Biking or Motorcycling touring has always come about as a cool and much talked about passion and like any passion it is mostly done in the spare time. However, there are a few die-hard bikers who take it up as a full-time activity, dropping everything else in their lives. To genuinely describe the thrill and excitement that it offers, one must listen to stories of these bikers who invest a large part of their lives in doing so. One such story is of an Australian couple Sandra Saunders and Stewart Newsome aka Sam and Stew, who seem to be following the adage ‘It ain’t over till its is over’, and are set to complete an unfinished journey which started 27 years ago in 1990 – to ride around the world on their bike BMW R100 GS.
Making their way through North and South America, Europe, Middle East and Pakistan, Sam and Stew were quite delighted to be in India. They were hosted in Pune by their friends Shalaka Zad and Ajay Zad, another biker couple and also members of ‘The Guardians Motorcycling Club’, during the Indian leg of their global tour. The Zads got Sam and Stew over at ‘The Saddle Store’ to interact with their club members. Jasmeet Singh, Co-founder of Livingit, an avid biker himself, also a member of ‘The Guardians’, decided to capture their story. Here is an excerpt from the conversation:
JS: We are bikers and often dream about going on adventures and long journeys. For you, where did it all start?
STEW: We are originally from Yorkshire, UK and it started 27 years ago when we got a bike and set off to go around the world. We started in the UK and traveled through Europe, Middle East, and even India, and eventually ended up in Australia and then decided to settle there. We didn’t finish our round the world trip and somewhere in the back of the mind, the unfinished thought lay dormant biding its time.
JS: What was the exact moment in which you decided that you wanted to finish it? What triggered the idea?
STEW: It was always there in the mind but it all came together when Sam and I retired from work. So, I thought that I’m not going to sit and do gardening, clean the house or maybe babysitting and that was the defining catalyst. We flew the bike from Perth to Los Angeles. None of us required any convincing as we both wanted to take it up.
JS: Why didn’t you start the journey before as you mentioned given that the idea had been swirling in your head since long?
SAM: We always wanted to travel but we had two little girls who had to go to school and practically it wasn’t possible for us to undertake a long journey. Now that the girls are grown up, past 20 and working and we could retire from work so it was a good time to begin again.
JS: What was your children’s first reaction when you told them that you are going to do this trip? Did they freak out or were cool about it?
STEW: I think by now they are accustomed to us doing strange things and the girls have traveled quite a lot to different parts of the world with us and otherwise both. They now prefer to stay at home so we decided to take up their part and travel.
JS: What is the purpose of this ride for you?
SAM and STEW: The purpose of this ride was to finish the ‘around the world’ trip because last time when we reached Australia we ended up applying for an immigrant visa. The plan was to pass through and not stay there, we didn’t even know Australia, but when we reached there we found that it’s a fantastic country to live in. We just knew it was the place where we would like to live, considering we liked being outside and the weather was much better than the cold and rainy weather of UK and also it was a great place to bring up the children as well. However, the journey was only half done. We’d only gotten around half the world and now we really wanted to finish it. We also had this crazy idea to do it in the same motorbike that we had used 27 years back. We wanted to put it together again and complete the journey. The more sensible thing would have been to buy a new bike but we wanted to finish what we started with the same bike.
A quick look into the bike used by Sam and Stew – the BMW R100GS – 980cc, 60 bhp with the top speed of 112 km. Produced between 1987-96, it is often said about the bike “Often emulated, never quite rivaled, BMW’s GS series remains the benchmark for ‘big trailies’. You can read all about the history of this bike from this link.
JS: What were the challenges that you faced with this bike on this trip considering it is pretty old?
STEW: Well 27 years really tested this bike and we did have our share of breakdowns. In this tour, the first issue came in Alaska where the starter motor went bust. The starter motor was not available in Alaska and for two weeks, we had to push it from the back to start it, which was very difficult. However, we got our friends from Canada to buy the starter motor and then we flew down there and got it fixed and carried on. There was another interesting incident in Mexico when the bike just died in the middle of a desert and just wouldn’t start. I had a spare electrical part which I had bought 27 years back and I tried replacing and like magic, the bike started! For 27 years that part waited and worked fine just when we needed it the most! Talk about luck!
JS: What was the planning that went behind such a long journey?
SAM: We had no itinerary, but we talked to a lot of people. All the decisions were taken on the journey. A lot of people told us don’t go here or there as it is dangerous, but we would just look up the Internet and read about it and decide to go there.
JS: Please tell us when and where you started your journey this time around.
SAM: We began the second attempt of the round the world tour in May 2015. We flew the bike to Los Angeles and then rode through North and South America.We hadn’t really toured through America before and were pleasantly surprised to see that there were many bikers in America doing the road trip from the extreme north starting in Alaska to all the way south in Argentina, South America. It’s very easy to do it with a bike – you don’t need any extra paper work, at every border. They just stamp you, prepare the papers and you are through. We got to see the big national parks like the Yellowstone, the big forest covers with a lot of wildlife like bears, bisons, wolves. Traveling through Alaska and North Canada was really amazing too. Europe and the Middle East East was familiar as we had done it before, though a lot had changed over the years.
JS: Any interesting story in America?
STEW: Well, we have a lot of stories to tell. However, let’s go with a funny one. We were in Mexico, trying to find a hotel, which was turning out to be almost impossible. We were driving and driving, until finally after some time we came across this weird looking hotel. We went inside and asked the female receptionist about how much the charge is. She looked at us and asked for how many hours would we like the room and we very innocently replied that we want it for 12 hours, leaving the girl shocked. It was not until we went to the room and realized what was happening. The room had mirrors for walls and the girl was giggling think us to be crazy tourists!
JS: How was traveling through Pakistan?
SAM: Travelling through Pakistan has an element of risk now which was not there last time. We had AK47 wielding armed escort throughout the first half of our trip in Pakistan. At every checkpoint, the armed escorts would change, with the old ones going back and the new ones continuing with us. From a riding point of view, the roads were dusty and most of the landscape was dry and desert like. Some areas were quite beautiful in their own way.
JS: How did you decide which places you wanted to visit in India?
SAM: India is a very big country to drive through. Twenty-seven years ago, we went through Mumbai to the northern side towards Agra and Delhi, Gharwal hills and even camped at Kasauli and then to Kathmandu. This time around, we entered India from the Wagah border in Amritsar and then drove to Shimla, but it got very hard as the road was very bad. We did only 78 km in 4 hours and that is when we decided to turn back. We had to head south to find a place from where we could ship our bike, Chennai or Cochin. We made our way down through Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujrat, then we entered Maharashtra and went to explore the Ellora caves in Aurangabad before heading towards Pune. We have a friend who suggested that we have to go through Pune and that is how we ended up here.
JS: Do you like the food in India?
SAM: Yes, of course, in fact in Yorkshire, we had a lot of Indian and Pakistani communities and even Gujarati communities who would cook curries and invite us. We are quite accustomed to spicy food and Stew even cooks curries about 3-4 times a week.
JS: What do you hate the most riding through India?
STEW: I think it’s the different road conditions. The road is sometimes very bad and sometimes extremely smooth, sometimes empty, sometimes packed with traffic. Just when you are getting used to one type of condition, it changes and it gets difficult to adjust to various terrains as well.
JS: Where are you headed after Pune?
SAM: We are headed next to Goa to attend MGM Indian travelers’ meet and also attend Rider Mania, the annual motorcycling event organized by Royal Enfield. We are very excited to attend Indian bikers events and meet more people like you guys.
JS: What is the plan of action after you finish this journey?
STEW: Well, we plan to rest for now. We have lots of work to be done at the house. We have a big family house, which we want to downsize as our daughters have moved to their own houses and once that’s done we’ll travel again. We have always been careful with our finances and as a matter of fact, have never thought of selling our house for traveling, which is what we hear some people do when they decide to travel the globe.
JS: Any advice to people who want to start riding like you, around the world?
SAM: If you have a dream, just do it. You don’t have to plan too much. When we started riding 27 years ago, I was a student and we traveled with a tent, camped along our journey and when you meet people you get invited to stay. So, you don’t need to have a really big budget. Just get out and do it. People often wonder how can we walk away from our work but the truth is you only have one life.
After a few pictures with The Guardians, Sam and Stew headed out to the next leg of their jouney.
Ranging from deserts to forests, from mountains to coasts, the couple has covered a large part of the world on their bike and have a huge number of experiences to share. You can follow their biking travel stories along with a glimpse of their lives through the beautiful pictures posted by Sam on their blog here.
So, the next time you see an Australian couple riding a white BMW bike while tasting spicy Indian food alongside the road, you know who they are! Sam and Stew come across as easy, fun loving people who are avid travellers and have proved to the world that dreams never get old. At Livingit, these are the kind of people that we aspire to inspire you through and strengthen your faith in the fact that there is always time to pursue what makes you happy despite everything else that life throws at you. Its never too late to start #Livingit!