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Riding the Continent

Riding the Continent

edition:Paperback
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Far and Wide

Far and Wide

Bring That Horizon to Me!
edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover eBook
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DKW

DKW

The Complete History of a World Marque
edition:Hardcover
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Two Wheels Through Terror

Two Wheels Through Terror

Diary of a South American Motorcycle Odyssey
edition:Paperback
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It’s total chaos this morning in Guaymas. Streets not flooded or buried in mud are clouded by a swirling powdery dust suspended in the air above the roadway, making it difficult to see or breathe. Every thick mustached, potbellied public official has different information about road conditions heading south. The bridge is fixed. The bridge is only fixed enough for light vehicles. And the bridge won’t be fixed for weeks and we’re all stranded. Most people I ask say it’s impossible to pass. Eemposeeblay! That’s code for me; whenever someone tells me I cannot do something, what they really mean is, they cannot, but I can.

 

Saddled up and cinched down, I’m ready to roll and leave the rumors behind. Just when my frustration is peaking from dealing with uncooperative Federales, I met an innovative Mexican in a small pickup truck who knew a way around the checkpoint. Vamos a ver. (Let’s go see.)

Sure enough, after winding our way through the crumbling back streets of Guaymas, we arrived near another connection to the main highway south where there was a mile–long string of traffic about to be permitted through by a different team of Federales. Concerned over further delay, I white–line it to the front of the line and find my way back to Highway 15. The road beyond is empty, with hundreds of cars and trucks now following me far behind. It doesn’t take long to see the damage. It isn’t just a few washed out bridges but rather about thirty partially crumpled concrete overpasses. Work crews have been busy all night reconstructing traffic lanes around flooded gullies while others are filled with gravel. I never would have been able to cross any of these washouts on my bike. The mud is much too deep.

The original double–lane highway was built on top of elevated dirt levees designed to control seasonal rains, but clearly not capable of withstanding hurricanes. The fragile road is now being undermined by rapidly flowing water and ready to collapse at any moment. Buses too heavy for the cantilevered asphalt plunge headfirst into the muddy swamp where they lie like fresh carcasses, ready to be picked clean by bandits of the night. It’s chaos for a hundred miles yet Mexican repair crews juggle and divert cars from both directions to keep traffic moving.

Hopefully, the road stays passable long enough to get me to Los Mochis, my anticipated overnight. CNN weather forecasts promise that new storm; Hurricane Lorena will still be swirling in this weekend. Wherever I wind up tonight could be home for a few days.

Word must have passed that the roads are shot because once ahead of the pack, there is no traffic in either direction. Today the fresh green Mexican countryside belongs to me. I almost forgot how beautiful it is down here and how nice the people are. A simple smile or a Buenos dias, and everyone is my friend. They want to know where I’m coming from and where I’m going. They can’t comprehend that I’m riding to South America on this little green motorcycle so I just respond, “Southern Mexico, maybe Guatemala,” and that alone is enough to shock them.

I arrived in Los Mochis by mid–afternoon, enjoyed a spicy Mexican dinner, and found a new twenty–dollar–a–night hotel with hot water, air conditioning, and color TV. There was just enough time to shower and search for a Café Internet, to send my readers a hearty Buenas noches from Mexico. Life is good.

 

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One More Day Everywhere

One More Day Everywhere

Crossing 50 Borders on the Road to Global Understanding
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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In November 2001, while on a motorcycle ride from California to the tip of South America, capture by a Colombian terrorist army was not what I had in mind. Yet on one quiet, sunny afternoon, on a remote Andean highway, there wasn’t a choice. Marched at gunpoint into the mountains outside of Medellín, after that moment I knew that life would never be the same. During five grueling weeks as an involuntary guest of the National Liberation Army, they eventually broke my spirit with head games and torture. When I was finally freed in a Christmas prisoner exchange with the Colombian government, as an ultimate act of defiance against my captors, I continued to pursue my original goal of riding to the tip of South America and back. But once returning to California, after one too many restless nights, I realized that recovery from that incident would be more difficult than anticipated, and although I was back in Palm Springs, it was still a long road home. After late evenings and early mornings of teeth–grinding turmoil, I eventually concluded the only way to restore my psychological health and dignity was to continue what I had been doing — riding motorcycles to exotic lands. My silent mantra illuminating the path to positive thought became “Living well is the best revenge.” But since I had already tackled South America, the new goal would become traversing the entire globe, alone on a motorcycle. At first, friends and family still shaken by my Colombian ordeal couldn’t accept what I needed to do, reminding me of the current headlines highlighting increasing international terrorism and an impatient world furious with American foreign policy.

 

But for me, still reeling from a firsthand experience of human madness, there was no other way to contend with such a festering wound of personal doubt and deepening emptiness. I needed to find out what was really out there and hopefully confirm a suspicion that humanity was not inherently evil.

Yet in a post–9/11 climate of fear, Western societies were growing increasingly alarmed with news of more terrorist plots. Jerked from a slumbering state of denial, on September 11, 2001, the United States of America had been savagely attacked with its own technology and more was promised. From bombings to kidnappings, evidence of constant threats in a volatile world was blasting across our TV screens. Terrorists wanted citizens to feel helpless and cringe in fear. When we hide at home, they win. In a frightening overreaction, would America ultimately strangle under its own self–imposed security? Unable to defeat the U.S. militarily, could Osama bin Laden and others like him win the most strategic battle, unwittingly aided by our own political masters?

As a nervous U.S. Congress inched toward smothering the Constitution, would an Orwellian prophecy become a reality? With a proliferation of street corner surveillance cameras and an abuse of wiretapping regulations, lawmakers, worried about appearing unpatriotic, were looking the other way. And Americans were beginning to accept the concept of Big Brother protecting us. After all, who would vote against bills cleverly labeled “The Patriot Act” and “Homeland Security”? Yet while struggling from paycheck to paycheck, Americans were either confronted with tales of terror or droned into complacency with celebrity gossip and reality TV. The lack of truthful, relevant information was numbing.

For me the decision was simple and final: I had to clear my head with a journey into the real world, the developing world, and examine that world through the eyes of those who lived there. For Westerners abroad during the most uncertain political climate in recent history, traveling the earth alone was more than an adventurous challenge; it was a direct message to terrorists wherever they lurked: We are not afraid. But more important, we refuse to hate.

On a 52,000–mile odyssey exclusively through developing nations across five continents, I stumbled upon a startling realization. We, the American people, have been deceived. Nearly every preconceived notion about the world fed to us by our national media was proved false. Meeting the people of planet earth face to face as a lone traveler becomes an opportunity to discover firsthand that we are all the same — and sometimes even related. Eventually, a truth surfaces: while governments may not get along, people do.

From lopsided Middle East horror stories to rumors of ruthless Russians, one by one, foolish myths were dispelled as poverty–stricken strangers invited this wandering motorcyclist into their wooden shacks, offering their last crumbs of bread. But riding the earth alone wasn’t easy and plenty went wrong, contending with daily challenges of harsh weather, difficult terrain and explosive geopolitical events. Despite a year of planning, at times, given the steady changes in circumstance and necessity to take chances, I was nearly sucked over the edge. Enduring hypothermia while riding mud roads through Siberian tornadoes led to the blissful solitude of the Mongolian Plains, with an electrifying jolt into adventure and humanity. In a Munich hospital, my congested kidneys nearing failure, I wondered if there wasn’t a safer way for a man to restore himself? Later, a reckless mid–winter crossing of eastern Turkey’s frozen Anatolian Plateau nearly stalled the journey until spring.

Sitting cross–legged in a Syrian Bedouin’s tent silently sipping tea while American fighter jets patrolled the skies over nearby Iraq, I pondered — Who would have thought my odyssey would lead to this? While traveling Egypt, eluding mandatory military escorts, my journey through the ancient Nile Valley was peaceful, with throngs of young Arabs gathering to shake my hand. A sunrise climb of Mount Sinai took my breath away, the same as it must have for Moses when he accepted the Ten Commandments. And later that night, with distant gazes into the dancing campfire, a nomadic Bedouin chieftain described life while previously under Israeli occupation as “Paradise.”

After being granted a special–entry permit from the commander of Israeli Defense Forces, on election day in Gaza, I was cornered by Palestinian thugs from Hamas and the question arose — were my feet too close to the flames? Stranded in the Sadar District of Karachi while terrorists blew up mosques and hunted Westerners, fate was tempted once more when I flipped a coin to decide my next destination — India or Afghanistan?

On the Nepali border, coughing up black soot in a dollar–a–night flophouse, I was anxious to ride into the sporadic violence of civil disorder to escape the madness of Indian roadways. Brought to my knees while visiting the Killing Fields of Cambodia, it took the innocent smiles of bashful natives to eventually revive a wobbling faith in humanity. Weary from a year of tumultuous travel, the steamy massage parlors of Bangkok provided sensuous mid–journey relief before heading south to Indonesia, where the wilds of Borneo set my imagination ablaze while I established a world’s record as the first person to circle the island on two wheels. But once in Sumatra I found that nothing could prepare me for the horrors of tsunami–ravaged Banda Aceh. Saving the best for last, it was the soft humility and alien ferocity of Africa that finally fulfilled a dream that began during my turbulent youth.

 

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Shooting Star

Shooting Star

The Rise & Fall of the British Motorcycle Industry
edition:Hardcover
tagged : history
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