all good and well: we live in the age of free, accessible information, and there is absolutely nothing wrong in making good use of it. But there is also the danger of getting lost in it.
So we figured, it’s high time to set this straight once and for all, and write the ultimate adventure riding guide which will enable you to make the best choices and decisions about your own motorcycle adventures, wherever you’re off to!
Let’s dig in.
Death by Curiosity Is a Myth
How did people travel pre-Google and GPS? It sounds completely baffling; only a couple of decades ago, there were no online maps, no satellite-enabled navigation, and no quick Internet search on border crossings or road conditions were available. Yet people–men and women, either together or solo–rode around the world, and did just fine. And not only did they survive, but if you read the memoirs of Ted Simon or Heather Ellis, you’ll see they had a blast, too! Linda Bick, who has been adventure riding for fifty years now, said this about planning her journey across Africa in the 70’s: “All I knew was that there was sand in the Sahara and mud in the Congo”. Despite having so little information, inaccurate paper maps, and a waxed cotton jacket for riding gear, she spent fifteen months riding across Africa on her own.
So what’s the bottom line here? Adventure is all about exploring, so go ahead and, well, explore! Forums, magazine articles, and all sorts of online discussions are great,but at the end of the day, you’ll have to go and find out for yourself. So instead of spending countless hours poring over internet sources and getting more and more confused and overwhelmed, just hit the road, and embrace the unexpected.
Getting it Right
If you’ve never been on a long overland journey by motorcycle before, it’s only natural that you want to do your best and ‘get it right’. Get the ‘right bike’, the ‘right gear’, the ‘right luggage system’, and so on ad infinitum and more often than not, ad nauseam. While there are some general guidelines to this (choose a bike that’s most comfortable for you according to how much off-road you’re going to do; lighter is always better; the less crap you carry the more miles you cover), guess what? You won’t get it ‘right’. Not this time, not tomorrow, not ever, because the ‘right’ way to travel simply doesn’t exist. What you will experience, though, is what’s best for you: what sort of bike works best for the roads you want to ride, what type of luggage is the most optimal for you, and where are you most comfortable sleeping – in cosy hotels, backpacker-infested youth hostels, or your own tent. You’ll figure out which tools are essential and which only add to unnecessary weight; you’ll make your own decisions about routes, daily mileage, and destinations; you’ll find out how fast or slow you want to go, and whether you prefer cooking your own meals or trying out the local cuisine.
Yes, getting a general idea about what’s out there is great. Yes, some of the planning and preparations pay off: I’ll confess I did wish I’d Googled the reversed seasons when I was freezing my butt off in a snowstorm in Ushuaia in September. Yes, some advice out there is worth listening to. But ultimately, this is going to be your adventure,so have the guts to decide things for yourself. You’ll figure it all out as you go. Trust yourself, have confidence in your own decisions, and listen to your own expectations. Nobody knows what you want better than you,so make sure to pay attention to your own needs instead of trying to emulate someone with a high ‘like’ count online.
Imagination Is Your #1 Tool
‘Step by step’ adventure travel guides, packing lists, tips for the most favorable architecture and interior design of a tent, bike modification manuals, route planners, free GPX files, advice on the top three foldable fork and knife sets for the ultimate adventurer and secret ways of tire tube patching are all great, but aren’t they kind of beating the very purpose of adventure? Soon enough, we will probably be able to travel around the world and stay online 24/7. Soon enough, most roads of the world will be paved, and we’ll be able to do Cape Town to Cairo or Dushanbe to Ulaanbaatar on a Harley or an R1. Soon enough, there’s going to be a free GPX download for every track and path of the most remote regions of the world. Soon enough, there will be hotels, wi-fi hotspots and Starbucks empires every few miles of the way – even in the depths of the Congo or the vastness of the Pamirs. Soon enough, we simply won’t be able to experience the unexpected anymore.
But that day is still in the future, thankfully. Today, we can still dare to go where very few ever venture. We can still discover roads that were never ridden before. We can still challenge ourselves to ride where we thought was impossible, and test our limits to the extreme, if only we dare. And isn’t adventure all about daring in the first place? Be that unique little snowflake, pluck up the courage, and set out into the horizon: you don’t need a step-by-step guide to satisfy your thirst for adventure. All you need is passion, curiosity, and a little bit of imagination.
Don’t Carry Your Inhibitions
This is the most valuable piece of advice there is: don’t bring your fears and prejudices with you. It’s useless ballast that will only make your life harder. Again, have confidence in yourself: you will manage different situations, find solutions to a myriad of unexpected problems, and just figure things out. Human beings are good at solving puzzles!
Be honest with yourself. Do you really need to carry extra fuel if you’re riding Europe? Do you absolutely need a pair of extra tires for South America for the entire way? Are you certain your life quality will decrease significantly if you don’t pack that comfy camping chair, that extra hoodie, or that tiny hairdryer? Maybe: like someone on ADV Rider so aptly observed, ‘one (wo)man’s survival kit is another (wo)man’s unnecessary weight’. The secret is, again, to find what works for you, and use common sense.
But it’s simply impossible to plan for everything. There is no way you could foresee all the flat tires, all the rainy seasons starting too early, all the grumpy border officers, all the strikes and roadblocks, and all the mood swings of the local policemen, regional leaders, and revolutionaries. At the same time, you can’t plan all the fantastic people out there willing to help you out, all the friendly locals helping you fix your bike or find a smaller, friendlier border, and all the good luck. So do plan the basic things, but be open to the unexpected. A precisely planned adventure with a tight schedule is not much different from a holiday package where all you have to do is follow carefully prepared steps, never leaving your comfort zone.
Ready, Set, Go
Long overland journeys on two wheels, including round the world exploits, have been done on all sorts of bikes. From tough little enduro motorcycles to humongous ‘adventure’ bikes to choppers, little postie bikes, scooters, and street motorcycles. Anything goes, depending on your route, level of eccentricity, and expectations. Such journeys have been done by very experienced, highly skilled riders, mediocre weekend warriors, and complete novices. It’s been done by expert polyglot travelers just as much as by ordinary Janes and Joes who can’t order a beer in Spanish even after spending a year riding South America. It’s been done on a generous budget, a tight budget, and no budget at all.
But what all these people had in common was this: they left. They set out on an adventure – with or without experience and expertise, with or without money, with or without certain gear. That’s all you need to do, too: leave, and the rest will follow. You’ll have your own incredible experiences and revelations, you’ll get yourself in and out of trouble, you’ll meet the most brilliant, crazy people out there. And it won’t matter one bit that you didn’t follow someone else’s ‘step by step guide’, ‘adventure manual’, or ‘five best pieces of gear’.
PHOTOS: PAUL STEWART
Well said! my feelings entirely.
Very inspiring article! Thank you!
Wonderful story that both inspires and gives practical advice. Once on the road, it all boils down to a motorcycle, a bit of lightweight camping gear, a few tools and spares and very few clothes.
Thanks a lot for writing this. I read it just before going on a 6-month trip in South America and it really helped me to chill out and stop trying to plan for every eventuality. What you said about the whole world being paved and having internet access was a wake up call — getting to explore these places now is an opportunity not to be lost!
So happy you found it helpful, Rhianon! Keep us posted on your journey – we’d love to hear about your adventures!