DIRT TRAX

16 March 1999

Canadian Biker

The northern coast of Chile, Atacama desert on one side, ocean the other. We turned around for the photo opp.

the drifting johnsons
STORY BY JOHN CAMPBELL...........PHOTOS BY GRANT JOHNSON

YOU'LL MEET THEM TIME AND AGAIN, the world travellers. They'll seem older yet somehow younger than yourself; a life intensely lived affects mortality and jumbles time out of sequence.
They may have just stepped from the shower, but they're coated with the road dust that will cling forever. Their eyes never quite meet your own, they're seeing through you to other horizons. They're not tourists, weekend warriors, voyeurs, or souvenir collectors. They're Travellers, people committed to a life on the road.
They roam from place to place, looking and learning but never giving in to the temptations and the subtle chains of a conventional, settled life. They're a species difficult to understand if you apply domestic values to

examine the progress of their lives, but they accept the risks and the odds against them by being continually out there on the road.
Grant and Susan Johnson are such people, Travellers in the classic sense. Early on in their relationship, Grant asked Susan what it was she wanted to do with her life. "Travel," she said. That was fine with Grant, because he had plans to travel the world on a motorcycle.
In early 1987, they sold their possessions, quit their jobs and headed for Panama. They've been on the move ever since, and have covered five continents and 39 countries on the back of their BMW R80G/S. The bike's rugged travelbags - that serve alternately as armour plating, flotation devices, and storage

chests are covered with stickers from their journeys: Africa, South America, Europe, Antarctic, the Middle East.
They've been there, tasted the dust, camped beside the ruins, endured polar winds, and desert heat; they've forded the rivers. And like all good career Travellers, they've kept meticulous journals. Grant describes Peru's rivers in flood, swollen by El Nino weirdness:

"A one-meter wide bridge of five-inch pipe had been hastily thrown down over


The Johnsons have been there, tasted the dust, camped beside the ruins, endured polar winds, and desert heat; they've forded the rivers.


The Johnsons are good examples of how modem technologies can free people from the traditional confines of the workplace.

Grant crossing a river after the concrete bridge was washed away
the river and lashed together with rope, then topped with logs and miscellaneous bits of wood. Men were staggering over with huge sacks of rice and flour and everything else you could imagine, along with a steady stream of humanity, chickens, goats and pigs."

A guide in Libya described them as modern Bedouins. "Since we have no kids, no pets, and all our possessions fit easily in a storage locker, that's a pretty accurate description." they say.

locals swarm around after we fell in the river

"Kolmanskop is a ghost town in the desert outside Luderitz. The only reason people ever lived there was that diamonds were discovered in this area"

...wandering Namibia's deserts

But who are the Johnsons? Well, they're actually good examples of how modern technologies can free people from the traditional confines of the workplace with its desks, and schedules and routines. Susan is a consultant to many large corporations and helps them to improve their business processes through effective use of information technology.
Grant is a freelance photographer and writer, and has earned his living as a motorcycle mechanic and dealer-he was also Canada's motocross champion in 1968 and a road racer in the '70s. While they were in Australia, Grant developed a software program and has

been teaching groupware to large companies in Southeast Asia. They do the majority of their business from a laptop, which frees them to pursue their windblown lifestyle.

"The fog was quite thick, but as we approached shore we could see them - tens of thousands of Adelie and Gentoo penguins waiting for us to come."

...coming ashore on the Antarctic Peninsula.

The Johnsons have no plans for settling down, not as long as they have the wits and energies to keep their motorcycle pointed down the road. They've been held up by guerrillas, detoured by floods, fallen sick in strange lands but they're Travellers, after all, and what they need to survive is not found behind a white picket fence, rather it's located between their ears and at the bottom of their weather-beaten saddlebags. You can find their website at: http://www.horizons
unlimited.com
Sculptures in the Atacama desert, Chile

a typically well-marked road hazard - compliments of El Nino

Article copyright © John Campbell and CANADIAN BIKER 1999. Reproduction Permission Granted

 

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All text and photographs are copyright © Grant and Susan Johnson, 1987-, or their respective authors. All Rights Reserved.