Using a small win from Deal or no Deal, Graham Field bought himself a motorbike for £700 on ebay and set off on a 15,000 mile journey to Mongolia. The adventure was recorded in his book In Search of Greener Grass. This time, Graham is off once again on his trusty Kawasaki KLR650 to the former Russian republics and Iraq. His new book Ureka tells the story of his epic adventure. In an interview with Graham Field, we caught up with him to ask a few questions about the trip and the book.
It’s a revealing and entertaining read for anyone who loves overlanding or is considering becoming a motorbike overlanding adventurer, and an opportunity to spend some time with an immensely likeable and engaging character.
An Interview with Graham Field
How did you get into motorbike overlanding?
I have loved and owned motorbikes since before I was old enough to have a licence, from dirt bikes, to customs choppers, street tourers and balls out sport bikes. I’ve owned them all and loved them all equally.
The other constant in my life is travel, I have done that since I was eighteen, from backpack to bicycle and eventually to the all terrain motorcycle, I can’t believe it took me 25 years to figure out I could put the two together.
Please introduce us to the Kawasaki KLR650
The KLR 650 I bought was advertised in the wrong category on eBay. I was the only bidder and got a bargain. It was only then I realised I had bought a bit of a legend, they are like a religion in the US although quite rare in the UK. It has a bombproof 650cc single cylinder and water cooled engine. The bike doesn’t have particularly exciting characteristics but the joy and excitement comes with where it is capable of taking you. It’s the ideal size, weight and power for pretty much any environment. The KLR has been made for over 20 years and therefore any little design flaws have been ironed out. It’s a great little secret of a bike this side of the Atlantic.
How do you go about planning your overland adventures?
Other than getting the visas I need in advance I don’t do an awful lot of planning. Research, like revision at school, makes my eyes glaze over and my mind wander, so I just get on my bike and wander off after it. I take guide books and read them as I go along. Another little trick is, as I travel I look at the postcards in various towns I pass through, if I see a sight that appeals to me on a postcard I head that way.
What is your favourite thing about motorbike overlanding?
The total independence, the freedom to travel as long or little as I want in a day. To be open to the sights sounds, smells, and weather, being a part of the environment without the physical effort required with cycling or the confinements of a campervan.
What is the scariest situation you have found yourself in?
There was a point in Iraq when I was turned around at a road block and was running out of options on routes I could take.
I take the road I was told to but there are no signposts now and I take a guess at a junction. An unshaved man in jeans and a t-shirt, with a Kalashnikov and a radio comes out and stops me, he is the scariest figure I have seen all day. He turns me round, I go back to the junction, and more men on radios point me down another road. As I ride down it another armed man walks out from a hedge and stops me.
“Duhok?” I ask.
“Yes, where are you from?”
“Yes, yes, all the way.”
“Good, good, welcome to Iraq.” that friendly little interaction is all recorded, I have it on my voice recorder, I was speaking into it as he approached and I didn’t get a chance to turn it off. It could have been a far more sinister meeting. I was scared, armed men with unknown intentions. Listening to that recording makes me shudder, and then smile, when I hear the trepidation in my voice and the assertion in his.
How many countries have you ridden through?
At a guess I would say about 50, last trip took in 23 but some are cheating as France, Belgium and Holland that you can do in an afternoon and not even put your feet down.
If you had to stay in one place you have visited for a year where would you choose, and why?
Probably Denver, Colorado. I have stayed a year, longer in fact. Coming from Essex I have a love for mountainous areas. They are spectacular all year round and they offer such a variety of activities in every season. I’m in awe of Alaska too. Before I left Denver to ride there I was told it’s like Colorado on steroids. It was a very accurate three word description. I like extremes so anyplace that becomes inhospitable with a winter freeze or a sweltering summer intrigues me.
What do you miss while motorbike overlanding? and what do you think you will miss but don’t?
I miss long hot baths that go on for hours with my favourite play list on my iPod and a few beers standing on the toilet seat. The benefit of being under researched is that the expectations are low and the wow factor is more frequent. The overhyped must see spots can be disappointing but the unexpected it what thrill me most. There are the ‘A list’ must see’s like the Taj Mahal, for example, which I defy anyone not to be moved by. Sometime I miss the seasons of the UK but if I’m on the road it’s usually substituted with something equally stimulating.
Tell us about your new book Ureka
Ureka, like the first book, is written in diary format. I have kept a diary for 25 years and like anything that is done regularly I got better at it. The reader has no more idea than I do how the journey will progress. I’ve been told it makes the reader feel as if they are riding with me. So this book takes me on the same £700 KLR on another 15,000 mile trip, this time south to Iraq and east to Azerbaijan.
There are the inevitable reflective thoughts inside the crash helmet, initially trying to decide when the transit stops and the touring starts, not wanting to miss the unmissable but at the same time anxious to get to the new and wondrous. Iraq was a humbling experience of honourable, generous, and hospitable people. Even the tooled up, armoured and armed military were friendly men showing me photos of the families on their phones before taking my photo.
So on to Georgia, my new favourite country, on route to a group of countries collectively known as the ‘Stans’. However, on the edge of the Caspian Sea I had a Eureka moment, did a U-turn, the planets aligned and the journey changed completely. Being a diary it is very honest, l think it creates intrigue as to the thoughts, moods, feelings and experiences of a lone, long distance, overland traveller. His vulnerability, the hardships, but ultimately the rewards of discovering. It’s OK to turn his back on some challenges and bask in the satisfaction of finding the line between desire and contentment, then riding it.
Where would you like to adventure to next on your KLR650?
East again, Iran, Pakistan, India. In search of a clearer view.
If you’ve enjoyed reading this interview with Graham Field and want to know more about his trip or read his book (which we really recommend) then UREKA was published on 29 May 2014 and is available at all good bookshops and online retailers. It’s a great read or perfect present for any budding motorbike overlanding adventurer.