It doesn’t happen often to spot an Oregon registration plate around this parts. This detail triggered my attention when I saw a picture of a foreign rider on the Transfagarasan. The rider’s name is Michael Morrisey and he is an american who, after touring Europe, decided to make Romania as his homebase for his future moto adventures.
1.First of all , tell me a little bit about you. When did you start riding motorcycles and how did you get stuck with this passion :)? What was your first motorcycle ?
I started riding dirt bikes off road when I was young, 12 years old or so. I joined the US Navy at 18 years old and spent most of my time at sea for 4 years so no chance to own a bike. When I got out of the Navy I was young and drinking and partying a lot and a good friend had a bike crash, he had been drinking and ended up paralyzed from the waist down, in a wheelchair for life. This scared me, I had a feeling this would happen to me because I loved drinking too much, so I didn’t get a bike until I quit drinking in my mid 30’s.
My first bike was 1994 Yamaha YZF 750 R
2.Do you remember what was like going for the first time for a long moto trip ?
I was introduced to the Dual Sport/ adventure type bikes when I met a friend who had a BMW 1150 GS and through him I met a whole community of guys that were doing on/off road adventures and I had that feeling that I had met my people, or as they say “my tribe”. The idea of being able to go up mountains, go off road and hit trails and go into the wilderness really appealed to me. I bought a 2005 BMW F650GS. I was living in NYC working for the TV network CNN as an Engineer. I really needed to get away from the 8.6 million people living there. Every weekend I would get out of the city and ride. Just outside NYC in any direction is some amazing twisty road riding and off road trails and dirt roads. Every summer I would go on 2-3 week trips in the north eastern US. Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Upstate NY, camping and music festivals. The biggest trip was from NYC to Nova Scotia , Canada with one other guy. 3 weeks, mostly camping. I was the feeling of freedom and adventure, not knowing where we would camp or stay. Leaving the world and all its troubles behind. As any rider knows you really need to be in that moment to ride safely, worrying about shit and being distracted ruins everything and is unsafe, so you’re just in that moment wondering what’s coming around every turn and can’t be bothered by anything else.
3.So, first you sent your bike to Europe in 2017, rode through 27 countries during 6 months and went back to USA. After that in 2018 you decided to come back , so you sent the bike to Ireland this time and rode to Romania. What made you come back and decide to spend some time in Romania?
One of the biggest inspirations for me to ride around the world came to me In December 2008 I went on a trip (by plane) to Peru to hike and camp the Inca trail to Machu Picchu, the ancient Inca city on top of a mountain in the Andes. A few days before the hike I came out of my hotel and 2 motorcycles rode up to me, F650GS exactly like mine. They were a husband and wife from Calgary, Canada who had ridden from Calgary in Western Canada to Miami, Florida about 4800 km, then they shipped their bikes to Venezuela in South America and rode all the way down to Argentina and were working their way back up to Canada. It was a 1 year trip. They were not wealthy people they just decided it was their dream so they saved their money and quit their jobs and rented their house and went. In February about 3 months later I went on a holiday to Costa Rica. On my last day there I went to see an active volcano they have there and I got a hotel and the clerk at the desk told me to park around the back of the hold in the garden. When I drove around back there were 2 motorcycles parked there and the closer I got I realized I recognized them. It was the same 2 bikes I had met 3 months before 6000km away in Peru staying at the same hotel as me again!!!!! I took this as some divine inspiration. When I went back to NY I decided then that I was going to ride around the world. I asked if my job would give me a leave of absence and take 1 year off and they said no. I was thinking to quit and one night I had a terrible crash on my motorcycle. A man pulled a Uturn right in front of me and I had no chance to slow down and hit him T-bone. I flew and flipped in the air and landed on my back and fractured 2 vertebrae, broken collarbone, broken sternum, almost collapsed lungs, broken ribs. I was in bad shape, almost died. I had to take 4 months off work. Eventually I rebuilt that bike and got back on it and never lost the dream to ride around the world. It to 8 years before I was able to start.
In 2014 I quit CNN the job and moved first to Monterey, CA and then 1 1/2 years later to Oregon and started planning for the big dream trip around Europe that I did 2017, 27 countries in 6 months. After the adventure I went back to Oregon (which has amazing riding in America) and I decided to sell photographs I had taken on my travels. It went ok but not great, I was living in the wrong place to sell the photo’s and I kept thinking about more traveling. Its hard to travel alone and have so many amazing experiences and then just stop and try to return to normal life. Europe is big and I made a lot of notes of things I passed and wanted to return to see.
I have an old friend I met in NYC in 2003 at the 2 year anniversary of the attack of Sept 11th at the site of the twin towers (ground zero). Ioana was a journalist from Romania who was in America studying on a Fulbright Fellowship. We worked together at Ground Zero and fell in love. She stayed for awhile in NY but eventually returned to Bucharest. We are no longer involved romantically but have remained close friends all these years. She is now a lawyer and has a practice here in Bucharest. In 2012 I came to Romania and visited and immediately had an interest in moving here. When I traveled through the Carpathian mountains I immediately fell in love I traveled by car at that time and dreamed of riding those roads by motorcycle. Bucharest reminds me of the way NYC was in the 70’s and 80’s, its affordable and a little rough around the edges, I like this.
Its nice to have such a good friend in Ioana and her sister Maria and her husband Mihai who have helped me out a lot since moving here. I rent an apartment from Ioana and as a lawyer has helped me with the visa situation. Its not easy to just pick up and live in European Union even for Americans. Ioana and Maria have helped me with all the difficult legal obstacles. Having this help made it easy for me. I always wanted to live outside the US and life is short so I thought Im going for it. Romania is a great place to be home base for further adventures.
4.Why did you decide to come alone ? What were the advantages and the disadvantages?
Going on adventures alone has advantages and disadvantages. The reason I did the big 6 month trip alone is mostly because I didn’t know anybody that could afford to quit their job and do it. I was single and had no children. I was free to make this choice to quit a very good job and pursue this. Most people thought I was crazy to do this. I went alone for other reasons that I had learned from shorter trips. When I wanted to use the toilet I went. When I wanted to eat, I stopped. When I was tired sometimes I stopped on the side of the road and lay down in the grass and took a nap for 1/2 hour. When I needed fuel I stopped. I went at the pace that I developed was comfortable for me. When you travel with others its always harder to coordinate stopping. People dont always agree on where to go , what to see, where to stay. Sometimes it gets pretty lonely traveling alone, that can be the downside. Sometimes its nice to let others decide and just follow and go along for the ride. When you’re alone you have to make every single choice yourself about where to go and what to see. I think when you are alone strangers will approach you and ask questions and start a conversation. I think when you’re in a group or with someone people might just leave you alone and not interrupt. I would love to find a woman that would like to travel with me on her own bike someday.
5.During these trips did you had any issues , like mechanical failures or have you ever been in any dangerous situations ?
I had very few mechanical problems. 2 flat tires. I carry a tire patch kit and a very small electrical air pump that connects to the battery that I had to use on one of the flats I got on a Sunday in a pretty remote part of Eastern Slovenia. I made a patch and pumped the tire enough to get to Zagreb, Croatia stopping at fuel stations every 30km to put air in and found a repair shop in the morning. Another flat tire in Portugal I was in a petrol station getting ready to take the back wheel off and a guy saw me told me about his friend that owns a repair shop and called for me. It was very close by so I made it there and the owner had a nice BMW and while his guys fixed the tire he showed me great places to ride on a map.
I had a strap break on the aftermarket Leo Vince muffler I put on the bike. I carry a good tool kit and spare parts, metal strap material, wire, gorilla tape, zip ties, large ratchet straps, spare bolts and screws, things like this so I can get back moving and not be stuck.
6. I saw you currently ride a BMW 2012 G650GS, why did you choose this bike for the trip, what you like best about it ?
I had the 2005 F650GS and loved the bike. I thought someday I would buy a larger CC adventure bike but after one trip alone I was in the mountains of Vermont on a trail that was pretty remote and muddy and I went down. It was difficult to pick the bike up because there were single tracks and mud. Luckily I had ratchet straps that I used a tree to get the bike back up. I always thought that If I had a 1200cc or even 990cc or something bigger I probably would have to have hiked a long way to find help to pick it up. The 650cc is enough. There are times If I’m riding long stretches on tarmac I wish I had more cylinders and cc’s but I stay away from major motorways and stick to secondary roads mostly. When my F650GS was stolen in Brooklyn, NY and BMW had just come out with the remake of the old F650GS Dakar the 2012 G650GS Sertao was the right bike for me. It has the 21″ front wheel and 17″ rear so its set up well for off road.
7.Since it isn’t all about roads, sometimes touring on a motorcycle is about discovering remote places or historical tourist attractions,and I saw some great pictures on our facebook page, what would be your top 5 places that you visited in Europe so far on two wheels?
I’m really not good at saying favorites. I sought out and found amazing, fantastic things in every country. I did a little research and had a basic idea of where i was going but mostly I talked to people. The hotel desk clerk, the waitress at the restaurant, people at the petrol station and asked them all to tell me something special I should go see in their country. I asked them to tell me places, not where all the tourists go but something secret that the local people know about. I would google the natural wonders and highest mountain and biggest waterfall of every country and I would drop little stars on my google map on my phone and go there. In the evening I would look at my map and see where I was going the next day. When the weather forecast said rain I would go to cities find a hotel with secure parking for the bike and then go to museums. I’m a painter and photographer so I love art. Europe has so many great museums in cities and towns and I would use rainy days as an excuse to go see them and also to take naps and rest. I would stay off the bike and walk and take public transport and after a few days off the bike I would get really excited to get back on and not get burned out.
When traveling in Europe I felt it was important to go see some big Iconic cities like Paris, Barcelona, Venice, Rome, Brussles, Berlin, Copenhagen, etc… I went to all of these places and stayed a few days, went to the iconic monuments and museums but for me the mountains and natural wonders, the mountain passes were my favorites. The alps in France, Switzerland, Austria, and Italy are off the charts beautiful. I love the huge mountains here in Romania. I found some unexpected amazing mountains in Albania, Montenegro, Slovenia. Some smaller cities I really like were Ljubljana, Slovenia, Tallinn, Estonia, Dubrovnik, Croatia, Florence, Italy Porto, Portugal, Warsaw Poland and here in Romania, Timisoara and Brasov. I have a lot more to explore in Romania that I haven’t seen. All that I saw in Turkey was great, many very friendly kind people there. I really loved all of Ireland, amazing big mountains and small cities and villages, probably my favorite overall but its my heritage so I’m biased.
8.I believe a very important part of this traveling experience is also meeting different types of people. I guess you met other travelers on the way or locals .Do you remember any funny story or interesting encounter that you had on the way ?
I met so many people along the way and I can think of a few that really stick out. Sometimes I would “wild camp”, camping without an official campground. usually in remote places but sometimes in expensive countries. Id find a country road, look for a dirt road where it looks like no one lives and ride into the forest and set up camp. I did this outside of Stuttgart, Germany. I set up camp and ate my supper. went to sleep and all was well. In the morning I was drinking coffee and breaking down my tent when I heard some voices in the forest and saw through the trees a man and a women. I know the lady saw me so I just waited for them to come over to me but they were kind of meandering, not really walking together, a few meters apart. They eventually came closer were walking together now toward me, the guy was big and had a lot of tattoos and was kind of scary looking and I realized that this guy had big knife. He was talking to the lady in German and making a stabbing motion. I was scared shit and said hello, do you speak English? He said a little bit, as he was looking at my bike. I have stickers from all the countries I visited and an American license plate and I think he could figure out I was a traveler. I told him I was sorry if this was private land and I was packing up to leave. He told me they were looking for mushrooms. I was relieved and he couldn’t understand why I wasn’t camping in a campground, he told me I should be in a campground. I had the feeling that people in Germany and Austria were a little uptight and did everything by the rules. Not my style. I prefer Romania and the attitudes here.
Another story that really comes to mind is when I was in Northern Greece and heading toward the border of Turkey. I always wanted to visit Turkey, but it was very hot, it was end of June and the temp 38c or so and in Turkey it was expected to be even hotter. I was thinking that I would go North to Bulgaria and Romania and it might be a bit cooler. I decided to ride toward the border and stop and take a break, have lunch and decide. I was filling up with fuel and in came 6 motorcycles and it was 6 Turkish guys on adventure bikes like mine and the surrounded me and started asking questions and looking at all the stickers on my bike from all the countries and telling me that its their dream to do what I was doing and giving me hugs. We had a bite to eat and they asked where I was going and I said that I thinking of going to Turkey but might just skip it for now. They told me that they were going home to Turkey after a 10 day trip to Romania to ride the mountains. They told me I was their guest and that I must come with them to Turkey to see their country. So my decision was made for me and I rode with them. They bought me a big lunch and helped me at the border crossing, apparently the border agent had never seen an American on a motorcycle and were asking me what I wanted and what was I doing? My new friends talked to the agent and he stamped my papers and I was in. The Turkish guys arranged for a nice hotel for me and paid for it. They had to go the next morning very fast to Antalya in the south where they lived and I was on my own to explore and take my time. I spent a really great week riding down to where they lived stopping at some great places along the Aegean Sea coast and when I arrived in Antalya they welcomed me. It was extremely hot, like 40 degrees or more so I stayed a few days then had to leave and head north to Bulgaria and Romania where it was a little cooler. It was one of my favorite experiences meeting these guys and I found Turkey to be a very welcoming and friendly place. I am going back soon in March to visit my friends in turkey to ride and see a lot of sites I missed because it was so hot last time. I’m also going to ge to Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia.Michael with his turkish friends
9. Since we are a 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?
My experiences of riding in Romania has been great. The people are friendly the cost of food and lodging is very affordable especially compared to Western Europe. Its very safe as far as crime is concerned, I have been to many Western European countries that I couldn’t sleep very good because the bike was in danger of being stolen even though it locked up. I love the mountains in Romania, Ive ridden the Transalpina and Transfaragashen 3 or 4 times each and explored many smaller rides in the Carpathians and always found great riding. Its not perfect like Switzerland or Austria but to me Romania is more appealing because its a little rough around the edges lets say. I find its really important to stay very alert riding in Romania because around any turn can be crazy dogs chasing you, horse carts, sheep and cows, collapsed roads. Its always an adventure and I always find myself laughing at the crazy stuff I come across, it makes it interesting and exciting. I love the forests and rivers and never have to worry about fuel or food, it always can be found. I only speak English and some Spanish but I never have trouble in Romania most people are speaking some English and young people below 30 are almost all speaking very good English.Transalpina
10.I saw that you rode on the Transfagarasan and also rode on Transalpina, and other roads that are well known amongst the romanian bikers.The inevitable question that any foreigner receives is :Transfagarasan or Transalpina, what do you prefer? Are there other roads that you enjoyed very much and you would recommend them to other riders?
I hate saying favorites but I guess I would say I like Transalpina better but the next time I ride Transfaragashen I will say thats better. I like that you slowly build up to the big mountains and the terrain changes, they both have the best of what we as motorcyclists love, its heaven.
I have a lot more to explore and ride in Romania and this summer I will see much more. but some cool rides I’ve taken are split off the Transalpina and ride route 704 north and 705F.
For the off road people I rode to Mănăstirea Alina-Maria on Strada Săliște, from Romanii de Sus then left the Monastary and rode north which takes you in a big loop through the wilderness back to Romanii de Sus. It was pretty cool adventure. I really need you to tell me some great roads in Romania I should be riding.
11.If somebody is thinking about doing this kind of trip and is currently doubtful, what would you advice them ?
For anybody out there that was thinking about some big travel adventure I would just say dont overthink it. Get the right bike for the way you want to ride, read on Horizons unlimited or ADV rider websites all the information that people have shared about what to take and not take and just fucking do it! Life is short. Both my parents died very young and I realized a long time ago that if we are planning for someday, it might not come. Go weather you are young or old, alone or with friends whichever suits you. Dont take too much stuff. Just remember whatever you have on the bike that is not locked in a pannier will have to be unloaded and carried wherever you stay that night and back to the bike the next morning and if you are tired it sucks to be carrying all kinds of bags in and out every night. Travel light. When I stayed in cities I would look for airbnb places that had a washing machine and wash my clothes. Bring lightweight synthetic material tshirts and underwear that can be washed in a sink or a river at night and put back on in the morning. Dont make hotel reservations ahead of time 100s of km away. Anything can happen in the course of a day and you might end up paying for a hotel you never made it to. Start looking in the afternoon when you done for the day and make sure you have secure parking for the bike. If you look on booking.com or hotels.com and it says they have parking dont believe them. Sometimes they’ll say there is parking on the street. I always went to hotels and checked them out if they actually had a parking garage or courtyard or lot that was safe. Dont plan too far ahead, some days I would ride 8 hours and get nowhere because I was stopping to take pictures or see some sites I came across and hadn’t planned on. Other days I rode a long distance because there was nothing to see and I was getting on to the next big mountains. I listen to music, i have an ipod with 6000 songs on it. Streaming sites like spotify is not always gonna work and you’ll use a lot of mobile data. I have a good GPS mounted on the bike but is removable. As i said, just do it!! You’ll be amazed how helpful people are and how it all works out. Set aside your ideas and prejudices and feelings about people in other countries. One thing I learned is people are more alike than different. Everybody thinks they are so different than their neighboring countries but at the simplest levels we are all human and are the same.
12. Probably there are people reading this and thinking to replicate your trips, but they just remain at the status of project.They think they don’t have the time or don’t have the money or both.Could you make a rough estimate on the money you spent during these trips(and the number of miles you covered on each stage/year), so that they could estimate a budget for a future dream trip?
A lot of people think I must be a rich guy. I’m not. I started this trip when I was 55 years old. I had been working a long time and I have had maybe a different philosophy of life than many American or Europeans. I never got married or had children. I had many great relationships with women but never really believed in this idea of marriage. I lived and worked in NYC for many years and lived a simple life. Many people start making money and just buy a big house or nice cars. I didn’t, I had the same Nissan for 17 years. I lived in a very small apartment and never really bought expensive stuff. I preferred to have experiences and dream up places to go like the trip to Machu Picchu that I mentioned earlier. I saved my money over the years and worked really hard.
So getting to the question, the daily budget changes depending where I was. In Western Europe I tried to keep it to $100. a day, about 400 Lei. That includes food, fuel, and lodging. As you move further east it gets cheaper. If you are willing to sleep in a lot of hostels in dorm rooms with a lot of other people or camping 5 nights a week you can cut that estimate in half. I didn’t really stop and have a big lunch, I would make sure if I stayed in hotels I’d make sure they had free breakfast and ate a lot. I always carried nuts and fruit and just snacked on that during stops in the day. Most people who ride knows if you stop for a big lunch and then get back on the bike you get sleepy so I didnt do this and saved money buying stuff at a grocery. I had a good meal at night but try to find restaurants not in the old town city center, maybe just outside the the center and you find better restaurants that are cheaper.
If you travel in Spring or Autumn any time other than the peak summer months it can be cheaper. July and August or always more expensive and more crowded roads. I traveled to 27 countries over 6 months, then about 5 more weeks and 1 more country. I skipped Switzerland the first 6 month trip because it was peak of summer and VERY expensive. When I came back to Europe in Sept and rode from Ireland to Romania the peak summer season was over it was cheaper to stop in Switzerland and it was absolutely spectacular. But to ride a road like Transfaragashen in Switzerland, say Grimel Pass which I did, its crazy beautiful but you have to pay like 25 euro’s.
I spent $20,000 USD or about 80,000 Lei for about 8 months of travel through 28 countries for about 52,000 km. this Im 55 years old and didnt like staying in hostels with a lot of young kids coming in drunk and loud late at night and I love camping but my bones dont like it every night. You could have done it much cheaper by not staying in as many hotels as I did.
13.After the time spent in Romania, would you recommend other foreigners to plan a moto-trip here ? What would you recommend them to see and to do ?
I would highly recommend people come to Romania and ride and explore. Some places I realy liked are riding in the Carpathian mountains and visiting Brasov, Sinai, Curtea de Arges, Timisoara, Bran, Sibiu, Alba Iulia. I am no expert on Romania, I have a lot more to see. I think if you are a true motorcyclist and adventurer Romania is one of the best places in Europe to ride.