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Coffee Table Book & DVD
‘Motorcycle Traveler’ is a book about Peter Starr’s motorcycle adventures through twelve countries with very diverse cultures. From the mountains around the equator in Ecuador at 15,000 feet to the lowest place on earth, Israel’s Dead Sea at minus 1400 feet, and from the haunted trails of Braveheart in Scotland to the elephant sanctuaries and magnificent temples of Thailand.
This is a book about adventure that was instigated from Starr’s need to create a ‘purposeful life’ as part of his cancer recovery program. The one consistent purpose in Starr’s life has been motorcycling.
Brian Catterson, the former editor of Motorcyclist Magazine recently said, “I remember when Peter Starr first contacted me about doing a travel story for Motorcyclist Magazine. While he is a renowned movie producer, I wondered if he would be any good at writing and still photography. I needn’t have worried: Filmmaking is story telling, and Peter is a wonderful storyteller regardless of medium.”
1973 was when I first met Peter Starr. He interviewed me for his very first motorcycle film BAD ROCK. It seems like such along time ago now, but our paths have continued to cross over the years because we both share one common passion, our love of riding motorcycles.
While I have pursued my passion for motorcycling by competing in racing around the world (ISDT, Desert racing etc.), Peter found a way to communicate the joys and challenges of racing through making films like Take It To The Limit. In recent years, as ageing and health presented a challenge, he has pursued his personal bucket list of motorcycling through many foreign countries. This book is about those adventures.
My exploration of motorcycling in other countries has almost always been to compete in one off-road race or another. And even though much of the country flies by a racing speed, the experience of sharing the passion of motorcycling with people of other countries and cultures is always exciting and rewarding. Often it is a common bond that needs no explanation or translation.
As Peter shares in this book through the wide variety of countries he explored, local people view you very differently when you arrive on a motorcycle. They are curious about you and your bike, and can be hospitable beyond anything you might expect. It is a source of instant communication and often friendship. What Peter experienced with his touring, I experienced with my racing community in the many countries where I competed.
I hope you are motivated by Peter’s book to take the two wheel challenge and explore many other countries and cultures. I am sure you will find it worthwhile.
AUSTRALIA: The State of Victoria, home to Phillip Island and the Australia MotoGP, the hilly vineyards of Yarra Valley and the jewel that is The Great Ocean Road.
POLAND: A beautiful contrast of truly old and captivating civilization, illustrated by stunning architectural beauty of Torun and Kracow with the more recent history of their terror of World War II at Auschwitz.
CANADA: British Columbia and retracing some of my steps from the hippie days of the 60s and exploring the backroads up to Kelowna and Kamloops.
ECUADOR: Diez Dias, 1400 miles of immersion in the culture are distinctive of riding around the center of the earth. From magic of Vilecabamba to the Amazon and from Canoa to Chimborazo.
WALES: Riding through Snowdonia National Park and along coastal byways of a country whose language is more widely spoken than English, and whose customs are distinctive and strong.
ISLE OF MAN: The legendary home of the longest running road race in history. Stunning excitement set amongst some of the most scenic roads, where history and the spirit of motorcycling encompasses all.
NEW ZEALAND: 2200 miles of the North and South Islands filled with so much excitement and so much to explore. Two weeks was simply not enough.
SCOTLAND: A very special tour for me on the trail of Scotland’s “Braveheart.” So much history packed into one ride with a purpose and discovering what enthralled Mel Gibson about Sir William Wallace.
TAIWAN: A chance to meet the original Grand Riders was too much to turn down and it became a “cause celebre” for our American riders for three years and a chance to experience a very different culture.
FINLAND: Sometimes thought of as “remote” Finland offers the motorcycle rider a very friendly and diverse riding encounter, with spectacular scenery and motorcycle friendly people.
ROMANIA: A country in transition from its communist dictator days that is so open to motorcycle visitors, it is very inviting. Not to forget the spectacular Transfagarasan Pass – every road riders dream road.
QUEBEC: While technically Canada, Quebec offers a riding and cultural experience that has quite an accent and is culturally so different that you will think you have crossed an ocean.
“I could already feel the end of the ride coming although we still had 400 miles of Andean mountain roads to get us back to Quito. The main road from Cuenca to Alausi and beyond is very well maintained but it is a mountain road where lots of indigenous peoples roam at their own pace and at their own will, so one has to be very alert, and if it is ever possible, expect the unexpected. There is not a lot of police presence up in these mountains. But one needs to ride with added caution, to wit. I was following about 20 yards behind Court at about 45 – 50 mph on a long straight road. We were approaching the small community of Tixan about 5 miles north of Alausi. Visibility was good and there was a small band of indigenous people standing at the side of the road, apparently waiting for a bus. Without any warning a small woman dashed out to cross the road without looking out for any traffic. Court locked up his brakes looking for a way to avoid a collision. Immediately before impact she stopped in his path and froze. Too late, and the otherwise quiet, dull thud of the collision was sickening as she was thrown up into the air much like a rag doll, landing in a tiny crumpled heap of brightly colored clothes. It all happened in a flash, yet Court had reduced his speed to about 10- 15 mpg before the contact.
Now, I had been told many times over the years that if such an accident, in an out-of-the-way place, was to happen to you (me), just get the hell out of there as fast as you can. The policing and the legal system in many so-called third world countries is simply not what we might expect, no matter how innocent you might be. Court, on the other hand, and much to his credit as a human being (not to mention a tour guide), seeing that she was badly hurt and being Red Cross trained in first aid, immediately stopped and came to her aid. The other members of her group telephoned the local National Police, who came from the next town of Palmira about 7 miles away in less than 15 minutes. As they arrived, Court, triage and first aid complete, was lifting the woman into a truck. He was about to drive her to the hospital in Alausi, when one of the police said that he is going with him, which technically meant he was taking Court into custody. The other policeman stayed with me and we waited amongst a growing crowd of inquisitive locals for a couple of hours before Court and the policeman returned. Together we went to the National Police Station in Palmira where Court was kept in custody for 10 hours without being arrested. We expected them to release Court, and they would have if one of two things had occurred. Either the lady did not have any serious injury preventing her from working for less than 3 weeks, or that Court make a $3000 payment to the lady’s family, which he refused. Once it was determined that she had a serious injury, police were required to arrest Court, which they did very reluctantly, basically shrugging and telling him the system is a mess and they knew the accident was not his fault, but Ecuadorian law requires this. Before taking Court to jail in Alausi, Court and the police all went out to dinner together and had a beer before delivering him to the jail. They had become friends.”
“Back in Mikkeli I was joined by another rider, Pekka Sorvali, for what turned out to be a sprint north to Iisalmi. This was not in my original plan but Iisalmi is the home of Teuvo “Tepi” Lansivouri, a Grand Prix road racer I had met in the 70s, and the only chance I would have to see him would be to ride the extra 150 miles; which we did with all due care being attentive for traffic cops and errant moose. Now moose is an interesting subject since there are around 120,000 of them in Finland and there are warning signs along many roads where there are known moose crossings. I learned that unlike deer which will often run alongside the road before darting across it, a moose will just charge out of the brush or forest, right into the road, irrespective of traffic with often deadly results for anyone colliding with it. Particularly motorcyclists.
Tepi was a works Yamaha rider when I first met him in Ontario, California in 1974 whilst filming the Champion Spark Plug Classic. Iisalmi is not only his home but also the site of a museum in his honor. We kibitzed about the good old days and then walked down to the lake, yes Finland is full of lakes, for a dinner in the world’s smallest restaurant – a treat reserved for visiting dignitaries. Being a friend of Tepi’s elevated my stature to be deserving of this honor. Great food washed down with liberal amounts of Koskenkorva and then the walk (stagger) to one of the local karaoke nightspots for the inevitable nightcap! The following morning Tepi showed me one of his Grand Prix Suzuki’s and gave me a tour of the museum display in his honor in the town center.
I was now 300 miles as the crow flies north of Helsinki at the most northerly point on my planned ride. The next morning Pekka and I headed south towards Jyväskylä and Hämeenlinna. This was to be the longest day’s ride of over 250 miles along some spectacularly beautiful motorcycle friendly roads. But unfortunately for us, morning had broken with horizon to horizon clouds and heavy rain had been forecast. The television meteorologist was not to be disappointed and the rain came, not in bucketfuls, but barrelfuls! It was so heavy at one point that we decided that to proceed would be foolish. As fortune would have it, the Finnish Air Force museum at Tikkakoski was close by. About 180 miles north of Helsinki, it was a Godsend of a place to outwait the rain. I got to learn more than I ever would have thought about Finnish history under the Russians and later the Germans. Having been a pilot for over 30 years, this was as good a place as it gets to pass the time. They had a credible collection of airplanes, even a Brewster F2A Buffalo, a rare American fighter that saw action in WWII. It had a terrible reputation amongst the American and British air forces, but the Finns annihilated huge segments of the Russian air force with essentially the same plane.”
“Day four of our ride was to be the longest and the most stunning for several reasons. A 6:00 AM start and a 30 minute ride north to Puli saw us being entertained by a theatrical dance troop of Seniors performing some traditional and not so traditional group dances. One 82 year-old woman had spent the previous days hand-making beautiful charms which she gave us to ensure our safe ride though the next leg of our journey – Toroko Gorge. All of us were teary-eyed as we donned helmets and headed east towards the 10,500’ peaks that surround one of Taiwan’s truly beautiful natural wonders.
When I was here a year ago this gorge was closed due to the ravages of a typhoon, so I was doubly insistent on taking this route to Hualien on the east coast. I was rewarded in spades. Think of the “Tail of the Dragon” on steroids, then add the climb to 10,500’ and down to sea level, and you might begin to get the picture. To use an old Brit phrase, we were all “gob smacked”. Vista after vista, castles built on hillsides like in Germany, terraced hills of tea plants and all the while speeding along a narrow, twisty two-lane string of asphalt that was the only connection of west to east within 100 miles. Not much time for contemplation here, awe and concentration punctuated by many stops to simply admire the view, or grab a coffee as you swap superlatives with your riding partners.
The name, Taroko, means “magnificent and beautiful” and the key here is to start early and stop frequently and for as much time as you wish to admire the scenery. As challenging as this road is for would-be racers, resist the urge. The gorge is spectacular and there are more bends per mile than most roads I have traveled on. But the drop off the edge of the road in many spots will be rewarded by instant karma for over exuberance. At the top of the gorge, if the weather is good, you feel you can see forever. On the descent to the east coast town of Hualien, there was a lot of roadwork still repairing the parts of the Gorge that were washed out by a typhoon. Rebuilding the road continued to be an arduous task. Nonetheless, the journey was well worth the occasional slow section.
We stopped for lunch at the Leader Hotel, a native preserve serving locally grown food. You can wander around the park grounds and, if you are lucky watch huge butterflies, flying squirrels, and Formosan rock-monkeys.
But relaxing soon ends and the remainder of the ride through the deepest part of the canyon begins. The main part of the Gorge is an impressive 12 mile long canyon that leads directly to the east coast. The fast flowing and murky green Liwu river cuts its way through this rock as it has done for millennia. In a few hours you can travel from a maze of subtropical, forested canyons to high elevation subalpine coniferous forests to rugged coastal cliffs. Where ever we stopped the locals and the bus tourists would gather round our motorcycles and scooters, envious of our open-air way of experiencing this environment and our apparent freedom.”
“By now the heat was having its effect and it felt much better to ride, so ride we did, south to Petrosani and then east along a very narrow, unbelievably twisty, mountainous road to join up with the northbound Trans Alpina Highway (67C) back towards Sibiu. At the junction of the road from Petrosani and 67C we stumbled upon a very large summer encampment of gypsies or Romanis. They had set up camp on both sides of the road with their colorful caravans and their horses in a clearing in the forest that bordered the Highway. I must admit that I had heard many stories about gypsies, particularly from my childhood in England following WWII. None of it was romantic and most of it quite scary. With these images still in my mind, childhood indoctrination being quite powerful, we continued briskly on our way. No doubt, in retrospect, perhaps stopping and chatting might have eliminated some of those preconceived notions. We all have the wisdom of hindsight.
The altitude gave us a much cooler ride. Although the Trans Alpina Highway was declared open, it is far from finished. It is not so much of a problem for cars but the unpaved, cross road culverts can come as a surprise to a motorcyclist, particularly if one is appreciating the wonderful scenery when you should be looking forwards! Nonetheless, the Transalpina is considered to be the best-paved motorcycle road by the local motorcyclists, and offering some superb motorcycle riding. Quite exhausted we got back to Sibiu for our second night at the elegant Imparatul Romanilor hotel.
Our final day of riding was the one that I had anticipated ever since I had seen the episode on the BBC TV Show “Top Gear”. Yes, the 56 mile Transfagarasan Pass that links Transylvania to Wallachia. Built in the 1970s by the Romanian Army at the direction of the then dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu as a way to transport tanks and troops across the Southern Carpathian Mountains in case they were needed by his then perceived Russian invasion. The road climbs to 7000 feet before passing under the mountain peak through a half-mile tunnel and down the other side. “Top Gear” called it the best road in the world and the part they featured on the north side of the pass is quite wonderful and exciting by any standard. I have no idea if Dracula ever made it over this pass, but I am glad to say that I did; and I enjoyed every rising foot of it. This road would make for a very exciting hillclimb competition. Maybe one day someone will promote such an event. It certainly brought out the road-racer in me, even at my mature age!
The downside is longer and passes along the Arges river and the 6.5 mile long Vidraru lake. Much of it is through forests and as such lacks the sheer vistas of the north slope. But to be sure it is a challenging road that will keep you amused and depending on your skill level, challenged. Just as I was wishing for somewhere to stop, we arrived at a watering hole (interpret that in any way you wish) without which I might have ridden right passed the last of Dracula’s castles and the one that firmly established him as Eastern Europe’s most feared leader. Poenari Castle, considered to be the authentic Dracula’s Castle, sits on top of a peak that is impossible to see if you are traveling south. The parking lot at the base leads to a 1480 step staircase to the castle itself. Not something we wanted to do in 100 degree heat and full riding gear, but something we might have done at the beginning of the ride.”