By the time you’re reading this, Australian pilots Nick Harbison and Dominic Prezwanski will be somewhere along their 18,757km (approx. 11,655mi) plus motorcycle ride from Vladivostok, one of the Easternmost ports of Russia to London, England. Travelling on two BMW F650GS Dakars, Nick and Dom’s transcontinental motorcycle ride is estimated to take approximately four and a half months. It began on June 20 in Vladivostok with Dom arriving from Cairns and Nick travelling 2,400km (approx. 1,491mi) from Adelaide, Australia.
The pair are working in conjunction with the Lotus Children’s Centre, a Mongolian NGO (non-governmental organization) that houses approximately one hundred orphaned Mongolian children.
From Nick and Dom’s website Two Wheels West:
“Too often when you travel, you find that you are taking away so much in the way of rich experiences, but only rarely give anything back in return.
Hopefully this trip generates some interest across the motorcycling and travel communities. We want to use that interest to raise funds and awareness for the Lotus Children’s Centre, and give something back to their community.”
The following interview was conducted with Nick Harbison.
First off, a big thanks to Nick for taking the time to be interviewed! We’ll begin….
So how did the idea for the ride, including working with a charity, transpire?
The idea for the ride is something that Dom has been sitting on for a number of years. He whet his appetite for this kind of travel with a trip down the length of Vietnam by motorbike in 2009. I was a relatively late inclusion on the trip. I happened to walk in to Dom’s work office in Papua New Guinea toward the end of last year while he was doing some research for it. I asked in passing what he was doing, and ended up sitting down with him for the entire afternoon talking about it. I committed to it there and then.
The idea to involve a charity wasn’t something that we hit on until earlier this year. We realised that the trip was generating a bit of interest among our friends, and also among a wider community of travellers and adventure motorcyclists, especially. So we thought we’d see if we could use that to benefit some people along our route. Mongolia immediately jumped to mind as we knew poverty continues to be a serious issue there. After a bunch of research into the who and the how, we really liked the sound of the work that the Lotus Children’s Centre does, so we went with them.
How did you plan for the trip?
A lot of the initial planning involved hours spent (mostly by Dom, I hate online forums) on internet chat rooms like advrider.com and f650.com. These forums are full of gems that have steered us in the right direction regarding road conditions, the best route to take, must sees and must avoids.
There’s also plenty of tech info for the bikes. Tips on what spares, tools and other equipment are must haves.
Later in the piece, it’s been more logistical planning.. organising visas, flights, insurance and so on. To be honest, we are both well and truly sick of planning for it, we just want to be out there!
What are you taking with you?
I could write a long list here, bike parts, camping gear… but a couple of our must have comforts – good coffee and a soft cushion for our seats. I wear a couple of good luck charms too.
Do you foresee any potential major challenges?
I suppose the main obstacle will be the inevitable mechanical problems with the bike. Both our bikes have had a fair bit of work done on them leading up to the trip to make sure that they’re up for it. There’s also a small number of problems that commonly occur with our type of bike, so we’re carrying the necessary parts to deal with these on the road.
Other challenges? How long is a piece of string…all or any of bad roads, bad drivers, misunderstandings with police, dramas at border crossings, health problems…These are problems plenty of other motorcycle travellers have faced, and we’ll probably come across a couple of them, but I think we’ll just take them as they come.
In the post ‘Doing Our Best’ on your blog there was mention of complications encountered while trying to work with charities. Can you please expand?
When we first started trying to make contact with charities, we went for the ones we had heard of, your UNICEF and World Vision types. We found that with the bigger organisations it was extremely hard to find the person that you really needed to be speaking to. One person would pass you onto another, and so on.
Eventually we came across the Lotus Children’s Centre. We liked the look of the work they do so Dom called and spoke to Didi, the founder of Lotus herself. Straight away she was interested in what we were doing, and really grateful that we would like to try and help.
Do you have any suggestions for people interested in working with charities in a similar way?
I have two main bits of advice. First, if you want to use a venture or event of yours to help a charity, start early. While we are busy trying to get word out about our trip and the charity, it was a relatively recent idea, and it’s going to take time to build up donations.
You can donate to the orphanage by visiting Two Wheels West and clicking on the Lotus Children’s Centre tab.
Secondly, go for a grassroots organisation. Not only will you be avoiding the difficulties that I mentioned before, but if it’s somewhere that you can go and visit, you will be able to see first hand the cause that you’re helping, and it’ll give you a more personal connection with the organisation or project and the people involved.
Please tell us more about the Lotus Children’s Centre and what you’re hoping to achieve.
The Lotus Children’s Centre is a kids home in Ulaanbaatar, there to help street kids. Some of these kids are orphans, some are separated from their parents and family permanently, some temporarily, and Lotus is there to fill that void, and give them a family. Didi, who runs Lotus, is from Melbourne, and started taking care of a handful of kids in Ulaanbaatar in the 90s. The number of kids she was caring for kept growing and growing and eventually she had to organise more housing for these kids, and that’s how Lotus was born.
They also run a guest house in Ulaanbaatar, and this is a great place for the older kids to learn some hospitality or management skills, something that can help to get them a start in working life.
All that we hope to achieve is to lend a helping hand. In the scheme of things it probably won’t amount to much, but for an organisation like Lotus, which is entirely dependent on donations and volunteers, any help is very warmly received.
I can’t even imagine what your trip will entail, including some of the challenges that may arise, which frankly, adds to how incredible I think what you’re doing is. It’s crazy exciting. I suspect that regardless of what occurs, it’ll be a great adventure. What mindset are you bringing to Vladivostok with you?
With a trip like this there are going to be so many variables that we won’t know about until we’re there, and once we are there, there’ll still be plenty of obstacles along the way. I guess that I’m just approaching the start of the trip with a flexible mindset. There’s really not much choice, I just don’t know what to expect!!!
The Itinerary (from the Two Wheels West website).
Dates: 20th June – July 17th 2014
Distance estimate: 4904 km
Route: Vladivostok – Habarovsk – Skovorodino – Chita – Ulanude – Irkutsk – BORDER CROSSING – Ulaanbaatar
Dates: 18th July – August 15th 2014
Dominic: Yangon, Myanmar | Nick: Tabubil, Papua New Guinea
Dates: 15th August – 11th September 2014
Distance estimate: 6752km
Route: Ulaanbaatar – Kharkhorin – Ysetserleg – Tosonchengel – Moron – LAKE UVS NUUR – Ulaangom – Tashanta – BORDER CROSSING – Inja – Bijsk – Barnaul – Novosibirsk – Omsk – Chelyabinsk – Samara – Volgograd – Moscow
Dates: 12th September – 9th October 2014
Dominic: Yangon, Myanmar | Nick: Tabubil, Papua New Guinea
Dates: 9th October – 5th November 2014
Distance estimate : 7101km
Route: Moscow – St Petersburg – Border Crossing: Ferry – Helsinki – Turku – Ostrobothnia – Tornio – Trondheim – Oslo – Stockholm – Copenhagen – Ystad – BORDER CROSSING: FERRY – Swinoujscie – Gdnask – Warsaw – Berlin – Paris – London
*An Update From Nick dated July 3, 2014.
I’m currently in Listvyanka, on Lake Baikal, resting up before heading South to cross the border into Mongolia.
The last couple of weeks have been an absolute whirlwind. We have seen some amazing places, but the highlight has definitely been the people we’ve met along the way. Again and again we have met strangers that want to take care of us like family. This is especially true of the biker club network across Russia. We’ve spent quite a few boozy nights camped on clubhouse floors, which is a good for a change from the tent!