World Tour: How not to have an Adventure

Nov 06, 2020 View Comments by

Overseas motorcycle adventureIt was supposed to be a special day—the first of our round-the-world adventure. But all it turned out to be was a special kind of hell. Soon, though it got even worse… And fast.

Not wanting to die on day one was the only thing we could think of as we chugged along a blacked-out, empty French highway at 25 mph. The wind threw us from lane to lane like ragdolls. The rain was relentless, hammering into our visors and reducing visibility to the length of an outstretched arm.

As it turns out, all of France was on red alert thanks to Storm Eleanor and its 100-mph winds. We probably should have checked the weather before leaving the U.K., but it was a mad rush. Our bags were quickly strapped into an embarrassing leaning tower five minutes before leaving and with awkward smiles we set off—managing to set fire to our camping bag as it drooped down onto the exhaust on the way to the Channel Tunnel crossing.

A week of rain and fog later, we were 200 miles away from a friend’s house in Slovakia. We begged our ride—a 2009 Yamaha XT660R—to keep going, but finally the battery died and the exhaust snapped off the pipe. We jumped the bike, did some improvised repairs to the exhaust, and carried on, much to the dismay of the Yamaha, which screamed in agony as it limped the last 100 miles.

As we arrived at our friend’s front door, the XT ultimately gave up the ghost, spluttered a bunch of error codes, and coughed its final breath. We pushed it the last 30 feet into his garden and left it sitting there. In the morning, we noticed a trail of hydraulic fluid leaking from the remote preload adjuster where the chain had sliced the cable. We removed the shock and ordered replacement parts from the U.K.

Three weeks passed by in Slovakia, but to us it felt like three years. Fluffy white snow replaced the fog as the days rolled by. With each passing hour the white layer on the ground deepened and the temperature plummeted to 5 degrees Fahrenheit. We were wet, tired, and cold all through our European stint. We had massively over-packed, our bike hated us, and we now had to face a sea of snow. But we knew it was going to get better. It had to, right?

Sand and Suspension In Central Asia
Yes, things did get better. The exhaust only broke twice more on the route through Turkey and the Caucasus. We were out of the storm, no longer permanently wet, and finally felt the warmth of the sun on the backs of our necks. But it wasn’t enough—we longed for the heat of Central Asia.

As we roared our way through the arid, desolate desert of northern Uzbekistan—dehydrated, sweltering, and deliriously sick from the sun—we changed our minds. Stinging sweat trickled into my eyes and blurred the huge holes in the road. The front wheel smashed into pothole after pothole, the bike yelping and crunching for days on end as we explored the Jewel of the Silk Road. Overloaded with an extra eight gallons of fuel in plastic water bottles (because there were no gas stations for hundreds of miles) the bike and its springs took a brutal beating.

It didn’t stop there, either. We fell in love with Tajikistan’s legendary Pamir Mountains, but they also took their toll on the XT. So, when we entered Afghanistan, we stripped off most of our luggage, dumped it in a Tajik motel, crossed the border, and went in light to give the bike a rest. But the deeper we rode into Afghanistan’s mythical Wakhan Corridor, the more the tracks disintegrated, leaving sharp rocks and giant boulders to pummel the already broken bash plate. Still, that didn’t stop us from having the time of our lives in the ‘Stans.

By the time we crossed back into Tajikistan, we were missing a few spokes and had a slow-leaking puncture. A few hundred miles later and the rear shock gave up and vomited out all its fluid. As a result, it had more bounce than the bounciest of bouncy balls, which caused the subframe to snap and the frame to crack. We were left with no choice but to ride 500 miles off-road with a broken rear shock, through blinding sandstorms and thick mud over uninhabited No-Man’s Land to Kyrgyzstan and the closest garage.

Neither of us had laughed so hard in our lives than while battling that mucky frosted-top pass. The madness of it all was hilarious—being stuck up to our knees in mud in the middle of nowhere with a broken bike and hundreds of miles ahead of us to the nearest mechanic. But we made it, somehow. After two weeks of waiting for spare parts, living in a dung-heated yurt with nomads, racing horses in mountain pastures, and a lot of welding, we were back on the road to Mongolia.

We only got stuck a few hundred times in deep Mongolian sand, went a little mad in the sheer vastness of its incredibly rugged and lonesome terrain, and had to duct tape the exhaust back together once. Over 2,000 miles of insane riding later and that was it. We’d made it through the hard stuff. We now only had 2,500 smooth asphalt miles through Russia and we’d be on a ferry to Japan. We’d be sipping rice wine in no time. Nothing else could go wrong. There simply was nothing left to go wrong anymore.

The Great Siberian Race
“No. No tourist visa for Russia for you. Only transit visa,” said the consul at the Russian embassy in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. “You have eight days to cross Siberia to Vladivostok. On ninth day you must be at customs, on tenth day you must be on boat to Japan or heavy fine and deportation for you.”

Eight days to race 2,500 miles across freezing Siberia with a strict visa, and no time to change the badly worn tires on a broken motorcycle to catch a ferry to Japan, or risk a hefty fine? No problem! We had no choice, anyway. We’d come too far. It was either risk it to continue the trip or turn around and go home. This was the week when we needed everything to go right.
And of course it all went wrong from the first minute of day one. We slept in a motel on the Mongolia-Russia border so we could make an early start. We woke up to a flat front tire, a delay at the border, and hours of searching in vain for a new tube. By the time we finally arrived at our Russian truckers’ motel, we were seven hours behind schedule, it was past midnight, and we were shivering and soaking wet.
Over the next eight days we encountered the following hilarious list of setbacks—four punctures, one ripped inner tube, one destroyed tire, one snapped pannier rack, one split exhaust, and two empty tanks. We also almost adopted a cat. We raced through Siberia, riding more than 12 hours a day through torrential rain and icy temperatures. At one point, because of the blown tire, Alissa had to stay with our bike while I hitched a ride to find a repair shop. That was when we met a Russian biker gang. Luckily, they turned out to be good people—a few members of the gang stayed with Alissa to make sure she was okay while I rode pillion with the other bikers in search of someone to fix our tire. We ended up getting back to her in the dead of night, so we were very grateful they stayed with her.

Finally, half pushing the bike and half crawling, we made it to Vladivostok and caught the ferry. Of course, they were fully prepared to leave without us, but we got there just in the nick of time.

Sipping Sake In Japan
Riding 20,000 miles from the U.K. to Japan was the best year of our lives so far. No, seriously. We made lifelong friends, learned about ourselves, our bike, and what we’re capable of. Most of that was a result of all the stuff that went wrong, so we wouldn’t change a thing. Well, maybe a few things.

Sometimes, things just go wrong and that’s okay. Bikes will break, plans will change, the unexpected will come along, and we will learn as we go on. That’s just a part of traveling. These are only the things that went wrong in our first year on the road, but for every mishap, there were a million other incredible life-changing experiences.

Anyway, we better get back to fixing that puncture…

 

Photography: Alissa Potter

 

 

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