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World Two-wheel Tour

The open road offers experiences that range from exhilarating to terrifying

by Tim Yip, Freelance
in cooperation with
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October 22 2004

REVELSTOKE, B.C. - An encounter with armed tribal warriors in Africa turned into a terrifying incident for two German citizens travelling the world on their KTM motorcycles.

Modern-day adventurers Uwe Krauss and his companion, Ramona Eichorn, described the incident to an audience of 90 fellow travellers in this mountain community located on the Trans-Canada Highway, 410 kilometres west of Calgary.

"We came upon a group of warriors. They were traditional (looking) warriors with little clothing and coloured feathers in their hair," Krauss said. "They were all armed with AK-47s (a Russian-designed assault rifle) and stopped us.

"We couldn't speak their native language and they couldn't speak German or English, but they wanted all our stuff. The warriors stripped everything off our motorcycles, except they didn't know how to open our aluminum panniers (large rectangular aluminum cargo boxes attached to the bike). Thank goodness. The locks are too complicated, I guess."

Krauss and Eichorn were on the first leg of their around the world tour, riding identical KTM 640 Adventure motorcycles. Krauss, a civil engineer, continued describing the holdup.

"They threw all our stuff in a pile on the ground, then the warriors (apparently) started arguing about who got what. While they were arguing, one of the warriors jumped on top of my bike and stood on top of my panniers. All I could think was, 'he's going to break the rack for my panniers."

The audience of avid motorcyclists laughed, all identifying with Krauss's first reaction of worrying about his motorcycle, despite the immediate threat of danger to himself and Eichorn, who finished telling the audience about their harrowing experience.

"Out of nowhere, we see this man walking towards us," Eichorn said. "He is wearing trousers, so we think he's not African, but a 'westerner'. He turns out to be African and the local town police officer. He says to us, 'I'm not sure I can help you. There is only one of me. There are many of them.'

"The policeman began arguing with the warriors and told us to get on our motorcycles and to start them up. We did, and the policeman got on behind Uwe, facing backwards, pulled out his gun and pointed it at the warriors and said, 'Go! Go!' We took off and here we are!"

Krauss and Eichorn's terrifying encounter was only one of the numerous travel escapades told at the Horizons Unlimited Third Annual Western Canada Traveller's Meeting held recently in Revelstoke. The gathering, organized by Grant and Susan Johnson of Vancouver, attracted some 90 hardy souls who have travelled by motorcycle 'Round The World (RTW), are in the midst of a world tour or who are planning such an adventure. Attendees included motorcyclists who are currently travelling the world from Japan, Germany and England as well as motorcyclists from Arizona, Washington, Idaho, Montana, British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba.

The Johnsons, themselves veteran motorcycle adventurers, have spent 13 years touring through 39 countries on five continents on a BMW motorcycle. Now making their home in Vancouver, the Johnsons host the Horizons Unlimited website (http://horizonsunlimited.com/index.shtml) dedicated to assisting other motorcyclists who share their passion for long distance and world motorcycle touring.

The website serves as a one-stop source for motorcyclists planning to or in the midst of traveling the world.

The Johnsons also organize Horizons Unlimited travellers' motorcycle rallies in Europe, Australia, United States and South America.

One of the main attractions of the Horizons Unlimited gatherings are the guest speakers who have recently completed monumental motorcycle trips and generously shared their often hard-earned travel lessons with their fellow motorcycle travellers.

J.D. Smith, an Arizona resident, has ridden some 150,000 kilometres in the past three years, mostly on a BMW R1150GS Adventure, favouring txhe Americas Trail between the Arctic Circle and South America.

From his extensive experience, Smith says he recommends maps from Nelles and ITMB Publishing, the latter of which produces the best topographic maps. For navigation, he has mounted a Garmin Etrex Legend Global Positioning System (which has a base map of the Americas and tells moon and sunrise) on his BMW because "it's cheap, and I guess, so am I!" he told the attentive audience.

Smith also described his own harrowing story of one of his South American trips when he crashed his motorcycle on a gravel road in Peru early one evening. Missing a turn in the road, he rode over an embankment and broke his sternum. Too weak to stand, he laid at the side of the road from 7:30 p.m. until after midnight. Locals passing by, fearing a robbery ploy, refused to help him. Finally, a group of farmers determined Smith really was injured and brought aid.

Randy Hoskins of Seattle told the group about the frustrations of dealing with government bureaucracy he encountered during his trip to China where his group of seven motorcyclists rode 5,600 kilometres from Beijing into Tibet on Kawasaki KLR 650s they had shipped from the United States.

"When we unloaded our bikes, the Chinese officials demanded our bikes pass emissions tests. My bike was the newest; it had only a few hundred miles on it."

Knowing his almost new bike would easily pass the emissions test, but worried that some of the older KLRs might not, Hoskins explained how they satisfied the Chinese government's incomprehensible entry requirements.

"My bike passed the emissions test no problem. Then, we managed to run my bike through the emissions test six more times," thereby securing emissions certificates for all seven bikes.

Hoskins said when they made their trip, 12 foreign motorcycle groups had applied for travel permits, but Hoskins's group was only one of the two motorcycle tour groups the Chinese government granted travel permits for that year.

Another globe-trotting couple from Germany, Martin and Katja Wickert, riding identical Honda Africa Twin 750s (a model not available in North America) gave a presentation on How To Leave -- how they made the decision to do a world tour. The 27 year old Martin said, "We had 'proper' jobs -- the kind of jobs all moms want us to have. I went to school, studied economics, wore a suit and tie, and worked for Siemens (a German engineering and electronics company)." Katja, 26, said, "I worked in public relations for a publishing company." It took the Wickerts three years of planning for their trip. "We put a map on the wall and made a list of all the places we wanted to travel to."

It soon became apparent to the Wickerts that a world tour was in their future. When Martin and Katja married prior to embarking on their journey, they asked their friends to buy as a wedding gift one night's accommodation in case they needed a break from camping.

The Wickert's advice for how one makes the difficult decision to leave -- "If you want to do it, SET A DATE!" Despite having only been travelling for a few months, one of the audience asked what they will do when they have completed their RTW trip, Martin replied, "We'll get jobs. Make a little bit of money. And get ready for the next trip!"

The Horizons Unlimited rally included guest speakers giving presentations for more than 10 hours on Saturday. Cardston resident Dick Fish gave a tire-changing seminar, and Edmonton resident Doris Maron gave a slide presentation on her recent three-year solo world trip on a Honda Magna 750.

Other attendees to the rally were globe-trotters such as Japanese rider, Mikki Nishimura, on a Harley-Davidson Sportster and Englishman Dereck Randell on a KTM 640 Adventure.

Fellow travellers were surprised to learn Nishimura has been travelling for 15 months and on her second solo world trip, leaving her husband of five years home in Osaka. What does Nishimura's husband think of her extended motorcycle ventures? She said, "My husband says 'Your dream is my dream.' "

The petite rider produced her daily journal, a wire coil steno pad, and flipped it open to a page neatly printed in English. The top of the page was labelled Troubles and included entries for Crash with car, Broken belt (drive) and in Romania "249 bedbug bites!"

Randell, a Londoner, had his own tale of (mis)adventure. While riding in Alaska, his KTM was damaged in a crash. Fortunately, he secured the assistance of a local elderly man who agreed to drive him in his pickup truck some 800 kilometres where parts could be obtained and back another 800 kilometres to the bike. Randell said the old man refused to drive faster than 60 km/h and, strangely, would drive only on the left side of the gravel road. The trip took them a painfully slow two days -- each way.

One of the highlights of the weekend was organizer Grant Johnson's presentation on "How YOU Can Do It!" in which the veteran adventurer shared the wisdom of a world motorcycle travel gleaned from more than 13 years of traipsing the globe. His rules (above) for travelling the planet are good ones, whether you're on a motorcycle or not.

By Sunday, with the rally over and the motorcyclists loading their bikes to head home, the adventurers from Germany, England and Japan all said they were planning to continue their odysseys by riding to the warmer climes of the southern United States and Mexico, a logical choice much envied by the Canadian contingent. Many attendees promised to return next year when the Horizons Unlimited 2005 Western Canada rally will be held in Nelson, B.C. For more information on long-distance and RTW motorcycle touring, see the Horizons Unlimited Internet website -- http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/


Grant Johnson's advice for motorcycle travellers, gleaned from years of experience:

1. Be prepared for change. Things happen. Don't marry a travel plan.

2. One thing a day is all you can accomplish in a strange city where you don't speak the language.

3. Never pass by something you need on the assumption it will be available or cheaper later.

4. A town shown on a map doesn't mean it's big enough to have gas.

5. Maps are never to be taken as absolute gospel.

6. Getting directions from locals is haphazard at best.

7. Just because water is bottled, doesn't mean it's good water. While in Africa, Johnson said a local news report revealed that 80 per cent of the bottled water sold was local tap water.

Johnson suggests going to an expensive hotel to see what they sell as a guide to buying safe water.

8. Paperwork and documents -- be practical, not paranoid.

9. Be flexible, don't be in a hurry and keep smiling. "Don't get upset if it takes you 4 1/2 hours to cross a border. You'd be surprised how much a smile and a handshake makes a difference when dealing with officials."

10. Go with the flow. Be open to adventure and new opportunities.

© The Edmonton Journal 2004
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