Just a little over a year ago I heard via Instagram of a guy who was riding a 1969 Royal Enfield from Australia to London. I followed his progress online, as did many people. It was the stuff of childhood dreams and several months later I would have the chance to meet and get to know the man behind the journey.
Jonathan Gibson, from Melbourne Australia came from a family with adventure and bikes running through the veins. His father and grandfather all rode Royal Enfields, and despite his parents' usual concerns, it seemed inevitable that one day he would set out on his own adventure.
As Jonathan's journey approached Europe, I heard he was passing by Venice - so I immediately made the offer of a bed for the night and some Italian home cooked food. My family and I spent only a day with Jonathan, but he left quite a profound effect on us. Bike adventures can be life-changing - but they also touch the people you encounter too. I know Jonathan met many people as he travelled, and I'm sure he left an impact on them too.
The following is an interview I did with Jonathan upon his immediate return to Australia.
What was the reason for making this journey?
I have always liked motorcycles and a decent challenge. This journey felt like a great way to combine both. Further to this I had lost a few people close to me to suicide and this would give me the chance to combine something I love (riding motorcycles) with raising money and awareness for issue that is important to me - mental health.
Was the decision to make the journey a gradual one, or a sudden bolt of lightening?
This trip had been in my mind for a little while but I always assumed I would do it later in life. Then I realised I was in a point in my life where there was not really that much keeping me tied to one spot. I was just out of a relationship, my job wasn't fantastic and I knew that with a bit of determination, and Nihilist like detachment I would be able to leave most of it behind.
What did your family friends think about the decision?
Some of my friends laughed, some of them raised their eyebrows and thought it was just some drunk chat. Others smiled and offered to help in anyway they could. Early on I made a point of telling a few people close to me. That way I knew I wouldn't chicken out. Hemmingway once said you should do sober what you said you were going to do drunk. I felt that once I had told enough people I would have no choice but to carry on ahead.
How much planning & preparation was involved?
I did very little planning and very little prep. It took me about six months from when I made the call to leave to when I jumped on the bike. I did some basic research into visas but when traveling for this long it’s hard to plan too much ahead as many regions and polices change quickly. Some of the things I did plan ahead didn’t work out. My Pakistan visa expired, my Indian visa expired, and it was only luck that I was able to get a visa for Iran as they stopped giving visas to certain countries. It all changes as you go along. As my bike was never one for deadlines I just had to wing it as I went.
Tell me about the journey your mind takes as you embark on, and progress through a journey like this?
It’s been interesting to note the change your head goes through on this trip. Once on the road you go from stressing about work and deadlines to having very basic requirements and worries. Food, fuel, weather and a running bike - other concerns just do not matter that much. Political concerns, personal hygiene and dress standards all go out the window and you just worry about getting further down the road. There was a time in West Pakistan (an Australian Government advised do not travel zone) when my bike was broken down, I had no money due to a faulty transfer and due to the security situation the safest place to stay was a heavily fortified prison. When things go that bad you really have no choice but to focus on the basics and what needs to be done next.
What’s been the scariest moment of the journey so far and did it effect your outlook afterwards?
In Chennai, my first day riding in India after waiting for 2 months for my bike to clear customs, I crashed into a school girl when she stepped in front of the bike on the highway. I was doing about 60-70kms an hour and she was crossing the road. She looked at me stopped walking then just walked in front of the bike. I locked up the back and collected her as I slid sideways. I hit her at a solid speed and the bike jolted as she became airborne just before I highsided over the front of the bike. That feeling, spread out on the highway knowing I just hit a child was by far the scariest moment. I turned and saw her get up and run away very quickly.
Has your outlook on the world and people changed since you started this journey, and how?
I was always a firm that people, regardless of nationally, religion, social and economic background are inherently good. People always tend to be afraid of the next village, town, religion or group of people they have not met or understand. People were forever warning me how difficult Sumatra was. Then in Sumatra they warned me about India then it was Pakistan et.. When you get to these places you realise people are the same just about everywhere. And almost any people are happy to help, talk and share experiences.
What have you learnt about packing & possessions since starting this trip?
If you don't use it, gift it, swap it or send it home. I am a big fan of allowing yourself some luxuries on the road and for me it was an aeropress coffee machine and a small travel fishing rod. These are things I could have done without - I didn't fish as much as I had planned and instant coffee is perfectly appropriate on a RTW trip, but for me I liked carrying them and using them. The rest of the gear was an evolving collection of spares and tattered items as I lost, broke or wore out things over the 16 months.
A lot of people dream about making a trip like this - what would you say to them?
In 1913 Carl Stearns Clancy rode around the world, Nathan Millward did Sydney to London with 2 days notice/ and Ted Simons couldn't ride a motorcycle before he took off for four years on his 74 Triumph Tiger. These trips are not as difficult or as expensive as people think and you don't need to have a special skillset or personality. It's really just like riding a bike. Each day you just ride your bike.
If you want to do it, that feeling will never go away so perhaps address it sooner than later.
If this has stirred your wanderlust spirit and need for adventure - fear not! In July of 2017 we'll be running a Revive Club Adventure across the Himalayas on Royal Enfield motorcycles. Details online very soon!
If you'd like to see some great videos about Jonathan and his adventures, check out this great video from the series 'Stories of Bike' here.