Moto-vagabondism and cultural connections from Ireland to India. Words & photos :: Todd Lawson.
After a long, hard day in the saddle, all we want to do is to pitch our tent within the grassy compound of a random farmyard, but our host is having none of that.
“This my house!” says Krystof in broken English, pointing proudly his rusty pitchfork at a stout-yet-nondescript red brick house behind us. “You stay here this night.”
We leave the cool, pure Polish country air and step inside, where the dank stench of mold literally stops us in our tracks. The smell triggers memories of my Polish grandparents’ basement from the ‘70s, a root cellar permeated with aromas of potatoes and dirt. I hated going down there as a child.
And Krystof’s kitchen is even worse. It reeks like old cheese, his tiny bathroom contains a sink the crusty shade of brown camouflage and a toilet that likely hasn’t felt the bristles of a brush in years (we’d most definitely be hovering above that thing). The look on Christina’s face says it all—we don’t want to stay here, but being rude to a host would be worse.
“Oh, thank you so much Krystof,” she says. “This is great…” The front lawn seems so peaceful, and suddenly so far away.
We’re in eastern Poland, five months into our year-long adventure, and Krystof has spent his entire 65-year existence on this hay and cattle farm along with his 87-year-old mother. A few minutes ago, when we arrived and kindly asked (via Google Translate) if we could spend the night on his farm, his face lit up.
The look on Christina’s face says it all—we don’t want to stay here, but being rude to a host would be worse.
“I cannot believe this!” he says, speaking into our magic translator box. “I would have expected a UFO to land here before a family of three Canadians on motorcycles.”
Christina and I have travelled through 69 countries together on motorcycles and randomly asking strangers if we can camp on their property has always served us well.
It allows for complete cultural immersion and has led to many lasting friendships, unique food experiences—such as eating fried grasshoppers in Swaziland or barbecued iguana in Mexico—and, like in this instance, some definitely awkward and uncomfortable situations.
However, when a stranger offers a place to stay, we simply cannot and do not refuse. Even though the state of this farmhouse makes us want to run for the hills, it’s being given to us with kindness, and it’s real and true to this place…
Krystof shows us around the house while his mom makes a cup of tea in her own separate (but equally dirty) kitchen. We follow him outside to start unpacking the bikes. Seanna grabs one of their many pitchforks and starts helping out, stabbing at a fresh bale of hay to take inside the barn to feed the cows. Since one of the goals of our journey is to retrace the footprints of our ancestors, I know my Polish grandparents would be proud.
And, watching our daughter independently pitching in to return a stranger’s kindness, Christina and I feel it too. This encounter—dank, moldy stench and all—is the exact kind of life-enriching experience we want for our ten-year-old daughter Seanna on her first global moto adventure.
After working hard until well after dark, Krystof shows up in the kitchen with a basket full of warm beer and a bottle of schnapps, wanting nothing more than to connect with his newfound friends. In the morning, every morsel of food he owns is laid out on the kitchen table but nothing looks enticing enough to eat. He sends us off with a loaf of stale bread, a warm handshake and a connection we’ll remember for a long time.
There are many parents out there who believe travelling stops after you have a kid, or at the very least suffers dramatically. For Christina and I, the idea of a child affecting our plans and passion for travel was never an issue. If anything, we’d always hoped sharing the world with Seanna through our ground-level, nomad-on-wheels lifestyle would bring even more adventure and purpose to our adventures. Now we’re all truly finding out for ourselves.
The initial grand plan was to ship our two motorcycles (a 2021 Royal Enfield Himalayan and a 2021 Ural Gear-Up) to Ireland, and ride all the way to India over the course of a year. We’d call it THREEDOM. We put a bunch of red dots on our paper map and went for it.
Riding motorcycles (plus one sidecar, affectionately dubbed “the Mule”) with everything we’d need crammed into a few saddlebags would fuel the first flames of the sort of wild, self-sufficient lifestyle we love, and choose to introduce our daughter to. At age ten she’d be old enough to remember everything, yet still young enough to happily spend time with us every day.
Being gone for that long meant fully tapping into an elevated level of the art form known as dirtbaggery. We’d be cooking over open flame (saves fuel), cooking in hotel rooms instead of eating out (saves money), washing our clothes and dishes in hotel sinks and showers, eating cheap cheese-and-bread picnics alongside the road, wild camping under the stars, and staying with random people like Krystof along the way. As adventurous “moto” parents, we wanted to keep riding the road of raw and real exploration, in line with my late brother Sean’s favourite Metallica song: “Anywhere I roam, where I lay my head is home.”
Being gone for that long meant fully tapping into an elevated level of the art form known as dirtbaggery.
Christina, Seanna, and I have succeeded in riding this rugged line on a few different levels; freezing hands and cold nights sleeping roadside on mountain passes in the Alps, hunkering down in abandoned barns to avoid menacing rainstorms, or getting lost on remote gravel roads in the middle of a deadly European heat wave. And sometimes we’ve failed miserably as dirtbags, and fled to civilization: laying our heads on pillows in expensive hotels with swimming pools, dining at seaside restaurants, taking hot showers and binging Netflix on unlimited wifi. That’s okay too; taking it easy and enjoying the pace.
From Wheels to Water
Unlimited mobility. Unbridled freedom. That’s why we live behind the handlebars of a motorcycle. But by switching from holding handlebars to holding a paddle, we’d no longer be relegated to land-based adventure. We’d be in amphibian mode. With two inflatable SUPs strapped to our sidecar bike, the search for lakes, rivers, lagoons, seas and oceans opens the gates to countless new adventures and redefines our journey. Bikes and boards, surf and turf, the best of both worlds.
Venturing south we began checking red dots off our map—from the wild Atlantic Way in Ireland, to Croatia’s clear-water Adriatic Sea coastline. Finding and paddling new waterways allowed us to frequently escape the rigours of the moto travel routine; the packing, unpacking, setting up, planning, organizing, navigating, shopping and completing the everyday errands that start to take their toll after many days on the road. Paddling would also help us escape one another. When you’re with each other 24/7/365, things are bound to go sideways.
Pivot. Adapt. Overcome.
Over two decades of moto trips around the globe I’ve learned that if one spends any real time on the road, something always happens. Sometimes it’s a serendipitous encounter so rich and awesome it embeds in your memory forever—the golden moments of life’s exceptionalism. But sometimes, other times, serendipity smells like shit…or at least a blown piston. That’s when our original plan to ride overland from Turkey to Pakistan and India via Iran comes grinding to a screeching halt.
A very expensive wrench has just been thrown into our spokes—our trusty sidecar is toast. Frustration rears its ugly head and no matter how hard we try there is no silver lining to be found. What the heck do we do now? Rent a campervan and continue the journey on four wheels? Sure. We call her ‘Lemonade’, and all we have to do is throw our gear from the bikes into the van and keep on cruising through and around Turkey, which we do for one mind-altering month.
Shit is also hitting the fan in Iran and it’ll be almost impossible for us to get a visa, let alone have “the Mule” ready before our Turkish visa expires. We don’t want to let the dream of India die, so we book tickets to Kathmandu (a necessary step to obtain our Indian visas) where we find the mother of all silver linings—trekking in the mighty Himalaya.
Mountains to Mayhem
Amongst these iconic peaks, connections really begin to flourish; Seanna holding the hands of elderly Nepalese women as I shoot intimate portraits, helping locals haul firewood in their woven “doko” baskets, and learning how to make Tibetan bread in the smoky kitchens of various tea houses along the way. They remind us of the connection we made with Krystof the Polish farmer—little communication, big meaning.
We’re free from the worries of the motorcycles and all our gear, untethered to a schedule, no need to try to connect the little red dots that by now mean nothing. Walking “vistari, vistari” (slowly, slowly) throughout some of the world’s most stunning scenery adds a welcome layer of calm and peace to the journey.
And then, India hits us with all her might. As we make our way south from a small (and almost unbelievably quiet) farm near Hyderabad on rented Royal Enfields, there is no escaping the traffic-insanity, horns-a-blazin’, cow-dodging, masala-flavoured everything everywhere, onslaught of people (and pollution) in the world’s most populous country.
“Sir, what is your native country?”
“Ma’am please take one selfie please?”
“What is your good name sir?”
During our 4,100 kilometre southern India loop, respite from the madness only comes after we close the zippers of our tent and shut out what could be described as insanity in motion. Finding a way to connect with it all is the fun part, like “playing” in the exuberant Holi Festival, flinging colored powder at boisterous crowds of happy people and having raw eggs smashed on our heads, all to celebrate the triumph of good over evil.
Looking back on it all, we now realize that our journey has been all about connections: from friends we haven’t seen in years to many new friends we’ll have forever. Being outside in the elements almost every day has brought us closer to nature, more connected to Earth. And being together as a family for so many days on end has created a bond that time itself will never break.
After 365 days of travel, our bikes have now taken us safely across the landscape of 30 countries and three continents, and we’ve travelled by moto, ferry, boat, bus, taxi, tuk tuk, bicycle, plane, train and on foot for more than 50,000+ kilometres. The whole journey has been an education in and of itself—a lesson in humanity, geography, adaptation, resilience, compassion, and what true adventure can teach one’s soul. Our young daughter will have this trip in her back pocket for the rest of her life, and we can ask for nothing more.
By the time you read this, we may or may not be home yet. Depends if any more wrenches get thrown into our spokes—or whether we go back and help Krystof clean his farmhouse.
You might also like:
Check the ML Podcast!