The recipe for an epic long-distance adventure should involve three things: motorcycles, iSUPs and…a kid.
Respite from the searing summer heatwave was a mere 12 kilometers away — a small lake that we could apparently reach in only thirty-three minutes, according to "Guida" (the voice coming through our helmets via Google Maps). We gave a name to the voice for a reason — she would be our trusty guide as we navigate our way from Ireland to India during a year-long family mega-adventure. She'd need to be a good friend. At the lake we hoped to end another long day in the saddle with a much-needed paddle and swim to wash off the day's dust and grime.
"Let's push on," I said as the road became rougher. "We're not that far away, it'll be worth it." As we pressed on, the rocks became bigger, the ruts much deeper — making the short journey seem more like an all-day affair. Fun stuff on an unladen motorcycle but not so much in the searing Spanish heat with fully-loaded bikes, one of them with a sidecar carrying two inflatable SUPs.
"Yeah I don't want to turn back either," said Seanna, our 10-year-old daughter. "We're almost there. Let's get to the lake and swim! It's sooooo hot!"
We hopped back on, bouncing along the rocks and ruts, rolling through the thirsty pine forest — down, down, down in the direction of Guida's mysterious lake. Suddenly the road widened and looked quite promising for about two minutes. Then the forest engulfed us once again, the road became steeper and the ruts even deeper. Cell service ended abruptly and we knew at that moment that the consequences would be dire if we kept going. Our Royal Enfield HIMALAYAN was more nimble and better-suited to this type of terrain, but getting the 750 lb. URAL stuck in this hard-to-reach zone would be a very unwelcome proposition.
Finally, Christina waved the reg flag when the URAL's back tire sunk into a rut about two feet deep. It was obvious we'd have to somehow turn around and make the dreaded backtrack to the main road before things got really bad. The smell of defeat rippled over the top of the road. Dipping our paddles into this lake-on-a-map would have to remain a mirage-like dream. Had we not been traveling with our kid perhaps it would have been a different story. We had enough food and water to last two or three days, and surely somebody else would have been silly enough to follow Guida’s directions. Someone always comes along to save the day when you're stranded, right?
THREEDOM in the air
I'm not sure many motorcycle travelers are packing iSUPS on any given day, but it's a niche that definitely could (and should) keep growing. That’s why you live behind the handlebars of a motorcycle, right? Ultimate mobility. Unlimited freedom. Because of this, the search for any body of water to explore would define our journey we’ve called THREEDOM. It was an incredible family adventure, one that would test the resilience of mom, dad and daughter every single day.
Our plan was to bring our boards along with us during our year-long overland road trip from Ireland to India. Before our daughter was born, Christina and I traveled extensively together throughout the world on motorcycles, through 40+ countries, covering more than 67,000 kilometers over the course of two major overland trips. Back in those days, when we came across a lake or lagoon or slice of ocean paradise with rolling waves, all we could do was wish we had a canoe or kayak to explore these amazing places on our journey, or be "forced” to rent overpriced, by-the-hour paddle crafts.
Now that we had the perfect bike (a 2021 URAL Gear-Up) to haul two boards, pump and paddles (plus our daughter), why not bring the fun with us? We set about devising an efficient system to carry our equipment and began researching numerous places on the European continent where we could set up camp for a couple nights, inflate the boards and paddle. We would put a red dot on the map and see if we could reach it while on the road.
The first of those red dots was on the west coast of Ireland, the very first night of our trip. We pitched camp atop a vast network of rabbit tunnels and burrows and waited for some sun to pierce the cloudy skies. The whitecapped ocean wasn’t terribly inviting (we had no room for wetsuits!) but after so much time packing and planning to make this trip a reality, how could we not celebrate with a cold-water experience along the Wild Atlantic Way?
The isles of Scotland's Loch Lomond came next. The ultimate transition transpired — all our gear from bikes to boards in less than an hour, just as we had planned. After a windy, wobbly crossing from the mainland to Inchtavannach island, the perfect campsite presented itself. We found a protected forest with a beautiful, grassy area to spread out on, with lots of firewood and not a soul in sight. As we had plenty of time to kill and sunny skies to paddle under, we spent our days circumnavigating the small islands surrounding our camp, and meeting strange "locals". One morning it was a gang of frizzy-haired highland cows and the next, a wildly out-of-place wallaby, of all creatures (in Scotland!), sunning itself on the seaside rocks.
As we headed south, we tried to hit a few more red paddle dots on our map including England, Wales, the West Coast of France, and finally down into the clear, warm waters of the Mediterranean in southern Spain. We hugged the coast of the south of France, checked out the stunning Verdon Gorge (unfortunately, in the height of a drought) and tried unsuccessfully to become stowaways on a megayacht in Monaco.
“Can we paddle in Switzerland? “ asked Seanna one morning as we were packing our boards up in southern Italy, ready to venture north into the Alps.
“Absolutely,” said Christina. “A mountain lake or river would be amazing. Let’s have a look on the map and see if we can pick out a place.”
That place turned out to be the glassy Lac Lèman (aka Lake Geneva) near Montreux, where a visit with dear friends and Freddie Mercury/Queen Museum vibes kept us amped for more Euro hits to come: Slovenia’s Sava River, Traunsee Lake in Austria, Balaton Lake in Hungary, Croatia’s clear-water Adriatic Sea coastline, and a few days on the south coast of Albania.
Of course the paddling was an added bonus to the journey. Riding motorcycles with everything you need in a few saddlebags strapped behind you is the fuel that feeds the fire of adventure for us — a wildly self-sufficient world we had wanted to introduce Seanna to when the time came. At age ten, she’d be old enough to remember everything, yet still young enough to hang with her parents 24/7. Having bikes and boards allowed for the best of both worlds, a surf-and-turf type of adventure that would unify two of our primary interests, motorcycles and paddleboards, into one primary passion — adventure travel.
We knew this seminal journey would remain with our daughter for the rest of her life so we wanted to make it as memorable as possible; being able to paddle and swim in as many places as our route would allow was icing on the cake. Camping, hiking, fishing and paragliding would also be part of the package when we needed time away from the bikes to immerse ourselves in the landscapes and culture of Europe and Asia.
Prior to and during our trip, many people have asked us, “What about school?”
Well, it happens every day. Sometimes it occurred deliberately through an online education program (called SelfDesign), or merely by the things we see and do, and mostly through the people we meet. After 200 days of travel, our bikes have now taken us safely across the landscape of 24 countries and 19,000+ kilometers. The whole journey has been an education in and of itself — a lesson in humanity, geography, adaptation, compassion, and what true adventure can teach one’s soul.
The “paddle-dots” on our map have currently taken us as far as the Mediterranean coast of southern Turkey, where we can paddle from lagoon to sea and back again while we drum up ideas for the next leg of the journey.