We talk to Nathan Millward about his travels from Sydney to London and New York to Alaska on a bike with a top speed of 40mph
Nathan Millward spent 9 months travelling from Sydney to London (and then from New York to Alaska) on a Australian posty motorbike named Dorothy capable of a top cruising speed of 40mph. Spending up to 14 hours a day in the saddle, and covering 23,000 miles travelling through 18 countries. We find out more about this epic adventure.
You rode your motorcycle from Sydney to London and New York to Alaska. Can you tell us about the preparation that you undertook for such epic adventures?
I’d probably had the idea – or an idea like it – in my head for about a year or more. I’d originally thought about riding a motorbike to Australia from England but in the end chickened out and flew to Australia. So I’d done some research, I read about visas and the Carnet de Passage you need to take a vehicle over foreign borders. I’d looked at the route and at the budget I’d need. I’d looked at the situation in Iran for example and knew the process of applying for a visa. So I had all that in the back of my mind and continued to update it, perhaps subconsciously hoping the trip would happen, and then one Thursday in Sydney I went to see Immigration about an extension on my Australian visa, they said I had to be out of the country at the end of the month, and so on the Sunday I started riding the 4500 kilometres up to Darwin with the hope of catching the cargo ferry to East Timor that sailed the same day as my visa expired. I packed and planned in three days, but I’d spent more than a year researching and dreaming about the trip. To me, research is far more important than specific planning.
Can you tell us about the highest and lowest points en route?
The highest point was crossing the Australian Outback. It is flat, empty and lonely. I was on a motorbike that could only do 40mph. I had everything I owned in a box on the back. I would be riding at least 12 hours a day in order to try and catch that cargo ferry out of Darwin, but for the first time in a long time I felt so much clarity and purpose. I knew what I needed to do. I needed to ride. And I was just riding. And sometimes it rained and sometimes it got so hot I thought I would melt, but being out there in the Outback was a great feeling. I’d occasionally meet people and bump into them again another 250 kilometres down the road at the next rest stop. There’s just a great atmosphere of adventure out there and so much open space. Conversely, the low point was probably in India. I’d been on the road four or five months, was half way between Australia and England, was running low on money, running low on energy and enthusiasm yet still had 15,000 kilometres to go through Pakistan, China, Kazakhstan and Russia etc. India isn’t the easiest place to travel either if you’re in that low mood, and for a while I really struggled to gain any momentum and push on through. I stopped for ten days in Varanasi, then ended up waiting three weeks in Delhi for my Chinese permits to come through. I struggled during those times, but again, met some incredible people so it balanced itself out.
What is your biggest lesson learned while travelling?
The biggest lesson I learned was probably that you are usually much stronger than you previously thought you were; you just need the right circumstances to bring that strength out. Times when you’re alone, scared, struggling to find a way over the next hurdle. But then you find a hidden strength and you push through, or you meet someone, and they help you push through. The trip taught me to trust myself, and also other people. So many good people helped me along the way and most of the time I didn’t even know their name. I guess the other thing I learned is that travelling is not a cure for the problems you had before you went away travelling. It is of course a nice escape from those problems. But those problems are still there when you get back. So I suppose I learned that no matter how fast or far you run, you can never run from yourself, which is a shame, as that’s what I was originally running from. Travelling is incredible, but only when it is the right time to do it. Travelling for the wrong reasons can sometimes cause more problems than it solves.
Do you have any advice for our readers wanting to take on an epic adventure like yourself?
I’d say don’t ask or talk to too many people about what you plan on doing. I think those who seek too much advice in the planning stage are the ones that never end up doing it. If you know what you need or want to do, go away and quietly research it, make a plan, do something that fixes a date in time, then go for it. The more people you ask and the more places you seek reassurance from, the more clouded you’ll become. The hardest part is leaving, and remember that all adventures or big trips come at the expense of something else in your life. If you don’t end up doing the trip, maybe it just means something else in life was more important at that time, but who knows, further down the line, when the moment is more suited, then it might happen.
I hear of people who had plans to do trips thirty years before. For whatever reason they didn’t happen, but now, after all that time, they’re finally happening. I suppose also try and live an authentic adventure, rather than force an ‘epic’ one for the sake it being regarded as epic. You don’t need to break records or do something no one’s ever done before, you just need to do something that challenges you, and means something to you.
Too many people are chasing fame from their trips before they’ve even set out on them, and I think that’s the wrong way around. If people are interested in what you’ve done after you get back, then great, but don’t go plotting a trip just because you think it will make you look good in the eyes of other people. It’s about you, not them.
Where would you advise our readers to head to?
Great Britain. We often overlook it, but there are so many amazing places and histories in our own land that you begin to wonder why you bother flying half way around the world to explore a country that in a way means nothing to you or has no relevance. After all, it’s not about where you travel, more about the way you travel.
For me, to get the most out of a trip, you have to go with an inquisitive mind. Travelling’s about learning as much as it is about seeing. I suppose that’s why I love travelling America, because we share a language and I can learn something from the people I meet. Other than that I’d say try not to follow the herd to where they’re all going. Go somewhere different. Go somewhere that challenges you or probably more simply, go to the place that excites you when you’re in the bookshop and you’re looking through all the travel guides and there’s always that one destination that jumps out at you the most. Go to that place.
Is there a place on earth that you wouldn’t consider going to?
Every place on earth is interesting, even your own town if you look at it from a different angle. So I wouldn’t rule anywhere out. It’s sad about Syria. I know people who travelled through it before the troubles and said it was fantastic; great hospitality and people. Jordan is still safe. That would be interesting.
Iran is also said to be a highlight, and possibly up and coming with the sanctions being lifted. I guess the only place I wouldn’t choose to go is the place where everyone goes simply because they think it’s the place they should go – travel fashion I guess. I loved Thailand but hated places like Phuket and the backpacker parts of Bangkok. That probably sounds snobbish, but when too many tourists all go to one place it can very quickly ruin that place. So I wouldn’t go there.
Does travel ever lose its appeal?
Yes definitely. Travelling is situational. Sometimes it can suit your situation, sometimes it doesn’t. I’m married now. I have a phone contract, monthly finance on a motorbike. I need to earn money. I need to visit my elderly grandmother. The last place I want to be right now is on the road for 9 months like I was before, because I have too much I would miss here. And that’s not a bad thing. But then your method or means of travelling evolves as you do.
Last year we travelled together across America on a motorbike and got married mid way across in Las Vegas. That was brilliant, because we were travelling together and sharing the highs and the lows, and it gave a completely different perspective than travelling solo. I suppose that comes back to travel being a very personal act, and you do it in the way that means something to you. In the future who knows, I might do another solo trip, but currently I have no appetite for it.
How do you decide on where to travel to next?
I don’t think you do decide, not consciously anyway. For me, you kind of just stumble through, thinking you know where you’re going in life, when all of a sudden a new avenue appears, which makes more sense than anything you could ever have dreamed of, and you go down that route. Life is about keeping your eyes open and spotting the opportunities when they come your way. Who knows where any of us might travel to next. That’s the exciting thing about travelling and life in general; it’s so unpredictable!
You can find out more about Nathan’s travels via his website http://www.thepostman.org.uk/
You can also buy his book which details the trip from Sydney to London. http://www.thepostman.org.uk/the-book-2/