IT’S NOT ABOUT THE BIKE
by Ian Buckley
Jonathan’s Transalp in Russia
Heading off around the world is not unique for a 21 year old. Leaving for six years with no more than 2000 euro in your pocket is! There is a unique quality that drives someone to comfortably rely on goodwill, opportunity and fate especially when the plan is “there is no plan”.
Gionata Nencini ("Jonathan") left Italy two and a half years ago on a bike he paid one thousand dollars for with two thousand euro in his pocket. Relying on no trade, backup or plan, he has, two and a half years later, traveled through twenty different countries clocking up 120,000km and still has three years to go.
The list of countries touched by this nutbag Italian would comprise a lifetime of achievement for most of us. Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia, Greece, Turkey, Georgia, Russia, Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and now Australia.
Funny how I came to meet Jonathan. Honda MPE put out a press release on him and I showed an Italian colleague of mine who promptly hit his website www.partireper.it and then rang his mobile. Next thing Jonathan was having dinner with my colleague and coming to my place next Friday for the same.
Having taken the time to read his website and ponder the adventure I came to the realisation that this has nothing to do with motorcycles and everything to do with human endeavor. The first point I make to Jonathan is just that.
“This has very little to do with motorcycles, does it?”
“Correct” is the answer. “Motorcycles are easy to transport. You can get them on small boats and trucks and they are not left or right hand drive. They are as universal as a mobility device can get.”
This intrigued me even more because I have long believed motorcycles are so not the domains of He-men or alpha humans. Jonathan typified the escapist nature of bikes, removing the myths of brotherhood and nature and bollocks like that.
This begged the next question.
“Have you heard of Ewan McGregor and Charlie Borman’s adventures?”
“Is he the actor?”
“I have seen a little on Youtube but they have lots of help don’t they? You see when I cross a river everything I own is on the bike…everything! I can’t just thunder through creeks and over rocks waiting for backup if I don’t make it. I must be very careful and scout all tracks and crossings. If need be, I can wait a couple of days for assistance but I can’t loose my computer, cameras, papers etc…I just can’t.”
These are the words of a true traveler who treads lightly on the world. This conservative demeanor continued as I offered him a beer.
“No thank you as I must ride tonight”
“We have a spare room if you would care to stay the night”
“That would be lovely so now I can accept your offer of a beer”
It was settled and Jonathan had likely accepted a meal and accommodation like so many nights before. There was no hint of suggestion that he needed somewhere to stay and I knew from my colleague that he had a bed if ever needed. In fact in a week he had only taken up the offer from my Italian colleague once so Jonathan was no loafer.
I noticed the continual attention to detail from Jonathan not to impact on my family or routine. He sat quietly but engaged in conversation. He interacted with the children but did not try to over compensate. He was attentive to my wife’s conversation but not over familiar. His manners were impeccable, he never once helped himself to food or wine without first seeking approval and he most certainly did not hook in to the grog. He was measured in every sense except when the chicken carcass looked destined to the bin still with some flesh attached. Apparently good meat is best consumed whenever possible.
Having traveled abroad with just a backpack, I can relate to the need to fit in as much as possible. I could understand the need to accept hospitality but keep your wits about you. The need to ‘tread softly’ and not offend is oh so important and it led me to ask Jonathan about how much harder such hospitality is to take when in your own country.
“It is almost impossible because you are taught to be a man and fend for yourself. At home it would be seen as charity…get a job, pay your way etc etc etc. When you are on your own territory you must make your own way because there is expectation and pride. Traveling helps you separate needs from wants.”
Beer turned to wine and there was so much to talk about. The conversation took many turns with the topics becoming as diverse as is possible the first time you meet someone. Jonathan was the topic though and the issue of riding around the world came back to the transport.
When asked about repairs, the issue of maintenance was short lived. You see Jonathan is of the opinion that you ride till it stops then you fix it. That he has absolutely no mechanical experience appeared to be no issue what so ever. A local fixed a flat tyre in Cambodia for US$1. It is as simple as that. Jonathan has no tools to speak of let alone what is needed to fix a puncture.
“Someone will know”, was the answer.
It was the same with the preparation. No practice or massive setup. He just worked out what he could carry, tied it down and set off. He did get another flat in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. On this occasion, he perched the bike up with two sticks, got the rear wheel off and hitch hiked to a bike shop then back.
In three years and 80,000km, the repair list on the twenty year-old Transalp is a fuel tank diaphragm, a regulator, a CDI, a thermostat and four punctures. One of which left him in the Russian desert without food or water for two days but help came along and the trip was soon back on track. It is just astounding and quickly reminded me of a friend who rode a WLA Harley from Sydney to London in the seventies having a piston made in India.
The topic of the bike was as short lived as the chicken we had for dinner because it was all he could afford and a very popular bike in Europe, especially for the motorcycle couriers. Interestingly enough, Honda MPE in Australia was the first subsidiary to offer any help at all by taking the bike for a couple of weeks and giving it one hell of a makeover. A decent service and checkup was greatly appreciated. The offer of accommodation from MPE was respectfully turned down because Jonathan felt it was excessive and not needed. Still the bike has a noisy timing chain but this has been a reality since he purchased the bike with no trouble so it was left be.
I ventured into the issue of accommodation because it was evident Jonathan was mindful of taking hospitality. It turns out that he sleeps wherever he can, often on the street or in meagre accommodation. In Japan, Jonathan told of sleeping with the homeless when a student came and offered him the equivalent of thirty-five dollars. He turned it down because he was there by choice and not on a quest to test the benevolence of the world. What astounded and impressed me most was that Jonathan landed in Japan with only two hundred dollars to his name. Similarly landing in Australia with four hundred and next off to New Zealand with three hundred dollars. This is the pattern to land, find work, save, move on, work, save and finally pay all the fees to get to the next country and start again.
Fortunately, Jonathan would work his way around Osaka teaching English, sometimes simply speaking English with students at local bars for money. He would eventually leave Japan with more saving than when he left Italy.
Jonathan pointed out that it usually costs much more than the one thousand dollars he initially paid for the bike to transport the bike. Eighteen hundred to get the bike into Darwin and nearly another two thousand to get the bike to Wellington in Un Zud. But I suspect this bike will become a totemic reminder of his world adventure and there will never be a monetary value placed on its ownership. It will represent an achievement, and every scratch and repair will remind Jonathan of just what he achieved once. I would not sell such a tool.
So what of the dangers? To date they have been few. In Russia, Jonathan talked of locals driving past him on a long and lonely stretch of road only to have faked a breakdown some miles ahead. He didn’t stop and had them pulled up behind him an hour later whilst refilling with fuel. They started to interfere with his kit, he confronted them and they backed away.
In Turkey he was washing in a river when some Kurdish men stole his shaving kit thinking it was his wallet. He yelled at them it was just soap until they stopped and emptied the contents. Realising the futility of their actions, one of the Kurdish bit off a disposable razor head and started cutting his own chest as a sign to show both masculinity and lack of fear. The incident would end in casual conversation and the Kurds inviting Jonathan to join them drinking. Jonathan never took up the offer but did pack his tent and find somewhere else to sleep.
In Malaysia, Jonathan talked of the tigers roaming the forest. That was enough to spook him and pack up to find safer ground. I asked about Cambodia and life after the Khmer Rouge and if he had any concerns but he was oblivious. I asked about his thoughts on the FARC Rebels in Columbia but again there was no apparent knowledge, so I gave him a book to read and he did some research, deciding to plan Columbia better since there is a French nurse still held after two years. No doubt there are warnings whenever you go to a foreign country.
Money money money
So after three years, Jonathan has spent a total of $24,500 AUD, which covers everything. In fact you can read on his website the list which goes like this;
Meals, fuel and engine oil, guest houses, 10 visas, 2 x cargo container shipments, 6 x ferries, 4 x flights, local Sim telephone numbers, 2 x laptops, postage, digital video and photo cameras, mechanical assistance, two sets of wheels, two tents, internet point and printing, web domain and of course motorcycle importation, insurance and storage.
If you dig deep with Jonathan he is adamant that the cost of living is generally cheap and his greatest expense is riding the bike and keeping it fed. The bike does offer freedom and mobility. There have been extended periods such as in Japan where the bike was stored for six months when not needed and dragged out when it was time to go. All up the bike weighs 310kg fully laden.
So what does it all mean?
The answer is not clear yet plain as day. This is not an adventure and it is not a showcase. It is not about the road less traveled or the size of the motor on the bike. It is most definitely not about the bike. It is one man’s odyssey with no set plan. It is about friendship and ambassadorship. It is a global project to prove nothing more than its possibility. It asks for nothing yet offers so much to even the most casual observer. It makes you wonder why so many people sit at home alone wondering what to do today or tomorrow or the next. It offers more answers than questions.
You can catch up with Jonathan on his website and track his path. He suggests if you long to see the world, go to www.horizonsunlimited.com because this is where world travelers communicate and log their adventures for others to follow.
If you are in New Zealand over the next twelve months, this will be Jonathan’s base before heading to South America, North America, Canada, Alaska and North Africa. He will be happy to meet, greet or communicate via the net and if you type in partirepeit at Youtube, you can view more than 570 self-made short films showcasing his adventure.
By SinisterRr @ Wednesday, 26 December 2007 10:26 PM
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