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Dr. Frazier: Profiles of Adventure Travelers

Thursday, April 11, 2013
The map of the world on the pannier of Audrey Allenspach-Kok showed where they had been and where they were going when I traded tales and tips with them in Southeast Asia.
The map of the world on the pannier of Audrey Allenspach-Kok showed where they had been and where they were going when I traded tales and tips with them in Southeast Asia.
Extended motorcycle adventure travel inherently have a large degree of risk versus a day, week or month of adventure riding near or within the confines of one’s own county or country. Adventure travelers often find themselves without the benefit of a safety net of motorcycle repair shops familiar with their make and model motorcycle, let alone parts and the know-how to apply them. There are the other risk factors or deterrents like language barriers, politics, religion and even skin color or sex that would raise the adventure risk elements associated with unguided or unescorted motorcycle travel.

So why do some motorcyclists push the risk envelope by traveling well beyond the security of adventure riding close to home or staying in-country? Are there elements that these motorcycle adventure travelers have in their cranial hard drive make-up that separate them from the more common adventure rider? Are these adventure travelers risk junkies, people who thrived on high risk factors to include death in a far-away country, sometimes halfway around the world from their homes and family?

One of the elements I enjoy while traveling around the world is meeting other motorcycle travelers. There is usually the immediate bond of our being foreign motorcyclists struggling with whatever negative elements we face as our vectors cross. These elements range from weather conditions, lack of gasoline, riots, road closures, bad roads, political upheavals, bad people with guns, good people with bad paperwork requirements, or motorcycle maintenance problems. None of these elements made travel fun, and yet we seemingly ignored them as barriers in our planning processes or knowingly traveled through or around them.

Singapore adventurists Mai Chun Goh and Samantha Pan  having circled the globe  were off on another long adventure to Laos.
Singapore adventurists Mai Chun Goh and Samantha Pan, having circled the globe, were off on another long adventure to Laos.
Singapore couple Goh and Sam and I unknowingly traded three years of road tales in front of a most cosmic place for motorcycle adventure travelers to meet  a book shop in Thailand named On The Road Books with the Free Spirit Travel Shop next door.
Singapore couple Goh and Sam and I unknowingly traded three years of road tales in front of a most cosmic place for motorcycle adventure travelers to meet, a book shop in Thailand named On The Road Books with the Free Spirit Travel Shop next door.
In a two week period I recently met motorcycle travelers from Singapore, Canada, France, Ecuador and Malaysia. All were on different brands of motorcycles and they ranged from one couple traveling two-up on one motorcycle, another couple each piloting their own motorcycle, three solo adventurists and one that had started a long journey on a guided group tour and decided early on that that form of travel was not for him, left the group and soloed on alone to the edge of the earth.

Mia Chun Goh and Samantha Pan from Singapore had a dream together: to circle the globe by motorcycle on a continuous journey, to be the first couple to do so from their native country. Goh operated a one-man landscape business while Samantha helped with the paperwork, sometimes even some of the heavy work. They saved enough money to purchase a 2007 Honda Africa Twin which they outfitted for their global ride and named Hope. Meanwhile they were banking and soliciting funds from sponsors, friends and family for what they thought would be enough money to finance their trip around the globe.

Two weeks before they were to depart disaster struck. While Goh was taking a break in a restaurant on a test ride in Malaysia, Hope was stolen. That left the couple only days to scramble to find a replacement, but the 2003 Honda Africa Twin they found was far from the newer and better outfitted Hope. Their dream ride enthusiasm undeterred, but having had their finances hammered a bit by the replacement, they left on their ride around the world.

Old motorcycle gremlins plagued the replacement Africa Twin as they worked their way around the globe. They had limped into the USA from South America when the engine coughed, started blowing oil and then died in Texas. Since the Honda Africa Twin had never been imported for sale in the United States, an expensive replacement engine was purchased out of Europe and shipped to Texas where the heart transplant took place.

Some weeks later the couple spent three days in my studio/garage in Colorado tweaking the same Africa Twin and mounting new tires for their run to Deadhorse, Alaska. Upon reaching Coldfoot, Alaska, just above the Arctic Circle, their dream goal was blown away by cold September snows and their having to camp due to dwindling financial reserves. They reversed directions, drove south to Los Angeles where they shipped the motorcycle and flew themselves to Australia. In Australia the journey was halted, they had run out of money and borrowed from their last sources. Several months of manual labor on an outback ranch banked them enough money to finish their journey and return to Singapore. Their tale of adventure travel around the world can be found at www.singaporedream-rtw.blogspot.com.

Our paths crossed for a third time in five years while they were on a new adventure, piloting the Africa Twin, again two-up, this time from Singapore through Malaysia, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia before returning home and back to the job of running a successful landscaping business. Samantha, 30, and Goh, 34, said their inspiration for the first adventure around the world had come shortly after the death of Goh’s mother who, at 53, had a dream to travel. Goh had owned a Honda ST1000 and thought a motorcycle would be the way to honor his mother’s dream. Samantha agreed and their goal had been set.

While disaster struck them several times before and during their global loop, the biggest problem they both identified was not dealing with disaster but dealing with visas, the permissions two people from Singapore needed to enter and cross certain countries.

A Canadian couple from Alberta, Canada, Ekke Kok and Audrey-Allenspaach-Kok, had been slowly working their way around the globe using two motorcycles. When I met them 50-year-old Audrey was on a 2009 BMW F650 GS, while 51-year-old Ekke was piloting a 2007 BMW R1200GS Adventure. Ekke had opted to start their globetrotting by motorcycle with a BMW R100GS but graduated to the larger displacement model for crossing Asia.

The Kok Plan for adventure travel was inspired by attending a BMW motorcycle rally in Missoula, Montana, where they listened to a presentation by Grant and Susan Johnson, founders of the motorcycle travel website www.horizonsunlimited.com. The Johnsons had spent 12 years circling the globe and the married Kok pair (now 22 years) thought that if the Johnsons could do it, so could they. However, jobs presented a bit of a problem.

Ekke Kok had switched mounts from his BMW R100 GS to a newer model BMW to ride through Asia  but said he still preferred the older airhead twin for long travels.
Ekke Kok had switched mounts from his BMW R100 GS to a newer model BMW to ride through Asia, but said he still preferred the older airhead twin for long travels.
Ekke worked as a Transportation Engineer and Manager for the city of Calgary while wife Audrey was an elementary school teacher, good jobs that neither wanted to relinquish for the pursuit of adventuring by motorcycle through third-world countries. However, both were able to work with their employers to set aside a certain amount of their pay checks each month into a savings account and when there were sufficient funds available, take off time from work for up to one year, without pay, and travel on what they had saved, returning to their jobs when their adventures were over. They had opted three times to execute their plan and were headed to Laos when I last saw them. Their travel tale can be found at www.ekke-audrey.ca.

One element both the Singapore Dream couple and the Canadian couple had in common was there were no children in their equations for direction or length of travel, both couples were seemingly responsible only for themselves.

Argentina and France was home for Ignacio Vaca (nickname Nacho) until he took an extended leave from his job as an engineer, moved out of his apartment, bought a 2011 Yamaha Tenere XT660Z in Paris and let the roads of the world be his home for as long as his financial savings could keep him moving. Single, he too, was responsible only for himself as he started to make plans to ride from Paris, France to Beijing, China.

Like the Singapore Dream couple, he found himself having to alter his plan while in route. For Nacho the change was forced when he had trouble crossing China. The government tourist agency he had booked travel permissions with then told him to come back in November, not the warmest motorcycling weather.

Ignacio Vaca  short name Nacho  had piloted his 2011 Yamaha Tenere XT660Z from France through China and Mongolia to Thailand and was aimed for Australia and then across the Pacific Ocean to Chile  Argentina and planned to eventually return to his base in France.
Ignacio Vaca (short name “Nacho”) had piloted his 2011 Yamaha Tenere XT660Z from France through China and Mongolia to Thailand and was aimed for Australia and then across the Pacific Ocean to Chile, Argentina and planned to eventually return to his base in France.
When I met 35 year-old Nacho he had a loose plan to vector south after having traveled through Cambodia, Laos and Thailand to try to reach Australia via Malaysia, Indonesia and Timor. Once in Australia he would possibly store the motorcycle, return to France and bank more funds to return and move onward to South America via Chile and eventually his home country of Argentina.

Nacho said the spark for his decision to seek adventure through motorcycle travel came after reading a book by an earlier motorcycle traveler, Ted Simon. He said the book and tale within did not inspire him, but that sometime after reading it the idea of a long motorcycle journey, “It just came to me.” His tale of adventure travel can be found at www.mylongvoyage.com.

Thirty-seven-year-old Dominik Szopa from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, said he had been inspired to travel by motorcycle by watching Long Way Round and reading the same book as had Nacho. With no house, apartment, nor dependants, other than himself, he bought a used 2007 Kawasaki KLR650 in Phoenix, Arizona, and rode to Cabo St. Lucas in Mexico and then back north to Vancouver. The adventure travel bug had bit him on that journey and he began planning a longer ride, this time through Southeast Asia, a two-and-a-half-month journey with no fixed plan other than to explore Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.

When asked about his finances he laughed and said, “I’ll have to find a job when I am done with this trip.” With a background in computer technology he felt it could be a challenge to get back into the work field but his purpose was to make a career of it while feeding the need for adventure travel with which he was currently inflicted. He hoped to bank enough funds in the short run to fly back to wherever he was able to store his motorcycle and travel onward.

Daniel Sanchez was traveling solo half a world away from his home in Quito, Ecuador when he and I traded 2009 Kawasaki KLR650 tips and tricks. The 34-year-old Sanchez was single with no dependants, had sold everything he owned, quit his job as a civil Engineer, bought the second hand Kawasaki, and in June of 2012 began to travel. He had previously owned a 2008 Kawasaki Versys and through the Horizons Unlimited website while reading about similar motorcycle models became inspired by reading about the adventures of travelers posting on the forum. He sold the Versys, paid $10,000 for a used KLR650 and began outfitting it for a long journey.

Daniel Sanchez  from Quito  Ecuador was on a solo round the world tour in Southeast Asia using a 2009 Kawasaki KLR650 that he had purchased second hand for  10 000.00 USD in Ecuador.
Daniel Sanchez from Quito, Ecuador was on a solo ‘round the world tour in Southeast Asia using a 2009 KLR650 that he had purchased second hand for $10,000 in Ecuador.
Sanchez had several unique problems unlike other travelers I had met. The first was he had encountered numerous barriers to being granted visas because his home country of Ecuador was seldom dealt with by many foreign countries. He once found himself stuck in Turkey and unable to exit due to visa barriers. Other countries bounced him from one office to another until he became known as the “Visa Man” in his internet circle. When we met while passing through Thailand he felt he might be able to be granted a visa to ride in Laos but had concluded the doors to Cambodia had been shut for him as an Ecuadorian.

A second problem he faced was his home country of Ecuador would only allow him to take his motorcycle out of the country for one year. If not back at the end of that time he would have to pay $7000 to the government. Given that high price to travel he knew his adventure would only be for the one year. Sanchez’s adventure travels and travails can be found at www.danielsanchezr.webs.com.

Some motorcyclists concede they do not want to venture alone for various reasons. For them there are numerous motorcycle tour companies that can package a group tour to almost anywhere on the planet, and for some around the planet. Malaysian Alex “Stmrock” Wong thought the guided and package tour seemed his best option to enter the adventure touring world. He paid his fee and started with a group in South America on company provided motorcycles headed towards North America.

After some days Wong decided the group tour pace and packaging was not to his liking. He wanted to go at a different pace and make some decisions on his own. He negotiated a deal with the tour company leader to purchase the motorcycle he was using, a Yamaha XT, and struck out on his own.

Malaysian adventure motorcycle traveler Alex Stmrock Wong published a book about his adventure from South America to Alaska using a well-worn Yamaha.
Malaysian adventure motorcycle traveler Alex “Stmrock” Wong published a book about his adventure from South America to Alaska using a well-worn Yamaha.
This was a huge decision for Wong. Not only did he not speak any Spanish but he admittedly had never been on an extended solo motorcycle journey. He would be left to his own devices to get himself and the foreign registered motorcycle across a myriad of nefarious borders between South America and his ultimate goal of Deadhorse (Prudhoe Bay), Alaska.

I seldom read motorcycle adventure travel books, favoring published fiction for my suspension of disbelief. There had been a few exceptions to my choice of reading material, one of them being Wong’s self-published and limited-edition coffee table book titled Till The Road Ends.
I was handed it one afternoon to look at as a sample of a Malaysian motorcyclist writings. I started skimming through the pages and became entranced. Several hours later I finished reading the book, fascinated by the adventure Wong had made.

When Wong and I spoke I commented that I recognized some of the people he had taken photographs of and published in his book. We laughed at some of our similar experiences with bandits, bribes and bears that he had recounted. Finally, when I asked him what had been his inspiration to strike out on his own and to leave the security of the group ride, he said, “It just wasn’t me.”

For the full story of Wong’s adventure travels a reader must buy the book. It can be found at www.stmrock.com.

My two-week random survey of adventure travelers reached no group profile, no bundle of threads they all had in common like educational backgrounds, choice of motorcycle or personal lifestyles. A given was they all traveled by motorcycle. Most were at the far end of the risk-taking scale, pushing adventure travel envelopes to extremes, but within their manageable limits. While none surveyed I would describe as crazed or psychotic, I did conclude that as a group there was something different about them. I was surprised to be included as one of the different ones when one serious adventure traveler told me that I had been their personal inspiration.
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x2468   April 14, 2013 09:47 PM
Yeah, why not JFC1? What's wrong with letting travelers in that spend money in your nation, cultivate an exchange of knowledge, and essentially advertize your nation to other potential tourists or businesses for free? At what expense does allowing travelers to pass through your border come at? None really, there are only externalities to gain, if any at all.
DaveDark   April 11, 2013 07:46 PM
North Americans and Europeans generally do have it easy when it comes to ease of border crossing. It is funny to think Cambodia would be closing its doors to an Ecuadorian. I mean, what did they think he might get up to?
Piglet2010   April 11, 2013 04:56 PM
Would a Honda NT700V engine fit in a Africa Twin, or did they make changes to the case when they updated it?