A few months after completing an epic motorcycle adventure, Lemont resident Robert Echard acknowledges what readers of his trip-chronicling blog, “Round the World the Easy Way,” already know.
That is, the title of the blog — a blog that started in May in London and ended four months later in the far-East Russian region of Magadan — is a bit of a misnomer.
“There really is no easy way to get from London to Magadan,” Echard said. “I mean, you’re going to have weather, you’re going to have flat tires, you’re going to have maybe both of them at the same time. You’re going to have bad roads that in some sections you can’t even call road. You’re going to have hard riding, tiring days.”
Echard plans to complete his around-the-world adventure in late spring, which is later than he’d expected. His Suzuki dual-sport bike is waiting for him in Seattle, having arrived there tardy from Russia in late November, just as a polar vortex gripped the United States.
“The trip isn’t done yet, because the motorcycle is in storage on the West Coast. It wasn’t supposed to, but it got back too late for me to fly out and ride it back,” Echard said.
For the 17,500-mile London to Magadan trip, Echard rode with Australian travel company Compass Expeditions. Of the 15 motorcyclists in the group, two were injured along the way and didn’t make it to the final destination. At 68 years old, Echard was the oldest member of the group and the only one to continue on and circle the globe.
“It was a great adventure that he was able to go on and I’m just glad he came back safe, because on a trip like that you never really know what’s going to happen,” Echard‘s wife, Lynne, said.
Although he collects books about motorcyclists who rode around the world, doing it himself has not been a lifelong dream for Echard, who grew up riding dirt bikes in Osceola Mills. The idea started with his interest in far East Russia’s Road of Bones, which was built by forced labor under Joseph Stalin and where memorials stand today for the thousands who died during construction.
Once Echard decided to ride the Road of Bones, the adventure riding enthusiast said he figured that as long as he would already be shipping his bike that great distance, he might as well start from London and travel east.
“Then I thought, ‘Then if I ride across the United States, I’ve circumnavigated the globe,’ ” he said.
But first, there was the United Kingdom, France and Belgium. Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. Remote areas and Alpine passes in Turkey. At the Georgia/Russia border, the group had to turn around when a massive mudslide closed the crossing.
“We were going to go all the way back to Europe and back through Poland and go in that way — a major backtrack — and we were halfway across Turkey and (the ride leader) got word that the border was open,” Echard said. “So we turned around and went back again.”
Next came the “Stans”: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, in scorching heat and arrow-straight roads. There was Mongolia and some particularly treacherous roads, on which almost everyone, including Echard, crashed. Finally, Magadan, the Road of Bones and some good fortune.
“What was supposed to be the hardest riding was the Road of Bones area because that’s supposed to be the wet season,” Echard said. “We didn’t have any rain.”
Depending on terrain, the riders did 300 to 400 miles a day. Along the way, there were daylong border crossings, numerous mechanical problems with bikes and other unanticipated hazards, from falling asleep at the wheel to having an eyeglass lens pop out mid-ride.
“Adventure riding is uncomfortable, so I knew that,” Echard said. “I could only afford to do something like this once, so I wasn’t going to give it up.”
The motorcyclists stayed in hotels when possible, and that’s when Echard would pull out his laptop and update his family and blog readers. But there were areas where staying in tents and being unplugged was the only option for days at a time.
Echard decided to chronicle his trip in a blog at Adventure Rider forum www.advrider.com for his family and a few local motorcyclists he knows. But by mid-trip, his posts would garner replies and questions from motorcyclists he’d never met. According to the website, Echard’s “Round the World” blog has been viewed more than 67,000 times.
“It had more of a following than I’d expected,” Echard said.
Writing succinctly and including photographs to illustrate everything from less-than-desirable gas station restrooms in Turkey to stray dogs in Romania, Echard’s posts gave readers an inside view of his journey. Lynne kept track of her husband through a satellite device he wore, but said she also loved following him on the blog.
“It was especially interesting to see the photographs of places that I’ll probably never go to myself,” she said.
If he had to do it over again, Echard said he would forgo the adventure travel company. Though there were benefits to traveling with the group, he thinks it would have saved time and money to plan his own trip and look for other riders to go with him. The mudslide at the Georgia/Russia border changed the itinerary and kept the group out of Moscow, which was a big disappointment for Echard.
“A lot of these adventure riders are interested in spending a long time on the road and experiencing different cultures, but that’s not what I was looking for,” he said. “My main interest was Russia and I just wanted to get around the world, not to zigzag and visit all these different countries.”
If Echard called the London to Magadan trip “easy,” he anticipates the final leg of his trip — which he’ll blog about as an addendum to “Round the World the Easy Way” — will be a piece of cake. Echard is still not sure of his exact route from Seattle back to Pennsylvania, though commenters on his blog have offered him places to stay along the way.