Cross-continental road trip

It has taken eight weeks, working six hours a day, six days a week, but Erik Wallbank is finally ready to take his motorcycle road trip around the world.

Wallbank, 66, former board president of the Ashland Food Co-op, and his small band of riders plan to take seven 650cc Kawasaki KLR650s across Asia, Europe and North America starting in June.

Wallbank, who has lived in Ashland since 1966, is a successful builder and landlord, which has given him the means to make several long motorcycle trips, most recently to South America.

But while the years have been good to Wallbank, there's also a toll.

"I'm stiff after sleeping on the ground," he said. "This trip is not going to be the greatest in that way for an older guy."

The bikes leave Ashland on Wednesday to be shipped to South Korea for the start of the big trip. Wallbank has been on this trip in some ways his whole life.

"I've always been into motorcycles since I was 15 years old," Wallbank said.

His first long ride was inspired by a stray thought Wallbank had one day: "Where does the Mississippi River start?"

So he rode until he ran out of river. Since then, Wallbank has gone on a number of oddly inspired rides, like the times he rode to the birthplace of Jerry Lee Lewis in Ferriday, La., and to the site of the Civil War prison camp Andersonville in Georgia.

"They were stupid things, but a reason to go on a motorcycle ride," Wallbank said.

As he got older, the rides got longer.

"I've always liked to push the edge on things," Wallbank said.

In summer 2008, Wallbank got a notion to find out where the road ends if you go north. After six days of riding from Ashland, he was three miles north of Inuvik, 400 miles beyond the Arctic Circle in Canada's Northwest Territories — and out of road.

No sooner had he reached that chilly destination than he started thinking about a trip in the other direction.

"I thought 'this is the road north,'" he said. '"I wonder where the road south ends?'"

In December 2008, Wallbank started south from Ashland, eventually making it to the other end of the world, the tip of Tierra del Fuego in Argentina.

He made both those rides alone, and nearly paid the price on some occasions.

"Sometimes it was outright dangerous," he said.

Once, in Central America, he was riding on the Pan American Highway when he saw a group of men standing across the road.

"One guy had a machete and one guy had a badge," he said.

Slowing, he determined the men were not police and decided it would be safer not to stop for them.

"I went for the one with a machete," Wallbank said. "I figured if he was trying to save his own life, he wouldn't be trying to take mine."

He drove at the man, who dived out of the way. In a small town down the road, Wallbank talked to a police officer about the experience. The officer showed Wallbank his sidearm and, a little offended, assured him police did not carry machetes in that area.

On the whole, the experience was positive, however.

"Other than a few instances, the people were incredible," he said. "I loved it, but it was hard to be away from my family."

This time, he will have company and support.

Wallbank met Steve Bruns, a retired Canadian railroad engineer, on a ride to British Columbia in July. Dave Harrold, a desert racer and retired basketball referee from Texas, answered an advertisement Wallbank put in an international motorcycle blog "Horizons Unlimited." The same ad also turned up Pete Nesbitt, an Englishman who runs a metal shop in Vallejo, Calif., and Lance Bradley, who had been thinking of going on a world tour for some time.

Wallbank ran into Anibal Vickaka on his trip through South America, and the two men became close friends.

"With motorcycle adventurers, friendships can be instantaneous and last forever," Wallbank said.

Vickaka agreed to join the trip around the world, and will also bring his friend Marcello Duric. "Everybody going on this trip seems like they have integrity," Wallbank said.

That integrity will be tested as the seven men ride mile after mile across unfamiliar lands with only each other to count on.

By June, the Kawasakis will have been shipped to Inchon, South Korea. From there, it's a ferry to Zarubino, just south of Vladivostok, Russia. The actual ride is scheduled to begin on June 7.

The group plans to ride through Russia, Mongolia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Turkey, Greece, Italy and through other European countries. The itinerary is loose, though, and Wallbank does not have an exact idea of where the road will take them. There may be a jaunt into China, but that's also up in the air.

The integrity of the Kawasakis also will be tested. The KLR650s may not be the bike all the riders would have chosen for the trip, but Wallbank decided for logistics and mechanical reasons they should all ride the same model.

"They're durable, inexpensive, and if the Russian mafia takes them from you, you're out less than five grand," he said.

Wallbank will meet his family in Europe after about six weeks.

The bikes will then be crated across the Atlantic Ocean to North America for the last leg across either Canada or the U.S. That part is still in the planning, though, and new customs rules for entering the U.S. could make for more headaches.

"We have no idea how to get our bikes back to North America yet," he said.

Wallbank estimated the trip will cost between $10,000 and $15,000, but at the end, whoever makes it the whole way will be able to say he rode a motorcycle around the world.

"You end up where you started," Wallbank said.

Myles Murphy is an editor and reporter with the Daily Tidings. Reach him at

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