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Old 05-11-2004, 11:18 PM   #1
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Earthlings Through The Eyes Of A Wandering Biker (RTW Photos!)

Introduction
In November of 2001, while on 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, at 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 captures, I continued 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 discovered that recovery would be more difficult than anticipated, and although I was back in Palm Springs, it was still a long road home. During late evenings and early mornings of teeth grinding turmoil, I eventually concluded that 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.”
(National Geographic made a documentary based on the book)


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Old 05-12-2004, 08:49 AM   #2
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Prologue
Instead of collapsing under the lingering weight of the Colombian ordeal, I would use it as a springboard to the next level with a journey into the evolving, landscape of humanity. Yet even though I was now more experienced, this was far easier said than done.




From California, there were no airfreight links into Siberia, so after flying to Tokyo, I traversed Japan to the western coast for a three-day sail to the once forbidden reaches of the former Soviet Union. On July 16, 2004, the lifelong goal of riding the world quietly begins near the North Korean border in Vladivostok, Russia.

The Russians, security minded as ever, made it complicated to enter the Motherland with a motorcycle and wander. Officials were concerned about spies, misfits or journalists who might report what they preferred to keep secret. Organized tours are welcome but overland travelers are forced to fill out lengthy visa applications supplemented by fictitious business proposals before being considered. The process was a hassle, expensive and risky because anyone in the chain of command could change their minds on a whim. My itinerary was purposely vague. Destinations were to be determined by weather or at fateful forks in the road. Let’s call this a ride from California to Africa by way of Siberia, with photographs and stories of what happens in between.

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Old 05-28-2004, 12:30 PM   #3
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Here is my route around the earth starting from California through Mexico and Central America to South America and back. And then air freighting into Japan to catch the ferry over to Vladivostok, Siberia.

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Old 05-31-2004, 05:29 PM   #4
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Between the rebels siezing my equipment in Colombia and hotel thieves stealing my laptop on the return leg in Panama, except for images sent home by email, most all of my photos of the South American leg were lost. Hence we skip and fast-forward.


Morelia, Michoacan, Mexico. It's a significant event when girls turn fifteen.





Indigenous people of Chiapas, Mexico




Children's dancing festival in Granada, Nicaragua







San Salvador, El Salvador








An interview with CBS News, 48 Hours in Ecuador after released from the rebels



This insect larvae had grown inside my shoulder after a botfly laid its egg in my flesh while I was chained to a tree as a guest of the ELN.


The village doctor pulling it out.


Machu Picchu, Peru



Campesinos protest government regulations by closing city exits and high mountain roads.








But after a brief confrontation/explanation, we became friends and I was the only person allowed to pass.



Just starting to snow



Getting chillier...



After having a flat tire and nearly out of fuel in the boondocks, these folks rescued me off of snow stormy mountain, bringing me to the nearest city.




My helpers at the Peruvian/Bolivian border


La Paz, Bolivia











A high altitude crisscrossing of the Andes off pavement had it's complications.







The Bolivian Altiplano at 16,000 feet



Planar de Salar The Salt Plains at 14,000 feet



Dining on llama meat with locals in their cave

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Old 06-09-2004, 10:50 AM   #5
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Thanks for the kind words amigos. Roaming the earth alone on two wheel allows much time for introspection and re-evaluating lifelong values, goals and perspectives on life. During almost a hundred thousand miles of peering into the lives of others whom I seldom shared a language with, I was amazed at how we could communicate when we wanted to. When first crossing an international border, I managed to memorize the Five Ws and a few basic phrases to find what I needed and to explain not to put onions in my food.

What started out as a necessary response to an ugly event in Colombia, my ultimate act of defiance became a fascinating journey into the landscape of humanity. Inching my way around the planet allowed me to witness and record the footprints of history etched upon the faces of those whom I shared moments with or sometimes days. The simple truth is that I fell in love with several thousand people who bear little physical resemblance to myself while we share the same yearnings of peace and freedom. EARTH RIDE was the ultimate opportunity to explore alien cultures and to marvel at our similarities while celebrating our differences.
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Old 06-12-2004, 12:54 PM   #6
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On July 5th, 2004, I air-freighted my bike from Los Angeles to Tokyo in order to ride across the island to the Fushiki ferryboat landing. Local riders hosted a weekend outing in the country.







From there, it was a quick sail across the Sea of Japan to Vladivostok, on the edge of the Russian Far East. But first I had to deal with this Customs Inspector



Then connect with the local boys







And local girls...



Whoops, here are some better examples.







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Old 06-22-2004, 01:57 PM   #7
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About a third of the ten thousand kilometer Trans-Siberian Highway is raw dirt, mud and snow--the rest is mangled or wavy two-lane asphalt. Small impoverished towns are spaced a hundred miles apart with little in between except vast empty forests and swamplands buzzing with billions of mosquitos. But Siberian smoke-filled roadside cafes were always a welcome break from the monotony of riding long hours into 11:00PM northern latitude sunsets.









Like everywhere in the world, it was those with the least who shared the most. Mornings after late-evening meals, many a humble, friendly Russian offered me their last crumbs of bread and chunks of ultra-fatty pork--but still, they furiously rejected attempts at stuffing bills of rubles into their heavily calloused hands. Slapping their chests with powerful arms declaring, "Hospitality comes from the heart!"





Russians at roadside meal-stops would often offer small gifts and sign currency bills as souvenirs. And of course the vodka flowed like water into a startling display of alcoholism. Knowing that I would soon meet them on the road somwhere, it was unnerving watching truck drivers suck down several one-liter bottles over breakfast.


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Old 06-29-2004, 10:36 AM   #8
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While traveling across Siberia on the plan-of-no-plan, a thousand miles down the road, I decided to take a quick southern detour into Mongolia. Once in the capital of Ulaan Baatar, the Gobi Desert seemed so close that I opted for a twelve hundred mile offroad loop into nomad territory.

The last outpost at Mandal Gobi before entering the Gobi Desert.










It's a tough life in the Gobi where winter winds thunder in at forty below zero. To survive, all must share.









The last road into the Gobi



Only two SUVs appeared on the road today, one passing, the other oncoming, both with enthusiastic occupants leaning out windows waving. Vast herds of goats and camels roam the empty plain, scattering at my approach. This is where wanderers seek to be, where emptiness fills the soul. Enveloped by thousands of square miles of gently sloping desert, devoid of civilization, my only companion is the barren Gobi. Swallowed by the desolation of a billion years and giddy with newfound freedom, I am awed by the thundering silence while vanishing into the glory of obscurity.
Although the pink parched soil is coated in sharp-edged stones and small clumps of desert grasses, it’s level enough to ride across. Like circular domains, white felt Gers of distant Mongolian nomads sprout like mushroom patches on the skyline.



Waving herdsmen dressed in blue hand-woven clothing coax me to stop, but each visit requires an explanation in sign language and accepting gulps of foul tasting fermented mare’s milk. After a few fake sips, I pass out raisins and slip back into nothingness.



Not much out there, or so I thought, When dozing off to sleep with nothing alive visible on the horizon in any direction, the blackened overhead dome of the August midnight sky became a dazzling symphony of shooting stars crissscrossing in simultaneous arcs. A mile up from sea level, absent the pollution of burned hydrocarbons and blazing lights of civilization, the cosmic illumination of a thousand distant suns was powerful enough to permit reading a book.



It is in the Buddhist karma of the Mongolian nomads to care for a stranger so every morning, outside of my tent someone left an offering of dried yoghurt.



Although I seldom saw them during the day, early evenings, sometimes curious nomads would visit my camp where we would swap samples of my dried fruit for their dried meats.



Some of the more progressive nomads rode late-model Russian motorcycles



While others carried on more ancient traditions



Involuntary Wandering (Lost)
August 15, 2004
The Gobi Desert
The two major manufactures of GPS units each sell a CD with downloadable data revealing the main roads of the world. Assuming they used the same sources, it seemed logical that mine would display the same information as Brand X. It didn’t. Primary roads in Mongolia are merely frequently used tire tracks over dirt that became roads. There are thousands of these throughout the country with countless forks constantly dividing them into separate directions. Brand X marks a few of these routes, mine does not. Although mine is an easier unit to operate, except for the black triangle indicating my position near the border with China, for identifying roads it was useless in the Gobi.

Asking for directions has little value either. If the nomads understand questions, they just point to a series of tracks and say, “That one.” It makes no difference which I select, a mile down the road, it forks into several other tracks making gradual enough changes so that by the time the compass registers I am moving in the wrong direction, it’s hard to remember how to return to the original fork.

Fortunately, a friend provided specific GPS coordinates for important landmarks in the Gobi. Since the terrain is flat with no fences, theoretically, it should be possible to ride in a straight line to the intended destination. If there were no washes, sand dunes or low mountain ranges, that would have worked. And getting lost in the desert is common. Even with one eye on the GPS and the other on the horizon, it’s easy to become disorientated enough to question if the GPS is malfunctioning.

On a lightweight bike with knobby tires, sand dunes are fun—with street tires on a four hundred pound motorcycle lugging two hundred pounds of extra gear, it’s a tiring battle. Three hours of spinning through soft sand dunes leads back to where I started--except, now there are no nomads to consult, only numerous herds of foul smelling camels that hopefully belong to somebody. Maybe following their tracks will lead to humans who can point to the right direction. Anything is better than this.

Two hours later the animal tracks scattered but there was a wash at the base of a small mountain range emptying into an alluvial plain. Loose gravel of the widening bed was firmer to ride than rolling dunes but according to the GPS, the wash was leading opposite of the proper direction. It was hard to recall how long it had been since the low-fuel light blinked on, indicating two gallons left. That should last one hundred twenty miles, but it’s unknown if there is somewhere to buy fuel even if finding a main road. Supplies are adequate--a dozen protein bars, canned sardines and three, two-liter, plastic water bottles wrapped in socks. Still, the jarring has broken two of the bottles leaving one full container and an aluminum saddlebag holding the other two. At least they are still drinkable.
Between a hand drawn map provided by one of the nomads and the GPS, it appears that I’ll eventually hit a main road that’s supposed to be recognized by tilting old telephone poles without wires.

Even so, there is still another twenty miles of spinning across the desert. At this point, my own judgment’s in question and since sunset is two hours away, it’s best to setup camp and tackle the situation in the morning with a clearer head. I often seek remote locations to venture, wondering if there is ever enough distance from civilization. Today there was. Wrangling to sleep with concerns over punctured tires and running out of fuel, the Gobi remains unchanged in the morning. Unzipping the tent reveals a half dozen camels sniffing around about to dine on my gear. But before they can discover the taste of canvas and protein bars, I shoo them away.

It’s time for a new plan. The best solution is to program the waypoint into the GPS from my current position and then add an estimated one approximately to where the main road ought to be, based on the nomad’s map. It should be easy to follow the thick black line drawn on the screen. Seven arduous hours later, slightly north of the programmed waypoint, tiny vertical lines appear where a blue sky meets a pink desert. This is not the home stretch but merely where the contest begins. The orange low-fuel light is a steady reminder that the game has plenty of twists ahead.

Realizing that it can be several hours without seeing another vehicle, it’s better to wait for someone to flag over for confirmation that this is the appropriate road. Halfway through a can of sardines and stale bread, I am suddenly aware of a presence at my side. Looking down to the left, I am startled to see a four-year old girl staring up holding an aluminum pale and porcelain bowl. Scanning the surrounding terrain reveals no sign of nomads or their Gers and it’s impossible to determine from where she came.



“Sain ban noo.” I say. Hello. Her smudgy face is frozen in an emotionless gaze upward at the Martian that someone in her family has sent her to assist. Because of a deep Buddhist belief in Karma, it’s in the nature of the nomads to feed and care for strangers. This is a training mission.
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Old 07-09-2004, 12:35 AM   #9
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Old 07-15-2004, 06:51 AM   #10
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Old 07-20-2004, 01:43 AM   #11
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Returning north to finish riding across Siberia toward Moscow, in small towns scattered a hundred miles apart through vast forests of towering birch trees, Russians continue to invite me home to eat and sleep. At every opportunity they bring out their finest dinnerware, organizing elaborate feasts with steady offers of local vodka.






Russian motorcyclists, using their national Internet chatrooms, pass the word across Siberia that a lone American is attempting to cross their nation on the Trans-Siberian Highway. Not knowing my exact arrival time, often teams of local boys were waiting on the outskirts of city limits, prepared to escort a wandering brother back to their clubhouses.




And Russian women, curious as to the means and methods of an alien vagabond...









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Old 07-21-2004, 01:48 AM   #12
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Reaching the relative comfort of Moscow was a significant relief but after only a few days, I realized that I still missed the wilds of Siberia and the warmth of Russian country folk. The majesty of Eastern Europe was only temporary because I knew that the real adventure would begin again once crossing into the Middle East.









Shortly before departing California for Japan, a failed surgical attempt to remove all four over-sized kidney stones resulted in these plastic stints being placed inside my organs. Although uncomfortable to the extreme, they were supposed to keep channels open (ureters) to allow relatively normal body functions until reaching a Western hospital four months later. Trouble was, I did not consume the recommended massive amounts of water and they calcified, actually growing into my body. Little did I realize that by the time I reached Germany, the reason that the pain was so intense that I was hanging onto walls, was that I was near death due to kidney failure.



But sight-seeing through Eastern Europe became a sufficient distraction to forget about medical issues. Still, icy rains and cheap, impersonal hotels in majors cities only increased the longing for experiences in the rural countrysides.

Budapest





Bosnia






Serbia


Albania



Bulgaria






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Old 07-21-2004, 08:12 PM   #13
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sorry for the delayed post,




Hassled by the heat in Omsk


Omsk war memorial








War Memorial in Omsk







strikingviking screwed with this post 09-09-2005 at 01:37 AM
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Old 07-23-2004, 04:09 PM   #14
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Been working on adding photos but can't upload from these Internet joints here. Still using Windows 95. I just get blank screens when I try.
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Old 07-23-2004, 04:10 PM   #15
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Turkey



On the threshold of the Middle East, running from the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara, the Bosphorus Channel not only separates Europe from Asia but also divides Istanbul and the world of Islam from Christianity.



For the last five thousand years this dramatic city has served as the crossroads of ancient civilizations. Vying for admission into the European Union, cosmopolitan Turkey steers toward secularism as a symbolic bridge from Eastern to Western cultures. Contemporary tolerance thrives between conservative and liberal.









Stranded in Istanbul for a month applying for and eventually denied a visa for Iran, also provided opportunity for deferred motorcycle maintenance and a little social activity.





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