as told to Ivey Slowoski
Greg Frazier was well on his way up the corporate ladder when he decided to jump off and roll for a while.
The first person to complete four motorcycle trips around the world, Frazier is currently on his fifth global ride, taking a friend, 63-year-old Donna-Rae Polk, on the trip of a lifetime. Their itinerary takes them literally to the ends of the earth, the farthest points north and south on five continents that a motorcycle can travel: Deadhorse, Alaska; Ushuaia, Argentina; Cape Agulhaus, South Africa; and North Cape, Norway.
Ah, but motorcycle adventures aren’t always wide horizons and starry skies. Over the years Frazier says he’s been “shot at by rebels, jailed by unfriendly authorities, bitten by snakes, run over by Pamplona bulls, and smitten by a product of Adam’s rib.” Once, while riding through the Golden Triangle, where Burma, Laos, and Thailand all meet, he noticed snipers. “I had been wondering why on such a perfect little road I was the only vehicle,” he says.
Often going by the moniker Dr. G, Frazier has written and photographed nine books about motorcycle travel, among them Motorcycle Sex: Freud Would Never Understand the Relationship Between Me and My Motorcycle. He regularly writes for Road Bike and Dual Sport News, and contributes to a dozen motorcycle magazines internationally. His credits include producing documentary films on traveling disparate parts of the world by motorcycle and on the vehicle’s history.
Frazier is a Crow whose Indian name is Sun Chaser. He lives in the Big Horn Mountains of Montana on the Crow Indian reservation when he’s not chasing the sun somewhere else. Dr. G checked in via e-mail from a cybercafé in South America.
1. What did you do before you became a full-time motorcycle adventurer?
I worked as a consultant, lobbyist, and corporate pooch. Suit and tie stuff, hustling $’s and “doing lunch.” I wrote a lot (position papers, policy analysis, and proposals). Once sat at the cabinet table in the White House next to Jimmy Carter with seven cabinet secretaries. Couple of politicos bought me lunch downstairs afterwards.
2. Are you able to support yourself with motorcycle adventuring?
I became a motorcycle adventurer after deciding that working in a corporate office eight to 12 hours a day was an ugly way to spend the rest of my life. While motorcycles are a hobby for many, it is my full-time profession. I eat, drink, and sleep the two-wheel motorized vehicles. I am lucky to have a wide enough base in my interests in the world of motorcycles to keep my vocation from becoming boring. If I am not riding, then I can be researching, or producing a film. My motto is: I hate adventure that has anything to do with sharks or snakes.
3. What attracts you to these adventures?
The risk and my personal ability to manage risk. I would also have to throw in there that I enjoy meeting other people who share an appreciation of how movement through the environment on a motorcycle is being part of that environment, not looking at it from inside a bus or car. If it is risky, that is like adding lemon to drinking water—it gives the culture and the environment a little extra taste.
4. Does your Crow heritage have any relationship to why you are a motorcycle adventurist?
If I had been born 100 years earlier I would be wandering North America on a horse. Lucky for me the only thing involving horses I have to worry about is horsepower. Every horse I have ever ridden has either tried to toss me off or take me directly back to the barn.
5. Why haven’t more people done round-the-world trips?
Many have, the first being an American in 1913. When I completed my first ride around the world fewer than 100 had done so. Today we estimate there are 200 on the road. Most, however, are not Americans. As adventurers, we Americans are pretty much bunnies, afraid to go anywhere English is not spoken. And when we do, it is usually in a pack or on a group tour. I have never met another American soloing around the world while on the road, but I have met many Germans, Swiss, Australians, and British.
6. When was your first global ride?
Late 1980s. First ride off the North American continent was in 1970, when I flew to Europe and spent a month roaming around on a motorcycle.
7. How old are you?
Older than I should be, given the life I have lived.
8. How long have you been riding?
40 years, and over 1 million miles of rambling, racing, and wrenching.
9. Do you have more than one bike?
I own several dozen motorcycles.
10. Do you have a favorite for long distance?
For long distances I like anything that does not break down, is easy to do routine maintenance on, and is comfortable. I no longer take motorcycles outside the USA that I cannot afford to lose to crashes, confiscation, or theft.
11. When did you start on the current ride with Donna-Rae and, assuming you are able to complete it, when will you finish?
Donna-Rae convinced me to come out of retirement from ’round-the-world riding in early 2004. We made a short “test ride” to see how she and I would hold up by making a run through the Golden Triangle. (Polk has Parkinson’s Disease.) We started her Riding the Dream tour in July last year by going from the Mexican border to the Arctic Ocean. From there we turned around and headed to the bottom of South America. If her physical health and my mental health hold up, we should complete our ride by June.
12. The difficulties of this trip seem legion. What’s the hardest part?
Much of the route I have covered before, however solo and faster. Where I would make 400 to 500 miles a day solo, with two of us and having to manage more weight and Donna-Rae’s limitations, we make 250 to 300 miles for a couple of days, then rest. The hardest part for me is accommodating the needs of my passenger. Whereas I usually skip breakfast and nibble a moving lunch, my passenger needs three meals a day for her medication. I often find myself standing around looking at the sky while she struggles with her clothing and riding gear. I also tire more easily from having to deal with the added weight on the motorcycle.
13. Where are you now?
Sunny and warm Chile, north of Santiago. Land of good wine and lots of sand. We have been riding in one of the biggest deserts on the planet for days. Not sand, but rocks and small pebbles. Nothing green and no animals. The only noise you hear at night in the desert is wind and sometimes rocks cracking or sliding. Here on the coast, I can hear waves crash all night and gulls.
14. Are the mountains in South America harder to get over than in North America , where presumably the roads are better?
There are easy rides and hard rides over both sets of mountains. In South America we have chosen the better, paved roads because our motorcycle (a 1983 Honda GL 650) is more of a road motorcycle than one made for gravel roads; the clearance is low to the ground. South America has some very good roads and some bad ones. In Bolivia, I think only 5 percent of the roads are paved. But, then, we did nearly 1,000 miles of unpaved road in Alaska, some worse than we have seen in South America.
15. Have you had trouble eating local foods?
I do not like the hot chilies, the ones that cause smoke to come out my ears. I am also not an organ eater. I was once so sick from some food in Ecuador that after three days they sent a doctor to my room. I was so weak from dehydration I could not climb off the floor and into bed. Malaria got me once and likes to return about once a year to bite me again.
16. Do you speak any languages?
Some German and Spanish, lots of Australian, New Zealander, Canadian, Bahaman, Indian (India), and British. I do know how to say “beer” and “toilet” in 24 languages. After my first trip to Germany in 1970, when very few people in Europe spoke English, I realized language would never be a barrier for me.
17. Any scary things on this trip?
A couple of times we have had to take evasive action when trucks or buses came around curves in our lane. My wallet was clipped in Cali, Colombia. I only had $10 in it, and the wallet was later found and returned, even with the credit card, which I had canceled. A pretty lady took an interest in me, nearly causing a fight. And we almost ran out of gas crossing the Atacama Desert, where it has not rained in about 500 years. Some bad food made me think my malaria was acting up, and bed bugs have gotten us a couple of times.
18. Are you writing a book about this ride?
No book planned. Two more already contracted in front of that possible topic.
19. Will you be doing any more global rides? How about other long-distance rides?
I will go back to places I liked, but after five rides around the world there is no reason to make a sixth. I thought I was done after four, until Donna-Rae talked me into helping her Ride the Dream.
20. Do you have a doctorate, or is Dr. Greg an honorary title?
The “Dr.” refers to a Ph.D. in economics, but I like to think I have earned an honorary degree in survival on the roads around the globe. My new book, from BowTie Press, is due out at the end of April. Titled, Riding the World: The Biker’s Road Map for a Seven-Continent Adventure, it is like a textbook a college prof would write on the subject in which he is an expert.
You can read more about the Riding the Dream trip as it progresses at www.ultimategloberide.com. Frazier details his other adventures as a motorcycle racer, guide, speaker, event organizer, entrepreneur, and poet at www.horizonsunlimited.com/gregfrazier.