From a grand day out to a grand 2 years journey, from down under to South America, North America, all the way through Africa from Cape Town to Cairo, around Europe and back to normal life.
During the winter season, looking for inspiration for the next season we found about two australian motorcyclist, husband and wife, who in their way around the world, they rode their bikes also in Romania. Their journey started in 2016 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and for 2 years they travelled around South America, North America, Africa and Europe. In order for other peoples to find out about their trip and the places they were visiting, they also made a website granddayout.net.
Being curious to find out more about their impressive trip, we contacted them and asked Jeff to share some thoughts about this trip with us. Just to make a brief idea of what was like and what kind of road they got to ride on, check out Jeff’s clip. Under you can find …
First of all , tell us a little bit about you. When did you start riding motorcycles and how did you get stuck with this passion :)? How did you came up with the name of the site,what’s the meaning ? I read your presentation on the website , I know Jeff has been riding for 17 years and that Sally had only 2 years of riding experience. Did you fear that this wasn’t enough for this big journey ? How would you describe yourself now, after two years on the road, did anything change during these 2 years of traveling?
There’s a TV show called Wallace and Gromit (the names of our bikes), about an inventor and his dog. Their first adventure is called “A Grand Day Out”
I’ve now been riding for 20 years. My Dad rode before I was born, and I think there’s a trace of it in my DNA. My first bike was the legendary 1976 Yamaha IT400, one of the first ever production Enduro bikes. It was literally a ‘Barn find’ – (i.e. I actually found it in a friends barn), it looked in pretty bad shape and had a wasps nest in the carburettor. I rebuilt it, good enough to ride and took it out into the forest. Unfortunately on that first ride the clutch failed in the middle of a giant sand pit and I had to push it 2km through sand back to our car. I think it was the memory of this experience that was the reason I didn’t stick with off road riding for long and within a year I’d moved to road bikes, which is what I stuck with for the next 16 years.
My wife wasn’t really into bikes when we met, but after a couple of times riding as my pillion she decided to get her licence and her own bike. A short time later it became more serious when we decided to do a Round The World trip.
When we decided to do a RTW trip, I wanted us to have the same bikes, something suitable for off road. That meant brushing up on our off road riding skills, in Sally’s case learning from the beginning. We bought the two DR650SE’s, a year before we left so we could progressively make changes, like bigger fuel tanks, upgraded suspension, and test them with some local short trips.
We’d heard of other riders who had a similar level of experience, or even less than Sally, before heading off on a big trip. The well-known Ted Simon who wrote Jupiter’s Travels, for example got his licence to ride in 1973 just weeks before taking off on his 4 year, 128,000km journey. Lots of people first make up their mind to travel……and then decide how they want to travel. Once you start looking at riders blogs, stories and books it becomes addictive, before you know it your mind is made up that it’s simply the best way. The details come later, how to ship the bike, how to pay for it all, what documents do I need…..but these things all fall into place.
I didn’t think I changed in the first year of our journey. We were too focused on goals and milestones, worrying about getting to Ushuaia in time, worrying about the weather, will we make Alaska before the snow sets in…..
Sally’s accident and broken wrist forced us to stop and re-evaluate. It was a stressful time, not just with Sally’s hospital visits and surgery, but we had no idea where Sally’s bike was for two weeks and thought we may never see it again. Also that was the time when I lost all our documents, then we upset the residents of the apartment block we were staying at because I had to drain the fuel from the bikes and make shipping crates for them. We managed to leave Peru just in time to avoid overstaying our import permits and risking our bikes being confiscated.
By the time we left Peru, we had decided not to try for Alaska and instead to make a journey across Canada and the United States. Canada and the U.S. wasn’t a life changing experience since it’s all too easy, we speak the language, we made friends, it was a very nice relaxing time……but, one big difference…..we didn’t have any agenda, milestones, time constraints!…..we had hit our stride, we were now so chilled out about everything that almost nothing bothered us.
We arrived in Toronto in November, far too late to go to Russia as was the original plan, we would have to head for the Southern hemisphere, so back to Australia?…..back to South America?……or to Africa?
Africa had never been on our radar until then, but we were so chilled out and confident that we decided to embark on a journey from Cape Town to Cairo without batting an eyelid.
The previous year had changed us after all! Just as well because Africa can test you.
Back at work and I’m thinking – how have I changed? – The lesson of the road is, “Don’t stress, it’ll all work out”, this lesson never leaves you. Sometimes I have to pretend to be stressed at work, or it makes people around me worry 😊
Next thing that I usually ask the adventure riders that I talk to is when did they come up with this idea ? So , when did you come up with this idea , was it a long time dream? I read on your site that Top Gear’s episode from Vietnam was some kind of inspiration and also that you found a lot of helpful materials on Horizonsunilimited.com. What made you decide that 2016 is the right moment to do it , to resign from your job and just go ?
The timing was an easy decision – you see, in Australia we get what’s called “long service leave”, that means that if you work for the same company for 10 years you get an extra 2 months paid leave (additional to whatever other leave you have saved up). I earned my long service leave in 2013, Sally earned hers in 2015. In 2013, I started thinking about what to do with all this leave, wanting to do something significant and memorable. Sometime in 2014 I saw the Top Gear Vietnam special and immediately started to look into it. I came across Horizons Unlimited, and let us say – they are to blame.
We would each have 4 months leave, including all the saved leave we had, so we figured that we didn’t want to spend 4 moths just in Vietnam alone, and we should visit more of South East Asia. But…this is when you get into the government red tape. Nothing is impossible, but it looked like you weren’t allowed to take a Vietnamese motorcycle out of Vietnam, you also aren’t allowed to bring your own motorcycle into the country. Trying this way and that to make a motorcycle tour of that part of the world got too problematic for us beginners. Our attention was drawn to the Alaska – Ushuaia route at some point, it’s well travelled and there’s lots of information about it – a good route for first timers!
As you saw, I put some reasons to our bike choice on the website.
What can I add? – My DR now has 84,000km on it, 2 years, 1 major crash and too many small crashes and drops to count – not a single breakdown or mechanical failure between the two bikes. They’re a tough little donkey and I’m proud of them.Oh…and we got both our DR650’s for the cost of one 1200GS 😉
Since I asked you about your motorcycles, what special preparation did you do for this trip ?
The bikes – long range fuel tanks and upgraded suspension.
We did a few weekend trips, ranging from 50km – 1200km with all our gear. Lots of people leave with far too much loaded on their bikes, I think we got ours just about right, we sent one small box home from Ushuaia, but that was all.
So , here you are, at the start of 2016 , ready to go on this impressive journey and the first step is to send the bikes to Buenos Aires. Why did you chose Argentina as your first destination? Did you had a well made plan from the beginning, like you knew from the beginning all the places that you wanted to visit or you just improvised on the way ?
A big part of the decision to ship into Buenos Aires was because of Dakar Motos, a company run by Sandra and Javier that specialises in helping motorcycle travellers import and export their bikes.
The back story of why we ended up there is much more involved. As I mentioned earlier, it was our first intention to go to Vietnam. Once that was off the table we decided to start in Anchorage, Alaska, sometime in June. Then work got in the way, they asked us to stay for another six months and finish off the projects we were working on. We wished to maintain a good relationship with them, so we agreed, but six months means a turn in the seasons, we would be in Alaska in winter…….so we must begin in South America.
With respect to a well-made plan – ha ha ha ha ha….. yes we had one, here it was in a nutshell….
South America > Central America > Mexico > United States > Canada > (Alaska) > Back to Canada > Ship to South Korea > Ship to Vladivostok >Russia > Mongolia > Central Asia > Eastern Europe > Europe > Australia.
What did we actually do….
South America > Canada > United States > Canada > Africa > Europe > Scandinavia > Eastern Europe > Europe > Australia.
So, it’s good to have a plan, but it’s also good to be flexible.
You arrived in Buenos Aires and picked up your bikes (which wasn’t easy as I read on your site – here will be a link to your post about picking up the bikes) . What was the feeling when you left for Azul, what did you feel as you were riding the first miles on the PanAmerican Highway ?
To be completely honest…..the first day we were full of anticipation and nervous excitement and it was…….. disappointing, yes that’s right, a bit of an anticlimax.
As we rode along the first stretch of the PanAmerican, it looked exactly like rural Australia. I could have ridden 50km from where I lived and it would look just the same. At that time, I had too much on my mind to appreciate where I was, what we were doing, what lay ahead….no matter how much I tried I couldn’t shake the feeling that we were doing something wrong. After reading all the blogs, books and watching so many videos about ‘adventure travel’ – was this it? It sure didn’t feel amazing, it was just like any other Sunday ride.
Like I said earlier, it took us a long time to become accustomed to the life style. We had given ourselves a first milestone 3000km away in Ushuaia! It was madness, without any plan to see anything along the way. The riding isn’t even enjoyable, Patagonia is flat, dull and dreadfully wind swept – every day riding in gale force winds, holding the bike on an angle, wind pressing always from the same side day after day against your helmet so that your jaw aches and ears ring at the end of every day.
After that, 2 years and 70.000km of incredible experiences followed . I’ve read about the issues with the import permit and sending the bikes to US, about Sally’s broken wrist and many others. What were the most memorable moments from this trip, let’s say, if you had to make a top 5 most incredible moments , what would those be ?
Tough call, we started to really settle in by the time we turned around and left Ushuaia. I think because I felt that if we didn’t reach at least there, we would have failed, so getting to Ushuaia was such a relief. After that we began to take notice of where we were and what we were doing. We soon got to the Andes mountains, and that helped because it was the first time we saw some “other worldly” scenery that we don’t get to see anywhere else.
I’ll try to limit it to my top 5, here we go…
1. That first moment, coming over the crest of a hill and suddenly this vista of the magnificent Andes is just stretching from horizon to horizon before you. Jaws dropped, chests swelled and tears came, only after 4000km of riding on the continent had we finally mentally arrived in South America!
2. Riding the Careterra Austral in southern Chile. It’s one of those roads that’s beauty is borne from its ruggedness, remoteness, difficulty, and you know it won’t last forever – they’re paving it, so before much longer it will be full of end to end tourist traffic, but I’ll always remember our special journey there.
3. Botswana, Africa – Elephants, Giraffe, Zebra, Wildebeest, Impala, are in plentiful numbers. Words can’t describe what it’s like coming face to face with a wild elephant on your bike for the first time.
4. Sudan – Firstly it was a relief to leave Ethiopia and get back into a country with much less people. Secondly, with such a reputation we didn’t know what to expect, but we were seldom greeted with more hospitality, politeness and generosity than in Sudan.
5. MotoCamp Bulgaria – There we met two fellow riders, all of us quite road weary having long journeys behind and yet still ahead of us. Over the next week we seemed to reinvigorate and energise each other, we made a small adventure day locally to Budzulah and left there ready to take on the world again! We probably will never see each other again, but we’re the best of friends – such is life on the road.
The end of 2016 brought you to Cape Town, South Africa (my favorite city in the world, for a short period I lived there 🙂 ) . How was the whole african experience? Many say that the african continent is very addictive, some (like myself) will always make excuses to return 🙂 .
Indeed, Cape Town really is a beautiful city….AND THE FOOD AND BEER is world class!!!!
By the time we landed in Africa, fortunately we were somewhat seasoned to the lifestyle. An infamous saying among overlanders is “Africa isn’t for sissies”. Knowing a bit in advance – the terrible roads in Tanzania, the bad driving in Kenya, the rock throwing in Ethiopia, the police and military checks everywhere – certainly helps. We found it pretty easy going, borders were sometimes a bit of a hassle, the begging and asking for money was difficult to get used to, but we found travelling was easy, until we got to Ethiopia.
Ethiopia. I think of it as one long human train, endless lines of people from one end of the country to the other, you are never alone there, nowhere to stop and smell the roses without a group of people surrounding you within seconds, asking for money with a cry of “YOU YOU YOU, MONEY, GIVE ME MONEY”. Then there’s the rock throwing – when people what to get your attention they sometimes throw rocks at you, or occasionally thrust a long stick towards you as if trying to put it through your front wheel. After a while we came to understand that it’s a cultural thing and not necessarily meant to be an act of aggression, but sometimes it certainly looks bad and it’s REALLY upsetting when it happens.
Some nice experiences there, but not enough.
Ethiopia impacted us quite a lot, the rest of our journey through Africa was tempered by our time there and we were left quite travel weary.
Apart from that, you’re right, there is something about Africa. I would go back to South Africa or Botswana tomorrow, but West Africa intrigues me too…..one day….
You had quite a ride from Cape Town to Cairo, going through some of the toughest areas in this world. Traveling through these remote areas can be dangerous. Did you ever feel threatened or have you been in a dangerous situation ?
There’s an Australian government website called Smart Traveller, where the government puts out travel advisories – don’t go there, don’t travel here, all that sort of thing. I made a point of never looking at it…..one day I did though ☹
We were about to cross a remote area in Northern Kenya, and I’d happened to look on Smart Traveller the day before. Our government had a travel warning out to the effect of “DO NOT TRAVEL THERE UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES” and a map of the area all marked in red, naturally we ignored it. The threat related to rebels disguised as military causing trouble, robbing and kidnapping people.
I would rather not know and ride in blissful ignorance believing the world around me is full of pixies and glitter.
20 minutes into the journey, we crested a hill, in front of me was two army trucks across the road, about 6 men in uniform with weapons, and logs across the road. I was 500 metres from them with nowhere to go but forward, I rode on, freaking out in my helmet, madly trying to devise a plan in case I got that gut feeling that something wasn’t right. I got level with them, trying not to make direct eye contact. One of them gave me a glance, and waved me past.
I rode on, sweating a little and cursing Smart Traveller.
But really, I can’t recall a single instance when we felt threatened or in danger, even when we were robbed in Addis Ababa, I could tell they weren’t interested in causing us any physical harm.
We had many very close calls with cars, trucks and buses, but that’s just bad driving.
The beginning of 2017 found you roaming in Rome 🙂 and this was the beginning of the European adventure let’s say. I know you strolled a little bit in Italy at the beginning and after that Switzerland, Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, UK, Scandinavia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Czech Republic followed. Tell us a little about the European experience , what were the best places that you visited here ?
Europe was a busy time for us, trying to fit in all these great places and famous roads and mountain passes. South-Eastern Europe was the big eye opener for us, starting with Romania. Neither of us had been before, and to be honest in the beginning we were just going through because it was on the way to Bulgaria where we needed to go to collect our green card insurance. I’ll talk more about Romania below since there’s a specific question about it.
Apart from Romania, we loved Bulgaria and Estonia, but the highlights were the coast road in Norway up to Nordkapp and pretty much every road in Montenegro.
Something I’ll never forget is our time in Norway. It’s so expensive there and we were really trying to stretch our budget, not easy at all in one of the most expensive countries in the world. We camped or stayed in cheap campsite cabins when it was too wet. You can camp almost anywhere in Sweden and Norway (there’s laws that protect this right), It was light for 24 hours a day and we had to sleep wearing all our clothes to keep warm. Many overlanders wild camp most of the time, we didn’t. I wish we could’ve done more.
I believe a very important part of the traveling experience is meeting different types of people. I guess you also met other travelers on the way. Do you remember any funny story or interesting encounter that you had on the way ?
The campsites where overlanders tend to gather are the best places – as long as you don’t have any time constraints. It’s very funny when all of you are gathered around the dinner table or bar, agreeing that you’re definitely leaving tomorrow, only to see the same faces saying the same thing the following evening – day after day. It takes a mountain of willpower to pack your bike and leave.
Naturally, they’re great places to swap information, contacts and stories, and you all have something in common, so you’re instant friends.
I chatted briefly with a fellow Australian about making such a campsite in Australia, it would be an instant success I’m sure. Just watch, someone will do it one day and become rich, and I’ll kick myself!
Doing this incredible journey and seeing so many places makes you very entitled to let us know what would be the best roads that you rode on, the ones that put a big smile on your face and made you feel alive ?
The Careterra Austral, in southern Chile, as mentioned earlier. Very special place. 1200km of dirt road in remote wilderness. Difficult at times, but I’ve rarely experienced such as sense of achievement as when we rode the last bridge and onto the sealed road at the end.
The E6 in Norway, heading up to Nordkapp. Stunning!
Since we are website that promotes motorcycling tourism in Romania, how did you like Romania ? What was your experience with our country, in terms of interaction with people, nature, landscapes, roads? I am glad you didn’t met a bear as I read Jeff is scared about being eaten by one. 🙂
To understand how we felt about the riding in Romania, it helps to understand were we had just come from. Over the previous weeks we had been riding in places like Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine, although charming, beautiful and fascinating in their own way but, from a riders perspective they’re a little flat.
We had a rather long border crossing from Ukraine and so we when we were eventually “released” from the border our senses were numbed and tired…..then a few kilometres into Romania we arrived at the first mountain pass…..from Suceviṯa to Ciumârna…..WELL! it was the best day’s riding we’d had in quite a while, our senses came alive and the biker within was awoken. As we found, Romania is jam packed full of these kind of roads, amazing! What’s in between the ribbons of tarmac too was equally enjoyable for us, all those little villages, people riding in horse drawn carts, the appealing little farms and folks sitting in groups waving and smiling as we passed.
The people we met in Romania were terrific, hospitable and friendly. After a while on the road you develop a sensibility for the ‘mood’ of the country by the many small interaction you have each day. The people of Romania seem positive and optimistic, a good sort of energy.
When we entered Romania we didn’t know much about it, we tend to work things out along the way by talking to fellow travellers and locals to see what’s best, before looking at any websites or travel guides. By the time we left and even now, months later Sally and I both agree that we must come back and explore Romania further.
Any bikers reading this from outside Romania, I can say that the passes of Italy and Switzerland are all well and good, but if you want something a little different, another culture and captivating history then head to Romania. The people are friendly, the roads are good, it’s safe, the scenery is absolutely superb and you’ll be doing yourself a favour by planning a tour there.
Speaking about Romania, since I was saying earlier that you rode on some of the most iconic roads and mountain passes and also you rode on Transfagarasan . What do you think about this road compared to others? Did you also got the chance to rode on Transalpina ?
The scenery of the Transfagarasan is unbeatable, we were sort of lucky to arrive mid week when the traffic was relatively light, I’ve heard it gets super busy on weekends and during the holidays.
Riding towards the Carpathian mountains was so memorable, we just had to stop and pull over to take it all in. They rise out of the flat plains as you approach from the North in a blue haze, the mountains seem to stand in rows, one behind the other like soldiers, it’s a thrilling sight for a rider.
Probably what I enjoyed most was the ride down the other side from the well known and much photographed climb. It was easier to relax and enjoy the scenery.
We didn’t get a chance to ride the Transalpina – we lost a day because of heavy rain, so we went to visit Bran castle instead.
I found on your website many useful information, especially the ones regarding shipping costs. Since one of the most common reasons or better said the best excuse for many not to leave on this kind of journey is the budget. Did you ,by any chance, made an estimation of the amount of you money you spent ?
We didn’t travel cheaply, we stayed in hostels and guest houses mostly.
We spent around €45,000 each for the two years, but a significant amount of this goes on shipping, for example the “emergency” shipment out of Lima cost us €7000 alone, but that was exceptional and no one would recommend shipping to or from Peru if you can help it.
Long distance shipments are just part of life if you live in Australia and want to do this sort of thing, you can’t get very far otherwise.
From Europe, you have a big chunk of the world at your doorstep without having to deal with a single shipment. Go to the top of Norway, Head across Central Asia to Russia and Mongolia, or India! Even Africa is just one easy shipment away, you can get your bike on African soil for €800, it might sound like a lot but look at what it gets you!
It depends where you go. South America was reasonably inexpensive, North America broke the budget severely, as did Europe. Africa was of course, dirt cheap.
What are your future plans ? If I’m not mistaken, you still have some miles to cover in Asia 🙂 ?
Absolutely! We always wanted to ride Mongolia and we never got there yet.
For more information,stunning pictures and videos from Jeff and Sally’s journey , you can visit Granddayout website or on Jeff’s youtube channel or facebook page.