World Motorcycle Tour: Riding Around the World, Again

Motorcycling is a wonderful cure for diarrhoea. I've discovered this over 20 years of international motorcycling in over 20 years and 50 countries. In too many of these countries an uncertain diet has made venturing more than 10 minutes from a toilet into true adventure travel. However, once on a bike I could ride all day with never a twinge.

Much of my riding was on a Yamaha RD350 in the late 1970s - travelling across Asia, Europe and America for Revs Motorcycle News, now incorporated within Two Wheels. The RD had a seat that was rather like being thumped in the bum by a four by two so I thought the effect was bike specific. However, here I am on the road again, this time on a BMW R1100RT that Lynn, my wife, claims has a seat so comfortable that one waits for a stewardess to come along and serve cocktails. However, again I've experienced the trots and again the bike provided the miracle cure. If I was a doctor I'd prescribe it.

On the other hand psychiatrists would have a few words to say about someone who has twice decided to toss in life in Australia - then his bike in a crate - for years of living out of panniers in dodgy hotels around the world. My only excuse is that an uncertain life on the road seems so much more intense and memorable than a daily routine in Sydney. And you meet interesting people on the road that you are protected from encountering by your own circle of acquaintances at home.

Ancient History

The first time I did a world ride I was 25 and had just finished a law degree. I was in a dead-end job with an insurance company, was in an on-and-off relationship and lived in a chaotic communal house full of motorcyclists. I suspect no-one really noticed I'd gone for the initial few days, weeks and months respectively.

That time I travelled with Trevor, a relative stranger who had moved into our house because he needed a big garage to work on his Yoshimura-kitted Honda 500 Four. The guy I had intended to travel with had fallen in love and fallen out of the trip - they're still married, have three sons and live in Wagga. Anyway, Trevor said he didn't have anything planned for the next few years and left Australia for four years on six week's notice.

Our route took us to Singapore then up through the Malay Peninsula to Bangkok. Then (as now) the road through what was then know as Burma and is now virtually unknown as Myanmar was both closed and non-existent. So we flew the bikes from Bangkok to Calcutta, India and I entered into an enduring passion with the Indian sub-continent. We rode to Kathmandu (a fantasy of mine since childhood) and we were some of the first western motorcyclists to visit Ladakh beyond Kashmir in far north western India. After a weekend in Pakistan, a country we didn't like, we came to Afghanistan that we loved - even when the ride across the heart of the country following camel trails nearly killed us.

Iran was still ruled with an iron first by the Shah and it remains the angriest, unhappiest, country I've ever visited. Turkey seemed very western by comparison - we could even buy pizza - but we'd been on the road for 12 months and winter was closing in so we pushed through to Greece. Trevor and I split up there and I glibly wrote in Revs that our year of travelling together had been like being married with none of the benefits. Looking back, I realise I was extraordinarily lucky to ride with someone who was completely open to exploring foreign cultures, strange travel experiences and bad roads.

Over the next few years I cruised through Europe, across America (often following Route 66) and into Canada where I lived on and off as a ski bum, with side trips to the Daytona Bike Week, California, the Rockies, as far south as Mexico and Guatemala, and back to Europe.

Finally, the RD died when the electrics terminally fried themselves on a ride through Oregon. Anyway by then I'd met Lynn, then a Vancouver schoolgirl and ten years later my wife, and it was time to see how Australia had changed. I still remember the sinking feeling when I was back home and came in to see Jeff Collerton, my old Revs editor, and he yelled to the office in general that "McGonigal's back - and plans on making a living as a freelance writer" and the staff universally broke into laughter. I realised that things may not be as easy as I'd expected.

I soon diversified from motorcycle journalism into travel and consumer writing. Lynn started a university degree. Over the next fifteen years we accumulated cars and records and later CDs. We sold our last motorcycle (a Yamaha XJ650) to raise the deposit on our house. I carved out a career as a travel writer for most of Australia's newspapers and magazines and Lynn moved onto a Ph.D. One day I discovered that my leathers were mouldy and the lining had rotted in our helmets. I could no longer instinctively say which was my clutch and brake hands.