Globe-trotting rider's travel cheats
Rhys Lawrey might only be in his 20s but he’s been there and done more than most when it comes to travelling the planet, so he’s pretty well placed to hand out a few pearls of wisdom to anyone thinking of following in his tracks.
His first piece of advice isn’t exactly earth-shattering, but he insists it’s the key to every great adventure: “Get yourself a whiteboard.”
The youngest motorcyclist ever to circle the planet says the 20 minutes he took planning the 90,000 km route for his Tiger 800 XC saved him time, money and probably his sanity.
Rhys’ board was covered in exotic destinations, beautiful beaches and breathtaking roads when reality and realisation dawned that he’d be needing some extra cash.
His job as a mixologist – the guy who makes the fancy cocktails with suggestive names – was earning him money, credibility and a growing reputation.
So when the boss of the New Zealand bar where he was star offered him a dream job as Head Bartender at his new Vegas venture, it stopped his scribbling in an instant.
Tip 1 – Feel Alive
“I had money, a girlfriend and a job opportunity and I was planning this world trip, so of course I chose the trip,” he said.
“It was like a T-Junction in my life and I took the riskier, adventure path. I turned the job down, split up with the girl and left my job to get back to my whiteboard.”
Three continents and midway through his incredible adventure, the then 23-year-old pulled into the parking lot of the Vegas bar on Tigger, his Triumph Tiger 800 XC, “to see the life I didn’t choose”.
He said: “I had to go there to meet my mate and reassure myself I’d done the right thing. After seeing the magnificent scale of China and breathtaking scenery of New Zealand, I knew straight away I’d made the right choice.
“I knew If I’d taken the bar job I wouldn’t have felt alive.”
Unsurprisingly the global trip was the catalyst for many moments and life lessons that will stick with the now 24-year-old adventurer for the rest of his life.
Tip 2 – The best things aren’t always the biggest
The second came further on in the trip as he zig-zagged his way in and out of Chile and Argentina along the stunning Carretera Austral.
At the best of times it’s a spectacular combination of mountain rises and off road exhilaration made for two-wheels. At the worst, it’s hell on earth. Rhys was there at its worst.
“I went over one of the ranges through driving rain with knobblies and on the other side it was a whitewash of landslides, sticky mud and fallen trees. My mudguards snapped and I was sliding all over the place,” he said.
“Cars were abandoned in ditches so I headed for a town with a population of 50. By now I was soaked through, freezing and shivering. Then I saw a sign marked ‘habitation’, knocked on the door and was ushered in by an elderly woman who turned out to be 100.”
Slowly but assuredly the centenarian instructed him to park his bike in the wood shed, took his dripping clothes, set a blazing fire, poured him a hot drink before returning from the yard with a wriggling chicken.
Rhys takes up the story: “She looked at me, asked ‘pollo?’. I nodded, she disappeared again and then I heard it squawk. Half an hour later she came in with a plate of chicken and chips.”
More important than fulfilling the most basic of human needs, the interaction between two people so different in age, background and culture left a lasting imprint on the younger of the two.
“In that hour or so I realised that in life there is nothing more crucial to our physical and mental wellbeing than shelter, warm water, fire, chicken and chips. They are the basic essentials of life and I will never take them for granted again.”
The chance encounter also reinforced Rhys’s growing realisation that poverty and the western media’s portrayal of nations are not necessarily indicators of the reception you will find on two wheels.
Tip 3 – Random acts of kindness matter
“After leaving North America I ventured down through Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica and was greeted like a king on my Triumph,” he said.
“There are Explorers and Rockets everywhere there and when they read about my trip they’d join up with me and treat me like family. We couldn’t speak the same language but our bikes were the only bond we needed.”
Since his return to his adopted home city of Cambridge in the UK and stints behind the bar of his local pub – “I’ve got to pay for the trip somehow” – Rhys has beaten himself up at being unable to remember the name of one rider who touched him with a small but hugely significant act of random kindness.
He said: “I was invited into lots of peoples’ homes but this guy who couldn’t speak a word of English joined me for miles on his Triumph, waved me goodbye at the petrol station and paid for a tank of fuel for me. I can’t remember his name and I hate myself for it, but hopefully he’ll read this and know what a fantastic warm feeling I felt to be on the end of that motorcycle love.”
On the other end of the scale, after the first trouble-free leg of his trip through Europe, Rhys experienced what it is to feel utterly alone and unwelcome, sparking emotions of desolation, depression and futility which took him close to giving up.
Tip 4 – You need the bad to appreciate the good
The country was Turkmenistan, where he arrived after boarding an oil ship across the Caspian Sea from Azerbaijan to be met by a bureaucratic minefield.
“It may have been just that day, but at Customs there were 15 separate windows and you were directed to a different numbered window for each element of the paperwork you needed to get stamped,” said Rhys.
“I went to one window and the guy was sleeping so I woke him up and he started ranting in Russian and slammed the window shut. I ended up sleeping on tables waiting for the window to re-open until, 24 hours later, we finally got out of there.”
Within hours of leaving the confines of the Customs hall, Rhys suffered his first fall in the sand and was pinned beneath his bike until friendly locals came to his rescue.
“Turkmenistan was the first place I asked myself ‘am I really doing this?’ but that night I camped in the desert and saw the Door to Hell, a natural gas field that collapsed into a giant cavern decades ago,” he said.
“It was amazing and very emotional that night. It was here, after the relative safety of Europe that I realised I’d need to have my wits about me to survive and that this was not a video game. Part of my young self grew up quickly that day.”
After the challenges of Turkmenistan, the next lesson for Rhys was one of stunning contrast between China and his native New Zealand.
You don’t need to circumnavigate the world or get into the Guinness Book of Records to have an adventure… but it certainly helps. Rhys Lawrey
Tip 5 – Create your own bubble
He said: “China was incredible and mind-blowing for its pure scale and variety of scenery. From deserts to snow-topped mountains, bridges built in the sky, culture, ancient history. Don’t do space travel, do China.
“Everything I thought about motorcycle travel before I set off was in China… it ticked every box. Food, culture, isolation, perfect roads, torn up roads. I left after a month but wanted to stay.
“China answers everything that is adventure motorcycling. In Western Europe we have structure and exist in a safety bubble, whereas in China you have to create your own bubble or you’ll die. I’ve never felt so alive.”
But it was what happened when he left the People’s Republic and headed for Australia that brought home to him the damaging effect of technology on the lives of people in the so-called civilised world.
Tip 6 – You don’t need to travel far for adventure
Rhys said: “I walked out of my hotel to the main street in Perth and everything was quiet. I looked left and right and just started laughing… everyone had headphones on and the place seemed silent. Not silent to them but to me. I couldn’t handle it and went back to my hotel room for a couple of beers.
“I took Tigger out for a ride the next day to acclimatise and then when I got to New Zealand and stayed with my mum I rode down to South Island to see Mount Cook. I was ashamed that this stunning scenery was on my doorstep and I’d never been.”
It was, he admits, a reminder that you don’t need to circumnavigate the world or get into the Guinness Book of Records to have an adventure… but it certainly helps.
Tip 7 – Don’t forget that whiteboard
Published by: Fortheride.com