Posts Tagged ‘boise weekly’

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After four painstaking months dealing with one of the most incompetent freight forwarding companies on earth (they are based in Bangkok and it was by far the sketchiest transaction I have ever been a part of), the Green Hornet is finally back on American soil. I drove to Seattle on Monday to collect it, and put it back together Tuesday. After so many months in a dank storage container, I expected numerous mechanical items would need attention, however it turned right over and appears to be running well.
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Leg three of Transworld Tour is in the works, however I tore my ACL and lateral Meniscus, and fractured my tibia 2 weeks ago and will have to see how quickly my knee heals. All things held constant the next segment of TWT will embark eastbound in July–retracing a portion of my father’s 1991 RTW attempt that took him as far as Red Square in Moscow, Russia. I plan to ride as far as New York this year, and finish the tour next summer with a burner ride from London to either Almaty Kazakhstan, Calcutta India, or Magadan Russia.

Thanks for following, and keep an eye out this summer for additional installments of the Motojournal in the Boise Weekly!

Andrew

Boise Weekly Feature on SE Asia

Posted: February 14, 2013 by andrewmentzer in Transworld Tour
Tags: ,

Round the World: Part II

Boise adventurer cruises southeast Asia in quest to circumnavigate the globe by motorcycle

by

Tiger Temple.Andrew Mentzer

Tiger Temple.

Round the World: Part II

Round the World: Part II

Click to View 9 slides

“The streets are filled with thousands of small cars, motorcycles, buses and those smudge-pot three-wheeled taxis (tuktuks) all running flat-out. For every 10 miles an hour, you space yourself one-inch from the vehicle in front of you. Those with hair-trigger reflexes survive. Those without ride the bus.”

–Terry Mentzer, Motorcyclist Magazine, November 1977

The world didn’t appear to have changed much in the last 35 years as I darted between trucks, cars and a cavalcade of southeast Asia’s prolific scooter population, making my way through one densely populated small town after another from the Singapore border northbound on Jan. 1.

The chaotic crush of humanity bearing down on me was a vivid reminder of the fact that I was–in a very real way–redefining the round-the-world motorcycle trip my father, Terry, had taken more than three decades ago.

Southeast Asia is the second stage of a circumnavigation that has already taken me through the wilds of Australia and will include future journeys across India, Central Asia and Europe. Unlike Australia, I was up against a dense, often lawless environment with roughly 610 million people fighting for their piece of the pie.

While the world my father explored in 1977 aboard his Honda XR250L is a very different place from the one I am riding across–filled with ever-changing social and political realities that will keep me out of some of the now war-torn portions of my father’s route–there are certain facts of life that remain true, regardless of the era. First, the world is a smaller place than we imagine it to be, and second, that the raw beauty and intensity of a solo motorcycle journey through foreign territory does wonderful things for the soul. Picture Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance meets Walden.

This portion of the journey began with a few days of exploration on foot in Singapore before collecting my bike and heading north through peninsular Malaysia, Thailand and eventually ending in one of the busiest cities on Earth: Bangkok.

People’s lack of physical and social barriers means that close encounters with everyone and everything are pretty much guaranteed all the time. Traffic does not stray far from this standard either. The difference between making a lane change and a gruesome death is often not more than a few inches.

My ride from Singapore to Bangkok proved to be equal parts instinctual and sensory, forcing me to get comfortable with a new spatial reality. Simply walking down the street in this part of the world can be stressful, although it becomes–like everything else–no more than a dance between amenable players in an organized-chaos ballet.

Singapore

January 1-5

Singapore is a fascinating, engaging place. A city-state with obviously limited land resources–occupying the southernmost tip of peninsular Asia–it relies heavily on its incredibly high standard of living, international business prominence and strict but logical government regulation for its success. After a sleepless night in a cheap hostel in the Lavender District, I met up with Luke Doherty–who had helped me organize a handful of logistical items for this portion of the trip before I ever set foot in the region.

A tall, friendly 30-something Australian expat, avid foodie and talented motorcycle rider with extensive travel and business experience, Doherty showed me the ropes of this one-of-a-kind, filthy-rich micro-country. We hit up one of the more noteworthy hawker markets, a busy assembly of local food vendors and merchants with a wide open central seating arrangement near Little India for some authentic local cuisine. Frog leg porridge, beef renga and chicken wings, topped off with a 32-ounce Tiger Beer and I was off to a good start.

A walk through one of Singapore’s five government-sanctioned red light districts and I felt like I had a pretty good sense of how this place operates. Apparently, the powers that be in Singapore strictly regulate prostitution in an effort to keep it isolated to certain areas and reduce the public health and occupational dangers. The government imports quotas of Chinese, Malay and Thai girls depending on market demand, and places them in relatively safe areas to engage in their trade. There is a tremendous irony to this function in Singapore but on the level, it makes perfect sense in a country that proudly wears its regulation on its sleeve.

Eating durian fruit–southeast Asia’s stanky, pasty post-meal chow of choice–at a small, shoddy roadside stand with traffic buzzing so close, I could taste diesel exhaust with every bite, is like eating the intestines out of fresh roadkill. The fruit’s spiny, rough exterior easily gives way to the hawker’s blade, revealing a soft four-compartment interior filled with pockets of foul smelling mush. It tastes like garlic mixed with creamy peanut butter and has the texture of rotting mayonnaise.

How this became a revered staple of the diet is beyond me.

The incredible heat and humidity of Singapore is blunted by the sheen of the country’s spotless streetscape and thoughtfully realized urban planning efforts. It would take me several days to get acclimated to this type of weather.

Malaysia

January 6-10

Doherty and I rode into Malaysia following a four-hour delay getting my bike released from the port at Jurong in Singapore, where I had it shipped from storage in Darwin, Australia at the end of my first portion of the trip.

My Kawasaki KLR 650 hadn’t seen much more than a dank storage container in the last seven months and required a push start to get the juices flowing. We made it into the beautiful coastal city of Melaka just before sundown and right as the heaviest rains I have ever witnessed came bearing down.

It felt like someone turned a firehose on me. Visibility dwindled to less than 20 feet through a foggy helmet. Roadside rain gutters filled quickly as we entered the city’s core, and anything faster than 30 mph resulted in erratic hydroplaning.

A few hours later, the monsoonal rains subsided and Doherty and I spent the evening sampling local fare and listening to live music on Melaka’s legendary Jonker Walk. The endless fried-food stands, merchants and giant karaoke stage centered amid bars and cheap hostels made for an exemplary people watching experience. Cheap Vietnamese made knock-off Ray Bans and local trinkets seemed to be the items of choice for sale.

Despite the chaos of Jonker, the Malay people were graceful and kind, unlike their friendly but often overbearing Thai counterparts to the north.

The next day, my bike still wouldn’t start without some coaxing, so I took it into Ban Zen motorcycles for a new battery. After about an hour of diagnostic back-and-forth, we concluded that the stator was toast and would need to be respooled. Doherty headed home to Singapore, and I spent another night in Melaka waiting on the repair.

The next morning was a Sunday and the manager of Ban Zen arranged to have “The Tall Man”–a master mechanic with cataracts in his eyes and a kind smile on his face–meet me at the shop to get squared away. He and another man I assumed was his father explained the extent of the repairs in Malay before firing up the bike and sending me on my way. It never ceases to amaze me how effectively one can communicate despite a language barrier using common body language.

A brief stop-over for a photo-op near the Petronas Towers (formerly the world’s tallest buildings) in Kuala Lumpur and I burned pavement to the Cameron Highlands–tea growing country. The tight, twisting drainage of a road took me about an hour off the main highway and put the natural beauty of this part of the world on brilliant display. It became increasingly difficult to keep the bike in my lane while peering across the valley at cascading waterfalls, breathing in awe-inspiring mists and contemplating stopping at countless ticky-tack roadside fruit stands.

After a cool, peaceful stay in the Cameron Highlands and several warnings that Tropical Storm Sonamu was making landfall in quick fashion to my north, I decided to get ahead of the weather. A quick run up Peninsular Expressway E2 and I had made it to the border with Thailand.

Thailand

January 11-17

Thailand is a strange place with wonderful variety. Whether you are a tourist, expat, local, terrorist or addict, you can find happiness on any scale here.

My initial feelings as I crossed the border was of uncertainty, nervoussness and excitement. Malaysia utilizes standard English script, where Thailand uses something that resembles the aftermath of a wild spaghetti fight. I never stood a chance of reading or understanding anything apart from the occasional English subtext on a handful of highway signs, so I put my full faith in my GPS and continued north into a region of southern Thailand known to be somewhat dangerous.

How my father navigated this region 35 years earlier is beyond me.

I made it into Hat Yai for the night, just a stone’s throw away from Yala Province and a half step ahead of Tropical Storm Sonamu. Yala, about 80 miles to the east, is home to a fundamentalist Islamic faction that has been taking up arms against the Thai government and Westerners in pursuit of an independent Islamic state. Rumor had it that they like to stuff bombs under the seats of motorcycles and detonate them near hotels: Not the most comforting notion, especially given my mode of transport.

Keeping a particularly low profile, I quietly hauled ass out of Hat Yai the next morning and made respectable time into the resort hub of Krabi on the west coast. The last few days of burning miles and not having anyone to talk to had taken their toll, so I decided to spend five days exploring this more laid-back part of southeast Asia as a tourist.

I hiked to the top of Tiger Temple, saddled an elephant for a stroll through the jungle, learned not to trust resident monkeys (they steal anything they can get their grubby little mitts on), spent an afternoon soaking in an emerald pool in the jungle and visited several of south Thailand’s scenic islands in the Andaman Sea–including Maya Beach where the movie The Beach was filmed.

Fully rested, I pushed farther north to meet up with a group from the BMW Motorrad–South Thailand Chapter. In the span of an afternoon, club members Goran, Wittaya and Sarayut led me from the beaches of the west coast across the narrow width of Thailand to Surat Thani–gateway to the legendary party and diving islands of Koh Tao and Koh Samui.

Before parting ways, we traded stories about touring around the world and plans for future motorcycle rallies. I suggested they come to Idaho for a taste of riding some of the best mountain two-track on Earth. They said they’ll think about it.

The next day I was in Bangkok, the stopping point for this leg of Transworld Tour. I met up with some friends who had recently moved to the Sukhumvit area of the city. Like many other major cities in the region, the traffic was an absolute mess and required nerves of steel. It seemed like rush hour ran from 5 a.m. until midnight, and nearly every automobile on the road had a few dings from Bangkok’s endless stop-and-go lifestyle.

I was surprised to see a brand new McLaren F1 supercar in traffic with a 20-something Thai girl behind the wheel. I can’t imagine the $1 million car will make it more than a few weeks without succumbing to the reality of Bangkok’s hustle.

My friends took me out for authentic pad thai, shopping, hookah, wining, dining–all the things Bangkok has become known for. It surprised me to see how much Western influence was taking root here. We visited a brand new micro-brewery in the suburbs of Bangkok that was indistinguishable from any brew pub in the United States. Following a few days of R&R, we ventured to one of Bangkok’s legendary party spots–Khao San Road.

Often identified as the epicenter of mischief in The Hangover 2, this street is exactly as advertised–aggressive street vendors peddling ping pong ball shows and cheap silk suits, fried scorpion kebabs and thousands of tourists getting blitzed.

It had taken just two and a half weeks to cover the 1,500 mile run up the peninsula of southeast Asia, but the people and scenery changed my perspective forever.

I will never forget the mind-numbing sensory reality that exists in the region. In the span of a single breath you can experience the most wonderful aromas from the freshest produce on Earth, a refreshing salty sea breeze and the putrid smell of a rotting trash pile. In this regard, I suspect very little has changed in the last 35 years.

Andrew Mentzer wrote about Part 1 of his trip in the June 27, 2012 edition of Boise Weekly in an article titled “World Ride.

View a slideshow of images of Mentzer’s trip by clicking here.

TWT in the Boise Weekly

Posted: June 27, 2012 by andrewmentzer in Transworld Tour
Tags: ,

Traveling the World by Motorcycle

Son begins worldwide trek in father’s footsteps

by Andrew Mentzer

Boise Weekly: July 27th, 2012

“Twisting and turning through the equatorial jungle, the paved road climbs to the Cameron Highlands–high plantation country, everything under the sun grows up here. I stop for Nasi Goreng, a fried-rice dish, at a small roadside restaurant where native music is playing on the stereo. Old tape comes out, new tape goes in. Volume goes up. ‘Boogie Fever’ accompanies my lunch.”

–Terry Mentzer, Motorcyclist Magazine, November 1978

Over the course of 207 days in 1977 and 1978, Terry Mentzer circumnavigated the globe on a Honda XL250.

“The urge for adventure got pretty strong” right around that time, he said.

Mentzer was 37 years old and in transition–he’d been on the road working in the industrial insurance industry for more than a decade and had plans to settle down. Looking back, Mentzer said he was generally a happy person but he had fallen victim to a corporate life that was overly common–a life that, to some extent, lacked fulfillment.

Somewhere along the way he decided the best way to overcome his angst and to reclaim a sense of self was to take on an uncharted experience that would define his worldview for the rest of his life.

Traveling solo on his Honda, he passed through Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan just a few months before Ayatollah Khomeini overthrew the shah in revolution and a maelstrom of instability spanning three wars and countless conflicts settled in. Over the course of his pilgrimage he tangoed with sheiks and warlords, socialites and paupers.

Mentzer returned to life in Idaho a changed man, with a firsthand appreciation for the diversity and complexity of a changing world and a new outlook for himself.

“It took a while to digest,” Mentzer said recently about his journey. “Months, if not years, went by before I was able to incorporate the trip into my mindset.”

I grew up hearing the story since Mentzer is my father, and almost 35 years after his trip it’s my turn.

On June 8, I returned from the first leg of my own around-the-world tour, tackling the wilds of Australia on a Kawasaki KLR 650. With obligations on the home front, my voyage–unlike my father’s–will be completed in several pieces over the next year. Like him, however, the journey will take a while to incorporate into my mindset.

I began my trip in Sydney, visiting family and preparing for the long ride ahead. From there I pushed north to Brisbane, where I collected my bike after a nearly two-month-long shipping delay. I hopped along Australia’s densely populated east coast for the better part of a week in an unforgiving downpour, passing quickly through coastal towns like Rockhampton, Townsville, Mackay and Cairns, as well as Queensland’s northern beaches.

Unfortunately, the downpour wasn’t the worst of what should have been the easiest part of the trip. The bike broke down on three occasions because of bad gas and the fact that the carburetion/fuel system had been left to rot thanks to the delay with the freight forwarder in Los Angeles.

I had the bike repaired in Cairns and took a few days to reboot before heading into the Outback. At Trinity Kawasaki, I met of Steve Humphries and Dennis Wheeler from Perth. They were on their way home after nearly a month of riding dirt tracks across Australia’s remote interior–southwest to northeast and back. We met for dinner that evening and decided to ride together for a day.

“It’s probably about 6,500 km each way. We love the dirt,” said Humphries of their cape-to-cape ride.

In yet another relentless tropical rain pounding, we traversed the kangaroo carcass-laden Savannah Way from the rolling green hinterlands of Atherton all the way to the grassy plains of Normanton.

It’s one of the most-interesting stretches of road on Earth. At first glance, it is difficult to make a comparison to any other piece of transportation infrastructure out there. The nearly 500-mile span from Atherton to Normanton services no more than a few thousand residents in a handful of remote towns, which raises the question, why bother to pave it at all?

For me, the answer seemed to be that this route is more of an extension of the Australian way of life than traditional thoroughfare. It serves as a reminder of what Australia used to be and provides access to the recreational and historical elements that make up a fair portion of the national identity.

After a night camping in the Outback–and finally out of the unseasonably wet weather of the past two weeks–I pushed southwest solo to the middle-of-nowhere mining hub of Mount Isa. Lead, silver, copper, zinc–you name it, they dig for it there.

I shared a five-bed dorm at the Traveler’s Haven hostel with a group of 20-something Taiwanese mine workers who were less than thrilled about their Australian experience. They were assigned to this unlikely destination to maintain their work visas and save enough money to travel after they were finished.

The next morning, I headed into some truly remote country–west to the Outback oasis of Tennant Creek.

Along some of the lengthier straight stretches, I began to imagine what it must have been like for my dad to ride across the Nullarbor Plain, which translates to “no trees,” 35 years earlier. How lonely and isolated that must have seemed on his Honda 250.

Tennant Creek is a gritty oasis and one of the few overland stopping points to Alice Springs and the legendary Uluru (also known as Ayers Rock). The streets were uncomfortably quiet and empty except for a few campers fueling up.

I stashed my gear at the Traveler’s Rest Hostel in the west end of town and spent some time with owner-manager Tony and his friend Bill.

Tony originally planned for a three-month visit to Tennant Creek but 20 years later had yet to leave.

“This is the bush. We like to keep it simple,” said Tony of his modest-but-functional operation. At 74 he still drives down to the Greyhound station most mornings at 2 a.m. to collect exhausted tourists overnighting on their way to Uluru. The man has some excellent stories about life in the Outback.

Bill is a British ex-pat who headed out on an around-the-world trip many years ago after growing up in Suffolk and living in London for a stint. Sick of the hustle, he never made it any further than the Outback.

“I knew I wanted to live here the minute I arrived,” Bill said. He now works and lives between Tennant Creek and the super-remote surrounding Aboriginal lands.

This country seems to have that effect on people–it captures them immediately with its promise of seclusion and physical challenges in the most authentic sense imaginable. And there is no easy way out of this unforgiving land. If you decide you don’t want to be there anymore, you’d better have a bush plane or chopper or a reliable land vehicle, as well as tremendous patience and several days to burn.

The next day, I shifted north to Daly Waters for a taste of Australian history. The isolated pub and cattle station was home to the first international airport in the Land Down Under–the result of the strategic placement of a WWII American military base. The pub is richly adorned with mementos from visitors past and historical artifacts that showed the most complete representation of Australia’s progression over the last 80 years. The 10,000-foot airstrip up the road looks incredibly out of place until you get the background story.

A leisurely 350-mile ride the next day and I was in Darwin, my gateway to Southeast Asia. With monsoon season picking up in Thailand and Malaysia, and shipping time frames not working to my advantage, I elected to store the KLR in Darwin until December, when the weather clears.

Now back in Boise, and with about 20 percent of the total trip accounted for, I have begun to reflect on the experiences my father would have had on his journey. It is nice to finally have some empathy for an experience I long considered too exotic to ever fully appreciate. Another 12,000 miles and I reckon it will all make sense.

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Keep an eye out for follow-up pieces this winter and next summer that will take Mentzer all the way to London and eventually back across the United States. The complete story is available at transworldtour.com.

After over a year of planning, I’m thrilled to announce that TWT is now in the final stages before departure! This week I procured a Carnet Du Passages (customs bond) for the bike, and shipped my 2-wheeled counterpart to Sydney, Australia. The gravity and excitement of this venture are starting to set in.

By Monday I will have a plane ticket across the Pacific in hand. After that, I will finalize a few tricky visas, receive a buffet of vaccinations, and be wrapping up the last of my immediate obligations to my family, my business, and an endeavor that will require a good deal of attention upon my return home–my first semester at Concordia University School of Law.

4 months solo on the road will test everything I know. I will have ups and downs, but at the end of the day it will be a great learning experience–the crowning adventure of my 20’s and gateway to my 30’s (I turn 30 a week after I return). I’m also very excited to be covering the Summer Olympics in London on my way back to the United States–icing on the cake.

We are wrapping up some fundraising intended to mitigate the cost of the documentary, and will finalize our sponsorship package over the next 30 days. That said, I would be remiss if I forgot to thank our wonderful existing sponsors. Happy Trails Products, ESS optics, Klim technical riding gear, Avon Tires, Idahostel, Weyer Productions,  the Boise Weekly and Superb Sushi have all been instrumental in the assembly of Transworld Tour–I couldn’t ask for better backing. These companies represent the very best in their respective sectors, and I’m proud to have them along for the ride.

Keep an eye out for future posts leading up to my April 25th departure.

For now, I’ll leave you with a song from a fellow I used to surf Bell’s Beach with during my 2004 foreign study in Geelong, Australia. I look forward to getting back: