“What’s in store for me in the direction I don’t take?” – Jack Kerouac
The Great Ride Forward was a simple idea at first. Working at the USA Pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo, my friend Hans and I had the opportunity to meet a world’s worth of people in a few short months. From the exotic architecture of the Saudi Pavilion to Thailand’s 3D films, the restaurant at Peru to the sprawling showcases of China’s provinces, the Expo was a hard place to not get excited about traveling the globe. We soon had friends scattered across continents, and the stories they shared fueled our need for adventure.
So we took the next logical step. We bought maps and motorcycles, and naturally, set up a secret fort. The maps covered all of Southeast Asia — southern China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. The motorcycles were Chinese-built Shinerays — 200cc dirt bikes with headlights, racks, and huge gas tanks. The secret fort was our headquarters — a small electrical room tucked in the back halls of the Pavilion. The humming drone of the industrial batteries set a perfect tone for our scheming.
Over the next three months, red string began to crisscross our HQ, detailing our path for the journey ahead. A suggestion from a friend in Thailand or a new picture in National Geographic would always mean a new pushpin on the map, and the red line would need to be restrung. To ensure our safe and legal passage across borders, we registered our bikes in Suzhou, navigating the often grey world of Chinese automotive laws. The size of our bikes made them illegal in Shanghai (hence the Suzhou plates), so just to be sure, we kept them hidden in an underground parking garage in the city center. Secret fort #2. Following Expo’s finale, Hans and I returned to the States to purchase all our riding gear — Bluetooth-equipped helmets, biking body armor, an army of video cameras, and of course, 1000 stickers embossed with our website.
The final checklist was complete. We had the bikes, we had the gear, and we had the route. It would only be another week until we were finally on the road, traveling the world we met at Expo. Our grand plan was ready to be tested.
It took exactly one day to know it failed.
We rode out of Kunming with high spirits, but the intense sun quickly roasted them away under our heavy riding jackets. The freeway signs overhead pointed us south towards Laos, but the lack of pavement pointed us back the way came. A funny clunk in the engine means a stop, a loose saddlebag means a lopsided ride.
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