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Photo by Michael Jordan, enjoying a meal at sunset, Zangskar Valley, India

I haven't been everywhere...
but it's on my list!


Photo by Michael Jordan
enjoying a meal at sunset,
Zangskar Valley, India



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  #781  
Old 26 Nov 2015
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Giżycko

I get a chance to finally do some research into Neda's growing mole. It started out as a small spot the size half a cm across, but in the last couple of months it has grown in height and diameter and now looks like an M&M is glued onto her back. Her bra strap has started sawing away at it and now it's bleeding a lot as well.

The Google diagnosis is kind of worrying. Unfortunately, we've hit the weekend and all the clinics are closed till Monday. I hope it's nothing, but I'm very concerned.


Leaving Giżycko

Even though we were here nearly five months ago, riding through Poland feels so familiar. There are tons of advertisements along the highway but also many of these roadside shrines:


Sometimes Polish roadside shrines are put up to thank a saint or God, other times it's to memorialize someone who died on the road
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  #782  
Old 26 Nov 2015
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Back on the highway we make quick work of Poland and enter Germany. We find a cheap campsite just outside of Berlin and decide to splurge on the cafeteria on site. Our first restaurant meal in over a month! No wifi though. We've noticed that public wifi is pretty stingy in rural Germany, so strange for such a developed country...


You know you're in Germany when the only thing available on the menu is schnitzel and dark ! Yummy!

The next morning, it's another Autobahn-burner and we've now arrived in Baden-Württemberg where we'll be spending the next few days.


Riding through Baden-Württemberg


Reached our destination!
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  #783  
Old 27 Nov 2015
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I wish you both the best in whatever you do but I'm going to be very bummed if your trip comes to an end any time soon. I really enjoy your writing style & your photos and I've enjoyed the slower pace of your trip up to this point.
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  #784  
Old 4 Dec 2015
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Updated from http://www.RideDOT.com/rtw/257.html



One of the inspirations for our trip is the documentary, Long Way Round. We watched it when it came out way back in 2004. The moment Neda saw the boys training at the BMW Off-Road School with Simon Pavey, she's wanted to take the course herself ever since. I thought it was interesting, but personally, I would rather spend the money on a track day on one of the MotoGP circuits. However, when we stayed with Bettina last year in Switzerland, Neda found out that Bettina also wanted to take the training. So together, they booked this course almost a whole year in advance and planned to rendezvous at the BMW Off-Road training in Hechlingen, Germany.

In the meantime, I checked the prices for all-inclusive trackday packages (superbike + gear rental + track fee) at the European MotoGP circuits and they were waaaaay too expensive. So I decided to join the girls in the dirt as well.

Neda's been looking forward to this for over 10 years now!


Exploring around the town of Hechlingen

We're booked into a bed and breakfast in Hechlingen and we arrive a couple of days earlier. Hechlingen is tiny, other than houses the only feature here is a lone hotel. We hang out in the lobby and steal their free wifi because our B&B is wifi-less. Again with the lack of public wifi in rural Germany! The closest grocery store is a few minutes away in the nearby town of Heidenheim, so we do a bike run to stock up on food.


Pretty town of Heidenheim, a few minutes away from Hechlingen

The next evening, Bettina shows up and we have a joyful reunion. It's been almost a year since we last saw her and we spend hours at the kitchen table just catching up and getting all revved up for the weekend course!


Heading out to the course
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  #785  
Old 4 Dec 2015
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BMW Enduro Park! Heaven in EU for dual-sport motorcycles!

The BMW Enduro Park is 26 hectares of trails and training area. There are hills, bowls, ruts, whoops, obstacle courses, jumps and tricks, and tight single-track through forested and open terrain, over a variety of surfaces like hard pack gravel, small rocks, mud and sand. In the heavily-regulated European Union, it's unusual to have such a large playground for motorized vehicles (let alone only for two-wheelers), so riders from all over Europe come here to satisfy their off-road addiction.

Folks in North America don't know how good they have it, with so much wide open space that can be dedicated to off-road motorsports.


In the morning, we gather at the lodge to get briefed on our two-day course

We get our gear inspected and everything passes muster except for our street boots. We are able to rent motocross boots at the lodge and then we get divided up into groups. There are three levels, Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced. Since Beginner group is for new riders (dirt or street), most of the students, Neda and Bettina included, slot themselves into Intermediate (street riders with little-to-no dirt experience). I sign up for the Advanced (some dirt experience). The instructors tell us that if it looks like we don't belong in a group they'll move us up or down after the first session, so I might as well challenge myself.


I bet Brad was in the Advanced group...


We meet our instructors. Neda and Bettina's instructor Udo is third from the left, and my instructor Manuel is the one talking

Manuel used to be an ex-motocross racer, so I feel like I'm in good hands. But all of the instructors have impeccable credentials and the course is offered in both German and English at the same time.
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  #786  
Old 4 Dec 2015
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After briefing, we walk out to the garage and find our bikes


Neda has chosen the F700GS, almost exactly identical to her F650GS but for minor tweaks

BMW Enduro Park offers several GS models, G650GS (single cylinder), F700GS, F800GS, R1200GS, and the R1200GS Adventure. Most of the intermediates students choose the F700GS. In the Advanced group, we have some experienced motocross guys, and they choose the F800GS. With it's bigger 21" front wheel and longer suspension travel, it's more suited for the course than the R12 Boxer. However, most of the Advanced guys do choose the heavier R1200GS because they're all tough guys and have something to prove.


My bike for the weekend. The R1200GS...

Actually, we're not all tough guys. Most of the students that opt for the R12GS already own one so they want to take the course on a bike that's familiar to them. Like me. I've been very curious about the new water-cooled model ever since it came out in 2013, this will be my very first time ever riding one. And it'll be off-road! What a great way to test it out!


Ergonomics are very familiar, the dashboard and all the computer buttons are totally new though

The R1200GS for the courses are pretty much stock. The only difference is the keyless & remoteless on/off switch, low windshield, crash bars and no mirrors. All the bikes are current year models with very low mileage. My bike only has 1000 kms on it! The tires are Metzeler Karoos, similar to the Heidenau K60s that we ran in Latin America.


Neda's ready to hit the off-road!

I can't really do a direct comparison from my old R1200GS to this new liquid-cooled one. On my bike, I carry so much weight over the rear wheel that the handling is very compromised, and my engine is much more taxed than this luggage-less model I'm riding this weekend. Still, this new engine seems to pull much stronger than what I remember from my unladen bike. Nice sound from the stock silencer as well! Although the new liquid-cooled model is over 20 lbs heavier than mine (without the furniture I'm carrying), you don't really feel the excess weigh too much. Until you drop the bike and have to pick it up. Which I have to do a couple of times during the day...
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  #787  
Old 4 Dec 2015
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Main training area

Each of the groups have a home-base where they get their lessons delivered and practice their drills. Neda and Bettina stay in the main training area near the lodge and Manuel leads us up the escarpment to another spot. The format is a short 10-minute lesson followed by drills and then a lot of free-riding in between. The first day we learn about body positioning, low speed drills, hill climbs and descents, front and rear braking, managing ruts and picking up a bike when it's down on a hill. And a lot of free-riding!

Manuel and the motocross guys are doing jumps on their bikes. Geez. Watching those motorcross guys on the F800s, if I ever take the course again, I would rent that bike over the R1200GS. However, I'm amazed at how well I'm doing on the big pig. These bikes are well over 500lbs wet, twice what a normal dirtbike should weigh! Theoretically, they shouldn't be capable of doing some of the tight, gnarly stuff that Manuel takes us through.

It's like being invited to go mountain-bike riding and showing up with a zamboni. And then realizing once you're out on the trails that it's a magical BMW Motorrad Zamboni that's capable of wheelying and jumping over hills. Crazy! The only time I struggle is when the BMW Zamboni tips over and I have to heave it up myself from the dirt. There are a lot of tipovers and falls, I'm glad I'm not the only one. I'm also glad that I'm squarely mid-pack in the Advanced group, between the motocross guys and some of the less dirt-experienced street riders.

After all, nobody wants to be the worst rider in the group...


For lunch, we take the bikes out onto the street and the whole school rides to the hotel in Hechlingen for a buffet meal

When we head out onto the public roadways, we are advised to change the electronic suspension, traction control and throttle sensitivity settings from Enduro back to Street mode. However, I forget to change back from Street to Enduro after lunch and the bike is barely rideable back in the park, bouncing around all over the place. Since you can't change the setting while on the move and I was in the middle of the riding pack, to the guys behind me it must have looked like I forgot how to ride a motorcycle during lunch! At the first break, I changed back to Enduro Mode and the BMW Zamboni was suddenly capable of trail-riding once again!

That was a very good lesson on how important the suspension settings are. And also how easy it is to change with the electronics. But these bikes are so computerized that I don't really think they'd make good Round-The-World vehicles. An electronic breakdown will be impossible to fix by yourself or a traditional motorcycle mechanic. You'd need a BMW computer technician to replace the computer or sensor and that's no good for the kind of travel that we do.

Still, it's such a good bike when everything's working. I'd definitely have one in my garage. If we ever have a garage, that is...


Getting down and dirty with my zamboni

I was wiped by the end of the first day, I had to call it quits about an hour before the day was actually done. I've been sedentary for so long that I'm very out of shape. It's embarrassing. That evening, we all slept the sleep of the dead and headed back out the next morning for Day 2.

The curriculum for the second day was more advanced off-road concepts. Practicing front wheel slides and rear wheel slides, then using these techniques to quickly slide the bike around a slalom, advanced hill climbs and sand riding. When I talked to Neda at lunch, we found out that the Intermediate and Advanced groups have the exact same curriculum, just that the pace is faster in my group and there was more single-track free riding. Also the obstacle courses were more tighter. But you basically learn the same skills no matter what group you are in.
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  #788  
Old 4 Dec 2015
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The instructors deliver all the lessons twice, once in English and then again in German


Once in a while, I'll pass Neda's group. Every single time I see her, she has a huge grin on her face!

This was soooo much fun. Neda said that it totally lived up to her expectations and Bettina has already booked another Enduro Park course later on this year!

But enough with the boring pictures, here's some footage from my Sena Prism helmet-mounted cam. It took forever to put this video together because there were literally hours of footage I had to sort through!

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  #789  
Old 4 Dec 2015
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NJ650 View Post
I wish you both the best in whatever you do but I'm going to be very bummed if your trip comes to an end any time soon. I really enjoy your writing style & your photos and I've enjoyed the slower pace of your trip up to this point.
Thanks! I appreciate the kind words!
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  #790  
Old 8 Dec 2015
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Updated from http://www.RideDOT.com/rtw/258.html



So now that we've wiped our schedule clean, we have absolutely no obligations to be anywhere, anytime. For the first time in months, it feels like we've got some breathing room.

However there are still some things that need attending to. First and foremost, we've got to check out Neda's mole. It's grown quite large in the last few weeks and now looks like a Smartie that's been glued onto her back. Based on all the Google Image medical searches that I've been doing over the last few days, I've been very concerned that it might be something serious. There wasn't anything we could do over the weekend except send out some feelers to all of our German friends asking for advice for dermatologists that they could recommend. We even considered riding to Italy because Neda's brother-in-law works in a hospital in Milan.

But we decided to give Munich a try first. It's only an hour and a half away from Hechlingen, and we researched some English-speaking dermatology drop-in clinics beforehand on the Internet.


Riding around Munich. We keep coming back to this city over and over again, like it's a central node in our travels.

The clinic we visited was right in the city and at first the receptionist wanted to book us an appointment later on in the week. But after talking to the doctor directly, we managed to convince them to see us right away. I sat nervously in the waiting area as Neda disappeared into one of the examination rooms. I thumbed through some German magazines but I wasn't really looking at any of them. My mind was occupied by what the diagnosis would be.

45 suspenseful minutes later and Neda reappeared in the lobby outside the waiting room. Through the glass wall she smiled at me and gave me the thumbs up.

Whew! What a relief!

As I joined her at the receptionist desk, she told me that the dermatologist said it looked like a benign growth and that they quickly removed it and would send it away for analysis. But she reassured us that we needn't worry about it too much.

We walked out of the office and into the city streets of Munich with a million pound weight off our shoulders. And best of all, we had nowhere to be! Best feeling in the world right now!!!

Walking back to the bikes, I put my arm around my wife: "Well, where are we off to now, my little Smartie?"

She shot me an icy glare and raised her index finger between us. "No. Just... NO."

Hm. Too soon, even for a little nervous-relief humour...?
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  #791  
Old 8 Dec 2015
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Touratech Munich

The whole city is bustling with activity, preparing for Oktberfest activities this afternoon. With the way that we're feeling, we know that this is *NOT* what we want to be doing. Crowds and over-priced food is just not a good salve for our travel-weary souls.

So, instead we're going to continue the theme of catching up on maintenance, this time for our motorcycles. And what better place to do it than the land of BMWs? We rode over to the BMW Zentrum store to pick up a new pair of riding boots for me, since the ones I've been wearing have not been waterproof since Norway. Then we went to the Touratech store just outside the downtown area to see what they could do about re-waterproofing Neda's leaky Zega Pro panniers.

The salesguy told us that it if we left it with him, he could have the panniers fixed by next week. That seemed like a bit too long, and when pressed, he told us that they didn't really do any repairs in the Munich shop. They actually shipped all the stuff to the real Touratech HQ in Niedereschach, which was a few hours to the west of us. He told us if we brought it to the HQ ourselves, they could probably do it in a day or so. That seemed to be the better solution, so we're going to Niederescach then!

We chatted a bit more with the salesguy at the store about our trip before heading out. "Oh, you should definitely see Oktberfest while you're here in Munich". We just smiled and nodded our heads. Biggest attraction of the year in Germany and we're the only tourists heading away from it...


Mainly Autobahn to get to Neiderescach, but once off the highway, it was pretty countryside

We arrived at the Touratech HQ just as it was closing for the evening. They told us to return the next day and helped book us a hotel in a town nearby. So we came back bright and early the next morning, eager to get Neda's panniers fixed.


Our Touratech contact at HQ wheels away the panniers for surgery


We also wanted to get Neda's seat fixed. It's been leaking since the beginning of the year

We originally contacted Corbin (the manufacturer of the seat) to see if there was anything they could do. They forwarded us to their Sales department and told us to buy a new seat. Basically they told us to F-Off. Okay, message received. We'll take our business somewhere else.


Touratech were more than happy to lend Neda one of their aftermarket seats
for an extended test ride through the Black Forest area


Niederescach is located in the Black Forest region of Germany, which is well-known for it's scenic, twisty roads and the Touratech guys lent Neda a map with all the good routes in the area where she could test out the seat. They were very accommodating.
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  #792  
Old 8 Dec 2015
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Neda's off to explore the Black Forest on her own, while I work on the blog at Touratech HQ

After a couple of hours, Neda returned. She had a blast riding around the Black Forest on her own. She told me that she's scoped out a couple of roads and places that she wants to take me to later. Unfortunately, the Touratech seat was not what she was looking for. She said that for the first hour it was okay, but after that, she was squirming because the seat is very hard (it's really an Enduro seat, not a street one), and she couldn't wait to get off the bike.

We'll have to keep shopping around.


And at the end of the day, Neda got her panniers back!

They actually replaced the topcase and gave her a brand new one. The original one she had had a design flaw and is prone to cracking at the bottom where it joins the mounting bracket, thus allowing water in. As for the panniers, they explained that it's not the lids that leak when the panniers get bashed around, it's actually the seal around the mounting brackets on the inside. They re-waterproofed all the seals and spray-tested the boxes for Neda.

And best of all, they did all of this no charge! Nice!


Neda couldn't leave the Touratech store without buying something, so she picked up some handlebar risers

She's been eyeing a pair of these for a while now, saying that the F650GS's bars are too low and she's hunched forward when riding. The F700GS that she was riding at the BMW Enduro Park course had raised bars and that really convinced her that it would be a good buy. These Touratech risers lift the bars up 20mm. Not that much, but still noticeable.

Slowly and surely, we're getting ourselves and all our stuffed fixed again.

As for where our trip is headed next, we're still undecided. But what we really want to do right now is just see friends and hang out with them. We have a lot of friends in Germany and earlier this year we were planning on doing a road trip to see all of them. But unfortunately Neda's chain snapped off in the Czech Republic. After getting that repaired, we ran out of time and had to rush back to catch a plane to Toronto.

So for now, getting back to those plans is what we want to do.
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We rode back towards Stuttgart to see our friend Carmen

Carmen lives just outside of Stuttgart, only an hour away by Autobahn from the Touratech HQ. We're noticing the sun is setting so much earlier these days. And it's getting colder. Do we really want to go back to Canada just as the winter is approaching?

We first met Carmen on our first tour with the Stahlratte, sailing from Cartagena to Cuba. She had already taken a multi-month motorcycle trip through South America and was ending her trip by backpack. It's funny when you meet someone and instantly get along with them - even though we only hung out with her for such a brief time, that kind of easy friendship is so quick to spark up again, despite it being over two and a half years (!) since we last saw her.


Carmen helped us order some typical Swabian dishes from the area. I had Maultasche, which is a pasta-type meal rolled with meat, spinach and onions

We had a great time catching up with Carmen. I like hanging around other long-term travelers because you don't have to explain the joys and the hardships of such a way of life. But because of the point of where we are on our trip, I was most curious about what life looked like after being on the road for so long.

Although she's now got a job that she loves and has settled into a tiny apartment in town, she revealed to us that she misses being on the road all the time and that she's always dreaming and planning for the next big trip.

I mulled that over for quite a while after we said goodbye to her for the night.


We rode into Stuttgart to try to find a place to stay for the evening

Earlier on, I had picked out a campsite where we could stay for the night, which was right in the city. But when we got there, we were surprised to discover a huge fair had been set up on the campgrounds! We were in Stuttgart right in the middle of their own Oktoberfest celebrations, called the Stuttgart Beer Festival. It didn't even occur to me that there would be celebrations outside of Munich! Uh oh.

We rode around the carnival for a bit, dodging drunken Stuttgarters singing football songs, then spied a sign that indicated where the camping spots would be. It was actually in the parking lot of the fairgrounds, right amongst all the trucks that had brought in the amusement park equipment. The security guard at the parking lot told us the lot was full and we couldn't set up our tent there. Neda was using her German skills to try to find out where else we could stay for the night and I was consulting my GPS to look for the same.

So here we were, 11PM in a new city, no place to stay. The hotels in the city during the Beer Festival would probably be all booked up or exorbitantly expensive. But funnily enough, I wasn't stressed out at all.

It's kind of strange, but after having our trip planned out for months in advance into the future, it was very exciting not knowing where we were going to be from hour to hour:

Lets go to Touratech Munich to fix your panniers. OK!
Oh, we have to go the the Black Forest to get them fixed? OK!
Let's visit our friends all over Germany now. OK!
Oh, we can't sleep here tonight and have to find somewhere else? OK!

I was kind of reminded of the very beginning of our trip when we were roaming around North America, absolutely no plan, just letting each day unfold and take us to the next place. This was kind of cool - experiencing that freedom once again.

And stuff usually works out in the end.

Neda got the security guard to talk to the campground manager and he let us stay for the night because we were just a couple of bikes and a small tent. We set up in a corner of the parking lot while the carnival slowly turned off all their lights to signal closing time. As we tucked ourselves into our sleeping bags, the football chants grew fainter and fainter as the revelers headed away from the park, presumably towards the bars.

We've been having a lot of fun during these last few days.
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In the morning, we survey our makeshift campground in the parking lot


All packed up, ready for whatever's next! Goodbye Stuttgart Beer Festival!


Trying to find our way out of Stuttgart, we caught a parade riding past us. The guys in the cart were just as curious about us as we were about them.

We are back on the Autobahn to visit more friends in the north.


Along the way, we got off the highway and I shed all the baggage off my motorcycle in the parking lot of...


... the Nurburgring!!!! Yeah, baby!

I remember the first time I ever drove on the Nurburgring Nordschleife. It was back in 2000, and I was behind the wheel of Porsche 911 (996) Twin Turbo. I was particularly excited because this car was quite rare at the time... because it didn't come with the original Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed video game and was only available as an add-on downloadable content...

They used to race MotoGP on the Nordschleife, but stopped in 1980 because of safety concerns. This was also the track where Niki Lauda crashed in 1976 and was the subject of the movie "Rush". That was the last F1 race ever held at the Ring. Despite no top-level events being run here, endurance racing is still popular at the Nordschleife and this is still *THE* place at which every sports car manufacturer tests their new models. The Nurburgring lap time is still considered the benchmark for sports car marketing literature and Top Gear episodes.
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The Nurburgring parking lot is full of exotic (and some very commonplace) cars and motorcycles. Most of them use the parking lot as a tuning garage, adjusting sway bars, tire pressures, and whatever else they can tweak to shave precious seconds off their Nordschleife lap time.

In a way, so was I - taking luggage off the back of my big dirt bike so I wouldn't tuck the front wheel in every corner. Yeah, like I would be going that fast...


Lining up at the gate

To ride the Nurburgring, you have to buy an RF "credit card" which you load up with laps. Each lap costs €27, and you just wave the card at the automated gate. Since I couldn't really afford more than 1 lap, this would be a touring lap of the Nordschleife. Despite being addicted to that Need For Speed video game and playing it for weeks straight at the time, I really can't remember all the turns on the Nurburgring from 15 years ago! And I'm on a big trail bike with a dual sport tires! And I'm slow anyway...

I didn't know the etiquette of the Nurburgring, until I saw the sign written on the barrier that opens up to the course: "German Traffic Law is Valid. Keep to the Right Lane". Ah, good to know!

Anyway, instead of embarrassing myself with a 15 minute video of my 20km lap of the Nurburgring Nordschliefe (the motorcycle record is 7:10), here's an interesting car that passed me.



Wa-HOOOOO!!!!
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Ripcord Rescue Travel Insurance.

Ripcord Rescue Travel Insurance™ combines into a single integrated program the best evacuation and rescue with the premier travel insurance coverages designed for adventurers.

Led by special operations veterans, Stanford Medicine affiliated physicians, paramedics and other travel experts, Ripcord is perfect for adventure seekers, climbers, skiers, sports enthusiasts, hunters, international travelers, humanitarian efforts, expeditions and more.

Ripcord travel protection is now available for ALL nationalities, and travel is covered on motorcycles of all sizes!


 

What others say about HU...

"This site is the BIBLE for international bike travelers." Greg, Australia

"Thank you! The web site, The travels, The insight, The inspiration, Everything, just thanks." Colin, UK

"My friend and I are planning a trip from Singapore to England... We found (the HU) site invaluable as an aid to planning and have based a lot of our purchases (bikes, riding gear, etc.) on what we have learned from this site." Phil, Australia

"I for one always had an adventurous spirit, but you and Susan lit the fire for my trip and I'll be forever grateful for what you two do to inspire others to just do it." Brent, USA

"Your website is a mecca of valuable information and the (video) series is informative, entertaining, and inspiring!" Jennifer, Canada

"Your worldwide organisation and events are the Go To places to for all serious touring and aspiring touring bikers." Trevor, South Africa

"This is the answer to all my questions." Haydn, Australia

"Keep going the excellent work you are doing for Horizons Unlimited - I love it!" Thomas, Germany

Lots more comments here!



Five books by Graham Field!

Diaries of a compulsive traveller
by Graham Field
Book, eBook, Audiobook

"A compelling, honest, inspiring and entertaining writing style with a built-in feel-good factor" Get them NOW from the authors' website and Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, Amazon.co.uk.



Back Road Map Books and Backroad GPS Maps for all of Canada - a must have!

New to Horizons Unlimited?

New to motorcycle travelling? New to the HU site? Confused? Too many options? It's really very simple - just 4 easy steps!

Horizons Unlimited was founded in 1997 by Grant and Susan Johnson following their journey around the world on a BMW R80G/S.

Susan and Grant Johnson Read more about Grant & Susan's story

Membership - help keep us going!

Horizons Unlimited is not a big multi-national company, just two people who love motorcycle travel and have grown what started as a hobby in 1997 into a full time job (usually 8-10 hours per day and 7 days a week) and a labour of love. To keep it going and a roof over our heads, we run events all over the world with the help of volunteers; we sell inspirational and informative DVDs; we have a few selected advertisers; and we make a small amount from memberships.

You don't have to be a Member to come to an HU meeting, access the website, or ask questions on the HUBB. What you get for your membership contribution is our sincere gratitude, good karma and knowing that you're helping to keep the motorcycle travel dream alive. Contributing Members and Gold Members do get additional features on the HUBB. Here's a list of all the Member benefits on the HUBB.




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