A few years back, Nathan Millward always used to make us smile with the stories he sent us about his time backpacking around Australia. He then said he was doing a runner back to England. On a scooter. We laughed. What a cad, we thought. And then the emails started arriving, from locations like East Timor and Kazakhstan. Nine months later he made it back, crossing 17 countries to drive the 35,000km from Sydney to London. Then he wrote a book about it (which is ace by the way). Here’s what he had to say for himself… Why did you leave Australia? I’d been pursuing a young lady of all things. Sadly the visa situation was a nightmare and made things really difficult. I was there on a tourist visa, she was a permanent resident and by the end of it we’d just about both run out of steam. With 20 days left on my visa I went to ask Immigration if I could have an extension. When they said no I thought, well, rather than fly home I’m going to try and ride a motorbike to England. What made you decide to ride? I guess it felt like I’d failed in Sydney. I’d gone there hoping things would have worked out but it hadn’t, and I didn’t feel very good about that. Sometimes I think this trip was my way of punishing myself, or at least testing myself. I felt it was something I just had to try, to prove to myself that I could do it. It was stupid really, I had no money, a shit bike, no time to plan, no equipment, no experience, just a little postie bike called Dorothy. Why pick a postie bike? It was all I could afford, but to be honest it turned out to be perfect for the trip. She was slow, but she barely ever went wrong, the locals could fix her, nobody wanted to steal her, she didn’t make me look like a flash rich git and it kinda added to the challenge and the fun of it. Several times I met guys on the Ewan and Charlie style of bikes and I just thought it looked like a lot more hard work. To me they’re just too big and heavy for most of the terrain. Did you do much preparation? Because I only had 20 days before my visa ran out, I figured that if I took two of them to buy the stuff I thought I’d need (tools, roll matt, flip flops) and get packed, that leaves me 18 days to ride across Australia to Darwin, where I hoped I would be able to get the bike on a boat to East Timor. Fortunately I’d done a bit of research in the past into the types of documents and visas I’d need, but it really was just a case of making it up as I went along. What were the scariest moments? Landing in East Timor was a nightmare. I’d been in such a rush to get across Australia that I’d not had any time to research it or buy a map or get a travel guide or sort out any accommodation, so I just landed early one morning – the first time I’d been anywhere in Asia – and just panicked. People were hassling me, it was hot. I didn’t know what to do or where to go. Finally an aid worker turned up and I got a lift to a hostel with her. She saved my bacon that day. And funny moments? There was a lot of them, but in particular I had to laugh in Indonesia when I was in this real paranoid stage, scared of everything and everyone, then I get on a ferry to go between the islands of Flores and Sumbawa and on it is three German girls who’d hired scooters on Bali and set off across the islands riding all by themselves. Those girls had bigger balls than me. I met so many lone female travellers who were fearless in what they were doing. How did you deal with borders? I didn’t at the beginning. I was terrified of authority and would hand over cash whenever someone asked for it. Getting on the ferry in West Timor, the police asked for a bribe to let me on the boat and I paid them. Same in Bali and Bangkok. But by the time I’d got to Kazakhstan, enough was enough and I just stood my ground until they backed down, which they always do in the end. I guess you just have to pick and choose your battles, sometimes it’s easier just to pay up. What was most memorable? Riding across the Outback. Being in such a hurry to get to Darwin, I’d be on the road at 4am, sauntering along with my iPod on and no other traffic on the road. Finally the sun would come up and you’d find yourself in this big red landscape. Then you’d get to a homestay and talk to people and then go back to being on your own. The Outback is incredible, much more interesting than the coast in my opinion. Did you ever consider quitting? I never seriously considered quitting because in a way it would have been harder to quit than it would have been to carry on. I would have had to abandon Dorothy and fly home to England to answer questions about why I’d quit. I figured it easier to just keep riding. I think Pakistan made me question what I was doing, but I do think it’s a case of once you’ve set off, you’ve not much choice but to keep on going. Did you get lonely? Strangely I never got lonely when I was on my own, riding, camping out in the wild, not speaking to anyone for days on end. I loved those times. I only got lonely when I had to hang around waiting for visas and things. At these times I would stay in the cities, like Bangkok and Delhi, sleeping in the tourist hostels and feeling a bit like the odd one out. I preferred it when it was just me and Dorothy. Most memorable countries? Pakistan and East Timor. They were the two that worried me the most, but the ones I remember because they were just so interesting and unique. Not sure if I’d go back to East Timor but I’d definitely go back to Pakistan. The people are incredible, real friendly. They gave me tea and would invite me in for dinner. Some of them in the north were a bit hostile, kids trying to poke sticks through your spokes, but on the whole, a great place. How did the trip change you? It made me a lot smellier, and hairier, and put about five years on my face. Actually, if anything the trip showed me that it’s not so easy to change. We are who we are and you can’t do much about that. Only try and improve and learn from your mistakes. Would you do anything similar again? I think I would. I know I will. I miss being on the road. I miss having so much purpose and drive to get somewhere. Sounds a bit sad but you almost become super-human. You’re that far into the zone you feel that nothing could stop you. Me and Dorothy, flying across Kazakhstan at 35mph. There was no way we weren’t going to make it to England, even if I’d have to push her. Nathan’s book, Going Postal, is out now, through ABC Books. [Click here for your chance to win a copy].
About The Author
TNT Magazine has been guiding independent travellers around the world for 35 years. Originally founded in 1983, TNT Magazine has been regarded by many as the youth travellers bible, offering a mix of inspiring travel content, news, lifestyle, fashion, jobs and accommodation. Our mantra is live life & travel which encompasses what we are all about. To live life to the full, and help young adults navigate the tribulations of working, living and experiencing adventure through travel. We have developed a great reputation throughout the world as an independent and trusted source of quality content and advice.
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