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When Your Worst Fear Happens on a Round-The-World Journey

 RTW Riders share nightmare scenarios that occurred far away from home.

Published on 01.11.2018

 
Staring at a grainy X-Ray photo, I could barely make out what the technician was saying. “Nearly 70% bone loss… Maxillofacial surgery… Bone grafts” just sounded too surreal: I was perfectly healthy, on a round-the-world journey traveling on my motorcycle. I had no time and no budget for extensive medical treatment of a dormant genetic condition that suddenly decided to appear. Not now. Not this!

But life’s like that sometimes: the unexpected happens.

After making some quick decisions and getting through an eight-hour surgery in Tijuana, I am now fully recovered and back on the road again.

But for so many people, the unknown is terrifying. Everyone has their own version of “what if” when planning a round-the-world journey on a motorcycle: what if my bike fails on the road? What if I get seriously injured? What if I get robbed at gunpoint? What if…

The truth is, those ‘what if’ scenarios do sometimes happen. Not always, not to everyone, but they are a possibility on a long RTW journey. Yet, just like in life, we humans have a wonderful ability to adapt and to figure things out.

I sat down with four survivors of ‘what if’ situations to talk about how they did it, and why they kept going even when it seemed impossible.

Robbed at Gunpoint

Asta and Linas RTW Adventure Motorcycle Riders
Never let a bad experience taint your adventure – Asta and Linas

Asta and Linas, a Lithuanian couple riding around the world, shipped their bikes to Chile last summer. Waiting for their motorcycles to arrive, Asta and Linas decided to backpack around Brazil for a while – but the beginning of their adventure was shaken by a terrifying experience.

As the couple walked around a small picturesque town near Rio de Janeiro taking photos, they were confronted by two young men on a dirt bike. “They screeched to a halt, and one of them pointed a gun at us. We were stunned. Linas offered them some money, hoping they’d grab it and ride away, but one of them hopped off the bike and, yelling something in Portuguese, ripped the camera off my neck,” remembers Asta.

Asta and Linas round-the-world journey Adventure Motorcycle Riders

Although the experience left them dazed and upset, the couple refused to give in. “The thought of stopping or pausing our journey because of the robbery never entered our heads. I confess, for the following month or so, I always felt a little nervous whenever I’d see youngsters hurrying past on small bikes, but we never let the experience taint our adventure. My advice? Read up on popular scams and robbery schemes in countries you’re planning to visit, be cautious, use common sense – and go!”

Exploding Engine

Paul Stewart round-the-world journey Adventure Motorcycle Rider
Never make a decision when you’re in a panic mode. Calm down, take a step back, and make sure you’re considering all options – Paul Stewart

In 2014, Paul Stewart had shipped his KTM 625 motorcycle to South Korea and, having ridden across Russia, Mongolia, Central Asia and the Baltic States in Europe, was making his way south before traveling to England, shipping the bike to South America and continuing his round-the-world journey there. But when he reached the Czech Republic, it all changed.

“My bike’s motor blew up: the top piston ring shattered, went into the combustion chamber, and totaled the engine,” explains Paul. Ironically, the bike broke down mere 250 miles from a KTM factory – but even they weren’t able to help: the part needed to fix the engine was not being manufactured any longer. “I happened to break down near people who were into adventure riding, and they helped me to take the engine apart and call every KTM dealership and shop in Europe looking for that one part, with no success,” remembers Paul.

round-the-world journey on a Motorcycle

Realizing that the bike had failed and there would be no quick and easy fix, Paul had to leave the bike in the Czech Republic. Eventually, KTM fixed the problem, and Paul shipped the motorcycle back to the States, now planning to ride around North America for a while before heading south – but the bike failed again, this time because the rebuilt engine kept overheating.

Still, Paul refused to give up. He purchased a small Yamaha WR250R, rode it across the Trans America Trail, and continued his round-the-world journey from there.

“I think a lot of people panic in situations like this, and when you panic, your gut instinct is to give up. But take a step back and just think. What can you do? Who can help you? Who do you need to speak to? There are always options. There is always more than one exit strategy,” says Paul.

Injury in Kenya

Sandra and Thomas Binkle had been adventuring on motorcycles for nearly two decades now, and they wouldn’t have it any other way. But in 1993, Sandra experienced a serious injury that could have put a halt in the journey.

Riding across the Tsavo National Park in Kenya, Sandra hit a stone on a gravel road and landed on her head in a pile of rocks, breaking her collarbone. Her partner flagged a passing car down and got Sandra to a local hospital – but she was refused treatment and sent to Mombasa instead.

Sandra and Thomas Binkle round-the-world journey Adventure Motorcycle Riders
I never thought, ‘okay, this is it, I need to go home’ – Sandra Binkle

“The doctors in the little local hospital X-Rayed my shoulder with an ancient X-Ray machine (it took up the whole room!), but seeing the complicated fracture, they refused to treat me. I was a foreigner, and they just didn’t want to take the risk,” explains Sandra.

After a harrowing taxi ride to Mombasa, she was taken to a modern hospital, where an experienced Indian surgeon operated on her collarbone. After a month of recovery, Sandra hit the road again.

“I never thought, ‘okay, this is it, I need to go home’. The doctors in Mombasa offered to fly me back to Switzerland, but I refused. I was on the biggest adventure of my life – there was no way I was going home! Lesson learned? Don’t ride in a cloud of dust, when you can’t see the road, and don’t ride if you’re tired because you can’t focus well enough,” says Sandra.

Kidnapped in Colombia

Glen Heggstag round-the-world journey Adventure Motorcycle Riders
Biggest lesson learned? The power of forgiveness – Glen Heggstad

In 2001, Glen Heggstad set out on a motorcycle journey across the Americas, heading for the southernmost tip of Argentina. The first four weeks on the road across Mexico and Central America were exhilarating – but everything changed once Glen landed in Bogota, Colombia.

“At that time, kidnappings were a fairly common occurrence in Colombia. But I talked to lots of locals in Bogota, and while some reports were conflicting, most younger people I met told me I should be perfectly safe riding the Colombian roads,” recalls Glen.

Instead of going straight south for the border of Ecuador, Glen decided to visit Medellin first. According to him, In Bogota, everything looked absolutely normal – lots of people, busy traffic, modern roads… but the further from the capital he rode, the spookier the road got: suddenly, there was virtually no traffic and no people. “I stopped, trying to make a decision: should I go back? I had a bad feeling about it. But if you turn back once, you’ll always turn back. So I kept going,” says Glen.

The decision proved to be life-changing. After another hairpin, Glen was stopped by some twenty or thirty armed men who pointed their guns at him. At first, Glen thought it was a robbery, but the situation soon escalated, and he was taken into the jungle. “I tried to resist but the leader pointed a gun straight to my face. It’s a pretty powerful situation when you believe you’re going to die in the next few seconds… I was led away by those armed men; later on, they told me they were the ELN (Ejercito de Liberacion National) – the National Liberation Army, a pro-communist guerrilla group notorious for hijackings, violence, and kidnappings in Colombia.”

Glen Heggstag round-the-world journey Adventure Motorcycle Riders

During the following month and a half, Glen endured exhausting marches through the jungle, daily interrogations about his family and finances, beatings, extreme malnutrition, and psychological terror. In five weeks, Glen lost over fifty pounds and finally went on a hunger strike hoping to tip the scales. “I knew that hostage negotiations take years sometimes, so I decided to put this on my own time limit, not theirs. In the beginning, I’d told them I had prostate cancer. Now, I took it further. I told them I couldn’t eat, and staining my pants with a self-induced nosebleed, convinced them I was peeing blood, too. After several days of this, the guerrilla group leader finally started showing signs of concern. I managed to convince them that I was going to die,” says Glen.

Finally, he was released to delegates of the International Committee of the Red Cross in the mountains near where he was captured. Once at the Red Cross center in Medellin, Glen was transferred under international protocol for prisoner of war exchanges, to the custody of American FBI agents who insisted on taking him back home to California for hospitalization – but instead, the stubborn American said he was going finish his ride to Argentina.

Three months later Glen successfully reached Ushuaia for the turnaround four-month ride back to California. And since 2001, from Siberia to Africa via the Middle East he has visited 57 developing countries on his motorcycle.

Glen Heggstag round-the-world journey Adventure Motorcycle Riders
Along with being featured in a National Geographic documentary, Glen has also written best-selling books “Two Wheels Through Terror” and “One More Day Everyday” that include accounts of his kidnapping.

“I thought, if I don’t continue, the rebels win. Every disaster is also a springboard to the next level up. My goal was to go out and meet the people of the world, shake their hand, and say, howdy – my name is Glen, I’m from California, and I’m here to meet you and write your story.”

When asked what was the biggest lesson from what went down in Colombia, Glen invariably answers: “the power of forgiveness.”

Glen’s story is, of course, exceptional, and the rebel situation in Colombia has since improved significantly. But while the unexpected can still happen, all riders who experienced a breaking point during their long journeys agree: it’s not worth giving up. There’s always a way, a helping hand, or another chance to regroup and start anew.

Whatever ‘what if’ awaits you, ride on!

Egle Gerulaityte Author ProfileAbout the Author: Riding around the world extra slowly and not taking it too seriously, Egle Gerulaityte is always on the lookout for interesting stories. Editor of the Women ADV Riders magazine, Egle focuses on ordinary people doing extraordinary things and hopes to bring travel inspiration to all two-wheeled maniacs out there.

Courtesy Glen Heggstad

Photo credits: 2 Wheeled Adventures, Paul Stewart, Sandt World Trip & Glen Heggstad.

Author: Egle Gerulaityte

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4 thoughts on “When Your Worst Fear Happens on a Round-The-World Journey

  1. Amazing read, you have a real talent Egle, say Hi to Paul.
    I’ve followed a few of those people and actually met two of them.
    Den in Burlington, ON, CDA

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