The wind in your face, the lush green of the surrounding tea plantations and natural vegetation blurring past, the bike leaned over 30 degrees to the left, as you hold a smooth, taut line through the hairpin bend. The throttle gently applied as the corner unfolds, the bike straightens then – with a short but assured squeeze of the brake – dives gracefully into the oncoming right-hander. The effortless feeling when rider and machine are flowing in sync. A feeling of pure bliss – somewhere between zen-like calm and jump-up-and-down-pump-your-fists elation. Every rider knows it.
And like the best experiences in life, even better when it is shared. So a word of thanks to my mate – and riding buddy – Morgan Parker, for the chance to join a part of this special journey and share those great days on the road.
A Day to Remember
This ‘moment’ was just one of many magic moments on “Day 57” of the Wheel2Wheel expedition, an excerpt from the wondrously twisting and turning descent from the Cameron Highlands in central Malaysia, a thoroughly enjoyable motorcycle ride.
And yet it was only one of so many brilliant and varied experiences of that unforgettable day as Morgan and I criss-crossed our way down Peninsular Malaysia from Penang to Kuala Lumpur. From darkness to dawn, rarely stopping throughout the day, then dusk and through to darkness again. Through baking sunshine and torrential rain. Lightning fast motorways, winding mountain roads, gravel trails and rutted, muddy logging tracks through the forests – we rode the full spectrum. And along the way experiencing cultural variety from colonial Penang, to the rural towns and kampungs of Kelantan, to the famous highlands, and finally the bustling, cosmopolitan metropolis that is modern Kuala Lumpur. Day 57 was an entire motorcycle expedition crammed into one day.
It was clearly an exceptional day on the bikes and a high point of the expedition so far, however I dwell on it not because of the superlatives, but because in so many ways it was illustrative of our days together on the road travelling through Thailand and Malaysia. The variety of climate, culture, scenery and road quality was there. And so too a sense of heightened awareness – of breaking away from our regular routines, of simplifying our lives and living in the moment, and of pursuing shared goals – I guess what we like to call “Living the Dream”.
From day to day the circumstances may have been different. It may have been a long day on the road covering significant distances (and there were many of those!), or a short day dodging traffic and commuting around a city. We may have been travelling on a schedule with film crew, family and friends, or simply travelling freely just two guys on the road. But at the end of each day we could put our feet up and enjoy a meal, a few jokes, and the satisfaction of another step forward towards our Wheel2Wheel goals.
(For Morgan however, the day didn’t quite end there… it was now time to pull out the laptop, start downloading the day’s footage, and try to do a little more video editing…)
Life on the Road with Wheel2Wheel
It was, by comparison, quite easy for me. While I had some jobs to do behind the scenes, a little trip planning, and some work to engage with our partner charitable organisations, mostly I was just going for a long ride with a mate.
Watching Morgan in action though was quite eye-opening. It occurred to me that the physical demands of the journey were already high. Thankfully Morgan was physically in good shape, well prepared, enjoying his riding, and tireless on the road no matter how many hours we chose to put in. But it was the time off the bike that was completely exhausting.
When we parked up the bikes and unloaded the luggage, we’d swim or shower to feel a little refreshed, then (make a futile) attempt to freshen up our sweat-stained or water-logged riding gear. If possible we’d head out in the local area we were staying for a meal or to soak up the sights and sounds. We’d add a little credit to our phones, then start the evening work of calls, emails, downloading, uploading… and rewiring the electrics of the room to be able to charge the multitude of cameras, GPS, Spot tracker, communications devices, phones, ipods, computer… all the electronic wizardry required to bring you Wheel2Wheel.
A 7-hour sleep was a rare luxury. 4-5 hours became our norm.
From the moment the alarm sounds in the morning it is action stations. Shower, breakfast, pack, load up the batteries and memory cards into cameras, cameras onto bike, systems checks, communications checks, GPS checks, bike checks, then gear on and hit the road to filming appointment or next destination.
If it was a ride day, then it was fairly straight forward and usually a lot of fun!
If it was a filming day, however, different story… the crew from Siren Films who have been doing a sterling job throughout this expedition work relentlessly during a shoot. Long filming days combined the rigours of a tight schedule, setting up and capturing interviews and scenes to tell the story, scrambling to the next location or interview, reorganising the day’s plan on the fly to capture a spontaneous moment or take advantage of good natural lighting conditions, and then adding in the inevitable chaos of things not quite turning out as planned – and often evolving into something even better than planned.
And the final challenge for Morgan, on those days, was to cast off any accumulated fatigue (that may result from all of the above multiplied by 60+ days) and morph into a TV presenter and personality before the cameras.
The good news is that, when the dust had settled on those filming days, they too proved to be a lot of fun!
(And they also often ended with Morgan opening up his laptop to squeeze out a couple of emails or try to upload the next episode of his video blog…)
But then Songkran, the Thai New Year festival, hit and with it the appropriate drenching in water from all directions as we rode the streets. Songkran is also notorious for being the period of highest death toll on the roads of Thailand, so we needed to keep our wits and our full attention during those days.
Next a group ride to Lop Buri with the guys from Siam Wheels, a group of motorcycle enthusiasts from Bangkok. Then a wonderful return to Baan Gerda, where I had spent time back in January, and a reunion with founder Karl and all the wonderful children (as well as reunion with my own family).
The delayed blog then morphed into a summary of our experiences to date with a particular focus on our experiences with Baan Gerda… only for yet another awesome experience to intercede…
That was Day 49, when Derek Van Pelt of Siam Wheels put Morgan, Director Ed Bean, and myself on high performance sport bikes and led us out on a high-speed tour of Bangkok. We couldn’t wipe the smiles off our faces that day, or even to this day!
Between the riding and the filming, the “highlight” experiences were coming thick and fast… and the poor blog was cast aside…
Into Kuala Lumpur and a couple of good nights out with Ivy and the WAO crew, and Mark from Humaneity, were fabulous bonding experiences after long filming days. We made multiple sorties from our KL base: escorted around KL and Putrajaya by the Ladies of Harley and Harley Davidson Owners Group; to various port towns along the coast seeking a boat to transport Morgan and bike to Sumatra; and a sweet ride up to Genting Highlands with the BMW Motorrad riders.
I can’t list all the highlight experiences – which also include the solemn moments of our Anzac Day pilgrimage to a war memorial, the mundane yet memorable hours upon hours of following the BMW F800GS with its yellow Hong Kong number plate along many foreign roads, and many enlightening conversations with Ivy and the WAO team – other than to say they will stay with me a very long time.
Finally upon my return to Hong Kong, after a happy reunion with my family and catching up with all the work that had accumulated in my 3-week absence, I was able to clear my head, resurrect the blog and put together this little reflection.
For me personally, it has been wonderful to complement my work behind the scenes on Wheel2Wheel with a chance to ride on the front line with Morgan and visit some of our partners on the ground. We’ve become good friends over the course of working on this project, and we’ve reinforced that with this trip. It has also reinforced for me the direct impact that we can make through supporting and promoting our charitable partners.
A little hat-tip to Ed, Grant, Hei, Dickie and Michele of Siren Films; I heard Morgan speaking of some of the filming (and endurance) heroics from earlier stages of the journey, and I definitely witnessed some myself. Like near Bangkok with Grant and Hei lying prone in the middle of a narrow country lane to film as 4 supersport bikes screamed past on either side; or Michele hanging more than half his body outside a speeding chase car (in traffic) to capture low angle shots of our bikes hurtling down the Genting Highlands. Whatever it takes to get the shot… I salute you… and can’t wait to see the results!
There are just so many great memories accumulated from those 20 days and over 5000km on the road for Wheel2Wheel. We had an awesome time, and I hope in some small way we’ve created a few good memories for those who have been involved in the journey or we’ve planted seeds of future change. I know Morgan and I will both be reminiscing on these experiences for years to come – and especially Day 57!
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