What’s happening in the world?
As most of you have no doubt heard, the Russian government has arrested and detained an American citizen, and accused him of being a spy. Most of the US-based pundits assume that the gentleman that has been arrested is not an agent of the US government, and is instead, a pawn, used by the Russian government as part of a strategy against the US. There are many reasons why they might need to execute a strategy like this, but I’m going to ignore any references to our current president, and simply address the implications of the situation.
On the State Department’s website, the level of threat for Russia is still set to Level 2, out of a possible 4 levels. In fact, China, Russia and Germany are all designated to be level 2 threats. A level 2 threat is simply a way of alerting citizens to use “increased caution” when traveling. Conversely, Turkey is a level 3 threat, and a US citizen is asked to “Reconsider travel” to this area of the world. These threat levels have remained constant from before I booked the trip (Sept, 2018) to today (Jan, 2019).
It seems strange to me that, even after someone was abducted and held in jail, that the US department of State has not re-evaluated the threat level for Russia. And, although the State Department has not reconsidered, I’m certainly looking very carefully at how these new security threats might affect my ability to take the trip.
The current plan
As you know, my current plan will have me travel through Estonia, into Russia, and then through Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. I’ll enter China, and then proceed to Laos, ending my trip in Bangkok, Thailand in October, 2019. Prior to the “tour”, I’ll be traveling around Europe, meeting up with friends, and enjoying Europe. My trip will begin with a ride up the East Coast of the US, ending in Toronto, where I’ll fly the bike to London. I’ll leave London and the UK, travel to the mainland of Europe, enjoying about 30 days of riding in Europe, including attending the Moto GP race in the Czech Republic. After my time in Europe runs out, I’ll travel to Estonia, and start the more arduous part of the trip, another 73 days of touring through Asia.
What other options do I have
First of all, it’s important to note that I chose this specific trip because it was long, hard, and allowed me to see some very remote portions of our planet. I love the idea of being able to see these remote areas, and to take in the culture, but I also love the idea of having to work for it. And so, as I consider what kind of tour I might replace this tour with, I would like to try to find an alternative, which is also long, hard, and takes me to remote areas.
The tour companies
As it turns out, there are precious few options available. There are really only two tour companies that run motorcycle tours that meet these criteria. The companies are Edelweiss, with whom I’ve booked this trip, and Compass Expeditions, the tour company that I used when I rode across Patagonia. Looking at what is available from these two companies, I see only a few tours that might fit, but if I were to select one of these tours, I’d likely introduce a number of other logistical obstacles. More on that in a moment.
Capetown and Africa
Edelweiss offers a 46 day tour from Capetown, S. Africa to Dar el Salam, near Zanzabar. This tour looks like fun, but I’d have no way of getting my bike to the start of the trip. The trip begins in Capetown, and if I was riding through Europe, I’d need to ride the length of Africa, through a number of countries with a level 3 security status, which would not improve my safety level at all. So, I could fly into Capetown, but then I’d need to ride one of their bikes, which would require that I ride a bike that is not “tuned” to my ergonomic needs. So, I looked at other options…
The best of Italy
One trip that looks interesting is a 10 day tour of Italy. The tour covers most of Italy, and it runs in May, and then again in September. The September trip would be a good option for me.
While this trip looks interesting, it’s only 10 days, and the timing is not perfect, but it might work. If I chose this tour, I’d still need to select more tours, or I’d need to find some other way to lengthen the trip.
Edelweiss also offers a 7 day tour of Tuscany, run entirely on dirt roads. I can imagine that this might be fun, but at the same time, the tour is only 5 days, so it’s not a very good solution to the overall problem of filling out 100 days of travel.
Munich to Slovakia
Once again, Edelweiss offers a trip that is part of their world tour program, but this tour is only 34 days. Other problems with this tour is that I would still travel through Russia, so I’ve done nothing to address the security issues that are now present in Russia.
Munich – Istanbul, Turkey
Yet again, it’s Edelweiss that offers this 33 day tour. This trip manages to miss Russia completely, which is a bit of great news, but the trip ends in Istanbul, Turkey. As noted earlier, Turkey is at an even higher security threat level, which is level 3. So, while I would be able to avoid Russia, I’d end up dealing with an even higher security threat.
World Tour – Istanbul to Bangkok
This tour starts in Istanbul Turkey, and it then travels through Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. It sure sounds awesome, and in fact, it follows most of the same tracks that I would have followed, and which are part of the tour that I’m currently booked on.
I don’t like to point out the obvious, but this tour travels through both Iran and Turkey. Travel through Iran is assigned a risk level of 4. The State Department suggests that you simply not travel through this country. And so, while I would address the “Russia problem” I will have introduced the “Iran Problem” and the “Turkey problem”. Once again, this trip is simply too risky.
The Road of Bones
For those of you not familiar with this road, the Road of bones is a road across Russia, which is very remote, quite inhospitable, and requires crossing a number of wide and raging rivers. I’ve always wanted to take this tour, which is 105 days in length, but as you’ve no doubt figured out already, this tour goes through Russia. And so, I would not have mitigated the risk that would be present by riding through Russia. So, I’m afraid that this trip is also out of the question. Once again, a great trip, but because I’m an American, and we are not well regarded around the world today, I would be dealing with an extremely high security risk.
Spain, Portugal, and Morocco (A possible solution)
Compass Expeditions offers a 20 day trip around Spain, Portugal, and Morocco. I’ve always wanted to see Morocco, and so this trip is definitely a possible solution to my problem, but I’d need to combine this trip, with the ride through Europe, and adjust my travel so that I end up in Spain, on or about September 30th. Considering that I plan on riding around Europe from July 15, to Aug 15 already, if I adopted this trip, I’d need to plan another 30 days around Europe before the tour started, but combining all 3 sets of activities, I’d end up with a tour that is roughly 80 days, which would likely be enough time to feel like I’ve accomplished something. Unfortunately, if I take this option, I’ll miss out on all of the awesome riding in Russia, China and the Stans.
Compass Expeditions offers a number of great trips across Australia. In fact, in several cases, the tour is lead by Charley Boorman, part of the team of Ewen McGregor and Charlie Boorman, who created the documentary files “Long Way Round” and “Long Way Down”, trips around the world, and across Africa respectively. I’d rather enjoy riding with Charlie, but as I look at the trips across Australia, the problem is that it would be difficult to build a long tour across Australia, as most of the tours are between 10 and 26 days in total. If I wanted to ride Australia, I’d need to solve two problems…
I’d need to figure out how to combine several tours, in order to configure a trip that is more than 50 days in duration. I’d also need to solve the problem of getting my bike to Australia. As you’ll recall, traveling through Europe is very appealing because I’m able to take advantage of special air-freight rates for Motorcycles when they are shipped from Toronto, to London. Shipping on this route is approximately $1400 USD, and it guarantees that my bike and I arrive within 1 day of each other. Traveling to Australia would force me to either send my bike by boat, rent a bike, or pay the additional fees associated with air-freight. None of these options is really a very good fit for me.
As you can see, looking for a trip that is a suitable replacement for the trip that I’ve been planning will be quite a challenge. None of the other trips offer the same physical demands, and with the exception of Australia, none of these trips are as remote as what I’m currently planning.
I’ve sent an email to the folks at Edelweiss to explore other options, and I’ll need to work hard to ensure that any new trip is still going to be as much fun, and as much of a challenge. So, as I explore these options, and find new options, I’ll let you know of my progress.